Monday, 31 May 2010

Theology's Strange Return

I have written a review of Don Cupitt's (2010) Theology's Strange Return, London: SCM Press and it is available for everyone to read!

As can be seen, although I am a religious non-realist, I don't go the full length of Cupitt's all-encompassing non-realism. My view is that although there are language games Wittgenstein style, there are different demands regarding data within the different language games. In many of the arts the demand is virtually nil, and this must be so with theology, except where theology treads into the language games of other subjects. History is an exception, and has developed rules to do with primary sources and then the difficulties of using secondary sources: The Jesus Seminar, for example, is an exercise in using the secondary sources of the five main gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Thomas - the latter included because it has material from the earliest sayings sources). Science has more rigorous rules of data, and this is why the Darwinian paradigm is ever strengthened by new data that Darwin did not know (for example, the early genetic switching evidence that shows that the eye has developed once through all eye-bearing species) and why the astrophysics paradigm is in a mess, demanding new evidence or a rewrite. As I write, the Large Hadron Collider is not an exercise in study skills and essay writing, but about data that supports or contradicts the existing paradigm.

Thus, whereas religion, like art, can be creative and expansive, the same cannot be said for other disciplines. Cupitt is sensible in that he sticks to the main narratives, but he could be a Radical Orthodox Christian, say, in a piece of postmodern inventiveness. No problem with that, so long as it doesn't encroach on the social sciences - and it does.

I thought that, with Jesus and Philosophy (2009), Cupitt had shifted more to my position: after all, he was piggybacking on historians and their work. There was a bit of semi-realism in their work and in his. Don's long history of anti-Platonism does not mean he has to whole hog it all the time: what's wrong with Christianity is that it is not historical by method and behaves as if it is a given truth straying into history and science; its alternative view of the world does not hold up. It can be creative and mythic, but it does not supply information.

My other objection is Cupitt's claim to autological thinking, that is direct thought, a sort of Occam's Razor of understanding. The trouble is, he has to relate that to the tradition, and he draws on the borrowed notion of "archaeology" as the tradition. Well, that's just heterological thinking by another means. At some point you have to live now and think now and leave archaeology to Tony Robinson and the Time Team.

The review is available in .PDF format of the original essay, in case an approached theology publication wants to publish it, and it has some grammatical corrections in it, and is located on my website under Learning - Religion - Radicalism. I always recommend PDF-XChange as a viewer because of The Typewriter function that effectively allows it to be a form filler and editor (and no need to pay for an upgrade for more facilities - partly why I stick to my older version, although having taken another look I might change my mind).

Technology Rescues Technology

I was up earlier than usual and arrived much earlier than usual at the Hull Unitarian Church, in order to set up a computer box, screen, keyboard and mouse, plugged into the central part of a hi fi and also plugged into a five octave keyboard. I also had headphones, speakers, and two microphones. I can't actually play the keyboard, although I have some sense of a tune. I can't read music. As I child I did some basic piano work but gave up.

The church has no organist so relies on CDs. One jumped at a hymn so I went to the computer immediately and clicked on the .WAV file of the many numbers visible (one file for each hymn) and so music was provided then without fuss or delay and without error.

The purpose of the equipment was to produce a one off recording of a pianist who, for eyesight reasons, no longer plays regularly, and was accompanied by a small transient choir, to produce just the sort of support as in ordinary services but for a baby naming service shortly. Recording digitally via software I later in the night edited and produced three versions and in email attachments have asked for a sort of vote for the best (via conversions to MP3 - but I use uncompressed .WAV files to avoid degrading quality, and as they show how much space they'll take on a made audio CD).

Not having anyone who can and does play for congregational participation does lead to interesting creative solutions. Next week I take the service, and like those files the music is checked against the hymn verses; I shall have all the music on one CD I will create myself and this is done for others as and when asked.

The service was coherent in theme about leaping into the unknown, delivered from a Unitarian woman down Doncaster way. I didn't even realise it was Trinity Sunday in Anglican land until this evening, when I alone changed the words to the hymns I was singing. I'd thought it was Pentecost - I'd missed non-Unitarian services last week, partly because of that ridiculous letter just out from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The evening Anglican sermon didn't bother to attempt to justify the Trinity. As something of a non-realist in religion, I regard the whole Trinity/ Unity thing as a sterile argument or three anyway and it's all mythic language. I also expand my religious terms through different faiths.

The trouble with taking so much equipment is reassembling it so it works. Obviously I have, otherwise this blog entry could not have happened.

I've done the review of Don Cupitt's latest book Theology's Strange Return (SCM Press) and sent him a copy. I'll upload it very soon for the wider public.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Gottle o' Gear Pentecosh Message

Consuming the Spirit
The Archbishop of Anglicanism's Hardly Pentecost Speech
to the Bishops, Clergy, Lord Charles
and any Faithful of the Anglican Communion

Delivered at the Memorial Service of Lord Charles
for the Benefit of Anglicanism Worldwide

and note that the Archbishop comes back afterwards

"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak" (Acts 2:4).

Indeed, brothers and shisters, talking in other language languages at Pentecosh is not unlike trying to in particular discern quite what I intended to write as opposed to what I do write when I address anyone who wishes to understand the matter at issue under question and find the way forward in the options available. Hick. In Welsh, Pen means head and Tecost, Tesco, TEC, is a low price shop and what we are not exactly but nevertheless sheeking to ashieve as one of our shtragegies is sho approach matters to a head at not an overbearing cosh. The shop items as such are not the properdy of any one purshashing group, or of any one gulture or hishickory, but is what Goh Gock intends for the consumption of all who will lishen.

St Paul, chap he was, asks in effect wha ish the indifferensh that makes the indifferent indifferent as poppo oppose ed to the indifferensh that doesh not make the indifferent indifferent, like, and with this I concur with my friend Bishop N. T. Wrong like he is. We hear the voice of Jeeeesuss praying to God an' seeing as we believe Sheesus is Gog he thus stalks to himself, rather like I do, hick, and thish is a matter of indifference. And although Sheeesus will return when he is quite ready he is nevertheless present in the Holy Euchrish in lots of different places at once; and so I want want to address on an envelope I think this matter of unity, not dishpersal, but there is human divershity which Jeesoss works through: although we mustn't include lezzy lez lezbians because they are the prob lem, at least if a bishop, as the New Test it meant makes high plain drifter film sort of thing. Sheesush tells us in St John's godspel that the Spirit of vodka, truth, will 'prove the world wrong', though I know that for shome people the whirl has proved St Shohn's godspel wrong, as my friend Bishop New Testament Wrong might entee rightly confirm again sort of. Thus we are called to repent, repent, look at what the world has sent and this job is destroying me.

Our Anglo Catol il lican fellowshit continues to experience painful provision, no division, which would lessen some what did you say if it stopped kicking itself in the nuts.

To stagger around like it is doing, likes I am, as if Lord Charles with that hick Ray Alan's hand up me silly arse, with its knees together, is no dignified way to fake the whirl, as St Paul warned in one of his pieces on the correct way to ride a bisexual no bicycle.

It is not without shome unclarity that the offish al dead or alive bojjies of The Epishcopal Shurch (DEC) have felt in conscience that they cannot go along. There ish what hash been ashed of them by others, sort of, and the concentration of Canon Mary Glasspool on May the ficteenth has been other than a glear shign of this. And yet in this dish pute, desh pite attempts to clarify the shit shituation, there is activity across provincee you can call me Al boundaries by interfering bishops on bishicles ridden with gyroscopic conscience.

Ah could have been a vengriloshit's dummy. Ah'd have been better off. In order to continue the chosh chaos that is creatiff and to prevent the nuts kicking ongoing, I have decided to punishes both of you. This will no doubts of course satisfy no one. It will mean not just involving the intervention of shy lenswhing DEC but shilenshing the bi-shitle riders too. I bet that surprised them, silly arses, that ah'm going to try and tell them to shut the shut up too.

The Communion, all hail an' sail the Communion, for she will be obeyed, hick, has shancshioned none of shis, and shuch is the chask of the Communion onion. You cannot be chommitted to polichies expreshsly disshanctioned by the almighty Commooon on. Angle in cans have not hessy hez tated to use the law courts in shuttling disputes, often at great expensed of money laundry that could shu ha' come to Com Communion an' at the chiost of the Church's good name - which is me passing my opinion on them again and are you going to stop me eh?

But the drinking boys at Shingapore were all right, they were. I have there ins fore tructed my shtaff to toss them a bone of st st thanks you boys. Gree ated men and women may then have a goo' chew and by the Spirit's bottled power be given the amazing liperty to call Gock 'Abba, Benny Bjorn!' if this means anything to anyone anymore, hick.

The Govenant in its double tashk of excluding and gicking into the long grass is noffing if not a tool for fission. Weather, woff ever, whatever, we have ways of making you talk. Ha ha, heh, hick.

Look you, the gurrent bun problem is not shimply this issue but the bedspread bewillierment an' offen hurt in different Tich and Quackers. Silly arse.

The Schwaanding Gommickee of the Gommunion introdoosies no novel worth reading and so shis is what we shall aff: no amount of boliticking by variouss evensongicals and people I have had to like rely on will shange jis. Indeedy, I vill decide absolutooly everythink as I am the shief plasterer of the Angle ican Gommunion, that still must shtop itself from kicking itself in them swow en marbles and do this under my command hands out of yeour pockets.

When you are grunk, the sobering truth is that often achemps to share our own shetting can look differen' in another shetting even if they sell the same bever beaver? age. Broken bottles, communicahicks and fragkile relationships have created a very mishtrushful climate.

Can we haff a way where we can do our diffie renches shimilar? Don't lose it mate, cosh in Grishe all will be like something or other muchal and fission again.

Nuffing's perfick is it? But look, there's them in DEC who want to be with Commoon onion an' I don't know if they can be int onion or get peeled off. We can talk abou' bioethics too, though why and what that's about I've no glue.

So tell DEC and them jammy border dodgers to keep their gobs shite when they turn up to Com onion on site business sort of thing. I 'ope they agree to what I say, like, an' it is the time of the Spirit an the head of the cosht gutters and we can't be together can we? Not a broblem mate, OK?

An' these jammy dodgers and DEC lesbian ordainers can't rep rep represen the rest of us Angle in cans can can they right? So keep out of that as well you sideliners you. It's not faith an' its not order.

That means the Inter-Angl ican Shas sit undertanding Com - who the hell thinks these names up - on Uniteee, Faith an' Order (I ASK YOU FU COH).

I've had enough. I don't give a donkey's two humps what the Primates shed about the Moritania, more or less eeah, sort o' thing. Who cares what's off equal weight? It's all shite, this. Look they said this shjob woo either attract a nutter or make one. Show, here we are then, and I'm tired. I fink I need a lie down and some careful study, shorry shuteye. It is nuffing to jellybrate, this diffishion, of endless meetings like and acheese soddall. But we aff to, to stop loozing our cred street.

Keep braying an ahl sing:

By the Rivers of Jordanon
Where I laid down
A foundation stone
To the 'ist'ry of Anglican
Da di da da. Hick.

Enjoy the Spirit of Pen Tesco dudes. Gottle o' gear.

Just Afterwards

'Ello my British chums again and anyone else like. 'Ope yers enjoying yerserfs you plebs. Ah, ah just want to, hick, say, what a good shtatement dat wash from South Afric hick regarding all dat Malachi wee wee where that Archie bishop every wannabee loves comes from thingy. But ah can't not be under arshed to do a statement o' mi own cosh ah'm too bizzy wizzy lets show 'em Lizzy being on about them Americans. Thash yer lot now; uck off yer gasterds.

Tears at Synod During Bishop's Address

Presidential Address: The Bishop of The North East, the Rt Revd New Testament Wrong, Diddly Doo.

Some of you are older than me, remarkably, and have seen it all before. I am but as a young scholar. Frank Sinatra made so many come backs, and I did it my way too, but let's not say bye quite yet and you can shed your tears in July. That's when I go further north, and don't have to bother with this messy Church nonsense any more, but, like Frank, I bet I have plenty to say in the future.

But I have to say goodbye now to the diocesan synod, and so you can pay tribute to me here, and I have already been pleased to receive the thanks of the Diocesan Secretary, and his colleagues in the office, the successive Chairs of the Houses of Clergy and Laity, and the Deutsche Bundes Fahne and especially its Chair, and I look forward to your good wishes for my expected much achieving academic career where I will be able to increase the number of books I write every year.

Looking at the Synod Report and the state of things, I think we've done a cheap and cheerful job, given my foreign travels and absences, but please say most of your thanks later.

I come to our theme for the synod and Paul's question Add e up - What's it for? Take the Roman road up to the this north east with such a question, into what is an academic diocese and one in which they have placed weaker and better candidates, from a low point perhaps with the 1980s and the liberal waste to a high point now. And we are coming to the end of an era, in July. Let's hope your next appointed keeps up the high standard.

Add e up - What's it for? Well, ask, does it make a difference? Probably not. Do I make a difference? As a bishop, I will be candid: it makes a difference that I do the scholarship.

I reflected on this at breakfast this morning. I took the bread out and my wife said add the Flora margarine, and I asked, "Does it make a difference?" Granted that there are many differences between us, how can we tell which is margarine and which is butter? Who decides? The man with the microphone? So much is indifferent.

Asking Rowanov about this, he said it is to do with indifference. So the question he put is this: "How can you tell the indifference between the indifferences which make an indifference and the indifferences which don't make an indifference?" I asked him for an answer, but he said he was writing a letter to people unknown about things that may not have to happen as a result of what happened that nobody really noticed in Los Angeles.

I asked a newly fellow academic further up north impressed with my appointment and he told me all about indifference curves, and so we can plot the indifference between female ordination on the one hand and female lesbian ordination on the other, and note that on the latter we actually have a difference curve. And that is important. You see, you have the Roman Catholics on the one hand, where they have had indifference to abuse but difference regarding the bureaucracy, and we really do need to strengthen our Anglican international bureaucracy. And then we have the newer free Churches, from the Reformation in the 1500s and various schisms since, and what a difference that makes to see so much indifference regarding their innovations.

Indeed there is so much indifference that we cannot share the communion together, or even know what to call it, given the differences. At least we don't tell them to go to hell, or they them us. No, we retain that for our own, who if these individuals want to go to Rome really ought to accept all the differences as a package deal, and once you've gone don't come crying back to mummy. No Frank Sinatras there please: you do it your way and stay away.

But that's the point. We don't want to add it for more a problem than it is. I have done the scholarship and no one has preached more than me that women should be added for a top job. Yet this indifference makes such a difference we ought to hold back. But in this we ought to recognise what an ecumenical instrument the Bible has become. At one time, it was not, but as a result of my scholarship I have come to realise that the Bible is a foundational ecumenical document for the Churches. That and wetting the heads of babies. This is so undifferent that it is surely a magnificent case of indifference and of course when it comes to the Bible you feel the quality and not the width, although the Old Testament is fatter than the New, I discovered recently.

Was Henry VIII bothered? Was he bovvered? I could have given him a bunch of fives, never mind the six he had. And he was indifferent. And when we look at the newer Churches, we see Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the rest who would agree to differ on some things, but they all might have burnt a Servetus, as would the older Church. They'd have a drink and say the Lord is with us but have so many differences of meaning, and so we add up he for a or b against real presence or not.

Such indifference being difference was a matter of life and death, as they went up the big escalator to the heavenly courtroom. In those days you died for the principle of it not mattering, whereas today it doesn't matter whether it matters or not. And these are the challenges that face General Synod as he musters his troops into the tricameral battlefield.

Lets take the wilds of Europe, where many a battle was fought on the principle of indifference. As you hack your way through the territory of Johnny foreigner, is it really entee right to have a drink at the first Roman Catholic pub you reach, when you wouldn't go around the corner within the British Isles, despite being civilised enough to make me both bishop and a scholar? What about one of the newer Churches, where a breakaway Methodist celebrates the Eucharist? What should the Anglican minister do at the same time - get out his calculator to design the correct indifference curve on this occasion? One can only wonder about the Mother of Jesus and what she thinks.

But, look, I am indifferent about all this: I make no comment, and instead I only point out, in line and loyally with my friend the Archbishop, the questions he has asked that address us all, if we understand them, and of course as a great scholar I do even if you don't.

So back to St Paul when he said, "Eddy, I for ya," which is a statement of loyalty to a leader of a house church, and he was a pagan vegetarian and a bit of a knob because he was having to be kosher. Must they mark out Jewish Christians against Gentile Christian neighbours, as the Galatian agitators had insisted? That was the meaning of Paul saying, "Eddy, I for ya."

What a difference Paul made, as some of us favour the New Paul studies over the old. Absolutely central, and I can give you chapter and verse. So what difference does such a debate about differences and indifferences make to us now?

If we take the ecumenical instrument, the Bible, we can see that no lesbians were ever ordained in either Pagan or Jewish house churches. And it is not a matter for that scrubby little Church over there - and do watch the video of the ordination if you fancy a laugh, with a Pagan Indian trying to smoke the place out and going 'oola oola oola oola' like I did when I was a boy playing cowboys and Indians - but the real difference is when the whole Communion decides what is to be indifferent. We have decided this, somehow. Of course we could ask the Romans or the Constantinoplians or the Methodistians or Red Indians and any such body, but having dismissed them we thus conclude that the fulcrum of the matter is this Anglican Communion which has the authority and can make the difference, or indifference as the case may be.

Because, though it was never so formal, it is the larger body that at some point in my recollection said women can be ordained here or there, now and again, top or middle, as an indifference, but not yer lesbians. We are not talking about Romans or the Constantinoplians or the Methodistians or Red Indians but the lesbians, and that's the point. The Parish of St-Muddy-by-the-Sea cannot decide even to make sandcastles in its church, should they be made by lesbians - no, it must go to the very top to get an indispensation - for this is difference, not indifference and we are dealing with rogue provinces in vogue anti impressionism for postmodernism.

Now lots of people do DIY on a Sunday, but see the point: there is no DIY here - and have a laugh won't you at that video because that ordination was an example of DIY Anglicanism. I fell off my chair when I saw it. I thought, just what is all this localism when someone like me is such an internationalist, as I hack my way through the far wilds of Europe to sell my books to members of the new Churches, like that one in Switzerland and another in Germany, people from every ethnic background?

So, are'd you a for her or are'd you against her? I know what I am. And so, before I go, can I recommend that you do sign on to the Covenant, that will be such a document that it won't make any difference whatsoever? Voices raised against the Covenant today are, in my secure judgment, voices raised against the ecumenical biblical vision. At least it will decide who will decide or not decide on what is to be different or indifferent; it will be the equivalent decider or undecider in our day of whether or not to have regulations to keep Jews and Gentiles separated or to relax them as according to scholarship in their day. It is not like changing the time of Evensong from 6 to 6:30 on Sundays in response to no one turning up. That doesn't need the Covenant. But it will need the Covenant if you want to start reading the lessons from the Koran or the Bahagavad-Gita, or at least listen to the Archbishop as he lectures on the Koran, the Gita, Gandhi and Sharia Law as he chairs the bridge-building Muslim Christian debate in the United States while he takes my firecrackers to burn the Roman Road from Canterbury to The Episcopal Church as it refuses to accept the clear and unambiguous teaching of the New Testament as I see it.

It's a first and second order issue, indeed: Andy ya for a fish and chips for the first order and chocolate cake for the second order? That's what we used to say. It is how you live it out and gobble it down. For todays Bhagavad Gita can be tomorrow's chip paper if the local church orders enough copies for worship, and that's me just being insulting.

I shall miss all this: I love a good battle, to fight the good fight, to duff up the Americans (who buy so many of my books). So much today is not scriptural and not scholarship, but a postmodern mayonnaise, lavishly put on the fish and chips and second order indifferences. But when I go, don't treat me with indifferences, for my going will make differences. This mustn't generate a culture of victimhood where squeals of pain do duty for patient and reasoned discourse. It's not a good place for a good theological argument. So it is my hope and plea that you keep your cathedral bookshop well stocked and remember me elsewhere in my own solemn conclave doing my writing and being pestered by students.

I did it my way, and send me your good wishes in July; and don't let the women get you down my loves. Please don't be too disappointed and use this time to prepare for my going.

To keep us anchored I'd like to finish with a little song:

Teach us to know the Father, Son, and therefore make it a good one, mum.
That through the fish and chips they make, we have our second order: cake.
Praise to what we give such merit: my dinner, a bun and the rascally ferret. Amen.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

(Extract) Latest Radner's Ephraim

Yes: the real name, so not anyone imagined in my head, so the short extract below about his six obvious conclusions from the last ten years, is from Congregationalism Anglican new a and Years Ten and thankfully not Msilanoitagergnoc Nacilgna wen a dna Sraey Net, because that would not make any sense:

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Ten these from draw to conclusions obvious some are there years.

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God wither, will she and wields., nationalism aging that sword enfeebled an is it but to. Witnessed long have missionaries and for prayed have confessors ecumenical and after clamored have world the around christians that vocation communion a with off faces now -- grace special self-proclaimed her and church episcopal sagging a of pretensions the in embodied - ideal church" "national the battle, final great, some in if as century, 21st the in now, and on. Century 19th late the from wreckage, spreading nationalism's of midst the in stream brighter the as emerging finally persistently, more yet grew current communion the wake, its in bodies many left world secular the in nationalism while and way. Better a as communion emerging of movement deeper even an with vied anglicanism of charism the somehow as church "national" a for press the century, 18th the least at since 1. Romans in explains paul as much passion, futile a become has idol the that -- least the at america in and britain in - pride national our to closely so identities anglican our linked we and much, so it wanted we but unworkable. Be to shown now is that thing very the to up" us "given has god of judgment the were, it as when, just apparent become has it and apparent. Become has anglicanism for model national the of failure the fifth: willing.

Of irrespective congregationalism, new of kind a is west the in midst our in fact a as emerging now is what nonetheless, upon. Lean to reeds weak are they sides) both on not, will probably they (and disappear not do they if even and, impotent proven have anti-structures and structures communion anglican the be. Should it as is this and devices. Own their to left being are churches anglican western the moment the for practically: important most and sixth, so, theology.

As time a such just "for here, esthers be must we and moment. Social and historical a fits that condition shared a is it pressed, been have we where is "congregationalism" if hence, - now boat same the in all are west the in christians we extent, this to and commitments. Their to inimical culture larger a and brethren hostile often by outnumbered time, some for own" one's on "being of inevitabilities practical the with struggling been long have structures, international over fussing still while conservatives, anglican view; opposite the for fought they once how forgetting - "locality"! - right their as independence this claim now america north in liberals anglican that. Just be to shown are "communion" or catholicity to pretences their all and west, the in brethren protestant their all as place same the into pressed been have anglicans western resources. Persuasive and force discursive their of credibility, their of least at or structures unitive of collapse the of face the in be, must it how is this that is issue new the but decades. For america pre-revolutionary in case the was it that know we increasingly). Catholicism western in now (and protestantism western in extent an to thus been always has it perhaps lives. Fruitful their of ordering the to respect with now own" their "on basically are congregations practice: simple of terms in rather but commitment, ecclesiological of terms in not this mean I this".

Here this of more read

I hope this extract of the nub of the argument gives somewhat clearly and efficiently the essentials that Ephraim Radner was trying to express.

For those who think I have sat here and done this for several hours, I went to NoteTab, on each paragraph separately used a clip called Text Reverse, and then I took the first lonely full stopped word and put it at the end, and finally gave each lot a SHIFT+CONTROL+U so that each of the 'sentences' after a full stop started with a capital letter. I might try this next time on an extract of Rowan Williams's next statement, if he makes one, to see if this also adds to understanding.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Yorkshire Pudding

I was in a clear minority of one regarding Sunday's Unitarian service in Hull by a brand new presenter, from the West Riding, because quite simply everyone enjoyed it whereas I thought with one of its stories hitting the intellectual low point (I heard it when a baby infant, one of my first memories) and its presumptions of beliefs I was silently critical. However, there was no doubt that this was a well communicated and thought-through service, with his child (the only one in the congregation) helping the mixing towards a Yorkshire Pudding, one you (deliberately) would not want to eat afterwards. Early on I quipped that this must be a demonstration by "The Unitarian Board for Healthy Eating." I invented such a commission.

The usual recipe is:

4 oz Plain Flour
1 medium sized egg
pinch of salt
some black pepper
½ pint of milk
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

If not a vegetarian put beef dripping into one large tin and cook until it smoulders (can be on a direct heat). While it so cooks, put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the middle, add the egg, stir until the two are combined then gradually adding the milk. Stir in half teaspoon of salt and sprinkle on black pepper. If there, add into the dripping until the batter is a smooth and thin consistency. Place in a hot oven until well risen in about 20 minutes.

But the point of the recipe was to imagine that a congregation is a Yorkshire Pudding. Ask which ingredient in a congregation are you?

  • Do you just make up the bulk, as in the flour? Gluten is a protein that helps contain the gases that make mixtures.
  • Are you versatile, as is an egg?
  • Do you bring out the best in others, like the salt?
  • Do you stimulate and spice up to release heat, sometimes afterwards (caught in the teeth), like the black pepper?
  • Do you smooth things over between others, like vegetable oil?
  • Do you help thicken matters and keep things moist and soft, like milk?

Later on, I was asked about my cooking for Yorkshire Pudding. I said, "Fifty pence at Aldi." (They might cost more) In other words, I don't cook but just heat up. Later still I was asked what element I am in the recipe. I said, "I'm the spoon," by which I meant the loser, the insignificant, as in getting the wooden spoon, but it was better interpreted in reaction as the person who stirs it, causes controversy.

The point was made to me that it was a good service because it stimulated people to ask what they did and what part they play in a Yorkshire congregation. Some had not heard of this analogy before. The reader here might ask the same question in their own collective situations.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

A Freebie for Me

Depending on how moneyless you are, receiving post through the door is not something I welcome. But today came Don Cupitt's latest, directly from him, a book called Theology's Strange Return (SCM Press). I think he has sent it because some of what I have written and sent to him prompted some additional thoughts. He did write to me and say that some of my criticism of his recent material is tackled in this book. I look forward to spotting any such material. I rather agree with his take on Karl Barth as I rapidly scan the book (I might disagree as I read more carefully); I wonder if this came from one of my prompts. My view on Barth was that his view of transcendence was so high and dry, so out of reach unless you receive the finger, that such a God has vanished for all of culture and humanity, and Cupitt turns this round, regarding the Christ figure in Barth's scheme as the icon of humanism (my words). Barth does lead directly to some secular theology. Another view is that had Barth gone on to focus on the Spirit (as says Andrew Linzey, whose PhD was about Karl Barth), then theology would have been fluid and changeable, and much could have been made of that in terms of a thorough demythologising. So I will, of course, read the book and will review it, and either link it or post it here and send it to Don plus I will send a note of thanks and some other thoughts.

Naked Women among the Bishops

Detailed news is only now coming through of what happened on Tuesday 18 May at a gathering of the Church's House of Bishops, following the consecration of Mary Glasspool in California on the Saturday.

Staying at The Railway Arms in York, a couple of naked women, similar like sisters, appeared to come out of certain rooms inhabited for that night by bishops, all said to be worse for wear with drink. As for those bishops, the ones the women were with, and indeed all of them: who knows how they now lived their lives when in secret.

Who exactly were they the women with? But that wasn't the point. One bishop, Bishop James, emerging from room 48, covered one naked lady with his large chasuble that he lay over his bed every night. He was just like that, obsessed with his position but was changing regarding his views on sexuality. Another from a different door came out and just looked at the other woman's impressive features, and both women then ran down the corridor and through the double doors at the end, leaving the chasuble behind.

Suddenly from a room into the corridor appeared the Archbishop of Anglicanism himself.

"Bishop James - pick up your chas. Go up the elevator to room 6620. You, all of you, were not coming here as if to be untested, and in the circumstances of this event, one of you, it cannot be said otherwise, surely did fail to make the intended grade," he said, stroking his beard.

The bishop who oggled said, "And you guv, you keeping us here, you have your issues too. What about Cudden Careyless always on your tail, trying to close you down?"

He replied, "I am myself being tested an almost impossible task. I have to find some unfound method to keep the Anglican Communion, the world we have around us, a world where I give multi-faith lectures, together. Saturday, and the women abroad made it worse for me still. Did you not recognise them in the corridor - Mary and Diane?"

"Looked nothing like them, Guv," said the Bishop Monarch, who'd failed.

"But they appear so to me. They must, you see. This is my test, where one of them at least tests me. Has not Gene hunted me down until now, and now Mary? All you saw, yes all you saw were two naked women. A different test. Oh and yes, the bishops they were with failed as well. They too have issues."

"I discuss the issue facing you endlessly," said Bishop Monarch.

"You're nothing but a dyke-digging tosspot," said the Archbishop, uncharacteristically.

Thus the one who passed the test, Jones James, who had offered his chasuble, went as if to see Nelson, but in fact saw Bishop Cudden Careyless first and was invited to take the elevator down to room 3B, and despite elsewhere lying in hospital, and able to demonstrate a miracle there, instead returned to that corridor above, seeking his career among these undead damaged and undead finished bishops with issues.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Miracle and Resurrection Words

My letter to Crosslincs, the Lincoln Diocese publication, about the recovery of David Yabbacombe described as a "Miracle of resurrection". Incidentally, if you are like me, and cannot stand the Mortons Digital display, press Save and download a .PDF copy to your computer and read it in that less flashy and more controllable format, allowing for textual and image extraction.

The Editor
Lincoln LN2 1PU

Dear Sir

It was a pleasure to read the heartwarming story about David Yabbacombe and his ongoing return to health.

Nevertheless, I must question the use of the words 'miracle' and 'resurrection'.

The account of his recovery is entirely natural. Others equally could have recovered, or slipped to death.

Perhaps, these days, words like 'miracle' and 'resurrection' have become a way of speaking, offering no more than adding a theological gloss to otherwise natural events.

We are combinations of biology and culture. It may matter, as consciousness returns, that a community is known to care, or that value is seen in liturgical repetition. But such are mind based strategies of healing along with the rest of the body, and part of who we are, and in relationships between others and the self, and in forms of belief and the use of language.

Words like 'miracle' and 'resurrection' seem to have undergone a shift of meaning. The use in this article clearly responds to our non-supernatural culture: the problem being that the language adds nothing in public, explanatory terms, other than the subjective use as a person regained consciousness.

People must notice this shift of use. No one died, and so there was no resurrection into a transformed body; there was no miracle.

There is surely a need for theological honesty. These words are overused and strained. The real sense of wonder and awe is in the recovery itself.

It needs more direct language and more explanation, and therein should lie the theological fascination about our transitory being and the relationship between culture and biology. Theology's obsession with maintaining doctrinal metaphors and the gloss of such language is why explanatory power for our culture-biology interplay has passed to the the social sciences, with the sciences providing the basic data.

From the .PDF [using NoteTab Light's pasteboard and joining of lines] the original article includes these words:

Miracle of resurrection

...Once on the medical ward I was later told that I rediscovered the ability to talk, an encouraging sign for a priest! Three weeks later I was transferred to a rehabilitation ward. To general surprise, I didn’t die.

All praise to Ashby Ward at Lincoln County Hospital where they made me work towards being rehabilitated. I regained full consciousness early in October, but had no memory of the accident. I was still physically very weak and virtually paralysed. I had to be washed and dressed and fed. I started on physiotherapy, which moved me from bed to wheelchair, then to standing and walking a little with the support of a frame. It was reassuring to find my memory returning, and to realise that the lovely smiling girl visiting me so regularly was (and is) my wife.

I found that I enjoyed an overall sense of security; that however odd it all was, (and odd it certainly was) all things were and would be well. I had a real sense of being held in God’s hand, incarnated in the love of those around me; my wife, in her stead fastness, our children, my sisters, the medical personnel, my brothers and sisters in Christ, be they Bishops, other priests or people from my church and the wider Christian community, and my friends and colleagues in Rotary, all demonstrated a wonderful sense of love.

I became aware of a need to pray and found it possible to return to the daily office; always a source of great nourishment, enriched by the ministry of the wonderful hospital chaplains.

Towards the end of October I was allowed home from hospital. Contrary to expectations or predictions expressed by many experts, I had neither died nor become permanently seriously disabled. On the contrary, I had begun to regain the use of my limbs, and my brain was showing potential for effective thinking.

Once home, as time passed, I was able to walk round the house without a walking frame or stick, and on Advent Sunday I walked to church (leaning on my wife and my stick) and worshipped with and as a member of my congregation there. On St Stephen’s Day I presided at the Eucharist, and, at the end of January, preached. My colleagues have been kind in their enabling of my gradual return to active ministry, and now, in this Easter season, I am finding that I am able to take things on in, what might be said to be, a more normal way.


I am realising all the more that I carry the huge blessing and responsibility of being a living witness to the fact that miracles do happen, and that prayer is answered; of being a living witness to the reality of death and resurrection.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Communion Get-Together

From Bishop Mary Hell Unreal (the original version)

Dear Friends,

Johnny asked me to write you all a lovely letter sharing my perspective on Bishop Ivor Perovem's comments regarding Mary Glasspool's ordination to the episcopate.

You know that Ivor Perovem, Gerry Mpanflush and I from our dioceses have been having something of an Anglican threesome, by which we have been exploring our huge differences on human sexuality, being two men and one woman, in a situation where women cannot be on top in Glossover or indeed England and women don't take part at all except in a lay capacity in their location of their sex ACT, the Anglican Church of Tanganyika.

Now I know people say that we Anglicans are obsessed with sex, and we really ought to move on, but we feel we have to get this right, to move to a more pleasurable situation than the one we are presently within, and for this reason we formed this wholesome threesome where we can ask one another what we really want in our Anglican relationship. It is very important that people in such a togetherness listen to one another and act carefully, getting the vibrations right, first with small moves and then only later thrusting towards hard policy that the whole Communion can accept, if possible, and as a means to prevent divorce.

Gerry Mpanflush has told the two of us vividly about the strains involved in the every day life in Africa for Anglicans and we need to bring relief to this situation. In contrast, I represent the liberal end of what we do, and Ivor is devoted to coming in between us and holding us all together, and it is at this time that I can then tick the boxes about what we have done. And Ivor is one of those who does want women on top, not everywhere, not always - none of us are saying that - but it should be possible including in England where they are always under an imposed ceiling.

Here in El Cominnow, the partnership we have has really helped and there should be a birth, bringing out a new life in a diocese long described as failed, shagged and worn out. We have had to get the moves right: it is one thing to talk about it; it is another to do it! The therapy has been well worth it since 2007.

I notice that Ivor has been very careful in how he has said what he said, and that is just how I know him - for his gentle approaches. We build trust in our relationship. We have tried much that is new, meeting in different places, and we have a broad table that can accommodate so many people.

Of course the experience of GBLT folks is different, and Ivor and Gerry have entered into this matter intensely. But look, it happens everywhere: that before we know it, our appropriation, that unlimited commodity, starts fissuring with all sorts of boundaries and limits as to who is in and who is out. Then we are not stuck and can keep talking about it afterwards as well as before and during. This is what we have achieved when we do this, in El Cominnow.

A man emerged out of the saddle recently and said, "When it comes from all like this, it requires something out of you." It does. The effort may require different things of different people.

Isn't it wonderful what happened over the diocesan border? It was just like at a Christmas party! I knew and know, though, that many did not share in that joy, and that included people in our threesome and in my diocese.

But we can still come to the large table. The three of us have and it is possible. So I consented to Bishop Mary, and she consented to me, and there was Diane too. It is truly fantastic, because there we have another threesome, although we are already quite compatible in a way that we don't have to work at it quite like Gerry, Ivor and me.

People have blogged. Emails have been sent and forwarded. There is a huge Internet traffic on this. Gerry Mpanflush told me that he has gone on the blog himself. There are many counterblogs going about too, and some of them are about Ivor and what caused my decision to stay away, depriving Mary from receiving my hands on her head at this most precious moment in her life. Look, she knows me and there were plenty of hands giving her the attention that the consecration needed.

It was not Ivor - the engine of my decision was me. I did not turn it on, I did not start my motor to go the consecration, I stayed where I was. It was my decision of restraint. I have discussed restraint before with these men, and we agree that it is good from time to time to restrain ourselves for the good of the Communion. Please do not accuse or blame Ivor, or indeed Gerry, as neither of them forced me to do anything, for all I do with them it is always my decision. And in any case, I love Mary and Diane to bits. I have met Mary a number of times - what a beautiful human being she is - and Diane is my sister. We would consecrate each other, again and again, if that is how we could do it. We look forward to years of serving one another together - at least occasionally for lunch!

And do not impose on Ivor what happened and my reasons. I do not impose on him, and neither should anyone else. He has stepped out noticeably, given his situation at home. I don't actually understand the way he has done it, or the way they do things there, but I am sure it is something else we can discover when we are next all together. As one who believes in all orders of things, regardless of gender or orientation, I encourage and support his moves - in that context.

I do hope that our partnership provides an excellent model for the development of relationships across the Anglican Communion. We really have to be less obsessed with sex. Perhaps through this threesome, we are getting there.

Bishop Mary Hell Unreal
El Cominnow

On Episcopal Café

A little bit of my creative writing on Episcopal Café: connecting the recent change of government with a broad sweep of liberal ideology. It is why I am not so critical of the Liberal Democrats as some on the collectivist left, and also why I think this is an interesting turn in the Conservative Party - that if Thatcher represented Economic Liberalism then Cameron, making a virtue out of a necessity, and following on from his half-hearted rhetoric of the past few years, is driving a more Social Liberalism. But the creative writing is to further link this political economy to religious history. Much of the Episcopal Café piece is to explain the inheritance of British politics to its American readers.

Simply put, the denominations in the UK were not formed in a political and social vacuum, but represented the rise of the urban middle class. Perhaps the most middle class was the Unitarian denomination, formed from the mercantilist English Presbyterians and some denominationalists, developing most of all a philosophy of civil and religious liberty as it pressed for political reform, as in 1832 and beyond. This ethos is visible in this government.

Some are criticising Nick Clegg for saying that "The Big Society" amounts to the same thing as what the Liberal Democrats argued for. Well, for me, "The Big Society" sounded like decentralising authority and responsibility, but probably amounted to a smaller State and cuts, with nothing for 'society' than to get on with it and tough it out. Now, hopefully, it might be what it sounded like. And to that extent, one title amounting to the same thing as the other's philosophy is so from the Jo Grimond liberal philosophy perspective.

But, whatever, Cameron is doing what Labour thought of doing in 1997, but did not, because the necessity was not present. Cameron is making a virtue out of a necessity.

Meanwhile, look at today's action regarding the 1922 Committee, that is supposed to be purely a Conservative Party backbenchers' meeting. The Conservative hierarchy has tried to ride roughshod over it, to push itself into it, and may come a cropper if the 1922 Committee constitution is asserted. In this coalition there are going to be two party disciplines, and we should expect better from the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps in not expecting power, the Liberal Democrat party made itself the most democratic (and decentralised) of the three; but it made the case and got the backing for the coalition, and that gives it a more solid foundation than it has in the Conservative Party. Perhaps Cameron needs some internal party reforms. It is for this reason that the Conservative Party cannot swallow up the Liberal Democrats; it could only happen if the Conservative Party's adoption of decentralising liberalism was to run thoroughly through its party, but its party is really a feudal affair where the leader and his team become its rulers.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Bishop of Glossover Speaks

Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Glossover
by the Bishop, The Right Reverend Ivor Perovem,
on 6 May 2010

Let me be gentle and up front with you in a kind of Anglican behind you sort of way. I am sure the church media, but probably not the little people in our pews, might be quacking their pretty loudspeaker bloggy beaks about the ordination of Canon Mary Glasspool as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles in California.

I want to say very much at first that she is a lovely woman. I'm sure she is. She is very talented. But let me say, very quietly, and hush now, that she is a bit different. I don't want to startle anyone, especially in the pews, but she might just, well, bat for the other side. Cricketers know what I mean, but I'm not talking cricket. She has had 22 years with another. That's right, another.

So let's explore this issue sensitively together. Now there is my dear friend, but only a friend, Jones James; he's a nice man, up in Liverpool and once of Hull, on a career path (but there we are), and he said something very brave recently to position himself for the future. And I cannot be as brave as him, nor as ambitious. He said we mustn't allow the you know what issue to divide the Communion. Now he used to think differently, so he has travelled further, but I think the same, so I haven't, and humbly it cannot be as difficult for me. No. But there we are.

Let me be direct. I just don't think the Church of England can be in the position it is in on this delicate subject. But even though I think this, I notice the elephant in the room, and it is our own dear Archbishop of Anglicanism, Rowanov Williamsyevich Treetri.

You see, I think he might think like me, or at least he did once. Perhaps he has had a difficult journey, in the opposite direction from Bishop Jones James. It is certainly difficult for Rowanov now, as he says one thing in his lectures and another to our dear Communion. But there we are. And so I wish to be like him, to stand alongside him, shoulder to shoulder, without touching of course.

This is why, despite the untenable position the Church holds, I still did call upon Bishop Mary Hell Unreal, next door to Los Angeles, with whom I have just a Communion relationship, not to be present at the consecration of the other Mary who is with the other side.

You see, it is very important that we as bishops learn how to do duplicity. We do it on the quiet.

There is first order duplicity and second order duplicity. First order duplicity is where we know that we don't quite believe what the creeds say, for reasons of biblical scholarship say or the examination of Church traditions, and obvious reasons of science and social science, but we carry on saying them regardless and teaching them. First order duplicity requires us to be straight faced when we are devious, when we cross our fingers behind our backs. And, of course, with evangelicals breathing down our necks we don't want to have any more conflict with them than necessary.

Second order duplicity, however, is much more subtle. For example, if the Bishop Mary Hell Unreal ordained a priest, we in our corner called England would have to reordain him, or indeed her (mustn't forget to use her), because we have women priests and then a temporary theological glass ceiling for maybe another four years or so. But we still call this a Communion and it is all second order, even having to reordain someone! And surely what we do with our naughty bits and who we love is second order as well, however much evangelicals might be breathing down our necks.

So we should not divide over this delicate matter, but on the other hand continue to act as if we would divide even if we do accept what is going on in California, which I do and we probably will.

After all The Episcopal Church is nothing if not Anglican. That they have ordained this other Mary, and we have snubbed the occasion, is no reason to depart from them because we must stay alongside them even through our absence. These are our spiritual sisters and brothers as much as any in the world. Indeed I share their theological outlook. The problem with TEC, though, is that it is actually not Anglican enough. It just does not know how to practice duplicity in the way that we English specialise.

Time will not permit me to speak about making our women into bishops but... oops, I see that I have run out of time. But let's wave goodbye to those men's men, some of whom might also be batting on the other side, but oh so quietly in their Anglican paternity duplicity sort of way, as they go off to Rome. It might save us some of our deficit! After all, there are plenty of unpaid female NSMs on the way to fill the gaps. And remember that I love you all, but not in that sort of way. Amen. Oh, it wasn't a sermon. Well, not amen then. But we might just recite the creed. Come on, let's recite the creed one more time!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Covenant Shifts

The Anglican Communion Institute (and let's include Fulcrum) continues with its dodging and weaving to get a Covenant it wants rather than the one on offer.

It claims that the recent 'no' from the Anglican authorities at New Zealand is the wrong question. The question New Zealand is asking is whether the Anglican Consultative Council's own Standing Committee acting as the Standing Committee of the Covenant cannot act according to Section 4's punitive provisions because such punitive action would be a restriction on to the members of the Standing Committee regarding ACC membership that is not in the ACC constitution (and by the UK law it would come under).

Christopher Seitz, the Geoffrey Boycott of evangelical Anglicanism, is instead saying it is the wrong question: is it rather not that the Standing Committee for the ACC is not the Standing Committee for another body, the Covenant. But, actually:

Is the standing committee of the ACC as governed by the ACC constitution and UK law legally permitted to perform the functions required of the ‘Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion’ as defined by Section 4 of the Covenant?

Er, it may be a question, but if it is (and presumably the drafters of the final Covenant draft thought so) then the New Zealand question is the one that applies. However, then we find the the ACI actually is not really interested in the legal question at all, for:

If, on the other hand, the legal advice is that the ACC's standing committee can in fact comply with Section 4, including Paragraph 4.2.8, under current UK law, it nevertheless leaves unanswered the other questions that have been raised concerning the ability of this committee to function under Section 4 with the confidence of the Communion.

Ah, so if it is legal, it is still not wanted because it does not do the punitive job that these evangelicals want the Covenant to do. It wants instead an 'Advisory Committee' apparently allowed by the ACC and Covenant and:

...the Advisory Committee consist of the three ex officio members of the ACC standing committee (Archbishop Williams, Bishop Tengatenga and Canon Elizabeth Paver) and one member (either the Primate or one of the ACC members) selected by each church when it adopts the Covenant.

Nevertheless, Seitz and the ACI still needs the two representatives from The Episcopal Church removed from the ACC standing committee because it would retain the legal authority over the advisory committee. This can be achieved by not inviting Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to the Primates Meeting and thus she is not in good standing to be ex-officio on the ACC and the standing committee. This absence of invitation thus falls into the lap of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. As for Ian Douglas, he is bishoped and therefore cannot attend without bending the rules [but he can take the other vacated bishop's space, as can another bishop], and someone else clerical has to be invited to take his place (and need not be?). Well, someone else then is still one not none even assuming the Archbishop does not invite the Presiding Bishop (but he may well).

What is missing in all this giggery-pokery is that the outlook is that New Zealand does not want Section 4, and because the Archbishop himself has said it stands and falls as a whole then presumably on his terms it must fall, however useful are sections 1, 2 and 3 for defining Anglicanism. If it stands as a whole, legally too, then the New Zealand question is a solid one: 'Doesn't the Covenant impose decisions on the ACC that restricts the ACC's constitution?' It is similar to asking, 'Doesn't the Covenant impose decisions on the Church of England that violates its autonomy from outside rule?' The point is that the Church of England may not be able to adopt the Covenant.

It's all something of an unworkable mess, isn't it? The Covenant has become something to kick around, to prefer only in one adaptation or another, which means it isn't going to bring together those different parts (that would have sections 1 to 3 only, or really want back the moved-on-from Ridley Cambridge draft). Rather larger chunks of the Anglican Communion than those to be excluded will not accept a Covenant if it intends to exclude, and thus it should not see the light of day other than as something the Global South might want to adopt for itself under its own preferred wording. Thus the Covenant or Covenants would balkanise the Anglican Communion, the most likely of outcomes.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Tide is Out

Whoops. I missed my own appearance at Episcopal Café. There was a fault with the article because two paragraphs that appeared to be mine should have been indented as they came from the Archbishop of Canterbury. This has now been fixed. These words now properly indented were said by Rowan Williams:

But of course they're not asking the same questions... 'What must I do to be saved?' may be a Christian question, but I doubt very much whether it's a natural Muslim question or even a Hindu question – or a Buddhist question where the question might be 'What could I do to be released?' (which is a slightly different category). My point is that in dialogue I start questioning my own questions. I look at myself and say 'Is that the obvious or only way of asking the question?' 'How do I listen to someone else's questions and see how mine relate to them?' In other words, in dialogue I discover the things that are not necessarily at the forefront of my mind.

And that surely is a very significant aspect of dialogue: the discovery that we don't know even what we don't know. And we must, in attention and listening find that out if God is to do what God wants with us.

I could have written words near to these in combination with a Unitarian ecclesiology. I just don't see how such words can be combined with an otherwise narrow bureaucratic outlook when it comes to his Church.

It is actually getting harder for me to write for this Episcopal Café because I am in a condition of withdrawal from Christianity as a confession in any sense, and so the controversies and issues matter less to me. Another difficulty is that controversy is suddenly moving close to the old base, in terms of a demand for sustained giving, and the manner in which forms are issued and a visit made so they get filled in. My situation is one of surviving on a most basic income and spending more than I get in order just to survive, and I don't even support the doctrinal base of this set up. I try to give to cover my costs of my marginal attendance, but that's it, and the purse is zipped up.

My main sympathy, my main effort, now, is back with the Unitarians, whose religious position I do support: one of freedom of religion, of awe from the world of science, of understanding myths as just that (forms of artistic story telling, with expressed meanings) and an ongoing conversation. One of its old mottoes is civil and religious liberty; my own liberalism is consistent across religion, politics and political economy. Suddenly it features in government too and so that has given me something to write about to Episcopal Café for the next time.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Refreshment Moment

The whole day had political developments under view, including via the computer when not directly via television. The other Nick (or 'Bilko' as I call him) was popping up all over the place and he was right earlier on as he read the wind direction towards the coalition. As he also wrote, John Prescott arguing for Labour and the Liberal Democrats together was a sure sign that such a possibility was over.

I was going out to my weekly pub visit as Brown was resigning, to pick up my Hessle friend and drive over to Sutton-Ings. There I got a doorstep half-jokey arm-gestured "**** off you!" because the Liberal Democrats had gone into coalition with the Conservatives and allowed Cameron to be Prime Minister. It seems Gordon Brown went slightly earlier than he might, a sort of final and fairly ineffective gesture of not giving the transition its own timing. I'm surprised to be told by friends that he is resigning as an MP [not so]: Blair went completely as he handed over power to his friend, but perhaps Brown should have told his constituency that his election was conditional on being Prime Minister.

What some had said in the Labour Party had reached the top and changed the outlook of its negotiators. Even under collective cabinet responsibility Andy Burnham had said that David Blunkett had made very valuable points (to go into opposition), and it was clear that people were thinking about the next leader. The Labour Party had simply decided to fold its hand and itself.

I am pleased, actually, that the Liberal Democrats are in government, and that they have done it properly. A supply and confidence basis was not enough. Friends said I am a Tory, but, no, I'm to the left, the libertarian left: and what do they want - a Cameron government off on its own or one moderated by Liberal Democrats?

The fact is that democratic politics cleverly rotates its elites, and that is what has happened today. There is thus a refreshment to the political system, including through the unusual features of this occupancy. Although the intention is for a fixed five year parliament, nothing can prevent a breakdown in a government, and then the Prime Minister retains the constitutional right to dissolve parliament (the Monarch's powers in him). So if backbenchers of either party start to misbehave as the going gets tough, the government could fail. My friends give it a short time only. I think it may last longer. An important point is the coalition politics is more fluid, and it has to give and take, and it surely acknowledges that it is more difficult to have party discipline over two parties not one. Those strains may also be ways to a proportional voting system in the future, where the tendencies can become more visible but compromise within government.

Political novices are about to learn fast. Cameron and Osborne won't have the detailed knowledge and power of a Gordon Brown, who knew where the bodies were buried and how the machines worked in detail. But they have to tackle a deficit that won't be easy or pleasant, and let's be under no illusions: the public sector is productive because it produces wanted utility, and it orders goods and services from the private sector. My Hessle friend works in the public sector dependent privatised services. The cuts will reduce the economic output of this country, and there'll be little fun or benefit from this government.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Changing Politics

What is changing matters politically is not the numbers that Labour and other progressive parties can produce with the Liberal Democrats; it is rather the unwillingness of a strong number of Labour people on the back benches to support such a coalition.

They want to go into opposition, to 'regroup' and find a leader first. Many simply will not support the more attractive electoral change Liberal Democrats want to see. Party discipline in a multi-party set-up will not be as strong, because it would go across tribal loyalties. Also, many Labour MPs do not like the primary thinkers and negotiators being Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, neither of whom have been elected.

Then there is the fact that we don't know who the Labour leader would be. A Prime Minister does not have to be a Labour leader, but how could one be chosen quickly? It is under these conditions that the party that increased its votes and seats could take power, with its leader known ahead, albeit moderated by Liberal Democrat involvement. If someone like Alan Johnson were in power now, the situation would be different.

There is no love lost between Labour and the Nationalists either. That again is a Labour problem that prevents coalition. Under a PR system, even Alternative Vote, Labour would have to learn to behave otherwise.

There is one area where Liberal Democrats and Conservatives apparently have more in common, and that is in the erosion of civil liberties under Labour. But there is no doubt that much will be uncomfortable between the two parties, and could have electoral consequences if the Conservatives prove to act in a way that seriously contradicts how Liberal Democrats voted.

Normally in PR the swings of power go with the mood of the country, and under PR and with this Commons mathematics the Conservatives would assume power. But this has been under first past the post, and so moving to political change justifies a so-called 'coalition of the losers'. It would make up 52% plus of the electorate. The problem is on the Labour side; too many are unwilling, and are saying others can rule while we sort ourselves out, whilst others in Labour fear for peoples jobs and the public services and see holding power as far more important.

As I understand it, there is no chance down the line for a switching of sides, say in two years; in that, constitutionally, a Prime Minister can dissolve parliament when a majority is lost. Someone else might say, "I can command the House of Commons," but it is the Prime Minister who in all effect carries the powers said to be with the monarch. So once Cameron has the keys to Number 10, it is his power to cut and run. Perhaps there will be an agreement that he won't, though it may not be worth the paper it is written on.

The point is that those of us who'd favour a progressive alliance cannot have it if the Labour Party cannot deliver. On that basis the least worst is Liberal Democrat moderated Conservatives. It is much better than Conservatives alone. A free vote throughout the House of Commons, and some whipping among Labour, for AV may be the best the Liberal Democrats can get and probably after Labour has chosen its next leader.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Tipping Across

The (Peter) Mandelson/ (Alistair) Campell strategy in place before the election seems to be moving towards centre stage, following an election where, as expected, no party won.

Suddenly negotiations that were actually secret (no leaks anywhere) have burst out. The Conservatives met in shadow cabinet a second time and as they did Gordon Brown announced he was standing down by the Conference in October.

The Conservatives then became desperate, and lobbed a Alternative Vote referendum bone to the Liberal Democrats at the last minute. Cameron is desperate for power.

The Liberal Democrats have little in common with the Conservatives. Of five of us who regularly go to the pub, three of us voted Liberal Democrat. Three of us do not want to prop up the Conservatives. This is similar up and down the land: most Liberal Democrat voters were anti-Conservative, and regarded Cameron's The Big Society as the cut State.

Constitutionally once Cameron becomes Prime Minister he can dissolve Parliament. He has the ability to promise anything and singularly shaft the Liberal Democrats. If the Conservatives put into power much of their programme (and quite right that they should - their economic proposals would have priority) and then shafted the Liberal Democrats, those of us who voted Liberal Democrat would have to vote Labour next time.

This is why some Labour MPs and ex MPs are now saying Labour should go into opposition. They don't want power. They want the Conservatives to make the cuts and for them and the Liberal Democrats to take the blame. Thus after four years of damage Labour would reap the reward, using first past the post. They also say, rightly, that the need for (albeit left of centre) nationalists to be on board would mean the cuts falling on England. So it could be that some Labour MPs would not vote for a broad left coalition.

It is why the Liberal Democrats should indeed go into broad coalition with the left. First of all, we do not want the Tory damage. The cuts have to be necessary and careful. We have a mixed economy, and the public sector does provide utility. Secondly, the electoral system is rotten and perverse, and if it takes political power now to change it then so be it. That is also the House of Commons and electoral arithmetic. Next time votes should turn into seats. You can still get majorities if people want them. Parties will then evolve into coalitions themselves that can say what they want, rather than an appearance of being the monoliths that they are not.

Parties have worked together in the devolved assemblies and in councils. It isn't impossible. The Liberal Democrats have to get political reform - it is needed - or they will be decimated at the next first past the post election. Even if they get blamed for economic cuts, PR will push their seat numbers up, and there will be a proper voice for a libertarian left that can recover.

Remember who voted for you, Nick, and why. That's the point. Now you have political power, exercise it. Do the necessary regarding careful management of the debt, but more so change the political system. The nationalists want this too, so does the Green member and the Alliance member.

Should the Conservatives fail to get into power, and do not receive for one of theirs the Prime Minister's token, there could be quite some infighting there. So let them do that. Let the Tories shed its public relations skin of change and show itself. Who is to say in any case that the Tory MPs will behave themselves in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats?

Obviously MPs will have more power now compared with the Executive, and this is how it should be. But in making a government, the Liberal Democrats should join with those nearest to them, for whom the 23% joins with the 29% and some others - the majority of the electorate.

New Content on the Website

The next In Depth Theology Group paper is now available. We were going to meet on 11th May but it has been postponed a week to the 18th. It is a survey of evangelicalism today. The material about reaction and resistance as such will come in two months, I think, following material on the Oxford Movement. I say this but life is in flux and this evening I took home papers that are demanding regular payment into this church and a visit (presumably to pressurise to sign on the dotted line). I'm afraid that whilst I am prepared to sort of shuffle up at the back, or occasionally offer some 'work' and benefit, I don't support what the church stands for sufficiently to be pressurised into such payment, and may have to withdraw. The sots of religion I support are as this. The church wants some £69,000 a year from regular live giving and I reckon it has a regular congregation of somewhere like a hundred people to draw upon, perhaps a bit less. This means everyone should be giving £20 a week.

Also available is a presentation I gave at a job interview last week to the University of Lincoln. This was followed by questions and then a separate interview that lasted the advertised 45 minutes if not longer.