And just to prove I have not gone all serious today: Robin Williams' "Top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian
10. No snake handling.
9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.
7. You don't have to check your brains at the door.
6. Pew aerobics.
5. Church year is color-coded.
4. Free wine on Sunday.
3. All of the pageantry - none of the guilt.
2. You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized.
And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:
1. No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
As for our lyres, we hung them up
on the willows that grow in that land.
For there our captors asked for a song,
our tormentors called for mirth:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I set not Jerusalem above my highest joy.
At the heart of many of my "problems" in life, lies a profound sense of alienation. Never feeling I was quite a normal part of my family when growing up. Being a working class oddity in a middle class church. As an Anglo-Catholic, being a slightly extreme and exotic sub-set within the whole, with it's own language ("Mass" rather than Eucharist or Communion). Being gay in a straight world and celibate in a sexualised one. As a stipendiary priest, being called to serve for a time in a parish, never choosing to embed in a place I felt was my true spiritual home (linked to the Anglo-Catholicism) and living in tied accommodation rather than "my ain wee house". After a while, this sense of not belonging, really belonging, grinds you into a place where you feel utterly alone and isolated. (And yes, there is a wee bit of the "poor Me's" in this).
What does it mean to belong, to be at home? Choice is vital, but does anyone have total freedom of choice in life? And if we are called in baptism to be citizens of "Another Country", will that sense of being truly at home, of really belonging ,be something we will know in this life?
That sense of not belonging, of not fitting in, is one that I hear time and time again in my Tuesday night meeting. It's a sense that has contributed to dangerous and self destructive behaviour to pretend to fit in and belong. And it really does help to know that I'm not the only one who feels/has felt like this. But those who have moved and through it to a better place seem to have made it by adjusting their attitude to the world, rather than making the world fit their point of view. Re-fashioning and reforming your take on life is a massive task and very slow. So I continue to explore who I am and where I am meant to be with a sense of curiosity, as well as touches of fear. But it is rather interesting rather than totally terrifying!
My reaction to the news that "The Currant Bun" (as the UK's most famous comic for the news seeker is called) had come out for the Tory Party in the looming general Election was: a) so what? It's always been Tory under the surface. b) The Emperor Rupert (aka the Dirty Digger) has duly anointed the new heir to Maggot Scratcher. But its analysis of the performance of New Labour seems sadly accurate and it's basically calling time time on a tired administration. It even had the grace to salute the basic decency and integrity of the PM - a pleasant change from it's viscerally Thatcherite period being edited by that unlovely Troll, Kelvin Mackenzie.
Where I part company with the Sun is on "Vote Tory". David Cameron seems a decent enough sort and I think he is genuine in his commitment to the NHS. But the shushed Thatcherites, Euro sceptics and near Fascist morons are merely hiding within the re-vamped Nasty Party and I shudder at the thought of their return. I lived through the Miner's Strike in West Fife. Never will I trust a Tory Government. Ever. Any bets that they will quickly move to refashion broadcasting along the lines suggested by the Dirty Digger Junior at the Telly Festival earlier this autumn? A weaker Beeb and a stronger Sky. And our media becomes more like America under Murdoch's domination.
New Labour - better the devil you know? No thanks, they're tired and the country needs a change. The SNP are attractive apart from their wanting Independence. It doesn't make economic sense to me, even in Europe. The Lib Dems - my electoral home since I was 18? Kindly explain the difference between N Clegg and D Cameron and I'll think about it. Still, it's not going to be a question that needs answering today, so I'll watch this run in to the election with interest.
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
From the sermon ‘The Powers of Nature’ by John Henry Newman (1831)
The Heavenly beings bit leaves me slightly iffy in that I am the product of a scientific age and education. But I take Newman's point seriously: we can veer too far from the medieval worldview to modern scepticism and miss out truths. We can put everything in life good or bad down to natural laws or assorted "ologies". In days of yore it was theology, demonology etc that were blamed or praised and today they stand discredited in the eyes of many. Today, psychology, upbringing and the impact of various traumas and stresses on the mind get given much of the same treatment. So much so, that the newest "ologies" seek to discredit them. Scientology, for example, is very sceptical about psychology and using it as a treatment for illness.
So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle. Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.
The Collect for St Micahel and All Angels:
you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals:
Mercifully grant that,
as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven,
so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Monday, 28 September 2009
Fr John Paul had a very distinguished career in the SEC. A Wykehamist and Edinburgh graduate, he spent the early part of his career as a missionary in Mozambique with the UMCA. His time there covered the trauma of their war of liberation from Portugal and he wrote a fine memoir "Mozambique: memoirs of a Revolution" describing his experiences. His ministry in Scotland took him from well heeled Prayer Book loving tweed jackets in Castle Douglas, to seaside ministry in Portobello, to a Morayshire parish at Elgin where he also served as Dean of the Diocese. I first ran into him there in 1986 when I was part of an ecumenical mission from Christ's College Aberdeen (the Divinity Faculty) to Elgin. Some gentle ribbing was received, when my colleagues from the Kirk discovered the Rector was called John Paul and his curate Alexander Guinness. "Typical Piskies: wan thinks he's the Pope, the ither thinks he's an actor"!
JP was a lovely, gentle man and rather a gossip (but not in a malicious sort of way) who was always cheerful and supportive. He retired to East Lothian and carried out well regarded post retirement ministries at St Michael and All Saints in Edinburgh and at Haddington. His pastoral sensitivity is nicely illustrated by the story of his 1st Sunday in Elgin. UMCA clergy were never exactly Low Church but when he arrived at Elgin he inquired what sort of service they were used to. "Oh, we're very middle of the road, Rector". So he he dressed in stole and surplice and conducted the liturgy thus attired. Grumbles were heard. A senior layperson gently took him aside and said "Noo Father, ah ken they said they were middle o' the road but they're no really. Up here, middle o' the road means High Mass, nae incense!" He was well loved and will be much missed. Resquiat in Pacem.
The other death was Ian Thomson, Dean of King's College Cambridge and formerly Rector of St Mary's Carden Place Aberdeen (The Tartan Kirkie"). Ian was almost a contemporary of mine at Coates Hall (I left as he arrived) and joined the SEC after many years as a Salvation Army officer. Sadly, he appears to have taken his own life after a lengthy period under investigation for sexual offences dating back many years. I knew Ian slightly and liked him as a person and, without condoning clerical sexual misconduct, stick firmly to the line that you are innocent until PROVEN guilty. It appears that the case had been running for nearly 18 months, although the polis have not said if the case was active or currently cold. It seems strange that such a serious allegation could not be brought to conclusion more quickly (for the sakes both of the victim if guilty and the accused if innocent) and, having known others who have been thus accussed and later exonerated, I have some idea of the terrible strain that results from waiting for the results of an investigation and the toll it can exact on the persons mental health. So Ian too I commend in my prayers to the mercy and grace of our loving God.
Oddly enough, one of my predecessors at Falkirk Ivor Erskine St Clair Ramsey, went on to be Dean of King's Cambridge and died mysteriously (falling from the chapel roof). There is debate as to whether he jumped or if he slipped when out stargazing (his hobby was astronomy). Cambridge is perhaps a place Scottish clergy ought to avoid!
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Meilto, Bishop of Sardis, was a prominent ecclesiastical writer in the latter half of the second century. Few details of his life are known. A letter of Polycrates of Ephesus to Pope Victor about 194 states that "Melito the eunuch [this is interpreted "the virgin" by Rufinus in his translation of Eusebius], whose whole walk was in the Holy Spirit", was interred at Sardis, and had been one of the great authorities in the Church of Asia who held the Quartodeciman theory. His name is cited also in the "Labyrinth" of Hippolytus as one of the second-century writers who taught the duality of natures in Jesus. St. Jerome, speaking of the canon of Melito, quotes Tertullian's statement that he was esteemed a prophet by many of the faithful.
Of Melito's numerous works almost all have perished. Fortunately, Eusebius preserved the names of the majority and given a few extracts. They are :
(1) "An Apology for the Christian Faith", appealing to Marcus Aurelius to examine into the accusations against the Christians and to end the persecution (written apparently about 172 or before 177). This is a different work from the Syriac apology attributed to Melito. The latter, a vigorous confutation of idolatry and polytheism addressed to Antoninus Caesar, seems from internal evidence to be of Syrian origin, though some have identified it with Melito's Peri aletheias.
(2) Peri tou pascha, on Easter, written probably in 167-8. A fragment cited by Eusebius refers to a dispute that had broken out in Laodicea regarding Easter.
(3) Eklogai, six books of extracts from the Law and the Prophets concerning Christ and the Faith, the passage cited by Eusebius contains a canon of the Old Testament.
(4) He kleis, for a long time considered to be preserved in the "Melitonis clavis sanctae scripturae", which is now known to be an original Latin compilation of the Middle Ages.
5) Peri ensomatou theou, on the corporeity of God, of which some Syriac fragments have been preserved. It is referred to by Origen as showing Melito to have been an Anthropomorphite, the Syriac fragments, however, prove that the author held the opposite doctrine.
Fourteen additional works are cited by Eusebius. Anastasius Sinaita in his Hodegos quotes from two other writings: Eis to pathos (on the Passion), and Peri sarkoseos (on the Incarnation), probably written against the Marcionites. Routh published four scholia in Greek from a Catena on the Sacrifice of Isaac as typifying the Sacrifice of the Cross, probably taken from a corrupt version of the Eklogai. Four Syriac fragments from works on the Body and Soul, the Cross, and Faith, are apparently compositions of Melito, though often referred to Alexander of Alexandria. Many spurious writings have been attributed to Melito in addition to the "Melitonis clavis sanctae scripturae" already mentioned e.g., a "Letter to Eutrepius, "Catena in Apocalypsin", "De passione S. Joannis Evangelistae""De transitu Beatae Mariae Virginis". Melito's feast is observed on 1 April.
Oh Mrs Blethers, he could be made for you!
Saturday, 26 September 2009
But from where could they give back the same kind of thing, if the one who made the first payment had not given them the means of giving something back? What shall I pay back to the Lord for all the things he has paid back to me? I will receive the cup of salvation. What is this cup? The bitter but salutary cup of suffering, the cup which the invalid would fear to touch if the doctor did not drink it first. That is what this cup is; we can recognise this cup on the lips of Christ, when he says, Father, if it can be so, let this cup pass from me.
(from a sermon by St Augustine of Hippo)
The relationship between pain, healing, wholeness and self respect is a bafflingly complex one. Pain is a problem for theology: it happens. Obviously, it is a normal and natural and sometimes healthy thing- the pain of muscles aching after vigorous exercise, toothache telling us something is wrong with a bit of our body. But we (and possibly this is a very 20th century product of medical advances and increased access to health care) tend to assume we ought to be immune from pain, be it physical or emotional. We should "feel good", it's one of our human rights. Yeah, right.
Friday, 25 September 2009
I was rather amused at this discovery! At least I'm not St Jerome! Miserable old boot! On the heresy front, I gather than the so-called Anglicans of Sydney have actually permitted deacons to "preside" at the eucharist. And why is Rowan Williams not threatening them as he is the US Church? Really, I'm almost past caring about all the silliness and have the strangest desire to nip off and venerate the bones of the Little Flower of Lisieux!
Thursday, 24 September 2009
The day was spent in Falkirk packing away books.The 15 boxes are now up to 32 and only 2 more rooms to go. 11 of those boxes are for "disposal", which means off to the diocesan office and the Theological training library. Which is in a bit of guddle. And I have been drafted in to sort it. Call it voluntary work!
Today is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Walsingham. That shrine and village has been a very special place for me in my journey. This has been the longest time since I was an ordinand since I visited there - nearly a year. Looking back over my postings, it has been a place I've written a lot about. I suppose my usual trips were curtailed by health and the need to be in and about Edinburgh for therapy. I'll ignore much of the problematic bits of the life of the Shrine and simply that the prayers and intercession of OLW have been a real source of comfort and grace to me and I am grateful for all my friends there who have prayed and lit candles over the last while.
Sunday, 20 September 2009
It was good news indeed yesterday when the mighty Blue Brazil beat the evil Dungbarton 3-0 at Fabby Pies Stadium on the Clyde. Suddenly we're in 5th place! (That won't last!). So it's time to go for a wee bit of exercise and enjoy the sunshine! Pax et bonum y'all!
Thursday, 17 September 2009
whose servant Hildegard, strong in the faith,
was caught up in the vision of your heavenly courts:
by the breath of your Spirit
open our eyes to glimpse your glory
and our lips to sing your praises with all the angels;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
And what of Hildegard, singing nun and German feminist? "Caught up in the vision..by the breath of the Spirit": it's wonderful when that happens, when we are enthused and inspired by a vision of something greater and more lovely than grey reality. The bother is we can fall into the trap of always looking for the next vision and perennially looking out on the world saying "If only..". If only I had a man/woman, if only I had a better job, if only the Church was less homophobic/more friendly to minoriites etc, etc, etc. The Dorothy syndrome, always thinking it's blissful over the rainbow rather than back in Kansas with Aunt Em. The trick is to be visionary with your feet planted firmly on the ground rather than with the plates of meat planted firmly in the air. And boy, am I bad at that!
Which reminds me: I need some shaving cream!
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
as Your Son was raised on the cross,
His mother Mary stood by Him, sharing His sufferings.
May Your Church be united with Christ
in His suffering and death
and so come to share in His rising to new life,
where He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Collect for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Quite probably because I have also experienced Resurrection after times of grief. I can and have made the jump from Good Friday to Easter morning in my own life, as well as liturgically and theologically. I have seen both the darkness and the dawn. To hold the Good Friday experience alone as the reality would indeed be soul and faith destroying. Perhaps that is why Judas Iscariot went out and hung himself. He never got the Easter message, just the day of sorrow and that was simply too much for his heart and mind to bear.
A pick and mix theology that cherry picks the elements of the Christian narrative and experience that suit us/appeal to us/resonate with our limited experience is a dangerous thing. It too easily makes God in our own image and that God is not one who can bring us to fullness of life. We need the whole picture. The bits of Scripture we find awful, the aspects of the story we find dead. Because we never know when those dark or mysterious bits will burst into life and bring us wisdom and insight and comfort. The Wisdom of God is strange to human eyes, but it is still wisdom and wisdom beyond our understanding. A wisdom for the times we cannot yet know as well as for the times that have been and the now in which we live.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
Church didn't quite happen today as I stayed on to deal with late breakfasters and make sure the roast veggies were edible - but they self-immolated and I had to start again to ensure Sunday lunch wasn't mainly carnivorous.
Tomorrow is Holy Cross Day, which has been a festival I have always valued, due in no small part to my admiration of the slum priests of the ilk of Alexander Heriot MacConnachie and Charles Fuge Lowder in London, and John Comper in Aberdeen, all of whom were SSC (Societas Sanctae Crucis or Society of the Holy Cross). I was fiercely proud of my own membership of SSC and greatly regretted giving up it up because I could no longer uphold it's line on not taking communion from women priests when I went to work in Falkirk with a female NSM. However I think this quote from St Anselm is worth batting about if you observe it:
"We do not acknowledge you because of the cruelty that godless and foolish ones prepared you to effect upon the most gentle Lord, but because of the wisdom and goodness of him who of his own free will took you up".
In other words, we don't oberve this feast to celebrate an instrument of torture or to dwell on the effects of human sinfullness, but to celebrate the means of grace and the depth of the Divine Love that never stops seeking us out and rescuing us from the consecquences of our personal folly and weakness. So truly we can say:
"We adore you O Christ and we bless you.
Friday, 11 September 2009
Try this on and see how it fits:
"The purpose of Benedictine spirituality is to gather equally committed adults for a journey through earthen darkness to the dazzling light that already flames in each of us, but in a hidden place left to each of us to find" (Joan Chittister OSB).
There is so much in this. The group of adults (intentional community) can be residential or dispersed or local or all of these things. The dazzling light within can be our soul or personality or essence - call it what you will. But the hidden place? It's within our own hearts and minds to be sure, but this reminds me that community living is but part of what I'm looking for. That inner journey of discovery is something that each of us ultimately takes alone. The monos in Monastic. The religious with their cell may live in a community, but ultimately their pilgrimage is towards God and that is a lonely journey, even as part of a group. And similarly, we only discover happiness and fufillment when we within our selves feel that our light is shining in a proper and fufilling way. Dozens of others can say we are a light to them or a success but unless we have internalised a sense of fufilling a higher purpose and see that this is true in regard to our own situation where we are in the here and now, then we will not feel content or happy. The Benedictine approach is to stay in the one Abbey and find peace there, not to run around seeking grass that is greener (alledgedly!) elsewhere.
I find this discovery of truths from others thinking nicely described in a phrase I heard on Tuesday night: "borrowing wisdom". Hopefully God will let us keep it on long term loan!
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Last night involved a yummy baked cheesecake for dessert which broadened my dietary experience in a pleasantly American way, plus a bouef bourginon. The herbal teabag that is boquet garni didn't end up on my plate which was a plus. Never quite a dull moment!
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Nork, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin''bout?
"Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunders, she asked "And a'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash a well! And a'n't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'n't I a woman?
"Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.
"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.
Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now old Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."
Certainly it sets off the reading from the Gospel on Sunday nicely. Who're you calling a dog Jesus? Wha daur marginalise us? Damn few, and they're a' deid! In my merrily insular British way, I hadn't heard of this fiesty lady. Wonder if this ought to be nailed to the door of the Shrine at Walsingham?
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
who stooped to raise fallen humanity
through the child-bearing of blessed Mary:
grant that we, who have seen your glory
revealed in our human nature
and your love made perfect in our weakness,
may daily be renewed in your image
and conformed to the pattern of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Ruby Foster's funeral is tomorrow at Christ Church. Again, I felt my re-appearence might be a distraction to the family, so I will skip that and simply remember Ruby in prayer. Not cutting myself off fom the community of which I have been a part, but working out where and when are the right places to meet and explain and say what needs to be said. This feels so different from the Kirkcaldy experience, where I thought (in part) "Thank God that's finished". Falkirk are one of the most caring and welcoming congregations I have known and it is with a real and profound sense of regret that I move into a different future. I don't want to leave at one level, but I also know there is a need to, because parish ministry is not where I ought to be. It is a very bittersweet thing to plan this departure. But it must be done. To simply slip off would be wrong.
Monday, 7 September 2009
Today we meet to discuss some sort of service of farewell to give everyone at Falkirk some closure, which might feel a bit weird. We shall get there though.
Thursday, 3 September 2009
One or two bits of not so good news: Ruby Foster (ex-Christ Church and Cursillo) has died suddenly and that is a bit of a downer. I hope to go to the funeral, but it will be in Falkirk and it would feel very odd to be there, in office but doing nothing. Also all the questions and queries. I actually wonder if I ought to go, given that it might distract from the family and their needs. Also, Mum's old work mate's husband has died and she is finding it rather upsetting trying to be there for Jean but it's very close to Dad's anniversary, so...
Prayers I think all round.