Sunday 30 June 2013

Ss Peter & Paul: live broadcasting

The BBC were with us early this morning for a live broadcast of Radio 4s Sunday Worship. 
The sound engineers rolled into the church car park at just after 6 a.m., closely followed by the production team, musicians and the BBC Wales satellite van.  It's a very humbling thought that we were heard by an audience of 1.8 million or so - rather more than we usually welcome at St Arvans on a Sunday morning.

I'd forgotten, not having done this for a couple of years, but the somewhat adrenalin-fuelled tension of even a scripted live broadcast of worship is a strangely enjoyable experience, made all the better by the absence of any obvious 'live' disasters. One is  happy when it's all over, yet sorry, too, in a strange sort of way. But it has always to be undertaken first and foremost as  an act of worship and an attempt to communicate the message of the faith to real people,  the radio broadcast side of things can only be incidental to that. 

Afterwards, a quick cup of coffee then off up the hill to say mass at our daughter church, St Mary, Penterry which occupies an idyllic spot at the end of a wildflower meadow, and a 'real' congregation of about thirty.

Our thanks to all who took part - to my parish colleague Fr Mark, to Kate who played the 'cello (I don't often get the chance to work with my wife; she is way out of my league) to one of our churchwardens, Verena, who read the first lesson, the inspired singing of the Cantemus Choir under the direction of  Huw Williams with Dr Peter King of Bath Abbey on the organ.
As always, the members of the BBC team under their producer, Karen Walker, were the personification of kindness, patience and professionalism.

And our thanks to the holy apostles themselves for watching over us ....

Friday 28 June 2013

"Organised religion" - again

It's entirely predictable, yet rather dismaying, that as part of my preparation for later in the year - a fast approaching September - on reading through quite a few modern guides and accounts of being a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela that, in addition to the very helpful tips on actually walking along the Way of St James, one comes across so many dismissive references to "organised religion," made, it has to be said, largely by those who seem to have had little or no experience of it, other than the learned prejudices of others.
The Church is far from perfect (heaven forbid that - in this life - it should be held up to be) but, rather like a pilgrimage itself, when eternal life is the goal, and we stand in need of so much grace, a certain amount of organisation is ... shall we say... desirable.
This is St Irenaeus on much the same subject:
"...... Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?      [St Irenaeus Adversus Haereses III. 4]

Thursday 27 June 2013

More on the uncertain future facing Syrian Christians

Ed West has this to say here at The Catholic Herald after reports of a suicide bombing near a church in Damascus.
Why are our politicians blind to this? After the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention the dangerously volatile aftermath of the 'Arab Spring') it seems there is still among our western leaders, secularists to a man or woman,  a thirst for foreign military adventures and for the destabilising of historically unfriendly regimes  (and even friendly regimes in the case of Egypt) regardless of the likely consequences?
".....Also, I believed then, as I do now, that economic reform should come before democracy; without the rule of law, economic freedom and the middle class that follows, democracy turns into dictatorship or ethnic conflict.
And you’d have to be a total naïve idiot in the Webb tradition not to see that this was a country with all the worst politics. Its guiding philosophy was Ba’athism, a sort of mixture of European nationalism, socialism and fascism, blended in with various local prejudices, creating a Syncretism of all the most terrible political ideas in the world. This was reflected in the Stalinist architecture, the banknotes that idolised non-existent industrial strength, and the idolatry of the ruling family, whose images were ubiquitous (often in a brutally masculine pose that denotes strength in this part of the world but to western eyes screams “massive personal insecurity”).
But I believed then, as I believe much more now, that people did not put up Bashar Assad’s image purely out of fear of him but of fear of what might follow. The country was teeming with Iraqi refugees, and there was a clear sense that in this religiously diverse country the same catastrophe could unfold. If the moustachioed men one saw all around were rather distasteful, then they were preferable to the bearded men who would follow. For in Middle Eastern politics these days, always back the guys with moustaches against the guys with beards.
Listening to the choir of young Christian girls and boys at the cathedral, in the country in which Christian music has its very origins, I remember feeling profound sadness about what might happen one day. All around the 5,000-year-old city, with its windy, ancient streets with images of the Virgin Mary, and tiny old houses and rooms dating back to the first millennium, one really feels the story of early Christianity, but can it last forever?"

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Vaughan Williams: "Serenade to Music"

The original 1938 recording with Isobel Baillie, Stiles Allen, Elsie Suddaby, Eva Turner, Margaret Balfour, Astra Desmond, Muriel Brunskill, Mary Jarred, Heddle Nash, Walter Widdop, Parry Jones, Frank Titterton, Roy Henderson, Robert Easton, Harold Williams, and Norman Allin. The BBC Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Sir Henry Wood.

"How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
 Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
 Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
 Become the touches of sweet harmony.
 Look, how the floor of heaven
 Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold..."

Monday 24 June 2013

Hail, harbinger of morn

For the Nativity of St John Baptist, this 'little Christmas' on Midsummer's Day:

The Naming of St John the Baptist by Fra Angelico

Hail, harbinger of morn: 
thou that art this day born, 
and heraldest the Word with clarion voice! 
Ye faithful ones, in him 
behold the dawning dim 
of the bright day, and let your hearts rejoice. 

John--by that chosen name 
to call him, Gabriel came 
by God's appointment from his home on high: 
what deeds that babe should do 
to manhood when he grew, 
God sent his Angel forth to testify. 

There is none greater, none, 
than Zechariah's son; 
than this no mightier prophet hath been born: 
of prophets he may claim 
more than a prophet's fame; 
sublimer deeds than theirs his brow adorn. 

"Lo, to prepare thy way," 
did God the Father say, 
"Before thy face my messenger I send, 
thy coming to forerun; 
as on the orient sun 
doth the bright daystar morn by morn attend." 

Praise therefore God most high; 
praise him who came to die 
for us, his Son that liveth evermore; 
and to the Spirit raise, 
the Comforter, like praise, 
while time endureth, and when time is o'er.

St Bede (The Venerable Bede), translated by Charles Calverley

A short musical excerpt from the hymn:
Hail harbinger of morn tune Hail harbinger of morn New English Hym by Belfast Cathedral Choir

The NLM today has some interesting notes on the liturgical observance of St John's Nativity.

Sunday 23 June 2013

''The game is up" - again...

Bishop Pete Broadbent's thoughts on the CofE women bishops legislation are quoted on the Thinking Anglicans blog [here] He makes, by the standards of a synodical insider, a very convincing case:
"...Of the four options in the HoB paper, only Option 1 has any chance of success. I would urge opponents to adopt realpolitik on this matter. It really is no good any more to argue for provision enshrined in law. The game is up..."
Admittedly, as an Celtic outsider - but one who, no doubt, faces a similar situation - I have to wonder whether the time for this kind of realpolitik is over - it can only lead to a slow, 'Swedish,' extinction - and whether the necessity is to simply make a stand and call the Synod's, and Parliament's, bluff .... and see where that leads us - and who will lead us.
The one thing which will concentrate the minds of any administrators, bishops included, is the probability of chaos and widespread 'disobedience' in the face of manifest injustice.
'Playing the game' only benefits those who make the rules... 

Dumbing down the neighbourhood

Quoted by A Conservative Blog for Peace from the United States:
"....My mother grew up in a working class steel town neighborhood. She wore a hat and white gloves to church except between Memorial and Labor Days. Her house and yard were clean. Her father wore slacks and a button up collared shirt to his factory job. Families were centered around marriages, and the overwhelming majority of children lived in households wherein all the siblings had the same two biological parents. Today, two generations later, if you go to that same neighborhood you will find among the whites there (Hispanics have moved in but they are more family oriented than the whites who currently live there), that it is relatively rare for a woman to have the same biological father for all of her children, and rarer still for her to be living with the father of all of her children, let alone married to him. The yards are far more unkempt (and it's not like they were manicured 40 years ago), the houses far less clean, and the language used in front of children, and the media children exposed to, of a radically different sort than when my mother was a child. Criminal and anti-social activities, use of hard drugs, unstable sexual relationships, infatuations with more debased and degrading art and media forms, and so forth are far, far more common today in those neighborhoods...."
What is said here (with obvious differences due to geography)  certainly bears out my own parish experience from twenty years or so ago. I don't include it in order to be pharisaically judgemental.  After all, who is really to blame? If we have no experience other than chaos and inadequacy and poverty and the constant crisis caused by family breakdown, our moral sense itself is distorted. The 'moral compass', a concept so beloved of our contemporary politicians, is itself untrue; right and wrong become relative concepts or even a completely foreign language for those who have no experience of anything other.
So, who is to blame?  As a society we have been unfortunate in our role models since at least the late 1960s, probably a few years earlier. A celebrity, 'rock and roll'  culture, encouraged by the media and the intellectual elite to be dismissive of authority and sceptical of all truth-claims (except, interestingly, those of relativism itself) is a paradise for the affluent and the well-connected, insulated by money or education from the worst effects of societal breakdown - and also retaining a sense of which boundaries not to cross.

Not so for those at the bottom of the heap; they follow the example of their celebrity idols and their social 'betters' and have no resources to protect them from the winds that then blow. Not only that, they become the scapegoats of the politicians and the commentariat, casting around for suitable cultural fall-guys. 'It's the same the whole world over.  It's the poor what gets the blame.  It's the rich what gets the pleasure.  Ain't it all a bloomin' shame?  - always and without exception, and they have paid the highest price imaginable for the middle-class liberal- left's  obsession with egalitarian social experimentation and the politics of sex. As we have said before, it's so much easier than trying to get to grips with the real causes of poverty, material, or for that matter, spiritual, educational and cultural.

One of the experiences which helped wean me away from the comfortable liberalism of my youth was walking through the streets of a post-industrial valleys town in South Wales, not far from where I grew up. Passing the proud edifice of the Workingmen's Hall,  I had to step off the pavement into the road to avoid a huge pile of mouldering books left out in the rain. The hall's library - politics, economics, literature - by which generations of coal miners and industrial workers were self-educated to an astonishingly high standard - was being thrown out by its elected committee in order to make way for the installation of slot machines.
A situation easier, of course, to diagnose than to try to restore......


And for another, related,  example of cultural disintegration and loss of balance, again from the USA, Fr George Rutler writing [here at the NLM site] on the dangers of liturgical narcissism:
"...Any young man called to the priesthood must be like St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). This is true of all Christians. Cupio dissolvi — “I wish to disappear.” Dioceses that understand this, especially in their liturgical life, excel in vocations, and those that do not, fail. ....................... Pope Benedict XVI said: “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”               There is even a danger of that same narcissism when attempts at a “reform of the reform” become self-conscious spectacle. Evelyn Waugh said that Anthony Eden was not a gentleman because he dressed too well. We try to offer the best to God, but we must not be fussy about it like the nouveau riche. It once was said that dowagers in Boston did not buy hats, they had hats. C. S. Lewis’ view was that true worship should be like a good old shoe, so comfortable that you don't have to break it in: “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.” That is a sensibility I have long admired in the Byzantine liturgies. While some speak of the High Mass of the Western Church as the “most beautiful thing this side of Heaven,” I know of nothing so formally transcendent and still so informally natural as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
The constant fidgeting for “theme liturgies” and experimentation is a sign of failure. Worse yet is the priest who solicits laughter like a ham actor in a dying vaudeville show. Such clerics should limit their repertoire to the jokes that St. John told the Blessed Mother as her Son bled on the Cross. One is struck by the way Pope Francis, in his personal simplicity and affability, is so enrapt in the solemnity of the Mass that he would not think of smiling through the Sacrifice of Calvary.
It may seem that reform of abuses is as futile as King Canute ordering the tide to roll back. Actually, that great king was showing his court that human pride has no authority over what does not belong to him. That is why he placed his own crown on a figure of Christ Crucified, and that is what true worship is all about...."
A comment was made to me, by someone who has been fairly recently involved in the training of the newly-ordained, that one of the major problems in trying to inculcate even a rudimentary liturgical sense is that it is now perceived by many as an attempt to stifle their right to individual self-expression. Well, that's precisely what is is meant to be; but how does one get that essential message of the tradition across to the 'X-Factor'  generation - and, by that, I don't only mean the young? Undoubtedly now is the very worst time to sweep away residential theological training and what little is now left in modern Anglicanism of priestly formation, the surrounding culture being so inimical to anything other than the  self-dramatising search of the perpetual adolescent for 'the true me.'
Coincidentally, in the Revised Common Lectionary, today's Gospel was St Luke's account of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, otherwise known as the story of the Gadarene swine...


From Peter Hitchens, some interesting comments and historical analogies about the newly-acquired godlessness of the Girl Guides. As we know well, metropolitan, metrosexual,  social marxism,  a new/old form of intellectual servitude very successfully disguised as freedom - until, as every so often, the mask slips - dares not leave even one potential bastion of traditional values in place...
We could add that if the Church had any credibility left in terms of a wholehearted commitment to its historic mission to the nation, one might expect the bishops to be protesting at the top of their voices (and giving good reasons for their opposition, if they can think of any) - and encouraging their flocks, especially parents, to do likewise - at the removal of the promise to serve God, particularly in view of the large numbers of parish-affiliated Guide and Scout  packs.


Lastly, in a move which gives the definitive meaning to the word 'desperation,' the CofE reaches out to Stonehenge pagans...  We're all in favour of evangelisation, the only worry concerns who will be evangelising whom in a ecclesial culture where 'apologetics' seems to be about saying sorry for our faith. 
No, come on, someone's pulling our leg here - particularly given the comment that it's "almost to create a pagan church where Christianity was very much in the centre” although some may have thought ..... no, let's not go there.
Does anyone care to explain ... or will we see black cockerels at 'all age family worship'  from now on? It's possibly the only way an unambiguous language of sacrifice will ever get past the various provincial liturgical censors commissions.

Thursday 20 June 2013

'Manif:' Could this be the future

on this side of the English Channel, too?
From Le Figaro [here]
Purely for the sake of balance, I'll reference this article - yet it demonstrates very clearly by its toxic  illogicality that guilt by association is the order of the day.... and, as always, a potent weapon against those who might be tempted into 'rebellion' against the new social order.

Saints Julius & Aaron

With St Alban, Ss Julius and Aaron are the protomartyrs of Britain who, it seems,  lost their lives in the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian in or around the year 304.
They are mentioned by Gildas in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae:
...He, of his own free gift, kindled up among us bright luminaries of holy martyrs, whose places of burial and of martyrdom, had they not for our manifold crimes been interfered with and destroyed by the barbarians, would have still kindled in the minds of the beholders no small fire of divine charity. Such were St. Alban of Verulam, Aaron and Julius, citizens of Caerleon * and the rest, of both sexes, who in different places stood their ground in the Christian contest..... 
* Sometimes (mis)translated as Carlisle; St Bede in his account of the British martyrs says Chester - each, of course, a Roman legionary settlement (castra legionis)

A reconstruction of Roman Caerleon - photo & article: WalesOnline
Interestingly, the newspaper article reports recent archaeological work 
which bears out Giraldus' observations

One local tradition makes Julius  & Aaron Roman soldiers, martyred in the amphitheatre of the Roman legionary fortress of Caerleon. Giraldus Cambrensis, writing in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, confirms that two churches in medieval Caerleon - still recognisably Roman at that date -  were dedicated to them:
"...Caerleon is the modern name of the City of the Legions. In Welsh ‘caer’ means a city or encampment. The legions sent to this island by the Romans had the habit of wintering in this spot, and so it came to be called the City of the Legions. Caerleon is of unquestioned antiquity. It was constructed with great care by the Romans, the walls being built of brick. You can still see many vestiges of its one-time splendour. There are immense palaces, which, with the gilded gables of their roofs, once rivalled the magnificence of ancient Rome. They were set up in the first place by some of the most eminent men of the Roman state, and they were therefore embellished with every architectural conceit. There is a lofty tower, and beside it remarkable hot baths, the remains of temples and an amphitheatre. All this is enclosed within impressive walls, parts of which still remain standing. Wherever you look, both within and without the circuit of these walls, you can see constructions dug deep into the earth, conduits for water, underground passages and air-vents. Most remarkable of all to my mind are the stoves, which once transmitted heat through narrow pipes inserted in the side-walls and which are built with extraordinary skill.
Two men of noble birth, Julius and Aaron, suffered martyrdom there and were buried in the city. Each had a church named after him. Next to Albanus and Amphibalus, they were the most famous protomartyrs of Great Britain. In former times there were three fine churches in Caerleon. The first was named after Julius the martyr: this was graced by a choir of nuns dedicated to the service of God. The second was founded in the name of Saint Aaron, his comrade: this was noted for its distinguished chapter of canons. The third was famed far and wide as the metropolitan church for the whole of Wales. Amphibalus, who taught Saint Albanus and instructed him in the true faith, was born in this place. .."
Itinerarium Cambriae V

Loss of magic - all round

According to this piece President Obama has 'lost his magic,'  
One wonders when, exactly, he acquired it...

And the Deputy Prime Minister is in trouble over remarks on a radio 'phone-in, falling foul of those who delight to descend like vultures on any possible departure from modern-morality-speak. Like President Obama's reputation, it's another symptom of both the essential shallowness of our contemporary, 'celebrity,' democratic culture, and the intrusion of the representatives of the State into our lives, when elected leaders are meant to be the guardians of what now passes for public morality. They may even try to find time to , well...., do a bit of governing from time to time.
And it is even more worrying when our politicians seem obliged to prejudge the workings of the legal system and make instant and uninformed comments on recent tabloid newspaper photographs which may, or may not, depict an incident of 'domestic' violence. These are real people involved, and this is either a matter for the police and the courts or it isn't. Full stop. 

Wednesday 19 June 2013

The Girl Guides drop God while the West tries to play Boy Scout in Syria

According to this report from The Telegraph the Girl Guides are to drop their promise to serve God (actually, it's been 'my God' for a little while now) in favour of a more suitable set of pledges for a socially atomised and profoundly irreligious age (not that they put it quite like that) - to “be true to myself” and to “develop my beliefs”.
I've been present at too many deathbeds over the years to greet this news with anything other than dismay; when we are faced with the ultimate reality about this life, neither of these new Hollywood- style 'promises' tends to figure very highly on people's list of priorities.


And what can we say about Syria...?
Only that it would be folly to supply arms to the opposition when we have no way of guaranteeing that they will not end up in the hands of militant Islamists. And, yes, the Syrian regime has blood on its hands - what it has done to its own people is indefensible;  but what the West is not saying is how deeply implicated our own governments are in attempts to destabilise a previously unpleasant and authoritarian but essentially stable administration, and one in which religious minorities (including the ancient Christian Churches of the region) were left in peace .... in 'the Levant' (probably anywhere in the Muslim world) that's as good as it ever gets.  It's certainly far better than the historical record of even modern,  'secularist' Turkey towards its minorities.
Humanitarian assistance to refugees and the casualties of civil war can only be encouraged and applauded,  but our naive and new-found interventionist advocacy of democracy and human rights in the Middle East will only produce predictably 'Wilsonian' consequences (the legacy of Versailles,  anyone?) in cultures where even the rule of law is a distant aspiration.

Monday 17 June 2013

Improvisation at its best

Unmissable - from the NLM, Olivier Latry improvising on the introit at mass at Notre Dame de Paris...

Some other necessary posts over the weekend:

The Scandal of Christian Uniqueness from Bridges and Tangents [here]

More on the still neglected work of Christopher Dawson [here]

Cultural / sexual bouleversement: Charles Moore at The Spectator [here]

A corrective? Perhaps...  "By drawing ever closer to God in prayer we leave open the potential for being drawn closer to each other"  - Archbishop Bernard Longley on 'the difficult path to unity' of the ARCIC process.... [here]

Sunday 16 June 2013

Corpus Christi Carol: Britten

Part of the early work, the choral variations, 'A Boy Was Born' of 1933. 
The fifth variation is a setting of the late medieval Corpus Christi Carol.

Lulley, lully, lulley, lully,
The faucon hath born my mak away.

He bare hym up, he bare hym down,
He bare hym into an orchard brown.

In that orchard ther was an hall,
That was hanged with purpill and pall.

And in that hall ther was a bede,
Hit was hangid with gold so rede.

And yn that bede ther lythe a knyght,
His wowndes bledyng day and nyght.

By that bedes side ther kneleth a may,
And she wepeth both nyght and day.

And by that bedes side ther stondith a ston,
"Corpus Christi" wretyn theron.

Saturday 15 June 2013

What price disestablishment.....?

So, it seems even a 'disestablished' Church isn't entirely free from the tentacles of the modern State, British or Welsh [see here and an official response form the Province here]
Paradoxically, given recent legislative developments at Westminster, "complete disestablishment" may prove an easier - and quicker - way to conform the Church in Wales to the spirit of the age ..... some, of course,  will not rest until that is so...

'There's a wideness in God's mercy'

Fr Faber's hymn sung here by the Choir of St Paul's Cathedral directed by John Scott; the tune is Corvedale by Maurice Bevan.

Appropriate in the light of tomorrow's Gospel ....
"...Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "What is it, Teacher?" "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly...." 

Friday 14 June 2013


It's been an odd seven days. Last Wednesday my training for walking the Camino de Santiago came to an abrupt halt when on a steep descent of one the local hills I tore the ligaments in my right shoulder.
On the other hand, I have to say I have nothing but praise for the local (NHS) hospital whose A & E department has ensured a rapid appointment with a sympathetic orthopaedic surgeon, a urgent ultra- sound scan and immediate physiotherapy. Mentioning the planned trek to Santiago didn't do any harm ...
So whatever has to happen later, the pilgrimage is still on for the beginning of September - relieved isn't the word.....  Deo Gratias! And a big thank you to St James....

Thursday 13 June 2013

Te lucis ante terminum

I was looking forward to some stargazing this evening, but the sky is rapidly clouding over - no doubt the next Atlantic front coming in from the west: this is June in Wales after all....

... to compensate, this is Henry Balfour Gardiner's setting of the compline hymn, Te lucis ante terminum ('Evening Hymn')  sung here by the Choir of St Paul's Cathedral, directed by John Scott

Te lucis ante terminum,

rerum Creator, poscimus,

ut solita clementia,

sis praesul ad custodiam.

Procul recedant somnia,

et noctium phantasmata:

hostemque nostrum comprime,

ne polluantur corpora.

Praesta, Pater piissime,
Patrique compar Unice,
cum Spiritu Paraclito
regnans per omne saeculum.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Ocimum basilicum

Enough controversy for a while ...

There's nothing quite like the smell of crushed basil when you are cooking, there's nothing like the taste it adds to salads and pasta dishes - or anything else you care to add it to. Without being unnecessarily Proustian, the scent of basil and thyme is enough to bring back memories of my parents' garden, and, as a small child, being given a patch of ground and experimenting with growing a herb patch all of my own.
Over the last few years I've taken to growing basil in pots and then taking it with us to France for the summer vacation and, when it gets there and soaks up the sunshine on the steps outside the back door, watching it darken and thicken and intensify dramatically in taste and smell. Here, there's never quite enough sunshine, at least in in these western parts, to grow it successfully outdoors, even against a sunny wall. This year with a particularly cold  spring with, how shall we say,  not exactly unbroken sunshine, it's been a struggle to get the plants to thrive even on the kitchen windowsills

And after the summer we bring the plants back in the car and try to get them to last until Christmas and beyond ...
There's nothing like fresh basil grown in a warm climate.....

Having said that, there's also nothing which quite emphasises the cultural / linguistic divide between British (or English) English and American English than a discussion about herbs and basil, particularly if - as in this (British) video - you intend to grow it alongside tomatoes...

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Does ARCIC do us all a disservice?

Dr William Oddie at The Catholic Herald [hereasks the question, 'why do we continue talking to the Anglicans after they have so wilfully made unity impossible?'
Typically, he doesn't pull his punches; but he has a point: as a former Anglican priest he knows exactly what he is dealing with. The continuing existence of ARCIC certainly blinds many otherwise thoughtful Anglicans to the fatal ecumenical consequences of our western synodical love affair with heterodoxy. 'Ah, but ARCIC continues to meet,' say our leaders, 'all we need do is wait until Rome catches up.'
The reality is, of course, very different. 

ARCIC will inevitably continue in some form because it is the vocation and responsibility of the Catholic Church to promote the perfect unity of all those who are His disciples, something for which Christ prayed before His Passion. The ecumenical imperative is not in question.
The distance, however, between the respective official positions of the participants continues to widen - almost wholly because of the changes in the Anglican theology of the sacred ministry - if it can now be said to have a coherent theology at all in practice -  and, increasingly, on matters of moral theology.  The value and importance of the 'dialogue' ( if such it be) diminishes accordingly. An ecclesial body which insists on the ordination of women and will, in time, it seems increasingly likely, come to advocate the sacramentality of homosexual unions, will never be in full communion with a Church which cannot sanction either.

The Orthodox are much more 'up front' about all this; but the question has to be asked: is post-Vatican II Roman tact and diplomacy not now encouraging and fostering the very errors into which we, as Anglicans, are being led?    
Despite the modern roadblocks liberal theology has placed in the way of further progress, Anglican Catholics have always been encouraged to believe that the accords so far reached are somehow 'in the bank' for use at some future date. Undoubtedly, for beleaguered Anglo-Catholics, the ARCIC agreements offer a degree of support and theological sustenance in our ever more precarious position; but outside our ranks, given the increasingly rapid theological and ethical divergence between Rome and Canterbury, who, we have to wonder, will still be interested enough to make a withdrawal?

Monday 10 June 2013

Local news but old news - if it's news at all ...

Jonathan Petre writes in The Mail about the Dean of St Albans' chances of becoming, not the new Bishop of Durham, as recent rumours have suggested, but the next Bishop of Monmouth in the Church in Wales  [here]
This story has been doing the rounds for some time. Who knows? 
In any case, it seems we'll just have to contain our excitement until mid-July 

Sunday 9 June 2013

The media and the Turkish riots, and other recent news

If all one has is  access to the British media's reporting, one might be forgiven for being a little puzzled about the causes of the recent riots in Turkey. Those on the streets have been largely young, educated, middle class, a balanced mix of the sexes, secularists and so on ... surely exactly the people to whom our broadcasters would normally have been bending over backwards to give a voice. What is it all about? The redevelopment of green spaces in Istanbul surely cannot account for the level and duration of the protests or the initial severity of the regime's response; perhaps, then,  it's more to do with affluent resentment towards a government which favours the rural poor at the expense of the urban elite.

And then someone let the cat out of the bag. The Turkish Government, supported in its EU membership bid by the whole British establishment (including Boris Johnson - for obvious reasons...) is facing massive internal opposition because of its policy of creeping Islamification, an agenda which relies upon attacks on intellectual and press freedom, a politicisation of the judicial system, the restriction of women's rights and opportunities and a wholesale undermining of the secular constitution introduced by Ataturk in the 1920s. 
It seems to have been King Abdullah of Jordan who let it drop that the elected Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told him in a conversation that democracy "is a tram you ride as far as you want to and then get off’." 
One can understand the myopic lack of understanding on the part of our political leaders who, historically, have never understood a vital British interest until it is fatally threatened, but why the obfuscation by the British media?  Obviously, it can be nothing to do with an obsessive and wrong headed form of multi-culturalism disguising a craven fear of Islamism and the response of an alienated and militant section of our  own sizeable Muslim minority; our guardians of truth are far more courageous than that ....

Peter Hitchens [here] compares Russian President Vladimir Putin's bad press in the West to the easy ride given to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.


The M.P. for Salisbury takes issue with his bishop [here]

More on the St Mary Undercroft row [here]
If the events of the seventeenth century tell us anything, it is that in England (Britain to be anachronistic) Parliament is supreme, even - especially - when it is wrong. Not for nothing is King Charles I an Anglican martyr.

When new 'freedoms' involve old-style repression: the strange, heavy handed cultural correctness of the contemporary U.S. military [here]

Archbishop Welby reveals his inner Tory - is that praise from Andrew Brown in The Guardian ? 

Friday 7 June 2013

Throwing in the towel...?

Two statements over the last few days: the first [here] from the ( CofE) Lords Spiritual which many have interpreted as giving up the struggle against the Government's same-sex marriage bill. 
At the very best, it displays an essential confusion between necessary parliamentary tactics as the bill proceeds* and maintaining a coherent theological opposition. At the worst - in its seeming acceptance of "marriage as newly defined" (see below) it could well signal the beginning of a shift towards the stance the political establishment so vociferously demands from what  it regards (with some historical justification) as its 'house' Church....

The second, shorter, statement, from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales [here], while maintaining its theological and philosophical opposition, also speaks of the need to amend the bill to ensure effective protections to hold the Government to its promises "to provide for schools, religious organisations and individuals."  What their statement does not do is make the mistaken assumption that this legislative redefinition has any essential validity for those whose allegiance is to a higher authority.

What this latest episode proves beyond doubt is that we are heading rapidly in Britain towards  the creation of a post-Christian secular State, albeit one - temporarily - haunted by its religious past. We must indeed, in the Prime Minister's tritely arrogant phrase, 'get with the programme;'  however, if we are to survive at all, 'the programme' has to be that of the pre-Constantinian Church in the milieu of an essentially pagan culture. We must become 'apologetic' in a somewhat different sense....

[* "For the Bishops the issue now is not primarily one of protections and exemptions for people of faith, important though it is to get that right, not least where teaching in schools and freedom of speech are concerned. The Bill now requires improvement in a number of other key respects, including in its approach to the question of fidelity in marriage and the rights of children. If this Bill is to become law, it is crucial that marriage as newly defined is equipped to carry within it as many as possible of the virtues of the understanding of marriage it will replace..."]

Thursday 6 June 2013

Abuse - it's what we've come to expect

from certain quarters.... particularly on this issue...
Legitimate criticism, open differences of opinion, the recognition of deep divisions within the Church, an element satire even,  are one thing; this kind of graceless, puerile ad hominem abuse is quite another: so .... let's put it down to modern Anglicanism's failure to ensure a proper formation to its priesthood, shall we,  and move on... ?
From The Huffington Post [here] - although journalists really should try to get the terminology right, but it's just Christianity, so why bother ...
"...A row has erupted on social media after a Church of England priest called the Archbishop of Canterbury a "w****r" on Facebook over his stance on gay marriage.
Justin Welby, who was enthroned as the head primate of the Church of England in March, told the House of Lords earlier this month that allowing gay couples to marry would “diminish” Christian marriage and damage the fabric of society.
Angry over Welby's comments, Reverend M..... R........ said: ”What really upsets me is nasty people such as Justin Welby robbing me of my faith in the church, he does not speak in my name and I think he is a w****r, but im (sic) not going to stop being a christian or a priest.”

 Comments are closed 

Tuesday 4 June 2013

So, it will become law..?.

The House of Lords has voted this evening to by a majority of 242 to reject the Dear Amendment * and allow the 'gay marriage bill' to continue its passage. It would now seem highly unlikely that further attempts to delay or amend the bill will be successful, but, as in France, opposition will rightly continue, both within and outside the legislative process. 
A report here, appropriately enough , from The Guardian. 
And a very different response to tonight's vote here
So Parliament will arrogate to itself the unprecedented power to redefine the nature of marriage...
I've always been somewhat sceptical about the need for the disestablishment of the Church of England; it increasingly seems an imperative if the Church is to remain recognisably Christian in its message; ties to an increasingly secularist, and even anti-Christian, State will now not only compromise her historical mission but render it completely impotent...

* '... the amendment of Lord Dear to leave out from "that" to the end and insert "this House declines to give the bill a second reading".' 

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“Equity is a very much better principle than equality”.

As requested by several people, this is the full text of the Bishop of Exeter's speech given yesterday in the House of Lords debate on the Government's same-sex marriage legislation:
"My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, observed that, from a Christian perspective, God can be present in every true love. I absolutely agree. But marriage is about more than love. Then we are told that the issues at stake here are equal rights, justice and social inclusion. Certainly, these are things about which Governments may legislate. Indeed, if they wish to support particular kinds of relationship by according them tax and pension benefits, that must be a matter for normal political debate. However, in this Bill the Government have chosen to proceed not by addressing real, material or legal inequalities but by redefining the key concept of marriage and its meaning.
When Parliament legislated for civil partnerships, society gave legal and institutional expression to what many hold to be true—that gay and lesbian people should have the same rights to formalise their commitment to each other and enjoy the social and legal benefits that opposite-sex couples have. If there are matters in that legal provision that are inadequate or missing, rights that have not been conferred or legitimate aspirations not recognised, then that Act should be amended, and that would have my general support. However, the battleground that the Government have chosen is not material but conceptual. The argument is driven by emotional rather than logical considerations, which is why it is so difficult to debate. No matter how loud the protestations to the contrary, at stake is a shared and common understanding of the concept of marriage, together with the consequences—intended and unintended—to which they may lead.
We are told that the scope of marriage has evolved. It has, but “scope”, my Lords, not fundamental nature. The scope, as shown by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has been varied through history with regard to age of consent, number of permitted spouses, termination, what is allowed or prohibited and restrictions on members of the same family group. What has remained constant in all times and all cultures until very recently is an understanding of marriage founded on the premise of sexual differentiation and the resulting generic potential for procreation. It is with this unchanging basis that marriage has taken otherwise different forms.
The Christian tradition, in an understanding that has hitherto also informed English law, speaks of sexual union, the sharing of worldly goods, the help and comfort of one for the other, and the procreation and nurture of children. On their own, none has been understood to constitute marriage. Indeed, each of these worthy objectives may be found embodied in other legal arrangements. An agreement to share goods may be a valid contract, but it is not marriage; nor does sexual union of itself constitute marriage. Family units with children exist and have always existed outside the bonds that are recognised as marriage. There are many forms of human relationship for the support and encouragement of mutual love and comfort that are not marriage. Yet now, a commitment to love and be loved, arbitrarily confined to just two non-related human beings, is to be the sole basis for the married state.
Many of those advocating this development have sought to portray any opposition to it as a faith issue. It is not; it is a societal one. Shorn of the element of complementarity of genders, all marriage will be redefined, with consequences for all. Until now, common to the definition of marriage accepted by church and state has been an understanding that a marriage is not completed in the marriage ceremony, wherever that may take place. Marriage must also be consummated—completed—in the sexual union of male and female, and is voidable if it has not been consummated. However, with the marriage of two people of the same sex, the proposed law says that these provisions do not apply. Where is the equality in that?
Similarly, the current definition of adultery will remain unchanged—sexual intercourse outside marriage with a person of another sex—which, again, does not apply to marriages between those of the same sex. Where is the equality in that? Therefore, a Bill predicated on the claim that marriage should be equal and gender is irrelevant has to recognise that this logic breaks down when confronted by the reality of marriage as hitherto universally understood. However, the proposals contain their own logic, which is that over time the historic understanding of marriage must in law cease to exist. Despite this huge difficulty, I have still tried to understand the motivation for this radical reform. Why was civil partnership insufficient? Such partnerships already allow couples to share the legal benefits of marriage and, if there are remaining differences, it is easy to amend the law. I struggle to hear what is missing. I do not underestimate the power of law to change attitudes, but the question is, which law, and what is missing that would make such a difference? A civil partnership is an act of registration, simply recording in law what is already deemed to exist, whereas marriage, in law, is seen as a “performative act”. It brings something new into being, something that until the exchange of vows and consummation did not exist. A desire for such a performative act, a ritual, and an opportunity publicly to commit to mutual love seemed to be aspirations which I could appreciate, and so the law on civil partnership could be changed without depriving marriage of its single, central meaning.
However, Clause 9 of the Bill provides for an existing civil partnership to be transformed into a “marriage” simply by signing a register. If one marriage is simply a matter of civil registration without vows, performative acts or criteria for consummation, no provision concerning adultery, or presumption of parenthood, and if the word “marriage” is to have a single coherent meaning, then for every other marriage it must be the same. Marriage is now civil partnership by another name. A basic understanding of marriage, in law, will have irrevocably changed, and with one reality now bearing two different labels; or we will have legislated into being two very different realities, but confusingly bearing the same name. If that happens, it raises huge issues about social cohesion, and a move away from common shared values. I remain profoundly uncertain about the legal position not just as regards the personal views of teachers but as regards what may be taught in church schools. Are they to be allowed to teach a traditional understanding of marriage, one which until now church and state have shared, while in non-church schools a different understanding is to be taught? If so, what will be the implications for social cohesion as a result? Or will church schools be forced by law to conform to a new understanding which has no roots in the doctrines of any of the major faith communities, which then sets an extraordinary precedent for the state’s power to determine articles of faith, unparalleled outside the experience in history of repressive ideological states of the extreme right and left?
Further, what is to prevent other multiple understandings, including recognition of polyamorous, polygamous and polyandrous relationships, being legislated for in due course? That is the internal logic of tackling a legitimate issue of inclusion through the redefinition of concepts rather than addressing any real inequalities that may exist.
There is a quotation from Margaret Thatcher in Charles Moore’s biography:
“Equity is a very much better principle than equality”.
In conformity with that principle, my hope is that the Government will withdraw the Bill, full of so many seen and unforeseen consequences for the fabric of our society, and start again to produce something which truly does address the really important issues that have been raised in this debate.

Update: Forward in Faith reaction to bishops' proposals

Following on from this morning's post, this is the statement just released from the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Forward in Faith:
We are grateful for the work of the working group whose report is annexed to the House of Bishops report GS 1886 (‘Women in the Episcopate – New Legislative Proposals’). We strongly welcome the House of Bishops’ endorsement of the group’s five-point vision (para. 12 of the House’s report).
However, we are puzzled by the conclusions that the House has apparently drawn from the working group’s report.
We continue to believe that a solution to address the new reality of women bishops will need to build on the existing framework which has enabled us to live together in the Church of England over the last twenty years. We agree with the view that there can be ‘no cheap trust’. Our future can only be based on a mutually trusting relationship. The proposal of legislation which sweeps away existing legal security damages trust.
In November, an attempt to push through a Measure with legal provisions which no representative of the minority recognized as remotely adequate failed – after much prayer and invocation of the Holy Spirit. We are puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that its new proposals, which would involve no legally binding provision at all, are more likely to gain the necessary majorities.
As an organization whose members are overwhelmingly lay, the fact that the House of Bishops’ proposals would involve a significant shift of power in favour of incumbents and bishops is of particular concern to us. So too is the fact that the proposals would expose lay representatives, as well as incumbents and priests in charge, to the risk of incurring significant costs in defending themselves against legal challenges.
We still hope that the ‘new way forward’ promised in February will involve prayer, reconciliation, mutual respect and consensus. We welcome the facilitated conversations as a means of moving towards this end. We do not believe that the House of Bishops’ preferred option (Option 1) represents the mind of the whole Church of England.
We therefore hope that the General Synod will choose a way forward which builds on the existing arrangements rather one which destroys them. Such legislation would be far more likely to secure final approval in the shortest possible time.
Our comments and questions are set out in more detail in the document which accompanies this statement. 

Bishops "closing down debate before it has started"

Not exactly a surprise - this is true to recent form -  but tragically disappointing nonetheless, because the Church of England deserves better of its apostolic leadership than a capitulation to those who would jettison the hard- retained vision of the catholicity of Anglicanism for the mess of pottage which is modernist liberalism - and will continue to drive the Church along this failing course, driven by secular ideology and regardless of the consequences, until all is lost.  
"Catholic Group in General Synod responds to plans for women bishopsThe Church Times is reporting: Traditionalists saddened by latest women-bishop proposals. The traditionalists referred to are the Catholic Group in General Synod.
THE House of Bishops preference for the provision of women bishops, “option one” (News, 31 May), has been severely criticised by the Catholic Group in General Synod as a “step backwards”.
In the first detailed traditionalist response, the group’s chairman, Canon Simon Killwick, says that they are “saddened” by the Bishops’ preference, accusing them of “closing down debate before it has started”.
The statement is not yet on the Group’s own website, but can be read at the end of the Church Times article."
In fact, if this comes to pass, it's not so much 'a step backwards' as a step into the abyss; we all know now - or should do - that this ongoing debate is not simply about women bishops but the wider and more radical agenda which comes along with them, an ideological 'purity' agenda of non-negotiable equal 'rights,'  which either demands or certainly entails (take your pick) the silencing, extinction or expulsion - de facto and otherwise - of traditionalist opposition; there must be no space, no place, for the survival of the tradition of the ages and an expunging of its reproachful memory from the life of the Church.
We must hope and pray and persuade that wiser and saner counsels may yet prevail. It doesn't have to be this way; we should encourage the liberals to get in touch with and feel their inner liberality - it has to be in there somewhere ...

Monday 3 June 2013

The Archbishop of Canterbury's speech in today's House of Lords debate

".....However, I and many of my colleagues retain considerable hesitations about the Bill. My predecessor, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, showed clearly last summer in evidence to the consultation that it contains a series of category errors. It confuses marriage and weddings. It assumes that the rightful desire for equality, to which I have referred supportively, must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things may be equal but different. As a result, it does not do what it sets out to do. Schedule 4 distinguishes clearly between same-gender and opposite-gender marriage, thus not achieving true equality.
The result is confusion. Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the Bill is an awkward shape, with same-gender and different-gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well. The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as a covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society, as we have already heard, is weakened. I am sure that these points will be expanded on by others in the debate, including those from these Benches.
For these and many other reasons, those of us in the churches and faith groups who are extremely hesitant about this Bill in many cases hold that view because we think that traditional marriage is a cornerstone of society, and rather than adding a new and valued institution alongside it for same-gender relationships, which I would personally strongly support to strengthen us all, the Bill weakens what exists and replaces it with a less good option that is neither equal nor effective. This is not a faith issue, although we are deeply grateful for the attention that the Government and the other place have paid to issues of religious freedom. However, it is not at heart a faith issue. It is about the general social good. Therefore, with much regret—but entire conviction—I cannot support the Bill as it stands...."
[The speech - and the whole debate on the 
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill - can be read in full here]
Archbishop Welby has already come under attack for his comment that this " is not at heart a faith issue."  I'm far from sure the critics are right; the Archbishop's words are surely meant to convey to a largely secular audience (both in the Lords' Chamber and the country at large) that the concerns he, as a representative of the Church, is expressing are by no means restricted (and therefore, for many in our society, easily and immediately dismissed) to those who share his religious faith. The point he is making here, in referring to 'the general social good' is, in essence, in its appeal to the better ordering of society based on observable patterns of necessary human social and familial relationships , a natural law argument - again, something which can be embraced, in different ways, by believer or unbeliever alike. Far from being a concession to his opponents, the Archbishop's phrase simply widens the appeal of his argument. 

Sunday 2 June 2013

Olivier Messiaen: Livre du Saint Sacrement

Priere Apres La Communion

So what would be the limits...?

A revealing little exchange took place at the end of the early morning BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme [here] between the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster and the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. It was pointed out by the Bishop of Chester that upon the passage of the current same-sex marriage legislation, for the first time the canon law of the Church of England would stand in direct opposition to the law of the land. 
Lord Harries also found that prospect worrying, but not for the reasons which would perhaps, for most of us, instinctively  come to mind, but, he seemed to say, because it is disturbing and unsatisfactory in itself that the Church of England would be out of step and out of touch with majority opinion in the country,  this then constituting one of the main  grounds for him to vote in favour of the current bill. Surely, that cannot be what he really meant to say - that the Church has to keep in step with public opinion?
But if we can take his words at face value, what, then, (the issue of same-sex marriage on one side) for the liberal establishment, of which Lord Harries is rightly regarded as being a prominent and distinguished member, would be the circumstances and the limits beyond which the Established Church of England (and, no doubt, its disestablished sister provinces) could not accommodate itself to majority public opinion in this  'democratic,' secular and, indeed, multi-cultural and multi-faith society? 
So, are there any limits at all? And if there are, by what criteria would they be decided? 
It would be good to be told before this sloppy, ill-conceived, dangerous and potentially sinister line of reasoning - a total abdication of all Christian ecclesial theological and ethical decision-making, offering a blank cheque to the zeitgeist - becomes the 'established' 'orthodoxy'.
Logically, admittedly in starkly different political and historical circumstances - at least at present,  it is hard to see any fundamental distinction between this position and that of the 'German Christians'  in the 1930s - that the Christian Church, together with its traditions and the interpretation of its Scriptures, should itself be subject to the popular will.  Another way of not being Church ...

Saturday 1 June 2013

"In His Presence"

Away today on a personally  much-needed retreat day with members of the diocesan Credo Cymru group. In an excellent day, beginning this morning with mass and ending in the afternoon with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, we were fortunate to be renewed and fortified by some illuminating and thoughtful meditations  from the very able Fr David Matthews on the 'Corpus Christi-tide' theme of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, guided, appropriately enough today,  by the writings of St Justin Martyr.  

Healey Willan's O Sacred Feast (an English setting of St Thomas' O Sacrum Convivium)  

O sacred Feast
in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory is given to us