Social Polarisation and Christian Pluralism

Another article about Church politics??? I thought you were talking about books!! Yeah, sorry about, that. I promise I will be offering information about my books soon, as I have some interesting items coming into my Library next week. But for now, you’ll have to do with this I’m afraid. As the Dutch say, when the heart is full the mouth flows over.

The Churches in the western world face a very difficult task at the moment. It is not so much the decline in church membership I am speaking about. What I think the churches’ challenge is right now is how to be a welcoming place in a increasingly pluralistic society. But in order to do that we need to know where we stand (and where we draw the line). So… where do we stand? Is the Church Left, or Right? Liberal or Labour? Evangelical or Traditional? Catholic or Protestant? Modern society pushes us to make a choice and I believe that is where our greatest challenge lies.

As an Anglican I know we sometimes pride ourselves on choosing the middle way, being a “Via Media”, and we might be accused of being fence sitters. There has always been a tension in Anglicanism between the “High Church” and the “Low Church”, the Catholics and the Evangelicals. But this tension exists in all of society and as a Christian community we need to dare to walk that fine line between two seemingly opposite sides.

I feel that there is a growing sense of polarisation and dis-unity in society, and many churches follow that trend. The rift between Traditional and Evangelical is growing. This modern “You have to choose a side” approach draws us into conflict where listening and understanding is no longer at the top of the agenda. For the Church this listening has been replaced by mission statements. Yet the middle way is not a lack of choice, but a very deliberate one. As we are tempted to split into extremes we have to realise that in the centre is only one thing: Jesus Christ. As church we need to dare to make that most difficult of choices: to live in tension with the existence of both realities. Jesus never chose a side but he didn’t sit on the fence either; he always found a third way, a better way. He embraced all sides of our humanity fully. And we must never forget that he was a living paradox himself: being Fully Human, and Fully Divine. So we are called to be Christ like, but also as human as we can be.

At the moment I do not see this happening in the church.  With the leadership of a number of large denominations becoming far more theologically and socially conservative than most of their lay membership, there is a growing sense of being “out of touch” with our society. As Liturgies are changed to attract more people by adjusting them to an ever-changing society, hoping to be able to increase their resources, theological and social perspectives are not updated to correspond with that. There tends to be a correlation between modern worship and conservative theology. To use some rather crude terminology, “enormous effort is put into the marketing and selling of a product, but the product itself is not being developed”.

All this modern worship is aimed almost solely at evangelisation, hoping to attract more people. But all these evangelisation efforts are preoccupying the church at the expense of interest in ecumenical dialogue and Christian unity. As dualistic as human beings are, again two options are put on the table: modernisation of worship or modernisation of theology. Most of the churches offer differing ways of modern liturgy and leave behind theology and spiritual development. Yet if the church is supposed to be the body of Christ then, just as humanity and divinity co-existed in one body, liturgy and theology, spirituality and evangelisation, personal and communal all have to co-exist in the one body.

So, where do we stand as Christians in a polarized society? Everywhere.

 

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Living Ecumenism in Tasmania today

Here to share an article I wrote for the newsletter of the Tasmanian Council of Churches. If you are interested do bear in mind I am writing specifically for Tasmania, so for those not from Tasmania, some context and some events might be unknown to you.

I am open to comments and love a good bit of dialogue. Sharing your ideas here is encouraged but I do reserve the right to delete any comments that I do not consider to be helpful for open Ecumenical dialogue.

Living Ecumenism in Tasmania today. But what is ecumenism? In Wikipedia we read:

“Ecumenism refers to efforts by Christians of different church traditions to develop closer relationships and better understandings. The term is also often used to refer to efforts towards the visible and organic unity of different Christian churches in some form.”

In the Tasmanian Council of Churches, we recognise and witness to the invisible unity we share in Jesus Christ. The adjective ecumenical can also be applied to any interdenominational initiative that encourages greater cooperation among Christians and their churches. The terms ecumenism and ecumenical come from the Greek οἰκουμένη (oikoumene), [the name of this newsletter] It means ‘the whole inhabited world’, and was historically used with specific reference to the Roman Empire. The ecumenical vision today comprises the celebration of our unity in Jesus Christ, the search for a closer visible unity of the Church (Ephesians 4:3) and the ‘whole inhabited earth’ (Matthew 24:14) as the concern of all Christians.

So how do we live ecumenically today? When the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches addressed the South Australian Council of Churches last year he said. “You are the World Council of Churches”, meaning that ecumenism is not limited to a formal organisation, but lived by the witnesses of Christians everywhere. The recent census data has shown some unsurprising, but still worrying data. 30% of all Tasmanian ticked “no religion”, up from 22% percent five years ago. Despite the not surprising growth of “no religion” it is interesting to see a growing religious interest through festivals such as Dark MOFO that are filled with various versions of Pagan worship. It is constantly pushed that it is only “art” or I’ve even heard people say “a bit of fun”. But Dark MOFO is not the only festival in Tasmania where this takes place and I have to start wondering how far you can go before Art and A Bit of Fun become a search for a deeper meaning in life. I believe that Christianity has a real mission in Tasmania to support people in their search for deeper meaning.

And in small ways churches already have. It was wonderful to be able to read the whole Bible during the Dark MOFO festival at Saint David’s Cathedral. People from almost all denominations came and read while the doors were open, allowing people to enter into the mystery of God through the reading of scripture, and being a light during a festival of darkness.

But we cannot act as individuals. The nature of ecumenism is changing. A Council setting often doesn’t suffice anymore. But many Christians already work together on a different level. Whether it is through joint worship on Sunday in country towns, shared Taizé prayers or the informality of open discussion groups such as Pints of Faith.

One thing is certain: as church attendance declines we need to find ways in which Christian Churches can come to be viewed as a greater unity. We can no longer be completely independent from each Christ only has one body after all, and we must embrace all our differences to be able to be a church for all. To quote William Alexander Guerry, an Anglican Bishop from America, “If we are to be truly catholic as Christ was catholic, then we need to be broad enough to embrace within its communion every living human soul”.

Pagans, Jews and Christians

Sometimes nothing comes in for weeks, and then you get four new books in a week. I ordered a facsimile early last week to make up for several weeks of emptiness and within the week of that book arriving 3 others came my way. One of them is an Orthodox Bible, (not another bible) but I won’t go into any detail on that one. (I have 25 different bibles).

The facsimile I ordered will be the crown jewel of this particular blog and as such should really be appreciated as the last one in the list. The first book that came in my direction this week was thanks to some wonderful people at my favourite op shop who not only recognised that I would be interested and kept it aside for me, but they also sold it to me half price.

pagans and christians by folio society

pagans and christians by folio society

Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox, in three volumes printed by Folio Society. I have a love hate relationship with Folio. Their books are always beautiful but there are so many of them, and they are almost all in the same style. There are a few notable exceptions where they did a truly remarkable job in creating a special volume. but the bulk of their work is the same. Yet still, their books are beautiful and it is often the only way you can find a classic works that is not published in a penguin paperback.

Pagans and Christians evolved out of a thesis which attempted to write a religious history of late Roman empire/early medieval Europe without separating the Pagan religions from Christianity but instead trying to see how the shift from pagan to Christian was much more fluid.

Tales of Norse Mythology by Helen a. Guerber

norse mythology

The back is even better then the front

The Barnes and Noble collectors editions never stop attracting. I see them on the shelf, I have to take a closer look. Again, not exactly a rare manuscript, but if a book displays celtic/norse notwork on the cover I have to buy it. It’s as simple as that.

Now as for what I actually wanted to add to my collection.

The Brother Haggadah a medieval masterpiece in Facsimile9780500110294_in05_the-brother-haggadah_ A Haggadah is a a Jewish prayerbook that describes how to celebrate the Passover Seder. It is called the “brother Haggadah” because it is very similar to the “Rylands haggadah”. A manuscript which is kept in the Rylands library, which is the library of the university of Manchester. I believe this library keeps both manuscripts.

It was created by Sephardic Jews in the 14th century. Sephardic means that they are Jews from Spain or Portugal, which is why they are sometimes called Iberian Jews. The word sephardic is the Hebrew word for “Hispanic”.

The Brother Haggadah opens with a graphic novel of the Exodus, starting with God’s revelation to Moses. In 26 panels, the story unfolds, highlighted by depictions of several plagues and the departure, climaxing in the celebration of the first Passover Seder contrasted with a contemporary Seder. Delightful details—a spotted dog on Pharaoh’s lap, buzzing locusts, Pharaoh and his courtiers scratching boils, resolved in a striking panel showing Pharaoh’s army sunk in the sea. The traditional text is not heavily illustrated, although occasional imaginative creatures appear, as well as elders holding open books inviting readers in. Elaborate initial words are the major decorative element in the text

The art tells not only the story of the Exodus but also much about medieval dress and settings. The influence of Christian art can be seen, most notably in a panel showing Zipporah, dressed in Madonna blue, seated on a donkey with her two children and followed by Moses, their flight to Egypt. The opening poems are instructional, laying out in detail the preparations for Passover and the conduct of the Seder, but most are devotional.

rylands library

The Ryland’s Library interior. This is what my living room will look like one day.

It is a beautiful volume, well worth drooling over for a couple of minutes. Knowing that I will never own an actual medieval manuscript (thank goodness since I wouldn’t have the means to maintain them either) it is wonderful to be able to flip through the pages and study them in detail at leisure.

The Book of Common Prayer

I was only going to write when I got new books, but then I started searching the inter webs for gospel facsimile’s and got excited. Sadly I didn’t have 5500 dollars left lying around so I’ll have to make do with what I’ve got.

Of course as a religion and books fan the Book of Common Prayer or ‘BCP’ for short deserves a proper spot here. As a liturgy fanatic I have approximately 50 prayer books in my collection and 8 of them are BCP’s. A selection of my favourite BCP’s:

bcp 1762

The Cambridge university 1762 edition. I am particularly proud of this one because it is the same edition wikipedia uses on their front page. I don’t actualy remember how I acquired it, but it’s a sweet little thing, and one of the older books in my library.

The BCP was originally published in 1549 and written by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII.   He revised it in 1552 but after a few months Queen Mary restored the Catholic Church and Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake. In 1559 Queen Elizabeth re introduced the book with some of her own modifications and it became the main form of worship in the Church of England. As a result of the English civil war another major revision was made in 1662. This 1662 edition remains the first port of call for liturgy in the Anglican Communion today. And it is that edition (albeit printed a hundred years later) which I have in my collection.

bcp 1928

But in the 1920’s tensions between Anglo-Catholic’s and Evangelicals began to rise. The Anglo Catholics wanted more liturgical freedom. So revisions were made and in 1927 a new edition was approved by general synod of the Church of England. But, the C of E is the state church of England, as such it had to go through parliament and despite widespread support from the church, it was never passed in the House of Commons. As such it was never completely allowed to be used and never formally replaced the BCP of 1662. Despite this it was widely used in the 1960’s and 1970’s since most diocese allowed its use in churches themselves.

My edition, of which the front page is shown above, is a beautiful large edition with a leather cover and large print. It was designed to sit on a lectern on the altar so that the priest could read from it while still holding his hands up in prayer.

 

favourite bcp

But of course my favourite edition. As I was talking about facsimile’s earlier.

Quarter-bound in goatskin leather, blocked with matt gold foil on spine and sides, binding design by Chris Waddon, paper sides hand marble, printed on Cordier Wove paper, illustrated with beautiful neo-classical borders and devotional woodcuts from designs by Dürer and Holbein.

This facsimile volume is based on the edition published in 1853 by William Pickering and Charles Whittingham the Younger, as part of the ‘Caslon Revival’. William Caslon (1693-1766) was the first English type-founder to produce types of international quality and his elegant, deliberately old-fashioned faces were perfectly suited to the 16th and 17th-century texts so beloved of Pickering, a distinguished London publisher, and Whittingham, his printer.

I have to stop writing now, I am drooling over my own book.

(fun fact, At some stage I had three of these facsimile’s in my collection. I gave two of them away but for some reason they just kept coming, anyway, one will do)

Re-initiating my Blog

Dear People,

Yes indeed, I have a blog, and I’ve had one for years. Haven’t used it for years either, therefore I have decided to revamp my blog and go about it in a different direction. Blogging about my library books and whichever new book I may acquire. Because I love my library, and its better use of my time then staring at the television all day long.

So, whoever reads this (probably only me) as you will notice if you read my older posts, this used to be a blog about my brilliant theological revelations. But I didn’t have very many so it’s time to change. I am however not giving up on my idea of pretending to be a monk as is reflected in my new name. The library is named after the Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life whose ideas keep inspiring me every day.

The Brethren of the Common Life were a quasi monastic community founded in the 14th Century.  Without taking up vows, the Brothers and Sisters banded together in communities, giving up their worldly goods to live chaste and strictly regulated lives in common houses, devoting their live to attending divine service, reading and preaching of sermons, manual labour, and taking meals in common that were accompanied by the reading aloud of Scripture: “judged from the ascetic discipline and intention of this life, it had few features which distinguished it from life in a monastery” (Hans Baron)

This movement was often active outside the structures church and has many similarities to the modern ‘New Monasticism’ movement. The brothers and sisters grew out of the Devotio Moderna movement which was s spiritualist movement in the Catholic Church which became famous for Thomas A Kempis and The Imitation of Christ. One of the most influential books ever to be written in western Christianity. The Order of Canons Regular are a modern day community whose roots go back to the Brethren of the Common Life. And both Martin Luther and Erasmus were very much affected by the schools of the Brethren of the Common Life.

So I think it would be appropriate if the first books I present from my library are

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis

The Imitation of Christ was originally published in 1470 and it is a devotional book, a handbook for spiritual life. It is considered to be the most read book in the world after the bible, and apart from the bible no other book has been translated into more languages then this one.

Thomas A Kempis was a German Priest (and a Canon Regular) who encountered the Brethren of The Common Life when he lived in the Netherlands as a monk. And it was there that he wrote his Imitation of Christimitation of christ

My edition is the Folio Society edition which was printed 2002

The second book I am going to pop in here is Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life; the Devotio Moderna and the world of the later middle ages by John van Engen.

I haven’t read it yet but it sounds good

common life book

Christ’s perfection?

I have been watching a video in which Stephen Fry, a well known and very intelligent British atheist, argues against the church. Not against religion, just the church. And I must say that I, whom I consider a deeply religious person, agreed with everything he said. Very very sad. Anyway, all that stirred me up quite a bit and I came to think about the idea of the perfect Christ. I recall my parents telling me once, many years ago, that they believed that Jesus never did anything wrong, and actually only just recently I was in a Christian study group in which that very question of perfection came up. The actual question was, what is the difference between a public nursing home and a Christian one? Do they both not do the same thing, does the public nursing home not try and offer a good life to its inhabitants just as the Christian one does. One of the people attending said that his so called “Christian” colleagues no longer went to church because they didn’t think it was necessary. They were living a moral and good life, what else was there to it? Somebody else said, ‘it is not good enough, we are made in the image of God and so we strive to be perfect like Christ.’ Perfect like Christ I thought. But is he truly perfect? I always imagine the entire earth inhabited by “perfect” people, it sounds disgusting to me. And why would Christ be perfect, we say he was fully divine and fully human. How can you be fully human and be perfect, without flaw. It is an absolute contradiction. No, in fact, if we humans are made in Gods very own image aren’t we already perfect? We are already perfect, and why strive for perfection. So the question remains, what is the difference between a public nursing home and a religious one? As a Christian (or Muslims, or Jews) don’t we essentially strive to be in God’s presence. Isn’t the difference that we Religious people strive not to be good or even perfect people, we strive to be whole. To be complete to be wholly human. To be Holy.

To question or not to question?

We are all full of life’s questions, and one of the most central questions is “What is the meaning of life?” We are all challenged to seek an answer to that question. But very few do. ‘Why not?’ is my question. Because you know the answer will never be found. And so to seek the answer is to journey forever. And travelling is scary. To travel is to move, and to move is to move on and leave behind. You are vulnerable when you travel. You prefer to be safe, surrounded by securities. A job, a stable relationship, a house and so on. You bury yourself alive in securities. But to understand life you must question. A student who doesn’t ask questions does not make for a very good student. And in life you are always a student.