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Showing posts from April, 2019

Forgiveness overcomes fear: 1st Sunday after Easter

Sunday evening: the first day of the week. The disciples have locked themselves away in their room, afraid - that they might go the same way Jesus did, two days before.
A figure appears among them.
"Peace be with you."
The first time, they don't understand. They don't even recognise Jesus. It's only when he shows them the wounds in his hands and sides that they understand who he is. Only when they see the marks of his suffering that they understand what he is saying.
"Peace be with you."
Of course, they know the word, the Hebrew greeting which they as Jews would use every day: peace, shalom. And they know, as pious Jews, that this peace is the intended state of creation, the Sabbath rest of the seventh day in Genesis which represents perfection, a world in harmony with itself and its creator. But only on this eighth day, this second sabbath, do they realise what that peace of God really means. 
Easter, the fifty-day celebration of Christ's Resurrect…

Felix Culpa, Happy Fault: and may the darkness dazzle you this Easter.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Notre Dame:  France’s greatest tourist attraction? France’s premier museum? France’s top UNESCO World Heritage site? In secular France, the land of the Revolution, you’d think these descriptions would be enough. But clearly they are not. Not even for the French, the resolutely secular French, who knelt in the streets and prayed as she burned. Notre Dame. Our Lady. Through whom, at the Annuciation, our Saviour took flesh. At whose intercession Our Lord performed his first miracle at Cana, turning water into wine. Who stood with Him at the Cross. Who cradled his body in her arms, that her soul too was pierced. Whom He made mother to the lost and fugitive disciples. Our Lady: her powerful ministry of love quiet, unnoticed, downplayed. Forgotten in the turmoil of the Protestant Reformations, when God was made all power and sovereign will, all masculinity and muscle, unfettered from a mother’s love. Forgotten in the violence of the …

"Stop preaching at us!" - defences of relativism in Religious Education

Even RE teachers who acknowledge the relativistic bias of their subject are often happy to defend it. Some say that first, the students are not interested in learning about religious traditions in their own right, and second, they consider such teaching to be tantamount to preaching - which is, of course, a dirty word. After all, who might dare to tell them what to think, when they have been told from the outset that they themselves as individuals are the sole arbiters of truth? The fact that they accept this teaching without question or criticism goes unremarked. So, I am told, they switch off. Yet, we might ask: how many teenagers are really interested in Shakespeare, photosynthesis, trigonometry or the Second World War? We persist in teaching them nonetheless. In subject areas other than Religious Studies and PSHE, it would be unthinkable to define the syllabus purely according to student interest. The way in which we choose to teach any subject and the content we choose to includ…

Learning the languages of the soul

“To have another language is to have another soul” - Emperor Charlemagne My love of languages started at age 11, when I was made to take Latin. I enjoyed French, too, though not as much. There was something about learning an ancient tongue, belonging to such an alien and distant civilisation. At the age of 12, I managed to pester our school chaplain into teaching me Greek, too. In the end, I took all three languages to A-level and pursued Classics as my first degree. My favourite linguistic pursuit was “prose composition:” translating from English into Latin and Greek. I relished the puzzle of trying to frame my thoughts, or those of the writing I was translating, into a completely different mode of expression, with such different assumptions. In literature, what drew me most was poetry. Translating poetry, even more than prose, shows just how unscientific an act translation is. Under the influence of science’s empirical method, we tend in the West to default to the linguistic theory…

What's wrong with relativism, anyway?

Relativism is the new absolute and tolerance the new prime virtue. But so what? Maybe the moderns are right, and this is the only way to ensure a peaceful, ordered or at least bearable society. One in which, even if we do not achieve perfect harmony, we can at least put up with each other’s differences as long as they do not get in the way.
There are worse possibilities. Authoritarian regimes, acts of uniformity, prisoners of conscience, persecuted sexual minorities, ethnic cleansing. History has seen enough of those, many (though by no means all, or even the worst of them) under the aegis of religious “truth.” Such truth, history seems to teach, is not worth the cost. I respectfully return my ticket.
But - has modern secular relativism really proven such a panacea?
I served for a while in Camden Town, inner-city London. Our church school was predominantly made up of first- and second-generation Muslim immigrant families. Somewhere around 60-70% of our total number of pupils, in fact.…

How Religious Education props up the post-truth worldview

“Teaching must renounce the authority of the teacher… The teacher must aspire to be neutral.” - The Discussion of Controversial Values in the Classroom, 1969 Thus spake the influential educationalist Lawrence Stenhouse, back in the swinging,  freedom-loving sixties. And so, relativism has not just crept in. It is actively promoted in schools. For some decades now, we have taught our children that there is no absolute truth which cannot be demonstrated by science. Anything which cannot be reduced to numbers - including morality, the question of what is good - is purely a matter of personal taste. And on this schools must remain “neutral.” Stenhouse's lofty aspiration to neutrality remains a commonplace in schools, particularly in the controversial arenas of PSHE and Religious Education. In the latter, taught often by non-specialists, remains the preferred modus operandi of many RE teachers. Religions, whether Christianity, Islam or whatever, are not taught as a whole, in anything…

Relativism: the new State orthodoxy

Secularist organisations fear that religious schools and the study of religious education amount to a kind of indoctrination. This will take us to the bad old days of Christendom, when people fought to the death over points of doctrine, and western empires swept the world forcing foreign peoples to submit to their uniform, arbitrary and indefensible notions of truth. What secularists are either unwilling or unable to recognise is that the relativistic and scientistic worldview with which they have replaced religious teaching is itself an arbitrary notion of truth. Just as Christian Europe used to condescend the benighted natives for holding to their backward ways, secular Europe dismisses as “regressive” anyone who denies that science is the only vehicle of truth. The non-western wisdom of Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic or African philosophy, say, is simply to be dismissed - or at best, reinterpreted and ‘demythologised’ along the lines of western secularist thought. In and of itself, in c…

Religious schools and relativism

A bit more of my draft of the Iconic School. Work in progress - comments welcome.


I’m in front of a Religious Studies class. They had no choice about taking the subject, and they don’t all desperately want to be there. Nor do I. But we have to be, so we make the best of it. The topic is the knowledge of God. “What problems,” I ask, “can you think of with claiming to know anything about God?” For many of the class, maybe the question is too general. To most, it’s just irrelevant, but luckily for me, they are too polite to say so. One of the usual two or three who put their hands up does so. He’s a bright lad, inquisitive, eloquent, passionate about causes and self-confident not to be afraid of looking clever. Just the sort of pupil you want in your Religious Studies class. As he puts his hand up, I am already predicting the answer. I suspect that he is going to articulate the stock answer which many, if not all, of the class are thinking but struggle to put into words, or at least to s…

What's in the box? Contents of the BCP

The pamphlet continues...
We know where our spiritual toolkit has come from. So now, it’s time to look inside. At first glance, the contents may not make much sense. But think back to the Prayer Book’s history, and what Cranmer was trying to do. He was taking a whole library of books which were needed for all the services of the church year and putting them together into one. In Cranmer’s day, to run church services, you needed at least five books: The Breviary was is used by monks, nuns and priests for praying the “Daily Office” or “Liturgy of the Hours,” at least five services of Psalms and Bible readings at set times each day.The Missal contained the order for the Mass, also called the Eucharist or Holy Communion, for each day of the year.The Pontifical was a special book for bishops, including the rites for ordaining new priests and deacons, and also Confirmation.The Manual contained other services, including baptism, marriage, funerals and so on.The Processional was a slim volume …

The BCP: A book to die for?

Work on the pamphlet continues. Still at draft stage: comments welcome. 
Cranmer wanted every church in the country to have an English bible and a Book of Common Prayer. This was not always popular at first. Many people did not like the change or the way it was being imposed on them from on high. They wanted to keep the old ways. It did not help when the new King, young Edward VI, introduced a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer in 1552 which was more radically reformed than the 1549 original. By this time, Cranmer was much more strongly influenced by the Protestant movements of Europe. So when Edward died young, at the age of 15, and (after a nine month interval) was succeeded by the Catholic Queen Mary, many of the people were happy to see the new prayer books burned and the Roman Catholic services restored. They were less happy, though, when Mary burned Protestant people along with their books: at least 300 men and womenin all. On 21 March 1556, in Oxford, Archbishop Cranmer w…

5 Reasons to Use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

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1. Sound teachingIf you want to know what the Church of England teaches, the BCP is your one-stop place to find it. Yes, some of the teaching has been updated and reinterpreted since 1662, but the Prayer Book is still the second authority for the English Church after the Bible, and the best place to start understanding the Anglican way.


2. Ease of useThe BCP and the Bible are you need for every service, from Holy Communion and Daily Prayer through to weddings and funerals. No libraries of texts or sprawling websites needed.


3. Beautiful languageArchbishop Cranmer had a good ear for the rhythms of the English language, which is why the words of the Prayer Book are so memorable. The poetic beauty of the texts helps to lift the soul to God. It may be old language, but if Muslims can learn Arabic and Jews can learn Hebrew, then English Christians should manage Elizabethan English!


4. Literary heritage After the King James Bible and Shakespeare, there is no greater influence on English liter…

Preview: Cranmer seizes the day

Still drafting away! Comments on this "Beta" welcome...
Henry needed someone loyal to help him make the break from Rome, and Cranmer was the man he chose, appointing him in 1532 as the highest bishop in the land: the Archbishop of Canterbury. Now remember that Henry himself was not all that interested in the new religious ideas of Protestantism which were getting fashionable in Europe; but Cranmer was. In particular, he thought that the English people should be able to worship God in the English language. At the time, people were being executed even for translating the Bible into their own languages. All services were in Latin, and the Bible was read only in Latin. People did understand a lot of what was going on through performances of Bible stories called “mystery plays,” through preaching, and through the paintings and statues in churches, but there was a lot more that they simply could not understand because it was being said in an ancient language. Certainly, most peopl…

The BCP: Born in bad times

Preview of a work in progress: a leaflet on the BCP
“Once upon a time, there was a bad old king called Henry VIII who wanted a divorce, and so he broke away from the Catholic Church and set up a new one to get what he wanted.” Or so the story goes. But it’s not quite true. Now, King Henry VIII may well have been a bad old king— some would say he was an absolute monster —but a divorce is not technically what he was after. He wanted his marriage to Queen Catherine “annulled” - that is, for the Church to say that it had never really been valid in the first place. Why? Because none of his male children, who would be heirs to the throne, had survived - and he started to think that this was a punishment from God for marrying his dead brother’s wife, which was forbidden in the Bible. This may sound strange to our modern ears, but in the sixteenth century, people took these things very seriously indeed. And after all, the Pope had granted other monarchs annulments of their marriages on far we…

The BCP: A toolkit for your soul

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Preview of another work in progress: a leaflet for teenagers about the Book of Common Prayer, commissioned by the Prayer Book Society. 


If you’ve ever tried making anything, you’ll know how hard it is without decent tools. You won’t cut much wood with a blunt saw.
You need the right tools, too. It’s no use trying to cut a pizza with a hacksaw, or a log with a pizza-cutter. 
Then, you’ve got to know where your tools are. Otherwise, by the time you find them it might be too late.
They need to be kept tidy, well-arranged so that you can quickly find the right one for the job.
And if you’re on the move, you need a good box to keep them in, all in one place and easy to carry around.

This leaflet is an introduction to a toolkit for your soul.

The tools this kit contains are of the highest quality, so high that they have lasted almost 500 years. The English Church has been using them since 1549, and they still are every bit as sharp as they were back then.
There is a different tool for each …

Work in progress: The Iconic School

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It seems to be in the "in" thing for writers to share their workings, rather than just pushing books out every few months, so I thought that readers may be interested in something I'm working on for publication later this year: a short book on Christian education called "The Iconic School." 
The story starts with beauty. 
Which of these two pictures is more beautiful? The sunset, or the rubbish tip?
It’s not a trick question. Trust your instincts.
Most people will say the sunset is the more beautiful picture. But often, there will be someone who puts hand up to say that actually, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That it’s purely a matter of taste. Perhaps to a circling bird hungry for scraps, the tip is the more appealing prospect.
But if beauty is purely in the eye of the beholder – if it is purely subjective and matter of the arbitrary expression of human will – then beauty is at best democratic: what is beautiful simply becomes what the greater number of peo…

Speaking in silence

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An interviewer asked Mother Theresa what she said to God when she prayed.
"I don't say anything," she replied. "I listen to God."
So, the interviewer asked, what did God say when she listened?
Mother Theresa replied,"He doesn't say anything. He listens to me. And if you don't understand that, I cannot explain it."
The heart of the Christian faith is written in action, not in words. At Christmans, the Word becomes flesh, God becomes human, emptying himself of glory.
On Good Friday, the emptiness becomes even more profound, as  on the Cross he empties himself even of his humanity.
And so, the highest point of the highest form of Christian prayer is prayed not in words, but in action: in the breaking of the bread, and in silent devotion.
If you don't understand that, I cannot explain it.