Thursday, 29 December 2016

JANUARY - a meditation on the Anglican Calendar : 5 of 12

The longing days of January have left behind the consumptive hours and the newly stretching evenings recall the present in a muddle of greys and pinks. Paul, slowly growing in stature, struts the Damascus road to the Epiphany of his moment, weighing his conscience with Tarsus. He brings gifts for a King and for you and for me. His three fold wisdom is no magic, but the humility of every Christian, though his is so hard to see.

This is the self finding month when the new is normal and all things seem possible. The fading dark of winter can no longer dissuade the oozing future and the coldest days, perhaps yet to come (those teasings of spring), cannot threaten us for ever.

The Magi’s gifts are opened and, the Christ Child, like every child, finds that the wrapping is of more significance: For it is his own identity. The Name that sanctifies the year’s beginning has cast its meaning on all that follows and time is no longer simply the partner of space but the sacrament of God’s presence.

The threefold mysteries of the Magi’s gifts are a trinity of dispatch: Godhead, Kingship, Death. Here is God. He too shall go back by another way.

We look, pray, for unity, but it slips, like good intentions, through our watery grip. We grasp what is not ours to hold and are disappointed. We should know better by now: that sharpened January, dark and bright by turns, no longer leaves us the option of staying the same.

All these things are a baptism, a bringing in, the washing of a new beginning. It is a doing of what is needful, by accepting the task at hand. We have unpacked the Christmas gifts, and if we are wise will examine them until the twelve nights have passed and then place them, not with the last-year-lights, but where we can savour the salvation they celebrate until the month is out. Such is a contradiction, cocking a snook at the world which wants to forget, in surly fashion, the goodness of things. We shall not, but play with Christingle or candles, with nativity native amongst us, while the world forgets to smile and turns again to its own exile in the worry of life.

But we carry the festivities over to the embarrassment of our neighbours. At least we should. We are the Christmas people and Christus natus est is our song.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

DECEMBER - a meditation on the Anglican Calendar : 4 of 12

December is mostly Advent though we battle with Christmas everyday, conceding the nativities, the shopping, every organization's carol services, The argument has been lost and as sleepers awake to the month of comings and goings we prepare ourselves excitedly for the hopeful warmth of Christmas, knowing how precarious it all is.

The old themes that held us once in an Advent earthed in the soil of fear and poverty have died, judged by the rejection of both heaven and hell. New, softer themes adorn these weeks now.

The Prophets rail, but we hear only the promise. The Baptist frowns but we only think of wild honey. The Blessed Lady, it seems, only challenges us to smile, and the Child arrives, wrapped in the security of school videos, cards, the trundling bundles of check-out-trolleys, the smell of pines and all the jolly distractions.

Be pious, complain, long for the pure - but this is the real world. Jesus was born in his time. The Christ must be born in ours. Rejoice in the trivia, that all is not forgotten in the paleness of humanist morality. Imagine these darkest days celebrated by nothing but ethics. What is less human than humanism? The secular world is shot through with moments of tinselled glory. The angels keep their ancient stations. Each ridiculous trinket on every startled Christmas tree, each piece of wrapping, each card, is a subliminal insistence on the nearness of God.

December is not all Advent. This last week, this sleeping octave where, for the lucky, work is suspended or the worries of sharply timed redundancy mock the merriest, here new themes of hope shout out. For the profane (no, no disparagement) it is the hope of a new year, but for those of us who have stumbled on this treasure-buried-field, and thieved the faith which was not ours, there are other hopes, and new fears.

Wenceslas walks the snow, but it is red with the life of Stephen. John revives us with the Word of Life, but only in time to watch the Innocent die, as die they always do. This birth brings death. We are faced with realities, but stay at home for the rite of Mary Poppins, who alone is practically perfect. The sinless child sleeps half remembered in the nursery of our forgetfulness, as we eat the cold turkey of our withdrawal from the world. So much nicer than when it’s hot.

The cold Child cries, knowing that the world is all there is and, the longest night over, the creeping sun will stretch each day until it darkens at noon.

But for now, let us rejoice that life is all, that all is life, and that God is glad for the moments of living, of love, of tender joy that can catch us unawares.

Monday, 31 October 2016

NOVEMBER - a meditation on the Anglican calendar: 3 of 12

The dogs bark at the battered sun and rain hangs unwillingly in the morbid sky. Cold, but not so cold as to worry. November, the days of turning the past to the future as we pass through All Saints, All Souls and on to Remembrance. November, when the sad sun slips away and nerves are edgy for a new year. R S Thomas ends his poem "Pluperfect" with these words:
"Where are you? I
shouted, growing old in
the interval between here and now."

November is such a space between "here and now". A time for shouting with Thomas, "Where are you?" as the warmth dribbles away and we remember the people we have lost, the people we long for, and perhaps the God who slips too easily past us in the sly memories that clench our hearts. Who have you lost? There will be someone, perhaps many people. Mostly they will have died. But sometimes we have lost the living through the brokenness of our lives. "Where are you?" is the cry we have all made, if we have lost anyone at all.

The interval between here and now is populated by "so great a cloud of witnesses" and those who have gone before us will not be made perfect without us. The interval between here and now, between space and time, is where we can slip into eternity and find the meaning of all our lives together.

The old guards change as autumn commands the squadding leaves. We march to the cenotaphs of our own memories: parents, sisters, brothers, lovers, friends, children. "Where are you?" we cry and stretch our memories to touch the faces we loved and lost. Only the dead are un-bereaved, for they know the coming of the living. This simple hope beats out the rhythm of our marching - that death shall have no dominion, that eternal life will erupt in the very space between here and now where sorrow constricts our living and despair hangs over us like a clouded moon. Jesus holds open the space between here and now. It is a painful space, no bigger than the eye of a needle, a narrow gate, yet there is room for us to pass if we know the least thing about love. And that is where we may hang our hope - on the crucified God whose loving hands reach out eagerly to us.

November passes, as all time, and Advent comes, bursting with Christmas hope. We have walked again the valley of the shadow, and Christ smiles again in the donkey's breath, the smell of the hay and the cry of the living child.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Late, late, the King comes, blood red and dripping

Kingdom Season: a meditation

This turn of the year where past and future refuse to glance at each other round the corner of the dark night. Light there is in plenty in the sharpened rockets and the pumpkin candles. But the real illumination comes from the gentle glow of holy ones, mostly long gone, but clouding a witness in communion with the living.
But every soul has her place, each one a moment of Godly image that erupted into life as briefly as a Roman candle, and, just  as grievously, has left us with a mist of memories, both tender and glad.
Hope is sure and certain that their place is in that Kingdom, amongst that multitude that none can number. If only this-world souls would learn that L'Eternel has no interest in numbers beyond the 1, the 3 and the many. A hoi polloi  of those for whom God’s own self is jealous.
And we plant the dead poppies, blood red, not drained of passion and  white, but a real memory of a real soul slaughtered on the tabletop maps of arrogance. And we pause beyond anger (if we are wise) and let the grief of years seep into our souls and give them a love beyond the memories of morning and evening.
But what of this Kingdom? - whose Godly Lord is no democrat, but the cajoler of desire and the whisperer of vocation. A Lordly God who is master of waiting, and chief amongst the pursuers. It is now and not yet, we’re told. And I believe them, or rather the One who told us, the two natured one who could be there and not because his hands were reaching out to you and me, his feet nailed firm to the vertical dimension of love’s universe.
How foolish to think we build this place! It is a gift, a shock, or delight. It emerges before our eyes and is gone. It is everywhere in potence. But a quantum tease that is gone as soon as taped and measured. It has no values, though some would put up labels, a kind of passport control, so that our visas are stamped, and we can add it to our journal of spiritual tourism. But it wasn’t the Kingdom we entered, just the HIMAX film that conned us into thinking we were there. Such is the brilliance of confusing the Kingdom with performed theology, that most amusing of sitcoms. We didn’t get the jokes, because they were us. The kingdom was always just next door, and if only we’d stop looking we would discover it has wrapped us in the breath of the wilful Spirit.
This is the place of lost coins and abandoned sheep, of farmers conned out of their own treasure. Of disgruntled workmen and kings planning a wedding reception. This is no moral place, but a delight of fish filled nets, small seeds and fowls of the air and wise virgins too mean to share.
And in the season late, late, the King comes, blood red and dripping the cost of freedom, forgiveness, love. We call Christ the King but are careful to ensure we have dual nationality.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

OCTOBER - a meditation on the Anglican calendar: 2 of 12

October arrives past the equinoxal storms that transpose the eighth month to the tenth. Luke’s little summer warms the last of our hopes as the sad dark returns and the latter autumn comes to fill us with dread. This is the humble month of Francis, of Confessors, Reformers, of Alfred and Cedd.

All Hallows, apple bobbing with Luther, teasing us with sanctity and the trick or treat of a gospel shifting from ethics to reality. Simon and Jude have left their small mark, but who were they? And who are you and I but the Lord's brothers, sisters? We shift our minds away from the long weeks of stillness to come, sifting the memories of summer too soon past and now yielded to a future yet unseen.

With Teresa, we discover there are no other hands and eyes now but ours, and we slog the long days until the year's end. Ignatius fires us with another physician and we long to be healed of the dark. Deceiving the deceiver, he convinces us that the Church is only the Church in oversight, in wholeness round the table of our desire.

The sun is still warm, the wind begins to sharpen its blades. The cut of winter is just weeks off. The year begins and ends in autumn. Schools, universities, all return to harvest, that most pagan of Christian rites, a seduction to celebrations suspect by their ingenuity, distracting us from the true course of events.

The colours of salvation are a fading green, as the thought of blood red sunsets and stoles remind us of a kingdom founded in the sanguine fire of love. The trees, golden with salvation and the heavy task of bearing the fruit of temptation, into which we must not be led, hold their adorning leaves as long as may be. October is steeped in a dying year and too far from a salvation that is near at hand. Half term may ease it for children, but hardly long enough for tired teachers. And for the all rest there is a bondage to decay that will not ease until we sing Christus natus est.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Stages - An Autobiography

Stages - An Autobiography
Good Friday 2014
This piece, written a couple of years ago is published here as my response to a Facebook conversation about personal and corporate faith which needed a longer reply.......
When I was 1 I'd just begun
I'd lie still and be loved by my parents, mostly.

No parents are perfect and some children don't get much love at all,
which is a tragedy,
but that's was how I learned that I was loved,
just because I was.

But I soon forgot
Because I became 2 and discovered that I couldn't do what I liked 
and had to be corrected.
So, it looked like I wasn't just loved for being me.
Things were expected of me.

Oh the tantrums.
And in my yelling I repeated the story of the Garden of Eden
and was thrown out of my innocence.
I learned that I was naked and needed nappies
and I that to be loved meant conforming.

The damage was done,
as it is in every generation,
in every child,
always and everywhere

But we rubbed along through 3, 4, 5, and 6
and I learned to share my toys, mostly.
And to tell tales and sit still and not like girls with curly hair.

And I went to Sunday school,
and fiddled with the radiator bleed tap
and soaked the other children when it spurted,
and  I wasn't bothered a bit.
Though I didn't like the teacher being a bit more cross that she was showing.

And then I reached 7 and 8 and 9, and 10 and 11 and 12 and it was great.
I had learned the behaviour game
and found it easy to fit in do the right thing
and feel the comfort of acceptance.
I was part of the club,
and they knew what was what,
and I was was with them,
and we were all good together.
I was in the Church choir,
and I sang about Jesus who died on a green hill far away for me
and I wore a little cassock and surplice
and faith was what we all shared,
and that was fine.

And then each year there was Christmas and Good Friday.
I enjoyed Christmas, but had no idea what Good Friday was but it didn't sound nice.

Then I got to be 13.
I learned that people were noticing me as an individual.
I was self conscious, embarrassed.
So I asserted myself. I knew what was what. I had opinions.
I did the teenage thing.
I belonged to a group of similar minded people,
and we knew all the answers and other people were stupid and didn't get it.

By 18 I had become a born again Christian.
And the followers of other forms of Christianity, obviously,
were not REAL Christians at all.
Faith was about being right and being wrong,
about black and white,
this way not that way.
And I played the guitar
and I  sang that God had forgave my sin in Jesus' name.

And I worried that I didn't really believe properly.
But the gang-church I belonged to did,
so I stuck with them.

And then each year there was Christmas and Good Friday.
I decided that Christmas was a means to an end and Good Friday was where God punished Jesus for my sin.

At 21 I learned that God
was not confined to my careful descriptions,
that Christianity came in other forms
and it was OK to question and even doubt.  

I had become an adult.

And I associated with other Christians
who might or might not agree with me,
but that was fine.

I saw Church as an open association, all welcome.
And looked very adult.
And I learned to read music from a hymn book
and I sang, praising God for his love
and asked him to heal the world and start with me.

And then each year there was Christmas and Good Friday.
Christmas was great, because God became one of us.
And Good Friday wasn't where God punished Jesus,
it was where we punished God for being awful enough to create us.

I was 21 for a long, long time.
After all,
is about gaining more and more experience of the same thing
(isn't it?)

God loved me as I was,
and if we did what God wants 
then there's half a chance the world will get to be a better place,
if not for us then for our children.

And I was optimistic
and prayed for the kingdom of heaven to come on earth
like a divine NHS without the waiting times or having to pay National Insurance or tax.  

And although I knew God loved me,
I knew too that I had to live up to that love,
and do my best to deserve it,
earn it and be worthy.
Although I would have denied it.

Because I wasn't such a bad chap, really.

And then, each year, there was Christmas and Good Friday.
And I thought they were two ends of the same story.

And then life fell apart.

The most awful thing happened.

It doesn't matter what, except that the pain was unbearable,
and I disintegrated into several independent people
trying hold themselves together.  
And not really succeeding.

But over a long time something new happened.

I discovered that God really did love me just as I was,
although I had absolutely no credit in the goodness bank.
I was utterly, utterly, without anything to commend me.
But God loved me just so.

And then, each year, there was Christmas and Good Friday.
And I began to realize that they were not the two ends of the story,
and Christmas wasn't just God's way of getting to Calvary.
Christmas and Good Friday were the same.
They were God's way of  saying,
"No matter how low you get,
I get lower;
no matter how black it gets,
I'm deeper in the darkness than you;
no matter how lost you think you are,
I don't just know the way, I am with way."

And religion stopped being about trying to please God.
Religion isn't about being good, but being God's.
The word Religion - re ligio -means to "reconnect the ligaments".
God reconnected me to me, me to Godself, slowly, painfully (for both of us, I guess).

Jesus knew all this.

He'd been through the human journey.
He didn't give two hoots for being well behaved.
He'd discovered how to be truly religious
- to be permanently connected to his Father.
Which was way too disruptive for his society,
so they crucified him.

But this kind of truth can't be nailed down.
It just keeps coming back.

And then, each year, there was Christmas and Good Friday,
and it turns out that once you get those two jokers together,
you get the best party of all,
Incarnation, Death and Resurrection.

Maybe your world hasn't fallen apart, yet.

But it will,

because that's the fate of all human beings.

Or maybe it's fallen apart once or many times.
And it pushed you back.
You just went back and tried harder.

Well here's the trick
- when your life hits the buffers, don't try harder.
Admit you can't do it at all.

That is what Jesus really meant by carrying our cross
and following him.
Your cross isn't looking after Aunty Flo, or illness,
or carrying financial debt
(I know, I've had to do all those things).

Your cross is yourself.

And the painful bit is to admit it.

Admit that you are who you are.
And then you can begin to accept the enormous truth
that God is totally utterly and endlessly besotted with you.
Just as you are.

You and I are the one thing that gets in the way
of our lives being carried upward by that wonderful truth.

Here’s the thing……….
When God looks at us, each one
he sees is himself reflected.
And God is love,
so as far as God is concerned
you and I are love too.

Then you discover that you don't have to give two hoots
about how you behave,
or about being good,
or earning respect.

You're not surprised when you behave badly or get things wrong.
You put things right, you admit your faults, you say sorry.
But you stop getting too worried about it.

After all
there are all those things you've done wrong
that you haven't even noticed.
Because there's no way we are big enough
to deal with it all in this life.

And when people hurt you,
as they will,
you learn to respond by saying,
I reflect God's love,
so I will love them.

Actually we're not too good at this of course,
and often forget,
but God gives us lots of chances to practice.

And then there's death.

Our society is embarrassed by death.

But it's the only certainty.

Our fate is to die.
But when we realise that it doesn't matter,
that God's love just crashes through death
and carries us into eternity,

then we will have grasped not a fate,
but our destiny,
our destiny to be in the heart of God.

And then each year there is Christmas, Good Friday, Easter.
It turns out that they're all the same,
because they're all Christ
and Christ is God.  

The God who loves us just as we are 
draws us back into Godself,
to share in the very being of the Godhead.
Heaven isn't being with God, it's being IN God!
And that's Good News.

Wyn Beynon © 2014 & 2016

Friday, 9 September 2016


This was originally a sermon so bear that in mind as you read it....
I want to put you in mind of your baptism.
The chances are that you probably don't remember your baptism. Most of us I guess were far too young. I was born in a September and baptized in the November, just around 8 weeks old. But it may be that there are some here who were baptized, as we used to say, in “riper years”.
I've baptized many older children and adults over the years and it is a very special thing to do. Though special in the sense of being a little different, but not more important or more a real Baptism. Baptism simply is equally important, all by itself, whether of a infant or of an an older person. For Anglicans they are the same.
You are aware that from time to time I make very caustic remarks about the institution of the Church of England. (!) The institution is “sick unto death”, as the King James version might say. But I say “Hallelujah! Things must die before they rise again.”
During the late twentieth century a shift occurred in the Church of England. That’s no surprise, there are always shifts occurring in the Church! But I’m thinking of a particular shift. Where until then the majority of clergy and bishops would have understood themselves to be Anglican in their theological outlook, low church folk (we used to call them Evangelicals, but that's too diverse a term these days) and high church folk (still called Anglo-Catholics by some) gained confidence in their voices.
The problem that Anglicans set themselves is trying to be inclusive, accommodating and comprehensive. So we want the Church of England to be a broad church, allowing people with very different views and different ways of expressing our faith a space to be themselves. Ignorant people mistake this for woolliness, which it is most certainly is not.
But I want to put you in mind of your baptism.
However in the 1970s too many open hearted Anglicans lost confidence in faith itself and drifted off to be social workers and politicians (OK I'm exaggerating, but only a bit). But those that were left got the church to adopt the remarriage of divorcées, and the ordination of women, and a root and branch revamping of our liturgy. These were huge changes which would have our great grandparents spinning in their graves. Oddly, the remarriage of divorcées was more acceptable to the conservatives that you might have assumed. The liturgical change was largely welcomed across the board. The ordination of women, however, came in with a vast amount of acrimony and the scene was set for where we are now with the recent debacle over women Bishops.
The low church (or as I tend to call them, Puritans) were gaining in confidence. In 1967 there was a conference held at Keele University  where all the Evangelicals in England came together. Martyn Lloyd Jones was their leader and a non-conformist who urged Church of England evangelicals to leave an increasingly liberal church. Another great evangelical leader was John Stott. He was Rector of All Souls Langham Place and he disagreed strongly with Lloyd Jones and urged the CofE evangelicals to stay and work within the church. And they did. And they have been increasing influential ever since. Many of our clergy, Bishops and Archdeacons are from that sort of background, not least of course our Archbishop. Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha course is the most well known expression of this kind of Christianity within the Church of England.  Archbishop  Justin would, I guess, describe himself as an "open evangelical", working hard to remain true to that particular nature of the evangelical understanding of Christian faith but not being exclusive of other traditions. And I have no problem with that. The Church of England can be whatever it wants. It can adopt a very evangelical theology, or it can adopt a very Anglo-Catholic theology. And both those traditions have done important and good things. It was the Low Church folk like Wilberforce who pushed through the abolition of slavery. It was the High Church folk who, as much as anyone, got social justice on to the Church agenda. We have much to be grateful for.
But I want to put you in mind of your baptism.
But there was something else going on. If you remember the heady days of the 1960s you have, in reality, a kaleidoscope of memories. There was much good, bad and indifferent in all that social upheaval. One of those shifts was in our attitude to childhood. In an increasingly individualistic society children became a problem. Just as the cast of the musical Hair was singing, “I've got life”, and the Rolling Stones became Street Fighting Men and the Beatles urged us that all we needed was love, what was actually happening was that society from privileging ME over YOU in a new way.
So having dependent little people was a problem. Benjamin Spock, rightly or wrongly, was believed to be telling parents to let their children be free of too many disciplines and restraints.  (What he really meant is another argument!) So we taught the child that they were on their own, just little adults who needed not to be educated, but gain qualifications to  be economically useful. In schools that idea turned into "child centred" education, and from that, all the subsequent confusions imposed on schools, teachers and, of course, children.
But I want to put you in mind of your baptism.
Up until the 1960s the Baptism liturgy of the Church of England was that of the Book of Common Prayer where the Church, through the Priest, asked Godparents to speak for their children. The Baptismal revisions of the 60s and 70s reflected exactly the ambivalence that society was showing. So in the late 60s the Baptism revision called "Series One" does NOT actually refer to the child at all! It virtually ignores their presence and speaks just to the parents and Godparents. In the Book of Common Prayer the child is the SUBJECT of baptism. From the 1960s to 2002, liturgically, the child is the OBJECT of baptism.
The good news is that the Common Worship baptism is a liturgy in which parents and Godparents again act vicariously  for their children. "You speak for them today", the Priest says. In other words it's counter cultural. In a world where we speak for ourselves, parents and Godparents speak for someone else. Individualism is put over and against a corporate existence.
When we are baptized we are incorporated. We are put in with each other. The individualism of our age is challenged.
That is an Anglican understanding, and it is enshrined in our liturgy. Evangelicalism has habit of personalizing everything to point where no one can have vicarious faith, although scripture is full of the vicariously faithful! The Book of Common Prayer was Anglican. The Church of England was deliberately built on Anglicanism. There have always been Puritans, and we know what a disaster the Civil War and the period of Parliament was back in the 1600s
The Church of England is changing its nature. And that's fine in one way. It can be whatever its members want it to be. 
But let's not sleep walk away from our Anglican roots and foundations. Let's do it deliberately. Or better still not at all.
I want to put you in mind of your baptism.
You were Baptized into Christ. By grace, surrounded by and upheld by the faith of others. You are not on your own. And versions of Christianity that tell you that you are are inadequate, at least. The Church of England and Anglicanism are not the same. 
But I believe they should be.