Why I’m not really following the Canterbury horse race

Over at Anglican Down Under, one of the regular commenters misunderstood something I said and drew the conclusion that I was really concerned about ‘who will become the next Archbishop of Canterbury’. As I said there, I must not be as lucid a writer as I thought; I’m actually entirely unconcerned about the Canterbury horse race – and that’s not solely because I’m in Canada, and Canterbury is in England, either!

Let me explain. As my regular readers will know, I came to faith in Jesus Christ while living in the little village of Southminster, Essex in the 1970s. At that time our village church, St. Leonard’s, was going through a real charismatic renewal and it was a very exciting community to be a part of. People were coming to faith in Christ, joining house groups and reading the Bible and praying together; people were getting ‘words from the Lord’ (many of which turned out to be genuine), exercising gifts of healing and prophecy and so on. The worship wasn’t old and musty but alive and informal, with a lot of what was then considered to be ‘contemporary Christian music’ (it doesn’t sound very contemporary now!). The sense of the presence of God was very real and attractive to a lot of people.

The thing is, I lived in Southminster from December 1969 to December 1975; I was converted in March 1972 and was an enthusiastic teenage Christian for the rest of my time in Southminster; I read the scripture lessons on Sundays, led intercessions, played in the music group, and did my share of personal evangelism. And in all that time, I rarely gave a second thought to the question of who the Archbishop of Canterbury was (I vaguely knew that he was a bloke named Ramsey, but that’s all I knew about him). I knew who the Bishop of Chelmsford was because he used to come down to the Bradwell pilgrimage every year to preside at the closing Communion service, and we saw the suffragen bishop of Bradwell at confirmation services every year or two, but that was the sum total of my involvement with the church hierarchy as a young Christian. Most days, bishops – any bishops – never appeared on my radar screen at all.

I suspect that most of the new Christians in our church felt the same way I did. We were very concerned about who our local vicar was (he happened to be my Dad), because he was the one who led our church and spoke at the services and (sometimes) the home groups and so on. I can understand that the question of ‘who the local bishop was’ might have been important to my Dad, as he had to work under his authority, but in a diocese of 475 parishes, even with a diocesan bishop and three suffragens, Dad didn’t exactly get a cosy coffee with the bish every other week. And for most of us ordinary folk in the pews, even the local bishop didn’t exactly have much influence on our everyday Christian lives, let alone the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Nowadays, in my fifties and a full-time parish priest, I try to keep that perspective in mind. There’s a world full of people out there beyond the doors of our church who are increasingly convinced that Christianity is irrelevant to their daily lives. The really important question we need to grapple with is how we can form growing disciples of Jesus who will go out to their homes and businesses and circles of friends and make a difference for the gospel of Christ. How do we engage non-Christian people with the Christian message? How do we evangelise them in a meaningful way so that they become convinced and committed followers of Jesus? How do we establish them in basic Christian disciplines like worship, prayer, Bible reading and the sacramental life, so that they grow in their relationship with God and each other? How do we equip them to use their gifts in service of the Kingdom of God?

So by all means, today I’ll spare a prayer for the Crown Nominations Commission as they meet to discuss the question of who they will recommend to the Queen as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. But I confess, it won’t be a long prayer. To spend too much time on the subject would, I think, be a distraction from the Gospel for me (‘tho not necessarily for the CNC). And I’ll also try to remember that Jesus said, not ‘Whoever welcomes one such bishop in my name welcomes me., but ‘whoever welcomes one such little child in my name welcomes me’ – a perspective, I suspect, with which most of the bishops of my acquaintance would agree.

‘Almighty and Most Merciful Father’

Flying above Mount Robson, I can look down from 35,000 feet and see pretty well the whole mountain. Looking up at it from underneath, I can only see part of it at once. Curiously, the closer I get, the less of it I can see, though I do see in more detail.

I find God is a little like that. God is such an amazing combination of seemingly contradictory characteristics (or ‘attributes’ as they are called in traditional theological language) that my poor limited human brain can’t take them all in at once. And this phrase from the Book of Common Prayer (1962 Canadian version; the 1662 English version is identical on this and most other points) is a good example of that:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep…

‘Almighty and most merciful Father’. There’s a contradictory bundle of attributes, for sure!

On the one hand, we affirm the power and majesty of God. He is ‘Almighty’; that is to say, nothing that his sovereign will plans is impossible for him to do. This is God the almighty Creator of all that exists, galaxies known and unknown, the Lord of all time who is himself outside of time, the one who is infinitely greater and stronger and wiser than we can even begin to imagine – the one who said to Moses ‘No one can see my face and live’ (Exodus 33:20).

On the other hand, we’re told that he is our ‘most merciful Father’. Not just a wise and just and capable Father, but a ‘most merciful Father’, one who forgives our sins, gives to us generously without stint, and is patient with our weaknesses and fears.

How can it be that the God who created black holes and red dwarves even knows that I exist, let alone being my ‘most merciful Father’? But it is true, and Jesus assures us of it. He teaches us to pray ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’ – the same combination of attributes. Our Father, yes, but also our heavenly Father; close to us as a good father, and yet at the same time exalted far above us as the God and Creator of all.

Pastorally this is a very important combination of characteristics. It does me no good to have an almighty Creator if he is so far removed from me that he doesn’t even know I exist. Contrariwise, it does me no good to have a merciful Father if he is so puny and powerless that he can’t do anything to help the people he loves.

So the Prayer Book strikes the right note as it invites us to confession: ‘almighty and most merciful Father’. My mind can barely take in both of these characteristics at the same time, but both are true of God, and both are vital for our salvation.

Remembering the other 9/11

(Reblogged from last year)

September 11th 1973.

I first read about the events of Sept. 11th 1973 in Sheila Cassidy’s 1977 book Audacity to Believe. Ever since, I have been horrified by the story.

The Rettig Report concluded that 2,279 persons who died during the Pinochet government were killed for political reasons or as a result of political violence. The Valech Report concluded that 31,947 people were tortured, and 1,312 were exiled.

We will remember them.

Lord William

Awake, awake, you brothers seven –
Put on your armour bright,
For while you slept your sister dear
Was stolen away by night.

For while you slept Lord William came,
And she has loved him long.
She knew her father would not consent,
For she is yet so young.

So she is riding her milk white steed,
Lord William rides the grey.
Around his neck a bugle horn
And swift they fly away.

Rise up, rise up, you brothers bold
And with your father ride,
Lest William come to his castle walls
and take his love inside. 

The moon shines bright on the lovers’ road;
Two horses run as one.
At Deeping Brook they cross the bridge,
With ten miles yet ‘til home.

 “I hear the sound of hooves”, he says,
“a-thundering on the ground.
I fear, I fear it will not be long
Before we two are found”.

Says she, “Then faster let us ride,
that we may not be ta’en.
For if they once lay hold on you,
I fear you will be slain”.

Lord William over his shoulder looks
To see what he can spy:
Her brothers bold and her father grim
Beneath the moonlit sky.

“Get down, get down, my own true love
and hold the reins in your hand,
For I must fight your seven brothers
And against your father stand”.

She held the reins all in her hand;
She never shed a tear
Until her brothers all were slain
And her father fighting near.

“Hold off, hold off, my love”, she cried,
“Your strokes are wondrous sore;
True lovers I can get many a one,
But father never more”.

She’s taken out her handkerchief
made of cloth so fine,
And she has wiped her father’s wounds
That ran with blood like wine.

“O choose you now, my own Margaret,
whether you go or stay”.
“I’ll go with you, William”, she said,
“For I am alone this day”.

So she has mounted her milk-white steed
And he has mounted the grey.
His blood-red sword hung by his side
And slowly they rode away.

But when they stopped to take a drink
From the brook both cold and clear,
‘Twas there she spied his heart’s blood run,
And she began to fear.

“Hold up, hold up, my love”, she cried,
“I fear that you are slain”.
“It’s only the shadow of my red cloak
in the water shining plain”.

So they rode on and further on
By light of the waning moon,
Until they came to his castle gates,
And there they both got down.

“Rise up, rise up, my mother dear,
rise up and let us in;
Rise up, rise up, my mother dear,
For my own true love I’ve won”.

“Make my bed both long and wide;
make it soft and deep.
Lay my true love by my side,
that sounder we may sleep”.

Lord William died in the cold dawn light
And Margaret on the morrow;
He died of the wounds her father made,
And she died for the sorrow.

(Note: the parts in italic have a different tune).

Adaptation © 2012 Tim Chesterton

I based this song on Earl Brand/Lord Douglas/The Douglas Tragedy, which is #7 in Francis Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Child records nine versions of this song. An American version is here. The version I based my adaptation on is here, but I was also influenced by Jim Moray’s substantial rewrite, especially the additional detail he puts in before the fight scene.

I love the tragic element in this song; and the suggestion, even in the older versions, that while the girl starts out as a willing accomplice as her lover steals her away, and is even hardened as he kills her brothers one by one, her heart softens when she sees her father mortally wounded and she confronts for the first time the awful cost of what she has done.

Many thanks to Better Know a Child Ballad for bringing this compelling song to my attention.

Here We Are

To celebrate Labour Day, here’s a great song written by one of Edmonton’s great musical treasures, Maria Dunn, to celebrate 100 years of the labour movement in Alberta.

Want to find out more about Maria? Her website is here. I note that she has a new CD coming out this month:

Maria Dunn’s brand new CD Piece By Piece will be available Canada-wide on September 17, 2012 at your favourite retail outlets and digital download sites. Distributed in Canada by www.outside-music.com and produced by Shannon Johnson (Juno award winner with The McDades for 2007s Bloom), the 8 songs on Piece By Piece acknowledge and celebrate the resilience and grace of immigrant women working at a Canadian clothing factory over its 93-year history.

Sounds like another great Maria Dunn CD. I’ll be getting my copy as soon as I can.