Sunday, 31 May 2009

Another Perspective

A few things have happened I might have commented upon, and then I had that realisation that I have nothing to say on the two recent topics to appear. The first is the choosing of a lesbian bishop in Sweden and my response is so what and what can be added.

The second is the publication of names to chew over the well chewed over Ridley Cambridge Draft Section 4 of the intended Anglican Communion Covenant, and one wonders what difference their chewing will make. Let's see what they actually do, by November apparently.

Yet the two topics curiously come together.

The further effort with the RCDC Section 4 can be seen as Rowan Williams wanting to keep both sides going that bit longer, rather on the grounds that Conservative Evangelical John Richardson lectures about. I did listen very recently to the three pieces he presents with a large measure of agreement, except he misses out why Rowan Williams has a more action view of Incarnation and that is because the theology is not just about reconciliation but essentially narrative and novel-like, if into the detail. Our embodiment as people is in that we, as biological beings, do things with one another, and put it all into story form too - we are walking biographies. Accidents are also the stuff of life and turn events, and a theology of the cross from narrative must be part accident, part choice.

So it is possible, occasionally, to agree with a Conservative Evangelical! Anyway, I rather have more time for the stance of someone like Elizabeth Stuart, who would hope that her Queer Theology can bridge a gap that gay and lesbian theology apparently cannot. Her argument is that both sides have argued themselves to a full stop (and perhaps Rowan Williams ought to take note: once you have argued to a full stop, keeping two sides together is neither here nor there). For her, lesbian and gay theology has taken its categories too readily from liberal theology and from lesbian and gay politics. Such fixedness faces the fluidity apparent of the Conservative Evangelical side (about gay people and an ability to be ex-gay, so it becomes a forced heterosexuality). She would make the categories far more fluid too - Queer Theology she calls it - but one that affirms such different ways of loving, and where, in any case, baptism is the main identity and the remaining identity when it comes to salvation. It is not that gay and lesbian Christianity is a mistake - she says that the divine speaks through all forms of knowledge - but that it has come to a halt - and that through liturgy the Church contains a divine logic to be queer. See Stuart, Elizabeth (2003), Gay and Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions with Critical Difference, Aldershot: Ashgate, 3-4.

I rather like Elizabeth Stuart's approach, and note that she is the Archbishop of the Liberal Catholic Church International, an inheritor of nineteenth into twentieth century liberal theology, in its combining of individual experience leaking into Theosophy (and therefore with interfaith characteristics) and the individual consumption of romanticised liturgies that also led to Catholicism and Liberalism meeting (as in Charles Gore's 1899 Lux Mundi). Plus Bishop Charles Leadbeater was something of a magick man too when it came to understanding eucharistic acts (premodern!).

I am also drawn to her use of Joerg Rieger's four theological movements of the twentieth century (page 4 of Gay and Lesbian Theologies). I need to alter these so called 'turns', but I will use them I think with the church In Depth group. I agree with her that they are not turns, but now run alongside each other (page 6).

  1. The first is the liberal, though surely this goes back into the nineteenth century, as I have been discussing recently with In Depth.
  2. The second movement was the neo-orthodox, with Karl Barth and others - and I would argue that all of the modern theologians of the twentieth century reacted against the liberals (including Tillich) and here I will place Bishop John Robinson. I know this surprises some of my church friends, but the whole point of my little course is to show that not all first appearances are what they seem.
  3. The third movement is liberation theology, which might be experiential again but unlike the liberal is experiential of power and collective responses. It also stretches into education and the self is addressed through classes and their facilitators.
  4. The fourth movement is the postmodern, with both liberal and conservative forms, the liberal being collapses into writing and expression (Mark C. Taylor, Don Cupitt) and the conservative being a fantasy bubble of orthodoxy as with John Milbank on the Catholic (Anglican?) side and Yale postliberalism on the ecumenical Protestant side, which freeze and absolutise culture.

I'm a liberal postmodern, according to these four types.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Affirming Liberalism 2009

On June 6th I along with active friends of mine from school days will join one or two others for something of a small overnight reunion as we all hit 50 years of age. We have all done different things, and materially I have achieved the least but remained relatively happy until recently.

On the same day down in Oxford will be the second Affirming Liberalism conference in Oxford. It moves around buildings in the University of Oxford and has two speakers, Canon Professor Keith Ward and Canon Professor Martyn Percy.

I would be interested; recently I wrote about the liberal publication Essays and Reviews and notice that it took up a large part of Mark Chapman's lecture in 2008, but reading it I can now see better that the perspective is much more that of Charles Gore editing Lux Mundi than the authors of Essays and Reviews. I just do not think that the lecture brings out the radical nature of the book, even if that radicalism was in terms of Victorian self-assurance about development if along with doubt about the future of belief. Keith Ward's lecture in 2008 was along regular Christian believing tramlines, arguing that Christianity is liberal (with the effect of making its content less liberal).

I would call myself a Religious Humanist who practises Christianity. This position, with adjustments for a non-State approach to religion and away from Hegelianism, is closer to the authors of Essays and Reviews than represented by either of the 2008 speakers. It is clear that a sort of moderately critical position is going to be taken by the 2009 conference too. Keith Ward seems to take a place in this gathering that Don Cupitt has taken regarding The Sea of Faith Conferences, but whereas Sea of Faith could not even carry the label Christian (because it occupied as space from theism across non-realism incorporating Christianity, Humanism, simpler and Western forms of Buddhism and progressive forms of Judaism) the Affirming Liberalism approach seems very Anglican.

At the moment it seems that Affirming Liberalism is asking to be legitimate in something of an institutional boundary game, and its legitimacy-seeking therefore leads towards its deliberate moderation.

Now moderation is a good thing, as is being reasonable, but you can be reasonable from several different stances. I cannot quite see the point about being moderate regarding the supernatural, for example, when it is reasonable to dismiss it as something approaching mumbo-jumbo. If someone says, for example, that God might be thinking about this or that regarding the direction of my life, I have to wonder what on earth this means. The notion that a deity exists with any interest is something so trivial as me (or you) when the twentieth century saw incredible human suffering and industrial killing without alteration seems just perverse. Events do not indicate active godly opinion, but if they do then such a God is a monster.

I think this is reasonable, and reasonable to conclude that such a God does not exist. I think it is entirely reasonable, for example, to look at the New Testament and conclude that dead people do not come back to any form of objective life. I do like to watch Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, but it's the only case I know of a chap listening to another chap talking who cannot be heard by anyone else (but he's good at blowing out candles). By the way, I always think Marty Hopkirk (Deceased) is very inept, as he ignores key events of suspects and their plans when he could be listening in to them pretty much continuously. Marty Hopkirk seems to disappear when the case is solved too, rather as Jesus disappears once a theological point has been made, though why he doesn't continue to watch his favourite television baffles me (I know, Jesus did not watch television). I think there is one adventure where Marty might be finally laid to rest in the other world and out of reach of Jeff Randall, a sort of equivalent of the Ascension, being a sort of final goodbye, or at least before the return at the end of the Christian novel of the world.

The point, for me, is that religion is a means of reflection and contemplation. It is a voluntary engagement with a set of texts from a different time and culture that facilitates some sort of ethical reflection. The Jesus of Judaism is entirely human, though he (of course) believed in an intense form of the supernatural going on around him and through everyone. Paul produces a salvation religion about Jesus, influencing others, and this produces other insights and raises all kinds of difficulties which even liberals often try to circumvent. Nevertheless, this religion about Jesus (as all approaches to Jesus must be) does produce today a relatively small, supportative, serving community of some value to itself and wider society as it does reflect and contemplate (as I would see the activity). Such is quite valuable.

(Isn't it funny, meanwhile, how many a liberal is quite happy to do the metaphor bit about the Ascension - it's one of the preaching opportunities often given away by clergy to Readers and curates, along with the baffling sermons for Trinity Sunday - but when it comes to the resurrection, an equivalent belief, the stakes are too high for such purely metaphorical treatment.)

So I am 50. When I was 30 in 1989 I was going towards Unitarian College for the purposes of being a minister, as about now in the year I was awarded my Ph.D, and before then when 26 while writing it I was contemplating Anglican ministry. These days 26 year olds contemplating ordained ministry are rather jumped at because you get more career out of them, whereas back in 1985 the notion of more experience was desired. Later in 1999 I gained an MA in contemporary Theology as also applied to social life, although my dissertation was intended to extend the Ph.D into Unitarian Universalism, despite my marginal activity with Unitarians at that time as in 2002-2003 when I did a schools PGCE in RE. But really the MA and the religious interest in the PGCE were memories of something that had gone by (and the main schools element of the PGCE was something that never connected afterwards). I haven't lost the knowledge of all these courses (indeed I pass them on within the In Depth group), but I just think that they are of something like a disappearing world.

I watched an infuriating BBC Four programme earlier (Wednesday) about the Celts after the Romans retreated from Britain and the legacy of Patrick in Ireland, Dan Snow's thesis being that the untouched-by-Rome Ireland turned from being a Pagan backwater into the new bringer of Christian civilisation to the Anglo-Saxon world (and beyond). It was full of cliches and assumptions, as per usual, for example, Hadrian's Wall represented "power" and stability of Rome - when actually it represented the limit of the power of Rome, a line in the sand, having tried to go further north. I presume Dan Snow did a history degree or some such, as well as having the benefit of his father as a newscaster and BBC nepotism. One piece of nonsense was a Catholic priest interviewed saying that the Sun was replaced by the Son, a small move for sun worshippers. Yes, mate, but that is in the English language and the Gaels have very different words for Sun and Son. Honestly!

But, anyway, what Dan Snow did not say was that the Christian view continued to represent (by absorption) all that the people in Ireland had worshipped, but took the ultimate Godly power out of nature itself and made it more singular and focused. There was a shift of perception. He was right to emphasise the importance of writing, but monasticism is also a kind of fortress Christianity that can leave a population relatively untouched (it is why Nestorian Christianity in China collapsed with no noticeable trace when the missionaries arrived).

We have been undergoing a similar shift in our era, not to a higher ultimate power, but to no ultimate power, and the viewpoint had intellectual beginnings but is now thoroughly dispersed. Explanations are now this-worldly and practical, with only remnants of weak and disconnected superstitions, and we regard responsibility as ours. It is why I think Affirming Liberalism is probably too little and too late, and represents an arrangement of thinking that might be reasonable for Christianity but isn't reasonable regarding the shift of intellectual and ordinary thinking that has taken place that Essays and Reviews saw happening in its own time.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Joined Facebook

As a result of searching for someone, I've joined Facebook and uploaded a few photos and the sort of information that is already all over my website. I am an open book. The signing up process interrogated one of my CSV address book exports and many of those I removed from contact, but guessed who might want to be in connection. The email link is to find me more easily and I am registered with middle name as well. I am on Skype as Pluralistspeaks, and I do when on Skype.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Scottish Kirk to Split or No?

Back in the days when I made periodic visits to YMCA Bonskeid House, Pitlochry, I looked rather ingnorantly upon a bust of Thomas Chalmers contained within the house. I was more interested in the previous owners and ordained visitor, the Barbours, and anti-laird, socialist inclined, John Murdoch, that led to me meeting one of his descendents. It interested me that about the 1840s Bonskeid was about the location that Gaelic was spoken, moving west. It has retreated far from there now. Incidentally Bonskeid House is now a private residence, so it cannot be visited.

Thomas Chalmers led the Great Disruption in 1843 that meant 451 of 1200 ministers and a third of the Church of Scotland members left to form a Free Kirk. The issue was one of patronage and the middle class after the 1832 Reform Act thinking it had more right not less to determine the ministry (including the lairds on a more feudal basis). There was a Veto Act, that allowed a congregation to reject its patron's choice and a Chapel Act that put ministers fully into their churches, but new churches could only be extensions of chapels-of-ease and there ministers did not receive full status. Thus Chalmers and company left, and became able as Free Church Presbyterians to expand as they wish. Chalmers, however, was a mixture of prejudices: anti-urban, anti-working class and pro-property (so rather odd in that he led a movement from patronage). The class distribution of these Churches was that the main Kirk had upper and lower class support and the Free Kirk had middle class support.

All this is by way of introduction of a habit in Scottish religion towards schism. So originally there were two sides: Chalmers had the Free Kirk, or the Wee Kirk, or the Kirk without the steeple, whilst left behind was the Auld Kirk, the Cauld Kirk, or the Kirk without the people. In 1847 a majority of the United Associate Synod of the Secession Church (from the 1820s union of many scessions) joined the Presbytery of Relief (a 1761 secession) to form the United Presbyterian Church and this merged with the Free Church of Scotland in 1900 to form the United Free Church of Scotland, with a minority staying out and retaining the Free Church of Scotland name (the Wee Frees). This was after the Free Presbyterian Church had been established in 1893, over the libralisation in the United Free Church regarding the Westminster Confession. By 1929 the original Auld Kirk had achieved some vitality of its own (even some coloured windows!) when the United Free Church of Scotland was absorbed back in, aided by an Act of Parliament in 1929 that recognised the intentions of the seceders. So one impact of Chalmers' efforts was eventually the progressive secularisation of the Scottish State regarding religion and a specialisation of Churches away from social provision and towards religion. This was so after such experience that Free Church children had to attend Church of Scotland educational institutions but it didn't give poor relief to Free Church children, and also academics had to subscribe to the Church of Scotland's Confession of Faith. Disraeli scrapped that in 1874.

All this is by way of background to events regarding Scott Rennie in Aberdeen. It is the habit of secession. Even in 2000 22 ministers walked out of the Free Church of Scotland regarding the comparative liberalism of Professor Donald MacLeod. One can go back to William Robertson Smith, of the Free Church up to 1900, who questioned Moses' authorship of the Torah in 1875 when writing for the Encyclopaedia Britannica (he was its editor from 1887) and who suffered six years of trials from fundamentalist influence until 1880, only to be deposed from Aberdeen Free Church College in 1881 after another published article, though his views continued on and indeed became even more influential at his new base at Cambridge.

So what is happening now? Scott Rennie kept his ministry in Aberdeen, but the Church of Scotland has frozen any further gay men appointments for two years, with a commission sitting and a ban on talking to the media for two years. So it has done something of the Anglican approach: a man appointed is in place, but there is a moratorium from any more. A group calling itself the Fellowship of Confessing Churches is operating as an extension of the GAFCON Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans - the FCC statement is pretty much that of the FCA (and really demonstrates how little Anglican is the FCA and how rather more it owes to Conservative Evangelicalism) - and while it continues to agitate a group of Scottish ministers which thinks that the two year kick into touch is not worth it.

The question is whether, at a time of secularisation and decline, there is the same eagerness to divide the Scottish Church again. Probably not, but it is the habit.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Pulling Out a Plumb Sermon

For various reasons the sermon on Sunday morning was not completely audible and easy to follow, which is a reason it can go on the web, but in as much as I followed it more questions were raised than within the sermon. It was delivered by retired priest Gordon Plumb, more likely to be seen on the Internet for his photography.

The sermon is at that bit of the Church year where the eleven disciples have an election and choose the twelfth, in order to restore leadership for the coming restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Gordon thus looks again at Judas, who we assume has killed himself, though the Bible gives two versions of a death. I wonder: it is quite possible he went off and joined another active group and left the Jesus as Messiah returners to themselves, and thus was given an account of a death, and a good old Jewish label of scapegoat (that's biblical, by the way).

Gordon's reading of:

I guarded them, and not one of them was lost, except the one destined to be lost, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. that the disciples read their scriptures and found the passages that related to events, and then assumed that these will have been predictions adding authority to the events. This is because Gordon wants to preserve choice for Judas in doing what he did. When Judas does what Judas could only do, like mechanically, then it loses moral purpose.

The chance then must be that Jesus might not have been arrested, might not have been killed, and that rather changes Christianity. The sort of cosmic plan in classical evangelical Christianity of God sending his son to die upon the cross is, well, God sends his Son who might die thanks to the cruelty of the regime that happens to be around at that time and thanks to an unreliable disciple. The assumption in classical evangelical Christianity that Jesus has perfect knowledge and so he picked Judas
(considered by anyone else a bad choice) knowing he would be do the deed necessary turns into a bad choice, a mistake made by a leader.

The whole business of Judas with the money and the betrayal found in the Hebrew Scriptures is something Gordon thinks happened by the remaining eleven, but why should that be so? Why would not Jesus read the same scriptures first and fashion his own ministry on that of the suffering servant in the context of what is likely to happen to someone upsetting the cruel foreign power in the land? If Jesus is saying to his God, send in the Kingdom, Jesus has to act, but presumably has to act according to the scriptures. Which then has Jesus himself arranging with Judas to pay some money according to the scriptures and get Jesus betrayed. It looks like betrayal then, but this is even dodgier. In this case, the set up is Jesus's own, and it is a con. Jesus is setting himself up to impress God to bring about the Kingdom (I'm not pursuing trinitarian theory here, but Jewish messianism). So Jesus gives Judas the nod to get on with it.

Of course then Judas would hardly have committed suicide, other than the disaster of Jesus being killed. But such might have been expected (though not from the Jewish authorities alone, and to be the Son of Man etc. is no blasphemy) if the Romans are systematic about cutting the heads off potentially popular movements.

Of course there is another possibility, and it is that Judas was taken off and murdered for doing what he did, or to be told to clear off out of it and it taken that he was dead (it rather looks like hearsay that he killed himself). The issue of Jesus as first of the resurrected has to be connected with the eleven and the expectation still of the end, and Jesus being the first of the rising of all.

It is quite possible that Judas was frustrated, but this assumes that Jesus was seen as a Messiah while he was alive. I personally don't think that at all, that Jesus is there to bring about the coming of the Messiah that might be Jesus transformed or someone else. Jesus is rather a trigger for God to send the Messiah. The twelve become the leaders of the twelve tribes, after all, only after the Messiah has come. So all Judas is doing is giving history a push, to bring about the Messiah, and Jesus himself is as interested in giving history a push as Judas.

In the end Gordon's speculation is just that, and whilst I agree with the method of speculation my own view is that the Judas story never makes sense. It doesn't matter which way you run it, it is morally and ethically inadequate. It is so if mechanical, it is so if Judas is frustrated, it is so if Jesus and Judas manage a put up job. One solution is simply that Judas had had enough, and hadn't agreed that Jesus would return, and went off to find another leader who might yet be messianic, or at least have a fight. The possibilities are endless, and in the end pointless.

In the evening a sermon from the priest in charge David Rowett asked about the ten days between Ascension and Pentecost, but of course these are ten liturgical days (though, as he said, John's gospel rams it all together in one go). It wasn't ten days. What we have is a Church particularly of Gentiles who want a monotheistic faith and have hung around synagogues for too long, and have remained after the Jewish Christians met the same fate as other Jewish groups around 70 CE. Rather like a universe looking back to its big bang, Pentecost becomes the Church's birthday, and thus a Holy Spirit that is a guide from then, that is Jesus added to, that is thus Jesus no longer resurrected as such and present in that sense (and so has to come back), and thus the resurrection was for a fixed time, to be continued later.

To me it is all a construction, and why when Gordon can exclaim 'Christ is risen' and lots of allelulias then I haven't a clue what he is on about, except as a piece of construction at a time when people believed these peculiar things. It is why I do not join in. It is why I am roughly in agreement with the authors of Essays and Reviews and their radical reinterpretation of the heart of Christianity, though even that is a construction.

Tackling the BNP

I have to say that I don't think the Joint Statement of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York is the best way to tackle the British National Party.

The reason is a British establishment institution telling individuals how to vote, especially of course working class voters who might desert Labour for the BNP who are not exactly first listeners to the Church of England. There are two reasons, the first being establishment institutions are not exactly well regarded at the moment, and secondly the Church of England in particular is kept at arms length by most of the British public.

Also the question is whether the public need reminding. There is something condescending about the institution 'having to remind the public' as if the public does not know already. People would vote for the BNP precisely to give politicians a kick. It is a dangerous way to do it, but an establishment saying don't do it is likely to get people to do it. Plus thanks for the publicity, says the BNP able to play the martyr card.

However, had Dr John Sentamu said this himself, and said it as an individual, then this would have been different. Then the public as individual voters would have identified with an individual. John Sentamu is black, and a target of the BNP, and this would bring it home. Then it is not about an institution, but about a real person, and so instead of using the BNP to kick institutions that have become corrupted, there would have to be overt racism to so vote BNP in order to attack John Sentamu.

It is not a criticism of Rowan Williams. He might not be regarded highly within Anglicanism at present, as an example himself of arguably working the institution and wheeler dealing, but most folk haven't a clue about how Anglicanism operates (better keep it that way, perhaps). Also this statement comes on the back of another one from Rowan Williams about stopping exposing of MPs, when the public want MPs to be exposed further and clear them out. He has misunderstood the public mood or the public purpose rather as the Speaker Michael Martin tried to dodge around it. Rowan Williams on this BNP issue is just the other person. The two of them together is understandably to emphasise the importance of the matter, but I just think it would have been better to have had such a statement (modifed) from someone in the BNP's firing line, to then emphasise what is involved in voting for such an outfit.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Rot of a Culture of Rules

The Archbishop of Canterbury's commentary on British political culture in The Times is entitled Enough humiliation. We must move on, but this particular point is not pursued, but rather what becomes of motivation and behaviour in a culture of rules. He does not use the phrase, but rules lead to a culture of the Nuremberg Defence, that of only obeying orders. I think it is about more than this. I have some examples.

People who sign on as unemployed ought properly to be looking for work. That's right and reasonable. Each person is different, so personal skills connect to a range of jobs and they are advertised in different places. But imagine a rules based culture where actually "actively looking for work" is not enough, but you must demonstrate different ways of looking for work. The press advertise their vacancies on their websites, indeed that's part of the deal for advertising these days. But for people who sign on, they have to read the same adverts by different means. There should be three different ways of looking for work demonstrated at each signing on. Now you lose benefits if you break the rules, not if you don't look for work. Some people could obey the rules and not really bother too much in looking for work. They cannot be touched. But an agency desperate to show 'success' in getting people off the register can capture people who break the rules yet are looking for work.

Here is a major success of government. There are very few long term unemployed. Well, when one gets to 18 months unemployment, the New Deal kicks in. This forces a set of weeks of going to a centre to look for work (by the way, no reference there about different ways to look for work), and then a set of weeks doing workfare, followed by another set of weeks looking for work again. After this, the unemployed life starts all over again, and suddenly you are newly unemployed. This is something to do with the dole becoming a "training allowance" while the usually pointless workfare takes place (by the way, I helped generate my own provision via creating a new provider, so mine was not meaningless). Thus, because of the New Deal rule, the many long term unemployed suddenly become very few. I have never believed jobless statistics ever since the Tories in power started fiddling the statistics, and this government carried on the practice (and, what makes them worse is the deception of saying that Labour would be honest with the figures). When you look at who is actually economically inactive, the actual numbers and proportions of the adult population are staggering.

Or consider Housing Benefit. Apparently, if you live in a larger house than you need, you get your Housing Benefit cut. This happened to me. The council, after paying me Housing Benefit at a particular rate for as long as I was unemployed and renting, suddenly announced to me that mine was being cut. I had not moved house: it was the same place. So I put in an appeal that failed within the council and then an independent decision was made, which, because my rent is reasonable for a smaller property, resulted in restoration of my benefit and a back payment. During that period of challenge, I of course declared the rent payment, but the council then decided that because it is 24 pence more than the legal agreement (of a few years back) that it is considered a declaration of a change of circumstances. I am having to square this circle now at cost to me and rather greater cost to the council, all for 24 pence a month. I was happily accepting a housing benefit of 24 pence less a month than I paid, but now bureaucratic machinery is in place at huge expense regarding the 24 pence.

In this I showed honesty and transparency, whilst the council is out to impose rules in order to cut its payments, regardless of need, resulting (however) in an increase in costs to do it.

Here is another half con. Housing Benefit is paid every 4 weeks, so it is less than the monthly rents people pay. Clever that: it delays the payment and the councils get interest on the funds they hold for that bit longer. They pay 13 times a year instead of 12, and tenants are forced to struggle with the difference (with restoration after a year) unless landlords go along with 4 weeks at a time, thus taking upon themselves the loss of interest.

MPs wonder why, when we have to obey these rules, that they are being dumped upon by the court of public opinion, for ripping off the system and the public finances to thousands of pounds each using rules that they brought in for themselves. They were only obeying orders (their own).

There is also a question of intent. Imagine an east-west road going westerly into a town, that goes down a long incline. Along that road is a school entrance and the speed limit is 30 mph. There are speed cameras warning signs, meaning mobile cameras used from time to time. Regular users of the road get a feel for cruising down that long incline for a 30 mph speed - it is so easy to go faster and speed can gather. In day time, irregular convoys of cars slow themselves down as traffic negotiates all that happens around, such as pedestrians, road furniture, parked cars. When should cameras be there? School times, surely, and busy times. But they are not because the road tends to regulate itself. So when do police cameras get to work? At 7 pm, with sunlight behind and falling, so cars on the incline are looking into a silhouette, where you have to give extra attention to the road, and a car turning slows others down, but you will touch the accelerator afterwards, peaking the speed above 30... And the camera van is right in that spot, right where the speedometer will go over speed. After all, what is the point of a camera turning up when it can be seen at a point when safety is important, when a van can hide behind the sun and pick up motorists for fines who are trying to drive safely?

There is an annual motorcycle event, and every year the organisers put out notices to "Watch Ya Speed (like the locals do) and that is a harvest time for fines.

Or let's take the fantastic success in education, where target driven school and college sixth forms all now achieve 100% A level passes, and yet many of these students go to university and need remedial action. Everyone is obeying the rules, but the width is measured not the quality. Indeed students do a lot of work in their sixth form courses, much of it entirely pointless. They get processed through exams as before, whilst lacking the literacy to do their own essay craft and the study skills to find out themselves some extra depth for what to write. What did I do at A level? I had a teacher read notes, give tests and hand out essays. Get on with it. Sixth form was a bridge between school and university. You went to university with experience of learning to write an essay yourself, not having the essay plan and content spoonfed, and learning to find books on a subject. Doing tests and putting down the answers yourself was training for exams, not being told to revise to memory short paragraphs of text that become plug-in answers.

Here is an interesting one. The vast funding that goes into literacy and numeracy at the bottom end of education now goes into something called Basic Skills (not Key Skills any more - know your jargon!). Here, badly employed and paid tutors actually travel to workplaces to give very basic tutorial instruction to workers in situ before travelling home again. Because of the contract nature of colleges and education, and this bright idea that all this should take place in workplaces (where learning is 'relevant'), knackered tutors are travelling cross country and being paid for driving cars for hours at a time, and staying in cheap hotels, to give a few hours tuition to bored workers before travelling home again. And the paperwork is the proof of targets being met. Don't expect anything of use to come from this system, other than the 'proof' of paperwork properly filled in and so called recorded achievements, and soon it will be scrapped. I think they might call the next daft idea 'Foundational Skills' or something like that - instead of wondering how on earth so many people can go through years of school and come out with such derisory abilities.

The Archbishop of Canterbury worries for our democracy. I don't, and the bloodletting hasn't gone far enough: I think our democracy is a sham of appearances. The House of Commons is no longer a proper legislature. It is an electoral college for choosing a government, and a rubber stamp for passing legislation into law. We have a rotton parliament, and with career progress limited in that place MPs have just milked the system for personal gain. I would clear them out, and have a programme for the next parliament of major electoral and constitutional reform - a House of Commons of proportional representation, I'd have lifetime-retirement elections for the House of Lords (that gives members there further independence from government arm twisting, it means elections there could focus on personal achievements and qualities) and all election candidates would be chosen via primaries open to signed up party members up to a date of a fixed distance prior to a vote of selection.

There is an interesting parallel between the Speaker, Michael Martin, whose focus was on maintaining MPs privileges rather than being sensitive to voters' views, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose focus is on the religious bureaucracy of the Anglican Communion over and above its constituents. Michael Martin last week put in a lamentable performance and worked the procedure to avoid a vote of no confidence in himself, only to realise the obvious and next day resign. The Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica, also put in a lamentable performance that some regarded as rule-playing and dishonest (flip-flopping his position) that ended up damaging the ACC and losing yet more credibility with his damaged Covenant process. His presidential address following the mess was one of his worst, likening the Anglican Communion issue to Israel-Palestine and which speech seemed to drift from one half made point to another, all in the usual double-negative speak that leaves people baffled as to the meaning. The Covenant is itself a production of rules, because there is nothing much else of actual intention behind it, a division for which the rules would be means to paper over actual cracks, though probably lead to endless divisive challenges without resolution. It would be the means by which parties were only obeying its orders. Anglican Churches will just have to be themselves, and tackle themselves in communities of accountability rather than artificial bureaucratic rules supposedly across the world.

Apparently moves to 'measure' clergy performance are creeping in. I bet that will be interesting when fully formed. I could design a form based on activities, with questions like, 'What do you think you achieved in this event/ encounter?' with 'What evidence can you provide?' and clergy could post the results of their latest returns to their bishops for evaluative feedback. It would keep everyone very busy. The police job applications have a section called 'The Vital Evidence' - that is quite clever, isn't it?

The fact is that much of ordinary life in the Blair years was made rotten. The Iraq War's 45 seconds was the classic deception. One longer standing means by which this happened was low taxation and therefore the dishonesty of stealth taxation (including speed vans - the government became forced to paint up fixed speed cameras so that non-locals could see them and slow down, rather than not see them and get caught - but then the cameras failed to pay for themselves and suddenly fewer were installed). Statistics and targets encouraged dishonesty and apparent good performance when actual performance is much worse - another example is how the waiting lists came down in hospitals via a series of transitions of 'being seen' by some consultant (but you were still waiting). Most of all, however, was a credit boom described by government as the end of boom and bust, and of massive fraud and deceptive practices (insuring against risk via derivatives whilst allowing high returns, when the insurance turned out to be impossible and worthless in a chaotic catastrophic system) in the banking system that fuelled the credit.

What we need is a political party or two to give a programme of electoral and constitutional reform, and the collapse of legitimacy in the rotten parliament of now (with ruined reputations: once revered MPs being hissed) leading to an early General Election. That's why Rowan Williams is wrong: we need an election. The government is already clapped out, but too many of its members and far too many MPs are now illegitimate. There is no legislative or governmental authority left, and it is time for the crooks to face the police, the deceptive to be deselected, and all those who stand but were involved in sharp practices to lose their seats at the hands of the voters. It is the election that should be the biggest bloodletting.

And then, for the next regime, with a fully reformed Parliament, where MPs regain authority and indeed professional representative power, can we then move towards professionalism and judgment again in wider society, and not a culture of rules and targets? Lets ensure basic services and have local accountability, and then let's have local institutions making local decisions according to professionals. For example, who will get rid of the National Curriculum in education?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

New Material

It just shows how things are in the Church of England (either in reality, suspicion or both) when the promotion of Giles Fraser to a clerical ethics job at St Paul's Cathedral becomes subject to chatter about a liberal leaning individual getting a promotion, and whether he is a 'good boy' liberal that the hierarchy would promote. Mad Priest has raised this point from his own perspective of not getting a new appointment because he is a blogging bad lad.

From my perspective, Giles Fraser is well within the current Anglican spectrum. He had a recent attack on liberals and boundaries (when applied to religious individualism) that underlined that. Fair enough, if he wants to follow a package deal. It certainly puts the people I've just been talking about into perspective, the authors of Essays and Reviews. One of those, Frederick Temple, somewhat recanted, and was promoted to Bishop of Exeter, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. They really were liberals: evolutionary and developmental liberal Protestant Victorians, open ended in theology along with history and anthropology (etc.), absorbing and promoting the German theology as of Schleiermacher, Rischl, Harnack and Troeltsch, long before the more conserving Christological affirmations of Barth, Bultmann, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, Niebuhr and the like happened as they yet addressed modern society.

Most members of the In Depth Group, with a new face coming in, had not heard about this early Anglican controversy before, a point where Anglicans at the radical end of the Broad Church party had moved as close to the Martineau Unitarian position as they could get - considerably more liberal/ radical than John Robinson was going to be in the 1960s, against which David Jenkins was (and I maintain he was) central and orthodox. The fact that people like David Jenkins and those even more conservative still would face the 'drawbridge up' of many people at Fulcrum recently shows just how sectarian Anglicanism is becoming (if one believes Fulcrum is a central position where the dividing line comes). The In depth group itself discussed its own asking of questions in the context of the religious scene generally, which is admittedly quite conservative, of the minority of the population as churchgoers settling on these bigger churches where they receive ready-made answers. Such did not appeal to this group at all, of course.

The controversy of Essays and Reviews was capped, really, by Lux Mundi, a synthesis of Oxford Movement Catholicism and expressions of liberalism, which leads directly to the Affirming Catholic position of today, but it has taken until today for the traditionalist tractarian movement to finally come to an end in the Church of England as the Church institution prepares to ordain women bishops. The Essays and Reviews authors thought the tractarians were a reactionary group fixed upon externals, but they did not reckon on Jowett's student Charles Gore's synthesis. Another of Jowett's students, Edwin Hatch, might have done more to promote an open liberalism for longer had he not died young (55) when Lux Mundi was first published in 1899.

My point is, over the months I've been presenting, is that these more recent controversies we've all heard about are not actually that liberal at all, contrasted with the theology that was more active in the later nineteenth century; and, as well as giving a survey of controversies, and reactions too, and traditionalisms, I will later want to give an insight into some of the stranger 'just as liberal as the nineteenth century' theology suited to a postmodern setting - such as the writing of Mark C. Taylor of course as we will get back to the spread of American and European theology. These theologies are institutionally marginalised, however. I've already suggested this about Don Cupitt and Richard Holloway in Britain, but these two don't care for the institutional Church much more either (it works both ways).

So our theology tour is also a history tour and is a comment on an institution of the Church of England as something of a theological backwater, but nevertheless revealing periodically to a rather startled audience here - on the same basis that it snows in winter - that theology still goes on.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Benjamin Jowett and Me

If anyone reads the presentation for the In Depth Group, they will notice two contrasting aspects that amount to the same thing. First, I restrain from too much of a personal viewpoint, so that the conclusion almost affirms that the Anglican Church is going to have a Christology-preserving general theological position, and therefore the open theologians of the later nineteenth century were asking too much. On the other hand, I don't talk like you would expect many a believer to talk, promoting a Christ devotional position as my normal style. You might expect some sort of affirmation about Christ and dying or resurrection etc., but frankly I leave these sorts of beliefs to others.

My own view is close to that of the open theologians of Essays and Reviews, and I have a soft spot for Benjamin Jowett and Henry Bristow Wilson, but obviously not that of promoting a State Church on purely Erastian grounds. My argument is nearly with them about evidences: I think the problem with 'the evidences' is not (just) that they are unusual, unlikely or irregular but in the nature of the documentation. It is simply that the documentation is not eyewitness material but theological material that demonstrates as writing for the early Church according to what a messianic person would do and according to the collection of values and realities in the charismatic expectant communities. Push me and dead bodies do not live again, without exception, but the writing supports my view rather than the view that one did. Plus, that a body is said to have been resurrected then gives the problem of then what to do with the story, and thus the ascension until a later return, and yet somehow still with us, and it all gets rather confusing and wrapped up in itself. Personally I think the Ascension is one of the least interesting bits of the Christian calendar, another embarrassment in the list of miracles, and so it should be.

So like the authors of Essays and Reviews I'm likely to extract much of ethical and moral value, but unlike them I cannot say that here lies the highest of ethics and certainly not that the Hebrew Bible points to the New Testament in terms of ever higher ethics. The Hebrew Bible is its own set of books and each stands as its own set of relationships within Judaism. Christians extract from and use it. As for the New Testament being ethical, well much is, but much may not be. Ethics decides what is ethical, not some series of events. It is important that a life lived is ethical, but we don't have any evidence of the stated life of sinlessness regarding Jesus either. That's a necessary point to make even while marvelling at his reverse ethics for the time and insight and compassion. In one sense, that will do, but it is not exclusive.

The point about practising spirituality, for me, is that of self and communal development, and to draw on the resources laid down by these people of another age in a context of contemplation and internal peace-making. It is a kind of Buddhist approach towards observance, and there are Christian parallels. I'm not into promoting some sort of non-objective Radical Orthodoxy either: that's just a game, a sort of Platonism without the heavens. I'm too selective for that. I think there is a possibility of theism, but unlikely, and it is rather just what we build in the spiritual practices we do.

I'm more postmodern than the Essays and Reviews authors. We don't have generalised, still 'objective', cultural sweeps, now, so we are bound to go grubbing among the traditions (but without false boundaries). I use religious literature (liturgical, scriptural) like some people use poetry, when I go grubbing around. A church is just a place where some people put on events, and you contribute towards them and use them.

If people don't actually believe something, but they mouth it because they are told to express it, you can usually tell. There are all sorts of different ways people can believe things, and I like to give benefit of the doubt. But when Benjamin Jowett referred to "terrorism" then I know what he means, and its the obligation to twist your thoughts to fit into the required receptacle. For that I would be a counter-terrorist, except I am respectful of other peoples' beliefs. Plus they are more entitled to their supernatural and traditional beliefs in a place that promotes them than I am in not holding these beliefs: my protest against them is not a protest but is just personal non-participation. I do mouth words I dislike, but on some I draw a line: the creeds as a marker and, unfortunately, the participation in the Eucharist because, for all my social anthropological explanation of the ritual, it indicates my acceptance of core beliefs that I clearly do not share. I would participate where those beliefs are not assumed, and in any case I have a private couple of swigs from my own drinking bottle while most backs are turned and queue up.

I would have joined most of the Essays and Reviews authors in at least seeking ordination, but it requires honesty, and not duplicity. I think ordination encourages duplicity. Anyway, started in 1984/5, that has finally died: promises promises.

There are three broad stances regarding Christianity, that in it there is a kerygma, a kernel or a cultural construction. The kerygma is that self-sufficient, self-justifying reception of the revelation of God in Christ which only needs to be expressed. It is active and dynamic and leads on to all other activities. Then there is a kernel, which is something hidden, mysterious, not obvious behind all the words and actions, which might be an ethical core, or theism, or just some sort of Gaia - an objective truth at the deepest point. Then there is the cultural construction, that no matter how deep you go it is still all made up and still human: there are symmetries and beauties and the like, we say, but may be that is because at the heart of these shapes is a simple mathematical heart and we find that satisfying, but isn't actually satisfying beyond our biology and evolved connections (the body) and our culture. This third view, the construction one, is my view.

I like Unitarian James Martineau and his Anglican friends. I take the view that his sheer subjectivity introduced into objective theism was tipping the whole thing over into a postmodernism. He didn't see it, but that oneness has reached its end as it would fall into groups and individuals to make up their own minds and build their own castles. No one could be a James Martineau today, but consistently such a person would be within the open postmodern. There might still be a kernel of it all, somewhere, but equally that might be impossible to say.

The people of James Martineau's day thought Christianity was in a crisis, and yet 1913 became the best year for church and chapel attendance. If these folks looked at our churches now they would think the religion was finished, just a few remaining people here and there, like something that does not quite give itself up. A longer street's worth of people in a town isn't actually very good, nor some roads in a city. They would look at the few suburban busier places with their expressed beliefs and wonder about the continuation of sects. They would listen in to clergy talking about tribes and drawbridges (as at the recent Fulcrum day conference - I listened to these, and it's like they have no idea) and see what is, in all effect, infighting within a dying institution and an argument of no interest to anyone else. Now there are all sorts of reasons for this chronic decline, but one is the intellectual absence involved, as well as the loss of spiritual method that seems to have shrunk now to some rites of passage. Some of this Fresh Expressions stuff comes across as pretty desperate and very late in the day, but you never know. I don't think it will make much impact unless there is some matching up with ordinary, practical, this worldly thought.

Like the authors of Essays and Reviews, I'd suggest scrapping all promises and having forms of spirituality that remove barriers and clearly more and wider forms of intellectual expression without expectations of one over the other. But I don't think we will ever have other than interested groups that come together, on whatever basis. And in the end, a change in my religious association just depends on where I will live next. It may still be the forms of Anglican liturgy in an undemanding church, or it could be Unitarianism again in a more progressive church (or one where I express my material), Society of Friends, or in a Western or simpler Buddhist group, possibly heterodox Baha'is if they ever come to exist in enough numbers, or even in visits around different places (progressive Jews, Sikhs, some Hindus, Jains) for insights into means towards enlightenment. The world has changed since the authors of Essays and Reviews, but they were more or less on the right lines.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Essays and Reviews In Depth

The St. Mary's Barton-upon-Humber In Depth Group has arrived at the stage of Anglican Controversies, that is those liberal-end events of theology that came out of the university and seminary and had some impact on the media and the public. The first example we will look at is Essays and Reviews of 1860.

The presentation is me ad-libbing from an academic standard paper I have written on this subject, and/ or from the mainly paragraph by paragraph summary. There is also a bibliography and a short main issues section. All these four sections come together in one. I like people to discuss straight away, so there doesn't have to be sitting in silence while I talk, and people can and do talk on anything they like in any way they like.

Essays and Reviews was the one outburst in Anglicanism of open theology in the Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Harnack and Troeltsch tradition of theological equality with other disciplines like history and sociology. Since then Anglican controversies have been far more limited and more internal theologically. Honest to God (1962) was based on modern Christology-preserving theologians. The Myth of God Incarnate (1977) is not strictly Anglican (alone) but was really controversial through confusion but the Doctrine Commission a year earlier was interesting. Controversies since then have been rather pathetic (e.g. the 1980s Durham Affair), and show the slide of English Anglicanism towards a more conservative position. Of course there are the Don Cupitts and (from Scotland) Richard Holloways, but they are institutionally marginalised and, frankly, don't care themselves much for the institution any more. The nineteenth century theologians like Benjamin Jowett did care for the Church of England as a national Church, but they took it to dangerous limits and as close to the Unitarians as it could go (a number interacted). Since then it has been nowhere near, theologically, but for occasional individuals. People seem to keep their mouths shut.

This section of the course is available as a .PDF file alone. I advise people not to use the slow and cumbersome Acrobat Reader, but get PDF X-Change, which is a much more flexible and featured free reader that allows note making - and the free version is more than perfectly adequate. When using the typewriter function (for mark up text - XML writing overlay on the .PDF), remember that a right click on the font choice allows that choice to become permanent - there is no need to use Courier New at 10 point all the time. I would also get Sumatra PDF for reliable printing (and it sees mark up text; some .PDF viewers do not see mark up text).

Friday, 15 May 2009

Dr Art Tickle Righter's Baby

The Wisdom of the Double-Cross:
Some reflections on ACC-14 and the Anglican Covenant Baby

Written by and CC: Rev. Art Tickle Righter;
Wednesday, May 13th, 2009, 2 pm to 2:30 pm coffee break.

Some sad people from around the world Communion of Anglicanism have asked me to surface from ACI business and say something about how my Covenant baby was treated by those people of the ACC.

There are many reasons why I might keep quiet and at least two reasons, I suppose, why I get solicited like this.

First, as well as being in the ACI I was a member of the CDG. So I gave birth to this along with a donation from my mate Archbishop Diesel Addams. It is our baby and several tits have tossed it around the nursery without as much as offering it a bottle of milk.

Secondly, I have long articulated the hermeneutical necessity of doctrinally traditional Anglicans like myself to engage people in complex theoretical wordplay by which time a general bafflement comes about, and yet in this process by the time that Archbishop Roald See O'Vee gets his talking rubbers on to it no one can fail to match the underwhelming complexity of his derivated verbal constructionisms not unlimited to the Covenant baby itself in all its sections and the resolutions it produces in what pram to use and where to take it for walkies.

What Happened

The CDG members involved in the birth feel particularly sad at what happened, when the ACC took the baby's head off and pulled its arms, and then said its feet will have to be detached, delayed in another walk in the park and returned to the JCC, who is effectively an unmarried mother given a task to bung them back on during a walk while it sleeps in its temporary pram. Those feet might end up being bigger, have fewer toes, and even be put on left foot to right leg and versa vice.

There is no justification for what the ACC has done to my baby and they did not have the father's permission - yes, the one in heaven, and me, as Mary, who sits alongside the father in heaven and gives him motherly advice.

So after this violence at the nursery the ACI produced a statement, which I signed, expressing the dismay of a mother at the process that has been followed in reaching this conclusion. We wrote a great deal for people to read, not excluding the nursery staff, and described everything as "embarrassing", "confused", and "manipulative". I stand by this initial characterisation, except I don't because I wish to repent of the word "manipulative" as there is no evidence at all that anyone knew what they were doing when they yanked the baby's head off (as North Americans would), and twisted its arms and eventually dropped its feet into another pram. This is because nursery staff at the ACO said to the ACI, "Are you sure?" and I said, "No, actually; we are clueless like you."

Who gave birth to this baby? Who allowed it to speak its first words, and then produce long winded sentiments once it arrived at the ACC? In a few confused and chaotic few minutes visible to the world at large that have serious consequences for the Communion, and whose propriety is now debated (and I and the ACI are hardly the initiators of or even strident voice in this debate), and the actual significance of which remains unstated and unknown, the baby was forced to swallow its growing diction like a thick dictionary was lodged in its gob.

Unlike at the CDG, the resolutions that did these actions came from a small unrepresentative group that simply did not appear representative of the views of the whole ACC, and the sequence of events in the debate and resolution-voting, amending, and re-voting maintained a skewed dynamic of direction as people struggled to know what meant what and where in the torture of the English language, for which I am infamously well known, is it all going?

The nursery staff at the ACO persuade neither me nor the ACI, that somehow they have a sense of the other parents in the form of Archbishops and bishops and babies crawling around them in the form of laity and some rather pathetic clergy, many there under the subterfuge of being reporters.

The parents from Nigeria do tend to smack their children, and so does that dad from Uganda, though he was missing down the ecclesiastical pub somewhere else, neglecting his other children again. Then there was the deaf parent from Egypt, who can't hear his kids as part of the listening process all parents should undergo when raising children. And then you get Western parents with their fancy theories such as from Mr Spock and Captain Kirk, and the Americans even sent a woman, when we thought mothers like me would be busy out at work, like cleaning toilets and doing typing jobs. How are nursery staff then at the ACC supposed to get the balance of the unemployed fathers then, other than by them being there and not going down the pub?

There may indeed be good explanations for why things happened with the babies, and particularly this baby, the way they did. But the concrete dropping explanations have not been forthcoming, or outgoing, and on a matter of such importance, fraught with enormous lintel-busting tensions from the start, especially involving Health and Safety, this lack of clear illumination cannot but be perceived as substantively obfuscating (and get your teeth round that one Mr Ugandaman and others who were actually present for whom English is a second language struggling to hang on to the word constructions of Roald See O'Vee).

Some admission of this fact would go some way to mitigating a lingering sense on the part of many.

I personally have no opinion on this matter, but it has left a bitter taste for someone who prefers pils.

Its Meaning

Of course I am I am deeply deeply disappointed. Me and my mates at the CDG had been busy and even the the Covenant's detractors had admitted we had carefully assessed and appropriated suggestions and critiques.

So what was wrong with the baby as delivered to the nursery? Couldn't they have let it crawl around instead of trying to yank its head off and remove its feet? I would be the first to acknowledge that it was not perfect. When we put it on draught we thought, well at least this is an Anglican baby, surely a compromise in itself. We could have bottled it better, perhaps, but people prefer a good draught and we had a good third draught pulled at this stage of its growth with a nice big head. The CDG has actually given it a common mind from quite disparate original perspectives, and we gave it a good shot of electricity. No other Communion child has undergone such a deep and wide-ranging and temporally patient scrutiny when born in hospital and since and with instant open-hearted surgery, rooted on common prayer and worship by the doctors and professors of theology when operating.

But I am willing to admit that my hope that the ACC would simply discuss and commend the draught pulled was ill-founded and represented.

We were oriented to a process that moved somewhat too quickly from the maternity ward and perhaps the nursery could have operated only as a "response" group, much as Lambeth 2008 functioned with the last Covenant sprog on draught. Then ACC responses to intervention might have come back to the CDG and we could have sent it out in an ambulance for finding foster parents, going via Roald See O'Vee, this short term foster parent being able first to say, "cudgee cudgee coo," or perhaps, in his case,"uncudgee uncudgee uncoo," or even saying different things at different times, affirming the baby, criticising it and affirming it again according to which arm, leg or head was attached or unattached with each subsequent amendment inside a pram so that no one gathered round knew what was happening at the time.

The larger context of this authority is the one that takes acutely into account the common service of the Communion's members. As I will point out below, I have not finished yet in this tortuous explanation of anything in particular, as I watch the clock and drink my coffee.

Let's be honest. Political manoeuvering is the standard method that the Holy Spirit uses to advance his agenda in this twisted and upside down world of scheming and monumental suffering that is brought about. Look at the disastrous first Council of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts, and then Nicaea and then Lampal. I feed my dog with Lampal. But what do the neighbours think, with all the crying that comes out of the ACC nursery, and that's only the staff and the parents, while the children play away merrily around their feet? I find deeply disturbing my own response to how the nursery runs and the parents' "standing orders" as they get their babies on draught. It is ill-advised in large measure because the nusery has been moving away from old fashioned "Western" telling off frameworks to a more consensual approach of Mr Spock and Captain Kirk. The Captain, says Mr Spock, has to get the sense of the crew, in determining the mood of the gathering on the basis, not of votes, but of the tenor of the soprano and that computer voice by Majel wotsit and the nurse that was the Unitarian Gene Roddenberry's wife (the Unitarian baby in the nursery is the one that comes in with one leg). I would not recommend it: it is a highly subjective and thus unaccountable mechanism - one person "sensing" the ideas and mood of a large and highly disparate and often contentious group of individuals from many cultures and languages and worlds across the universe, all of whom look human with a bit of make up on and speak English anyway, which is a huge benefit for intergalactic travel. The method seems intrinsically flawed and incapable to doing. You have to absorb directions, and impose military rule. I suggest that next time the ACC puts on a pair of briefs about procedures it jolly well makes sure that the underpants fit. Roald See O'Vee noted that this was a "smallish thing". There is nothing "smallish" about it! Not in my pants anyway. Remember that I am a big nob in these parts.

This is a way that many do not trust, that has turned out to lack credibility in its prosecution, and that has taken many by surprise in the midst of a plea for expected forms of common life, and is to promote a certain kind of contradiction.

We should instead be a traffic lights people, called to red, yellow and green (Mt. 5:37) as the starship comes to its next junction with the Romulan Empire. There are many other Bible quotes I could make to add a bit of spurious credibility to these writings as my coffee gets cold.

So much has been damaged that I could get another mug for my coffee and writing. This represents a confirmation of all the negative feelings in place, ones that have been publicly acknowledged by the ACO itself, and that moved the CDG not to make the ACC a key arbiter. We have already seen that happen at the Lambeth Conference and it was to some extent already in evidence by no-shows at the ACC. There was the no-show at the end, when normally we have a show and Mr Ugandaman gives us a funny turn. This has been the poison in our ecclesial bloodstream thus far, and its public tainting. People might seek alternatives, like border collie crossing and other secretive mongrel breeding activities at GAFCON and the like.

All this makes us at ACI and CDG squirm about the ACC chosen group which could put the baby back together again and narrow the options. The JSC's coming participation in the confusions of the recent ACC and its involvement involves those most vigorously against my baby as it looked. They didn't even want me to have a child. Both the Primates' Meeting and the ACC have been judged inadequate for such an adjudicative task so how can the JSC do it? How will they be chosen in a credible fashion, given the different sizes Gok?

Related to all the above, the process and outcome of the ACC provided a negative Specsavers to ecumenical partners who don't like us regarding our ability to model the kind of communion-oriented polity. It undercuts our credibility as dialogue partners with those who think we only play at it in the nurseries of the world. It is hardly opening to a larger vision of ecclesial fellowship and reconciling commitment, providing a sad commentary on the devolution of Anglican unitive ecclesiology at work.

Do you not understand what I am saying? Is this not the point?

Those who have stayed have been yet again left to argue a case for which the Instruments themselves are offering little support. The surgeons need more invasive equipment. It is their own incapacity to speak and act clearly, like when I write.

My Continued Commitment to the Covenant Baby

Look, it's my baby and I want it back in one piece as me and the CDG put it together after it was born. It's my tit and I want to breastfeed. I want it able to be devious: as it was a baby to grow up and be a little beastie with all sorts of independent diocese friends. I could just simply walk away from it all, and seek to start afresh and get pregnant again with some new or untainted version of the Church. You can't get rid of me that easily: moving to Canada was just a tactical shift, on the grounds of "thus far, and no further" (Job 38:11). No, the powers of corruption, error, brokenness, and division (BCP page 816) are the objects of my fearless combat, wombat.

Always look on the bright side of life. Give the baby back as, frankly, I hope that it is the CDG itself that is given this task of putting its delayed feet back on, with Diesel Addams the father; or at least send the baban bach via another group with its feet as they were attached to other nurseries for consideration. There must be a clear public set of briefs given to this group, or alternatively give the baby a decent nappy to contain all the shit produced in this process. Myself, I would prefer that the Archbishop himself send the baby out directly straight to school and do it in short time, with its feet on so it can walk to school without the 'school run' of vehicles bunging up the pavements.

I don't wish to be pretentious, but we look like the parties of the world's civil wars, in Sri Lanka or elsewhere, while the civilians are being shelled, and this is no good for children walking to school, especially if they have to walk to Rome, the seat of the Beast. But do not fear going into the centre of such machinations, and facing them with a very cross Jesus Christ who is getting really fed up. He will say we are sheep and it is raining and I'm afraid the bell has gone so that's it as I have some student theology essays to mark, rather like mine, but rather slower in construction and somewhat easier to follow.

Dr Art Tickle Righter CDG ACI and mother.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

MPs' Lost Authority

The BBC reporter says that people in nearby Scunthorpe are dismayed. Now this is normal, but what he means is that their MP has been found out, along with the mass of them, to have cheated the expenses system. Elliot Morley kept claiming for a mortgage on a home when he'd already paid off the mortgage. He has been stripped of membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It comes at the same time as married conservative MPs claimed different second homes (the second home ought to be the work home) so that they actually paid for none of them. They look to be in serious trouble. But these are just examples across a House of Commons that has by and large turned into a House of Con-ons.

What I want now is an (albeit small) list of MPs who have not fiddled the system, and current MPs on the make ought to resign as MPs and local parties select new candidates. Clear the lot of them out.

At present we know that the Labour Party in power has gone past the point where it can formulate, refine and execute policy with an agenda in mind. It is, in other words, clapped out, and Gordon Brown is worn out. There are particularly duff cabinet ministers, including the Home Secretary whose husband received porn films on these expenses.

With my benefits, I regularly have to justify what I do to be eligible, and recently the local council tried to cut mine, so I made an appeal through to external channels and won - it lost - and it now the council regards that episode as me declaring a change of circumstances. So I said to one operative that this is beginning to look like harassment. This is comparative pennies compared with how MPs have milked the system when they thought no one was looking, and now the Freedom of Information Act has found them out and spilled the beans. It is a bit like the legislation that stopped large donations to political parties, only to find they tried to fiddle the system by having loans that were never going to be paid back. Well they were hoisted on their own petard on that one and on this one. The Speaker of the House of Commons is angry in the wrong direction.

I even think an election might be called because authority has rushed out of the House of Commons. The Speaker, in defending the corruption and attacking the release of the information, is himself ridiculous but has allowed the leakage to become a rush. MPs are on the make. Never mind the government being clapped out: the legislature is morally bust. Now we even have members of the House of Lords in a cash for amendments scandal. Every single sitting MP will have their expenses fiddle on election literature - so either the local party gets rid of them first or we know who else to vote for.

Cameron has tried to look like action man because he (rightly) sees this could undermine his quest for power. Gordon Brown has limped along afterwards, in typical dithering worn out fashion. But there is a need for root and branch reform.

The root of this is the absence of ideology as a motivator for getting into Parliament, and a parallel loss of the public service ethic. Since Thatcher and Blair, it's all been about how much you can work the system and money rolling around doing the talking. With this credit collapse, and the need not only to live within means but to repay debt, what is now needed is a set-up of basic provisions and priorities on which people depend, largely state delivered and locally accountable, with only then the private sector being wealth making. There must be an end to the mortgaging to the private sector public sector provisions. Unfortunately this all comes at the end of the Labour period of rule, the party once of the left that became right wing, with an even more right wing Conservative Party wanting power. It's why I'll vote Liberal Democrat and hope many more do, simply as a means to get fundamental constitutional changes, to change the culture of Parliament and to shift out the dead wood. Labour, as a right wing party, have ended up forgetting its core principles, and in the process its MPs, along with others across all parties, have forgotten what public service is and have just decided to line their own pockets before the public chucks them out.

Measure of Success

Changing Attitude is very positive about the outcome of the Anglican Consultative Council in Jamaica, but let's read partof the commentary carefully:

They will return to their Provinces with new vision and energy for the future of the Communion and I rejoice in that on behalf of Changing Attitude. It will help to strengthen bonds of affection between LGBT people across the Communion as we continue to endure resistance to our full inclusion and restrictions imposed by Provinces obeying the moratoria.

Whilst I agree that the outcome is more positive for LGBT people than what was planned by GAFCON and Anglican Communion Institute, for example, who have been somewhat shifted to the side, isn't the official idea and a measure of 'success' that provinces should obey the moratoria?

The passage quoted is like saying: 'Tremendous success, the ACC failed in some of its members intentions!'

Indeed, a really good outcome is one that weakens and makes the Covenant useless (in that the Covenant is the advancement of religious bureaucracy over people being called to sacrifice themselves in its interests). But the leadership was attempting to pass the Covenant and to have Section 4 present, if delayed. We think.

It puts into another context the idea of "glorious failure" referred to by Rowan Williams in his Presidential Address. One could say: "It was a glorious failure, well done: the Covenant was weakened some more."

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

On Episcopal Café

Written as outcomes were emerging, but before the dramas and technicalities of the voting were known, I have an analytical piece on the Anglican Consultative Council in Jamaica and elsewhere regarding the Covenant and its impossibility of doing anything that parties wanted from it. The title isn't mine, but it reflects decisions that take the Covenant away from its manipulation by the far right (theologically, of course).

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Presidential Address (ACC)

On the eve of the closing of the ACC 14 in Kingston, Jamaica, the Archbishop Roald See O'Vee delivered his Presidential Address. The Council has a Chair to sit on and the Archbishop sits on the Council Chair Bishop Patercake-Baker. The address, Lambeth Palace, London, came after the evening worship, and was followed by a thanks to Bishop Patercake-Baker who retires as the Chair at the end of the meeting to ebcome a Table, and Bishop Scot Wales who was recently consecrated as the Bishop of North Wales (and gave advice to Canon Philip Crumb Monarch Bootslick as to what to expect when he gets 'done' later on) is also leaving to do some shopping.

So, in the words of Status Quo, it's 'Oh here we are and here we are and here we go, all aboard and were hittin' the road', and what have we achieved, other than a bloody mess and confusion? In 1997 Arundhati Roy published his novel The God of Small Things. It's about twins who were victims of circumstance, and has that not been our experience here in Jamaica? In the novel, small things have big effects. Yes, indeed, in critical times, small things achieved can magnify, and so a big mess here must be absolutely ginormous.

The first thing we did was we got up every morning. I want to dwell on this a little. If we think about the growing millions of unemployed, getting up every morning is quite a task. Unemployed people tend to drift on into the night, and their hours become skewed, with a sense of feeling sleepy and lethargic all day. Sorry, are you losing interest? feeling tired, clergyman? So I think it is important that here in laid back Jamaica we did volunteer to rise every morning, and I know some of you got up particularly early to meet in your friendship groups and do some plotting. As you can see, I prepared this speech well in advance! And we prayed every morning, and that's what you'd expect, really, given who we are. It's like being with the vicar and saying, 'Are you going to say grace?' before a meal, and he goes, 'Naw!' We did read scripture too, which means that we've been good boys and occasionally girls. And we did some other things too.

And these other things were about theology, the Bible, the Church. Sorry - what do you mean 'What do you expect?'? I've been asked to give a speech, like the President gives a speech so you may as well listen to me. OK, it may not be academic but I've been doing other things. Right. Evangelising - we did some of that, like that Ugandaman bloke who's been missing. He obviously couldn't give us the time of day. I am getting on with it. Just be patient for a change.

Right so I'll mention the Covenant then. There you are. We agreed on that and on the work of the Windsor Continuation Group. Sorry? Well you'd only get to the airport early if you left now. What d'you mean you hardly agreed to anything? There were votes weren't there? All right, I'll grasp the nettle.

Suppose someone is apparently terminally ill in bed, but she gets up with a hop, skip and a jump. Don't you think you'd start to question whether she was terminally ill or not? I know I would. Well, all right, she might just collapse immediately afterwards there and then, but the evidence so far is she has the colour back in her cheeks. What? I wrote this last night. I was feeling tired, yes. Look, do we really think that delivering Section 4, as it was, is the be all and end all? I'd say the fact that we got up in the morning and said our prayers is an achievement, and I want to emphasise this, because there is precious little else to emphasise. The Bible like Arundhati Roy has a great deal to say about small things and, having little else to emphasise, by the grace of God or something like that - and we have never actually seen God at the end of the yellow brick road.

Well, as that comedian used to say, "And I love you all!" and I do want to express my gratitude. Roses grow on you. No I won't get off - this is my speech. We have the grace, the charity, the liberty to pray and plan together. Ok I could have edited it better, but bear with me will you. Let me get my crystal ball out. What? I thought I'd zipped my flies up. Oh dear - ah, the advantages of a cassock!

So look into my ball and see the future! Let's be honest: you didn't give an inch and I didn't give an inch, so that ball is looking just what it looked like a little while back. So let's thank God with all our hearts for what has been given to us, by God, in our prayer, through our fellowship here, in which no one gave an inch in an intense stand-off. Adam Ant. Adam Adamant. I'm not being sanctimonious with all this God and prayer stuff: I don't even know the meaning of the word. No, I intend to finish this speech - I won't get off.

Think of Waiting for Godot as they think about the Holy Land: such a green and pleasant place it is becoming. Sparkling waters in the irrigation, and established green agriculture, but we can't discuss or make decisions when tanks are on the lawn. We can't discuss when there are facts on the ground. Like we’ve conceded something and you haven’t moved. But, you know, at least with all our prayers and fellowship, it's not quite as poisonous here as in the Holy Land. We are all in our little parties, aren't we, mixing poison, and claiming victimisation as we remember the victims of injustice, which is a wholly good thing to do I suppose if what we did meant anything.

But look at the Holy Land and its rivalries. What? I thought of this last night. I told you I was sleepy. It's knackering coming out to Jamaica, you know. If a Palestinian and his account of the conflict can meet an Israeli with his account of the conflict then, boy, we should be able to meet one another. Yes, this is desperate stuff. They have snipers, and so do Anglicans, especially those live bloggers reporting into a system of instant criticism especially of me. Of course I feel it, I'm only the Archbishop incarnate.

Who are the real victims of this dispute? Well Christian credibility is shattered by the sense of rejection and scapegoating which a great many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ experience. And I would include, if you'll listen, people who suffer when a photograph is taken of them. What? Yes I'm listening... You thought your soul was being extracted by someone representing the devil with an instrument of evil? Isn't that a little pagan and superstitious, bishop? No wonder we can't keep this Church together. What? I know it is not a Church. Woman. Yes, OK, Communion. What? No, it's not much of a Communion either. That's true; well, that's the point. I'm coming to that - that there are others who cannot confidently commend the Christianity they long to share with their neighbours because they feel that fellow Christians have somehow undermined their witness. It's a bit of a bugger, this, isn't it? But we could at least recognise the cost each side bears, even if I know it doesn't solve the problem but it's a start of sorts I suppose - could be. 'Save all your kisses for me', da da da da-da da daa!

The Middle East and ceasefires: Hah! Moratoria! Stop the shooting! Bang bang pop pop, the old water pistols at dawn. Yes I am a little insane. I'm probably going doolalley, being at meetings like this. This Covenant has become A Bouquet of Barbed Wire. Anyone remember that? It had Frank Finlay in it and a lot of naughty bits. CJ wasn't in it, but he - sorry that's in Reggie Perrin, I meant JC - was supposed to be in Friday's deliberations when we went bang bang pop pop together, with the grace of God and our fellowship. So anyway it's 'Back to work with Labour', to take the Covenant back to the provinces, saying 'Hello Province, got a new motor?' and stuff like that, really, to see what they want to do, and say well section 4 is like a caravan we unhitched at the last lay-by but, after it's been a bit bashed up a bit it'll come along later. "Hello Reggie, hello CJ; goodbye Reggie, goodbye CJ." Dum dum de dum. Oh the listening process. Now Mountaineer Anus - that's what it says here - he says he's hard of hearing and the shy people of Egypt don't tell him when they actually, you know, bat for the other side. What? Well, find some other people to listen to then! But look, that listening process goes on forever. No I'm not getting off.

There's the doorstep challenge. Do you know that? She says, "Does your Covenant wash whiter than this Covenant? I'll swap you my Covenant for your Covenant, and if yours washes whiter you can have your money back." So we have to keep, like, washing. You know that joke with the one doing the washing up? 'Mummy, why are your hands so soft?' and she replies, "Because I'm 12." Well, it is a serious issue, I grant you; more serious than this waste of a third of a million quid. So please pray for the Covenant, as I'm sure churches up and down England won't. Yeah, I come from England - well, Wales actually. Cymru am byth, that's what I say, isn't it. We've discussed a timetable for the Covenant - bung it on the first train and watch it disappear!

This is what I can't understand. Star Trek, right, has a Federation, but that federation is like military rule. It's all so benign - but how odd. So I'm a Babylon 5 person myself, much darker, and of course the Jews were exiled to Babylon with much pregnant meaning as well as pregnancies that kept them going for generations. Well, obviously. Wow! And some of you talk about federation. Isn't it confederation? Though there are enough cons around here and not enough pros. Yes there are in Jamaica, but we don't want that. Well it's possible that some provinces don't want to sign up for the Covenant, but I don't want that, but it is possible; but if some glue to each other and some don't, how can we keep the institutions and other jobs going? 'How can we keep from signing?' Well we can keep them going even if only so many sign up. Like you can still do Bob a Job Week. You can still say, "How's yer mum?" and stuff like that. Anyone seen Pastor Yemi on the telly?

Now I'm feeling a little queasy so I'll go on a bit longer. What makes it all impossible is a ceaseless rhetoric of fear like careless talk costs lives, and we don't want that. And here's a funny thing: we are far more polite to outsiders than we are to fellow Anglicans these days! I mean, I kept hearing people say about me, "You bastard; you devious shifty King Canute, you so and so, you double crossing manipulative manifestation of evil." It's compliments like those that help me get up in the morning. Yes, I said it was a small achievement, getting up. Do you know that Phil Crumb made a joke about me having a shave on the first of April? Imagine that: I'd be late down for my chucky egg if I did that.

Finally, then, what have we learned? "Precious little," I hear you say. Yes, well that's right because we've learnt that we are not very good at resolution passing. No, really, I'm not the most devious expert at resolution passing who knows exactly what I was doing. That's just a slur, suggesting that I am competent. I'm not competent. What I want is my mummy. No, like at Lambeth 2008, relations have to be deep enough, and then we can scratch each other's eyes out but lovingly. No, I do want my mummy. We value ourselves, like two and six in old money. Twelve and a half pee, but we don't have half pees now. I know I don't. So, yes, having a pee, makes us intermittently holy and intermittently a mess. And God be thanked for that! But, you know, the real Church doesn’t always look like the ACC at work, any more than it looks like Roald See O'Vee stood here feeling a little odd I hasten to add. The real Church is on the ground - a very potent metaphor too as structures – physical structures – come and go. Earthquakes and hurricanes, bang bang pop pop, and church towers topple over. Ooo, and over it goes. Crash. And yet, look inside, and there's the people. Do you remember that? So the Church continues.

Yes, I know, it's interesting now isn't it: not long ago I was boring you. You don't know what I'm saying now, do you, and neither do I. Where is my mummy? Yes, look inside and what a reminder in everyone's hands that Anglicanism does indeed have a deep investment in the particularities of places and cultures: no, no one is crying, fearful, but that, that, er, recognition that the Gospel truly is a word that can be translated into any language. No I haven't a clue either. And perhaps, for understandable reasons, or not, we’ve become so 'accustomed to her face'. 'I've grown accustomed to her face.' Dum de dum. Yes, old Jenny Washer Seashore there. She's the boss, don't you be told otherwise. Dum dum dum. Auto, aut, auto money, money auto of provinces, talk about and going on an excursion, incursion, and what was positive, provincial and somewhere outside London, I think are the provinces and tax autonomy - taxes, oh taxis probably, er, and the gift you have to share and balance that out with the taxi fare. What?

Can I just say, can I just say, a one big thank you to our Jam hosts. Fantastic strawberry, raspberry, 'On Blueberry Hill'. Jam. Jamaica. No she volunteered. Oh that was a good joke when I heard it first time. And trust! Trust was here, you see, like in the Gospel of Mark, mark my words. Did he say that? Did he? I used to know him, Mark Miwords. Do you want a fight? I've wanted a fight with you for a long time. I know. You're interested now in what I have to say, and I am feeling a little unwell. Who gets the point, see: well its that Siren, Syro de Bergerac (I loved that series), Syro funny, Syrophoenician blinds woman, blind Jack Bartholomeus, yeah, and the passion story with an extended preface - hey, you say "using extended preface" and you get people looking all over the book 'cause they think they've lost the page. The Gospel of Mark is bad news for Christian elites, for some reason or other, or perhaps not. There was this nun, right, Claire Balding, who said, "Show me your teeth," and punched the lot in. What kind of nun was that? She said you are one miserable failure and the options were only that or a glorious failure. Miserable woman she was. Mummy was nicer. Miserable or glorious: you decide! What a quiz game that would be. Aye the Gospel of Mark and glorious failure. Brilliant game show.

And can I suggest a few Marks for you lot and me too? Not exactly a rabbit out of a hat. Glorious failures, eh? That'll make you popular, telling them back there that you are a glorious failure, especially as they'll have got it off Tinternet first. Has anyone been there? Tinternet is a wonderful abbey, set in a valley and hills all around. You can't get a mobile phone signal, or not when I tried. You can't let the glory through, without a signal. Choo choo. So I say to God: "Shit, what is this, how can we do it?" and let your love flow like a mountain stream. 'There's a reason, why I'm feeling so high.' Yeah, Upstairs Downstairs. Yeah. 'Let your love flow like the smallest of dreams.' Very small things, big things. And what, what I also want to say is that I haven't a clue really. I think when I was a young boy I wanted to be an Anglo-Catholic and asked me dad about that. And I said, 'Daddy, how can I be one of those when I grow up?' And I suppose, really, I am. I am sayings, in John. Yes. Yes. Am. Jam. 'I found my thrill, on Blueberry Hill'. Bluetooth, very clever that. 'The moon stood still', 'the wind in the willow played'. I think I will sit down, thanks. No, not my best speech; a bit weary I think after everything. Humm.