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Apologies for the infrequent posting - life is pretty hectic just now.

Door 12th Dec )
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The reliably interesting Bishop Alan has been musing about the Church and new media, and raises the question as to how the Church can think about and encourage its use in a spiritually valuable fashion, without making complete idiots of themselves (I can't say I wanted the mental image of the Bishop of Barchester pop[ping] down to Barchester Cathedral to sock it to them like Cosmo Gordon Lang on heat, but I entirely agree that there's a danger that at least half the people in the congregation, their culture formed in the new media space, will think the poor old goat is mad...

He further reflects


Back in the 1950’s we would have set up a “C of E Social Media Council” so that a party selection of senior bishops, retired colonels and ladies in funny hats could mull over the creative possibilities and then tell everyone else what to do.These days we have to be a bit more experimental and post-modern. We have to work out for ourselves what to do. I’ve been trying to brainstorm some needs and possibilities, including, as an hoary old adult educator, learning requirements.bishopalan.blogspot.com, Bishop Alan’s Blog: Church new media futures...., Dec 2009



I've been thinking about this in a slightly different connection, and I'm not sure to what extent this is something which the church as an institution, as opposed to Christians as individuals (such as, er, my Lord Bishop and I) can get involved with. There's the additional difficulty that the internet is a subculture which is not entirely approved of by The Powers That Be. Some of the best theological/ spiritual writing I have come across has been on blogs that also contain the usual daily blatherings about real life, squees or meta on pop-culture, and fanfic. But while I wouldn't class my fannishness as something I needed to bring to confession*, it's not something I'd necessarily want to discuss with, say, selectors. Yet I think any Christian witness - as long as it's something which arises naturally and is obviously connected to the blogger's whole mindset - is much more effective than A Spiritual Blog About Spiritual Matters. I suppose it comes down to integrity, really. Or possibly even has to do with the need for theology about an Incarnate God to be, well, incarnate in a lived context. However messy and hard to represent to tidy-minded church officials it might be...

* well, 99.99% of the time, anyway.
anchorhold: Advent wreath with rose candle (advent)
1st Tuesday in Advent )

Bonus link for German speakers: the TU Chemnitz Advent Calendar is running again. It's always lovely, with a mixture of photos of the Erzgebirge, information about the Christmas customs of the region, recipes (I got a fantastic recipe for red wine, chocolate and nut cake, which has become one of my favourites there once), craft activities you can do with children and competitions. Best web-based calender I know.
anchorhold: Advent wreath with rose candle (advent)
This blog has been languishing, unloved, for a shockingly long time. Still, start of a new liturgical year, and all that... and what better way to mark Advent and count down to Christmas than an Advent calendar?

The door for the First Sunday in Advent )
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Thee God, I come from, to thee go
All day long I like fountain flow,
From thy hand out, swayed about,
Mote-like in thy mighty glow

Gerard Manley Hopkins.
anchorhold: till we have faces (till we have faces)
Today the Church of England commemorates Richard, Bishop of Chichester, †1253 (who spent several years, apparently, living with a vilage priest and preaching barefoot because the king had locked him out of his palace and stolen the diocesan revenues. Ah, the middle ages, where Britain was a proper Christian country!) He's an interesting figure, who rose from relatively obscurity and a difficult family background, had a glittering academic career, but became a priest and later bishop; he was deeply concerned with promoting a reverent celebration of liturgy and sacrament (and not charging money for them), and with improving the standard of learning among clergy and lay believers (admittedly in terms of lay theological education, this meant making sure that everyone knew the Creed, the Hail Mary and the Our Father, but you've got to start somewhere).

He is best known for this rather lovely prayer:

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

Amen.

I rather like Richard.
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Interesting review in the Grauniad of two books on the New Atheism - by Terry Eagleton and Bentley Hart.

I liked the reviewer, Mark Vernon's way of summing up Eagleton:

Christians in history have undoubtedly perpetrated many crimes. But their most fearsome judge is the very individual they claim to follow, the man who blessed peacemakers, tended lepers and loved enemies. Religion can be monstrous, like love – though like love, it also longs for the best.

Love which is monstrous is love perverted; love which has become its own enemy.

Eagleton also cites Herbert McCabe OP, who summarised the gospel as: If you don't love, you die. If you do love, they'll kill you. Which is true as far as it goes - but it's not exactly good news. The good news is rather that for all our efforts to kill love, it won't stay dead. I don't know if it can really be put better than it is in "Lord of the Dance"

they cut me down, but I leapt up high -
I am the life that will never, ever die.
I'll live in you if you'll live in me,
I am the Lord of the Dance said he.


"Tragic humanism" can be noble, dignified, moral; in some ways it seems more admirable than the irritating way in which Christianity insists in turning defeat into triumph. But whatever my aesthetic sense, and despite the grim realities which confront us at every turn, God seems to prefer the comic mode to the tragedy. Which is good news for the protagonists, though some of them - the dignified, the powerful - may have to recognise that they're actually not as dignified and serious as they thought, and learn to laugh at themselves. Which, in fact, is a pretty good safeguard against the potential corruption of love into selfishness and self-obsession.
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I wanted to write something for Trinity Sunday, but life has proved too complicated to find time. However, I have just found an excellent piece by Simon Barrow on the central importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, and why it's not a rather embarassing optional extra.

And also, just because it is one of the best hymns ever written, and apt for the day: St Patrick's Breastplate:

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.
Cut for length )
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One of the things I've been asked to think about recently as part of the 'discernment process' is leadership, what it's for and how it works, particularly in a church context.

While I still need to do a bit more thinking about specific examples from my own experience, I've been reading a surprisingly useful book by Stephen Cottrell (Bp of Reading), Hit the Ground Kneeling: Seeing leadership differently. I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have read this if I hadn't been told to, because it has a hideous purple and orange cover, and is endorsed by Jeremy Vine and some management consultant and writer I've never heard of (though I'm told that the Sisters of the local contemplative convent think highly of it. I found this more encouraging, though I suspect Jeremy Vine would shift more units).

This just goes to show that reading lists have their uses, because the nuns are right; it's probably the most helpful thing I've read on the subject.* Cottrell came up with the title in a moment of frustration when another member of a committee shortlisting applicants for a parish said - as is predictable at such meetings - "What we want is someone who can hit the ground running."

Rather than merely cross off another square on his Bullshit Bingo board, Cottrell found himself thinking, no actually, maybe we don't. Because someone who charges into a situation, convinced that only he can save things, but without actually having a deep knowledge of the people and issues involved is unlikely to do much good: the best you can hope for is short-term success which becomes unsustainable - and people who get impatient with you once you stop being shiny and new.

The book is structured around a series of reversed management cliches/ proverbs. I was most struck by "Re-inventing the Wheel", in which Cottrell argues that one should resist the temptation to buy in a solution - however good it is, it will never belong to people as much as one they've worked out for themselves. Which is not to say that you can't use outside ideas as inspiration, indeed you should, but that leadership is more about encouraging people to find their own way forward than in telling them what to do (or asking them to vote on which of a series of pre-packaged solutions they'd like). This may, of course, also involve encouraging people to look again at the vision that originally brought them together - I think this is probably particularly relevant to voluntary and religious groups.

The other point which I need to remember is that, as a general principle, you should only do the things that only you can do. Doing other people's jobs for them isn't service or unselfishness, it's denying them the chance to do their job, offer their service, and it's making them less than they could be.

"Leadership" is, I must admit, not a topic I've ever thought much about, as is probably obvious. Thoughts?


* Though I must confess that I haven't read many books on leadership, and while much of the stuff by B-P was useful, if dated in tone, I shouldn't have been surprised that "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun" was not.
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Today is - still just about - the lesser festival of the Venerable Bede (or, as Sellars and Yeatman would have it, the Venomous Bede). Bede is the sort of person one would be tempted to call a renaissance man if it weren't hideously anachronistic. As well as writing the Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples, which by the standards of the day was an excellent and careful piece of historigoraphy, he compiled a highly influential series of Biblical commentaries, which though largely based on the Greek fathers, were very significant in how the Bible was read throughout the Middle Ages. He wrote works on cosmology and time, and popularised the BC/ AD method of dating (though he actually used the term 'ab incarnatione Domine', which is better theology if requiring slightly more ink). Notker the Stammerer of St Gall (the first pioneer of German spelling reform, but that's another story entirely) wrote a century later "God, the orderer of natures, who raised the Sun from the East on the fourth day of Creation, in the sixth day of the world has made Bede rise from the West as a new Sun to illuminate the whole Earth".

He also knew a lot of vernacular poetry, and possibly wrote it himself, though the only example which is preserved is the rather gloomy 'Before the forced journey,' otherwise known as Bede's Death Song, and every bit as cheery as you'd expect. More of his Latin hymns survived; earlier on [personal profile] el_staplador quoted a rather beautiful bit:

Christus est stella matutina, Alleluia;
Qui nocte saeculi transacta, Alleluia;
Lucem vitae sanctis promittit, Alleluia;
Et pandit aeternam, Alleluia.

Christ is the morning star, Alleluia;
Who, when the night of this world is past, Alleluia;
Promises and reveals to his saints, Alleluia;
The everlasting light of life, Alleluia.


The Anglo-Saxons liked religious imagery relating to the morning star, of course: you may remember, if you are a Tolkien fan, the famous line from Crist: Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast, ofer middangeard monnum sended. Of course, there's been some scholarly debate as to whether the angel is Christ or the Baptist; either reading is possible. Either way, the idea of revelation, of our sense of God's presence as the small, steady light in the darkness before dawn is a powerful one.