And what are the sounds we offer to the world in our liturgy? It's really important, because apart from meeting the vicar in the pub, perhaps this is where most people in society encounter the Church of England, other than its pronouncements in the media of course: at funerals, at some weddings and baptisms, on TV.She sees the Church as having tinnitus, that blocks its spiritual music - she speaks as a sufferer. She says it is caused by too much noise, like gunfire or too often in night clubs. Guess where she was. Not so - it can also be caused by allergy, which could be so in my case (could be headphones too).
Our current predicament in the UK with our own internal and shrill conversations reminded me of the story reported in the press last week of two men in Mexico who are the last known speakers of an indigenous language: they've fallen out with each other and are not speaking. So the very language they're speak is under threat. That tragic story can be translated into a situation where the disconnection between Church and society in twenty first century Britain is clear.
You will know of the ordinand who was told by his bishop that before the next time he saw him he wanted him to go into a betting shop and place a bet.
The ordinand was outraged; "What possible good could that do?" He would refuse. Anyway it might even be immoral.
The bishop insisted: "Go into a betting shop and place a bet."
Three months later the ordinand returned.
"Well, how did it go?"
"It was horrible. I couldn't find the betting shop at first - then I did see one on the high street. I walked up and down outside, and I really didn't want to go in. Eventually I plucked up courage and I did go inside: there were a load of men watching the race on TV, I didn't know what I was supposd to do, but I went up to the counter - in the end I was too scared to ask anyone. I placed the bet and watched the race; I couldn't wait to get out; my heart was pounding."
"Never forget," said the bishop, "that's how most people feel about going into church."
Liturgically and theologically, with the disconnect between Church and society in England: the fact that hymns are not known by which previous generations learned the theology of redemption and salvation; generations of young people and adults are not educated in the faith (as we heard this morning) - much less aware of what might actually happen within a church building. The spiritual gifts of awe and wonder, worship of something greater than ourselves, are being lost to a generation that is resolutely credulous and whose spiritual instincts are directed not so much towards God within any religion as towards a fantasy world of Dark Materials and Hogwarts Academy. It's not that society is becoming increasingly secular. The secularisation theory is being challenged by sociologists. The world is as furiously religious as ever and the paradox of the increase in fundamentalism in all religions in late modernity is a conundrum that Church leaders are struggling to understand.
She goes on to refer to the Church saying the same ancient liturgical prayers now as when a whale that came up the River Thames was killed enthusiastically by the public, yet 1000 years on when those same prayers are said the public cried as the whale in the Thames was helped and eventually died. Thus the London intercessions will have changed. We have changed the times we are in and we understand liturgy according to the context we know.
The Church, she later says, is doing displacement activity about itself in its disputes whilst there is a raunch culture of commodified sex and ongoing violence that is not (easily) addressed by the Church as commentator. Compassion, forgiveness and anger is right when justice is to be found on the other side of anger. As for the internal dispute, you can build relationships with others across a Communion with those with whom you profoundly disagree, but you must recognise the fundamental equality of the other.
This of course is what is lacking at present.
Here is a good joke from earlier in the talk, relevant to all of the above (of course):
On a lighter note I am reminded too here, while we're on the subject of vestries, of the distinction with which I am sure you are all familiar and for which I am indebted to my friend Mark Oakley, that you can always tell which denomination's vestry you're in by what is hanging on the wall. In a Roman Catholic vestry you'll see a picture of Jesus's sacred heart; in a Methodist vestry you'll see a picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and in an Anglican vestry what you'll invariably find on the wall is a full length mirror.As an update (Tuesday 17 November) I consider I might have been too enthused by her speech. No harm in that. But I did listen to where she also said that Lazarus was in the tomb one day longer than Jesus, and that he is the only man in the history of the world to die twice. And I reacted on hearing that, "Oh come on! You don't believe that!" Well, she might do. If she does, then it shows how daft religion can get. If she doesn't, and she was engaging in myth-speak, then it is the problem of this era that such talk is misleading. Lazarus is a story by the early Church to show resurrection miracle power being engaged ahead of the big one. No one has ever died twice, and come to think of it a body dead for hours, never mind days, is not resuscitated. No, not then or later: not by anyone, not to others, not to themselves, not by a connected and outside agency, not in the supernatural. Let's get sensible.