Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

By Percy Bysshe Shelley


This poem was chosen by my friend Catherine Richardson, whose own blog is  http://borderlineaspie.blogspot.co.uk/. She explains why: 

"I don't know if this is my favourite poem, but it makes me think about how something so powerful and fearsome can, in the end, fade to nothing but ruins. How so much time had passed that the narrator hadn't even heard of Ozymandias the 'King of Kings', that he must learn of him from a distant traveller.

In a way it's reassuring to think that even the largest problems in life will one day be long-forgotten, but on the other hand the same can be said for our achievements (both personal and those of humanity). Recently I was talking with my flatmate whose parents lived under the dictatorship in Spain.  We talked about how those memories and the impact it had on their lives are currently fresh in their minds and passed down to the next generations, but one day the impact of Franco will be long-forgotten.

In a way when the topic first came up not long after I arrived here, I felt like the narrator: someone from a 'different land' who didn't know much about what had happened. Even in the present day there is still so much going on in the world now, that has a great impact on many people's lives, like Ozymandias during his reign, but we're unaware of so much of it."

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Journey Of The Magi

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling and running away, and wanting their liquor and women, And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt.
I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

By T.S.Eliot



I was introduced to this poem about a year ago by a friend up a ski-lift in France (of all the places). It struck me at once.  Maybe it's easier to feel the force when you're freezing amidst unending snow in the dead of winter. Maybe the grumbling but heartfelt tone makes it chime more with my own sense. Even if you're an optimist sitting by a warm beach though the clarity and strength of the images is enough to put anyone right there hearing the old Wise Man, feeling the chill in your bones, and also, in the end, the unconquerable unease that follows the Nativity.

After the birth of Christ the whole world was changed forever, as History records, although it would take many years for it to know it. In a staggeringly individual sense for both me and T.S.Eliot the world changed forever in our own age. My life will be (and his was) forever haunted by the birth, the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ. Like for the Magus, after a long and hard journey, I can never be complacently at ease again in a world of everyday pleasure that does not have Him at its centre. However strange the world may find that.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Dwarves' Song from 'The Hobbit' - Extended Edition





A very talented family (under the name Calamvi de Profundis) have produced a long version of  'The Misty Mountains Cold', the Dwarf Song from The Hobbit movies, but using all Tolkien's original verses from the book.  It's beautiful to listen to and the video is excellent as well. I wish my family were this musical.

The singing scene in the 1st Hobbit Movie was one of the highlights of the whole trilogy, a powerful, evocative moment that pushes Bilbo towards going on the whole quest.  But it was sadly short, with only two verses of Tolkien's original song. This video restores the whole thing in the same style.

Tolkien wrote innumerable poems and songs for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and it's always great to actually hear any of them sung as songs, rather than just read them on the written page.

In Tolkien's younger days he dreamed about creating a mythology for his beloved England, but one that he would begin and like all true mythologies, would be developed by many hands and minds to follow him, and in turn inspire art of all kinds: songs, stories, paintings, theatre that he had never dreamed of. I hope Tolkien would have been very pleased with this small part of his vision coming to life.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.

For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten gold.

Goblets they carved there for themselves
And harps of gold; where no man delves
There lay they long, and many a song
Was sung unheard by men or elves.

The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night.
The fire was red, it flaming spread;
The trees like torches blazed with light.

The bells were ringing in the dale
And men they looked up with faces pale;
The dragon's ire more fierce than fire
Laid low their towers and houses frail.

The mountain smoked beneath the moon;
The dwarves they heard the tramp of doom.
They fled their hall to dying fall
Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.

Far over the misty mountains grim
To dungeons deep and caverns dim
We must away, ere break of day,
To win our harps and gold from him!

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old...

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Errantry

A Poem. To be read fast. 
(to the tune of Modern Major-General if you prefer)

There was a merry passenger
a messenger, an errander;
he took a tiny porringer
and oranges for provender;
he took a little grasshopper
and harnessed her to carry him;
he chased a little butterfly
that fluttered by, to marry him.
He made him wings of taffeta
to laugh at her and catch her with;
he made her shoes of beetle-skin
with needles in to latch them with.
They fell to bitter quarrelling,
and sorrowing he fled away;
and long he studied sorcery
in Ossory a many day.
He made a shield and morion
of coral and of ivory;
he made a spear of emerald
and glimmered all in bravery;
a sword he made of malachite
and stalachite, and brandished it,
he went and fought the dragon-fly
called wag-on-high and vanquished it.
He battled with the Dumbledores,
and bumbles all, and honeybees,
and won the golden honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ships of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he polished up and burnished up
and furbished up his panoply.
He tarried for a little why
in little isles, and plundered them;
and webs of all the attercops
he shattered, cut, and sundered them.
And coming home with honey-comb
and money none - remembered it,
his message and his errand too!
His derring-do had hindered it.

Errantry by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is a wonderful poem that Tolkien wrote in 1930, as described in HoME Vol.6 'The Treason of Isengard'. It was read at a literature club called by its undergraduate members 'The Inklings', the name that in later years C.S.Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien would give to their own private group of friends. It was amended through many versions, and in the end turned into the Poem 'Earendil' that in LOTR Bilbo wrote in Rivendell. 

The poem was written in a unique meter of trisyllabic assonances, three in each four lines, with the end of the 1st line rhyming with the start of the 2nd line, and the end of the 2nd and 4th line rhyming with each other.  Even Tolkien found this so hard he never wrote another poem using it again..

Monday, 2 February 2015

Babi Yar

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.
Now I seem to be an Israelite
Here I plod through ancient Egypt.
Here I perish crucified, on the cross,
and to this day I bear the scars of nails.
I seem to be Dreyfus
The Philistine is both informer and judge.
I am behind bars. Beset on every side.
Hounded, spat on, slandered.
Squealing, dainty ladies in flounced Brussels lace
stick their parasols into my face.
I seem to be then a young boy in Byelostok.
Blood runs, spilling over the floors.
The bar-room rabble-rousers
give off a stench of vodka and onion.
A boot kicks me aside, helpless.
In vain I plead with these pogrom bullies.
While they jeer and shout,
"Beat the Yids. Save Russia!"
My mother's being beaten by a clerk.
O, Russia of my heart,
I know you are international to the core.
But those with unclean hands
have often made a jingle of your purest name.
I know the goodness of my land.
How vile these anti-Semites-without a qualm
have pompously called themselves
the Union of the Russian People!
I seem to be Anne Frank
transparent as a branch in April.
And I'm in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other's eyes.
How little we can see or smell!
We are denied the leaves, we are denied the sky.
Yet we can do so much -- tenderly
embrace each other in a darkened room.
"They're coming!"
"No, fear not - those are sounds
Of spring itself. She's coming soon.
Come then to me. Quick, give me your lips."
"Are they smashing down the door?"
"No, it's the ice breaking ...
Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous, like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself
turning grey.
And I myself am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am each old man here shot dead.
I am every child here shot dead.
Nothing in me shall ever forget!
May the "Internationale," thunder and ring
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.
In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
But in their callous rage, all anti-Semites
must hate me now as a Jew.
For that reason I am a true Russian!

By Yevgeny Yevtushenko

For Holocaust Memorial Day 2014

This is a beautiful poem from the Soviet Union and one of my favourite growing up.  In September 29–30, 1941 Nazi Einsatzgruppen and local police murdered over 30,000 Ukrainian Jews in the pit called Babi Yar on the edge of Kiev. 

In August 1961 Yevgeny Yevtushenko was went out to Babi Yar and was shocked that not only was there no monument on the site, but that there were trucks emptying rubbish onto the land tens of thousands of massacre victims were buried beneath. Overcome by emotion he wrote Babi Yar in four or five hours that day.  It was a protest against both the loss of the massacre, the Soviet denial that the Jews had been especial victims of the Nazi horror, and the continuing anti-semitism in the USSR.  

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

I'm Proud of my Church in 2014


We've seen food banks become increasingly high profile. It is little known, but the Trussell Trust, by far the largest organiser of UK food banks, is a Christian Charity. Churches across the country have been key to helping organise many food banks for years, in Coventry since at least 2007.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, made a high-profile attack on Wonga (exploitative payday lender) threatening to "compete them out of business" and raising the issue repeatedly in parliament. Churches up and down the country have begun promoting credit unions as an ethical alternative. Since then Wonga has been forced to write off £220 million of debt and overhaul its business model, halving its profits in a year. 

This December the Church of England, along with others founded their own nationwide credit union, which in a few years will hopefully be open to all churchgoers, providing an ethical, compassionate alternative to current banks and lenders for churches, charities and millions of people.

In Coventry itself Anglican churches have organised their own homeless night shelter over winter for the 2nd year. It is housed in different church buildings and staffed by volunteers, to make sure that there is definitely a warm, safe bed available for every potential rough sleeper in Coventry this winter.

It's really good to see the Church making a difference on important issues. Here's to even more in 2015. ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:35-36

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful about British Political Participation

It is generally accepted as true that political participation in Britain is at depressingly low levels.
 People regularly bemoan the rise of political apathy, the disillusionment with the system, the low turnout in our general elections, the decline of political party memberships.  Rightists complain about a lack of patriotism and belief in traditional culture.  Leftists complain about the lack of the kind of activism and mass working class/student/minority group solidarity that made the 1970's such a terrible place to live. All this is taken as a sign that our society is  decadent and unconcerned, steadily declining in a thick sludge of materialism and buzzfeed articles.

And there is a certain amount of truth in all this. Over the 50 years political party membership has fallen, general election turnout has also fallen.  And there are many other things wrong with our political culture as well.  But particularly in the last very few years there are at least a few fragile signs, a few green shoots, a few straws in the wind that this might be changing.  They might just be blips in a downward trends but right now there are at least some reason to be cheerful.

The first is obvious and widely known: the Scottish referendum.  The referendum in September saw impressive levels of political interest and turnout. But people probably don't release just how unprecdented it was. At 85% the turnout was not just higher than our recent general elections, or other referendums, it was the highest turnout ever in British democratic history. It was higher than any general election turnout since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918 and was higher than any previous referendum conducted in the UK: higher than the 84% who voted in the 1960 general election, higher than the 81% who voted in the Good Friday Agreement referendum in '98 . It was a truly remarkable achievement. It warms my conservative heart to know that even in this day and age you can at least still get people engaged through an appeal to their nationalistic paranoia. Truly some things never change.  

Lots of people were stunned by the passion (and turnout) unleashed in the Scottish referendum and bemoaned the fact that something like that couldn't happen across the rest of Britain.  But UK-wide there is at least some reason to be cheerful as well.  Yes, election turnout isn't what it used to be when your dad were a lad but it is not falling. In fact it is rising and has been for a decade. The idea of falling turnout is one of those zombie facts that lives on long after it stops being true. Turnout bottomed out in 2001 and has been rising since. Sure, it's a relatively recent trend, but it is a trend.   We go into 2015 on the back of two increases in a row and hoping to see a third.  Here's the recent history:

UK General election turnout

2001 - 59%
2005 - 61%
2010 - 65%

And there's every reason to think that we will break the 70% threshold in 2015, which would see us return to the levels generally seen since the 2nd World War, bumping around between 70-80%. Whatever you may think about UKIP, or the SNP, British politics has not been this stirred up since the 1930's.  UKIP has taken safe Conservative seats in southern England and made them charged up marginal contests.  It has taken solid northern industrial Labour heartland seats and made them marginal contests.  The SNP has taken rock-solid working-class Glaswegian one-party state seats even and put the fear of God into the Labour establishment there. The Lib Dems are desperately hanging onto their strongholds with every bone in their liberal bodies and even the Greens are popping up threatening a few seats.

Next year there will be more marginals and three-way marginals and 4-way marginals than there have ever been before; more seats where two or three or four parties will be tearing chunks out of each other and that ferocious contest should drive turnout and participation to height they have not been in decades. You may hate UKIP, or the SNP (I know I do) but the surges in their support have been driven by huge numbers of people who did not vote last time, or possibly ever before. People who have been chronically separated from the political process. And the threat of these parties will also drive supporters of more moderate parties to turn out to stop the crazies: a virtuous circle, at least as far as election turnout is concerned.  Turnout at the general election should hit 70% and hopefully even higher.              

There is also a 3rd good, very recent, reason to feel optimistic about British political life. The collapse in political party membership has been one of the emblematic pieces of evidence proving the never-ending decline of British political culture.  And since the 1950's this trend has been pretty consistent and dramatic.

BUT.

Remarkably, in the most recent period even this has turned around. It may be that even political party membership has bottomed out.  Figures released in 2014 have shown increases in party membership for every single significant UK political party, apart from Labour who haven't released any figures yet.  The Conservatives, Lib Dems, UKIP, SNP, Greens, have all posted significant increases. And Labour saw a major increase between 2009-2010 and have stayed at that higher level since.  Sure, in the case of the major parties: Lib Dems, Conservatives or Labour this is against the background of historic lows. But in the most recent periods for which figures exist we have seen increases.  

Conservative 2013 - 134k
               2014 - 150k

Labour 2009 - 156k
              2010-2013 - 190k

Lib Dem 2012 - 42.5k
                 2014 - 44k

The increases have been down-right dramatic among the smaller parties.  The SNP, UKIP, the Greens (both English and Scottish) and Plaid Cymru have seen big increases, mostly since 2012, in fact mostly this year. Admittedly, here, the BNP and Respect have seen falls (Good, I hear you say) but these are swamped by far by the increases.   Minor party membership has gone from around 70,000 only a few years ago to 160,000 now. The figures are partial and scrappy, but the trend is definitely there.

UKIP   2010 - 15.5k
             2014 - 39k

Plaid 2012 - 7.6k
          2014 - 8k

BNP 2009 - 13k
          2013 - 4k     
   SNP 2010 - 16k
            2013 - 25k
            2014 - 75k

  Green (English & Scottish) 2012 - 15k
                                               2014 - 31k
Respect 2012 - 1.9k
               2014 - .2k


Unfortunately the data is poor. But we do have information for almost all for 2014 and from at least some of the last 5 years, and it shows a cumulative change from a recent low of membership across all parties from 400,000 a few years ago to around 550,000 right now, and that is a significant increase.

Of course these might just be straws in the wind. We are talking about decades of trends that show signs of turning around in the last few years.  But why always be a pessimist?  It's easy to always claim things are going to hell, especially with our politics. I'd rather be optimistic.  These fragile signs could be the start, if managed properly, of a new trend that sees higher turnout, higher participation, higher party membership over the next years and decades. And that, even if it is just a possibility, is at least something to be cheerful about.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Vote Conservative Tomorrow for Europe

Tomorrow, Thuesday 22nd May, we have the 5-yearly European Elections. 

You should vote Conservative for our MEP's.

 The European Parliament is an important body that has major influence over the large proportion of our laws that originate in Europe. We need MEP's who will fight for the best deal for Britain and the best policies for the European Union as a whole.

 European Unity is a noble ideal and the European Union itself does have benefits but as it currently exists it is a deeply flawed organisation. It is too undemocratic, too bureaucratic, too distant from the people and too resistant to change. To give just some examples of culpable EU stupidity:

 1. The Common Agricultural Policy, the largest item of EU spending, tens of billions of pounds every year that is still biased towards supporting inefficient farming methods and harming 3rd world producers, rather than research in efficient farming methods and vital R&D of renewable energy and other important technologies.
 2. Due to a decades old agreement the EU parliament moves every month from Brussels to Strasbourg. This totally pointless activity costs over £100 million a year and produces many tons of totally unnecessary carbon.
 3. The Euro: sceptics warned 15 years ago that any system that used the same currency and interest rate in Athens and Berlin would lead to disaster unless the weaker economies became fundamentally more competetive first. The sceptics were 100% right,the EU cheerleaders like Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems allowed their political bias to blind them and now the people of Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal are paying the price.
4. Even after the Euro crisis broke out further incompetence caused an entirely unnecessary recession in 2012 because the rich countries refused to sacrifice to help the poorer ones and the European Central Bank was negligently slow to act to stop the crisis.

 I could go on.

 The EU is also not democratically accountable enough. Unelected commissioners and the anonymous civil service wield large amounts of power too far away from any scrutiny or visibility from the people of Europe. If you dislike the unelected nature of the Monarchy or tthe House of Lords then the unelected power of the EU is far worse. This causes the kind of complacency and arrogance that leads to the mistakes like those I mentioned above.

 The EU is also constantly trying to attract more power to itself. It is natural tendency for every person to think they know best, and for every political body to think it should have more power to decide things. And this applies to the EU as well. But Brussels is for many things the worst body to be in charge because it so much more distant from voters than local councils or their national governments. Of course some decisions are best made on the EU level. But the logic of european institutions is explicitly that of 'ever closer union' and without a counterbalancing force that can only lead to power and decisions being accumulated in Brussels that have no business being there.

 The Conservatives understand all this.

They acknowledge the usefulness of the EU in some cases, and the fundamental nobility of its driving vision of european peace and co-operation, but they realise that it needs deep and significant reform, so it supports economic efficiency, political and cultural diversity and doesn't accumulate powers and take decisions that could be better taken closer to the people they effect, by national states or local councils.

 The Conservatives take a sensible middle-ground between mindless cheer-leading of Brussels and mindless fear and hostility: Sensible, intelligent, experienced, hard-working representatives who support EU measures when they benefit British and other european citizens, but who fight against complacency and for significant reform so the EU offers better value for money, fulfils its potential in terms of benefits, and who fight for greater democracy in the EU and decisions taken closer to the people. The Conservatives also recognise the deep public doubt about the EU and promise a referendum on our membership so ultimately the public can decide, 40 years after anyone in Britain last had a chance to vote on our membership of the EU, as is right in a democracy.

 But this will not be decided by our MEP's, but in parliament. Our MEP's have no say on whether there is a referendum.

 The other parties simply don't offer this.

 1.The Lib Dems are too instinctively pro-EU to properly scrutinise or reform the system. They can barely help but cheer-lead most Brussels measures regardless of content. Until 2010 Lib Dems in the European Parliament and in the House of Commons were still waxing lyrical about the wonders of the Euro and how Britain should join, just as they were 15 years ago. That would have been a disaster for Britain and the same blindness affects their decisions in the european parliament all the time.

 2.Labour have never met a government regulation, or piece of bureaucracy, or governmental power-grab, or tax-hike they didn't like. All the instincts of the modern labour party are in favour of ever-more interference and bureaucracy by 'experts' and against moving power closer to the people. They won't reform the system to make it more streamlined, efficient with money or democratic because they fundamentally don't really believe in any of those things. One only has to look at the Blair and Brown governments to know that is true.

 3. The Greens make good noises about reform but their plans are too often misguided at best and delusional at worst. Their stance is excellent on environmental issues but the EU parliament must consider many other areas and on these their ideas are generally economically illiterate and reflexively statist. To give an example, their manifesto in 2010 supported raising taxes by £170 billion a year, in other words increasing all taxes by a quarter, something that would have devastated the economy and hit all families, including poorer families with a massive tax increase.

 4. UKIP have an irrational hatred of the EU that is out of all proportion to its actual problems. They want to isolate Britain from the world, reject valuable european-wide co-operation on many issues. Even when elected their representatives have the worst record for actually turning up and fighting for Britain. And when they do they vote down every single measure, regardless of benefits to Britain out of spite just because it comes from Brussels. Nigel Farage apparently even dislikes eurovision. The party is also stuffed at the highest levels with rape apologists, racists and homophobes. A party that tells us we should be afraid of people because they are foreign has no place in Britain, and certainly not representing us for the next 5 years.

So vote Conservative tomorrow, Thursday 22nd May 2014, to give our country the best possible MEP's fighting for a better EU for Britain and everyone in Europe.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Educational Hip Hop

Without the slightest whisper of hyperbole I can say that Educational Hip Hop has to be one of the best inventions of modern times.

The perfect mixture of modern style and entertainment with intellectual substance and educational rigour.

Hip Hop is better than most other musical genres for education because of its emphasis on quick speech. This means you can get across a lot more information in the same 2 -3 minute slot than you could in a traditional sung format.

And the genre is happily expanding all the time. Below is a small selection of videos I've come across that span History, Theology, Economics, Energy Science & English. Please do let me know about any other qualities productions so I can add them to this (hopefully) growing library of Hip Hop academia.

And thank you, Educational Hip Hop, for letting me combine two of my great loves: Hip Hop and Academia.


HISTORY




Origins of World War One
The Rap Battle of Kings


King Charles II & The British Restoration


Marcus Licinius Crassus. 
Possibly the richest man Ever.



THEOLOGY

Martin Luther, His 95 Theses 
and the Protestant Reformation




ECONOMICS



Fear the Boom and Bust with F.A.Hayek and J.M.Keynes


The Fight of the Century.
Hayek & Keynes . Government Austerity vs Stimulus


Deck the Halls with Macro Follies.  
Have a Very Austrian Christmas!




ENERGY SCIENCE

The Fracking Song (with funk)
Yeah, Baby.





ENGLISH

The Antonym Rap






Word! Professor. . . .  or something.






(Obvious disclaimer: No videos are my own. All thanks to respective Youtube creators.)



Wednesday, 14 August 2013

What are Church Services For?

First I want to draw attention to how artificial our church services are in a way.

We gather together for an hour a week, generally, in order to worship God, carry out our liturgies, and celebrate the eucharist. And then we go out back to our lives.

But we all recognise that God's call, and particularly Christ's call in the Gospels, is a call about our whole lives. We are meant to be first transformed by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, and then also grow in  holiness throughout our lives, not just on a Sunday.

In fact God makes it very clear that the details of our worship are irrelevant, almost worse than useless if we don't have love and faith and sincerity in our hearts generally.  

 And sometimes what we do in church every week can seem detached from how we live our lives, especially when we spend so much of our time surrounded by people who aren't Christian and don't necessarily know or understand anything about our faith.

Now, to be honest, this s already quite a common topic for Christians.  I'm sure we've all sat through at least one sermon about not just being Sunday Christians, or Christians for one hour each week.  But I'm just going to share some thoughts about it that I've found useful.
 Today in many churches, whether Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, URC the basic service can be divided into two main sections: The Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Sacrament.  

Basically the first is based around offering prayers, reading the Bible, and discussing it in a Sermon, which is taken from the traditional Jewish Synagogue service (which was based around the Torah).
The Second is based around Eucharist, re-creating the last Supper as Jesus commanded "Do this as often as you eat and drink it in remembrance of me".
In more Protestant churches there has generally been an emphasis on the first part, preaching the Word, in more Catholic and Orthodox churches over the centuries there has been a growing emphasis on the 2nd part:  The Eucharist.

What is clear is that this basic form comes from the earliest days of the Church.  The quote below is from Justin Martyr, one of the earliest of the Church fathers, writing only 70 years or so after the writing of last of the New Testament books, and giving a description that must be familiar to any Christian today.

The two main differences is that this describes a relatively simple structure compared to some liturgies today, and that it obviously dates from a time when there was no set liturgy or text for the service. This came later, when instead of relying on the president to make up the prayers set texts were given both to give the ‘best’ prayers, to ensure that correct doctrine (Ortho-doxy in Greek) was taught and just to save the presiding person from always having to come up with something.
Fundamentally, though, this is the same structure we all use today and reflects the essential features of Christian worship and community. 

Historically what happened to the liturgy/service was a steady trend of making the central communion service more and more elaborate and mystical, with embellishments and more prayers and sections, until the time of the Reformation, when in reformation churches steps were taken to simplify it.
 In some churches such as among the Quakers this led to totally abandoning formal, structured worship or liturgy, and in evangelical churches it led to a dramatically reduced form of liturgy.
In the Catholic church it led to one stable form of the Mass being adopted that endured for 500 years from the 1580's before it was simplifed slightly (and translated out of Latin) following the 2nd Vatican Council In 1960's.
What is astonishing to me though is how similar the liturgies and services still are, not just in general structure but right down to individual bits of vocabulary.  Below are selections from the current Anglican common worship, and a translation of the Latin Mass set in 1580, itself derived directly from forms of the Medieval Catholic Mass. 
 Services in Western Christianity (Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran etc) contain a very similar basic structure dating back to the medieval Catholic service containing many or all of the elements I list below, and at least many of these should be familiar to any Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and many other western Christians. 
Eastern Orthodox churches are slightly different and date back even earlier, but contain most of these same features in a slightly less instantly recognisable form.
 Some more protestant services have a considerably more simple structure, especially if they don't necessarily involve communion.

A common evangelical approach is known affectionately as the Sandwich:  'Worship'-Prayers/testimony-Sermon done.

 Some evangelicals at least claim that they don't like liturgy, they say it's boring and fake and meaningless, but what they generally mean is they prefer a minimalistic liturgy. But the evangelical churches I've been to are definitely using a liturgy of a type even if they don't know it. Whether it's a better or worse liturgy is a very good question. And it can be just as boring and repetitive as any full Catholic-orthodox traditional liturgy.

But the evangelicals do have a good point, I don't think there is any point to church services or liturgy if we are just mumbling through the words every week, or just sitting there feeling bored, however complex or simple our liturgy may be. There is very little to be gained whatever form we use if it is not helping us grow in holiness throughout the week and the year and over our whole lives.

(Slight disclaimer: ‘catholic’ Christians such as myself who believe in the Real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist believe there is a real spiritual, blessed benefit to taking that Eucharist more or less regardless of what else we get from the service. I think what I say here is still strongly relevant in addition to that value though).

Some bits of the liturgy just don't seem to make much sense as we commonly perform them. My favourite example is the confession, which sounds a bit like this:  
 Now certainly in churches I have visited this is read out by the priest and then there is a two second delay before he pronounces God’s forgiveness for our sins. Now I don’t know about you but I need more time than that to confess my sins for the week.  In fact I’ve usually only got to about Monday lunchtime. 
And that’s not the only thing.  If we really, truly confessed our sins, in full realisation of what that meant, of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, the Love of God, and the darkness of sin then we would only ever need to confess them once and never again.  And again, I don’t know about you but I find myself coming back week after week and confessing more or less the same sins.
So what is the point of this?  Is it just bad, lazy religion?   

I think the answer is no. I do really value the liturgy and structure to our services, I really think that there is a lot that is really beautiful and valuable in these bits of liturgy that have come down to us and have been treasured by centuries of Christians.
So I want to try to think of how we can think about our liturgies and services to make them useful to our whole lives:
And my idea is basically this: Our services and liturgies offer us a model in concentrated form of what we should be trying to think about and follow for the rest of our week.  They don't do the job on their own, though they are particularly valuable as you are doing them.  But their main value is in acting as a model of spiritual discipline and the things we should be thinking about all the way through the week. In order to help us reflect on those ideas and grow in holiness.