Friar John's Ruminations

Being the thoughts of an Episcopalian Layman. In Search of and service to "Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order."

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Favorite Christmas Poem


by John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Statesman Interview with ABC

Over the course of a turbulent year the Archbishop of Canterbury had a series of meetings with James Macintyre during which he spoke about sharia law, capitalism, the disestablishment of the Church, and his love of The West Wing.

On a bleak afternoon in November, a delegation of senior religious leaders from Britain filed out of an exhibit room at Ausch witz in Poland. One man stopped, and stayed staring intently through the glass. Before him was a mass of human hair from those killed in the gas chambers. This man was Dr Rowan Williams and he was praying, silently.
Asked to write an inscription at the memorial, he chose words from Psalm 130: "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!" Dr Williams walked around the former Nazi extermination camp, a remote figure, keeping a ring of space around him. After the first round of exhibits, one of the party tried to speak to him. He merely shrugged and shook his head; there was nothing adequate to say.
Williams was on a trip to the site, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust, with nine other faith leaders, including the Chief Rabbi, Jona than Sacks, with whom he talked intensely on the plane on the journey out from London while almost every other passenger slept. The two men have become good friends, and the Chief Rabbi compares their relationship to that of their predecessors, William Temple and Joseph H Hertz, who co-founded the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942. "I have the greatest respect for the Chief Rabbi - a public intellectual," the Archbishop said. "And because he has sometimes found his own community hard work . . . we do occasionally compare notes, dot dot dot."
That "dot dot dot" is something of a characteristic understatement. Several weeks later, we are in a private room at Lambeth Palace reflecting on what has been not just the most testing year in his term at Canterbury, but arguably one of the most difficult for Anglicanism since the Reformation.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

+++Rowans Christmas Message

Human beings, left to themselves, have imagined God in all sorts of shapes; but – although there were one or two instances, in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, of gods being pictured as boys – it took Christianity to introduce the world to the idea of God in the form of a baby: in the form of complete dependence and fragility, without power or control. If you stop to think about it, it is still shocking. And it is also deeply challenging.

God chose to show himself to us in a complete human life, telling us that every stage in human existence, from conception to maturity and even death, was in principle capable of telling us something about God. Although what we learn from Jesus Christ and what his life makes possible is unique, that life still means that we look differently at every other life. There is something in us that is capable of communicating what God has to say – the image of God in each of us, which is expressed in its perfection only in Jesus.

Hence the reverence which as Christians we ought to show to human beings in every condition, at every stage of existence. This is why we cannot regard unborn children as less than members of the human family, why those with disabilities or deprivations have no less claim upon us than anyone else, why we try to makes loving sense of human life even when it is near its end and we can hardly see any signs left of freedom or thought.

And hence the concern we need to have about the welfare of children. As we look around the world, there is plenty to prompt us to far more anger and protest about what happens to children than we often seem to feel or express. In the UK this year there have been several public debates about childhood, as research has underlined the lack of emotional security felt by many children here, the high cost of divorce and family breakdown, the disproportionate effect of poverty and debt on children, and many other problems. We look forward to the publication here in the New Year of a nationwide survey about what people think is a ‘good childhood’ – sponsored by the Children’s Society, with its long association with the Anglican Church.

Elsewhere we see far more horrendous sights – child soldiers still deployed in parts of Africa and in Sri Lanka, the burden laid on children in places where HIV and AIDS have wiped out a whole generation, leaving only the old and the young, the fate of children in areas of conflict like Congo and the Middle East and the insensitive treatment that is so often given to child refugees and asylum seekers in more prosperous countries.

‘Though an infant now we view him, He shall fill his Father’s throne’ says the Christmas hymn. If it is true that the child of Bethlehem is the same one who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, how shall we stand before him if we have allowed his image in the children of the world to be abused and defaced? In the week I write this, the British public is trying to cope with the revelation of the shocking killing of a very small child. Recently I accompanied a number of students and British faith leaders on a pilgrimage to the extermination camps at Auschwitz, where some of the most unforgettably horrifying images have to do with the wholesale slaughter of Jewish children – their toys and clothes still on display, looted by their killers from their dead bodies.

Christmas is a good time to think again about our attitudes to children and about what happens to children in our societies. Christians who recognise the infinite and all-powerful God in the vulnerability of a newborn baby have every reason to ask hard questions about the ways in which children come to be despised, exploited, even feared in our world. We all suspect that in a time of economic crisis worldwide, it will be the most vulnerable who are left to carry most of the human cost. The Holy Child of Bethlehem demands of us that we resist this with all our strength, for the sake of the one who, though he was rich, for our sake became poor, became helpless with the helpless so that he might exalt us all through his mercy and abundant grace.

With every blessing and best wish for Christmas and the New Year.

+Rowan Cantuar

Once Again: The Great O's are upon us.

O Sapientia,
quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, 
suaviterque disponens omnia: 
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The following is a sermon I preached at a friend of mines parish about three years ago. Since the Annunciation story is this Sunday's Gospel reading according to the RCL, I thought I would dust this off again and share it.  A not quite so clear version of the painting I refer to is here. 

When Tim asked me if I would like to preach this afternoon I agreed readily. I then, with out really thinking, asked what the texts are. When I got home and looked them up in the Prayer Book I was under whelmed. These are texts that have been handled so much that they have become slippery from their use. They’ve become so familiar that they’re like an ice cube: squeeze to hard and they shoot right out of our hand. Unable to get any in on the Gospel, I turned to look at art depicting the event. For the most part I was left cold. In general, the pictures were of a sheepish Angel Gabriel, often holding flowers standing at a distance from Mary who is sitting at a window reading an improbably illuminated Librium, often in Latin. I even saw one that depicts Our Lady holding a Rosary. Eastern Icons are often of the same idea: Gabriel paying homage to a pure Madonna. The emphasis is on the holy and transcendent. Then I stumbled upon the work of a Venetian artist named Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto. His depiction is very, very different.


First the setting is different. Far from a little room or a walled garden, we are presented with a room that can only be described as messy. The plaster has cracked, with the bricks behind showing through. There is a motley collection of broken furniture and there are signs of half completed carpentry. Instead of a window out of which Mary has been looking, or a prayer book Mary has been spinning. Out of the portal we see a man busily at work with a saw, presumably Joseph. You see “betrothed,” meant at this time that they may have been living together in a, presumably chaste, arrangement to see if she was acceptable to him.  They are both hard at work in a decaying house as the sun slides down into night. We see a couple laboring until they are unable to see any more. They are like Adam and Eve after the fall, laboring in a world of decay and death. Then something altogether unexpected happens. An angel of the Lord comes in.


Rather than a sheepishly coy angel, we have a Gabriel who swoops in, with an entourage of Cherubs. He’s looking a little apologetic. Mary is far from a passive presence. Her body is twisted to face the onrushing Angels and her face is a mixture of fear and marvel. The Holy Spirit is depicted in the traditional form of a Dove, but it’s far from some innocuous pidgin with a halo. The Holy Spirit manifests as a being of pure light. It illumines the air above the Virgin and the light casts the world in which she has lived in stark relief and rivals the dying light of the Sun. This very human Mary is confronted with God in the most direct way imaginable.


I emphasize that this is a human Mary because it is Tintoretto’s very Realist depiction of Mary and her condition that drew me to it. She is no plaster saint in this painting. She is an ordinary woman, a girl by today’s standards, confronted by the disconcerting God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it is her humanity that is key in our celebration today. As the poet says:


            “Of Her Flesh, he took flesh.”


It is from Mary that Jesus gains his humanity. It is through Mary that he enters the world. Our humanity is what we have in common with Mary. It is in our common human condition, shared by both, that we come to have Mary as our sister and Jesus as our brother. To put it differently, when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us it is from Mary that the Logos receives flesh, and the Incarnate Word first dwells in her. It is a long while until the child is born, and we are confronted with the idea of being with Mary as we contemplate the child growing with in her. There is no room here for a porcelain figure or alabaster statue. All through out the rest of her life she must live with and meditate upon the words of the Angel, even when they make no since. Life would not be easy for the Mother of God. She must live with a son given to terrific acts of power and who dies the death of a thief or bandit. She is one of the models of contemplation, not because we know that she is given to it, but because she is caught up in the Mysteries in a way that no one else is. She is an active participant in them. When she looks down at the child in the feeding trough she comes into the realization that “This is my body, this is my blood.” We do her, and ourselves, a disservice when we make her into a semi-divine Queen at the expense of her history and reality as a human being.


My Carmelite bias may be showing. For us Mary is our sister. After all she appeared to St. Simon Stock in Aylesford wearing our Habit. It is her Humanity in which we first find our devotion to her. If our King reigns from a manger and cross, his Mother is just that, a mother. As the legend under the image of Our Lady of Mt Carmel at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception says, “Mary is more Mother than Queen.” In may ways several of the later Marian devotions and doctrines run counter to the Carmelite Spirit of her as our Mother and Sister. I would go so far as to say that dogmatic proclamations aimed at cleaning up our discomfort at Mary being a normal person with a body like ours, and the implications that holds for Jesus plays runs counter not only to the Spirit of Carmel, but of Anglicanism. She is our friend, and she prays for us. She is our Mother, and loves us. She is our Sister and supports us.

What I would leave us with today is a call to join with Mary in her pondering and meditation. As she felt the child grow within her womb, let us feel the risen Christ in our selves. Let us contemplate with her the words of the Angel and what they mean for us. Let us enter into the mysteries with her as a signpost and guide. Finally, let us commend ourselves to her in prayer, so that at the last she may show us the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.


Pray for us, Oh Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Okay, so now we know exactly how desperate for ideas the loony Right are for arguments. Those of us who are opposed to Prop 8 in Califonria are, to quote Pat Boon of all people, "terrorists". Another example of this can be found at the Rev. Susan Russles blog.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen (and the rest of my readers), we in the West are now locked into a struggle with that well known axis of international evil that is the HRC and Al Qaeda. The evidence for this is a few incidents of violence or, more often, vandalism against a frew Churches in California. The threats and actual violence perpetrated against opponents during the campaign and after just slide right on by. Vandalism against MCC and other GLBT friendly churches is just to be expected.
Lat's face the facts here. The Right was unprepared for GLBT people and our friends to fight back. They were unprepared to deal with actual anger. The acts of violence and vandalism are deplorable, stupid and shortsighted. What they are not, however, is a systematic attempt at persecution. They are a backlash, but there is no organization doing it. Opposition is not oppression. That is particularly the case when you are the empowered, privileged and protected majority. It is not oppression to have to pay for crimes, even though you think the victim "deserves it." There is a legitimate Constitutional argument being made in California right now. The Right is terrified that it will be defeated. this specious argument has been developed to be a part of the spin and lies they will tell one another to help build up tot he next election. It is sort of like the rhetoric of the closing days of the presidential election: it was tossed out less to win and more to start the lies to be repeated. The task is for us to respond now and not let them in inch in the door with their mendacities.

Solemn rite or happy meal?

How we treat Holy Communion reflects our theology of Christ
By Douglas LeBlanc, December 09, 2008

News Item, October 21: The Diocese of Sydney's General Synod has voted again to allow laity to preside at celebrations of Holy Communion and to allow deacons (both men and women) to preside as well.

My reaction, once news of the synod's decision began circulating in U.S.--based weblogs: Wake me when the argument is over.

I have exaggerated my lack of outrage, but not outrageously. My longtime friend and colleague Terry Mattingly grew up Southern Baptist, spent more than 10 years as an Episcopalian and then became Eastern Orthodox.

He enjoys telling the story of attending Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where robed choir members processed with reverence down the center aisle and some bowed before sitting in their pews.

Terry asked about the significance of the bowing, and the answer he heard was remarkable: That's what you're supposed to do. Despite its stained-glass windows and the liturgical calendar it observed, this church had no concept of a Communion host being the body of Christ, in some form, and therefore worthy of brief reverence by choir members.

From that experience, Terry concluded that if a Southern Baptist congregation had a higher-than-average interest in liturgical symbols, its members likely had little understanding of the doctrine behind the symbols.

I wonder if, for many Episcopalians, this could be an accurate summary of what we understand about Holy Communion.

Consider how many priests now announce, week after week, that because the Holy Table belongs to God and not to anyone else, all people -- regardless of whether they are baptized -- are welcome to partake. I note only in passing the chutzpah of presuming that God's will for the Holy Table was thwarted, rather than honored, as far back as the Didache.
Read the rest here

Lay presidency is a non-starter for me. I think it shows a lack of understanding of what the Church is and what ministry is as well, but I don’t think it’s anything but an aberration born less of theology and more of a deeply born anti-intellectualism and resentment towards clergy.

Communicating the unbaptized, on the other hand, drives me nuts. I think that the writer is spot on that it is a misunderstanding of what the Eucharist is, and isn’t. It is the feast of the Church, and membership in the Church is achieved in Baptism. The normative text here is, I think, the story of Peter when he unilaterally baptized gentiles. He didn’t say “Well now the Spirit has come on you, so you’re now Christians.” Rather he baptized them (Acts 10:48). That would indicate to me a normative practice. We also place such an emphasis upon the Rite of Baptism in the Prayer Book, to then say that it isn’t all that important because you can be a member of the Eucharistic assembly with out it is a tad backwards.

And no, I don’t see the typical Evangelical slippery slope argument in here. What I do see is a legitimate criticism of two things that the author sees as connected. We have no real theology of the Church left to us if we now toss out Baptism in favor of some vague “come one come all” argument. There is a difference between saying “this is a bad idea and has implications of though and practice which are unacceptable” and the full on fallacy form of reductio ad absurdum that is the “slippery slope.” If he had gone onto say that this could lead to everybody might as well stay home on Sunday and become atheists I’d be rolling my eyes and trying to separate the issues he presents from one another. I’d say he’s being quite on target as it where for his points, with out going to far afield.

Tip of the hat to the Rev. Mthr. Kaeton.

Monday, December 08, 2008


The Kids Are Alright. But Their Parents ...By Neil HoweSunday, December 7, 2008; Page B01
It is the prerogative of every generation of graybeards to look down the age ladder and accuse today's young of sloth, greed, selfishness -- and stupidity. We hear daily jeremiads from baby boomers who wonder how kids who'd rather listen to Linkin Park and play "Grand Theft Auto III" than solve equations or read books can possibly grow up to become leaders of the world's superpower. The recent publication of "The Dumbest Generation" by Mark Bauerlein of Emory University epitomizes the genre. His subtitle -- "How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future" -- says it all.
Generational putdowns, Bauerlein's included, are typically long on attitude and short on facts. But the underlying question is worth pursuing: If the data are objectively assessed, which age-slice of today's working-age adults really does deserve to be called the dumbest generation?
The answer may surprise you. No, it's not today's college-age kids, nor even today's family-starting 30-somethings. And no, it's not the 60-year-olds who once grooved at Woodstock. Instead, it's Americans in their 40s, especially their late 40s -- those born from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. They straddle the boundary line between last-wave boomers and first-wave Generation Xers. The political consultant Jonathan Pontell labels them "Generation Jones.
Read the rest here.

I note that the writer, who is I think a Boomer, places these guys as "early Xers" so as to distance his own generation from his and cast a shadow on mine.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


No Bethlehem wine for Christmas
Churches in the Holy Land and in Europe are facing a Christmas without their preferred Cremisan altar wine because Israeli soldiers are refusing to allow trucks transporting the wine from Bethlehem to enter Israel.
Middle East Online reports the wine is made by the Salesians of Don Bosco, at the Cremisan winery in Beit Jala, a suburb of Bethlehem.
The Salesians have been producing the wine for the past 125 years as a direct means of support for their pastoral and educational work among the poor of Bethlehem and to provide a livelihood for many local Palestinian families.
Now, for the first time in more than 100 years, the churches and religious establishments in Jerusalem, Nazareth and other parts of Israel are being deprived of Cremisan wine, Middle East Online says.
Christian hotels and pilgrim houses in Israel are now being forced to buy Israeli wine. Because wines for export are shipped through the Israeli port of Haifa, no export to the UK and Europe has been possible for several months. Read the rest here.
Hat tip to The Mad One.