This is the first set of posts offering some retelling of liturgical texts. It’s time we recovered a richer vocabulary for God- hidden in plain sight in scripture and avoid male only nomenclature. On the other hand I suspect we need to acknowledge where we’ve come from, so, currently, I’m not convinced for the case for eradicating male language altogether. That may change!
I have a love of the Te Deum (having sung it in the Church choir since I was 9 or 10!) so I thought I’d start with that.
GOD you are – and we proclaim you;
Most High who fills our praise;
all creation worships you
Mothering Father of the ages of ages.
The hosts of heaven tell your praise.
cherubim and seraphim,
beyond all time and space,
sing: Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Apostles, in glorious company, praise you.
Prophets, in noble fellowship, praise you.
Martyrs, a white-robed host, praise you.
In every place the holy Church acclaims you Trinity of Love:
Creator God – unbounded in glory,
Incarnate Word – worthy of all worship,
Holy Spirit – Paraclete and guide.
Christ you are the glorious King
Eternal Son the Father.
Taking our flesh you set us free:
gladly choosing the Virgin’s womb
overcoming the sting of death;
opening the kingdom to the childlike;
glorious at the right hand of the Father.
Your mercy triumphs over judgement.
Act, Adonai, and help your people
bought with the price of your own blood;
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.
March has come in like a lion. It remains to be seen if she will leave like a lamb.
Life is a continual battle between the lion and the lamb – not the lion and unicorn of 18th century political satire and children’s songs. In each of us there is a tussle, not between our good and bad consciences, but between our desire to dominate and and win. That is the meaning of the lion and the lamb. It is about our willingness to have humility. Our willingness to be carried.
The lion in us is the demon we must cast out. But, as Jesus says, this kind only comes out by prayer.
The great tragedy of the English Church is that it has stopped growing in prayer. Despite the initiatives and the sermons and exhortations, there is no growth in prayer. Because growth in prayer ALWAYS moves from words to silence, from action to stillness. ALWAYS. Only when this is seriously understood can our engagement with communities and society be anything more than what anyone else does – with ‘Jesus’ tacked on. What is taught is strength for action, asking for results, asking God to provide stuff. Our prayer is just internalised action. When action should be externalised prayer.
Many atheists do fantastic work in communities and society just because of their natural love of neighbour. Simply joining in with them is an obvious Christian response… but our engagement with others is not morally superior to anyone else’s.
In short, social engagement is not an act if witness. It is simply doing no more than our duty… it has no more value than anyone else’s act of love and compassion.
Working with a Foodbank or being Street Pastors or whatever is no more valuable because we are Christians than those activities done by an ‘out and out’ atheist. God’s love is mediated through both.
How could it be otherwise? Jesus tells us that it is not our love for the world, but our love for each other, that marks us as Christians. (John 13.35) And we fail before we start on that score!
So what really makes such love possible?
It is about letting the lion go… and letting the lamb emerge. The lion wants to be in charge, to dominate, be right, to win each confrontation. The lamb does not. The lion wants to roar and pounce. The lamb has a poor bleat and a flick of the tail, and the skip of joy.
It is interesting to note that the earliest depictions of Jesus were more likely to be.. no not crucified… but as the Good Shepherd…
A Christian or a Church that is unwilling to be carried has missed an important part, perhaps the most vital part, of being living the Christian life.
Yet the Church of England’s narrative we have heard over the past few years has been about working hard, getting better, witnessing more, growth and “turning things around”. The language of lions. It is the language of the ego that has not learned that we who have been crucified with Christ are no longer ego! (Galatians 2.20)
We are called not to have worldly power.. and our engagement with society is to be as servants… not as those using their service to score religious points (or “witnessing” as such activity is misnamed). Doing something loving “in Jesus’ name” is not better than simply doing something loving for any other reason. In fact, it seems to me, to be of very much less worth as an act of love, because it looks like a way of making a point.
So our lion must go. The lion, in scripture, is used both as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah,and as the devil, prowling round, ramping and roaring.(Revelation 5.5 1 Peter 5.8) Christians are never called lions! We can not take the place of Christ, and must not, I guess, be identified with the devil!
But we are, like the Christ, called lambs, identified with the lamb that was slain. Although Revelation 13.8 is ambiguous nonetheless it is clear that the description as “Lamb” applies to Christ from the foundation of the world… and we are named in the Lamb’s book.
Lambs are quiet in the land (Psalm 35.20) … bleating only out of fear or care for their young.
When we speak of prayer warriors, or wrestling in prayer,we touch on a scriptural nerve, it is true, but we fail to differentiate between stages of learning in prayer. And those are very early stages – youthful in point of fact. We are called to be adult in prayer.
Mature prayer is increasingly silent, and is about the emptying of the self so that our lion can be done away with and our lamb can
grow. Contemplative prayer is where we learn to stop trying to be right, learn to stop trying to win and be in charge. Contemplative prayer is where we allow Christ, the Good Shepherd to carry us
What if we were to return to the image of the Good Shepherd? What if the Church was simply those who were carried?
Ten days on what do I think General Synod was all about?
It was short and intense – Thursday lunchtime to Saturday tea time – and we certainly packed in some important stuff. This was my sixth Synod and I can now see how the ground of the business has shifted away from presenting Renewal and Reform as an agenda and letting it bed down, maturing and actually get results, at least within its own frame of reference. And in that process it has broadened a bit and learned as it’s gone along. But.. there’s always a but. More of that later.
The business was Good, Bad and Ugly. By Good I mean business that we could simply be pleased to be dealing with. By Bad I mean business we wished we didn’t have to deal with but do have to deal with in a broken world. Ugly.. well wait and see
We received a report about the work of the Crown Nominations Committee which is the body that produces 2 names for the Prime Minister to chose from in appointing a new Bishop. The ‘ins and outs’ are recorded elsewhere but here I want o celebrate the fact that the report pulled no punches over pointing out the shift over the past 5 years towards a monochrome house of bishops, lacking in BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) mix and without much theological expertise and with an over emphasis on management. The criticism of the “administration” should not be ignored.
We heard from the Archbishops of South Africa, Pakistan and Polynesia. ach spoke in a deeply moving the particular issues facing their people. In Pakistan Christian are a tiny number (though they’ve been there longer that in Britain!) and although they are targeted – and killed – by ISIS etc their Muslim neighbours are much more supportive that they can show. It seems everyone in Pakistan lives in fear, to some extent. In Polynesia the sea level rise is destroying people’s lives. Climate change is real. Sadly the ties that bind us across the Anglican Communion, though strong, are sometimes possible to celebrate only by ignoring the”elephants in the room” – that is conservative attitudes to sexuality and gender. More of those later.
We debated the Mission and Ministry in Covenant which was about how we might move forward in recognising (mutually) the Anglican and Methodist ministries. Because Methodist ministers are not episcopally ordained to recognize their ministries within the Anglican Church will require re-ordination. Whilst some Methodist might be willing, other might not. There would need to be a time of transition. I believe this is the kind of “local adjustment” to episcopacy that Anglicans see as a proper outworking of episcopacy – that it is a bottom up, not just a top-down, oversight. It would take a generation to work out, but in the end Anglicans and Methodist would share the same episcopal heritage.. it would not be one Church but would have interchangeable ministry- as we now have with the Porvoo Churches (Episcopal Lutherans in Scandinavia).
We heard about the CofE’s work in the area of “digital evangelism” and the projects using the various social media now available to us. I asked a poorly worded question (on the hoof without having worked it our properly) which not surprisingly was poorly answered as hadn’t made myself clear. I am concerned that using social media without good theological critique will mean we will preach a gospel of “me and God”…to the “me, me” culture increasingly dominant around us. Christianity is not about “me and God, it is about “God and me”, or more accurately, “God and us“. So the answer I was given misunderstood my point and simply pointed out that they tried to reflect all traditions within the Church. I shall write to the speaker and explain! Every tradition”buys in” to “me, me”. Evangelicals are no more prone than Catholic and modern Liberals at making faith a personal commodity. In case you think I don’t like social media… I built my first parish website in 1994….one of the first in the country, so I’m passionate about digital communications!
We debated food waste and sent a clear and intelligent message to government – and industry – that food waste is unacceptable. We applauded those business who have made an effort to divert unsold food to good uses – feeding those who are homeless or use food banks. We simply shouldn’t need to be talking about this in the 21st century…. Of course this has moral authority only if we all avoid waste…
We listened to a somewhat apologetic Church (the Bishop of Bath and Wells is the poor soul who has to be the front man for this) admitting that the CofE has failed catastrophically to safeguard many vulnerable people over many decades. We stood – and fair play, many Bishops and both Archbishops – stood with survivors of abuse outside Church House before the Saturday sessions started. A token only, of course. There had been many questions about the Chichester debacle but as”new evidence”had been given to the police it is now effectively sub judice again. On a bigger scale the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will put the whole Church under the spotlight- and that includes parishes. It is astonishing to hear that some parishes are being very difficult about getting serious about safeguarding. It’s not just the Bishops and Archbishops.. all of us have to be responsible for safeguarding the vulnerable. We all have a duty….
The debate about Downs syndrome was moving and this was Synod at its very best. The Bishop of Carlisle won my admiration not only for the way he handled the whole motion, not also for the Fringe meeting he organised the day before. The debate was on a motion to ask the government and British Medical Council to change they way that results of tests indicating abnormalities or problems are broken to expectant parents. Downs is not a tragedy. People with Downs live fulfilled and positive lives and are a blessing. Where there is a chance that a child will be born with any disability there must be not pressure to abort. On the other hand the motion – and most contributors – stressed that there was no judgement on those who chose to end a pregnancy when test indicated abnormalities. This was not a debate about abortion, which is a very different topic. Some did try to swing it in that direction but they were very few. In the event they chose to not vote against or even abstain and the motion was passed 288 for with 0 against and 0 abstentions. Credit to those who by not voting at all let us make a very bold statement. There is no official eugenic policy in this country, but there is a de facto one due to the process by which Downs and other disabilities are presented to parents as tragedies and, especially in the private sector, there is a real pressure to terminate. The Church of England values everyone, and disabled folk are an enrichment to us all, not a tragedy to be wiped out. Of course there are difficult choices, but no one should be pressured in either direction – fair, dispassionate, but positive advice is what’s needed, and then a complete respect of the choice made. But there must be no eugenics by stealth. I was proud to be part of Synod for this debate.
There are always two elephants in the room as far as I’m concerned, and neither got much recognition in this Synod. The one is the place of LGBTQI folk in the Church and the other is the whole dishonest truce over Male headship theologies and the place of women in ministry and indeed in Church.
I’ve looked again at the 5 Guiding Principles, and had a small change of heart. I do want those who can’t accept women’s ministry to flourish in the Church of England. Which is all the 5GPs say. There is no suggestion that their ideas must flourish and the the 5GPs make it plain that the matter of women’s ministry in all three order is settled. So I think I could sign up to them.
However the problem is that there are pressure groups who have a disproportionate influence.. The Society (of Wilfred and Hilda) (the “Catholic” objectors) and the various evangelical and ‘Protestant’ groupings like Reform and The Church Society.. and Gafcon.. continue to campaign against an inclusive Church and the recognition of women’s ministry… in varying degrees depending on who you talk to.
An inclusive Church includes people of all views. But an inclusive Church cannot give platform to non inclusive views. Inclusion can never be collusion. And that’s where it all breaks down. There is a great deal of talk about “good disagreement”. But it is increasingly clear that this is unsustainable. We have changed the orders of ministry irrevocably.. there is no going back. Male headship campaigners have long since lost that argument. The Church of England has changed and will not change back.
We are still debating how to enable the Church to celebrate LGBTQI folk for who they are – which would be best signalled by accepting same sex marriage – but we are not there yet, so that debate goes on.
The problem that no one wants to admit is that there is a straight line between Male Headship theology and abuse. I know this for a fact as I’ve seen it many times in my life – I first saw it (though I didn’t know what it was called) when I was just 6 years old. Over the years I have time and again met men – and women – who effectively claim maleness means that men automatically have authority over women and children. And I’ve seen the damage it’s done. For me this is not theory but a vicious evil that must be named and exorcised from the Church. Not the people, but their theologies. We must want the people with us. Those who hold to male headship theologies must be encouraged to repent. It is God’s task to change hearts. This is not an argument to be won, but a vice to be rebuked.
It is unpopular, some would say unwise, for me to make this clear connection between Male Headship and abuse. It is not the only source of abuse, of course, but it is the one I’m naming here… Male headship theology will always encourage bullies, those who like to have power and those who feel themselves to be privileged to dominate women and children. Not everyone who holds to Male headship theology is guilty of abuse themselves. That’s not what I’m saying. But they are effectivelysupporting a theology which assumes that males have a God given right and duty to have authority over women (and children) without much in way of checks and balances. The stories of abused women and children from Churches holding to Male Headship theologies are all the evidence we need to see how evil this is. And if we were to collect that evidence it would be overwhelming.
It’s not good enough to say that men can use Male Headship as an excuse for abuse. They can do so successfully because these theologies are deeply flawed and always give power (the “final say”) to men over women and children. That is, in itself, abuse. As I write this I am thinking of actual examples. Remember that abuse can be not just physical and/or sexual, but also emotional, financial and passive aggression. How many women and children live in fear of men, not least within Churches.
I am perfectly well aware of how many will reject my argument as extreme and overstated. I am also aware that what I have written will, potentially, attract a lot of unpleasant criticism of me. But this is not about me, it is about the women and children (and men too) whose lives have been diminished by the effect of Male Headship theologies. To reject what I’m saying is, effectively, to continue to support the Church in not taking safeguarding seriously enough. And for that not only society at large, but the living God, will judge us.
Ugliness is the face of idolatry…. in this case the idolising of the Biblical text in place of the worship of the Word made flesh. But let us take heart, the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life!
It is time for the Church to speak out prophetically to the Male Headship supporters.
It begins in winter
for Love shines out of the darkness
and into the darkness we must go to find the light
It begins when all is still in the uniformity of nothing
the greatest chaos of all
Here in the long wait is where it stirs
with a small birth in a curious singularity
It is the Church in death before birth
the natural rhythm of grace
Spring is a longing business
lengthening each day by a cockerel’s stride
it crows three times before the flowers bloom
on the Love-crossed tree
It is a hard time of cold unfolding in the April wild
warmed by the teasel sun
gold and spiky with propagating rays
The Church grows slowly
or else too fast to last
Summer comes on the damp of the sea-fetched wind
and the popping clouds that dot the sun
It is a high time of bubbling folk
full of their own rejoicing and the warmth of Love’s riot
And why not?
We all long for a summer Church in full bloom and glad
But summer has no fruit
only the flowers of potential and the not-yet-ripe
Autumn Church is my Church
The fruit picked
the windfalls littering and feeding the chilly birds
the leaves tumbled into the soil of tomorrow
My task to clear them
to turn the soil
to pull the old weeds
but maybe never to see the spring
To bed us down for winter
the long silence of prayer before the One with whom we have to do
In other parishes it is spring or summer
but here the life growing autumn
the deep enriching winter
when the branches grow
as no one notices
girth increases without comment
Other will dance to the spring carol
and roll in the summer sun
but here we will keep vigil
till the snowdrops relieve our duty
and the dust claims us back
for the glory of resurrection
“So good morning and welcome to the Board meeting”, said Jesus, the young and dynamic CEO of MyKingdom.Inc
“Before we start looking at the latest trading results I want to remind you of what it means to be in business and to be entrepreneurial. I miss Judas so much, he was the only one who really got it. Levi, you just doesn’t rate next to him… you get the figures but not the point.”
“Business is about making sure you pay the guy that worked for half an hour on Friday afternoon the same as the women that did that 72 hour week. No overtime remember, just treat the workforce all the same.”
“When someone wants to do business with us and it’s not convenient – like late at night buying oil or bread, for goodness sake just send them away. What are we? A charity or something? And if you have to serve them just to get some sleep make sure they know just how much of a nuisance they are.”
“Remember our corporate values… the slick and the clever are the ones we adore.. not the little guy who couldn’t do much with just one talent. Make sure he knows he’s a LOOSER.”
“Oh and stop being so nice to the competition. You all need to be trained to go in to their premises, smash up the merchandise, tip over the shelves and push over their tills.”
“Now, about marketing. Get out there with nothing, don’t take a suitcase of your own stuff but demand to be put up in a decent place for free… but be reasonable… don’t go from one place to another…. base yourselves in one place until they’re sick of you…. and don’t forget, maximum impact… when you don’t think you’re going make a sale don’t be nice and say, “Maybe some other time”, but shout, bawl, tell them they’re going to be very sorry when they find themselves enslaved to the Competition and that the smart folk had obviously already left town.”
“This is the business plan that works. Stick to it and you’ll spend eternity with me… now what could be better than that?”
“MyKingdom.Inc is a concept, an idea. It’s about selling that idea so that other people start selling it too. It wasn’t the Egyptians who invented pyramids, it my old Dad, so let’s do this for him. We don’t have a product, we sell a vision, an aspiration, the myth of the satisfied ego.”
“Remember here at MyKingdom.Inc we’re just one big happy family. Unless, of course, your sales performance misses the mark, in which case we’ll just have to let you go…”
“Now let’s have those first quarter results, Levi, and then we’ll send out to Zebedee’s Plaice for some fish and chips.”
It was it seemed
top class and cheap
but the catch came
when I needed replacements
the consumables consumed
And so it was that business triumphed
selling at a discount
maintaining at a premium
And so it was with faith
Salvation, we said, was free
Come to waters, and with no money buy and eat
But once you taste the free gift
we must load your backs with the cost of eternity
pay the full price of our moral code
of our exacting maintenance schedule
for we alone have genuine grace
As though grace was ours
and not abounding
Grace, being grace
seeps through generic substitutes
and will not be confined
to big brand marketing
who sold nothing once
let alone twice
said, come to me
my load is easy
my burden is light
2) Holy Church
Forget it all
the evidence and anecdote
will teach us nothing we cannot know by stillness
Forget it all
the actions and rushing around
the good works eager to prove
that we are no better
than an ardent atheist with a good heart
Forget it all
demanding that you accept my proposition
my having it all sewn up
We shall do more by a moment’s holiness
than by a year’s successful tweeting
a Church that makes herself the Good News
is lost to the God who loves her
“Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger. Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.”
I desire mercy, not sacrifice
Just the mercy of a smile
and an acceptance
The older I get
the younger I remember
with my two toned tongues
of Welsh and English ricocheting off each other
to give me a stereophonic world
of single meaning double depth
a singularity of creation
in English obsolescence Ti with Godly Fear
the One beyond the formality of You
The Oneing of Fire
consumed but never spent
The Thou that sits in my heart
as my hearts sits in You
Inclusion is a buzzing word
sawing off the branches of our half dead tree
So the jibe returns:
you only include those who think like you
or you pity
include those who aren’t as inclusive as you
so you’re not inclusive…
Inclusion has teeth
Inclusion is not collusion
You can join us with your small mind
but don’t expect us to collude
or give you oxygen to breathe with the collapsed lung
of your lost inspiration
Inclusion is not collusion
Inclusion can only include inclusion
You may join us
but we’ll provide no platform for your narrow mind
to launch its two dimensional flight
no peg to hang your blinkers after trotting out the old routines
nor a box on which to soft soap us with the froth of discrimination
One alone is Judge
We do best to stand in silence
naked before the One with who we have to do
who will include us all without fail
seeing us as we are
this the truth that sticks
in the craw of exclusion
Do you think
God’s inclusion includes discrimination
God’s Oneing ones with fear?
Inclusion is not collusion
but the crook that saves the weak
and the rod that lays low the predator