Posts Tagged ‘ #faithseeking ’

#faithseeking: petertide

and so

we’ve arrived at Petertide, one of the two times of the year that the church reserves for ordaining those who have been prepared for diaconal and priestly ministry. i’m not sure how many of those from the South West that i have taught are due to be ordained this weekend, although as far as i can tell there are no ordinations happening in Exeter, only Truro. my Manchester people all have at least another year of training.

the PD and i will be at St Paul’s Cathedral today to see our friend James become deacon and then Peterborough Cathedral tomorrow to witness our friend Dom doing the same. for me it’s a time of year that brings my struggles with the C of E into sharp focus: on the one hand, it’s a great festival, the culmination and celebration of the obedience, self-sacrifice and hard work that training for ministry requires. However, on the other, it means another cycle of talented, enthusiastic and inspired disciples of Christ and servants of his Church committing themselves to a structure of authority that i continue to find troubling.

this weekend, ordinands in cathedrals up and down the country will solemnly pledge allegiance to the crown and obedience to their bishop, and will confirm their commitment to live ‘within the discipline’ of Issues in Human Sexuality (the Church’s hugely flawed and woefully out of date policy document on sexuality). although the agreement to ‘live within the discipline’ of Issues… is less profound than the other promises to defer to ecclesiastical and royal authority (at least for straight people), it’s actually the one that bothers me the most.

i think it’s the insidious nature of the assent. while i know many priests and deacons who profoundly disagree with Issues…, all of them have made this formal gesture of conformity to its pattern. the way it’s done seems to basically reflect the assumption that if you’re normal (primarily read ‘straight’) then accepting to live out your sexuality in the way the document describes will not be an ‘issue’ for you, and therefore that only those for whom this norm does not compute will encounter a stumbling block. the problem is that in and behind the document all kinds of problematic theological ideas and assumptions lurk, many of which were reaffirmed in the recent and equally risible response to the government consultation on same-sex marriage.

it seems to me that the assent to Issues… goes significantly beyond an agreement not to do certain things, and therefore, i’m always left wondering how effectively priests and deacons can really challenge the Church from the inside to do the much needed work of re-thinking its position on sex, sexuality and gender  if in order to get into the club they have first to agree to be disciplined by the current and shambolic accepted ‘wisdom’. it also seems to me that this is one area in which, given the status quo the laity must minister to and on behalf of the clergy – to call the Church out from under the blanket of shadowy assumptions and theological contortions that make up its ‘stance’ on these issues and into a proper, honest, open and most importantly shared conversation.

anyway, here ends the gloom.

by way of a semi-antidote (santidote) here’s a poem that i like (except for the line about medication):

——————–

Priestly Duties: A Poem by Stewart Henderson

What should a priest be?
All things to all
male, female and genderless

What should a priest be?
Reverent and relaxed
vibrant in youth
assured through the middle years
divine sage when ageing

What should a priest be?
Accessible and incorruptible
abstemious, yet full of celebration
informed but not threateningly so
and far above the passing soufflé of fashion

What should a priest be?
An authority on singleness
Solomon-like on the labyrinth of human sexuality
excellent with young marrieds, old marrieds,
were marrieds, never marrieds, shouldn’t have marrieds,
those who live together, those who live apart,
and those who don’t live anywhere
respectfully mindful of senior citizens and war veterans
familiar with the ravages of arthritis,
osteoporrosis, post natal depression, anorexia,
whooping cough and nits.

What should a priest be?
All round family person,
Counsellor, but not officially because of recent changes in legislation,
teacher, expositor, confessor, entertainer, juggler,
good with children, and possibly sea lions,
empathetic towards pressure groups.

What should a priest be?
On nodding terms with Freud, Jung, St John of The Cross,
The Scott Report, The Rave Culture, The Internet,
The Lottery, BSE and Anthea Turner,
pre modern, fairly modern, postmodern,
and ideally secondary modern
if called to the inner city.

What should a priest be?
Charismatic, if needs must, but quietly so,
evangelical, and thoroughly
meditative, mystical but not New Age
liberal and so open to other voices
traditionalist, reformer and revolutionary
and hopefully not on medication
unless for an old sporting injury.

Note to congregations: If your priest actually fulfils
all of the above, and then enters the pulpit one Sunday
morning wearing nothing but a shower cap, a fez, and declares
“I’m the King and Queen of Venus, and we shall now sing
the next hymn in Latvian, take your partners, please”. –
let it pass – like you and I they too sew
the thin thread of humanity.
Remember Jesus in the Garden
– beside himself.

What does a priest do?
Mostly stays awake at Deanery synods
tries not to annoy the Bishop too much
visits hospices, administers comfort
conducts weddings, christenings,
not necessarily in that order,
takes funerals
consecrates the elderly to the grave
buries children, and babies
feels completely helpless beside
the swaying family of a suicide,
sometimes is murdered at night, alone.

What does a priest do?
Tries to colour in God
uses words to explain miracles
which is like teaching a centipede to sing
but even more difficult.

What does a priest do?
Answers the phone
when sometimes they’d rather not,
occasionally errs and strays into tabloid titillation
prays for Her Majesty’s Government

What does a priest do?
Tends the flock through time, oil and incense
would secretly like each PCC
to commence with a mud pie making contest
sometimes falls asleep when praying
yearns like us for heart rushing deliverance

What does a priest do?
Has rows with their family
wants to inhale Heaven
stares at bluebells
attempts to convey the mad love of God
would like to ice skate with crocodiles,
and hear the roses when they pray

How should a priest live?
How should we live?
As priests, transformed by the Priest
that death prised open
so that he could be our priest
martyred, diaphanous and matchless priest
What should a priest be?
What should a priest do?
How should a priest live?

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#faithseeking: lady day

Lady Day (something for and from)

[Mary] Joe … we need to talk. The thing is, I just found out that I’m
[Joe] Hush now, don’t explain …

… Just say you’ll remain
I’m glad you’re back, don’t explain.

Quiet, don’t explain;
What is there to gain?
Skip that lipstick,
Don’t explain

You know that I love you,
And what love endures.
All my thoughts are of you,
For I’m so completely yours

Cry to hear folks chatter –
And I know you cheat –
Right or wrong, don’t matter,
When you’re with me, sweet.

Hush now, don’t explain.
You’re my joy and pain.
My life’s yours love;
Don’t explain.

Don’t Explain by Billie Holiday

#faithseeking: theology in a nutshell

#faithseeking: rowan williams talks to frank skinner

last week Archbishop Rowan sat down for a chat with the brummie, catholic comic Frank Skinner. as it turned out, there was a large audience there gathered and also a microphone and recording device.

here is the first half – in which Frank asks Rowan why most sermons are so crap, why the atheists seem to be so cool right now and what he is doing about it and the two discuss the role of doubt in faith, whether Jesus and the disciples told blue jokes and the ways forward for the church:

and here, the second half – in which Rowan asks Frank what brought him back to the church in his late 20s after ten years of distancing himself and they discuss the roles of intellect, wisdom, rational assent, embodied ritual and magic:

and here, the q&a session – in which people ask questions, they attempt to answer them and Frank declares that ITV is the agency of the devil (hear hear).

#faithseeking: text of terror: torture (epic church fail)

as part of our ongoing quest to explore the churches in our new locale, this morning The Post-Dr and i took mass at St Paul’s, Withington, which is but a small bus ride away.

St Paul’s seemed like a nice little church, with a specific emphasis on quality choral music, evidenced by a large and talented choir and a carefully selected musical setting.

the choir sang the Mass for the Armed Man (A mass for peace) by Karl Jenkins, which was commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum in 2000, and dedication to the victims of the Kosovo crisis. the first recording of the setting was released on 10th September, 2001, and as such became closely associated with the 9/11 tragedy, and has been used to also commemorate that event ever since.

it was a very pleasant setting, as was the service all told; spoiled only by one of the elements that lies beyond the control of those that planned it.

on this day above almost all others, what you would not want in a Gospel reading is precisely what the lectionary so thoughtfully offered this morning.

the story, from Matthew 18, of a slave who had a debt of 10,000 Talents (or 60,000,000 Denarii) pardoned by his master, but then failed himself to have mercy on another who could not repay him a debt of 100 Denarii, seems to offer a sound moral by suggesting that a failure to show mercy to another when far greater mercy has already been shown you, is a properly shitty thing to do.

however, the Gospel finishes as follows:

“When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

so, on the day that we are mourning not only the loss of the lives of those who died on 9/11, but also those of those others, soldiers and civilians, who have been brutalised and/or killed in the course of the deeply flawed and tragically ironic ‘war on terror’ that followed, we are ‘comforted’ and ‘inspired’ by a text that assures us that our God is one of those types who believes in torturing people until they do what you want.

perhaps it is entirely fitting for us to remember today that the Bible is itself as much a record of human failure and corrupt ideology as any history of the last decade, but i for one was left deflated by the reading.

(un)thanks be to God.

#academix: the dr’s new book

so, friends, The Dr has a new book out.

it’s published by SCM Press in their ‘Controversies In Contextual Theology’ series and is called:

Controversies in Queer Theology
by Susannah Cornwall

——————-

obviously, at only £16.99 from amazon, you will be buying some, but just if you’re unsure how many, here’s what people in the know are saying:

THE Theological work of its ageProf. Karl Barth (no relation)
An outstanding contribution to human knowledgeProf. Charles F. Xavier
Nya, nya, nya, rubbish and rot – Prof. Yaffle/Richard Dawkins
Superb. The best thing I’ve read since Bravo Two ZeroSlavoj Žižek
Utterly life changing. Read it, or I hate youGod (Christian one)
Nay hence so gay a dance have words e’re steppedEdmund Spenser
Dear Sir/Madam, this book is of absolutely, NO relevance to me. NoneSir Cliff Richard

#faithseeking: wholy weak

so, we’re back to work – well, at least for now. one weekend Jesus dies then comes back to life, the next some smiley, rich people have their TV wedding paid for by our taxes. one of these holidays is worthy of RQT attention.

——————————————-

there are numerous of ways of interpreting the Easter story, all of which affect, in turn, the interpretation of Christ. how we conceive of his work affects how we conceive of his nature: soteriology and Christology are intertwined.

orthodoxy stipulates that Christ is fully God and fully man, but, beyond this mystery, a vast range of interpretive options stand. the tendency, however, is for interpretations of Easter to emphasise Christ the God. the logic runs that Christmas is when we reflect on the transition from eternal divinity to finite humanity, and Easter is when we chart the reversal of that process.

as such, interpretations of Easter often become way of understanding how Christ’s humanity functioned as a diminutive foil to his ultimate divinity.

for St Basil, who saw the cross as the location of a cosmic trick, Christ’s humanity is in some way an elaborate deception that paves the way for the triumph of his divinity. for St Anselm, it is simply the necessary condition to enable due legal process – Christ must be human for a time in order for the system to work.

according to various other interpretations, Easter shows us how Christ’s humanity was a necessary vehicle for suffering – suffering being understood as that which brings about change. for some, Christ’s pains make satisfaction: God is set against God for our sake, and violence acts as a purifier.

in Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, Jesus’ divinity allows his humanity to suffer to a superhuman extent. they whip him down, but he gets back up. again and again. the soldier who confesses that Jesus was ‘truly God’s son’, appears to do so largely on the basis of how much punishment he was able to withstand. here, the (David Copperfield-esque) resurrection is the ultimate manifestation of sadomasochistic glee.

i find Gibson’s near-superhuman, glint-eyed Christ extremely offensive. if Christ is fully human, then his sufferings must be fully human also. Jesus died exhausted, naked, covered in his own shit and with an erection, just like every other criminal the Romans ever crucified.

one of the emphases in Paul’s interpretation is that the work of God in Christ is the making of weakness into strength. i think this is one of the ideas that lies behind Gibson’s superhero Christ, but for me he fails to see just how radical this Pauline conception of ‘strength’ is. this is not physical, warrior-like strength summoned at a time of apparent weakness – it is not about a masquerading hero who chooses to let the baddies think he’s weak even though he’s incredibly strong. for me, this weakness-strength is about something fundamentally other than might and power.

not only do i think that all the hierarchical conceptions of the two natures mentioned above are crypto-docetic and counter to orthodoxy’s radical dialectic, i also think they gloss over details of the Easter story that we do well not to miss. one of the most important of these is Gethsemane.

many people find Good Friday difficult. liberals always want to skip straight to Sunday, where everything is made nice again. conservatives (like Gibson) are eager to linger on the agonies – the brutal torture that buys our health.

if Gethsemane doesn’t get ignored, then it is primarily the site of the disciples’ final failure, or the place where Christ’s physical torment begins (sweat so profuse that it’s like drops of blood seems often to become actual haemorrhaging in the conservative imagination). however, what, in my experience, tends not to figure prominently in Good Friday reflections is the psychological trauma, the mental breakdown that precedes the physical collapse.

just as in society, so in theology. ‘physical’ suffering is less disquieting than mental suffering. it can be more easily perceived, empathised with and ultimately rationalised. the truth is, however, that the synoptic accounts of Gethsemane (Mark 14. 35-37; Matt 26. 38-40; Luke 22. 40-45) testify to a weak, scared man in way that many Christians find too difficult to encounter. why would Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity break down and beg not to have to go through with the scheme that God had planned from all eternity? yes, why indeed?!

kenotic theology gets something of a bad press nowadays. a bit like Liberation Theology, people seem to think that because some of its expressions were found to be problematic that we can now safely ignore it.

for me, however, it still offers the best fit when it comes to a way of understanding Christology that marries well with a way of understanding history. the Greek word kenosis means emptying or pouring out, and its most famous use is found in what is thought to be an early Christian hymn, quoted by Paul in his letter to the Philippians.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied (ekénōsenhimself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2. 5-11)

despite the fact that it seems to endorse at least two notions that the Church calls heresy (“human likeness” and “human form” both smack of Docetism, and “Therefore God also highly exalted him…” more than likely testifies to a form of Adoptionism), i am of the opinion that the Philippian hymn is full of theological insight. in particular, i find the notion that Christ “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” a very useful reflection on incarnation and the riddle of the two natures.

where the NRSV has “something to be exploited” i prefer a translation of arpagmon that brings out the sense of something being seized, held, or grabbed on to – perhaps “did not regard equality with God as something to cling on to”. in a sense, I think Christ’s pre-incarnate status is both something that could have been exploitable – i.e. something that would have rendered true incarnation problematic – and something that it was necessary for him not to clutch, hold tightly, or covet, but to let go of, to give up.

for me the logic of the incarnation at large, but also the details of the Easter story make more sense when considered alongside this notion of Christ’s giving up of his status as equal with God. not only does this conceptual framework throw interesting and useful light on Gethsemane and the crucifixion, it also pleasingly illuminates a nice little detail in the resurrection narrative.

a favourite scene of the Great Masters down through the ages, there are numerous paintings of the post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, classically entitled Noli Me Tangere. the phrase is the Latin rendering of John 20.17 where Jesus instructs Mary “do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my father.”

whereas some people take a daft, sci-fi inspired approach to interpreting this verse – Mary couldn’t touch Jesus because he hadn’t fully re-materialised (or something) – a more plausible interpretation, and one that happens to mesh pleasingly with the above reflections of the Philippian hymn, emerges by virtue of a better translation. the Greek haptou properly suggests not mere touching, but holding or grasping on to.

in the same way that the Philippian hymn claims Christ had to be willing not to hold on to his equality with God in order for the incarnation to come about, so Jesus tells Mary, probably his most loved companion, that she must now not hold on to him. for me, this is a moment of Gethsemane-like weakness. i think Jesus is begging Mary (like he begged the Father) not to hold him – it is as if he knows that if she does, he will never be able to let her go. as Nikos Kazantzakis knew, Christ’s last temptation is the temptation to stay, to allow himself to be held on to.

the mystery of Easter is death made life and weakness made strength. and yet, i think we can’t really embrace Easter’s true life, its true strength, unless we are fully open to the reality of its death, and the real fragility of its weakness.