Wednesday 30 September 2009

Local Midweek Morning in Town

The local church holds a midweek service, after which the parish priest visits the Church of England primary school. Midweek sermons have to be brief, as the communion service should last no more than half an hour. There were about thirteen people present, which wasn't unusual.

So the priest, Reverend Alan Peart, 51, said his sermon would be the shortest ever, indeed consist of single words only by which he'd like to hear responses from the congregation of hymn titles or other relevant music.
"Grace," said the priest.
"Amazing Grace, how sweet thou art," sang Mrs Grace Smith, 60, sat alone.
"Excellent! Very good. Yes, Grace indeed! So next one we'll have is Pilgrim."
"To be a Pilgrim," said Mrs Eleanor Jones, 72, also sat alone.
"Yes, perhaps a bit easy that one. Cross."
"On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross," sang Mr Paul Wright, awkwardly, 62, alongside his wife, Carrie, 55, looking at him.
"Harder one then," said the priest. "Let's try the sea."
"Eternal Father, Strong to Save," said Mr Geoff Brown, 70, sat with his friend Mr John Jones, also 70.
"Very good Geoff. Well, a few more. Sending a letter. That's a hard one, perhaps."
"Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," said Mrs Ida Cartwright, 81, sat alongside her friend Miss Joyce Junkin, 79.
"Yeah. Very good Ida," said the priest. "Let's see, oh er. Making love our goal and..."
"Mem'ries, light the corners of my mind, misty water-coloured memories, of the way we were," immediately sang Mrs Janet Ward, 62, sat alongside Mr Peter Ward, 70, who turned slowly and stared at her.
"Yes, well," said the Reverend Peart, "I was going to say how God has a tune for every aspect of our life and world, but perhaps we'd better move on. Let us pray."

At this very same time Mrs Ward's daughter, Mrs Janice Capron, 30, housewife, once a born again Christian, and now nothing much, yet old habits die hard regarding her lapsed believing husband, was busy putting clothes into the washing machine. There was a knock on the door from their postman, Mr Peter Cornet, 55, who had some letters for them and a second bag on his person.
"Your last day," she said, noticing the other bag.
"It is," he said.
"I have a gift for you," she said. "Come in. What have you received from others?"
"Look in this bag," he said. "Three boxes of chocolates, quite a number of envelopes with money in I think, a set of some carriages for my 000 railway, a fishing reel, a fishing line, a book for birdwatchers..."
"I have two gifts for you. Come upstairs."
"Oh? Two?"
She took him into the bedroom. The bed had fresh sheets and pillows on, pulled back. "Undress," she said, and she did herself.
They got into bed, both naked, and she made skillful passionate love with him, after which he was quite exhausted, and yet had his round to continue.
"That was utterly fantastic," he said, getting out as she sat on the side of the the bed combing her hair before she got dressed herself.
"Did you enjoy that?" she asked, dressing, obviously knowing he had.
"Yes indeed. I cannot imagine what my other present is!"
"Oh yes of course," she said, and leaned over to a tube with pound coins in, released one and gave it to him.
"What's this for?" he asked.
"Your other present. No no, it's just your other present. My husband Robert said so."
"Your husband? What did your husband say?"
"When I told him that it was your last round today, and that we ought to give you a present, he said, 'Fuck him, give him a pound.'"

By this time the priest, Alan Peart, had gone into the local primary school, where he was invited in to the 28 years old Miss MacIntosh's class that included Janice Capron's 7 years old daughter, Jenny Capron, among a class of twenty children in total.
"I wonder," said Reverend Peart, "if you children can imagine going to heaven. I wonder about heaven. Would you float upwards, like head first, or is there another way to heaven? What does heaven mean?"
"Hands first," said Peter Wright, just turned 8, grandson of Paul Wright in the congregation earlier that morning.
"Oh," said the priest, who had been trying to suggest that heaven is something else. "How is that then?"
"Because they are praying, sir," said the boy clasping his hands and pushing them up into the air.
"Oh I do like that answer," said the priest. "But I wonder where we think heaven is, like is it..."
"Feet first," said Jenny Capron.
"Hello Jenny," said the priest. "Feet first?"
"Yes, because I went in the bedroom and mummy had her feet right up and her legs with no clothes shouting 'Oh God I'm coming I'm coming' and the mikman was lying on top of her stopping her otherwise she'd have gone to heaven."
Reverend Peart stood stunned, and said quickly, thinking of when he met Janice Capron, "I'm thinking heaven isn't up there, Janice, but is deep inside us. Heaven is, er, being good. Let's talk about being good, everyone."
He looked at Miss MacIntosh who had her hand over her mouth, because she was giggling and looking through the corners of her eyes at Reverend Alan.

Monday 28 September 2009

Mr Tree in the Restaurant

A brilliant Anglican student Rowan Tree of Catholic leanings and his fiancé Elizabeth Dogberry of Anglican evangelical leanings decide on trying a restaurant for their evening meal during a holiday in a village in Ireland at O'Flattery's Restaurant. It is Monday, and they have been there two days, and they have just spent a day walking around the lush, rolling hills and taking in the fresh air. It's a simple life for two getting to know each other, and it all happened some decades ago.

It was a peculiar village, this, one of the few places in the Irish Republic where a church in the Church of Ireland (regarded as Protestant) had continued on and done so next door to a Roman Catholic church. They ran the services at the same time, and the people tended to leave as copuld be together, and seemingly ignored each other as they did. The Roman Catholics assumed that, in time, the Protestant population would wither away as it had done in other parts of Ireland.

So a waiter approaches Mr Tree and Miss Dogberry, and they order a meal centred around Irish lamb and spotted dick, and order a Guinness each to begin and will have ordinary tea to finish. Just a hearty meal to finish the day, then, before retiring to their rooms at a nearby pub (where, so far, they have eaten).

However, they sit there and obviously notice nothing coming their way. They see others being served, who must have come in after them. So eventually Mr Tree calls a waiter.

"It was not some time ago that we entered and somewhat made orders for our meals and, sitting here, notice that there may be others being served who have origins here after our arrival."
"Yes sir. I will go and check with the chef, sir."
So the waiter went, and then returned.
"Sir, madam: yes all was received but I am afraid that the chef and the proprieter do not recognise Anglican orders."

And with that Mr Tree and his fiancé left and returned to the public house. He said to her, "Well, Elizabeth, I cannot but hope that we never encounter that particular problem again."
"No indeed, not until probably you discuss women priests," she replied, knowing his ecclesiastical ambition.

Saturday 26 September 2009

The Letters from & to Lamby Pally

Here are two letters related to the Pope's forthcoming visit.

Lambeth Palace

Il Papa
Universal Lord of the Church
Vatican City
Inside but not actually Rome
Inside but not actually Italy
V0 000

September 2009

Dear Your Holiness,

I cannot but hear of your acceptance of the gracious invitation from the British Prime Minister to you for you to visit our country with anything other than unabated pleasure and I am sure that I speak on behalf of all Anglicans throughout Britain, even though I am but effectively and ambiguously Archbishop over the southern half of the geographical space of England (though in actuality Archbishop of All England), and primus inter pares anywhere else for Anglicans, in only and specifically assuring you that you will be received with nothing other than great warmth and joy throughout.

Your humble servant
Most Reverend Rowan Tree
Archbishop of Anglicanism

From the Secretariat of Il Papa, The Holy Father
Vicar of Christ and Universal Lord of the Church
The Vicarage
Vatican City
V0 000

Mr Rowan Tree
C/O Lambeth Palace
London SE1 7JU
September 2009

Dear Mr. Tree

I have been asked to convey to you the Holy Father's comments
that you know perfectly well that people in your Church Society and in the Protestant Truth Society will not welcome the Holy Father, so why do you claim that all Anglicans will greet him with great warmth and joy? Please apply at least some of the rationality that the Holy Father, your Vicar of Christ, exudes.

The Holy Father will see you on the third day of his visit. He wishes to receive your report then, in person, on progress towards producing a worldwide Anglicanism so that we can at least regard it as constituting one ecclesiastical community.

The Church is very disappointed about all the time this is taking. The Holy Father may still be persuaded to establish an Anglican Rite Church whether you produce an enforceable Covenant with worldwide institutions or not. Until his decision on this matter, we will continue to accept individuals who wish to join the Church, including potentially yourself. The Holy Father says that he can arrange someone to ordain you deacon, priest and bishop in a day after you have spent a week in a Catholic monastery within Britain learning about our ministry. You would then come to Rome; however, he has a particular offer for you in that he would be especially pleased to do this himself on his visit - how do you fancy that? He might even have you lead the Anglican Rite Church that would then be established: what about that then? - and you can forget about women in any ordained ministry (but then you left that matter open for reversal within your local ecclesiastical community a few years ago).

I have been instructed to ask you a question, which you might like to answer to the Holy Father during his visit. If the British State today nationalised Westminster Cathedral, do you think the State would pay the Catholic Church compensation? If so, by what justification were all the cathedrals and monasteries stolen from the Church in a nationalisation without compensation under the excommunicated Henry VIII and why is this theft allowed to continue? The Holy Father is intrigued to hear your reply and what sort of compensatory rents your local ecclesiastical community will pay towards the Catholic Church for the continued use of its facilities.

If you do wish to take up the Holy Father's generous offer yourself then please reply. Otherwise he will see you as arranged and an itinerary will be sent in due course.

Father Edwardo Scribo
For Il Papa, The Holy Father
Vicar of Christ
and Universal Lord of the Church
The Vicarage
Vatican City
V0 000

Friday 25 September 2009

Derren Brown - It's Her Eyes

I realise now (on the repeat) that it's the Museum Curator's eyes. I thought they were funny in the way that in each large pupil there is a circle, but I thought it was some sort of reflection or where she was. More likely it's post-production editing, like the adverts put in newspapers suggesting to draw circles in between the three weeks from recording and the live broadcast and appearing today. Also Objective Productions had the concentric circles in its O - noticed at the end. Four weeks back the female Museum Curator drew three concentric circles apparently unknown to Derren Brown and held under newspaper wrappings for a week in the museum until the recording. For the time of the recording from the museum, a week after her drawing, she was transported unaware to Stonehenge but was blindfolded and beforehand placed inside a capsule ("isolation tank") where the blindfold came off. 30% or so of people in the studio drew circles. Presumably he prepared the museum to influence the 35% or so that drew concentric circles and 10% that drew Stonehenge in the week.

I was interested because on first showing I was flipping channels between it and BBC Parliament and the first Question Time with Robin Day in 1979. When Derren Brown invited the home audience to draw during the adverts, which Derren Brown said would assist the unconscious mind, I went back to BBC Parliament and did some doodles. The boat, and the yacht were too conscious, but around fast pics of Michael Foot and the hair of Robin Day I just did a spiral. I felt that that was the first unconscious as if unintended drawing. I did think afterwards of it looking as a spiral from above, like it was solid, which is why it has that solid running track-like drawing. My afterthought was whether it was like a galaxy. Then I did a circle and square but felt this was naff and obvious. The chin of Michael Foot was added afterwards because he looked too much like me.

Because of that, later, still flipping channels, I drew him again on the other side of the stiff paper (left). These pictures are not equivalent size, in that the first is virtually A4 reduced to 600 pixels high and the second is about half of A4 position, closer to one third, also reduced to 600 pixels high, both from black and white scans. Also below is the spiral I drew in close up, from a large colour scan made greyscale and adjusted for contrast, which has the equivalent of three circles, which would be correct.
Last week I got up from my seat quite easily, and was not influenced at all, but perhaps this week as something of a drawer I was influenced.

And later... It's clear looking at the website comments (especially Rob on 25/09/2009 22:21:21, scroll down) that there were many displays of circles going on and indeed I did think of 'coming in' each within the other (but not the Olympics, unlike Rob) when he spoke of the location of the museum by starting with a suggested map of Britain and then London and homing in on to the museum (stage by stage).

Meanwhile, stare at my cartoon of Derren Brown, and see if you notice anything.

Thursday 24 September 2009

Christian Revisionism Applied

As part of his week's visit to Japan for the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Anglican Church in Japan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has continued giving his revisionist view of Christianity in relationship to educational institutions that stands at some variance from how he understands Christianity when applied to his Church.

He continues to contrast such a revisionist view of Christianity with a narrow view of secularism and its rationality as an opposition, linking it to material and numerical educational assessment, and ignoring the once important theories of education more or less abandoned recently in the quest for statistics of 'success', and effectively links this narrow view of secularism to causes of world wars and other strife in the twentieth century, anti-religious rhetoric (as from some recent authors) and the recent economic meltdown.

He did this in a lecture on Monday 21st September to students and academics at Rikkyo Gaukin University, a specifically Anglican university in Tokyo. For example, he said:

However secular our age likes to think it is, the disastrous results of exploitative habits and of financial obsession bring people back to the recognition that they need the element of the sacred in their lives – in the sense that they need the freedom to respond to the beautiful and the puzzling and the tragic, to all the things that we do not have the power to manage.

This is the assumption that all secular reasoning has to be short term. Why make such an assumption? The financial crisis was based rather on misplaced reasoning, misplaced because it used computer programming to set up packages of products that displaced risk, but insurancing-out risk only works in bell curves of expectations and not in chaotic systems where equilibria become unstable. Apply such reasoning, and this needs reasoning, and a different result occurs - and different modelling too, rather more akin to weather and climate, or evolutionary outcomes.

Then we have the revisionism of Christianity:

But what distinguishes a Christian institution is not so much the doctrine as the outworking of it in the style and ethos of a community. If the whole tone of the institution is one that gives a message that risks are worth taking because there is an ultimate reality to be trusted, that is where the meaning of the [Christian] doctrine is made plain. 'Faith-based' education is education in the mixture of realism or provisionality with the courage to act, discover and create, to make relations and mend them.

Where does all this provisionality and risk come from? Where is that an implication of Christian doctrines, doctrines which are just as likely to sow matters up in a kind of doctrinal alternative universe?

Now we all know how important the Pope is to this Archbishop, because he keeps trying to remodel Anglicanism in order to present something coherent worldwide to the Pope. He refers to the Pope in this lecture:

A rationality that has brought us into the age of nuclear weaponry and global economic meltdown invites some sharp questions, to put it mildly; which has something to do with the revulsion in some quarters against the very idea of reason, against science and the notion of universal values and much else besides. As the Pope has argued several times in recent years, the drift towards relativism and pluralism is not the triumph but the defeat of reason; and as he has also insisted, the response of religious faith should not be to glory in the overthrow of rationality but to reclaim the idea and set it on its ancient foundations once more.

Arguably, it is the 'drift' towards relativism that will prevent the rationality of nuclear weaponry and nuclear meltdown. Relativism is simply a recognition of the limits of reasoning, and of no absolute point of reasoning existing. The Pope believes in such an absolute, and the Pope is not exactly open and pluralistic when it comes to what happens inside his educational institutions: he certainly isn't when it comes to theology and his clergy. The Pope particularly believes in the absolutism of Greek culture when it comes to the revelation of the self-limiting Christian God, for example, which begins to look bizarre as we no longer think in such categories.

Rowan Williams's view of education is rather more generous.

And that intelligent action is fully itself when it is rooted in self-awareness – which in turn includes the awareness of where we stand in relation to the rest of the universe and, most importantly of all, in relation to what gives the universe itself coherence and harmony, the wisdom of God. Once grant this, and much else follows – the possibility and the significance of the scientific method, the possibility of critical and flexible politics, the possibility of something like truthful, however incomplete, self-knowledge. Darwin, Marx and Freud all have their debt to Christian theology in this sense. Each on their own, with their different kinds of reduction of human complexity, will eventually cut off the branch on which they are sitting; but their insights can find a place within an intellectual world framed by trust in the wisdom of God and the destiny of God's created image.

Yet this is like some olde-worlde justification of the scientific and social-scientific (and more) activity, long after it has had no need for such an hypothesis. His argument here is one against compartmentalisation, which is an academic problem of specialisms; but the academics who study more and more about less and less are aware of this, with another emphasis emerging stress on having cross-curricular conferencing. Again it has no need for the other hypothesis. Rowan Williams goes on, and here comes the revisionism big time:

And the tragedy is that often the response to this from some kinds of modern religiousness has been the equally poisonous dogma that the critical and sceptical sciences of Darwin, Marx or Freud and their countless followers and revisers must be regarded as destructive of faith and so to be reviled and rejected. In response to both sorts of intellectual tyranny, there remains a powerfully necessary role for what is often called 'Christian humanism'. This is not a vague liberal affirmation of the goodness of the human self or the genius of the human imagination, though it has sometime been used to mean this. A Christian humanism is a perspective that cuts against all such illusions and faces the tragic and the unresolved in human affairs with honesty. It is 'humanistic' simply in that it recognises utter and lasting worth in human beings because of how God has dealt with them. But because it is based in this way on God's dealings, it appeals to some comprehensive, absolutely free and transcendent reality about which – astonishingly – we can make some true statements. It challenges both the humanism that claims an absolute value for humanity to be self-evident and the relativism that makes such a statement of value no more than a strong expression of emotions of solidarity. It implies that what is good for humanity is truly a universal destiny, on which the minds and hearts of all people can converge; and thus it is a fundamentally non-violent humanism, seeking the grounds for reconciliation by insisting that what is good for one person, community or civilisation has somehow to be integrated with what is good for another. Friendship and converse between persons, justice and peace between communities, between ethnic and national groups are the fruits of this universalism.

The question is, does this fit in with the history of Christianity, and why should there be such revision in his search for an intellectual foundationalism by which to justify any other human thinking activity?

What of the other side, apparently the thin to non-existent, "relativism that makes such a statement of value no more than a strong expression of emotions of solidarity"? It is not about this at all, but about individuals who communicate with others, who have feelings of pain and pleasure, and who in communication can enrich their lives with the content of that communication, that makes sense and gives purpose. It is out of this that religious value and sentiment can develop. Such communication is thoroughly plural, investigative, and is also to be challenged - challenged by the Buddhist emphasis on transience and clarity that therefore prevents a fundamentalism of language.

The problem with education today is not secularism, but the demotion of education for economic training. What is the use, for example, of ever greater examination success when the students doing so well find that they lack the literacy and study skills to study? If you base education on the behaviourist sausage factory of quantitative lesson plans and objectives met by numerical forms of assessment, then you end up with the 'evidence' that students have become sausages. Shoved through exams and wads of coursework pushed by teachers, they are dependent on teachers. So I agree with Rowan Williams to the extent that he says:

Education is properly to do with the growth of an emotionally as well as intellectually mature self, and the nurture of the rational person needs at least to point to what love might mean, not as a particular passing state of feeling (our Buddhist friends have some very perceptive questions to ask about love if this is all it means) but as an entire environment for thinking and relating...

I agree so long as he does not confuse intellectual with quantitative teaching. Rather there are other theories - humanistic, holistic, experiential, for example - that have other views of the human mind and development. So again, a sort of agreement when he states:

Just at the moment, in the wake of last year's financial crisis, people throughout the world are asking about what kinds of behaviour are life-giving and sustainable, now we have seen the effects of greedy, individualistic, self-absorbed and obsessional practice. More than ever we need educational practices and educational communities that open the door into other possibilities.

But why cannot he apply this Christian revisionism when it comes to the bureaucracy of the Anglican Communion and its constituent Churches? Why does the Church have to become a combination of traditionalist Catholicism of bishops and dioceses up to him and lowest common denominator biblicalism for recognising one Church by another as the basis for some Covenant wrapping? If the broader human-affirming approach is good as the basis of community and intellectual endeavour, why can it not be so for belief and the relationships of understanding between Churches? Or is it the case that the presentation to the Pope by a central Archbishop has to be something altogether narrower and closely defined?

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Bishop gets a New Job

Me and my mate, see, we got a new job. After all, this retailer wants the cream, no less, people who do six months in store and six out of store, you know; I could have gone to the roll back one, Asda, but we don't care for that Walmart do we and their employing people. Cos, I said to my mate, you shop here and I think about it, like, and they want the cream, and there's no more promotion with my old employer, like I mean there's only so many top jobs and they're all taken and will be and this mate of mine wasn't interested in all that apostolic stuff. So I said to my mate you apply as well. He was part of that other old firm, you know, Marks and Sparks, which I and my old firm used to be like a bit, and yet my mate said he shopped at Aldi and Lidl. He said long ago he started his own branch of his shop just by sitting down and telling stories to people of low prices and offering tasty fish and bread, and yet after he moved on this chap called Paul took over the firm and refitted the shop and it was all a bit Greek. And after what Paul did, you had to wear a suit and a pair of boots to shop in Marks and Sparks (Rome Division) like you still do but in my new firm and now his we don't care what the customers wear but the boss said to him you'll have to change your sandals for some shoes, you know, and polish them for the customers even if they can be a bit poor and have holes in their own. Oh and get your 'air cut a bit. Mine's well cropped. You notice the difference, don't you, when my new firm is adding extensions to the shops and the old one has the bloody roof falling in and a big thermometer outside. The old firm just didn't attract the custom, and we just didn't stock up right there with the right stuff. And let's face it, my new employer in some town centres checks whether cars are over the white lines or there too long, like, and people leaving the car park for other places, and you don't get that crush in the Church of England, at least not unless it's one of those evangelical suburban outfits where people come in big cars over loads of parish boundaries, but then they are more like huge Tescos anyway, or Sainsburys if they're really posh, with added muzak. It's not like that here, oh no, where we have our assistants on just a few checkouts shoving the produce through - once we start doing the old bleep bleep it's like how fast can you shove the stuff at the customer who rushes to get them in those plastic baskets we sell once a year (don't bring them in when we're selling them!) though most customers do use our trolleys and you can throw the stuff in them at high speed. The fact is that with my old employer people kept their wallets and purses shut and they used to hang about afterwards and of course you get a better quality of bread and wine than I had with my old employer. 'Ave you tasted them discs? And what is that wine they have? But I got no management points for suggesting having a Back to Our Shop Tuesday which is like we had a back to church Sunday, because of course people get attracted by the product range and prices and not just some appeal to turn up when it's the same old stuff, and we started opening on Sunday after Lidl did which meant fewer still go to the old firm. So yeah I've stopped Reading now. And it was nice in the old firm to have a bit of space and a chat. Can't do that now, not really. Too busy.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Congregational Assessment

It is interesting coming back to a congregation after some years, as I have with a Unitarian gathering. It is quite small, but seems to be at a point where difficulties of the past have ended and could move on. There is historical money for a minister, and the group seems to want a minister. But before doing this there will be a Congregational Assessment, a sort of examination of its characteristics using, in part, the well-worn SWOT approach.

On the Sunday a former General Assembly President concerned with these matters paid us a visit, and the service was taken by a Wakefield member, confidently presenting to and involving the congregation in the worship theme of The Secret Garden. In theological terms the worship presenter that day comes from the Romanticist neo-Pagan side of the denomination, though her Ph.D was on Christian-Muslim relations where the Muslims thought she was a Christian and the Christians thought she was an atheist - as she examined the difference between friendships and assumptions in the churches across faith lines in community settings and the rather unapplied and rarified pluralistic-inclusivist theology of the academic conferences - conferences that include interfaith worship sessions!

Although it was an open meeting, obviously I could not and do not wish to put a great deal about the meeting here. Nevertheless it is a situation that surprised me, after years of being away, that the previous and now late minister, who began in 1955 and retired around 2000, has still a huge shadow across the congregation - this after two short ministries in between. It seemed to me, therefore, as there probably has to be thinking outside the box, that either a successful minister has to be someone confident in his or her authority and come with denominational experience, and so can handle these expectations, or someone, perhaps a student with a minister mentor, on to whom no expectations would be given. Whatever, there is not a lot of choice and, normally, not so many vacancies.

Among quite a few comments made by me, I did mention the parish church I attend and how its appointee had moved it in a broadly Anglo-Catholic direction, after a long ministry before him, and has a kind of authority in post, but in a liberal-democratic setting an individual of opinion (and additionally unable to relate to the breadth of the congregation) could lead to fracturing and argument. One person indeed was asking for proper space to be given to the religious humanist perspective (which it gets now with the members, friends and outsiders taking services). A new attender was able to give a viewpoint outside the shadow: he never knew him, or the two ministries in between, or indeed some of those who once attended and do no longer, as well as those who have died.

It s a tall order, following a very long ministry, and one in which that individual became a Hull person, with his own other job, with his own home and family, a part time minister most of the time who was much more, and who - with the vocation and his personality fused - resisted retirement (but involved others as it approached) and who did have this breadth of approach and clearly related to the congregation. Then add this to the isolation that Hull can mean: the nearest Unitarian churches being Lincoln, Doncaster, Wakefield, York and Scarborough. There is a successful church in Manchester, where any appointee would be surrounded by colleagues, and yet it is having trouble appointing, with a long time minister retiring. Comparison was made with the very capable minister in the thriving Dublin Unitarian Church - and that is isolated if ever the was one (the Northern Irish churches are Non-Subscribing Presbyterian, thus ideologically narrower and Christian). But then there is still a supporting churchgoing culture (Hull is one of the most secular and resistant areas of Britain), the church in Dublin is well known, it is distinctive from the rest and a haven for another religious point of view, and (I would add) fits the modernisation of Ireland happening now. And how successful was the successful minister in his previous appointment?

So it is not just a question of money and, indeed, money is not an issue. So the congregation will, it seems (decide next meeting), take up a self-examination. The nearest Anglican equivalent is a parish profile - I kept a copy of the Barton one - and these are done before appointments. Such Unitarian self-examinations are also assisted by outside advice (as was this meeting to discuss this initial stage).

I think the 'solution' will inevitably involve some originality. Whoever becomes a minister, should one be appointed, will have to be an outward reaching one as well as doing all the usual duties of the minister, and be an enabler of the congregation. Part of the reason to have a minister is that he or she raises the profile of the church, but this one would have to be a facilitator so that congregation people do some of the roles of ministry. He or she could then be even more outward orientated.

School Loses Classroom

Back at the Anglican Old School the scene moves from the sixth form to the Headmaster's Study

Headmaster Jefferts Schori: Come in Mr. Canon.
Dennis Canon: Headmaster?
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: How is Carolina?
Dennis Canon: He is very well; thank you for asking.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: One of our oldest pupils!
Dennis Canon: Not that old, Headmaster, and still beautiful to me.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: Now apparently we have lost one of our classrooms and classes. In your legal intercourse you were unable to persuade the Local Education Authority that it belonged to our school.
Dennis Canon: That's correct, unfortunately, headmaster. The authority would not accept our coupling of an original class with the school. We've been rather whipped on this one. There are nine original classrooms like this, and originally we taught Virgins' Sex Education that began in one.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: Losing the Virgins' Sex Education class is quite a blow.
Dennis Canon: It is a huge blow, headmaster, and sticks in the throat: particularly so because it is one of the historic classrooms.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: We value our relationship with all our classes and teachers, Dennis, so why did we lose after your presentation?
Dennis Canon: To be honest, Headmaster, it is so complicated that it is a bit of a doggy's breakfast. We had won and now in front of the Education Authority panel for that concern we lost. The original missionary situation was to the extent these old classes and their classrooms gave birth to the school. You can look at the brickwork and see that the school was built off these classes. It is the east approach.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: Yes, some of that brickwork needs touching up. I've asked about that. But the school was different then; for one thing we could whack 'em more.
Dennis Canon: In the neck, too, Headmaster. They spelt it oddly too, as they so often did in those days, because if you look in the punishment book here it says 'Waccamaw Neck region' and that was for virgins too. My Carolina is too young for when they had such spelling, Headmaster. Gosh, when you see what they did to the other boys; their necks were quite red.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: But we are a hierarchical school now, and the Governors meet and decide everything once every three years. They are unrestricted and all the classes submit to them.
Dennis Canon: It is the way the Local Education Authority subdivides, Headmaster, and in a sense it represents the peculiarity that the school has in its history of being built. This set back might only be a quickie, in that the Council of that Local Education Authority structure might well see things differently.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: Well, we could take a practical view. After all, how many virgins do we have these days? Or we could say the school has its bodily integrity, and we ought to go to the Council over the Local Education Authority. It does involve the school budget, of course, which would come out of providing lessons for both our remaining virgins and all the non-virgins.
Dennis Canon: We do integrate sex education now with other matters. I mean, we go on and on and on about sex, don't we?
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: Yes, we do seemed to be handcuffed on this matter. What we have to decide then, Dennis, is whether we can penetrate the authorities any further on this, and see the High Men of the Council for a supreme decision, or whether to withdraw.
Dennis Canon: We could possibly withdraw just on the matter of the Virgins' Sex Education, Headmaster, if we keep the rest intact. Going on and on does look a bit anally retentive.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: But we must protect the body of the school. Bodies are whole. Otherwise you look a tit and I look a tit. I suppose those little essay writers in the sixth form will be checking the lead in their pencils, of course, but even they know it is a chicken and egg situation.
Dennis Canon: No doubt dipping their eager goose quills into their ink wells as we speak, Headmaster. They will be vibrating with energy, dipping in and out and producing page after page.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: Well, I don't know - at the moment it looks like the school has been shafted. Humm. Thank you Mr Canon: and I may well be asking you to make our case again. We need possibly to stand up to them, and I don't want you lying down on the job.
Dennis Canon: No, Headmaster, the body of this school always has my full and undivided love and attention, just like my Carolina, something we need to preserve, for she - the school - has enemies.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: Well thank you for your efforts, and may our educational principles go with you.
Dennis Canon: And also with you, Headmaster. Ah, Headmaster, Hank Bates, Master of the Sixth Form is here.
Headmaster Jefferts Schori: It's indeed about those sixth form essayists. Come in Mr. Bates!

Sunday 20 September 2009

In Depth: The Myth of God Incarnate

On Tuesday 22nd September I continue to present the theology course to the St. Mary's Barton In Depth Group. This time we are looking at the impact of The Myth of God Incarnate (1977), edited by John Hick. Although ecumenical, it nevertheless formed one of the Anglican controversies.

If you are interested in what I'll be presenting - a combination of reading out and ad libbing - then the content is available as a web page, though I have composed it in the text editor Note Tab, then formatted in Open Office Writer, and I have sent out its .PDF export of that for people to read and to be printed, and then from the Open Office Writer with inevitable corrections I put it back into Note Tab to use my own clips to hand craft it in HTML so it appears in my web page style (the alternative is to ask OO Writer to convert to HTML, but it produces a larger document). I am happy to email anyone the .PDF version.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Why More Unitarian

The legs of the stool Anglicans sit on are scripture, tradition and reasoning.

It seems to me that tradition is little more than the languages of religion. They are almost always inherited, and always loaded with meaning. If we want to talk religiously, we are inevitably going to use these languages - languages from the religions, mainly, formed over very many centuries, but also we have correctives in humanism and the Enlightenment and secular postmodernism. I think traditions look after themselves, and by so doing are more flexible. Reinforcing tradition by apostolic authority is simply to employ a localised religious police force: that authority which is simply by laying on of hands is but the mechanics of magic, but that which combines with creeds and other promises to obey is simply the mechanics of limitation. Clearly traditions involve people, and there are practicalities in organising ministry. Some argue for the priesthood of all believers - many Unitarians do - but this is a priesthood about believers. What about non or other believers? So I would have a priesthood of faciliatators, on a Paulo Freire model of enhancing communities.

Scriptures are given authority by being given boundaries, but what if these boundaries are removed? What if being canonical is as meaningless as a committee that pronounces on boundaries? So the treasures of scriptures run in all sorts of directions, and we begin to see that not only is there literature of the religions past but literature of the present, some traditions-connected and some from outside. It is not a debate about quality, which is subjective, but inspiration, which has to be subjective and can be collective. It is also the case the meaning not only changes but falls away, and therefore to let it do so in so called scriptures and perhaps to add some new ones, for example from devotional texts. Material by Kahlil Gibran seems to be acquiring almost a scriptural status.

What must remain is active reasoning. This does not mean reason is a strict Enlightenment or even Habermasian sense (communicative rationality) but rather the engagement of discernment over the traditions we receive and the scriptures (widely understood) we read. It means a market place of ideas, and these need communities, but one where the ideas remain in flux and readily traded. It's not about competing down to one product, but they are about how we can enhance, support, and build up the self-conscious with other consciousnesses, and apply to them conscience. It is about hearing and listening as well as talking, and keeping all sorts of conversations going. Reasoning is also about getting into texts, and understanding historiography (for example) in one attempt to understand prophetic figures, or using anthropology for one explanation about how religions and rituals work.

This, then, is why I have shifted over again more to a Unitarian identity. This is the group that emphasises reasoning and is open about traditions and literate resources whilst recognising backgrounds to the religious reasoning. Perhaps Don Cupitt has finally gravitated to the Quakers because it joins his non-realism and his once high and dry spirituality, that think religion that nevertheless filled him with outbursts of energy. Graham Shaw went to the Quakers from his non-realist position for reasons of rejecting apostolic authority. There he found a means to truth that was not subservient. That's fine, but I prefer more talk, and why I would just about prefer the creedless Unitarian to the creedless Quaker.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Facing Another Recession

It seems to me that not only is the recession not over yet, in the UK, but we have no real idea what is coming in terms of economic performance.

We discovered a year ago that economies were not smooth running systems with a stable equilibrium (where you can find such things as a natural rate of unemployment - a relationship of resources use decided by comparative technology/ efficiency and comparative advantage producing variable measures of unemployment in economies) but that, like climate and evolution, these are chaotic systems and, increasingly, one chaotic system.

That is to say an unstable dynamic sets hold, which no one can quite see when in it, or if people can then hope for a 'soft landing' - but then a piece of behaviour somewhere becomes a tipping point where the whole edifice comes crashing down to a completely different and lower equilibrium, once it settles.

The banking system not only sold duff packaged mortgages in a way that maintained property prices higher than real incomes could afford, but they also had packages of in effect insurance for sale as derivatives which also expanded and sped the circulation of money. This happened at the same time as the Far East's efficiencies and costs shielded the West from price inflation, but the financial system still was dealing in inflation of a sort that went into property prices and other assets. Insurance cannot work for chaotic systems, only for bell curves (and, incidentally, chaotic systems undermine quantitative research principles of regularity - such research also depends on stable bell curves).

Since the crash, the authorities have in effect printed money in a non-inflationary setting as a form of propping up demand and maintaining cash flow both to banks and still healthy businesses, but only with some success as the money tends to be 'lost' when circulation is so much slower. It gets stored in pockets of the financial system and does not reach where it should. However, the money that would normally reduce interest rates, or 'appear' when interest rates are reduced, is still excess from the central bank and to be contrasted with actual economic output, leading to the fear that any pick up in economic activity could be rapidly inflationary or send the values of assets up again. Indeed, property prices ought to be lower than they are, and the suspicion is that there is idle money floating around.

If the difference next time will be no buffer from the Far East, and oil and other commodity prices will simply shoot up again, and then we are in for actual inflation next time we live beyond actual means.

Mandelson and now Brown have been wobbling on a number of issues lately, and public spending is another area. The difficulty we face in the UK is that public spending rose as part of the boom, much of it financed in a mortgage-like manner (the Private Finance Initiative - build now pay later). The public debt shot up along with private debt. Now the public debt has to be curtailed. There just have to be sweeping cuts in public spending - but if there are such cuts then actual purchasing power and the economic product of the public sector (and there is economic product from public activity) will be reduced. That could kill a recovery on its own.

Plus one can see how the unemployed with be affected. The same demands will be made on the unemployed but all the expensive assistance will be chopped away (which employs people). There are ways to improve Job Centres at little cost and libraries too to make them more like Job Clubs (places with assistance to physically attend and look for jobs) but one can see all but the basics of training for 16 to 25 year olds going - and even that going in severe circumstances. I can see Further Education colleges being slashed left, right and centre, and employment contracts in them vanishing and being curtailed.

The fact is that other parts of the world have been more productive more cheaply, and we have been massaged by a financial system and by public spending that hid these economic realities.

What is required is how we can preserve and enhance the basics of life and a decent living standard for all (including free delivery of education and health and, increasingly, social welfare) and become more communal and responsive regarding the collective life and the economic production that we do have. Benedict Anderson's Imagined Community has to have a twist put into it, to become about localised communities and governance to include all, and build attitudes about sufficiency and broader well-being and less to do with acquisition for the sake of it. Of course there should be no blockages to individuals of innovation, and productive finance is a very important oil of the economic engine.

The danger is that higher level politicians look for quick fixes, and wouldn't mind if the financial system showed some of its old life again. One suspects that's why they are doing so little about banking bonuses for short term successes. But it is absolutely the wrong approach, as all it will do is produce another cycle and one with even greater debt and massaging in a potentially explosive inflationary system.

The debt has to be cleared, but it has to be done with communal intent. Perhaps socialism, a local and liberal socialism, is not as dead as made out by the ideologists and world commentators. People need support and ways to live, and there is nothing wrong with modest living.

Economies are there to serve us, not we the economies, and this is where we have been going wrong for all too long.

Meanwhile it took two weeks for Grimsby College to tell me it was not requiring my services, saying such in a two sentence otherwise meaningless letter.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

A New Liturgy for Church of Niafashisto (Anglican Communion)

A Prayer of Archbishop Nick Cocoh of the Niafashito Church (Anglican Communion)

Almighty God
It is my function
To give Extreme Unction
After I got him
Because I shot him

First hymn

I Fight the good fight with all my might;
My gun is my Strength, and Christ my flight;
Lay down a life, and it shall be
Unction Extreme for eternity.

Run the straight race through bishops' choice,
Put in your votes, and make my hoist;
Career its way before me lies,
Christ is the plinth, and Christ my rise.

Cast votes aside, do as I guide,
I am arisen and will provide;
Colonel and Archbishop is my bread
One makes you live, the other leaves you dead.

Faint not nor fear, point blank is near,
I changeth not, and he's not deer.
Only believe, and thou shalt see
A bloody great gun go off at thee.

Almighty God
I have sinned against you
And quite a few
In thought, and word, and especially deed
Through strength, through planning, through my own deliberate fault
I am not really sorry
Because it was a Civil War
Cleanse the sins of those I shot
By the inspiration of my General
That we may perfectly know him
And magnify his many sins
In someone's name

Next a hymn, to the popular Four Tops tune (please look at the big screen above):

Going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
If you stay too long

Yes you'll be going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
The tragic down there is so strong

Feel the pressure
Your back's against the wall
Firing squad is at you
You're just about to fall
If you're afraid to die
Afraid to take a glance
Better hide your feelings
Blindfold on you fool

'Cause you'll be going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
If you stay too long
Yes you'll be going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
The tragic down there is so strong

You can hear bodies bleeding
Through those warm warring nights

Memories are lost and found
Leaving broken hearts all over town

'Cause you'll be going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
If you stay too long

Yes you'll be going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
The tragic down there is so strong

They'll be pulling out your hair
Drowning in despair
With a whole lot of killing on your way to nowhere
Your search for paradise will be at an end
When you realise what a fool you've been

You'll be haunted by a face
Kissing a grip's embrace
Memories of fighting him
Holding gun tight every night
Was that the best part of your life?
Hearing his voice shout and blow
Choking as to please
Please just go
Just go! No! Just go!
Just go!


You can see bodies bleeding
Through those warm warring nights

Memories are lost and found
Leaving broken hearts all over town

All over town

'Cause you'll be going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
If you stay too long

Yes you'll be going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
The tragic down there is so strong

Going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
If you stay too long

Yes you'll be going choko down with Nicky Cocoh
The tragic down there is so strong

[Original songwriters: Lamont Dozier, Phil Collins]

A Prayer

Thank you God for raising me up, to take the Church of Niafashisto to ever greater heights. Give thunderous blessings to his highest and your leader Aki Nolo, a carpenter raised to world status leader, like someone else we know a while back, and now give these blessings to me, a fighter not a lover, a military man who also knows that Muslims do not have a monopoly on violence, and let us condemn all manner of sin like homosexuality, liberalism, secularism, Islam and other Archbishops who cannot make up their minds. Give thanks that my election was passed peacefully and that, although not everyone voted and we don't deal in numbers, I got more than two thirds of the vote that we bothered to count.

The Piece of Gunshot

The Lord said, if you get in my way in this country, I will shoot you. So let us compare our guns and ammunition one with another, as a sign of who we are.

Your military means be always with you.
And also with you.

The service continues...

A Bit More Sociology

See my response to Frank M. Turner's piece on Anglicanism as an Imaginary Community. It is at the Daily Episcopalian at Episcopal Café.

The question Benedict Anderson, who produced the idea of an Imaginary Community, wanted to answer was what was the continued basis of loyalty to the Nation State, seen within Marxist Sociology as a transient bourgeois institution. Fascism and racism were simply answers that were not good enough, nor did he settle on ethnicity. Rather a community is imagined of insiders, limited and sovereign, for which all else falls outside and for which governance is for within. The institutions of governance can even overcome ethnicity should they be strong enough and command loyalty.

If you apply such to Anglicanism then it follows that it is limited, sovereign and should grow institutions of governance. Now this is the project that is happening now, with the ecumenical exception that the result can be presented to the Roman Catholic Church for identity as a worldwide Church.

The issue then is whether there is any looser and lesser Imagined Community available, and there is a sense in which the Anglican Communion has always been this and little else. Now the reality is the Archbishop of Canterbury's project, and the way to counter this strong Imagined Community is to drop the Covenant and be ecumenical more towards Old Catholicism, Lutheranism and those Churches once uncontained with origins inside historical Anglicanism.

Behold, A Primate!

Press Release by Rev. Canon Fulof Sorroe

From the depths of mystery unto the spaceous fallen earth, a new leader for our time has arisen to lead the Church of Niafashisto (Anglican Communion). He is the nearly sixty year old - but doesn't look it - retired Colonel (with several kills under his belt) Archbishop of Bendi Province and Arsabout Diocese, the Most Reverential Nick N. Omugo Cocoh.

The divinely guided and therefore free of problems voting took place amongst the Niafashisto House of Bishops meeting at the Cathedral of Omma Biaslate Payyup.

He popped up tops! He got two thirds and whooped three other clerics, he did, in an atmosphere full of suspense like in a who dunnit detective novel book.

Nick Cocoh is the fourth Primate of the Church of Niafashisto (Anglican Communion), and replaces the third one, Archbishop Aki Nolo next year. So many tears will be rained upon the earth on that day of retirement that drought will be impossible!

No one shot each other during the election: it was peaceful, and the Colonel kept his gun in his holster. He told his competitors it was a good job they lost. Rev. Robert Maxwell (Of Frequent Resurrection) thus felt secure enough to announce the winner in succession to the Most Rev. Aki Nolo (Commander Over Niafashisto), and Rev. Maxwell said he would return to his yacht forthwith. He first gave Nick Cocoh a receipt for him to keep should someone question the result, but was assured that no one will.

Most Reverential Nick N. Omugo Cocoh attended the unknown Vicious Theological College in Avapan Ofkoco between 1976 and 1979. He became deacon soon after, a Canon in 1987, and a Colonel in 1991 and shot his first enemy soon after in the Civil War. He was then collated into a proper sequence until he became Bishop of Bendi Province before adding Arsabout as part of becoming Archbishop.

Nick Cocoh is noted for his anti-homosexuality speeches, attacking secular thinking, hating liberalism, undermining The Episcopal Church and mixing with Anglican separatists. The current Archbishop, Aki Nolo, welcoming his successor said, "There'll be no change round here, or anywhere else we go. It's business as usual."

Nick Cocoh said, "I look forward to meeting the Primate of All Anglicanism and telling him we don't have to go through him unless I permit it but he instead can come through me in my Church (Anglican Communion). No one comes to the Anglican Communion except through me," he said.

After the violence free election was completed, and bishops pledged their complete loyality, both men went off to receive advice from a couple of Conservative Evangelical writers in Britain and the United States about how to continue to interfere in and threaten other Anglican Churches.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Genesis-Revelation TV in Serious Breach

I am grateful to a comment from Gordon (not Gordon Pettie!) which, if left as a comment in its place, will be buried in an entry here made in summer. It is about Genesis-Revelation TV in serious breach of the OFCOM Code. It says, via the email:

Gordon has left a new comment on your post "Liberal Catholicism and Christian Zionism?":

They [Genesis - Revelation TV] have been in trouble with OFCOM again. This time for airing a programme called "The Land Cries Out for the Blood that Was Shed" which showed images of dismembered late aborted foetuses at 3:30pm, just prior to their afternoon children's programme. The full judgement can be found here in the OFCOM broadcast bulletin of 14th September 2009.

Interestingly their defence was:

1. It was shown in error (put apparently not stopped by anyone once it had started playing).

2. Their viewers don't agree with lots of what's on other channels so why should viewers of other channels have a right to censor things they disapprove of.

In other words they feel they are being persecuted - and that makes them even more vociferous.

It explains why last night one of them said "the Devil" was out to get them. I made a complaint just the once a while back after a telephone contributor attacked gays, Muslims and Roman Catholicism all in one go, and the presenter showed his enthusiasm for the comments, but a forensic look at his words by OFCOM just about allowed for other opinion to be expressed if it ever was going to be expressed, despite the likely offence felt originally, and it was in keeping with the expectation of that specialist channel at that time with a right to broadcast its stance. I thought it was supposed to be a pastoral programme (a late one) and indeed I've noticed since a stress made by presenters in that programme that it is for people of such Christian beliefs ringing with their difficulties in life. And there's nothing wrong with that at all.

Presumably now that there has been this serious breach, Genesis-Revelation TV is in for a rocket, particularly as a previous breach of the Code involved such a warning, so they will have to do some money raising.

But I'll give them this. For all their far out beliefs Genesis-Revelation TV do not go in for prosperity Christianity that you can hear on other channels, particularly preached at the KICC one, which is at fundraising and more to ask the gullible to send in their money so that they might receive lots more money by other ways if only their faith is strong enough. As I understand it, only United Christian Broadcasters and Genesis-Revelation TV are within OFCOM's regulatory procedures, but really OFCOM ought to find a way to deal with GOD TV and what it does. It has long and extraordinary days of fundraising bringing in all these characters, many of the prosperity gospel type, with a heavy sell for money. Somebody might correct me here but it seems bizarre that they can operate out of Sunderland and yet be outside regulatory control.

Monday 14 September 2009

Righter Writes Again

Head of Sixth Form: Come in Righter.

Fred Frame Righter: Sir you wanted to see me, alone.

Head of Sixth Form: Yet another essay, Righter, except you thought you could slip this one in when handing in a notebook.

Fred Frame Righter: They are just comments, sir.

Head of Sixth Form: No, Righter, they are an essay in a notebook on Titus Andronicus that you handed in either in your lesson yesterday at one or today at nine, when it was noticed.

Fred Frame Righter: Honestly sir, it is not another essay.

Head of Sixth Form: You are asking your English Literature teacher to read another 907 words, Righter.

Fred Frame Righter: I and we have managed a lot more than that, sir.

Head of Sixth Form: Humm. But you see, Righter, it's the same old argument, and you claim to be representing your friends again. You seem to think that by repeating yourself, you keep making the argument. The argument being that classrooms are to this school what other schools are to the Local Education Authority. The argument was and is a dud, Righter.

Fred Frame Righter: Yes but I also move the argument on a bit, sir.

Head of Sixth Form: Yes, I noticed that, probably because you are getting nowhere with the repeated first argument. In this, er essay, you claim that the disagreement between classes and the Governors in this school different from all other schools.

Fred Frame Righter: Yes sir.

Head of Sixth Form: But you are the only ones making this disagreement!

Fred Frame Righter: Sir, some members of staff and the Head Boy too.

Head of Sixth Form: I think you'll find after their meeting that they urged the school as a whole to sign up to the Local Authority Agreement. And I note in your essay that you are not quite so sure yourself.

Fred Frame Righter: There is an argument to be had.

Head of Sixth Form: Look, boy, there is no argument to be had. That is my point. That was the point when some of our ex-teachers thought they could take their classes with them. Where are they now, laddie, other than having set up a school on their own? We simply put new teachers in their place.

Fred Frame Righter: My friends and I don't wish to leave and join their school, sir.

Head of Sixth Form: Then you abide by the rules of this school, and stop causing trouble Righter.

Fred Frame Righter: Sir, I do suggest that we ought to change how all schools are structured, sir. So that there is the Local Authority and it defines the ethos, sir, and then you have the classrooms. To this extent, sir, this school is ahead of the rest!

Head of Sixth Form: Righter, your argument is getting desperate and more and more bizarre. Look, you'd better have your book and concealed essay back. Hang on something else has dropped out. Oh no, not even more.

Fred Frame Righter: Fewer words, sir.

Head of Sixth Form: Doesn't look many fewer to me. Now go away and learn some of what your teachers are teaching, inside this school, with a headmaster Mr Jefferts Schori and his Governors. Now just go.

Fred Frame Righter: Yes sir, but...

Head of Sixth Form: Out!

Extraordinary Resignation

Groans and whoops of delight were mixed in an extraordinary service held yesterday at Barchester Cathedral, writes Johnny Lost-Davies, Ecclesiastical Correspondent.

Bishop Michael Ali-England in his farewell service caused gasps when he said, "Don't get the idea that I'm leaving. I'm going nowhere far. I am only leaving my diocese in order to spend more time doing religion."

The service built itself up an extraordinary finale when an elephant joined the final procession to take the bishop back into the 'real world'.

During the service, in a charming ceremony from some mediaeval time past, the bishop laid down his shepherds' crook saying, "O Lord, thanks for this, somebody else can have it."

The sermon was given by Lord Careless, understood to be a wandering bishop, and thus a model of impropriety for Bishop Ali-England from today onwards. He said, "I want to deliberately ignore my successor, the Archbishop of All England, who I regard as ruining all the work I have done. So I shall deliberately praise you, Michael, and that publicity seeking guy up in Ebor, like I seek publicity, supported by that son of mine. Is he here?"

"Yes dad. Thanks dad. Thanks for my career, dad."

"Let me just say," said Lord Careless (as he does so often on any subject), "how fully fantastic your Bishop Michael's rabble rousing has been, as he has talked about no go areas up north. I too have suffered no go areas, in fact we share the same one called Lambeth Palace. They won't let me in either! But what a leader Michael has been, without actually being a leader, unlike me."

The retiring bishop in an impromptu but formerly well scripted reply said, "We have as a Church succumbed too much to culture, but England is stupid ignoring its culture which should be Christian - except for too many babies being born to Muslims up north now that we don't have to have immigration to bump up the working population and pay the pensions. This is our new campaign to add to that against secularity and gays, so that we keep making a noise. I came here to warn you about all these, and now I am retiring to warn you about all these. And let me warn you now - if they don't get you when you're being put together by your actual mother and father (whatever happens to the father afterwards) they will get you when you get old (whatever happens to the children). It is time we looked in the Bible and then reject most of it for creating our idealised family, so that we can be all Victorian about our values, thanks to what once was exported from this country and its culture and that I have returned to you. And now, with your thanks, Lord Careless, I return the crook to you. Or is it that other fella and not you any more?."

For the final procession, taking the bishop ceremonially back into the outside world, an elephant emerged from the choir stalls into the room to lead everyone out. It was draped in a prepared large sheet with the GAFCON logo on each side.

Back in 1977

I'm currently preparing a piece for presentation to the In Depth Group on The Myth of God Incarnate, edited by John Hick and published by SCM Press in 1977. It's mainly about the reaction. The month after it will be on Don Cupitt and then after that Doctrine Commissions of the Church of England, and after that some reactions from different camps to these theologies. It was not just an Anglican book but was ecumenical, and much was centred around the University of Birmingham.

Anyway, thanks to one member I have the Lincoln Diocesan Leaflet of the time. Simon Wilton Phipps was the Bishop from 1974 to 1987. He wrote this:

Lincoln Diocesan Leaflet
VOL. 4 No. 8 AUGUST 1977

The Bishop of Lincoln writes...

As I write, the new book The Myth of God Incarnate has just hit the book-stalls and the headlines. My guess is that it will also hit quite a lot of Christians smack between the eyes. So I want to set down some preliminary thoughts - preliminary, because I have not yet had time to read the book. And there's my first thought.

Quite a lot of people often get quite a lot of steam up in controversies, such as the one this book is likely to arouse, without in fact being sure of what they're getting steamed up about. This is not, I fancy, a book that the general public will read. It is not even a book, quite probably, that many clergy will actually read. If, therefore, we havent read it. let us be a bit careful about how we discuss it!

Unique uniqueness

Taking that to my own heart, my second thought is this. It is my guess, from at least reading some of the first reviews, that this book will seem to threaten much of what we conceive to be the basis of our Christian belief, i.e., what Clifford Longley in The Times calls "the unique uniqueness' of Jesus Christ. But let us remember that this is by no means the first time that a book has done this sort of thing to Christian beliefs. From the earliest Christian times this was going on. The Gospels themselves, and certainly St. Paul's letters, and the works of the early Christian thinkers we call 'The Fathers' were all engaging with different ideas which were cutting at the foundations of Christian convictions. And in the 19th century there were a number of controversies, fired off by books, which set a lot of Christian cats among other lots of Christian pigeons. And only a decade ago Honest to God did the same. And yet Christian experience and Christian witness and the Christian community have not been blown off the face of the earth.

Static View

My third thought is this. I think too many of us Christians are bad at living with 'dialectic. Dialectic' means something like this: you say "X" That causes me, in response, to say "Y". As a result of the discussion which follows, we are both led to discover "Z", an aspect of the truth we would never have discovered if, in the first place, you hadn't started off the discussion in a rather provocative way, which made me think some new thoughts for myself. The Oxford Dictionary says of Dialectic "the process of thought by which contradictions are seen to merge themselves in a higher truth that comprehends them. Do not too many Christians hold a static view of Truth - the Truth once delivered to the Saints, something we get taught and then hang on to for grim death. My uneasy feeling is that some of us clergy do this just as much as anyone else. But if infinite Truth is infinite Truth, there must be infinite new aspects of it to be discovered and explored and received. If we enter openly and adventurously and enthusiastically into the process of dialectic, we learn more of the Truth, rather than feeling and fearing that new insights are whittling more and more of it away. The people who wrote this book are people of real integrity. They may not be unerring in their view of things. But neither are we because no human beings ever can be unerring. We always do well to be open to the insights of others, so that they may throw light on our own.


Now I look forward to reading the book! it is sure to make us think, perhaps make us angry. But let us not let it make us afraid. If we open it with expectation and not fear, it will surely enlarge our vision, deepen our convictions.

There's a bit of fence sitting, a little bit of space, an opportunity for movement but no movement... The press enjoy this sort of thing too.

I also have just the front page of a two page report from The Daily Telegraph, on the same week as the book was published. I see how the controversy was mixed up with Don Cupitt's Who Was Jesus? television programme. I have a book that Don Cupitt wrote after this series and The Myth of God Incarnate, and invaluable book called The Debate About Christ published by SCM Press in 1979. Anyway, back two years to this Daily Telegraph report.

Dr. Coggan Challenged to Explain Jesus book
By JOHN CAPON, Ecclesiastical Correspondent

THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, Dr. Donald Coggan, is under pressure from many sides to make an unequivocal statement reaffirming the Church's belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

A book by seven leading Christian theologians pub-lished on Friday challenged the traditional concept of Christ's divinity.

Dr. Coggan did not receive an advance copy of the book and is reading it this weekend.

If he decides to make a statement he has the ideal opportunity this week during the meeting in London of the General Synod, the Church's parliament.

The pressure began in April this year when Dr. Coggan received a heavy mail from the public protesting at the B.B.C. television programme "Who was Jesus? " It was compiled by the Rev. Don Cupitt, Dean of Emanuel College, Cambridge, a contributor to last weeks' book "The Myth of God Incarnate".

Historic faith

In the view of Its critics the overall effect of the programme was to question and undermine orthodox views of Christ as Divine Son of God and and to deny his bodily resurrection.

The same month, the 2,000 delegates to the National Evangelical Anglican Congress unanimously passed a resolution calling on the archbishops "in the light of current theological speculation and scepticism to confirm publicly that the Church of England still stands by its historic faith in the Christ of the scriptures and the creeds".

Press reports last week about "The Myth of God Incarnate" brought more sackfuls of mail to Lambeth Palace seeking such reassurance.

1963 parallel

There is no doubt of the archbishop's personal view of these controversial issues: his most recent book, appropriately entitled "Convictions,"...

It's like the Archbishop can pronounce and then everyone is happy, and the evangelicals do their bit as usual to stop the train. The cartoon on the same page at the time resonates today, given the story about the holocaust denier Roman Catholic Bishop Williamson.

This morning I went to the Unitarians to hear a chap from Wakefield preach on truth, in a sense of living in questions rather than living in answers, but he also extended it to the political conference season approaching and whether religion influences political views. In the evening I attended at the Anglicans to experience something called 'the invention of the cross' which involved the thick religion (see the Cupitt interview below on thick and thin religion), a combination of Isaiah that would lead to divine violence, some early Middle Ages magic and Paul's salvation by death all of which should be "disturbing" but which I found in content of readings and some hymns rather indigestable.