Saturday, October 31, 2015

This is the Day which the Lord has Made

So far so good for unity between Australian and New Zealand Christians. We agree that the Lord has made this day, 31 October (northern hemisphere time). It may have been hijacked in times past by pumpkin loving trick or treaters but today is a new day, the day when years of emotional anticipation and depth planning are put to the test. And I am not looking at you, the Head Usher at Twickenham, when I talk about years of planning for this day. St Steve and St Richie, with St Dan and St Ma'a and all the saints in the squad, may our prayers tomorrow on All Saints Day be prayers of thanksgiving and not tears of grief.

LATER: Prayers of Thanksgiving it is! A great game, played well by both sides, with many minutes of it absolutely suitable video material for "How to Play Rugby Perfectly."

Friday, October 30, 2015

Sexualised religion? Maybe misleading!

Jonathan Freedland - a practising Jew - writes for the Guardian about the state of play for religion today. Either he or his sub-editor has supplied the headline:

Religion is like sex – it can seem absurd, but it works

Nothing gets readers reading like making sure 'sex' is in the headline. But in this case the article really is about religion and not about sex. I hope Guardian readers do not feel disappointed :)

You, of course, can be the judge about what he writes.

My judgement is that he makes a small and valuable point: religion has its consolations and comforts; it even motivates compassion.

According to Freedland this is particularly so for Anglicans!
"For increasing numbers of Anglicans, it works that way too. Singing hymns in church is a comfort, reminding them of their childhood or their parents, and leaving them with a glow of warmth towards neighbours they might otherwise never meet."
I suggest all readers here would be united on a rejoinder: that is insipid Anglicanism. True Anglicanism is about changing the world with the gospel of Christ.

The great weakness of Freedland's argument is that he refuses to examine the truth of religious claims. Instead, all that matters are the pragmatic benefits.

Oh, and some Anglicans think neither sex nor religion is absurd :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The meaning of the text exceeds the Eucharist

In my library perambulations on Scripture and the mercy (grace) of God, with specific reference to John 1:17, I have come across Richard Bauckham's latest book, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2015).

One of his chapters is entitled "Sacraments?" and in the course his reflections he has this to say about John 6:51c, 53-56:

"Since it is distinctively eucharistic language that appears in 6:53-56, it will almost inevitably call the Eucharist to the minds of Christian readers familiar with that language. We must reckon seriously with this "overtone," but at the same time we should not allow it to replace the primary meaning of the text. Responsible readers who recognize the eucharistic overtone will understand it in a way that is consistent with the primary meaning of the text. There is nothing in the context to support the view that John was actually warning against an unacceptable sacramentalism in which too much importance was attached to the material elements of the rite.* But the passage surely resists any eucharistic reading of it in which the material elements of the rite take the place of the faith in the crucified Jesus that it is primarily about. In other words, the Eucharist can be relevant to a reading of the text only insofar as the Eucharist is understood precisely as an expression of faith in the crucified Jesus and as a symbol of participation in his life. Then the text can function to teach participants in the Eucharist what the sacrament is actually about. At the same time, it is vital to recognize that while the Eucharist is the communal rite that focuses what this text is about in the life of the church, the meaning of the text exceeds the Eucharist. The primary meaning is both more basic and more extensive than the sacramental overtone." [p. 103; my italics]

*That blows away one theory of mine!

At the heart of Anglican Communion life is, well, communion and it is important that we understand (as far as we are able this side of the Parousia) what communion is and is not.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mercy Nudges the Door

I am trying to make sense of the end of the Synod in Rome. Yesterday's post linked to a conservative commentator concluding it was a conservative victory. Ditto Damian Thompson here

Today I point you to Archbishop Cranmer, to a post which has many links to commentators of varying hues. 

I suggest that a wider reading of commentary on the concluding document of the Synod leads to a fuzzier conclusion about the meaning of the document and the question - if we might put it this way - of 'who won?'. (Update: see now Catholic Herald and the RNS. I think Francis will be well satisfied with the outcome.) 

(Very conservative) Rorate Caeli, for instance, feels quite bleak about the document as he offers citation of the most controversial passages and critical comment.

The concluding document in Italian is here. As best I can tell the English version is not available in full though clearly commentators are making available English versions of some paragraphs. (So also here).

Currently I am working on a project concerning Scripture as God's gracious truth. So I am slightly more interested in the outworking of 'mercy' in this document than I might ordinarily have been.

It beggars belief for this bear of small brain that the appearance of mercy nudging the door to communion for remarried-without-annulment Catholics brought such forceful opposition during the Synod proceedings, as characterised in these paragraphs in America- the National Catholic Review:

"Indeed, the most heated discussion in the synod revolved around one theme in this chapter: the controversial question of whether Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried could, under certain circumstances, receive communion. A sizeable group of synod fathers, including three cardinals heading Roman Curia Offices (Ouellet, Sarah and Pell), sought to totally exclude this possibility from the text but in the end they failed.  
“Discernment” is the key word to understand the synod’s approach to this question, Cardinal Schonborn told the press. He said the synod gives “great attention” to their situation, which is so diversified that “there is no black and white answer, no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’” as some insisted, instead “it’s necessary to discern in each case.” He recalled that this was exactly what John Paul II had advocated in his 1981 apostolic exhortation on the family, "Familiaris Consortio." Moreover, he added, “discernment” is something that Pope Francis knows a lot about; with his Jesuit background of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, he has been doing it all his life. 
This key word—“discernment”—appears in several paragraphs, three of which (83-84-85) encountered very strong opposition from a group of synod fathers that wanted to totally exclude the possibility that the divorced and remarried could ever be allowed to receive communion."
As I understand the 'controversial' paragraphs of the final document, they are not controversial because they change the substance of Catholic teaching on marriage but because they open the door a crack (and only a crack) to some variation around the world as to how individual bishops guide their pastors in responding pastorally to people in new marriages after divorce.

As I also understand life itself, this possibility of variation via 'discernment' fits with life. Some sacramental* marriages breakdown because of wilful destruction (e.g. one partner embarks on an affair and subsequently marries that new partner); it may be (relatively) easy to discern the 'wrongdoer' and the 'wronged'; and it may be (relatively) easy to maintain an application of Jesus' teaching which permanently refuses to give communion to the wrongdoer. But what of the wronged person who then remarries? And what of other breakdowns in marriages which are not as straightforward as 'broken-by-unfaithfulness'?

Is the way of Jesus in these situations best captured by the 'group of synod fathers that wanted to totally exclude the possibility that the divorced and remarried could ever be allowed to receive communion'? Or is it better captured by the fathers who voted for the controversial paragraphs?

*I specifically refer to 'sacramental marriages' because I think it a distraction to keep referring to possibilities of 'annulment' as a way forward for some marriages/remarriages which (on Roman reckoning) never were a sacramental marriage. Sacramental marriages can and do breakdown. As I understand things, those situations are the 'interesting' ones because they do not admit of the theologically simple solution of annulment. (Most such situations are, of course, pastorally complex.) Mercy might apply even to these situations!

From an Anglican point of view it is refreshing to see open debate emerging through mainstream and social media within world Catholicism. This debate should restrain any temptation to cast Anglican anxieties and contretemps as somehow ill-befitting a global church with claims to catholicity. The Archbishop Cupichs and Cardinal Kaspers of the Roman Catholic church have demonstrated that thinking Christians of all persuasions are likely to engender controversy when they articulate the mind as well as the heart of Christ, when they voice the tension between doctrine and practice. They have our Anglican sympathies.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

World Cup Doctrine and Practice Final: Rome v Canterbury

Am on a poor internet connection today so I will get you to do the work in this competition ...

Tim Stanley reports on the outcome of the Roman synod on family here.

[Spoiler Alert: Rome remains Roman!]

As I read the report I was struck by points of comparison (e.g. conservative Africa) and points of distinction between Rome and Canterbury on matters under discussion. Matters we Anglicans have debated publicly for years but which Roman bishops have only just found their public voice (including 'public' via leakage, spin and even blogging).

What strikes you?

PS in that other World Cup competition going on at the moment, just in case you missed the news, the All Blacks are the first team ever to make four Rugby World Cup Finals.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Running round in circles or squaring the circle?

I am keeping an eye on the Roman synod on family, Eucharist and related matters currently working its way through a long, by Anglican standards, period of dialogue and discourse.

I am grateful for correspondents who have pointed me in the direction of the following posts which I share in no particular order of ranked importance and with acknowledgement that there are many either interesting if not intriguing links which could be made at this time. The last post is actually about Episcopalian life but it bears listing in the context of this post.

Damian Thompson reflects on the politics.

Our own Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop of Palmerston North, made a speech which is reported here.

John Allen reports here.

Then from within TEC a joint Living Church reflection from different if not opposing perspectives on the possibility of living with contradictory views. Are Hylden and Voets correct re 'comprehension'? If they are then the Roman synod might be assisted by reflecting with them. If they are not then we might better understand some of the tensions being reported on in the links above!

I was fascinated near the beginning of the Roman synod to find someone describing what they were trying to do as squaring a circle - precisely what I think we Anglicans are trying to do. But the process of getting there (whatever 'there' may be) has observable elements of running around in circles!

Monday, October 19, 2015


After the greatest weekend ever of rugby - four absolutely cracking quarter finals in the Rugby World Cup, unparalleled in my view by previous quarter final weekends - we need to turn from the heavenly game to earthly matters. Two posts catch my eye because they offer clarity, at least as much clarity as the All Blacks provided when they walloped France: they are the best team in the universe!

Bosco Peters has a very helpful post here about sacramental matters on which some of us, including myself, tend to get a bit confused.

Titus One Nine posts part of the latest Global South communique here. What the post clarifies is that the Global South Primates WILL GO TO THE PRIMATES MEETING. (Note that this includes some but not all GAFCON Primates. We are yet to hear from the GAFCON Primates who do not belong to Global South).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What Preludium doesn't get!

Mark Harris at Preludium has a blogging go at the ABC inviting ACNA Primate to the Primates' Meeting in January 2016.

On the face of it, he has a point. ACNA is not on the list, not named in the Communion's book of Anglican life. Foley Beach should not figure in this meeting. End, of, story.

But what Mark's post does not appear to understand is a view widely held across other parts of the Communion - so I understand - that TEC has left the Communion (cf. reiterated talk in past years re 'walking apart'). It is Ecclesia Non Grata. How then is the ABC to proceed to call a meaningful meeting of primates if his list of Gratae Ecclesiae is different to the list held by others (at least as written in their own minds)? There is no Communion if primates do not turn up en masse. If inviting Foley Beach is the way forward to some kind of meaningful primates meeting or Primates Meeting then that is, to coin another term of diplomacy, the realpolitik of the situation.

I vote for Justin's realpolitik.

Forget the list. Think about relationships!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Since the world hasn't ended, how do we read the end of the Bible?

Recently I had the privilege of teaching a course on the Book of Revelation. The experience both taught me a lot and revealed how much I do not know about this fascinating book. Rather than share or reveal my ignorance with you, a couple of very interesting posts on Revelation can be found here and here. Both by Ian Paul at Psephizo. He does know more than I know!

But here is my one tiny gleaning from my recent teaching/learning experience: Revelation teaches us that things are never quite what they seem to be!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Hegel has a lot to answer for!

A bit peripatetic these days so struggling to keep an eye on things but have managed a quick look at a few things coming out of the Roman synod on the family. All very thesis and antithesis and the synthesis might surprise or it might look like the current status quo. In which latter case one would be entitled to wonder what Francis is up to.

Be that as it may, in the midst of this report is a very technical discussion about Hegel and his influence on Protestants such as Cardinal Kasper. OK, that last phrase is a small joke at either Protestants' or Kasper's expense. But the thing is Hegel was brilliant and likely very wrong. Yet somehow he has been very influential. When you last heard a sermon abut Jesus suffers when we suffer, the preacher may not have realised that whatever else he or she is bearing witness to, it is to Hegelianism!

Or have I misunderstood Hegel?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Child 44

I watched Child 44 the other day, a movie based on a Tom Rob Smith novel by the same name. There is nothing Anglican in this Russian movie but I reckon there is a bit of theology to tease out. Maybe this could rescue the film which I see has some poor reviews and a low Rotten Tomatoes score.

SPOILER ALERT: you may like to watch the film before reading further!

I liked the way the movie is a series of narratives superimposed on one another. Narrative 1 is a 'whodunnit' as security officer-cum-detective Leo Demidov sets out to solve a serial killer murder mystery.

Narrative 2 is a thriller as an enemy of WW2 hero Demidov pursues him and Raisa his wife intent on killing them.

Narrative 3 is a quest for truth and personal integrity within the Stalinist Soviet Orwellian nightmare in which people are denounced, extreme tests of loyalty to the state grotesquely imposed and the serial killing of children is explained as a series of accidents since there are no murders in paradise. Demidov personally awakens to a new consciousness in the course of the movie inspiring courage to pursue the truth and to bear witness to that truth by asking others to join him.

Narrative 4 is a love story as Leo and Raisa discover they love each other despite Leo initially being willing to denounce her to the authorities on a strictly utilitarian ethic (only she will die if denounced, four people (Leo, Raisa, two parents) will die if not), and Raisa admitting that she married Leo out of fear of consequences if she refused the proposal of one of Stalin's security officers.

Narrative 5 is a story of repentance and redemption as Leo agrees with Raisa to adopt two children left as orphans after one of Leo's security operations.

Narrative 6 is a confrontation between the powers of good and evil, The serial killer and Vasili (Leo's enemy within the security service) try to destroy Leo as 'saviour' ... of 'little children'; the former by tempting Leo to agree with him that he and the serial killer are really just two of a kind, the latter simply by trying to kill him.

Narrative 7 is a story of words and how they may be twisted to define and redefine reality, to say one thing and mean another thing, even to avoid facing real reality. At the end of the film, the Soviet authorities have to admit that the murders have taken place. But they cannot admit that the Soviet Union is therefore not a paradise. Cleverly an explanation is found, a bridge between ideology and reality is built. The serial killer had been a prisoner of the Germans in WW2. They had 'turned him', made him into an agent programmed to destroy paradise by killing its children. There was no Soviet murderer in paradise, just a German one.

Sometimes, if we are honest, certain moves in theology are little different from the '(il)logic' in Narrative 7 ...