Southwark cathedral

2 discussion groups.

Edit: Rescheduled the first Rowan Williams group due to weather conditions.

I've set up two theological discussion groups to read theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Stanley Hauerwas, Rowan Williams, St Augustine of Hippo, Sarah Coakley, Walter Brueggemann, and James Alison. Other suggestions welcome in time. The groups will study a few chapters of certain authors on a fortnightly basis, and will meet at 19:45 at a pub in Kennington (please comment below for more details).

I'm looking for some companions for the adventurous theological journey described above. I don't care about denomination, colour, gender, age, sexuality, ministerial ordaindedness, height etc. Previous theological background is not necessary, and a certain degree of agnosticism is unimportant, but an openess to the possibility of God and a preparedness to learn would be useful! I am looking for people who are interested in wrestling with faith in the world today, and working to blend scripture, tradition and a sense of humour.  I envisage a shared journey of textual exploration, and not violent encounters of the "hell-bound" variety!

First group:
The first group will be a "starter" theology group.  We'll meet on the first and third Monday of every month (fortnightly) at 19:45 and will begin by reading the introduction and first chapter of Rowan Williams' book, "Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief".  The first meeting will be on Monday 16th February Monday 2nd Feb 2009, to allow people time to order and read the book.  It will be a bit of a taster, and will open the way for reading other books quite soon.

Second group:
The second group will be a more practiced theology group.  We'll meet on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month (fortnightly) at 19:45 and will begin by reading the introduction and first chapter of Fergus Kerr's book "After Aquinas" and the Summa Theologica (Aquinas) first part, question 1, articles 1-10 (found online here: ).  You'll need to order "After Aquinas".  The first meeting will take place on Tuesday 10th February 2009, again to allow for ordering and reading time.  My knowledge of Aquinas is minimal so we will set our own pace.  This group will probably be reading Aquinas for some time!

Because everybody has a different background, the groups will be completely non-coercive and open, and will allow opportunities for exploring Christian beliefs and practices.

Please leave a comment if you want to be a part of either group (or know somebody that might).
Southwark cathedral

Lack of posting...

I haven't posted on LJ for absolutely ages! This has something to do with the fact that I'd feel obligated to post over a whole year's news and partly to do with the fact my LJ is public. Mostly it has to do with the fact that I leave the house at 7.30am and return at 8.00pm, work every other Saturday and spend the intervening time doing chores, collapsed on the sofa or asleep!

Part of the difficulty with catching up on /everything/ is that it is just too darn difficult to start. I always wonder why Maria didn't actually start at the "very middle, a very good place to start"!

I think I'm going to make my LJ "Friend's only" for a while, just so that I feel I can blather away without fearing that everyone will be able to read it!
Southwark cathedral

Night minus 1

There is not much to report on last night. We spent much time putting the last of the Night On The Tiles banners up around the church. Following that, Fr Malcolm prepared for his ascent by gathering bits and pieces that he'd need whilst on the roof. We lifted a couple of buckets of water to the top of the scaffold (which is hard work since it entails ascending ladders one rung at a time). I went to sleep a lot later than yesterday since Malcolm had to do an interview at 12.30 on Radio 5, and there didn't seem a lot of point in settling if I were only to wake again later. I gathered some information for a possible radio show that I might need to do the next day.

At midnight, my attention was drawn to 2 police vans and a couple of police cars which appeared at a flat opposite the church. Out poured about 25 officers to investigate the contents of the flat. It looked to me to be some kind of raid on a crack house, but they appeared only to cart off one person and so it might have been less sinister. It was a lot of vans. There's something terribly voyeuristic about watching people who don't know they're being watched.

At about 2 am, after a little reading, I went to sleep and didn't wake up until 6.55am when Malcolm (apparently up and zooming around) appeared with a BBC journalist. Very odd. I'm not used to greeting people before out of my bed!
Southwark cathedral

Night minus 2.

Due to the generosity of one of my donors, I've decided to spend 10 nights on the roof with Fr Malcolm and friends. However, for slightly complicated reasons, we've decided to start early and test out the middle portion of scaffolding where most of us will be sleeping. You won't read this entry until I make it public on the launch date of 29th June. I wanted to record a few bits and pieces from my first night though...

In the evening, I cycled from home to St Michael's with a sleeping bag, bivvy bag, roll-mat, waterproofs, a couple of changes of clothes and two books in a large army rucksack. I knew that I'd need quite a lot of stuff to stay dry, in case of rain, and it made me realise once again that one of the major difficulties with being homeless is the sheer amount of stuff one needs to carry to be able to stay warm and dry. Fortunately, I'll be able to leave some of the stuff in the office during the day so I won't need to carry it about with me, but it makes me more aware of the need for safe places of storage where homeless people can leave their stuff and find it intact at the end of the day.

We began the evening by putting up a few more "A Night On The Tiles" banners a little lower on the scaffold. Or rather, Fr Malcolm put the banners up and I held the ends in an attempt to be helpful. People are really starting to stop and read the banners, and one lady stopped and gave us some money for the project... People shout out things too in an attempt to be friendly. (I think that's what it was anyway because it's not always possible to hear what people on the ground are saying!) It's good that there appears to be a fair amount of local recognition as to what is being done, and what the church is up to.

From the top of the scaffolding, it's not possible to see Camden High Street without standing up, which awards a certain amount of privacy, but it also means that one can go to sleep without looking down from a great height. Upon getting into all of the sleeping bags, and lying on the mat, I realised that two particular hardships will exist for twelve nights, and neither of them is the height. The first is the hardness (even with a roll-mat) of the wooden scaffolding planks upon which we're sleeping. However, it does have the advantage of not being grass and consequently we oughtn't to suffer from rising damp. The second hardship will be the noise of Camden. It wasn't possible to hear Fr Malcolm speaking normally from the other end of the scaffold, a couple of metres away. Endless traffic, buses, motorcycles, sirens from emergency vehicles, revellers, drunken revellers and drunken non-revellers, late-night shoppers, things smashing(!), it woke me up to the the idea that Camden never sleeps. One set of day people are replaced by another set of night people. I really like it that some of the goths and other "alternative" people seem to come out at night... It made me realise that having the church open during the day is great, but there are a lot of people around in the late evening for whom church isn't accessible.

It took me an hour or so to get to sleep after 10pm because (as I really only realise when camping), I'm not used to going to bed when it gets dark and rising when it's light. Doing that in the city is even more odd especially since a lot of London (Camden included) never really gets dark. Hidden behind the banners, it was dark enough that the street lights (which we're more or less level with) weren't going to keep us awake. I tried to read for a bit, but the light wasn't great and I had no torch. After that, I tossed and turned for a while (but not too long because of the planks of wood) and then ensured that the sleeping bag was well tucked in to the bivvy bag (in case of rain) and then sealed up the bivvy bag, allowing a small hole for fresh air. I think I must have slept quite well, but I remember waking on a number of occasions and finally woke up at 4.45am.

Fr Malcolm climbed down the ladder at 4.30am (or some such time) and confirmed with me that Camden does sleep, but that Camden sleeps at around 3.15am and wakes at 4.30am. Guess who got all the sleep then...! I was in that state of not being quite awake and not being quite asleep until 5.00am. Indeed, it felt too cold to actually clamber out of the sleeping bag, so I was able to get some reading in before the town centre woke up.

For those curious, I'm reading Stanley Hauerwas' "Vision and Virtue", which I've never really read properly before. It struck me as somewhat amusing last night that here we were, at roof height on the church, and I was reading a book about forming distinct Christian practices. A number of people have already mentioned St Symeon Stylite the Elder, which is rather an unfair comparison on him since he lived on a column for twenty years and our (various) lengths of stay on the roof will be for less than a fortnight, with some of us only staying there at night! Still, I hope that a forty foot platform on the side of a church where we will sleep with our friends will accord a place to examine the mad vision of Christian practice.[1]

As I was packing away all of my gear this morning, I looked through the top of the glass windows of the church and realised that I could see all of the way through the church to the other side from an angle that is never usually possible because of the height. I think it's incredibly valuable to be privileged enough to be rewarded with that kind of vision, and it struck me as profound in a way that I can't easily articulate.

[1] At some point, I definitely want to attempt some kind of synthesis of Stanley Hauerwas and Judith Butler. I've been flicking through the Judith Butler reader over the past few weeks and I was particularly struck by two similarities between the thinkers. The first is the idea that we're not actors for whom "decision" is necessarily central. Hauerwas outlines this on p12 when criticising Joseph Fletcher, and says "I am not denying the tremendous importance of the fact that ultimately it is by decision that the ethical life lives or that without decision and choice it is not possible to speak about a moral act at all. Rather I am arguing that neither the moral life nor our moral philosophy can be based on the concept of decision alone". This, I think, really ties in with the idea of gender as "performative" and "self" shaped by practices that are imposed upon us from birth.
The second commonality was more a vague feeling than anything so concrete. On p5, Hauewas notes "Normative theory cannot substitute for what only a substantive community can provide" and I was lead to think about Judith Butler's rejection of herself as a "theorist" when some of her writing was placed in a book partly bearing the title "theory". I need to go back and see whether there's anything in this.
Southwark cathedral

Lectures at St Katherine's & Scripture in Liturgy

I went to a fascinating couple of lectures yesterday, given in London at The Royal Foundation of St Katherine. The lectues were for the 75th anniversary of something at Walsingham. The speakers were Timothy Radcliffe on "word" as sacred space, and then Margaret Barker on the Jewish temple.

Firstly, the Margaret Barker lecture was given very quickly and was fascinating, but I didn't catch enough to dare to repeat here with any accuracy. However, it really brought me up short on my complete lack of knowledge of the Old Testament, (let alone inter-testamental periods or non-canonical Old Testament literature). My lack of familiarity with the OT is something I've been wanting to remedy for ages, but not really got around to. I'm sure that if one could really get /into/ the narrative and live and breathe with the people in the book, it would come alive in a way that it doesn't always seem to for me at the moment. I'd like to read the Old Testament through from start to finish with a couple of interested people and some commentaries and the odd Margaret Barker, Walter Bruggemann or 'somebody with a gift for enjoying the narrative' book. Does anybody in London want to do this on a rather slow basis?

[Incidentally, I must must read Margaret Barker's book "The Great High Priest". Question for future reference - does Margaret Barker's work tie in with Mary Douglas' latest work/number of books on the Pentateuch, especially the "ring idea"/temple connection for the writing of texts. Is this a fruitful or worthwhile study for any point in time?]

The Timothy Radcliffe lecture, I might quote a few paragraphs from here as there were some lines that were tremendous. One could almost feel the room uplifted by a sort of window into God's life though the speaker. The text is on a different computer so I can't do it yet, but later my dear readers (if indeed, there are any of you!) :-) I have to say that one real blessing for me in life is to hear people speak and be moved enough to want to quote what they've said.

Related to the second paragraph above, I struggle sometimes with the fragmentary nature of the liturgy, in that the liturgical life eg. Lent, Easter, Ordinary time tell one story at the same time as one has a daily story (Mattins, Evensong, Compline) often going alongside, and within that, at the heart of it are two or three little bits of Scripture. It's enough to keep up with the seasons, let alone make sense of some of what's said during the sacrament of the word. If I manage to stay focused on the Scriptures enough to hear what's being said, there is never enough time to work out how they fit together or how one makes sense of the other. Without a sermon (which one does not always have time for and which may not be good, even if one did), I'm left vaguely wondering how, as a community, we're supposed to internalise the story. The small chunks may have worked when people had a more intimate knowledge of Scripture (if such a time ever existed) or when monks and nuns prayed in choir, but I don't always feel that I've either heard, or if I've heard, that I've properly internalised the readings. In more Evangelical circles, it's customary to "go through a book" of Scripture at a time, so that one has a more constant rendition of the story, and I'm aware that the lectionary does have a pattern to it, but even the Sunday pattern seems rather haphazard to me in terms of Old Testament chronology. Does anybody else struggle with making sense of these fragments of readings, or am I peculiar (in that regard!)?
Southwark cathedral

Are you fully actively participating?

A liturgy student's moan is to follow...

In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Liturgy, promulgated in 1963 as one of the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council, the pernicious phrase first appears: "full active participation". I've used the translation from the Vatican website. Let's have a look:

"41. The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent.

Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God's holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers."

The problem is that the pernicious phrase has been taken by everybody who wants to justify their particular innovation and claim its benefit for the laos. Now, as an Anglican Catholic, indeed, especially as an Anglican Catholic, I've got nothing against full understanding and participation by all in the liturgy. I would comment that understanding comes with the help of the use of the vernacular, but not only through use of the vernacular. Shared use of actions and symbols are equally important. I would raise, for example, what constitutes full understanding (which often seems to be implied by the 'active' bit of the phrase). Is it not the case that one's faith seeks understanding as one progresses through life and liturgy rather than that one gains understanding in a one-off liturgy? Just because a service is in one's own language, can one really hope to 'understand' the mysteries of God any better? What exactly is meant by the idea of full active participation?

Attending Prayer Book Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral, as I am wont to do relatively frequently is something that one fully, actively participates in. Such participation comes through appreciating the beauty of the music of the choir who are singing it, silently praying the words as they sing, bowing at the "glory be", turning east to say the creed, kneeling to pray the prayers of the day lead by the priest and usually singing a hymn to finish. Sometimes my attention is thoroughly focused on all of the words and music etc. and hopefully my mind and body are directed towards God. Sometimes I like to take a book because I find it is a good way to reflect and wind down at the end of the day, surrounded by others who are singing God's praises on my behalf. Likewise, I hope that my mind and body are directed towards God, though perhaps in a slightly different way.

Attending (somewhat) Common Worship Mass at Little St Mary's, as I did weekly a year or two ago on a Sunday morning, one is thoroughly drawn into the liturgy. Most of the responses and prayers are sung or said by the whole congregation. Once one has got the hang of the little blue book and white sheet of paper with responses of the day upon it, one's mind and heart are thoroughly tugged towards prayer by the music, colours, lights, smells etc. Through that prayer, we're moved to enter God's presence. Not everybody can do the readings or sing in the choir or serve, but everybody may fully participate, with a little practice, in such a liturgy. I ought to comment that some of the prayers (eg. the Agnus Dei) are in Latin, and occasionally some of the anthems sung by the choir may be in Latin or German. Nobody that I know has protested at this. I wonder, is it problematic that some of the responses are seasonal and consequently, one has to read from a piece of paper to join in? Is that biasing in favour of the middle classes?

I could go on and on in a similar vein, listing a whole variety of services with which I'm familiar eg. evangelical, charismatic 'worship' service or relatively 'low' Roman Catholic Masses and whilst I consider that different actions are going on in all of them, I've considered that I've been fully, actively participating in all of them. If I go abroad and I don't speak the language that the service is said in, am I less fully actively participating if I have a good general idea of what is happening through the symbols and reactions of priest and congregation?

In Whispers in the Loggia, a blog that I've mentioned that I read frequently, Rocco Palmo recently commented favourable on an article from the New York Times that suggested that it is good that deaf people are more fully able to participate in the Mass because the action is performed by a [deaf] priest who signs it, rather than 'hearing' the Mass through an interpreter who signs what the priest is saying. Palmo drew on par. 48 of SC to say that he'd seen people with various limitations more "fully enter into the mystery of redemption which the Mass celebrates". The idea that this is a work that has sprung from Second Vatican Council seemed to me to be implied. I've yet to do any major study into liturgy from the point of view of a greater awareness of limitations of physical ability (eg. wheel chair users being unable to enter the sanctuary or unable to see when people stand) etc. I would want to fully support, for example, greater numbers of priests being trained in sign language, service sheets printed in large print or braille. However, there is still a question about what full active participation by everybody means.

Considering that we have a common good in mind when we argue about liturgy, it strikes me that we might have to choose between the desires and needs of two sets of people. What if a congregation can only have one service a day, but that congregation mostly consists of Spanish people, and yet Mass is said in English? What if a congregation are elderly and cannot afford microphones, but have a priest who insists on saying Mass at the east end, where nobody can hear or see what is happening?

Too often the phrase "full active participation" is used by Catholic commentators to say 'we've got rid of the evil Latin that /nobody/ could understand and which was inaudible' and replaced it with nice, friendly, folk Masses in which we get to sing 'popular' tunes. I'm not against the odd 'folk' Mass, but I would fully stand behind those who would advocate good choral music, theological (not necessarily academic) homilies and church decoration and liturgy that are beautiful. I appreciate that beautiful as a white, female, Anglo, blah, blah is going to be different from what would be beautiful to, say, a Latino congregation, but surely the idea of "the best of what we can offer to God" is something that can be appreciated by a variety of people, whatever their culture.

Consequently, my sympathy lies fully with the Latin Catholic Mass society who would argue that they were, are and continue to participate fully and actively in the Mass despite its different sights and sounds from the vernacular Vatican II Mass.

Has anybody else come across the pernicious phrase used as a weapon against more 'traditional' liturgy or hymondy?
Southwark cathedral

Keeping an eye out...

I like to keep an occasional eye open for what the Archbishop has to say at the events he attends. Today I found a fairly simple introduction to the Christian faith, given in 2005 in Pakistan to the international Islamic University. It's given, it seems with the anticipation of the interruption "but what about X?" by the Muslim audience and consequently, it anticipates certain points that might be problematic eg. the action of the Eucharist or Mass and the language of "body" and "blood".

Contrast this kind of talk with the rubbish being flung around at the moment on creationism and I.D. theory and it seems that in the Archbishop, through this sort of talk, one has a partner for constructive dialogue.

I commend it.
Southwark cathedral

(no subject)

Today we're going to explore some of the issues that I have with point 2 of Benedict 16's address to Italian politicians. Let's recap:

"As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:

- protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;

- recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family - as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage - and its defence from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role; ..."

I dealt with protection of life in the previous post. I've requoted substantially more text than might be necessary because I wanted to force a recognition of the jar between the two points. Is the Pope really placing protection of life on the same level as recognition and promotion of the family (or defending marriage)? Is it really the case that life-promotion is as non-negotiable as marriage-promotion? I do not understand such a rationale. It seems to me that despite some link between the two issues, the Church needs far more seriously to address the issue of the current sham in Iraq or the conflict between Israel and Palestine and relatedly, her attitude towards the principles that might determine whether war is permissible (if indeed, such principles exist). The "protection of life" includes issues such as abortion, euthanasia, war, terrorism, stem-cell research and all that might include treating human life as less than human life. It's issues relating to the refusal to acknowledge the dignity of being created. Can understanding civil partnership and marriage legislation as juridically equivalent be put into the same category as that of protecting life? Indeed, it would be much much more fascinating here to raise certain environmental questions pertaining to creation. Human beings are to be stewards of the whole of God's creation, and the abuse of the planet would seem to be a rather ignored issue by both world and church at the moment.

Secondly, and hopefully more interestingly, I am fascinated by the Pope's words on point two. Let's look closely:

"recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family"

So, natural structure of family... The most "natural" family of which I am aware, as a Christian is that of the Christ-child. What Christians understand to be "natural" is turned upside down by the intrusion and explosion of God into our world. So, let's see, we have an unmarried Jewish teenager impregnated by means other than with a penis and normal sperm. What's more, her pregnancy is announced by angels. Then we have a father who is told to accept a woman (not his wife) who is pregnant with a child that is not technically his. Additionally, we have, what shall we call them, uncles? A whole load of people who claim to have followed a star and now insist on bringing "gifts" to a new-born baby... We won't even mention the shepherds! And Jesus Christ, a never-married (so far as we know) Jewish man who insists on hanging around with 12 other men. He has a special male friend who is sometimes identified as John, and sometimes as Lazarus.

Well, that's all so terribly natural I'm sure.

Also, the Church as an insitution is that which seeks to make biological destiny secondary to our destiny as adopted children of God. Our baptism into the community of church is of far more import than who we know our biological parents to be. Why is biological family so important to the Pope? Doesn't the church family consist of single people and folk in religious orders and re-married people (whether the Pope likes it or not) and gay people too? There is no "natural structure" of the family because the Church turns "natural" on its head by its mere existence.

But the fascinating part is the next bit. The Pope really thinks that civil partnership legislation stands as a threat to the Church. Surely if it really is the case that if people think hard enough, they'll realise the naturalness of marriage (if that is indeed natural law), then the Church has nothing to fear from Civil Partnership legislation whatsoever. I'm not sure the Church can have it both ways. One either needs to say that it's so obvious that marriage is the "natural" conveyor of life that we barely need to promote it, or one needs to say that Christian marriage is different from civil marriage and that we consider it endangered and thus it requires our campaigning on its behalf. To accept the latter is to deny the "naturalness" of marriage.

The last bit is even more interesting, and where I hope to have learned a thing or two from some of my latest reading... Look carefully:

"radically different forms of union which in reality harm [marriage] and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role"

We haven't specified our radically different forms of union, but I have assumed that the Pope is referring to Civil Partnerships. One question is why or whether other forms of life also exist to harm and destablize marriage. Does the existence of the religious life harm marriage? Doubtful. Does it destabilize it? Certainly. It's meant to. The idea that Christians can live in hope without biologically bearing children is part of what makes baptism so radical. One is made a parent, a child, an aunt, an uncle, through baptism. One's new duty may well be to bring up the children of others or look after the parents of others because Christians see their bond in Christ as stronger than their biological ties. That certainly damned ought to destabilize marriage and a whole lot of other things besides. But what is so intriguing is that the Pope really considers lesbian and gay people (or bisexual people) who choose to enter civil unions a threat, a /harm/ to marriage. How, if marriage is so natural an act, will such legislation harm marriage? Is the Pope afraid that lesbian and gay peoples' noticeable existence in partnerships will lure others off into such parnerships? Is the Pope afraid of married peoples' children meeting civilised[1] peoples' children in schools? What exactly is the harm or threat to marriage? I can understand destabilization, but I fail to understand why harm is included.

Now, taking this a step further, I alternatively propose that civil partnership legislation is a piece of conservative legislation. Rather than existing as a threat to marriage, it exists as the best backup that marriage can have. At a time when many heterosexual people are abandoning the institution, lesbians and gays are flocking to it. Many in the lesbigaytransqueerquestionningconfused community have resisted it because they consider it to be "marriage in all but name". All those who enter civil partnerships are able to do so because heterosexual marriage existed first and heterosexual marriage is the model[2]. Now, there are some queer takes that can be made here, with the metaphors of Christ, church, Mary, bride, bridegroom etc. that I might write about some other time. What I would say however, is that if lesbian and gay people are imitating that which Christianity has called "holy", that is monogamous marriage, then such imitation should be seen as flattery, and not condemned as harmful. It ought to be noted that Judaism[3] (according to the Authorized Daily Prayer Book) in early Rabbinic literature presupposes a practically monogamic society. Further, despite Islam's allowance of polygamy[4], popular literature seems to state that 'monogamy is the norm and polygamy the exception'.[5] Indeed, it is an interesting step for the lesbigayetc community because it begins to answer the question of what queer theology built from the model of marriage (rather than eroticised friendship) might look like.

[1] Pun intended.
[2] It has been put to me recently that some form of lesbian / gay marriage existed as some kind of institution before heterosexual marriage[6]. I've not yet seen the documentary evidence to back that up.
[3] Thanks to lavendersparkle for pointing out that I'd made a naughty generalisation and forcing me to expand the point.
[5] A more adventurous queer theologian might begin theologising for non-monogamy, especially since this is a much more common gay male practice. You'll just have to consider me unadventurous!
[6] That heterosexual marriage has even been one identifiable pheonemon, existing in the same way throughout time is debatable, but I haven't really got time or research money to nuance as finely as I might like.
Southwark cathedral

Blogging hiatus

[Ed. Sorry - I was interrupted mid-post and thus I didn't finish this and so it might have looked odd for a while!]

I've not posted much for a long time, but I'm still devouring a theological book every week or so, as well as thinking about the dissertation and essays that I need to submit before London University can award me a degree.

Since April 2005, life seems to have been patterned by a period of immense barrenness and exhaustion followed by a time of flourishing fertility in the form of an entirely new outlook on life. And from that, and from a lot of reflection on everything I've read in the past, some new ideas are beginning to flower.

One of the blogs I read on a semi-regular basis is Whispers in the Loggia ( ). It keeps me up to date with bits of the Roman Catholic church. Since Anglican news seems rather dire at the moment, I've steered clear of it. Anyhow, the following excerpt ( is taken from a speech that the Pope made to a delegation of Italian politicians:

Pope Benedict 16:

"As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:

- protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;

- recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family - as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage - and its defence from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;

- the protection of the right of parents to educate their children."

Now, it seems to me that some of these are particularly odd to focus in upon.

I can understand the first point. One presumes that point one is that the preservation of human life throughout the length of lifespan is an absolute priority. One imagines that the Pope is hinting that the church should campaign for conservative legislation concerning abortion and euthanasia. There is of course a question as to what "natural" death constitutes now that we have the technology to keep people alive for much longer than we might have been able to even ten or twenty years ago. Is it "natural" to die hooked up to a respirator with other machines keeping our vital organs alive? Is it "natural" to die after effectively being killed by morphine that was administered for the purpose of pain relief? Firstly, what I'm asking is a question about the necessity and point of intervention, to which I'm not convinced there is a good generic answer. Secondly, I'm asking a question about "naturalness". How does one determine whether intervention is natural - what makes "natural" contraception natural? What makes intervention in order to preserve life "natural"? I'm not particularly seeking answers, but I am wondering about whether it is possible to draw up legislation for these matters or are they better for Christians to handle internally? Now here I'm making a number of assumptions and I'm not too sure that we've worked through our answers yet.

The major question is: what is the role of the church in relation to the state/legislature? If one answers that the church should stay out of politics, one has missed the point that being Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) is a political gesture in itself. Christianity is a political position.

One might take a somewhat Mennonite stance and argue that to intervene in public affairs is not the job of the church. The Church's role is to concentrate on forming Christians to live in a world that is often hostile. The Christian (and maybe the Jewish) mode of counter-acting liberal abortion legislation is not to argue that the law be changed to make abortion harder, but to set up homes and centres where mothers-to-be (and fathers-to-be) might be supported emotionally and financially through their pregnancies and beyond. There's no point in opposing abortion unless one is prepared to pay for a year's supply of nappies or offer to take in women who find themselves unintentionally pregnant. It might even be the duty of the Christian to offer to bring up the children of women who have found themselves pregnant and unable to care for the child, but willing to carry her and deliver her.


A more Catholic position might be to argue that if abortion/euthanasia are matters of life and death, then the best way to ensure that life is promoted and death is minimised is to ensure that the church continue to remain in discussion with the legislature. Christians may campaign in so far as they are voting citizens and their views and opinions count as much as anybody else's views or opinions in a liberal democracy. If they form a majority in any country, then it may be that Christians are able to influence policy makers.

The Pope is presumably assuming some form of this latter model, but I think there is a very large question as to whether the Church and the state continue to remain bed-mates. The problem is that to argue, at the moment, the first position is somewhat too close to the idea that religion should remain people's "private" concern and that it should not enter public discussion at all. Such a position is to miss the fact that religion isn't the slightest bit private, has never seen itself or understood itself to be "private". Indeed, the whole idea that there is a "private" (let alone a church/state distinction) is entirely alien to Christianity. Is it linked with the Enlightenment? The problem, when arguing the second position is that an attempt to persuade and cajole the legislature may lead to a watering down and compromise of Christian practice. Also, it might lead to an acceptance (that many make without thinking) that liberal democracy is the best form of government available and thus the one that Christians should acquiesce with. Indeed, even if one thinks that liberal democracy is the best model for Christians to promote, whether one desires to interact with a particular government may be a dubious matter. It might be better to have nothing to do with a government that considers arms trading acceptable.

I don't have any clear answers here. Anybody that has managed to synthesise the best of Rowan Willians and the best of Stanley Hauerwas, please send me your essays! :) Dar Williams, in a song called "Teen for God" which many evangelical "grown-up" teenagers will surely identify with wrote this:

"Dear Lord I plan each day
The things I will not do or say
But I'm driven by a passion
Is it only there to tame?
It fills my heart and it calls my name and
This world that you made for us
I know, I know, is dangerous..."

But recently I've been led to re-consider the doctrine of creation. I've nothing new to say here, but I do think that our doctrine of creation affects our politics. In that sense, I'm still a systematician. What does it mean to be made in the image of God and how much and to what extent is that image marred by the fall? What does it mean for God to call creation "good" and how do Christians understand creation itself (rather than just humans) to be marred by the fall? I don't consider that the world is "dangerous", or that we need to fear it. I think the world is often wrong, but then so are Christians. If God named the world, and in so naming bound up what it means to be world with what it means to be good, then Christians perhaps oughtn't to proclaim it dangerous. If one concedes that the fall was so serious, and that the world is dangerous and that we need to be afraid of being lured into it, then one is more likely to accept paragraph one and attempt to stay out of legislative politics. If one concedes that the world is good, but not as good as it could be, then Christians have a duty to remain in public life.

How exactly does one square the reign of the Kingdom of God and the reign of Caesar?

In my next post, I will deal with the Pope's second point with which I have major problems...