Mary’s manifesto — a hymn

by Kim on December 19, 2014

In Mary’s song of praise and peace
we call “Magnificat”,
a peasant maiden mocked the claims
of earth’s proud plutocrats.

An angel whispered, “You’re the one
who’ll carry heaven’s child.”
The girl, in fearful faith, said, “Yes!”
but barely forced a smile.

She went to see a kindred soul,
who praised what God would do;
yet Mary felt a deep unease
about the coming coup.

But then she paused and prayed and thought,
“Why am I full of doubt?
The Lord is good, I’ll trust his ways,
though they seem roundabout.”

Her heart welled up, it overflowed
with firm, determined joy,
because the Lord would save the world
through such a subtle ploy.

“The poor will eat, parade the streets,”
she sang, “and bands will play;
the pity is, with empty hands,
the rich will rue the day.”

(Suggested tune: University)

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Two things I find obnoxious about certain Christians at Christmas: not only, obviously, (1) the idiotic belligerence of some over the so-called “War on Christmas” (”Go ahead, punk, make my day: wish me ‘Happy Holidays’!”); but also, tiresomely, (2) the predictable sanctimonious pontifications and self-flagellations of others about in-house excess (”My fellow believers, remember the ‘reason for the season’.”). Ahem. A little more of the Revd. John Ames, please:

“The old man kept moving the [Christmas] lights around, trying to get them even. ‘My grandfather said this was paganism, bringing in greenery in the middle of winter, making fires. He said there were people in Maine when he was growing up who wouldn’t have a thing to do with it. It’s true, no one really knows anything about when Jesus was born, the time of year. But there’s just a certain amount of exuberance that people have to burn off now and then, Christians and pagans. I like the idea — Druids rejoicing just because they felt like it. We took up where they left off. That’s all the sense it has to make.’”

Marilynne Robinson, Lila (London: Virago, 2014), p. 230.

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David Cameron — Nativity angel?

by Kim on December 16, 2014

Letter published in the British daily the i on 16 December

Sir:

According to Vince Cable, “Conservative spending plans would reduce the armed forces to a ‘largely ceremonial role’” (15 December). What tidings of joy! It sounds about as probable as news of Herod inviting children to Christmas dinner, but if Mr. Cable is accurate, the diabolical David Cameron deserves the part of a peace-proclaiming angel in a school Nativity Play. If, that is, you can find one.

Revd. Kim Fabricius
Swansea

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Christ is Lord of all creation,
rules the universe in peace;
brings to judgement every nation
which would be the world’s police:
Lamb of God who lies with lions,
slain, he conquers Babel’s beast.

Weapons used for mass destruction,
tools deployed in torture cell –
horror shows of sheer revulsion
scripted, acted, shot in hell:
Where is God? Not hid in heaven,
here, in blood – Immanuel!

In this world of fear and violence,
in the teeth of hate and death;
courage, Christian, and defiance
till your faithful final breath:
in our deeds and proclamation –
“God is love” our shibboleth.

(Suggested tune: Rhuddlan)

Kim Fabricius

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Advent: on (not) thinking about hell

by Kim on December 9, 2014

“Thinking about hell doesn’t help me to live the way I should. I believe this is true for most people. And thinking that other people might go to hell just feels evil to me, like a very grave sin. So I don’t want to encourage anyone else to think that way. Even if you don’t assume that you can know in individual cases, it’s still a problem to think about people in general as if they might go to hell. You can’t see the world the way you ought to if you let yourself do that. Any judgment of the kind is a great presumption. And presumption is a very grave sin. I believe this is sound theology, in its way.”

– The Reverend John Ames, in Marilynne Robinson, Lila (London: Virago Press, 2014), p. 101.

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He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise the fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where the immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.

From Areopagitica (1644)

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Advent ambiguity

by Kim on December 5, 2014

It’s all a bit vague. Advent I mean. All this hanging around, waiting … and waiting … and waiting. We know whom we’re waiting for, but notwithstanding the asinine prognostications and genre-illiterate signs-of-the-times readings of the witless, we don’t know the when, where, or how of his coming. Or perhaps we do; it’s just that we look in the wrong places and at the wrong faces. After a performance of Waiting for Godot in a German prison in November 1953, one inmate wrote to Beckett suggesting a rather Matthew 25-like interpretation of the play: “we are all waiting for Godot and do not know he is here. Yes, here. Godot is the neighbour in the cell next to mine.”

The same uncertainty goes for the four traditional themes of Advent: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. No one knows the when, where, or how of the arrival of the Grim Reaper — though we do know that he will be infinitely more attractive than those who, in their issue-laden cosmetic attempts to delay the date, are only ensuring that they will look more gargoyle-like than he does when he comes to collect them.

And judgement? Only someone who goes “Ee ore” would presume to know whether he will be going “Baaa” or “Meh heh” when the barnyard is finally sorted. We do know the criterion of judgement, namely, whether you’ve been a decent (i.e., kind and compassionate) bipedal beast, but we know too that it will be a time of surprises. Someone whose self-image is ovine might find himself a lamb chop.

Which brings me to heaven and hell. All we know about heaven is that the Cubs will be winning the World Series there, so if you’re from the South Side of Chicago you’ll know at once that you’re actually in the Other Place. Or not. Hell, after all, is a disputed doctrine. Only the Yankees keep me from being a dogmatic universalist. Still, you never know. Or maybe you do. More’s the pity.

Yes, it’s all rather vague. Which, I suspect, is the point. The point of Advent I mean. Faith isn’t certainty. Faith doesn’t have all the answers. Faith requires what Keats called “negative capability”, “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” Faith can say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” Faith can even say “I was wrong” and “I’ve changed my mind.” Faith can welcome complexity and embrace pluralism. “Clear” and “distinct” ideas and epistemological closure – that’s Cartesianism, not Christianity. In fact, I submit that the apodictic is quite destructive, only the ambiguous is healing.

So here’s to Advent ambiguity! Yaki dah!

Reposted, revised, from Advent 2011.

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“Drum Major for a Dream”

by Kim on November 26, 2014

Above the shouts and the shots,
The roaring flame and the siren’s blare,
Listen for the stilled voice of the man
Who is no longer there.

Above the tramping of the endless line
Of marchers along the street,
Listen for the silent step
Of the dead man’s invisible feet.

Lock doors, put troops at the gate,
Guard the legislative halls,
But tremble when the dead man comes,
Whose spirit walks through walls.

– Edith Lovejoy Pierce (1904-1983)

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According to the latest research, “Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ has been replaced by Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ as the most popular song played at funerals [in the UK]” (MSN Entertainment News, 22 November).

This is terrific news for the Church — and Shakespeare too (vide infra). It demonstrates that, contrary to the never-ending torrent of diatribes from grouchy and resentful Christian pundits of culture, contemporary society remains robustly Christian. The Life of Brian classic is, in fact, a profoundly Bible-based ditty, and far more suitable for concluding a funeral — and immensely theologically richer — than, say, Chuck Wesley’s poxy “Love Divine”, Isaac Watts’ lugubrious blood-and-wounds “When I Survey”, or the loutish Welsh rugby anthem “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer”, let alone Ol’ Blue Eyes’ blasphemous “My Way” (see John 14:6). It is, indeed, a worship song to raise the dead — or at least to guarantee that the ghost of the deceased will return to haunt the mourners [sic]. In fact, I propose that “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” should be the go-to hymn for concluding not only funerals, but indeed all church meetings, councils, synods, and solemn assemblies, as lay and clergy, from charladies to bishops, join hands with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven to praise the King (Elvis or Yahweh depending on your mood).

Here, then, is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, biblically annotated:

Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad;
Other things just make you swear and curse.
– Job 3:1
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle,
Don’t grumble, give a whistle,
And this’ll help things turn out for the best …
– Romans 8:28

And always look on the bright side of life …
– Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing:
– I Thessalonians 5:16

And always look on the bright side of life …
– Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

For life is quite absurd,
And death’s the final word
– Psalm 115:17
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
– II Timothy 4:6-7
Forget about your sin,
– Isaiah 43:25
Give the audience a grin,
Enjoy it – it’s your last chance anyhow:

So always look on the bright side of death …
A-just before you draw your terminal breath …

Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it;
– Ecclesiastes 1:2
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true.
You’ll see it’s all a show, keep ‘em laughin’ as you go,
Just remember that the last laugh is on you:
– Ecclesiastes 9:2

And always look on the bright side of life …
– Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

C’mon Brian, cheer up.
Worse things happen at sea you know.
– Jonah 1
I mean , what have you got to lose?
– Mark 8:36
You know, you come from nothing –
you’re going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!
– I Timothy 6:7

Nothing will come from nothing, ya know what they say?
– King Lear (Act 1, Scene 1)

Cheer up, ya old bugga. C’mon give us a grin!
There ya go, see!

I rest my case.

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The parable of the two — good guys?

by Kim on November 18, 2014

On one occasion, a young man who knew his Bible went to Jesus to see if he was “sound”. “Jesus,” he asked, “what must I do to go to heaven?”

“That looks like a Bible you’ve got there,” Jesus replied. “What does it say?”

Waving the black book to which Jesus had pointed, the youngster answered, “It’s the inerrant Word of God, inspired, faultless, perfect in every way and containing all things necessary for salvation.”

“Sorry?” Jesus said.

“It’s the inerrant Word of God,” the youngster repeated, “– at least the original autographic texts are.”

“‘The original autographic texts’?” Jesus said, quizzically.

“Yes,” the youngster said.

“Let me see,” said Jesus, motioning toward the black book.

“Oh, this doesn’t contain the original autographic texts,” the youngster said, “but it’s the next best thing. It’s the Scofield Reference Bible. Here, look.”

Jesus took the black book, opened it, shook it, listened to it, smelled it, then returned it to the youngster. “Who says it’s inerrant?” he asked.

“God says,” the youngster replied.

“Where does God say that?” asked Jesus.

“In the Bible,” the youngster replied.

“I see,” said Jesus.

“And the Chicago Statement says so too,” the youngster added.

“Oookay,” said Jesus. “Look, let me tell you a story. A man was walking into town one night when he was attacked by some thugs. They stripped him, beat him up pretty bad, took his wallet and iPhone, then ran off, leaving him half-dead. A bishop happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So, too, a priest, when he came to the place and saw the man, passed by on the other side. But then another two guys came to where the man lay, and when they saw him their hearts went out to him. They cradled him in their arms, disinfected his wounds, and gave him some Ibuprofen. Then they called a cab, took the man to a pub, and nursed him through the night. The next morning, they gave the landlord $100. ‘Look after him.’ they said. ‘We’ll be back soon and reimburse you for any extra expense.’

“Now,” concluded Jesus, “who were the good guys?”

The youngster replied, “What’s that got to do with heaven?”

Jesus said, “I’ll get to that. Just answer the question.”

“Well, not the bishop or the priest – Catholics, right?” the youngster said. “So maybe the other two guys.”

“What do you mean ‘maybe’?” asked Jesus.

“Well, were they Bible-believing Christians?” asked the youngster.

“I don’t know,” Jesus said.

“And are you sure they weren’t gay?”

“Does it matter?” asked Jesus?

“And why did they take him to a pub rather than a hospital? Had they been drinking?” the youngster continued his interrogation.

“Who cares?” asked Jesus.

“And the man who was mugged – where was he going? And was he a proper Christian? And if not, did the two guys – who, to be honest, seem pretty suspicious to me – did they witness to him?”

“I …,” began Jesus.

“Well,” interrupted the youngster, “I’m obviously asking the wrong person about heaven – you’re unsound. In fact, you remind me of Peter.”

“Peter?” asked Jesus, turning to his disciples.

“Peter Enns, silly,” said the youngster. And feeling very sorry for Jesus, he walked away, but not before pausing to look back and adding, “I’ll pray for you.”

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Letter published in the Church Times, 7 November

Sir:

Summing up a YouGov survey, Professor Linda Woodhead observes that “whereas the clergy [in the C of E] are to the right of the population on ethics, they are to the left in politics.”.

But since when is the the political (Professor Woodhead mentions welfare provision and immigration) not also the ethical, and the ethical (Professor Woodhead mentions abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage) not also the political? The distinction is at best barren, at worst ideological. More word-care, please.

Kim Fabricius
Swansea

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Poppies red and white

by Kim on November 4, 2014

Letter published in the British daily the i on 4 November.

Stefano Hatfield is right that honouring the dead is not an endorsement of war. But the suggestion that “innocent” commemoration is all there is to the symbolism of the red poppy is staggeringly disingenuous.

Otherwise why be so contemptuous of “those ridiculous white poppies”, which not only honour the war-dead of all nations, but also both lament the jingoism of some acts of remembrance and commend the vocation of the pacifist to a world that valorises the warrior?

Still, Mr. Hatfield is in good company: Margaret Thatcher belligerently expressed “deep distaste” for the white poppy.

Revd. Kim Fabricius
SWANSEA

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Hoot of the day (on the Rome Synod)

by Kim on October 24, 2014

“The conservative commentator Edward Pentin published an outraged piece in the National Catholic Register: ‘More and more there is talk in Rome that this synod is being engineered by groups intent on steering the Church in a heterodox direction, and increasingly evidence is coming to light that points to it.’ ….

“The thought that a synod of Roman Catholic bishops in Rome might be fixed in advance is, indeed, one to distress the sensitive soul. In fact, there hasn’t been anything shocking in quite that way since Captain Renard made the dreadful discovery, in Rick’s Bar in Casablanca, that gambling had taken place on the premises.”

– Andrew Brown, in the Church Times, 24th Octber 2014

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Post-mortem baptism: a hypothetical question

by Richard on October 22, 2014

“One night, you’re in the sleep room; it’s 2am, and you get an urgent page to the intensive care nursery. Not knowing what to expect, you hurry to get up to the unit on the 12th floor. When you step out of the elevator, a nurse quickly points you to the last room at the end of the hall, where a distraught couple stands at the bedside of their just deceased, 2 week old infant daughter. You pray with the couple, who comes from a particular sort of Christian background that will remain unnamed for the sake of this little theological exercise. As you try to comfort them in their grief, the couple asks you, through a stream of tears, to baptize their little girl as their final wish for this life cut short. Regardless of your own theological view on this issue, they tell you that it’s something that would be deeply meaningful and comforting for them to know that their daughter has been baptized, even in her current state.”

What would you do?

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A bit of silliness for Monday morning

by Richard on October 13, 2014

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On science, maths and faith

by Richard on October 12, 2014

John Wesley was convinced that should he study mathematics to any depth he’d become an atheist. If he had taken that journey, I venture to suggest he would have discovered that he was wrong. I’m not any kind of mathematician — I pretty much crashed and burned in my university maths classes — though I have always had a fascination for the subject.

One of the most remarkable and beautiful things I’ve ever seen is “Euler’s identity”, pictured above. It draws together the three mysterious numbers e, i and π in a breath-takingly elegant formula that always comes as a complete surprise to those who first learn of it. When you begin a study of mathematics, there is no hint that these three numbers are related to one another, and yet it turns out that at the deepest level there is an order and structure to the universe that could never have been guessed.

This is one of the reasons that I believe that mathematicians and physicists are more inclined to religious faith than their colleagues in biology. The biologist knows that the evolution of life is governed by chance, that random chaotic events are the drivers for the differentiation of species, their survival or extinction. They look at such a universe and cannot find in it a place for God. Perversely, some Christians view the world the same way: they are obliged to reject some of science’s most amazing and successful conclusions because their world-view leaves no room for chance or accident.

The mathematician, on the other hand, can gaze out on a universe in which even the outworkings of chaos find themselves being resolved into patterns of complex beauty which recur in all kinds of unexpected places. The physicist can recognize that inherently unpredictable quantum events lie behind all that we see and experience and that this very randomness has its end in the order and regularity which is our everyday experience.

This, of course, does not amount to anything so trite as a ‘proof of God’. But just as the psalmist was sure that the heavens declare the glory of God (how much louder would her prayers have been if she’d had a telescope!), so the eye of faith can see in the mathematician’s art a vision of God’s faithfulness and majesty.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on October 12, 2014

Because I’m conducting another Harvest Festival service today. I’ve lost count this year…

We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above;
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord,
For all his love.

He only is the maker
Of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey him,
By him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, his children,
He gives our daily bread.

We thank thee then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
For all thy love imparts,
And what thou most desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.

Matthias Claudius

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God TV CEO steps down over “moral failure”

by Richard on October 5, 2014

From God TV

GOD TV Co-founder Rory Alec has today announced he is leaving the Network, standing aside as Chairman and CEO with immediate effect. This follows what he terms ‘a moral failure’ concerning his marriage.

GOD TV Co-founder and Director of Television, Wendy Alec will continue to lead the Network along with its senior management team and the support of the GOD TV Board.

GOD TV has confirmed the organisation will continue its international operations as well as the work it is doing in Plymouth, UK. This includes the completion of its Revival Prayer Centre on Union Street and new staff building at Burrington Industrial Estate.

Mrs Alec told GOD TV staff in Plymouth that she will address the issue further on 8 October while in GOD TV’s Jerusalem studio to host a series of live Revival Alert broadcasts.

“I will take responsibility on the first night of Revival Alert to share with transparency and authenticity regarding the situation to all our viewers and partners,” she said.

In a separate statement, Mr Alec told GOD TV staff: “After 20 years of service, I have had a moral failure this year. For this reason, I am stepping down. Please forgive me for the disappointment I’ve caused, but I know your eyes are on Jesus who is the author and finisher of your faith and not on me, an imperfect man.

“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm my season with GOD TV is over for now.”

In her role as Co-founder, Creative Director and Director of Television, Wendy Alec has overseen all content on GOD TV for the past 19 years. Her remit includes oversight of the Network and Programming Planning teams; Scheduling teams; Production teams; her Commissioning team and approval of Ministry Airtime Sales and Programme Acquisitions. She has been in charge of GOD TV’s Creative Direction, both on air and in print, from the time of the Network’s inception, including the internationally acclaimed and distinctive GOD TV logo. She is fully supported by GOD TV’s executive management team and financial departments.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on October 5, 2014

IN every time and place,
Who serve the Lord most high,
Are called his sovereign will to embrace,
And still their own deny;
To follow his command,
On earth as pilgrims rove,
And seek an undiscovered land,
And house, and friends above.

Father, the narrow path
To that far country show;
And in the steps of Abraham’s faith
Enable me to go,
A cheerful sojourner
Where’er thou bidd’st me roam,
Till, guided by thy Spirit here,
I reach my heavenly home.

Charles Wesley

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Who needs drums when you’ve got buckets?

by Richard on September 30, 2014

Just wow.

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