Monday, January 31, 2011

Black Swan, and other film notes

Black Swan 5/5 Superb - and there's enough being said about it already, so I won't add much. It was very much my sort of film.
Please Give 4.5/5 Oestrogen-heavy, absorbing, perceptive, humane.
Jennifer's Body 4/5 Brilliant script
The A Team 5/5 if only all action comedies were this delightful - 'they're flying the tank!'
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief 3/5 (barely) some good moments but a travesty of the book
Napoleon Dynamite 2/5 The PS3 has this excellent 'watch at 1.5 speed' button, keeping the sound, which I made extensive use of. The dance sequence was a good moment, but I found it too misanthropic on the whole.
Point Break (rewatch) 3.5/5 Bodhi!
The Joneses 4/5 witty critique of materialism
Painted Veil 4.9/5 a really wonderful film, beautifully shot and well acted, that falls short of 5/5 because I would quibble with the ending. Highly recommended though.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

WM giving and thanksgiving service

I've put up on my sermons blog my address from this morning's special service at West Mersea, on giving and thanksgiving (basically about tithing). Probably of interest to Mersea people only!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

TBTM20110126


Happiness is a moment of grace
The life of a modern seaman
Why 3D doesn't work and never will
The churches are pathetic, weak and cowardly

I've been rather unwell :( but I'm on the mend. I've got a very big weekend coming up, after that I want to resume some conversations, especially about the ordinariate and the future of the CofE.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Ordinariate: more consequential for the RC than the CofE

So we now have The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. I can't help but think that the consequences of this will not be anything like what is expected by the Vatican or their cheerleaders.

Consider that, in Roman Catholic theological terms, three lay men were ordained as priests without having to go through seminary or be committed to celibacy. What, therefore, is the theological justification for either of those presumed requirements when other candidates for the priesthood present themselves? In reality, what the decision shows is that the Catholic hierarchy do in fact give some substance to ministry conducted in the Anglican church - that is, in practice, the hierarchy do not see Anglican orders as 'null and void'. The perpetuation of that canard is a wholly political practice, without spiritual substance, as has now been proven by these ordinations. In an environment when there is a very large practical rejection of hierarchical teaching and authority by RC laity in the British Isles, most especially with regard to the insistence on clerical celibacy, I cannot but see long term consequences from this action that undermine what Benedict is trying to achieve.

Whereas the CofE can only benefit. 'Flying bishops' caused all sorts of ongong problems for the CofE and the one thing that the Ordinariate has done is remove that ecclesiastical anomaly. Forward in Faith was only ever one branch of Anglo-Catholicism and I now hope and pray that, freed from internecine strife, the remaining Anglo-Catholics can simply get on with expressing their strand of Anglican life unashamedly. There is still a great deal of theological work to be done - but that work is joyful work.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The authority of Scripture

First published: 19/12/07
Archbishop Rowan - peace be upon him - says in his Advent letter "a full relationship of communion will mean... The common acknowledgment that we stand under the authority of Scripture as 'the rule and ultimate standard of faith', in the words of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; as the gift shaped by the Holy Spirit which decisively interprets God to the community of believers and the community of believers to itself and opens our hearts to the living and eternal Word that is Christ. Our obedience to the call of Christ the Word Incarnate is drawn out first and foremost by our listening to the Bible and conforming our lives to what God both offers and requires of us through the words and narratives of the Bible. We recognise each other in one fellowship when we see one another 'standing under' the word of Scripture. Because of this recognition, we are able to consult and reflect together on the interpretation of Scripture and to learn in that process. Understanding the Bible is not a private process or something to be undertaken in isolation by one part of the family. Radical change in the way we read cannot be determined by one group or tradition alone."

Sadly I'm coming to see that I don't agree with this. This post explains why - and it ties in with a conversation about fundamentalism that John, Doug and some others have been having. This is really a post about my view of Scripture, and it'll overlap with some of my recent Learning Church talks.


I think the first and most important thing to say, and the root of my disagreement with Rowan's letter, is that I don't see Scripture as my highest authority; I don't see Scripture as "the rule and ultimate standard of faith"; and I don't see Scripture as that which "decisively interprets God to the community" (my italics). To be honest, I'm surprised to hear that from Rowan, but there is a fair bit of evidence that his views have developed over the last several years.

Now why am I saying this? Am I turning into a liberal backslider? I really don't think so. It's more that I start from a different place - and a place that I described when discussing the Chicago Statement of Faith. I see Jesus Christ as the Word of God; the Word Incarnate; the Word made Flesh. And I understand 'word' to be a mere shadow of what is meant by the untranslatably rich word λογοσ - so all of the emphases relating to all things being created through him and nothing being made without him are very real and meaningful to me. Now I see that Word - the living Christ - as the highest authority, the Lord to which we are subject, and I have difficulty with something other than that Lord being put in his place! Which seems to be what Rowan's language is doing.

Strangely enough I consider myself to have a high view of Scripture. I would want to talk about the authority of Scripture, and I would want to flesh that out with some description of what it means to live under the authority of Scripture. So, for example, I would want to say that Scripture is a) the principal witness to the Incarnation - and thereby an irreplaceable source for how we know Jesus (and that not being restricted to the Gospels, or even the New Testament); b) independent of my own preferences; and c) something which has the capacity to question and interrogate me, and overthrow my self-delusions. Yet what is often missed is that Scripture testifies about itself that it refers beyond itself. The point of Scripture isn't that we get to know Scripture, it's that we get to know Jesus, that we get to know the God who is revealed in Jesus. When this part of the process gets missed then we are stuck with the Pharisees who spend time searching the Scriptures and don't realise what they are for.

What this means is that Scripture neither captures nor controls Jesus. It is of supreme importance, but it doesn't have a lock on the living Christ. I believe that there are two other ways in which Christ can be known. I don't believe that these ways conflict with Scripture - that is, they needn't conflict with the proverbial 'right interpretation' of Scripture - but when Scripture is absolutised in this way then these other forms are needlessly, and recklessly, diminished.

The first way is through the community of the church, most particularly the sacramentally shaped community. Jesus said that wherever two or three were gathered in his name, there would he be in the midst of them. He also said that those who loved Him and obeyed Him would abide in Him, and the Father would make his home with them. This seems to me to describe an independent access to Jesus and the Father, one which is not mediated by Scripture. The community comes first; the praxis of the community drives the formation of the language which shapes and structures the community; and then Scripture captures that language and records it for posterity. Yet the life is not reduced thereby - it remains independent. I believe that Jesus can be known - and his life can be shared, in fact it IS shared - by a community gathered in His name which is concerned to love Him and obey Him. That community will undoubtedly revere Scripture, yet it need not give to Scripture the role which Rowan describes. Jesus will be found in such a community - he will be known in the breaking of the bread - and that knowing is not circumscribed by Scripture, however much the knowing in one way is interpenetrated by the knowing otherwise.

There is also, I believe, a third way in which Jesus is known - and that is by direct revelation. This need not be Road-to-Damascus style dramatics, it may be simply a long, slow dawning realisation that 'here is Christ', or 'this is what Christ requires of me'. Jesus told us that at Pentecost the Spirit would come to give us all that is from Him, and that the Spirit would lead us into all truth. In other words the disciples around him did not have all truth. I don't believe we yet have 'all truth', though I am sure we are more deeply embedded in it. Neither Scripture nor the community can capture the Spirit, for it blows wherever it will - but it will accomplish all that Jesus promised it would.

So I believe that there are three ways in which one can relate to the living Christ at this present time - and I do not believe that Scripture can be so construed as to become hegemonic over the other two.

Let us return to my triangle, which I have amended:



The origin for this triangle was Hooker's three legged stool, which I've always understood as the 'classic' Anglican approach, but I've made two explicit changes to it as I don't take Hooker to have the last word(!). I have changed the word 'tradition' to the word 'community' to better reflect the nature of that field. I could have used the word 'church' instead, for that is what I am thinking of but I think that the word 'community' is less ambiguous and question-begging. (I also think that Scripture is itself a tradition!) Secondly, I have changed the word 'reason' to the word 'culture'. I was never happy with 'reason' as the third element as reason is simply a tool not a source of authority, and as time has gone on it hasn't captured what that third strand is really about (neither does "experience" which seems to be to be irretrievably compromised by Enlightenment metaphysics, but that's a whole other story). What seems to be at stake in the third strand is what it means for the community informed by Scripture to incarnate in a particular time and place - not simply what is it to be faithful to Christ, and bear his witness in Scripture and Community, but what is it to be faithful to Christ here and now, in this place and this time, with these people holding these beliefs?

So I see these three sources of authority - in other words, these three ways in which the living Christ can be known - as both interdependent and themselves subject to Jesus himself, who is represented by the yellow area at the centre. I was asked, when discussing this in my lectures, about mysticism, and where it fitted in. Mysticism is the yellow area - it is where our path of discipleship is tending - it is where Christ lives in us and we live in him - and each part of the triangle is capable of leading us there.

No area of the triangle can preclude access to Christ from anywhere else and - possibly more importantly - each of the areas need the others if they are to have a full understanding of Him. The outer 'spikes' represent what happens when one of the areas believes it can travel alone. So the outer green represents fundamentalism; the outer blue represents a dead tradition and ritualism; the outer red represents the logical culmination of liberalism in atheism and cultural collapse.

The mid-points also represent something.

Firstly, opposite the red cultural area is a mid-point between tradition and community. This I see as 'conservative' Christianity, opposed to innovation, concerned to safeguard the faith that we have inherited; as opposed to the opposite side which might be seen as the 'liberal' emphasis in the faith - that which is most concerned to be understood in the culture as it actually exists.

Secondly, opposite the blue community area is a mid-point between scripture and culture. I see this as charismatic Christianity, concerned to express the living reality of worship and being filled with the Spirit; as opposed to the blue Anglo-Catholic area (where I would situate myself) which is most concerned to carry forward the gifts, blessings and commands which Christ gave to his body, the church.

Finally, opposite the green area is a mid-point between culture and community. I see this as liberal Catholicism - Affirming Catholicism territory - which seeks to renovate the inherited traditions of the church in such a way that babies are not discarded with bathwater; as opposed to the green Scriptural area which is concerned to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture, the Word of God written down for our instruction, God-breathed and useful. This tensional line, between the liberal Catholic and the Scriptural is clearly the one presently dividing our Communion, however differently it is described elsewhere (in other words, it's not simply a conservative-liberal argument).

We need all the different elements in order to be complete.

Which is why I have real problems with Rowan's letter, and the language he uses - however well supported and affirmed they might be within Scripture and the tradition of Anglicanism. What Rowan seems to have done is exclude any way in which Christ might make himself known in a new way. For undoubtedly Christ does do so, and sometimes we are called and commanded to change both how we interpret Scripture and how the community functions; that is, even when Scripture and tradition are unanimous on a matter, that is still not sufficient to capture Christ. That happened with regard to slavery; it is in the process of happening with regard to women's ministry. The argument at present is whether it should happen with regard to homosexuality. What Rowan seems to have done, through using the language that he has, is made such a development impossible, given the form of authority that he here recognises.

My qualm is not that the changes that TEC have made are necessarily right (though I become more persuaded that they are, however many tactical qualms I have) - it is more that the schema that Rowan here endorses precludes the possibility of change as such. I can't believe that Rowan intended this wider consequence, but nor can I see a way for the Spirit - understood as potentially conflicting with "Scripture" and "Tradition" - to be allowed to lead us into all truth.

One final aspect to all this. I feel as if I am at one and the same time finally becoming a Protestant, in the sense of abandoning catholic ecclesiology, at the same time as realising that Protestantism is an historical phase which is coming to an end. In that latter sense it is not a matter of ecclesiology but of culture, of relationships to texts and the written word, which was dominant in North-Western Europe for (say) five hundred years from the invention of the printing press to the invention of the cathode ray tube. I don't believe that a Christian living in the contemporary world can ever have the same attitude to Scripture - indeed, to any text - as would have felt so natural as to be unobservable in the Modern era.

So I am a little troubled by the way my thoughts have gone. Yet I simply can't see Scripture in the way that Rowan seems to require, and I suspect that I am not alone in this. So I shall continue to worry and fret about the choices that will soon be imposed upon us, yet my mind is also gaining clarity as to what is at stake, and therefore what is right. Above all, I shall continue to trust in Him who is my highest authority, revealed to me in Scripture and through my sacramental community, and who wishes for me to reveal Him here, and now, on Mersea.



Who or what is worship for?

This is by way of a quick commentary on a video that Banksy has posted (tying in with some conversations that we've been having). Here's the vid:



I would very much want to endorse the second half of the vid, especially the link between pastoral care and the leading of worship (that's why you can't have lay presidency - doh!) and the fact that, if you pitch worship towards people who aren't members, then the worship doesn't have integrity.

However...

I think the first part of the vid is one-sided (not untrue, just not the whole picture). Who is worship for? That is, what is the centre of gravity? The centre of gravity must be God, otherwise it is not worship, it is entertainment, some form of self-stimulation. Worship must have (MUST) have an irredeemably other, prophetic and even judgemental quality about it. It is a fearful thing to come into the presence of the living God.

It is therefore perfectly legitimate for worship to be found strange, off-putting, weird or bizarre to begin with. If the worship is real, if the Spirit is present, then the worship won't just be strange, it will be strangely attractive, and people will be enabled to enter into and share in the mystery. This may require that worship does not change with contemporary fads, it means resisting a collapse into worldliness, it means giving a full respect and weight to worship that has been found valid through time, what CS Lewis called 'Deep Church'.

However... that being said, the speaker on the video does have a point. It is perfectly possible for worship to lose touch with the Spirit through being embedded too far in its own fundament(als). The word that I have found useful for striking the right balance between a worldly trendiness that lacks God-centred integrity, and a broken down ruin that has only memories of the divine glory, is this: enable. Right worship enables the congregation to come into the presence of God. There is no set way of achieving this - all sorts of ways can 'work' - it depends entirely on the gathered believers, which is why the second half of the video is spot on.

The question is: what will enable THIS community of believers, gathered together, to worship God in Spirit and in Truth? What will enable them to enter into the great mystery of faith, in a way which feeds their soul and enables them to access spiritual medicine? The answers change according to time and context...

See also:
Tearing Down the Curtain
The Role of Music in Worship

TBTM20110119



I have updated my Articles blog with the last few Courier pieces, which may be of some interest (there's one - the third one down - on Wikileaks).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

PS3 Notes

It occurs to me that, just as I use the blog as a way of listing the films that I watch (watched the A-Team last night - much, much better than I expected, will probably end up being one of my favourites of the year) so too should I keep track of the games that I play on the PS3 - many fewer than the films as they take much longer to play! So I'll probably do this once or twice a year. It also lets me watch films in blu-ray...

So since getting the PS3 last summer, I have played through:
BioShock 2 - possibly not quite as good as #1 but my favourite game so far (and what I bought the PS3 for)
Arkham Asylum - stopped before the end, got bored with it, far too linear
Heavy Rain - very very interesting, the shape of things to come
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - quite fun
Red Dead Redemption - very interesting, but the last third was not quite up to the standard of the earlier elements. Great if you like Westerns (which I do)
And I am about to finish Dead Space, which I'm enjoying, but it's not a patch on Bioshock.

I suspect that what novels were to the 19th century, and movies were to the 20th, games will be to the 21st.

Random Album


via Phil

1. Go to Wikipedia & hit random. The first article you get is the name of your band.
2. Go to quotationspage.com & hit random quotes. The last 4 or 5 words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your album.
3. Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”. The 3rd picture no matter what it is, will be your album cover.
4. Use photoshop or similar (picnik.com is a free online photo editor) to put it all together.

If you read this, you are tagged.
Confession - I had to cheat a little on #3 as Flickr wouldn't let me download the picture, so I went to Google, searched for 'random image' and went for something that seemed to fit...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Film notes

Megamind 3/5 Quite fun
Clash of the Titans (remake) 3/5 OK
The Red Riding Trilogy 5/5 Stunning. Re-read 'From Hell' at the same time as watching through these - my head has been in a very dark place!
Gone Baby Gone 5/5 One of the best crime dramas I have ever seen, principally because of the exploration of moral character. Well done Ben Affleck.
Ghostbusters 3/5 - mainly watched again to entertain the kids (successfully)
Inkheart - 3/5 hmmmm
Collapse - 4/5 much better than expected, especially as a film

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Five Favourite Bond Films

I love Bond films. I have the complete remastered DVD collection. Doubtless in ten years time I'll splash out on the blu-ray version (or whatever has replaced them by then). My earliest memory of a Bond film is watching Goldfinger when I was about six or seven, and arguing with my parents about the correct way to pronounce 'Sean'. Strangely, though I think Connery is pretty much the best Bond, none of his films are in my top five....

5. Licence to Kill - an underrated gem, with Dalton being believably vicious. It seems like every new Bond promises to 'go back to basics' and bring some needed edge to the role, in other words, they show how far Roger Moore completely dominated perceptions.

4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service - clearest memory of this is watching it on a very small black and white TV when on holiday in Dittisham - and for a long time I thought the film had been shot in black and white! Good for all sorts of reasons.

3. Goldeneye - Bond had been missed, and he definitely came back with a bang. The tank chase is one of the best chases in all the films, a great opening sequence, Sean Bean as a rogue OO, and Famke Janssen...

2. The Spy Who Loved Me - first Bond that I saw at the cinema; Jaws; the Lotus; the tanker that swallowed up submarines - established a template for me in that the Bonds before this are, for me, 'old' ones; after this I kept up to date. Which brings me to

Friday, January 07, 2011

Chelmsford Diocesan policy on the Ordinariate

Clergy in the Chelmsford Diocese have received an Ad Clerum from Bishop Stephen relating to the Ordinariate, which seems to me to be graciously robust. Key points:

- +Stephen is seeking 'clarity and generosity'
- those entering the ordinariate are leaving the Church of England, therefore clergy need to formally resign
- parsonage houses will not be transferred
- "we will... move quickly to make new appointments" to the relevant parishes
- +Stephen is open to shared use of church buildings, but not on Sunday mornings as this will "not serve the need for clarity"
- those parishes that have been withholding their parish share have been acting dishonourably, and +Stephen asks for the withheld moneys to be paid back - "Without this it will be all the harder to have the generous conversations we hope for".

Good stuff.

TBTM20110107



Why so many animals evolved to masturbate. You will never look at a squirrel in the same way again.

"Next year's wars" - ie 2011

How government failure caused the great recession

The Morris Minor: a British miracle

RSS is dying, and you should be worried. (If it was dying, I would be, I rely on it!)

A public voice for private virtue.

The way out of Afghanistan.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (h/t Lesley)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Five Favourite Horror Films

5. Saw

In my teens - when I tended to read horror novels rather than watch horror films - I was very struck by a Stephen King short story (might have been a Richard Bachmann one) about a man left on a desert island who literally started to eat himself in order to survive. The question of how far a person is prepared to go in order to survive is one that I find very interesting (have to discuss that with my therapist!) and this film is the definitive exploration of the theme. The sequels are dreck, the 'influenced' films - like Hostel - are even worse.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

One of the earliest horror films I saw, at a very impressionable age (I'd guess 15 or so). The central conceit is excellent - Don't fall asleep! - and there are plenty of genuinely scary moments, but the reason why it abides in my mind is the ending, when Nancy turns her back on Freddie, thereby denuding him of power. Profoundly true...

3. An American Werewolf in London

This was the first horror film I can recall watching - at about age 12 (yes, much too young) - and it gave me all sorts of nightmares for ages. Yet, as with that scab that you can't help picking at, I have returned to this film periodically over time in order to slowly overcome that dread. It contains one of the scariest sequences I've ever seen (the repeated dream) and it's also very funny.

2. Land of the Dead

This was the first Romero I ever watched, and sparked an interest in the zombie genre which is ongoing (I loved The Walking Dead - I'll have to read the comic). Again, it is the conceptual weight which makes the movie - the vision of rich people in a gated community, holding back the eager hordes whilst they seek to preserve an illusory existence. Prophetic stuff.

1. The Exorcist

Well what else would it be? Despite some of the OTT schlock, a profoundly orthodox work which treats the material seriously. What the devil seeks is for us to see people as ugly, and that is the direction to which all his temptations tend. The faith wins a victory when it sees as Christ sees - and that is what despatches the devil to his den.


Of course, these are subject to change over time, and an old one - like The Shining - might squeeze in. Let the Right One in will probably get in there before long (haven't rewatched it yet).

Sunday, January 02, 2011