We are living through a three-decade long period of regression in our national life, a regressive movement found in other countries. I observe regression taking place in the social, political and religious realms. Fewer people speak with an independent mind, rooted in the wisdom that comes from commitment to truth-telling, integrity, and a deeply embedded set of values, whether they are grounded in Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu, philosophical, agnostic or atheist traditions. The regressive era we are living through needs an infusion of Wisdom teachers and practitioners. Without them, we lack the people capable of teaching us about ourselves, our behaviour patterns, insecurities and anxieties and addictions.
Prayer is a two-way process. We are making something of the Mystery of God in our prayer and prayer is making something of the Mystery of God in us. At least, this is what can happen when it is ‘true’ prayer, remembering Ken Leech’s phrase, prayer that is truly open and radical, taking risks, allowing the Mystery we call God to impact us, our preconceptions and prejudices, our emotions and energies.
In his latest newsletter, James Alison, the well-known gay Catholic theologian, describes what he has learnt through the process of becoming a source of information for Frédéric Martel, the author of In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. The Church of England has similarities and dissimilarities with the Catholic Church. We do not have a celibate priesthood. We do not describe homosexuality as intrinsically disordered. We do have a problem with systemic abuse. All but one of our lesbian and gay bishops live in the closet. We are having difficulty in processing the place of LGBTI+ people in the Church.
Jesus’ authority is predicated on God’s authority. Biblical authority is predicated on God’s authority. Jesus declines to answer the question posed by the chief priests and elders. He poses instead a question they find it impossible to answer – clever move. But the question of what authority Jesus has remains unanswered. What amazed the people was not Jesus’ authority - the people were amazed at his teaching because, unlike the scribes, he taught with a note of authority. It’s the teaching, not the authority, that is fundamental.
This morning, I began to re-read Jesus: The Unanswered Questions by John Bowden, published by SCM Press in 1988. The Preface by David Jenkins, then Bishop of Durham, were immediately prophetic. David Jenkins writes that John Bowden “has a passionate faith in God which is concerned with Jesus, truth, freedom and the possibilities of the future. The whole book is an expression of pilgrimage, a pilgrimage which is clearly embarked on in faith and to be pursued in hope.” David Jenkins concludes with this appeal, a mantra that the bishops of the Church of England would do well to have at the forefront of their minds as they meet next week: “So the future of a true Christian faith must lie with an exploration that persuades, a love that serves and a vision that combines an ever expanding realism with unquenchable hope.”
My faith has been questioned by a number of people as a result of the last two bogs I posted. The number of questioners is small but the range is wide, from gay and radical to conservative, catholic, evangelical and members of General Synod. What they are asking, I think, in different ways, is: What is required for someone to be recognised as a bona fide Anglican or as a Christian? I think some are saying that my faith has been found wanting essential, traditional, orthodox ingredients. I am indeed setting out to question and challenge that so-called ‘authorised version’. I didn’t ask to get myself involved in this drama. It was a calling from that in which I wasn’t sure I believed, thirty years ago, a vocation to change attitudes.
I’ve been reading Simon Small’s brief but rich book, From the Bottom of the Pond: The forgotten art of experiencing God in the depths of the present moment.
I was tempted, reading the Prologue, to post it in its entirety here, but that would contravene the publisher’s rights. Simon’s first sentence in the Prologue is:
“I rest at the centre of space. Unimaginably vast space everywhere I look, disappearing into the distance, seemingly without end.”