Archive | October, 2011

“I get the drains fixed because I believe in the incarnation” – Flash Evensong 28th October

30 Oct

I meant to blog on Friday, but time did not allow.  The disruptive peace of Christ broke in at the third Flash Evensong on 28th October 2011 outside St Paul’s cathedral, and I’ve transcribed the sermon from Bishop Alan Wilson, but you can also listen to it here on Chirbit

I was surprised to see a Bishop present for the service, but to be fair, nothing seems too out of place at St Paul’s at present.  Indeed, some of those around me failed to recognise the clergyman as a bishop, what with his purple garb being hidden under a mysterious detective-style grey raincoat.  I thoroughly approve…  Bishop in disguise!

The Bishop of Buckingham ad-libbed with nothing but the text of 1 Maccabees 2 in front of him on an iPad.  I’m afraid I missed the first 20 seconds of his sermon due to being caught up in the service (I generally do not use my phone in church!), but as I recall, he began with a brief explanation about the  long list of Maccabees featured in the reading….

“… These Old Testament heroes, if you like, for the law and traditions of their people.  That’s the story of the Maccabees and Judas Maccabeus.  Jesus suggested that singleness of mind was a great thing if the light within you was light, how fortunate you would be.  But he also taught his followers that greater than any law was the duty to the neighbour.  Far greater than any obligations to the traditions of our ancestors was the obligation to the person next door to you.  Did it matter whether they were of the temple or not?  The parable of the Good Samaritan suggests that the answer is a resounding “no”.  It matters not if they’re of the household of faith or not, simply that they are your neighbour.

We stand in the middle of an extraordinary process of discernment.  How are we to love our neighbour?  What sort of a society are we to live in?  What is a life worth living going to be like?  And how can we personally and corporately make out of the wraths and sorrows that surround us, a life worth living?  Everybody must be part of this discussion for everybody is affected by the answer that evolves in this place.  To suggest that the discussion can simply be limited to the elite who got us into this mess in the first place <single cheer from crowd> is extraordinary folly.  As Einstein reminded us, ‘you cannot solve a problem on the level on which it was created’.  A bigger, larger discussion is needed.  A bigger, larger loyalty than the narrow and partial ones that got us into this mess in the first place.  So the question for everybody here, whether in that building or in this square is the same.  How aligned can we be to our greatest,our most accepting, our most loving vision of what it means to be human and and what the possibilities of being human together might be.  And having decided that, how aligned could we be to a bigger cause, perhaps, than leaving none uncircumised and going around circumcising them valiantly?  Let’s take that as read and go after a bigger vision.

There was once a church in the south of England seeking a new vicar.  The parochial council were interviewing candidates at night in the church.  A willowy, young Anglo-catholic <St Paul’s bells indicate it’s 7pm> male came in and said, “what this places needs is not a manager, but a priest, and he had in mind the great tradition of slum Anglo-catholic priests in this city, who went out and changed it in the 19th century.  You’ll remember Dolling perhaps  <dong>, “I get the drains fixed because I believe <dong> in the incarnation” <crowd laughs>.  There’s a good tradition of that <dong> in London.   He didn’t get the job though <dong> because the next that happened was the  local <dong> bag lady burst into church saying as was her wont <dong>, “help, I need a priest”, <dong> whereupon the young, willowy Anglo-catholic candidate disappeared to the toilet.  Now if that place <Bishop pointed to St Paul’s cathedral> responds to the challenge of that place <Bishop pointed to #occupylsx camp> in that kind of way, we are in trouble.  And if we can find a better way of responding to the challenge that is all around us in this city in this square in this place tonight, maybe there is hope for this tired old world after all.

In Him, and for Him, to whom be ascribed as is most justly due all honour, might, dominion and power, tonight and forever, Amen.”  <crowd echo an audible “Amen”

You can also watch a Channel 4 interview with the same Bishop from Saturday 29th October.

I have so much that I’d like to be able to say about the Flash Evensong.  It was beautiful spine-tingly worship.  It is good to hear the Bishop speaking on Channel 4 about the Magnificat because when the choir sang, “the rich he hath sent empty away”, it seemed to have a very special resonance there on the outside of the cathedral.

There was something very primitive about gathering around the Bishop as he preached.  A crowd of Flash Evensong choir and congregation, as well as curious passers-by and Occupy protesters encircled the Bishop, very clearly engaging with his words.  I imagined the early Whitfield, not so much thrown out of the church as believing his congregation might lay outside of it.  Listening to a preacher in the bustling open air of London (and thus without altar), instead of inside the magnificent Wren edifice made it impossible not to imagine oneself cast back even further as a non-conformist, or earlier still as one of the first disciples, gathered around their Lord.

More extraordinary for me was the use of the Book of Common Prayer Evensong… I am not a liturgical Common Worship despising snob.  I don’t think the BCP is the best thing since sliced bread, but it contains prayers which are undeniably treasures of the Church of England.  The BCP was chosen on account of the fact that the setting of Evensong has had so much music arranged for it, but it seems negligent to fail to recall that the Book of Common Prayer is a deeply important theological and political document in its own right.  It is fitting that the book which has long acted as a compromise between warring ecclesial parties be cited by those (arguably) supporting the Occupy movement on the same evening it was used by the Establishment inside the cathedral.

Is it true that Flash Evensong folk support OccupyLSX against the Cathedral?  That would be too simplistic.  Many Christians are aware of the pressures that the Dean and Chapter currently face and would not wish to divide concretely into sides of “us” and “them”.  We are all in this together.  Some gathered initially for Flash Evensong because they felt that the cathedral should not be closed and since it failed in its duty to invite people to worship, the public worship must go on (I must admit, when the cathedral was closed, I couldn’t help think back to the “private” masses of the medieval priests, uttered in Latin in a way that certain scholars of the Reformation suggest they were inaccessible to the people of God)[1].  Others perhaps gathered to sing something beautiful, to make a joyful sound unto the Lord. Still others maybe came because they were curious.

I can only speak for myself.  It is firstly impossible for me to leave work early enough to attend Evensong at the Cathedral, but I love to worship and I care about protesting injustice, so I could not miss the opportunity.  I attended Flash Evensong on this occasion because I felt strongly that St Paul’s Cathedral should not have agreed to undertake legal proceedings against Occupy, especially before entering into discussion with them.  I believe that people should be able to protest peacefully, and whilst I have heard the Cathedral’s view that some of the land which the protestor’s occupy is private on account of it belonging to the Cathedral, I contest, theologically, the notion of “private”.  I’d argue that no church property is private (at least not in the way that an individual’s land might be said to be private) because I contend that the Church is first of all, the Body of Christ and thus the people.  I struggle with the theological move that I need to make to bring the metaphor to a stone building.  Perhaps I would be better instead to say, “all the while the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Cathedral, the Cathedral’s primary claim is not as property of the Crown, but as the home of Christ”.  There are two arguments there, one from the metaphor of the people, and one from the reserved sacrament…  They’re linked, but I cannot think how to draw this out more successfully.   Anyhow, when I attend Evensong outside the cathedral, I am saying “though we [the church] are many, we are one body, and I cannot in good conscience let this [my] body act against [the protester’s] bodies in a manner that I consider might result in violence”.

There is more to be said.  I am confident that even in a place that I sometimes think of as “St Paul’s Museum” it is impossible for the Mass, the Eucharist, not to be revolutionary.  The protesters may have defaulted to St Paul’s on account of it being the closest they could have drawn to the Stock Exchange, but I believe that this happy accident will ensure enough publicity to pursue a national debate in a manner that would not have been possible had they landed successfully in Paternoster Square.

I will learn to be a plumber because I believe in the incarnation.  Viva la revolution!

[1] I am cautious about this point.  I do not think that a service is inaccessible simply on account of its being in another language.  I am not convinced that a Mass is ever “private” because I believe in the communion of saints who partake.  And I am very cautious, post-Duffy, of assuming that lay people were automatically excluded from the pre-reformation Masses.  That said, I hope you can see the imaginative point I was making!


The last thing the world needs…

28 Oct

…is more half-baked theological ramblings from cyberspace.

What we actually all need is a church that is awake to the seductive whisperings of the Holy Spirit.  We need a body capable of witnessing the upside down, topsy turvy world of Jesus Christ in which we love our enemies and pray for those that trespass against us.  But that’s just irresponsible, right?  And utopian.  And quite beyond the reach of most of us.

To inhabit that church, we probably need to be offline one hell of a lot more than we’re online so that we can do things with bodies.  Bathe them, clean them, bless them, carry them and feed them, just like Jesus.  But that’s messy, and it’s much safer to lurk behind our screens.

Until I find myself so captivated by the church that I cannot go home, until I find myself living in the temple like Anna, I’m afraid it’s more half-baked theological ramblings from me, Shalom Activist.

To be fair, I just couldn’t resist another blog.  Things at my Real Life church are a little, well, parochial, so I’ve been doing a little activism in my spare time.  Tinkering with nuclear submarines, asking what loving one’s enemies looks like, and as usual, trying to work out what it means to be enfleshed as a queerly Christian human being.

All Christians are queer when viewed by the world, but it’s taking some time for the church to come out of her closet.  The main issue has been the realisation that some of us are naked.  The Emperor too, it turns out, wasn’t wearing any clothes either.  And it’s winter now.

Constantine is not only naked, and revealed in full glory, but most definitely dead.  Christianity isn’t the State religion anymore in anything but name.  And we’re all having to be born again in the ruins.  But being born again when you’re naked and everybody is waiting for the closet door to open isn’t easy.  To cope with our identity disorders, we’re trying to figure out how to evict the people who are making our lives uncomfortable.  Squabbling, back-biting and in-fighting have become so commonplace that nobody pays to watch us anymore.  We just about keep some of the Religious Correspondents in part-time jobs, but they’re probably paid less than the people that write the the weekend Gardening supplements…

Anyhow, just recently, a couple of fellow closet-dwellers pointed out that one of the first to have been brutally pushed from the closet into an unmerciful world was Jesus.


Now we’re watching to see what happens next…