Monday, July 31, 2006

Evening Prayer

Holy Father,
As we come to the closing of this day
And we reflect on the hours that have passed
We ask for your healing and forgiveness for those things which were not good
And we give you thanks and praise for those things which were good;
Go before us now with your grace
Through these hours of evening and night,
That when morning comes
We might greet you with joy in our hearts and your praise on our lips;
This we ask in the name of Christ our Lord

(Something that I composed, but it is derived from a couple of others. I say it at Evening Prayer each day)

I will pronounce my judgements upon my people

I remember reading a particular Fantastic Four story when I was younger. The Fabulous Foursome have been trapped by the enemy (can't remember who - probably Doc Doom) inside a force field, a bubble. The Thing hurls himself against it, and just bounces back - the field reflects the force used against it. Reed and Sue Storm are helpless - Johnny is in an even worse situation because if he flames on then all the oxygen within the bubble will get used up and they'll all die. Then Reed figures that there must be a 'threshold' level at which the field is activated. So then Ben starts tapping the field ever so gently, and slowly he forms a 'gap' in the field, through which they escape.

This story is on my mind at the moment, because it is about the futility of force in certain circumstances - and Israel is in precisely such a circumstance at the moment, and cannot win by main force (see here). Worse, it is inevitably morally compromised, and the bombing of Qana is terrible in every respect. (I would want to maintain a difference between terrible things done from fear and terrible things done from hate - and exulting in the terror - but such words seem more than usually vacuous in this context).

The thing is, Israel sees itself as in significant danger; it takes Hezbollah at its word in believing it to pose an existential threat to Israel's continued existence - rationally so, in my view; and it is resorting to the methods which have served it well in the past, ie main force. Yet they cannot win in this way. So either they are forced to accept a ceasefire, which doesn't disarm Hezbollah - which will hand Hezbollah a huge moral and propaganda victory, merely postponing a continuing conflict - or else they will be forced escalate the conflict, to start addressing some of the logistical roots - possibly even the spiritual roots? In other words, Israel is now in a corner. If it backs down, it is handing power to enemies who are irrevocably committed to the destruction of Israel - I can't see that happening. Yet if it continues fighting in the way it has been, it will destroy any remaining moral capital it possesses, without any significant benefit on the ground. Israel cannot win this fight with Hezbollah. This would eventually mean an Israeli defeat, ie withdrawal and cessation of attacks, but for one thing - the support of Israel from the United States (and UK etc). This gives Israel strength and a longer time frame within which to work.

Thus we should expect an escalation - presumably an attack by Israel upon Syria, which would be justified by Israel on the basis of logistical support for Hezbollah being channelled through that country. At which point, the implicit war between Israel and Iran becomes explicit. First steps in World War Three? See here, here and here for my previous thoughts on the subject. August 22nd seems to be looming as the key date - see here.

IF - and it remains IF - TSHTF then we can expect a quite rapid collapse of our usual patterns of life. This is precisely why such a consequence will be taken as evidence for divine favour on the Islamists (see this and follow the link) because God has never been content with our injustice, and he _will_ bring it down.

Given this, I wonder about Bush and Blair. I was recently mulling over with our confirmation class the phenomenon of God hardening the heart of Pharaoh, something which is consistent in the Old Testament (consider 1 Sam 2.25: "His sons did not listen to their father's rebuke, for it was the Lord's will to put them to death.") I remain persuaded that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power was a right and necessary act (however many qualms and criticisms I could make of timing and tactics). Yet it seems to me that the West is walking nonchalantly towards a cliff edge, unaware of how things are about to change.


Not optional

This is basically yesterday morning's sermon (text John 6 1-21), though I had this in the back of my mind when I was composing it.

You may sometimes hear it said that the important thing for any Christian is to love Jesus, or to have a "personal relationship" with Jesus (despite that last description being profoundly unScriptural). It's true that loving Jesus is important, but I think we need to be a little more guarded before assuming that we know what it actually means to love Jesus. For think about the crowd in our gospel reading today – these people clearly loved Jesus, they have been flocking around him around the lakeside – but they didn’t understand him. They wanted to make him king by force so Jesus has to leave. They didn’t get the meaning of his Messiahship right, and there is a lesson for us here – so often we love our own reflection in Christ, rather than allowing Christ’s reflection in us to be born. As Christians we are called to allow ourselves to be shaped by His desires, rather than trying to shape Him according to our desires.

Context of the story: John the Baptist has been beheaded, and Jesus has withdrawn with his disciples. Yet the crowds would not leave him alone. Instead of withdrawing even further, he had compassion on them – they were "sheep without a shepherd" if you remember last week’s gospel. This episode says important things about Jesus’ character.

2 things going on: the first is to do with kosher regulations. This was a major issue at the time, the Pharisees were very concerned to ensure that all the proper regulations were followed, and your soul was in danger if you didn’t keep them. But here is a dramatic overcoming of those taboos. Bread broken and passed around – who knows what people had touched, whether they were unclean. Yet it didn’t matter.

The second and even more important miracle is the overcoming of personal relationships. There was a strong sense at the time that who you ate with defined who you were. Again, this was why the Pharisees were so offended when Jesus broke bread with sinners. Jesus ate with sinners, therefore he was a sinner too. But here, on this hillside, Jesus generated a fellowship amongst thousands of people. What a risk – you are who you eat with.

Generating solidarity amongst so many people – this was the real miracle. No hierarchies, no ranking system, no sense of some people being more important than others. No sign of Jesus going round the crowd saying 'are you worthy to eat with me?' And this is the church, the church which is formed when bread is broken together. Our gospel readings over the next few weeks will be exploring this, for this is something crucial to church identity – when Jesus says unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you. Breaking bread together is not an optional part of being a Christian – it is in fact precisely where we are trained to set aside our own desires and become part of a new community that is not of our own making, not a product of our own desires, but a product of the one who said ‘do this in remembrance of me’. The Eucharist is where we learn what it means to love Jesus, it is the school for our desire. Sharing in it is a matter of obedience to our Lord's clear command and teaching: 'it is our duty and our joy...'

The point of stories such as this is that you are moved by them to recognise the real nature of the person at the centre. Because once you see that nature, and are moved by it, then you are very close to loving it – loving Him, loving who He actually is, not a fulfilment of our fantasies, not someone determined by the desires of our egoes, but the Messiah, the Christ, the son of the living God.

In meeting Jesus we are fed food for our souls. Jesus fed the five thousand, they all ate and were satisfied. And although we were not there on the hillside in Galilee, we are here this morning, and we can meet Jesus, love Him and be fed by Him, when we break bread together.


Saturday, July 29, 2006


From yesterday afternoon. I think it looks like Ireland.


The sky had an amazing texture this afternoon.

Why I love Wittgenstein

Ben Myers has been hosting a sequence of 'why I love...' This is my offering.

“If what we do now makes no difference in the end, then all the seriousness of life is done away with” – a remark which Wittgenstein made to his friend Drury, skewering the universalist heresy. Wittgenstein was a deeply serious man, and I believe he developed insights which all theologians need to absorb. Whilst it is debatable whether he was in fact a Christian, he certainly believed in God, and infamously saw things ‘from a religious point of view’. Whilst at service on the Eastern Front in WW1, he was known as ‘the man with the gospels’, as he never went anywhere without taking Tolstoy’s summary with him. He was a rather tortured soul in terms of his sexuality, he revered Augustine (the biggest influence on his own thought - he felt the Confessions to be "the most serious book ever written"), he hated virtually all modern music (you could "hear the machinery in Mahler" for example) and he gave up all his wealth to his sisters, as he felt that they were the only people unlikely to be spoiled by it. Clearly, in a different era, he would have been a monk, possibly a hermit. I find him a compelling human being: complex, flawed, yet gripped by the claim of the divine upon his life.

What is most important about Wittgenstein intellectually is his method of philosophy, which prevents a fruitless pursuit of metaphysical ‘solutions’; more precisely, it teaches us what metaphysics actually is. As such, Wittgenstein’s method is a necessary discipline for theologians, as it prevents us from mischaracterising the nature of Christian doctrine. As he put it himself “Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For ‘consciousness of sin’ is a real event and so are despair and salvation through faith. Those who speak of such things (Bunyan for instance) are simply describing what has happened to them, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it.” Wittgenstein has had a great influence on contemporary theology, from Hauerwas to Herbert McCabe, and it seems to me to be a wholly beneficial one.

Whilst most understandings of Wittgenstein do emphasise the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of his life, I think there is a generally underappreciated current of joy. He used to relax by going to the cinema, especially enjoying Westerns – and he found this to be of value. He wrote early in 1947, ‘I have often learnt a lesson from a silly American film’ – and I believe that he watched something that year which gave him some inner peace, that allowed him to believe that his life was worth something after all. After all, his last words were ‘tell them I’ve had a wonderful life’. I like to think it was what he had in mind.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Why I worry

Davidov left an interesting comment earlier, which I'd like to say something about. He wrote: "The theory [Peak Oil] relies on the twin ideas that this will be precipitous and that it is imminent. In other words the theory expects imminent crisis. It also assumes that the human species will find this crisis so bleak that (despite having only used oil for 100 years or so) we will be unable to adapt without great suffering. There is in particular no evidence for the last proposition."

Yes Peak Oil - however optimistic you are on depletion rates - predicts something 'imminent' and 'precipitous'. In terms of human civilisation this is epochal. Even if it takes 20-25 years to halve the amount of oil (an optimistic assessment) there is no way in which to adjust to that lower-energy future without huge pain.

The single word explaining the difference between 1850 and now is: population. There are vastly more of us, and this expansion of population has been driven by access to more resources - some in terms of higher quality crops, some in terms of integrating marginal farmland, but the vast majority in terms of fossil fuel use. We use something like ten calories of fossil fuel energy per calorie of food consumed.

Much of that energy is wasted. Some can be replaced by other forms. But that we are facing something like a 50% reduction in available energy in my lifetime seems to be beyond dispute - and that means that the sustainable population, although there isn't a linear relationship, will also be reduced.

There are various ways in which this might happen. The four horsemen will probably take most away: war, pestilence, famine (death!) - but I also expect huge population movements.

I think Western countries will be insulated from much of the worst, at the beginning. We will see disasters elsewhere in the world first, as leading indicators (eg Rwanda).

Unless Iran gets dragged into the war, of course. In which case it'll happen overnight. That's probably the best that could happen to us, paradoxically enough, ie be forced to change our society whilst there is, in fact, still a cushion of fossil fuels available.

I have become more pessimistic than I was, simply because I am persuaded that a) it is happening now (look at what is happening in Saudi Arabia) - so there is no time for society as a whole to prepare, and b) the depletion rates will be comparatively high - therefore a quicker collapse.

I see twenty years of increasing warfare and slaughter ahead of us, and no possibility of release from it, until the number of people on the earth has been reduced by a quarter to a third, and the 'engines' of the world economy have shifted onto a non-fossil fuel basis.

This classes me as a Peak Oil optimist by the way. That is, I think that our present civilisation will be able to continue, not in materialistic terms, but in terms of continuity of memory. I don't think we're facing a dark age type collapse, and I think our descendants living in fifty years time will have a wonderful life. I just think we're going to suffer before we get there.

Truly, that makes me an optimist.


Thursday, July 27, 2006


Pity those who are young at that time

The Oil Drum | A Letter from the TOD Editors Box...: "I'm 24 years old and for as long as I've known what it was I've been concerned about peak oil and about the potential consequences for my country (the U.S.) and the world as a whole. The thing that keeps me up at night the most is the feeling that there is nothing I can do to stop us from sleepwalking over the edge of a cliff. ...My question is what can I, as an individual do to prepare myself to survive peak oil?"

Lots of questions and answers at The Oil Drum.

See in particular the post from Matt Savinar (AlphaMale Prophet of Doom) about a third of the way down, from which I extract this:
If the decline rate is 4%, that halves production in 17.5 years or so. On top of the usual decline rate, I think it reasonable to expect further/additional disruptions due to war/terrorism and weather. (More Katrina-type events) So that bumps it up to 6% let's say, halving the supply in 11.5 years. If the decline rate is 8% (as some have speculated) plus anohter 2-3% due to terrorism/war and weather plus then we're looking at a 50% cut in 7 years.
The 'some have speculated' is Schlumberger.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Some good articles about Israel/Lebanon...

...which will give you a sense of where I'm coming from on this.

Peter Hitchens here.

Norman Geras here.

One book

1. One book that changed your life:
Honest to God, John Robinson

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Stephen R Donaldson

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig

4. One book that made you laugh:
Wilt, Tom Sharpe

5. One book that made you cry:
Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Wittgenstein's Confessions (in the Augustinian sense)

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Anything by Ken Wilber

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Collapse, Jared Diamond

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson

(see also this post.)


Monday, July 24, 2006

Polly (not Ollie)

I realise I haven't yet introduced the other member of our household.
Polly, 34ish, probably male, but always treated as female...

Evangelical heresies

The Fire and the Rose: Anti-American Superman?

"I will keep saying it until I have no more reason to: Evangelicals are propagating more heresies today than in any other era of the church. These include a Pelagian doctrine of salvation, a unitarian doctrine of God, a docetic christology and Bible, a gnostic doctrine of eschatology, and a Constantinian doctrine of church-state relations—which, by the way, was what led the German church to support Hitler. Do I really need to unpack these in more detail? I am afraid that I will have to, since I doubt most realize how much the American evangelical sector has capitulated to these grave heresies and called it 'a personal relationship with Jesus.'"

(HT Byron)


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Friday, July 21, 2006

Now this is truly scary (the second half, of course)

David Peebles Williamson: "This system channels power of an almost unprecedented scale into a single human being. The Prime Minister can launch nuclear weapons and name the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion."

OK, compare and contrast, and then contemplate the future

First read this;
Then read this (HT Arts and Letters Daily).

How far is feminism (by which I mean, women must be more manly than the man) a construct of temporary energy abundance, and how much sadness in men is due to women being socially constructed out of what they actually want (and what men actually want)?

OK, now that my neanderthal leanings have been rubbed in, let me recommend this book. Not unreservedly, but I do suspect that the majority of women in the Anglo-Saxon sphere have been sold damaged goods. I suspect Scripture really does have something timeless to say on the subject....

Superman Returns

Very enjoyable, on the whole very good - some elements of the direction were impressive - but not quite the whole banana. Could just be that I don't rate Superman that highly as a superhero - too much of the boy scout compared to Batman - but after an excellent first half I found the second half underwhelming.

However, some cracking moments contained within, my favourite being right at the beginning, with the destruction of the train set (pic above). That was truly sinister, a wonderful piece of cinema - not surprising that the rest seemed less exciting after that. (It would have perfectly set up some real city destruction as the film's concluding drama - as it was, the creation of a new island was rather bathetic.)

Worth watching though. Spacey is excellent.


Dancing clouds.

I'm aware that I've been unusually quiet - simply because I've been unusually busy. Lots of things that I want to write about, as soon as I get the chance. Did get to see Superman yesterday though - next post for a brief thought or two.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Go read! Go vote!

Faith and Theology: New poll: the worst liturgical invention:

This was tough for me. I don't (necessarily) have a problem with Banners on the Walls - that could be good - and liturgical dance I think is in principle marvellous, just abominable in practice; powerpoint sermons - can work, if the rest of the setup is also hypermodern. But choosing between the last two options... now that was hard.


Just another beautiful morning.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I've got no time for trendy leftie peaceniks

The Anglican vicar of Baghdad: "I can cope very well with orthodoxy - Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox - I can cope with Anglo-Catholicism, evangelicalism, charismatics. I just can't cope with the woolly liberal bit in the middle that doesn't believe much."



Saturday, July 15, 2006


Truth be told this picture was taken on Thursday afternoon (although I took my camera with me this morning, I was so distracted I forgot to snap anything. Fairly standard bright summer morning...)

As this has a nuclear power station, and the track of a jet-ski, I call it 'this too will pass'.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Manifesto by The Rev. William R. Coats

Turning Things Upside Down: A Manifesto by The Rev. William R. Coats: "There are forces at work that would destroy this church in order to establish another church on these new grounds. In that sense, to fight for the Episcopal church against the Windsor process is to fight anew for the Gospel."

Very interesting - do go and read it.

Incomplete thoughts on perspective and context

The beginning of the film 'Contact' provoked awe when I first watched it, on a trip to Boston in 1997. It is the ultimate in pull-back shots, beginning from the surface of the earth and just going back, and back, and back, and back. Out of the solar system, past the heliosphere, through the Milky Way, beyond the point where our galaxy is just a small dot in a haze of other galaxies. I had thought that I had a good sense for the scale of the universe, but when I lost my sense of depth about three-quarters of the way through the sequence, I realised that I had been deluding myself. The sense of scale that we need to try to comprehend when we consider our position in the universe is quite possibly unattainable to the human mind. Our Galaxy, the Milky Way (above), has some 400 billion stars. There may be 125 billion galaxies in the universe. There are probably more stars than there are grains of sand on earth. I find these numbers meaninglessly large. Perhaps we need Monty Python to help us through:

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go 'round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.
Contemplation of these facts provokes some questions - and perhaps a little smile. "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" The Christian understanding of the world was born in an environment radically different to the one that we inhabit today. What are the implications of this shift for Christian faith?

In traditional terms, Christians look forward to the resurrection of the dead on the last day. This says something very important about our bodily future - that our existence as embodied beings now will somehow be recognised on that last day. Also in traditional terms, that last day will come after the apocalypse, when the last trump shall sound, the anti-christ shall be overthrown and Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. The early Christians - such as Paul, who writes about this in his letter to the Thessalonians - believed that this last judgement would happen in their lifetimes. Of course, we are still waiting.

This hope or expectation of a last judgement is something which has been of great comfort to many believers over the years, and I would not wish to argue against it. What I would say, however, is that it is not something which I find moving - it is not something that reaches into my heart, it is not something that makes a difference to how I shape my life.

As well as the difference in size of the universe that we are living in, there is a difference in the scale of time of comparable scale. When the church was getting established, it was considered that the world was created, in roughly the form it has now, some few thousand years ago - and it's end would be a similar number of years in the future. Whereas now consider that in fact the earth was created some 4.6 billion years ago, the universe perhaps some 15 billion years ago, and we do not have any conception of when it will end, if indeed that question has meaning.

My point is to do with the 'background drama' against which we might understand the story of Jesus of Nazareth. The early church placed that story in the setting of their culture, and we must do the same. Our culture has radically changed its conception of time and space, and our understanding of the significance of Jesus must change too.

It is rather as if we were watching a Punch and Judy show, and we were caught up in the drama, and that small stage bounded our world. And suddenly we were pulled back to see that this stage was placed in the centre circle at Wembley Stadium - the story just doesn't have the same imaginative impact any more. And then we are pulled back to a satellite orbiting above London, and really the question of what is going on in the Punch and Judy show on some grass in North West London has to do something really rather remarkable if it is going to attract our attention. And the camera keeps pulling back.

Our imaginations, in terms of time and space, are set to a different scale. And my imagination is engaged more by an episode of Star Trek than by a consideration of who will be Left Behind. Perhaps the apocalypse will come, the last trumpet will sound, and the four horsemen will come riding out. Or perhaps not. I am quite confident that it will not happen in my life time, and that, if, at the end of all things my Lord raises me up, I shall indeed be delighted.

I don’t believe that Christians have yet begun to explore this difference, not to a substantial degree. That may await my generation and after – those who were born after Armstrong had walked on the moon. We are in a different place now; the old language and habits don’t have the same purchase any more. Yet the Christian claim is that Jesus shows us what it means to be human - and what is the nature of God. I believe He will do so for as long as there are human beings.

Let us be human. We cannot be anything else. Perhaps the key thing is that we are open-ended, and our futures are not yet determined for us.

Peak oil appeal from Soil Association

Peak oil appeal | Making change (campaigns) | Get involved | Soil Association: "The Soil Association, with the support of its members, is determined to press home the case for the rapid expansion of the only clear alternative: organic farming, linked to local food supplies."

I'm delighted that the Soil Association have thrown their weight behind this. For non-UK readers, the Soil Association is the principal organic food watchdog, which has a very high reputation. The fact that they are fully signed up to Peak Oil, and are pursuing the local agenda, is great news.

Less good news is that Mersea Town Council have approved the Tesco store planned for Barfield Road. How sad.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Zidane. Genius. L'Homme.

I remember the time when Cantona rebelled against the insults directed at him by a cretin. There is something essential about rebellion, about acknowledging that there are boundaries to what can be said. I am aware that this contradicts what I believe about scandal and offence. Yet even so, I shall continue to esteem Zidane as a man, un vrai homme.
"What is a rebel? A man who says no: but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes as soon as he begins to think for himself. A slave who has taken orders all his life, suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying 'no'?....
"In every rebellion, the man concerned experiences not only a feeling of revulsion at the infringement of his rights but also a complete and spontaneous loyalty to certain aspects of himself. Thus he implicitly brings into play a standard of values so far from being false that he is willing to preserve them at all costs...
"Resentment is always resentment against oneself. The rebel, on the other hand, from his very first step, refuses to allow anyone to touch what he is. He is fighting for the integrity of one part of his being.
"Rebellion is the common ground on which every man bases his first values. I rebel - therefore we exist."
From 'The Rebel', written by another Algerian-French footballer, Albert Camus.


Monday, July 10, 2006


I have realised something part 2: I completely forgot to post this this morning.

Yesterday we had a chap from the Leprosy Mission as guest preacher at the 9:30 and 11:00am services. At the 11am service I was half way through introducing him when I completely forgot his name. My mind just went blank.

Apparently senior moments are contagious. I must start spending less time with my pensioner friends ;-)

I have realised something...

It is not Ollie who needs the walks the most.
(Picture taken 22nd April 06)

To the river I am going
Bringing sins I cannot bear
Come and cleanse me come forgive me
Lord I need to meet You there

In these waters healing mercy
Flows with freedom from despair
I am going to that river
Lord I need to meet You there

Precious Jesus I am ready
To surrender every care
Take my hand now lead me closer
Lord I need to meet You there

Come and join us in the river
Come find life beyond compare
He is calling He is waiting
Jesus longs to meet You there

(Brian Doerksen)

Catholicism trumps liberalism

Comment is free: Sowing the seeds of change: "Catholicism trumps liberalism"

A very interesting article from Theo Hobson, which gets things wrong in a provocative way (especially the Abraham comparison). I think he is right about the near term analysis, ie that liberalism is 'dead and buried' - but I think he gets the bigger picture profoundly wrong (he's also wrong in accusing Radical Orthodoxy of being a part of the liberal Anglo-Catholic stream - that might be Don Cupitt's analysis, but it's rather fervently disputed by the RO themselves!). By the way, his 'Father Giles' is a thinly disguised reference to Giles Fraser, who is himself always worth reading (and almost as often worth disagreeing with).

Where Hobson has something interesting to say is in pointing out the tension between a Catholic understanding of authority and the liberal tradition - the liberal tradition being derived from Protestantism, where both place primacy on individual will and understanding. What has happened is that the wider Modern culture has so reinforced that tendency that it became a distorted parody of itself, lacking any place for humility before the truth, and some sense of Christian solidarity - which is why Protestantism dissipates into the ten thousand things. A Catholic sense of authority - healthily understood, for even in Catholicism the individual conscience is paramount - is one that gives more weight to church tradition, and therefore tempers the arrogance latent in Protestantism, that the individual is in a position to know better than the church as a whole. It can happen - I think that Luther was right to Protest - but the onus is on the one seeking to overthrow the church tradition to show why. And as Rowan has put it, genuinely prophetic action has costly consequences.

What the liberals in TEC seem not to be able to supply is an argument properly grounded in theology for taking the stance that they do (see Oliver O'Donovan on this here). This is where Rowan is most seriously misread by the liberals, for he was never 'one of them' in placing individual opinion so recklessly ahead of the gathered consensus (which is why he keeps emphasising that full understanding of the truth requires unity). I'm quite sure Rowan still holds the same views about homosexuality etc that he has always held; what has changed is that he has taken on the office and authority of ABC and he has a profoundly Catholic (ie correct!) understanding of what that involves - that individual opinion comes second to the authority of the church. Not always - conscience does NOT have to be violated - simply a recognition that "I MIGHT BE WRONG" - and that the Spirit works through the church to lead it into truth - we therefore trust the process, and trust the church.

Where I most disagree with Hobson, however, is that the liberal tradition (in the CofE) is 'dead' - although he himself retreats a little with his final remarks. If you accept the classical Anglican understanding of authority (Richard Hooker's) , it is a 'three legged stool' - and needs all three elements to stand fast. So we can picture this as a triangle, with each corner representing one of the 'legs' (I'm equating liberal and 'reason' here). The church as a whole, and individual believers on their own path of spiritual growth, can move or emphasise one leg of the stool more at one time, and another at a different time. In other words there is a progression around the legs. A healthy progression is centripetal, ie it remains focussed on Christ, and tends towards the unity and integrity where all three elements are in harmony. An unhealthy progression comes when an aspect is emphasised at the expense of the centre, and there is centrifugal force, which destroys the unity and harmony of the whole.

This is a quick sketch of what I have in mind:

So there is a place for each 'strand', and the health comes from the recognition of the essential unity of all three strands in Christ; where things go wrong - and where some elements go zooming off into the outer darkness - is when the different corners lose touch with their opposite areas. At that time, the Spirit becomes most active, and rebalances the church as a whole. This is why, at the moment, the most interesting theological and ecclesiological work is taking place at the borderline between the Catholic and the Evangelical (things like 'deep church').

Liberalism won't die - or at least, it WILL die, but only to be resurrected. It has an essential part to play in the balance of the church, it is thoroughly incarnational and engaged with the world, but what it has forgotten at this time is that the church is to be in, but not of, the world.

There is something precious in this Anglican hermeneutic, and it is worth defending. Thanks be to God for Rowan! He knows these things. Trust him. The Lord is with him.


UPDATE: see this from the Archbishop of Cape Town, discussing "the rich heartlands of Anglicanism – the solid centre, focussed on Jesus Christ, to which we are constantly drawn back by the counterbalancing pull of the other strands, if any one threatens to become disproportionately influential."

Sibboleth: To hell with symbols...

Sibboleth: To hell with symbols...: "Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.

That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable."

I have to get acquainted with Flannery O'Connor.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Avoidance and procrastination

I am presently avoiding writing a sermon; my mind doesn't have enough energy to engage the issues - might have to be a 'get-up-early-and-rely-on-the-adrenaline' sort of sermon.

Had a lovely afternoon with a family from the parish that we are friendly with. One of those occasions when the question is 'is this work?' Of course, the answer is: clergy don't 'work'. We simply are.

Lots of blog posts rumbling around in the back of my mind, but haven't had a chance to put anything up substantial:
- picking up on Neil's comment about Sola Scriptura, and secularisation;
- a review of Daniel Quinn's 'Story of B', which was very interesting, but seriously flawed in its understanding of faith (the mistakes are instructive);
- a bit more on 'let us be human';
- a sequence of posts called 'Wrestling with George Herbert' about clergy roles (expanding my throw away remark above);
- Why I love Wittgenstein;
- why I disapprove of the feast of Corpus Christi;
and one or two less well defined others.

And I thought I'd share this picture taken today. Apparently I look just like my dad.

I love this place.
I love this job.
I love my family.
I am a lucky man.

Thanks be to God.


On the swing

Swing courtesy of Sam's mum; assembled by Mrs Sam.

Preaching Peace: GW's Theological Politics

Preaching Peace: GW's Theological Politics: "As Kierkegaard might remind us, There is an expression of Christianity that is not Christian. What does any of this new ideology have to do with Jesus? How can Jesus be exegeted out of the gospels as a capitalist, believer in a vengeful God, upholder of the status quo, all around good ol boy? Is this an authentic expression of the Jesus who is Lord of and in the church? Or, perhaps might we want to consider that Johannine metaphor 'antichrist?'"


Thursday, July 06, 2006


There may not be a TBTM tomorrow as I am away overnight. If not, there will be something...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The funeral procession

I went to Liverpool Street yesterday evening, to meet up with some friends. Haven't been into London for a while, and you forget quite how strange it is to see all these people looking so stressed.

It reminded me of something from Pirsig's ZMM:
After a while Sylvia sits down on the wooden picnic bench and straightens out her legs, lifting one at a time slowly without looking up. Long silences mean gloom for her, and I comment on it. She looks up and then looks down again.

"It was all those people in the cars coming the other way," she says. "The first one looked so sad. And then the next one looked exactly the same way, and then the next one and the next one, they were all the same."

"They were just commuting to work."

She perceives well but there was nothing unnatural about it. "Well, you know, work," I repeat. "Monday morning. Half asleep. Who goes to work Monday morning with a grin?"

"It's just that they looked so lost," she says. "Like they were all dead. Like a funeral procession." Then she puts both feet down and leaves them there.