Thursday, 30 March 2017

APRIL - a meditation on the Anglican Calendar : 8 of 12

Come she will this April, as the folk sang and love came again in the spring of new things. Alleluia sounds this month, early or late, as the year dictates. But we shall not leave it sad, no matter how it all began, for the new life, light and love of resurrection will impatiently push aside the self centred, self conscious, self absorbed nonsenses of our Lents and Holy Weeks.

Death shall have no dominion and the longing days will insist we learn to live again, grasping resurrection despite all that the chill of this month, winds still northerly and rains still pelting, will try to make us fail. Only our piety can undo such holiness as the song Alleluia! Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed!

What a feast of men and women join the chorus!

Bonhoeffer, martyr in the grizzly truth of politics and war. His was a life lived together with those who knew the cost of discipleship, coming of age in the dungeons of evil. His life, his death, remind us that the Church cannot run away from the world, nor avoid the issues of state and people.

George, slayer of dragons, reminding us that our holiness too may only be a legend unlived - but patronizing so many lands from England to Russia. We have our own winged worms, the anxiety, the fears, the self will, the foolish treasure we guard with fire. To kill them is a life's task, painful beyond the lancing.

Anselm, whose God becomes Man in order for faith to find understanding, opposing the Crusades and schooling the newly middle ages to a higher learning.

Mark, first evangelist, Greek poor, style unlearned, yet beautiful beyond belief. His immediate gospel grounds us in the present and leaves us writing our own resurrection. Blunt, to the point. Short, with a longing for love. Precise, but leaving us with a hidden Christ so long.

Catherine of Siena, whose head, lost to a rose, flowered for God and brought home her father to Rome where he belongs.

We are showered this April with hope, freedom, the stories of those who hold history, told history, and made it for us. The past points to our end and our end to the beginning that is eternal life. Hot in the burgeoning sun and cold, still, in the breezy shade, the whole of the year's weather and the whole climate of faith is set out for our delight.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Paradigm Shift

A paradigm is a collection of ideas including our language, our attitudes, our values, the procedures we use and techniques employed in dealing exploring what we believe to be true about the world.

Thomas Kuhn's hugely influential The Structures of Scientific Revolutions (first published in 1962) challenged the idea that scientific advance was simply a case of one truth built on another, bit by bit building up our understanding of the world. In reality there are moments when the old paradigm simply no longer fits the facts and must be overthrown and a new paradigm developed to explain the new situation. This is often a real revolution in thought.

Much the same is true in Christian history when different groups of Christians found they could no longer sit inside one received tradition and broke out. This happened particularly in the early centuries- spectacularly when Christians had to adapted the new paradigm that gentiles did not need to become Jews to be saved -   through the ideas of the early centuries - and hugely again at the Reformation - though it has many manifestations through the centuries in smaller, more locally contained developments. 

The late (and great) Phyllis Tickle (The Great Emergence 2008) suggested that this kind of emergence happened every 500 years or so - with the Great Schism of 11th century, the Reformation of the 16th century and the great emergence that is happening within the Church now.

However accurate her analysis may be there is no doubt that the Church is changing, and a whole generation of Christians are looking to recast their faith in the light of new evidence which means the old paradigm simply no longer works. We need a new paradigm of how to read the scriptures, how to understand what it means to be human as a revolutionary replacement for the medieval paradigm we've lived with for 500 years.

The problem with such a theological paradigm shift is that it makes it impossible to hold contradictory ideas together. When ideas are paradoxical they can weave in and out of each other. But contradictions simply cannot hold together.

In science, once a sufficient evidence has been assembled a previously held theory has to be given up and a new theory emerges. This may mean a complete rethink of the way science understand the subject of research. In the 18th century scientific theory proposed the existence of a substance called "phlogiston" which was lost from a material when it burned. This would account for the loss weight.  Once the nature of oxygen, and its place in combustion was understood, "phlogiston" was no longer need.There was paradigm shift.

Similarly the Copernican revolution, when it was finally understood that the earth went round the sun and not the sun around the earth, was a paradigm shift, a revolution in thought. Again with the emergence of Darwin's theory of evolution  and Einstein's theory of relativity... each paradigm shift being a revolution in scientific - indeed - cultural thought.

So it has proved with theology. There have been times when our understanding of God and God's relationship with the world has had to be recast in a new way to account for the actual evidence of life itself. So the emergence of Trinitarian thought, the Great Schism, the emergence of the autonomous individual and the Reformation, the abandonment of the Divine Right of Kings, the challenge of evolutionary theory and the new science of the 20th century all have made Christians rethink the way they do theology, and we have in different ways abandoned paradigms and developed new ones.

Of course it is not so neat as in science, where after a time of turmoil the whole scientific community settles down to the new paradigm. In the thought world of faith it is an untidy and ongoing revolution - or perhaps revolutions - in which different individuals and groups embrace or reject new paradigms. And when Christians speak to each other out of different paradigms they may believe they understand each other's language, they may believe they are speaking the same language. But they are not. No amount of arguing over the meaning of words can replace the need for a shared paradigm. The result is a fragmented Church in which different traditions - paradigms - simply find other traditions  - paradigms just incomprehensible. 

Different paradigms are irreconcilable. They are not nuanced versions of each other,but an utterly new way of looking at things. They cannot be reconciled.

If your paradigm means you view the scripture literally, or at last endow the text with intrinsic authority, then you cannot understand me whose paradigm sees the scripture as poetic truth, more to do with beauty than fact.

If your paradigm means that for you gender is clearly and unchangeably either male or female, them you will never understand my paradigm in which human beings are found on a spectrum of gender possibilities.

If your paradigm means men and women do not equally reflect the image of God then you cannot understand my paradigm in which men and women only reflect the image of God together.
Good disagreement is not possible when there has been this kind of paradigm shift - not without an unconscionable dishonesty. I cannot want mutual flourishing of a paradigm I believe to be simply an untruth.

Such is where we are as a Church. And until we say so we shall continue to hurt each other, pretending that some sort of unity is possible when it is not. There has been a paradigm shift and there is no going back, once we have grasped the new paradigm and accepted it for our own.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Mercy and truth are met together and Churchyard Wind Chimes 2 Poems for Lent 2

Mercy and Truth are met together

Unity is tyranny
turning us away from the open door
showing us nothing but the wall of constraint

Truth crouches, like sin, at the liminal space
but covers sin with love
whilst Unity complains about the scratches on the jambs
as Despair longing for Mercy's touch
claws to leave for the wide field of Grace

Unity can only be right, correct, a winner
when Mercy can be happy with what is broken and sad

since Grace can mend in the broad fields of Hope

Churchyard Wind Chimes

Then he said to me, 
‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, 
child of earth, 
and say to the breath:  
Thus says the Lord God
Come from the four winds, O breath,  
and breathe upon these slain, 
that they may live.’ 
Ezekiel 37.9

They hang now these tubes
like old decisions left only
with hoping they were right 
crawled by small insects
messed by webs and feeding spiders
colliding as they might
toned to a note too low to name.

Daylight owls calling
that here lies the lost
the one ripped from us
and whose absence is unbearable

New monks in an old churchyard
a plain plain song
a pentatonic scale of the wind's randomness

and we recall that other Wind too
self willing
- from and to who knows where?
But carrying the power
of love's fluidity

Let these chants of pain
drift across the sleeping souls
and carry our deep deep need
to the Heart of the Wind's return


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lent 1 2017 - Where the Rubber Hits the Road

this burst tyre
on the fast track to holiness

suggesting it's essential
to sit in the waiting-room
for someone else to do the quick fix

for us there is only the not so comfy chair
and endless coffee
which we must smell
                                   if we are to be alert
                                   to penitence

an awakening to the nail raining days
which alone must puncture us
where the rubber hits the road
wet with our lives

the same nail that another will extract
on the car jack
of redemption
with pierced hands and feet

the tread
of the dreadful God