Sunday 29 November 2009

Remembering on a Sunday

I knew before Sunday that my mother had been added to the list of deceased at the Anglican Church I attend and to which she came at various stages of her dementia, the last time sitting and only continuously going through the hymn book, and so I stayed sat down throughout the service too.

At the Unitarians this morning the service was taken by Stephanie Cage from Doncaster who gave a mention of my mother at the beginning, and then at the end Marie Penn, the widow of the long serving minister Ernest, gave some very kind words towards my mother, me and the family, for my mother had attended at the Hull Unitarians for many years both when in Hull and from New Holland. The Unitarian perspective cohered with her own nature-romanticist beliefs and also reasonably straightforward and rational outlook about the quality of things. If you think of classical music, think the pieces that were played by Richard Baker on Radio 4, the kinds that sometimes appeared on Classic FM later, and then extend that to an outlook on life. And she was herself, when thinking, a very sacrificial person who thought about others.

My sister negotiated with the funeral directors some service content, and then I came into this to actually conduct the funeral myself, to add a prayer, a biographical sermon and a benediction at the curtain closing. I shall also drive back to the area to collect the ashes, which I shall then dispose privately in a place of significance for my mother.

It just so happened that Stephanie today had prepared a service based on experience and had this reading from Phyllis McCormack. An elderly lady who had left little to show for her life died and yet the staff clearing up found a poem that once published in Northern Ireland indeed became her legacy. It is called:

Crabbit Old Woman.
What do you see nurse,
What do you see?
What are you thinking
When you look at me?
A crabbit old woman,
Not very wise,
Uncertain of habit
With far away eyes.

Who dribbles her food
And makes no reply;
Then you say in a loud voice,
"I do wish you'd try."
Who seems not to notice
The things that you do,
And forever is losing
A stocking or shoe.

Unresisting or not,
Lets you do as you will;
With bathing or feeding,
The long day to fill.
Is that what you're thinking,
Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes nurse,
You're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am,
As I sit here so still,
As I move at your bidding,
As I eat at your will.

I'm a small child of ten...
With a father and mother,
And brothers and sisters
Who love one another.

A girl of sixteen,
With wings on her feet;
Dreaming that soon,
A lover she'll meet.

A bride soon at twenty...
My heart gives a leap;
Remembering the vows
That I promised to keep.

At twenty-five,
I have young of my own,
Who need me to build
A secure and happy home.

A woman of thirty,
My young now grow fast,
Bound together with ties
That forever should last.

At forty, my young ones
Have grown up and gone;
But my man is beside me
To see I don't mourn.

At fifty, once more...
Babies play 'round my knees;
Again we know children,
My loved ones and me.

Dark days are upon me,
My husband is dead...
I look at the future,
I shudder with dread;
For my young are all rearing,
Young of their own,
And I think of the years
And the love I have known.

I am an old woman now,
Nature is cruel,
'Tis her jest to make old age
Look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles,
Grace and vigour depart,
There is now a stone
Where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass,
A young girl still dwells,
And now and again
My battered heart swells.

I remember the joys,
I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living
Life over again.

I think of the years...
All too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact
That nothing can last.

So open your eyes nurses,
Open and see...
Not a "Crabbit Old Woman,"
Look closer... see "Me".

Friday 27 November 2009


My mother died today at just before ten to six in the evening. She was 85 and had suffered from dementia for some years. I was called to Clowne when a doctor visiting just after midday identified pneumonia and a collapsed lung. She was breathing with effort and regularly. When I addressed her directly, she gave an exaggerated movement. My sister, niece and myself were there, my sister's husband for a time who had met me at the house and shown me the way to the residential home. The three of us who had sat there for some hours wondered what we might do - I would say my goodbye, and then I said (long before I might actually leave) that I would go to the toilet after all. At this point my mother's breathing simply stopped, and I noticed this instantly. She then did a kind of choking cough, which I took as her resuming, but it was just a bodily reaction. She had simply stopped. We heard how her spreading cancer had never given any sign of pain. She simply stopped while we were there.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Book Review

Here is my book review of Don Cupitt's (2009) Jesus and Philosophy, London: SCM Press, which I hope to pass to a paper publication (oh so slow these days!) for publication that way. It is a book I read with increasing frustration and annoyance, because he attaches Enlightenment to present day philosophical categories to a Jesus who could not have known them, or conceived them, and so these cannot represent Jesus's motivation, and only near the end does Don Cupitt attempt to disarm his critics.

But, as since 2006, this is a different Don Cupitt, no longer quite the non-realist that he was, though he may retain some of this insight, as he becomes more historical and pragmatic. That puts him and me into close agreement again - but not really about Jesus. I'm still more with Schweitzer and what followed from him. He even has a good word for nineteenth century historians - but they realised they were very limited about what they could say about Jesus. The Quaker leaning Cupitt can hardly ignore the witness of their liberal cousins, the Unitarians, or whom they influenced! I wish he'd tackle James Martineau, because I maintain Martineau is a postmodern tipping point. Perhaps I should do a fresh, new, fully theological piece on James Martineau. I take a service in January. It could be a setting for a sermon of substance, more a lecture-service.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Bishop's Sermon at Blue Velvet

The story resumes...

In the days approaching the Annual Ball, there was much for the churchpeople to plan, along with others in the town. The Ball was the one, big, evangelistic event in Blue Velvet that brought in all those cast numbers of especially younger people and people who thought they were that never darkened the doors of the church. The Church itself held a 6 pm special service that specifically said to, especially the females, to come in their show-off dresses. This service was often the ultimate in Fresh Expressions. After this the people would spend about two hours in the local pubs, and then all would gather in the church hall (it had been other halls in its history) in various states of intoxication for the eats, more drinks and the parade. Usually something controversial would happen to feed the gossip for months, and some people would start preparing with months in advance. This was, in essence, the annual fetility parade, and many in the town could say that their marriages began at the Ball.

Such was so for Mrs Janet Ward (62) and Mr Peter Ward now (71) back in the ball's history. It started with Mr Ward admiring her costume, which - as she pointed out to Reverend Alan Peart (51) - was of a different time than now. "My daughter is very unhappy," she said of Janice to him. "Have you had an argument?"
"I have not. I cannot speak about her family relationships," said the Reverend, trying to stonewall.
"She is coming to the Ball, and she is worried about everything. She said she can't even come and see your chickens at the moment."
"Well, all I can say, Janet, is that I am not stopping her. But I advise you to let them sort it out. It would be good to see Janice at the Ball," he said, adding, "and Eugene too," feeling a cough coming on.
Although the Ball had more recent origins, it was the duty the day before to place and give prayers to the town centre maypole. From the point it is inserted, children and older ones would dance with it. And every year vandals would see that it needed repairing, some of the fundraising going towards that.

It was the evening before the event, and Alan Peart arrived back at the vicarage tired from assisting getting all the extra chairs out and into the church. For in that service some three hundred or more attended. That's still a very low proportion of the town, but then some who dressed up and circulated the pubs didn't even come to the church hall event afterwards. Cones were being set up to prevent parking, and some streets were closed at critical points to prevent driving through. Some decorations had appeared too - in the Mediterranean this might have been some sort of festival to the Virgin Mary, but here it was quite the opposite. The figures displayed were about fertility and definitely not virginity.
He looked at his sermon for the service. Although it was only ten minutes long, he had spent extra time doing some research for it, given that his new friend, the new Unitarian Minister, Stella Wedgwood was coming to stay over very shortly, and he wanted more historical detail. So the sermon as prepared talked about past Pagan festival memories, but really the town council in the 1920s began their own version of the bright young things and a passing out parade, so that the girls could find some boys after the losses of the First World War - and brighten things up. The church also experienced a boom in Christenings a few months before the ball, and an upward blip was still the case to this day. He added into his sermon that in this day of Civil Partnerships the girls might meet the girls, and he noted how the boys themselves last year turned up on this night in their own smartest gear - something that did happen but wasn't so prominent or noticed in the past, both to get the girls and perhaps, these days, for a few, the boys. And as for connecting this to Christianity, he made a reference to the lightening of some get togethers but the wine getting better later, in what happens between some individuals later on, like Mr and Mrs Ward. So this seemed in keeping with the event and the place.
But then there was a call by telephone from the bishop.
"It's the Right Reverend Neville Timothy Williams here," said the 51 year old.
"The Reverend Alan Peart here," he replied to copy, with a sigh.
"The festival. I shall be present, and I shall preach the sermon on family values."
"I've just written the sermon, and family values straight up might misjudge the mood."
"We always uphold family values, don't we? Don't we?"
"We always do."
"I am worried about Blue Velvet and your priest-in-charge ministry. You are there as my representative, as you know. I think it is time we started keeping up appearances."
"I try to keep up appearances."
"Now, a certain dental worker has been in touch with me. Apparently it is not only bishops who have secret children."
"Have any bishops had secret children?" asked Alan Peart, starting to go white.
"In the news, yes, at times, over time. Ireland is a speciality among the Roman brethren. We don't want this sort of thing."
"Down with this sort of thing," said a shaking Alan Peart.
"Indeed, keeping this sort of thing down," said Bishop Neville, a one time training colleague in the same theological college as this priest. "The dental worker tells me that another dental worker has to keep this private, but the ways of the jungle telegraph are many and varied, are they not. A certain dentist has a child who isn't his child by a woman who keeps your chickens."
"She keeps them no more."
"Now I want to talk to you about this."
At this point the doorbell rang, and Alan Peart said he had to let the person in. There, stood at the door, was Stella Wedgwood with a beaming smile and she was quite eager with the two cheeks kiss French style. He said about the phone call, of letting herself in, and thus she brought her own bags to the hallway at the front door as he had returned to the telephone.
"Yes, you were saying."
"Mrs Capron is married," said Bishop Neville, "to the dentist, and I took it upon myself to contact the dentist and ask about his welfare, his family, his wife."
"That was very decent of you," said Alan Peart.
"You know, he did not mention his child and you being the biological father. This is incredibly brave, even honourable of him."
"It is. He threatened me with my jaw open. He drilled a tooth without an anaesthetic."
"I'd have pulled your fucking teeth out one by one," said the bishop.
"Right, yes; you would yes."
"So you shall welcome me tomorrow; I shall preach, and I shall stay and watch the proceedings for as long as I care. And as for your future, I think you can say it all depends. Goodbye."
The dialling tone appeared. "You total shit," said Alan Peart, as Stella Wedgwood stood at the study door.
"Oh dear," she said.
"The bishop," he said. "He was a creep then but he was OK enough at theological college, and he has become a total shit since his elevation."
"He was a tutor?"
"No, no, he was training when I was training. Fast track sort of man. It's not jealousy, really - he really is a shit. He has just let power go to his head. So all my sermon preparation and goodness knows what else has gone to waste."
"Can I stay an extra day, afterwards?"
"Yes. You know that Blue money? You don't have any more for a second minister do you?"
"Yes, there is actually. Might have a development minister for the region, like advertise. Could be lay or minister. Come out of that money, yes. And can I stay?"
"Yes, of course, certainly. Glad of the company. Especially with that twit coming. Hope we can be good friends when you do move in to the town, find a house."
"You're finding all this rather sterile. What's happened?"
"Well, embarrassing. Really. He found out, like bloody lightning he's found out. I've just stopped having - it was an affair. She is full of energy, delightful, wonderful, but she is married. Married with a difference. Well. Her own husband knows she has been with at least two other men, even approved it, sort of. Well, humm, one is the retired postman, and he is the father of at least twenty children in this town, with five more of his own with his own wife. But Johnny Levrithe is a known local phenomenon. He still delivers the milk. She calls him Milky. There are at least 50 of his throughout the town, and some are pregnant now and others I meet who are adults and some know and most don't. Anyone who does genealogy in this town is on to a fake. Funnily enough, with both she uses protection. But her history and mine we didn't, and I've always know their child was mine."
"You're lonely," said the visitor.
"I suppose I am, really. Well, lots of people around, and the only friends I have are my apparent wife and her partner."
"You told me. And the forest starts there."
"Southern end of hers, yes. Why?"
"I want to go there. Day after tomorrow, and you come. Look, we all have secrets. I haven't told you my secrets, or secrets beyond - like why would I?"
"Well, there is a meeting shortly, the Committee and last minute things. Sit in on it. We've got a new innovation for the girls this year, the Properly Fitting Bra contest. This Bravado firm that sells all that stuff is sending a representative. So some of ours will be getting some good advice as well as it being one of the events of the day. And they will be selling. But you see they are providing some support of the financial kind for the evening, so it all rather works well. We have the final list of participants, I think. Oh and some of those lasses have a real father in our roaming milk deliverer."
"I'm afraid I'd not win that competition. And presumably the winner gets..."
"Well, it's all publicity. And that's the other thing. The reporters are coming, live radio and television recording. I've told them, it's a great evangelistic opportunity. Now while I still retain some enthusiasm and some control, can you be in the procession for the service? You said you don't wear a clerical..."
"I have one and the last time I wore it and the blouse was over a year ago and I have it for events like this, and I thought, umm it's possible. So I anticipated..."
"Brilliant. Gown - robes? I can lend them."
"I brought a black and a thick white one and a green and gold stole."
"No, full colour. Do the works."
"You will have to do that then," she said. "Hope they'll fit."
"They'll fit you. You're quite tall."

There were clearly over three hundred people gathering in the church (though there were many more people already gathering in the streets that had been closed earlier by the police). The organist had started playing long before she usually did, and the choir that might make half the congregation on an ordinary evening was getting robed.
On the front pew was the Member of Parliament, Sheila Stone, Conservative (39), and local council dignitaries. In the vestry sat Reverends Peart and Wedgwood, and the Methodist Reverend John Cowgill, 64, in a preaching gown. In came Reverend Julia Peart. "No bishop as yet," said Alan Peart, "and John Jones is looking out for him. Also - oh."
"Sorry I'm late, well I'm not late," said Reverend Sammy Kuhn (35), the priest from Great Velvet. "I really would prefer not to process," he said.
"Well we do this here," said Alan Peart. "Nothing major really. The bishop does, and he's coming."
"I'll wear the white robe and rope and that is it," he said. He then went to the vestry door to look down the church at the numbers gathering. "I think we do better than this on a normal Sunday."
Stella Wedgwood asked, whispering into Alan Peart's ear, "How come he's not dressing up like you and not wanting to process, and the Methodist isn't, but I am?"
"Because," he whispered back, "he is a loony Protestant. He's come here only to go back to his church and preach on a den of iniquity. But he has to be noticed. And Methodists don't."
"The bishop," said Sammy Kuhn. "A good man, very good man. Somebody's bringing a large cabinet behind him. Well I wonder what that's for. I'm looking forward to him preaching on family values... Hello Bishop Neville, wonderful to see you again. I'll take the crook and mitre oh and these blades." The two blades, with handles across the ends larger on one side than the metal jutting out were put down, but he held on to the mitre and crook.
"Hello Samuel. Mr Peart, is everything ready as I would wish it?" asked Bishop N. T. Williams.
"It is all for you, sir," said Reverend Kuhn.
"Good. Right. Julia, properly robed?"
"Are we all?" she asked back' with some sympathy for Stella's view (and had good enough hearing to hear).
"We are. Samuel is quite right you know with his simplicity here, but there we go. Must be flexible," the bishop said. "I need a slim girl, pretty girl, plenty there I see, from the congregation. Now you are the local Methodist right, er, if I remember, Mr...?" said the bishop looking around."
"Cowgill, Superintendent Minister."
"Can you find me a slim someone female?" The Methodist looked vacant and then went out. "And I haven't had the pleasure," said the bishop to Stella Wedgwood.
"Reverend Stella Wedgwood."
"Currently South Wales, soon to be Minister in this town."
"The Unitarian chapel."
"The what?"
"The Unitarian chapel."
"Is there one?"
"Yes. It is in this town. Blue Velvet. The name 'Blue' comes from Theophilus Blue, the benefactor of that very chapel."
"Some sort of Unitarian was he?"
"He was a Puritan."
"So what has he got to do with you?"
"Same chapel - religious history. Over 300 years ago."
"Alan Peart, can you just step out? Excuse me miss," said the bishop, causing her to pull a face as the bishop turned away.
Julia whispered into Stella's ear, "Nothing surprises me about him."
Standing outside the vestry the bishop asked, "What is she doing here?"
"She is a new minister in this town."
"She is Unitarian, apparently."
"I know."
"How do you know?"
"I bumped into her in the street."
"You do that do you?" The Methodist minister arrived back with a young woman with a thin bare middle, who was a model for local photographers. "Excellent, right height too. Hello miss, can you go in there?"
"I was wearing a clerical collar. She collared me," said Alan Peart, resuming the conversation.
"We don't do Unitarians," said the bishop back with Alan Peart alone.
"Shall I tell her to disrobe and go and sit down? Perhaps she can go in your box."
"Too fat for my box. And don't be clever. Do other people know she is a Unitarian?"
"No. I don't suppose so. Other than the Unitarians probably in this congregation."
"You know, Mr. Peart, this is getting worse and worse. Is she taking any part in this service?"
"A reading."
"This really is getting worse. No, this is not going to happen."
"Lay people give readings," said the priest.
"Christian lay people," replied the bishop.
"Do you know what they believe?"
"Formally, yes. Look, they can believe the world is flat and spiky for all I care. Next time you consult me. It's only because we are a charitable people that I'll do nothing now and let this go, but it's just another example. I take the initiatives here, not you. You are my representative. We are going to have to thrash this out."
"OK. Yes well yes but, er, don't forget to put your microphone in, but leave it off until you speak."
"Oh yes that. Now let's go back in before we come out again. I have a nice young lady to speak with." So they went in to a more crowded vestry as some servers also arrived. "Well it's very nice to meet you, Reverend Susan is it, what was it?" asked Neville Williams.
"Reverend Stella Wedgwood," said Stella Wedgwood.
"Well I hope you enjoy our Christian worship."
"Quite a unique experience I'm sure."
"I'm sure it will be. Wholesome, though. Now what is your name, young lady?"
"Jenny Fothergill."
"Jenny. All you have to do is get in the cabinet when I ask. When I shut the door, keep your head in the hole, your hand out of the hole, but twist your body around. These blades will miss you but suck in a bit. When I take them out, turn around again. Now are we all ready?" asked the Bishop. "Servers take the Bible now. Go go. And so the rest of us, let us go and take positions behind the choir and to process! Oh hang on. Samuel of course. Good, thank you Samuel. How are you? We need to have a chat I'm sure. Putting the mitre on, crook. Oh, er Susan..."
"Yes, take these blades and put them behind the box if you would be so kind. Hold them to conceal the long handles please. Secrets, secrets!"
Samuel spoke. "I'm fine, bishop, by the way. We are going to extend the car park. Collections for it raised the money in two goes. And other times we can charge users with the meter and clamps."
"Sorry, Samuel, what did I say?" asked the bishop.
"Microphone, bishop," said Reverend Peart. So he clipped it on and concealed the rest behind the gown.
"Oh good Samuel, yes, good to hear of progress. Well Christians! Oh, and one other. Let's go!"
"What do I do?" asked Jenny.
"Ah, sit in the choir stalls, let the choir in when they come, I'll ask for you."
"Do I get paid?" she asked.
"The magic secret. Worth some money," said the bishop. "The experience. Come behind us. Right, we really all must go."

After hymns, liturgical elements, and readings, with this three doored box facing the congregation, the bishop ascended the pulpit. Looking down from the pulpit had never seen a congregation like it. It was like a fashion parade on the south coast of Spain in summer, and some must be on the beach, all very consistent with his one assistant, still on the edge of the choir stalls and largely hidden from view.
"Michael Faraday," said Bishop Neville, "is a sort of grandfather of electricity and, in a funny kind of way, family values. Can anybody think why? Well electricity is natural but we harness it, and in order to harness it successfully we have gone to one of the most natural of connections. It is the plug and the socket. The plug has pins that jut out, erect and firm, and the socket has holes that are springy and welcoming. And it works, and works very well. And this is why the Church is having so much controversy at present, because of the novelty of trying to transmit the electricity of love when a socket meets a socket or a plug meets a plug. Somehow it does not work as well. But then there is something else, isn't there. Although plugs and sockets are interchangable, don't we have favourite places for our household items? The televisions don't tend to move around; the Hi fi doesn't, so many sockets welcome, get used to, the same plug. We know there are exceptions, but in general another aspect of our normal, natural world, is that the socket welcomes the same plug. Indeed, some of us forget to take them out. And if I was a Roman Catholic I would point out that some plugs come with their appliances now with little plastic protectors on. How many of us forget to take them off before trying to put the plug into the socket? They don't fit. So in a way, the Roman Catholics are right. The metal touches the metal, and the current flows."
Alan Peart leant over to Stella Wedgwood and said, "My computer has five plugs going into a multiple extension socket."
"You're a dirty old clergyman then," said Stella. "But mine's the same." Stella leaned over to Julia, "He's just said about his extension lead and many plugs."
"He's a twat," said Julia. "I mean him, preaching."
"Now," said the bishop, "have you ever noticed that it is often when you move or disturb electrical items that they go wrong. They somehow like to be where they are left. They develop a relationship where they are. Or perhaps some foreign body gets in, like water or dust. Then things can go wrong. Are we not asking for some relationship in our own lives, some stability, and not the kind of transience that can lead our delicate electronics also to go wrong. Nevertheless, that current that flows is vital for us all, and be under no illusions. Although the Bible contains nothing about the harnessed flow of electricity through wires, it contains many a reference about lightening. And so I come to the gospel reading today, particularly where it states at Luke 9:29: 'As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.'

Julia whispered to Stella, "Luke 10:18: 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'
"Thus," said the Bishop, "Jesus was transfigured just as, when we look at our devices, that tamed lightening flash brings these amzing devices into new life, that new life we see in Christ transfigured, a Christ heavenly that reminds us how important he is in the creation. And so I am going to come down from this pulpit and ask for my assistant to join me, to teach a little bit of Christian doctrine to you folks gathered here. This is Julia I believe..."
"Jenny Fothergill."
"Well Jenny is going to get in this box." He fumbled and put his microphone off. "Remember, face the front, only twist around and back when out of sight." He reconnected with the church speakers. "Now the top door here represents the Father, and Jenny will put her head through the hole as I close it. And now Jenny put your hand through that hole as I close the middle door, that is the Son. That is it - and hold this hankerchief. Hang on, here it is. Don't worry, I haven't used it. And at the bottom is the Holy Spirit, and we close that up completely. There we are. And then, from behind here, here we go, some blades. Pushing one in now between the Father and the Son... And - have to push hard - between the Son and the Holy Spirit. But look, despite this, the Father is still smiling at us! But look, now I remove the middle section right to the side. Yes, and keep waving that hand. The Son is still with us. But this gap. If we have this gap, then the Holy Spirit seems unconnected to the Son. And that surely won't do. This is our objection with the Orthodox Churches that do not observe the Filioque clause, that means 'From the Son', and eventhe last two Popes have recited the Creed without the Filioque clause when with the Orthodox. Immediately after this sermon we shall recite the Creed, and that means all of us" - he turned and looked at Stella Wedgwood - "with the Filioque clause. Without it, the Orthodox might not, but the Western Church might claim too much for the Holy Spirit and innovation. Keeping the Son as one source of the Holy Spirit keeps our electricity transmitting in a known and regular way for us in the Western Churches. So I had better put Jenny back together again. I push the middle back in, and remove these blades... and open Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and - ready? - Jenny should be just as she was when she went in... Yes there she is. Isn't that fantastic? We have the Trinity there and its full relationship. Thank you very much Jenny - if you can go and join your folks."
The audience started clapping as she walked down the aisle.
"So let your lives and your long term relationships be transformed in the light of Christ in the Holy Trinity, Amen. And now of course we say the Creed, in the way that we do."
Stella Wedgwood stood with the rest but remained silent.
And so the bishop presided at the communion at which the announcement went out that people who took communion in other trinitarian churches could take communion here. Others might have a blessing. A huge crowd queued and took communion, many of whom never attended a service, except this one, in any church at all, nor were members in any. The one person who did not, nor went to the rail, was Stella Wedgwood.
With the service over, the festivities could commence, at least those for the Church Hall, as there had been and were many more people outside in the streets and in the pubs, some of whom would not start to come in.

Monday 23 November 2009

When Williams Met Benny

The Meeting was described as "cordial".

Friday 20 November 2009

Another Old Sermon

Some weeks back I took another box of old sermons from the late Unitarian minister Ernest Penn's retention of what he had delivered. I like to find the old ones as well as the new. The oldest, rummaging through, seems to be from 1958. So I set about typing it out. Phew, it's difficult. I can't always read his handwriting, and some of it drops to note form which he will deliver without a hitch.

There is no doubt in my mind that he would not have delivered this when I heard him, from 1985 to 1989 and from 1994 to about 2002. In a way it makes the mistake he identifies about the Unitarian label, in giving the approach a 'foundation' of the Fatherhood of God. He definitely would not have used the phrase 'leadership of Jesus' when I heard him. Quite interesting.

The title is mine: The Fatherhood of God and Divine Sonship. As becomes obvious, the Divine Sonship is shared by all people. He never quite arrived at inclusive language, and in 1958 certainly did not use inclusive language.

Here is the Ernest Penn sermon.

Here is a choice of Unitarian material.

Here is the widest choices of service material that I offer.

Meanwhile, here is a sermon I heard on Wednesday morning in an Anglican church, given by the husband of the curate, he a one time Methodist minister and now lay Anglican going up the candle, who recently used neither candle nor light switch at night so fell down his stairs and broke his arm.

Archbishop of Anglicanism at Woolworths

Archbishop of Anglicanism's address at an unused and available ex-Woolworths Store in Rome on Friday 20 November 2009

It is not lacking in pleasure that I am hearing to speak on anything but the situation in Uganda, for which I have lost my considerable probable erudite tongue, so may I suggest that I retail a tale of the Incarnation and going shopping as a matter of not inconsiderable interest to the very few?

Since the largely forgotten Second Vatican Council in that turbulent decade of the 1960s that so shocked the present Holy Father, Peace Be Upon Him, the Roman Catholic Church woke up to find that other Churches existed. They even discovered ours, in which of course I am a layman wearing funny clothes during worship.

The parallel is with the large store, the Superstore perhaps, that discovers a thriving High Street, or even a Holy High Street that perhaps struggles in the face of the Superstore but also serves the divine purpose.
That department store within the Superstore that lacks the spherical intent of the one descended from the inheritance of The Inquisition, and it must be said is rather overlooked these days, produced quite a lot of ecumenical paper with ink and signatures on these, ostensibly about progress in relationships between the Roman Catholic Shop (the Superstore) and others, including the one I inhabit at the present moment, as in agreements that the superstore is not trying to wipe out the Holy High Street Anglican Emporium. And we justly and happily concelebrate the pioneer of ecumenical dialogue, regarding the Superstore and the Holy High Street in all its variety, Cardinal Willy Wohntee, who might have been a century not out had he not played critic at Lourdes.

Right, so I've half an hour left, and so as long as I say nothing enough approaching on reproaching Uganda I am reasonably happy. Good. I suppose when younger I was a bit of a closet Roman Catholic with the desire to be a superstore manager, and if I was not then I have become so in later years. So it is a matter of enjoyment in reading documents about which one has notice to find that the Ecclesiastica selling units have near agreements regarding matters like humans made in the image of God, potentially but not necessarily excluding a few sexual minorities, who may have to shop in heterosexual lookalike pairs, and that this imagio humano is celebrated through the sacraments of Baptism when a baby first enters a shop or perhaps later and then Holy Communion in which God is busy upon his communion acting upon us to transform us in communion at the tills but not in deo communicado.

Indeed not. And it is from this that other questions arise, as some thoughtful Anglican Emporianios might say from time to time, if we have it.
The surely not underwhelming question is whether in the context of the street-lit darkness of all that we can agree about is whether indeed there can be light over what we don't agree about, in the setting of what is secondary and primary, and whether these have the same mass, being the actuality of importance whereas weight needs sufficient gravity - and I choose the word 'mass' carefully here, in this comparison between the shadowless fluorescent lights of the inside and the darkness beyond.

For example, is the Pope, Peace Be Upon Him, a Catholic? And is he primary or secondary, as I once asked of a child of a congregant in my cathedral who was about 11 years old and had lost his mummy. And what of ordaining women to run some shops? Questions such as these raise the matter of the local Shop and the universal Shop, the local Shop not being like a shop to which a school may be attached, or even a region, but lots and lots of them with many bishops that we all know and love about serving their customers. Theological questions then, that are utterly absorbing at a time of, say, the destruction of human rights in, no I won't say that. I really must stop ad-libbing.

So how exactly is it that they make an understanding to the differences regarding salivation over foodstuffs for sale and communion of them? But if they are not, why not? And if why not, why do? Why do these issues like the Pope, Peace Be Upon Him, still stand in the way of fuller and not invisible unity? Is it possible to have Unitarian single checkout models of communion that vary about the Pope standing in such a fashion that prevents this expression?

The central question, beyond one about human welfare on matters of imprisonment and the death penalty, is whether and how we can properly tell what is primary and secondary. For schooling, this is easy, but theological questions are not so easy, especially when superstore management offices can become dictatorial, like the Vatican. This is a matter of health and also something I wonder about, called integrity, at these troubling times. How may we establish what F. W. Woolworth and Howard Conder struggled for regarding a genuinely theological doctrine of the Ecclesasica plaster? Vatican twit II too took us from tooly an institutional view of Church of divine decrees with degrees of understanding, which I have adopted regarding the Covenant for worldwide Anglicanism, with all its talk of getting your prescriptions from the Lord your Chemist, and the healing of souls, and this authoritarian centralisation, with Church as Society, getting your Italian pizza from next door to the divine chemist, towards instead perhaps the nature and ground of the world that grounds the ecclesiastical community of which the Pope, Peace Be Upon Him, might be but of one aspect.

Such questions are not easy, but we are bound to tackle them. Now suppose we get a bag of apples, though such cannot be found from Woolworths, unfortunately since deceased, the chemist or indeed the Italian pizza shop. No, they come from Kasper Water, who I am assured is made in the image of God and not an image of a cartoon. It is this connection, in the deeply heterosexual plug and socket matter, about the nature of God, fishing and finistry. And they all encourage constant talking, while people might be put in prison for consensual matters, deeply rooted in the ground the way that a good building should be, logically and ecclesiologically speaking.

Such talking can also be seen in Anglican dialogues with that other ecclesiastical community, though probably Church, the Orthodox, which lacks the Filly O'Kay Irish element of the Triune horseness at the races but evident at the vetinary Spurgeon's.
How can we proceed - and I think we can, can we not? Look into the three, that eternal look: by which humans can go to the garment repair shop and be restored into how they were once made, though this should not be taken as a matter of original sin when we approach those Orthodox little shops scattered around. First, approach the Godhead of the shop and ask for the repair, then it is repaired in a human and principled manner, then take the garment away for which the Holy Spirit assists in its wearing. Yes we have the horse race Filly element here, if and only if, it must be stressed, that the original garment was for horse riding. We pray that this is so, through the repair, in the encouragement to wear it, under the auspices of the greater Holy Shop.

We do not, however, in our processes, jump the queue and have humans bump up against each other, nor come to the shop when it is shutting-up, when being served is inseparably and necessarily a gift of mutual human communicoon also.
But we can ride tandem to the shop, of a two nature, not three, depending on how many fingers you put up for a blessing, with the Father upon one seat and someone else on the other seat (and Christ seated next to the Father). And the bag of apples can be hung with sufficient stability from the handlebars and most successfully if they can be placed in two bags, one on either side. This is quite justifiable, as the Lutheran-Catholic Orchards discussion document clearly shows linking singers to the music shop.

So we see how the pattern emerges in our tripping down the Holy High Street. The former streets lead into the latter; the latter streets only make sense against the background of the former. And we meet one another, as in "Hello Farmer Lola" in the former streets and "Hello Farmer Lotta" in the latter streets. And we can see in the butchers' a very special chicken who used to live on our farm in the barn, rather as people might do before the death penalty for consenting with one another if one should be disabled and perhaps not quite in the image of day oh, day ay ay ay oh; day di come any one a go home.

So in our Holy Shops of the one yet divided Holy Shop, what enquiries, can we make, and should we, and what would an enquiring kind of shop look like? Is it more a supermarket or is it where we are served? Is it that vast Roman superstore? I shall suggest some possible lines of further enquiry for the busy housewife who, one day, might be ordained bishop. And here then I can lay down a challenge, a challenge against trends of the moment, trends such as only being told last minute that someone from a should not be rival superstore might and indeed does act to steal some of the shopkeepers when it has lost so many of its own staff. When such happens we might be depressed and lower our expectations of ethical behaviour, as we ought not to do when considering Africa and our own back yard.

But, to take the contrary view, given the apparent lack of progress towards institutional or organisational unity, as in merging Somerfield with the Co-op, but then what about Tesco and Sainsbury, we need to consider just how influential Woolworths' legacy has been in the retail tale of ecclesiology. It could lead to new, similar shops that lack identity, but are ecclesiastically broad: shops where we can harvest apples that are good for you selling among and along with heavenly sweeties.

And it is this. In riding tandem, the issue is not about the essential shape of our language concerning God and God's action in Christ, which would not be Unitarian. No, it is about the Fatherhood of God, which historically is, Unitarian, but in a tandem dual pedalling vocation under the Father that is not the Holy Father, the Pope, Peace Be Upon Him, but is the Filly, the horse, the very race by which we become more fully human and meet the heavenly vision - and Orthodox this is. And we do this in communion with other believers, offered as a sale at yet full price to the whole world as a promise and hope that the guarantee is there, a model for human life together in a cord that stretches in accord with the Father's loving purposes abroad.

As the 'Oik you!' menial statements, in varying words agree, the ongoing debate is not about these fundamentals, as we examine them, but about where abouts we find the fullest realisation of communion to be found in one shop or the other, the supermarket (including but also a smaller version of the great Holy Superstore and consistent with it) or where a shopkeeper says "Yes madam".
And here we can converge, where the shop has shelves to pick things up, but where you can ask for service.

Such sacramental forms offer the broadest possible outcomes, with links from trinitarian doctrine straight to buying one's own and the Lord's supper, whether an Italian pizza or otherwise. And thus, with Filly O'Kay, the race is on, in communion with the trying on God, especially in a clothes shop, and this before having to use the garment repair shop.
And human practices are involved here. The conventions of buying and selling are crucial, which perhaps the Pope, Peace Be Upon Him, does not understand if someone else does the shopping, whereas laymen like myself and my wife do go shopping, a pattern repeated especially if he is a Father and she is a Mother. Outside the Roman Superstore fold there is surely no ambiguity over this priority of the shops, or any separation between the act of the Father in salivation of filling the boot with the weekly shop and a purely or predominantly human activity of recalling or expressing that act through human repeated practices such as the shopping itself within the Holy High Street's varied and variable premises.

If the picture just sketched here is Accurist, at the WATCH shop, where the ordination of women is centred, what exactly are the points that still divide us? I look therein in some frustration, with the short notice I have received. Perhaps, I suggest, we look precisely into the bag of apples. Apples yes, because some can be green and tastless, and some green and tasty, but others red and full of flavour.

Pardon? Oh, I understand everyone listening has fallen asleep. What? Sorry? They wanted to hear about Uganda? No I don't want to talk about that. Look people are waking up. It must be mentioning... I'll conclude.

So, resuming then, is there a mechanism in the Shop as with the supermarket trolley by which matters can not just efficiently but effectively be brought to the... What, they are asleep again? These are very important questions, even if no one cares what I think any more. Well, I'll stop now and go and ask the Holy Father, Peace Be Upon Him, why he doesn't consult or give people much notice of what he is going to do, and whether I might join him in one of his Unitarianates as part of this theological convergence I have indicated considering the High Street and the Superstore. In other words, can we all allow ourselves to be challenged, as I am challenged, to address the outstanding issues with the same methodological assumptions and the same overall spiritual and sacramental vision that has brought us shopping thus far, so long as we do not mention Uganda?

Thursday 19 November 2009

Culture Wars

XXXXXX of the Political Research Associates (PRA) has emailed me about its latest culture wars report Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia.

The report exposes the U.S. political right's promotion of an agenda in Africa that aims to criminalise homosexuality and of course this is very timely.

I tell my Unitarian friends that, whatever arguments go on there about the name and differences, this is small compared to the institutional shaking now going on in the Church of England and the broader Anglican Communion.

The business of the 'New Puritans' and the far theological right that involves these African countries is Western in origin and feeding. My analysis is this. The far right theologically are a minority, undermined by other evangelicals and especially the liberals and broad range of Anglo-Catholics. Their agenda is a lost cause within the Western Churches. Whether individualist (like many far right evangelicals) or Erastian (like much of The Church Society), the far right achieves little in its narrow expressions, as can be viewed by what the new Bishop of Peterborough wrote back in 1993.

So what they have done is set up, by Leninist entryist methods and means, a small organisation that draws on the ballast of the more supernatural and magical religious views of Africa and broader afield, inventing in effect a worldwide Anglican Church with international oversight bishops, using the homosexual agenda and less so the female authority agenda to pursue their aims. The GAFCON/ FCA business has been an exercise in pre-arranging outcomes to establish a Primates Council to do some overseeing of international boundary crossing ministries and fellowships, which in North America has meant a form of separation whilst claiming to still be Anglican and to be within the Anglican Communion.

They have been helped by this by an Archbishop of Canterbury who seems to have escalated his own position and those bodies immediately around him. In this case the international Anglican fantasy has been Catholic, to produce something of a consistent international identity recognisable to Rome for ecumenical purposes, and all around the Covenant. In this case it has been less about boundary hopping than Church hopping, seeing bishops and dioceses and then Primates together before coming to the Archbishop of Canterbury. So the effort has been towards centralising using a Covenant, with the Primates Meeting, the Lambeth Conference and Anglican Consultative Council given forms of recognition in the Covenant beyond the informal place they have now. In so far as the actual Churches remain the legally coherent decision making centres of Anglicanism, these international institutions will be new competitors for authority.

Evangelicals have jumped on the Covenant so far as it is convenient to assert anti-homosexual positions and means to isolate those pro-baptismal equality and promote those in breakaway.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that the Catholic-bureaucractic project for centralising and the arrogance of producing a Covenant, partly in response to pan-Anglican disagreements that would not matter in a continuation of a looser arrangement, has led to silence (excepting only the put-upon Canada - The Episcopal Church is being very strange) regarding the proposed destruction of human rights in Uganda. This was always going to be the case, that the bureaucratic Church project pursued doggedly by this worst Archbishop for centuries has profoundly unethical consequences, silencing utterly desperate ethical demands, and ruining his position for speaking about anything.

The funders of this right wing evangelical effort are clasping their hands with glee. They couldn't give a toss about Anglicanism or any other body. What they want is the means to influence and this is one such means. But their money, the far political right assisting the tactics of the far theological right, and the outcome of pursuing anti human activities and gaining silence from religious leaders, is exactly what they want. The loonies are running the asylum.

But there is an interesting parallel activity going on regarding all of this self-generated if externally funded crisis of Anglicanism - and it is that of Anglo-Catholicism, Rome and women in authority. Women joining men in authority involves the same stream of ethical activity as gay people (all genders) joining in with legitimate authority. And the Anglican Churches have been moving already in this direction, and the Church of England is doing so. The effect of this has been to undermine the actions of the schismatics of the far right evangelicals as well as traditionalist Anglo-Catholics.

The traditionalist Anglo-Catholics sort of hitched up with the far right evangelicals, as a sort of outside (while inside) organising to disturb and change the inside of Anglicanism - to take it over via such entryism effectively. Then, this Pope, more concerned about women's ministry than gay ministry, and its adoption in the key (mother) Anglican Church, dropped his bomb. Bye bye ecumenism. Needing a few extra clergy himself after his own image, he sent a big galleon across to pick up the right wing Anglo-Catholics. This not only makes a cleaner move towards women's full ministry more likely and emphasises further the division within the make up of GAFCON/ FCA. The duped Africans have responded to the Pope's anti-women initiative by still rattling on about homosexuality.

As a group like Reform realises only too well, women's full inclusive ministry splits the evangelical constituency again and makes it weaker. In other words, the whole GACON/ FCA project has to be women exclusive if it is to be a successful entryist body. But this move in the Church of England actually makes an 'Anglican Church of Europe' under this Primates Council more not less likely - it forces the entryists to become more separate. In other words, the means by which traditionalist Anglo-Catholics leave the Church of England becomes the effective domino falling by which far right evangelicals will leave the Church of England. What they will do, of course, will move via processes of 'disobedience' and alternative oversight, but in the end the Church of the land has no need to become embroiled in the sort of property wars of the United States, though my become embroiled in legal wars of authority and occupation. The far right evangelicals think they can survive alone and run their own financial affairs, and by such means they will either leave of their own free will or eventually be pushed out. When they are out, of course, their influence falls away, and the culture wars attempt will have failed at least here.

It doesn't do a lot for the fate of Ugandans, but it might lead to an ethical Church being recovered in some places so that there can be support to the job of governments in making their views and influence about a potential holocaust of death sentences and imprionments effective.

It's amazing isn't it. Someone like John Sentamu can jump out of aeroplanes and go on and on about Mugabe and not wearing his collar, but when it comes to the threat in Uganda (where he comes from) his mouth is zipped up. I have no time for these people. They remind me of reading history books about the majority German Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches under the Nazis. One wonders.
(It is World Toilet Day - sort of relevant, really)

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Dead Cat

Wow. That was one of the liveliest of In Depth Group meetings for some time. David Jenkins as a bishop had no detractors there at all, and I think I made the case that stuck - that is, that this man believed in God acting, that history is reality and God is reality, and that we think now about autonomous forces (practical, this-worldly explanations) but for Jenkins this presents a problem that God is still present and needs explanation along with the more obvious culture that gave rise to the myth making and yet evidence-pointing in the New Testament - principally evidence of the resurrection as God acting, God acting through Jesus, and in redeeming the world, and how a 'me' connects with that. This to me is strong belief.

We stayed on topic throughout, partly because part of the topic was the treatment he received from so many in the Church, and that even now he represents a still quoted unacceptable line to cross for some. If he is angrier in older age, swearing in the odd sermon, and if he came nearer to atheism while being a bishop at Durham, it is because of the way he was treated. We have the "tough" message from the Bishop of Willesden if you want liberal bishops, and raised was the issue of the extraordinary and depressing appointment of someone like Donald Allister as Bishop of Peterborough, where it seems the policy now in the emergence of bishops is to include every extreme so that there cannot be coherence. We wondered if Donald Allister's "faith journey" was over some years or between his appointment and the press conference. Also, if the job of bishops is just to uphold all the doctrines as given, why not just have robots? They can be fed the lines to produce for each situation, and that will do.

What made this different was the personal element regarding me. First of all, the Fulcrum exchanges had Bishop Pete Broadbent mention me out of the blue, as a way of doing theology, and not what the C of E should be doing, when it was an argument about bishops and I cannot remember myself being made into one. But, secondly, I departed from the script (which I ad-lib from anyway, in a detail of explaining what it is trying to say, and speeding through or skipping bits), and had a forensic go at David Jenkins's views.

In saying these are 'strong' views I had a go at this distinction that Jenkins made (in the Radio programme that God does not manouvre things, but works through peoples' faith - thus a conjouring trick with bones only proves a conjouring trick with bones). I'd just thought of it. Presumably if God acts, and people respond with faith, then that faith orientation, that excitement, means the chemical activity rushing around in the brain is from God acting, which is kenotic, whereas apparently this God cannot reassemble bones. How can such a God shove chemicals around the brain, in acting, producing faith as part of redeeming the world, but cannot manouvre things equally as physical (as it is against naturalistic understanding that we use today).

Then the argument about the difference between the resurrection and virgin birth, I said, has two elements about it. One is that the more evident one is nearer the end of his life, that the myth making goes on, compared with something long before, and one is that these appearances accounts point to some sort of event. But surely the issue is only the speed of myth making, and if you are in a highly charged, changable, expectant time, very charismatic, and you have the Jewish belief in a Messiah coming, then myths can develop within and between the differently located communities very quickly indeed. The higher speed no more points to evidence than slower speed. Plus these appearances accounts are principally theological. And as for pointing to evidence, presumably for example his mother, who's about, the his father seems to disappear somehwat, could have said something like, "Well I sort of know what I did do and didn't do and then found myself pregnant." In other words, there is just the same likelihood of evidence at the different ends of his life. Now there is no automatic pointing of evidence at all, and more than this, doing history is not about what happened or didn't, but is about documentation. And the documentation is not there that satisfies historical tests [except by secondary means]. So, this being the case, we then move to the fact that there was their way of thinking and our way, and I think we are on to something today, because of science, social science, how the arts function and so on, and, I mean, they thought that people died because of sin and its weight, whereas we have the view that people conk out biologically - under 60 living in Russia, around 80 in better parts of the UK, and some say this could become very extended. And I said that if I was to die now on the carpet, within minutes you could not revive me, because of the effect on the brain - why people frozen in ice really will need technological advance to revive them - and so it really would take a massive effort to resurrect and transform. So in the absence and ambiguity of where the documentation points, I conclude there is no such thing as an actual resurrection, and is as much a mythic escalation as the rest of it.

Told by one please don't do that - drop dead on the carpet - I said "Oh no, you might be very pleased to get rid of this heretic," that is, I won't be coming back.

When one gave a view that you can believe in God and think nothing special of Jesus, I said funnily enough I've come round to that view whereas I didn't have it before. Before, reading John Robinson, Cupitt and so on, all the argument from the 60s and 70s and after has been about God. And indeed in the Unitarians before I used to get frustrated with all this God talk (when Jesus was hardly mentioned) when I wanted to talk about reality and life lived and forget this God stuff. So at Unitarian College I was going around preaching atheism and got myself into a lot of trouble. Now, however, though he is interesting and the rest, I think there is nothing special about Jesus whereas I do think there might be something like transcendence or I'm just easier about it. So I've become more like the point of view expressed.

But then there was a sort of corrective necessary, that (positively) I heard that I manage to make the search more difficult, and I replied that's what it is all about, but another comment suggested that all this examination about history and so on in the end is not about faith. So I said well yes, that's right because in the end Jenkins himself said God took a risk and faith is a risk; you make a decision, and, I added, there is also this business in the end of what the Church teaches - a sort of collective decision to follow. I said that is why now I do not take the Eucharist. I still attend, because there is spirituality and things to engage with and might change my mind, but I actually dissent from what is presented. So there is the individual view and then the collective view. I put also a view that unlike a liberal position there is a critical one that in the end continues to present even the most argued against material because without it something is lost. In my case, once I come to a conclusion about something, though I can change my mind, I no longer include it.

Having said that Jesus was "nothing special" I'd still nevertheless mentioned that in this view of people dying from sin, ill from sin, poor with sin, and the richer and longer living having less of it, along comes a Jesus who says, "Don't be taken in by appearances because these well off types have plenty of it, but come here poor people," with a tap on the head, the demons have gone, and now go away and sin no more ready to enter the coming Kingdom. And I did say that with the ethical there is still the life lived. But then, mention as ever, Gandhi - this leaves nothing unique. We'd already seen with Maurice Wiles that a distinctive unique Jesus is not unique at all. There are endless thousands of ethical people who have self-sacrified.

If this sounds like a lot about me, then partly that's because of how it turned, but I am very reluctant to give accounts of what other people say when it's a meeting where people can talk freely. I've probably written too much about other views already. But I'm acutely aware that my approach is very unusual, and there is an element of protest involved (let's say) because this is theological examination and this is what theological examination involves (or should). It is, or should be, its own forensic discipline - it is about how many angels on the head of a pin.

And also the liveliness about it was because here was a point of summarising too - Robinson had failed, The Myth of God Incarnate people failed, Cupitt failed, and despite a strong claim faith Jenkins failed in a Church clearly going into reverse. Some of us think it is far worse now too (I'd say the Church of England and Anglican Communion in terms of leadership is becoming unethical).

That's why I'm elsewhere again, gone off, if semi-detached and not going to be institutionalised by anyone. Anyway, I told a joke that 'Reverend Bob' passed on last Sunday. A Unitarian little girl's cat dies, and a Christian old lady bends down and says to the child, "Don't worry, it will be with Jesus now." The Unitarian little girl replies, "Why, what does Jesus want with a dead cat?"

Sunday 15 November 2009

About the Rt. Rev. David Jenkins

The next St Mary's Barton-upon Humber In Depth Group course paper is ready for presentation by me. It is all about the theological controversy surrounding the former Bishop of Durham, now Assistant Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, David Jenkins.

Unlike some theistic liberal Christian theologians, David Jenkins clearly believed in God acting in history, and in people living in reality - reality of life lived and the reality of God. Some see Christianity as a myth system with Jesus as a highest ethical exemplar of what God is or should be, but it is up to people to do the acting, to make the Kingdom of God. Such came from nineteenth century liberals and continues today. This was not Jenkins's view. In the manner of modernist evangelical theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jenkins had a far stronger belief that God acted in history. This is a biblical revelation theology, but one by someone who knew that communities told stories that escalated into myths. But whereas this can be made of the resurrection belief (the future expectation) as of the virginal conception, Jenkins again was quite different despite his understanding about the limitations of text (and history). The various appearances pointed to an event, an actual event, of a resurrection, and this was evidence that God indeed worked in history, and through Christ.

My own view is that both resurrection and virgin birth (and indeed non-healing miracles) are of the same status-escalating communal story telling of the early Churches. The resurrection claim is closer, being after the end of Jesus's life, but in a charismatic period stories can fly and change very quickly. This is a fluid period of expectation, that Jesus as dead can either be the Messiah to return or nothing (no longer pointing to another agent of God to come, for example) and then, in the Greek culture and subsequently Roman power, the status escalated all the way to the Creeds. Bishop Spong (and I) would see the 'presence' of Christ come into the the ritual meals of the earliest Jewish Christians, and thus it is all mythic - and this is clearly not the position of David Jenkins. Jenkins really believes that God has acted to produce the first of the resurrected, and that this is not just the language that people would apply to their experiences in the context of a still expected end and how that end was going to come about.

Jenkins sees that this claim does clash with the reality of how we see things today, and we have to confront belief in God acting with today's language. Thus Bonhoeffer is relevant. Such a gap is not a problem for me, nor much for Jack Spong, and certainly not for Cupitt, for whom the major secular narratives of this day and our understanding of biology, sociology, social anthropology etc. rule out a dead corpse even reanimating into something that goes through walls. Not only do we rule it out, but can do so on the basis of the texts in the New Testament. The gap is David Jenkins's problem, one of his risks of faith as he would call it.

The sadness is that the Church of England cannot see when a person is full of belief and tackles modernity at the same time, but starts demanding rules and formulas. No wonder, as he got older, he started swearing in sermons and remained a bad boy. Why not? He has every justification.

What Really Happened (Revision Committee)

Inside the Revision Committee discussing having women as bishops..

"The Pope will take them. It's an Ace. Bomb ecumenism, rubbish the boss, grab the nutters."
"So we can do it then. He has made it simple. Get the women on the top floor."
"Yup. Some of the nutters."
"Yeah, not the Gaffers, the FoCAs. They'll make their own plans."
"Well, Ratz made the offer; they said they would go but the money's better in the C of E. Not exactly principle is it?"
"Well some do love the C of E."
"Yeah, with Roman liturgies, and Catholic Church fantasies."
"That Forward in Faith sermon said that the more liberal Anglo-Catholics are like the oozing of pus. Hardly loving the C of E is it? They don't even like those who are like them."
"So we don't need to risk having first and second class bishops, just have one lot of bishops. Might be refreshing to have women and men, all together, all as one."
"Right, so that means withdraw the statutory method, ha ha - very RC, keep the diocesan rhythm intact, and row back from what we said last time."
"Yup, that's the new deal. Cards are off the table."
"But how are we going to sell the U turn?"
"Not sure."
"How about, um, we could not agree what powers should be vested in male bishops to bypass female bishops or those male bishops hobnobbing with women?"
"Yes, 'cause actually we didn't really know what we'd have to hand over."
"Well we did really. Just about everything, without separate male only extra-geographical dioceses."
"OK, so let's try and draft something for public consumption."
"Aye, we'll have to WATCH what we put - geddit?"
"But that's what we'll put. And it puts us back in line with the Synod's expression."
"Anyone got a pen?"

Friday 13 November 2009

Taliban Vicar becomes Buddhist Bishop

The Reverend D. Nold Alley Stare, once dubbed 'the most bonkers and dangerous vicar in Britain' by the ever less popular press, has turned into a cute and cuddly "I love everyone in the Church of England" bishop-designate and recommends everyone to read all about different religions. It seems that the shock and horror of some reports and comments are simply out of date.

Of course, when he was a vicar, he once gave a speech in 1993 advocating high level bombing using antique aircraft of all parish churches suspected of harbouring liberals of any kind. He described them as "satanic, enemies within, a cancer, nasty pieces of work, to be rooted out". "They and their meeting places should be turned into rubble," he said. And once they were, he'd then go after Anglican men who wore dresses during worship. He said then, "We should learn something from the Taliban about how to be Christian." He was one of the earliest advocates of seeking common cause with the Fascist Anglican Church of Uganda in Faith Fellowship (FACUFF), not that long before the days of international oversight started from special bishops in Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda, to name but a few such places. He was admired by many for his doctrinal soundness and prophetic insight.

Back in 1993 he also was an advocate for a new way of celebrating the Eucharist, as a result of watching TISWAS on Saturday mornings when younger. He asked, "How can we be really informal when it comes to that memorial meal some of us have occasionally? Let me tell you about an ITV children's programme that adults loved to watch." Basically, his message was that you don't have to be ordained in order to chuck the food and drink about.

However, during the period between selection for bishop and his press conference in the city of Fenton, the new bishop-designate made a visit to The Clockwork Banana Institute, where Anglican brains are recalibrated for Bishop-like work. It is expensive treatment and reserved for those who are being promoted. Now usually this takes perfectly sensible people and turns them into puzzling exponents of doctrines about which they had been previously unsure, a treatment that normally lasts until retirement. But in this case The Clockwork Banana Institute was faced with sending his brain in the opposite direction. It would seem that the combination of unique electrical and hypnotic treatment has been over effective, so much so that some Ugley Vicar somewhere feels like it's all been too much like a pretty facelift that smiles even when miserable and Puritan, and he is now very careful when it comes to bowls of bread and goblets of wine.

"I love you all," said the new bishop to be at his press conference, looking forward especially to meeting Liberals and Anglo-Catholics in his new Diocese Amongst The Reeds. "I meditate every day, thinking how wonderful Jesus was in his Ashram setting up his Church and writing its constitution, something which I learnt when I was dreaming one afternoon." He said, "I've been on a faith journey of convenience, and whoopee we all do evangelism. I'm particularly interested in learning from Buddhists how to be better Christians."

The to be Bishop Stare, known when a vicar to have caused colleagues to go out picking herbs before a deanery meeting, is now said to come with his own welcoming fragrance.