Friday, August 31, 2012

Canon Middleton's lecture on ecclesiology at the FCA (i.e. GAFCON) Leaders Conference, April 2012

I have always believed that at its best and most authentic, the Anglican "patrimony" holds together the truly catholic and the truly evangelical. This is not always apparent to those who view the history of our church through the lens of "churchmanship squabbles", or whose only experience of Anglicanism is the disintegration taking place in various parts of the world today. So I'm glad to alert readers to a lecture Canon Arthur Middleton delivered at the April 2012 Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (i.e. "GAFCON") Leadership Conference in London: The Anglican Mind in Caroline and Tractarian Thought. 

Canon Middleton's lecture is all about the doctrine of the Church. But it's much more than that. It explores and celebrates both the catholic and evangelical traditions of Anglicanism, and emphasises their mutual enrichment. 

Canon Middleton is Honorary Fellow of St Chad's College Durham, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Patron of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. He is on the Church Union Council Standing Committee and Publications Committee, and the Editorial Board of New Directions. A writer of numerous books and articles, he has completed three lecture tours in Canada and Australia. 

The lecture in question can be downloaded in its entirety as a pdf document HERE

Towards the end, Canon Middleton quotes twice from Anglican Vision, by Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta (1907–1976), a Belgian Benedictine scholar well-known for his work on St Basil of Caesarea, who joined the Church of England in 1962, accepting appointment to a residentiary canonry of Winchester. I share with you these quotes, because, like Canon Middleton, I think that de Mendiata is right about catholic and evangelical traditions: 

". . . both traditions are older than these revivals [i.e. the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century and the Oxford Movement of the 19th]. Their continuity and homogeneous development can be traced from Reformation times: through Nicholas Ridley, bishop of London, to Charles Simeon (1759-1836); through Lancelot Andrewes, bishop of Winchester, to Bishop Charles Gore (1853-1932); through Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding to Richard Meux Benson, the founder of the Society of St John the Evangelist at Cowley (1824-1915). At all periods throughout these centuries, we observe men of great piety and devotion within both traditions: Henry Martyn, the Evangelical missionary (1781-1812) and John Keble, one of the fathers of the Oxford Movement (1792-1866); Charles Simeon, one of the main leaders of the Evangelical Revival and Edward Bouverie Pusey, the outstanding Tractarian leader (1800-82); James Hannington, the Evangelical bishop of East Equatorial Africa (1847-85) and Frank Weston, the Anglo-Catholic bishop of Zanzibar(1871-1924). Yet the differences between each pair of men seem to disappear, when contrasted with the Christ-centred devotion which enlivened them all . . . The remarkable feature of the different types of devotion, shown by various saintly men of the Church of England, is not the tenacity with which each holds to his particular tradition, but their common devotion to Christ. This devotion has always grown, and still grows, out of the love and study of the Scriptures, and out of an affectionate adherence to the piety of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither the Catholic nor the Evangelical type of Anglican holiness can be explained in terms of a practical via media, or of a Church which is committed to some form of Anglo-Saxon compromise."

* * * * *

"The fullness of Anglicanism will be utterly catholic and uncompromisingly evangelical at the same time. Both these emphases are present in the New Testament making it necessary to set such Scriptural truths and realities in their Scriptural complementarity. Michael Ramsey claimed that the Anglican Church does not see the Evangelical and the Catholic views as alternatives, but in the Scriptural sense where both elements are one. This ethos has enabled the Anglican Communion to look not for a synthesis but rather for a symbiosis, a growing together in a living whole of the sundered Christian traditions and with humility seek to promote it. They can do so because in its own ecclesial life the Anglican Communion has found these evangelical and catholic elements to be complementary and necessary to the fullness of a Church's life and mission."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Just "being"

In 1936 Evelyn Underhill published three talks she had given on the BBC under the title The Spiritual Life. As one would expect, it is full of uplifting but no-nonsense practical guidance for those who are seeking God. Its style is both elegant and homely. Here is one of my favourite passages. If you haven't read it before, it will bless you. (For that matter, it will bless you even if you have!): 

When . . . we lift our eyes from the crowded by-pass to the eternal hills; then, how much the personal and practical things we have to deal with are enriched. What meaning and coherence come into our scattered lives. We mostly spend those lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual - even on the religious - plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life. But now, with this widening of the horizon, our personal ups and downs, desires, cravings, efforts, are seen in scale; as small and transitory spiritual facts, within a vast, abiding spiritual world, and lit by a steady spiritual light. And at once a new coherence comes into our existence, a new tranquillity and release. Like a chalet in the Alps, that homely existence gains atmosphere, dignity, significance from the greatness of the sky above it and the background of the everlasting hills. 

The people of our time are helpless, distracted and rebellious, unable to interpret that which is happening, and full of apprehension about that which is to come, largely because they have lost this sure hold on the eternal; which gives to each life meaning and direction, and with meaning and direction gives steadiness. I do not mean by this a mere escape from our problems and dangers, a slinking away from the actual to enjoy the eternal. I mean an acceptance and living out of the actual, in its homeliest details and its utmost demands, in the light of the eternal; and with that peculiar sense of ultimate security which only a hold on the eternal brings. When the vivid reality which is meant by these rather abstract words is truly possessed by us, when that which is unchanging in ourselves is given its chance, and emerges from the stream of succession to recognise its true home and goal, which is God—then, though much suffering may, indeed will, remain; apprehension, confusion, instability, despair, will cease. 

This, of course, is what religion is about; this adherence to God, this confident dependence on that which is unchanging. This is the more abundant life, which in its own particular language and own particular way, it calls us to live. Because it is our part in the one life of the whole universe of spirits, our share in the great drive towards Reality, the tendency of all life to seek God, Who made it for Himself, and now incites and guides it, we are already adapted to it, just as a fish is adapted to live in the sea. This view of our situation fills us with a certain awed and humble gladness. It delivers us from all niggling fuss about ourselves, prevents us from feeling self-important about our own little spiritual adventures; and yet makes them worthwhile as part of one great spiritual adventure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Influence of Bishop Overall

Every now and then people like me are accused of not being "real" Anglicans . . . in other words, that the things we believe about the Church and Sacraments are idiosyncratic, and only “shoe-horned” into our Church during the Oxford Movement of the 19th century. So I was glad to see on the Forward in Faith North America website that at their recent National Assembly Bishop Ray Sutton of the Reformed Episcopal Church (one of the constituent groups of the Anglican Church of North America) had given a teaching on the Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, in which he looked at Scripture, the early Church Fathers, the Undivided Church and the Anglican Divines of the 16th and 17th centuries. 

One of the Divines he mentioned was Bishop John Overall (1559–1619), an academic who had been Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Overall was also one of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible. From 1614 to 1618 he was Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and then for a year before his death he was Bishop of Norwich. He was a friend of Lancelot Andrewes, and a mentor of William Laud and John Cosin, both of whom in different ways were foundational to the survival of the Church of England in the 17th century. 

In fact, as a young man, Cosin had been Overall’s librarian and secretary, and he tells us that with regard to the doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the position of the Prayer of Oblation in the Prayer Book . . . 

“. . . the consecration of the Sacrament being ever the first, it was always the use in all liturgies to have the oblation follow . . . and then the participation . . . in regard whereof, I have always observed my lord and master Dr Overall to use this oblation in its right place [i.e. the arrangement of the 1552 and 1604 Prayer Books notwithstanding! ed.], when he had consecrated the Sacrament to make an offering of it (as being the true public sacrifice of the Church) unto God, that by the merits of Christ’s death, which was now commemorated, all the Church of God might receive mercy, &c. as in this prayer; and when that was done he did communicate the people and so end with the thanksgiving following hereafter . . .” (The Works of the Right Reverend Father in God, John Cosin, Lord Bishop of Durham, Parker Edition Volume 5, page 114).

This same volume contains Bishop Overall’s manuscript notes incorporated into Cosin’s interleaved edition of the Book of Common Prayer printed in 1619. Overall was emphatic about the reality of our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. Here are his words on the “Prayer of Thanksgiving”: 

"Before consecration we call them God’s ‘creatures of bread and wine;’ now we do so no more, after consecration . . . And herein we follow the Fathers, who after consecration would not suffer it to be called bread and wine any longer, but the Body and Blood of Christ" (ibid, page 121).  

He also says, "It is confessed by all Divines, that upon the words of the Consecration, the Body and Blood of Christ is really and substantially present, and so exhibited and given to all that receive it; and all this not after a physical and sensual, but after a heavenly and incomprehensible manner.”  (ibid, page 131)  

It is against the backdrop of what we know Overall believed and practised that we have to interpret the explanation of the Sacraments in the Catechism, because that part of the Catechism was written by Overall (and added in 1604 by royal authority). While it is true that the language is soft enough to avoid giving reasonable Puritans a crisis of conscience, it is nevertheless clear that the Catholic Faith regarding the Sacraments is what Overall is teaching: 

Question. What meanest thou by this word Sacrament? 
Answer. I meane an outward and visible signe of an inward and spirituall grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himselfe, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof. 
Question. How many parts be there in a Sacrament? 
Answer. Two; the outward visible signe, and the inward spirituall grace. 

Question. Why was the Sacrament of the Lords Supper ordained? 
Answer. For the continuall remembrance of the Sacrifice of the death of Christ, and the benefits which we receive thereby. 

Question. What is the outward part or signe of the Lords Supper? 
Answer. Bread and wine, which the Lord hath commanded to bee received. 

Question. What is the inward part or thing signified? 
Answer. The Body and Blood of Christ, which are verely and indeed taken and received of the faithfull in the Lords Supper.

New "Flying Bishop" announced . . . Bishop of Beverley

It has just been announced by 10 Downing Street that the successor to Bishop Martyn Jarrett as Bishop of Beverley (i.e. the Provincial Episcopal Visitor "PEV" or "flying bishop" for the North) is to be Canon Glyn Webster, presently Acting Dean of York and Canon Chancellor and Canon Residentiary of York Minster. The Announcement can be read HERE

In welcoming the news on behalf of Forward in Faith, its Chairman, the Rt Rev'd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, said: 

"I am delighted to welcome the appointment of Canon Glyn Webster as Bishop of Beverley. Canon Webster is a wise and faithful catholic priest and pastor. As Canon Chancellor of York Minster he has been at the heart of the life of the Church of England in the Northern Province, while his long experience as a member of the General Synod, and especially as Prolocutor for Convocation of York and a member of the Archbishops’ Council, means that he is well placed to continue to make a significant contribution to the Church at national level." 

 Bishop Jonathan added: "All those who look to the See of Beverley for pastoral and sacramental care can rejoice that they have a worthy successor to Bishop Martyn to serve and to lead them as their new bishop. Catholics in the North can look forward with confidence to a further period of growth and renewal. I look forward greatly to Canon Webster’s episcopal ordination and to working with him for many years to come."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Milbank & Pickstock - radio interviews

Following some appreciative feedback on the YouTube John Milbank lecture, I thought I’d share with you an in depth interview with Milbank and Catherine Pickstock on the Radical Orthodoxy movement that was initiated by Milbank’s book Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (1990) The basic idea of the book is that modern social thought rests on a misguided voluntarist theology that triumphed with the breakdown of the participation metaphysic of Aquinas.

Milbank says that Duns Scotus was mistaken in teaching that God is the supreme “being” among many beings, in contrast with Aquinas for whom God is “Being itself.” Scotus thought he was making God more easy to understand, but, according to Milbank, his ideas have had negative consequences for Western thought ever since. God came to be seen as a distant Will that, while responsible for creating the cosmos and occasionally intervening in “nature”, was no longer necessary in order to explain the cosmos. Consequently the self-enclosed mechanism of nature as modern science understands it has not needed God. With Reason no longer naturally finding its completeness in God, Faith and Reason split.

Milbank, Pickstock and their collaborators in the Radical Orthodoxy movement seek to bring back the all-encompassing relevance of God by re-designating him as “Being itself.” All things participate and find their meaning in him. So they work to restore the Christian participation metaphysic supported by Aquinas. As the interview indicates, the Church as a cosmic community is crucial, and the Liturgy is the highest activity in the cosmos since it is the act through which all things find their consummation in God. Indeed, Pickstock, whose book is After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy, says that it is through the Liturgy that we become fully alive. Hence, a life centered on the Eucharist is the most rational and complete way of living.

Enjoy the interview!

Click HERE to listen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

More of Woodbine Willy - The Sorrow of God

Well! Yesterday's post generated a phone call of appreciation from someone I hadn't spoken to for years. So I thought I'd better share another of Studdert-Kennedy's poems with you today. This is one of my all-time favourites. In it, a World War I soldier, who has just witnessed a young corporal being blown to pieces in the trench, rants against God, and comes to a kind of tentative illumination (and deeper faith) as he thinks about the Cross.

The poem was originally published in Rough Rhymes of a Padre (one of two volumes of war-time poems issued in 1914-18 under the pseudonym "Woodbine Willie"); then re-published under Studdert Kennedy's own name in The Sorrows of God and Other Poems in 1921; and again in Rhymes in 1929, a one-volume re-print of the Rough Rhymes series. (Note plural `Sorrows' in the book title, but singular in the poem.) In The Sorrows of God and Other Poems 1921 it is one of two items described as `Dialect Poems'. This volume is available online HERE (I notice that some have reworked this poem in various ways so as to remove the Cockney dialect; but I think they have diminished its impact. So what follows is exactly what Studdert-Kennedy wrote.) 


YES, I used to believe i' Jesus Christ, 
 And I used to go to Church, 
 But sin' I left 'ome and came to France, 
 I've been clean knocked off my perch. 
 For it seemed orlright at 'ome, it did, 
 To believe in a God above 
 And in Jesus Christ 'Is only Son, 
 What died on the Cross through Love. 
 When I went for a walk o' a Sunday morn 
 On a nice fine day in the spring, 
 I could see the proof o' the living God 
 In every living thing. 
 For 'ow could the grass and the trees grow up 
 All along o' their bloomin' selves? 
 Ye might as well believe i' the fairy tales, 
 And think they was made by elves. 
 So I thought as that long-'aired atheist 
 Were nubbat a silly sod, 
 For 'ow did 'e 'count for my Brussels sprouts 
 If 'e didn't believe i' God? 

 But it ain't the same out 'ere, ye know. 
 It's as different as chalk fro' cheese, 
 For 'arf on it's blood and t'other 'arf's mud, 
 And I'm damned if I really sees 
 'Ow the God, who 'as made such a cruel world, 
 Can 'ave Love in 'Is 'eart for men, 
 And be deaf to the cries of the men as dies 
 And never comes 'ome again. 

 Just look at that little boy corporal there, 
 Such a fine upstanding lad, 
 Wi' a will uv 'is own, and a way uv 'is own, 
 And a smile uv 'is own, 'e 'ad. 
 An hour ago 'e were bustin' wi' life, 
 Wi' 'is actin' and foolin' and fun; 
 'E were simply the life on us all, 'e were, 
 Now look what the blighters 'a done. 
 Look at 'im lyin' there all uv a 'eap, 
 Wi' the blood soaken over 'is 'ead, 
 Like a beautiful picture spoiled by a fool, 
 A bundle o' nothin' - dead. 
 And it ain't only 'im - there's a mother at 'ome, 
 And 'e were the pride of 'er life. 
 For it's women as pays in a thousand ways 
 For the madness o' this 'ere strife. 

 And the lovin' God 'E looks down on it all, 
 On the blood and the mud and the smell. 
 O God, if it's true, 'ow I pities you, 
 For ye must be livin' i' 'ell. 
 You must be livin' i' 'ell all day, 
 And livin' i' 'ell all night. 
 I'd rather be dead, wiv a 'ole through my 'ead, 
 I would, by a damn long sight, 
 Than be livin' wi' you on your 'eavenly throne, 
 Lookin' down on yon bloody 'cap 
 That were once a boy full o' life and joy, 
 And 'earin' 'is mother weep. 
 The sorrows o' God must be 'ard to bear 
 If 'E really 'as Love in 'Is 'eart, 
 And the 'ardest part i' the world to play 
 Must surely be God's part. 
 And I wonder if that's what it really means, 
 That Figure what 'angs on the Cross. 
 I remember I seed one t'other day 
 As I stood wi' the captain's 'oss. 
I remember, I thinks, thinks I to mysel', 
 It's a long time since 'E died, 
 Yet the world don't seem much better to-day 
 Then when 'E were crucified. 
 It's allus the same, as it seems to me, 
 The weakest must go to the wall, 
 And whether e's right, or whether e's wrong, 
 It don't seem to matter at all. 
 The better ye are and the 'arder it is, 
 The 'arder ye 'ave to fight, 
 It's a cruel 'ard world for any bloke 
 What does the thing as is right. 
 And that's 'ow 'E came to be crucified, 
 For that's what 'E tried to do. 
 'E were allus a-tryin' to do 'Is best 
 For the likes o' me and you. 

 Well, what if 'E came to the earth to-day, 
 Came walkin' about this trench,
 'Ow 'Is 'eart would bleed for the sights 'E seed, 
 I' the mud and the blood and the stench. 
 And I guess it would finish 'Im up for good 
 When 'E came to this old sap end, 
 And 'E seed that bundle o' nothin' there, 
 For 'E wept at the grave uv 'Is friend. 
 And they say 'E were just the image o' God. 
 I wonder if God sheds tears, 
 I wonder if God can be sorrowin' still, 
 And 'as been all these years. 
 I wonder if that's what it really means, 
 Not only that 'E once died, 
 Not only that 'E came once to the earth 
 And wept and were crucified? 
 Not just that 'E suffered once for all 
 To save us from our sins, 
 And then went up to 'Is throne on 'igh 
 To wait till 'Is 'eaven begins. 
 But what if 'E came to the earth to show, 
 By the paths o' pain that 'E trod, 
 The blistering flame of eternal shame 
 That burns in the heart o' God? 
 O God, if that's 'ow it really is, 
 Why, bless ye, I understands, 
 And I feels for you wi' your thorn-crowned 'ead 
 And your ever pierced 'ands. 

 But why don't ye bust the show to bits, 
 And force us to do your will? 
 Why ever should God be suffering so 
 And man be sinning still? 
 Why don't ye make your voice ring out, 
 And drown these cursed guns? 
 Why don't ye stand with an outstretched 'and, 
 Out there 'twixt us and the 'Uns? 
 Why don't ye force us to end the war 
 And fix up a lasting peace? 
 Why don't ye will that the world be still 
 And wars for ever cease? 
 That's what I'd do, if I was you, 
 And I had a lot o' sons 
 What squabbled and fought and spoilt their 'ome, 
 Same as us boys and the 'Uns. 

 And yet, I remember, a lad o' mine, 
 'E's fightin' now on the sea, 
 And 'e were a thorn in 'is mother's side, 
 And the plague o' my life to me. 
 Lord, 'ow I used to swish that lad 
 Till 'e fairly yelped wi' pain, 
 But fast as I thrashed one devil out 
 Another popped in again. 
 And at last, when 'e grew up a strappin' lad, 
 'E ups and 'e says to me, 
 "My will's my own and my life's my own, 
 And I'm goin', Dad, to sea." 
 And 'e went, for I 'adn't broke 'is will, 
 Though God knows 'ow I tried, 
 And 'e never set eyes on my face again 
 Till the day as 'is mother died. 

 Well, maybe that's 'ow it is wi' God,
 'Is sons 'ave got to be free; 
 Their wills are their own, and their lives their own, 
 And that's 'ow it 'as to be. 
 So the Father God goes sorrowing still 
 For 'Is world what 'as gone to sea, 
 But 'E runs up a light on Calvary's 'eight 
 That beckons to you and me. 
 The beacon light of the sorrow of God 
 'As been shinin' down the years, 
 A-flashin' its light through the darkest night 
 O' our 'uman blood and tears. 
 There's a sight o' things what I thought was strange, 
 As I'm just beginnin' to see 
 "Inasmuch as ye did it to one of these 
 Ye 'ave done it unto Me." 
 So it isn't just only the crown o' thorns 
 What 'as pierced and torn God's 'ead; 
 'E knows the feel uv a bullet, too, 
 And 'E's 'ad 'Is touch o' the lead. 
 And 'E's standin' wi' me in this 'ere sap, 
 And the corporal stands wiv 'Im, 
 And the eyes of the laddie is shinin' bright, 
 But the eyes of the Christ burn dim. 
 O' laddie, I thought as ye'd done for me 
 And broke my 'eart wi' your pain. 
 I thought as ye'd taught me that God were dead, 
 But ye've brought 'Im to life again. 
 And ye've taught me more of what God is 
 Than I ever thought to know, 
 For I never thought 'E could come so close 
 Or that I could love 'Im so. 
 For the voice of the Lord, as I 'ears it now, 
 Is the voice of my pals what bled, 
 And the call of my country's God to me 
 Is the call of my country's dead.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Woodbine Willy's Poems - gritty & incarnational

Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929) was born in Leeds and educated at Leeds Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained a degree in classics and divinity in 1904. He trained for the priesthood at Ripon Clergy College and ministered in Rugby and at St Paul's, Worcester. Volunteering as an army chaplain in World War I, Studdert Kennedy earned the nickname Woodbine Willy for his habit of giving Woodbine cigarettes to soldiers in distress. He was awarded the Military Cross for risking his life to comfort the wounded at Messines Ridge. 

During the war Woodbine Willy wrote poems for soldiers in the trenches. These became very popular. Some are available online. 

Archbishop William Temple said that Studdert Kennedy was "the finest priest" he had known. He was appointed to St Edmund King and Martyr, Lombard Street, London, in 1922. 

This poem, "What's the Good?", is typical of what he wrote for the soldiers: 

Well, I 've done my bit o' scrappin',
 And I 've done in quite a lot ;
 Nicked 'em neatly wiv my bayonet,
 So I needn't waste a shot.
 'Twas my duty, and I done it,
 But I 'opes the doctor 's quick.
 For I wish I 'adn't done it,
 Gawd ! it turns me shamed and sick.

 There 's a young 'un like our Richard,
 And I bashed 'is 'ead in two.
 And there 's that ole grey-'aired geezer
 Which I stuck 'is belly through.
 Gawd, you women, wives and mothers,
 It 's sich waste of all your pain.
 If you knowed what I 'd been doin',
 Could yer kiss me still, my Jane ?

 When I sets me dahn to tell yer
 What it means to scrap and fight
 Could I tell ye true and honest,
 Make ye see this bleedin' sight ?
 No I couldn't and I wouldn't.
 It would turn your 'air all grey ;
 Women suffers 'ell to bear us,
 And we suffers 'ell to slay.

 I suppose some Fritz went courtin'
 In the gloamin' same as me,
 And the old world turned to 'eaven
 When they kissed beneath a tree.
 And each evening seemed more golden,
 Till the day as they was wed,
 And 'is bride stood shy and blushin',
 Like a June rose, soft and red.

 I remembers 'ow it were, lass,
 On that silver night in May,
 When ye 'ung your 'ead and whispered
 That ye couldn't say me nay.
 Then, when June brought in the roses
 And you changed your maiden name,
 'Ow ye stood there, shy and blushin',
 When the call of evening came.

I remembers 'ow I loved ye.
 When ye arsked me in your pride
 'Ow I 'd liked my Sunday dinner
 As ye nestled at my side.
 For between a thousand races
 Lands may stretch and seas may foam,
 But it makes no bloomin' difference,
 Boche or Briton, 'ome is 'ome.

 I remember what 'e cost ye,
 When I gave ye up for dead,
 As I 'eld your 'and and watched ye
 With the little lad in bed.
 'Struth I wish 'e'd stop 'is lookin',
 And shut up 'is bloomiri' eyes.
 'Cause I keeps on seein' Richard
 When I whacks 'im and 'e cries.

 Damn the blasted war to 'ell, lass,
 It 's just bloody rotten waste.
 Them as gas on war and glory
 Oughter come and 'ave a taste.
 Yes, I larned what women suffers
 When I seed you stand the test.
 But you knowed as it were worth it
 When 'e felt to find your breast.

 All your pain were clean forgotten
 When you touched 'is little 'ead.
 And ye sat up proud and smilin'.
 With a living lad in bed.
 But we suffers too — we suffers.
 Like the damned as groans in 'ell,
 And we 'aven't got no Babies,
 Only mud, and blood, and smell.

 'Tain't the suff'rin as I grouse at,
 I can stick my bit o' pain ;
 But I keeps on alius askin'
 What 's the good, and who's to gain ?
 When ye 've got ' a plain objective '
 Ye can fight your fight and grin,
 But there ain't no damned objective,
 And there ain't no prize to win.

 We 're just like a lot o' bullocks
 In a blarsted china shop,
 Bustin' all the world to blazes,
 'Cause we dunno 'ow to stop.
 Trampling years of work and wonder
 Into dust beneath our feet.
 And the one as does most damage
 Swears that victory is sweet.

 It 's a sweet as turns to bitter.
 Like the bitterness of gall,
 And the winner knows 'e 's losin'
 If 'e stops to think at all.
 I suppose this ain't the spirit
 Of the Patriotic man.
 Didn't ought to do no thinkin' ;
 Soldiers just kill all they can.

 But we carn't 'elp thinkin' sometimes.
 Though our business is to kill,
 War 'as turned us into butchers,
 But we 're only 'uman still.
 Gawd knows well I ain't no thinker,
 And I never knew before,
 But I knows now why I 'm fightin',
 It 's to put an end to war.

 Not to make my country richer,
 Or to keep her flag unfurled.
 Over every other nation
 Tyrant mistress of the world.
 Not to boast of Britain's glory,
 Bought by bloodshed in her wars.
 But that Peace may shine about her,
 As the sea shines round her shores.

 If ole Fritz believes in fightin',
 And obeys 'is War Lord's will,
 Well until 'e stops believin',
 It 's my job to fight and kill.
 But the Briton ain't no butcher,
 'E 's a peaceful cove at 'eart.
 And it 's only 'cause 'e 'as to
 That 'e plays the butcher's part.

 'Cause I 'as to — that 's the reason
 Why I done the likes o' this ;
 You 're an understanding woman.
 And you won't refuse your kiss.
 Women pity soldiers' sorrow,
 That can bring no son to birth,
 Only death and devastation.
 Darkness over all the earth.

 We won't 'ave no babe to cuddle,
 Like a blessing to the breast,
 We 'll just 'ave a bloody mem'ry
 To disturb us when we rest.
 But the kids will some day bless us,
 When they grows up British men,
 'Cause we tamed the Prussian tyrant,
 And brought Peace to earth again.

* * * * *

This poem, "Indifference", is typical of Kennedy's meditations on the suffering of Jesus: 

When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree,
They drave great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
And still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.

* * * * *

This poem, from "The Unutterable Beauty", captures the mystery of humanity made in the image of God, with traces of that image remaining, though marred by sin, and destined for glory: 

I'm a man, and man's a mixture,
Right up from 'is very birth,
There's part of 'im comes from 'eaven,
And part of 'im comes from earth.
There's summat as draws 'im upwards,
And summat as drags 'im duhn,
And the consekence is that 'e wobbles
Twixt muck and a golden crown.

* * * * *

This is Kennedy's breath-taking meditation of the Lord's coming to his people in Holy Communion: 

How through this Sacrament of simple things
 The great God burns His way,
 I know not — , He is there.
 The silent air
 Is pulsing with the presence of His grace,
 Almost I feel a face
 Bend o'er me as I kneel,
 While on my ears there steal
 The strains of 'Agnus Dei' softly sung.
 How it calls — calls Heaven to earth,
 Calls Christ to birth,
 And pleads for man's Redemption
 With His God.

 Here star and sod
 Unite to sing their Maker's praise,
 While, through the windows, broken rays
 Of crimson sunlight make a path
 For Him to tread.
 Just common bread.
 The artist's colour blazing bright.
 The subtle scheme of shade and light.
 That thrills our souls to ecstasy,
 Is bread.

 The notes that wed.
 And weave a wonderland of sound,
 Wherein our hearts may wander round,
 And reach the heart of God's red rose.
 Where beauty dwells alone and grows
 Sublime in solitude,
 All these are bread.
 Are they not born of earth and rain ?
 Becoming tissue of man's brain.
 The vehicle of every thought,
 The Spirit that our God bestows,
 The mystery that loves and knows.
 The very soul our Saviour bought
 Speaks through a body born of bread ;
 And wine,
 The clinging vine
 That climbs some crumbled wall in France,
 Drinks in the Love of God,
 His precious Blood,
 Poured out in beams that dance
 Through long-drawn summer days,
 Swift golden rays of sunshine,
 That are stored within the grape
 Until it swells
 And spills their splendour
 Into wine
 To fill the chalice of the Lord
 Then earth and heaven entertwine ;
 The Word
 Takes Flesh and dwells with men,
 And once again
 Dim eyes may see
 His gentle glory shine,
 The glory of humility,
 Which in creation stoops to raise,
 Through time's eternity of days,
 Our weakness to His strength.
 For neither length.
 Nor breadth nor depth nor height,
 Stays now the piercing of that light
 Of omnipresent Love,
 It runs red fire through our veins,
 The Life divine,
 In common wine.
 Thrills through the matter of our brains
 Begetting dreams.
 And gleams
 Of God — swift golden speech.
 And charity that burns to reach
 The very depths of hell,
 And lift them up to Christ,
 Who has our thirsty souls sufficed,
 Till they are drunk with God.

* * * * *

 And here is his poem "Easter": 

There was rapture of spring in the morning
When we told our love in the wood,
For you were the spring in my heart, dear lad.
And I vowed that my life was good.

 But there's winter of war in the evening,
And lowering clouds overhead,
There's wailing of wind in the chimney nook,
And I vow that my life lies dead.

 For the sun may shine on the meadow lands
And the dog rose bloom in the lanes,
But I've only weeds in my garden, lad,
Wild weeds that are rank with the rains.

 One solace there is for me, sweet but faint,
As it floats on the wind of the years,
A whisper that spring is the last true thing
And that triumph is born of tears.

 It comes from a garden of other days,
And an echoing voice that cries,
Behold I am alive for evermore,
And in Me shall the dead arise.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Receiving Jesus . . . or pushing him away?

Murmuring, whinging and complaining about the sermon! The majority deciding to leave. You’d think today’s Gospel is a story about modern day Christians and a clergyman with no teaching skills, or who was too rigid and demanding in the way he taught Scripture. 

Of course, there are clergy who turn people away from the Lord. Lots! 

But not just clergy. Lay people do it, too, especially by being hurtful and judgmental towards each other and to those on the edge of church life who come seeking. 

Honestly, one of the most depressing things for me, as a Christian and as a priest, is to think how many more people might be followers of Jesus today if over the years I had managed to be a bit more loving, and a bit more caring.

But the other side of this – as we see in today’s Gospel – is that God does actually give each of us the freedom to push him away, if that’s what we really want to do. We are free to respond to his love, and we are free not to. 

Without that freedom, there cannot really be love. 

The late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom made this very point in a sermon back in 1975: 

“[God] created us in an act of love and in this act of love, from the first, he gave himself as an offering to us . . . He gave us freedom, the freedom to accept love and to reject love, to love him in response to his love, or discard his love and . . . to proclaim to him that his love is of no avail to us, that we do not want it, that it is in vain that he has loved us first . . . 

“. . . is [this] not simply because where there is no freedom of love and rejection of love, there is no love? If we gravitated towards one another without any choice, it would be a law of nature; it would not be an act of free gift of oneself and of acceptance of the other. This freedom means love, at least the possibility of love, as it means also the possibility for us to reject God.” 

On another occasion Jesus weeps over those who reject his love. He feels very deeply the pain of their rejection. 

But, as in today’s Gospel, he doesn’t try to stop them leaving. 

We know from from being in John 6 over the the last few weeks that he miraculously feeds well over five thousand people. Their physical hunger is satisfied. But this is meant to be a “sign” of how he would feed and nourish his people with himself as the bread of life. And it foreshadows the Eucharist. 

He says to the people, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger and he who believes in me shall not thirst.” (John 6:35) He also says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” (v. 51) 

He goes on, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

The people murmur and argue: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52) To them, as to some of the authorities in the Empire during early decades of the Church, the teaching of Jesus seems to be the language of cannibalism. 

But Jesus doesn’t soften his language. It's the language, not of cannibalism, but of love. Nor does he water down his teaching. It is the secret of life in all its fulness. In fact, Jesus becomes more emphatic: “. . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” (vv. 53-56) 

Look what it says in verse 66: “After this, many of his disciples drew back. . . .” Not just "the mob", but "his disciples"!

The vast majority of them leave. Then Jesus turns to the Twelve, deeply grieved, and asks them, “Do you also wish to go away?” 

Peter speaks up: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” 

Peter isn’t perfect. We know that. But his response to Jesus is a response of love and faith. Not just faith in a set of propositions, but faith in the Lord himself. It is a RELATIONSHIP. It is about trust, love and openness to Jesus. 

We are free to respond to his love. We are free to reject his love. We are free to let him draw us to himself from wherever we are. 

We are free to receive him as the Bread of Life. Or we can push him away.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pay attention to John Milbank

For quite some time I have been interested in that cluster of theologians under the "Radical Orthodoxy" banner. Of course, they're not all the same, and they now span a range of traditions. But their work is as refreshing as it is challenging. It also calls into question the kind of theology that tends to dominate first world Anglicanism. 

I'm indebted to the Catholicity and Covenant Blog HERE (interestingly sub-titled "Reflections of a Postliberal Anglican") for a report on a lecture Radical Orthodoxy theologian John Milbank gave in Moscow earlier this year to an Orthodox audience. 

Milbank asks some very basic questions about modern Anglican theology. He begins with its cultural and societal context. The "progressive" mode - shaped by 20th century liberal Protestant German theology - is, he suggests, fundamentally stuck in the 1960s, and fails to address a very changed context in which the relationship between state, market, society and church has radically altered. 

A much more fruitful mode of theology, says Milbank, comes via creedal orthodoxy, nouvelle theologie and re-engagement with the Greek Patristic tradition, opening up the potential of a Church ironically better able to speak into a secular culture from the perspective of analogy, gift, beauty and imagination. Towards the end of the lecture, Milbank interestingly notes the significance of the sacramentality of marriage to the Church's self-understanding. He also refers to the importance of the exercise of the imagination by artists and literary figures in grasping the glory of Incarnation and Redemption. 

Milbank is probably the most influential and interesting theologian in the English-speaking world at the moment, and he's an Anglican. Anglicans should, then, be listening carefully to his insights and reflections and what they mean for modern first world Anglicanism which is still, by and large, shaped by the passing paradigm of liberal Protestantism. What should be the theological focus for those seeking evangelical and catholic renewal within the Anglican Communion? Milbank may not have all the answers. But his perspective can't be ignored. 

Here is part of what he said in Moscow:


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bishop Seraphim Sigrist on the Church as a Travelling Community

Bishop Seraphim Sigrist of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) was born in 1941 in New York. After his time at St Vladimir's Seminary he went to Japan where he served the Orthodox Church as a deacon and priest. In 1971, he was consecrated Bishop of Sendai and East Japan. He returned to the USA in 1987, taught in the graduate department of religion at Drew University, wrote books, and made frequent visits to Russia, eventually retiring in 2009. I have just read his book A Life Together: Wisdom of Community from the Christian East (2011, Paraclete Press), and recommend it to all readers of this blog. 

Bishop Seraphim maintains an active blog of his own. The following is a talk he gave in Russia.


The subject of the Church in the Bible and within the Biblical imagery is of immense importance and in particular because it is in finding the Church in the Bible that we find and ground ourselves within the Biblical story. By the inner truth of an image one is joined, in as it were the sacrament of the word, to that which is imaged. 

I am going to be brief and not academic and no doubt I will be impressionistic... as to that anyone who has heard me speak will not be surprised. 

Let us start with the words of the great French Christian philosopher Gabriel Marcel: "Perhaps a stable order can only be established if man is acutely aware of his condition as a traveler." 

This 'stable order' based on awareness of being on a journey is of course first of all that of the Church as a community travelling through Time and through history. It follows also that the vitality of the Church and its openness to the inflowing life of the Holy Spirit depends on its being always 'acutely aware' of the condition of being on a journey. 

Now of course this image of a community on a journey is established in that of the people of Israel in their spiritual formation through forty years in the wilderness of Sinai guided by the pillar of cloud and fire and in the Tabernacle which they bore with them. 

This journey from the Passover to the Land of Promise becomes that 'Salvation History' which is at the heart of the Psalms. 

The condition of journey becomes an image of the Church we may say in Sinai but it is even more primordial going back to the leaving of Eden by which humanity entered into history, and to the dispersal of nations at the tower of Babel, and to of course Abraham's leaving of his place in Sumer, and "sojourning as an alien in the land of promise" (Hebrews 11:9). 

If you have read C.S.Lewis 'Perelandra', you will remember that in creating a story of Eden in another world, Lewis has God's fundamental command being to live on the floating islands in that planet's ocean and not to seek to live on the fixed continents. This reflects that deep spiritual necessity for being on a journey which the Bible also teaches and which is summed up in Hebrews 11:13 "they were strangers and pilgrims on earth." 

And of course this is reflected even in the detail of addressing each church as the church "in" (that is sojourning in) rather than "of" Corinth or Ephesus etc. 

Lewis's floating islands may remind us also of how the early church father Hermas writes of seeing the church as a tower being perpetually built on the surface of the waters, on and within the ever-flowing nature of things, not like Babel on the land, not on the fixed. 

Now we might read a bit further in the words of Gabriel Marcel (from "Value and Immortality" in the collection Homo Viator): 

"[Man must remember that he] is required to cut himself a dangerous path across the unsteady blocks of a universe which has collapsed and seems to be crumbling in every direction. This path leads to a world more firmly established in Being, a world whose changing and uncertain gleams are all that we can discern here below. 

“Does not every-thing happen as though this ruined universe turned relentlessly upon whomever claimed that he could settle down in it to the extent of erecting a permanent dwelling there for himself?." 

Does not the history of the Church, like that of Israel in the wilderness, and indeed like that of each of us individually, attest to the truth that we are not meant to settle down? 

The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete expresses it: 

"Pass through the flowing nature of time, like the Ark of old, and take possession of the Land of Promise, my soul: It is God's command"(Song 6 tropar 2) 

And so the Spirit speaks always to the churches in that word an early church text attributes to Jesus: "Be wanderers." 

This image of Church as journeying community, it seems to me, is one which frees us with its revelation of all that is provisional and allows us as Christians and as a Church to reach out with open hands to receive the future which God gives us. And as Marcel says, history and the world, does not allow us an alternative to the embracing of this deep and Biblical image. 

In the embracing of the image we indeed pass into the Biblical story and join the age-old journey of the Church. So that is what I have to offer . . .

But perhaps in conclusion this word of prayer from Marcel can apply not only to the individual at the hour of departing this world but also to each of us and to the Church at every moment. 

"Oh, Spirit of metamorphosis! 
when the given hour shall strike, 
arouse us, as eager as the traveller 
who straps on his rucksack
while beyond the misty window-pane 
the earliest rays of dawn are faintly visible!"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Father Gilbert Shaw on prayer and the Holy Spirit

Father Gilbert Shaw (1886-1967) was a barrister who became a priest and spiritual director - one of the wisest Angican spiritual directors of his day. He was part of a movement for the development of the contemplative life for both women and men, and in particular with the Sisters of the Love of God, at Fairacres, Oxford. 

Here are some of his insights about the daily workings of the Holy Spirit, given at Fairacres: 

“The Holy Spirit will never give you stuff on a plate – you’ve got to work for it. 

"Your work is listening – taking the situation you’re in and holding it in courage, not being beaten down by it. 

"Your work is standing – holding things without being deflected by your own desires or the desires of other people round you. Then things work out just through patience. How things alter we don’t know, but the situation alters. 

"There must be dialogue in patience and charity – then something seems to turn up that wasn’t there before. 

"We must take people as they are and where they are – not going too far ahead or too fast for them, but listening to their needs and supporting them in their following. 

"The Holy Spirit brings things new and old out of the treasure.

"Intercessors bring the ‘deaf and dumb’ to Christ, that is their part.

"Seek for points of unity and stand on those rather than on principles. 

"Have the patience that refuses to be pushed out; the patience that refuses to be disillusioned. There must be dialogue – or there will be no development.” 

And here are two passages from his book, The Face of Love, about the need to enter into the cell of self-knowledge and be ready to open all the avenues of our human faculties to the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit: 

"Look well, O soul, upon thyself 
Lest spiritual ambition 
Should mislead and blind thee 
To thy essential task – 
To wait in quietness 
To knock and persevere in humble faith. 
Knock thou in love, nor fail to keep thy place before the door 
That when Christ wills – and not before – 
He shall open unto thee the treasures of his love. 

"Grant me humility of soul 
That I may grow in penitence 
Dependent on the Holy Spirit’s light." 

* * * * *

"Most loving Lord, hold thou me fast to live by thee
In all occasions of my life,
In the busyness of consciousness and where the physical doth sleep.
Keep thou my heart united to thyself
To be a temple of the Holy Ghost
That he may show me of thyself
And be the power of my soul
To be more fully one with thee.

"Still thou the inmost depths of memory and will
That all my thinking may return
To know that thou dost hold my heart.
Cleanse thou the complex patterns of unconsciousness
That nothing should control the will
Or turn my heart from loving thee,
From serving thee in spirit and in truth,
That every thought and action of the day
May be controlled and rendered to thy praise,
Determining both thought and action to thy will,
That while I sleep my heart may wake
Rendering unto thee my love
To glorify thy name,
That all that is not wholly reconciled to thee
May be resolved and rectified by love
The flame which is the knowledge of thyself."

Wordsworth on Our Lady: "Our sinful nature's solitary boast . . ."

The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven by Fra Angelico, 
for the altar of the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole near Florence 
(where Fra Angelico later became Prior) 

MOTHER! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy Image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

- William Wordsworth (1770–1850) 

And while we are waxing poetical, here is a verse of a Marian hymn from the Assyrian Church of the East: 

‎In her womb, she bore fire.
In her body, she carried the shechinah.
Within her soul the Spirit brooded
and she became, all in all,
a heaven.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

John Ortberg on the difference Jesus has made

Over at The Huffington Post, John Ortberg, Senior Pastor at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church has written a little piece about the undeniable influence of Jesus. The article is HERE. In its original context it relates to the American political scene.

I'm a student of history, and I am fully aware of the great blunders and un-Christlike behaviour of Christians and churches (yes . . . even the ones I especially love) over the last 2,000 years. There is much of which we should be deeply ashamed. It is, in fact, part of run-of-the-mill Christian teaching that in our individual lives as well as in our churches there will always be plenty of scope for penitence!

But the story is assuredly one of GRACE as well as SHAME. And - as we understand it - grace always abounds more (see Romans 5:20) Why? Because of Jesus himself, and the difference he has made to our lives and to our culture.

This is what Ortberg says about Jesus:

Yale historian Jeroslav Pelikan wrote, "Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western Culture for almost 20 centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?"

It turns out that the life of Jesus is a comet with an exceedingly long tale. Here are some shards of his impact that most often surprise people:


In the ancient world children were routinely left to die of exposure -- particularly if they were the wrong gender (you can guess which was the wrong one); they were often sold into slavery. Jesus' treatment of and teachings about children led to the forbidding of such practices, as well as orphanages and godparents. A Norwegian scholar named Bakke wrote a study of this impact, simply titled: When Children Became People: the Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity.


Love of learning led to monasteries, which became the cradle of academic guilds. Universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard all began as Jesus-inspired efforts to love God with all ones' mind. The first legislation to publicly fund education in the colonies was called The Old Deluder Satan Act, under the notion that God does not want any child ignorant. The ancient world loved education but tended to reserve it for the elite; the notion that every child bore God's image helped fuel the move for universal literacy.


Jesus had a universal concern for those who suffered that transcended the rules of the ancient world. His compassion for the poor and the sick led to institutions for lepers, the beginning of modern-day hospitals. The Council of Nyssa decreed that wherever a cathedral existed, there must be a hospice, a place of caring for the sick and poor. That's why even today, hospitals have names like "Good Samaritan," "Good Shepherd," or "Saint Anthony." They were the world's first voluntary, charitable institutions.


The ancient world honored many virtues like courage and wisdom, but not humility. People were generally divided into first class and coach. "Rank must be preserved," said Cicero; each of the original 99 percent was a personis mediocribus. Plutarch wrote a self-help book that might crack best-seller lists in our day: How to Praise Yourself Inoffensively. Jesus' life as a foot-washing servant would eventually lead to the adoption of humility as a widely admired virtue. Historian John Dickson writes, "it is unlikely that any of us would aspire to this virtue were it not for the historical impact of his crucifixion . . . Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being Christian."


In the ancient world, virtue meant rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies. Conan the Barbarian was actually paraphrasing Ghengis Khan in his famous answer to the question "what is best in life?" -  To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women. An alternative idea came from Galilee: what is best in life is to love your enemies, and see them reconciled to you. Hannah Arendt, the first woman appointed to a full professorship at Princeton, claimed, "the discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth." This may be debatable, but he certainly gave the idea unique publicity.

Humanitarian Reform

Jesus had a way of championing the excluded that was often downright irritating to those in power. His inclusion of women led to a community to which women flocked in disproportionate numbers. Slaves - up to a third of ancient populations - might wander into a church fellowship and have a slave-owner wash their feet rather than beat them. One ancient text instructed bishops to not interrupt worship to greet a wealthy attender, but to sit on the floor to welcome the poor. The apostle Paul said: "Now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus." Thomas Cahill wrote that this was the first statement of egalitarianism in human literature.

Perhaps as remarkable as anything else is Jesus' ability to withstand the failings of his followers, who from the beginning probably got in his way at least as much as they helped . . . the unpredictable influence of an unelected carpenter continues to endure and spread across the world.