Thursday 30 April 2009

On to Other Things

Meanwhile I'm having fun preparing for the next In Depth group, on to a new section of Anglican controversies. Everyone knows about John Robinson's Honest to God (1962) and even events around David Jenkins in and around 1984. But when did these start in a similarly identifiable way? The answer is, I suggest, Essays and Reviews (1860) and can add Lux Mundi (1902) of the period of those broad and open mainly German theologians before pessimism and a closed Christology set in amongst the next generation of major theologians. The Church of England was, and remains, a theological backwater regarding these theologians, but even backwaters have their own water flows.

I've downloaded (faulty OCR) texts online and now received actual book versions, the latter readable at moments of leisure and the necessaries. All I can say is, weren't the Victorians literate and verbose? They wrote well and usually by hand, and had great discipline and precision on to the page (when, for us, typing imposes its own discipline and style, and word processing has allowed correction and compression). I know that when I write by hand, I soon realise something has been missed that should have been inserted earlier, and my hand writing is windy and imprecise. In sixth form and university teachers said they knew what I was trying to write but I didn't write it. When I did the doctorate that had to be better, and I went over and over it with my Amstrad PCW 8256.

Blogging here is usually in two takes or one takes, so it has more flow than a presentation or essay, but typing is still a discipline (plus I remain somewhat trained). Still these Victorians are impressive; however, the Latin (and Classics) background as well as the longhand creates a kind of writing that is both accurate and long winded, and my contemporary training in reading like an arrow going into selected bits, doesn't help my comprehension. I sit and read a chunk and wonder what that was all about, and, really, I'm looking all the time for the parts which created the controversy. So far Benjamin Jowett seems to be the bad boy of Essays and Reviews, and as for Lux Mundi I can't make head or tail of more than the prefaces. It must have been a very sensitive and nervous time for Christianity in the late Victorian period - that's all that I can think. Still, come the day I will have my presentation ready.

Morals Relatives

I appreciate comments regarding the previous entry below added and by email.

There is a further element to this complicated story that shows just how complicated and twisted these issues get. There is the part where my mother's will was rewritten against me, and I wanted that reversing by first waiting for my relatives to discover what the truth was about caring, and my mother even to return and reverse all that had been done. And at one point my mother did seriously consider returning (relationships strained down there) and I was prepared for the tough grind involved. But here I asked her to seriously consider the future, and she did want to stay there.

Here is the extra element. My father had died into the millennium. He had blamed my mother and me for the separation. My sister was married, away, with children, and he felt guilty about passing on his genetic condition that had impact generations down and stigma generations up. He had one bizarre phone call with me in the early 1990s, and I always wanted to go and see him but did not out of deference to my mother. He did have contact with my sister and others.

When he died he not only left a healthy bank account down my sister's line, but also he hoarded cash. I think we are talking about nearly five figures, whereas I received a fixed sum of £500. I was asked by a solicitor if I wanted to challenge his will. No, I wasn't going to get into family disputes and grabs over money. So as a result my mother changed her will, and all agreed the house would come my way, the substantial part of my mother's estate.

So when she changed her will against me, this was an act against the agreement that had been made, and furthermore it was made with a second house purchased among the recipients, plenty of decoration and fabric, and technology, and the money had pretty much gone. So this all looked like me being shafted after a known agreement, and on top of it I was also a piece of shit.

Now we see how money weaves its tentacles, especially when one side of the family has minimum wage jobs and the other, me, has been in and out of work, mainly out. Elena comes along and for a time is fine in the same, large, house. Not the way to do it.

One large ethical error was this. As the relationship broke down with my changing mother, and Elena as complication to add to this, the temptation was to stay in the house and hold to it for material gain rather than the relationship. So you start to dig in, especially with Elena finding Portsmouth to be a useful place to teacher-train. So I thought things might restore with my mother, but they did not as time went on. I was in good work at this time, though it came to an end as her training did, meaning that we couldn't move away. Plus we had this material gain.

When it looked like I'd been shafted by everyone, then it was by emergency that the rent agreement was set up. I had made it clear to the estate agent he'd get no co-operation from me, and he was rather stepping over his place too in trying to lecture me to do the right thing for my mother. So at least there was some pleasure that he was off the scene. And it was only by chance that I was in Barton at the same time as I saw everyone come out of the estate agent that would lead to this estate agent appearing.

So the removal van came, other relatives by marriage of that side of the family came, all the furniture she wanted to take went, and my mother had gone. We were left and some while after Elena went off to a new course. My attempt to communicate was met with a deep personal condemnation and here was a very low point.

When my sister rang me with her words, "I know where you're coming from," I treated the call very neutrally, but left things open. It left to Elena and I laughing a great deal, because now they had my mother and all that I had done and she had put up with (and my mother became verbally vicious) was starting there. But I'd been shafted, I thought, and I wanted it reversed. Those who had spent the money were going to spend some more, in time.

What must be mentioned is the gratitude for the sheer support given at my adopted church. I mean clergy, of course, and the relatives of same, and Elena and I were just friendly too, and a whole group of supporting people there, and also was the ongoing extraction of those Christian beliefs about how I should behave. I could see moral relativity all over the place, and also knew a little of the divisions in my aunt's family when she died and the sheer bitterness when my mother's father died and people were accused of grabbing the silver. Blimey, even the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke about the value of patience and I adopted that! I'm not joking about this. Plus I was taking a positive, active, role in doing theological and church things.

As the first visits took place, and my mother expressed some regret for how the departure had taken place (because of some conflict where she now lived), I also examined who knew what and when regarding the will. From answers it seemed that my sister was just outside of direct knowledge, that her daughter knew from her supporting visits to the solicitors about money matters. Then it became clear that the deed was done against me via a neighbour accompanying my mother, and she knew nothing. In any case, once my mother had decided she would not come back, that was it, and this nasty, money-based matter had to be laid to rest, at least for me.

When my mother thought she would come back, I pointed out then that I was still married and that had to be understood. I don't think that was the reason my mother decided she would go back, but it probably was an element. She had internalised that viciousness and would have to behave: and, whatever the condition of my relationship with Elena, there was going to be no compromise on this matter. As it happens she went back and I think that was for the best.

So now I had long gaps but also regular contact that my sister was getting angrier about my mother's behaviour and my niece was increasingly investing her skill into looking after my mother (she worked in a home, though had to leave due to ill health). Then there was the visit here with my mother where, yes, I was giving my sister and niece respite, but where it was simply impossible for me to cope. And imagine also Elena coming through computer speakers every few days and my mother thinking she was hiding in the house!

I'm still here and I've been able to borrow from my mother to keep the car, including even after sister and niece acquired active power of attorney (I gave no objection), but I am looking for a public housing place in the next town where I would not need the car for ordinary low-life living, and of course I'd like to get back into work. I am separated now but quite friendly: there has been no argument but there has been too much drift and change in outlook. In the end I've never imposed there either.

The danger for my relatives is that of wearing themselves out into serious ill health if this goes on and it cannot, and of course for my niece it could all happen all over again. I'm also concerned that my niece is over-attached to my mother, who simply is undergoing a thousand deaths towards her last death. Plus, if I'm renting and still renting, and my mother goes into care, a charge could be put on the property for the care and no one will end up with anything. So that's life.

I'm spilling out this whole story because it shows what goes on alongside all the usual fun and games output of one's interest, and where a point has been reached of no return that allows these suppressed family matters to emerge.

Betrayal is something you taste: it drips and you cannot believe the level of what seems to be heaped upon you. One day you discover people doing things around you, and no one is listening. No one has been listening, and things are done against you. Then slowly you realise that, yes these things were done, but it is a little more complicated. You just have to drop slowly these real tastes. People who know me don't understand why I don't react and cut people out, or do something back. It's only because reactions in the past have achieved nothing other than more problems.

My plan was to leave this house, become my own person, set up my own friendships and relationships, and have no more to do with my family at all. Now I don't even care about that. I have no idea about my future, but some things are true. One is that I lived with my mother for far too long and the good relationship itself wasn't healthy, when you see its outcome. Secondly I spent too much time student wise (and ministry pursuing and other matters) and should have been a little more materially self centred. When the right relationship happened, I should have done what people said and got out. In the end we are just shattered pieces putting things back together, with all the cracks and knocks. Plus it has been a period of the back spasms I had around 2003-2006 (nearer to two years) and an obesity from a resultant lack of exercise.

That's just life, isn't it, but all through I've retained core friends nearby and developed new ones, and I've both developed and kept the range of views I hold, trying to build things into a cohrent whole.

It's not just about public image, but about a kind of coherence in yourself and if you can live with your own self. There's a lot I don't like about myself but on all this I wanted to be able to make a case inside myself that I can defend, especially when no one seemed to be listening except those with whom you could talk and reflect and who at times gave advice that I didn't take. You have an inner resource that does sometimes run out, but comes back. In the end you don't achieve much but you can make a case for the defence. It's up to others to do their own defence with themselves.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

A Tragic Unfolding of Decline

One of the benefits of being conscious about being conscious is that we try to put ourselves into the minds of others and ask what is it like from their perspective. From this grows the possibility of empathy and indeed sympathy. The basis of ethics is this reciprocity between people.

We wonder about the psychotic, the person who seems to have no insight or sympathy with the other, and who operates at any level to push through, victims made along the way having no impact at all back upon them.

There may be those too who can sufficiently put others and their experiences to one side, while they push through according to 'rules of the game' and make their own individual progress. They stand on their own two feet even if, at times, it leaves some people with only one leg.

On the other hand, one looks at one's own life and its sheer lack of any achievement in worldly terms, and its utter insignificance, taking respite only in the wonder of consciousness itself and the value of small moments of reciprocity. Little matters of shared talk create conversations that have some inkling of pleasure. The market system and the bureaucratic system fail to function in this case, and you drift along materially with virtual no resources for renewing material things - but at least not in abject poverty thanks to a collective welfare norm, but nevertheless that creep towards a point where things just fail to function.

We've lived with others, time is moving on and running out, and life moves on, and it moves on to death of one who provided and on whom perhaps one was too dependent.

Yesterday my mother was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. She suffers from Multifarct Dementia, and this is one of the cruellest of dementias because it is a slow drip drip drip of the brain shutting down.

I lived with my mother almost all the time since her separation and divorce, and this was too long and it was too convenient. Too good. My mother started getting strange experiences of momentary losses, like suddenly being lost inside a supermarket, or not knowing where she was in the bathroom. These experiences were instant and over. One day Elena (wife from 2001) and I went to Cambridge, for my medical tests, and my mother fell out of bed, and we couldn't understand the sheer force of her annoyance that we were not there for some entirely unpredictable event.

She grew resentful of Elena, who, as it happens, went to Portsmouth to do teacher training, and so I decided that afterwards, we would have to move away, despite my concern for my mother's welfare. When that point came, I didn't have the job or another job that would have made the move possible, but the situation with my mother while she was at Portsmouth became increasingly impossible. As it happened, Elena was so frustrated with British education and its virtual realities that she went away to do a statistics course, but this followed the crisis period.

Listening to my mother, my sister and niece supported my mother's account, and there was what amounted to a household coup d'etat. With no foreknowledge, my mother changed her will against me, and a move was engaged that installed her in a rented house in between the two owned houses of my sister and niece. In the bit between their visit (my finding out) and her move away, when other people were here constantly, I managed to turn my estate agent involving eviction into a rent agreement, as a sort of crisis management, with the benefit of looking after the place, and potential garage rebuild and orderly exit. However, all round I was regarded as little other than a piece of shit, and that over the year I had "changed" to become a toe-rag.

The truth was I was trying to manage my mother and her experiences and her increasing aggression. It wasn't easy, and the social services told Elena and me to get out. When she got lost in the bathroom, I insisted we see the doctor. The doctor said this or that could happen, or not (with not what this or that was) and my mother said she felt a bit foolish. Anyway, I took my mother on holiday in which she had a fall, and I transported relatives across the country before my mother transferred hospitals and came home in plaster. And that too was turned into something to do with me having a free holiday while my mother was in a Lake District hospital. And this after taking her back after recovery, to see the places she'd missed. And my mother needed looking after on both occasions.

I had a story to tell about managing my mother, but somehow it was all lost via the telephone and in one visit of my mother to her relatives, when the plot was decided. I was trying to find ways to understand my mother's behaviour and inability to sequence anything, and manage her. I was of the view that I had been done over, and on top for the material benefit of others. What sort of family was this?

I'm quite satisfied how that this wasn't the case: my mother had a neighbour help her do the will changing, and then the sister and niece really thought they were helping her get out of a situation they believed was harming my mother. In other words, they were acting in ignorance not selfishness. They went along with it all, and took her out, and I was regarded as dirt. I tried to make contact and talk about the matter after the move away, but the phone was put down on me.

Within seven weeks the experience I knew to be real was transferred to my mother's new location. Now everyone locally was telling me to cut links and get out of the connection, to rent privately and save my own situation. Actually I wanted some sense of justice, and to reverse and restore what had been done against me. I've come to see that this was a mistake, but the strategy was to sit and wait, and it seemed to be working for a while.

It was a mistaken approach because the Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIAs) just go on and on. The idea was my mother would fall out with them, and return, and restore, and I'd be the wiser. It doesn't work like that. However, I made a tentative visit to where my mother now lived, and demanded some one to one space with her to talk about the situation. My mother then wished it all hadn't been done as it was (and in a sense, for someone who never apologised for anything, that was enough). However, the second visit I made proved to be more awkward, because I wanted to say what I had done and how I had been treated. Too much perhaps and I left frustrated and surrounded by suspicious people. However, I started giving advice from experience, and then came the breakthrough of a visit back here. My sister and niece were able to experience"respite", though at first that was not one of my motivations. They'd made the bed and they could lie in it.

On one visit she was convinced she was not in New Holland, and we were both in the wrong house. I had to resist. At night my mother stood in the upstairs hallway staring. I could see that she was trying to work out why it was the wrong place and yet wasn't. When calmed enough in the daylight next day and a bit more 'normal' I did take her on a round car trip via various villages and back that proved we were in the right house and village - which my mother laughed off.

About a year ago my mother came here for what was to be the last time and I couldn't handle her at all. She was up different times of day and night, that half of our house was occupied by neighbours who were evil (when next door had become vacant: they had been awful neighbours), that she was lost on a number of occasions, or moved about the landing on her bottom, and her clothes were put on in the wrong order, and conversations ended up having a logic of their own. First days good became later days bad: that she wanted to go home when people were about to take a few days away (the conversation on the telephone proved she had to stay longer - and as soon as it was over she immediately said about going back there and then). When the time came to return, she wouldn't go and it just ended in the frustration of arguing - and the guilt of arguing with someone with dementia is all consuming.

So here we are and she has now proved too much even for constant and almost systematic oversight. She is frequently very aggressive and can deny what has been going on. She spent a week in bed and said it never happened. Self-neglect, lack of basics, has worsened. More than this, she is wearing people out who are not exactly in the best of their own health. Thus I have spoken to my niece today and counselled that enough is enough, time is up: she cannot come back to a situation where they cannot cope any longer. The drug treatment has started, so has hospitalisation: what this means is something like personality removal (I think - but it is distorted anyway) and diminishment as part of necessary handling. Maybe it sweetens and removes the aggression: my mother has already had a bath and shower she simply would not take for her own relatives. Everyone is gobsmacked. Yes, she stopped having baths even when with me, and these persuaded self-washdowns were inadequate (social services said otherwise).

What is it like from inside that consciousness? My friend, whose mother has dementia too, sees the aggression as a form of personality assertion, and I think that is right. There is an overcompensation for absence of actual control over situations. Go back to when life was 'normal' but yet suddenly I did all the cooking because my mother could not plan the cooking sequence for a meal; go back to the last time she attended the art class and the tutor said something has gone and it had - her art lost its creativity.

One asks whether the aggression has always been in there, suppressed by layers of culture and self-performance. I think it was, because there were moments when it appeared, like at her separation. But it is a surprise, and the extent of it too.

We are prisoners inside our own heads. We don't just die: we die many many times. Inside we protect ourselves and we deny what is going on. But the window out gets smaller and smaller.

Not long before the first symptoms at all appeared, my mother's sister was finally overcome by the effects of a life of smoking and an unsatisfactory operation that left her short of breath for years. That side of the family had its divisions too: we here got people together appearing to be reconciled before she then died. My mother and I visited her sister in hospital, and the diminishing seen in the stature of the body was obvious, and she feared her own oblivion and feared what might come after. My mother said to me that if she ever gets like that I should do something to end her life quickly.

Elena and I agreed that my mother never outwardly grieved for the death of her sister. We think that was one trigger for her behaviour change, but it cannot be a trigger for a series of mini strokes that have gone on for years. But we don't practice early euthanasia, and the person undergoing these has a quality of life (and even now does) that they will cling on. I just wish we would let go, and aggression is an evidence of clinging on.

Life is just cruel, but this is how we are: biological units that do as they will do, via the death of cells. Somehow, I think, we have to train ourselves when fully competent, when awake, to let go. Any of us may travel down the road of dementia that is more than ageing (my mother is 85: there are many capable 85 year olds; when she was 81 she was like a 70 year old); somehow we need to develop a means by which, should this happen, we can smile at the world through the narrow window.

We may not achieve much materially, or have much impact, but we do in small corners. We don't ask to be born, but we are, and we find ourselves in peculiar life-experiences. Sometimes I wish I had grown up bilingual, like in Wales where I feel an affinity, thanks to teenage experiences, but my unique biological unit wasn't there, and may not have been anywhere but for here, inside this bundle of renewing and dying cells. That's it. So here we are, and here we live, and we do something small, and then there is the task of dying and vanishing like sand.

My mother has been dying in stages, but it has not been a good death. Inside the prison, arranging a good death I see as a kind of religious task, and where religion or the spiritual interacts with who we find ourselves to be. Plus we try to imagine what the other is experiencing. It is very difficult to empathise with such difference. I once decided not to be like my father and his sense of aggression and failure and frustration, and took a different road (though obviously I still exhibit some of this); but with my mother I just puzzle about such a decline and what it means.

Somehow the biology of what we are lets down such a marvel as consciousness and self-understanding. Most animals are freed of this reflectivity, but to us it becomes an amazing wonder and a dreadful burden.

St Mary's Sermons

Relevant to the entry below about Giles Fraser and the general debate about the crucifixion of Jesus is a sermon given at St. Mary's In Barton to remember Anselm on 26 April (Easter 3). Also included in the latest collection is the previous week's sermon also from Rev. David Rowett, with reference to the Thirty-nine Articles. I should say that these are not here just because I agree with large parts of them (which I do, but I have disagreements too at times), but because they add to the variety of content and also I do some of the initial donkey work before they may go on to the St. Mary's Barton-on-Humber parish church website. In that one sermon refers to his wife, a teacher of Old Testament for varieties of students, the cartoon here is of both, a happy picture at a fairly recent church social gathering celebrating someone's birthday.

The Easter 02 sermon asks why so much emphasis on individualistic salvation and recommends a more collective view. This was something to which I gave a lot of thought with difficulty in coming to a conclusion (well salvation is problematic but whilst I'm with him about this emphasis on joining with the other I don't think, in the end, the individual can subsume into the collective). The Easter 03 sermon is similar in that, again, I kind of go along with the stance and then I think I want to go further still, as in my entry about the Giles Fraser controversy. David Rowett is (I'll stick my neck out) a sort of from above affirming full tradition but critically approaching parts person - and I'm not; I come to it from below, so to speak, in which every part is open to a critical approach prior to acceptance. He buys the package and passes an opinion, and I buy the parts and journey along according to the specific segments. Anyway it adds to the Anglican material.

Monday 27 April 2009

Bees or not Bees

The world is undergoing a holocaust of a very necessary species for the wellbeing of all of us, and all includes other animal life as well as humans.

A hundred years and more ago wild bees and insects buzzed around the fields doing an essential job of pollinating a range of plants including many crops. Then came highly productive monocultures and losses of natural habitats so that a first death took place - the disappearance of wild bees and many insects.

The result was the European Honey Bee has to be transported by paid bee keepers in many places in order that crops of various kinds keep being pollinated. Yet now so many are dying. It is called Colony Collapse disorder, and consists of either bees vanishing and not returning to a colony, leaving a few helpless if healthy bees behind, or mass deaths at the colony and finishing off a colony that could last for many years.

On Sunday the a video on C-Span won a young person's competition bringing the issue to their public legislators, and back in November 2008 British bee keepers demonstrated outside of parliament. In the evening BBC Four showed a series of programmes about bees (I watched just one).

It seems that colony collapses have happened before, just as the varroa mite, a huge mite for a bee to handle, have been around before, but what's different is the worldwide (except Australia, and some urban locations where bees have mixtures of pollen sources) high frequency of collapses of bee colonies. It is a mystery, but there is surely a weakness among the bee populations in that they are being treated like slaves among monoculture agriculture locations. It is now so ridiculous that bees are being shipped out on aeroplanes from Australia in mass numbers for a 14 hour journey to the western United States where, of course, they will meet an early death in the conditions they face.

It seems that they are weakened by the cocktail of pesticides, some applied to seeds, that have to be applied to monocultures because otherwise some insect predators on those plants would literally have a field day. It's a form of chasing your tail to set up conditions that favour a predator, hitting the predator that then will lead to its suppression, but a mutation of resistance that calls for ever more sophisticated chemical attacks. It seems that the varroa mite could well have mutated itself into the nasty, resistant beast it has become.

Now there is an interesting tale from the timeline of evolution here. It is the Asian Honey Bee versus the European Honey Bee when in Asia and facing the attacks of hornets. When hornets come to a European Honey Bee colony, they attack and destroy mercilessly. When the hornets come to Asian bees, the first hornet scout gets enticed in, and then the honey bees surround it and warm the hornet past a critical temperature and kill it. They then destroy all remains in order that other hornets do not come en masse, that it takes another scout as if coming for the first time.

Clearly this fantastic strategy of defence was mutated into collective action as a result of living with hornets. And we might suppose that, left to their own devices, the European Honey Bee would find solutions to present day weakness. However, it would only do so - if it did so - after a cataclysmic drop in its populations. This sort of evolution by catastrophe does not come cheap to the equilibrium of the world, on which so much depends. And the world cannot afford this loss in its bee population.

Scientists are struggling to find what is wrong and to give a helping hand to the bee. However, we might start where the problems lie. First of all, bees are not our slaves but exist in their own right among a matrix of other insects. We have no right to industrialise them; the Leaf Hive has origins in Switzerland from Francis Huber in 1789, a Ukrainian, Petro Prokopovych, used frames in 1814, in 1845 Jan Dzierzon worked out just the right amount of bee space as used in 1851 by the pioneer of the modern hive, Lorenzo Longstroth, being a top opening hive with movable frames. The Hoffman style frame finished the appearance as seen to this day. These do the job, but they are now being asked to do a job that leads to collapse.

Agriculture has to be less industrial, and less of a monoculture. It needs relaxing, and need nature to return. The pesticides have become too virilent and it needs a return to more biological control via insect interactions. Bees have to be transported much less. There does still need to be a scientific effort, and one process is to breed from the best bees to speed up evolution without a catastrophe. This does not need genetic engineering, but if it comes to such then it will be a sad day that reflects the human incompetence of over-interference for our own ends.

In the end, it needs a change of attitude across the productive side of nature. We have to control our own human populations and return to a more sustainable agriculture - an agriculture that has more wild places. Plus, bizarrely, urban areas need more bee keepers and gardens need to be a little bit wilder and offering more pollen variety.

The Bee has been used as a religious symbol of altruistic obedience and industry, building an architecture of productivity, particularly taken up by Freemasonry for its industrious stonemason that nevertheless has a charitable ethic. Perhaps that is the problem for human corporate sinfulness, in that the symbol of admiration has turned into exploitation. The drone bee perhaps suggests negatively the worker doing repetitive tasks, the agriculture that has become featureless and towards the sterile, pumped up with drugs and intervention to keep it alive.

Bees also come back, and can be a symbol of fruitful resurrection. Here, though, we have a crisis of the Western world, a crisis leading to a huge unnecessary crucifixion without promise of evolved adaptation to what is our destruction and twisting around of the natural.

Sunday 26 April 2009

PS All Liberals are Not Quite So Liberal

Giles Fraser has become one of the most identifiable 'liberals' of the Church of England, through media exposure used for his choice of subjects and, of course, the content. He frequently irritates those of evangelical persuasion by his choice and content of subjects.

Nothing raises the hackles of evangelicals more than the cross on which Jesus died and, they say, carried out the saving task of atonement. If it is the penal wrath of God, then it's the love of God for us that causes him to give his Son, or himself (presumably), a nasty beating up and painful death. Such a job done on the second Adam should be enough to reverse the sin of the first Adam and hardly leaves a purpose for the resurrection, according to the argument as given by Giles Fraser in the Church Times.

I always thought, as a child, that nicking apples was naughty, though I didn't think it needed as a decent punishment a whole saviour figure to appear to be beaten up Mel Gibson style and then hung to die. On the other hand, until comparatively recently, nicking some bread in Britain could get you transported to New Holland (that's the place now called Australia, not where I live). So trivial things can lead to hefty punishments.

I'm mocking, though when you hear creationist Christians talk about Adam, as if a reporter was the third person present, you do begin to wonder if the test (not a temptation) of the apples bearing tree was really somewhere below GCSE level. (When I think of first humans, I think of emergent people in the African Rift Valley, doing better on two legs than some others, and getting on with sex, death and magic, but there you go.)

Giles Fraser has a crack at penal substitution and wants a salvation job left for the resurrection. He thinks his views are moderate compared with the Eastern Orthodox (who don't exactly detect original sin, and are similar to the Jews who do not detect this doctrine either, especially as Western Christians got it from Augustine).

Evangelicals, who do believe in sin quite a lot, original and plenty added, will say that Giles Fraser misrepresents them, in that the resurrection is the beginning of the entry into the Kingdom of everyone thus saved. Something like that anyway.

I put it like this because it is a puzzle to me.

I cannot understand why this all has to rely on the cruelty of the Romans. Now very recently the metropolitan police got a bit beyond themselves with protesters not so close to the G20 meeting, but even they don't go in for summary executions along the roadsides or in spaces controlled by the executioners (one chap who was mishandled died unexpectedly). It seems to me it is neither here nor there that Jesus was killed, but rather that someone does sacrificial service for the other, and does it with dedication and commitment. He had beliefs about demons and the end time, and was rather sacrificial and serving in healing and teaching and following those beliefs to the rather bitter end.

It follows that sacrificial service is something that has to be repeated. Nothing is done once and only once. I have no idea what mechanism was brought into play by which the death of one person once has any impact on any one else and their ethical standing. There is no mechanism, I more than suspect. The only mechanism available is communication between actual persons: which can be indirect (say via money) but employs some sort of gift-exchange. Serve the other.

As for resurrection, well I don't believe that the dead come back to life, and that the stories of resurrection are about a community expecting the end, that the first of the resurrected has happened, and that this to be transformed messiah figure is coming soon to the still coming end, but not visiting them in the meantime (as you would expect, if resurrected) thanks to an intervening ascension. It's all nicely worked out for the Pauline salvation scheme, translating from the first Jewish Christian followers who carried on with their Jewish rituals and yet came to believe that Jesus was met in the meals. That sort of presence was affirmed in the early Churches and its fundamental Eucharist ritual and has been ever since, despite no end time appearing.

I suppose that this liberal suddenly looks a tiny bit like one of the evangelicals that Giles Fraser criticises: I can allow for death in Jesus's case to be the sacrificial service that is of a model to be repeated, but I give nothing to the resurrection, in that it is entirely mythical. Not quite...

(By the way, before people come up with the hoary old chestnut that the authorities would have displayed the body etc. to those denying the resurrection: the body would not only have rotted quickly but quite likely have gone into a lime pit; that unlike the Luke Emmaus Road tale no one would have been talking about the latest batch of deaths any differently than the usual fear (the movement of Jesus was but a handful of disturbers who occasionally pulled an excited crowd elsewhere - by the way, palm leaves are around in the autumn); and by the time anyone would have made any challenge to a working movement we are over ten years down the line and no body is identifiable at that length and the issue has to be why there was no tomb to pay some respects, the empty tomb being a later supporting tale. So take your pick from any old bones: there were plenty in mass graves.)

Of course an actual coming back to life is always a possibility, but then let's get the physicists and biologists working on that defiance of entropy.

Is there any point in the resurrection myth then? Well, you can sort of live a new life. Treat it as a parallel to baptism: the idea of giving up an old life, via a baptism, into a new life, and living a new life in a kind of resurrection from all that was old and past, and yet was still you. How do you live that life? You live it serving and even sacrificially, repeating that, to develop the self towards being selfless, like the Buddhist would.

I think this makes me a liberal. I think Giles Fraser is really rather orthodox and still wedded to some supernatural tales. He is only liberal compared with those whom he counts as colleagues.

Friday 24 April 2009

Up the Purple Pole

What does it tell us about today's Church of England that, by mysterious processes (and not elections as in The Episcopal Church) Rev. Canon Graham Kings has been elevated to Bishop of Wessex - oops, Sherborne, a rather attractive part of the world, though it does move him out of London.

Probably less that we might think, then, being up and a bit away, but clearly Graham Kings represents exactly the direction that the current Archbishop would like to take both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. There is no doubt from reading any of his and Fulcrum's output that this 'Open Evangelical' group is right behind the direction of the once 'Affirming Catholic' Archbishop.

I wouldn't translate that into "a safe pair of hands", though it might look that way given some of the academic and similar priests I can think of that might also be elevated up the purple pole. There are no safe pairs of hands at a time that this Covenant is hanging about and is becoming more controversial by the Ephraim Radner paced minute with people smelling an adoption based stitch-up via the looseness of definitions for Churches.

Fulcrum connects with the Anglican Communion Institute, a sort of inside evangelical track to change The Episcopal Church into a direction other than that in which it is going. That inside track is different from GAFCON, but there is no doubt Graham Kings wants GAFCON back on board (whereas for many they now represent a price too high, having so defined themselves). Given that The Episcopal Church is very unlikely to go in such a different direction than it has, the latest wheeze is to reignite the idea that its dioceses are independent in order that they can selectively sign on to this coming Covenant, a notion that would never be allowed in the ecclesiastical bureaucracy of the Church of England and many another Church. Kings's promotion suggests that, whereas the Scottish and Welsh may well desire to join in the direction of The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of England is digging itself into some sort of centrist conservatism - though, of course, one purple leaf doesn't suggest an Autumn coming before the Winter. Clearly, though, his votes can be counted upon in the House of Bishops, for when this Covenant in its last draft plus corrections comes for approval or rejection.

Anyway, best of wishes regarding the promotion. He does listen and he is open to argument, so let's hope that at least continues down there in sleepy Sherborne.

There is a traditional ruritanial visit to its private school by the Abbey that at the start gives a flavour of the town. An aerial display shows the school quadrangle and abbey below. It's not the centre of things, like London, but is a pleasant place to wear purple and wander around in the sunshine.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Let's Play with Fire

Let's be clear: the basis on which to sign or not to sign this or very similar to the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant (RCDC) has to be on its own terms.

Nevertheless the Conservative elements are following Stephen Noll's entry qualifications approach as a way of having GAFCON sign, TEC not sign and the result is GAFCON move centre-stage in the Anglican Communion - the notion then that everyone has signed except The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Church of Canada. Thus the original job is done, and there is disciplining by access and lack of access. It TEC is playing for time, then GAFCON get in there quickly and make it even more difficult to join (though the simple answer could be for TEC and ACC to join and that blows away the disciplining intentions of GAFCON and unifies the whole Anglican Communion making most happy at least a little bit but the Evangelicals more disgruntled than most).

GAFCON does not just represent retrograde steps regarding social inclusion and that gospel message, but also represents the most fundamentalist and conservative approaches to understanding Scripture and tradition. To understand what that causes, simply refer to that headstanding piece of writing from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Advent Letter of 2007, which hardly represented his narrative approach to scripture or anything like what is heard in his scriptures or those of the academy (or even seminary). Yet that would be the pressure exerted on pulpits with the signing up of the Covenant associated with GAFCON and its Jerusalem Declaration but excluding the moderate Anglicans of North America.

Furthermore, to give the green light to GAFCON via this Covenant is to give the green light to parallel structures including the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (including being set up in the United Kingdom - why?), structures being established that would be 'first class Christians' and their differently based alternatives to existing institutions (the FCA is a beleivers-based fellowship alternative to a Communion), and furthermore the emryonic parallel to be takeover bodies should the additional and self-serving GAFCON Primates decide to take it upon themselves to declare countries and their Anglican Churches, like England, Scotland or Wales, heterodox. Should TEC decide not to sign, when GAFCON does sign, this would further appear to be the endorsement of schism, as in the approval of GAFCON intervention based Anglican Church of North America.

Imagine if England signs when North America does not. Many English clergy and laity will be deeply unhappy with the implications of this. Furthermore imagine if Scotland and Wales (and others) then decide they cannot sign with the North American failure to sign, then GAFCON might take that as a cue to declare Scotland and Wales (and those others - and any place it fancies) heterodox and start to convert its FCA Communion into mini-Churches for those countries.

Some people in the design process of this Covenant and its institutionalising of division will have a lot to answer for.

ACI Dents The Episcopal Church

It was this Archbishop of Canterbury who stated that the purpose of a Covenant could be to have two divisions of Anglicans, those who sign and those who do not, making up an inner core and an outer orbit.

It was this Archbishop of Canterbury who stated that the basic unit of the Churches was the bishop in the diocese (14 October 2007), as a means to enhance his office's position and centralisation, but had to backtrack somewhat (23 October 2007) to say that the Churches were as administrative units and common entities of Canon Law.

He has thus given encouragement to the Anglican Communion Partnership bishops (identifying with the Anglican Communion Institute) to state that they and their dioceses can sign the Covenant directly even if The Episcopal Church does not. Their highly contestable central core theoretical point is this:

The Episcopal Church is a federation (or confederation) of independent, or better, autonomous, dioceses.

Said in order not to join a confederation that is the Anglican Communion, as more liberal Covenant-rejecters would want to affirm, but to join a centralising Anglican Communion that moves towards becoming a Church in its own right.

The Archbishop of Canterbury could not say the same about bishops in autonomous dioceses for the Church of England, and it cannot be said for most other Anglican Churches, but it has led to further argument and division within The Episcopal Church where, many contest, it cannot be said about it either.

Apparently the Archbishop has invited himself to General Convention 2009, presumably to cause more division and promote his Covenant. Does he have to be let in? I'd have him having to reconstitute his material self to pass through walls and doors in order to get in.

The previous Archbishop, on his travels around North America to make trouble again, was always someone of low value incompetence, but this Archbishop seems to be deliberately divisive and even destructive, aided by 'close friends' such as Tom Wright (remember the letters that he said were going out to consecrators of Gene Robinson suggesting they search their consciences about not going to Lambeth 2008?).

Let's forget the Noll in the coffin ideas with his open prisoners' dilemma or say a whist game of comparative moves against GAFCON. GAFCON, and its ragbag collection making up the so called Anglican Church of North America, is no reason for or against why The Episcopal Church should or should not sign the Covenant. There is no whist table with players sat around: they can do what they like.

The ideas about Christian application and progress regarding its focus on people in The Episcopal Church are widely shared. They are shared in Canada, of course, another place where division by some is being intensified by outsiders. These ideas and arguments against signing the Covenant are shared in Mexico, Brazil, Scotland, Wales, Hong Kong, within England, within Europe, in most of Australia, in New Zealand, Hong Kong and further afield. It matters to these places what The Episcopal Church does, and if it comes down to having Covenants then the offered Covenant need not be the only document available. It matters to people in Nigeria who would be oppressed by the Anglican Church and the State what The Episcopal Church does.

A Covenant that only represents a part of Anglicanism was always going to lead to a possibility of another document that represents all or another part of Anglicanism. But there is in Anglicanism no need for any Covenant, and certainly no need to sign one, one that wants to formalise central institutions and stress entry conditions for accepting these institutions.

Dioceses in the Church of England will not individually sign or not sign the Covenant, nor in any other Church, nor in The Episcopal Church, but the extra argument and division is in TEC that they may try. The doctrinal basis of The Episcopal Church has not changed, whatever individuals may or may not think, and old arguments about the State and hierarchies, or other Churches abroad and their hierarchies, do not apply to voluntary bodies within the United States - which can be as hierarchical as they like. The pledge by bishops is made to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church, not its dioceses.

Not a Member of the Club

Take a look at this page of the Fulcrum discussion boards (and then click Next Page to keep going):

And see what happens. It starts off, properly, about the Latest Text of the Anglican Covenant from Cambridge Meeting, and then there is what amounts to be a personal attack on me by Nersen Pillay, known as NP when he was taking Thinking Anglicans down the same tramlines over and over again, as he does on Fulcrum (read his posts at Fulcrum by clicking on his name: you get the point). I then respond, as I surely have the right to do so. Celinda then makes a reasonable point that is sufficiently on topic (it responds to me, but it is a general statement) and then Iconoclast is more personal but quite warm. I then get off the subject in response.

The conclusion of these folks is I'm outside the club (I wouldn't bother with Nersen Pillay: he'd kick out half of all Church of England Anglicans as failing his test - a numbers obsessed one as he attends Holy Trinity Brompton - and he has a particular target in Anglican clergy leadership). Well I suppose I am, and, in so far as I do, I am participating in a cultural liturgy for its spiritual effect whilst I do not believe the substantive doctrine in any realist sense.

Apologies then to Graham Kings for the deviation in the discussion boards, which really should not be about me. However, his contribution to put the topic back to the centre has led to another entry there by me and also back on topic. I maintain the view, as an observer if nothing else, that the Covenant would be additionally divisive to the situation as it now exists. That is, incidentally, the basis on which I post at Fulcrum - as an outsider there, as I have always made clear.

Skype Yipe

As a matter of information, I have now joined the Skype network, and the name is pluralistspeaks, just like this blog, as someone else wanted to be called Pluralist, though my first name and surnames together will find me and so will I remain (for the foreseeable future) on the Tesco Internet Phone at 01300270094 (the number is based on the house and the year of moving and what was available!) as well. The fact is that the latter has been of personal use but no one has ever contacted me on it except by mistake, whereas this evening I received a communication by Skype straight away (from a church friend). One gets the impression that Tesco came along to put its finger in the pie that Skype occupied via blister packs of headphone with microphone and a CD, but probably in this case Skype has remained dominant.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

In Depth Story

Another lively In Depth discussion, including a story which I am going to re-tell from one of the members with a Sunday School and somewhat transitory evangelical past, and, as he said, his beliefs are different now and different from the time of this story.

Back years ago, there was a shop trading in second hand goods and sales were seasonal. Dad told daughter staying for weekends and at the shop that money was tight but God looked after him. Daughter wanted a teddy buying for her but dad said no. Dad got his stock by looking in small adverts and seeing what was being sold. The daughter joined him doing the rounds, and father said to daughter that if he says "What do you think?" when the woman says a price for her good quality cream coloured dryer, say, "Mummy really wants a white one," as it might get the price to pay down (even though mum was miles away and unconnected). So they went in this house, and the woman said she wanted £40, and dad said to daughter, "What do you think?" and she said, dutifully, "Mummy really wants a white one." So the woman then said £35, which was the intended effect, and dad asked then his daughter again what she thought, expecting this time the daughter to say OK and he would take the dryer. Except the daughter said, again, "Mummy really wants a white one." The result was he couldn't take the wrongly coloured one and it wasn't bought at all, and both went back to the van.

He asked the daughter why did she say it twice, and she said, "You won't buy me a teddy so you're not buying a dryer." So after this conversation he then he prepared to drive off, but there was a knock on the window. The woman said she can't sell the dryer, and instead, not knowing of the conversation they'd had, said they may as well have it for nothing, and "Buy your daughter a teddy."

So, having paused further to load up, they drove back to the shop and took the dryer out. At this very point a man came over, asked how much for the dryer, and he said he could have it for £35 [pure profit] and of course now the daughter knew that dad had money to buy the teddy. So they went to buy a teddy.

Thus God had arranged that the girl received a teddy, the same God that had been looking after her dad through lean times. So the girl was taken to church for the first time on the Sunday, and she asked who that man was hanging on the cross. The daughter thought this was horrible and the service was horrible and nothing to do with the God who had looked after them.

The reason this delightful story was told (and I've taken it upon myself to reproduce it) was because we discussed how people think practically and this worldly these days, and he (the story teller) does wonder what the even church attending people do actually believe. Children have a view of the world that equates to story-telling, he said, and we were agreed that since the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment so much of that has gone. History is now so precise, but it never was (we have a historian in the group). There is literalism with silly fundamentalism and scepticism too. Our story teller is very much, I said, an ethnographer of beliefs (much travel around the world and sympathies with and observations of superstitions and fears in ordinary believers with Buddhism and Hinduism) as we discussed the various ways Religious Studies approach religions and the relative isolation of Theology.

Noll in the Coffin

Stephen Noll, theologian to GAFCON advises GAFCON to get to the front of the queue for signing on to the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant (RCDC) partly on the basis of his own prisoners' dilemma game:

Scenario A. GAFCON churches adopt the Covenant and TEC/ACoC refuse to adopt.

Scenario B. TEC/ACoC adopt the Covenant and GAFCON Churches refuse to adopt.

Scenario C. Both GAFCON churches and TEC/ACoC adopt the Covenant.

Scenario D. Both GAFCON churches and TEC/ACoC refuse to adopt the Covenant.

Whilst, he accepts, there is little in the Covenant for disciplining members, with yet the possibility that:

There may be an iron fist hidden in its velvet language about "relational consequences."

Why is because he thinks the language is less vague than the St Andrews' Draft. He still thinks excommunication is very unlikely. But it is harder to join because its principles of adoption are biblical and traditional and:

This is why the section on Adoption is of crucial importance: it provides the means of a Province that cannot in good conscience uphold biblical and Anglican teaching to self-select out, out of the Covenant and perhaps ultimately out of the Communion.

So the strategy is get in there. But then it isn't, is it? Because, according to him:

Scenario C would maintain the status quo ante and doom the Covenant to irrelevance.

Which means that if GAFCON Churches join, then The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada could join, and render the GAFCON strategy of joining useless. It is, of course, not a prisoner's dilemma in that the first action is visible to the other player and can be undermined by the second player. What it does, then, is undermine the strategy, as in scenario A, the one:

that the GAFCON churches should consider carefully and certainly not reject out of hand.

It results in scenario C and dooms the Covenant, though many Covenant supporters would welcome all signing on!

Given that GAFCON could then not risk signing on with scenario A (because it could lead to C), and are lukewarm, it leads the way not to scenario B (where TEC and ACC joins but GAFCON does not) but to where none of them joins it, because the document is a mess, cannot do what it was meant to do, and yet has some restriction and extra definition built into it. Not to join emphasises that the Anglican Communion is one of Church to Church relationships and not to a centre which seeks to increase its powers and move itself towards a Church. All could accept that and implies nothing they do not build themselves.

Stephen Noll remains divisive in his intent. He clearly states:

For let it be clearly stated, there is no future for a vibrant and coherent Anglican and Christian body that includes The Episcopal Church (TEC) and Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) as they now exist.

He does not want them to join, and thinks this perspective (of joining) is the strongest strategy. He therefore outlines the similarities between the RCDC and The Jerusalem Declaration.

Now it would be odd if they were so different. After all, The Jerusalem Declaration was Anglican-plus, that is Anglican plus evangelical hangups and impositions, for example to bring back the Thirty-nine Articles when these no longer require direct assent (in the Church of England as well as elsewhere).

Rather than a Romans-centred gospel, it [the RCDC] is an Ephesians-oriented gospel (not to say Ephesians neglects the fact that "by grace you have been saved by faith"). Whereas JD finds a crucial recovery of biblical truth in the 16th century Reformation, RCD finds its sources in "a rich history of the Church in Britain and Ireland, reshaped by the Reformation" (2.1.2).

And the RCDC:

...fails to mention: the wrath of God revealed against sin and our spiritual accountability before the judgement seat of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). In another clause without parallel in RCD, the Jerusalem Declaration makes explicit reference to the last things...

Yet both are:

...on the side of the angels. The day may come when the Jerusalem Declaration may in whole or part be joined to the "Inheritance of Faith."

Perhaps Stephen Noll doesn't realise the extent of the opposition in certain circles to The Jerusalem Declaration, and that it will never join any other formula in those held by the Anglican Communion.

The problem with any GAFCON strategy is that they want it both ways. This is clearly the case as he revises the behaviour as regards the Lambeth Conference of 2008:

The GAFCON movement has assumed the ongoing validity of the Instruments. The Primates, bishops and other Provincial representatives continue to participate in the Primates' Meeting and ACC. While many bishops chose not to attend Lambeth, most were issued invitations and some did attend Lambeth 2008.

Having it both ways also extends to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans:

Having commended adoption of the Covenant by GAFCON churches, I am certainly not recommending that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans fold its tents and simply wait for the wider Communion to sort itself out. It is quite possible that ecclesiastical politics, which have not served the cause of Christ and His Church well over the last decade, may again subvert any good that could come from the Covenant effort.

If it was as effective, it would be like saying to Communion partners, "Thanks for doing what we demand, but I'll just keep the gun to your head so that you keep doing what we demand."

In other words, GAFCON concedes nothing even if people and institutions do what it wants.

In general terms, GAFCON and its self-selected, self-authorising Primates Council will go on determining for itself what is orthodox, go on approving structural alternatives to what is declared heterodox, and go on with its alternative to Communion, the belief based Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. As insurance policies against an Anglicanism of which they disapprove, they will carry on with parallel structures that have the potential to be replacement structures.

Who will fall for this? Let GAFCON follow its own logic, and let the Covenant die in some bin for recycling the paper used - rather like GAFCON's evangelicalism.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Worship, Liturgy and In Depth

I won't here reveal the place of worship I attended this morning, but it was a crowd much more huge than I am used to and a different presentation. A group of people I know went as well, so there was something of a conversation afterwards.

The worship involved a lot of CD based music, and audio-visual being apparently tried out, and centred around some baptisms so that the crowd was largely of the unchurched. So what happened was equivalent to Fresh Expressions and may have been inspired by that.

The audio visual came after some music, and then as text on a screen with visuals and there were no formal prayers except the Lord's Prayer. What also struck me was in such a large number how quiet was the hymn singing. These hymns would have been encountered in school and yet no one sang. I'm told since that's because they don't - such is the gap now in England between the few church insiders and the mass of those who don't even look inside the doors for years and years. But the folks were dressed up, the baptisms followed the given Anglican script, some stayed for refreshments and a core of us discussed.

One of us had left for a walk and came back, and there was this discussion about what I called the disengagement of the worship. The audio-visual might have been tweaked for better effect, and I have no argument against the use of technology. The principle was to engage the unchurched, who'd come for baptisms.

I was reminded of the music played and chosen at secular and also some religious funerals at crematoria; that these laptop driven unstated audio-visual prayers were backed by the playing of 'Bridge over Troubled Water' by Simon and Garfunkel.

Rites of passage are dispersing these days, but some still prefer the Church for funerals, weddings and baby-namings, and there are a whole host of secular, superstitious, magical, even residual-Christian reasons for having a baptism of a baby. It clearly is meaningful at some level or other. That isn't the issue, though it does suggest that the service can be cut down to the essential that is the baptism service.

The rest of it was to show an outside crowd that the Church is potentially contemporary. A couple of people said to me, however, that the worship was too subjective in its lack of engagement for them, that it swas ultimately because it lacked objectivity, though they supposed I would not agree with that. Indeed I didn't.

My reference point here is the late nineteenth century and liturgical changes and justification for them when Unitarians of the broad Church party came to the view that worship was not centred around the book or even tradition but that these were only vehicles for what matters, and that's the conscience. I'd change conscience to the mind, and thus what matters to me is whether worship either generates conversation in one's mind or deliberately sets out to empty the mind towards a goal of inner peace. Liturgy does these jobs, and there is a distance between liturgy and theology.

It was understood that collective worship was going to be more conservative in form than conversations in a diverse group of minds in any worship, and that individualist subjectivity was clashing with collective forms. Yes, and welcome to the earliest expression of postmodernism in the late nineteenth century: that is language doing its thing as a collective inheritance, engaging as a conversation, with a mass of individual responses. When objectivity is presented but undermined by subjectivity, then the result is not subjectivity but postmodern narratives.

My conversation partners were theology objectivists: that worship and its liturgy is a down the line presentation via established tramlines of ordered theologically sound worship. They can engage with critical debates like I can, but conclude along the Anglo-Catholic direction of the Anglican pole (from fairly centrist to journeying towards its end) that sound theology delivers sound worship. That orthodoxy I don't follow; I follow a far more postmodern view. Mine can be orthopraxic, that is to say a liturgical pathway comes first and does its job and theology follows but not precisely the same. Or indeed may be rather different.

Since I've stopped taking Communion I have relaxed my orthopraxic view: in other words, that on the one hand the collective interpretation of the liturgy is still too historicist and truth-bound, so the collective impression of my participation concerns me, but that having stopped taking communion I am free to think that there can be all kinds of engagement that generate worship conversation or a stilling in the mind.

Theologically I'm moving towards, again, Don Cupitt and his language of the everyday, and his Above Us Only Sky. I argue, and I will at next week's In Depth Group, and my presentation will lead me on to reflect this, that theology in secular institutions is in something of a muddle, but it ought to open out as in the late nineteenth century towards accessibility with other disciplines rather than preserving Christological space and being ignored by other disciplines whilst it uses them.

My presentation is obviously prepared and ready: of itself it is fairly neutral for people to come to whatever position they wish as it discusses confessional Theology and neutral intending Religious Studies, and the approaches of Religious Studies, and the relationship of Theology with Science, Social Science and the Arts.

Saturday 18 April 2009

In the Doctrinal Forrest

I do not know the balance of numbers regarding the likely consents or otherwise of the Bishop Elect of North Michigan, Kevin Genpo Thew Forrester.

What I do see is an interesting (and in a number of ways concerning) debate on the ecclesiastical and theological left about his suitability to be a bishop of The Episcopal Church.

Among those of this perspective there seem to be a number of reflections.

First, unlike with the theological and ecclesiological right, there is little concern with his use of Buddhism as part of his spirituality.

The problem comes with his liturgical innovation that suggests he is not fully and doctrinally on board regarding the Trinity and uniqueness of Christ. Whereas the right wing perspective picks holes at the Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, and her views of leaving the extent of salvation to God, the left wing is showing concern about the real evidence in the liturgical changes that begin to put Bishop-elect Forrester alongside the figure of Bishop John Spong and his writings.

There are further questions about the selection process in North Michigan, a small diocese over a large area, where Kevin Thew Forrester emerged as the only candidate, though he received a large vote of individuals and congregations.

There is another charge too, that he is something of a despot, going back to his days in Eastern Oregon.

Now in the United Kingdom we have the popular Mad Priest Of Course I Could Be Wrong (OCICBW) blog, which has a bit of risqué fun at some likely employment cost to its author. In the past Mad Priest has said warm things even about Unitarians, but he seems to be running a campaign against the candidate on the basis of his apparent dictatorial nature and on the basis that he doesn't uphold core Anglican doctrinal beliefs.

I don't know why this should be of such concern on the OCICBW, other than because of its network of comment makers and virtual contacts. Actually I think that blog is looking a little strange lately, but that aside it has become one foreign place for this issue to cohere on what is called the left.

A long while back I did a parody of The Wicker Man film in which a sort of Kevin Thew Forrester is sacrificed, and there is a possibility of this taking place - in simpler terms that he doesn't become a bishop. Despite the embarrassment of the left perspective seeming to give way to the hard right, such a sacrifice allows the theological left to demonstrate its orthodoxy. He is worth losing for the greater benefit. We see this already in how so many who are pro-gay inclusive will attack Bishop Spong doctrinally, despite his own pro-gay stance. It is good for the appearance of membership to be able to isolate John Spong - even David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham, was keen in a television audience to dissociate himself from the views of John Spong on the panel (and I forget the programme, but this was a low moment from the Church of England's Cuckoo).

On the other hand, it might be said: if the Bishop-elect doesn't seem to come up to minimum belief standards, then how can he be accepted? And if he was accepted, would that not give the hard right a field day and more evidence that The Episcopal Church is on the road to religious syncretism?

Here are my few thoughts on the matter, as someone who does not meet such minimum belief requirements, and has seen this frustrate moves towards seeking training for ordained ministry over and again before even going forward.

First of all, there is an academic theology which clearly has moved away from and undermined the minimums of dogma. It questions those very beliefs. Yet such forces a separation between college and Church, lecture room and pulpit. Given that many clergy and bishops actually agree with critical academic insights, it generates a dishonesty in the pulpit that undermines Christianity and its claim to deal in truth.

When people come along who are honest and open in their reformism, they become the victim of the closed door. Because they cannot or will not stand on their heads and do the necessary somersaults, they get excluded, whereas those somersaulters who think academically but preach doctrinally carry on.

Now at some point all this academic work has to have an impact on the Churches. It isn't just a form of academic masturbation. And it does have an effect. It leaks out, it causes media-trivialised controversies, people listening start reading between the lines, congregations get suspicious in part or whole. Those of us on the actual theological left and say so can get frustrated that there is so little change in the Churches.

We are told to go to the Unitarians, or the Society of Friends, or Liberal Catholics (the small groups) or various simple statement Protestant sects or within, and of course some do. There are pressure groups to join, like the Progressive Christianity Network. We also hang around on the fringes of doctrinal Churches, talking with people in congregations and half-participating, and no we will not accept the doctrinal minimum as a cost of membership. Of course, in the end, we go from the back row of the church to outside the door, probably turning up for social occasions (as many do already and without a conscience).

What's left, then, is a regime that includes a strong dose of dishonesty and duplicity.

What we have is priests who have gone through their critical training and are installed in jobs, usually needing freehold (in England) before they put their heads up above the parapet, and sometimes not even then. We have bishops who conform, until something happens in their heads at retirement, and all of a sudden become interesting. There is a whole system of licensing and promises - and promises become not a matter of honesty but a matter of public appearance.

Apparently it's just about all right in TEC if there are one or two publicly open priests that are clearly of Christian colour (Anne Redding was in two minds, the issue regarding Islam is in its own exclusive dogmatic statements) but not quite full on doctrinally, but not so for bishops with the exception of one John Spong so far on in his career and now retired, who runs a virtual one man touring industry of Christian-humanist doctrinal reformism.

In England there are a number of suppressed and not so suppressed priests of liberal and radical views, and Don Cupitt has been of independent income and retirement, which (along with the centrist David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham) drew the admission that the Church of England doesn't usually pursue heresy cases for practical reasons. In other words, the apparently doctrinally inadequate can well defend themselves, expose other views for their negotiations and strategies, and dig up the murk of others' apparent doctrinal shiftiness. A heresy trial would be a gift, as there could be theologians lined up queueing out of the door. So they don't happen: instead a pantomime of promises continues.

It is up to The Episcopal Church to decide whether Kevin Thew Forrester has the character to be a bishop and has the right beliefs. Perhaps TEC is changing, and personally I'd hope it was and in a direction towards honesty. Though he may still be rejected, even thrown to the wolves (or put in a Wicker Man).

I say all this as someone who when asked what I think will attempt to give a straight answer (I am pastorally sensitive: I don't attempt to bring the ceiling crashing down on other heads as an automatic reflex - and pastoral sensitivity is a partial defence for duplicity).

Now postmodernism is important for all sorts of symbolism and art in religion and story-recovering reasons, but it should not be a cover for Radical Orthodox or narrative approaches that appear to be one thing (the package in a bubble) while the person actually thinks something else.

Liberals like me are pains in the backsides, to ourselves as well as to others. I mean 'liberal' in terms of critical thinking as a method and saying what you mean, not just liberal about something (within or without perceived boundaries). I once said to a church group, my stance is a personal curse. Institutions expect and mould conformity; even dedicated liberal Churches have their forms of conformity, as I have discovered.

All this duplicity, then, and no wonder that pews are emptying (because we do know, just about everyone gets what is going on between the lines) and only the fundies put up a straight fight and seem to believe with thoroughgoing consistency the nonsense they hold.

So what should be the limits of a Christian Church? Not even I advocate that The Episcopal Church should be of the breadth and coverage of Unitarian Universalism. I think there is a place for a recognisably Christian liturgical Church (in content) that nevertheless realises it is in a broader world and which demands no belief promises other than a maintenance of broadly Christian practice. For someone who really was Buddhist as well as Christian, that might be too much. Kevin Thew Forrester is not like this. I would still be marginal in such a Church, but I could fully participate (and now I don't any more). The Liberal Catholic Church International would fall into this category of liturgy with freedom: only bishops are required to give assent to trinitarian belief, and even then it is without explanation. But it is tiny!

It would be quite a reform for Anglicanism to be Christian in liturgical shape and openly honest in its theology and ministry. But it is not, and the honest can have their appointment with The Wicker Man while the duplicious (along with the doctrinal and honest, the genuinely puzzled and the pastorally sensitive) make priests and bishops.

Where are the boundaries really? Can they not be better stated?