‘To Care for What We Know…’ (a poem by Wendell Berry)

To care for what we know requires
care for what we don’t, the world’s lives
dark in the soil, dark in the dark.

Forbearance is the first care we give
to what we do not know. We live
by lives we don’t intend, lives
that exceed our thoughts and needs, outlast
our designs, staying by passing through,
surviving again and again the risky passages
from ice to warmth, dark to light.

Rightness of scale is our second care:
the willingness to think and work
within the limits of our competence
to do no permanent wrong to anything
of permanent worth to the earth’s life,
known or unknown, now or ever, never
destroying by knowledge, unknowingly,
what we do not know, so that the world
in its mystery, the known unknown world
will live and thrive while we live.

. . .

And our competence to do no
permanent wrong to the land
is limited by the land’s competence
to suffer our ignorance, our errors,
and – provided the scale
is right – to recover, to be made whole.

(Wendell Berry: A Small Porch, Part I, VIII, 9, p.24)

I know that this is the sustainability creed that Wendell Berry lives by. I feel in my bones that it is the wisest way to live. I don’t live by it myself, but I know I need to work hard at coming closer to it.

The problem is, this way of life is not compatible with the modern economy of Canada, especially of Alberta. Whether the governments are right-wing or left-wing or centrist, they all seem to take for granted that doing violence to the earth is an inevitable part of modern life, and they all close their eyes and ears to the consequences.

It seems to me that if we think in the long term, our refusal to live by the philosophy Wendell Berry outlines in this poem leaves us with a limited number of choices:

Choice #1: As the planet becomes unliveable due to overpopulation and environmental destruction, the human species becomes extinct.

Choice #2: We hope like hell that before we arrive at Choice #1, we’ve found the means to leave the planet so we can go find another one to rape and destroy.

Some Christians would add Choice #3: Before we reach Choice #1, Jesus will come again and rescue us from the consequences of our own stupidity. But since he has taken a lot longer to come again than most people thought he would, and, moreover, since he has had lots of opportunities to rescue us from the consequences of our own stupidity before now, but hasn’t done so, I wouldn’t bet the farm on that one.

 

On not taking advantage of lawful liturgical flexibility

There’s an interesting post over at Anglican Down Under exploring what is required of people leading Anglican services in New Zealand, where, it appears, there is a rather confusing mishmash of practice going on (Bosco Peters has frequently weighed in on this situation).

I’m sure we have a certain amount of confusion in Canada too, although I don’t think we’re quite at the level of the Kiwis (but then again, I live a sheltered life, so i may be wrong!).

We Anglicans are kind of attached to our liturgies, because they are the way we express our deepest beliefs about the God we believe in and the Gospel we proclaim. We tend to operate on the principle of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’; in other words, we don’t feel compelled to make up new stuff on the back of a cigarette packet, but rather, we assume that the Christians who went before us knew a thing or two, and the worship traditions they evolved probably have a lot of wisdom embodied in them. When we want to make changes to our liturgies, we discuss them for quite a lengthy period of time at meetings of our General Synod, and such changes usually take a number of years to come into effect.

Clergy make promises around this sort of stuff. In the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land (to which my Diocese of Edmonton belongs) we make the following promise when we are ordained and/or inducted into a new parish:

I, A.B., do solemnly make the following declaration: I assent to the Solemn Declaration adopted by the first General Synod in 1893 (as printed in the Book of Common Prayer), and to the Book of Common Prayer, and of the ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; I believe the Doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as therein set forth to be agreeable to the Word of God; and in Public Prayer and the Administration of the Sacraments, I will use the form in the said book prescribed and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority. (italics mine)

‘Lawful authority’ is understood to mean (1) the General Synod, which has authorized other liturgical texts along with the Book of Common Prayer (principally the Book of Alternative Services 1985, and also some supplementary Eucharistic Prayers and Services of the Word, and a few other things), (2) the diocesan bishop, who has authority to authorize the use of additional liturgical material in his/her diocese (as our own bishop has recently done with respect to materials from the Church of England’s ‘Common Worship’ book).

All well and good, and in fact I’m not particularly infected with what C.S. Lewis called ‘The liturgical fidget’, and I’m not constantly looking around for improved liturgies and prayers, as I’m inclined to think that the atmosphere in which the service is conducted is perhaps more important than liturgical perfectionism.

However, I also think that there is a lot more freedom embedded in our current liturgies than people tend to think. Let me give some examples from the most frequently used service in the Anglican Church of Canada, the Holy Eucharist in (more or less) contemporary language beginning on page 185 in the Book of Alternative Services. Let’s give careful attention to the letters in red; we call them ‘rubrics’, and they give what you might call ‘stage directions’ for the use of the texts.

Firstly, on page 185 ‘the president’ greets the community using the form on the top of the page. Then follows a prayer traditionally called ‘The Collect for Purity’, which begins ‘Almighty God, to you all hearts are open…’ But note the rubric above it, which says ‘The following prayer may be said’. 99% of the time, in my experience, it is said. We are given flexibility, but we don’t use it.

Note what comes next. The rubric at the bottom of the page says, ‘Then may follow an act of praise: one of the following hymns, or a canticle or other hymn’. The rubric then goes on to suggest non-binding guidance as to what might be appropriate for certain seasons of the year. The ‘following hymns’ are not actually hymns in rhyme and metre as commonly used today, but translations of ancient hymns: ‘Glory to God’, ‘Kyrie Eleison’, and ‘Trisagion’. But it seems to me that the most logical way to read the direction of the rubric is that this is the place in the service where the opening hymn should be sung, whether it is one of the ones printed, or ‘a canticle or other hymn’. In our church, we simply sing the opening hymn in this spot. However, most other churches don’t; they have an opening hymn right at the beginning (perhaps a processional), then the opening greeting, then another opening hymn (usually one of the three printed on pages 186-7). So once again, we are given flexibility, but we don’t use it.

Throughout the service there is great flexibility with regard to words of introduction, a flexibility which is rarely if ever used. So, for instance, when we come to say one of the two authorized creeds, the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, we are told ‘the celebrant may invite the people, in these or similar words, to join in the recitation of the creed’. But in practice, the words used are almost invariably the ones set out on pages 188 and 189. And again, when the people are invited to confess their sins, we are told ‘the people are invited to confession in these or similar words‘ (p.191), but I rarely hear anything other than the printed invitation used. We’re also told that the form of confession and absolution on page 191 need not be used at all if penitential intercessions were included in the Prayers of the People (as they often are in the forms on pages 110-128).

Ah yes, the Prayers of the People. I love this part of the service – the part where the people of God fulfil their priestly responsibility of lifting up the needs of the whole world to God in prayer. Note the directions in the rubric on page 190:

A deacon or lay member of the community leads the Prayers of the People after the following model. Intercession or thanksgiving may be offered for

the Church
the Queen and all in authority
the world
the local community,
those in need
the departed

A short litany may be selected from pp.110-127. Other prayers are found on pp.675-684. These prayers may be modified in accordance with local need, or extempore forms of prayer may be used.

It seems clear to me that the closest we have to a required form in this rubric (and the language of permission, rather than prescription, is used throughout) is the outline of suggested subjects for prayer. Litanies are not meant to be the norm; they are one option among several. And yet, when we Canadian Anglicans gather together, those litanies on pages 110-127 are the form we tend to use, I would say, over 90% of the time.

Well, I could go on, but I won’t. I believe that every priest and lay reader should give careful reading to the rubrics in the BAS. We have been given a huge amount of freedom and flexibility in this wonderful liturgical resource-book. We should not allow our worship to get stale! The BAS gives us freedom to adapt for a wide variety of situations, without even examining the various supplementary texts authorized by General Synod or the local bishop. Let’s use our imagination and the freedom that has been given to us, in order to offer regular worship (using an authorized form) that will truly reflect the character of our own worshipping communities and help people to lift their hearts and minds to God and to hear and reflect on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There aren’t enough songs about just ‘being’ in love

A few years ago at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I heard David Francey say that there are lots of songs about falling in love, and there are lots of songs about falling out of love, but there aren’t many songs about just being in love – the joys and the heartaches, the ups and the downs of it. I think he’s right; I can’t think of many love songs that celebrate long-term marriages (Stan Rogers’ ‘Lies‘ is one that comes to mind, and it’s one of my favourites). And I think this is a shame.

Musicians aren’t the only ones who neglect this theme. TV writers also seem to believe that stable long-term relationships make for boring TV. At the end of Downton Abbey season three, when Matthew Crawley was killed off due to actor Dan Stevens wanting to leave the show, I read that creator Julian Fellowes had expressed an opinion that a happy marriage didn’t make for particularly exciting television. It seemed that, having brought Matthew and Mary through a long and tortuous route to finally getting married, he was happy to kill Matthew off so that once again Mary could be ‘on the market’, making for enjoyable tension and uncertainty on the show.

Sunday was the season seven finale of ‘Heartland‘, and we have the same scenario, with long-time couple Ty and Amy (whose relationship has been the central story line of Heartland from the end of the first season, and who have been engaged for a season and a half) once again running into speed bumps, and not getting married as perhaps the majority of fans would have liked to have seen. I’ve even heard the view expressed that Ty and Amy’s marriage would have meant the end of Heartland, because ‘where would the show go after that’? What? Would Ty and Amy really stop growing and learning after their wedding day?

I honestly can’t understand why TV writers take this view. Do they really think there are no enjoyable story lines to be found in the joys and vicissitudes of a lasting marriage? Well, if that’s really how they feel, I have five words for them: For Better and for Worse. This much loved comic strip by Lynn Johnston ran for 29 years and took its readers through the story of the lives of John and Ellie Patterson and their kids. In the earliest story lines, John and Ellie were a young married couple; later they had their children, and we followed the ups and downs of their lives together, told with humour and honesty in a way that kept people coming back for more. And I haven’t heard that the strip’s popularity suffered at all for it being about a stable long-term marriage!

Seriously, do writers and musicians and TV producers really believe that there are no interesting story lines in long-term relationships? Do they really believe that there’s no drama in showing couples and families facing the challenges that make long-term relationships so difficult, and coming through them successfully (or, sometimes, less successfully)? Where does this come from? Is it, perhaps, the notorious instability of show-business relationships?

Years ago, author Larry Christensen said that marriage is like pioneering, in that true pioneers experience two things: hope and difficulty. Marriage as pioneering? Now there’s an interesting thought! Perhaps it’s time for writers and musicians and TV producers to take on a new challenge; how about exploring the possibilities of portraying long-term love – what David Francey referred to as ‘just being in love’ – with all its hope and difficulty? How about it, creative artists? Are you up for it?

All or Nothing

We live in an increasingly perfectionistic world, in which media go after politicians and other public figures for every little weakness and inconsistency. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about grace (God’s unconditional love for us), then I think that this is one of the times in history when that gospel message is most sorely needed.

I frequent ‘Thinking Anglicans‘ from time to time. It’s a rather interesting name, in itself something of a judgement on people who take a different view : “We’re thinkers, those who disagree with us are not”. Statistically, it soon becomes patently obvious that the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ really like thinking about two subjects: same-sex marriage and the ordination of women as priests and bishops. The majority of their posts are related to these two subjects (they advertise themselves on Google as blogging ‘from a liberal Anglican perspective covering news, documents, and events that affect church people’, but apparently church people are mainly affected by these two subjects).

The thing I’ve noticed about ‘Thinking Anglicans’, though, is that many of the folks who comment there have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude toward the Christian faith of others. For many of them, homosexuality is their big issue, and that’s perfectly understandable to me, given the trauma that many have been put through. What bothers me, however, is the sort of attitude that says, “Well, I know you work for peace in the world and you give generously to support refugees and former child soldiers and all that, but all that means nothing because you still oppose marriage equality, so you’re actually a hypocrite and a fraud. It’s all or nothing, my friend!”

Of course, this attitude is not limited to ‘Thinking Anglicans’. Over the years, many of my pacifist friends have described themselves as ‘consistently pro-life’; in other words, they are opposed not only to abortion, but also to capital punishment and war. This description is, of course, aimed at right-wing Christians who get all bent out of shape about abortion but don’t seem to lose any sleep at all about the horrors of capital punishment and war (I would describe myself as consistently pro-life, actually). But of course, the phrase can easily become a judgement on those who don’t see the world as we do. Once again, they must be hypocrites and frauds.

Well, here’s the news, folks: the world is full of hypocrites and frauds. At no time in my life have I managed to achieve perfect consistency between my beliefs and my actions. Nor have I managed to perfectly align myself with someone else’s manifesto or ideology; I’ve always been able to see the weak point of any argument (especially my own), and I tend to be a maverick about what I accept and what I don’t accept. Which means that people are always going to see me as inconsistent.

But isn’t that the way we grow in Christ – one step at at time? In the eighteenth century lots of lovely Christians saw nothing inconsistent about being Christian and owning slaves. To this day, the vast majority of Christians see nothing inconsistent about being Christian and putting on the uniform of your country and killing Christians who have put on the uniform of their country just because the state tells you that they’re your enemies. And there are probably many other blind spots that we have.

We all, as Paul put it, ‘see through a glass darkly’. None of us sees the whole truth and the whole picture. I’m sure there are many things that I get wrong. But wouldn’t it be a better idea for me to rejoice when I find myself walking in step with people over some issues, rather than lambasting them for the times when we’re still out of step? Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with the gospel of grace? Wouldn’t it be loving others as Christ has loved us?

I think so. But then, I might be wrong about that too!

Why would I want to imagine there’s no heaven? (part one of a series, I think…)

 

2Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

 – John Lennon, ‘Imagine’

 

 

No thank you, John. I don’t think I will.

You see, John, I’ve lived long enough to know that, although we human beings can have a good try at making the world a better place, our track record is, well, not all that great. People of good will have been trying to bring peace, love, and understanding to the world for centuries, but despite all their best efforts, the twentieth century was the most violent century in human history, and the twenty-first doesn’t seem like it’s going to lag behind, either. The inhumanity of people toward people seems to grow apace. A huge chunk of the world’s population lives in grinding poverty, and for many of them, all our efforts to make the world a better place aren’t going to come in time, because, well, they’re going to die of starvation tomorrow. Or tonight, even. And thousands of them will be little children.

You think it will make those children and their parents feel better to imagine that this life is all there is, John? Born in poverty, lived in starvation, died of an empty stomach. This is all the heaven you’re going to get, living for today. You think that’s good news, John? I mean, I know we can have a discussion about whether or not life after death is just wishful thinking, but thats not what you’re asking me to do, John. You’re asking me to imagine there’s no heaven, and then enjoy the thought. And when I look around me at all the suffering in the world, the only thing I can say in response, John, is “Are you out of your *%^*#@!! mind?”

Two years ago one of my best friends died of cancer at the age of forty-seven, leaving behind a young family. As a pastor, I know many people who deal with the scourge of cancer at a young age, and some of them die of it. I can tell you, John, from personal experience, that imagining there’s no heaven is not usually a great comfort to them. When a young family loses a father or a mother – when a husband loses a wife whose love he had hoped to enjoy for another thirty years – do you seriously think that imagining that they’ll never, ever see them again is something they’ll enjoy doing? All I can say, John, is that if you do, you need to get out a bit more and acquaint yourself with some real human suffering.

Come to think of it, you did, didn’t you? I wonder if it changed your mind?

Oh, and by the way, no intelligent religious person thinks that heaven is above us ‘in the sky’, and that hell is under the earth below us. People have known for a long time that this was metaphorical speech. Do you really think that old Dante thought that the devil was stuck head first in the ice at the centre of the earth, upside down, with his hairy shanks protruding? Come on, John – if you’re going to pick a quarrel with us, you could at least pay us the compliment of assuming that we can tell the difference between a metaphor and its meaning!

Let me tell you what ‘imagining there’s no heaven’ does for me, John. I think of a universe with no God, no objective standard of right and wrong, no morality and ethics except what the majority of human beings can agree on. I think of a universe where life happened by accident, where human beings are just highly developed animals, and where all the work we do to build loving marriages and lasting friendships comes to nothing in the end, because it’s all lost at the moment of death. I think of a world where the vast majority of human beings have been delusional, because they have believed that there’s more to it than that. I think of a world where the only sentiment that makes objective sense is ‘Let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we’re going to die, and we won’t know a thing about it’. A world where one might admire unselfish people, but one can’t think of a single logical reason to be one of them, because this world is the only chance they’ve got for happiness, pleasure, and joy, and they’re giving it all up for others.

Well, John, every honest person of religious faith knows that there are no absolutely watertight arguments for the existence of God, of moral absolutes, or of life after death. I believe in all of those things, but my belief isn’t founded entirely on logic, and who knows? One day I might wake up to find out you were right after all (although how a dead person would find that out, if your view of the world is true, is perhaps a bit problematical – after all, after we die, we don’t know anything, because we’re gone, gone, gone!). But please don’t ask me to enjoy that thought, John! That makes no sense to me at all. I want to see my Dad again some day – and my grandparents – and dear friends like Joe and Ken who have gone before me. If I’m going to get joy out of ‘imagining’ anything, I’d much rather imagine what it will be like to see them again, and to enjoy their company in the presence of God forever. Now that’s something worth imagining!

(to be continued…)

 

 

Words from Wendell Berry

Wendell-BerryI would like to say that Wendell Berry is one of my great heroes. However, if I were to say that, people could legitimately turn to me and ask, “Then how come you’re not living a more environmentally sustainable life?” And I don’t have a particularly convincing answer to that question – an answer, that is, that doesn’t come down in the long run to my own laziness, apathy, and hypocrisy.

Wendell Berry recently gave a TV interview to Bill Moyers; you can watch it here. Here are some of the good quotes:

BILL MOYERS: You wrote quite recently that the two great aims of industrialization, replacement of people by technology and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small plutocracy seem, in your words, close to fulfillment. What do you think from your life’s experience might stall the momentum and perhaps even reverse it?

WENDELL BERRY: I don’t know. There are two or three things that we haven’t been able to confront or even acknowledge politically. One is that the aim of the Industrial Revolution from year one has been to replace people with technology. So it’s a little contemptible to hear these people express in surprise at this late date that we have an unemployment problem. I don’t know that there’s any politician of visibility who could say that. So that’s, it’s important for people like me to say it, who have no power.

The other thing that we’re having trouble confronting and both sides are having trouble to confront it publicly and speak of it, is the disaster of being governed by the corporations. Those fictitious persons. And uh, you know you’re waiting for the day when some politician of stature and visibility will finally say, we can’t have this any longer, we’re here in Washington or Frankfort to represent the people, not to be employed or bought by the corporations and to serve them.

***

BILL MOYERS: Faith. You still consider yourself a Christian.

WENDELL BERRY: I still consider myself a person who takes the gospels very seriously. And I read in them and am sometimes shamed by them and sometimes utterly baffled by them. But there is a good bit of the gospel that I do get, I think. I believe I understand it accurately. And I’m sticking to that. And I’m hanging on for the parts that I don’t understand. And, you know willing to endure the shame of falling short as a price of admission. All that places a very heavy and exacting obligation on me as a writer. A lot of my writing I think has been, when it hasn’t been in defense of precious things, has been a giving of thanks for precious things. So that enforces the art.

***

BILL MOYERS: The grace of the world, take that a little further for me.

WENDELL BERRY: I meant it in the religious sense. The people of, people of religious faith know that the world is, is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief, that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as…as human oppression. But as desecration. As blasphemy.

***

You can read the full transcript just below the video on the Bill Moyers website. Do.

The Big Questions

Some years ago I attended a clergy conference at which we were discussing a rather esoteric document produced by, I believe, the Primate’s Theological Commission (non-Anglican readers should note that in this context ‘primate’ refers to the presiding archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, not to a monkey).

I have no exact memory of what the subject matter was, but I think it was something along the lines of ‘What exactly is an Anglican?’ or ‘is it possible to draw a circle so that everyone inside that circle is seen to be Anglican?’ or ‘How do Anglicans actually do theology and ethics?’ All of it of course was an attempt to dance around the issue of whether being gay or lesbian is, in fact, A Good Thing in the Anglican Church.

A comment that I frequently heard at the conference, from my clergy colleagues, was that the members of our congregations ‘Don’t do theology’ and that it was hard to drum up any enthusiasm for this sort of theological reflection at the parish level.

Now, as it happened, the conference was being held at Lakeland College in Lloydminster, so I had a fairly long drive through open prairie country to get there. It was a very dry summer; many of the sloughs had gone completely dry, and the crops were not in good shape at all. I remember looking at the parched ground I was driving through and thinking ‘some farmers are not going to make it through this season’. For some, I suspected, it would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The next day, when I kept hearing at the conference that ‘lay people aren’t too enthusiastic about this sort of theological reflection’, I found myself wondering whether or not that was true. Could it be, perhaps, that we were just reflecting on the wrong subjects? How surprising was it that the lay people of eastern Alberta didn’t find discussions of ‘what constitutes a distinctively Anglican method of doing theology?’ particularly exciting? Their crops were dying in the fields around them, and those of them who considered themselves Christians were no doubt praying fervently for rain several times a day. That summer their prayers were not answered, and undoubtedly some of them lost their farms as a result. The luxury of a theological discussion about whether or not God was particularly interested in the evolution of a tiny theological tradition originating far away in the British Isles was something they literally did not have time for. Some of them, no doubt, were clinging to their Christian faith by their fingernails – any Christian faith, Anglican or not.

And I found myself wondering, is it in fact true that there’s no theological reflection going on in the coffee shops of Vermilion or Wainwright? What do Christian farmers talk about when they get together for coffee? And do they ever struggle with the ‘why?’ questions? You know the ones I mean. ‘Why doesn’t God answer my prayer and send me rain so that my farm can survive?’ ‘What does it mean to say that God is all-powerful and then to say that you can’t blame him for the drought?’ ‘How can you possibly believe that God is a God of love when he can’t even be bothered to help me feed my family by sending us a drop of rain?’ All of those questions, of course, are just ringing the changes on the perennial theological questions of evil; ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ ‘Why is God silent?’ ‘Why doesn’t God do something?’

Why weren’t we gathering together as clergy to help our parishioners grapple with these questions, rather than ‘Anglican Identity’? Does God actually give a sh** about Anglican identity? What does it mean to be a pastor among people who are struggling to make sense of the silence and inaction of the heavens? And is it, in fact, the case that we don’t want to deal with these questions, or help our parishioners deal with them, because we are terrified that we don’t have any answers for them, and, as professional religionists, we desperately need to Have All The Answers?

Here’s what I know about the questions around the problem of pain and evil and the silence and inactivity of God. First, I don’t think there are any clear-cut answers to those questions – answers, that is, that dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. I said to an agnostic friend last week that the problem of evil is the greatest challenge to faith for most believers. Most of us can’t find a coherent answer to it that actually satisfies us. We stay believers, because leaving God out of our world views raises even more difficult questions for us (more about that some other time, perhaps). But I have yet to hear a theological explanation for evil and the silence and inactivity of God that I find completely convincing.

So no, I don’t think there are any clear-cut answers to these questions, which may be why we pastors are so afraid of them. But the second thing I know is this: nevertheless, it is crucial for us to continue to acknowledge these questions and to keep exploring them and discussing them with people. If we don’t, people think they aren’t allowed to question God, and when they can no longer restrain themselves from questioning God, then they drop out of faith altogether. This is because their pastors have never taught them that praying the questioning and angry psalms is a Christian thing to do.

For the last two years I have watched from a distance as my Dad has gotten increasingly more frail through the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease. He lost more and more control over bodily functions as more and more parts of his body have declared independence from his brain. He lost most of his dignity and most of his sense of joy in his life. It would not surprise me to learn that he came close to losing his faith, though I don’t think he did; I do know that he struggled with the ‘why?’ questions just like any other Christian would. Eventually he almost lost his ability to swallow, and so more and more particles of food got stuck in his aesophagus. When he died, he was struggling to breathe, so my Mum tells me.

My Dad died on August 12th. It is now September 6th, and I am still waiting for a call from a Christian pastor or priest who will offer to get together with me and help me struggle with the theological issues raised by my Dad’s death. I do not expect to find answers to these questions, and I do not expect to lose my faith over them, but they are troubling me. I need to talk about them. During the past three weeks two friends – a lay member of my congregation, and a songwriter friend who is an agnostic – have taken the trouble to invite me to join them for coffee or lunch and give me space to talk about my Dad. Many people have left kind messages on Facebook, and I am grateful for their support and sympathy. But I am still waiting for the opportunity to have a theological conversation with a Christian pastor about the problem of pain and the seeming unresponsiveness of God. And I find myself wondering, would we really rather discuss ‘Anglican Identity’ and ‘Missional Theology’ than grapple with the biggest questions that ordinary Christians face in their lives?