Friday 28 May 2010

Tears at Synod During Bishop's Address

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Thanks. He, N T Wrong, is a mit of a zwot too.

June Butler said...

Adrian, Bp. Wrong's address did not need much adjusting to enter fully into the realm of parody, (How does one parody parody?) but the small changes you've introduced, do the job quite well. I'm glad I read your version first as yours made the original more enjoyable.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I know. And now there's Nicholas Okoh down in Pokey Poke Oh who replaced Akky Nolo.