tree_and_leaf: Anne Shirley sitting at desk, head in hands (essay crisis)
My reading for my - somewhat uninspiring - systematics essay is not going well ("Is 'faith seeking understanding' a useful understanding of theology?")

Thus, I am wasting time on the internet, and courtesy of Facebook discovered this rather amusing sketch. (Disclaimer: I've never been to an Alpha course meeting, but I'm fairly sure they don't sing 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore'). Nevertheless, it made me smile.



My room is absolutely freezing. It always is when it's windy.
tree_and_leaf: Photo of spire of Freiburg Minster (14th C broached gothic) silhouetted against sunset. (Schönste Turm)
A Comment is Free user writes about his decision to become a Carthusian.

A rather moving piece, and unusually for a CiF article on religion, remarkable few comments make me want to stick pins in my eyes...
tree_and_leaf: Head shot of a weasel in evening light. (Our Lady of the Weasels)
It's the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady Day).* I was going to write something contemplative about the Incarnation, but instead I am trying to work out what to teach the confirmation class about the Eucharist - or, more to the point, how to teach the confirmation class about the Eucharist. it possibly doesn't help that Youth Canon is obsessed with using talking about Passover as a way into it, and while the Eucharist as a sort of re-invented Passover is certainly important aspect of the sacrament (yay typology), I don't think it's a good place to start.

In which I try to work out what I feel about Christian use of the Passover )
On another note entirely, Bishop Alan had a good post about Oscar Romero. Morbid types like me tend to think that, never mind dying peacefully in your sleep, that really is the best way to go... But it's good to be reminded that the church gets things right at times, and Romero is one of the people who really did get it right. I wish they'd canonise him.


* And, not at all coincidentally, the date Tolkien chose for the destruction of the Ring and the liberation of Middle Earth. Typology, you can haz it.
tree_and_leaf: Portrait of John Keble in profile, looking like a charming old gentleman with a sense of humour. (anglican)
While I was checking publication dates earlier on, and having temporarily mislaid my copy of... pretty much everything, come to think of it, I stumbled on this review of The Meaning in the Miracles (Jeffrey John) from Masterkey, a Baha'i blogger.

It was remarkably interesting reading. The Meaning in the Miracles is a book I very much admire, partly because I have great sympathy for anyone trying to bridge the gap between academic theology and popular religious writing*, but above all because of John's take on the miracles recorded in the New Testament; rather than getting bogged down in the historicity debate, he argues, we should be looking at their theological meaning. If God, as Christ, does these particular miracles, then what does this tell us about the nature and, for want of a better word, character of God; what do they tell us about the sort of world God's redemption and grace is working towards?

Put like that, it doesn't sound like rocket science;** it's the sort of project that would have made perfect sense to a mediaeval theologian, though they'd have done it in a different form (and, in some cases - though not all of them - drawn different conclusions), because they knew perfectly well that the meaning of Scripture is not confined to the historical level. Which is so obvious that it shouldn't need saying, but people seem to keep forgetting it.

Anyway: Masterkey's review is fascinating, because he obviously liked the book a lot too, but for rather different reasons to me )
tree_and_leaf: Peter Davison in Five's cricket gear, leaning on wall with nose in book, looking a bit like Peter Wimsey. (Books)
Mysteriously tired, having had difficulty sleeping - and then, once I achieved it, over-sleeping. This is not ideal, as I'm going camping with the Cubs over the weekend, and starting with a sleep-debt is, to say the least, sub-optimal.

However, last night I did listen to the first half of the Big Finish audio "The Council of Nicea" (written by Caroline Symcox), which I think is very nearly my favourite Doctor Who thing ever, because - as you will have guessed - anything which combines theology, devious plotting, and Five - is guaranteed to get my vote.

Spoilers, I suppose )
tree_and_leaf: Francis Urquhart facing viewer, edge of face trimmed off, caption "I couldn't possibly comment" (couldn't possibly comment)
(Well, via the chap who is reprinting CW's devotionals as a blog; Williams hasn't been communicating with me from beyond the grave, though he is the Inkling I'd think most capable of wanting to try... I mean, communicating from beyond the grave in general, not with me in particular. I sometimes wonder what has happened to my mind and/ or my ability to express myself.)

"I have a mind to draw a complete character of a worldly-wise man . . . He would be highly-finished, useful, honoured, popular—a man revered by his children his wife, and so forth. To be sure, he must not expect to be beloved by one proto-friend [best friend], and, if there be truth or reason in Christianity, he will go to hell—but, even so, he will doubtless secure himself a most respectable place in the devil's chimney-corner."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Table Talk.
tree_and_leaf: Burne Jones Psyche, caption "till we have faces?" (CS Lewis - till we have faces)
The Grauniad has a small, but rather nice, interview with Leonard Cohen: (I always had a notion that I had a tiny garden to cultivate. I never thought I was really one of the big guys. And so the work that was in front of me was just to cultivate this tiny corner of the field that I thought I knew something about, which was something to do with self-investigation without self-indulgence.)

On an unrelated note, but also at the Guardian, Adam Smith is blogging an Alpha course. Must remember to follow that (and not to read the comments, this being CiF); it looks like it could be quite an interesting series, judging from the first post. As far as I can see, the Alpha Course can be quite a good resource, and the most important bit is the discussions it enables, anyway - though it's woefully lacking on the sacramental and ecclesiological side (but then, I would say that, wouldn't I?)
tree_and_leaf: Burne Jones Psyche, caption "till we have faces?" (CS Lewis - till we have faces)
So I was going to have a really productive evening of editing, to make up for my rather faily afternoon (I blame the heat), but having gone to church I found myself seized by the urge to write fic based on Matt 8:23-8, which was the Gospel of the day. I, er, blame the heat (which probably also explains the number of bad-tempered people in it).

Storm Clouds
Bible-fic, based on Matt 8:23-8/ Mark 4:35-41 (actually, it’s mostly based on Matthew, but the cushion is borrowed from Mark, because it’s the sort of detail that sticks with you.)
1747 words.
Warnings: well, it contains Christianity, sarcasm, bad temper, a whacking great miracle, and violent sea-sickness. It’s probably not very kind to Peter or James, in one sense, and certainly unkind to Matthew, in another. It didn’t happen like this, of course: this is only my re-imagining.

I hope I haven’t perpetrated any too egregious nautical howlers, my sailing experience being sadly limited, but I have a horrible suspicion I am thinking of the wrong sort of boat. (I’m also not entirely sure why Mark is so insistent that Jesus was in the stern, because I’d have thought the bow was more out of the way if you were going to have a quiet nap without, e.g., the helmsman standing on your head, but, as I say, I may be thinking of the wrong sort of boat.)

Summary: the only thing more frightening than being trapped in a storm in a small boat is being in a small boat with someone who apparently controls it. )
tree_and_leaf: Spock with fingers steepled, caption "listen". (Listen)
I can think of one or two people on my flist who may be interested in this Guardian article on a black woman rabbi from the US, Alysa Stanton, and the difficulties she has faced as a convert and a black woman, both from her birth community, white Christians, and her new community - but also the positives.

Gruaniad spell-checking strikes again, though: She was attracted to it she says because Judaism encompasses not just religion but also spiritualism, social justice and community.

I'm not Jewish, but I'm pretty sure they mean 'spirituality'. Though it also makes me rather sad, because Christianity encompasses all these thing (well, not spiritualism), which suggests how often the church is bad at doing what it's supposed to (though every conversion is complicated, and I would put money on there being a bigger theological issue that journalists generally don't want to get into. Such as, say, the Trinity, or the divinity of Christ).
tree_and_leaf: Photo of spire of Freiburg Minster (14th C broached gothic) silhouetted against sunset. (Schönste Turm)
... is exhausting, emotionally; all the more so because it's a roller-coaster. The Eucharist is a celebration of Christ risen as well as Crucified, so the vestments are white, and we had the Gloria (Lassus) - with the acolytes ringing little bells - as if it were Easter already. But the readings are on a knife edge - the Passover account from Exodus; the Narrative of the Institution in Corinthians (which sounds really weird read by a layman out of the context of the Eucharistic liturgy, so powerful is habit); and then the Last Supper in the Gospel. The sermon focussed on the foot-washing, and on the odd intimacy of the gesture, and how it's generally more difficult to allow some-one to do it for you than to do it for someone else - but the Christian life is not just about loving as much and as hard as you can, but also being willing to accept the love that is offered, for how else can we be saved? He also pointed out that the foot-washing echoes the anointing at Bethany - so in allowing our feet to be washed, we are accepting the way of the Cross, and a love which costs everything.

The foot-washing - I was one of the designated victims - changes the mood of the service entirely. The celebrant - stripped of his chasuble - kneels and washes feet. The bells at the Mass are replaced by a sort of rattle thing, which I find remarkably sinister; and afterwards, the Sacrament is taken in procession to the Altar of Repose - which was covered in white flowers and candles - very pretty, but rather suggestive of a funeral (for good reason, since the ceremony is traditionally taken as symbolic of Christ being laid in the tomb). And then the other altars are stripped, leaving the church looking bare and stark (and rather more Protestant than it generally does); it's almost like turning a house out after a death...

Stayed about half an hour at the watch in front of the Sacrament - the church in complete silence and lit only by the candles on the altar (well, and the streetlights outside). Rather disconcerting to come out into the town centre...
tree_and_leaf: Purple tinted black and white photo of moody man, caption Church Paramilitant (image from "Ultraviolet") (Church Paramilitant)
This is one of the most sickening things I've seen in ages: the BNP have taken their efforts to pose as defenders of Britain's Christian heritage to a new level, by equating themselves with Christ. (Link goes to the ekklesia press-release reporting the matter; I'm not linking to fascist websites, but you can see the poster in a very poor-quality photo at an anti-fascist blog here.

Citing Jn 15:20 ("If they persecute me, they will persecute you also"), the post reads "What would Jesus do? Vote BNP" (to which the answer is, "He'd probably invite you to join the Poles for supper, but he certainly wouldn't vote for you, you illiterate thugs"). On one level, this is oddly reminiscent of the BNP's previous attempt at a European election poster, in which the party whose candidates complain about Polish (and other) migrant workers coming over here and taking our jobs,used the slogan "Battle for Britain", and a photograph of a Spitfire - from 303 squadron, which was made up entirely of Poles (link goes to the Torygraph). The unedifying spectacle of a bunch of Nazis using a white-washed Palestinian Jew (and, for that matter, a one-time asylum seeker) as their poster-boy fits right into their pattern of opportunism combined with not quite managing to think through why any of the things they claim to value as 'British' (fighting, er fascism, in WWII, Christianity) actually matter.

The Ekklesia press report quotes an email from Nick Griffin (leader of the BNP, and well-known fascist thug) making nauseating claims about his party being the only one interested in defending Britain's 'Christian heritage' against 'the threat of Islamification', and has the gall to complain that

What has become of the Christian church in this country? Instead of inclusively ‘embracing all’ which the church claims is its basis, certain groups within that body have banned people from their ranks simply because of their membership in the British National Party.

“Surely if God calls a man to his service, no church has the right to contradict HIS holy will! For many years, the churches in this country scrupulously avoided being politically biased. Nowadays however we see a small number of clerics and bishops openly preaching hatred towards the BNP.

“Church leaders actively shun the word of God on issues like sodomy, abortion and social justice.


There is so much wrong with this that I don't even know where to start, but one might note the confusion: on the one hand, Griffin appears to think that the church has to reflect God's all-inclusive love - but only as it applies to fascists, not gays or women. 'Call' includes 'call to repentence', and that goes for absolutely everyone, whoever they are, and no matter how 'decent', 'good' or 'nice' (which both liberals and conservatives are prone to forget, though the ideal of 'decency' is different in every case). I'm also not entirely sure how one can campaign on social justice issues without risking being politically biased (why worry? - the Old Testament in particular reminds us that God is decidedly biased towards the poor and the oppressed). Though I wish the Church of England was as welcoming of homosexuals as its alleged to be here.... Griffin goes on to note that Jesus was "seen as a revolutionary" and "hounded to death... by the corrupt hypocrites who ran the church. Has nothing changed in two thousand years?"

Excuse me while I'm sick, OK? Alas, it is true that the church has, over the years, had a good line in re-crucifying Christ, but those were rarely moments which Griffin would disapprove of. But there's something, yes, sickening, about the cynical aping of the language of Christianity and, indeed, of socialism, in order to try and woo disaffected white working class voters. And it must not be tolerated without contradiction. Christ healed foreigners and outcasts of all kinds; the Old Testament is insistently concerned with the need to show justice to foreigners, and yes, including foreign workers. And, above all, the God who gave himself so totally and defencelessly in Christ is about as far removed from the fascist glorification of the strong and the powerful as it is possible to get.

At the same time: it's easy to let totally justifiable outrage about this disgusting poster blind one to the fact that the BNP wouldn't have a chance if they weren't tapping into existing fear and anger in the white working class. It's not that racial minorities are over-privileged, but there needs to be some way of building communities that encourages solidarity and understanding across the board. This ought to be something the church is doing - and in some places it is, or trying to - but if it looks like middle-class educated people preaching at people they despise, it's doomed to fail. There has to be another way. But at the moment, I find it hard to get past my inner 'Son of thunder', which is having unhelpful thoughts about how much good a spot of fire from heaven would do if applied to BNP party head-quarters). It won't do just to hate (though I loathe that poster with every fibre of my being, and I think a spot of vandalism would be entirely justified, morally speaking). But it's too easy to congratulate oneself on being a good Christian, not one of them†, and that doesn't actually get us anywhere. Instead, we need to engage with the ideas - and talking to people, rather than at them, would be a good place to start.

† Though I bet Griffin doesn't actually believe any of it, any more than Hitler believed in Christianity - but he successfully persuaded a number of people that he really was defending it against the threat of Islam International Bolshevism.
tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
The Exercise of Virtue.

Exegesis! fic, to invent a new genre label, on the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30), who may be anonymous, but is the only person recorded as having changed Jesus’ mind (although I suppose that depends how you read the Wedding at Cana). 1410 words.

The awareness
Of things ill done, or done to others’ harm,
which once you took for exercise of virtue.


T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding.”

A wave of impatience suddenly overcame the woman, impatience with everyone who believed these stupid rules about who belonged and who didn’t, and then felt guilty whether they kept them or broke them, when it was always other people who actually paid the price. )
tree_and_leaf: Purple tinted black and white photo of moody man, caption Church Paramilitant (image from "Ultraviolet") (Church Paramilitant)
So. I have been thinking about what to give up for Lent, and have settled on meat.

However, this is making me mildly apprehensive about being able to stick to it, as I have only a very limited repertoire of vegetarian dishes. As I know my flist contains lots of people who are Good at Food, could you help me out by recommending recipes. I don't have much time to cook during the week. I do like spices, though I'm not all that good at really hot food (I tend to go for 'medium' dishes in Indian restaurants). I also love lentils, and also mushrooms. I have never cooked with tofu, but am willing to give it a go as long as people tell me exactly how to deal with it....
tree_and_leaf: Text icon: Anglican Socialist Weirdo (Anglican socialist weirdo)
I mentioned Rowan Williams' review of the stage version of "His Dark Materials" to [livejournal.com profile] lareinenoire. It doesn't seem to be online anymore, or if it is my google-fu has failed me, but as I have a copy on my hard-drive, I thought I'd repost it. It originally appeared in the Guardian, Wednesday Mar 10, 2004. It's very perceptive on the legitimate criticisms which Pullman makes of 'religion' or of the church, but which, despite Pullman's sincere atheism, does not really undermine authentic Christianity. If God was like the God of HDM, then he ought to be killed - but he isn't. However, the temptation to behave like Pullman's church is ever present, and ought to be resisted.

It is nice to see that the ABC obviously enjoyed the production as a piece of theatre, though.

Under the cut, Rowan Williams' review as originally published in the Guardian. No copyright infringement is intended. )
tree_and_leaf: Photo of spire of Freiburg Minster (14th C broached gothic) silhouetted against sunset. (Schönste Turm)
... though if it is one track, it's one that also has an unconscionable number of branches leading off it, some of them in distinctly odd directions. One of the oddities of lj - though it's what makes it fascinating - is that it sits on a fence between being a private journal and something for a particular audience....

Cut to spare those who don't want more semi-mystic stuff about God )
tree_and_leaf: Francis Urquhart facing viewer, edge of face trimmed off, caption "I couldn't possibly comment" (couldn't possibly comment)
I meant to link to this when I saw it in the Grauniad (I saw it and thought of [livejournal.com profile] carlanime!): The Rugby Football Union teams up with Mills and Boon to produce ruby themed romance novels. One is going to be called The Ruthless Billionaire's Virgin, which is awful even by M&B's standards...

There's going to be an Atheist Thought for the Afternoon on PM, from the bus campaign woman. However, the Controller of R 4 says there are no plans to widen the remit of Thought for the Day to include atheists.

Jane Williams is blogging Acts; quite interesting. (I found this while looking for the Howard Jacobson article on Jesus - the curse and blessing to the Grauniad using a different way to organise the website to the paper. Have apparently been missing out on interesting stuff due to my determination to avoid CiF on issues of faith...

Howard Jacobson on the Jewishness of Jesus. An interesting take on the matter; I was particularly struck by the bit about the resemblance between Jesus' voice and that of God in the Old Testament - And as for "He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" - here we are back before the jealous, riddling exclusiveness of Yahweh himself.

Finally, a dreadfully tangled tragi-comic (but mostly comic) story of the man who ended up going to his ex's funeral as his son... accompanied by his actual father. As the chap's mother said, it had something rather Alan Bennetish about it. Though it's rather sad that the dead man apparently was never able to tell his family the truth about himself.
tree_and_leaf: Purple tinted black and white photo of moody man, caption Church Paramilitant (image from "Ultraviolet") (Church Paramilitant)
Stuart Jeffries reports on the Salvation Army. Interesting article, possibly despite Jefffries (I didn't want to know about his masochistic fantasies about girls in uniform, and although I admit that I didn't know that the Sally Ann is the biggest social care provider in the UK after HM Govt, precisely how clueless do you have to be to be surprised to hear that they do lots of good work among the poor and marginalised? Given that Roy Hattersley, though an atheist, is a vocal admirer of the Booths and has often written about them in the Grauniad, I suspect Jeffries of being disingenous, but it's a rather odd journalistic strategy).

On the other hand, I sympathise with his finding the term 'new expressions of church' (or neo-church!) baffling and off-putting. I hadn't realised that particular cliché was current among Salvationists, and while I'm not averse to thinking critically about what and why the church is doing things, it would be very nice if we could ditch that silly term, not to mention its assumption that the only correct model is evangelical/ charismatic, or involves letting people drink coffee during the service, or moving the church to a shopping centre, or all of the above.

The Anglican equivalent is 'fresh expressions of being church,' and very annoying the report was, too. There is a Facebook group called 'stale expresssions of being church', which I have to admit I joined while feeling more than usually catholic and bolshie.

ETA: possibly I have been overestimating how well the Salvation Army's work is known. For the record: they do lots of excellent work, particularly with the homeless, addicts and the elderly, and it is not dependent on willingness to be proselytised at. Which reminds me that I keep meaning to contribute to their Christmas Appeal....
tree_and_leaf: Photo of spire of Freiburg Minster (14th C broached gothic) silhouetted against sunset. (Schönste Turm)
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
© Abbey of Gethsemani

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