Friday, 30 January 2009

Extremism

Now I wouldn't put myself across as middle of the road regarding Anglican matters, or even Unitarian matters. In Anglican terms I'm somewhere falling off the edge. I think my big toe is attached to the shelf on which Anglicanism sits. As for Unitarians: well, I'm uninvolved, but would be somewhere on its left wing but in awkward space given how I worship and justify worship. In content I'm more like their right wing, until I undermine their strategies and resistances.

I suppose a fascinating question is how extreme can you be? The point about my kind of extremism is that it is so obviously subversive, undermining, revisionist to revolutionary. You cannot trust it a bit. It is clearly heterodox and, in a world of institutional conformity, has never done me any good at all. I've relaunched myself several times and I always end up in the same place. I've never hidden inside a version of Radical Orthodoxy or Narrative Theology, so convenient are they for fitting your modern self into an ancient institution. I'm about as far as you can get in one direction without falling off, and I may well fall off.

What about in the other direction? I think we have found out in these last few days.

There is a Bishop Williamson, an ex-Anglican who went Romeward and couldn't stop. He is a holocaust denier. He was nicely ex-communicated in 1988, and has just been brought back into the fold. The person who has done it is a certain Pope Benedict XVI, who would prefer a smaller pure Church to a bigger one that couldn't police its borders. Williamson's boss, a Bishop Fellay of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, has put a clamp on the said Williamson's gob, as Fellay pursues the wider goal of having his extremist group fully within the Roman Catholic Church, which it now pretty much is. Meanwhile Williamson apologises for the controversy he causes.

The Anglicans have this GAFCON group, currently and rather ridiculously divided between extreme Protestant and extreme Catholic. Both of them want their own institutional set ups so they can shake off liberal pollutants (people well to the centre of folks like me). Close to such traditionalist Catholics is a group called the Traditional Anglican Communion seeking a Unitate Church of Roman Catholicism. The Pope won't give them such because of relationships with the Anglican Communion, particularly the Catholic leaning Archbishop of Canterbury. However, it is fair to say that if the Anglican Communion looked like it was balkanising (which is what the centralising Covenant will achieve if it has any bite to it), Rome might act to do something other than have individual clerics swimming the Tiber.

Mad Priest disovered some real extremism that derives from all of this. It is an anonymous comment that comes as part of Rorate Caeli's January 29th reporting about what the centre of Roman Catholicism is doing. Those of a tender disposition might like to sit quarely and only read this extract of the comment some hours after eating:

[A territorial prelature] would be about a trillion times better than a personal prelature but still not half good enough. What is needed is a uniate church. After all these, people have twelve national churches and over thirty bishops. They have eight dioceses in India with about 250,000 faithful in them.

But if a uniate church is denied them, this will quite obviously be done to 'satisfy' the Arch-Druid Rowan Williams and his pro-sodomite friends in America, such as that Robinson creature and the Schorri Hag.

Don't you people get it? Mainstream Anglicanism is splitting in two, the conservative GAFCON people creating alternate jurisdictions in far-left areas, such as Canada and the U.S.A. They are headed for division because you can't reconcilie buggery with Christianity.

Entire Anglican bodies, forming part of the GAFCON group, are in the process of separation. The entire Anglican Church in Nigeria is a case in point. Now, should the Pope admit the TAC as an Anglican uniate church, this would create a locus for some of these GAFCON people to go in the future (many of them would not come over, as they are evangelical).

The reason the C.D.F. [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], headed by that incompentent, Levada, is not creating such a locus is œcumania gone nuts. It would be unfriendly and undiplomatic. You see, this Pope is still determined to treat Willians [sic] and Schorri as if they were Christians, which they are surely not. This Pope does not want to 'offend' these enemies of Christ.

There is a logic to this comment, of course. But here we have it. There is no doubt that this commentator is doctrinally sound. He (anonymous, but surely a he) is a faithful Catholic. But what happens when you are as doctrinal as this and so extreme? Something happens to your ethics: they start to be lost with, to begin, name calling and regarding others as incapable. The ethics warp to the institutional extremism and something of humanity begins to disappear. You become offensive. And this is what this Pope, in all his extremism, is encouraging. Purity comes at a price.

By the way, in my nearly fifty years, I have been inside a Roman Catholic church only twice. Once was when being shown around London by an ex-Anglo-Catholic priest and Unitarian minister, the late Francis Simons, when he took me into Westminster Cathedral, and the second time was for an Anglican led meeting in the Roman Catholic church in nearby Barton-on-Humber.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Shopping

Some of us are religious, but some are so religious that it permeates all their conversations.

Our man said: "I'm going out. I'm just going to put on Mahatma coat. I've got to go to the post and I need to know how much it weighs."

He walks into town.

"Hell. Oh I have apostle here. How heavy and how much?"
"Where's it going?"
"Dee Si..."
"Pull the glass across for you."
"Over from Liverpool."
"Yes. Is it valuable, before I put it in the sack..."
"Er, 'fficial stuff really, not valuable. I would be cross if it got lost."
"We, sir, rectify it if it got lost, if insured."
"No, no need, by all appearances - I'll just pay the standard rate."
"Tomb is it going?"
"Just a government department, and ordinary business. Bi shopping now!"

So he went to some local shops, starting at the baker's.

He said, "I see you have a range of cheddar Jesus. Can I have that one please? It's a really nice one that: blessed are the cheesemakers."
A friend walked in.
"Hello Buddha, how are you doing?" he asked his friend. "How is the good works?"
"Twenty Four Fordmakers are going to get the sack."
"Have faith that it's not you."
"Well we have had to do the changes. Which Jesus saves money here? Gandhi be a bit generous today, do you think?"
The shopkeeper said, "Hey, I've me prophet to think of. Money changes from that one over there, still quite a fine one. "
"Duck. Ca' I have that one then? D'Ma will like it."
"Temple that one out for him."
The friend asked our man, "Your gal, he - Lee - still going out with her?"
"No, now it's Jerome - sell 'em car parts to your place. Salesman."
"I know him. Of course I know him. Bea Blickle went out with him."
"She did. Bugger; God: Vita went out with him too before her," said our man.
"And before her, Sue Trae - she was a Diamond."
"Had a Heart of gold. Three Jewels they were. And what of Ahura - Mazda she is driving."
"Oh Lee! Trina Tee bought one of those too. She teaches at Uni. Ta Ian," he said for the produce, adding, to the previous point, "That's why we're laying off."
"Ta Ian too," said our man for his cheese. "Oh Lee! Spirit of the age he was - off he went in a second, coming to her only a few times you know. So many relationships, no one settling down like we did. These are hard times: I have to perousia through the job adverts now myself, being home all day and under their feet. But I still like my Jesus to be quality Jesus."
"I'm like that with my fish. Says of men: keep healthy. Just a minute, I'm going to sneeze. Thank you shopkeeper and let's get outside... A Krishna!"
"Bless you."

Then they parted and our man went into the butcher. "Have you got a fatted calf?"

[Enough!]

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Don Cupitt and Me

A contribution of mine, in response to another, about Don Cupitt in Fulcrum makes me think it's about time I lay my cards on the table regarding Don Cupitt and me.

First of all, the theologian as was and philosopher of most impact upon me is indeed Don Cupitt. He met my theological movements in a way no other did: not John Robinson, not Paul Tillich, not Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not Rudolf Bultmann. One reason I am presenting these to a local church theological group is precisely because they do not reflect my own personal theology. Theirs - all - is a protectionism of christology first, and I think it is a device that indicates the failure of such theology. It simply runs away from other academic disciplines, only to use them afterwards. The basic Taking Leave of God position is also mine, even if I might come at it from different angles, including that of a more sociological signals of transcendence (that of Peter Berger). That means we have this social life and this social world that sometimes indicates pointers to transcendence, but we cannot join the dots from where we are.

Yet I have some significant differences with Cupitt, despite the huge overlap. One is that his pre-1980 material is still useful. His notions of a high and dry transcendence is still worth a visit, though I think very limited. His material on Jesus via history and via the many Christs is remains more useful. He summarises very well where other writers keep making revisits.

Then like a pre-1994 Cupitt there is, for me, an interest in both Buddha and Jesus: both human, both inside traditions, both interpreted from the now. Like a post 1994 Cupitt I also see a sense in expanding the now, the simplicity of the sunlight through the clear glass window into a box room with perhaps some dashes of modern art. Unlike Cupitt, though, I still have a place for coloured glass and creative architecture and for realist paintings.

My biggest difference with Cupitt is the extent of my non-realism. He will say that mathematics is just a series of human created games. I certainly don't have the view of the mathematician of Marcus de Sautoy that Maths is pure truth, because it starts to come apart towards extremes, and its symbols are overstrained, but nor do I regard maths as invention in its broad base. Darwin's hoped for tree of life really has been found to be a tree of life - the DNA is a lock-solid evidence of evolved life. In other words, there is something called logic and something called falsifiability, and yes paradigms can shift regarding overall explanations but those falsifiable methods give rise to close-bound ongoing mechanisms. Furthermore there are arguments to be made about means to order of chaotic systems that are real arguments and not just games of talk.

However, when it gets to social sciences, the truth game gets a little more divided between regularity and validity: regular patterns across large scale phenomena, and close in-depth understanding of the particular. Again, it is not just talk - because it is researched. Now choices and methods of research are not neutral and not value free: but they are still research, limited as they are. This, by the way, is also the response to postmodern Radical Orthodoxy, which tries to label sociology as secular theology. It isn't, because it comes down to research: either in depth or across patterns. Radical Orthodoxy in comparison is but a puff of conservative wind.

It's when we get to the arts and religion that it becomes impossible to have an objective, universal view that can supersede a subjective individual view. Sometimes what seems to be objective is just a raid on another discipline for support - theology drawing on social sciences, for example. No harm in that, but theology didn't do it: it only reflects upon it afterwards.

Now history is a problem here, associated as it is with the arts. History does try to be careful, but in the end even trying to keep to empirical primary documents leaves too much out about who writes what and why: power structures, meaning ambiguities and narratives going on in the background. Still the disciplining is important, and why history and say the New Testament are not the same. Yes the New Testament in some lost pure and split apart forms are primary documents of Early Churches and their thinking, but that's all these documents are, and they remain lost to the past (as history).

So, in other words, whilst all these forms of meaning and truth-pursuits are language games, some language games are more realist than others. The least realist are religion and art; they are cultural products layered upon layers.

The problem with my position is that I can be accused of a comparative atheism when it comes to religion compared with science. But I won't have that: it simply is that religion even in its most theistic talk cannot compare with the methodologies of maths, science and social science.

Like art religion is supposed to inspire and motivate, but let's not confuse it with history or social science or science.

Cupitt's soteriology is in this world and this life, and so is mine. Neither of us in the use of Buddhism bother with reincarnation or supporting deities. I go with the agnosticism of some Western Buddhists (though Cupitt went East for the more severe forms of Buddhism; Buddhism is usually more moderate and longer term). It's practical and pragmatic and curtails idealism: Cupitt like me also learnt much from the late Richard Rorty.

What views I retain are roughly these: that all is transient, and attaching yourself to what will pass is a severe mistake. Nevertheless, while something exists, enjoy it. All the time one should check the self, reduce the self, but retain personality. Life is rough, and sometimes there's no option but to go through the rough to get to the smooth, if you do. Theology should be consistent with other academic disciplines when it makes claims that relate to them, otherwise it can tell what stories it likes. There should be no up front privileges: not for person, book or tradition. We humans are accidents of evolution and chaotic events, made different only by awareness and precision of language (as well as use of imprecise language), and as such we set ourselves up against evolving and our ethics struggle against the tendency to tribalism: tackling it via a purpose to serve beyond boundaries. We are collective and empathetic about consciousness and pain, and come together through symbolic exchange, and rituals reflect the exchange, and pure service turns the exchange into a gift. Like everything else, we die and we rot and we ought to come to terms with this. Reflecting on all this is the purpose of meditating, even saying prayer in the sense of one's own orientation towards one's own dead end and the other alive.

For just over two years now I've thrown myself into the religious task again, and this on a kind of postmodern non-realist (towards apophatic) use of Christianity, but once again the realism and connectedness of the Christian language has undermined itself. It is almost - almost - impossible to relate such tradition to a this-worldly outlook on life when affirming the other. It's not all over yet: I'm not quite there with Don Cupitt's 2008 arrival, but nearly. There is still the possibility of some second-hand relating framework, some sort of struggle and severe relationship with ancient text and forms, but it doesn't look promising.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Kerygma Café

My latest offering has appeared at Episcopal Café.

It relates to a previous entry on this blog too.

Here is a thought. Suppose God decided to raise up a man in South Africa, relating him to the struggle there for equality and against power. Then the man was transferred to India. By his writings, his speeches, and his actions, we can say that he reveals what God is like. Indeed he does this so much we associate this man with God. The God-man worked in India at the time of a bankrupt Empire and was able to remove it, but for his liberating effort he was both shot dead by one of his own and the chaos of partition resulted.

Thus I have here presented Gandhiology. Up front it connects Gandhi with God and revelation. It shows God working out his purpose, and if you want to see God look at Gandhi.

Yet no one sees the need to do this. People are content with allowing historical accident to come about and allowing history to do his unfolding. Gandhi's own religious tradition - though he was one of its modernisers - is that of the rolling dramatic story rather than a claim about history.

Why is it therefore necessary to have a Jesus kerygma? There is a kernel of the Gandhi story that we can arrive at through the contingencies of history. History and social anthropology does not allow us to turn Gandhi into one of the Godhead, but then no one is so bothered about that. Indeed Gandhi specifically said he did not want a movement after his name.

Why is it not sufficient to have the contingencies of history regarding the Jesus story, that loses none of its mythology as a good read, and why does it have to receive up front preferential treatment in terms of a kerygma?

Freedom, Revelation and Chaotic Systems

On Sunday 25 January 2009 the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams preached the Hulsean Sermon Seeing the Question: Revelation and Self-Knowledge

Here I'll summarise, re-present and then comment.

What the Archbishop seems to be saying about revelation is that if it comes to you it does so knowing you from a place you can never penetrate fully, but you explore and never finish exploring, and you revisit your own past to tell again who you are in this shift of perspective bearing down on you (glory and weight) from the beyond, and the truth may hurt. Revelation comes into the particular of our exchanges and language, and reaches in its whole as a gift, unlike any preferential spirituality. Given Jesus's impact on truth, and our lack of knowing so beyond ourselves, the transcendent must be associated with Jesus. This approach of revelation is entirely consistent with the academic purpose of searching and the unfinished search. This is entirely different from that revelation which claims to complete the unknown with a claim to the known.

Here is my rewrite of his lecture (I can do this to understand it: how anyone sat there is supposed to understand by listening I have no idea: it's good to take in ten per cent of a lecture or sermon).

Rilke the poet says that in the face of beauty comes the sense that you are being seen, not the seer.

Revealed religion is not an add-on but an exposure and scrutiny from an unimaginable perspective of the self, however self-aware one may be already.

Revelation is often associated with personal claims to unique insight, without the ability to challenge, and the Enlightenment approach rightly rejects what is not open to scrutiny.

However, its scrutiny was based on too narrow a view of reasoning and criticism. Such itself would have paralysed scientific research, never mind theology. Theologian Sarah Coakley sees metaphors of veil and cloud in the rhetoric of scientific discourse because of the ongoing not-yet-finished penetration of the natural order. Eighteenth century science was also associated with Romanticism. Still, criticism as by the Enlightenment of the way revelation is used still stands.

Karl Barth said revelation shows primarily the nature of the revealer not content. God reveals God, but his unbounded freedom and an eternal will to relationship with very finite minds that become aware, not that they have knowledge to beat all other claims to knowledge, but that they are finite in the midst of being acted upon.

The Hulsean preacher pushed revelation when Eighteenth century forbears were pushed towards the reliability of natural religion open to all viewers. A God that communicated in history was unreasonable and an injustice towards those who didn't get the communication and were cut off from God. What is the use of only selective revelation?

However, divinity perceived through the natural order was not so straightforward morally. The Lisbon earthquake in the middle of the eighteenth century saw to that. So did Darwin's stubborn and blind competitive processes. What was stable was found to be arbitrary, not so different from selective revelation.

Still this doesn't solve the difficulty of selective revelation on its own terms, and we today especially do not like to give legitimacy to unaccountable authority. We also culturally prefer the individual search to the collective understanding of truth - also the opposite of the Enlightenment's collective universalism.

Back to Rilke and the gaze, act, purpose: what is other and only known right outside my own conceptual field. Revelation thus tells even of the mysteriousness of this natural world given its otherness outside the conceptual field - its investigation by the self can never end. It's thus about hesitation in the face of the other (Simone Weil) and, furthermore, I might be convinced about God the revealer, but not in how revelation might also be working in the person (or nature) who hasn't experienced revelation.

Revelation though means experiencing the self at a new level, a life-changing intensity of self-awareness. One is surprised into awareness. Revelation like this must come into history, into language and into exchange between persons. Such is not David Hume's universal one langauge divine message but rather in and amongst how people interact and come to know themselves.

This all prohibits the claim to a comprehensive knowledge. Truth is in the at least, where language has to readjust to take in the revelation - and is still incomplete. Our freedom is constrained in the freedom of the revelation and its weight bearing down on us - the Jewish scriptures' word for glory is the same word as for weight. It puts questions to us; our freedom would be to deny the revelation.

The Christian sees revelation as a moment of drastic change in the perception of oneself; one's own story has to be rebuilt and retold. Such is only the beginning for mysticism. Such is seen in the encounters in the New Testament. Saul finds a new identity: Saul persecutes, Jesus is the persecuted, and thus comes a new theology of grace - to those committed to Jesus (the persecuted).

This comes into history and language. It reverses and renews identity. One's memories need revisiting, though this cannot match the knowledge in the revealer. In the face of that along with considering Jesus's impact and our lack of knowledge, indeed being comprehensively wrong, the transcendent must be identified in Jesus. Jesus is present in the mystery of understanding me that is beyond my own reach.

Augustine's God is 'more intimate to me than I myself' reflects revelation. There is scrutiny beyond my control, more than I can see, that is never ending in my pursuit of it, and which transforms.

We don't hate truth until it then challenges who we are (Sebastian Moore, The Contagion of Jesus). You are not forced into the new identity, though in revealed faith you are larger than you were.

T.F. Torrance says that 'Jesus Christ... is the revelation he brings' (Incarnation, p.188). You are in relation to the utterly truthful and compassionate as was in history, God engaging from within history.

So often revealed religion is seen as contra to the academy, but as here described it should be supporting the need to know and unfinished nature of knowing. It's not because it is about provisionality but because it encounters with human interaction and using language.

The parallels are with intellectual activity: persistence, honesty, issues only been named and not resolved, the mind and imagination involved. this is a gift not recognised by just a preference for a spirituality.

Revealed religion is not the last pieces of a puzzle, but the whole free self-disclosure on the part of the transcendent coming into our own language: not selfish, not seeking advantage, not manipulative, but fear making in that is shows the truth in its gaze about who we are really.

That's my reading. This is a clever piece to connect both issues of revelation - avoiding a God of the gaps - and the place of the university.

At the heart of this then is both a liberty of God and a liberty of the human being in that of action and inaction. But it is also credal - he says the creeds are like a shadow in front, and a tradition: he sees such as part of the weight unlike what might be consumerist spirituality.

There is no doubt that, in some situations, perhaps stressful, perhaps in beautiful environments, perhaps in a situation of peace, that you can be hit by something unexpected, and a shift of insight. Not everything confirms the language you use at the time.

Also I am attracted to the notion that being hit by an insight is also to be hit by the unknown of the insight, that begs for further investigation.

Many a scientist and mathematician has put a daytime walk into his or her schedule, often alone, and without any predetermined inner dialogue to allow something to come as an almost unseen insight. Artists too can just sit and wait. Being hit by the insight leads on to something more, but then you have to find that out.

My only objection to this presentation is that there is a universalism offered around the subjectivity of the person, or the conversation between persons or within the person. God reveals God the pure and unadulterated. Though, to me, it is adulterated from the beginning. The scientist, mathematician and artist is no empty head, and the quest for investigation shows relative shift.

None of this, though, assumes that our not knowing is the existence of a knower, a perspective beyond which is closed. Rather, it is to get into that perspective which opens up. The struggle is opened out some more, but it does not lack access. It requires more synthesising, more opposites (dialectical talk), more grappling.

If we take Paul, the example that fits the approach offered by Rowan Williams. After his shift he was still using the language of resurrection and still had the last days perspective. His shift to spiritual body (away from body, because of experience) was awkward. It did take, according to one account, a trip into the Arabian desert to do further sorting out. He was already dealing with the Messianic claim in his rejection of Messiah if Law is to be upheld, to become rejection of Law if Messiah is accepted, and he had a guilt of persecutor that became a salvation religion of the persecuted (absolving Paul's own guilt) then transferred to all.

There is nothing that need limit this to one religious prophetic figure. Buddha too shows insight: sat under the Bodhi tree the insight comes: not from a transcendent power but from the exhaustion of the other routes and the need to pause and wait via clearing the mind. It can be a transcendent power, but the compelling weight can simply be that brain wiring that suddenly sees the symbolic dots of the language joining up in a slightly different way.

Ally that insight hit with a prophetic figure, like Jesus, and then the ethical potential also rolls out, a freedom the prophetic figure invested in transfers across to the believer to as if recommend the path, the service and the sacrifice.

My view is thus something like this: that when you grapple with things you come up a number of cul de sacs. In that anything worth the effort is a signal of transcendence (signs and signals here) then sometimes there can be a spark across the signals, or coming out of the signal. Your rested mind gets a leap across, and that transcendence possibility hits. So there is another insight. That insight may not come simply from a vast openness but from a model of possibilites already laid out: lived and thought.

What you try to do in such situations is assert the loss of equilibrium and open up the possibilities: to find an involuntary tipping point.

Then sometimes there is no such deliberate preparation. There might be stress and guilt, and other background, but even then may not be. Still an insight breaks through.

That insight is within the natural chaotic and ordering systems around us: the contingent and specific possibilities of the evolving world and that environmental constraint which forces some kind of regulation and similarity of outcome. The revelation insight is in there, and the old deist naturalism is now one of those cul de sacs. Life itself is dynamic that it leads to new insights, out of the freedom of the unknowing of systems we now recognise as chaotic when equilibrium fails.

The delivery may be from God, or a God: but here the suggestion is that if it is transcendence (and it must be close to transcendence) then that is something found in the nature of the world as something with freedom, change and potential chaos. It is as much an inside agency as an outside agency that penetrates and shifts about the human symbolic meaningful world.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

There's Only One Way to Find Out

The art of the sermon isn't dead. Two from returned-from-a-retreat Priest-in-Charge heard by me today, both setting up contrasts. One in the morning was the "super-smooth" conversion experience of Paul as in Luke-Acts, contrasted with the longer more awkward one in Galatians with a time in the Arabian desert, that if it's good enough for us then it is good enough for Paul (said our preacher, adding this reversal to his written sermon).

The second contrast sermon was about becoming, in Christ, more of ourselves, contrasted with the mystics' approach of a drop of water into a vast ocean or Nirvana. Nirvana seemed to be the key word here. Heaven is full of personalities without conflict and hell is full of clones, like the evil power mongers who only sustain themselves and kill.

Humm. I do reflect upon sermons. This reflection is based on what I heard.

The first point I'd want to make is that we die and death is the end and we are biologically dependent. Nevertheless, given that the purpose of religion (as I see it) is to come to terms with that transience, which is the better proposition?

At this point, Harry Hill on TV Burp would shout, "There's only one way to find out! FIGHT!"

Clearly what Christianity is trying to do, via this interpretation, is value the physical and material world, and the personality is part of that material world. Well, it is mental, but it is material on the basis that it is dependent on the gooey thing called the brain. Plus consciousness and being conscious of being conscious is what makes us very human. So I agree with the preacher that this should be affirmed.

To then link it with eternity is to say it is valued supremely. He said that God made a universe that could result in all these consciousnesses and it adds to God, God a bit bored without. Humm, that's all a bit anthropocentric. I rather think we are more accidental than this: just because something comes about doesn't mean it was intended (in any sense).

Eternity then is that quality that would remain: link it to time and it becomes everlasting. But I prefer eternity: plus, I can't think of anything worse than everlasting personality. I do actually want to come to an end. So my personality, or perhaps other personalities, might be affirmed to be eternal, but I'd then rather they stopped. I don't like the idea of overpopulated personalities.

In any case the valuing of personality: that's a valuing of a general concept. In the particular he's damned the clones. He also suggests an achievement of being Christlike.

Actually a clone is just a time delayed twin: the clone develops a personality different from the other. The issue is whether a clone is born old. But we know what he means by the use of the term clone, so I'd let that one go.

The whole point about Nirvana is that it is achieved by training. It is achieved by a spiritual path. It is a deepening, and by discipline. It is programmatic, and arguably more efficient than being Christlike.

The problem with Nirvana, then, is that it means being self less. The self is lost, given up, and this is where the contrast comes in. But I think an error is being made here (or I interpret that an error is being made here - on the basis of a Western Buddhist approach).

Is personality and the self the same? What is it, for example, to have heavenly personalities without conflict (something that our preacher extracted from Keith Ward)? That seems to me to require a difference between self and personality.

If self is that sticky, yucky, attachment to permanence, which yields little but temporary goodies, but longer term (and shorter) is only suffering - dukkha - then self is the thing to reduce and reduce. We simply want things to go on and on (like our lives, for instance) - great while happening, but what happens when it is time to go?

But does the end of self imply the end of personality? Imagine a Buddha nature individual at the scene of an accident. The person without obvious thought immediately and selflessly goes to assist the person in the accident, and also does so skilfully as nature. Clearly, here, the personality has been developed, but it is not gone. Personality has remained, indeed developed, whilst the self has gone.

My conclusion is this: there is no effective difference between the two. It is a false contrast based on boxing Nirvana with (an intepretation of) Christian mystics (or Islamic mystics, Hindu mystics...).

Becoming Christlike and developing the personality, so not to be like a clone, is programmatic. It ought to have a selfless serving quality. So should the one who achieves Buddha nature.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Covenant Blues

Sometimes I think I'm losing powers of analysis; either that or some of the workings of the Covenant to get the Covenant through are so Byzantine and strange that I have lost the plot.

The relevant papers seem to be GS 1716 (to be introduced to February General Synod by the Bishop of Rochester for a take note motion) and GS Misc 910, as formatted and displayed by Thinking Anglicans, the latter being a long paper about Anglican governance including the Church of England and then the Anglican Communion. On the latter, my reading of this paper by Colin Podmore suggests that because bishops are understood as historically the basic pastors in each place (the diocese), under which there are his or her deputies of priests, then the greatest moral authority is in the Lambeth Conference of bishops, and the Primates Meeting has the next greatest authority (being leading bishops for their Churches, speaking for provinces, and working towards the Lambeth Conference), and that therefore the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has the least authority in matters, and yet it would have powers regarding the Covenant that should better lay with, or more lay with, episcopal based bodies.

This therefore makes a more fundamental point about the Anglican Communion and its structures of governance, that prior to a Covenant being released on to the Communion the Communion ought to sort out its governance more in keeping with a set of episcopal Churches.

GS1716 contains this, that seems especially relevant:

46. the lack of clarity about the relationship between the four Instruments leads to a confusing text (3.2)

The ACC cannot have both an initiatory role in complaint as an Instrument and the quasi-judicial role of pronouncement of relinquishment.

GS1716 is a bit odd for the Synod to consider, in that it refers to the St. Andrew's Draft of the Covenant, whereas everyone is waiting for and will see the next draft. So until we see the next one, criticism of this St. Andrew's Draft seems now premature.

Nevertheless, regarding it and the Podmore paper, there is this in GS1716:

53. Are the churches of the Anglican Communion, properly so called, the thirty eight national bodies that belong to the Communion or are they the dioceses of the Communion gathered round their diocesan bishops?

54. ...whether the appropriate signatories of the Covenant are the Provinces or the dioceses...

As far as the Church of England is concerned an individual diocese has no power to issue a statement that purports to declare the doctrine of the Church and could not sign the Covenant.


...the General Synod could not give final approval to the Church of England as a whole signing the Covenant without the agreement of a majority of the dioceses at meetings of their diocesan synods.

The Church of England knows it is a Church, though we have seen in the past attempts to extract out dioceses (by Archbishop of Canterbury and by removed TEC bishops) when it comes to The Episcopal Church: and it says no you can't, it is also hierarchical.

But, hang on, the assumption is that the dioceses in the Church of England cannot alone sign up to the Covenant, but the Church of England can. Can it? There is the reminder at Thinking Anglicans of a crucial reply to a question at the November 2008 General Synod:

Mr William Fittall to reply as Secretary General:

A. The Church of England response of 19 December 2007 to the initial draft Covenant noted on page 13 that ‘it would be unlawful for the General Synod to delegate its decision making powers to the primates, and that this therefore means that it could not sign up to a Covenant which purported to give the primates of the Communion the ability to give ‘direction’ about the course of action that the Church of England should take.’ The same would be true in relation to delegation to any other body of the Anglican Communion...

So the Church of England cannot sign up to a Covenant that could be interpreted as rule from without, whatever the international governance. It would have to be purely voluntary, that is the Church of England can never really sign up. It cannot be under any authority from outside itself. This document, GS1716, just ignores this crippling point altogether. Why did the writers place their heads in the sand over this one?

It would seem, then, that the Covenant would be launched into decision making structures that do not have the authority to make the Covenant operable either internationally or nationally - though there is another draft coming. Is the next draft going to reform these international structures as well as doing a job of disciplining Churches over doctrine, and the disciplining going to be entirely autonomous within every Anglican Church, when presumably such a Church itself passes something that contradicts the Covenant? And what of the disciplining, when the Church of England and wider thought:

47. The legalistic tone of the Appendix has been frequently criticised and at the Lambeth Conference it was described as 'too punitive'.

48. The Covenant will therefore need to address matters of dispute resolution and breach of the covenant and to do so in clear processes consonant with natural justice.

So it should not do the job it was intended to do, but if it was to do the job it was designed to do it could not do it in the present structural situation - because the international structures are wrong and because the Churches are autonomous (and would be contradicting themselves).

Surely this thing is becoming impossible. It is a joke - the Covenant ought to be trashed. Furthermore, the original point of it is rather lost because those who demanded the most on the presenting issue of gay relationship bishops and gay blessings, and falsely linked it to matters of wider doctrine, have run off into setting up their own outside-the-Communion structure, the Anglican Church of North America, as a start, to be approved by a self-appointed group of Primates of the Primates Meeting calling itself a Council, that has taken power to itself (with no authority to do so). Well that muddies the waters of any reform of the governance of the Anglican Communion!

The General Synod in February is only going to take note of this report, GS1716. Why? Why not debate it fully, that the whole thing at every level is becoming ridiculous? Oh and it is being introduced by one of these English indeed diocesan bishops who is well associated with the group that is supporting the setting up of a Primates Council and an Anglican Church outside the Communion...

Imagine designing a bicycle with square wheels that is to seat an elephant and be ridden on a soft sandy beach with the sea coming in? There is a notice too: "No Bicycles on the Beach".

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

North America First

The Global Anglican Fugure Conference (GAFCON) website has had an update and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) website has come into being.

As part of its goals the FCA claims:

The second goal is a consequence of the first. It is to provide aid to those faithful Anglicans who have been forced to disaffiliate from their original spiritual homes by false teaching and practice.

They need recognition and authentication. They need to be kept in the Anglican family. Obviously, it is the Primates' Council that is involved with this work, beginning with the situation in North America.

Ah, right. Where's next then?

The Primates Council is the self-selecting section of the Primates Meeting (soon meeting in February) that has decided to give power to itself, and will recognise the peculiar collection of bodies that make up (or will) the Anglican Church of North America, that would intend to replace other Anglican Churches, but is rather more likely to sail off into its own schismatic waters.

The breakaway weakens the perceived need and purpose of a Covenant among the remaining Communion, or pushes it towards a watering down (because of the time put into it and the saving face) and indeed allows the rest of the Communion to rebalance away from FCA/ ACNA and what it represents towards the Communion's earlier understandings of its voluntary and friendly gathering.

All of which means that FCA will regard its job as even more pressing in terms of its entryism elsewhere, and this now seems to involve other denominations:

We thank God that our work amongst Anglicans has already been an inspiration to people of other churches and denominations who are faced with similar struggles against a worldly Christianity.

Thug Nation of the Earth

It must be clear that Israel had no military objectives in Gaza. It knew, as soon as it left, that the tunnels would be rebuilt - and they are being. It knew that rockets could still be fired. Now, after keeping the journalists out, journalists have gone in, and we are being shown what happened. The misnamed Israel Defence Force simply went around flattening place after place, killing innocents as well as any set targets, but mainly frightening everyone and adding to trauma.

The European Union poured billions into Gaza, and all that has been demolished by the Israelis. So we ought as Europeans to regard Israel with distance. It may have decent citizens, but its government is an example of state terrorism. After all, what is terrorism other than fear and uncertainty among civilians that they may be injured or killed? The fear must have been appalling, and then picking up the dead.

A great deal of humanitarian assistance is needed, but the Europeans will be reluctant to put in replacement development money until there is a comprehensive settlement that unifies Palestine (though it looks more like going the direction of Bangladesh and Pakistan as time goes on) and institutes peace with Israel. We must have Israel constrained too.

It is beginning to look like the setting up of Israel as a state was a mistake back after the Second World War, with hindsight. It seems that the legacy of the terrorists that set up the state goes on and on. It should be a properly operating democracy and a beacon to the region, but it is little of the sort.

There was no just war here: no military objectives at all. Israel got the nod from the dreadful indeed atrocious George Bush, and gave the Gazans a good thumping, and then left before this new American President took office, leaving a wasteland behind it. Tony Blair, Bush's poodle, remained his poodle as he went around the Middle East achieving precisely nothing and not addressing Hamas and its bitterness.

Have we learnt anything about Israel? Can we treat this country at a distance? Can we do this without any resorting to racism and attacks on a religion - there must be none of this. The Jewish people have an honourable multi-layered history and one of persecution, and a cradle of civilisation. The Jews assisted the English and then were tricked and massacred in York. They were part of the flowering of southern Spain under Islamic rule before being crushed by the trickery of Ferdinand: the Jews received the swiftest and worst treatment. Germany turned from one of the most progressive places for Jews and contribution to culture into a hellhole. We know all this and it stains world history: but Israel, this modern country, behaves like a thug, and it only adds more to the pain.

Gaza is Israel's prison camp or ghetto for a tribe it despises, and it seems that's not good enough: it goes in to the prison and smashes it up.

Old Church New Church

So, if I was the only ordained and church council member in this world, until I reformed the Church, what Church would I prefer?

First of all it would use ancient language and worship forms, because the nature of religious language has always sought legitimacy and authority and to do its work by an appeal into the past. Plus, we moderns have a dearth of religious forms in the present.

However, there is still a duty to reform liturgies to bring them from the feudal past into the industrial and post-industrial ages, and furthermore at least to reflect something of democracy and liberty. We should not be frightened to move away from King and Lord language, for example, but also move festivals from the simply agricultural based.

Whilst creeds and articles are part of the inheritance of the Church as a whole, I'd keep them in their glass covered cases. Then, while some liturgies were clearly more traditional and proclamational, with uses of "according to scripture" etc., others would take more account of contemporary theology and movements.

For example, whilst one liturgy might contain:

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.

Another might shift the focus and state:

We, the baptised people, died and rose
And move towards fulfilment.

I note how many people in intercessory prayers now say, "We remember.." and "We think about...", and therefore it seems to me that much liturgy should be consistent with this ordinary way of thinking. In other words, theological language should be given a clear religious humanist twist, this on top of its democratic and liberal turn.

At the same time (for we postmoderns) we don't forget the place of the story and poetry in the spiritual life. Liturgy is not an exercise in history, social science or science, however much these may be incorporated, but in the dramatic movement.

Intercession remains in that it brings forward real concerns and real names as a focus for faith and for the world. We should always remember that liturgy and ritual are for a purpose of renewal and binding, and this should be the principal focii. It is like a cleansing, going in, doing the main event, and coming out to go out into the wider world. Ritual with tokens is a gift-exchange above and beyond but into all other exchanges - those exchanges involving from members a keen sense of social and ethical purpose.

Before that central ritual can come several supporting readings and a talk. Music and the arts generally are important for spiritual uplift, with different emphases on quality and accessibility. The central ritual can be made spare to emphasise its special nature, and so there are shorter services of liturgy containing readings, talk, prayers and at times musical involvement too.

The Bible is presently over-emphasised, and really Paul is given far too much place. So I would have readings from several sources. There ought to be far more emphasis too on the Jewishness of Jesus, and his and his family's thought forms ought to be reflected better. The Greek side, so to speak, can look after itself.

There is an important place for other religious and philosophical insights. What God means can be enlarged, and made multiple. So can the idea of the Holy Spirit as a creative motivator. The trinitarian terms are still available, but they can loosen up consistent with but not limited to the first ways these terms were understood (though I concede the difficulty of grasping ancient thought-forms).

I would have bishops and priests, with all the councils, as a partly rational and diverse way of organising the Church with checks and balances. They are facilitators for building up worshipping and serving communities. However, I would scrap the promises beyond a general commitment to faithfulness and towards developing a spiritual life and seeking self-honesty. There might be a general commitment to the ways, means and decisions of the Church, according to conscience.

I would emphasise individual conscience as the principal doctrinal position for bishops, priests and lay people. In other words, I would make explicit the fact that we as individuals rightly decide what we believe. Thus ministers, lay and ordained, would preach with knowledge and responsibility to who is in the congregation, engaging in dialogue with others, probably but not necessarily drawing on the readings. Sermons ought to have moments of talk-back at the end for quick responses, with suggestions for further discussion.

The main rituals of the Church would be open to all. In other words, the sharing of bread and wine would be without entry conditions. The meaning of the sharing of bread and wine would be open to interpretation, from a feast of nature to the real presence of Christ.

Prayer also would be explicitly understood individually, from a form of contemplation, to meditation, to addressing a hearing God.

Some churches would be no more than homes or rented places, others would be owned and decorated and inherited and historic. Some would be simple and some elaborate.

It is interesting how when you visit church members in houses how many have images of Buddha and Krishna as well as Christ. That ought to be so in churches as well. They are all objects of reflection and devotion. Candles and colours are obvious aids, and something of a yearly spiritual timetable can be maintained.


I would emphasise religious education and discussion for members, that people who want to be involved further could go into groups for discussions and further spiritual practice. Children would learn about their own faith and, as they got older, comparisons with other faiths, as well as thinking about how to apply their personal faith to community involvement.

So now this is set up we can get everyone ministering and deciding, and off we go.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Monday, 19 January 2009

Institutional Vichy Blancmange

There is a new word in town used by one branch of Anglo-Catholics for the other: Vichy. This word comes from the Daily Telegraph and is picked up. The context is the parting of the ways of Forward in Faith (FiF) type Anglo-Catholics with a Church of England that approves women bishops and only provides a code of practice. Damien Thompson in that Daily Telegraph piece says that such Anglo-Catholics have to bypass English Roman Catholic bishops (who want to get on with the Church of England as is), and seek out friends in Rome. However, going over to Rome is only by individual decisions, and some will go Orthodox and some leave to nowhere.

There is an article by David Smart in Ebbsfleet Extra for February which states:

...it is certain that eventually the Church of England will have women bishops. It is also certain now that there will be a Parting of the Ways among Anglican Catholics...

In the long run the choices that have to be made are the same for both clergy and laity, and though differing in detail they will be equally costly for both. There are no longer any easy answers, only painful ones. I do, however, have a sense that at the moment the clergy have a clearer sense of what has happened and its consequences. We laity, though fully aware of the gravity of the situation, are perhaps slower in coming to terms with it.

The different directions concern the FiF type Catholics and their individual decisions. Some will go. Some will hang on: laity with no other church to attend and social networks in place, clergy with perhaps families and being nakedly obvious about keeping a pay packet coming in.

Those who decide to stay can stay, using a code of practice, but those who can't will just have to leave. The boundaries are changed by women becoming bishops: those once excluded are included, and those once included become excluded or marginalised. The Church of England operates a division of inclusion anyway; there are virtually no effective tests of lay membership: you just nod to baptismal promises from time to time, and read out the Apostles Creed. (It says "I"; the other one says "we".) But clergy make stronger and more extensive promises, and have a higher test of inclusion. I think this is inconsistent, but I don't make the rules.

From a different perspective I face the same problem. My views are, basically, non-realist and Western religious: in the end they remain of an evolutionary Unitarian character. No quantity of absorption into Anglican liturgies and singing along makes a difference to that basic, underlying theology. Religious practice benefits from a pathway, but it is a kind of holy fiction. That's it. I'm torn between postmodern wrapping and doing a bit of historical research for a missing kernel. The Church of England has a generosity towards people like me as lay people, but because I've never practised a kind of total postmodern presentational package, I have been prevented in approaching Anglican ministry. I am told I can make such promises, in that it all depends what they mean, but I don't think I can as part of the Anglican division of labour. It's from that position that the rot sets in, and down it goes, and the obvious point exists that there ought to be a non-dogmatic, different way of doing symbolic worship that does a religious task without offending the intellect.

In the end those like me have to decide whether to put up with what we don't like or do something else.

Interesting: am I a Vichy liberal Anglican? Well Vichy is a place of mineral springs, so it might mean watered down, but it could also mean refreshing. Henri Pétain collaborated with another invaded power, probably on the basis of thinking this was the best way to preserve something of France. Of course the use of Vichy towards Anglo-Catholics of the Affirming Catholicism type suggests a traitor to the real cause, to real Anglo-Catholicism and real resistance (and historically a proper definition of France). So, in my case, instead of going back to the Unitarians, a real resistance, I collaborate with a Church that is an occupying power over too much other religion, spreading itself across like a big blob of blancmange. On the other hand, the Church of England is not an enemy, and the word Vichy hardly seems appropriate. Institutions do not possess the whole of what seems right: they add too much, they lack too much, and individuals fit in awkwardly with institutions. I do whether Anglican or Unitarian, but the sheer weight of dogma in the Church of England and its division by clericalism is rather overwhelming. It needs to be clearer than liturgy is not theology, though it has forces at work that want to make life narrower not broader.

In the end the institution sits lightly on individual decisions: few get removed. Liberals especially have always been very reluctant to leave. The FiF Catholics have obviously decided that they will have to be somewhere else but it is individuals who will make the decision, and not all will go.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Locally and Transitions

This morning was the annual trip to the local Methodist church for the town's exchange visit, a return visit from their visit in the Anglican direction a fortnight ago. Starting half an hour later, some Anglicans will have regarded it as a morning off, but then some regard the would have been half hour later all-age morning worship on this third Sunday as a morning off. I do, I will admit. I went to it once.

They invite the Anglicans to the Methodist Covenant service. The Anglicans who went numbered about the same as the Methodists in attendance. The Methodists come and swell the Anglican numbers, but each church alone easily absorbs two churches' worth of attenders on a Sunday morning.

I have been to two of these Covenant services before, which shows the length of my current more active phase regarding Anglican involvement. On those occasions I went forward to its rail for the Lord's Supper celebration, and this time I did not - consistent with how I am in the Anglican church at present. I've defended Methodist communions when Anglicans have thought them dodgy; I am by nature ecumenical. I prefer the Anglican approach, though I also prefer real bread.

This not going forward was made more awkward because of who took the service, someone I knew in the earliest 1980s with his ministry, with whom I had a run in over spreading my liberal views (nothing has changed) and with whom I was later reconciled. It would have been good relationally to have gone forward because I regard ministry as personal. It is just one of those things that he ended up and retired near where I ended up. So I was able to say later why I didn't go to the communion in that I am on the edge at present, and "floating about". He said I'm very welcome, but that assumes I'm dissatisfied with the Anglicans. There is a lot to be dissatisfied with the Anglicans about, but I'm not locally. It's the whole thing: Christianity, actually. (By the way, the cartoon is not of the retired minister: it's someone else with once Methodist connections and I'm giving it a day out in public).

The retired minister is, it is safe to say, of the old school: and that means the service was very well presented, calm, moderate in tone, and so well paced. This is a person who you could tell had everything he said and did running deep, and he would not slip up because this has been well and carefully trodden with no doubt a vast treasury of comments to draw upon. He communicated well. The sermon was a lesson in simple sermon messages well delivered.

There are a number of other reflections. One is the Methodist service book with the Covenant Service inside. It is well superior to Common Worship. In some cases the language is better, but what makes it superior is that it is easy to follow. In Common Worship (until you've learnt it, like I have enough) you jump about the book trying to find out where you are. The worst of it is when a celebrant says it is Eucharistic Prayer A and then a preface is used that's not there and anyone not in the know gets lost again. I think the Church of England tries its hardest to keep new people out.

Another reflection is that even in the Covenant Service no formal creed was recited, and this is a good thing. There was a very good, neat, explanation of the Trinity, though dangerously tritheistic until an end bit. But even with this, I was mumbling through parts of the service like never before. I knew this would happen: that once the fall-away starts, the decline turns into a kind of collapse. Beware of the dogma, and although there is less here than in the Anglican service, it is all parcelled up.

Anglicanism is very complex because, despite the dogma hitting you between the eyes, so many seem to regard it as water off a duck's back. After all, so did I, more than I might have believed possible. Also the added symbolic and theatrical nature in Anglicanism provides another focus while the water runs off. People get very sophisticated in interpretation. There is less pressure in a Methodist service, but more of what you see is more of what you get. I realise there are trends and tendencies in Methodism, as a new now Anglican friend tells me in more detail, but even so it feels more straightforward.

There is another reflection, though, and it is that of Methodism as a dying tradition. I thought at the end, "Gimme that old time religion," even if it was of good quality. You look at that congregation and there were more Sunday school helpers that went out than there were children to help. The actual minister there is what I'd call a 'raving evangelical'. ('Raving' indicates my negative response; I'd call today's style traditional Methodism: he is though ecumenical.) That's one reason why I don't go there on other occasions.

There was a United Reformed Church in the town, but it is long dead, and similarly I can't see the Methodist church there turning around. No doubt a similar collapse is happening all around the country - there will be better places and weak places, but in general you keep rationalising until the internal structures start to creak. I remember people who went to this retired minister's church in the earliest 1980s, and of those I still know not one of them is a church attender now.

I've just discovered that the Progressive Christianity Network is growing and dividing, such that there could soon be a local presence. It's a small grouping, but it is expanding. This is interesting in itself. It is a liberal and radical group from agnostics to those Christians who want open discussion, and people just meet where they do and make their own agendas. I would be interested. Maybe this is the way of the future, but you would think it possible to have a few reasonably healthy meeting places in the towns of Britain regarding religious worship. It's just that somehow they have become dislodged, that they have come off the rails. There are no grounds for complacency anywhere, even if we are less obsessed with numbers and more concerned with community service.

The world has changed, and these places haven't. All through this Covenant service points were being made about our dependency and I kept asking the dumb question: what about? Apparently, we cannot do what we want to do, without God's help. About what, and how does that make any difference? It all sounds consistent, it all appears logical, but it is not about anything. I have a state of life, a state of difficulty in getting through, to which this stuff makes no difference whatsoever except as some sort of palliative. Our preacher told us that without God, we can do nothing, and without us, God will do nothing. Just stop there. We do lots of things, but clearly God fell asleep a long time ago, and we do plenty. This religious language is, I suggest, a load of actual, realisable, nonsense, even though it was extremely well communicated by someone who has it deep in his soul. Say it and nod your head - but there is nothing there, nothing there at all.

Update from the Evening

This evening I went to the parish Eucharist. We got to the sermon by a preacher about to go on retreat, and he wanted to emphasise differently from last week "the vertical", the God relationship, "technically the transcendent" (and I thought that's not vertical), which is harder to talk about than the love and service we should do, emphasised last week, or "the horizontal". It wasn't anything said particularly, but I came to a full stop. I stood and sat (not to look out of place) but I didn't say the creed as I won't, but then came to full stop. I didn't sing any more, I didn't speak or sing any of the Eucharist text, didn't go forward (as I won't) and said no prayer responses and sang no hymns. I just came to a full stop. So that's that then? I don't know. I'll go, I should probably join in again in a fragmented way, or I may sit at the back and listen. It wasn't intended - it just happened.

World News Latest

So Israel, after knocking the shit out of Gaza, declares its own ceasefire. Presumably nothing to do with the timing of the otherwise financially bankrupted nation that bankrolls Israel and gave it the nod? Down in the land of the Bible, where satellite religious stations have got excited some more about the coming End, the abused into the ghetto abuses even more, as it has for so long, and then the new abused can't live in any sense of peace, and anyway ups its own militancy when what's left of the strip of land is razed to load of rubble.

Those Fathers of the United States were very far seeing. An appalling Presidency is now forced by its country's own law to come to an end, and what a disaster he has been. We had to rely on the internal machinations of a party machine to remove the poodle, now scurrying around with great ineffect in the Middle East because the boss gave the nod for a bit of a clean up before he left. I bet Blair was pleased to receive his dog medal given personally and I'm only surprised Bush didn't give him a kiss. I bet Tony enjoyed it, like when I eat the chocolate money you can buy at Lidl.

Meanwhile, good news on the UK financial front. Some 824 (not chocolate) staters have been found in a broken jar in a field in Suffolk and valued by an archaeologist at worth between half and million and a million pounds sterling equivalent in its day. Obviously those Celts of the day (the tribe also lived where I live) didn't trust the banks at the time, sticking them in a jar in the ground, and one can understand it because inflation means the haul isn't worth that much today, though someone will get rich according to treasure trove rules. Me, I'm reduced to free entries on television competitions that give away money - well, once or twice.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Follow up: The ACI Hymn

After the previous post, with yet more output from the Anglican Communion Institute, it's time for a good old hymn:

Guiding others, Ephraim Radner,
Pilgrim thinks a barren Church;
ACI, claims it is right and,
Orthodox without a search;
Keep on writing and accusing,
Wordprocess on for evermore;
Keep it up as if you'll never bore.

Spread this o'er the Anglican Communion,
Church order not folk below;
America, on to the website,
An usher of 'lectronic flow:
Heading Europe, over China,
Legging back across the ground
Be rest in computers where we're found.

Heterosexual, never homo:
Ministry and blessings same.
Obsessive 'sexts' repeated ever,
To intend ecclesial shame.
But the fact is, things are moving:
Holy Spirit, prophets' call:
Churches' time to include us all.

Over all the Anglican Communion
Autonomy is the key;
Diverse places, culturally managed,
Insights local and what needs be:
Western Churches, meet their people,
Minister to all and not just some:
Others can later do what these have done.

Covenant Watering

After some reading back and forth I think that the Not the Same Stream blog (Modern Churchpeople's Union related) is on to something regarding Ephraim Radner's obscure open letter to other members of the Covenant Design Group and also the Windsor Continuation Group dated 11 January.

I had my fingers burnt recently when I misread in part a piece from the Anglican Communion Institute when I said that they wanted to give God a push towards carrying out their views, as part of a larger piece that attacked the assertion made again and again without evidence that The Episcopal Church (TEC) is moving toward Unitarianism. The latter and main argument stands but these members of the ACI have decided to become something of a self-appointed witness for what they regard as tradition within TEC whilst others have set up some peculiar body called The Anglican Church of North America.

Ephraim Radner writes his letter as a:

concerned member of the Covenant Design Group... [with] ...a simple plea for us to do our work better in the midst of continuing ecclesial disintegration.

He indicates his view that his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert O’Neill, ordained to the transitional diaconate a publicly known partnered homosexual because, Ephraim Radner thinks, the opposition had moved away within his own diocese in Colorado. Thus statements of keeping to a wider Communion position had been overturned by the action and he thinks that this feeds structural separation.

I thought the Windsor "ban" was against ordaining partnered people to the Episcopate, not the diaconate, and thus nothing is overturned.

Not the Same Stream highlights this paragraph (I do wish it would sort out its absolute line endings, it's very untidy):

And who should offer a different testimony, if not you and us together, at least serving groups ostensibly committed to and charged with forging a better way for our Communion? We cannot control events and the decisions of others. But we can certainly engage honestly and squarely what is at stake and avoid equivocating (yes, we do too much of that); we can speak clearly and not secretly or in code; we can offer concrete and effective proposals, and not diplomatic blurs; and we can prosecute them with all the energy God has granted us rather than being sidelined by the doubtless real but nonetheless surmountable bureaucratic obstacles with which common life across the globe presents us.

Some points here need highlighting again!

  • avoid equivocating (yes, we do too much of that)
  • not [speak] secretly or in code
  • not [offer] diplomatic blurs
  • sidelined by ...bureaucratic obstacles

Given that this is addressed to the Covenant Design Group, as a concerned member, this looks like a criticism of the group, yet itself given in equivocating manner, secretly or in code, using diplomatic blurs.

Well, the early February meeting of the Primates in Alexandria will discuss the Covenant and hear from the Windsor Continuation Group that recommends a ban of partnered gay people to the Episcopate.

The suggestion from the letter is that the Covenant preparation has come under equivocation, code, diplomatic blurs and bureaucratic compromises and will be a fairly useless document - useless enough to get the nod from Western Churches and just have it as one more document.

Of more concern, perhaps, in the dark and dubious world of Anglican politics, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has asked the GAFCON primates to prepare a paper and present the case for the Anglican Church of North America to the Anglican Consultative Council (to enter the Anglican Communion) and that apparently [see comments] these primates will do this at the Alexandria meeting.

Of course papers presented then go on shelves, so this in itself indicates little, but it might give false encouragement to the schismatics. On the other hand Rowan Williams may have just followed procedure, the rest is hyped by the GAFCON crowd [see comments].

Friday, 16 January 2009

Church and Education

I have just submitted my next piece for Episcopal Café that follows on from the previous entry.

So now this develops on from that - I try not to repeat what I submit elsewhere beforehand, otherwise it undermines the point of submitting externally.

I present the theological material as neutrally as possible, so that people can make of it what they will. It can be treated in a confessional manner. However, I am not myself treating it in any kind of confessional sense whatsoever. I believe strongly that people should be free to treat material in any way they wish, including scepticism about it and even about faith positions. The point about presenting is to facilitate discussion, and such may go off topic - so what, if this is what is prompted and draws on experience.

I've been attracted by the ideas of Paulo Freire (1921-1997) in a general sense. What I hate about so called education today is that it is more like training. It has to come with qualifications and is about the economy. Work will make you free. We have a Prime Minister now with a Protestant Work Ethic. So much of education that was for the sake of education has declined, including that leisure education with social and welfare motivations that was provided for the retired. Education - but actual education that is experience-drawing and critical - enhances the person. I generally warm to the idea that the teacher learns and the learners teach, though often I take it that the teacher learns thanks to the preparation of teaching material. Still, the context here is a maturity of learning that enhances well being.

Now it seems to me that churches should be a place of such voluntary, adult learning: that which draws upon and enhances what has been, that builds the community.

So much that passes for church learning I must criticise. Alpha, for example, is the McDonaldisation of church learning: bite size ready answers for whatever questions may arise. It is a recruiting method (or a recycling method, really). It is marketed and carries power connotations: power and influence for Holy Trinity Brompton, power and influence for generally one kind of Christianity delivered with a copyright notice. It's capitalism in religion. It is also lazy teaching and learning, a sort of unwrapped national curriculum of sectional Christianity.

Instead I'm more interested in mutual clues and prompts, suggestions and possibilities. Work and success do not make you free, even if you need enough money to get by: being human more fully makes you free. In this I do follow the liberal educational ideal of building up, but also recognising the conflictual relationship some of us are in when the predominant role of education is to fit into a market economy. We do need consciousness raising in this matter, to recover something that we did start to build after the Second World War.

This is why, when I present material, it is not to be confessional. I will give my view of course, but one among many. I think churches, if they can see things this way, can be part of the building up of communities with actual educational programmes (of many kinds, including leisure skills and debates). Of course those that pursue a kerygma can present such as an alternative value as part of building difference. Why not? Education is, I am suggesting, an important role for any church.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I'm pleased that the St. Mary's Barton In Depth group has sharp and active discussions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the theme on Tuesday, and my particular presentational narrative of all these theologians (from nineteenth century liberals to early twentieth century moderns) had a sudden, new, contrast of words which may or may not be accurate. It was that in the Christianity by living, by secular encounter, by being busy, Bonhoeffer really did believe there was the gospel in there, more of a kerygma than a kernel.

I'd not thought of this distinction by these terms before. My point into the discussion was this: that the liberal theologians of the nineteenth century were all looking for a kernel of Christianity, limited as it was by the methods of history and sociology and other academic disciplines. It might be said that the kernel was the teachings of Jesus, the ethic. Liberal, simple Christianity came down to that essence, though of course the ethic could be extracted out of Jesus. Another liberal kernel is the Kingdom of God as something to be introduced on earth. The kerygma, though, is something more: preserved, surrounded, Christ the person and the mission, the vital gospel narrative, regarded as essential, something in revelation and special. Bonhoeffer maintained this claim, I thought.

One member thought my main point was in the paragraph:

The task was to live, Christianly, as if God was not present; and had he lived Bonhoeffer might have gone on to reinterpret some key Christian motifs, metaphors and creeds.

The puzzle remains for me how you can be a religionless Christian or secular Christian (even - as later developed by others). The point about those seeking to get to a kernel or kerygma is to remove the religious wrapping paper and get to what is inside. I did make the point in discussion that for some Christians the wrapping paper is everything, following the whole thing as they have it, even in a bubble of detail like the Radical Orthodox. The context was of course "a world come of age", interpreted not as a moral achievement but simply a different way of practical thinking that does not involve God as last explanation for the unexplainable.

This approach is much different from Paul Tillich thinking that in this world we ask lots of existential questions for which he gives correlated Christian answers. Something is much more hidden with Bonhoeffer. We just don't know what such worship including liturgy would be like.

A few of us had attended the Tuesday evening service in which the sermon, that God is in the muck of the world, was consistent with my paper and the discussion, though the sermon may have been partly the result of him skimming the paper - as I was told the next (Wednesday) morning (14th) from the copies I was given to hand out on the evening.

One member was clearly a Bonhoeffer enthusiast, so I thought it worth pressing where this anchoring point was found, and this was ambiguous. A different approach here, about trying to think of different metaphors for religion, based on mystery, isn't the approach of Bonhoeffer, where for him there is pointing away from mystery to some other anchoring of this kerygma in the busy life encounters.

Personally I am not convinced by Bonhoeffer. First of all I think Christianity is religious. I take the point that many people just don't ask overtly religious questions, but that's no evidence of some different gospel existence (if such a thing makes sense). Secondly, I do not privilege some sort of kerygma, or protect it up front, but rather agree with the liberal theologians that it should be accessible to the other disciplines, like a search for a kernel. For me, the metaphors of crucifixion and resurrection work, not because they exist and invest the bumpy life we lead (of tragedy and new beginnings) with meaning, but because our bumpy lives support metaphors like crucifixion and resurrection. I am myself rather torn between postmodern presentational approaches to the wrapping paper - the religion of religion! - and some sort of kernel seeking.

At present my withdrawal from taking communion is based on the kernel seeking side (I don't believe in a full scale, rounded, essence of kerygma, though I examine this), that the space where the kernel might be found is vacant; whereas my participation in communion has been a more postmodern approach to religion and all its wrapping paper as religious. I have little time for a belief in a/ the mystery either: my approach is much more a pathway one, a discipline one, one of active reflection and contemplation. I would have benefited from a survived Bonhoeffer's later writings had he rewritten some metaphors and creeds.

One member mentioned Eberhard Bethge (1909-2000), of whom I'd written nothing and, actually, knew nothing. He was a friend of Bonhoeffer and married his niece. He brought much of Bonhoeffer's material into the public realm, but I notice the puzzling statement that Bonhoeffer's paradigm is out of date and provides no answers to our pressing questions. I'm not sure this is so: Bonhoeffer did connect to the paradigm shift still with us, and just has one approach towards this, but one left off at a point where we have to think for ourselves.

Meanwhile next month we are bringing forward Reinhold Niebuhr and will talk about him with reference to the current credit crunch. To that end I rewrote the presentation on him that I will make.