Thursday 15 June 2017

Tim Farron's political liberalism was broad enough and true enough to its philosophy not to try to force his beliefs on others, as not only his rhetoric but also his voting record shows very clearly. It's sad - and worrying in a free society  - that the same thing can't be said for his opponents on the left and the right and even from within his own party.
However, the media has had a crucial role to play in seeking to direct questions during the general election campaign to the former Liberal Democrat leader which would not have been (and were not) asked of a devout Muslim or, for that matter, of a Roman Catholic, or an Anglican from a non- conservative evangelical tradition.
I don't share Mr Farron's fundamentalist interpretation of the Christian faith or of the Scriptures,  but I can't help thinking both that he has been shamefully and irresponsibly treated, and that there has perhaps been another agenda at work in seeking to distract at all costs from his and his party's essential message about our future in Europe and the continuing need for internationalist values  in the face of a destructive and isolationist populism...

A few links to the story from a wide spectrum of sources:

And this from Cranmer who, of course, as a committed Conservative supporter, has little love for the LibDems or political liberalism generally, but nevertheless manages to raise some vital questions for all political parties:

Monday 12 June 2017

A sprat to catch a mackerel

As we know, the motivation behind a powerful and ruthless section of laissez-faire global capital's support for Brexit was to destabilise the whole European project for its own advantage. Now Europe is uniting against it, Brexit has become merely an afterthought, an exercise in arbitrary self-harm on the part of an increasingly unimportant and backward looking medium sized country on the eastern fringes of the Atlantic. In a globalised, interdependent world the sovereignty argument was only ever a ploy to engage romantic adolescents and insular nationalists deliberately blind to the increasing powerlessness of the traditional nation state in the face of the new economic realities.
When the June 2016 referendum became the most effective means of protest on the part of those left behind and impoverished by the neo-liberal consensus, the purveyors of  deregulatory snake oil were astonished at their own good fortune. Yet the struggling, the 'left behind' - shut out from the prosperity of the south-east and starved - by an extraordinary conspiracy of silence about the benefits to poorer regions of EU membership  - of the information necessary to make an informed decision, were always meant to pay the price...

Friday 9 June 2017

Be careful what you wish for ...

An astonishing end to the unnecessary 'Brexit election' in which the major parties conspired to ignore the issue of Brexit as much as possible.
It seems that Mrs May's government will - for now- attempt to struggle on with the help of the traditionally ultra-protestant Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
The political complexion and chequered history of the DUP (these are not the more moderate 'Official Unionists,' but a party which has been seen in the past to flirt with so-called 'loyalist' paramilitary groups) also gives many people  - on the centre right, as well as the centre and the left -  profound cause for concern if it is now in a position to exercise leverage over the policies of the Westminster government.

This is Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff, and someone instrumental in helping to negotiate the peace process culminating in the Good Friday agreement and tge power sharing executive in Northern Ireland, speaking of his very serious concerns about Theresa May's 'deal' with the DUP and its implications for the life of the province:

"I do think it’s a mistake to go into government with the “support of our friends” in the DUP. Even John Major avoided doing that and the reason he avoided that is the peace process is based on a balance that the British government has made it clear it is neutral in Northern Ireland, it doesn’t take sides. Once you have their support you are no longer neutral.

It matters for two big reasons. First, we haven’t managed to get the executive back up and running in Northern Ireland because of divisions between the two sides. The British government were trying to mediate between the two sides to get an administration up and running again and of course now it can’t possibly have that role of mediating.

And secondly I think it’s a mistake because one of the big issues in the Brexit negotiations is the border between north and south. Now the DUP is a minority in its view about Brexit, it’s in favour of Brexit. This is going to be a very real problem.

Whatever you put on a piece of paper, you’re living there with a minority government, that’s dependant on the DUP, you get to a crucial issue and then they say, ‘Remember what we want in terms of talks in Northern Ireland’, and the government has a choice: do they say, ‘We’re not giving you that, we’ll let the government collapse’, or do they just bend a little on that issue, it’s just one small issue it doesn’t matter. But beyond that the government can’t possibly be seen as neutral on Northern Ireland now if it puts itself at the mercy of the DUP"

[Source: The Guardian]

We leave it to the reader to judge the ethics of an administration attempting to hold on to office regardless of the likely damage to the country's peace and security ...

Wednesday 7 June 2017

As the election campaign comes to an end, it seems to me that the major failure of the last six weeks has been on the part of the media for not trying - in anything like a serious way - to address the issues which will determine our future for generations. It's in the DNA of modern politicians to seek to avoid difficult questions, but journalists in a free society - and particularly perhaps, in are society such as ours which has prided itself on being a mature, representative democracy -  are not meant to collude with them ...

Saturday 6 May 2017

Bach for a Saturday evening

Dance music for the organ - the great Marie-Claire Alain plays Bach: Ach Bleib 'bei Uns, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 649  on the Great Marcussen organ of the Church of Varde in Denmark.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

La Peregrina

Again, for the month of May, one of my favourite places: the chapel of 'La Peregrina' in Pontevedra, Galicia - Mary, the Mother of the Church, as a humble pilgrim walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela  ...

"With the divinest Word, the Virgin
Made pregnant, down the road
Comes walking, if you'll grant her
A room in your abode."

St John of the Cross (trans. Roy Campbell)

Monday 1 May 2017

May is Mary's month

"The artist studies his unfinished work; he contemplates this stainless lily that must be extricated from the thorns and the mud, this sacred mouth that is capable of pronouncing the supreme Fiat in an attitude of patience, piety, compassion, understanding, supplication, and counsel. There must be nothing pure in human nature that does not share in this fruition and nothing impure that does not share in this purification. "
Paul Claudel

Thursday 27 April 2017

Cui bono?

Having backed themselves into a corner, with only UKIP for ideological company, the Prime Minister and the Government are increasingly - perhaps in desperation, as it's all they have -  directing empty nationalist rhetoric against our friends and allies in the European Union.
Of course, it's a situation largely of Mrs May's own making,  it seems because of an fixed obsession with immigration as being the only significant cause of Brexit (yet something she oddly failed to reduce as Home Secretary, despite already having many of the tools to do so),  but it's a growing tragedy for which we will all pay dearly - in terms of economic decline, social division and cultural isolation.
I am now becoming deeply ashamed and saddened beyond words at the self-destructive direction in which our country appears to be heading. It's not enough to repeat the foolish and self-serving mantra that it is the 'will of the people: the necessary question is always 'cui bono?'  We can be sure that it won't be those in the regions alienated by Westminster's long and studied indifference, it won't be those struggling to keep their heads above water, it won't be those queuing at the food banks... it won't even be the majority of those who voted (for whatever reason) for this strange, almost somnambulistic  march towards national humiliation and the diminution of our influence in the world.
To adapt those possibly apocryphal words of Marie-Antoinette, "Qu'ils mangent de la souveraineté"...

Saturday 11 February 2017


The opening of the 'Credo' from Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor
John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir with the English Baroque Soloists.

Thursday 2 February 2017

"... Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion..."
Edmund Burke:  Speech to the electors of Bristol (1774)

Friday 27 January 2017

Only he who speaks out for the Jews can sing Gregorian chant"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Thursday 26 January 2017

"The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it. When judicial torture was routine all over Europe, its rejection by the common law was a source of national pride and the admiration of enlightened foreign writers such as Voltaire and Beccaria. In our own century,  many in the United States have felt their country dishonoured by its use of torture outside the jurisdiction and its practice of extra-legal 'rendition' of suspects to countries where they would be tortured. The rejection of torture ... has a special iconic importance as the touchstone of a humane and civilised legal system."

Lord Hoffman, British House of Lords (now the Supreme Court)  judgement (2005)
A (FC) and others (FC) (Appellants) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) (2004)A and others (Appellants) (FC) and others v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) (Conjoined Appeals)

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

'Mending Wall'   
Robert Frost from North of Boston (1914) 

Tuesday 24 January 2017

For everything there is a season ...

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away ..."

For many people, last year, 2016, was a sobering time of discernment, a time of dangerous shocks and upheavals, and also a time of the breaking of already fragile friendships and alliances, both in the body politic and the ecclesial body of which, (for good or ill, who knows?) I am a member. That process seems to be continuing into a new year without any obvious signs of a let up.
Contributing to a blog has to be the most ephemeral means of communicating known to humankind (with the obvious and notoriously topical exception of 'Twitter') and it is never easy to achieve anything like a satisfactory balance between the easily manufactured outrage of the moment, and a more balanced, saner, view of what is really important in the often hysterical movement of the world's (and the Church's) 24 hour news cycle. 
My gut feeling is that it's high time to call it a day, but if, as some people are encouraging me to do, this blog is to continue in some way, inevitably it will be different, as the times themselves are different, and as the defence of a particular tradition of freedom of thought and belief calls for a more considered approach to discerning the signs of the times.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Progress in Wales?

Credo Cymru (Forward in Faith Wales) is to be congratulated on its forthcoming conference, 'That Nothing be Lost' (September 21st - 22nd), being held in order to explore how much common ground exists between those who support and those opposed to the admission of women to all three orders of the sacred ministry of the Church.
As we all know, of late, the atmosphere in Wales has differed radically from that now prevailing in the Church of England, where there is considerable evidence of a commitment on all sides to the 'mutual flourishing' of both integrities.
The timing of the conference is especially brave, given the fact that the retirement of that most politically adroit and astute opponent of traditionalists, the Archbishop of Wales himself, will not take place until January 2017.
There will be invited lay and clerical representatives at the conference from the Church in Wales and the Church of England, including the Archbishop of Wales and the Bishop of St Asaph.

Your prayers are asked for the Conference and its participants, that it will be a means of progress towards unity and greater understanding among those of differing views on the future of Anglicanism in the Welsh Province.

This particular foot soldier of the faith will, before and during the time of the Conference, be once again walking as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela. Prayers will be offered for the unity of all Christians at the shrine of the first Apostolic Martyr of the faith and along one of the pilgrim routes to Galicia which did much to forge the unity of Christian Europe.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Postscript 2016

Walking through the village, wearing my cassock this morning, I was approached by a woman I know who was walking her dog. Born in France, but half-British, she told me she has never felt so displaced and disoriented, not recognising the current atmosphere of the country of her adoption, which, she says, seems to have changed beyond recognition. She now feels a stranger here, and intends to re-apply for a French passport.
I commiserated, not recognising the mood in my country either, and realising that the future seems to belong to those of a very different viewpoint. 
We shook hands, she went in one direction and I continued on my way to church in the morning sunshine.
The weather forecast was for rain later.

I should explain: Europe is the great fault-line which now runs across British politics and society. Many of the commentators I read and respect have taken another view altogether on this issue. 
But, as a convinced 'European' since the days of the first referendum in 1975, when although too young to vote, I helped campaign for our membership of the EEC (as it then was), I am in a very small minority in terms of bloggers who post on 'religious' matters, and sometimes the stridency of others' anti-EU stances has appalled me. Because of that I have felt increasingly ill at ease over the last months with the company that, even in a very minor way indeed, I have been keeping.
The founding ideal of the European project was good and noble, bringing together nations riven by warfare and the unspeakable horrors of the twentieth century. We all know that the EU itself has grown and changed, moving away, as all our societies have,  from the Christian Democracy of its founding fathers to a more secularised entity which is reluctant even to acknowledge its Christian roots.
But it is nothing short of a delusion and a mirage to think that Britain outside the European Union will return to a more Christian vision of society and culture. The indications are that the reverse could well be the case. 
Some of the rhetoric directed at the EU by the 'Leave' campaign has been regrettable and, in one case, unforgivable, even in the context of the journalistic hyperbole which is its author's stock-in-trade. Undoubtedly these kind of statements have helped poison the wells of national life, and fuel the incidents now being reported on our streets.
And it's ironic that a campaign to restore the sovereignty of Parliament should adopt the referendum as the means for achieving its goal.  'Direct democracy,'  popular decisions made by referendum and plebiscite, as we are seeing, is - to a far greater degree than the normal workings of representative democracy - something by its nature heavily dependent upon the integrity and truthfulness of those who seek to direct its debates, and the reliability of the information available to those who participate in its processes. 
Moreover, it is capable of unleashing a reckless,  misdirected and incoherent rage which is destructive of the civility of political discourse and inimical to calm and reasonable deliberation. Such an anger has been unleashed. We have not been so divided for generations, nor has our future looked so uncertain.

Perhaps it's time here on this blog to recognise that ....

Wednesday 25 November 2015

'Sing for the morning's joy, Cecilia, sing"

November - from Enid Chadwick's  'My Book of the Church's Year' 
- now reprinted in paperback [welcome news from the NLM here]

No masses for St Cecilia this year, as her feast day fell on a Sunday. 
Here, instead, is a belated musical offering - Herbert Howells' miniature masterpiece of a carol to the saint, setting words (below) by Ursula Vaughan-Williams, the poet and second wife of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams - sung here by the Choir of New College Oxford directed by Edward Higginbottom with David Burchell, organ

Sing for the morning's joy, Cecilia, sing,
in words of youth and praises of the Spring,
walk the bright colonnades by fountains' spray,
and sing as sunlight fills the waking day;
till angels, voyaging in upper air,
pause on a wing and gather the clear sound
into celestial joy, wound and unwound,
a silver chain, or golden as your hair.

Sing for your loves of heaven and of earth,
in words of music, and each word a truth;
marriage of heart and longings that aspire,
a bond of roses, and a ring of fire.
Your summertime grows short and fades away,
terror must gather to a martyr's death;
but never tremble, the last indrawn breath
remembers music as an echo may.

Through the cold aftermath of centuries,
Cecilia's music dances in the skies;
lend us a fragment of the immortal air,
that with your choiring angels we may share,
a word to light us thro' time-fettered night,
water of life, or rose of paradise,
so from the earth another song shall rise
to meet your own in heaven's long delight.

Ursula Vaughan Williams (1911-2007)

Monday 23 November 2015

The place of 'honest' doubt ....

Archbishop Justin Welby has attracted quite a bit of flak on social media and in the blogosphere for admitting in the wake of the Islamist terror attacks in Paris, that he wondered where God was amongst all the violence and murder [here]
My first thought was to think, 'there's nothing to see here, move along' - after all, this is the  reaction we should expect from our religious leaders, who are only trying to get alongside the reaction of the ordinary, not-particularly-religious person in the street when confronted with events which rightly shock us all to the core.

But, on reflection, although I wouldn't wish to go along with some of the more intemperate criticisms of his comments, I'm not sure the Archbishop really meant to say what he said at all - his remarks show very clearly that his 'doubts' were hardly significant, and that his faith had survived intact, even if it had experienced a very momentary blip. So why say what he did?
 I refuse - even given the recent catastrophic decline in theological education - to believe an Archbishop of Canterbury (even if only ordained deacon in 1992) could lack a sufficiently adequate theological grounding to make at least some sense of the problem of evil.  
William Temple, who afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury in a more serious age, wrote in a letter to (later Msgr) Ronald Knox; "I am not a spiritual doctor trying to see how much Jones can swallow and keep down; I am more respectable than that; I am Jones himself asking what there is to eat."
I can't help but wonder about the intellectual honesty of some members of  our contemporary hierarchy - aren't they just pretending to be 'Jones,' because that's the acceptable thing to do in a not so respectable age of emotional manipulation? 
There's an acknowledged place for honest doubt; I'm not sure there's a place for doubt as ecclesiastical 'spin'...


A rather good short video on prayer, 'Just Pray,'  from the Church of England, has been banned from cinemas by the agency Digital Cinema Media who stated "... some advertisements - unintentionally or otherwise - could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith."
Reactions are coming in thick and fast, including this rather good response from the Bishop of Sheffield and a contribution from the Prime Minister [here] who clearly is getting better Magic FM reception in the Chilterns than he has of late .... 

The 'offending' video: 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In an astonishing example of crass mistiming - if that's all it was: I'm not entirely convinced - the BBC decided to broadcast a piece of one-sided polemic against the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday morning's 'A Point of View' [here
Somehow the pressing need for radical reform of one of Christianity's traditions isn't exactly at the top of the world's agenda right now .... if you see what I mean ...
Perhaps, after a couple of outstanding and gently reasonable contributions from Roger Scruton, the programmers thought it was high time, in the interests of 'balance,' to return to something stridently imbecilic .


I've just taken delivery of our parish copies of the Winter edition of 'Together - The Voice of  Catholic Anglicans'' - always a welcome arrival on the doorstep.
On the front page (below) is a large photograph of a cork shooting out of a champagne bottle in celebration of the heartening news that the Catholic Group on the Church of England's General Synod has increased its strength in the recent elections.
Were there any comparable source of information available for us traditionalists in the little side show called The Church in Wales (which there now isn't - to our own continuing shame), presumably we would have a picture of a bottle of hemlock with appropriate instructions from the Bench of Bishops ...

Saturday 21 November 2015

O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem ...

Herbert Howells' exquisite and hauntingly beautiful setting of verses from Psalm 122 - the Choir of New College, Oxford, directed by Edward Higginbottom. 

Friday 20 November 2015

'De profundis clamavi ad te Domine' - our appalling neglect of the Syrian Christian refugees

'If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss *
 O Lord, who may abide it?'

Prompted by many things, but most particularly by the plight of the exiled Syrian Christians, for whom, it would seem - even now, even after the atrocities in Paris, no one will lift a finger to help ... [here]
Forced to avoid refugee camps both in the Middle East and Europe because of a real and justified fear of persecution by their more fundamentalist Muslim fellow refugees [here], ignored by the governments of the West [here]  in order to promote and foster an electorally convenient but socially fragile narrative of stability at home, what will their fate be, and how will history - and a greater tribunal still - judge us for their neglect? 
ISIS /ISIL still refers to the countries of the West as 'Crusaders:  not so, while we may certainly deplore their later history, particularly with regard to Byzantium,  the Crusades were motivated - at least at the very beginning - by a sense of honour and the chivalric obligation to rescue the Christians of the Holy Land who had fallen under the oppressive domination of Islamic invaders from the deserts of Arabia .... 
In reality, of course, they flatter us by the comparison because, whereas the crusaders were at least true to their beliefs, the culture of the democratic West, formed over the centuries by its developing Christian humanist and enlightenment heritage of the rule of law and freedom of speech and expression, has been captured by the contemporary intellectually barbarous fashion for relativism and the pathological avoidance of anything which may even hint at the fact that one culture and one way of life may be better and more conducive to human flourishing than another. We fight the conflict of ideas with the Jihadist savages with one hand tied behind our back.