Archives May 2005

Come Rain, Wind or Snow…

The Chichester Diocese May Festival was great fun at Plumpton Racecourse, but the weather was so changable, we didn’t know what was happening from one minute to the next: hot sunshine, pouring rain, enough wind to lift huge party tents and carry them across half the county.

The worship was okay, the Blessed multimedia mass went with few hitches (a radical one which involved the silent acting out of the institution narrative and the consecration of a whole bottle of wine in the bottle and a large loaf of bread) and some of the other worship hit the spot occasionally.

This is a short extract of a couple of the songs to give you an impression.

The video is now captured before we send it to the PC for overlaying with text. This means that what we capture is the event rather than the screens. Videos are shown from the PC so they will have to be post-edited in. Ed and I tended to use animated backdrops for most of the worship which kept the focus on the liturgical action rather than the ‘pop-star’ performance and I think this was better for this reason.

The speaker this weekend was one of those earnest evangelicals and annoyed me immensely as he was preoccupied with a) the incontrovertable facts that can only be found in the bible b) that you are all going to hell.

There was nothing about grace or redemption, nothing about love or forgiveness, nothing in fact about the Gospel which I preach. How can we come alongside young people and walk them in faith if we try to scare them into it – how medieval is that? The bible is a tool of revelation, not the be all and end all. God did not stop revealing himself in AD120 after the Revelation to St Johnb the Divine was completed, and he continues to work with us and through us through the Saints, the sacraments and through normal people like you and I.

Did a seminar on multisensory worship where I again promulgated my idea that a response to God is first and foremost an emotive response, and intellectualisation comes only later: the opposite idea to the Alpha course lectures written by posh barristers (…therefore, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, I can prove that God exists…). We reach out to God first with our souls and our minds follow afterwards. Ran out of time on this, but overall didn’t think it was too bad. Perhaps I spent too much time on the Postmodern theory, but we don’t usually give it any consideration, so this was, I felt, necessary.

Key privileges was helping a wonderful young woman with her AS Theology revision (doing stuff half-forgotten from my theology degree) and talking about her vocation. God is moving within her, and she needs to be nurtured… must pray…

Low point was the first night when I wasn’t up to speed with the Easyworship, and felt paniced, then I lost it when Shortfall gave me names of songs which were different to the ones on easyworship. They never checked they were the right ones and I felt really really stupid. I had to talk a walk for a few moments and then come back and apologise to Ed. Not professional, but human.

Our young people really enjoyed the weekend: fun and fellowship first; a bit of religion thrown in on top. This is the way souls are won for Christ and it has precious little to do with hell and damnation…

Sermon: Trinity Sunday, Year A

Sermon: Trinity Sunday, Year A

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A small boy had just come back from Church, where he had received, I have no doubt, some fine teaching at Sunday School. He started quizzing his mother on where God was to be found: “Is he in heaven” “yes, of course he is” “is he around us on earth?” “yes, he is” “is he even there in the sugar bowl?” “Err.. yes, yes I suppose he is”. Quickly the lad grabs the sugar bowl and pops his hand on top: “Got him!”.

How much we would love to capture God, to make sense of him, to have something supremely tangible to hold onto. However, God is other; God is beyond our experience, and glimpsed only through God’s revelation. The Trinity is part of that revelation to us, part of our struggle to understand and comprehend the mystery that is God, whilst never being able to capture him. The Orthodox, like my close friend Fr. Daniel, would simply shrug their shoulders and admit that it is a mystery, a matter of God, and we should just accept it, but oh how much we would love to capture God in the sugar bowl.

The doctrine of the Trinity, simply stated: There is One God and this One God is three “persons,” Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Trinity are equally God, “co-equal and co-eternal,” we say. One is not more divine than another. One is not subordinated to any other.

But we must recognise that God is not simply a category with three members: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are single substance. They have a single will, a single energy. There are not three Gods, but only one God, as Gregory of Nyssa so eloquently put it.

Each year we try to create ever more elaborate yet simple analogies to convey the truth of the trinity. My work of genius (or pure silliness, you can take your pick) this year is the Mars Bar…

If you cut across a Mars Bar and look at it, it is made up of three ingredients: chocolate, nougat and caramel. Now each of these ingredients in their own right are delicious and wholesome and wonderful in their own right, and could be eaten end enjoyed separately, but it is only when they are combined can they be seen as something else truly wonderful: the mars bar, where three are one in a delicious (although high calorie) way.

But as we strive to find new and exciting ways to encapsulate the mystery of the trinity, and curates get increasingly desperate in their bitterness, The question remains for us today is: Do we still need the Trinity? Do we in our scientific and logical glory need the Trinity to comprehend he who is other.

In our Scriptures this morning we see Paul and John speak of the ingredients, but nothing of the Mars Bar. Nothing about three in one or one in three. Nothing about God in three persons. The word “Trinity,” of course, never appears in Scripture. All of that language comes from the 4th Century and the debates of the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople.

Nevertheless, I think that the doctrine of the Trinity is important for us to hold to and to promulgate. It has a mystery of great importance to reveal to us, something more than just the inner workings of the divinity.

First of all, the doctrine states that we believe in a personal God. You won’t find “personal God” in the Scriptures either, but that concept has emerged from the experience of believers over centuries. Yes, we do believe in a personal God, who encounters us at a personal level, for we believe in God in three persons. The word is carefully chosen. It means, above all, that God is conscious of us and loves us. And it means that we in return are able to love God, intensely and wholeheartedly. A Personal God does not mean a private God, in a divisive, protestant way, but one which calls each and everyone of us in a direct and personal way to a collective expression of faith and of Church.

Secondly, the doctrine of the Trinity affirms that God does not exist in isolation. God is a social God. Even prior to the creation, God existed in relationship: the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit one to another. Since we are created in God’s image, this means that we are created for relationship as well. We will become whole persons only in relationship to one another and to God.

Finally, we need to observe the traditional language about the Trinity (this is from the Athanasian Creed): The three persons are Co-equal and Co-eternal. They exist in communion, in a mutual sharing of life, a perichoresis or dance of life and love. The persons of the Trinity do not allow for inequality, or subordination, or domination, or hierarchy. Our Baptism into the Church in the name of the Trinity means that all of us, though irreducibly unique, exist together as equal partners in Christ in a relationship of mutual love.

So, do we still need the Trinity? Or is it just one of our attempts to capture God in our own sugar bowls, is it an attempt to bring God down to our level, or does it suggest a mystery beyond comprehension, but which has resonances with our human relations? Do we still need the Trinity? We might just as well ask: Do we still need mutuality? Do we still need to be in relationship? Do we still need a personal God? Do we still need love?

Oh yes.


Modern Funeral Ritual

The funeral was massive. At least £2000 on flowers that could have gone to Cancer Research or to the Church building appeal (much needed) or at least something worthwhile went on floral tributes that basically no-one is going to see again. Those ones which spell out a name or (more commonly a releationship) are £60 a letter – a letter – so M.U.M.M.Y was about £300 alone. A single rose speaks volumes… and puts money better spent elsewhere.

In keeping with the Spirituality of the modern age, there were no hymns. Just as well, as clearly, I’d be the only one singing, and that is a tragedy. I listed the music in and out, but almost at the last moment thought it needed something to transform it. The last track: ‘somewhere only we know’ by Keane had the right sense to it, so I expanded the act of commendation, saying something like:

“As we have the opportunity to listen to these words, [name’s coffin will
be surrounded by incense, which symbolises being surrounded by our prayers. As the scent of holiness pervades this place, it settles into your clothes, and surrounds us just as God’s love surrounds and envelopes us. It is something I hope that you will take away with you…”

I played the track, got the thurible out which I had lit just before; scraped and blew just as they taught me at theological college (and which I continue to bore for England on ‘the right way to burn incense’) and added my lovely Glastonbury flavour incense. Filled the chancel with sweet smell and then proceeded to cense the coffin. I think it worked. I sense it worked. I pray, Oh God, may it have worked for least someone. It worked for me at least.

I asked the congregation to stand before the end of the track, and as the track died away, I gave the commendation:

God our creator and redeemer,
by your power Christ conquered death and
entered into glory.
Confident of his victory and claiming his promises,
we entrust [name to your mercy
in the name of Jesus our Lord,
who died and is alive
and reigns with you,
now and for ever.

In peace let us now take [name to her place of rest.

and played the track once more. Hope I get my mp3 player back.

We sometimes need to take risks in liturgy and in the use of ritual to express the inexpressible. Without this, liturgy cannot successfully explore the emotions which it seeks to carry. This afternoon was one of thopse occasions, and the God of Surprises pulls it off again. Deo Gratias!

New Funeral Music and Random Musings on the Nature of Transubstantiation

Chosen by the family for Tuesday’s funeral

CD In: “All About You” by McFly
CD Out: “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane

Both good songs. A little unsure about them in the context of a funeral per se; but this speaks volumes about the spirituality of everyday things. By taking these two secular pieces of music and placing them with the context of a funeral, they take the normal existance of these people and place them before God. These are slices of everyday, and we have the opportunity to consecrate them. God can work with all this, and I am sure that God will work in the context of this funeral and with what (little) we give him. God is like that. I got thinking about this following my visit to a gallery yesterday…

Yesterday Lou and I went to London for our 15th Wedding Anniversary. Did random things: ate Sushi in Soho at Itsu on Wardour Street – fantastic food on conveyor belts and then went to the Tate Modern. Some classics there, some that failed to move me completely (such as Matisse’s snail) but I was wholly set off by “An Oak Tree” (1973) by Michael Craig Martin. Info from the website:

An Oak Tree consists of an ordinary glass of water placed on a small glass shelf of the type normally found in a bathroom, which is attached to the wall above head height. Craig-Martin composed a series of questions and answers to accompany the objects. In these, the artist claims that the glass of water has been transformed into an oak tree. When An Oak Tree was first exhibited, in 1974 at Rowan Gallery, London, the text was presented printed on a leaflet. It was subsequently attached to the wall below and to the left of the shelf and glass. Craig-Martin’s text deliberately asserts the impossible. The questions probe the obvious impossibility of the artist’s assertion with such apparently valid complaints as: ‘haven’t you simply called this glass of water an oak tree?’ and ‘but the oak tree only exists in the mind’. The answers maintain conviction while conceding that ‘the actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water … Just as it is imperceptible, it is also inconceivable’. An Oak Tree is based on the concept of transubstantiation, the notion central to the Catholic faith in which it is believed that bread and wine are converted into the body and blood of Christ while retaining their appearances of bread and wine. The ability to believe that an object is something other than its physical appearance indicates requires a transformative vision. This type of seeing (and knowing) is at the heart of conceptual thinking processes, by which intellectual and emotional values are conferred on images and objects. An Oak Tree uses religious faith as a metaphor for this belief system which, for Craig-Martin, is central to art. He has explained:

I considered that in An Oak Tree I had deconstructed the work of art in such a way as to reveal its single basic and essential element, belief that is the confident faith of the artist in his capacity to speak and the willing faith of the viewer in accepting what he has to say. In other words belief underlies our whole experience of art: it accounts for why some people are artists and others are not, why some people dismiss works of art others highly praise, and why something we know to be great does not always move us.

(Quoted in Michael Craig-Martin: Landscapes, [p.20.)


The artist speaks of transubstantiation: by his will he has created an oak tree from a glass of water, whilst keeping the accidents of the glass and the water the same. This is based upon Aquinas. It made me start thinking (as it should) about the eucharist:

* The act of consecration – the creation of the body and blood of Christ from the accidents of bread and wine – are not my will, but the action of the holy spirit working through me by the grace of my holy orders. Th artist here seeks to create an oak tree purely by his will

* Is it dependent upon my (firmly held) belief that what results is the real body and blood of Christ?

* Is it dependent upon those who participate [in the mass/observe [the artwork believing the change of substance in the presence of the same accidents. Is the act of transubstantiation lessened by the presence of even 1 person who cannot/does not hold the view that this is the body and blood of Christ/An Oak Tree?

* If I said the right words over something other than bread and wine, would that have the same effect? If we limit the host to bread and wine then are we not limiting the power of God?

* Further, If God wanted to transform my cup of espresso and my biscotti into the real presence, then who am I to stop him?

* This leads me into a number of interesting thoughts about Inculturation, from translations of scripture in the far east which have Jesus saying “I am the Rice of Life…” as it is the staple to questions about whether one could celebrate the eucharist with a group of young people using their common currency: the big mac and fries [I am the Big Mac of Life..

* I know of a Bishop who in the presence of another dying bishop and in extremis celebrated the eucharist with Mother’s Pride and Whisky. If I was on a desert Island, could I not make do with a banana and coconut milk rather than not have Christ present with me.

* My conclusion is that God is bigger than the rubrics, and when there is something important to be said about God, we need to use the symbols we have to hand: big mac and fries, banana and coconut milk, bread and wine and as long as we are drawn into the mystery of an encounter with God. This is not to denigrate the sacrament, which is at the centre of my spirituality, but whatever was used, whatever symbolism we draw from takes on the substance of God whilst maintaining the accidents of its earthly form.

* You can burn me later, if you want to; but this piece of art has given me some quite challenging thinking about the sacrament of salvation. It has challenged me and (I feel) drawn me closer towards that mystery. As I ‘touched God’ this morning in the mass, I felt a charge pass through me again: the sacrament in my hands – God ‘hiding under an ordinary p;iece of bread’ as St Francis of Assisi once said – filling me with God’s Holy Spirit. he is fantastic, really. Honest he is.