Proper scepticism

This is a time of transition, the centralisers always tell us. They tell us that they are increasing our chance of democratic decision-making, but to do so, some changes have to be made. They have already made those changes for you, without your consent or participation, but they want to reveal that. Power will soon be returned to you, they claim. This transition, this state of emergency, is just temporary, they imply. It isn’t. It is as permanent as they can make it. The changes are unilaterally foisted on us because we do not speak up and protest, and each failure to speak up makes them stronger and us weaker. Those who like to manipulate want to make us easily manipulated. The centralisers don’t want feisty, independent people. They want malleable, easily-directed people. They want plastic people, so they tell us how important it is to keep up and value whatever they introduce to us as new, and how it is to be rigid and to value what we already have. What they call new, they call good. What they call old, they call bad. We however have a different view. We do not think it is a good idea to ‘see what our leaders decide for us’. Those in positions of authority who tell us this, are telling us that we have no authority of our own. We do. We have authority. They have no authority to tell us that we have no authority. This authority was given to us in our baptism, when we were made Christians, and as Christians, we first come to share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ.

Pray – and defy the powers

If there is no one at the altar rail in the mornings in these churches, no one performing their public office as Christians, these churches are no longer our house of prayer. Then they are just museums which memorialise a past that now baffles us. When God’s worship is not sung and the buildings are empty and silent the people are left stumbling around in the dark. Of course they go straight to their televisions for light and comfort. As a consequence our society is stumbling around in the dark. The darkness grows with the huge amount of artificial lighting emitted by every electronic device, every screen and every building. As a result no one can see where they are going. They are future-blind. Those who do not pray to God unwittingly direct themselves to other forces which are only too ready hear and take advantage. Those who appeal to anyone other than God are surrendering themselves to forces without pity. Every electronic screen is an altar across which many mischievous gods dance. Only the altar with the cross on it, with a candle, with no electronics, is our rendezvous with the Lord. The Lord who meets us there is determined to do us good. Only the Christian hunched over bible and then singing and praying before the altar lit by one candle can see where we are all going.
Let us get back to morning and evening prayer.

The cross as staff and gate

The cross is the staff Jesus carries. A staff indicates who is in charge. It tells us that of all the people gathered here, this one is the king. His sceptre identifies him. Thy rod and staff strengthen me (psalm 23.4). As this staff, the cross is the tangible manifestation of his authority. When the master holds his staff out before him, he decides how to separate those who are ready from those who are not, and gives judgement in favour of those who are right over those who are not. As this staff the cross is able to cut through anything and so to separate what has been lumped together, mixed and confused. In the hands of the good judge it therefore brings clarity to everything it moves through. The sword is a staff that has become a blade sharpened to separate sinew from bone. The shepherd moves through his flock, moving his staff left and right so that each animal is directed to the right or left and so either into the pen or back out into the field. He may divide them into those who will breed and those who will not, those who will stay and those who will go. The Lord judges and decide which is the right place for us to be.

The rood screen is a tree. A rood is the trunk of a tree. The tree opens itself for us so that we can step through it into the company of God’s holy people in heaven. The tree is the gate. Since it had never opened before, we had not noticed it or realised that it was a gate.

In our parish church we go through the rood screen up into the sanctuary, into the redeemed Garden of Eden, where we join the choir before the altar and throne of the Lord. This garden in a courtyard is paradise and a model of creation redeemed and restored. The rood screen has a double door which you go through as you step up into the choir. The screen and almost all surfaces in the choir are carved or decorated with twining plant motifs indicating that we are witnessing the arrival of new life and so of spring. The Lord opens the gate of heaven to let us in. The cross is this gate.

Inside the tent of modern liberal political culture

We live within a covenant within a covenant. The covenant of Western liberalism arose, and could only have arisen, within the covenant that is Christianity. We have lived within the political and moral culture that is the product of Christianity for two or more centuries. We have got used it. So used to it that we have forgotten that there is a world outside it. For a long time it has been inconceivable to modern liberal thought that this liberalism might weaken, and have to fight for its life, and even come to an end and be replaced by other political cultures that are not liberal. It found it even harder to imagine that other cultures could see it but not wish to join it and become absorbed by it, that they could be repulsed by it, and fight it with the venom of someone fighting for his life, and that they could win and succeed in destroying this liberal political culture, and that they could do so quite easily because it was already quite hollow. For a long time, inside the tent of modern political culture, all has been temperate. No one now living has fought for his life, and no one wonders if he would fight and could fight if some fiercer culture suddenly appeared to make him do so.
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The Happy and the Unhappy

There are two ways of life, two competing ways. There is the way of the blessed. And there is the way of the resentful and miserable. Bliss is the old English word for happiness. Bliss and bless are related, indeed one comes from the other. We are blessed, and so made happy, by God. You are happy if you have been given life and the good things that belong to it. You are happy if you know that you have received some of these good things, and may expect more. You are happy if you realise that these are indeed good things and if you are able to look forward to more. Thankfulness makes for happiness. You are happy if you can say ‘I am content, I have enough’. And you are happier still if you meet other people who make the same acknowledgement, express the same gratitude and gladness. You can share your happiness with one another. We are the people who turn everything to good. We may turn terror and disaster into a challenge that we can overcome or at least come through, with tears, through gritted teeth, sometimes through horror and numbness. And afterwards, we may give thanks and find that happiness has returned.

The strange thing is that both the happy and the unhappy want to share their experience. Just as the happy want to share their happiness, those who are in misery want to make us feel as they do. They want to make their misery ours. Sometimes, if they have never pushed back against it, their misery becomes so strong that they want to frighten, hurt and break everything up, no longer caring whether what they do is good or bad. Evil grows, when we don’t push back against it. In their misery some want to bring the world down. They believe that if they are not going to survive, no one else should be allowed to either. They do not wish the world to continue on without them. They enter a tail spin. Their rage shrivels them, and attempting to take the place of God they destroy and become destroyers and are burned up by their own fury. We see this fury aimed against the West by those excluded from happiness by their own evil, particularly when this evil is given ideological justification by their primitive cult.

But why should we talk about the Unhappy? We should talk about the Unhappy only in order to be able to identify them and avoid the signs of contagion. We walk through them, and they hammer away at us. It is only important that we do not turn aside, try to split the difference with them and so get drawn in to them. No identifying with our persecutors, no Stockholm syndrome for us. Every week we come up to the altar in order to confess, to retch and cough up all the bile in the air which we have breathed in during the week. We do not confess our own sin only but all the sin around us. As we confess it, its hold is broken, we are released from it and then we are in our right mind again, and may give thanks and be glad.

Good Friday – The Tree of the Cross

‘Behold the wood of the cross,’ we say on Good Friday. ‘Touch wood,’ we say on any day of the year, reaching out for the nearest piece of wood as an extension of the wood of the cross. When we cross our fingers it is a sign of the cross we are making.

The cross is a tree. This tree represents the union of God and man in Christ, and the history that creates this union, and the gospel that reveals this history.

The cross is a representation of the figure of a man with his arms extended upwards. Moses held up his arms until the battle against the Amalekites was won and Israel was saved (Exodus 17.11.-12) in battle. ‘He opened wide his arms for us on the cross.’ His arms are up in welcome and to give us his protection. The Lord extends his arms out in order to save us and give us his shelter. He extends his covenant to include us, so we are covered and protected. He holds out his arms as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and as the Holy Spirit gives us his protection, portrayed in our West window as the dove with outstretched wings.

The Lord opens wide his arms for us also on occasions when his arms are not mentioned. In the Transfiguration on the mountain the disciples see the Lord radiant with glory, with Elijah on one side and Moses on the other. Peter wants to recognise their dignity by setting up awnings to give them some shade. By his reply the Lord indicates that it is he who gives Peter and the Disciples shelter. The Lord is our covering (kippur), the covenant and the atonement that keep us safe. He raises his arms so that we can all come in under his coat. Moses and Elijah, the prophets and the law, are two wings of this shelter. Elijah stands on one side of Jesus, Moses on the other, so that the three of them form a triptych, in which Elijah and Moses reflect different aspects of Christ, so that we can see better who Christ is because we can see these two aspects of his identity in these two other figures.  The elements are no threat to the Lord, for they are simply his obedient servants. But the Lord gives us our shelter not so much from the elements, but from some of the worst consequences of the disorder in creation that result from our failure to rule it well. The Lord gives us shelter. He gives us a place to be. That place is with him. He is that place. 


The Centralisers

The clergy have created over these last decades a ‘gospel’ which is unattractive and inaudible. The British people long since decided that the clergy are saying nothing of any consequence. And they are right. For the clergy are saying nothing that is in any way different from the offering of the media, corporations and governments, with their long determination to remove decisions from us. The corporations know how to delight and entertain, while the government knows how to buy loyalty with jobs and incomes. Only the Church knows that humans must not sell themselves or give up responsibility for themselves and their neighbours. The clergy have not challenged any of the abandonment of responsibility through centralisation or the growth of regulation, or challenged the distractions and compensations offered for them. The have given into to the temptation to commit our all health, education and welfare to the all-centralising powers, and been part of the prejudice against actual people making decisions in their own towns and villages. The clergy themselves are centralisers. They are here to take decisions away from us. They seem ready to amalgamate parishes into oblivion, replace the wide-spectrum gifts and ministries of congregations, parcelling up the various aspects of Christian witness into jobs and careers reserved for a few in a central office. Lucky for them, we are here to oppose them. We insist that all life and wellbeing begins at the altar in the worship of God, and that our refreshment and restoration depends on our manning our station at the altar at every parish church in every place, small as well as large. Only the prayer of Christians can prevent man from surrendering himself to, and being swallowed up by, the overweening Leviathan.