The Future of the Church or Choruses from the ‘Rock’ Part III: Whitterings, December 2006


Choruses from the ‘Rock’ Part III

In my last article we examined what we as a church have to offer the modern world. We have already seen that we offer a life lived with meaning and we offer loving communities as a home and a family. We have not yet explored our greatest gift.

I believe our chief ‘product’, to use business language, is not meaning or community but holiness. We offer a path towards truth. We offer houses placed apart for the beauty of holiness and the stillness of the Presence of God. We offer liturgies that seek to approach the unapproachable.
“The higher Christian churches – where, if anything, I belong – come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.” Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

We offer a place outside of the chronos of time that echoes with eternity. We offer houses and communities of prayer and transcendence. A way to hear, a space in which God can do ‘more than we can ask or imagine’. We offer the continuation of thousands of years of patience and perseverance in prayer. We offer hope.

“We thank Thee for the lights we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured panes of win-
dows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured frescoes.
Are gaze is submarine, our eyes look upwards
And see the lights that fracture through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes
O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!

We are children quickly tired: children that are up in the night
And fall asleep as the rocket is fired; and the day is long
For work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad
To sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night
And the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light
And relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.

And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we
May set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision
Is made.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza X

Eliot makes clear that if there is no such place and family of holiness there will be no real community. In his view true community is made up of those who are committed to something greater than themselves and not those drawn together for mutual gain or support. For example, a true Christian marriage is not a relationship in which each focuses on the other. Rather it is a relationship in which both focus on God and vow to walk the path towards Him together. So it is with a true Christian community. We await the coming of Christ in our midst, revealing Himself in one another and in the Sacraments. Often he will come, as Albert Schweitzer puts it “as one unknown’. If we are not looking for Him we will not see Him when he comes amongst us.

“I have loved the beauty of thy house, the peace of thy sanctuary,
I have swept the floors and garnished the alters.
Where there is no temple there shall be no homes,
Though you have shelters and institutions,
Precarious lodgings while the rent is paid,
Subsiding basements where the rat breeds
Or sanitary dwellings with numbered doors
Or a house a little better than your neighbours;
When the Stranger says: “what is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “this is a community”?
And the Stranger will depart and return to the desert.
O my soul, be prepared for the coming of the stranger,
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

Though you forget the way of the Temple,
There is one who remembers the way to your door;
Life you may evade but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza III

So who are we, we who seek a way to witness to a darkening world? What do we have to offer? How are we to begin to rebuild His church?

“Why should men love the Church? Why should they love
Her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard and hard where
They like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be

Good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be.
And the Son of Man was not crucified once for all,
The blood of the martyrs not shed once for all,
The lives of the Saints not given once for all:
But the Son of Man is crucified always
And there shall be Martyrs and Saints.
And if blood of Martyrs is to flow on the steps
We must first build the steps;
And if the Temple is to be cast down
We must first build the Temple.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza VI

I do not know the answers to the problems facing the church in today’s society. I do not know how to proceed. And that is perhaps as it should be. As Archbishop Oscar Romero said “we may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

What I do feel is that we must return to our primary purpose: to worship God in the beauty of holiness and to become communities of loving disciples witnessing in our own generation to a life lived with meaning and the hope of transfiguration. We need to first of all return to the work and remember the holiness of our calling and pray continually that the lord may send ‘workers into the vineyard’ to continue our work in their several generations. If we do this first and in faith I believe a path will become known. The Spirit can enter into us and guide us when we remember Her presence and ‘wait upon the Lord’. It is also time to “lay aside all anxious thought and imagining”. The church is journeying through the desert at the moment and our own international community is threatened. There is panic and anxiety everywhere. Now is the time to be quiet, to trust, to relax. The church will not fail, of that we have been promised: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. She will survive and rebuild. So with patience and perseverance we must begin the work of discipleship again. We must attempt yet again to hear the word of God and become Holy.

“Much to cast down,
Much to build,
Much to restore;
Let the work not delay,
Time and the arm not waste;
Let the clay be dug from the pit, let the saw cut the stone,
Let the fire not be quenched in the forge.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

Running to Stand Still or Choruses from the ‘Rock’ Part II: Whitterings, November 2006


Choruses from the ‘Rock’ Part II

“Thus your fathers were made
Fellow citizens of the Saints,
Of the household of God,
Built upon the foundation
Of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself the chief corner- Stone.
But you, have you built well, that you now sit helpless in a
Ruined house?
Where many are born to idleness, to frittered lives and squalid
Deaths, embittered scorn in honeyless hives,
And those who would build and restore turn out the palms of
Their hands, or look in vain towards foreign lands for alms
To be more or the urn to be filled.
Your building not fitly framed together, you sit ashamed and
Wonder whether and how you may be builded together for
A habitation of God in the Spirit, the Spirit which moved
On the face of the waters like a lantern set on the back of a Tortoise.
And some say: “how can we love our neighbour? For love must
Be made real in act, as desire unites with desired; we have
Only our labour to give and our labour is not required.
We wait on corners, with nothing to bring but the songs we can
Sing which nobody wants to hear sung;
Waiting to be flung in the end on a heap less useful than dung”.
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

In my last article I explored the sense of directionlessness of modern society and often the church. There is a strong reaction against being too negative when discussing the modern church. It is often seen as defeatist and counter productive. However, I do not see how we can truly take stock of ourselves if we do not honestly look at ourselves in the mirror. This was my attempt in the June article on Kierkegaard.

“To see yourself is to die, to die to all illusions and all hypocrisy. It takes great courage to dare look at yourself – something which can take place only in the mirror of the world. You must want only the truth, neither vainly wish to be flattered nor self-tormentingly want to made a pure devil.” Soren Kierkegaard

Many in the church are simply in denial. This is partially a defence mechanism to protect us from a feeling that we are witnessing the work of our hands and that of our forbearers disintegrate before our eyes. We have lost the passion for true rebuilding because we do not know how to begin. Neither do I.

“you sit ashamed and
Wonder whether and how you may be builded together for
A habitation of God in the Spirit”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

Neither do I wish to continue to belabour the issue. Those of us who face aging congregations with limited young families and youth are well acquainted with the rising panic that we try and elevate through rationalisation and an emphasis on social action. We get excited over ten youth in a group or twenty children in Sunday school and choose not to focus on how sad is our excitement over such small numbers. We often despair because we see a world without meaning and purpose that has no interest in the only thing we really have to offer, the Gospel of Life and the community of the Baptised called to a life of Holiness.

“we have only our labour to give and our labour is not required.
We wait on corners, with nothing to bring but the songs we can
Sing which nobody wants to hear sung;”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

“The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned,
What have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?
Waste and void. Waste and void. And darkness on the face
Of the deep.
Has the Church failed mankind, or has mankind failed the Church?
When the Church is no longer regarded, not even opposed, and
Men have forgotten All gods except Usury, Lust and Power.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza VII

What I discern from the poem “Choruses from the ‘Rock’”, as well as from the letter of Evelyn Underhill to Archbishop Lang printed in the May column, is that we have a desperate need to return to the primary purpose of worshipping God and stopping to listen and discern His will. The Summary of the Law commands that we love God first and then with the grace that flows from this to then love our neighbours as ourselves. It often seems as if we have over emphasised the second part of the commandment without having addressed the first.

“You, have you built well, have you forgotten the cornerstone?
Talking of right relations of men, but not of relations of men
To God. “Our citizenship is in heaven”; yes, but that is the model and
type for your citizenship upon earth.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

The Gospel that we proclaim is the way of life and freedom. We witness to lives lived with beauty, compassion, mercy, sacrifice, community and, most of all, meaning. We believe that we offer a world ‘running to stand still’ as U2 puts it, an oasis of peace and depth where one can connect once again with the purpose of the universe and ones place in it. If anything, the modern Western world needs to Gospel more than ever before to remind the world that the pursuit of money, fame, power and the elevation of the self all lead to darkness.

“A cry from the North, from the West and from the South
Whence thousands travel daily to the time kept city;
Where My Word is unspoken,
In the land of lobelias and tennis flannels
The rabbit shall burrow and the thorn revisit,
The nettle shall flourish on the gravel court,
And the wind shall say; “Here were decent godless people:
There only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls”.
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza III

We as a church also have to offer society a real home, a real family. As catholics we witness that meaning is constructed as part of a community not on one’s own. We offer a family that will never die, that will never desert us and that is marked by true respect and love. Or at least that is what our parish communities are called to be. We also know that many communities are not safe, nurturing, meaning making communities but are rather insular and destructive. Most of us will have experienced such a church community at one point or another. So here is another obvious starting point for our church: strive to become caring, witnessing communities of disciples. I do not believe that the Mormons or the Jehovah witnesses are flourishing in our society because of their beliefs but because they offer true community. So many of us lack a true home or a true family, a place and a people to whom we belong and are loved. This we can seek to offer.

“What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of God.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praises of God,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance,
But all dash too and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But ever son would have his motorcycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stanza II

Dover Beach or Choruses from the ‘Rock’ Part I: Whitterings, October 2006


Choruses from the ‘Rock’ Part I

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Mathew Arnold, 1867

Mathew Arnold’s famous poem ‘Dover Beach’ describes the withdrawing from Western society the sense of meaning and cohersion and purpose. His words still cause a shiver to run down my spine as they evoke the shadow that grows from the East over the modern world. I use it to introduce articles based on T.S. Eliot’s poem Choruses from the ‘Rock’ that wrestles with the Church’s struggle to rekindle the flame of the Gospel in a darkening world.

Both Arnold and Eliot descibe the wasteland of menainglessness and inwardness that has overtkaen us. We know it has come and have seen it in a million little ways since those photographs first apeared of the liberation of Auchwitz. We see the rise of violence, lack of community, lack of decency, lack of commitment to the wider society, the erosion of the family. Yet we still find ourselves shocked and bewildred by the events at Dawson College last week. We find ourselves at sea when confronted with the darkness of a young man who believes nothing more than that “The world sucks, people suck, school sucks, work sucks.” We are horrified by the news that there even exists an online game in which you play one of the shooters at Columbine. We struggle to connect to a society in which the average age of first sexual activity is 13 and the same for drug and alchohol experimentation. We are even more confused when we realise that this is often done with parental knowledge and consent. The only reaction to this and, or at least my reaction, as you hear the confusion and chaos over the radio as youth flee a college through a pool of blood, is tears.

But Surprised? No. It is one of my hopes in humanity that this type of occurance is not more common given the state of things. Surprised? No. Not when I see that even those youth who have been brought up in our Sunday School and youth grouups, been Confirmed, and served at the Altar of our Church drift away into amphetamine addiction, dehumanising escaptist sexual exploits, violence, and self destructive or suicidal illusions. Those who have been exposed to the the path of life, those who have been shown the way, are still being lost.

The shadow of purposlesness has even drifted across the threshhold of God’s House. Instead of providing meaning and purpose we reduce the Gosepl to personal Ego needs and ‘pop’ psychology. A good working definition of heresy is to elevate one aspect of the truth as the whole truth. Many of our church communities are such examples.

“What we call "church" is too often a gathering of strangers who see the church as yet another "helping institution" to gratify further their individual desires. One of the reasons some church members are so mean-spirited with their pastor, particularly when the pastor urges them to look at God, is that they feel deceived by such pastoral invitations to look beyond themselves. They have come to church for "strokes," to have their personal needs met. What we call church is often a conspiracy of cordiality. Pastors learn to pacify rather than preach to their Ananiases and Sapphiras. We say we do it out of "love." Usually, we do it as a means of keeping everyone as distant from everyone else as possible. You don't get into my life and I will not get into yours.”
Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

The ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar’ has become deafening. We speed up and get nowhere. We cosume more and are not satisfied. The world gets ‘better’ and our youth drown. This is not better! I grow tired of those who dismiss the decay of modern society by pointing out the good while ignoring the horror and say complacently that all generations think the previous one superior. The decline of civilisations is real and has occurred consistenlty in human history. St Augustine really lived through the collapse of a once great civilisation and his reaction was not na├»ve. Those generations that live through decay are right when they look to the past! This postmodern philosophical world in which we live is not an ordered philisophical response to the world it is the shattered fragments and shards of the collapse of modernity. This is not a way towards meaning, it is just the broken remnants of a past world. We scramble thorugh a philosophical rubbish heap searching for a way out. But the human predicament is still the same and the answers are already known. The dead ends that our society recklesslly persues are the same dead ends that religions have warned of since the dawn of man.

“O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!The endless cycle of idea and action,Endless invention, endless experiment,Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,But nearness to death no nearer to God.Where is the Life we have lost in living?Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuriesBrings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock Stansa II

How many of us instill in our children and grandchildren the firm foundations that life lived for itself is a dead end? How many of us show with our lives that only a life lived for something greater than ourselves is freedom?

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Mark 8.

We are the disciples of Christ, Baptised into his death and Resurrection, we are the ones chosen to witness to the world the Glory of the Cross and the liberty of those who follow The Way. We believe that we have a purpose, that our lives have meaning. We witness with our lives to a Holy Hope. The Church has a mission now which is as crucial now as it has ever been. Yet how are we to witness to beauty, love, justice, compassion, mercy and hope to such a society? I shall explore a few ideas in my next columns which I hope may further this dialogue. I finsih with an example of what we as a community of faith has to offer to those around us struggling in the shadows.

“Hoopla! All that I see arches, and light arches around it. The air churns out forces and lashes the marveling land. A hundred times through the fields and along the deep roads I’ve cried Holy. I see a hundred insects moving across the air, rising and falling. Chipped notes of birdsong descend from the trees, tuneful and broken; the notes pile about me like leaves. Why do these molded clouds make themselves overhead innocently changing, trailing their flat blue shadows up and down everything, and passing and gone? Ladies and gentlemen! You are given insects, and birdsong, and a replenishing series of clouds. The air is buoyant and wholly transparent, scoured by grasses. The earth stuck through it is noisome, lighted and salt. Who shalll ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? “Whom shalll I send,” heard the first Isaiah, “and who will go for us?” And poor Isaiah, who happened to be standing there – and there was no one else – burst out, “Here am I; send me.”
Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard

Still there is the need. Still he calls. Still there is only us. How shall we answer?

Porticos of Silence: Whitterings, September 2006


“There should be in the soul halls of space, avenues of leisure and porticos of silence where God waits.”
The Rt. Rev’d Jeremy Taylor, D.D.
1613-1667

This summer I read in succession Walden by Henry David Thoreau, The writings of the Desert Fathers and Plato’s Republic. One of the things that struck me was that all of them complained in almost identical terms about the noise and confusion of modern life. Thoreau warns those who seek truth not to venture into Concord Massachusetts, Saint Anthony and Saint Jerome warn seekers of truth not to go to Alexandria and Socrates warns students of philosophy to avoid Athens. All claim that those in the cities lack silence and that by lacking silence they lacked truth.

The Abbot Nilus said, “Invulnerable from the arrows of the enemy is he who loves quiet: but he who mixeth with the crowd has often wounds.”
The Saying of the Fathers, Book II, xi.

Well it is not only the cities that lack silence but also the country. There seems to be noise everywhere today: motorcycles, airplanes, snow or leaf blowers, traffic, lawnmowers, speedboats. People in many of the houses I visit also surround themselves with intentional noise in the form of radios and televisions blaring. When I walk down to the lakeside to read during the summer the noise of the trucks, the lawnmowers and especially the motorcycles drive me back into the house in fairly short order. In the winter I am stuck inside because of the cold and in the summer because of the noise.

“All the troubles of life come upon us because we refuse to sit quietly for a while each day in our rooms.”
Blaise Pascal

I have become more and more sensitive to noise as the years pass to the point that I often feel like a complete neurotic. I have air filters going 24hrs a day to provide white noise so that I do not hear the traffic, especially the trucks and motorcycles. I dream of a remote parish with a Rectory up a long desolate road far away from fly zones.

My addiction to silence has led me to imagine that I may have a monastic vocation and that one day after my filial responsibilities are ended I would become a Cowley Father, a Mirfield Father, a Holy Cross Father or a Benedictine. However I have discovered another problem. Noise seems to have penetrated the monasteries as well. As some of you may know I am a monastery junky. I usually visit two or three new monasteries every year. However it has become apparent that it is becoming more difficult to find a monastery that possesses the deep reverberating silence that seems to have a life of it’s own. Mind you monasteries are certainly quieter than most places but not quieter than the old Benedictines I would stay with in the north of Scotland on the edge of the world.

Many of Anglican religious house are actually in cities and those that are not do not seem to keep the greater silence let alone the lesser silence. On group of Anglican sisters I know is perhaps the most talkative groups I have come across in years.

I believe that part of the reason for this has to do with the loss of true monastic vocation by many of the religious communities today (and two Superiors of Anglican monastic communities agree with me on this). Many of the modern day monks and nuns seem worldly and their monastic vocation seems to be an extension of their own personal spiritual journey and personal identity than the submersion and submission of their individuality to the collective identity of the community. This abandonment of the self to silence, not just outer silence but inner silence, is the hallmark of true monastic life. The entire community is formed and transformed by the communal adherence to the listening for the voice of God.

In other words I have yet to find an Anglican religious community that treasurers silence enough for me to consider joining it. It seems as the only way to find the great depth of silence these days is to convert to Roman Catholicism and join the Trappists or try the arduous work of becoming a Carthusian. Then again one could become an Orthodox hermit in Siberia.

What troubles me is that few seem to be concerned about the loss of this great resource for the church. If anything the silence of the true monastic community is the very heart of the faith, the womb of Christ incarnate. It is in this silence that He is heard as the prophet Ezekiel experienced on the mountain and as the Psalmists reminds us, “Be still and know that I am God.” The deep silence of the active listening for the voice of God is the ground from which He proceeds. This is true for each one of us but also collectively as a church. If we become too preoccupied with ministry and administration at the cost of true worship and silence we will lose our way as disciples. The loss of this depth of silence is not just unfortunate but fatal to the church.

The Original Sound

I asked an old monk, “How long have you been here?”
“Forever,” he answered.
I smiled. “Fifty years, Father?”
“Forever.”
“Did you know St. Benedict?”
“We are novices together.”
“Did you know Jesus?”
“He and I converse every day.”
I threw away my silly smile, fell to my knees, and clutched his hand. “Father,” I whispered, “Did you hear the original sound?”
“I am listening to the original sound.”

Tales of a Magic Monastery, Theophane the Monk

Kierkegaardian Christianity or The Rules: Whitterings, June 2006

The greatest danger to Christianity is, I contend, not heresies, heterodoxies, not atheists, not profane secularism – no, but the kind of orthodoxy which is cordial drivel, mediocrity with a dash of sugar. In every way it has come to this – that what one now calls Christianity is precisely what Christ came to abolish.
- Soren Kierkegaard -

THE BASIC RULES

Throughout the centuries different groups of Christians have sought to clarify and set out the basics requirements for a standard Christian life. Different denominations and orders have come into existence to exemplify their own particular emphasis on the rules they believe have been discerned from the Bible. The Anglican Church of Canada sets out its base minimum required actions in the Book of Common Prayer.

1) To say daily prayers and grace at meals;
2) To be present at Church on all Sundays and Holy Days;
3) To receive the Sacrament regularly;
4) To give alms and service according to means;
5) To keep the days and seasons of fasting;
6) To read the Bible regularly and meditate and study what is therein read.

It is assumed that all of these Anglican duties will be carried out under the authority and theological understanding of the Baptismal Covenant, the Creeds, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Summery of the Law.

I question the approach to discipleship as rule following as being too pharisetical.

“Our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
II Corinthians 3.6

However there must be some rules if even sociologically. Words to mean anything must have a definition. A Zoroastrian is different from a Taoist and an Anglican is different from a Presbyterian. There must also be an official definition even if there is a lot of colloquial usage around. Definitions of groups of people are most reliably decided on by their actions. There is still a base behavioural definition of an Anglican even if there are a variety of theological interpretations. We must wrestle with this definition because as part of a community we do not have the right to make up the definition for ourselves. We are not Universalists after all.

THE BASIC ESSENCE

I believe that discipleship is the exercise of embodying the Summary of the Law. “The passion of faith lies not in testifying to an eternal happiness but in transforming one’s own existence into a testimony to it.” My understanding of the Christian life, as a base minimum, is the passionate seeking for the will of God to be born in us. The fruits of the spirit are then manifested in us as an outworking of Grace. However to have God’s will live in us, our own personal will must die. If one avoids the death of the self, the Cross, one can not know the Resurrection of Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Galatians 2. 20

THE REALITY

I strongly contend that the majority of those who call themselves Anglicans in this place do not meet the basic requirements for an accurate and honest use of the designation.

I equally strongly contend that the majority of those who call themselves Christians in this place do not meet the basic requirements for an accurate and honest use of that designation either.

Yet we regularly use language is this dishonest way.

“When we see someone holding an axe wrong and chopping in such a way that he hits everything but the block of firewood, we do not say, "What a wrong way for the woodcutter to go about it," but we say, "That man is not a woodcutter." When we see thousands and thousands and millions of Christians whose lives do not resemble in the remotest way what – and this is decisive – the New Testament calls a Christian, is it not tampering with the meaning to talk as one does in no other situation and say: "what a mediocre way, what a thoroughly inexpressive way these Christians have." In any other situation would one not say, "These people are not Christians?" SK

“There was a time when one could almost be afraid to call himself a disciple of Christ, because it meant so much. Now one can do it with complete ease, because it means nothing at all.” SK

“Once upon a time learning to read was a rigorous matter; it took a lot of hard work. But eventually the theory was devised that everything ought to be enjoyable. So the practice of having a little party after each hour of reading was introduced, and the A B C’s were decked out with pictures, etc. Ultimately that hour was also dropped, and the A B C’s became simply a picture book. But still people went on talking about learning to read, even though the children did not learn to read at all. Learning to read was now understood to mean eating cookies and looking at pictures, which became an even more pleasant experience just because it was called "learning to read." SK

“Either these are not the Gospels or we are not Christians.”
Thomas Linacre (1460-1524)
Upon Reading the Gospels for the first time late in life.

THE DISCEPENCY

I do not believe you have to entirely accept Kierkegaard’s particular understanding or my particular understanding of discipleship to realise there is a profound ‘disconnect’ within the Anglican Church. All you need is to accept that Christian discipleship is the fundamental interpretive vehicle for a Christian. I believe all the different ‘Methods’ agree on this! However, many simply lose themselves in ‘Church Land’ and simply gloss over the difference between being a church person and being a Christian. I often say that many parishes are closer to self appointed property appreciation societies than radical core groups of disciples.

What I find sometimes almost unbearable is the lack of honesty about what we are as a church and what we are actually doing. I feel like I am in the fable shouting “The Emperor has no clothes!” and being told to shush! How are we to keep our integrity when we continue to pretend we are something we are not? My experience of the church over the last several years is one of continual ‘disconnect’. Not only does it seem as if almost no one is ‘keeping the rules’, including the clergy, but that people, including the clergy, simply do not believe in them anymore and have made up their own. Sometimes they seem to be playing a totally different ‘game’, like being a member of the United Church, but still playing on an Anglican Board with Anglican pieces. Personal opinion has been placed ahead of that of the Church and the community.

Perhaps God does not care if we shop do work on the Sabbath. However, it is still enshrined in the Ten Commandments and a consistent part of Church teaching. Yet this activity seems to be as prevalent among Anglicans as among else. When did the rules change? When was the debate? When was the decision taken to remove this as a sin? Personally this is not a major issue with me; I only use it as an example (so please no theological Jesuitical diatribes about the ‘real’ meaning of sabbaterianism). The point is that the church seems to have stopped teaching basic tenants of Anglican behaviour, people are ignoring them, and everyone is pretending it is just like it has always been.

Sometimes it even seems as if the church is undermining itself. I both observe and teach the importance of a strict Lent as a way of being honest with yourself about the direction your life is headed in. I teach at length about the will, the true freedom that comes from discipline, the fire and energy and concentration that comes through the struggle to deny the desires, the abandonment of one’s will to God’s, and our enslavement to the desires when they control us. I teach about the Desert Fathers, the Mystics and the impact that fasting has one one’s prayer life and especially on one’s practice of meditation. I then discover that not only do most churches not emphasise fasting as one of the distinctive traits of our spirituality but that some actually teach against it. I even read this past Lent an article in a church magazines by a colleague stating that it is good that fasting has become ‘out of fashion’. When did it become out of fashion? When was it discovered that all of the world religions had got it wrong? When was it shown that Christ had got it wrong? And the most important question, why the hell did someone not tell me?! If the rules have changed and I am not supposed to fast during Lent (as well as pray daily, tithe, and study) would someone please let me in the loop?

What I really want to know is whether this blatant hypocrisy is conscious or unconscious. Why are people acting as though there are no rules or that they have all changed? Why are people acting, especially the ordained, as if they can make up the rules as they go along? Have we become so scared of our financial future that we are willing to be a community of prostitutes instead of priests and give the world what it wants so we do not make them feel uncomfortable?

“Christianity has been made so completely devoid of character that there is really nothing to persecute. The chief trouble with Christians, therefore, is that no one wants to kill them any more!” SK

THE RESPONSE

When Kierkegaard attacked the church of his day the church was scandalized. He was ridiculed and scorned. It was only later that he came to be widely regarded as a prophet. Although some of his attacks against Christendom and the established church do not apply to us today, many of his barbs still stick. The question is how do we respond.

I believe there is only one response to Kierkegaard's passionate reminders of our duty and identity as Christians: to repent.

“We could at least be truthful before God and admit our weakness instead of reducing the requirement.” SK

Yet we seem to reduce the requirements all the time. We hold up saints and prophets in our Calendar and then shrink from emulating them. People will say, “It has always been like this you know” or “the rules are only an ideal really” or even “we are not characterized by the rules”. Well, it has not always been like this even if the success stories are few, they are still there: Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding. Even if the rules are hard to achieve and are an ideal, ideals are for striving for and not just something hung high up on the wall that no one even looks at. As for not being characterized by the rules, those who say so ontologically are correct. However we are a community searching for God in a distinctive way and so teleological there is an Anglican soeteriological path.

Repentance requires brutal honesty.

“To see yourself is to die, to die to all illusions and all hypocrisy. It takes great courage to dare look at yourself – something which can take place only in the mirror of the Word. You must want only the truth, neither vainly wish to be flattered nor self-tormentingly want to be made a pure devil.” SK

“There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves.” SK

“No one can be the truth; only the God-man is the truth. Then comes the next: the ones whose lives express what they proclaim. These are witnesses to the truth. Then come those who disclose what truth is and what it demands but admit that their lives do not express it, but to that extent still are striving. There it ends. Now comes the sophistry. First of all come those who teach the truth but do not live it. Then come those who even alter the truth, its requirement, cut it down, make omissions – in order that their lives can correspond to the requirement. These are the real deceivers.” SK

Only when we are honest enough to realise that we can not by right call ourselves good Christians, let alone good Anglicans we can begin to see the truth. Only when we see can we then act. Only when one realises that one is trapped in a cage can one begin to seek a way to escape. So paradoxically, the only way to be a good Anglican is to admit that we are not good Anglicans. The only way to be a good Christian is to admit that you are not. Only then can we venture once again upon the road to discipleship.

“To venture the truth is what gives human life and the human situation pith and meaning. To venture is the fountainhead of inspiration. Calculating is the sworn enemy of enthusiasm, the mirage whereby the earthly person drags out time and keeps the eternal away, whereby one cheats God, himself, and his generation.” SK

It is spirit, it is of passion to ask: Is what is being said possible? Am I able to do it? But it is lack of spirit to ask: Did it actually happen? Has my neighbour actually done it?"
- Soren Kierkegaard -

The Nature of Ordained Ministry or Article III of III on the Present Ecclesiological Culture of the Anglican Church: Whitterings, May 2006


Article III of III on the Present Ecclesiological Culture of the Anglican Church

The Nature of Ordained Ministry

The third aspect of the modern church which I wish to highlight as important is the seeming lack of focus about the actual nature of our ministry. The Strategic Planning Committee is currently working diligently on this issue so I will only examine one aspect of it which I do not believe is being fully addressed, the nature of ordained ministry. There seems to be great confusion around the idea of what a priest and a deacon are and what they are expected to do. Often it seems that every priest has a different idea of what the priesthood is. There is even more confusion surrounding the nature of the vocational deaconate as its revival is relatively new.

The concept of priesthood has changed dramatically since the early church and during different ages has emphasised different aspects of priestly ministry. For Canadian Anglicans the basis of our understanding of priesthood is enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Alternative Services includes an alternative service for ordination that differs in some of its emphasis.

The Priesthood according to the Book of Common Prayer

The BCP Ordination service understands the priesthood as a setting apart of someone who has been called by God to: be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; teach and to warn; provide for the Lord’s family; seek for the lost so they may be saved; forgive sins; preach; administer the Sacraments. In order to accomplish this ministry the BCP proclaims that the priest needs to: study with great care; be thankful to the Lord; pray earnestly for the Guidance of the Holy Spirit; shape ones life and one’s family to scripture and church doctrine; be studious in reading and learning the scriptures; forsake and set aside all worldly cares and studies; give himself wholly to this one great task and draw all cares and studies towards ministry; continue to pray to God; daily read and meditate upon the scriptures; endeavour from time to time to sanctify his life and that of his family; be a good example of the Christian life. To fulfil these things the ordinand promised the following things before their ordination: to instruct the people according to scripture; to faithfully minister the sacraments; to teach the people about the sacraments and doctrine of the church; to strive against all false doctrine and ideas; to use private and public warnings and strong direction as the need arises; to be diligent in prayer; to be diligent in reading holy scripture; to be diligent in study; to foster quietness, peace, and love among people; to obey church authority.

The Priesthood according to the Book of Alternative Services

In the BAS the Priest is described as being one: called to pastor; called to be a priest; called to be a teacher; called to take part in councils of the church; called to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel; called to fashion their life in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel; called to love and serve the people among whom they work; called to preach; called to declare God’s forgiveness; called to pronounce God’s blessing; called to preside at Baptism and the Eucharist. In the BAS candidates for the priesthood promises to: be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ in the ACC; obey the Bishop and other church authorities; to be diligent is the reading and study of scripture; to diligently seek the knowledge of such things as may make one a stronger minister; to administer the sacraments and teach and preach the Gospel with love; to labour to build up the family of God; to pattern their life and family to the teaching of Christ so as to be a good example; to persevere in prayer both publicly and privately; to ask for God’s grace.

You can see that the BAS is much more vague than the BCP on the nature and work of a priest. However, I put it to you that in taking these two ordination rites together there are certain things that describe the nature of the priesthood as understood by our Church. Implicit in the nature of the priesthood is the call to: discern the truth with the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Church and teach it; be administrators of Christ’s Sacraments; love and care for others. The duty of a priest is to: teach and warn the people of God; to study scripture, theology, and the world in which we live; to pray; to be a good example to others; to administer the sacraments; to obey and be loyal the church hierarchy; take part in the councils of the church. The disciplines of a priest are to be: be passionate and committed to the work and life of a priest; to pray daily; to study scripture daily; to study regularly; to regularly examine their life.

The Deacon according to the BCP and the BAS

The BAS reflects a much deeper understanding of the deaconate that has arisen in recent years. It is quite similar to the early church understanding of diaconal ministry and stems from Acts 6.2. The nature of the deacon is that of servanthood. The duties of a deacon are to serve liturgically and pastorally with a special emphasis on the weak, the poor and the ill. The disciplines of a deacon are to: faithfully read and study Holy Scripture; faithfully pray; and to seek to discern Christ in all people.

This is a long summary of the theological basis of our Church’s understanding of ordained ministry. There are many different models of ordained ministry that can be supported by these ordination rites, especially for the priesthood. Some emphasise the priest’s kerygmatic role (proclamation or preaching) such as Karl Rahner and Benedict XVI. Some emphasise the cultic or sacerdotal theology of priesthood such as Otto Semmelroth or John Paul II. Some emphasise the community leadership of the priesthood such as Thomas O’ Meara and Robert Schwartz. All are consistent with the ordination rites. All of these emphases are personal and every priest would have their own ideas that they would like to see more emphasis placed upon.

The Priest as Seeker and Discerner of Truth

Placing personal biases aside there are certain aspects of the priesthood (there is not enough room to treat the deaconate and the priesthood equally) that are to be held as given by all priests and their congregations. Some of these aspects of the priesthood need to be re-emphasised today. The Anglican Church of Canada, in common with other Anglican Churches, sees the priest as a discerner of truth and a teacher of it. The basis for the exploration of truth is consistent, disciplined regular study of scripture, theology, and knowledge of the world that will help to make sense of Gods work in creation. It is stressed that all study and reading should be for the discernment of God. The idea is similar to that of Kierkegaard's passage from the ascetical sphere into the ethical sphere. The priest is to make sense of the world, the human situation, and ways to react and live faithfully today. Certainly there is no other profession or vocation today that has as one of its main purposes to search for meaning for the wider community. For example, a priest should be able to make theological sense of the rise of blogging on the internet by our young or the popularity of reality TV and have something to teach about it. After studying and wrestling with truth and meaning the priest is then to teach the community at large through preaching, bible study, teaching about the sacraments and the purpose of the church, and private and public warning about danger and false ideas.

The Priest as Sanctified by Prayer

Another aspect of priesthood that needs to be re-emphasised is the duty and privilege to have a disciplined, daily time of prayer and meditation upon scripture. It is the foundation upon which all the rest of ministry is based. Remember John Wesley’s famous quote reminiscent of Saint Augustine’s:

“I have so much to do daily that I must spend several hours in prayer to be able to do it.”
In 1930 Evelyn Underhill wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, about the state of the clergy in the Church of England. She claimed that they lacked a substantial interior life. That their lives were not based on prayer and study.


“The church wants not more consecrated philanthropists but a disciplined priesthood of theocentric souls who shall be the tools and channels of the Spirit of God: and this we cannot have until Communion with God is recognised as the first duty of the priest. We look to the Church to give us an experience of God, mystery, holiness and prayer…We look to the clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. We are seldom satisfied because with noble exceptions they are so lacking in spiritual realism, so ignorant of the laws and experience of the life of prayer. Their Christianity as a whole is humanitarian rather than theocentric, so their dealings with souls are often vague and amateurish. I know that recovering the ordered interior life of prayer and meditation will be very difficult for clergy immersed increasingly in routine work. It will mean for many a complete rearrangement of values and a reduction of social activities. They will not do it unless they are made to feel its crucial importance. I venture to put before the conference the following practical recommendations: (1) Education of Ordinands--- That the bishops shall emphasize the need and importance of a far more thorough, varied, interesting and expert devotional training in our theological colleges which, with a few striking exceptions, seem to me to give insufficient attention to this vital part of their work. (2) The Clergy--- That they should call upon every ordained clergyman, as an essential part of his pastoral duty and not merely for his own sake: (a) To adopt a rule of life which shall include a fixed daily period of prayer and reading of a type that feeds, pacifies and expands his soul, and deepens his communion with God; b) To make an annual retreat; (c) To use every endeavour to make his church into a real home of prayer and teach his people, both by exhortation and example so to use it."

It seems to me that her plea is still important as it will be for every new generation. We need to be reminded not only that it is a duty but that it is a great gift. I read in the Church Times of March the 10th that the Bishop of Portsmouth, Kenneth Stevenson has made a recovery from acute myeloid leukemia. He describes his experience in an interview on the back page.
“Come hell or high water, I said morning and evening prayer every day. I remember once making myself put on clean pajamas, clean up, and read. It was not what I felt like, and a lot of the time it meant nothing, but the discipline was so important, and I depended on it. Sometimes I would have to stop if a doctor or nurse came in. It was one of the things that got me through, even on the days when I could barely see because of the chemotherapy.”

The church needs to re-examine and re-emphasise the duel nature of serious and disciplined prayer and study as the primary foundation of the priestly ministry of administrator of the Sacraments, teacher, and pastor.

I offer these reflections as part of the ongoing process to build up the church in this place. I have used this basic understanding of the priesthood and the deaconate to submit a paper to the Bishop’s Commission for the Discernment and Formation of Candidates for the Ordained Ministry. If you are interested, I would be more than happy to share it with you.

Keisaku or Article II of III on the Present Ecclesiological Culture of the Anglican Church: Whitterings, April 2006

Article II of III on the Present Ecclesiological Culture of the Anglican Church

I wish to elaborate further on the topic of the teaching vocation of the church. The teaching vocation of the church has many facets. The Anglican Church teaches through its liturgy. One of the theological points that came out of the blessing of same sax couples in New Westminster was the explicit recognition that liturgy is the outward working of official theological teaching. We teach through example to the world by how we govern our personal lives. We teach through our social witness and ministry to the weak and vulnerable. Priests have a special vocation as teachers. We teach through our preaching, leading parish bible studies and other adult education classes, and we teach the faith to a new generation in our Confirmation classes.

The prayer book lays out the teaching ministry of the Priest in the Priestly Exhortation and the questions asked by the Bishop as follows:

“And now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you have in remembrance, into how high a dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; to teach and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the doctrine and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same, according to the commandments of God; so that you may teach the people committed to your cure and charge with all diligence to keep and observe the same? Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given? Will you be diligent in prayers, and in reading of the Holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh?”

The BAS Ordination Rite has a very limited emphasis on the teaching ministry of the priesthood. It is mentioned in the examination once but is not elaborated on in any other part of the service. Perhaps this lack of emphasis is partially to blame for the current educational culture within the church.

Good priestly teaching is seldom comfortable. We do not teach is order to pass on information rather we teach in a purely teleological (functional) way. We seek to illuminate the Gospel and make it applicable in people’s lives. This often involves the challenging of some of the most basic presuppositions that people have about the meaning of life and the purpose of discipline. More and more the church has to teach values that run contrary to the strong currents of postmodernism implicit in today’s culture. We stand with Christ against individualism, consumerism, moral relativism, existentialism, and other isms I have elaborated on before. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is his book God Has a Dream says:

“We are the ultimate paradox, the finite made for the infinite. Anything less than God cannot satisfy our hunger for the divine. Not even success. That is why everything else, if we give it our ultimate loyalty – money, fame, drugs, sex, whatever – turns into ashes in our mouths.”

It is not an easy task. We are called to be fishers of people. If we have no incentive for people to bite the hook we will get nowhere. If we scare people off by placing pharisaical burdens on them or even the burden of discipleship too early (as St Paul talks about at length) then we also get nowhere. However, if we never enter into a disciplined, mature, teaching relationship we also get nowhere. There comes a time in Christian spiritual maturity when the teaching authority of the church is freely accepted by individuals within a relationship of trust. It is then that the true Gospel work of the conversion of lives begins.

The Japanese have a word for this kind of teaching – Keisaku. It means stick of compassion and it refers to the bamboo rod used to occasionally hit practitioners of Zazen (the Zen art of meditation) to keep them mindful of the goal of their meditation, the goal of their life. The Japanese understand that often the best teachers are the ones that have high standards that make you nervous and unsure of yourself. They are the ones that push you to your limit so you can surpass yourself. The best teachers are seldom the ones that are friendly and you are relaxed with. Zen masters are respected because they push unrelentingly against the egos of their students. They are often feared, but almost always loved because the students know that the master pushes out of compassion. They trust that he knows the territory they wish to traverse and that he will lead them across it safely. They are disciplined and committed to a greater goal. The master acts in every respect like a shepherd.

I have sought for such a teacher ever since I left my doctoral research at the University of Cambridge. I find it difficult to stay focussed in my studies without a respected teacher to consistently challenge my presupposition and tear my work apart so that it can be rebuilt in a stronger way. There is often minor criticism of ideas I put forward but seldom with the goal of discovering a deeper truth or structure to them. So I long for strong teaching from the church. Not teachings that rely solely on church structures and authority to be received (as this is a sure sign of theological weakness) but rather teaching that enter into the debates and become strong through the wrestling for truth. I long for teaching that have been refined in the fires of debate and reflection. This however takes time that few seem willing to take. The philosopher Habermass said that the pursuit of truth must not have a time limit set on it. Once the pursuit has begun it must continue until it is at last resolved. This may mean taking several generations to get to the end. This is what a real commitment to the pursuit of truth means.

The thing I have found most difficult in acclimatising to the Canadian Church is the way many people discuss ideas, or do not discuss them! My educational formation, and to some extent my adult cultural formation, has been within a British educational milieu. Within this culture ideas are expected to be constantly challenged. People argue about them all the time. You have only to take a taxi ride in London, which is hardly in an educational milieu, to have a stimulating debate with the driver about modern culture. Everyone has an opinion. Yet the constant debates are not personal. You can have a heated debate about the nature of politics or religion in a pub and when the time comes for another round the debate promptly ceases the orders given and then the debate begins again in earnest. The point is that debate over ideas is for deeper knowledge for both parties. Both participants are seeking to reach a goal beyond themselves, the continuing illumination of truth – The Epiphany. The debate serves the purpose of strengthening both parties. That is the difference between arguing to ‘win’ an argument and a heated discussion to refine both people’s thoughts, like the prophet Malachi teaches about. When one person puts forward a strong idea immediately another person will begin testing it to find its weaknesses.

However in the Canadian Church when a strong idea is put forward almost nobody say a thing. So instead of having the thought process refined it is left imbalanced and the discussion is perceived as threatening. In such cases, the opening gambit is to put forward a strong idea and then wait for an equally strong idea to block it. Then the wrestling is expected to begin. It seldom does. Canadian Anglicans seem to respond to questioning of their ideas and presuppositions as personal attacks and often respond emotively, if at all. I need not point out the awkwardness of having to learn this cultural tendency the hard way! However, the point still stands. How are we to become stronger in a climate in which conflict and deep, disciplined debate is avoided or limited? How are we to become stronger without trusted teachers who challenge us to surpass the limitations that we imagine for ourselves? How are we to witness to the modern world without prolonged, professional debate and clear theological understanding?

Saint Mark as Sherlock Holmes or Article I of III on the Present Ecclesiological Culture of the Anglican Church: Whitterings, March 2006


Article I of III on the Present Ecclesiological Culture of the Anglican Church

I have recently acquired the complete DVD collection of Granada Television’s dramatisations of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The dramatisations are a joy to watch because they are well done and primarily because of the delightful portrayal of Mr Holmes by Jeremy Brett. Mr Brett’s Holmes is considered by many aficionados to be the quintessential portrayal of the great detective. He is quarrelsome, addicted to cigarettes, pipes, and cocaine. He sleeps late, lacks almost all basic social skills and is terribly moody. He is arrogant beyond all measure. It is Dr Watson who gives pastoral care to Mr Holmes’s clients and provides the necessary social lubricant for the plots to unfold. Mr Holmes’s strength lies in his ability to absorb huge amounts of information from simple observations and through analysis and logic to understand the essence of situations. As a historical aside, the character of Sherlock Holmes is based on a real person. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle studied Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and later modelled Mr Holmes on his Professor of Anatomy. To commemorate the birth of Mr Holms in Edinburgh there is a beautiful statue of him at the East end of Queen Street across from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Pub.

What redeems Holmes is that despite his superiority and self centeredness he actually cares deeply about his clients. He is unable to show it in any normal way. His profound sense of responsibility and duty is what drives him to go to extraordinary lengths to save the unfortunate people who seek his help. It is in the subtle acts of kindness that you see underneath Mr Holmes’s formidable exterior. His compassion is implicit in his actions and not his words. It you do not look closely you will miss this. He is a good example of the important maxim that you should always pay more attention to what people do than what they say.

I find that Jesus, as He is portrayed in Mark’s Gospel, is another example of this. It is not that Jesus is portrayed as arrogant or self centred but a he is portrayed as frustrated, impatient, and sometimes irritable and often angry. He seems consistently annoyed that few seem to understand what he is saying, especially his closest disciples. His treatment of some of those who come to him for help, such as the woman with the haemorrhage and the Syrophoenician woman whose child is possessed by a demon, is certainly less than gentle. The Jesus I perceive in Mark’s Gospel is very human. He does not always seem particularly gentle, affectionate, or patient. However, even in these episodes, he strikes me as profoundly compassionate.

It is this compassion that is often misunderstood. Many try to overlook the ‘negative’ aspects of the personality of Mark’s Jesus simple because it makes it difficult to retain an image of Jesus as a gentle, loving, fluffy Christ. You have all seen the Sunday School posters of Jesus with a frilly perm in a pinkish robe, running through a field of flowers with children of many different ethnicities. Different people show compassion in different ways. Many enter into the suffering of others emotionally and share the tears and fears of their brothers and sisters. They “feel the pain” of others. This is a necessary part of compassion and can be healing. However if that is the only kind of compassion shown it can be enabling and weaken those trapped in destructive lifecycles. Too much empathy can reinforce the particularly North American obsession with navel gazing found in the popularity of the self help phenomena and the ‘Dr Phil’ approach.

Another aspect of compassion is frustration and irritation. Let me give an example. A great deal of suffering is brought upon ourselves because of a lack of moving in the right direction (Sin: technically meaning “missing the mark”). Often people hold onto their suffering like a comfort blanket or out of fear of liberation. It is like a weakened, stooped, man burdened by a sack full of rocks on his back, stumbling down a long road in great pain. Hey complains that the rocks (Sin: guilt, lack of forgiveness, lack of thanksgiving, lack of spiritual discipline, hatred) are destroying him. He feels that they can not keep stumbling along like this. Then in the middle of this articulation he sees a nice new rock and seizes it and throws it into the sack with the others. You can respond to such pain by showing gentleness and listening to their experience. For others their compassion for such a person will be shown by irritation and even anger. “Stop picking up bloody rocks you’re hurting yourself!” It can come out in many variations: “Stop sticking pins into your eyes!” “Stop letting others hurt you!” I am certainly not suggesting this as a universal pastoral model! However I do believe that it is sometimes necessary to shake people out of their complacently to, and collaboration with their own sin. Most of all I assert that such a response comes as much from compassion as any other approach. It is love that leads to righteous anger and the fight for social justice. If everyone just cried with the impoverished of the world nothing would be accomplished. I thank the Lord that there are enough people that see injustice and cruelty and respond in anger and frustration to fight the darkness. Often these people sacrifice their own peacefulness for the good of the weak. It is a heavy price to pay. It is commonly observed that those who fight for social justice the most are often the least to show forth the peace of God in other aspects of their lives. This anger and irritation must be constantly analysed to make sure that it does not lead to judgementalness and hatred of the enemy. Once the anger leads to demonification we have already lost because we have become like the darkness that we set out to fight. Yet it is love that makes one want to shake the complacent out of hurting themselves or letting themselves be hurt. It is love that wants to fight for a new social order.

The Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is compassionate in both ways and as such is balanced. He is gentle with some and irritable and angry with others. He also despairs when people who need to hear him can not, but he still walks away. So why is the church not balanced in this way? Why does the modern Church elevate only one side of compassion as acceptable to be used by the Baptised? There is a Political Correctness associated with the 1970’s and 1980’s Clinical Pastoral Theology Model. This is seriously weakening the witness of the church and is handicapping the church in its ability to ask hard questions and make hard decisions. There is a Pollyannaish tyranny abroad that has thrown the church off balance. I would say that it is best summed up by the word “nice”.

The Diocesan guidelines for the discernment of vocations to the Ordained Ministry are such an example. At the end of the document there are guidelines and clues for discerning a vocation for ordained ministry. There is nothing wrong with what has been laid out but it is unbalanced. It is based on a model that has arisen from the somewhat dated CPE model. It speaks a great deal about personal limitations and realistic acceptance of weakness, openness to God, willingness to doubt, cooperation, ecumenism, inter faith dialogue, having an affirming nature, being joyful, having a balanced lifestyle and having a life outside of the church community. There is some language that I can only guess the meaning of such as ‘Family of Origin work” and ‘personal faith story’ and ‘small group prayer” (unless this includes the offices and the Eucharist). There was no such language in my British Theological education. These are all things necessary for the Minister’s health and are all part of the Alban Institute clergy wellness guide. However there is not as much about the core nature of priesthood. There is limited language about strength, intellectual and emotional discipline, sacrifice, the price for standing against the darkness, the defence of the weak, the teaching nature of the ministry, or the prophetic and radical nature of priesthood. The lack of balance in today’s ecclesiological culture leads to the very real danger that only one type of vocation will be recognised by the church. This could leave us without any shepherds strong enough to fight off the wolves. If I had my say I would add that a good sign of a vocation is the presence of an abhorrence of committees.

That is what I enjoy about Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes; he is an example of compassion in action that has none of the characteristics associated with the “nice” model so often found in today’s church. That is also why I am most attracted to Mark’s Jesus, he show’s divine compassion that balances care and affection, with strength and determination. He is a shepherd that can save by attracting others to himself by affectionate compassion as well as bringing them to himself through warning them away from the world.

Saving Saint Nicholas (Oh and Christmas!): Whitterings, February 2006




Last month I wrote about Advent during Epiphany. Now I am writing about Christmas as we approach Lent. I seem to be unable to catch up!

In a recent article in the London Times I read about a new society founded by the Communications Director of the Anglican Communion, Canon James Rosenthal. It is called the St Nicholas Society. Its aim is to encourage and support celebrations surrounding the Saintly Archbishop of Myrna. It seems harmless enough and rather “likable if that is sort of thing one likes” (Miss Jean Brodie.)

I am unashamedly Catholic in my use of extra liturgical devotions to foster thought and reflection on various aspects of Christian life. I bless the Christmas Creche at Christmas, Candles at Candlemass, chalk at the feast of the Epiphany, palms for Palm Sunday, pets for St Francis’s day, and graves for All Souls Day,. Each has its own significance and adds a bit of flavour to the liturgical year. The Blessing of Chalk, in case it is a new one to you, is for the traditional blessing of houses on Epiphany. The children take the blessed chalk, if the parish priest does not visit the house himself, and with it they write above the main door 20 + K + M + B + 06 whilst saying the prayer: “The three Wise Men Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar followed the star of God’s Son who became man two thousand and six years ago. May Christ bless our homes and remain with us through the new year”. Then they draw crowns over the three letters representing the names of the Wise men, write “Orate pro nobis” after the number of the year and ask a blessing on their home and their family.

So the idea of celebrating the feast of St Nicholas with a little more flare immediately appealed to me. The website (http://www.stnicholassociety.com/) offers ideas for hymns prayers, St Nicholas’s parades, children’s services as well as directions for the proper costume. St Nicholas, as an Archbishop, should be dressed in Episcopal robes. The Societies website suggests not borrowing the Diocesan Bishops Cope, Mitre and Crosier. So far so good. He is certainly a well loved Saint. He was the fourth century Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, now modern day Turkey, and tradition holds that he attended the Council of Nicaea. He is believed to have been persecuted and tortured for his faith. Legends surround him about his great love and devotion to his people especially the poor and children. One legend tells of his saving three poor girls from being sold into prostitution by secretly throwing presents of gold for their dowry through their fathers window at night. This gave rise to the custom of giving children gifts on his Feast day, the 6th of December. The name Santa Claus is attributed to him because the Dutch who came to the United States of America called him Sinte Klaas (Sinte = Saint & Klass = Cholas while the Nick was swallowed in a guttural stop). How he came to be associated with elves is unknown to me.

As I read more about the Society the more excited I became. The St Nicholas Society does not seek to concentrate attention on St Nicholas for the Saints sake but to draw attention back to Christ as the focus of Christmas. The St Nicholas celebrations are only one strategy in a much winder plan to reclaim Christmas traditions for those of us who are Christians and the Evangelistic opportunity for the Church for those who are not. It is not about reclaiming ‘power’ over Christmas but the Church unashamedly “owning” the Nativity. Canon Rosenthal (an Episcopalian Lay Canon) says:
“It is also a time to recapture St Nicholas, Bishop, disciple and true caregiver, replacing the department store Santa Clauses (aka Father Christmas). Santa's visitors have no clue, idea or notion that it was a Christian saint that was the original Mr Claus, a saint renowned for his goodness, his love and charity and his faith in Christ. Why shouldn't our children (and adults) and maybe the sales clerk know this fact - I think they should. The society is not opposed to celebrations, gift-giving or other holiday activities, but it does encourage a sanity in the amount of gifts bought and exchanged as well as allowing Christmas to remain a day of Christian celebration. There is no need for the secularised Santa Claus or Father Christmas when St Nicholas, who was born in 260AD and died on December 6, 343, provides a perfect model for care and gift giving. Santa is a commercial invention. St Nicholas is a servant of Christ and an example for us all to enjoy and emulate. The society believes that St Nicholas helps young and old see what the true spirit of Advent and Christmas can be for us all, especially for those who find the holidays very stressful. It is our hope that jolly old St Nicholas will become, once again, in English-speaking parts of the world, a focus of celebration in his true identity. Santa is not bad, but St Nicholas is just better. I believe there is a bit of the spirit of St Nicholas in all of us.”

The more I thought about it the more obvious it became. The theology of Saints in our church is that they point to Christ with their lives. We remember the Saints because by looking at their example we gain a deeper understanding of how to follow Christ in our own lives. They are Saints because with their actions and witness they revealed Christ to the world. St Nicholas pointed to Christ by his love, generosity and faith. When I consider what this Saintly Christian Archbishop who loved children in the name of Christ the Child has been turned into I shudder: a semi-pagan, magical, obese, consumerist, workaholic toy manufacturer, who keep NSA type spy technology to judge the moral barometer of all the world’s children, with a sweatshop full of little green men who work every day of the year but one. The Church has almost lost poor old St Nicholas completely. If you think about it long enough what has happened begins to sink in. The Church has allowed one of its most beloved saints to become prostituted for the consumer retail capitalistic market. It is ironic that he is know to have saved others from being sold into prostitution while we idly stand by while he goes totally unrecognised as a Saint because he has been so tarted up. Is it not time that we reclaimed him? Is it not time to teach our children who the real ‘Santa Claus’ is? Is it not time to show the world that this man who everyone loves was one who loved Christ more than all? Some older people still remember St Nicholas but most people in our society do not even know ‘Santa Claus’s’ real name or profession. The church misses out on a wonderful evangelistic tool every year as we continue to let St Nicholas be defined solely by the world.

The story of Christmas is simple. I tell the story to the Sunday School ever year at the Christmas Carol service. God created us so He could love us and we could love Him. Like a parent in a supermarket who tells us to stay where we are so we will not get lost, He told us not to eat of the tree because we would get lost. We ate, we got lost. He sent directions for how to return to God through Moses and we did not follow them. He sent Prophets to show us the way. We did not listen. Instead we usually killed them. Today most people have forgotten that there is even a home to go back to. They do not know that we are lost. At this point I usually say to the children, “wouldn’t you be angry if you told someone not to wonder off and get lost and they did just that? Wouldn’t you be angry if every time you sent someone to bring them back they either ignored them, beat them up or killed them? Wouldn’t you want to just give us on such a stupid disobedient kid?”

This year William, who is about 8 years old, blurted out an answer I had not come across before. He was not trying to be clever. He was not trying to get the ‘right answer’. He was not trying to show off. He simply said, “Well if I were God, I would just go and find them myself.” Hearing these words from a child’s mouth paralysed me. It was so simple that it seemed as if I were discovering that it was true for the first time. I did not speak for a moment as I did not want to sound chocked up. Of course that is the end of our story. That is what Christmas is about. He loves us so much He came to bring us home Himself.

This is what the Church has to say to the world at Christmas. This is why St Nicholas became a Deacon, a priest, and a Bishop so he could teach this Gospel to the world. This is what he witnessed to with his whole life. He even suffered persecution for this great Gospel. It is time to use him for this purpose again, to point to Christ Incarnate, Crucified and Risen.

Advent or Dislodging a Green Nut: Whitterings, January 2006


“Dislodging a green nut from a shell is almost impossible, but let it dry and the lightest tap will do it.”

By the time you read this it will be the Season of Epiphany, the season of the ever brightening revelation of Christ’s truth as the sun sheds ever increasing light upon our northern land as each day goes by. However, I write this in Advent as the days get shorter, and linger and die as the surrounding gloom gathers. We move down into the darkness towards the Nativity, the longest night of the year (I know it is not technically the longest night any more because of the change in the calendar but that rather spoils the symbolic effect so I simply ignore it!).

I understand Advent instinctively. Waiting and hoping is second nature to me. Often it seems as if my entire life and ministry is nothing more than waiting and hoping. I wait and hope for: the people of the world to seek the good of humanity over their own selfish desires; people to seek to love and serve one another; the poor and needy of the world to receive comfort and hope; the despots and dictators to be overthrown by the people and for justice to prevail; the nations of the world to seek truth and beauty above power and money; people to seek to understand the Truth and live their lives in harmony with it; people to be kind to one another.

Personally I often wait and hope; that I will read just the right book and my accumulated education will spill over the top of the cup of my knowledge into true understanding of life and God’s universe; that one day in my prayers or meditation I will hear the Voice of God or feel His Presence; that my mind and heart will merge back into being with my Creator; that I will find people with whom I can share parts of my life or at the least travel with; that one day I will not long to escape so much; that I will suddenly just relax into my life and stop worrying all the time; that the overwhelming desire for a cigarette will not keep giving me panic attacks and keep me up at night; that one day I will be in the right place at the right time and will be able to witness to Christ Crucified and Risen and know I have fulfilled the purpose of my life; that I may have some sort of a family and not be alone; that it will all become easier; that life will become clearer and less hectic and more peaceful; that what has been lost will be returned, including love, vulnerability and innocence; that I may one day wake to find the door of my cage open and myself free; that God will reveal Himself and come again. The Prophet Isaiah, whom we read all throughout Advent, speaks what is already in my heart. Advent gives permission to let my imagination run away with me. I can imagine as the U2 song says “the Kingdom Come when all the colours shall bleed into one”. Through the imagination combined with hope, as Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught us, the heart and mind and soul can reach towards God.

I have begun to understand that the waiting on the Lord implicit in the season of Advent is its own goal. It is not what we are waiting for that strengthens and purifies us, it is the waiting and the hoping itself. It keeps the heart open and the mind seeking. The waiting and hoping brings a certain kind of peace and contentment in and of itself. The imagination allows the heart to dream and search and wait with expectation. With hope I believe that one day this waiting will be over. The end shall come. The possibility of Salvation is real. At the end He will draw us back to Himself and the desire of St Augustine will be made real as our restless hearts will rest in Him once again. The Scottish Prayer Book includes Henry Cardinal Newman’s lovely prayer of longing for rest in the service of Compline.

“O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shades lengthen, and the evening cometh, and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

My cynical mind believes that most of the things I long for either do not exist or are improbable to happen to me or come to me. Not only that, but the things that one waits for and receives, in my limited experience, seldom live up to their promise. Perhaps what I mean is that I have always found that the thing I thought I was hoping for or waiting for wasn’t really what I desired. Or to put it in yet another way, I do not believe I am truly ready for Christmas because I do not yet have the eyes to see Him. I still wait in Advent because I am still discerning the Incarnation around me. The waiting and the hoping are what I faith will clear my vision and reveal the God with us, Emmanuel. Just as there can be no Easter without Good Friday, no Resurrection without Crucifixion, so also there can be no true Nativity without true Advent. Advent exists whenever the heart longs and hopes and prepares for God. Christmas exists whenever we perceive God Incarnate in his world and in his creatures. So we wait, not just in Advent, but constantly so that we may with patience and perseverance respond to the words of the Baptist and ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ in our hearts so that God may be revealed in the world and people around us.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
Has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
Wakes chocking on the mould,
The soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
Opens on mist, to find itself
Arrested in the net
Of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
And penny-masks its eye to yield
The star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
Will come like crying in the night,
Like blood, like breathing,
As the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
From: ‘The Poems of Rowan Williams’, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,
Cambridge UK, 2002