Easter ramble

aasdsa.jpgI reckon that the theory of atonement that appeals to someone is dependent upon upbringing and personality. If you’ve been brought up feeling the need of rules and regulations and a strong father, you might have one view on how the atonement could work. If you’ve been brought up rigidly and with frequent beatings, then you’d have quite a different view.

Church history matters too: substitutionary atonement is a recent western thing—it doesn’t much feature in the Orthodox churches. And I can’t help but feel that those Orthodox traditions and beliefs are more likely to be in tune with the early church, partly because of locality and culture, and partly because they’ve had few if any difficulties of translating from ancient Greek.

How do I see things on 31 March 2018 (I’m not dating this for Easter Day lest my two readers think it’s an April fool).

I see JC as the example for us all – the type. We are all resurrected – that is, free to ascend – when as a result of a Gethsemane moment we let go of selfishness and ego. This is not just a once-in-a-lifetime event. We have Gethsemane moments many times a day as we are confronted by the paradoxes of our humanity and the difficulties of life on the planet. It is not easy being human.

For me, Easter resurrection has nothing to do with life after death. That was something introduced by the church as a means of controlling hoi polloi–behave now and you’ll get a club-class seat in the hereafter. Absolute pish. Death in the Passion story is about meanness of living, not about absence of heartbeat.

I’m sure that the resurrection is the thing that most makes modern people laugh at us—how can we believe such sky-pixie tripe? And it’s very difficult to get across to schoolchildren, especially so soon after Christmas. The symbolic message of resurrection–ascension is much more important than any literal interpretation, and it is incontrovertible.

I suppose there’ll be letters to the bishop from “disgusted of Burton”. Good luck with that.

Happy Easter.

Read my Easter message here.

Blessed George

George_HerbertAdapted from the Church Magazine for this month

Lent is so early this year I haven’t had time to do anything much for a Lent course. I’m not impressed by the mediocre churnings of what passes for the minds of contemporary bishops and theologians, so given that the Church of England kalendar celebrates him on 27 February. I’m introducing my little darlings to George Herbert, a man at the top of my list for canonisation.

He was born in 1593 to a wealthy family in Montgomery. After Westminster School where he was tutored briefly by Lancelot Andrewes, another truly great mind, he went to Trinity Cambridge, became University Orator, and attracted the favours of King James I/VI. Then in his 30s he gave up this glittering life and was ordained priest, serving near Salisbury. He was feted for his care for parishioners and for providing food and clothing for the needy. (Oh to be a priest serving only one church and a miniscule population.) He survived three years of this, dying of tuberculosis in 1633. Do you suppose TB resulted from over-zealous ministry to the sick?

He left us his reflections on pastoral ministry A Priest to the Temple or The Country Parson, still regarded by some as a kind of works manual, though hardly relevant to today’s multiparish clergy, and a collection of poems The Temple. It is thanks to John and Charles Wesley that some have made it into our hymn books: Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing; Teach me, my God and King; King of glory, King of peace; The God of love my shepherd is.

Richard Baxter (theologian, Puritan, hymn writer) said, “Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth a God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books”. Through his fellow poet Henry Vaughan, Herbert influenced William Wordsworth. His poetry has been set to music most famously by Vaughan Williams, and by others including Berkeley, Britten, Weir, and Walton.

There is something about Herbert that intrigues, fascinates, enthrals, and speaks to me heart-to-heart. His poetry is full of humanity, rantings, depression, perplexity, joy, ecstasy, Biblical allusions, theological concepts, and references to science and culture of the day. I’m not really much into poetry, so it’s presumptuous of me to make any comment, but nevertheless, I can’t resist a few.

In Teach me, my God and King he writes of the famous stone that turneth all to gold. The idea of being able to turn base metal into gold has long been a part of intellectual inquiry. In mystical terms it’s about something that can turn base humanity into the divine: an elixir that cures all ills—indeed this poem is called The Elixir. And Lewis Carroll must have taken his inspiration for passing through the looking glass from this poem.

In Aaron Herbert compares unfavourably his unworthy thoughts as he vests for Divine Worship with the vestments worn by the high priests in the Jerusalem Temple: rich, colourful fabrics with bells attached at the hem.

The God of Love my shepherd is: this is quite the best metrical version of Psalm 23. Why did H W Baker think he could improve on it? Maybe he didn’t know it, though I find that difficult to believe.

The Pulley: am I alone in hearing resonances of Pandora’s box?

Redemption: why does this put me in mind of Ursula Le Guin’s shocking The ones who walk away from Omelas?

Love bade me welcome. Look at the third line from the end: My dear, then I will serve. Who is speaking? Is it Love who speaks, ready to serve the meal? Or is it, as I increasingly think, “me” speaking, acknowledging that unworthy though I may be, I’m not so stubbornly proud as to refuse the meal set before me by the prodigally generous father? If so, ‘serve’ is used as we might say ‘OK, I’m not very good but I’m good enough: I’ll do”.

Perhaps his most striking poem is The Collar. This can’t be a reference to the clerical collar, for that wasn’t worn by clergy until the nineteenth century. It’s about a collar used to restrain an animal. The very human Herbert, like all clergy, chafes time and again at the restrictions that come with being a clerk in holy orders: things you can’t do, things you’d like to say but just can’t, things you don’t want to do but must, ways you have to bite your tongue, ways you must put the needs of others before your own, ways you have to bottle up your emotions for the sake of doing the job well (I still find it dreadful to do funerals of people with parents living). In this 36-line poem Herbert rants and raves at God until four lines from the end, when he’s brought up sharp:

But as I rav’d, and grew more fierce and wild / At every word, / Me thought I heard one calling, Child: / And I reply’d, My Lord

A lump to my throat every time.

Venerating flesh

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_007

Rembrandt got it wrong

The Vatican has forbidden the sale of would-be saints’ body parts as relics. That momentous news set off a train of thought.

As attitudes to dead bodies go, I guess mine is—let’s be neutral here—unusual. Since 1976 I’ve been handling embalmed bodies, cutting them up, chopping off bits and pieces, sawing heads in half, removing brains, and so on and so forth.

Embalmed bodies don’t really look like human flesh, and they certainly don’t feel like it. Anatomy departments need embalming fluid that preserves for years—three is the normal legal limit—while funeral directors use a different chemical mix that preserves for only a few weeks, but gives a better cosmetic result.

When I was in anatomy we went to considerable trouble to show our appreciation to the families of those who left us their remains. We kept them informed, organised the funeral, and held memorial services to which relatives were invited. In Dublin most students were non-Christian, always keen to be involved. They and I were immensely grateful to the relatives.

In the 1990s there was controversy about body parts removed for future study and retained in hospital labs. After this came to light, funerals were held for the specimens—a liver, a heart, a lung or whatever—despite obsequies having already taken place for the people from whom the specimens had been removed. I pondered how big a body part had to be in order to necessitate a ceremony months or years later. If a separate funeral was required for a liver, say, then what about a sebaceous cyst that had been removed? Should a malignant tumour have a separate funeral? Is it necessary to have a funeral for my nail clippings? What about all the flakes of skin that fall off every day? Pus from an abscess?

Is it possible that compensation culture was rearing its head? Surely not. Why did clergy condone this nonsense? It’s not as if they get the fees—at least not in the C of E they don’t.

In any case these events led to a revision of regulations. Up to that time anatomical donations were governed by the 1832 Anatomy Act, brought in to deal with the Edinburgh body snatchers, so it was overdue.

Coincidentally, as the controversy was kicking off in Ireland and the UK, retained body parts of Thérèse of Lisieux were on a world tour, soon to land briefly in Dublin. I wondered how many of those who flocked to pay them homage were at the same time agitating for separate funerals and/or compensation for a relative’s retained organs. I wondered if they had ever given thought to what Thérèse’s parents would have wanted.

Let me be clear: I’m not knocking the veneration of body parts of saints. If such devotions help you in your passage through life, good for you. It occurs to me that I do it in a different way: I venerate dead people’s intellects and personalities by reading what they wrote.

When I last saw my father in the flesh in his coffin in 1986, the undertaker said to me that it was just a body, it wasn’t really him any more. A cadaver is just dead meat. When I last saw my elder son in the flesh in 2015, a certain finality hit me when I noted the circumferential skull incision through which his brain had been removed for post mortem examination. I don’t know if it was retained. They would have been welcome to take what they liked.

I write this on Christmas Eve. The incarnation is all about flesh. Look after it. Life is short.

Advent light

247f11754cd5847ddbc149fb2acdc2beCarol Service homily for Burton and Bretby Rotary Clubs

Most people don’t expect a sermon at a carol service. But since a good many of you here today find yourselves in church only once or twice a year, I shan’t resist the urge to poke you.

I hear it said that English society is losing the plot, that it’s obsessed with individualism. People think their rights as individuals trump—pardon the verb—their duties as members of society. I hear it said that the church has contributed by having failed to proclaim its message clearly, that it has given in to the zeitgeist in colluding with the forces of secularism.

If you think this and deplore the way in which the Church has retreated from society to become an inward-looking sect, then I say this to you: stop moaning and start going to church. Put your money where your mouth is and change the church from the inside.

“Ah but”, I hear you say (there’s always an ah but). You say “church is only for old women and children”. “Church these days is sentimental claptrap of flowers and pet services and vicars obsessed with chocolate and coffee”. “Church is about middle class complacency” you say. “Church patronizes me with doggerel songs, playschool prayers and infantile sermons”. “Church doesn’t connect with the joys and sorrows of ordinary people” (I suppose members of Rotary Clubs can be regarded as ordinary people for the purposes of this homily.)

Certainly, when I look at celebrity vicars today, I can understand why people think like that.

So let me correct you about Christianity.

It’s not about chocolate. It’s not about vomit-inducing Jesus-is-my-best-friend talks. It’s not about worshipping texts written by people who thought the earth was flat. It’s not about believing fairy stories. It’s not about asking a sky pixie to sort out your problems because you’re too lazy to take responsibility for yourself.

I think Christianity is really quite simple:

  • Every one of us has the divine light within, a bit of the Divine, like a pilot light on a gas stove. The inner Christ.
  • All we need to do is let that inner pilot light grow to fill us from the inside. That’s what Christmas is about. As Mary let the infant grow in her belly, so can we let him grow in ours, for we are all Mary. We don’t need to do anything—the Christ-child within is already there; we just need to let it happen—or rather, we just stop resisting. As we have already sung: O holy child of Bethlehem, be born in us today.
  • As the Christ-flame grows within us it brings to light our egotistical desires and all the vain things that charm us most, then consumes them, often very painfully. That’s the crucifixion.
  • With all the inner rubbish now burnt up, we are resurrected; we ascend to the heights like a hot air balloon now unburdened by ballast. Our inner flame lights the way for others and consumes their burdens. Light as illumination, light as wisdom, light as less heavy.
  • And this with Jesus as the model, the example, divine humanity, the Word.

Christianity is about putting other people on the same pedestal that you’re on yourself. Christianity is about recognizing that we’re all in this together—every living creature, not just humans. Christianity is about giving away your self, because only then will you find yourself. And at this time of year it’s about remembering the importance of being child-like. Not child-ish: selfish, egotistical, me-me-me, but child-like: trusting, exploring, fun-loving, risk-taking.

I leave you with this question: would the child you once were be proud of the adult you have become? If not, use this Christmas, this festival of childlikeness, to do something about it.

A very happy Advent and Christmas to you all.

Christus Rex

prodigal_son33

The welcome

Homily for the Feast of Christ the King 2017 

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Latin it begins, Excita, quaesumus, Domine … This, sad to say, is not about Christmas puddings, but is about asking to be excited.

The Christian life is not easy. It’s not about blindly following a pre-established rulebook or imposing rules on others. Jesus did not write an arid rulebook for his followers. Jesus did not think that belief in him could be attained through imposition. He did not come to establish a new religion. In fact more and more I think he came to abolish religion—to set us free from rules for their own sake, by showing us how to renounce all the vain things that charm us most. He came to show us wisdom that has no need of the rules of jobsworths, no need of prosperity and security for ourselves, no need of always having to be right. Then we are free to live selflessly, ego-free, for others.

A Vicar comes in contact with all sorts and conditions. People who are recovering from illness, people who have been in and out of hospital, people who are out of work, homeless, hungry, at their wits’ end, people who’ve endured more hardship in life that I would wish to endure. I witnessed dignified behaviour from people at their most exposed, most vulnerable, weakest. Regal, king-like.

Is this the kingship of Christ the King? If so, it involves accepting stuff that happens. Being passive: the passion. It involves rising above desolation in the hope of a fresh start. Resurrection and ascension. It’s not comfortable: we have to cope with the darkness of the deeps before we can rise to the sunlight. But the gospel readings of the last few weeks have not been comfortable. All of them have spoken of judgment, of exclusion, of condemnation for those who are late, or lazy, or easily satisfied, or who—as today—are hard-hearted.

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Conquering kings their titles take from the foes they captive make: Jesus, by a nobler deed, from the thousands he hath freed.

Who do you remember from your past? Do you remember with gratitude those who punished you, who tried to impress you, who imposed on you? Do you remember with gratitude those who showed you, taught you, encouraged you, goaded you to action perhaps by words that rankled at the time, and then left you to get on with things?

Christ the King never uses power to his own advantage. He shows, teaches, encourages and then lets us get on with it. He is a team captain who works with the team rather than imposes on them; a captain who uses power for the benefit of others rather than for his own self-interest. He is the sort of king who leads us, pushes us, to places we fear to go. He stirs us, excites us, to action. He provokes us to realize that we don’t need to be fearful and ashamed of the past, but that we can move on with the past behind us to great new things. He doesn’t burden us with expectations and rules and shoulds and oughts. He takes them away from us and carries them himself. He is the sort of King who makes our loads lighter, not heavier. Christ the King lifts us from the rut and excites us to look to the future.

Conquering kings their titles take from the foes they captive make: Jesus, by a nobler deed, from the thousands he hath freed.

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Kings have kingdoms.

When Christ the King was on trial for his life, he said his kingdom was not of this world. This is NOT about the afterlife. He was telling Pilate that his kingdom was an inner kingdom—a kingdom of outlook, of attitude, of motive—that powers Godly action here and now. It’s a recognition that the trappings of the material world are part of the layers we surround ourselves with in order to make ourselves look big. Vanity. Illusion. Look at Robert Mugabe and his millions, his palaces, his jets, all the people he has conquered and maimed and killed and humiliated.

We make the ideal kingdom—the Kingdom of heaven—here NOW. Life before death, not life after death. It’s about you and me making a world where we show, we teach, we encourage. A world where we don’t impose. A world where we don’t sit back criticizing others and looking down our noses at them. It’s not a kingdom where we stifle and suffocate and kill, but a kingdom where we excite and inspire others to action.

The Kingdom includes children, who were nobodies in that world—children who take risks, who listen, who experiment, who play, who are uncynical. The Kingdom excludes the pompous jobsworths. The Kingdom stands in judgment of the elites who create and shape things so that they can grow richer and fatter at the expense of the rest of us. Mugabe again.

It’s a kingdom where we seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak. Where those who had trampled the weak are brought down. A kingdom where people are brought in, and community is restored. Where the tendency to entropy is reversed, where chaos is transformed into cosmos as in Genesis 1. Continuing creation.

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We live messy lives. The mess of holiness. God bless this mess. We honour the King

  • when we forgive others and let go of resentments.
  • when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the outcast, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner—thus helping to free them from their pasts.
  • when we realise that the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, are all parts of us that we have lost contact with—parts of ourselves that are strangers to us. And as we forgive others, we begin to forgive ourselves. This is truly the key to liberation from the past. Harden not your hearts ….
  • when we grow up, and take responsibility for ourselves.

We do all this to refresh and re-empower ourselves in order to do what we say we will do at the end of Mass—that we go in peace to love and serve the Lord, to bring about his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Advent 2017

Orante_Panagia

Great Panagia of Yaroslavl

St Paul’s Magazine, December 2017

Mary’s uterus: wider than the heavens

From the Liturgy of Basil: he made your womb a throne and caused it to become wider than the heavens.

Margaret Barker’s first seminar drew almost 40 people. I was worried that we might not get double figures. The subject matter, the virgin shall conceive, touched upon early Hebrew images of God, one of which is the veiled (as in the veil in the Temple Holy of Holies), eternal queen mother of god. Accordingly, it is she who conceived, not a young girl from the sticks. These images have come into Christian traditions as variously Mary, spirit, and wisdom.

We heard how, before the book of Deuteronomy was written, a reformation expunged the feminine from the scene. Above all, I saw afresh that every detail in Luke’s story of the nativity had meaning for those who knew the traditions, swaddling clothes, for example, signifying the garment in which the King is wrapped at anointing (look on YouTube at videos of the 1953 coronation and you will see many of the same traditions).

The more you know, the more interesting it becomes and the more you want to know. It doesn’t matter that the stories might be fiction. If they are, they are intended to convey the importance of someone impressive and remarkable, whose message is life-changing.

I sometimes hear people say “I don’t think …” or “I don’t believe …” this that or the other. What I want to hear are the opinions of people who are well informed by research and study, not those who rely simply on prejudice or Sunday school pap. Nobody can say that Margaret is not well informed, so I’m intrigued by her views, and can let them kick about in my head. When it comes to ideas, I’m not an either/or person, more of a both/and. I love ideas.

None of this changes the doctrine of the incarnation. It enriches it. As the infant grows in the mother, her uterus is the entire cosmos nurturing this new way of looking at the world—the infant. This is an image in Wesley’s hymns and Orthodox theology. As we sing every Christmas, the infant can, must, should, “be born in us today” and every day. Every single one of us is, or can be, Mary—a god bearer. (Gents, if you’re worried that you don’t have a uterus, fret not. You do. It’s a little recess in the prostate gland called the prostatic utricle, a remnant of the thing that becomes the uterus in females. Never let it be said that you don’t learn a bit of mammalian embryology).

This is the Christmas story. It has nothing to do with making yourself sick on Quality Street and war films, or stuffing your face with dry turkey and fart-making sprouts, or Morecambe and Wise (never liked them). By all means celebrate the pagan festival and the end of the year and the winter solstice and spring not too far away; enjoy the hangovers and family rows and fallings out and being bored with each other, but remember the real meaning.

Consequences

A recent Church Times article reports good news about church choirs. In places where they are nurtured, congregations grow and priests of the future are produced. Nurturing of course means spending money—you have to spend in order to earn dividends. A new organist at Modwen’s has reinvigorated music there. Summer concerts raised over £1500 for local charities, and drew in about 50 people every week, many of whom had not been before. It shows what can be done in just a matter of months when one puts one’s mind to something.

There seems to be no such enthusiasm at St Paul’s. This is a shame. I hear it said that church musicians should not be paid. Architects, plumbers, roofers, electricians, solicitors can be paid, but not musicians, despite the need for tuition, hours of practice, hard work. The organists we have do splendidly, but they’re not going to be around for ever. Actions, or in this case inactions, have consequences. Draw your own conclusions.

We’re at that time of year when people come to St Paul’s to get out of the warmth. I gather that recently one lady stayed for all of four minutes, reducing the congregation by one twentieth when she left. That was the Sunday I was preaching at Riverside Church on the High Street. Comfortable chairs and comfortable temperature are obviously a turn-off, for there were about 80 people there. Circumstances have consequences. Draw your own conclusions.

As it happens, I quite like the cold, but then I’m a man. Or a dog. Bedrooms should always be cold. It keeps down the germs multiplying. Maybe people come to St Paul’s to sleep—my eyesight is such that I can’t be sure from the pulpit. If I saw a student asleep in a lecture, I would pause, point him out (usually him), wait until he awoke, then ask if I could get him anything like a pillow, and tease him. Didn’t happen often.

Future

Anyhow, back to the plot. We have a problem with the huge building that is St Paul’s. It’s difficult to know what to do about it. All ideas will be considered. But remember that what worked when you were young, pterodactyls flapping about the sky, is not necessarily appropriate now. So think. Pray if you like (actually, praying is thinking), and try to imagine a future even though you won’t be around to enjoy it.

I’m 70 on 6 June 2020 and am obliged to say bye bye if I haven’t gone before. Will I be replaced? That’s doubtful given that my three churches together don’t support the cost of a fulltime cleric—you are subsidised. That may well be appropriate, for I can’t see that this parish will ever be self-sufficient, but the diocese/deanery may take a different view. What sort of clerical service do you want? What sort does this part of town need? Do you care? Maybe all that matters is having a priest for Sunday mass.

The YMCA approached us about hosting a night shelter for Burton homeless, December 2017 to March 2018. The PCC agreed. Of course, there are concerns and I share them. But YMCA are professionals and it’s not in their interest to get it wrong. And the truth is that if we never took risks we’d still be scrabbling round in caves. It’s absolutely right that as well as learning and beauty and worship we should be concerned with social action. It’s a gospel imperative. It might help carve out a role for this church in this part of town.

Finally

Gregg’s made headlines recently with an image of a manger with a sausage roll instead of the infant. It offended some Christians for obvious reasons, and Jews and Muslims because at least in theory a sausage has pig in it. But it has to be said that “Lord Jesus” backwards is susejd rol. So maybe it was a satanic plot. Anyway, it just shows how crass Gregg’s advertising team is, and confirms that all advertising is satanic.

Happy Christmas or nativity or solstice or sausage roll or end of year or whatever. In obstetric terms (back to the uterus), happy celebrations of the delivery of the infant King from the uterus of the veiled queen mother of God. And remember above all else that Christ is born in you today and every day. Raise a glass or six to that.

In Flanders fields

images

Poppy seeds – natural narcotics

A Vicar is in bother for reportedly banning Onward Christian Soldiers on Remembrance Sunday (he didn’t actually – see here – but why let facts confuse the issue?). Other ministerial bêtes noires include Jerusalem (And did those feet, not the other one), I vow to thee my country, and O valiant hearts.

I won’t ban any of them. I like Onward Christian soldiers. It’s a great tune, and the words and images that so offend the PC brigade don’t offend me. We need to be more assertive—how can others have respect for people if they don’t stand up for what they believe? How can we have meaningful theological dialogue if all we believe in is Jesus is my sentimental lover, chocolate, pet services and holding stones?

I vow to thee is my least favourite of this lot. The words are daft. All very stiff upper lip and Bertie Wooster but meaningless piffle. The tune is not one of Holst’s jewels and its span of over an octave makes it difficult to sing. But if people want it they can have it. Maybe one of the reasons I dislike it is the image it conjures up in my mind’s eye of the horsey set in their Barbours and jodhpurs and Alice bands and jolly hockey sticks. And that’s just the blokes.

And did those feet is wonderful sing. The music is real quality, as you’d expect from Parry. But what about Blake’s words? How to describe them? For starters, they don’t mean what most people think they mean. The dark satanic mills have nothing to do with the mill towns of the north—the poem predates them. They almost certainly refer to the institutions that attempt to brainwash people into being Orwellian slaves of the establishment: anything that keeps the rich man in his castle and the poor man tugging his forelock by the gate. In other words, the Church of England and the degree mills of Oxford and Cambridge. Despite being employed by one and a graduate of the tech college on the edge of the Fens, I’m inclined to think Blake was on to something. Or perhaps on something.

And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green? No they didn’t. And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen? No he wasn’t. And did the Countenance Divine, shine forth upon our clouded hills? No it didn’t. And was Jerusalem builded here, among these dark Satanic Mills? Absolutely not, so gird up your loins, no point waiting for the powers that be to do it; let’s do it ourselves—and the second verse tells us how.

It’s deeply radical and breathtakingly subversive. We need it at least as much now as they did then. Revolution, Comrades. Next time you see Toby and Tristram and Tasmin and Jocasta with their scrubbed faces and telephone number bonuses belting out Jerusalem, have a good laugh. (In Dublin I suppose it would be Ultan, Fiachna, Fionnula, and Derbhla, but they wouldn’t be belting out that hymn and Remembrance Sunday has an altogether different feel.)*

As for O valiant hearts, it’s incredibly moving. There’s no other hymn that for me expresses the stupidity of war in general and WWI in particular: the stubborn pride of military leaders, their callous duping of recruits, the pointless deaths. Never mind the questionable theology (if I banned hymns for that reason there’d be precious few left). Why does this affect me so? Maybe it’s the time Arkwright’s poem was written, 1919. Maybe it’s Harris’s music, Edwardianism dripping from every note. If you’ve read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth you might have seen in the text a piece of music by Vera’s brother Edward written I suppose about 1913 with a similar yearning feel.

I’ve always had O valiant hearts at my Remembrance Day services, and always will. It makes me angry and tearful in equal measure, so I have it as the offertory hymn when I go the altar to receive the gifts—which takes my mind off things. This time of year is difficult enough for Vicars with All Souls and Remembrance, and I really don’t need a blow upon a bruise to remind me of the deaths of young people who had their lives in front of them.

The only hymns I really can’t bear are: (1) There is a green hill – terrible theology; (2) All things B and B – words fail me; (3) the middle two verses of Once in royal – Christian children should never be mild and seldom obedient. I’m more inclined to ban tunes than words. But when our generation is dead and gone, nobody will know hymns at all. They are simply not sung any more at schools, other than some posh ones. Funerals and weddings often opt for canned music. They just want a CD of favourite tunes. I’ve stopped caring I’m afraid.

* thanks to my friend Eric for the names. He’s good at that sort of thing.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, May 1915