Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Eben Brooks: Hey There Chthulhu

Thanks to Étienne Demons for this link, which will put a maniacal grin on the face of any fellow fans of Lovecraft's eldritch musings.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Kyoto Day 2



Monday's rather relaxed pace eased me into a frenetic Tuesday of resource gathering and very technical Japanese conversation. It's quite a relief to discover that my language study is paying off, and I can just about, if rather painfully, maintain a decent academic conversation about Buddhism, thanks to Professor Bowring's Classical Japanese lectures and my three months last year at Nihon University.

Today, I went to Ōtani University (大谷大学), affiliated to the Higashi Honganji (東本願寺) school of True Pure Land Buddhism (浄土真宗), to meet Dr Kaku and the Rev'd Professor Michael Pye. Dr Kaku very kindly allowed me to use the excellent university library and Eastern Buddhist Society office to obtain copies of some much needed articles. Kisa, a young American graduate working as a volunteer, spent hours turning these into .pdfs for me, for which I am most grateful.
Michael Pye is retired professor of Buddhism at Marburg University, but I use the term 'retired' advisedly, given that he is now active as an Anglican priest in Kyoto Diocese and as a researcher at Ōtani. Over and after some very good soba noodles, for which Kyoto is rightly famed, we chatted about things Anglican, Buddhist and Japanese. One of my research questions is the extent to which one can make ontological statements about Shin Buddhism, and if I understood correctly, he was very much of the opinion that ontology is really not a matter of much concern in Buddhist teaching. Dr Kaku, on the other hand, influenced to some extent by the philosophers of the Kyoto School, maintained in our later conversation that one could usefully derive ontological conclusions from Shinran's work. Perhaps I should feel some relief that there is as much diversity of opinion among Buddhist scholars as there is among Christian ones.

After a light and very reasonably priced meal of Galician octopus and white rice with a glass of wine, I plunged into a nearby onsen for a couple of hours and headed home, to write and then to sleep.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Kyoto day 1



Shunkoin

What a privilege is it to spend a week in perhaps the finest of Japan's four ancient capitals, Kyoto; and a greater privilege still to spend it in the Zen guest temple of Shinkoin, home to ancient Christian treasures (about which, more on Wednesday after I've been on the tour) and frequent haunt of the great Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki. Its priest, Taka, is the fifth generation of his family to serve there. He has studied extensively in the US and is married to an American, and so greeted me warmly in English. The rooms are far cosier than the austerity I had imagined, and with the air-con turned up, as warm as the welcome. The reasonable price of Y4000 per night includes zazen meditation practice and free us of bicycles, a must for getting around the fen-like flatness of this city.

I woke to the deep resonance of the temple bell feeling remarkably fresh, given jetlag and a well spent evening before chatting to locals in an excellent little bar-restaurant around the corner called Raku-raku Kitchen. There, the chef and owner Akira cooks fresh ingredients, including seasonal vegetables, right in front of you however you like. He is also the author of some fascinating documentaries about his skateboarding pink flamingo, Tomomi.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Selwyn's Upper Chapel

Now refitted and ready for your prayers. The blessed sacrament is reserved and we have a beautiful new altar and some new chairs, do if you are nearby, please do come and pass some time here. To reach the Upper Chapel, go through the door by the High Altar of the main chapel, through the vestry, and up the spiral stairs.


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

New Year's Ceilidh in support of Cambridge women's home

Whitworth House is a home for vulnerable, homeless young women aged 16-25, which used to be part of the Young Women's Christian Association but is now run by a housing association. The Friends of the House organise charitable events to support this vital work here in Cambridge. Get your kilts on!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Surrogacy: Parenting the hard way - Features - Health & Families - The Independent

A moving article about a couple's attempts and failures to adopt children, leaving them with no choice but to consider surrogacy. The social workers' officiousness is predictable enough: dare to question the system, and you're instantly black-balled. Like so many customs officers, train conductors and airport security staff, these little Hitlers exercise their insecurities by showing the public who's really boss. But what particularly galls is the comparison of how hard the State makes it to adopt with the comparative ease of procuring an abortion. Something is surely desperately wrong.

Surrogacy: Parenting the hard way - Features - Health & Families - The Independent:

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lay Presidency: Mr Gog's response



Lay Presidency: Time for Change | ChurchNewspaper.com

According to Atherstone, the Church's insistence that only a priest may preside at Holy Communion is the last bastion of clericalism that needs to be swept away. The denial of lay presidency, he argues, has 'no place in today's church.' But Mr Gog would suggest the contrary: it is Atherstone's kind who have no place in the Church of England, and still less in a College training ordinands for Holy Orders.

Just as his ilk tends to veil extreme theology in the modern vesture of pop music, flashy PR, and casual dress, Atherstone clothes regressive theology in an appeal to the spirit of the age. Yet the arguments that he makes are not '20th century,' as he claims, but belong to the Puritans of the 16th and 17th. Atherstone is not looking ahead, but back to the Cromwellian Protectorate.  His claims were firmly repudiated by the English Church then, and the repudiation has been continuously endorsed in the successive Books of Common Prayer which remain the touchstone of Anglican doctrine today.

The first giveaway is his use of quotation marks around the word 'priest,' the word that has been used without exception in all Anglican ordinals. This was despite the Puritans' insistence on the term 'presbyter,' which went hand-in-hand with their desire to abolish episcopacy. If he wishes to belong to a presbyterian church, then so be it: but the Church of England is not and never should be so.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Telling people about Jesus

"Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ." 

At a gathering of ordinands from various colleges, I remember one enthusiastic young thing piping up that what he most looked forward to about being ordained was 'telling people about Jesus.'  I'll leave it to you to guess which theological college he came from (and no, it's not in Cambridge).

Back in my atheist days, the last thing I wanted was for someone to come up and 'tell me about Jesus.' Nothing could put me off Christianity more. In fact, I still get pretty miffed when people try it on with me even now. Who do they think they are?

For me, the appeal of being ordained is doing the Lord's work, rather than 'telling' people anything.  After all, our Lord Himself did not go around 'telling people about Jesus,' and in fact, He often instructed His disciples to do just the opposite. Even after the Resurrection, He made Himself known not through words, but through the breaking of the bread. The depths of that sacrament teach far more about God than any of our pious prattle can manage.

Perhaps if we Christians could stop trying to tell people so much about Jesus and started trying to be more like Him, they would be more inclined to learn about Him. Show the Way, and people will follow.

Or, to paraphrase St Francis: preach the Gospel.  Use words if you have to.

2000 years of darkness



"Not particularly religious? Interested? Spiritual? You've thought about eternity for twenty-five minutes and think you've come to some interesting conclusions?"

If only I didn't agree with him.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Aikido beginners' course in Cambridge


Please allow me to recommend my Dojo.  It's affiliated to the Aikikai, but we train in the traditional Iwama style.  This means that we pay a lot of attention to the detail of the basic forms (kihon waza), including training with the sword and staff (ken and jo). If you don't know what Aikido is, then basically, it is a Japanese martial art in which the practitioner harmonises with an assailant's energy to use it against him – or her, since many women practise Aikido, and because it does not rely on brute strength, do so at no disadvantage. I've been practising for many years and never intend to give up. Mens sana and all that. Do give it a try!  

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Public prayer to be outlawed in France

A dark and frightening warning for our future from France.  Say goodbye to any outdoor processions of the Blessed Virgin or the Sacrament through the streets.  Presumably, you could be arrested for saying grace before a meal outside a café or crossing yourself as a hearse passes. They are even threatening to use force. Yet you can wear a belt instead of a skirt or eff and blind as loudly as you like. This, apparently, is less offensive to the French public's sympathies. How long before France encourages the EU to adopt and impose this oppressive legislation on its member states, I wonder? This is very much a time for solidarity with our Muslim brethren. 

Friday, 23 September 2011

Society for the Promotion of Pagan Knowledge


A new society has been formed with an ambitious agenda.  A well-organised and highly educated cabal of zealous volunteers around the nation means to infiltrate as many state schools as it can. Its avowed aim is to inseminate infant minds with the fruits of pagan learning.
And I heartily approve.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


I have often wondered whether the Church of England might be the spiritual wing of the Labour Party, but I never thought of the Church Times as the Socialist Worker - until 26 August, when a Trotskyite tirade by one Dr Northcott was juxtaposed with Simon Parke preaching that all property is theft.
Presumably the editor thought Northcott's political musings suitable for publication because of the bit of Christianity tagged on at the end.  Yet it would take a cynic indeed to believe, as Northcott opined, that the wicked Tories want to destroy state education, the NHS and the notion of society, or that their economic policy is intended as a clandestine assault on democracy.  I think I last heard such conspiracy theories from a Marxist undergraduate in 1997.
Dr Northcott is right that capitalism is partly to blame for the recent riots.  But his argument is insufficient because the rioters are also the product of a Labour government which poured unprecedentedly vast (borrowed) funds into welfare, education and the health system.
A more balanced analysis might suggest that we are suffering from the worst elements not just of capitalism, but also of liberalism and socialism.  The best of liberalism instils self-criticism, the worst self-justification; the best of capitalism a work ethic, the worst greed; the best of socialism care for the weak, the worst a sense of entitlement.  Combine that sense of entitlement with a lust for luxuries and the belief that one's actions are beyond reproach, and you have exactly the 'sheer criminality' that the Prime Minister has diagnosed.
Socialists do not have a monopoly on social justice, and many of Dr Northcott's fellow Christians voted Conservative in the belief that poverty will be lifted only by reducing the dependency of the poor on the State.  Measures to this end include boosting economic prosperity, restoring the nuclear family to its position as the base social unit, and returning to the quality of education lost when grammar schools were closed in the name of leftist ideology.  It is uncharitable to write these off as crypto-neoconservative moneygrabbing.
As an aside, after Dr Pridmore's drubbing in that week's Letters, where he dismissed most worship songs as the vacuous trash that they are, he may be pleased to know that many ordinands still believe that the Church should be bringing the best of culture to the poor, rather than the worst to the rich; some rebels even dare secretly to long for the day when the Church of England was still the Tory Party at prayer.

Friday, 16 September 2011

BBC 'News': Dawkins says science is better than myth

Two interesting facts: Dr Dawkins was never professor of biology, but had a chair made up for him in 'public understanding of science.' Now that he no longer holds the chair, he is not entitled to style himself 'professor' at all. So it says a lot about him that he still does.
Besides, isn't science grounded in the indispensable myth of empiricism: that finite data can lead to an absolute conclusion?
And while many might like to do away with the fiction of human rights - that a universal code devised by liberal Europeans applies across all cultures - I suspect that Dawkins would not be among them. Nor do I see science offer an alternative.
Surely all our supposed truths are grounded in some sort of unprovable collective consensus that one can only call 'myth'?


Thursday, 15 September 2011

Materialism and abortion

The Guardian is absolutely spot-on in its condemnation of the consumer culture's effects on children. So why does it maintain a ruthlessly market-driven approach to abortion?
At present, the organisations which give supposedly unbiased information to women considering terminations are the very ones which receive money on execution of the deed - and only then. Surely, a vested interest.
Organisations, for example, like that named after the eugenicist Nazi-sympathiser Marie Stopes, who sent love letters to Hitler and disowned her child for marrying someone with poor eyesight. The Guardian practically beatifies her as the patron saint of women's rights, but if they really wanted to follow in her footsteps (or goosesteps), maybe they should just start an AH fan club.

'My body, my choice': you couldn't ask for a more consumerist mantra. And OK, it's excusable when it really is only 'my body' at stake. In that case, there are many reproductive choices already available: you can choose contraception, for a start, or even choose not to have sex with someone you wouldn't have a baby with.
But when it's not just 'my body' but another human life at stake, the consumerist attitude is sickening. Life should not be terminated for the sake of convenience: whether for the sake of a hare lip or a sparkling career. If people want rights, they also have to take responsibility for their actions.
Of course, that goes for men just as much as women. All this stands in favour of that ultimately anti-consumerist institution of marriage, which is surely one of the strongest means of social justice: the unconditional commitment to fidelity is a guarantee of stability to women and children, who suffer far more than adult men from the isolating effects of a society driven by a consumeristic approach to sexuality.
The bottom line of this approach is that unimpeded sexual expression is a fundamental human right, and procreation an unfortunate side-effect.  To the Christian looking at the natural world, such thinking is plain topsy-turvy.
I am not suggesting that we ban abortion, only that it is a necessary evil.  The Christian ideal would be a world where abortion was unnecessary: where rapes did not happen and mistakes were not made.  But this is not the real world, and state-regulated abortion is better than back street rackets.  But if Britain is more than just a nominally Christian country, we must move towards the ideal, and aim to cut the obscene number of abortions carried out in this country seemingly without remorse.
When infants are terminated with a market-driven, utilitarian disregard for the sanctity of life, arguments about the effect of consumerism on children seem rather hollow.

UK children stuck in 'materialistic trap'

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ordinands, be warned!



A note to fellow Anglican ordinands of more old-fashioned bent: if you think our seminaries are wary of traditionalists, have a look at how they're treated over the Tiber.

New Liturgical Movement: Fr. Christopher Smith on Seminarians and the Usus Antiquior

Time to change the dust-jacket on those BCPs, English Missals and Sarum Primers, friends. Perhaps we could print our own. Something like 'Worshipping Niceness' should do.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Dionysius the Areopagite: Who he?


ἔστι τῆς θεολογίας ἡ θεουργία συγκεφαλαίωσις

'Theurgy is the consummation of theology' (Ps.-Dionysius, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3.5, 432B)

In a General Audience of 14 May 2008, Pope Benedict XVI delivered an address on what he called the 'rather mysterious figure' who wrote as Dionysius the Areopagite. To this Dionysius, the Pope attributes a 'new relevance' as 'a great mediator in the modern dialogue between Christianity and the mystical theologies of Asia'. Dionysius describes a negative path of speaking about God - that is, 'theology' in its fundamental sense. In this view, God is so far beyond the power of mortal speech and thought that one is limited to describing Him properly not by what He is, but only by what He is not. The Pope supposes a parallel here with what he reads as the extreme apophaticism of Asian thought. An apophatic and mysterious timbre can be seen even in the author of the Dionysian corpus' refusal to give the reader his true name. He wrote some five centuries after his adopted namesake, whose conversion by S. Paul is recounted in Acts 17. This we surmise from his heavy reliance on the philosophy of Proclus, who died in AD 485. 

Benedict cites two well known hypotheses for Dionysius' adoption of the pseudonym. The first, which Benedict himself rejects, is that the author wished to give his work a 'quasi apostolic authority' (Benedict 2009:80). Going further along this line, Rosemary Arthur suggests that 'Dionysius' is in fact a cabal of monophysites hiding behind the pseudonym to protect themselves from persecution by pro-Chalcedonian authorities. To her, this pseudonymity betrays cowardice and a lack of integrity. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Why the Right has it right on education - probably


In the many column inches devoted to education, and especially to tuition fees, there is much talk of 'privilege.'  You may well think that I, as a beneficiary of education at not one but three universities, am a clear example of it.  And you'd be right.  I have indeed been privileged.
I have been privileged by parents who valued my education enough that rather than let me flounder at the under-achieving local comprehensive, they paid boarding fees to send me to a state, grant-maintained boarding school (where, for the record, day pupils paid no fees).  They could have spent their money on other things, but chose to make a sacrifice.  They, in turn, had been privileged by the state grammar schools which educated them to be the first generation in their families to enter higher education, and so paved the way from working class life into the professions.  And they had the support of blue collar parents who learnt the value of education again at the grammar schools which they had to leave at the age of fifteen so that they could earn their crust.
So in short, I have been privileged by three generations of selective state schooling: the sort of schooling that the Left has for thirty years devoted itself to demolishing.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Mademoiselle K

Step aside, Lady G, for the infinitely more delightful Mademoiselle K with a song so decadent that it could only be sung in French.

>


Ooh, la-la.  

Ascension 2011 - posted a bit late, I fear

"God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises!" +In nomine...

Fitting, that I should preach this sermon facing the great statue on the East wall. Our Lord may have been rather better dressed at the Ascension, but otherwise, our statue fits St Luke's description well: "He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven."

But why? Why should Our Lord ascend to share God's throne in heaven when He could have ruled so effectively here among us? The sort of earthly rule, perhaps, that David prophesies in his last words: "When one rules justly over men, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning." But Jesus, typically contrary, rises up instead into the clouds.

Of course, we have the theologian's textbook answer: Christ ascends blessing creation in order to unite heaven and earth. Ah! So there we go, the end. Amen. Sorry: you haven't got off that lightly. Because quite clearly, that isn't the end of the question. We are still right here on earth, and even the delights of Selwyn College are not enough to make us think that we're in heaven yet.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Infant Latinists

So much for the rhetoric of 'accessibility.' If nothing else, the video below shows that we don't need to patronize children by dumbjng down- in the classroom or at Mass.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Moses and Mary: the Commandments and the Annunciation

A sermon preached in Selwyn College Chapel, Tuesday 10 May 2011
I'm sure I'm not the only one here who likes a good steak. And while I understand that some people like theirs charred to a piece of boot leather, personally, I prefer it barely to have touched the grill - so I've got something to dip the chips in. But even so, when I see it there, prepared for me on a plate, or when I buy it shrink-wrapped in the supermarket, I don't really pause to think of how it got there, that life was taken, blood was spilled. Death is commodified into discrete packages, spilt blood sanitised under the clingfilm or on my plate.

Tonight's stories of Moses and Mary relate two quite different experiences of God, but are united by a common first response: fear. Pure fear at the awesome life-making, life-taking power of the divine, so far beyond comprehension that it risks breaking their minds. Noone has seen God and yet lives. And so it is that Moses, urged on by an awe-struck people, ascends towards God into a light so bright it blinds and becomes a dazzling darkness. And he descends, face shining, to lay down the Law: the first Covenant, for the people to obey strictly, in due fear of the Lord.

From that same bright darkness appears to Mary a shining envoy, whose first words are 'have no fear:' though seeing an angel in full glory must make watching Saw 3 seem like a picnic with the Care Bears. And Mary is afraid. But where God gave Moses commandments, to Mary he gives an invitation. It is her 'Fiat,' that 'let it be,' which redefines His Covenant with the world. God did not force Mary - God is not a rapist - but showing Himself as the free gift of love, He invited her to give an equally free, loving response. God is love, and love does not compel, but reaches out and welcomes.

But do not think for a moment that this tames the Divine. In the new Covenant of the Incarnation, where God gives Himself in human flesh, our relationship with Him is redefined: redefined, but not sanitised. People saw God and lived. Yet God revealed is no less hidden, the radiance of Christ no less blinding. The living God is even more the God of death, since even He has passed that gate which still awaits us all. Death must not be taken lightly: even the death of a terrorist should not be treated like a victory in a soccer match.

For we are all invited to follow Mary in bearing Christ: but in the wombs of our hearts. And we, like Mary, have the freedom to respond. This makes us no less, but all the more accountable to God: that God whom we know not in fuzzy feelings, or the prepacked sentimentality of feelgood hymns, but in dumbstruck awe at the boundless depths of His love.

Friday, 6 May 2011

I agree.

AV: “The most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates” http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/2011/05/av-most-worthless-votes-given-for-most.html

Monday, 2 May 2011

2nd Sunday after Easter: "The law that no man breaketh"


"I am Death; I am the law that no man breaketh" - the first words of Holst's opera, Savitri, which my wife and I went to see last week. In this story, taken from the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata, Sāvitri, wife of the woodman Satyavān, hears the voice of Death calling to her. He has come to claim her husband. Satyavān arrives to find his wife in distress, but assures Sāvitri that her fears are just illusion, māyā. But for all his complacency, when Death arrives, all strength leaves him and he falls to the ground. Sāvitri, alone and desolate, welcomes Death. Death, moved to compassion by this, offers her a boon: anything she wants, except for bringing Satyavān back to life. So, Sāvitri plays a sophistic trick on Death. She asks only for life. Death at first is confused, wondering why she asks for something she already has. But she asks again, saying that all she wants is life, life in its fullest. Death grants her his boon - on which she tells him that a full life for her is impossible without her husband. Death is defeated and leaves, awakening Satyavān, and so proving right his original contention: that even Death itself is only māyā.
This Hindu tale might seem at first sight to have something in common with the Christian story. After all, did not Jesus also conquer death?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Libyan Crusade


Right since the beginning of the Anglo-French intervention in Libya, Colonel Gadaffi has called it 'a crusade.' It pains me to say it, but he may have a point.
The word 'Crusade' of course points back to grim old days of yore when Western Christendom decided to export its clearly superior and universally applicable mores to degenerate pagan lands.  It was patently clear that anyone in their right mind would agree with the indisputable reasoning by which the Church governed our society.  So when the foreigners failed to warm to our ideas and renounce their inferior barbaric philosophies, we could not understand why.  We had to liberate their lands and people from the darkness of ignorance by all means - and it seemed the only thing they would listen to was force.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Altar of repose

At Little St Mary's, Cambridge. The garden in the Lady Chapel is about to be dismantled after the Good Friday liturgy. It looked marvellous back-lit last night during the Vigil. I've also attached photos of the tomb, ready for the Blessed Sacrament, and the stripped altar after today's veneration of the Cross.




Sunday, 3 April 2011

Selwyn in bloom

Spring is here at last and the scaffolding around the Chapel is gone. Perfect day for hopping into a punt with a bottle of prosecco, I'd say.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Thoughts on the Tsunami


I hope you will forgive me for a few words on wordlessness.

There is a strange kind of Christianity that always has a fixed smile on its face; the kind that thinks that people get what they deserve, that if you pray hard enough, everything will always be OK. I think the recent events in Japan should make us very sceptical of this kind of religion. It does not tie in with the deaths of thousands of innocent people. And it does not tie in with the words of Jesus himself, who taught that it rains on the just and the unjust alike. Even the book of the Bible that deals most explicitly with the problem of terrible things happening to good people, the Book of Job, is ultimately inconclusive. A Christianity that gives easy answers to painful questions does nobody any favours. Indeed, faith if anything should only make us question more deeply.

Nor does the idea that people get what they deserve tie in with the God who, we believe, knew suffering and torture on the Cross. One who knows a thousand loves knows a thousand sufferings; and we believe in a God who suffered precisely because He loves. When those we love suffer, we suffer too.

I cannot presume to speak for my Buddhist readers, and I hope that I do not speak out of turn. Please forgive me if anything I say is ignorant or simplistic; I speak with deepest respect. But during my studies, I have learnt much from the work of Shinran Shōnin, founder of the Jōdo Shinshū, Japan's largest Buddhist school. In his view, the one who realises enlightenment, the end of suffering, returns in the Buddha's great compassion to this world of suffering to guide others along the way. Indeed, Shinran believes that ultimate enlightenment can only be realised when all sentient beings have realised it. One person's suffering will finally end only when all suffering has ended. This strikes me as great compassion indeed.

Such compassion was the theme of the Emperor of Japan, when he said on television yesterday: “I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times." 'Compassion' is simply the Latin word for the Greek 'sympathy;' and sympathy literally means 'suffering together.' Questions about why this has happened - angry questions, theological questions - have their place. But right now, the answer to the question, 'where is your God now?' will not be answered by engaging in verbal acrobatics to get Him off the hook. It will be answered only by showing compassion; by suffering with those who suffer, mourning with those who mourn, weeping with those who weep: because the Gospel of Christ, like the wisdom of the Buddha, is too deep to express with such blunt tools as words.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

This Lent, you must be perfect

You must be perfect. 

You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbour. To love your neighbour only is not enough. The old law is too easy: even the pagans can manage that. I say to you, love your enemies.  You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If only. But even the first law, love your neighbour, the law that Jesus says is easy, seems too hard for us. So we hear reports of elderly patients abandoned to their ailments in NHS care. We hear of 'honour killings,' where not just neighbours but even family betray their sisters, daughters, wives. And even we live only streets away from people living homeless and despised, and seem as a society unable to care for them. To be honest, most of my neighbours - even most members of this college - I hardly know from Adam: so how can I love them? Yet this, Jesus asserts, even the pagans do.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Islands in the wilderness: privatisation of marriage in New Hampshire


Temptations, temptations.  One of the many is to believe that we know better than our forebears.  But it ain't necessarily so.  Sometimes even new wineskins burst, and it's all the more a pity when they are filled with a sturdy vintage. 

A friend on Facebook recently posted that New Hampshire is considering a bill to privatize marriage. The state government would no longer issue marriage licenses; instead, it would grant domestic partnerships to any legally consenting individuals.  Well, almost any.  As long as there are only two of them, and they're not too closely related by blood. 

Yet if marriage is really just a private contract between individuals, presumably there should be nothing to stop multiple-partner, incestuous or even fixed-term 'marriages,' either.

Ash Wednesday: Giving up love for Lent


Today begins the greater penitential season.  We have doubtless heard much, as every year, in its run-up about 'taking things on' rather than 'giving things up' for Lent.  So much so, perhaps, that it is in danger of becoming (like so much other church-talk) a platitude. 

It ceases to be so first when we realise that 'taking on' is in fact a kind of 'giving up.'  It is a giving up of time, of effort, of other more enjoyable things.


Second, it is no platitude if we realise that giving up something for Lent is not the same as 'giving up' in standard usage.  It is not the giving up of resignation, of handing in one's work card or hanging up one's soccer boots.  It is not giving up for God.  It is giving up to God, giving upwards, giving in the sense of gift. 

God does not need our gift, of course.  We cannot buy God's favour. 

Nor do we need to give the gift.  We do not get anything back for it. 

But exactly this makes it the truest kind of gift, in that it is utterly free.  We give it freely and God receives it freely, with no compulsion, no necessity on either side.  It is that absolute freedom in which God gave us creation and life, and in the same freedom we return ourselves to Him. 

In short, if we do it properly, what we give up at Lent - even if we do so by taking something on - is the totally unnecessary gift of love.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Epiphany homily

"Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." The words God addressed through the prophet's lips first to Israel are redirected at Epiphany. No longer is the 'you' God calls 'you' a race, or 'you' a nation, but you, just you, whoever, wherever, whatever you are. In the shining forth of the glory of God, the Old Covenant is transfigured into the New: no more the birthright of just one race or nation, but opened to the whole Creation. At Epiphany, the Church of the Jews, a Church of one people, gives birth to the Church we call "Catholic" - which means universal, complete, without exception, the Church that is given for all.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Solve the libraries' problems: close them all.

Please try to take a moment before you gasp in horror at my suggestion.  Maybe it looks reactionary, anti-intellectual, even an act of cultural vandalism.  But when did you last actually go to one of the public 'knowledge centres' formerly known as libraries?  And what do you expect to find there?
That's not a trick question.  Museums, Libraries and Archives' research, available as a rather plush .pdf here, acknowledges that most people expect and indeed want to find books there.  And indeed they will: although perhaps fewer than before, because libraries have also conceded to users' demands for more computers and, highly recommended by the MLA, coffee shops.  After all, you'd probably have to walk, oh, minutes from your library to find the nearest Costabucks.