Notepad on Life

December 28, 2016

An opportunity missed, Church of England

Filed under: Christmas,Church,Religion — - @ 5:25 pm
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Pic courtesy of Rondo Estrello

For an organisation whose attendance figures would reduce your average Non-League football club to sympathetic tears, this is Day One of the January sales and Black Friday combined.

Teatime, Christmas Eve. A candlelit carol service and the church building packed like it’s 1829 with a captive audience to die for. Eager kids and attendant parents and grandparents. People who might otherwise not enter a church without pallbearers beneath them but do so because they’re with relatives and don’t want to be seen as the sourpuss. Atheists, agnostics, sceptics and ‘lapsed’; all there because of the pull of family or of childhood echoes that refuse to die.

Once a year, the church gets this chance. Surely to God, between the crib, the candles and endless verses of Little Donkey, there is the chance to take 10 minutes and reach out to those people in earnest from the pulpit? Remind them (or maybe make them aware for the first time ever) that whatever they might make of his mission statement and brand management, this Jesus was no myth, but a real person. That Christmas Day was but a curtain raiser for a message and mission that changed the world.

Ten minutes in which to let everyone know that this ancient building is not just open on Christmas Eve, but on most days of the year, welcoming those who wish to pray, reflect, cry their hearts out, or even the most committed non-believer who just wants to enjoy the music or brief respite from a tumultuous world. To reassure them that there will be no pressure or hard sell on such occasions, just a warm welcome and as much or as little evangelism as each of them seeks.

But you didn’t do it, Reverend. You just trotted out the same old Nativity clichés and Christmas niceties, let the same old carols roll by and then beamed politely as everyone filed out afterwards. Your one moment of gravitas in 60 minutes the health and safety announcement for when it came to us lighting our candles. Another year, another golden opportunity gone begging. I just wish my faith in spiritual osmosis matched your own.

“Excellent”, you beamed at the regulars afterwards. “No-one got burnt.”

Indeed not. Figuratively speaking though, I doubt anyone was set on fire, either.

December 11, 2016

Christmas worship – it’s a jungle out there…

Filed under: Christmas,Church — - @ 9:25 pm

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Intriguing and slightly ominous parentheses when I scanned the Christmas dates in the church notices this morning.

Sat 24 Dec: 11.30 Midnight Mass (NB incense will be used)

Made it sound like tear-gas…

[pic courtesy of Thomas Hawk, via Flickr]

August 19, 2013

God v Mammon – fight stopped round 3…

Filed under: Church,crime,Family,Kids — - @ 9:00 am

Not even a month into the school summer holidays and kids offended by claims that they don’t know what to do with themselves the minute you take their Xbox away, decide to prove that they do.

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August 4, 2013

Condescension to Church shows sad state of Independent

English: User box for Separation of Church vs....

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure MPs at least, will be delighted with the Independent‘s recent leader column purporting to send those naughty Christians to their room without any supper.

It used to be left to the Right Honourable Members to reveal their breathtaking ignorance of the Christian faith by trotting out the patronising old canard about the Church of England sticking to preaching the Gospel and leaving politics to the politicians; you know, the experts…

Now the media are doing their job for them.

I knew there might be a secularist backlash when new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, showed early promise that he could be streets ahead of his predecessor when it came to being in touch with life beyond the cathedral cloisters.

I heard him handle with great aplomb an interrogation about the Wonga embarrassment, the highlight of which was interviewer John Humphrys‘ inability (or refusal) to see that this admittedly hilarious, if inadvertent, gaffe was fixable and posed no fatal threat to Welby’s proposals to provide hard-up people with a better alternative to payday loan firms and their eye-watering interest rates.

The Independent‘s nauseating arrogance and double-speak that same day, mind, makes Humphrys look the very model of perception.

Nick Baines has beautifully eviscerated the person responsible for it on his blog, so I merely pick over the carcass:

  • I defy even the their greatest critic to read the four Gospels and not see a Man as engaged with the world around Him as He was with the world He claimed is to come, whether you see Him as deluded or not
  • If Christianity was indeed a ship sailing nowhere and all about just hiding yourself away and mulling over scripture without ever putting it to work in the world around us, I suspect its membership past and present would be on a par with that of the Tufty Club.
  • “His efforts to…make the Church relevant…” Ah, so even you acknowledge that his approach has something going for it.
  • “[They] have no business in mainstream politics…” Everyone has business in mainstream politics. This is a democracy, where everyone gets at least a say, not some oligarchy where the only opinions that matter come from a self-regarding elite  in Westminster and the media. How many times, I wonder, have Independent commentators lamented the woeful turn-out at elections, and cried out for more ‘engagement’? Just not Christian engagement, apparently.
  • And once again, in a leader on this theme, no mention of the secular hypocrisy at the heart of it. Politicians want the Church of England to stay out of politics, while politicians continue to have a say in whom the Church appoints as its bishops. When it comes to clamouring for the separation of Church and State, atheists may be surprised at just how many Anglicans are egging them on.
  • “This is no swipe at religion”. This is like Ron Jeremy holding a postage stamp over his manhood in the hope that he’s covered himself. Of course it’s a swipe at religion. How old do you think your average reader is? Six? You think religion’s stupid, its practitioners belong in a soundproofed cell whose key has gone missing and you only wish you could say so in a national newspaper. You know what? So do I. Your transparent sincerity, at least, I could respect.

July 26, 2013

Some people need to think seriously about civil funerals

Filed under: Church,Religion — - @ 9:00 am
Tags: ,
Death's gonna cold-cock you

(Photo credit: _Madolan_)

He was only 40, respected and liked and the last thing I needed as we mourned another loss to cancer was for the moment to be hijacked by someone for whom the word ‘consideration’ apparently extends no further than the end of her nose.

So his family were oblivious to the irony of having the funeral at a church, yet asking that it not be ‘too religious’? Bit like turning up at a barbecue and asking if everyone could keep the carnivorousness down but I let it ride. Many people’s disinterest in religion is a passive thing: they go with the flow without becoming part of it. I understand that. At least they observed the house rules.

Not so the young woman appointed to read out one of the eulogies. Bright and breezy in her opening remarks, I was looking forward to what she had to say.

But not this.

It’s just a terrible business, she declared, in fact it’s what [his widow] would call “a crock of s***…”

She then turned to make a mock apology to the presiding clergyman. Because that made everything just fine, of course.

She’ll dine out on this one, I’m sure. There probably won’t be a soiree goes by from now on without her mentioning the time she swore in a church. She’ll savour the gasps and laughing adulation and then smugly ask if anyone needs his glass filling.

Then again, maybe she’ll get what she deserves; someone smart enough to point out the flip side of the tale she just recounted.

Imagine half-a-dozen Christians turning up to a New Year’s Eve party at the same lady’s house. Without asking, they replace the music with a Gospel CD because they felt the mood was getting a bit trivial. They then insist that everyone spends the last half-hour of the old year and the first of the new in a Bible study session.

I’m guessing she’d have thrown half of them out before it even occurred to her to ask for help. “They come in here,” she’d tell anyone who cared to listen, “impose their ways on the rest of us without so much as a please and we’re just expected to sit back and take it…”

“Bloody Christians,” she’d fume. “Who the hell do they think they are…?”

And you know something, dear reader? I would be right behind her, throwing the coats of my fellow Christians out onto the street after them. Because she would have a perfectly valid point.

Who the hell do such people think they are?

July 5, 2013

Of course folk whoop at weddings – it’s in lieu of Tweeting…

Filed under: Celebration,Church,Religion — - @ 8:53 am

Not to take anything away from Mark Palmer but his lament for weddings of dignity and reverence is one of those pieces where the comment section is even more informative than the article itself.

Having touched on this theme from a different angle in the past, I think know where Mr Palmer is coming from. Like me, he seems to regard the ceremony’s reflective restraint as an ideal counterpoint to the moment when the party starts in earnest. Not a sackcloth of po-faced reticence but a moment to savour that enhances the day.

After all, even those audience members who can’t let more than the first four four bars of an X Factor song pass without breaking into that grating American-style whoop, even they probably shut the hell up for just a few seconds at least when confronted by stunning scenery or a beautiful sunset. It is as if our subconscious knows that enjoyment is sometimes best experienced through quiet. Mark Palmer simply extrapolates that idea to social occasions.

As the comments on his article reveal, though, he is travelling on the smaller bus. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at the level of indignation he meets. In this Internet age, where interactivity rules and everyone from Ant and Dec to The White House wants us to Tweet, Like, or hit the red button, sitting quietly on the sidelines while someone else dominates the show may, in time, come to feel as old-fashioned a concept as your ‘Sunday best’.

This is why I fear that the minute’s silence for the dead is now under serious threat, at least at those public gatherings where the propriety of everyone present cannot be vouched for. It was the fear of the ‘lone wolf’ heckler – someone else yet to realise that it’s not all about him – that persuaded football clubs, for example, to replace the traditional minute’s silence with a minute’s applause, an arrangement that is showing every sign of becoming as permanent as it is ghastly.

Because, if you’re clapping, you’re ‘involved’, see? Look at me, everyone; mourning interactively.

Standing around, doing nothing, being moved by the solemnity of silence, on the other hand: what’s all that about?

Some people just have an affinity for din, I suppose and yet for all the suggestions that Mark Palmer may not be quite the life and soul of the party, I’ll take his company over that of anyone who routinely starts a Conga. I always think it bodes well for the conversation when you’re in the presence of those who aren’t uncomfortable with the concept of being able to hear themselves think.

April 1, 2013

Easter – the story’s the same, so why not the date?

Filed under: Church,Seasons — - @ 9:00 am
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Sunday

Sunday (Photo credit: ex.libris)

It was a calamity waiting to happen. Align an Easter weekend falling in late March with snow showers more akin to February and I may not be the only one who forgets all about switching to British Summer Time.

So it was that on the biggest Sunday in the Christian calendar, I am running my shower at the very time I should be heading down the aisle with the rest of the choir. Were I Catholic, the guilt would probably last until Advent.

It’s not the most convincing stab at atonement, watching the televised Easter service from Paisley Abbey while sat in my underpants, munching disgruntedly at a bowl of cereal but needs must. At least this Sunday the family can comment openly about the odd-bods in the congregation, instead of keeping our own counsel until lunchtime.

But really – if I might paraphrase from Fiddler on the Roof

Lord who made the lion and the lamb

You decreed I should be what I am

But would it spoil some vast, eternal plan

If Easter were always on the second Sunday in April…?

October 29, 2012

Wedding proposals reveal a church with little faith in God

Filed under: Church,News,Relationships,Religion — - @ 1:56 pm
Tags: ,

Church HDR

Secularism rears its head and whaddya know? The Church of England, more desperate to be loved than a teenager in dental braces, falls meekly into line.

Senior clergy have concluded a four-year review of Anglican wedding ritual by publishing a guidance book for parish priests that apparently unfetters traditional restraints, opening the door to more ‘personalised’ orders of service.

“It will give the go-ahead for glitzy ”Posh and Becks”-style ceremonies in churches, with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March being replaced by songs such as Girls by the Sugababes or the theme from Test Match Special.

Odd twists will be welcomed, such as the use of trained owls to carry the rings to the best man…” – from The Age

How much aesthetic barbarism actually results as a consequence of this shift is irrelevant. The damage is already done. The Church of England has once again revealed itself not so much as a rock of ages as a cultural quicksand, happy to hitch its star to any passing fad it feels might shore up its crumbling credibility.

I believe there are worthwhile changes that could be made to marriage ceremonies. Too much Anglican ceremonial is repeated by rote from order of service books that have become mind-numbing through familiarity, even to veterans such as me. I would like to see clergy talk their flock through the ceremony at hand more in an ad hoc, conversational style, employing plain English that is reverential yet relevant.

I would like the glorious gravitas of the classic hymns to be balanced with more modern counterparts, instead of one being sacrificed for the other.

I would like clergy to conduct services generally in a style that leaves no doubt that they see God as part and parcel of the world around us and not as some abstract notion with whom they happen to share an ivory tower.

These changes, you’ll note, de-clutter and hone the message of hope and salvation that should boom from any act of Christian worship: they do not divert attention from it. Which is where I and the authors of the Church of England’s review part company.

There are some telling phrases employed in reports of the proposals: “personalised touches”, “more control”“If a couple feels that it’s their wedding, they are more likely to feel it’s their church.” The predominance of self over the divine. Yet that is exactly what a Christian wedding ceremony should not be about.

For just – what? – half an hour, 45 minutes of a day that is otherwise all about the happy couple, they step back and see the bigger picture. For them and their guests, the chatter stops, a breath is taken and effervescence gives way to quiet reflection upon the life-changing, life-defining relationship being embarked upon. Love, God’s greatest gift, crystallised anew in human form.

If that doesn’t mean a thing to the couple at the altar, then one must ask what they are doing there in the first place. If it does, on the other hand, then neither owls, nor the Test Match Special theme can add one iota to the moment.  Quite the opposite, in fact

The rest of the day is theirs and good luck to them. Ride your white horse, watch a thousand ivory balloons soar to the skies, dance ’til your feet throb and then make love like there’s no tomorrow. God will see it all and rejoice. All He asks in return, is just those few minutes at the outset, when circus gives way to ceremony and He can work His quiet magic, in a moment whose memory can still move its participants years later.

If only his Church believed this. Alas, we have a Church of England whose leaders think God needs a gimmick, his temple a strobe light, just to help Him along.  They sing His praises while suggesting that He go the way of all flesh.

Every time we think this institution cannot possibly embarrass its membership any more, it astounds us all over again.

October 10, 2012

When disagreement becomes derision, Christians lose ground in gay marriage debate

Filed under: Church,Journalism — - @ 9:00 am
Tags: ,

Liberal though I used to be where homosexuality was concerned, I’m no longer sure the Bible gives me that option.

That doesn’t sit easily with my natural inclination to live and let live, so the gay marriage issue gives me cause more for reflection than spouting fire and brimstone.  I tend to save the polemic for when ‘tolerance’ turns out to be a one-way street and attempts are made with varying degrees of subtlety to shut down one side of the debate.

I am no less irked, however, when Christians reveal a petty side to their case that does their argument no favours. Consider, for example, this Christian Voice article on a Hong Kong millionaire who has offered a bounty of some £40m to the man who can win the heart of his lesbian daughter.

What caught my eye was the caption beneath an accompanying photo of his daughter and her gay partner, taken at their recent civil partnership ceremony:

“Gigi Chao Sze-tsung (right) and her civil partner Sean Eav (left) – we honestly thought at first that the one on the left was her father!”

Question – had the picture shown a man and woman on their wedding day and either he looked effeminate or she looked rather manly, do you suppose Christian Voice would have drawn attention to the fact? I suspect not, on the grounds that Voice staff  would have considered making a personal, gratuitous comment, uncalled for by the nature of the story, to have been at best unprofessional and at worst unkind and unChristian.

There is an unavoidable inference here that because the Voice doesn’t recognise the couple’s formal relationship, it doesn’t have to unduly concern itself with their feelings. This is an abysmal own goal. Sadly, it’s not the first from my team.

Last year, Michael L Brown published his book, A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been. While intended as rebuttal of the homosexual agenda, publisher and reviewers alike stressed the compassionate approach Brown had to his subject. Certainly, this came out in a discussion of his book between Brown and religious commentator, Dr Frank Turek, which prompted me to head to Amazon, where I beheld the book’s cover photo and heard the distant sound of breaking glass as all of Brown’s rhetoric imploded in my head.

I seem to recall him maintaining at the time that he knows several gay people who find this funny. Well, here’s one straight guy who doesn’t. I find it utterly self-defeating, projecting a message that we’re all serious and compassionate about homosexuality in the arena of public debate but away from camera, when the mics are off, it’s all just a bit of a giggle, these funny people with their limp wrists, fluffy slippers and butch dungarees. How could they possibly imagine they would get to Heaven looking like that?

This debate is difficult enough without ham-fistedness like this.

April 8, 2012

Things are different in the Fens

Filed under: animals,Church — - @ 6:47 pm
Tags: ,

Guy brings his pet ferret into church today.

On a lead, though, so clearly from one of the better parts of town.

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