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Liturgical ligature

Friday, August 30, 2019

If there's one thing that can be sure to raise heated discussion in various online fora it's the minutiae of the Liturgy. I find it all very tedious, especially when you have a zealot trying to tell you that you aren't celebrating the Mass properly because you have unfolded the corporal incorrectly.

In my experience, these zealots are former Anglicans who have taken up the Ordinariate set up by Benedictine XVI and turn upon their former church armed with Ritual Notes and/or Fortescue and criticise every little thing that is done wrong at the Mass.

There is something very sad about this because it turns Liturgy into Law.

The key thing to remember are Our Lord's words that the Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath. The Liturgy is a vehicle which allows people to express their worship of God within the context of a worshipping community. All say the words with a consensus or, at least, a desire for solidarity. The way we pray feeds the way we believe and vice versa. Common prayer is necessary, but how it is to be prayed is not set in stone.

The Affirmation of St Louis tells us how we are to put our worship into practice. According to our Constitution, the standard of worship is the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and those texts that conform to it such as the 1928 BCP and the English and Anglican Missals among others. What it does not do is prescribe a ceremonial. This means that it is just as licit in the eyes of the Anglican Catholic Church to say a Mass with the Big Six, Sacred Ministers and a Ritual Notes perfect celebration as it is in saying a Mass at the North End but with due reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

The Anglican Genius is that things should be taken to heart. This probably explains why the Continuing Anglican movement was born out of fire and has a reputation for anger. Given the dreadful changes which were imposed by those with less regard for the Catholic Faith, this fury is well-justified. Nonetheless what is more important to Anglican Catholic thought is the notion of progress towards Christ along the well trod narrow way.

The fact of the matter is that many Masses will fall short of the Ritual Notes ideal. Someone will read the wrong lesson at Mattins or intone the wrong antiphon at vespers. A priest might scrape the corporal before receiving the Precious Blood or afterwards before the first ablution. That doesn't matter.

We might need only reconsider our practice if we are concerned about using the Liturgy to become a vehicle for others to know Christ. The Mass has a great deal of symbolism attached to every ceremony in order to realise in the heart the One True Sacrifice of the Christ on the altar of the Cross. We are not just remembering but defying Time and Space at Our Lord's undertaking in order to share that one perfect sacrifice once offered for us. Our ceremonies are designed to help us become aware of this so that we receive the sacrament with as perfect an intention we can muster. But we must rely on the Grace of God to make that work perfect in us.

There are times when we are not able to make the Eucharistic fast. There are times when the Mass has to be said with a single tea light. There are times when Sext gets said at half past three and None at four. What matters most is the intention and desire always to do the best we can in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Our circumstances may not be common, but our prayer can be because the Church is One. We need, then, to be as generous as we can and make our own worship as excellent as possible to help those who are not able to offer their prayers in the way for which their hearts burn. Our Mass on the ironing board is the same Mass at the altar of any great orthodox cathedral.

Here in the UK, there stalks the ghost of those who would compel absolute ceremonial and liturgical uniformity. Such uniformity is disrespectful of personal circumstances. What we should do and what the ACC tries to do to bilk this ghost is to say our Masses and Offices in a way that would inspire people to give of their best in the prayer and the Faith which is common to all Catholics in liturgies which proclaim this Common Catholic Faith.

What truly matters lies in the heart, and it is from the heart that we truly worship God. Liturgical snobbery out, devotional zeal in!

Stoning Naboth

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sermon for the tenth Sunday after Trinity

Have you seen the papers? That celebrity – you know, THAT one – has really done it now. The photos are there in the press of him with THAT woman. He must have been drinking heavily. He must have been taking drugs. Anyway, his career is over. That’s the end of him.

[PAUSE]

In the past few years, we have seen several people fall from grace. Scandals have emerged. Some people have been quite rightly prosecuted. On the other hand, some have had to resign their positions because something they said in their teens has come to light. We live in a society now where even an accusation of wrongdoing can destroy a career, a reputation, or even a life.

The example of Naboth is an instance of how a few unscrupulous people can manipulate the crowds into destroying an innocent man. Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard but Naboth won’t give it to him. So Ahab gives him a high honour to set him up for a fall and then produces false witnesses to accuse him of treason whereupon the people follow the law and stone poor Naboth to death. Naboth is very much set up for a fall.

But we live in enlightened times. This sort of thing doesn’t happen today, does it?

[PAUSE]

We must be wary of conspiracy theories regarding the circumstances of people’s guilt or innocence. By and large, if someone is convicted of an offence by the due process of law, then we should be confident that the law has got it right. It has to be said, though, that it isn’t always the law that is putting people on trial.

In these days of social media, we can express our thoughts and feelings with almost immediate effect. We can say whether we believe someone to be guilty or innocent outside of any courtroom. We are now beginning to hear phrases such as “trial by television” and “trial by social media” which should frighten us.

Why?

Give a lot of people a little false information, a bit of fake news, one small lie dressed up in the truth and you can control their opinions. The general population will not be privy to all the facts and yet will still pronounce sentence. Everyone acts like judge and jury without the legal training. As the Son of Sirach says, “For many are deceived by their own vain opinion; and an evil suspicion hath overthrown their judgment.”

[PAUSE]

At work in the downfall of Naboth are the wickedness of his accusers, the ignorance of the people, and the ill-considered demand for justice. All these come together to use the law as a weapon to destroy the innocent.

The trouble is, as Christians, there doesn’t seem to be much that we can do to prevent the destruction of innocent people at the hands of those who have the power to use the law against them. Or is there?

 [PAUSE]

We know that we are not always in possession of the facts and must reserve judgement until the facts become clear beyond reasonable doubt. We know that men and women all fall but, through the death of Christ, all must be offered the opportunity to repent. We know that sinners deserve the opportunity to be forgiven. We know that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

The Lord’s command is clear. We must love our neighbours as ourselves in practice and not just in theory. This means that saint and sinner alike are all worthy of love. It means the innocent and guilty alike are worthy of respect as human beings so that no-one is demonised.

Yet, if we are honest, there is no way we can save Naboth. Even if we refuse to pick up stones to kill him, others will.

But this brings us to another power that Christians have – trust.

We Christians are foolish little people because, in this day and age of suspicion and intrigue and conspiracy and cloaks and daggers, we dare to trust. We trust God Almighty. We believe that Our Lord will come again to judge the quick and the dead and that his kingdom will have no end. We have to trust that, in the return of Our Lord, all miscarriages of justice will be put right, all wrongs will be righted, all injuries healed.

But we have to live out that trust by refusing to demonise those whom the law declares guilty and still looking for the image of Christ in the eyes of those behind bars. We have to refuse to take part in witch hunts. We have to be loving in what we post on social media. That is how we do not take up stones against Naboth.

Αναδιαμόρφωση του νομοσχεδίου για τα προσωπικά δεδομένα

Thursday, August 22, 2019



Κατατέθηκε το νομοσχέδιο για τα προσωπικά δεδομένα και βλέπω ότι κάποιες από τις δημόσιες παρατηρήσεις με τα προβλήματα που επισημάνθηκαν έχουν ληφθεί υπόψη. Πρέπει να συγχαρούμε τον νομικό κόσμο της χώρας που, παρά τις δύσκολες αυγουστιάτικες ημέρες, ασχολήθηκε εις βάθος με τα προβλήματα και πρότεινε λύσεις που βλέπουμε ότι επηρεάζουν την νομοθετική διαδικασία. 
Στο άρθρο 27 έχουμε μια πλήρη αναδιατύπωση, ώστε να μην επιτρέπεται σε κάθε περίπτωση η συγκατάθεση του εργαζομένου ως επιτρεπόμενη βάση για την επεξεργασία προσωπικών δεδομένων, αλλά μόνο υπό προϋποθέσεις. Η νέα διατύπωση είναι εναρμονισμένη με τους κανόνες στάθμισης που θέτει το Ευρωπαϊκό Συμβούλιο Προστασίας Δεδομένων, χωρίς βέβαια αυτό να σημαίνει ότι δεν θα προκύψουν ερμηνευτικά προβλήματα. Το πιο ενδιαφέρον είναι να δούμε τί θα γίνει με το πρόστιμο που έβαλε η Αρχή Προστασίας Δεδομένων στην PWC ακριβώς επειδή βάσιζε επεξεργασία δεδομένων εργαζομένων στην συγκατάθεσή τους. ΔΙΑΤΗΡΕΙΤΑΙ όμως το αισχρό ότι οι κάμερες σε χώρους εργασίας ΜΠΟΡΟΥΝ να χρησιμοποιηθούν (όχι ως αποκλειστικό μέσο ευτυχώς) για την αξιολόγηση της απόδοσης του εργαζομένου! 
Στο άρθρο 28 στο αρχικό νομοσχέδιο υπήρχε αφαίρεση της αρμοδιότητας της Αρχής Προστασίας Δεδομένων από την εποποτεία της προστασίας δεδομένων στα Μέσα Μαζικής Ενημέρωσης! Αυτό αλλάζει. ΟΜΩΣ το να εξαιρούνται ΠΛΗΡΩΣ τα δικαιώματα των υποκειμένων των δεδομένων από τα Μ.Μ.Ε. είναι αντισυνταγματικό και αντίθετο στον Χάρτη των Θεμελιωδών Ελευθεριών της Ε.Ε., ο οποίος στο άρθρο 8 αναφέρει ξεκάθαρα ότι κάθε άτομο έχει το δικαίωμα πρόσβασης στα δεδομένα που το αφορούν και το δικαίωμα διόρθωσης! Αλοίμονο αν στην Ελλάδα δεν εφαρμόζεται το "δικαίωμα στην λήθη" που ειναι σχεδιασμένο σχεδόν αποκλειστικά για να εφαρμόζεται στα διαδικτυακά ΜΜΕ.
Είναι σημαντικό ότι διεγράφη το άρθρο 36 που αφορούσε το δικαίωμα του ατόμου για αντίταξη σε περίπτωση αυτοματοποιημένων αποφάσεων και κατάρτισης προφίλ, καθόσον ήταν σε αντίθεση με την πρόβλεψη του αντίστοιχου δικαιώματος κατά τον GDPR.
Σωστή και η διαγραφή του άρθρου 37 που επέβαλε να διορίσεις Υπεύθυνο Προστασίας Δεδομένων σε κάθε περιπτωση που έχεις υποχρέωση διενέργειας εκτίμησης αντικτύπου.
ΟΜΩΣ στο άρθρο 38 με τις Ποινικές Κυρώσεις το νομοσχέδιο επιλέγει να "ΑΜΝΗΣΤΕΥΣΕΙ", δηλαδή να παραγράψει όλες τις εκκρεμείς ποινικές κατηγορίες για παραβίαση (απλών) προσωπικών δεδομένων που τελέστηκαν έως τις 31/3/2016! Αυτό συμβαίνει διοτι "ρίχνει" την ποινή ώστε να τιμωρείται με φυλάκιση ΜΕΧΡΙ ενός έτους, γεγονός που ενεργοποιεί τον Ν.4491/2016 που ΑΜΝΗΣΤΕΥΕΙ όλα τα ποινικά αδικήματα που τελέστηκαν ως 31/3/2016 και τιμωρούνται με ποινές έως 2 έτη ή/και χρηματικές ποινές! Αυτό το άρθρο παραμένει ως έχει με αποτέλεσμα να απαλλαγούν από κατηγορίες όσοι ειναι κατηγορούμενοι για παραβίαση προσωπικών δεδομένων που τέλεσαν ως τις 31/3/2016. Πραγματικά δεν νομίζω ότι εξυπηρετεί κάτι αυτή η ατιμωρησία.
Κατά τ' άλλα δεν καταργείται συνολικά ο Ν.2472/1997, αλλά παραμένουν κάτι σκόρπιες διατάξεις του σε ισχύ, ενώ μπορούσαν να είχαν ενσωματωθεί στο νέο νομοθέτημα.

Looking in from the outside

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the seminal approaches that seem to have been knocking around the atheist circuit for a while is the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) concocted by John Loftus.

"1) Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.

2) Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one’s religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.

3) Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.

4) So the best way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This expresses the OTF.

The OTF is primarily a test to examine religious faiths […] The OTF is no different than the prince in the Cinderella story who must question forty- five thousand people to see which girl lost the glass slipper at the ball the previous night. They all claim to have done so. Therefore, skepticism is definitely warranted.” (The Christian Delusion)

It is good to treat claims critically, especially since we base our lives on claims. I therefore have questions that the OTF to answer.

1) What is the test for?
Primarily, it seems that it is a mechanism by which people are encouraged to give up their faith. Or it is another shibboleth by which to label those who hold to a particular faith as being uncritical or less "freethinking". It makes the assumption that religious people cannot be skeptics and that atheism is always more rational. It also assumes that the only true skepticism is atheist.

2) What is this thing called "religion"?
The argument for the reliability of the test mentions likelihood which needs to be made rigorous if it is to be worth mentioning. The mathematics of probability requires, in this case, religions to be completely separate quantities. The probability of winning the lottery is about 1 in 14 million on the grounds that lottery numbers are separated from one another.

But religions overlap. Most religions involve the practice of prayer. As a Christian, I believe in one God. So do Muslims, and Jews and other religions, too. So the religious adherent never truly rejects another's religious faith as being wholly fallacious. Loftus wants us to regard religions as completely separate packages which are given names like "Muslim", "Jew", "Hindu" et al. In fact, despite Geography, religions often follow very similar practices and experiences.

I believe that Muslims are wrong to follow their prophet, and the Muslim will believe that I am wrong to worship Jesus as divine - that is the consequence of our different faiths. But we do agree that the materialist account of the universe is incomplete.

3) Is atheism a religion?
Loftus will say no and that he has no faith, therefore the OTF does not apply to atheism. The question is whether "I don't believe in God" is the same statement as "I believe in no gods". There is an apparent difference as the second statement implies the first. Yet to say that one does not believe in God means that one does not believe in any being that would qualify as God. Thus by implication there is a belief that no being qualifies as God. If this is true, then the lack of belief is a belief in a lack. In this case, atheism itself falls under the OTF.

But perhaps this is too semantic. So let us offer another course.

Atheism is certainly a way of viewing the world and making decisions in life. Thus, if it is not a religious viewpoint, it is certainly a philosophical viewpoint.  Let us therefore try a little mutatis mutandis for the Outsider Test for Philosophical Worldview (OTPWV).

1) Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of philosophical worldviews due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the philosophical worldview diversity thesis.

2) Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one’s philosophical worldview is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the philosophical worldview dependency thesis.

3) Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted philosophical worldview is false.

4) So the best way to test one’s adopted philosophical worldview is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other philosophical worldviews. This expresses the OTPWV.

Thus, we have broadened our horizons to include atheism and agnosticism. We therefore have as good a reason to be skeptical of atheism and agnosticism as we are of any religion.

Even if we regard philosophical worldviews as being mutually distinct (which they are not) the probability of one of them being false is tiny and yet one of them must be the worldview of Reality. It's rather like the lottery: it's of tiny probability that your numbers will come up, but one set of numbers will certainly come up. If that's not a valid use of probability in the OTPWV, then it's not valid for the OTF.

The fact of the matter is that I have assessed my faith critically which is why I sometimes struggle with it. What I have learned is that faith is not something that can always be expressed through philosophical analysis. It must also be there in the heart. If we struggle intellectually or emotionally with God, then it is best to stop and seek silence with Him. It is best to treat God as a being with Whom to engage rather than purely as a philosophical proposition.

When the atheists try and trounce us with their arguments (and even succeed at times) God is there for us in His unknowability but also in His love. Let us learn just to trust Him.

Where there's hope, there's life

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sermon for the ninth Sunday after Trinity

One of the most enduring images that we see is that of the little African child with protruding ribs and distended belly staring out into our eyes in an appeal for relief from the most recent drought. Of course, we are called to feed the hungry and water the thirsty, and so we give what we can to the aid agencies trusting that they will supply those in need with food and drink.

But what do we do in our own drought?

[PAUSE]

There have been some scary news stories about water shortages with reporters walking about in dried-up reservoirs. We are being alerted to changes in weather patterns all over the world. Clearly, we should be concerned with the stewardship of the Earth that God has given to us. What do we do when it is God who calls the drought deliberately?

We see the prophet Elijah obey God. We see him call King Ahab to account by pronouncing God’s drought on the land. We see how no rain or dew falls to water the earth, and we see Elijah leave Ahab to stew in his own predicament.

Sometimes, God has to withhold His gifts from us to remind us Who He is. He does this, not out of petty vindictiveness, nor from an insecurity which demands worship. He does this because we have a need for God that we don’t often recognise. He does this to give us the opportunity to turn back to Him where we find true health, true joy and true peace.

We have to recognise periods of drought for what they are – time to reconsider our relationship with God.

[PAUSE]

While we are facing a change in our climate, we are also facing a greater drought in the West. We are watching our civilisation struggle because it has been distracted from God. We are in the midst of a spiritual drought as people fall away from God into their own desires. We see people deny God because of the pain and suffering in the world, or because they want to be ruled only by themselves. We see cathedrals sell out and fill themselves with amusements and entertainments to draw people in, but do nothing to deal with the intense spiritual drought in their souls.

This sounds scary, and it is. Are you frightened by the future? Are you scared about the possible death of the planet? Are you worried about our country becoming so spiritually dead that it become as evil a state as Ahab’s Israel or Hitler’s Germany?

[PAUSE]

There is ALWAYS hope. We must never forget that. The prophet Elijah shows how the Heavens and the Earth could pass away but the Word of the Lord will endure for ever. And the Word of the Lord is Love. And God loves you. This is why you exist: to love and to be loved.

Look how, in the midst of the drought, Elijah produces food and water to sustain a faithful family. Look how, through the power of God, he restores a child to life. Look how Elijah does things that will be done a few centuries later by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Look how Elijah himself will meet Our Lord in in the Transfiguration.

Blessed be the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

[PAUSE]

Western Civilisation seems to have fallen into a spiritual drought. It seems to have lost the basis of its civilisation. It seems to have lost Christianity. Thus, like Ahab’s Israel, it must suffer the consequences of separation from God. Yet, there is an Elijah who will preach God to the world and to those who are willing to receive it. This Elijah is the Church. This Elijah is you.

God gives His grace to the faithful to spread and multiply throughout the world. If we are careful stewards of His grace then we can bless this planet and our stewardship of it. We can bring hope to others through reminding them of the Word which will never pass away.

Yes, the future can look dark sometimes, but God is here with us. Though thousands may languish and fall beside us and ten thousand around us perish, we are being saved by God. We may be in a drought, but God brings water from rocks and living water wells up within all who drink from Christ. And we, God’s Church can bring that water to all who want it. We MUST bring that water to all who want it.

God will neither forget the African child nor the spiritually poor. Where there is hope, there is life!

Nuclear Assumptions

Wednesday, August 14, 2019





The traditional nuclear family of the 1950s will often portray the homecoming of the father from work to the jubilation of his wife and children. Advertisements of the time will show the wife busying , cooking the dinner, ensuring the kids are well-behaved and ensuring that the hard-working man comes home to a clean, happy, household and the smell of a well-made shepherd’s pie.

Thankfully, the days of this image are over. Indeed, this has been only a point of view for a tiny minority of Man’s conversation upon earth. The nuclear family is still the same ideal: mother, father and the children. You cannot get around the biological fact that this is how families are made. What has changed since the 1950s is what was true before the 1950s that women laboured too. They have been as much harvesters as seamstresses, as much community apothecaries as homemakers, as much teachers as childminders. In some way we have to get past the accretions that have been made to our expectation of what family should be. The fact of the matter is that, when the baby is weaned, there is no reason why a father cannot be the main provider of childcare while a woman goes out to work. The parents that work hard for the family reap the rewards of the family. When Mummy comes home from work, there is much joy!

And the Mother of God has come home from her labours! She enters Heaven in the same body which bore her glorious Divine Child. With the same innocent and carefree joy, all the host of Heaven glorify this wonderful Lady and her Son meets her in His child-like thrill and, as He promises all His faithful, wraps her around in His Divinity even as she gave of herself to clothe Him with His humanity through the power of the Holy Ghost.

It is when the worker comes home to the family that the homecoming meal can truly begin. Thus in the Sacrifice of the Mass do we share under the veil of our fallenness in Our Lady’s homecoming as we sit around the banquet table to eat the Bread of True Life. When the veil of sinful flesh has been removed from our eyes we will be able to behold this wonderful feast. God the Father has been keeping house, preparing the meal, making her place ready for her return.

Our Lady is like us. She has no divinity of her own. She has but one nature, one will, one agency. Yet, this is the one who has laboured to bring about the ministry of her Son in the world. She is one who has wrought wages of righteousness rather than the wages of sin. Now that she has come home, the Heavenly Family has Father, Mother and Son reunited. But, the family meal can only begin when all the Children of God are home again. We can smell the cooking, but our labours must come first so that we can bring home the work the God has wrought in us.

This is not the 1950s nuclear family clothed in rose-tinted spectacles: this is the nuclear family of humanity clothed in divinity.

How to be a wise-guy

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sermon for the eighth Sunday after Trinity

Many Christians find it very uncomfortable sharing their faith with others. Perhaps you are one of them. One of the most common reasons why people find it so difficult is that they feel that they don’t know enough so as to answer the questions people put to them. Perhaps you understand where they are coming from. Perhaps you envy Solomon who seems to be able to answer every question that the Queen of Sheba puts to him.

Why do we envy Solomon so?

[PAUSE]

We do get a bit of a rush when we know the right answer and give it in a way that people understand. There’s something rather satisfying about putting people right with facts and answering hard questions. The trouble, as you can already tell, this leads us into a particular sin known as intellectual pride.

What if we really could answer every question put to us?

Well, then we would have to be God. Even Solomon can’t have all the answers. If he did then how do we account for his many hundreds of wives and concubines? If he had all the answers to all questions then how could he fall so far from God?

The invulnerability that knowing the answer gives us is a false certainty. St Paul declares it very well when he tells us that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Just knowing leads us astray. We can see this in how the great intellectual institutions have fallen away into heresy. One very prestigious British university have given an honorary doctorate to a woman who has, more than most, tried to rid the Church of people who hold to the traditional faith once given to the saints. Many universities now are secular institutions in which religion is studied as a thing that happens or as a peculiarity of backward thinking rather than engaging on a quest for truth within Christian Doctrine that used to be the case.

It seems that Solomon’s example has not been learned by many of today’s academics.

[PAUSE]

Love builds up, and this means love of God. All things start with God and if they don’t then there is something amiss. Once we start treating God as a thing to put into a test-tube, then we have gone wrong. Academic study is fine and noble, but it is not the basis on which we build our faith. This is the difference between wisdom and knowledge.

The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. As Solomon himself says

For the very true beginning of her is the desire of discipline; and the care of discipline is love; And love is the keeping of her laws; and the giving heed unto her laws is the assurance of incorruption; And incorruption maketh us near unto God: Therefore the desire of wisdom bringeth to a kingdom.

Just because Solomon goes astray doesn’t mean that he stops telling the truth. And this is the key difference between wisdom and knowledge.

Knowledge waves its hand in the air like an overeager schoolboy shouting, “I know! I know!” very loudly. Yet often Knowledge will not admit that he doesn’t know and blusters only half-truths to hide that he doesn’t know.

Wisdom sits quietly, listening and taking notes. Wisdom struggles with what she doesn’t know but is committed to the truth. When she doesn’t know the answer she will say so firmly and seek the answer sitting at the feet of her Creator in love of Him.

[PAUSE]

There is nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to a complicated question. The only questions every Christian needs to be able to answer honestly are “Do you love the Lord Your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength?” and “Do you love your neighbour as yourself?” The wise Christian will say “no!” to both of these.

And then the wise Christian will say, “but it is my firm intention to learn to do so better with the help of God Who I long for.” And then the wise Christian will go about building his house on the rock that is Our Lord Jesus Christ. That's how we share our faith most effectively. It is hard being wise, but better for your immortal soul than being a know-all.

The algorithm of Life?

If anyone were to produce an "app" for the Monastic Breviary as conformed to the Book of Common Prayer, I would be very, very interested. I have been toying with learning to code in order to produce something like this for a long time as the only versions I see are firmly Roman Catholic and lack the gravity of the English of the Prayer Book.

Breviaries (such as the BCP)  give a script with which we can make our prayer truly common. The fact that the Offices and Missals follow a basic structure and formulae with which to arrange the propers means that any two people 500 miles distant using the same breviary are sharing the same prayers. Thus a formulaic liturgy enables two or three to be gathered together in the Name of Christ despite being distant spatiotemporally. An ancient liturgy has the power to make prayer common for believers throughout the centuries.

Some people object to such scripted prayer and, yet, they don't realise just how scripted our society is becoming - to its detriment!

Call a utilities company or a bank, go in for a health check up, even order fast food, and you will be presented with a script. Go off script and you cause confusion. Give your title as "Fr." rather than "Mr." and the person at the desk will announce confusedly, "computer says, 'no!'" Tell you utilities company that you don't want the upgrade and you will be bombarded with the same message all trying (unsuccessfully) to convince you that you really want the upgrade. And woe betide you if you don't give a clear response to, "do you want fries with that?"

Of course, scripts in these situations can be very useful. It means that the employee covers all bases and can deliver what the customer wants with greater confidence. It means that the healthcare professional can ensure that the correct treatment is given. It means that you do get your fries with barbecue sauce. 

Scripts are also useful for the autistic. The autist often has no means of getting an intuitive answer to social questions or know how to engage in conversation with confidence. Having a script helps, which is why the autist often sounds like a stuck record at social gatherings, and the script can be adjusted as more and varied social encounters are made. This makes sense and helps autistic individuals function, albeit rather stiltedly on occasion.

And yet it seems that we are becoming more and more scripted as a society. Our social commentary is performed on Twitter or Facebook. Our phones not only predict the word we are trying to spell, but which word we are going to use before we even start typing. The Digital age is making scripting easier. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, criticised the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, of communicating solely by use of a script. She said:

“I don't want to be too derogatory or pejorative about Theresa May. She's obviously no longer prime minister, but having conversations with Theresa May was pretty soul destroying. She would never depart from a script, no matter where you tried to take the conversation. I remember in one meeting, going in and trying to think about how can we get this meeting off on a sort of gentler start before we immediately got into the areas where we disagreed."

Perhaps we get some inkling into how Brexit negotiations have gone badly. Relying always on a script does stifle imagination, and the more that politicians do it in their word bank of stock phrases which speak volumes without really saying anything, the more we lose the ability to think carefully about what we really want to say. 

The same is true in teaching. In my final years as a schoolmaster, I was being encouraged to use stock phrases in my school reports to parents. Everything had to conform to the "school style" and anything that didn't conform was re-worded by a senior teacher on "my behalf". The result was that occasionally I was contacted by parents to clarify things that I hadn't actually said. 

Again, we can see perhaps that there is beginning to be a desire for us to control what we say. I notice that CofE Bishops are now chosen to fit a managerial mould and to carefully control what is said. This is certainly true in the recent Matthew Ineson debacle in which despite the evidence being very clear, those who control CofE newspeak still have not issued a formal apology to a man whose life has been blighted by abuse and the consequent cover-up by the effective hierarchy.

Departing from the script risks offence. Certainly, the autist can find himself in a bit of a pickle when he can't follow his social script, but the resulting offence allows learning to take place and, while it may be the hardest word, a genuine "sorry" is always helpful. As human beings we should be allowed to depart from the script in order to grow. 

Scripting life means that we become more algorithmic in our lives. All of the big internet companies such as Google, YouTube and Facebook use our scripts to generate algorithms by which they learn more about us and seek to influence us by nudging our choices to conform to their predictions. This has already be used to great effect through the abuse of online data. We need to be wary of this or we will lose the actual freedom of our choice.

The overall effect of being governed by algorithm is that we gain a very mechanical view of what it means to be human. We already have that in a view of neuroscience which states that the brain is the cause of the mind and thus that all that we think is actually controlled by physical states in the brain. If people believe that this is all they are then they will become slaves to non-human entities. If we are already being influenced by machine-code, then there is nothing to stop that influence from becoming outright control. To escape from a potential Blade Runner dystopia, we just need to be human. 

This brings me back to the Liturgy. Liturgy is very much about corporate prayer. We pray together to the same God in solidarity with each other. In so doing we commit ourselves to the two commandments of loving God and neighbour. The more we use liturgy properly, the more we can frame our own personal colloquy with God. There is nothing to stop us from saying the Magnificat first thing in the morning when we wake up if that's how we feel drawn to pray. Of course, we should ask ourselves why and, if we do, then we will be enriched when the revelation comes.

We are allowed to pray without prayer books. This cultivates a deeper, personal relationship with God. We use our liturgy as a way of approaching Him before allowing ourselves to be lost in the sea of His Infinity and trusting Him to bring us back to ourselves strengthened by His love. We need to seek ourselves authentically. This means that we stand with our feet on the ground and our hearts in Heaven.

It means the humility to allow others some way to "define" us in order to get to know us and yet not allowing their definition to obscure who we are as a Creation of God. It means the humility to recognise that we are more than we appear even to ourselves and accepting the titanic dissonance that this causes. It means the humility to accept that God's authority is right and that he does not create us to follow an algorithm.

The liturgy that we possess is not for controlling us. It is a way in which we can approach God. It is the framework of our lives, not the algorithm that tells us how to live. We keep to the liturgies of our Church in order to keep ourselves part of that Church and living lives of response and responsibility to that community. 

St Benedict maintains that we need to take our Liturgy very, very seriously and correct our errors, but his Rule does show that there must be life and prayer outside the times of worship. It is this freedom that allows monks to become scholars, artisans and archbishops in their own right rather than just slaves to an algorithmic breviary. Yet the breviary entices us through love and devotion to seek out our common prayer with others.

I am grateful that the Anglican Catholic Church has this latitude built in. We can be Prayer Book Catholic, using the 1549 or US1928. We can be monastic or Anglo-Catholic using the Monastic or Anglican breviaries which conform to the BCP. The point is that our liturgy is a powerful means to the greatest ends, that is, participation in the hypostatic union of humanity and divinity. By seeing ourselves as being more than biological machines and collections of physical laws and chemical algorithms, we will approach what God wants us to be. The liturgy assists that approach.

And, if anyone does make an "app" for the Monastic Breviary as edited by Canon Wilfrid Douglas of Fond du Lac, please do let me know! I'm happy to receive that algorithm.




New Scientist = Old Contradiction

Saturday, August 10, 2019



I railed about Tabloid Thinking in the Church and how it is irresponsible for the spiritual development of Christians. I find also the same irresponsibility within Science Journalism and it is truly damaging the way that human beings think. It makes me wonder that there is empirical evidence for humanity becoming markedly less intelligent.

Consider this headline from the New Scientist.

REALITY: THE GREATEST ILLUSION OF THEM ALL

How shamefully meaningless. A headline designed to sensationalise rather than arouse clear thinking.

A simple dictionary definition will suffice.

Illusion: an instance of a wrong or misinterpreted perception of a sensory experience; a false idea or belief.

If everything that we perceive is an illusion, then so is the empirical basis on which we make the claim that everything we perceive is an illusion. Our experiments, apparatus, measurements, all designed to give us an understanding of Reality only ever give us illusions. It means that we must even doubt the hypothesis that everything we perceive is an illusion. 

We find ourselves firmly in the position of Cartesian Skepticism and the Brain in a Vat argument.

If all reality is an illusion then Science cannot possibly hold onto the claim that it is a vehicle for the discernment of Truth. If Materialist Scientists accept the "scientific" finding that all Reality is an illusion, then they have no business of telling any religious adherents that their religious belief is delusory.

To my mind, the results of the experiments that have driven Scientists to this conclusion demonstrate that they have reached a reductio ad absurdum.

Assumption: The Scientific Method is the only method by which we obtain objective truth.

1) The Scientific Method shows that what we perceive is different from objective reality.

2) The  Scientific Method is based on perceptions of objective reality.

3) Therefore, the Scientific Method shows that empirical methods find only what is different from objective reality.

4) The Scientific Method shows that the Scientific Method is false.

This is the liar paradox: the Cretan has said that all Cretans are liars. The only logical conclusion is that the assumption must be false. Thus, either there is no objective reality (so you are clearly not reading this!) or the Scientific Method needs to be reconsidered carefully. The study of Feyerabend's Against Method is probably a good place to start.

Of course, there is another assumption that I have made which would invalidate my argument. I have based everything here on a reading of a New Scientist article. If the New Scientist article is inaccurate then it calls into question its capabilities of reporting the truth. If it is accurate then it is reporting that Science is incapable of discovering the truth and thus renders itself in opposition to Science which goes against its own remit.  Nonetheless, if anything comes of this, the New Scientist seems to have proved itself unreliable and unworthy as a means of education for those who would read it.

I recommend doing some proper science instead.

Transfiguring Evangelism

Thursday, August 8, 2019

I know that I have been somewhat harsh in my criticism of the CofE Cathedrals that are effectively becoming theme parks of entertainment rather than retaining their place as centres of worship. I think my criticism is just, especially when (I repeat) the CofE claims to speak for Christians in this country. Its actions prove clearly that it does not: it speaks for the State and the State preaches Cultural Marxism under the guise of "Social Justice".

I do, however, recognise its struggle for, believe it or not, there are Christians in the CofE. They may not be as much in evidence in the hierarchy but they are there in parishes that hold firm to Christian principles. And where there are Christians, there is a Gospel that is struggling to be proclaimed. Evangelism is a vitally important aspect of Christian duty and it is polarised into either going too far to make the Message heard and thus forgetting what the Message says, rather like the town crier who has left his parchment at home on the kitchen work-surface and is winging it, or concentrating on what the Message says but forgetting to proclaim it.

Evangelism is hard for many Christians because the majority of Christians are introvert in their personalities. This doesn't necessarily mean they are withdrawn, sullen and silent, but rather they relax and recharge from within rather than from without. Meditative prayer and quiet study are generally easier for the introvert. Yet, the extravert needs to develop their own skills for prayer and study whereby they allow physical silence in order to focus on God. We can get too hung up on indulging our Jungian stereotypes rather than focusing on Christ Who will inspire us to do His Will by the strength of our love for Him over the love of ourselves. Yet, the introvert also needs to do that which is better suited to the extravert and spend time proclaiming the Message to real people.

What should the CofE Cathedrals be doing to draw people in? There is only one answer that I can give: Repent!

We must remember that repentance is not a turning away from sin - that's its effect. Repentance is a positive activity. Repentance is turning towards Christ.

One thing I have been hearing lately from many quarters of the internet is the message that Evangelism is about being authentically Christian. I hear this from our own Bishop Stephen Scarlett, from Abbot Tikhon, et c. I think they are absolutely right.

Evangelism needs to come from us as part of God's light. The parables are very clear. We are the light of the world, yet we shine not with our own light but the same light that bursts forth from the Transfigured Christ. If there is no oil in our lamp, if we cover our faith with Things and Gimmicks (Yes, Mrs Dean of Norwich Cathedral, a helter-skelter is a gimmick no matter how much you say it isn't!), if we fail to tend the light, then we cannot shine.

We need to ensure that we are indeed shining with God's light and not the sordid neon light of the world. This requires personal attention and self-discipline, not finding the right Tweet or Facebook post. God will always give us opportunities to evangelize but by living our lives in Him.

As many have already said, we need to forget about the latest "Fresh Expression" or other branding. There is no "Hovis" emblazoned across the Bread of Life. Our Gospel is the same recipe the World and Time over but baked in the oven of our own living. The reason that the CofE are looking for gimmicks is that they have allowed their worship to become stale in its authenticity and, rather than seeking to revive the spirit of the Liturgy with the fire of the Holy Spirit, they have looked to the world for inspiration. Thus they have changed the recipe, and shine with a neon light which is unnatural and not kindled from Mount Tabor.

The Evanglising Parish should seek to do well in the gifts differing that God has given. As long as it keeps the Catholic Faith unaltered and worships God authentically, allowing the struggles, pains, hardships, poverty, and misery of life and existence to be consecrated by repentance, then the Light of lights will shine forth giving meaning to the lives of those who seek first the kingdom of God whereupon they will find true joy in living and true light for shining.

Mens Sana Incorporises

Monday, August 5, 2019

I read with no little concern about the latest initiative by the CofE. Normally, I take the shrill bleating of the Daily Mail with a cellar of salt.

This latest plan to bring people to faith, to my mind, is another instance of the CofE confirming to worldly thinking.

The matter of Muscular Christianity is one that I think is easily misinterpreted to be essentially masculine or "manly". Here I have to beg the indulgence of Fr Christopher Little who works in defence of something he calls "Muscular Christianity" which seems part of his American upbringing rather than the half-hearted attempt to go back a century or two as CofE Archbishop Welby seems to want. This is the man who wants Cathedrals to be fun.

I loathe sport. It brings out the worst in people because it sets human being against human being in utterly arbitrary and pointless point scoring which frequently infects life outside sport. The strongest, fastest and most skilful are rewarded at the expense of those who are not. In this enterprise of physical prowess, we find ourselves comparing Man to the beasts that perish as we perpetuate the Darwinian "survival of the fittest" leaving the weak by the wayside and forgetting those who miss the mark.

Ah! Might not the CofE teach good sportsmanship?

Perhaps. Games are good when they are for honest fun. Yet, the very spirit of competition is dangerously Pelagian when injected into the Christian milieu in which we can always win the prize by running fast enough or flonking the dwile far enough, and at the expense of others. Competition is necessarily divisive and tribal. The only competition that truly matters is the spiritual battle that wages within us. The victory there is Christ's and our success in this is Humanity's participation in that victory. If it doesn't matter whether we win or lose, but how we play the game, then what do winning and losing mean? Do we win if we play the game better than our opponent?

And we see this in the Imperialist notion that Victorian Muscular Christianity possessed. Once one tries to celebrate fastest, strongest, lithest, one tries to instill these as virtues into the people and thus put us on the road to eugenics, and that's a nasty place to go.

All this is a deflection from Christ and a distraction of the soul from contemplating life. The Church is not a "mens sana in corpore sano" keep fit club. It is a hospital for the spiritually wounded and a hostel for the spiritually poor. If the CofE wants to cater for the physical body and forget about the health of the soul, that's its affair. Again, I severely doubt that this initiative will do anything to help the numbers on pews, nor will it help the spiritual health of a nation that is sinking into the Slough of Despond.

The focus of the Church is the worship of Christ. He is not a trophy but the cure of our sickness. If the CofE wants a trophy, then it will end up with atrophy.

The Sickness of Absalom

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sermon for the seventh Sunday after Trinity



You see the rebellious Absalom dangling helpless from the tree. Are you going to be the one who puts him to death?

King David says, “deal gently with him!” but General Joab says, “kill him!” Whom do you obey? King or General?

[PAUSE]

There are times when justice and mercy almost seem to be opposites.

Absalom has rebelled against his own father, who has sought to divide the kingdom against him and turned the people of Israel against their king. The fact is that Absalom is a handsome, persuasive man who manages to lead the people astray. If he lives then he becomes a figurehead for further rebellion and dissent against the lawful King David. Justice dictates that Absalom be punished and removed from being a threat against Israel.

And yet, Absalom has seen his own sister Tamar raped by their half-brother Amnon. He has seen his father, the lawful King David, gloss over this treatment of Tamar. Certainly no punishment of Amnon by David is recorded. Absalom is filled with wrath and indignation at David’s weakness and love of Amnon. Mercy dictates that the reason for Absalom’s wrath be taken into account and allow him the chance to reconcile with David.

Justice and Mercy seem to be opposites.

[PAUSE]

Those of us who are partial to soap operas will be used to the convoluted histories of their characters and there is something of the pantomime in it all when we long to see the villain punished and the hero kiss the heroine and live happily ever after.

The fact is, there is no happily ever after, neither in soap operas nor in this life. Whether you see Joab’s destruction of Absalom as necessary for the good of Israel or a sin against David, there is not going to be a satisfactory conclusion to this whole affair. We can see the sins of the fathers influence the sins of the children at every stage.

Of course, Joab is being pragmatic and has noble views of the good of all in Israel. He kills Absalom realising that he is a constant threat, and he also convinces David to leave his mourning for his son to rule Israel properly. We might perceive that there is a lot of good sense in Joab.

Yet King David realises that he is the cause of Absalom’s rebellion and seeks to preserve the young man’s life in order to reconcile him with his family and rejoin him at court. We might perceive that there are a lot of good intentions in King David.

So which is the right course of action.

[PAUSE]

What we can’t get away from is the fact that every act, even lawful acts, have the potential for sin somewhere along the line. Joab seeks to protect Israel, but disobeys his king. The King seeks to protect his son, but risks ruining his country.

What is also notable in this story is the lack of mention of God except in thanksgiving for the end of the battle on the lips of Ahimaaz. There is no prayer to God for Absalom on the lips of the king. There is no prayer for the correct course of action on the lips of Joab. God does not appear to be consulted, so we don’t know what God might say.

Only in God are Justice and Mercy the same thing because they have their meaning only in Him. Given that we face tough decisions every day in our nation, in our community and in our own personal lives, we really must seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.

We can see that for Absalom, David and Joab, the law is not enough for both Justice and Mercy to have their place. Maybe we, too, see justice too much as an expression of the law and mercy too much as the holding back of the law. Maybe we see sin too much in legal terms of crime and punishment rather than of sickness inherent in Man’s very nature – a sickness that can only be cured by living in the fulness of God.

Many divisions within Christianity are due to interpretations of Scripture in legal terms in which chapter and verse are pitted against chapter and verse. Many influential theologians have been trained lawyers.

We must realise that law and the lawyers are of vital importance to the stability of any community, especially one that is under the influence of sin. The law gives us the backbone and the lawyers help us interpret by putting flesh on the backbone, but they cannot give life to the body: they can only provide structure and framework. The more we try to apply the law indiscriminately and dispassionately relying on blanket application and sweeping statement, the more we will fail to understand either Justice or Mercy.

[PAUSE]

If we see sin as sickness, then we see Joab trying to quarantine a sickness from his people. We see David seek the health of his son and yet lose him to that sickness. And we see Christ not only as the doctor but also the cure of that sickness in His very self. We know that it is right for Joab to quarantine his people. We know that it is right for David to care for a son in the grip of a mortal disease. And we, with our benefit of a glorious hindsight, know that even for Absalom things are not lost in Christ.

When faced with indecision, we too must remember that our sickness and sins are being healed in Christ. We must make the best decision we can through prayer and listening, and then trust Him fully even when things seem dark.

[PAUSE]

Would God have spared Absalom?

He may have done so already.

Bowing and scraping the bottom of the barrel?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

I remember my confirmation very well. It was the first time I remember coming into contact with a bishop in full chasuble and mitre. The bishop in question was a truly lovely man – gentle, affable and, to my young mind, holy. In fact, there is nothing about him to suggest otherwise even now in this time of personal iconoclasm. He doesn’t stand out among the bishops I have known other than the bishop that confirmed me. The dear man has long gone to his rest and I joyfully pray for his soul because he fulfilled his mission with due ceremony and quietness. I gather he was not a man for committees, but rather a wise pastor.

I remember being in awe of him. He seemed huge to a little boy, though I doubt he was as tall as other bishops, and certainly nowhere near the height of my current bishop. I was told to address him as “My Lord” and so I did when he spoke to me briefly. It was for me as important an occasion as meeting the Queen.

My Confirmation was also the moment that I remember wanting to be a Christian. Before then, I was just a boy who went to church and did churchy things. It was just a cultural thing. From this moment, I had been strengthened in the service of Christ even though I was very young to be confirmed. As I look back, I see that the Sacrament was truly effective and that, at the hands of this bishop, I had been given God’s grace.

I read in many places now how the age of deference must end. I hear of people saying that we should stop calling bishops, “My Lord” and “Your Grace” and that we should stop the bowing and scraping because it harks back to the feudal society. Some feel that deference to bishops and priests stultifies the laity and invalidates their opinions. The CofE Archbishop of Canterbury says that he finds it strange when people show him deference. To my mind, that says it all.

I want to show deference to my superiors, especially my bishop. He and I are good friends which is why I refer to him as “M’Lud” in a Gilbert and Sullivan sort of way rather than “My Lord” which I reserve for more formal correspondence. Nonetheless in showing him deference, I am making very real to myself that he is my spiritual father, my ordinary, and the representative of Christ in my Diocese.

There is a psychological saying that if you smile, you will start feeling happy. The same is true in the Church, the more you act as if Christ is present in another person, the more you will see Him. The Benedictine Rule is full of deference. We have to be humble and not press our opinions for the good of the community. There must be a limit on our influence so that Christ becomes much more visibly present to us. The more I call my bishop, “M’Lud”, kiss the episcopal ring and remove my biretta, the more do I remember Christ through him. He does not accept my opinions wholesale and does not implement all my suggestions and nor should he, thank God! As leader of the Diocese upon whom the buck stops, he is wise to take advice but is the only one who makes the decisions on behalf of the Diocese. If I demand that my opinion be honoured then I am wounding my Church as much as the dissenter in the Monastery. If he and I are "equals" then there can be no cohesion in the Church and we stand in fear of becoming a loosely connected group of individuals rather than a community of believers with the sole aim of loving God and neighbour.

Why do people reject the idea of deference to the clergy? The answer is simple. The clergy have not lived lives worthy enough to allow Christ to be seen in them. Both the RCC and CofE have been riddled with abuse scandals. The latest scandal in the CofE leaves even both Archbishops tainted with shirking the responsibility of care for the abused and there seems to be some allegation going around that they have been complicit in the cover-up of abuse. The trouble is that neither of them have been able to refute those allegations sufficiently.

This is the problem, the clergy have not lived so as to be able to allow people the opportunity to give them the deference and veneration as ikons of Christ. This is why Cultural Marxism has been allowed to try and level the playing-field by refusing deference to anyone and preaching the social equality of all.

Ironically, what Cultural Marxism actually achieves is an atomisation of community, by promoting the individual above the community by claims of victimhood and lack of privilege. Thus itself engenders another form of deference in which we defer to the "oppressed minorities' and those who culturally lack privilege. One only has to look at the diversity policy of the BBC to find people promoted by virtue of being in a "minority" rather than by their merit. 

To my mind it is better to give deference to those who accept their place as ikons of Christ and strive to live up to that rather than to those who assume it. I have too little respect for Archbishop Welby and have lost the respect that I once had for Archbishop Sentamu. I cannot see Christ in them any longer because neither promote Christ.

 I do see Christ in my bishop and brother clergy because nI know that they hold the Christian Faith to the extent of sacrificing much on its behalf. I see Christ in my monastic community in Salisbury for similar reasons. I see Christ in many lay-folk too, but I don't see Christ sufficiently well in others which I need to do, but many CofE clergymen seem bound to live lives contrary to the Gospel and encourage others to do the same. 

If we expect deference, then we will be disappointed and with good reason. If we live lives for Christ and clothe our lives in Him, then we will be His ikon as we should be. If people call for an end to deference, they will end up demanding deference to themselves and their opinions as being automatically worthy of consideration.

I will continue to call bishops "My Lord" and Archbishops "Your Grace" even if they are of the CofE because I *want* to see Christ in them and by doing so, perhaps I will. But then I will try and be the good Benedictine and show deference to everyone in order that Christ's presence may be more obvious to me and, God willing, through me to the world who badly needs to see His face once more.

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