False Prophets

This is not mine. It comes from the website of the Association of Catholic Priests http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie. If I knew whom to acknowledge, I would.

It contains this wonderful line: Often the gospel is diluted to accommodate the prejudices and lifestyle of the parishioners.

Oscar_Wilde_portraitAdmirers have suggested that the brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s plays was only surpassed by that of his conversation. He was a superb raconteur whose conversational offerings were heavily laced with irony. He had a particular penchant for parables, often recounting them in the style of the gospel narrative. Here is one of them. “One day, an unknown man walked down the street. It was the first hour of daylight and people had not yet gathered in the market place. The man sat down by the wayside and, raising his eyes, he began to gaze up to heaven. And it came to pass that another man who was passing that way, seeing the stranger, he too stopped and raised his eyes to heaven. At the second and third hour, others came and did likewise. Soon word of this marvellous happening spread throughout the countryside and many people left their abodes and came to see this stranger. At the ninth hour, when the day was far spent, there was a great multitude assembled. The stranger lowered his eyes from heaven and stood up. Turning towards the multitude, he said in a loud voice: “Amen, amen~ I say unto you. How easy it is to start a religion!”

To start a religion, as Wilde observed, may not be that difficult, but to ensure its survival is quite another matter. People are gullible. Futurists predict a growth in religious activity in the 21st century. For them it forms part of the leisure industry which is expected to expand dramatically. Whether one should greet this prediction with joy or apprehension is a matter for debate. A purely statistical increase in church membership is a dubious gain. What counts for Christianity — indeed, what ensures its survival — is not external but internal growth. What is required is not more members of the Catholic Church, but better disciples of Jesus Christ.

Mere membership and full discipleship are worlds apart. Christianity has always suffered from a surfeit of members and a shortage of disciples. Humans are social animals and crave to be associated. In a world grown cold and depersonalised the churches offer a comfortable ambiance of friendship and security. Often the gospel is diluted to accommodate the prejudices and lifestyle of the parishioners. Few preached fearlessly enough, like St Paul, to risk their livings, let alone their lives. The radical Christ is made into a benign bishop and the collection plate registers members’ approval. Too many withered branches remain un-pruned.

St John tries gently to prod us into discipleship. “My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.” You won’t meet Christ in your Sunday liturgy, if you haven’t rubbed shoulders with him in the office, in the factory or in the kitchen. You won’t hear his message from the altar, if you were deaf to his call at your office desk. Jesus put it simply and bluntly: “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and then you will be my disciples.”

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Knowing one’s worth

You would think this would do for the ABC

You would think this would do for the ABC

In today’s Church Times, The Archbishop of Canterbury seeks a Diary Manager, salary between 23K and 30K. My stipend is 23K, so when you add in the cost of housing I suppose the Diary Manager might be costing much the same as a parish priest. It’s good to know one’s worth in the eyes of the Pope of Canterbury.

The Diocese of London is thinking about having a seventh bishop. The Diocese of Leeds (formerly Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield) is appointing a sixth bishop. This diocese has four bishops. And if you’re regular C of E kind of guy or gal, you’ll know that each year the Dioceses ask for more and more of your money. You might think that there are questions to be asked about how the church spends its money. The place to ask them is … well, I can’t answer that. There isn’t one.

Deanery Synod might be the place, though a recent meeting I attended seemed concerned only about writing a mission statement. Deck chairs and titanics spring to mind. Nevertheless, Deanery Synod is the nearest to the decision makers that hoi polloi like you and me get, and it would be good to see meetings become a teeny bit relevant.

Some of my friends thought that the ad was asking for a ‘Dairy’ Manager. Quite a nice job, some said, looking after the Archbishop’s cattle, herding them, feeding and watering them, milking them. Well it might be in rolling Staffordshire perhaps, but in Lambeth I suspect it would be udderly tedious. Boom, boom.

We plod on. There were 12 people at today’s 1230 Mass. No gimmicks, just the work of the church in all its glory and tradition and continuity.

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The Tetons, Wyoming, Truly awesome

The Tetons, Wyoming, Truly awesome

An email today from a church administrator begins “I am hugely excited about the prospect …”

I think I remember being hugely excited when I was younger, probably about visiting Auntie Lily in Bradford. I was quite excited about being able to spend York Minster Evensong in the organ loft with Francis Jackson. That was over half a century ago. Have I been hugely excited since then? I rather doubt it.

I have looked forward to a rail journey to Prague, to playing Schnitger organs, to visits to the US, even to a Carlisle jaunt last week to relive my mis-spent youth on the Cathedral organ. I look forward to our autumn trip to Houston, even to watching a few films on the way.

Hugely excited? No. Is this because I am a grumpy old man? Is it simply a matter of semantics? Is the fault, if fault there be, in me?

A quick random trawl of a few church websites just now yields:

  • fantastic venue, fantastic celebration (same site). Fantastic means unreal – mind you, they use that too.
  • inspiring vision. Who does it inspire? It clearly inspires them, but for them to tell me that it does or will inspire me is presumptuous.
  • fabulous space. Really? Do they really mean the stuff of fables?
  • stunning public space. Rail journeys, hotels, views, décor, cosmetic … all these are now stunning. They knock you out.
  • vibrant church. Ye Gods.
  • amazing. So remarkable as to elicit disbelief? I don’t think that’s what they mean.
  • awesome. My granddaughter with her Texan accent uses this in a way that sounds entirely natural. It is charming. But used by aged hipster ‘worship leaders’ it is an embarrassment,

I am turned off by word-inflation in any context, but the church should know better than to indulge in it. It speaks of insecurity, desperation, panic and, worst of all, insincerity. People are not stupid – they see through it.

There are no words left to express real admiration, awe and excitement.

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The world’s yer lobster

Philosopher extraordinary

Philosopher extraordinary

Pensions soon. The UK state pension is pretty measly. I know I worked in the Republic of Ireland for a bit, but some years back I bought extra, so I get the full state pension without any bells or whistles. £113 a week wouldn’t keep much going if that was all. How do people manage on it?

Then there’s the pension from 14 years in UK universities. That’s a bit better. On top of that comes a pension from 15 years at the College of Surgeons in Dublin. Euro – so that’s affected by exchange rates, Euroland politics, and different tax regimes. What a joy. Anyhoo, all that might add up to something reasonable until western capitalism collapses. Being so cheerful keeps me going.

At some time in the future I start to get a miniscule pension from three years in the Church of Ireland (euro again, maybe enough for the occasional bottle of gin), and some sort of Irish State Pension. Euro again. but worth having, for it’s more generous than the UK state pension. Finally, if I don’t die first, there’s a tiny pension from the C of E. Mind you, I’ve no intention of giving up here for a while yet. We like Burton and this incumbency so far is congenial. There’s a danger that some of my pronouncements may fall foul of church thought police, but I’m not too bothered.

I’ve not been a good husband of my financial resources. I find it so much easier to spend than to earn. It’s a disease I have. I can always sell my body, or teach. I could write a real humdinger of novel about Protestant shenanigans in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains, fictional of course. So the world’s my lobster as Brian Potter might have said.

First we need somewhere to live. But where?

A son, daughter and son-in-law in Dublin, pensions in euro – makes sense, doesn’t it? But Dublin is expensive. We’ve tried Ireland twice. Didn’t someone say something profound about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result next time … ?

A son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in Texas. A big part of me would be off to the US like a shot, and not only for family. I love the feeling of unconstrained-ness, wide spaces, open-ness, expansiveness (Hebrew salvation), opportunities for everyone no matter what age. It’s a pity that a car is a total must-have, but I could live with that. Oh, think of the places to visit!

The cost of health insurance is a bit of a downer though, especially with SWMBO having type 2 diabetes (as yet I am, though deaf, blind and fat, with a dodgy back the result of a weightlifting incident some years ago, mercifully free of disease), so the NHS is something of a twitch upon the thread.

The only place where I feel I know every inch of land is the area bounded by Tebay, Mallerstang, Pennines, Scottish border and river Caldew. That would be a possibility except that property prices are quite high (the M6 corridor). We like Norfolk, but so does everyone else. We’d like to be by the sea, but so would everyone else. Round here is good and we like it.

What I’d really like is a cottage right next to a busy mainline railway. Oxenholme say, or Shallowford near Stafford to choose two places at random. Sitting in the garden surrounded by dogs I could say ‘there goes the 0830 from Euston; a bit late today’ or whatever.

Wherever it is, it needs to be handy for trains to Birmingham or Manchester airports. Answers on a postcard please, no prizes.

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A right judgement in all things

_68043404_005783605-1A General Election approaches. Some people expect the Vicar to make deep and meaningful recommendations and warnings about who to vote for, or not to vote for. The trouble is, I can’t.

I can’t recommend voting for any one person or any one party in particular. This is not because I’m unwilling to say what I think—I’m not. It’s not because the first-past-the-post system makes it pretty pointless voting in constituencies with large majorities, though that is the case.

It’s because the big 3 are all pretty woeful. Labour big nobs are Islington windbags with attitude, obsessed with political correctness. Tories are all Cotswolds and Chelsea tractors, and Liberals simply wishy-washy. I have some sympathy with English people feeling at a disadvantage compared to the Welsh and the Scottish, but the solutions on offer for that are, to say the least, unappealing.

I look for a bit of decency and common sense. I’d like to think there was some old-Labour somewhere. I’d like to see someone confront corruption. I’d like to see an end to the culture of giving jobs to school chums, friends and relations (the Church of England is pretty good at that too). I’d love to see an end to rampant corporate managerialism that stifles us all, especially schools and hospitals, preventing teachers, doctors and nurses from doing what they thought they would be doing when they joined those professions. I’d love to see a welfare system that helps the hard-pressed without making silly hoops for them to jump through, and that no longer pays a few to be irresponsible.

You might be tempted to vote for a party you don’t really agree with in order to give the same-old-same-old a bloody nose. You might be tempted to spoil your ballot paper. You might be tempted to vote for her or him because they have a nice smile, or they sent you a Christmas card, or did some small service that is no more than their duty, and for which they are paid.

All I can suggest is that you vote for those you think will best serve the common good. This might not be in your self-interest, but it might just lead to a healthier society and a healthier world community. Of course, with the best will in the world, you might make a decision that turns out to have been ill-judged. But nobody chooses wisely all the time.

Vote for the good of all, on balance. Not the good of the bankers, of the landowners, of those with their snouts already in the trough, or for this group or that, but think about sons and daughters trying to get a job, find a home, start a family and make a contribution to society.

Vote for the common good.

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The difference a day makes

Fruits of imagination

Imagination yields beauty

Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth

Yesterday everything was gray and dull. There was no point living. Why struggle when death comes as the end and a great future has been behind me ever since I passed the 11-plus?

Perhaps it is indeed, as Acorn Antiques has it, God’s way of telling me to watch Gardener’s World.

But today, after a good few zeds, what a turnaround! Still the infection, still the breathing difficulty, still the feeling that all my bones are out of joint. But gone the continuous snot, the sore upper lip, the throbbing sinuses, the aching teeth. No longer is my strength dried up like a potsherd; no longer doth my tongue cleave to my gums; no longer am I a worm, and no man; no longer is it that many dogs are come about me. Only Og, as it happens, beside me on the sofa, busy with an avian osteological specimen.

The Kraken waketh. The brain sizzleth. The eyes sparkleth. I’m feeling Rosie all over.

Is this what happens after celebrating the Holy Mysteries twice? Is it the combined effects of good sing, good liturgy and clouds of the billowing Basilica and Pontifical mixed?

All of the above.

Spring is sprung, de grass is riz, I wonder where dem boidies is? Dem boids is on de wing. Ain’t dat absoid? De wing is on de boid.

My Easter message is: imagination.

In his novel ‘The Power and the Glory’, Graham Greene has one of his characters say ‘hate was just a failure of imagination’. He is right, Now, turn that the other way up. Love is the blossoming of the imagination. Love is resurrection. Love is renewal. Imagination comes even after bacterial and viral toxins have done their worst.

Let imagination explode. Without it, we would still be scrabbling about in caves.

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Fireworks and Og don’t mix

OgFireworks at the Town Hall last night—the Vicarage is a stone’s throw away. The dog really does not like the bangs, squeaks and whooshes. I was in bed with a virus, so to speak, and he tried to get into my skin, trembling and panting in terror.

Last night was a Sikh festival, but it’s much the same at New Year, Christmas, Eid, Divali, and for about a week over Halloween/Guy Fawkes.

The poor creature is a rescue dog. Since he came to us about three years ago, he’s better than he was, but he’s still terrified of brushes, men in hoodies, the sounds of a football match, and traffic, especially lorries. And he will not come through a doorway if you are standing by it.

We’ve all got our fears. Some of them are rational, some not. Some of the irrational ones hark back to our evolution: we recoil from some creatures because inherited knowledge deep inside recognizes that they might be, or once have been, harmful. I dislike spiders and always call for SWMBO to deal with them. Obviously I am more sensitive to inherited wisdom than she is.

The things that terrify Og the Dog are more likely to be learnt than inherited. It does not speak well of the humans that he met during his first two years.

Back to fireworks. My children will tell you with glee of their foolish and incompetent father who, when they were in single figures and we lived in Nottingham, dropped a match into the box of fireworks. The results were dangerously spectacular.

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