The Holy, Blessed and Glorious Onion

220px-Moscow_05-2012_StBasilCathedralEthical veganism having been declared a philosophical belief (here) provides me with the new religion I was seeking for retirement.

The onion has more than twelve times as much DNA as you or me, so I shall worship the Holy, Blessed and Glorious Onion. I can set up onion temples with onion domes. I can invent liturgies in which clouds of incense mask onion odours. I can make garlands of onions, wear them, and do with onions what SWMBO does with them when she stuffs a chicken.

I can still eat chicken, of course, because in the US it’s considered a vegetable. Some people are vegetables, so I can eat them too. To quote Jonathan Swift, who proposed eating babies to alleviate Dublin’s poverty problem (A Modest Proposal), “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.” I’m sure that well-cared for adults would be just as succulent.

A vegan was recently reported are saying that he didn’t like using buses because of the possibility that insects would be harmed in the making of the journey. Surely, that’s a certainty, not a possibility? Not only do I feel for the insect collection that develops on the windscreen and bumper, but also the poor dears that are squashed under the tires. I am well-known as holding the view that the only proper place for a cat is under the wheel of a heavy truck, but the possibility of an insect being squashed there is much greater than that of a cat being so flattened. Unfortunately.

Vegans need not only to ensure that they ingest enough protein, but also give serious consideration to what happens should they find themselves with an infection. You see, the things I really feel sorry for are our fellow inhabitants of planet earth, bacteria and viruses. The way that we use antibiotics in the genocide of these poor defenceless creatures is deplorable and indefensible.

Home thoughts from back home

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Michael Thomas Bass, MP outside Burton Town Hall

See Home thoughts from abroad

Observations and reflections after a Dublin Yuletide

It’s not wheat that bothers me, it’s yeast. It’s taken a long time for me to realise it.

In Dublin I stuffed my face more or less continuously for five days with soda bread, smoked salmon, and lashings of butter.

Not a bother.

Dublin airport fry-up at 8 am today, with one slice of ordinary toast, was another story. Copious sweating within minutes.

Soda bread – good.

Wheat – not good, probably.

Yeast – evil.

So the ideal place for me to live is, of course, Burton upon Trent—a town full of breweries with a pervasive hoppy and yeasty atmosphere. I think not. It’s God’s way of telling me that Irish soda bread is divine, which I’ve long suspected.

Change of subject

So far, Ireland has benefited from brexit with firms moving there from the UK. Whether that mini-boom continues remains to be seen. I hope it does for the sake of my Irish pensions.

But when my friends in Dublin raised brexit with me, they spoke to me in a “does he take sugar?” kind-of way, as if I, representing all the English, were a sad, self-harming imbecile. I assured them that I voted remain, but nevertheless I felt—feel—ashamed to be English. In truth, I’m probably not: more likely a mixture of Celtic, Viking and Slav.

My offspring are eligible for Irish, therefore EU, citizenship, living there since 1988 and intending to remain. One has, the other I think will. I don’t qualify, though if Scotland does the deed I could do it that way.

GOK what brexit will do for the island of Ireland. Economically I hope that the six counties and the Republic continue to grow together. Politically—who knows? A “border” of some sort between NI and Great Britain? What a bloody mess. Yet another example of the arrogance and ignorance of perfidious Albion.

Jonathan Swift would have had something to say. He is worth re-reading.

My Christmas homily if I were giving one

3306734280_7aeb48a6d5_z-e1573696472514Imagine the birth. Mary pushing, shoving, moaning, yelling.

Imagine the placenta, umbilical cord, blood, fluid.

Imagine the mess.

Imagine, for a moment, that the stable and animals are not fiction.

Imagine the noise, the animal dung, the hay getting places it shouldn’t.

Imagine the mess.

The nativity is messy. The infant is born into mess. My life is messy. Your life is messy. If you say it’s not, I don’t believe you. Being human is messy. But being human is what the nativity is all about.

People try to clean up Jesus. People try to clean up God. But the truth is that God is not present only in things that have to be cleaned up. God does not demand tidiness or purity. God does not demand cosmetics or fig leaves to cover up bits of us that we think will thus be hidden. God does not demand that we pretend.

God is present in your mess and mine — the mess of the world.

We have no need to pretend. As it says at the beginning of St John’s Gospel, every single one of us is a child of the Divine. Just as I am, just as you are.

The message of the incarnation is that you and I can be like Mary — agents of the divine, of God, of Jesus. Let Jesus grow in you as Mary did. As it says in verse 4 of “O little town”, O holy child of Bethlehem, be born in us today. Everything you do to make life a bit better for somebody else is you acting as God’s agent. Everything you do to make life more difficult or unpleasant for somebody else is you acting as Satan’s agent. Choose well.

Enjoy being human. Help others to enjoy being human. Help others to glimpse joy and delight, even if only for a moment. Then, you are letting the holy child be born in you again and again.

The Christmas message is not about making yourself sick on chocolates, or stuffing your face with turkey, or arguing about what to watch on TV, or about reliving your childhood. It’s not about going to church so that you don’t have to go again for another twelve months.

It’s about bringing joy to the world — and helping others do likewise.

Happy Christmas.

Home thoughts from abroad

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Royal Dublin Fusiliers Memorial

Oh, to be in Dublin now that nollaig’s here,

So I went, two days before Christmas.

Sunny and cold – my favourite weather. Some like it hot, others not. SWMBO says I’m a dog.

How can I tell its not England?

Well of course, there’s euro and speed limits in kilometres and elegant Georgian architecture and the green, white, orange trídhathach na hÉireann.

Ah sure, don’t waste my time: you’d expect them. Anything else?

Ermmm. Well now, let’s see.

  • Lots and lots of young people.
  • Lots of well-dressed people.
  • People from all over the world, some visiting, some at home here.
  • Happy looking families, you know, mum, dad, girls, boys.

Hang on a minute, you can’t say that. It contravenes woke gender fluidity stereotype laws.

Feck off.

  • Street corner flower sellers.
  • Cheerful faces.
  • Healthy faces.
  • Clean streets.
  • No really fat people. Haven’t seen a single one.
  • No people on mobility scooters. Haven’t seen a single one.

In Dublin now.

Election and empire

Untitled1To be honest, I haven’t been that bothered about the General Election.

Corbyn is unelectable in any circumstances: whatever the truth of the matter, he was and is perceived as pro-terrorist, anti-Semitic, and financially irresponsible.

I like many Labour policies, but I most strongly object to their murdering fetuses stance, their choose-your-own-gender nonsense and all that flows from it, the clamping down on dissent against illiberal “liberal” orthodoxy, and the Islingtonian sect mentality (the C of E is developing a similar sect mentality—thank God I’ve retired—but the C of E is irrelevant so it doesn’t matter).

I like some Conservative policies. We should. protect our borders. That doesn’t mean we should repel refugees: far from it, we should welcome them. We should expect immigrants to respect our society. We should  be thrifty. We should  take responsibility for ourselves, especially our health, for at present there is an expectation that the NHS will sort our stupid decisions (try to slither through the alcohol-induced vomit on the floor of A&E on a Saturday night). But I wonder when was the last time a Prime Minister was so openly dishonest, untrustworthy and apparently lacking in decency.

As for brexit, I voted remain. With daughter and son in Dublin and pensions in Euro, it made sense personally. There is something about togetherness that is admirable. Yes, the EU is run by seemingly arrogant, self-seeking and unelected suits, but one way to deal with that would have been to change it from the inside. But it is as it is, and Владимир Владимирович will be pleased.

But one thing niggles at me. I have this feeling that a very significant factor in the leave vote was concern about immigration. If so—I’ll be condemned for this—I rather suspect that it’s immigration not from the EU, but from the former Empire. Leaving the EU will do nothing about that.

Response to Retirement 1

c2RR writes: not long after I’d posted Retirement 1, I had this response from a retired priest. I have her permission to post it — it’s worth reading.

I can relate to a lot of what you say. I’ve been out of Church now for about 15 years and it took me an awful long time to get rid of enough rage to be able to recover the sense of the divine chuckle at the silliness of most of it.

When I went forward for ministry, women were not ordained at all, just licensed as Deacons, so I spent much of my time being regarded as the freak, and forcing a pathway to acceptance. Of course now the C of E is so desperate for ministers that women are accepted because they are willing, as a result of cultural pressure, to fill the vacancies. That, of course, will change as new generations of women, my children’s generation, no longer see that women have to be submissive, willing to do anything, to take on a job.

The saddest thing I’ve witnessed is the retreat of the Church from engagement with the world as it is for most people. When I was ‘called’, liberation theologians from South America were essential reading for us. David Jenkins was Bishop of Durham, and constantly in the media for standing on the side of the marginalised. In our own diocese, the then Bishop of Stafford was out on the streets marching against Thatcherism. I suppose this is what you mean by “being Jesus” rather than “talking Jesus” – the latter being something that makes me nauseous.

As you can see, the rage is still present.

As for speaking out—it takes its toll. The state of the Church Rampant (irony alert) now makes me sad. I see rural clergy with six churches and no ministerial help, up against all the things you mention in terms of nonsense from the institution. I would like to get involved but, as I’m constantly reminded by my partner, it is no longer my problem.

Maybe this is just as well, for beyond the confines of the institutional church there is plenty of life, and contributions to “The Kingdom” can come in other ways.

Tears and smiles like us he knew

VladimirIt’s easy for theology to engage with chemistry, physics, cosmology and the like. These topics are concerned with ideas, concepts, and theories, rather than with things you can see or touch or feel.

Like theology, these sciences are products of the human mind. Different people with different backgrounds, different brain wiring arrangements, will have different ways of looking at things. This is one reason why I don’t expect my theology, such as it is, to be the same as anyone else’s, certainly not that of Biblical authors who had an entirely different worldview and cultural milieu.

Engaging with zoology – human biology – is different.

Zoology concerns things we touch and feel and do. We ingest, we digest, we excrete, we screw, we fiddle with our own and each other’s genitals, we break, we wear out, we tear, we are vulnerable. It’s messy.

People of Biblical times are much more at home with this mess than we are. Scripture has blood, guts, bowels, murders, torture, wombs, circumcisions, hearts, body, eyes, ears, incest, and rape. These are not things prissy and prudish Christians talk about over sherry, let alone in church.

Church people seem unwilling to confront mess. Some are wilfully ignorant of biology. Human sexuality is a case in point: the churches’ attitudes to sexuality, masturbation and birth control are stuck in a bygone age that knows nothing of the embryology of the genital system or the role of ova and spermatozoa. The link between sexual intercourse and “love” is by no means clear in Scripture—nor even in the marriage service of the Book of Common Prayer—despite protestations to the contrary.

People blame Paul. Wrongly IMHO. In contrast to “spirit”, he used the Greek sarx that translators rendered as “flesh”. What Paul meant by sarx would more accurately be rendered in modern English as “ego”. That and its ramifications make complete sense to me. But—and this is not Paul’s fault—so began the church’s denial of biological flesh and therefore of human pleasure and delight.

The incarnation—carnes the Latin version of sarx—is messy.

The nativity is messy. Mary screams and shoves, amniotic fluid leaks, fetal membranes are shed, baby howls, placenta emerges, umbilical cord is severed, lots of blood, maybe urine and faeces and copious farts. And if we assume that Luke’s nativity tale has a smidgeon of historicity, there are the animals with all that that implies.

Western Christians have intellectualised their faith to minimise mess. They’ve lost touch with flesh. They’ve covered it up.

By ignoring or denying biology, western Christians ignore or deny the incarnation.

Retirement 1

c2A recent post on the blog Thinking Anglicans (yes, yes, I know, smart remarks about oxymorons—very amusing I’m sure) told the story of two people who’d left the Church of England because of having been insulted and abused by regulars, both saying that they felt better for having left.

Now, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that what puts people off going to church are the people that already do, but nevertheless the observation set me thinking.

In a sense, I’ve left the Church of England too, through retirement. Even though in orders only since 2006, I’ve been associated with it since an act of teenage rebellion in the 1960s.

Teenage rebellion. Did I indulge in weed? No—well, not then. Unbridled sex? No—regrettably. Living in a commune? No—unless a basement flat on the South Circular Road near Clapham Common, where three boys shared a bedroom, counts as a commune (though that was later). The product of two Methodist dynasties abandoning the tribal temple for the Church of England? Yes, that’s teenage rebellion at its most revolutionary.

But back to the plot.

I know it’s early days, but I feel as if I’m working through post-traumatic stress disorder. Do other retired clergy feel similarly? Several have told me that for six months after retirement they slept a lot and couldn’t bring themselves to go to church. Me too.

What follows is not directed at loyal, hardworking and committed church members, but at the institution and its apparatchiks. For what stands out for me, looking back, is the way in which we are expected, even required, to ignore reality in order to pretend that the Titanic is unsinkable, that recovery is just around the corner, and that half-baked initiatives, cooked up by people that long since left the coal face for a comfy desk job, are the answer to our problems.

The truth is that the church has been in decline ever since the invention of the printing press, as a result of which people could read for themselves and didn’t need to be told what to think by priests. The fall since then has been gradual, with most recently, I think, the takeover by the state of welfare functions previously looked after by the church. The church has lost its purpose.

In making these analyses and drawing conclusions, there is of course a balance to be struck between destructive criticism on the one hand, and false hope created by rose-tinted spectacles on the other, but in church pronouncements and publicity these days there is rarely anything other than the latter.

In another life I knew a CEO of the “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” school. The culture of the Church of England reminds me of that. It doesn’t work. New buildings, even restorations and extensions, need to have sound foundations (did not someone say something like this two thousand years ago?), not on denial of reality, or on wilful blindness where elephants in rooms are concerned.

Any decent strategist knows that there must be consideration of “what ifs?”, of contingency planning, of alternative options, of disaster preparation. Instead in the Church of England, we have one kak-handed project after another, none seemingly based on rational detached analysis, and none monitored properly during and afterwards to see if the resources chucked at it have been well spent. Some are even justified on the basis of decisions made under the influence of the “Holy Spirit”. It is easy for us to deceive ourselves with groupthink that the truth is not in us.

I’ve been struck by the insidious nature of clerical institutionalisation, and in some cases its speed. It’s like the most virulent strain of antibiotic-resistant microbe. It infects some people even before hands are laid upon them. They speak clericalese, they think only in terms of the institution and the hierarchy, they never try to understand the point of view of a congregation member or a visitor, and they refuse to imagine what someone who’s never set foot in church – that’s most people these days – might see in the cold light of day.

This is a species of abuse. We allow it. We are complicit in this abuse by failing to ask questions, by failing to analyse events, by failing to make plans based on reality, by failing to be loyal dissenters, whatever the cost.

One of the Thinking Anglicans contributors writes that life outside the church is far healthier, and that it was non-church agencies that were helping him to recover. This is similar to how I feel.

My church at present is the gym, my wife’s the garden and nature. They are healthier than church, physically and spiritually, we meet people who smile more, who don’t require us to fill in forms and justify our existence, who have no expectations, and who are willing to help without conditions. Best of all, there is no attempt to use guilt and shame in order to control.

The church used to be an agent of beauty, a patron of the arts, using them to bring people to the Divine. I need to come to terms with the fact that I’ve allowed myself to be duped by it. Or perhaps that it has changed under my feet more than I ever imagined possible.