Wednesday 31 December 2008

Hope Better than the Last One

Well goodbye and good riddance to 2008.

2009 has to be better. We can party to that.

One thing we can know about 2009 - and even as someone who does not live there and has never visited - that probably the worst United States President ever stands down and will never darken that country's leadership again. Here was a man who wore blinkers when he wasn't an idiot, and most of the time he was an idiot, and like Tony Blair he believed too much and found out too little. He presided over international disaster and ended up with economic disaster, and passed both failures on to the rest of the world like someone who sneezed over everyone else.

Unfortunately British Prime ministers declare their own date of election, and can come back later if defeated. This one has been chicken once. At the moment he is pretending to be a Winston Churchill of economics, but if so he'll suffer the same fate. Not that there is an obvious replacement, as Cameron proved ineffective and Clegg still has to make an impression. However, Brown could stagger on until 2010, if he thinks he'll lose by going earlier. I'll party when he goes.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Money, Exchange and Faith

A piece I wrote comparing faith and economics has appeared at the Daily Episcopalian of Episcopal Café. Some more economic background to this was provided in my own blog.

Proposed Scheme for Male Only Bishops

The Bishop of Madchester was delivering his lecture on women and bishops to the assembled bishops. His first slide was of signs on public toilets for men and women.

"Now my fellow Bishops, I begin by showing you these. They are photographs of toilet entrances taken from a local shopping centre. On the left you can see a symbol of a person with two long legs. That we take it is the gender of a man, like we assembled here. And on the left, with that inverted V that partly covers the legs, that we take it is the gender of a... woman. And in the shopping centre, there are one of these for a woman for every one for a man."
"Goodness me," said one bishop, "do you mean some men go shopping?"
"Yes," said the Bishop of Madchester, "and some women go to work." A second slide showed a woman with a briefcase walking alongside men.
"Rubbish," another bishop said from the back.
"Now nearly all of us understand women, don't we, because if you remember, for some of us we got married near the end of theological college so that none of the churches we visited would think we weren't attracted to women. And so we understand women from the creatures who share our beds at night."
"Doesn't affect me," said the Bishop of Horse and Ham, sat among the assembled. "No women ever shared my bed."
"Nor me," said another
"Nor me," said yet another. "I came into the Church to be my own woman," he added.
"Nor me," said another, "though I do have a few friends who are women."
"Gosh," said another.
The Bishop of Madchester continued. "But women do other things too, and we have already mentioned going shopping. But, fellow bishops, they go to work, and some of them are in charge of other women..."
"I think I know what's coming," said one in the audience.
"And some are in charge of men." A third slide showed a woman at a desk.
At which point the rate of coughing and spluttering shot up, and many of the assembled tweaked their fine collections of whiskers.
"My Lord Bishop of Madchester, this is the Church of England," said one.
"So in order to catch up again, I have some proposals, by which we can provide complimentary male only bishops and with such a code of conduct some of you can go on ignoring that toilet door sign or even having to think that a woman might be in the same bed as you." A fourth slide showed a pointy hat.

And thus a set of proposals were ready to be launched at the February 2009 Church of England Synod.

Monday 29 December 2008


Around 1992 when I returned to religious practice, one group I joined was a Western Buddhist meeting, and here I learnt about the path and purpose of non-attachment. I have kept this with me ever since, and it is a road towards liberation and even some form of salvation. It fits into why one might do Christian religious practice, or religious humanist contemplation.

In other words, a central task of religious practice is to develop non-attachment. This includes the idea that from dust we came and to dust we go. It excludes the desire for everlasting life: the last thing I want is life to go on in some form after I am dead.

Being non-attached is not the same as being unattached. The world is still here, and we are still in it, and it is still to be developed. It simply means the ability to let go.

If you love someone, you should not escalate that to an obsession that when the person walks off you cannot let them go. If they must go, then a position of non-attachment even about that love is one that will last. It will last longer than the love. Even the love affair sprinkles into dust.

The Buddhists may develop highly beautiful mandala designs of coloured sands during important gatherings, only then when done to tip them out and into a passing stream. You cannot hang on to even the most desirous of objects or experiences.

A key attitude here is not obsessive, clingy, love, but the development of loving kindness. Loving kindness is a kind of attitude strategy, and is mainly developed for your own welfare, with beneficial consequences all around. Indeed the beneficial consequences may be the basis of practice.

The idea is that if you see an accident ahead and you have developed such non-attachment, you move to assist without thought for own advantage or disadvantage for assistance.

In economics the equivalent is indifference curves. Indifference does not mean couldn't care less, it means points of no difference and no further complication. I introduce this because it then links up with my own views about gift-exchange. The effort in worship ritual where a spiritual gift is potential is not to seek out the gift for its own sake, but only to receive what seems freely offered.

The point about worship, then, as a repetitive practice, is to develop one's own attitudinal base: not to seek more spiritual attachments but to have spiritual non-attachment.

Of course if non-attachment simply becomes another form of attachment, then it will cease to be non-attachment.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Drum says Liberalism is to Blame for Everything

In a shocking sermon that included lightning bolts running through his body, and ended in tragedy, the increasingly bizarre Bishop of Drum Castle, sometimes known as "Bangthe", told his cathedral congregation that modernist theological liberalism was to blame for everything, including even the setting up of Guantanamo Bay for the interrogation of the world's remaining Christians.

Bishop New Testament Wrong told his weary congregants (it's a long way up to the Cathedral) that when he was born in a stable three wise Modernist Lecturers told him that Incarnation itself was "a category mistake", and when he was but a child at school he battled against the evil forces that came about after the Enlightenment, when he was firmly told by teachers that the incarnation was "just a myth, in the simplistic sense of a story some people find helpful but most people know isn't true."

Nevertheless, despite all this long history of child abuse, but since helped by his suggestive friend, the Drum Castle hermit Newtich, the Bishop of Drum could now proclaim that the current evil is to get God off the public square, the market place, the council offices and the cathedral. This too had to be resisted.

Making the flesh creep with his words, he said the word made flesh was quite enough to keep God in the library, the museums, the art galleries and the doctors' surgeries.

He said how he had picked this idea up from some wisdom teeth content in the carol service, in that when he started singing his mouth began to ache, and understood that for others their ears began to ache. He said:

If you look very deeply deeply into the text like I do, then it can suggest all manner of things, and so I select from it what I and the hermit Newtich want, and then use it to bash the Enlightenment, the theological modernists and the Government. You see, a lifetime of looking at this and shaking off my absusers clearly brings out the deep Jewish meaning that I can claim means something in Christianity, a religion Jesus never intended to start unless I can ask my hermit Newtich how we can swivel things around to mean what they never did.

The Bishop of Drum, tapping his fingers, asked:

Can you not hear that noise in my ear? Well Word, Wisdom, Law, Temple; and the fifth one is the Spirit, he said, quoting from a time when these concepts meant anything in particular. And so it came to John, not any old John or the John, and certainly not what Americans understand by the John, and we shall deal with them later, but the John who says: 'The Word became flesh and tickled us'.

At this point he was hit by a blue flash of lighting, vertically down to his body situated in the pulpit. He carried on as if nothing had happened, saying that he was sick and tired of all these weak theological liberals and others who had caused the drumming in his ears and added:

We live today amid the flotsam and jetsam of the failed liberal project – the deregulation of sex giving us AIDS and a nation of confused young people and lonely old people, the deregulation of power giving us atom bombs, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Darfur and the Congo, and the deregulation of money giving us loadsamoney one minute and market meltdown the next...

He went on (and on), still drumming his fingers:

Aye, we used to live like Catherine Cookson round 'ere, when the Church was alongside people when they were hurting most, as the farmers were last year and as many small businesses, and some large ones too, are doing right now, and so that's what we want, back to the Establishment and more social discipline, people with their handcarts saying hello to each other, passing on the cobbled street up to this Cathedral, bringing their lovely home made Christmas trinkets, where a vote for Disestablishment would be a vote against Incarnation, a vote against Christmas. And just as turkeys do not vote for Christmas, we do vote for Christmas, Incarnation and therefore Establishment, and not this liberal and Modernist and Enlightenment nonsense that has so affected me in my upbringing and which these Americans must pay for, if only I was Archbishop...

He said, as now blue light flashes hit him repeatedly, that he would have people, including himself, in chains, which drew murmurs of agreement, but no the people still want their freedom:

even if it’s the freedom to go to Hell in a Hedge Fund, we resist the message of Incarnation, of God being around the place, and we invent excuses to say it’s a bad idea all round, lest the fire consume us or the cloud confuse us and we have to admit we don’t know who we are or why we’re doing things the way we are...

At this point people noticed that there was smoke coming out of the bishop's ears, as his fingers drummed on the pulpit and his eyes started to swirl. Congregants started crying as they recognised the damage done to him by the child abuse of theological liberalism and the demons he had been fighting ever since, culminating in this increasingly crazy Christmas sermon.

The bishop then started spinning around and suddenly lifted off, and was last seen heading up into the north east tower and vanishing in a puff of smoke. The lightning bolts ceased, and no one could hear the drumming of his fingers any more.

A spokesperson said:

We feel so privileged. It proves against all the sceptics, modernists, liberals and the rest, that he did have a truly miraculous birth, but was destined to suffer child abuse by these academics he tried to equal, but has since relieved us all by vanishing like that and that we may never hear such material again.

Others described this event as one of the best miracles they had ever seen, that the flesh had become words and now silence. "It makes a lot of sense," said one, who added he had asked the Bishop of Carlisle to pray for rain as a way of getting rid of homosexuality.

Three days later, however, the Bishop of Drum Castle re-emerged in a transformed body as The Master, taking on the Archbishop of Anglicanism as The Doctor, the reduced and caged Archbishop relying on his chaplain going around the Anglican Communion so that everyone repeated 'Rowan' over and over again into the satellite surveillance system, seeing The Doctor rise up from the cage and defeat The Master, who died rather than spend a life in chains boxed up in the later brickwork of Drum Castle Cathedral. Thus the Easter story was told again, thanks to Doctor Who, an entertaining programme firmly in the public square and reaching millions - unlike the Churches.

Better Later than Never

So Anglican bishops are calling the government immoral and corrupt in its policies. The Daily Telegraph has this:

The Bishop of Manchester accused Labour of being "beguiled by money" and "morally corrupt".

The Bishop of Hulme said they were "morally suspect" and the Bishop of Durham said they had reneged on their promises.

They were joined by the bishops of Winchester and Carlisle who claimed ministers had squandered their opportunity to transform society and run out of steam.

The bishops said Labour sacrificed principled politics and long-term solutions for policies designed to win votes. One described the Government as "tired" and another said its policies were "scandalous".

This follows the strange reporting in the same newspaper of Rowan Williams's comments, with his vague entry into economics and theology and criticism of pursuing principles that lead some people now into unemployment.

Most bishops are similar in their criticism but one is rather different.

The Bishop of Durham's criticism is Labour policies not meeting its promises leading to the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and hopelessness: the bailing out now of big institutions but not ordinary people who are losing their jobs and seeing their savings diminished.

The Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, focusses from an economics and moral angle on the government encouraging further private debt. The government encourages greed and a love of money that the Bible calls the root of all evil. The government has suggested a lifestyle of always getting what you want (that has collapsed). Labour has been Thatcherism that was condemned back in the 1985 report, Faith in the City. The poor feel that they have been betrayed and, arriving at Durham's political view, says the gap between rich and poor just gets larger.

The Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, the Bishop of Hulme, gives a similar economic based criticism, that the Government isn't telling people already deep in debt to stop, but instead is putting pressure on the public to carry on spending in order to revive the economy. He arrives at the politics that this is cynically timed for the next general election, taking political credit whilst gambling with livelihoods.

Bishop Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester, thinks tax redistribution has failed, and that getting itself re-elected has affected policy rather than help directly poorer people and hard-hit communities.

Not surprisingly, given his past record, Graham Dow, the Bishop of Carlisle, gives a different focus. He again gives his view about the breakdown of his understanding of the family (agreeing with the Conservative Party) and thinks Labour is tired. He thinks a failure to back his model of the family is because Labour needs votes from other forms of family.

The question that arises from this is why they didn't criticise about debt when it was growing and be a little prophetic that this would lead to disaster? It is easy to come in after the event, and during the aftermath.

Perhaps they might address the policy now of deliberately paying an unsustaining Jobseekers' Allowance that is meant to force people into work, when the rate of unemployment is soaring, and will force poverty. The idea that looking for work leads to a job defies sense: looking for jobs makes not one extra job. Why is it also, when this system delivers levels of unemployment based on technical efficiency and comparative advantage, the only value given to people from the government is that of doing work? Work Makes You Free, says Gordon Brown and his Protestant Work Ethic.

The government is going to respond to unemployment by extending workfare, which means the unemployed working at no expense to employers for their dole. When the Conservatives did this in the 1980s, people worked half time for union rates at community projects in places like art galleries and museums. Now it is for nothing but a small addition (or has been so far: it could soon be for nothing) with any employer who is interested. Gaining skills and work experience is valuable, though people are often given the wrong training (the stress being on very basic literacy, numeracy and ICT), and insurance concerns prevents some actual training, but it is the use of compulsion against those who lose out with the economy we have that is objectionable.

When these people do workfare they are not counted as unemployed; when the come off it and start signing again they are no longer counted as long term unemployed. In other words, the government fiddles the figures.

These religious personalities should look a bit deeper and express their economic and positions earlier. Where is the criticism of the inappropriate workfare proposals, for example?

Friday 26 December 2008

These Days

I should say: I'm blogging for the first time from a vicarage having been earlier to a curatage (if there is such a word). In other words, I write as I visit the visitors.

What do people make of these days, especially the 95 per cent who do not regularly attend churches and 90 per cent who do not at all...

I have a suggestion. The one service that some of the five per cent attend (maybe more) is that, I've suggested, of the Unversal Baby.

Incidentally, that concept is a problem for me, as I don't believe there is a Universal anything, but most people are considerably more realist than me and easily extend their own cultural concepts outwards (and in any case they are grasped darkly and rarely expresssed).

These days - Christmas to New Year - are perhaps for nearly everyone a bit like Anglicans and similar arriving at Christ the King at the end of the liturgical year. You go through yonks of Ordinary Time, this last year longer than most, and then you hit a kind of climax before - before the change.

Of course there is the Pagan Yuletide, and here we are, and we do some greenery and sing some greenery songs, but I suggest that the population is somewhat more secular than this.

Even a secular population marks the clock. We've always marked the clock, and did so more precisely from the industrial revolution onwards. Now people tell the time with a precision that is laughable, I even have in my head estimated times of arrivals for non-esential appiontments - like today's.

But we still mark the seasons, the clocks going forward and back, the years, and bigger chunks of time - like when everyone counted in the New Millennium a year early. And this is the time at the end of the year, a time to pause, and think back. New Year itself is too brief - it is already forward moving. It's another day, a day before days come that are rolling again.

Time now subconsciously slows down. Physicists may tell us it really does. Frighten a man, attach an atomic clock (before the fear), and the time goes slower than atomic clocks attached to bored people. The experiment has been done (and the intriguing suggestion is that subjectivity is not subjective at all, that individual perception really is key to the physical world - and why I dislike the idea of Universal Anything).

So perhaps now time just does slow down, at the peak of the year, prior to its turn. This is the moment of obligations put to one side, and the obligations being home based and personal. They should be more agreeable.

What rituals do secular humans attach to such a point, the equivalent of Christ the King? They relax out, and do things in the mode of entertainment and homely duties. They do what they might regard as time-wasting at other times. Just go for a walk: wrap up and sit and watch on some seat before coming back.

Of course some families, those who care for others, those who are angry and annoyed with life, get no sense of change, and they also get no sense of slowing and refreshment.

Is this slowing really like Christ the King? Not really: it's just the year end. But, again, like the Universal Baby, here we are projecting on to totems, and there can be a totem here. It is that we are, and we are, and we move through time consciously and self-consciously, and meaningfully, and it involves a lot of projection, and projection can fall on to one person when persons are involved.

I think this connection is tenuous; the bigger connection is this: that after all this time there is arrival. We have arrived, and having arrived we slow down for a period. We mark the year having come to its end, and all that time passed by.

Soon we watch fireworks and soon time speeds up again with obligations. Even the unemployed have obligations.

I have no pictures to illustrate my point on this computer, and indeed very soon I will help eat some of the fried leftovers of the vicarage I am blogging from; I could even have eaten at the curatage. Isn't this so very generous from others for a person writing material like this? I think so very much.

Thursday 25 December 2008

A Meaning of Christmas

So I went to the Midnight Mass, among some friends, and as ever a great number came in who the friends sometimes know but are not seen in the place afterwards until the next year. The annual worshippers sing the carols, they hear the sermon again, and many have a once a year communion. May be it is odd that I do not now take communion (at least not for now, while I puzzle about things).

Why is it that in a church the two per cent regular attenders swell to five or more per cent of the population? There are different annual people in other churches too, so that 'the day' is made special by the effort of attendance at a church either the night before or during, and this religious observance adds to all the other rituals of 'the day'.

What they most definitely are not celebrating, nor are they called to celebrate, is a baby who was born and destined to be killed in order to save people. There was no compulsion in the mythic-history of the drama, and nothing was laid out in advance. To say that this is the only interpretation is sheer arrogance.

At this midnight service, and at other times, people are given the Christian myth, and given the breadth of it, and given an insight, even permission, to search. However, people are resilient, and, just as with rites of passage, they put their own interpretations on to their observances.

There is more similarity than difference between popular observant Christianity and Hinduism than some may think, and I would suggest that Christ functions as a kind of Krishna.

There is Baby Krishna, and there is a naughty teenager Krishna (he steals the clothes of the local bathing girls) and there is the adult, principled Krishna in dialogue with Arjuna, and the adult says, "Do it." At every stage Krishna is in contact with the heavens and the ultimate, because he manifests the ultimate.

A clue to this was provided by one of my pub friends on Tuesday this week, who is a Methodist and is raising her nearly three year old child with a consciousness of Christianity. She has said to him, and I quote accurately, "It is Jees... it is Baby Jesus's birthday."

In other words, it is not Jesus's birthday, but Baby Jesus's birthday, and just like Krishna at one stage, what is being celebrated here is the divinity of the Universal Baby.

Christians may examine Luke's lowly account of a birth hardly noticed after an unhistorical walk to Bethlehem, and compare and contrast Matthew's grander fiction including the visit of apparent Zoroastrians (or whoever) from beyond looking at the night sky. They might then add John's first born of creation account, afterwards. But what the visitors do is combine them all together, and produce the Universal Baby, a Baby that is divine and a baby that tells us something about us.

The story of the birth of Baby Jesus is the story that affirms our own having sex and reproducing personalities who continue us, humankind. This baby is a fully formed baby, like Krishna was a fully formed baby (who yet as a child opened his mouth filled with mud and the whole universe was seen).

Now of course Jesus was a real person, a teaching, preaching and healing itinerant rabbi, but the birth narratives are, by any reasonable examination, constructions of the early Church using existing scriptures that create important messages about the coming of the Messiah, the central person who would soon do the work of God and bring in a transformed reality, a liberated reality. But the myth of the birth, conflated and told, works at this different and ever repeating level.

In other words, a linear myth, drawn from Judaism and time that began and will end, becomes a circular or spiral myth of the ever repeating essence of humankind, the value of humankind and the place of us in what is important about us. More than this, this myth of humankind draws in the animals as company, and is virtually held in the outdoors.

And of course, it is but a small extension to see not just hope in the small child that is everyone and draws in the creatures, but life in the greenery still around us and life in the days that now get longer and will prod the new growth of the ever coming seasons.

Advent, then, may be a season for Christians to contemplate; but Christmas is a season for everyone.

With such a thought, I wish all the people who come by this sometimes cynical, sometimes stupid, sometimes thinking-through, blog, a Very Happy Christmas.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Pope Benny's Message In Full

Note that this is the NIV Good News translation of Pope Benedict XVI's recent controversial message.

Hello all you Catholic bigwigs with me here today!

Here comes the birth of baby Jesus, and only this can give every family out there a really fab party.

Even we single blokes in the Catholic hierarchy come together and give each other cards and good hugs, man to man. Ooh lovely. I'll come to this plug stuff later.

So hello everyone and thanks for helping me, the next one in the line that started with Peter. That's the Peter, not any old Peter.

Thanks a lot too to Dean of Cardinals Angie Soddo Anussy who spoke for you and the workers here at Catholic HQ. He's always such good fun: I spoke to him on my mobile the other day and apparently he got an injury.

Well our party, that special gig, is really a continuation of when all those gathered around the Holy Family, coming together as Jesus first said, 'Hello World!'

The gig is so good because it's like a big gift; Paul wrote a letter to Titus about it and said: 'Apparantly God's grace gets up your nose like fumes off a bus and it's the opposite of horrible.' (Apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus) This then gets up the nose of all men (but not women, who just tag along behind their blokes and try and see again what's so whiffy). It's the mission of Peter and the lads down the ages to get the smell really rich, strong and welcoming, like a steaming Turkey on the table at Christmas.

OK. Let's get to business. Hasn't this been one wopper of a year for the Church! And there are a few anniversaries too. Fifty years ago, Pope Pius XII died. Fifty years ago, John XXIII became Pope. Encyclical Humanae Vitae came out forty years ago, but the author, Pope Paul VI, was dead ten years after he wrote that one. It must have been the subject matter that got to him.

We've discussed them enough already, so we'll talk about something else.

Back in June 28 I was with your Big Father Bart Simpson of Istanbul and some other notables, and we had a big birthday party for Paul: that's not any old Paul but the Paul - he would be 2000 years old had he lived. But even though he is long dead he still influences us today through his letters. His letters forward readers on to the died and apparition Christ.

What Paul says is that this Church is Christ's body and if you love Christ then you love this Church and all that is in it. So make sure you love this Church and just remember that I am the boss.

What else happened this year?

Well we had that World Youth Day. That had the sceptics going: I bet they didn't think we could muster up more than a handful of youths given what Catholicism stands for. Well we proved them wrong: we bunged them on planes and buses and Australia started to sink under the weight of marching feet. Like all young people they had a good time, and thanking us for the ride said told the world that they are Catholics. I'll say more about this.

We also had a nice time in the United States and France. We got our stall out in both places and put some lights on for the world. They shone on life as we know it and the press had to go on and on about sexual abuse again.

Oh yes and there were the Bishops who gathered for some Bible readings. I enjoyed that.

You take things for granted but you shouldn't, and we didn't: God replies to text messages. He'll shape our lives and we can ask for mercy, given what we get up to as clergy. He reaches parts that others cannot reach but you need to be awake when he does it. The reply message says, 'Come together: you're more than individuals.' It is personal, but you only get it when you get together, and it always is a bit different with each generation. So let's get together.

Now the Bible was written long ago in its own time, but it's amazing how it also speaks to us, because God chatters through this too.

And the Church too: it has Pentecost today, with lots of voices and dressing up and the Word of God covers the lot, and then some more for those who suffer all this stuff. When these Bishops gathered, Big Father Bart was very clever and showed another way to get messages to the Word of God. You can do it by taking pictures as well as sending texts, and boy was he clever how he did that. So that gathering ought to give us a filip, keeping the Bible up to date as God chatters through it to us using all its variety and the mobile too.

I did some visits this year and that was about God chattering now too. I make the Church visible, like putting a dog collar on and wandering up and down the high street waiting for someone at least to say, "Hello Vicar of Christ, how do you keep your gown so white? How do you avoid stains like you get when you end up spilling your rice pudding?"

This brings me back to those young people coming off the buses. It's wow man youth culture - or is it? Yeah, we even got more people there than at the Olympics: I bet none of those sneery journalists and secular types expected that! Now the police said, if these kids can't behave then we'll give them Anti Social Behaviour Orders and will lock 'em up, but I said to the Prime Minister, these are Catholics and if I tell them to behave they will. In the end the police went off shift because these Catholic kids drank sarsaparilla and made lots of sniggering remarks to each other about genitals and when to use them.

It reminds me when I talk to my priests, and about when not to use them. I'll have more to say on all this shortly.

No, they had a wonderful time, and the few police about had a dance, like they do at the Notting Hill Carnival in England, where they nicked our churches and monasteries. Good for public relations, it was, in Sydney. Everyone got outside of themselves, with drinking all that sarsaparilla.

Everyone said, it's like a big rock festival and I'm the big attraction. Typical isn't it that they should use youth culture like this and miss the big God above in the Australian sky. Even Catholics spoke like these secularists. No it's not - because the gathering leaves a God-shaped impression in the Outback, and they can't explain that one.

Nothing is the same again when Catholics get off the buses and start to smell that rich aroma of ripe humanity.
Your Holy Mother accompanies these kids, keeping them in good order, in case she gets Cross, and so it was like a pilgrimage as they behaved themselves. We didn't hand out condoms either.

They encountered the one who died and made an apparition or two, so they thought about that and the Holy Mother who accompanied them when they met each other and Christ as they walked Via Crucis on the way to the Opera House. And I'm not the star: I just point to the star in the sky who twinkles down over Bethlehem at this time of year, though no astronomer says this.

We had a church service outdoors - we couldn't get them all in anywhere and we weren't going to ask that raving Protestant Anglican in Sydney for his place - and this was the big event when all our heavenly friends were present.

The guy who said 'God is dead' also said a good party needs partygoers, and boy were they goers and fruity. No wonder so many boys and girls made friends afterwards. Our other heavenly friend present at the gig was the Holy Spirit. And he had a few words: The Creator Spirit moved over the waters to get to Australia. The Creator Spirit made mathematics and gave a woof under nature, making it all bouncy and springy and thingy.

Now this nature has got brains, and so have we, and our brains see its brains, and they both come from the Creator Spirit. But that means our brains must look after the brains of nature because nature is a gift and we are its administrators like in those high rises that you do see in Sydney. Now this brainy creation that the Creator Spirit made not only adds up, and lets you do experiments on it with regular results, but says it wants to be good and ethical too.

It's not just mathematics but actual goodness itself as the animals chase each other and gobble each other up. Catastrophes? Who needs humans when the universe can provide its own catastrophes. Anyway, we have a responsibility in public to avoid catastrophes.
And in defending the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) and their braininess, so we should defend the braininess of men (women can tag along behind).

No matter what every other academic discipline says, no matter how much tosh this natural order rubbish represents, we are not outdated for us when we use it, and thus go on to tell men that they should choose the right female orifice for their stick-ups and not the wrong ones or those fewer ones men have got.

Now come on and respect the natural order: after all, you don't ram a plug into another plug do you? No, you bung it in a socket. And who ever heard of sockets plugging into sockets (though we don't really care about women and women)?
See, we have to stop men getting electric shocks by getting the wiring and the pins all mixed up. What we want is the electricity that flows when a plug goes into the proper socket that only the woman possesses. You should respect the natural order. There is the woman, there is the man, and he's the plug and she is the socket. Now get the real electricity going!

This is what we said to the young people. We said to our priests that plugs do not produce electricity on their own by caressing the plug, nor by invading those plugs and sockets that aren't yet up to the right voltage. As Monty Python has said, 'Every sperm is sacred.'

It is all about the Creator, this. Bugger evolution and all that tosh; but we also believe in evolution so we are not like Protestant fundies, like some in Sydney, but we easily ignore evolution when we want God involved again like a puppet-master with long strings. Bugger too all this nonsense called 'gender'. What's that when it's at home? You think you can do what you like - plugs pushing into plugs and sockets rubbing up against sockets. Talk about gender and you upset the God who wants sex, sex, sex in his Church, and no condoms.

So we don't put big condoms on trees, and rainforests deserve such freedom from making them even more sweaty, and therefore we can't have the destruction of humanity through Gender Studies in universities and so these departments should close down and do Catholic theology instead. Read the scholastics. They knew enough about getting pregnant and having lots of Catholic babies, and called it the Sacrament of creation. A man gets with a woman, bangs out as many children as possible, and then he stays with her when she is worn out and both then die.

Now plugs with plugs (and sockets and sockets) have nothing to do with this, with no one to baptise and the danger that the world might not overpopulate.
The real danger is the Europe might became a vast wasteland of importing children from Africa, as started by youth culture personalities. The Creator set up nature, and we wrote Humanae Vitae saying that we don't want consumer sex and Gender Studies but, rather, lots of roly poly foreplay and lovey dovey type stuff before putting the plug in, all that we priests cannot understand unless we have the odd mistress.

I would like to go on and on, and now wish to talk about pumping up car tyres (pneumatology), which also reflects the natural order as a pump screws around a nozzle thing, even if this is a bit the wrong way around.

It's fantastic that the Creator Spirit speaks Latin and Greek and tells us that the world has got brains, and thus we know how to make tyres and pump them up via a good screw. The wheel (on to which created humanity can attach tyres) is a fabulous invention fully supported by the Catholic Church, as it indicates how the Sun goes around the Earth. As the Sun circulates, so history is made, and God has his words circulate out of the New Testament and other writings.

This was expressed wonderfully by Saint Ambrose, when he wrote that God walks through the milky paradise (Ep 49:3). So we too splodge through the rice pudding of life, and realise that like the rice and the milky made stuff, Christ and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. Not only does the rice pudding show God the Trinity, but eating it all up is the metaphor we need for salvation. Young people love rice pudding and this is more than youth culture because people and bishops have eaten rice pudding down the ages.

Now, at his first apparition of resurrection, as the disciples ate their rice pudding in the field, the Lord breathed on them and they gained the Holy Spirit. This was a bit like at the dawn of creation, when the universe was a celestial rice pudding, and the Holy Spirit breathed on that and made it hot and eatable and it formed mathematics and brains out of the lumpy bits.

And the other thing is how the Church too comes off the Holy Spirit, and don't forget that I'm in charge at the moment. And we are all in it together. 'Join the club,' said Augustine, and this is what a lot of the Catholic girls did in Australia, with the Holy Mother doing her bit of keeping some of them in order, but not quite all of them. Yes we did a few quick weddings before they got back on the buses and aeroplanes. Some of them had to change buses and aeroplanes and write to the created order of mum and dad saying why they had to go to a different country.

They didn't do that at the Bishops' Synod. Don't believe what you used to see on Father Ted, that disgusting TV programme, accurate as it may have been.

No, with all these events there was more than one charism among so many, the Pentecostal image of the multitude of languages and cultures.
And we love it and are so grateful: thanks God!

All these God bits give us joy, happy happy happy, like a lot of young people in Australia. How to be happy? Well, with the created order of plugs going into sockets! Then electricity radiates, and gives a bit of heat to overcome the problems of the world collapsing economically, which I haven't bothered to mention really because like that Anglican Archbishop in England I wouldn't know what to say if I did mention what actually matters to people.
Well well, let me say thanks again, because I can ramble on and on!

Anyway, we ask the Virgin Mary if we can enjoy Christmas and if not ask her why not. So from my family of celibate plugs, I give all you plugs and sockets out there Seasons Greetings. Hurrah!

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Starting a Denomination

Apparently there is a new impetus in creating denominations to suit. This is a very good idea. Now I have a number of imaginary friends who sit on my shoulders and whisper into my ears, and so a number of us are going to start some new denominations. We can't quite agree, so we are cutting the salami quite thinly:

Unitarian Anglican Church

This is an Anglican Church in all its usual features except that the liturgy is rewritten to replace the doxologies and other areas that refer to the Trinity, rather like the Free Christian side of the Unitarians did with their liturgies in the nineteenth century and finally, seriously, in 1932. It would adapt creeds and articles accordingly (the central European Unitarian tradition has a catechism and, indeed, bishops). The Eucharist would be celebrated but selected lay people could preside. The Gospel and other readings would continue with the lexionary but other readings would come in.

Anglican Unitarian Church

However, this is more like the Unitarian Church of today, a Church that evolves its beliefs and sympathies, and in the United States has distinctive liberal Christian, religious humanist, Eastern and Pagan constituencies, but adopts again a more liturgical approach to worship. It would not use creeds and articles as such, or if it did they would be understood as non-confessional historical documents and not exclusive. If there were bishops they would only be superintendents that dressed up. If the Eucharist is celebrated it could be lay or minister led. Whilst the Bible is usually read, according to choice, other sources exist for the other readings.

Liberal Anglican Church

This would continue as an Anglican Church, but follow the marginalising of the historic formularies and do the same across all confessional statements and scrap the promises for clergy regarding belief. People would take theology as it exists and simplify it for preaching purposes. You would expect a wide expression of Christian belief in pulpits from Open Evangelicalism through to non-realism, and from Radical Orthodoxy to nihilistic textualism. The maintained Eucharist, perhaps opening out to some lay presiding, would have a whole variety of interpretations. The Bible lexionary would continue including the Gospel (without obvious intepretation and limited expectation regarding any guidance).

Anglican Liberal Church

This might be Liberal Catholic and Liberal Protestant (as in Europe) in emphases, and will have strayed into multifaith expressions and a variety of theologies. It would have Anglican features: in its forms of liturgy that included but went much further than Anglican inheritances (incorporating elements of other faiths), and variable understandings of Catholic and Reformed ministry, without having to give credal promises. The Eucharist would be one of several dramatic rituals and could be led by anyone. There would be a variety of scriptural and other sources for services, but there may be a pattern to Biblical readings introduced.

Free Anglican Church

This is an Anglican Church that has done nothing but marginalised all its credal and other statements; the name suggests it goes more towards the Reformed side than the Catholic, but would do so only like the Methodist movement did, and so some would be high. It would also reduce the powers of bishops over priests, and in fact might so organise itself that each were rather like the other in responsibilities. The Eucharist could be lay or minister led. The Bible would have set readings but other material also read in services.

Anglican Free Church

This would be a Protestant Church that becomes more Anglican in features, perhaps a series of independent Churches that gather together. It might develop bishops from below, along with councils and other meetings. It would have quite a span of belief, but not as wide as some. The Eucharist could be lay or minister led. There would be some greater emphasis on using the Bible as a guide to God and life.

All these Churches would be socially inclusive, so there would be no bar to ministry on any bases of gender or sexual orientation. Indeed selection for ministry would be task and education based, that is meeting competencies of pastoral support and management, as well as knowledge of and sympathy for the ethos of the Church.

For me, any of these would be better than the current Anglican Church of England (and, if you can average it, the Communion), but the best would probably be the Anglican Liberal Church and then the Anglican Unitarian Church.

Monday 22 December 2008

Archbishop says: Send the Jackboots In!

IIn an astonishing article, misread by a journalist at the Daily Telegraph, and nothing like the diatribe they do understand by regular columnist Janet Daley, the Archbishop of Anglicanism today said it was time to get the jackboot Nazis in and give everyone a good kicking.

He claims that the twentieth century theologian, Karl Barth, was a brave weakling who ran away because he was Swiss; this theologian said that we should learn to live without principles. The Archbishop adds:

Various philosophies solemnly assured us that the human cost is really worth it, because history will vindicate the sufferings and sacrifices of the present. Keep your nerve, don't be distracted by the human face of suffering, because it will be all right in the end...

The Archbishop did not quote Christianity directly, which many people have believed in and some still believe in so that they can have their earthly sufferings and sacrifices of the present vindicated: life after death will make it all right in the end.

Writing as a happy amateur of economics, whose own paypacket is the most secure in Britain, the Archbishop asks:

What about the unique concerns and crises of the pensioner whose savings have disappeared, the Woolworths employee, the hopeful young executive, let alone the helpless producer of goods in some Third-World environment where prices are determined thousands of miles away?

The maddest evangelical in England, the Rev. Chris Sugarpuff said, in response:

Well, when the people are dead, so long as they belieeeeeeeve in JesUS, they will have a happy eternal life when they will want for nothing and never become redundant again. We don't have to go through the Archbishop, you know, so why not let me write instead of Janet Daley and not him?

The Archbishop claims that the government is run by a load of fascist pigs who can't make the trains run on time. This is yet another coded criticism of Gordon Brown Nose, who after flying the Union Flag, has lately become power crazed, has taken up the V for victory salute, started smoking cigars and now drinks heavily because he recently bought a black dog. However the Home Secretary came to his defence:

This is not fascism. This is Churchillian. Fascism is when you send in the police to arrest a Member of Parliament doing his job over a leak, in order to give the opposition a good drubbing, and then make a further controversy over it with policemen apologising and so on, and whatever else Gordon and Mandy tells me to do.

The Archbishop, who if he's not careful could receive some of this treatment, further writes that Christmas doesn't offer an alternative set of economic theories or even a social programme. However, Robert Preston, the man who lives in the middle of the original bit of the M6, said:

Oh yes it. Does beeeeeeee cos it GENERates a, well let's... say buying pattern and production pattern that allows inDIVIDUAL pro. Ducers and consuuuuuuuumers to plan efficiently and [cut off]

The Archbishop denied that the God of the Christmas story is yet another dogma, backed up by creeds and articles and Bible bashers like the Rev. Sugarpuff, and that the Christianity that upholds this belief has been responsible for mass killings and war throughout the ages. Indeed, even now, there is thuggery in Nigeria after his colleague, and Sugarpuff's consultant, Archbishop Akky Nolo, said that the Muslims in the north do not have a monopoly on violence.

Note: The Archbishop denied being a Unitarian while writing this article, and prior to his own everlasting death plans to retire in a Roman Catholic monastery along with a friend called Benny.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Systemic Degrees of Dishonesty

I've tended to sit at the front in the parish Eucharists in recent weeks, as no more than a condition of laziness. There have been two benefits: to go up to the communion rail sooner and get back quicker, and sit down more quickly at passing of the exit procession. Also, because no one occupies the first or second row on the right hand side, I can sit at the second row, spread out my plastic basket and stuff, and stick my feet out in front around one chair.

However, the first benefit is lost as I have stopped going to the communion rail (at least, as planned, for the time being). It also has a disadvantage, in that although I am up and down like everyone else and know when to do stand and sit, I'd really rather stay sat during the creed I do not say. You get up for that after a sermon and then sit again. However, it is not for me to make public protests, so I get up, and simply say nothing before sitting again.

Unfortunately, I give off body language, and the different preacher today, who I know has the full understanding of the gospel-written and mythic origins of the nativity (borrowed my Bart Ehrman book recently) gave a history-like sermon that just filled me with incredulity. My reactions were rather obvious to an observing choir member (given my seated position). The preacher included, for example, what Mary must have thought as a 12 year old when visited by an angel, and angel who had been rather busy. There was quite a discussion afterwards. I said it brings up the issue of truth. As for the twelve year old element - why should she be a young virgin - I suggested it is because of suggestions of a different view of virginity that equated to coming to puberty. That's by the by, however: another, immediate and reactive discussion was on this history-like presentation, so I'm not alone.

What must she have thought? Perhaps she really liked Joseph! Perhaps it was expected that she join the builder in a good Jewish marriage and have lots of babies, so that enough survive. Who knows what she thought.

The point that annoyed me, and I mouthed the words, "Oh bullshit", turning away though (I start to look sideways) was when the nativity story was said to be the true one when the St Nicholas and Santa Claus myth has overtaken it with tinsel. My personal reaction was that it is all myth, and that at least the Santa Claus and related business is understood as myth and has become as meaningful (and more meaningful) for many.

Up and down the land preachers who are aware of how the nativity story has been constructed will have done this history-like presentation, in a focus on Mary. It is because they are obliged to do it. Some further think that if they examine it as myth it will be upsetting. Upsetting to whom and of what? Only surely because of perceived expectation. No surveys get taken in the dance of perceived expectations: congregation of preacher, preacher of congregation, preacher of his or herself.

I happen to think truth is a precious commodity, because it is connected with honesty. Truth has to be individual, and this notion that you can say something collectively while disbelieving it is extremely limited. It should be very limited in religion, because of all places where honesty is practised religion should be the first place.

There are people paid in public relations jobs who mouth their employer's case. We know that these people are spokespeople, and that they are paid. We expect them to give a collective view. Nevertheless the person who does the role should be comfortable in making the expression given. You would not expect a personal vegetarian, for example, to be a spokesperson for Mac the Knife Butchers in justifying factory farming. However, in a less extreme case, it may be that a meat eater cannot quite justify factory farming. We must allow the paid person to stretch somewhat over some difficulties on the basis of having general agreement.

Politicians also take collective responsibility or put the party argument. We know that many squirm when presenting a particular policy; they compartmentalise their personal ethical stance when presenting the asked for Civil Service briefing or retelling the latest paper from party headquarters. I always watch for the grin on some politicians as their answers are given to journalists; some would make poker players.

So it is with the Church of England, where there are these promises, and for some the difference between the presented liturgical dogma (to which the promises relate) and what they have studied at theological college and university. The promises do not ensure personal integrity: they undermine it. To me, truth is sacrificed if the collective view is put, if that is consistent with "preaching the Gospel" but inconsistent with study. It's like say a sermon on the genealogy of Jesus, where at no point comes the comment that this is a load of rubbish; why not say: they didn't know, they made it up, one genealogy is inconsistent with another and both inconsistent with a claim about virginity, and they don't fit the likely timescale involved, and in any case Abraham is something of a made up patriarch and Adam is a complete myth (where the ancestral issue is species of human). So it is treated as if it is beyond criticism, when actually it is tripe. So it can be interpreted as significance, just as virginity suggests the chosen prophet. It is myth after myth after myth.

And I do find it offensive in the sense that truth is compromised and honesty is compromised. Why should people criticise "liberals" for crossing their fingers at the creed and in sermons when the whole thing encourages dishonesty?

Our language of presentation today suggests that these so-called events are open to historical methods, that they can be falsified, or somehow evidenced, but given the privilege of the pulpit, they are heard as having happened. The necessity instead is to stress meaning/s over event: event after modernism does not suggest meaning.

Dealing with organised religion today is like dealing with degrees of dishonesty. Please understand that the argument here is not about particular people and any particular place, but about the systemic dishonesty that takes place when there are promises made by those then approved and expectations understood that then get played out.

There is a solution to this, and we hear it from Evangelicals. It is that only the actual, real, heartily subscribing believers in this stuff as history (in a modernist sense) should occupy teaching and presiding positions in the Churches. Such then has a simple outcome: the rest of us, usually with brains attached, leave. So there has to be a compromise built into the system, a little wriggle room.

However, my point is that the wriggle room is tiny, and it is still about degrees of dishonesty.

This is why (for me) it starts with a reflection that I cannot say those promises, then goes on to not saying the creed, then finding what is said by others to be degrees of dishonesty. It comes to it that the personal space one tries to find is harder to maintain.

The best part of the service is the organ music at and after the procession. I have become better trained at cutting out the chatter and using it as a kind of reflective space (so I sit until it finishes). Also a silence before a service starts is good. There are several reflective points, including intercessions, that are engaging and some may come as surprises. You just find your way through. One should say that sermons and readings do include positive jolts: after all, a week ago a sermon said, "Do it," and I did.

In the end, though, the tide is going out again. The institutional-personal dynamic is stretching very far again, as this particular piece of elastic always threatened to do. Yet, what has really changed? I had these views years ago, and I have them now.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Technique for Emphasis (GAFCON)

Sometimes it is worth reading an article the wrong way around. Rather like a journalist starts with the summary punchline, many an essay can be read with its main points in reverse for added understanding. In art the equivalent is to look at a portrait upside down to see if it looks like the person.

I thought of this when reading online a piece written by Rev George Curry to be in Evangelicals Now in January 2009. He is vicar of Elswick Parish Church, Newcastle upon Tyne. By doing this in reverse, you can see in some relief where any lack of certainty exists and where there is no lack of certainty. I think these are the essential points, starting (ending) with GAFCON:

Will [GAFCON] foster spiritual renewal and reformation within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion? Surely our prayer must be that it does.

Then looking at it this way picks up those of this sympathy they may want to separate from but are not sure:

Sadly most heresies begin as modest distortions of some aspect of truth.

But nor should we imagine that all differences encountered are insignificant.

Just because someone does not yet see things the way we do does not necessarily mean that they must be a false teacher with whom we should not be in fellowship.

free church evangelicals are right to challenge Anglican evangelicals not to compromise or confuse others about how Scripture defines a Christian.

Jim Packer wisely reminds us that some people’s heads (their understanding) are fully aligned with the experience of their hearts. He also counsels that the principle of charitable assumption is of value unless we have hard evidence to the contrary.

we must be careful not to unchurch those who really do believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone.

What the above shows is that it is easy for this group to cut themselves off from those who are close to them, that small differences lead to big differences, but then they cannot be certain. The next part is the problem GAFCON sees within the Anglican fold (the second two paragraphs appear in actual order):

Some believe that those who wear robes when they lead worship or use set forms of worship may have a defective understanding of Christian life and practice.

a definition of a credible profession of faith may prove more problematic than we at first thought if the examples of Ananias and Sapphire (Acts 5) and Simon (Acts 8) are anything to go by.

Some non-Anglicans have been wrongly informed or mistakenly assume that, as an Episcopal church (a church with bishops), authority within the Church of England is centred upon and derived from bishops. This view has been fostered by those of a Roman or Anglo-Catholic inclination, But it is decidedly at odds with the teaching of Articles 19-21 of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.

...[These] teach that Christians are not to act contrary to nor do anything repugnant to God’s Word. They inform us of the necessity to be led by the Holy Spirit and governed by the written Word of God. This, of course, presents a challenge to evangelicals within the Church of England. What do they do, and what will they do, to ensure that the FCA proves true to the Biblical Christianity of the Thirty Nine Articles and Canon A5 of the Church of England.

The fact that Anglicans include the above Catholics, who have to be 'corrected' is why the Free Church Evangelicals have difficulties with GAFCON as largely Anglican:

Non-Anglican evangelicals find themselves confronted by serious questions when they see who is involved with GAFCON, Anglo-Catholics as well as evangelicals. Nor are they convinced about the strategy adopted. Of course, they are not alone in asking such questions.

Now we get to leaders and leaders who are reliable. The next two paragraphs of the four are in actual order, and so are the last two, as each pairing cannot be uncoupled:

the ascended Christ provides the church with pastors and teachers. These men are charged to equip his people for service. In so far as their leadership is godly and biblical we do not reject their lead. Rather, we respect it and learn from it.

...they agonise before God in prayer as to what he would have them do to protect their colleagues from the ravages of the revisionist liberal cancer.

Jim Packer, Roger Beckwith (one-time Warden of Latimer House), Wallace Benn (Bishop of Lewes) and Mike Ovey (Principal of Oak Hill College) provide advice and guidance to the growing movement. On the other side of the world, Peter Jensen (Archbishop of Sydney) provides theological and administrative support to the Primates who were charged, by those who gathered at Jerusalem, to provide appropriate support for those beleaguered brethren persecuted by the juggernaut of liberal revisionism

....should Reformed evangelicals within the Church of England ignore the leadership provided by these men known for their faith and courage? And two, should Reformed evangelicals be part of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

Now with these Reformed Evangelicals we get to other Evangelicals again (first), this time about the ones causing some difficulty for the hard right, and this questioning is done by looking at non-Anglicans looking in:

Many independent and free church evangelicals probably hold this view [with] Some Anglican evangelicals [of being] fearful that the GAFCON will not generate the much-needed reform of Anglicanism. Whether or not a new reformation comes is in the hand of our gracious and sovereign God. His people pray earnestly for a season of refreshing. As they do they seek to avoid the extremes of passivism (doing nothing except pray) and activism (doing what we think is right, in our own strength and in our own way.)

They acknowledge some have stepped out of line with what was agreed about same sex sexual relationships at Lambeth in 1998. However, they also believe, following the publication of the Windsor Report in 2004, a new way to define the limits of what is acceptable for Anglicans in the 21st century is being drafted. This is usually called the Covenant Process.

They are suspicious. They are fearful as to where GAFCON and the FCA will lead. Will it produce rival structures? Will it precipitate a formal split? There are professing evangelicals within this group, most obviously those associated with Fulcrum. This last group emerged at time of the last National Evangelical Anglican Assembly in 2003. Although its stated aim has been to renew the evangelical centre, it has been described as a group of Open Evangelicals who provide a rival to Church Society and Reform.

Then we get to the actual opposition (note how they get associated with supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury):

there are those within wider Anglicanism who see GAFCON and its growing baby, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) as traitors. Traitors because they created something new; a fraternal outside existing structures. A fellowship which is seen to challenge the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This group is mainly composed of liberal revisionists.

The final part is what was introductory, but it serves as a kind of conclusion, in that the actual conclusion here shown as an opening shows the actual sympathy of the piece.

There are some – dare we say many – Anglicans who have questions about the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which met in Jerusalem in June 2008. The doubters are not all evangelicals, but you will find conservative evangelicals among them.

This technique of exposure does not always work, but often brings out in some relief actual intentions and sympathies. The craft of writing is often to smooth over and cover up by narrative, or build from small assumptions to bigger intended arguments. The reversal tends to disturb the writer's method. The reader separates the paragraphs up when viewed in reverse order for meaning as they stand.

Having done the reversal, the question is about what is better exposed about GAFCON: its carving up of those in and those out, its passing judgment, the matter of approved leaders, its concern about a Free Church Evangelical perspective versus the Anglican Catholic.

Friday 19 December 2008

Vatican Waits to Get the Lot Back

The Vatican has indicated that it can find no cave in which to bury Traditionalist Anglicans and keep them out of sight of unmarried Catholic priests. This leads to the dilemma that Anglican priests joining Rome continue to be visibly married.

A trusted but recent Jesuit, Father Paul Gambaccini was given the job of reporting the findings of the Vatican hierarchy and its considerations after leading members of the Traditional Anglican Breakaway wrote to Cardinal Seton Lavatory and pleaded for TAB to be plumbed in to the Vatican.

On the one hand, said Father Paul Gambaccini, there is not enough prejudice developed in these wayward Anglicans - simply being against the gay agenda and opposed to women priests is not enough. To qualify for full red meat Roman Catholicism, you have to write volumes on both subjects, to be intepreted as homophobia and a fear of women by outsiders. You really have to want to join Roman Catholicism in all its gory.

On the other hand, the clinching argument is that despite the difference in level of prejudice, the TAB people are too like the RCs to have their own uniate but RC Church.

Nevertheless the Vatican is sympathetic, and has been eyeing up the comparative advantage in letting in a group to have a uniate existence, set against upsetting Anglican structures and an Archbishop of Anglicanism they might well attract over himself. In any case, the previous pope in 1980 set up means by which married Anglican priests could go over to Rome.

Father Paul Gambaccini himself has had a varied ministerial career and is uniquely able to comment on these matters, and indeed was consulted by Cardinal Lavatory before decisions were made. First as a Lay Reader in the English Anglicans in the 1970s he preached regularly on the United States Episcopalian controversies, which he then took to the Methodists in England, becoming an ordained minister. He returned to the Anglicans for liturgical forms and became critical of cost cutting and parish mergers for the workload on ordained and lay readers alike and thus moved to the Roman Catholics for the first time, where he was ordained according to RC rites and enjoyed a higher quality of liturgy. He went even higher when soon returning to the Anglicans, being accepted as a priest, but was criticised as exactly being the sort of person who would leave once women became bishops. Therefore, after some time offering a clearer Catholic identity into the parish, he left for the Roman Catholics again, being given added journalistic duties on arrival as an incentive to stay. He then left for a Liberal Catholic group, now earning his income as a journalist, and although they seemed to be as high as a kite, the gnostic tendencies proved too much, and he became an Anglican again and went even higher. Despite being involved in a number of projects he found Anglican controversies too overwhelming and returned to to serving the Vatican again, joining the Jesuits, and is now known as 'the Professor'.

Cardinal Lavatory has been an academic writing on Last Days Scatology and has long been a friend of Father Gambaccini; it was he who decided to ordain him into the RCs and give him a continuing role in ecumenical relations.

So what Fr. Gambaccini says is authoritative. He advised that the RC hierarchy wait until after the Lambeth Conference, and then further advised the hierarchy that the Archbishop of Anglicanism was trying to move the whole Worldwide Anglican Communion into a centralised Church - with bishops in dioceses ignoring national Churches and all reporting to the Archbishop. This, he argued, leads to the distant prospect, but real itself, that the whole thing might be taken over personally by the Archbishop to Rome, rather than the 300,000 said to be in TAB, or the 1333 English Anglican bishops, priests and deacons moaning about women becoming bishops. However, it is understood that the Vatican would want the African and Conservative Evangelicals to separate off first, as being far too much to bear, before they would swallow back the original breakaway started by a randy and dissatisfied King.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Loss of Financial Trust

Probably my latest offering to Episcopal Café will appear after Advent and even Christmas. It makes parallels between economic exchange and ritual gift-exchange, and thus develops parallels between financial trust and religious trust/ faith, and how even in Churches such trust could undergo a chaotic collapse. I'll leave it as it is, for later appearance.

For centuries civilisation has been confused about money. They have taken its value to be in the medium. Even the ten pound note promises to pay on demand the sum of Ten Pounds. That meant gold, but now you'd get another note. Essentially it is the promise, and that promise is trust. Money value is really the value of goods and services. What money does is effect a time-shift, through saving and borrowing, that barter cannot achieve. When States monopolised money they used to undermine trust in it by clipping and by producing more, and that lack of trust came out as inflation. The state though facilitated larger scale handling of money, so that risk became generalised over larger amounts saved and lent. That risk allows leverage, that for the most part only a small deposit is needed for a lot more lending, and this is fractional banking, but such leverage also relies on trust. Loss of trust equals a run on the money. To get around lack of customer deposits, banks have borrowed from each other, thus with more leverage money has expanded. However, when a bank fails, there is a house of cards effect.

Here is the odd thing in banking: liabilities are the money you have got; assets are the money you haven't got and yet do the earning. A banker needs liabilities to support the assets. However a bank can create assets to become another bank's liabilties - and that's a monetary expansion route towards danger.

The more integrated and faster moving a system, the more chaotic it becomes. All that has gone wrong with our system has been intensified by computerisation and producing one world economic system.

I taught chaos recently in a church Wild West event where I managed the roulette and craps. I told a girl to lay a single chip after she had won on a half to half bet (though less than 50% chance because of the zeros) such as red, black, even, odd. When she lost, she should double the next gamble on that bet. Having won but lost many chips so far, this proved to be a nice earner. Her pile got bigger and bigger. However, there was a miscalculation here: that each spin of the random number generating wheel has no memory, and it only took a string of blacks for her red gamble to wipe out her pile as she doubled and doubled. The lesson was, don't gamble. Of course, in our banking world just crashed, they used to keep borrowing to get a pay out.

Once upon a time governments issued bonds (from mid 1700s), to be paid back later or never, but paying a rate of interest. Issuing bonds means keeping taxes lower. Then corporations produced bonds and we have even seen bonds for mortgages, called Collatoralised Debt Obligations. Agencies marked them too highly, and sliced and diced mortgages within a bond paid an interest rate. When the mortgages failed, bonds themselves could not pay their rate of interest, and their price fell, but the unpaid debt shot through the system - the bonds still existed but were worthless.

Share markets are secondary markets based on future profit expectations. The expectations come not just from earnings on shares (the dividend) but rising prices. When money is cheap, and interest rates have fallen, it tends to transfer itself into the future expectations of share prices. Here's the problem: the 1970s inflation may have gone but the asset prices of shares (and more) were forever rising, and they started to produce a bubble waiting burst.

Property too was asset price inflationary, and only the inflation was paying for the bad mortgages wrapped up in the bonds. Too many people without assets of their own for deposit were getting mortgages. The asset value is essential to the lender, not the borrower (despite negative equity) because the lender cannot realise back the amount lent towards the borrower making the asset purchase. With an overstretched mortgage market, the asset values fell, and the lenders were caught. The assets are sold, the money is not realised, the borrower cannot repay the missing amount (nothing there) never mind the interest rate, and so there is a financial loss.

Most insurance works because it spreads risk of bell-curve events and passes this on to individuals. Sometimes we can see that our own risk management is better than deals available: for example the rubbishy extended warranties that mean paying more than the bill for occasional repairs to an item or, indeed, its replacement. Some events, though, can be so catastrophic to an individual, that the insurance is necessary because the gamble is too great. Now the problem in the economy is that systems have developed to insure against an economic downturn. The problem is an economy is a chaotic system and severe recession has no bell-curve feature of predictability: when the economy collapses insurance cannot cope. The derivatives that built up against downturn have themselves become victims of the downturn.

All of this has been compounded by China having a savings glut and the United States especially having a huge debt but necessary for China to sell. China has been lending to the US in particular and the West in general so that the US can consume. That lending, being relatively cheap, has found its way into asset prices of property and shares and bonds. Credit cards have been bulging with nothing: UK households were far more leveraged than could be good for any long term view. As each of these failed, so has money that expanded shrunk back.

Also we have cheats and bad practices, such as Mr Madoff who made off with over-encouraging pyramid paying deposits.

All these have led to a huge crash in money and trust that is at the heart of money, and it is why banks are not lending: they cannot. So public debt is now spiralling to replace the money supply lost in the expansion of lending and the liabilities that never came from assets. Yet there has been a shift in the equilibrium from what would have been the case a year ago had lending been so close to 0 per cent.

All this is evident of a chaotic system, that once the crash happens, there is little that can be done about it. My view is that what is needed is not cheap lending, or tax cuts (except for the lowest paid, and benefit increases) but project spending: spending on housing stock for rent, roads, rail, fuel cell cars, Internet and the likes that employ and that lead to real added-value in the encouragement of spending for other added-value goods and services. The Archbishop of Canterbury would be right to criticise government for returning to the drug if public debt replaces private debt only to continue to consume; it's not about fairy dust or, instead, tangible thingies being made, but adding value in what you do, and investment is further expanding the capacity to add value in the future. The benefit of spending on housing is that it would reduce the potential for its asset price inflation in a recovering economy. The shape of the curves has altered now away from the monetarist stance towards the Keynesian, and the monetarist view (of a 'natural' rate of unemployment built on technical efficiency and trading competitiveness) will only come in once activity is restored to a higher equilibrium.