Bishop Richard Norgate or The Oratory of the Good Shepherd in Tanzania: Whitterings, December 2008

I was privileged to be part of the Partners in Missions team that went to the Diocese of Masasi this autumn. Although I was interested in seeing all aspects of the Diocese, there was one thing I already knew I wanted to do before I even left. I wanted to meet Bishop Richard Norgate, the retired Bishop of Masasi who lived at St Cyprian’s Theological College in Rondo. On the day scheduled for our visit to the college we were told to be ready to leave first thing in the morning. We eventually left after lunch – five hours late. We had hoped to have a full day and stay at the college overnight. However we were told that another two villages would be added to our itinerary that day and Rondo was only the first stop. Those who heard about our travel plans simply rolled their eyes in disbelief at the hectic schedule planned.

Rondo is on a plateau far out in the countryside and is reached by the worst road I have ever seen. I am not surprised that this long road with huge ruts and pits (no not holes – pits) it is only passable for part of the year. After over an hour of climbing steeply and frighteningly up the side of the plateau we reached Rondo. Bishop Trevor Huddleston CR had purchased the property in the 60s for a secondary boarding school and a theological college. The boys, and a few novice sisters of the Community of St Mary, are given the best education in the region with their time regulated by the Angelus three times a day and interspersed with daily sung Mattins and Evensong and Mass. The theological students study and farm small plots of land with their wives as they prepare for ordination. As time was short we were raced through the complex at breakneck speed. When I reminded the Bishop that I wanted to pay my respects to Bishop Norgate he said that we had no time. When I made it clear how much I wanted to see Bishop Norgate he finally agreed but said that we could not spend long. He did not join us but waited for us beside the Episcopal landcrusier.

In the middle of all of the dormitories, classrooms, the chapel and administration offices is a small sparsely furnished two roomed bungalow. This is the home of The Right Reverend Richard Norgate, Sometime Lord Bishop of Masasi. An old fashioned Anglo-Catholic Englishman of 87. He sits in continual silence as he is almost completely deaf with both his ears and a part of his face eaten away from skin cancer caused by prolonged exposure to the African sun. Wearing Episcopal purple with a great pectoral cross he sat completely still staring out of the window. The current Bishop’s wife, the Principal and the College, Fr Mark, Maida, Penny, and myself dressed in my order’s habit for southern climes, walked into his sitting room for our visit. He looked up, saw me and exclaimed in a booming voice “Ah, A Brother! And properly dressed!” My heart leapt. There are few in the church today that could take one look at me in my habit and know immediately what I was and what my order stands for, let alone be flooded with loving memories of my brothers. There are even fewer who would react with such joy.

After hurried greetings he continued “I have so much to tell you, Bishop Briggs was a great friend of mine” (Bishop George Briggs OGS had been a priest of the Diocese of Masasi for 36 years beginning almost at the very foundation of the Diocese, as a Canon, an Archdeacon, and the Principal of St Cyprians Theological College, before becoming the Bishop of the Seychelles: he died at the age of 93 four years ago). “Did you know that one of your Superiors was once the Principal of one of my schools here in the Diocese?” he asked. When I told him that I did not, he seemed deeply puzzled and disappointed that the current Bishop had not informed me. Fr George Tibbats OGS, sometime Father Superior of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, had indeed been in the Diocese of Masasi for many years and had even tried to start an Oratory House there.

While he was speaking to me I noticed on the wall behind him a yellowing photograph of Bishop Edward King (Bishop of Lincoln, Feast Day in the Anglican Church of Canada March 8th) tacked to the wall. It is the same photograph that I have framed in my sitting room. I was about to say that I have the same photograph until I realised that I did not. His was an original signed by Bishop King himself. It had been passed down to him from his father who had been ordained by Bishop King. There that small isolated bungalow on the Rondo plateau in the wilds of Tanzania under a huge African Sky, while looking at that photograph, I was overwhelmed by the smallness and the interconnectedness of the church throughout the world. I felt at home.

We had been there for a about five minutes when we were told that it was time to go as we had no time. Bishop Richard was confused and surprised that it was such a short visit. I waited until the others filed out of the room before telling him that I was sorry the time was so short. He looked at me sadly and said “I have so much to tell you, but - no time, no time.” I knelt to ask for his blessing and he began to cry. He insisted on rising from his seat with the aid of two canes, and then letting both of them drop to the floor, grabbed my head with both hands and gave a beautiful blessing, while tears ran down his face. As I took my leave he grabbed my hands and said quietly “I am dying you see. I know we shall not meet again on this side, but I have still much to share with you so I shall wait for you patiently on the other side until you join me.”

Everyone must make decisions about the way they live their lives and must continually decide whether to keep the old ways or abandoned them for the new. I have always found this balancing act difficult. All of us have been taught the ‘right’ way to do things from parents and grandparents and we must choose whether we abide by these customs. I am one of those who tries to keep the ‘right’ way as I was taught it as much as I can. This is not so much because of the rational behind the customs as the fact that they tie me to a community and a collective history which is still alive for me. For me it is about loyalty. So many of the customs I keep are only recognised by a select group swiftly passing out of this world. In many ways it makes me a bit of a dinosaur.

I believe it is as much because the church today seems to have little historical context or awareness. We do not take the time to investigate and feel a connectedness to those who have gone before us. Time moves so quickly that even the immediate past disappears into the shadows swiftly let alone the collective memory of twenty five or fifty years ago. The current Bishop of Masasi had no recognition of the part my order had played in the development of the Diocese of Masasi, although I must say that the old Mother Superior of the Sisters of Saint Mary did. I remember when Father Cyrus Lang died a few years ago. He had spent most of his ministry in the Laurentians serving a few different parishes, but when he died only one person in the Laurentian Deanery Clericus remembered him. Our continuity with the past is ebbing away at a frightening speed. It was a joy to be walking with my Rector’s Warden through the snow earlier today reminiscing about Archdeacon Naylor and his life. Neither of us knew him but if you had overheard us you would have thought we were speaking about a close friend. He left the parish of Rawdon in 1925.

All of us are brothers and sisters in Baptism. Yet the emotional reality of meeting one who you immediately recognise as one of your own and who also recognises you is profound and life affirming. For me this almost never happens. Bishop Richard’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and respect for my Order and therefore for me was humbling as well as deeply melancholic. Will I ever get this again? Most people seem to be entirely ignorant of the rich history of the religious life in the Anglican Communion as well as profoundly uninterested in it. I have learned to expect indifference at best in regards to my religious family. Fifty years ago the Anglican theological landscape was dominated by members of my order: Fr Eric Milner White OGS, Fr Wilfred Knox OGS, Fr Eric Mascall OGS, Fr Alec Vidler OGS. Now it seems as if, even with almost a hundred major theological works between them, no one recognises their names. So I felt an instant and powerful connection to that old and dying Bishop on a remote African plateau in the middle of the jungle. Perhaps it is because as he is approaching death he let down many of the ‘normal’ barriers that one keeps when engaging with others, especially strangers. Many elderly are able to sweep away irrelevancies and get right to the point. Then again, maybe it is because of what St Paul says in the letter to the Thessalonians. Perhaps both of us shared a recognition, not of our individuality but rather of our brotherhood in the deeper sense because we had both ‘received the word with joy’ and become ‘imitators’. We both have given our lives to the same God, the same Gospel, and promised to follow this same path all the days of our lives.

At first I felt that it was cruel to break in upon the loneliness of this old man with such a fleeting visit. It felt like giving a hungry man only one biscuit. Upon reflection I believe that any chance meeting of kindred souls is what makes life liveable. In reality his was a gift to me, one that will see me, God willing, through many years in the desert. He saw me, affirmed me and reminded me what it is like to be greeted with joy. He made me proud to be an Oratorian and he made me proud of my brothers that had found their way into the heart of at least that one solitary man.

"We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia."
1 Thessalonians 1:2-4


Surprised by Joy or Ogni Parte Ad Ogni Parte Splende: Whitterings, June 2008

“Each of the ‘Nine Angelic Choirs’emitting its radiance to the ‘Nine Celestial Spheres’.”
Dante, Inferno VII

During Lent my parish read C.S. Lewis’s spiritual autobiography ‘Surprised by Joy’. In it Mr Lewis tells the story of his search for Joy from when he was a child until his Conversion to Christianity. He speaks of his first experience like this:

“The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering current bush on a summers day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old house when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it. It was sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? Not, certainly for a biscuit-tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. Ιοϋλίαν ποθω (Oh, I desire too much) and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace once again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.”
Surprised by Joy, Page 16

It is a fascinating autobiography because, although it does contain a great deal about his external life, it is more about the journey of his soul discovering its destiny and as such the interior moments that look so ordinary from the outside are monumentous on the inside. For example he accepted Christ while riding in the passenger seat of a car on the way to a neighbouring village whilst silently staring out of the window at the passing landscape.

He describes this journey of the soul as being a longing for joy something quite different from happiness or contentment.

“The Feeling is … it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy, is never in our power and pleasure often is.”
Surprised by Joy, Page 18

“And with that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country; and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together into a single unendurable sense of desire and loss, which suddenly became one with the loss of the whole experience… And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to ‘have it again’ was the supreme and only important object of desire."
Surprised by Joy, Page 83

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago and further away or still ‘about to be’”.
Surprised by Joy, Page 89

On my day off last week I watched a metaphysical film called ‘The Nines’. It is a series of short films that explores the nature of a character and his relationship with his creator as well as an exploration of the artist and creation. The film is interesting enough but a little too philosophical. At least that is up until almost the last scene when the entire film comes together in one unexpected emotional climax of a profoundly religious character. The character and his relationship with his creator is resolved using the motive of the incarnation of Christ. I am afraid I can not explain any more than this.

The climax of the film takes place against with the song called ‘The Other Side of Mt Heart Attack’ by the liars going on in the background. It is a simple song that begins very slowly and reaches a crescendo while repeating the words “I won’t run far. I can always be found. If you need me I can always be found. If you want me to stay I will stay by your side. I want you to find me so I’ll stay by your side. I can always be found.” The simple incarnational words set against a cosmic background and coming so unexpectedly I found deeply moving. I bought the tune off of iTunes and as I sat in the dark listening to it a surprising thing happened. The very longing that I had been reading about in Surprised by Joy returned to me like a great gathering storm and tears ran down my face.

Although my mind can not conceive of it and I know the images I see are from my imagination there is still a deep sense of hope that one day the thing I most long for, both for myself and the whole of creation, will happen. One day, when we least expect it, in the middle of the mundane unfolding of our small lives, something will happen. We will not at first know what it is because it will be unlike anything we have ever known. Imagine how a sunrise would look to the inhabitants of a land of darkness where there has never been any light not even the pale light of the stars. At first there will be confusion and disorientation and then slowly it will begin to filter through to our sluggish minds and hearts. The thing that we have been praying, waiting and longing for our whole life is actually happening. The world is being changed! The day when all the injustice, all the pain all the unfulfilled love and desire will be undone, when all the broken pieces will be made whole again. The New Jerusalem. The angelic realms will swell outward to include all of creation: OGNI PARTE AD OGNI PARTE SPLENDE.

I know that on that day when Christ broke the bonds of death and rose upwards like the sun upon this world of sin and death that this happened. I know that He has already risen, that he already loves, that he has already redeemed. I know that what I most hope for is the foundation of the Faith and is already present regardless of whether my darkened mind and small heart can perceive it. Although most of the time I do not feel it and I do not even remember that I hope for it and I do not actively seek it I still plod forward with some deep hidden hope. It is in these small moments when through the lens of the imagination in flight we are given a faint glimpse of the Kingdom of God that has come upon us that we remember why we are Christians, and why it is that we need not ever be afraid.

I end with a prayer of the Franciscan Priest who died in the World Trade Centre on September the 11th.
“There will always be the people who want to destroy what God builds up through good people, but God will overcome. And God someday – I don’t know how he is going to do it- but he’s going to make the headlines rather than the devil. He will in the end, so don’t give up. We pray together, we hold hands together, we believe together, we love together, we’re saved together, and God reigns. Amen.”

The Reverend Father Mychal Judge OFM

Sola Scriptura verses Sola Verbum Dei: Whitterings, May 2008

Deacon Dan Endresen’s article in the March edition of the Montreal Anglican once again raised that hoary old chestnut ‘Sola Scriptura’. Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone, consistently raises its head in Anglican circles these days although it is not an Anglican doctrine. Anglicans hold more to "Prima Scriptura," which holds that even though the Bible is the primary source of doctrine it is read in reference to other sources of Tradition (such as the Creeds) or "Sola Verbum Dei," (by the Word of God alone - Scripture and Tradition wedded together) is more normative. Many conservative evangelicals use the word ‘Scripturally based churches’ to refer to a certain idea of Christian orthodoxy. What does this mean? It means that the ‘final authority’ in their community is Scripture alone. This assumes that Scripture exists in some kind of stasis beyond interpretation. It assumes that the truth is found right there, easily accessible, on the page and that all people will read it the same way.

"Both read the Bible day and night, But thou read'st black where I read white."
William Blake

Sola Scriptura is an extreme protestant doctrine (even though in the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 it is not "expressly set down in Scripture") that is not held by our church.Scripture has to be interpreted and it has been the Church’s vocation to interpret Scripture anew in every generation by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As an Anglican I have a serious question for those who hold to Sola Scriptura. How does a ‘Scriptural Believer’ get around the historical reality of how Scripture was written and how it was formed into the existing canon?

The Church of Christ existed long before the New Testament existed. Her Bishops, guided by the Holy Spirit promised to her by Christ Himself, tested and discerned the presence of the same Spirit in the words of the Gospels and the Letters and Writings of the works that became the New Testament. It was the Bishops of the Church that canonised (collected together, sorted and decided what works would be included and which would not) the New Testament. It was through the Church that Scripture became Scripture and was given the authority that it has. We, as Anglicans, believe the same Spirit guided and moved amongst them during the seven Great Councils of the Church and the formulating of the three Creeds. We also believe that the Spirit “Which Will Lead you into the way of all truth” is still at work within the Church.

Specifically, it was only the four Gospels and the 13 Epistles of St Paul that were considered as accepted ‘doctrine forming’ writings of the early Church (c.130). The idea of even having a canon only came much later probably as a reaction to the heretic Marcion. It was only at the end of the second century that these writings were referred to as ‘Scripture’. We can tell from the writings of Eusebius (c. 260-340), Bishop of Caesarea, that the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letter of Jude, the Second Letter of Peter, the Second and Third Letter of John and the Book of Revelation were not considered Scripture until a much later date than the original writings. Some books, such as the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, were only accorded the status of Scripture by certain churches. It was not until St Athanasius (296-375), Bishop of Alexandria, in his Festal Epistle for the year 367 that the current canon was set down. St Damasus (c. 304-384), Bishop of Rome, called a council that for the first time listed all of the books of the Old and New Testament. This is known as the ‘Gelasian Decree’ because Gelasius (d. 496), Bishop of Rome, reproduced it the year before he died. I point out that all of the men referred to were Bishops of the Church.

So we get to the meat of the question. How can someone believe in the authority of the Scripture alone whilst not believing in the authority of the Church that gave it it’s authority in the first place? You can not without falling into an obvious philosophical paradox. I was taught that the main difference between a Catholic and a protestant is that the two are built upon different foundations. Protestantism is founded on Scripture as its chief authority (Sola Scriptura). Catholicism is founded upon the working of the Holy Spirit. Catholics (by which I mean the Orthodox Churches, Anglicans, Old Catholics & Roman Catholics) say “the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ, founded the Church and guided the writing of the Scriptures, the discernment of the Church in recognising and canonising the Scripture, the theological outworking in the Councils and Creeds of the Church and continues to guide the interpretation and teaching about those same Scriptures down to the present day”. The New Testament is considered a Catholic Book as we wrote it, we edited it, we published it and we distributed it. To a Catholic Scripture is defined as a collection of inspired writings made by the tradition and the authority of the Church. All four Catholic Churches agree that only a Council of the Church has the right to declare a book Canonical.

If you discount the authority of the Church Catholic, how can you then say that her judgment in the discerning of what Is Scripture is, paradoxically, correct? I have never understood this. As the Scriptures themselves do not claim sole authority for themselves as a whole, what non ecclesiastical authority can possibly be appealed to for justification of the claim of Sola Scriptura? There is no way to circumvent the authority of the Church Herself without falling into paradox and contradiction. Some might, and have, used another word for this.

I do not usually write my column in response to another article in this paper. However Deacon Endresen's article rather disturbed me. I have only addressed one of the issues he raised in this column thus far. I would, however, like to briefly say that his accusation of Marcianism in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill is almost libellous. His use of the term also shows an ignorance about the nature of Marcianism itself. I need only remind you that Marcian (d. c.160) believed that only the ten epistles of St Paul and his own edited version of the Gospel of St Luke held authority. The Old Testament writers as well as the Apostles and Evangelists he considered blind because of their Jewishness and therefore their work was tainted. Show me one of our Priest Professors who teaches anything even remotely like this? I would remind the good Deacon that one should not use the term ‘heretic’ lightly when used against specific colleagues (we all know which Anglican Priests teach Old and New Testament at the University of McGill). Not only should one not throw rocks in glass houses (“those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”) but it is also tasteless and simply just bad manners.

Anglican Donatism and the Intellectual Integrity of the Churh or Laudator Temporis Acti: Whitterings, April 2008

Horatius, Ars Poetica (Epistulae II.3), 173.

Those of you who regularly read this column will know that I consistently decry the Church’s continued, uncontrolled drift into the shadows of post-modernity. In many ways this puts me firmly in the camp with some of the people I most strongly disagree with theologically. I agree with many conservatives that the church often seems rudderless, lawless, and controlled by a secularist agenda (whether consciously or unconsciously). Scripture, tradition, theology and reason seem to be abandoned by the church for a sort of perverse and willing prostitution of herself to the world and her ways.

The use of a sports game metaphor may be helpful. The more conservative are usually playing on the right field, with the right equipment, and by the right rules. Many liberals, with whom I tend to agree a good bit more, and the most conservative have started playing their own individual games, with alien equipment, and by their own rules. One of the reasons that a seriously flawed conservative theology (Donatism) is gaining such strength in the church today is that too many of the grounded liberals have wandered off the field and abandoned the game. I may disagree with many conservatives but I agree with their struggle to wrestle with Scripture and Tradition in the search for truth. I accept the rules of the game. I may agree with many liberals but I usually strongly disagree with how they came to hold their position and it’s theological (if there is one) foundation.

Many church leaders today seem to feel little obligation to give account of their opinions and decisions in the light of Scripture, Tradition or Reason. They claim it ‘feels’ right. It is exactly the same sort of radical subjectivity that escapes the duty to be honest to the community as a born again Pentecostal who claims that they ‘know’ what is true simply because they have had a personal religious experience and are now ‘saved’. You can find no common ground on which to challenge them. They have escaped accountability to anyone. This is the antithesis of Catholicity in which the whole body is held accountable to one another (emphasis found in each of the Gospels and especially in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the First Letter to the Corinthians and the Letter to the Colossians).

I can not be too strong in my condemnation of this avoidance of responsibility. It is actually heresy. The abandonment of mutual accountability severs us from the body and thereby from Christ Himself. I have mentioned before Elie Wiesel’s claim that if you must choose between Christ and the Truth you must always choose Truth because the Truth is Christ and to choose Christ over the Truth is to choose who you think He is, an idol of Him, and not who He really is.

C.S. Lewis claims that what he learned during his first meeting with his tutor William Kirkpatrick, and his further two years of Socratic dialogue with him, paved the way for his eventual conversion to Christianity.

“I said I was surprised at the ‘scenery’ of Surrey; it was much ‘wilder’ than I had expected. ‘Stop!’ shouted Kirk with a suddenness that made me jump. ‘What do you mean by wildness and what grounds had you for not expecting it?’ I replied I don’t know what, still ‘making conversation’. As answer after answer was torn to shreds it at last dawned upon me that he really wanted to know. He was not making conversation, not joking, not snubbing me; he wanted to know. I was stung into attempting a real answer. A few passes sufficed to show that I had no clear and distinct idea corresponding to the word “wildness’. And that, in so far as I had any idea at all, ‘wildness’ was a singularly inept word. ‘Do you not see then,’ concluded the Great Knock, ‘that your remark was meaningless?’” “On what had I based (but he pronounced it baized) my expectation about the Flora and Geology of Surrey? Was it maps, or photographs, or books? I could produce none. It had, heaven help me, never occurred to me that what I called thoughts needed to be ‘baized’ on anything.” He concluded: “Do you not see, then, that you had no right to have any opinion whatsoever on the subject?”
Surprised By Joy p. 156

Lewis said that this drove him to try and practice what his own beliefs dictated:
“For I had learned something from Kirk about the honour of the intellect and the shame of voluntary inconsistency.” Surprised By Joy p. 200

Oh, that we still had a church that felt these two things as sharply as She once did! I have already written about the chaos that has come upon us because the two ‘sides’ do not dialogue in order to both grow by a soteriological teleology but instead wage a war of attrition. What many do not realise is that the extreme conservatives that are seeking to break communion with their Bishops and the ‘enlightened’ liberals who casually discount Church tradition are both fundamentally making the same mistake. They have become anarchists. I can not tell you how many times I have tried discussing the pros and cons of a particular view with a liberal churchperson or arch conservative only to come quickly to that subjective wall that knows no breaching. It does not matter what the topic is, whether it be what the best age for Confirmation is in this society or what should be taught about Lent, there really is a better and a worse answer. Some things are simply a matter of taste, such as churchmanship, but these are surprisingly few when one looks at how theology integrates even the smallest details of our lives. I do not claim to know what that answers necessarily are but I do know that the struggle to reach it must, at a base minimum, contain a loyalty to Scripture, an acceptance of the claim that tradition has on us (the Councils of the Undivided Church, the Three Creeds, the Teachings of the Church Fathers and the Saints, Church History, as well as the heritage in Anglicanism of the Book of Common Prayer and our body of Canon Law) and a critical honest openness to truth. This critical thought process is open to objective analysis on the basis on rationality, logic, consistency and empirical evidence.

Often you get the “Well, I feel” that bla bla is the best or right way. When asked why they will often say what amounts to “I think this because I think this” or “I do this because this is what I do.” Why do we accept this nonsense? The way you feel about Confirmation is irrelevant in deciding how the application of the Sacrament is best adapted to modern circumstances. If the feeling has arisen as an intuitive by- product of a wrestle with the theological and liturgical work of the last thirty years in this area, and a reflection on adolescent psychological and sociological development, and a familiarisation with the statistical studies of different practices then it’s veracity should be accepted. It should not if it is just what it usually is – a cover for cowardice and sloth. The Cowardice is the fear of being the one to say to a community that things must change. For example teaching a community that expects its nine and ten years olds to be Confirmed why this should no longer be the practice and then having to manage the long period of conflict that results from the change. The sloth is found in not doing the research, the reading and the thinking that is expected of us in areas of important debate. Often the person simply has not done enough ‘work’ to, as the Great Knock would say, ‘have any right to have an opinion on the subject’.

If you think this too harsh I would be more than pleased to hear another interpretation. I, simply, can not see how else modern church people (including clergy) can so easily, and seemingly without guilt or shame, ignore and even contradict the basic theological foundations of the faith (and yes there is a some consensus as to what a bare minimum of this consists of!), liturgical principles laid out in the two Prayer Books, National Directives, and National, Provincial and Diocesan Canons and Policies, common sense, and sometimes even decency.

There are three prevalent responses to challenges to stated opinions and practices. Often the response is something along the lines of “well no one takes that seriously” or “I do not believe that”. They may well be right, but it is still up to them to show the community why. Funnily enough no one seems to use arbitrary spelling just because they ‘feel’ a word would be better spelled another way. Recently I had a disagreement with a churchwoman about the circumference of two pavement candles. I thought they were different and she that they were the same. When I took out a tape measure and showed her that one was two inches thicker then the other, she simply looked at me and said sullenly “well I feel they are the same size’. As Alice would say “Curiouser and Curiouser”.

The second response is a philosophical mistake that C.S. Lewis suffered from and is even more prevalent today: chronological snobbery. A good friend, he says, cured him.

“..he made short work of what I have called my ‘chronological snobbery’, the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realisation that our own age is also ‘a period’, and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”
Surprised By Joy p. 241

The third most common argument often used is that Christ has ‘freed’ us from ‘The Law’. This is simply not true. We are free from the cold, external observance of the Mosaic Law. We are, however, still called to the observance of the internal observance of the ‘Law of Love’. The ‘rules’ I refer to (traditions, canons, policies) are also not the same as the “Law” because these regulations are born from within the church as a way of maximising our potential for holiness and minimising our tendency towards corruption. They are as St Paul says a way for “Everything to be done decently and in good order.” The laws of the community and the radical search for freedom must be balanced. Aristotle reminds us that almost all of the problems that face us in life can be reduced to the question of getting the right balance. These rules are constantly to be tested as St Paul reminds us to ‘test everything’ and amended as the collective wisdom of the church sees fit. For as long as they stand, however, they still have authority for us. If you disagree with a structure or rule then you are, by the “Law of Love” as part of the body, fully expected to argue for its change or abolishment. You are not free just to ignore it because of your own conscience. This is to fall prey to the enemy who seeks to cut us off from one another.

“When Milton's Satan falls from heaven, he ends in hell. And what does he say to reassure himself? 'Here, at least, we shall be free.' And that, I think, is the fate of the old-fashioned liberal. He's going to be free, but he's going to find himself in hell.”
B. F. Skinner

This article is not a plea not for a privileged elitism. It is a plea for meritorious elitism (people should be classed by their merit). It is a plea not to persecute those who have special gifts just because they make us feel uncomfortable or insecure (the last thing we need is to have everyone brought down to the same level in mediocrity). It is mostly a plea for returning to the basis of Catholic Church – that we make ourselves accountable to one another. We are not all brilliant theologians, pastors, liturgists, administrators, and teachers. We are not meant to be. If we try to do everything this makes us feel weak and incompetent and it isolates us. This isolation, this consultation of only a few like minded people, is born of the enemy of faith – fear. If we acknowledge that each individual gift is a gift of the whole body then we compliment one another. If we take consul together and consult those who have strength and gifts in their particular fields we have a better chance of discerning the Will of God. This means we do not need to be afraid of having our weaknesses examined because we can use the strengths of others to strengthen ourselves.

The challenge of others actually helps us to grow “into the full stature of Christ”. The only way to do this is to accept the ‘rules’ which reflect the living discernment of the community as the starting point for our wrestle for the truth as a family. This belonging to a family is messy and it means being vulnerable to one another. This is why the current trend of using professional business models in the church are so horrific. It means that we tend to ‘handle’ people when there is conflict. To handle people means that we intentionally do not let ourselves be open to the challenge of painful disagreement with those who challenge us. We keep them at a ‘safe’ distance emotionally. We may be more successful in getting ‘personnel’ issues dealt with but we lose the intimacy and the suffering we are called to participate in by the following of Our Lord. You can not justify ‘handling’ people in a community that is to model the Christ of the Gospels. This is why the National Church has issued the guidelines ‘A Call to Human Dignity’ adopted by this Diocese several years ago. However it does not help that the document is seldom referred to and seldom utilised in out conflicts. It might as well not exist. It is a perfect example of my overall point.

I have written at length in previous articles about some of the reasons that I believe that this rampant subjectivity has arisen. I have also written about the insecurity and fear that makes us so defensive and insecure. I simply want to remind people: that God is actually real; that we, as Anglicans, worship and approach him as a community; that this makes us accountable to one another, and to the faith, traditions and discipline of the Church; and that any religion that is comprised of only what we already think or feel is falsehood – only a projection of ourselves onto God. The God we serve ‘passeth all understanding’ and leads us to become that which, today, we can not even imagine.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura I, 101

Confession of a Marshwiggle or Living as a Narnian: Whitterings, February 2008

"I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."

I was recently discussing with a friend some of our fears. I was saying how I sometimes fear looking back on my ministry and regretting lost opportunities that I would be able to see so clearly in hindsight but was blind to now. He spoke about the fear of one day losing his faith and thereby making his life a bit of a joke. This last fear really struck a chord in me and made me think.

Of all the things that I fear losing, my faith has never been one of them. I think this is because I do not see that faith is a set of beliefs or a code of practice but rather a way of being. I think faith is analogous to intuition. Although we do not know exactly how intuition works, many believe that it works in a way similar to the normal mode of using our five senses only on the unconscious level. The senses only work consciously when things are obvious enough to make us take notice of them. If someone using only their senses walked into a room after a couple had been fighting, and then that couple pretended everything was fine, there would need to be blood or broken glass for the newcomer to know that the couple had just been fighting. However someone using intuition in the same situation would know instantly without any obvious clues. There would be a huge amount of information flowing through the brain from the senses but all of it too subtle to register consciously: the level of testosterone and adrenalin in the air, the dilated pupils of the eyes, the flush of the skin, and the subtle defensive and aggressive movement of the bodies. All of this information would be flowing through the unconscious mind the same way the grosser senses flow through the conscious mind. The unconscious mind then throws this information upstairs to the conscious mind as a knowing feeling. The intuitive ‘knows’ in a similar but different way from the sensor. The sensor can tell you why they have come to the conclusion about their interpretation of reality that they have. An intuitive will not, even though they may know a great deal more about the scene than the sensor. The sensor is to belief as the intuitive is to faith.

Faith is basically the trusting of the universe, an openness to God and His creation On a basic level having faith is about letting go of control and letting God step in. As St Julian of Norwich told us “All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well. Nietzsche’s nihilistic view of reality led him to conclude that all man can do in the face of the overwhelming emptiness and meaninglessness of the universe is to look into it’s great abyss and then dance upon the edge of it. Kierkegaard’s Christian answer to Nietzsche is that one must make the next step of faith and instead of dancing on the edge of the void one must rather jump into it. Only then will God appear and catch you.

I have also taken great comfort from the example of Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. The climax of the book takes place in the underground kingdom of the evil Green Witch. She takes the heroes of the story, including Puddleglum, prisoner and is casts a spell on them using magical smoke from a fire and soothing words to make them believe that Narnia and Aslan, and everything they have known are all just figments of their colourful imaginations. It is, of course, Plato’s cave in reverse. The characters are taken from the light of day into the cave and made to believe that the shadows are real and not the things casting them. The witch just about wins when the Marsh Wiggle Puddleglum, a curmudgeonly pessimist amphibious creature, rouses himself at the last second and throws himself into the fire. The dampening effect of his froglike skin on the fire dispel the smoke and the pain from being burned brings him back to his full mind. The short statement that he gave to the Witch at that moment is the best answer to classical atheism I have ever come across. To me he gives an assurance to us Christians that the path of faith is the only possible way forward in our lives.

"One word, Ma'am," Puddleglum said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worse and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up thing seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

So for me faith is not really about belief or consciously knowing it is more about moving steadinly forwards with trust. Faith is following in the footsteps of the disciples, sometiimes blindly but still with certainty. One step in front of the other. John Henry Candinal Newman, our dear friend who caused those of us who are Anglicans such lingering pain, sums it up in his famous hymn ‘Lead Kindly Light’. This song was reportedly sung on the Titanic by Marion Wright just before it sank in a service led by The Reverend Fr Ernest Courtenay Carter, Vicar of St Jude’s Whitechapel. It was also sung by Betsie ten Boom on her way to a German concentration camp in WWII.

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Custodians of the Gospel or Planting Trees: Whitterings, January 2008

The church today must perpetually strive to keep the difficult and frightening balance between duty and freedom. Let me try to explain. The church is one of the civilising structures of society. Civilisations strive to elevate the higher aspects of humanity above the lower animal desires. In a civilisation there is a higher goal that the community is seeking, and it encourage the traits that lead to its fulfilment. Civilisations look to the long term goals, and instil discipline, sacrifice, and duty. They foster exploration of the world through science, art, poetry and political justice. Lord Clarke, the Author of ‘Civilisation’ says simply “civilisations plant trees”. A dark age occurs when these goals fade and are replaced by a society that emphasises the individual above the community and puts their personal desires first and then they, as a result, seek comfort and consumption. You will know you are living in a dark age when, not only are the baser aspects of humanity not fought against, but they are actively encouraged.

The church has traditionally been part of the structure that tries to steer the human race towards long term goals and self sacrifice. As a result it is conservative by its very nature and changes very slowly because she naturally distrusts new expressions of society as she is constantly on guard against any collapse of civilisation. It is perfectly understandable, after all, that a community that has seen the rise and fall of thousands of different empires, governments, and societies would not tend to be quick to embrace the values of any particular one. The church knows that when all else fades she will still remain.

I therefore often sympathise with those in the church that hold to the old ways and beliefs out of a deep conviction that they are trying to protect the modern world from its own destructiveness. They hold to the wisdom of the ages and see that what they have always fought against is gaining in strength and the battle is becoming more fraught. They are performing their duty to be faithful in their own generation and many of them are convinced that they are doing nothing more than trying to protect people from themselves. There is truth in this goal of the church and it is honourable and praiseworthy. This duty requires great sacrifice on the part of those who seek to perform their duty.

The paradox is that the very church that has been called to shepherd God’s people, to rebuke, and encourage in the name of the Lord and to call all people to turn away from the paths of destruction, and seek the Gospel of Life (the imposition of Ashes sentence from the Ash Wednesday service) is also called to preach radical freedom to the world. The freedom of the knowledge of salvation, forgiveness and love is the heart of the Gospel. It is a freedom that breaks all chains including those of death itself. This freedom knows no fear and produces an awe, an openness to the created order and to life. In the end this is the Gospel the church exists to proclaim.

This means that the church must always be open to the Spirit and to adapt her views to embrace recognitions of the work of the Spirit in every generation. She is not to do so lightly and without deep reflection and discernment. This is a difficult and painful process. The conservatives must hold the church back from becoming entranced by modern society and joining in with faddish doctrines. Equally the liberals must challenge the old view and proclaim vigorously the new discernment of God’s work within the church. The striving between the two sides helps everyone and is necessary. The liberals are saved by the conservatives from rushing unreflectively and recklessly into heresy while the liberals challenge the conservatives to keep moving and reflecting on their own assumptions. In the long run the result is, idealistically, a mature and balanced and consistent growth towards deeper wisdom about the working of God in his creation.

What troubles me about the church during our present wrestling is the amount of fear and divisiveness that is present. I had assumed that the roles we had to play in our communal discernment was a given and that the unity we have as a family would not be called into question. This is, of course, not the case. This is the real tragedy of our present situation, the possibility of divorce – of schism. Schism is never the will of God and the history of our community has shown it to weaken everyone. What has happened to the trust that the Church will balance herself given enough time? What has happened to the patience and perseverance that has marked the church adapting and renewing the preaching of the Gospel in every generation? Most of all what has happened to the freedom of the Gospel that releases us from anxiety and fear? We should remember the wisdom of Gamaliel,
“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” Acts. 5: 38-39

Surely we have learned that every stage of out deepening understanding of God has been marked by conflict and then growth. The current situation is no different. Surely we have learned that the spirit works though the messy process of church councils and long term wrestling. We must remember that the Holy Spirit has opened the eyes and many who thought they understood fully and given them the freedom to repent of their egotism and either return with humility to wisdom or join enthusiastically in the new expression of the Spirit.

In the end it is this paradox of the church that keeps me in it. I trust that no matter how much we try to control the Gospel as its custodians, no matter how much we try to enshrine it in structures, discipline and duty, it can never be controlled. We as the church are born out of and stand upon the very same Gospel that mistrusts and destroys all structures and controls. We can never succeed in keeping our treasure under lock and key as it will always break forth anew to lead us to repentance for our own lack of wisdom and our own blindness. The Church will continue because at its heart is the Freedom of God and this freedom can never be suppressed, even by the church.

The Gospel does not want us to just do the loving thing, to act is a loving way, to preach love out of duty. The Gospel calls us to join in with God’s love and let all of out actions be directed by Him alone. We are not to do love, we are to be love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for all who love are born of God and know God. Those that do not love do not know God, for God is love.”