And the big news today is, the Church of England wanting to change the words of the Baptism ceremony. We heard about it yesterday on this very programme, shortly after TFTD, the only 3 minutes of religion in an otherwise totally secular programme.
There's furious debate about this at all levels of society. You can hardly go into a pub or a restaurant these days without hearing raised voices shouting, "Baptism is a gift of grace that wipes away the stain of original sin and I'll punch the nose of anyone who says otherwise." Different theological camps have developed, with everyone from plumbers to brain surgeons passionately defending their favourite team.
It all stems from the decline in the number of babies being baptised. Of course, if you choose not to have your baby baptised that's up to you. It's your own free choice if you choose not to have your child baptised into the Christian Church. It's no skin off my nose if you choose to leave them as unsaved heathens with no connection to their Lord and Saviour. Why should I care if you can't get them into one of the better schools in four or five years time?
Some people choose to take baptism a bit more seriously. Sayed Musa is now languishing in an Afghan jail because he was baptised. That's just the way we Christians have always suffered of course. Still, if you want to betray the sacrifice and courage of Sayed Musa by not getting your children baptised, then that's up to you.
As Saint Paul so wittily remarked, "You've all been baptised into the death of Christ." That's the kind of cheery, funny bloke that Saint Paul was. Baptism is all about sacrifice and death. Precisely the sort of thing you should be thinking about when a new baby is born.
Has anyone mentioned Egypt yet? Vast crowds of people are meeting in the streets, calling with one voice for jobs, fuel, hope, fairness, free speech.
Something similar happened to me recently. There was a power cut when I was shopping in Waitrose and everyone left the shop to meet in the streets. We met people who had left Marks & Spencer's for the same reason. We were all anxious and afraid, confronted by uncertainty. What was the meaning of this sudden break in the electricity supply? Fortunately the lights came back on an hour later. The crowds dispersed and I was able to finish my shopping list in Waitrose. This frightening, potentially life changing event, was over.
Not so for the demonstrators in Egypt. Their protests continue. As we see Egyptians demand democracy like we have, an impartial justice system like we have, freedom of speech like we have, healthcare for all like we have, we are reminded that there is more to life than the western obsession with comfort, safety and security. We, and by we I mean you, sleepwalk through life, with no ambition other than to enjoy yourselves. You have no conception of anything beyond your own selfish, pointless little lives, thinking about nothing other than your own material satisfaction.
The only thing you can aspire to, beyond the purely material, is to have an Invisible Magic Friend. Having an Invisible Magic Friend who is infinitely everything, allows you to put the finiteness of your own life into perspective. The Invisible Magic Friend lays down absolute rules about what is good, like stoning to death someone who collects firewood on the day reserved for worshipping him.
Without the Invisible Magic Friend you can't have any standards of goodness and you think about nothing other than your own appetites and egos. If you have any morals at all they're very loose morals.
That's why the demonstrators in Egypt are so inspirational. They're thinking beyond the mundane and fighting for spiritual abstractions like food, justice and democracy.
Would you get out onto the streets to demand all the things that you already have?
Monday, 27 December, 2010, 09:25 AM - TilbyRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Words are so important, especially truthful words. There are words at the beginning of Saint John the Evangelist's Gospel (as opposed to Saint John the not an Evangelist, who didn't write a Gospel and therefore doesn't get called an evangelist). There are words like "The Word was with the Invisible Magic Friend, and the word was the Invisible Magic Friend". This is all very theological and stuff. It's because the Invisible Magic Friend doesn't want to be mysterious that we have all this theology about him being a Word.
Just before Christmas, two famous journalists died. Brian Hanrahan and Anthony Howard were both dedicated to words, especially truthful words. We used to say a prayer that people who talk or write a lot of words would be guided by the invisible Magic Friend, who always uses truthful words.
We need more journalists who speak the truth, but we also have to be able to listen to the truth, to absorb facts, like Saint John's Gospel. There's too much argument that is simply emotional, designed to play to our prejudices, instead of giving us good, reliable information, like Saint John's Gospel, which never resorts to hyperbole or exaggeration.
Good journalism should challenge us like Saint John's Gospel does.
Banks need to do things the right way, says Lord Turner. Many banks have been doing things the wrong way. People who thought they were really clever and had eliminated risk from their financial products, sold those products around the world. Well who's laughing now, eh? The markets collapsed and all those clever people had to say sorry. Then they gave us all the money back.
That's what happens when people do things the wrong way. The Nazis believed they could improve things by killing all the people they didn't like. With the benefit of hindsight, this turned out to be a wrong belief. Communists also believed they could make things better by killing large numbers of people. This also turned out to be the wrong belief.
I have to admit, that on occasion, the Church has sometimes tried to improve things by killing large numbers of people too. However, thanks largely to the fact that we're not allowed to do it any more, we have now come to believe that this is the wrong thing to do.
Banks, Nazis, Communists, and the Church gone past but not the Church today, have all believed wrong things. Experience tells us that it is much better to believe right things. Believing wrong things can have terrible consequences.
Has anyone mentioned Blessed Cardinal Newman yet? He was a very wise man who understood that we often believe wrong things and that it is much better to change our minds and believe right things. In fact he changed his mind about being an Anglican and became a Catholic, so he ended up believing the wrong things.
We have to constantly test our beliefs in the light of new evidence, just like the Church does.
A trainee doctor has complained that, even once she passes her final exams, she won't be ready. The way the European Working Time Directive has been implemented means that she works shifts, with less access to consultants and fewer opportunities to examine patterns of behaviour. It leaves her lacking the confidence to make the big decisions that doctors need to make.
I can understand her position entirely, it's exactly the same with the clergy. There's much more to being an Anglican vicar than studying complex books on invisible magic stuff and then passing the exams. We talk about the "formation" of the clergy, where trainees act as disciples to master clergy, just as they learned their art from more experienced clergy before them.
Being a vicar is as much an art as a science. There's the art of how to draw inappropriate analogies while sounding completely serious and plausible. You have to learn how to continually extract money from people's pockets for the upkeep of the church roof. The weekly chore of the Sunday sermon is no easy task either, trying to sound superficially enthusiastic and inspirational, without actually saying anything at all. Then there are the big decisions to make: shortcake or hot buttered crumpet for tea? What hymns to sing at the daily service?
Yes, I can really sympathise with the rookie doctor first having to face the rough and tumble of the big bad world. It's so much like being a vicar.
Once again, there's nothing in the news, so I'll just talk about what I watched on telly the other night. First there was a programme about young people attending the Chelsea and Westminster HIV and Sexual Health clinic. This followed a bunch of immoral young tarts who'd never been taught to keep their knickers on. Oh they were ever so full of their "rights": their right to have sex at the drop of a hat with whoever they wanted. I was so disgusted that I helped myself to a nice packet of cheese and onion crisps, got another glass of white wine and curled up on the sofa to watch the whole programme. It was just terrible.
Then there was this documentary about a bunch of African religious nutters trying to exorcise children accused of witchcraft. Obviously we don't do that sort of thing in the Church of England. It's not like real Christianity, my Christianity, endorses belief in the supernatural, beings who are the incarnation of evil, magical miracles, or any of that nonsense that you find in those wacky, way out African religions. African people that think children can be witches are obviously deranged. I mean any African person who can believe in something like that is just some sort of loony. Although you can say what you like about those African pastors behaving like delusional, demented dervishes, but at least those girls they were whacking over the head with a Bible won't grow up with their legs permanently spread wide open. At least they're teaching them some proper Christian morals.
The Saville Enquiry, which has provided gainful employment to numerous lawyers over the past twelve years, is due to report today. 1972 was a time when pop music was real pop music and nostalgia was real nostalgia. Happy, happy days, apart from the thirteen people shot dead on Bloody Sunday.
This is exactly like the book of Revelation, the holy trip of Saint John the magic mushroom eater. You see there's this scroll with seven seals, although why the scroll should have seven aquatic mammals on it is never fully explained. The magic mushroom eater weeps, for no one can open the scroll. Then the lamb that was slain (who's really the second lump and the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend) opens the scroll and unleashes the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which is really nice of him.
In order to understand this, you either need to consume some seriously hallucinogenic drugs, or alternatively consult a theologian. What this passage clearly shows is that the Invisible Magic Friend is present throughout time, simultaneously in past present and future (you probably won't see this unless you're as highly theologically trained as what I am). Don't worry that the theory of relativity suggests that there is no such thing as simultaneity and therefore no such thing as a universal "now" - this is a theological "now" and is not defined by inertial frames of reference.
So in conclusion, the Saville Enquiry is about something in the past, will be reported today and will be read in the future, just like the book of Revelation says.
Aren't election days just weird? There's all the excitement of going to the polling booth and then, like me, you just wait around all day, with nothing much to do.
Speaking of elections, that reminds me of Evagrius of Pontus, the well known 4th century hermit. He liked chanting psalms. As soon as he'd finished chanting a psalm Evagrius would think to himself, "What shall I do now? I know, how about a nice chant. God I love a good chant. There's nothing I love more than sitting here in my hermit's hut, chanting away to myself all day long. Chant, chant, chant, chant, chant."
First thing in the morning he'd start the day off with the first chant of the day and every night, he'd chant himself to sleep. But after having a really good, long, hard, satisfying chant, Evagrius would pause to get his breath back. And it was in those peaceful silences between chants that Evagrius really found the Invisible Magic Friend. Because that's what the Invisible Magic Friend is, the silence, the emptiness, the nothingness between chants.
Isn't it just amazing how relevant Evagrius' chanting is to having an election? I wasn't even going to mention him if it hadn't been the hardest election in a long time.
Thursday, 22 April, 2010, 06:56 AM - TilbyRating Unrated
As today was effectively a eulogy for a friend, there will be no POTD today.
Hospitals in Bristol are to introduce new wrap around gowns. Yes, after decades of use and millions of patients, someone has finally realised that people in hospital would rather not wander the wards with their bottom hanging out.
This is part of the ever changing climate in the NHS, where we migrate from being mere patients to fully fledged customers, and customers generally aren't made to walk around with their bottoms hanging out. It's all about trust. We trust the hospital to cure us and they trust us to put our gowns on correctly.
No one knows whether Jesus' cures of the sick were miracles or not. I'd say there's a 50/50 chance, although personally I'm intensely sceptical about all that sort of stuff. That's why I'm a vicar. But seeing as all that curing definitely happened then obviously everyone was placing a great deal of trust in him. I mean they were trusting him that he wouldn't just take one disease away and give them something worse - these gods can be sneaky about this sort of thing.
We need to show similar trust in our doctors. We trust them to help us and they trust us to get sick.