Archive for July, 2009

The Anglican Communion, France, and Life: 27 July

July 27, 2009

A British Crash has its Birmingham launch this coming Saturday, when I will be signing copies in Borders, 11am to 2.30pm. All welcome.

The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church in America is now saying that, actually, the General Convention votes have changed nothing substantial and they should continue to be regarded as full faithful members of the wider Communion. Rubbish. Or, as Jordan Hylden puts it: ‘All in all, one is left with the spectacle of the Episcopal Church’s leadership trying desperately to convince the Anglican communion and countless onlookers, by the artful use of lawyerly nuance and political hair-splitting, that they did not do what they did.’ http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=450

Jordan H goes on to argue, as I have done, that space needs to be made for those who do not want to go down the ‘affirming gay marriage’ route: ‘the many Episcopal bishops and parishes that have long sought faithfully to remain Anglican are now hoping that Williams, along with the Anglican primates, will give them a place to stand and a way to move forward with clarity and hope.’

Rowan Williams has shown no inclination up until now to give that ‘place to stand’, to challenge what Jordan calls ‘the imperial road of majority tyranny, coercion, and lawsuits.’ Anglicans in the US are going through a divorce. Rowan Williams should not be sitting back allowing the stronger party to take possession of the whole matrimonial home and assets. He should indicate, as in many good families, that both parties to the divorce are still counted as part of the wider family – or at least be open to this idea. His silence on TEC’s belligerent legal actions is another case of good people doing nothing.

My guess is that Rowan W is too much of an inclusivist at heart. He dearly wants everyone staying at the table talking. He turns a blind eye to those who pretend to stay at the table while ‘walking away,’ who talk the talk of fellowship and walk the way of legal property-grabbing. Rowan W knows the possibility of ‘constituent’ and ‘associate’ membership, core members and fringe members, but he cannot bring himself to embrace this semi-excluding option.

Jordan H is right to state that Rowan W is a key figure, however much Rowan W may himself play down his position. It is just possible that he could turn round and change strategy. But I think a new strategy would be better coming from a new leader.

One lasting impression of being in France for Bastille Day was the oddity of their huge military parade. The French military record is not glorious. They alone in Europe hold such a march-past. No doubt the Russians copied them. The event was instituted not by the original revolutionaries but by the Second Empire, late in the 19th Century. (It seems it coincided with the rebuilding of Paris. Was it a case of ‘We have the Champs Elysees. We have to do something with it?’) Idolatry (‘honour’) of the armed forces dwarfs attempts to work for peace. A new memorial, displaying the word ‘Peace’ in many languages, is being built – between the Champs de Mars, dedicated to the Roman God of War, and the Ecole Militaire. The French should instead celebrate that they are not a naturally war-like nation. They enjoy life, especially food, too much to train for death. ‘For goodness sake don’t tell them that!’ said an Englishman having breakfast in the same hotel.

The triumph of the flower power of 1968 over the hammer of authoritarianism was celebrated at the wonderful son et lumiere with fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwkb13fIpT8 ) 1960s flowers were projected creeping up the tower, before a vicious hammer beat them down again a few times. Eventually flower power covered the tower.

Many firework displays culminate with multiple huge bursts to the 1812 Overture. The French put 1812 near the beginning! They also made the Tower sway and dance. Formidable indeed!

The Englishman at breakfast had come up to us and greeted us at our table. This more-than-usual greeting alerted me that he could be the ‘man of peace’ whom Jesus had prepared to meet me there as a messenger of the Kingdom of God. He also said he was suffering from a nasty cough and needed to find a chemist – a need for healing prayer. All in all it fitted the pattern of Luke 10. He and his companion welcomed me at their table.

The Englishman, whom I will call Derek, turned out to be a childhood Buddhist. His father had returned from Japanese prisoner of war camp and gone to church. The vicar had been talking about the justness of the war. Derek’s father punched him on the nose. The Daily Sketch reported it nationwide. This soldier had no time for warrior Christianity and turned to Buddhism instead. (What a pity that he, and many others, had not read G A Studdert Kennedy aka Woodbine Willie.) When he died, a few years later, he made the Buddhist Society guardians of his son. Derek’s mother took him to sing in her local parish church choir, but it was the spiritual exercises of the Buddhists which formed him.

‘We like to joke that any restless spirits must be Christians,’ Derek said disarmingly, ‘because they don’t know where they are going. I know exactly where I am heading after death.’ Detailed Buddhist mythology had given him a map of the afterlife so he could plot his route. I agreed. For Christians the important thing is to know who you are going with.

Derek described helping to move on a restless spirit in his Lincolnshire village. An old man had kept his wife’s ashes with him, on his bed. After he died, all his neighbours said funny things were happening; the whole street didn’t feel right. ‘On the anniversary of his death,’ Derek said with relish, ‘I stood in front of his house. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “I don’t know what you believe,” I told the man’s spirit, “but I’m a Buddhist and I know there’s somewhere better to go. Please move on.” After that the problems disappeared.’ His companion shook his head in disbelief.

I was looking for an opportunity to offer prayer for Derek’s throat, but the conversation kept flowing and diverting here and there. Eventually Derek stood up and offered me a handshake. It was time for me to go, before I had slipped in my offer of prayer. I think the Buddhist spirits in Derek had sensed an impending challenge from me. A worthwhile Kingdom encounter nonetheless.

Last week I was asked to go and pray in the house of a woman who has heard strange noises there. Another ‘house blessing’ has been requested. I also visited a woman recovering from an operation who was sitting in her lounge armchair. After prayer I sensed it was right to ask her to stand up and walk round to see if there had been any improvement. She said there had been some improvement. That was the first time I have ever had someone stand up and walk.

My mother is back at my sister’s, ‘up and down like a fiddler’s elbow’, as my brother-in-law says. Some days she’s lucid and able to walk with a frame, other days confused and off her legs. My sister is planning to care for her permanently, which will be a great ministry.

Roger Harper

The Anglican Communion – What Now?

July 20, 2009

The Episcopal Church in America last week decided to go ahead with their support and promotion of gay marriage. The majority want officially to bless gay marriages and to ordain people in gay marriages. Many also want to ‘embrace’ the whole LGBT community, including practising bisexuals who, by definition, cannot be monogamous. For TEC this is an issue of primary importance – more important than ’making every effort to ‘maintain the bonds of unity.’ This stance has been evident for some time in their half hearted, ambiguous, response to repeated requests from the rest of the Anglican Communion to stop moving ahead on gay marriage. Now all is clear. They have refused to heed the call of the Archbishop of Canterbury for restraint. They do not regret ‘tearing the fabric of the Communion’, they embrace the tearing, which they see as prophetic. They have chosen to walk apart. (See the Fulcrum Statement: http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=446 )

 What now?

The Instruments of Communion should indicate a willingness to recognise the Anglican Church in North America as a Province of the Communion in North America. This will not be a straightforward process, not least because ACNA covers Canada as well as the US and the Canadians, also with a pro gay marriage majority, have been more willing to hold back. But the reality in the US is clear. TEC has chosen to walk apart. The Communion needs to declare solidarity with those who have chosen not to walk apart. The Archbishop of Canterbury, especially, needs to work with TEC to make sure that both ‘pro gay marriage’ and ‘anti gay marriage’ integrities make space for each other. Expulsions and hugely costly legal disputes are not necessary. All that is needed is a willingness by TEC to make space, official ecclesiastical and physical space, for those who oppose gay marriage, or to accept that the wider Communion will make that space.

 It is not only in the US that Anglicans are divided over gay marriage. In Canada, New Zealand, Britain, especially, there are many who, like the majority in TEC want to ‘affirm’ gay marriage. We will have to make space for these people too. This is an issue on which we cannot ‘walk together.’ We are too divided. But we can, with our Anglican tradition of comprehensiveness, make space within our wider fellowship for people who are walking apart. The Church of England has done this with those pro and anti women priests. A similar arrangement is needed for those pro and anti gay marriage across the Communion. It is time to be creative with ecclesiastical structures.

 Rowan Williams cannot take the Communion forward now. His way forward was restraint by all sides, a new Covenant, people talking together until agreement is found. This way has failed. The Covenant cannot now include the Americans. Rowan Williams has not been heeded. TEC, and the opposing Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, have both rejected his way forward. If Rowan Williams stays, he will continue to be ignored and sidelined. The office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the unity of the whole Communion will be seriously damaged. It is time for someone else to plot a different way forward.

  

Theology

The theological foundation of such making space for people walking apart is the recognition that, despite what TEC, and their staunchest opponents, believe, gay marriage is not a fully primary issue. It falls into a category identified by Tom Wright: issues which in themselves are not primary, but which are strongly connected with a primary issue. I have written, over the last few years, about gay marriage as not a primary issue in the Fulcrum Forum. See: http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/forum/poster.cfm?poster=576

 A detailed book proposal of mine explores and explains why gay marriage is not a primary issue and points to the need therefore for the Church to make space for people of different ‘integrities.’ This proposal has been rejected by many publishers, including a leading evangelical publisher who describe themselves as publishing work on the cutting edge of evangelical theology. The editor there wrote to me that even my evangelical via media was considered by our Board too politically sensitive ‘ Fulcrum similarly have declined to publish or even comment on my material. Any interested publishers, please write to roger.harper@blueyonder.co.uk

Life, the Faith, and Ashes: 12 July

July 12, 2009

A little early this week as we’re off to Paris tomorrow for my wife’s birthday. 14th July is famous not only as the day she was born but for something or other in France too…

A British Crash has its first printed review, in Sorted men’s magazine. Very positive. The latest edition is the first I have seen. Great spread of articles by good Christian writers. Not sure about the title, though. Are men Sorted once they are Christians? I’m looking forward to reading it on Eurostar. Would love to give it to someone. Why can’t we have more good stuff like this on our shop magazine shelves? Surely as many people will buy this as buy ‘Classic Tractors’ on sale in our local Post Office?

A post funeral visit this week – a rarity. Some say that clergy should follow up every funeral in this way. My experience is that we are as welcome as the undertaker turning up out of the blue again. I make a phone call to alert people that an invitation to the Church Memorial Service is on its way, and offer to bring the envelope in person. Most prefer it in the post.

One widow was happy for me to call round. Her husband’s ashes were on the shelf in the front room. She finds them a comfort. I suggested it would be better to lay them to rest somewhere, but that seemed well outside her frame of thinking. A woman down the road puts her husband’s ashes in the shopping trolley whenever she goes shopping. Another local man has his wife’s ashes in a casket on the bed so he can talk to her every night.

The Church Times shows that keeping ashes is common. Recent research shows that far more people now collect ashes from the crematorium. Some people say that it’s good for the bereaved to exercise choice in this way, to regain some control. Mostly, though, keeping ashes goes against the need to let go. Healthy grief means, sooner or later, letting go, turning away from the dead and turning back to life.

A bereaved daughter recently wanted her mother’s body dug up from the churchyard near their home so that it could be reburied in her garden, and she could talk to her more closely. The Church Chancellor (Judge) decided not to allow the digging up. It’s only a step away from the longstanding practice of people going to graves to talk to the dead, but not a healthy one.

Old Testament Laws were strict about dealing with dead bodies, keeping them very separate from the living – that’s the healthy way. Emotionally too, if we hang on to the dead, grief becomes stuck, and our hearts can become unclean. I think of three people with whom I have prayed, who accepted their need now to leave those who have died in God’s hands. One woman, whose daughter had died, started sleeping much better. One man, whose brother had died, had a persistent chest infection which baffled the doctors. After prayers of commendation, healing, and deliverance, the chest cleared up.

Afghanistan is in the news again. Yes indeed it was a mistake to go blazing in there, as anywhere. James Bond operations may look good in the cinema when you can end it with the baddies’ nest destroyed. But in real life they come back or others take their place. Sending soldiers in against terrorists is the wrong option. Terrorists are criminals, not to be dignified as enemy soldiers. We combat terrorists through the law and the police. If we need new international law and international police to combat international terrorists, then we develop them. We didn’t send the troops into Eire to wipe out IRA terrorists. We shouldn’t have troops into Afghanistan either.

My mother seemed much improved last weekend, now in my sister’s care. On Monday she succumbed to a nasty infection and had to be admitted to Worcester Hospital on Friday. She’s ruddy cheeked, confused, agitated. Hard times.

Llama, llama, llama, baby llama… I had a couple of days at Rainbow Cottage, our second / retirement home in Derbyshire. We’re having our own house makeover, not by a TV crew, but by people God has sent to us. Alleluia! My daughters wanted to see the llamas. (as in my first post, 25 May.) We found them in the same field as before, very cute and friendly. The funny little something sticking up from behind the oldest one lying down turned out to be a baby llama. A young woman came to feed them corn and told me the baby was one day old! Its ears were still stuck back onto its head. And we just happened to go and see them that day!

Roger Harper

Life, the Faith, and the Recession: 6 July

July 6, 2009

The British Medical Association last week said that they were happy with restrictive Government guidelines on doctors praying with patients, preferring to keep medicine and religion separate. (See last week’s blog for a different view.) Spiritual Care is being left entirely to Chaplains, of whom there are far too few to provide a meaningful service.

Walsall Wesley Owen, Christian bookshop, have sold all the 6 copies of A British Crash which they took, but don’t want to stock any more.  www.abritishcrash.co.uk Their in-house reviewer didn’t like ‘the language.’ This can only mean the sex – there’s no swearing. The manager explained that people look to them for books ‘without that sort of thing.’ Too much religion for general bookshops and too much sex for Christian bookshops…

My mother left hospital rehab to stay with my sister. On Wednesday she was brighter, very grateful for the care and attention, but still struggling…

First Primary School Assembly for years. I thought Jesus was encouraging me to lead a meditation on the children coming to Jesus for His blessing, as I last led 13 years ago! Jewish blessing is not so much, ‘God Bless you,’ as ‘Blessed be God for you.’ So in the meditation, Jesus was saying ‘Thank you, Father in heaven, for …. Thank you for making …’ (They had to put in their own names.) I had also recently read Ecclesiastes: ‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.’ It is important for children to keep in mind that God made them – they then feel better about themselves. The Head Teacher thought the children took part well. We followed this with a song they were rehearsing, which I did not know about, the Butterfly Song: ‘I just thank you Father for making me, me.’

Derek Williams, Roman Catholic lay evangelist and friend of a friend came to visit  www.wordandspiritministries.co.uk. Like me, he has been telling people for some years that a severe economic collapse is on its way. We think our present recession is only the beginning. Derek talked of people not having food to eat, with the Church the only source of meaningful help.

Derek had read a paper I wrote in May on the recession, called ‘Dustbowl Economics.’ As a vicar and writer I wanted the view of some financial experts. Derek used to be an International Banker with Barclays. He described the paper as excellent and circulated it around his supporters. Here it is:

Dustbowl Economics

 Credit is like fertiliser; it helps an economy to grow quickly. Instead of waiting until I have saved enough money to buy a good oak dining table, I borrow money and buy it straight away. The table maker sells more tables more quickly. Gordon Brown understands this fertilising role of credit. He desperately wants the economy to grow again, so he is extravagantly increasing the availability of credit.

 Fertiliser overused, however, poisons the soil. The very chemicals which promote growth also block natural processes; the soil’s capacity to renew itself organically is severely damaged. The land stops producing and becomes a dust bowl desert. Credit overused poisons the economy. The very money which is lent to stimulate spending becomes mounting debt, hindering spending. Because I have to pay more, in the end, for my oak table on credit, I cannot also buy the matching chairs. I may still, recklessly, borrow more money for the chairs, (for, after all, it’s good for the manufacturer and the economy generally.) But then I certainly cannot afford the sideboard. I may even have to sell the table at a reduced price just to pay the debt. Neither I, nor the manufacturer, in the end, have much to show for my spending on credit.

  ‘Natural’ economic processes, such as the operation of the free market, goods being valued at the cost of raw materials plus the cost of labour to process them, hard work being rewarded, in the end, more than indolence, are short-circuited, and eventually poisoned, by credit. As debts mount up, like the residue of fertiliser in the soil, natural growth ceases.

 Years of reliance on credit to boost the economy have led us to the beginning of a dustbowl economy. When the land becomes a dust bowl, throwing in more fertiliser just kills the land even more. What is needed is for the land to rest until the ‘fertilising’ poison is leached out, and for organic processes to be reintroduced to the soil.

 Throwing more credit into our dust bowl economy will only kill the economy more quickly. What is needed instead is time for the poisonous effects of credit to the worked through and out of the economy. Natural economic processes need to be restored; we need to go back to a simpler economics, that of our grandparents: work hard, earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can, and, most importantly never a borrower or a lender be.

 Eventually recovery will come, as spring follows winter. But it will be longer coming than most people imagine, especially now that we have Gordon Brown’s last desperate heap of credit to work its poisonous effects through our economy.

 This dust bowl, or winter (another picture of a season in which nothing grows), has been a long time coming, although foreseen by many people. In 2002 I was talking with an investment manager in the City of London. Tentatively, I mentioned my sense that the economy was soon to enter an economic ‘winter,’ and I was about to go straight on to talk about the consequences of this view. ‘Let me stop you there.’ the City man said, ‘Here, we’re not talking about winter, we’re talking about an Ice Age.’

 2002 to 2008 was an ‘Indian summer’, a freak period of growth which made people think that winter was not about to come. Now we are at the beginning of the winter, the ice age, the dust bowl. I prefer the latter term, for it better describes the reckless human contribution to the present ‘recession,’ and points us to the steps needed to promote true recovery.

 Soil conservation, organic waste laboriously dug in, tree planting, crop rotation, contour ploughing, all help the land to recover from the dust bowl. Let’s not look to fertilising credit to bring us a quick recovery. It will only make our problems worse. Let’s look to economic conservation measures, natural processes of hard work, saving, frugality, for a longer and more sustained recovery.

Roger Harper