Friday, November 30, 2012

A curious condemnation

I remember once listening to a person of my acquaintance rant about the rector of their parish.

'He does nothing,' they seethed. 'Look at the way he spends his mornings! After his breakfast he reads the paper and then he goes over to the church and says Morning Prayer – half the time by himself! He'd be better off going out into the parish and getting things done!'

A curious condemnation, one might think. Another view of his actions might be this: he took his meal, as all are entitled to, indeed a wise move when so many skip what is the most important meal of the day, particularly clergy who are notoriously bad at self-care; then he took the trouble to inform himself about what was going on in the world; & having done that he took himself to the house of God to pray for the world* with whatever few might join him in prayer ... and if none did, he worshiped alone, the doors of the church open, inviting the world to join him in giving praise to the one who made us all.

Today is the Feast of St Andrew. This morning, I had my breakfast  an oatmeal smoothie, in front of my computer, reading various news articles on-line & checking a few emails. When the school runs were over, I made my way to the nearest of the parish churches where I was joined for Holy Communion by a single soul, my stole red to remind us of his martyrdom  The Gospel spoke of how Andrew had brought his brother Simon to know Jesus. We prayed for our community and for the courage to follow the example of St Andrew. Quietly & intimately we received from the Lord's table. After, the one person who had made up my congregation spoke to me about some of the difficulties in their life & we prayed about those also.

Afterwards, I thought about that rector and the person who thought his mornings were such a waste of time. I wonder would they think my St Andrew's day morning was also a waste of time? Somehow, I do not think it was. 

*this is not my being imaginative; not long ago had occasion to hear this particular rector lead intercessions at a clergy gathering: he prayed thoughtfully & extemporaneousnessly about a variety of the ills which plague the world today.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Animals are much easier to understand than women

... so says  Michael Kiok, the chairman of Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information (Zeta) ... for those of you who are wondering, Zoophilia is the upmarket name for bestiality. 

Michael is at the forefront of a campaign, lobbying the German government not to change its laws on bestiality. That's right: the chairman of a zoophilia pressure group wants the laws in Germany to stay the same ... because at the moment in Germany sex with animals is legal - and has been since 1969 when it was decriminalised. The proposal is to reverse that decision, & put a hefty fine in place for those whose love for their pets crosses the line.

Naturally, Michael is outraged. What his Alsatian 'Cessie' has to say about this is anyone's guess, although Michael insists  "We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don't force them to do anything." And while I'm sure that Michael does indeed 'see' it that way, I'm not sure how one determines that the animal concerned sees it in a similar light. (Please note my restraint in not taking advantage of the multiple opportunities for very crude jokes at this point ... might I humbly request that anyone using the combox on this do likewise?)

Those who want the law changed see the practice as cruelty to animals. Michael counters by talking about all the cruelty to animals in the animal husbandry industry. I don't disagree that there are plenty of cruel practices out there. But I can't say that I follow his logic that the cruelty he objects to somehow justifies the cruelty that he advocates - although, of course, he doesn't see his practices as in anyway cruel. And while I respect the concern of those who want the law changed for the sake of animals, it is a pity there is, as far as I can make out, no concern for the dignity of the human person in this debate & how degrading it is to that dignity to engage in such practices. From a natural law perspective, there is no argument to be made but that people should not have sex with animals. From a Christian perspective, particularly thinking in terms of the theology of the body, it is quite simply a grave moral evil.

As for poor Michael, pray for him (& those who suffer from the same kind of attractions). He says that he has had 'special feelings' for animals since early childhood. Those feelings 'took on erotic elements' when he was a teenager. The practice was no longer unlawful ... there were no boundaries in place ... why would he not have acted on these 'special feelings'? He needed help to channel his sexuality in a way that would help him flourish as a human being ... and it would seem that help was not there. I think his words, which I used for the title of this post, goes to the heart of this man's problems: 'Animals are much easier to understand than women.'

You can read more about this here and here

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I got this from Fr Z's blog who got it from the Catholic League site ... that's the internet for you - incestuous or interconnected ... which ever you prefer! But basically, it's doing the rounds, creating a stir, & being called blasphemous. So - is it it? The artist, Michael D’Antuono, knows that it offends religious sensibilities but feels entitled to do so under US first amendment rights. But offending people's religious sensibilities is not the same as blasphemy. It gets up the nostrils of quite a few people I know when I make the sign of the cross; that doesn't make it blasphemy. I would have to say I am uncomfortable with the image. But again, my discomfort doesn't make it blasphemy.

So what is blasphemy? The Catholic Encyclopedia calls it 'gross irreverence  against the honour' due to God' and while normally spoken, it may also be expressed 'in thought or in act' (the article is a lot longer; I'm compressing it a wee bit here!). 

So it is certainly possible for this image to be blasphemous. But is it? What about the artist's intentions - do they matter? He says he meant it to be a political piece, not religious, & was surprised at the reaction he initially got.  He created the work in 2009 and put it on display after BHO had been in office 100 days. He withdrew it after it garnered particularly hostile attention, but has put it on display again. I don't know what he was trying to say politically ... since it was created just after BHO was elected, was it trying to portray him as a new messiah who would lead the US to the promised land of economic recovery? I guess that didn't work out, then ... Or was it something to do with the suffering of African-Americans? But then, that's the trouble with political art ... the artist says it's political & then leaves it for you to figure out what he's trying to say.

My take would be is that I think the whole point of religious references in political art is meant to shock ... & the shock value comes from the irreverence of the reference ... which means that at some level the intent is blasphemous (but perhaps there is a canonist who would disagree?). But then what? We don't live in a theocracy. Christians don't (or shouldn't) go on the rampage about this sort of thing. Not least because they are counter-productive. High profile protests only garner those concerned even more of the attention that they were seeking. Remember Dan Brown and the 'Da Vinci Cod(e)'? The more people shouted, the more people wanted to know what the fuss was about, & the more money a novel that would only have sold about 5000 copies otherwise (going on Mr Brown's previous track record) made. 

And remember Fr Ted & Down with that sort of thing? No ...?

Basically, ignore this kind of stuff ... & maybe say a prayer for those who create it. 

Or have I got it all wrong?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

of bishops & supreme heads

There was a short letter in Irish Times today on the topic of the CofE's recent vote: 

It makes no sense to deny women from being ordained as bishops when Queen Elizabeth (a woman herself, I believe) is the supreme head of the Anglican church.

For such a short letter, it contains a remarkable amount of inaccuracies. I think the only thing he got right was the Queen's name, title, & gender ... & since the writer makes an unneeded smart comment about that last one, he still earns himself a thumbs down from me on for it. 

But to the meat of things. First, Queen Elizabeth is not the 'supreme head of the Anglican Church.' She is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. 

The second major error is that there is, in fact, no 'Anglican Church' as such ... certainly not in the sense of there being a single, unified entity called the Anglican Church; rather there is a collection of independent Anglican churches. The majority of these are in communion with each other and the Church of England through what is called the Anglican Communion. 

But the Queen is neither the head nor governor of that organisation. 
To make it as clear as I can: the Queen's role does not extend beyond the CofE. As a member of the Church of Ireland I have grown a little weary of having to explain to people that the Queen is not the head, governor, or anything else to do with the CofI. It is not only that it is simply wrong, but there is also the (not always so thinly) veiled suggestion that it is somehow disloyal for an Irish person to be CofI, that our allegiance to it in some way pledges us to a foreign power (a sort of inverted Rome-rule I suppose).

Also, I believe it mischaracterises what went on at the CofE's General Synod to say that it denies women from being ordained bishops in the CofE. They can not be ordained right now, true. And it was a dreadfully disappointing day for those in favour. But the Church of England has agreed overwhelmingly that it will have women bishops. The failure of the measure hasn't put the kibosh on that. The vote was part of a process of working out how the CofE could  make a not insignificant change while keeping a place within it for those who disagree with the change. That process continues. 

Finally, the argument itself is specious. The gender of the governor is irrelevant to the issue. The role of the Supreme Governor falls to the monarch, irrespective of their sex. It has always been so - in fact the first Supreme Governor was a woman, Elizabeth I (Henry VIII  & his immediate successors styled themselves Supreme Head; Elizabeth was the first to use the current title). Indeed, I always reckon that it was she, rather than Henry who is the true founder of what we now call the Church of England  ... the Elizabethan settlement and all that. Henry's Ecclesia Anglicana was a very different kettle of codpieces altogether. 

The short letter was aiming for right-on. In fact it is actually way off. A little research goes a long way. But often that is too much trouble for those who are simply try to score points rather than advance an argument.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Kingdom or the Nation?

Still feeling rough, so not so much a post as post about posts ... at least there's a theme ...

Over at catholicity and covenant there's a good article making the point that, in the Church at least, there's more to be considered than  simply the simple majority view on an issue ...

The CofE has the voting system it does for a reason ... to try to include as many views as possible ... it is a different form of democracy ... but as Tom Pascoe over at the Telegraph points out, politicians don't necessarily respect democracy ... 

Interesting to note that not everyone who voted against the measure was 'agin' women bishops, as this post over at Fr Mervyn's blog shows ... the reason it didn't pass is that there was enough in favour who also felt those who were opposed should be given provisions that would allow them to stay in the CofE ... 

Sub Umbra Alarum Suarum spotted a letter in the London free paper the Metro where the writer believes there's a reason that the Church should march to a different drum to the rest of society ... 

But maybe the CofE hierarchy have been rattled by all the public pressure & are seeking ways around the vote? If not, you'd wonder why they are calling in the lawyers, as Fr Michael at Let Nothing You Dismay has reason to suspect ... 

You know we're going to be hearing more on this issue ...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Is Christ our King ... or Caesar?

The day dawned like I felt - miserable ... a freezing fog hung over the town as I struggled out for my round of services, still hacking away with a cold I haven't been able to shake in nearly a week now.  Being just a little bit under the weather is one of the peculiar tortures of this vale of tears ... not sick enough to cry off work, but still ill enough to feel pretty rubbish while carrying out your duties. Wah, wah -woe is me! 

Oddly, this is one of my favourite Sundays of the year - the Sunday I like to think of as the Sunday of many names ...  It is the Sunday before Advent, the last Sunday of this liturgical year, reminding us that we are about to enter into the penitential season of Advent, a time when we naturally remember the first coming of our Lord at Christmas, but also look forward to his second coming … the reason why it is traditional during the season of Advent to preach on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, & hell. 

It is also called 'Stir up' Sunday ... not because of the custom of starting & stirring Christmas puddings, but because of the Collect that was traditionally read on this Sunday, that begins: 'Stir up O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people' … the original Latin is even stronger 'excita' - excite ... that collect can still be used at morning and evening prayer during this week; and for Holy Communion it is the post-Communion prayer … and that collect is a reminder to us that Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season and it is particularly appropriate at this time of year to make special efforts in relation to our spiritual life ... that it is more than merely a time for presents & shopping & parties & and drinks after work … it is, for Christians, a time of prayer, fasting, spiritual reading and study … in short, a time to 'stir up' or even excite our faith …

And this Sunday is also called 'The Kingship of Christ' or 'Christ the King' … this is a relatively new Christian festival, dating back only to the 1920's … but I must say that I think that the cusp of Advent is a particularly appropriate time to think of the Kingship of Christ, our Lord and Saviour, because it is the time when we think of his first coming, the Incarnation, that led to us all being gathered here this morning, declaring ourselves to be followers of his … and the time when think also his second coming … the time when he will exercise an aspect of his kingship that we perhaps sometimes prefer not to think about, his role as judge. 

I like the 'three names' thing because I like trying to tie things together ... it's a reminder that things are not always straight-forward, that real life can be a little messy, & the challenge is to try to hold everything in balance.

I won't bore you with my sermon ... you pretty much got most of it above! I also talked more on what it means to have Christ as our King, as opposed to Caesar, & how the values of the world are constantly competing with the Gospel values. Not that the values of world & the Gospel are always necessarily incompatible. But it seems these days that when those values don't line up, people inside & outside the Church are increasingly willing to think that it is the Church which has got it wrong ... 

It seemed an appropriate observation in a week when the Church of England was told in the House of Commons that they had to reflect the values of the nation … parliament, as we all know, consisting almost entirely of a highly qualified theologians … 

The early didn't Church feel constrained to reflect the values of the society in which it found itself ... It challenged those values … unto death if need be. Because Christ was their king, not Caesar. As he must be for us.

I emerged from the final service to find that the freezing fog had cleared away ... to a steady down-pour. It was as if the weather was mirroring my health by getting worse ... I was feeling a little light-headed at this point ... I fortified myself with a small sugar-rush from some cough-sweets & headed for home. As Zebedee used to say at the end of the Magic Roundabout, it was time for bed.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The oath against modernism

I came across this recently & decided to re-post it. Call it sharing a wee bit of history! 

The Oath against Modernism was promulgated by Pope Pious X in 1910 and it was required to be taken by all all Catholic 'clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries.' The requirement was rescinded in 1967 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I suppose it was a casualty of 'the Spirit of Vatican 2'! However, while no one is compelled to take it, no one prohibited from doing so either and there are some priestly societies and others that still do.

If you feel like throwing something in the combox, perhaps you'd let me know what bits you'd have the most problems with if it was an oath you were required to take ... and why! 

The Oath against Modernism
I embrace and accept each and every definition that has been set forth and declared by the unerring teaching authority of the Church, especially those principal truths which are directly opposed to the errors of this day. 

And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:90), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated: 

Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time. 

Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time. 

Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely. 

Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our creator and lord. 

Furthermore, with due reverence, I submit and adhere with my whole heart to the condemnations, declarations, and all the prescripts contained in the encyclical Pascendi and in the decree Lamentabili, especially those concerning what is known as the history of dogmas. 

I also reject the error of those who say that the faith held by the Church can contradict history, and that Catholic dogmas, in the sense in which they are now understood, are irreconcilable with a more realistic view of the origins of the Christian religion. 

I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality-that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful. 

Likewise, I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misrepresentations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm. 

Furthermore, I reject the opinion of those who hold that a professor lecturing or writing on a historico-theological subject should first put aside any preconceived opinion about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine promise of help to preserve all revealed truth forever; and that they should then interpret the writings of each of the Fathers solely by scientific principles, excluding all sacred authority, and with the same liberty of judgment that is common in the investigation of all ordinary historical documents. 

Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact-one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history-the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labour, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. 

I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charisma of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way. 

I promise that I shall keep all these articles faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard them inviolate, in no way deviating from them in teaching or in any way in word or in writing. Thus I promise, this I swear, so help me God.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The CofE must 'reflect the values of the nation'

The transcript for a debate which took place in the British parliament yesterday makes for sobering reading. The debate took place in the wake of the vote by the General Synod of the Church of England not to pass the measure which would have brought in women bishops. 

One of the remarks made by Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner is particularly noteworthy. He said: 

As a consequence of the decision by the General Synod, the Church of England no longer looks like a national Church; it simply looks like a sect, like any other sect. If it wishes to be a national Church that reflects the nation, it has to reflect the values of the nation.

Erastianism, anyone? John Keeble's sermon on National Apostasy? How about the Gorham decision multiplied by however many parishes the CofE has? 

Leaving aside the question of what he means when he uses the word 'sect,' that statement is something that should give all sides in this debate pause for thought. Parliament feels the Church of England has to reflect the values of the nation. Not the values of the Gospel, the values of Christ, nor traditional Christian values. Whatever society at large thinks is good is to be accepted and affirmed as good by the CofE. And of course there was in the debate a lot of talk about what Parliament might do to make the CofE do its bidding. 

Now, I think things are cooling down a bit & folk are backing down from some of the extreme things that were said earlier (if the links on Let Nothing You Dismay today are anything to go by). But what about next time the CofE votes and 'gets it wrong,' whether on this issue or some other? Worrying to think that the 'Mother Church' of the Anglican Communion can be called to heel by the British Parliament - that noted body of Theologians ... where one has to be neither an Anglican nor even a person of faith in order to have a say on what the doctrine of the CofE should be. 

Big Brother is watching indeed.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

the messenger of the Lord of hosts

For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge and people should seek instruction from his mouth for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. 

It was pouring rain last night. Even though it had eased off to a steady drizzle by this morning, some of the narrow roads on the way up to one of my more 'mountainy' churches were like rivers. Brisk streams flowed by the sides along some stretches. They flowed shallowly across the road in several others. And, of course, there were dozens of broad brown puddles that had to be crept through in case they disguised a pot-hole the depth of Lough Neagh.

I read Morning Prayer aloud to a church empty save for myself, the presence of the Lord, and the rare species of bats nesting in our rafters. The Old Testament reading was from the prophet Malachi. One verse in particular seemed to speak to me: 

For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge and people should seek instruction from his mouth for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. 2.7

There is a lot a priest is expected to do. Sometimes there is the danger of missing what is the core of any priest's calling: the salvation of souls. Words like those from Malachi remind me of that. 

I took a different route home. Less than half an hour had passed, but  the roads were less river-like. Maybe the water had drained away; or perhaps it was only because I was going a different way. I had to drop off a form to a parishioner's house to the get the details for an upcoming baptism. This was a way I hadn't gone before and I impressed myself by not getting lost on the winding, mountain back-roads of my parish. I only hope I can stay on track in other ways too. 

For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge and people should seek instruction from his mouth for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Messy Church ...

I doubt anyone thinks yesterday was a good day for the Church of England. Those in favour of the measure are hurt and dismayed; those opposed know that all they have gained is some breathing space before it begins again. remember, the Church of England has decided in principle that they will have women bishops ... all the wrangling is about how that decision will be implemented. Rowan Williams ends his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury on a note of failure; Bishop Justin Welby, ABC-elect is off to a rocky start even before he moves into Lambeth Palace, having thrown his weight behind the measure. 

The 'yes' campaign said some pretty strong things in the media in advance of the vote about what it would say about the CofE if the measure was not passed ... medieval, misogynist, irrelevant, of a lesser ethical standard than secular society ... and those would have been some of the milder comments ... what kind of public damage has been done to the CofE now that the measure has failed? Can that kind of language be stepped back from in the aftermath?

One knee-jerk reaction was that Parliament might intervene in some way ... I'm sure that would do a lot for the Church's credibility ... Fr Michael Gallop over at Let Nothing You Dismay is doing a good job of tracking the reaction from various quarters ... no point in my trying to duplicate his effort, so you can check it out there if you are interested ... (also in the interests of not reinventing the wheel, Fr Dwight Longenecker, a former CofE priest who is now a Catholic priest living in the US, gives a summary of what's going on here; and for some specifically CofI comment, look here )

One reaction I find curious is from some Catholic commentators in the UK is in the vein 'I'm glad I'm Catholic and this doesn't effect me.' They might want to wait on that one. What if Parliament does intervene? The suggested route has been to remove exemptions in the equality legislation that applies to Churches ... might that not impact on the Catholic Church?  Although, I suppose in truth that little ship might perish on the rocks of the EU. However, yesterday is a very large rock dropped into the water; the ripples will spread out, large ripples at that; & it is too soon to say who will not be swamped. 

So, a lot to reflect upon. And every reason for those within and without the CofE to continue praying. 

(by the way, sorry if this post seems to consist of mostly random thoughts ... as I mentioned yesterday, I'm a bit under the weather: a combination of 'man flu' & coughing my lungs out (sorry if that was 'too much information'!); my head hurts & I'm 'dosed up' as they say ... if I drank alcohol I'd be on the hot whiskeys ... not because they do any good, but because after a few, you don't care anymore about the cold! Where's the ministry of healing when you need it?)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

CofE Synod measure not carried

Home sick today, so had the time to listen to the some of the live audio stream from the CofE General Synod. I must say, what I heard was very civilised, so kudos to all involved for that. Voting was by orders (or houses); bishops, clergy, & laity. 

It was all quite exciting once the voting started. The division bell was rung; members were told to push button 1 for yes, 2 for no, & 3 to abstain. They had 60 seconds to vote. There was even a 15 second warning before time was up! Then the Archbishop of York reminded those in attendance that the tradition was to receive the results of a vote in silence (in other words, no unseemly booing or cheering, depending on your views). Then he calmly & gravely read out the results.

The vote was: 
Bishops 44-3 (2 abstaining);
Clergy 148-44 (0 abstaining);
Laity 132 -74 (0 abstaining).

The measure was carried by the first two, but not by the last. The measure has therefore not been passed, as it had to be approved by a two-thirds majority by all three houses.

So that's it ... until next time. Either when the next Synod is formed or sooner if a case can be made (hard to see how one could be made, given all the work that went into getting things this far this time, but I suppose it is not impossible). 

Please pray for all involved today. 

The Church of England votes on women bishops

Please pray for all those voting today at the Church of England's General Synod. 

For those who do not know what is happening, the CofE is deciding whether to ordain women to the episcopate or not. The vote is predicted to be on a knife-edge. It is opposed by Conservative Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic groupings. And there may be enough voting members who, while they are not opposed to the idea in principle, believe that the 'measure' (as it is constantly referred to) does not contain adequate provisions for alternative episcopal oversight for those who can not accept this change.

There are articles from the Guardian on it here and the Telegraph here if you would like to know more.
And here is a link to the Guardian's live blog from the Synod. 
Live audio here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

South Carolina leaves The Episcopal Church

Bishop Mark Lawrence

The Diocese of South Carolina has left The Episcopal Church ... or has it? South Carolina says it has (there's a video of Bishop Lawrence's convention speech at Fr Michael Gallop's blog - warning: it is about 45 minutes long ... if you'd rather save yourself the time, & don't mind a 'spoiler,' he says they have left. Gone. That's all folks). But Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori says they haven't, because they can't (wasn't she the same person who said Mark Lawrence wasn't really the bishop of South Carolina anymore? I guess they weren't listening in the Palmetto State when she said that).

Despite what PBKJS says, it seems that SC has left & that TEC will be putting in place what is effectively a new Episcopal diocese parallel to the old one quite soon - just as they have already in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois. And no doubt there will be all kinds of legal disputes: about the validity of TEC's attempts to boot out Bishop Lawrence on abandonment charges; on whether the diocese really can leave or not; & of course who gets to hang on to the property if it turns out that they can. 

While we're waiting to see how all that works out, what's going on in TEC gives those of us on this side of the pond  a few things to think about. Is something like this what's coming down the tracks for the Church of England and it's current wrangling over women bishop's? And what about the Church of Ireland, which, even though there seems to be a bit of a lull at the moment, still has a lot simmering under the surface on the issue of sexuality? What will the outcome be if it all boils over? Or should that be when? Are we in these islands next in line for further schism?

Couldn't happen 'here' in dear Old Blighty or in the 'Auld Sod? I bet that's what they used to say in TEC. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

why not wait for baptism?

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Baptisms are something of a win-win situation. On the one hand, we get to welcome a new member into our Christian family … on the other, because baptisms take up a bit of time in our liturgy, they mean that the priest has to preach a short sermon if the service is to finish on time! What's not to like!

Today we are welcoming C into the Body of Christ … and as he is a little older than the typical baptismal candidate he got to ask some questions about what he was letting himself in for while he was being prepared for baptism. And I must say that he asked a few very good questions. One was: is it true that when you're baptised, all your sins are washed away? Well, yes it is, I said. No matter how serious the sins are? asked C. No matter how serious, said I. What about murder, he said. Even murder. What about lots of murders. Even if you had killed thousands I said. But wouldn't God hold it against you if you had been really bad like that? No, I said, after baptism it's like the slate has been wiped clean, and as far as God is concerned it is as if they had never happened …

So then C asked his best question. Well, he said, since I haven't really done anything bad in my life yet, why shouldn't I wait until I'm really old, like say 56, and get baptised then and get all the bad stuff washed away then?

As I said, brilliant question. Why shouldn't we wait? Obviously, as we're all standing here today getting ready to baptise C, I must have given him an equally brilliant answer that persuaded him that it was the right thing to do to go ahead with things! Now part of what I said was that it is all very well to think you can live as you please and then get it all washed clean when you think you're too old to live wild and free any more … but what happens to your plans to get baptised at 56 if you get hit by a bus when you're 26? After all, we know not the day nor the hour! And, even if you did make it to 56, it might be pretty hard to change your ways after all those years of thinking you could commit all the sins you want … and C, being a person of good sense, decided that plans should proceed …

But I had another thought about his question after reading today's Gospel reading. In it the disciples are pointing out to Jesus what a fine building the temple in Jerusalem was … and it was a fine building … probably the largest in the Ancient World … it covered acres and acres of ground … all of huge blocks of cut stone … it had taken decades to construct … and Jesus isn't even the tiniest bit impressed … he knows that in a few years the Romans will have reduced the place to rubble … & even without the Romans, time itself would eventually grind the place down to dust and sand … there is nothing that man makes that can last … nothing of this world lasts … so we shouldn't worry about them too much … but should set our hearts on things that do last, eternal things … things that we can not achieve on our own, but need God's help and Grace ... 
And that's what baptism helps us with … it plants the seed that will grow, if we let it, into eternal life … we may think we can build a perfectly fine life without God's help … but scripture tells us otherwise … that life is like the temple … it may be impressive for a time … but eventually it will crumble … and if it is set only in this world without its foundations in the next when it does crumble its sand and dust will be scattered on the winds and forgotten … but those who build seeking God's help first, build something that is eternal … because what they have built has its foundations in heaven and can never be destroyed … 

And that is what we are doing here with C today … we are planting the seed … a seed that will grow into something greater … a seed that brings God's power and strength into his life … and as he makes his promises today, I pray that he will keep them and grow into what God wants him to be … just as I pray that you will all keep the promises that you are about to make that you will support him on his journey … because that is part of your growing into what God wants of you also … so let us pray for each other that we will keep these solemn promises today & always … and so build towards eternal life. Amen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gap-toothed yokels wreacking havoc in Ireland

The furore over the death of Savita Halappanavar  continues. As well it should (see previous post here). A lot of questions need to be answered about what happened to her. And they need to be answered quickly. Of course they won't be. Breda O' Brien has a good quote on why they won't be provided at anything faster than a glacial pace:

When I asked a senior medical consultant as to whether three months was necessary to conduct a review, she replied that a month should be adequate, “but the HSE moves slower than the Vatican”.

Now there's an irony-laden comparison. You can read the rest of her article here. 

I found Ms O'Brien's piece fairly balanced - but not all her journalistic colleagues are going down that road. Did anyone really think they were going to? For example, Donald Clarke takes the view that this proves Ireland is positively pre-ice-age in its views; those who are not in agreement with him on what he terms 'gender politics' (ie the majority of Irish people's opinion of abortion) are are comparable to 'gap-toothed half-wits;' they deserve to be demonised by the world; & those who abandon the elderly on ice flows 'seem positively civilised by comparison.'

Clearly members of the self-appointed & more enlightened 'elite' like him see no need to engage in reasoned debate with gap-toothed yokels. Name calling, media bullying, and the display of their overwhelmingly superior intellects should  suffice to get us back to tugging our forelocks to our proper masters such as he in no time at all.

While he is waiting for the happy day when his version of Nirvana comes into force, of an Ireland free of gappy teeth & ice-flows, the rest of us are waiting for the HSE reports as to what happened. Let's hope when they do come we get some clear answers.  Obviously, it is not a good idea for anyone to hold their breath while waiting. But perhaps it is a good idea to pray during this time - not only for answers, but also for Savita Halappanavar, her husband, wider family, and all those who have been hurt by what happened during those days in a Galway hospital.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

myths about atheism

Long rant in the Irish Times today from Michael Nugent, chairman of Atheist Ireland. Bottom line: he thinks non-atheists promote myths about atheists which they then use to denigrate & undermine what they (don't?) believe. 

Can you spell 'irony' boys and girls? This is what most people of faith, particularly Christians, have been saying for years about militant atheists. Heck, they see it as their standard practice. Richard Dawkins was driven so scatty by people accusing him of creating straw-man versions of Christianity for him to mock and pick apart that he actually put a new section in later editions of the God Delusion denying that was what he was doing. Oddly enough, the suggestions continue.

So all I can say to Michael of Atheist Ireland and his woes is: Welcome to the club, Michael!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

This shouldn't have happened

Savita Halappanavari & her husband Praveen

Based on what is available in the public arena,  Savita Halappanavari should not have died in a Galway hospital last month. Other facts may emerge to change that view. It is early days. The story only broke yesterday. But on the basis of the facts as they have been reported her death was avoidable. She should have left hospital heartbroken but alive.

I know from my stats that a lot of those who read this blog are based in the US, so I will give a very basic outline of what happened as I understand it. Please understand that this is based on media reports and may be inaccurate. 

Ms Halappanavari presented at hospital as 17 weeks pregnant,  fully dilated, and in great pain. She was informed she was suffering what is termed an 'inevitable miscarriage' & nothing could be done to save her baby. Apparently she was also told she could not receive the treatment that would end her suffering while the baby's heart was beating. This was expected to stop within a few hours. It took more than three days. When the heartbeat stopped, she received a D&C. However, she had picked up a serious infection while they waited, a known danger of being fully dilated, and  some days later she died of septicemia. 

While we are waiting for more information, I wonder are there any people out there who could answer some questions for me? The first is for those who may be experts in the area of medical law. I was under the impression that under our current legislation a woman in Ms Halappanavari's situation should have been able to receive the treatment she needed. Is this actually not the case? 

My second question relates to the teaching of the Catholic Church. The husband was told the reason why medical staff was prevented from doing anything earlier was because 'this was a Catholic Country' (it is unclear who said this to him). A letter writer to the Irish Times has stated that the Catholic Church 'had, indirectly, a hand in the death of an innocent woman needlessly' (sic). As the Catholic Church has been made a part of this sad story, inevitably I suppose, I wonder if there is anyone reading this who is expert enough in this area to let me know if the treatment Ms Halappanavari received was in accordance with Catholic teaching? 

I would have thought the doctrine of double effect would have allowed her to be treated earlier. She was fully dilated and at serious risk of a life-threatening infection; a procedure was required to remove that risk; the intention would have been to protect the mother from the infection, not to kill the dying baby; therefore performing the procedure would have been morally licit. I ran this past a senior Catholic clergyman & while he also is not an expert in this area he thinks my assessment is correct. But perhaps there is someone who is better versed in these matters who can let us know if we are right or wrong on this.

Now let me be crystal clear: I am 100% against abortion. But I believe based both on the law of Ireland as it stands & the teaching of the Catholic Church as I understand it, that Ms Halappanavari should have received the treatment that would have saved her life.
But as I have said repeatedly above, I am only going on the facts as I have them and more information may emerge to change the picture. 

Already, inevitably, there are calls in the media & by activists that this sad incident demonstrates a need for change in our laws relating to abortion. It's probably too soon to draw any conclusions. I will say that it if transpires that this woman's death occurred because medical staff were confused and felt the law precluded them from helping her when in fact they could have, then of course clarification is needed. But we'll  have to wait until everything is known. In the interim, my heart goes out to Ms Halappanavari's husband and family. This is a terrible time for them. Please keep them in your prayers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

from Russia with love ...

A tip of the biretta to Fr Michael Gallop over at the Let Nothing You Dismay Blog for this letter from Metropolitan Hilarion, the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate to the Archbishop of Canterbury-elect:

Dear Brother and Lord Bishop,

I would like to extend to you wholehearted congratulations on your election as Head of one of the oldest episcopal chairs founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury in the 7th century.
You have been entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ (Tit. 1:7) the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth (cf. Jn. 18:37).

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion are bonded by age-old friendly relations initiated in the 15th century. For centuries, our Churches would preserve good and truly brotherly relations encouraged both by frequent mutual visits and established theological dialogue and certainly by a spirit of respect and love which used to accompany the meetings of our hierarchs, clergy and ordinary believers.

Regrettably, the late 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium have brought tangible difficulties in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The introduction female priesthood and now episcopate, the blessing of same-sex ‘unions’ and ‘marriages’, the ordination of homosexuals as pastors and bishops – all these innovations are seen by the Orthodox as deviations from the tradition of the Early Church, which increasingly estrange Anglicanism from the Orthodox Church and contribute to a further division of Christendom as a whole.

We hope that the voice of the Orthodox Church will be heard by the Church of England and Churches of the Anglican Communion, and good fraternal relationships between us will revive.
I wish you God’s help in your important work.
‘May the God of love and peace be with you’ (2 Cor. 13:11).

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

One could not accuse the Metropolitan of trying to sugar-coat things with his letter! 

Personally, I don't think on the basis of this that there is any likelihood of some form of unity in the near future. And even if these difficulties could be dealt with there remain other issues that are also quite thorny. 

There are some positive notes in the letter, however. He addresses the ABC-elect as 'Dear Brother and Lord Bishop' - that displays a willingness to show courtesy despite the divisions. It might be a step too far to suggest it implies a recognition of Anglican orders, but it is certainly a gracious gesture. 

It also shows that Orthodoxy hasn't washed their hands of Anglicanism yet. Despite the 'tangible difficulties' the Orthodox still hope that some form of communion may be achieved. 

Finally, he clearly spells out what some the major problems are, from the Orthodox perspective, that would need to be addressed if unity is to be achieved. This lets Anglicans know where they stand.
These problems, are of course, are also issues for the Catholic Church. 

This does not mean that it is all gloom for those who wish both to remain Anglican and be in communion with the wider Church. Doors remain open, as Metropolitan Hilarion's letter makes clear. What's needed now is prayer and perhaps some creative thinking. God wants his Church to be One. I am sure he will guide us in the right direction if we let him.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

So, what if I killed loads of people?

A conversation with a baptismal candidate old enough to ask their own questions.

C: Is it true that Baptism washes away all your sins?
me: That's right - in Baptism we die to sin and are born to new life in Christ.
C: But all your sins?
me: All, no matter how bad they are. It's like a fresh start in life.
C: But what about really bad sins, like murder?
me: Those too. It doesn't get you off the hook with the law, of course, but as far as God is concerned it's like they never happened.
C: But say you were really bad ... if you committed loads of murders say, wouldn't he hold that against you?
me: No. After Baptism it is as if they never happened. If fact in the old, old days of the early Church it wasn't too uncommon for kings and princes, who would be responsible for having people put to death and fighting wars, to wait until they thought they were close to death to wait to be baptised.
C: And they'd be forgiven too?
me: Yes, event though they might have been responsible for literally thousands of deaths.
C: Maybe I should wait until I'm older.
me: What do you mean?
C: Well I haven't done anything really bad yet. Maybe I should wait to be baptised until I'm older. Really, really old, like 56.
me: Well you could wait. The problem is, if you've spent all your life doing whatever you like, because you know you'll be forgiven everything once you're baptised, what makes you think you'll be suddenly able to stop? You'll be pretty hardened in your ways by then. And, remember what it says in the Bible about not knowing the day nor the hour? You might plan on being baptised when you're 56 but then be hit by a bus when you're 26! Then where would you be?
C: But what about the bad things I do after Baptism?
me: That's what Confession is for. If you're truly sorry for what you've done and ask God's forgiveness, then it as if those sins never happened either. That's why we talked about how important it is to make a good confession.
C: I suppose we should go ahead with the Baptism so.
me: I'm glad to hear it ... especially as the church is already booked  and we have everything organised!

Some great questions ... I don't often have such deep theological conversations!  

Monday, November 12, 2012

after the referendum ...

The amendment called the 'children's referendum' has been passed. So be it. But it's passage occasions some thoughts.

People stayed away from the ballot boxes in droves. Of those who did vote, a sizable minority voted no. This despite the fact the measure had all-party support, there was no organised 'no' campaign, & the government's unlawful efforts to promote it. Should we really be amending such fundamental law as our Constitution to bring about changes the vast majority think is too big a yawn even to vote for, and of those who do vote there is far from overwhelming support for the measure? The people have spoken. And what the people said is that they didn't really want it. 

And as was pointed out endlessly during the campaign, the government already had all the powers required to protect children (should they care enough to use them). The amendment wasn't really needed either. 

Perhaps what is needed is one final amendment to protect our Constitution from such witless and unwarranted tweaking in the future. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

how we should give

The widow giving her mite in today's Gospel puts me in mind of old Mrs Foley, the sacristan of the church where I was an altar boy many years ago. Mrs Foley had been widowed young & never re-married. She was in her 70's when I knew her, a tiny woman, far smaller than the ten year old boy I was then. She always dressed in black from head to toe, topping the ensemble with a black shawl. She wore thick round glasses and had rather a large nose and was unfailingly cheerful.

We altar boys loved her. Not, I must confess because we recognised what a wonderful, virtuous woman she was. Our affection stemmed from the fact that she gave each altar boy a 'stand' of 'two bob' after each Mass. Looking back, I'm astonished. Two shillings was a reasonable amount of money back then. Using my school-boy brain calculator & converting the number of sweets I could buy with that money then with what the same number of sweets would cost today, it was the equivalent of at least three euros in today's money. And there could be five or more altar boys at a Mass, especially the later ones. And she was no cheap-skate - she liked to see lots of altar boys at every Mass & sometimes she might ask you to do two ... and if you did, you got the stand twice.

She was easily laying out two or three pounds of her own money on this 'encouragement' of her young scalliwags. This in a time when the widow's pension wouldn't have been very generous & if she was getting anything from the church to compensate her for the long hours she put in as sacristan, it wouldn't have been much ... probably no more than the few pounds she distributed to her boys ... and quite likely less.

Mrs Foley, I'm quite sure, was taking food off her own table by what she was doing. But as I said, she was always cheerful, always smiling. She was happy in what she was doing. She was doing God's work. She kept the church clean. She made sure everything was in order for every Mass & every other service. She ensured a plentiful supply of altar boys to make the liturgy more beautiful ... and perhaps to encourage vocations to the priesthood (that may even have worked in at least one case ... though perhaps not in exactly the way she might have hoped for!).

Mrs Foley was like the widow Jesus speaks of today. A woman who gave not from her abundance, but from her poverty, with a generosity that would put a rich man to shame. Jesus held up the widow as an example for his disciples to follow. So the question we should ask ourselves is: where are the Mrs Foley's today? Do you know any? Do you see even a hint of her when you look in the mirror each morning? You should. We are all called to be like her ... do we even come close? I pray that we will try ... and with God's grace succeed. Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Want Zombies? Well, we got zombies!

OK - how cool is this? A zombie movie with Brad Pitt. World War Z! It's got to be box-office gold. Don't like zombies? Hey, it's got Brad Pitt! Don't like Brad Pitt (really? are there really people who don't like Brad Pitt?)? It's got zombies! Genius! 

And the trailer looks really fantastic ... I know trailers always look fantastic ('all the best bits were in the trailer, dear') but this looks really great ... trailers are an art form in themselves ... the Oscars should start handing out a gong for them ... maybe more than one ...

 '... and the Oscar for the best trailer goes to X!' ... '... and the Oscar for the best trailer based on a truly rubbish movie goes to XX!' ... maybe you can think of more categories for trailer awards (?)

 ... but in the meantime, while you're thinking, and while we wait for June 2013 and a zombie movie with Brad Pitt (!) at least we've got this great, full-length, trailer. Enjoy (or don't, if you don't like either Brad Pitt or zombies ... you strange individual, you)!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Habemus Papam!

New Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Well, not quite! But I'm sure you know what I'm getting at (after all, the Coptic Church just announced their new Pope ... ).

You can find the announcement on the Archbishop of Canterbury's website here.
Some media reaction to the news here and here.
And his Wikipedia (the font of all wisdom!) page is here.

Hmmn. If what Wikipedia says is right that his 'theology is reported as representing the evangelical tradition within Anglicanism' he may not thank me for that 'Habemus Papam' remark. Oh well. I never had any illusions about being a candidate for preferment to high ecclesiastical office in any case. And I'm sure I'm not alone in that thought!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

the unintended effect

I am deeply uneasy about the so-called 'children's referendum' which, if polls are to be believed, will soon be enacted in our state. (Let's face it - how many of you have seen a 'no' poster? I haven't ... I couldn't even find one online for this post.) When I worked as a tax inspector I saw a lot of the 'unintended effects' when it came to legislation. By that I mean scenarios where the framers of the law meant one outcome but smart accountants or tax-lawyers were able to discover alternate meanings. These loop-holes could, and did, cost the state millions.

The dogs on the street know there have been unintended effects when it comes to past constitutional referenda in this country. I'm thinking particularly of the one intended to 'copper-fasten' our position that abortion is wrong that has caused all sorts of difficulties in the past. That referendum seems increasingly likely to bring it in in some form. 

The intended effect of the 'children's referendum' is that the family will have less rights and the state more, supposedly in the cause of children's rights. The amendment does not, and is not intended to, give children any added constitutional rights that they do not already have. Instead, it gives the state the right to displace the role of the parent when it thinks necessary.

The presumption is that this will only happen in extreme cases. But who decides what is extreme in these cases? The state. The practical effect is that the state  will have almost unlimited power to tear asunder the family, according to its vision of what is in the best interests of the child. 

This means the family, which has been for milenia in all civilised societies the fundamental building block of society, can be torn asunder on the whim of the state ... which will have the concomitant power, it would seem, to put in its place almost anything they like.

This is why I am uneasy. This is not a children's referendum. This is not about children's rights. It is social experimentation gone mad.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

forget the election - remember Frank Duff!

(note the cool pioneer pin in his lapel!)
No doubt history will remember today as the one when Barack Obama was re-elected president of the USA. But a tip of the biretta to E F pastoremeritus for reminding us today is important for another reason - the 32nd anniversary of the death of Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary

Frank's legacy continues to dominate the landscape of rural Ireland. There is hardly a small town, I think, that does not have a Legion of Mary hall. The halls seem little different to what one might expect of a local parish hall - which many of them essentially serve as - except they always seem to be painted white with a blue trim ... and of course, have a niche with a statue of our Lady on an outside wall situated so as to be easily seen from the roadside. 

Frank's contribution to the life of the Church was so note-worthy that he was invited as a lay-observer to the Second Vatican Council ... a remarkable achievement for an Irish Civil servant from a modest family background. Frank died in 1980 and in 1996 the then Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, introduced his cause for canonisation. 

Frank, I believe, is still short of the required accredited miracles needed for the Church to recognise him as a saint. So perhaps you will ask for his intercessions if a particular need arises? Not forgetting, of course, to make contact with the authorities if your prayers should be answered! The prayer for his beatification, from the Legion of Mary website is as follows:

God our Father, You inspired your servant Frank Duff with a profound insight into the mystery of Your Church, the Body of Christ, and of the place of Mary the Mother of Jesus in this mystery. In his immense desire to share this insight with others and in filial dependence on Mary he formed her Legion to be a sign of her maternal love for the world and a means of enlisting all her children in the Church's evangelising work.

We thank you Father for the graces conferred on him and for the benefits accruing to the Church from his courageous and shining faith. With confidence we beg You that through his intercession you grant the petition we lay before You . ............... We ask too that if it be in accordance with Your will, the holiness of his life may be acknowledged by the Church for the glory of your Name, through Christ Our Lord,

My own father, Jerry, suffers from fairly advanced Alzheimer's. If you don't have any particular cause to ask Frank's intercessions for, perhaps you'd consider asking his prayers for my father? Let me know if you do. I'll let you know if a miracle occurs.

Every blessing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election USA

The USA is voting. The result affects the entire world because the US, despite a few setbacks, remains the most powerful nation in the world. For my own part as someone who served eight years on active duty in its armed forces I care deeply about the country's future. So I am praying for God's guidance and direction for those who vote this day ... 

I suspect that the current incumbent will still be in office when the dust settles. I was a fan the first time round; less so now. I don't think he's lived up to expectations. Perhaps it isn't possible to live up to those kind of expectations. But if he manages to hang on, at least he'll have the benefit of a few years experience in office.

Whoever wins, I'll keep him in my prayers. He has a tough job ahead of him. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

I had a dream ...

I was reading the book of Daniel last night. Most of chapter two was part of the lectionary readings for evening prayer. This chapter deals mostly with Daniel's interpretation of the mysterious dream of king Nebuchadnezzar  As I was reading, it struck what a good thing it was that I wasn't one of those being called upon to interpret the king's dream. Any time I've had a dream that has seemed in any way portentous, the cold light of day has later revealed it to be very, very wrong. 

I'm thinking for example of the dream concerning a certain young woman who decided to declare her undying to devotion to me (in the dream, you understand). The woman was by no means unattractive, but I was unavailable, so I was rather nervous in her company for several weeks thereafter. The fact that she shortly thereafter produced a boyfriend - whom she later married and had several children with - did tend to take the edge off my worry. Unless she was making a truly remarkable effort to hide her real feelings, I strongly suspect this indicates the dream was wrong. 

And then there was the dream I had subsequent to hearing the news that an acquaintance had died after a brave struggle with a long illness. I was surprised as I hadn't been aware that he had been ill at all. I went to bed that night & in a dream learned that his 'long illness' had been a battle with alcohol and depression which had finally ended in suicide. I awoke to the uneasy feeling that the dream had revealed some profound truths to me about the life and death of this person ... however, the profundity was rather diminished when I later learned that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

Dreams may well carry important information for some people. We come across it several times in scripture for example. But for most, I suspect, a dream is just that - something that will fade like the morning mist. And unless you have strong evidence to the contrary that your dreams are different - and I do mean strong evidence, along the lines that they have enabled you to win the lottery several times on the trot - then it is probably best to let them go.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

how nice is 'nice?'

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

I sometimes begin to think that the concept of being 'nice' is the guiding principle of ethical living for many in today's world. By 'nice' I am talking about never doing or saying anything to make someone else uncomfortable about how it is that they chose to live their life. To do otherwise is to be 'mean' ... it is a world-view where 
there is no such thing as right or wrong, there are only things that make people feel good or feel bad … and if behaving a certain way makes someone feel good, then the behaviour itself must be good. 

This attitude, of course, stands in opposition to nearly 2000 years of Church teaching that suggests it is important for people change how they live ... that we are called as children of God to holiness of life ... and that such holiness is not always compatible with this kind of 'nice.'

There are, of course, some who point to scripture & say this 'niceness' fits in very well with what Jesus had to say. In our Gospel reading today he says one of the most important commandments is to love our neighbours as ourselves … and if you take that along with what Jesus says in St John's Gospel about giving us a new commandment that we love one another, then perhaps one can see why ... 

Of course, all the rest of the things that Jesus said might be something of a problem … he did say elsewhere for example that it was important to keep the commandments … not to steal, do murder, commit adultery, lie … in fact, Jesus seemed, in places, to be even stricter than the Old Testament about what it meant to break the commandments … looking lustfully at someone or divorcing them was the same as adultery … angry or insulting words were like murder … 

Which is a bit of a stumbling block if you don't want to in any way say or do anything that might make a person even the teeniest bit worried that anything they say or do might be wrong … sinful, in fact, if we may use what in modern parlance is very often regarded as the 'S' word, a term not to be used in polite, that is to say 'politically correct' company …

But that can be then countered by the fact that Jesus also said not to judge others … no judging, only love … seems like a pretty good recipe for live and let live, for not only not caring whatever it is that others get up to, but positively approving it, cheering them on, in fact ... a person may lie, cheat on their taxes, steal, cheat on their spouse ... but w
ho is anybody to judge? Someone would have to be pretty mean to say it was wrong in any way … and certifiable to say that it was a sin ...

So why has the Church taught differently for almost 2000 years? Was it that it that all those who have gone before this generation didn't love others ... and that we are only now figuring out what it was that Jesus truly meant? I think not … I would suggest that they saw the command to love in a different way … that their love for others saw past the momentary 'feel good factors' of this life, and saw as the true goal of that love as the salvation of souls … they didn't want people to go to hell … they wanted them to go to heaven … and they thought that meant that people had to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow the Crucified Lord… and they saw the Sacred Scriptures and Holy Traditions of the Church as being a help and a guide toward living the kind of holy life on earth that would prepare us for eternal life in the next …

They read passages like our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Ruth, where she says 'your people shall be my people, and your God my God.' and saw it as meaning we had to make choices in this life … and that those choices had consequences … just as Ruth can't both go with Naomi and stay home or worship the false gods of her homeland and worship the One, true God … so we can't expect to live with no concern for God's laws and also receive the reward of Eternal Life … they read passages like the one we heard today from the letter to the Hebrews where it says that Jesus 'entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption' and thought that if Jesus had to shed his blood to redeem us from our sins, then our sins must be real and there must be consequences for leading a sinful life. They didn't think it was possible to both cling to a life steeped in sin and also be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb … 

And they took seriously verses like the one in our Psalm today where it says: 'Put not your trust in princes, nor in any human power,• for there is no help in them.' Which meant they laughed at any 'princes of this world,' who tried to tell them loving one's neighbour didn't involve a concern for their immortal soul … and they believed that this concern entailed reminding them what God's Word and God's Church teaches about how to live … that the kind of 'love' that ignores or encourages a life that is not in accordance with God's law is not love at all … it is a something that is worse than hate …

And so I end, as always, with a prayer: I pray that we, & all God's children, will, with God's help, love others enough to worry about their fate in the next life more than their pleasures in this … that we will love them enough to risk their rejection and hostility by challenging them to lead holy lives … and that we will love them enough to always show them how to live by our own example of holy living. Amen.

sermon notes 4 Novemeber 2012 4th Sunday before Advent

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The wrong funeral

All the clergy in my diocese had an email from our bishop the other day informing us of the death of a brother priest. Being still fairly new to the diocese, there remain some of  the clergy with whom I am relatively unfamiliar. However, I placed this name at once, having chatted with him briefly at our recent clergy conference.
'O dear,' I thought. 'So young. Only a couple of years older than me.' 

Arriving at the church this morning for the funeral I paused for a moment by the door to admire the large and somewhat unusual casket. As I stood, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. It was our bishop, standing at the rear, having a brief word with a clergyman who had his back to me. The priest turned; my jaw dropped slightly. I looked from him to the casket and back again. My colleague saw me looking & came over and offered me his hand. 

'Morning. Good to see you again,' he said. I shook his hand, a little weakly, and said nothing. But there were many things I could have said. Like: 'I'm so glad that you're not dead.' It didn't seem appropriate somehow.

I sat down in a pew with the person I had traveled with and spent almost a minute staring at the name on the service sheet, trying to figure out how I'd gotten things wrong. The little grey cells finally fired into action & let me know that it was merely a matter of a slight similarity in the names between the man in the casket and the one I had just shaken hands with. My companion leaned over to me.

'I thought you said he was dead?'
'Well clearly he isn't!'
'So who is?'
'I have no idea. But he's still a brother priest in the diocese. We would have come anyway.'

And so I would have. And I will also note, that having heard the address at the funeral I am truly sorry I never actually met this person in this life. It sounded as if he was truly a remarkable man, who faced the troubles life threw at him in an inspiring way. 

However, I'm not sure if I'm ever going to be able to look at that particular colleague whose funeral I thought I was attending in quite the same way again!