Sunday, 12 July 2015

Change and decay ...

The problem many of us have with the modern liberal left (or, rather, one of a myriad of problems) is its collective lack of a sense of humour, and its total lack of proportion, not to mention any semblance of a sense of what constitutes half-way decent, much less honourable, behaviour. 
It wouldn't be so much of a problem if its ideas, standards, and generally 'transgressive' (that is, 1960s adolescent) culture hadn't taken over virtually the whole of public life. This is the contemporary establishment, sitting among the ruins of a civilisation, picking away at what little mortar is holding the stones together. 
So its not that easy just to get on with things (as, predictably, some are advising) and  ignore something which now surrounds us like the air we breathe. Yes, the sun still rises in the east, but what its light illumines is not such a pretty sight.

That Nobel prize winning biologist Sir Tim Hunt could be hounded out of professional life and public service for a few ill-judged and, admittedly, dubiously humorous remarks about female scientists shouldn't surprise us in the least - his most vocal critics are the new puritans (joyless roundheads, but stripped of their calvinistic theology) who will seek to impose their twisted sense of reality upon the rest of us at the least opportunity. But that he was abandoned - 'hung out to dry' - by the academic institutions and charities he has dedicated his life to serving, and by colleagues he had previously regarded as friends, should appal us beyond measure.
But this is the present reality of our society - we should be so proud to be part of it.. 
An interview with Sir Tim here on The Guardian website

Just to brighten up a damp Sunday evening here in Britain, two pieces by the Canadian / American / British-educated commentator Mark Steyn.
The first - 'Insufficiently Independent to Hold an Independence Day Parade' - is about the farcical madness of official bureaucracy on the New Hampshire - Vermont border, and nicely illustrates the stifling of the human spirit in the modern West by an ever-expanding and ever-demanding officialdom: 
Yet, while I salute the New Hampshire end for declining to let some jumped-up Vermont twerp rain on their parade, I don't think that was quite the ideal solution. When someone like Constable Godfrey tells you are no longer sufficiently independent to hold an Independence Day parade, the correct response is: Sorry, pal, we're coming through. You can stand in our path, and we'll let the 4-H-ers plow you into the asphalt. Or you can call for back up from the Sheriff's Department and tase us into submission. But you're gonna have to tase us all. Because isn't that what the Declaration of Independence was all about? George III thought this was the King's highway and freeborn Americans told him, get lost, creep, it's the people's highway. And on this Independence Day the people are coming through! 
"...I like to think that's what the late Ray Burton, longtime NH Executive Councillor for the North Country, would have done. He marched at the head of the parade for years alongside his car (license number "1") , and I find it hard to imagine him meekly consenting to be turned away. But lots of other folks wouldn't agree to it, either. Had, say, the Dearborn Ramadan Parade or the West Hollywood LGBTQWERTY Parade taken a wrong turn, like Bugs Bunny at Albuquerque, and wound up on that Connecticut River bridge, do you think they would have submitted to Constable Godfrey's diktat? Not at all. They would have brushed him aside and poured through. And their willingness to do that is why the gays and the Muslims win everything they want - and compliant losers don't. 
And, in fact, try telling those despised "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" in France that Bastille Day's off because of insufficient signs - or Quebeckers on St-Jean-Baptiste Day. This prostration before irrational, capricious but deeply totalitarian officialdom is unbecoming to a supposedly free people. 
So, as ridiculous as Constable Godfrey's behavior was, the bovine acceptance of it by the citizenry is far more disturbing. In my Fourth of July rerun of an old Telegraph column, I noted how the regulatory bureaucracy was crushing the spirit of independence. That was back in the Nineties when "safety" was being used to hyper-regulate anything involving children. Two decades on, we are all children. When you can have your Independence Day cancelled by bureaucrats on 45 minutes' notice, you are not citizens, you are not even subjects - you are wards of the state, a state that no longer recognizes you as capable of functioning adulthood... "    [here]

And a much darker take than the conventional 'Spirit of the Blitz' narrative on the commemoration of the 7/7 London bombings [here]
"... And so it proved. The killers turned out to be "Yorkshiremen" - British subjects born and bred and into fish'n'chips, cricket, lousy English pop music ...and jihad. All were lifelong Muslims, except for one "revert": Germaine Lindsay. We're used to it now, from Jihadi John and all the other "Britons" head-chopping their way across the Islamic State to the two reverts who decapitated Drummer Rigby on a London street in broad daylight. But a decade ago it was new, and thus slightly shocking. You didn't have to be some halfwit goatherd in a cave in the Hindu Kush to be hot for the caliphate. You could be a materially prosperous young man in Northern England, and the only difference between you and the goatherd is that you prepared for your suicide mission by taking a whitewater-rafting weekend in Wales.  
I argued in that morning-after piece that, whereas for Neville Chamberlain Czechoslovakia was "a faraway country of which we know little", for Tony Blair the faraway country of which he knew little was Britain...  "
See also here for a taste of the fanciful evasions the West's self-hating Christians (fully paid up members of the 'new orthodoxy' to a man, woman, or whatever ...) can come up with ... but, BBC Radio 4 at ten to eight in the morning? Just switch the damn thing off ... and listen to some Mozart.

I've thought for some time that the ideal 'modern' candidate for the title 'National Hero' is, in fact,  a very traditional one, Admiral Lord Nelson - multiply disabled, from relatively humble origins (his father a mere country parson)  and with a notably unconventional lifestyle. 
Alas, he would be ruled out because of his far from craven attitude to petty rules and regulations,  and, above all, he was spectacularly successful in defeating the enemies of freedom and the enemies of his nation. Unforgivable. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

And the clocks were striking thirteen

In the wake of the United States Supreme Court ruling - in what must be the apotheosis of judicial activism - the Episcopal Church of the USA at its General Convention this week has voted to change its canons so as to permit the 'marriage' of same-sex couples and to authorise experimental liturgies in order to make this a reality (well, you know what I mean ... at least a sociological reality) See George Conger's article in the Washington Post [here] which does much to explain the politics and the diocesan geography of it.
Why should this be of concern to those of us on this side of the Atlantic? We all know, at least we've been told laughingly for at least a generation, if not more,  by those - it turns out -  with very considerable axes to grind and lengthy agendas to pursue, that the cultural context of TEC is so very different from that of our own.

Well, of course, it is now crystal clear that it isn't. Following the British State's own, at least legislative,  re-definition of what we must now call the law of civil marriage, the Church of England is already engaged in 'facilitated discussions' on what has become for western Anglicans this most thorny and divisive of all issues. In the land of my fathers, the bishops of the Church in Wales are just completing a consultation exercise on same-sex marriages in church and, the vote of the Diocese of St David's notwithstanding, recent 'consultations' in Wales [there's an interesting take on one such here] have not led us to expect anything like an outcome consonant with the tenor of the meetings held, much less with either Scripture or apostolic tradition, or for that matter honour or previous solemn undertakings.

Of course, the matter may very well be somewhat 'academic' for some of us who are at present hanging on by our fingertips, or maybe clutching at odd clumps of grass as we slide inexorably into the void; rumour has it that the financial and 'membership' crisis now biting deep into the resources of the Province may well be used as an excuse to exclude (de facto, of course)  from any future exercise of priestly ministry in the new-look 'ministry areas' those who remain opposed in any meaningful way to the ordination of women. Perhaps, if I'm feeling brave,  more of that at a later stage....

'The Bible and other rubbish' is the Revd Dr Peter Mullen's take on the situation. As we might expect it's trenchant and doesn't pull any punches. We may not necessarily find the tone particularly congenial, we've become so fearful of adverse reaction from family, friends and the wider society where even reasoned discussion of this has become anathematised, or perhaps 'rainbow-ised'; but having said that, it's hard to disagree with the content - particularly, as he points out, given the blind alley of erastianism, and social conformity at all costs, into which the Church has turned: 
"The house of bishops in the Episcopalian Church of the USA  has voted to alter its canons to remove the stipulation that marriage must be between a man and a woman. By this ECUSA has repudiated biblical teaching and indeed the 2000 years old doctrines of the church. The scriptural definition, which is also an injunction – what in better days we called a commandment – “A man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife” is thus rendered null and void. The Bible says, “Male and female created He them.” Don’t be ridiculous! Don’t be so unprogressed. The Bible was in the wrong for millennia. Thank goodness – do I really mean goodness? – that the liberated lights of ECUSA have now come to put things right.Nowadays we know that male and female are only social constructs. You are what you say you are. You can do whatever you want to do. And to hell with both the biological evidence and the authority of scripture. 
Well, that’s all happening in America, so it doesn’t affect us, does it? But it does, because the Church of England and ECUSA are in communion. So I suppose the Archbishop of Canterbury is very upset and angry over ECUSA’s apostasy. Surely the Archbishop will leap to defend the age-old biblical teaching and denounce this un-Christian innovation? I can just hear him saying, “What you have done is an abomination and contrary to the word of God.” 
Actually, I have just read  Dr Welby’s official response on the Church of England website. He says, “We must respect the prerogative of The Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context,” 
That’s socking it to them Justin! Attaboy – you tell ‘em! There’s leadership for you. There’s the prophetic word of judgement from the Primate of All England.
I bet the prophet Isaiah himself wished he had coined that ringing condemnation: “…address issues appropriate to its own context.” That would really have made the hearts of the heathen quake.   
In truth, what we are hearing in this latest Archiepiscopal pronouncement is only confirmation of the fact that, as a moral and spiritual authority – you might say as a church – the C. of E. has resigned. Its long history of speaking truth to power and of being the conscience of the nation is finished. The bishops, the clergy and the General Synod now exist only to endorse the rapidly-changing nostrums of secular society. Not only is this the way things are, it is, according to Welby’s predecessor Rowan Williams, the way things ought to be. In one of his last sermons before he retired, Williams told us, “The church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.”....  "

Friday, 12 June 2015

Pulling down the pillars of the temple ....

There's a revealing story in the news which neatly illustrates contemporary western cultural attitudes - in this case, a kind of imperialism of permissiveness which believes it has the right to trample thoughtlessly over the sensitivities of other societies. Naturally (not perhaps the right word, given the terrain) it involves taking one's clothes off in public, in this case at the top of a thirteen thousand foot mountain in Malaysia, long regarded as sacred by the native inhabitants. Much more revealing was the reaction from some sections of the western media that the young woman among those arrested and charged was somehow worthy of immense sympathy, based on the supposed ignorance and superstition of the locals. 
Even given the present standards of British education, we have to assume the climbers could all read ... although they don't seem to have made a regular habit of it. [here] Getting naked on a holy mountain implies a certain failure of research, if nothing more.
One can't help thinking that, with three days' detention, they got off far more lightly than they probably deserved.

More 'liberal' imperialism here. Gender confusion-ism reigns supreme. Not for everyone, however; Pope Francis remains unconvinced [ here
Troublingly, even to question - on scientifically rigorous medical grounds - the ideology behind modern theories of 'gender' can lead to (grossly hypocritical) accusations of 'bigotry' [here]  One can have enormous sympathy with those who feel such displacement, without necessarily having to question and subjectivise the very essence of human identity and its place within the created order. Yet maybe our transgressive culture carries within it the seeds of its own destruction;  in order to be genuinely transgressive, there has to be something accepted as normative against which to transgress .... perhaps the future of Christianity in the neo-pagan West is to be a faithfully transgressive response to the intolerant relativism of the new ideologically monochromatic rainbow elites ... 
To allude to the previous story, and to mix up our fairy tales, the emperor now really does have no clothes, and has particularly big teeth, the former being especially harmful at such a high cultural altitude ...  all the better from which to despise  you, my dear.

And the seemingly now crumbling traditionalist Catholic wing of Anglicanism in the British Isles suffers yet another blow with the defection of the Bishop of Horsham [here
Again, we can have a great deal of sympathy with Bishop Mark Sowerby in his laudable search for personal theological integrity, but the true cost of his decision will be borne by those being progressively abandoned to their fate in an increasingly heterodox church.
Some of us have been desperately trying to change our minds on the issue of women's ordination for decades - it would be so much more ... 'convenient,'  but keep running into the intellectual and theological impasse that apostolicity forbids it as being neither consonant with Scripture nor demanded by Tradition ....
But one worries he may not be the last ....  

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Mother and Child

Amid all the bad news and the dire predictions of decline - more of which later - a reminder of the eternal truths: the late Sir John Tavener's 'Mother and Child' performed by Tenebrae under the direction of Nigel Short.

The Word was made flesh
And dwelt among us 

"Enamoured of its gaze
The mother’s gaze in turn
Contrives a single beam of light
Along which love may move.
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
Through seeing, through touch,
Through hearing the new-born heart
Conduits of being join.
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
So is the image of heaven within
Started into life.
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
As in the first (was) adoration
Another consciousness has come to praise
The single theophanic light
That threads all entrants here –
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
This paradise where all is formed of love
As flame to flame is lit.
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!
Hail Maria! Hail Sophia! Hail Maria!"

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Miracle of the Eucharist: a homily for Corpus Christi

There's an ancient church in a village called O Cebreiro on a mountaintop in Galicia in North West Spain.  It’s on the Camino de Santiago, and it’s the first village you come to in Galicia after yet another steep climb straight up the side of a mountain. When I got there in 2013 it was starting to rain heavily and a strong wind was blowing - it's about three and a half thousand feet above sea level . The church was open and staffed by a small community of very welcoming Franciscans. In the church there is an ancient 10th century wooden statue of the Virgin and child - formal, but full of life and, like the church itself,  possessing a deep sense of stillness and peace.  

But by far the best known story about the church at O Cebreiro is that sometime in the fourteenth century a peasant farmer from a neighbouring village struggled there through a terrible winter storm, risking his life to do so, for the sole reason that he really wanted to go to  Mass and receive Holy Communion. The priest presiding at the Eucharist, a man, we are told, of very little faith, found this altogether too much, for he didn’t value the Eucharist nearly as much as did the farmer. And as the peasant approached to receive communion, the priest cynically looked at him and despised him for the naïve faith and devotion that led him to risk his life just to participate in the Mass - just for, as the priest thought to himself "a little piece of bread.“ But at that very moment, when he said the words of Our Lord, "This is my body ... this is my blood ..." before the doubting priest's own eyes and in his own hands, the consecrated Wine in the chalice turned into physical blood and the consecrated Host on the paten became physical flesh, visibly the very Body and Blood of Christ. 
This was clearly the Lord’s own way of correcting his priest’s scepticism, his lack of faith and love, and his arrogance toward a humble countryman who, in fact , was far richer in faith and understanding than he was himself. We are told the priest repented of his cynicism, and according to tradition, both men are now buried together in the small side chapel where the chalice and paten of the Eucharistic Miracle are still displayed.

I tell the story - not to bang on about the Camino de Santiago - as you know I don’t need any excuse to do that - but because it is so easy - fatally easy - to take the Eucharist for granted; after all, it’s just what the Church does when we come together to worship. It’s just there; its what we do when we come to church.
But, of course, that won’t do at all,  because the Eucharist should above all fill us with wonder. There is a profound mystery here hidden beneath the ordinary material things of life, the bread and wine of an everyday meal. These are commonplace realities of human living taken and given by the Lord and which we in our turn receive and drink. They have Biblical resonance too -  the bread eaten in haste by God’s people before the Exodus from Egypt, the wine which has echoes of  the banquet of the Kingdom of heaven, as Our Lord calls it,  where the Saints rejoice for ever in the presence of God...

What we have here is no less than the mystery of the Lord’s dying and rising given to us in a 
sacramental form. Jesus at the Last Supper acts out in advance his sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and under the forms of bread and wine gives himself to us so that we can receive his Easter life. The presence of Christ is with us always; but here at the altar he is really and substantially present as he is at no other time.
This is the mysterious, sacrificial meal of God’s people; by it we are given the grace to increase in faith, in hope, in love,  and become more like the Lord who lives within us and around us and beyond us. Here the link between faith and life, between belief and living out that belief,  is made explicit. The link between the two great commandments to love God and love our neighbour is spelled out here and becomes possible...

This is the food for our journey from the people we once were to the people we are called to become, from the shadows and images of this life to the blazing clarity of light of the kingdom of heaven. This is the present pledge and seal of the future hope of our perfect unity and communion with God. Here we receive the life of the Resurrection - the life of Christ himself - and that is the daily, weekly, miracle of the Eucharist which we celebrate today. 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

'All Creatures of our God and King'

The paraphrase of St Francis of Assisi's 'Canticle of the Sun' by William Draper, set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and based on a seventeenth century German Easter hymn tune. Sung here by the Choir of Liverpool Cathedral

Saturday, 9 May 2015

For 'Rogation Sunday'

from Enid Chadwick: 'My Book of the Church's Year'

Almighty and everlasting God, 
who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, 
and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: 
pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; 
forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, 
and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask,
 but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

Humili prece - Litany for the Processions on Rogation Days: Schola Hungarica, Szendrei Janka, Dobszay László

Friday, 8 May 2015

Victory in Europe Day 2015

The day after the General Election, part of the Cenotaph ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.

Morten Lauridsen's Lux Æterna, performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra, directed by Paul Salamunovich

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Light to end the day ....

T.S. Eliot reading 'O Light Invisible' from his own Choruses from 'The Rock'

And a setting of the chant 'Joyful Light' from the Rachmaninov Vespers 

As we cast our votes ...

"Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is. In the face of the enormous problems surrounding the development of peoples, which almost make us yield to discouragement, we find solace in the sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ, who teaches us: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5) and then encourages us: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). As we contemplate the vast amount of work to be done, we are sustained by our faith that God is present alongside those who come together in his name to work for justice. Paul VI recalled in Populorum Progressio that man cannot bring about his own progress unaided, because by himself he cannot establish an authentic humanism. Only if we are aware of our calling, as individuals and as a community, to be part of God's family as his sons and daughters, will we be able to generate a new vision and muster new energy in the service of a truly integral humanism. The greatest service to development, then, is a Christian humanism[157] that enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God. Openness to God makes us open towards our brothers and sisters and towards an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity. On the other hand, ideological rejection of God and an atheism of indifference, oblivious to the Creator and at risk of becoming equally oblivious to human values, constitute some of the chief obstacles to development today. A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism. Only a humanism open to the Absolute can guide us in the promotion and building of forms of social and civic life — structures, institutions, culture and ethos — without exposing us to the risk of becoming ensnared by the fashions of the moment. Awareness of God's undying love sustains us in our laborious and stimulating work for justice and the development of peoples, amid successes and failures, in the ceaseless pursuit of a just ordering of human affairs. God's love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all, even if this cannot be achieved immediately and if what we are able to achieve, alongside political authorities and those working in the field of economics, is always less than we might wish[158]. God gives us the strength to fight and to suffer for love of the common good, because he is our All, our greatest hope."
Benedict XVI: Encyclical Letter, Caritas in Veritate (2009) 6. 78 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Prayers for General Election Day

Lord, we give thanks for the privileges and responsibilities 
of living in a democratic society.
Give us wisdom to play our part at election time, 
that, through the exercise of each vote, your Kingdom may come closer.
Protect us from the sins of despair and cynicism, 
guard us against the idols of false utopias 
and strengthen us to make politics a noble calling 
that serves the common good of all.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

[The Church of England, 6th May 2015]

Almighty God, the source of all wisdom: 
direct, we pray thee, the minds of those now called to elect fit persons 
to serve as our representatives in the House of Commons, 
that they may have clear discernment and an earnest desire for the common good; 
this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[The Church in Wales Book of Common Prayer 1984]

'Islamophobia' - yet again

Cranmer has a disturbing post today (by Canon Gavin Ashenden) about the possibility, given a Labour or Labour-led victory in the British General Election tomorrow, of the enactment of a specific law against 'islamophobia.' [here]
One might very well argue that the current law (in fact, a series of statutes, the Public Order Act of 1986, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 and the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998) is more than sufficient to counter any problems Britain's various minority communities may have in terms of  those who seek to incite hatred or violence against them. 

However, to elevate one specific religion (indeed, in the contemporary world, a faith whose more vocal and extreme adherents are noted for encouraging and inflicting violence against others rather than for their vulnerable peaceability) as deserving a special protection over and above other faiths would be a singularly retrograde step, and would, without any doubt, be used by some more 'radical' followers of Mohammed, and their fellow-travellers, to attempt to restrict free speech and even disinterested (in its correct sense) historical scholarship and research in a country which, largely due to its Christian heritage, has until now rightly prided itself on the rule of law and the protection of the liberty of speech, thought, and association of its citizens.

Of course, politicians are notorious for making promises whilst standing for election which they have no intention of honouring when in office; however, the very fact that such a commitment seems to have been made, is a disturbing sign that many of our political leaders are so captive to a now largely discredited ideology of multiculturalism that they fail to understand the very nature of law and liberty. Far from being an enrichment of our society's well-deserved reputation for hospitality and tolerance, the passing of an anti-islamophobia law would constitute a considerable impoverishment of our political, religious and intellectual culture. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Lord is My Shepherd

For 'Good Shepherd Sunday,' an English version of Dvorak's setting of verses from Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd' (Hospodin jest muj pastyr): a recording from 1969 by Guildford Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Barry Rose.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

What if ....

The 'what ifs' of history are a perennial source of fascination, a realm in which we can allow our imaginations to roam free and imagine only the best of possible outcomes.

The Catholic Herald is the latest to have a stab at this with Dominic Selwood's nostalgic  article, 'What Catholic England would look like today.' [here
It's a beguiling picture for many of us and, undoubtedly, the artistic, cultural, architectural and ecclesiastical   heritage of England and Wales would have been greatly enriched had the tragic iconoclasm and theological negation of the sixteenth century not taken place. 
Of course, one might also, with the Anglo-Catholic romantics of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, speculate about the possibility of Henry VIII's outliving his son, Edward, and frustrating the influence of those 'continental' reformers who were to have such a destructive influence over our culture and our Church. 
What if Queen Mary Tudor and Cardinal Pole had lived longer and had listened to wiser counsels?
We could continue our flight of fancy by imagining the successful result of the putative re-union between Rome and Canterbury under King Charles I, in which certain 'reformation' insights were left intact whilst restoring the fractured link with the Apostolic See of Rome.
And, much closer to our own time, we could even consider a successful conclusion to the 'ARCIC' dialogue - but let's not go there, the wounds are far too recent.

And yet .... France, the eldest daughter of the Church, was scarred by its own religious wars in the same period, and both France herself in the late eighteenth century, and Spain, the home of the Catholic Monarchs,  in the twentieth, experienced bloody atheistic revolutions and civil war which the absence of  a triumphant religious reformation did nothing to prevent. Who can calculate the human consequences of what is, compared to what might have been?

History above all is a done deal, who can say what could have happened? What if Byzantium had never fallen to the Ottoman Turks? Now there's a thought ....

Miniatur (einer Seelenreise)

Something a little different - 'Miniatur (einer Seelenreise)' : Markus Stockhausen
Performed here by the composer and the Twelve Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the Lucerne Festival in the summer of 2011

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Mid-week blues

A report here from France 24 about a foiled Islamist terror attack on Christian churches in Paris (indications at present seem to be of a rogue 'radicalised' individual with possible Syrian back-up rather than a local network ) 
"French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday said “terrorists are targeting France to divide us” but that the country was “determined to stay united”.
Valls visited two churches in Villejuif that were the apparent focus of the foiled plot. He said the suspect planned to target "the Christians, the Catholics of France".
"To target a church is to target a symbol of France, the very essence of France," the prime minister said, adding that this was “the first time” Christians were specifically targeted by suspected jihadists in France.
Valls said his government would take appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of worshippers and church visitors.
“France has an exceptional Christian heritage – its cathedrals, churches and chapels attract tourists and pilgrims,” he said. “This heritage must be protected but also remain open.”
Word of mouth reports emanating from the last meeting of the Church in Wales' Governing Body  have hinted at more than the usual ghastly treatment meted out to those possessing anything approaching traditional views.  They seem to be confirmed by this report from Ancient Briton.
It's instructive, too, that what seems to excite many of the clergy representatives on that august synod is a potential hit to their bank accounts, rather than the ever-accelerating retreat from orthodoxy and apostolicity...
As for Wales now being described theologically (in a throw-away line from the commentators of Anglican Unscripted) as numbered among "the hard left," we should possibly avoid the tombs of previous Welsh diocesans unless we are the possessors of a firm sense of balance and a set of industrial earmuffs.
Wales, the ecclesial equivalent of Orwell's Airstrip One in a world perpetually at war .... ironically, no female bishops appointed yet, however ....

Fr John Hunwicke of the Ordinariate has a typically (and waspishly) erudite piece about the hasty evolution of the modern Roman rite's 'Hippolytan' Eucharistic Prayer II, un"oeuvre d’un trio de maniaques”... [here]
However, compare it to most (if not all) 'modern' Anglican eucharistic prayers (usually approved after a slower and bloodier process of theological horse-trading) and it actually seems rather good...

And, before we get too carried away with the costumes -  from First Things, a couple of articles [here and here] on the en vogue literary / historical  revisionism which is the dramatisation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (currently screening in the USA) What a lovely modern character her Master Cromwell is, much like the author herself, "one of nature’s Protestants." 
I look forward in a few years to seeing the box sets 'remaindered' in my local garden centre...

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Libyan migrant tragedy

As the tragedy of "illegal migrants" fleeing Libya unfolds in the Mediterranean, it is time, perhaps, for the British Government to admit its own share of responsibility, not only for refusing its backing to a successor to the Italian 'Mare Nostrum'  search and rescue programme, withdrawn last year because of a lack of international support, but for its prior role with France and the USA in the destruction of any recognisable governmental authority within Libya itself. 
Can any rational, responsible exercise of foreign policy include the destruction of one (admittedly abhorrent and tyrannical) regime and its replacement with a situation of complete anarchy? The result, as we know, has been the abandonment of the people of Libya to the ruthless violence of competing militias, the spread into North Africa of the barbarians of ISIS, and the terrible fate we now now see befalling those trying to leave the social and economic chaos behind them. 
The naivety of contemporary western politicians beggars belief in that, encouraged by an increasingly emotive international mass media, they have repeatedly assumed, in the aftermath of the so-called 'Arab Spring,' that 'democracy' can be fashioned ex nihilo in regions with little or no tradition of the rule of law, respect for the rights of minorities,  an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.

Undoubtedly, the immediate blame for the rising death toll lies with the human traffickers who are exploiting the would-be migrants in their attempts to reach mainland Europe, yet those who had a hand in creating the conditions which have led to this cannot themselves escape a very large share of moral responsibility. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury has rightly said that we owe a duty of charity to those who are suffering. One might hope that a number of wealthy, oil-rich Islamic states in the Middle East, and their religious leaders, might come forward with similarly compassionate and merciful sentiments and offers of asylum and practical help to their co-religionists.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Not exactly Turkish delight - a few news items of interest

The Turkish Government's  attack on Pope Francis for cleverly merely quoting Pope St John Paul II about the reality of the Armenian genocide seems to have backfired spectacularly [here] 
Now, of course, everyone, rightly,  is talking about the subject ...
Turkey, however, has an increasingly ambivalent attitude towards its Ottoman past. The aggressive secularism of the modern (post-Ataturk) Turkish State is being toned down considerably due to the resurgence of political Islam. A recent symptom of this is the first recitation of the Koran in Hagia Sophia for 85 years [see here] - something unimaginable only a few years ago and somewhat revealingly insensitive given the desperate plight of non-Muslims in the wider region.. 
Over the years the Turkish record (under democratic or military rule)  on human rights and freedom of speech is not a particularly proud one, nor is its largely uncondemned attempt to eradicate archeological evidence of Asia Minor's Roman / Byzantine and Armenian,  Christian past.
Perhaps our own politicians should think more than twice before advocating, as they are even now,  closer ties between Turkey and the E.U.
"...It is the responsibility not only of the Armenian people and the universal Church to recall all that has taken place, but of the entire human family, so that the warnings from this tragedy will protect us from falling into a similar horror, which offends against God and human dignity. Today too, in fact, these conflicts at times degenerate into unjustifiable violence, stirred up by exploiting ethnic and religious differences. All who are Heads of State and of International Organizations are called to oppose such crimes with a firm sense of duty, without ceding to ambiguity or compromise...."   
[The full text of the Pope's address can be found here]

We should also be glad that the BBC has finally woken up to what is happening to the Christians of the Middle East in our own time.  A good programme [link here]  by Jane Corbin investigates the heart-breaking reality.

The death, after a courageous battle with cancer, of the American Cardinal Francis George [an appreciation here] highlights the contemporary lack of intellectual ballast in the modern Church (ecclesial bodies of all traditions). He is, of course, remembered here mostly for his remarks about the likely fate of his successors:
"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."

Closer to home, in the run up to the General Election, the Archbishop of Wales urges us [full address here] to cast our votes (as the Church in Wales website puts it) for 'the common good.' 
Most of what Dr Morgan says about Christian concern for the poor and vulnerable in society probably needs to be said more often - if from a more non-tribal standpoint: his references are telling in this regard -  but, and, most importantly, the precise ways in which we can identify and work towards that common good, is a rather more contested subject (both in the Church and in political life) than the Archbishop's Governing Body address seems to credit.

And back to the BBC; there was an interesting radio programme [here]  which, as well as a (determinedly non-theological) attempt to define 'the good life,'  included a piece about the way our politicians and their advisors use language more to disguise rather than illuminate. An abuse of the gift of speech most certainly: it's no wonder the electorate remains so obdurately cynical ...

As to the important issue as to who can we now vote for, Deacon Nick Donnelly [here], from a traditionalist Roman Catholic standpoint,  poses some important questions for all of us: 
"....I consider voting at a General Election to be a solemn and binding duty on every citizen because countless men and women have given their lives to protect our freedom as a democracy. But what do Christians do when all the political parties advocate a whole variety of policies that we consider immoral? I’m sure I’m not the only one to conclude that no political party at this General Election represents our moral world view as a Christians...."
It would also seem that the Greens are now the real 'nasty party' [here] with  its less than articulate leader backing a complete economic, cultural and artistic boycott of the State of Israel, for all its many faults, the only recognisable democratic state in the Middle East.
As 'greenness' (as opposed to responsible, orthodox, Christian stewardship of the natural world) seems to be highly fashionable at the moment, at least among our 'opinion-formers,'  here is a review of 'The Green Bible' (foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu) - yes, really,  you couldn't make it up - I can't resist posting this excerpt from the article: 
"...Still more ill judged is the over-egging of the rhetorical pudding. The project website tells us that “with over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth.” I am not sure what to make of this argumentum ad arithmeticum, unless the point is that the earth is approximately 1.88 times more important to God than love and 2.04 times more important than heaven. Based on my own research into this topic and following the same method, I am prepared to say that the earth is 7.04 times more important to God than donkeys (which are mentioned 142 times in the Bible).  
The Green Bible presents us with a curious kind of natural theology: We start with things we know to be true from trusted sources—Al Gore, perhaps?—and then we turn to Scripture to measure it against those preexisting and reliable authorities. And what a relief to discover that God is green. Because we already know that it’s good to be green—what we didn’t know is whether God measures up to that standard..."

Monday, 30 March 2015

Abraham and Isaac: Benjamin Britten

Canticle II by Benjamin Britten: Abraham and Isaac - a setting of texts from the Chester Mystery Plays: