BAPTISM & BIRDSONG

I COULD BARELY BREATHE during BBC1’s Birdsong tonight. May the God of life help us never, ever, ever to forget again the realities therein represented. After last week’s episode I’d spent a lot of time thinking up excuses to avoid tonight’s, but in the event sat dumbstruck under a sense I can only describe as “responsible obligation”. The terrible, terrible and overwhelming waste of not one but two World Wars, early in the same century, swamp the soul. I thought my chest would burst in the scene when the two German soldiers told Wraysford that the War was finished. Over. Told, terrified and terrifying, with all the dear longing and hope in the world – the dead Jack Firebrace’s “Love is all there is Sir. To love and to be loved”, hanging in exploded dust.

Today I baptised a young woman, two young boys and three beautiful infants. They’re all treasured. This world’s peace and your life’s purpose are intimately bound, I told them, their parents and their godparents; those baptised into the faith of the Christ today must play their part well in ensuring that no religious, political or sociological dogma should ever again lead to such a monstrously great lie, a madness of such inconceivable proportions, that so set tender-hearted men against each other that hell was created upon the face of the earth. No religious certainty, no political ideology, no nationalism nor false pride should ever again be allowed to prevail over “Love is all there is Sir. To love and be loved.”

Six new Christians. May they herald a purer, higher form of Christianity for today and for the future. May they mingle with wider religious representation. May they be salt and yeast and light and love in the world. May they never be taught, or learn by any other means, how to hate another human person by reason of their colour or creed, gender, race or sexuality. And may they ever be profoundly grateful for the comradeship, the basic goodness, compassion and self-sacrifice of the millions who gave up their lives – God help humanity – without ever fully understanding why. May they follow the example – all this is to say – of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was always more concerned to serve than to be served, to offer worth to others than to be himself worshipped. May it be that when any of us feel burdened with a desire to persuade others of our own doctrine we might follow Archbishop Sentamu’s advice the other night: “ask yourself first how your doctrine measures up to your Jesus”. How does it, how do I, measure up to Love?

AMAZING BROOMS OF MANY COLOURS

broom-army | clean-up at Clapham Junction photo/AndrewBayles

Robert Robinson, broadcaster, who died 13 August 2011

ROBERT ROBINSON, veteran broadcaster and presenter (Ask the Family, Call My Bluff, Brain of Britain etc) has died at the age of 83. The BBCs Nick Higham has described him today as “a polite and genial host”, and as (hopefully-tongue-in-cheek) “a relic of a time when there were gentlemen on television.”

I hope that the past week here in the UK will have invoked heartfelt prayers – and hopes if not prayers – in favour of the “old fashioned” notion of the gentleman and the gentlewoman with all possible speed. Being polite, genial and gentle are human qualities that must not be allowed to become relics. Actually, it occurs to me tonight that I watched substantially more television in “the old days” than I do now. I’m really rather disposed towards the polite, the genial and the gentle. And that’s why the main picture in this post gives me – and the greater part of the 60+million citizens of the United Kingdom – such hope and heart.

Truly, these brooms sweeping clean are a sight to behold. This is News of the World that isn’t controlled by greedy fat-cat bankers, or by the Murdoch empire: these brooms represent a majority impulse for decency and order, for clean-up and community. And it’s not just shattered glass, destroyed homes and shops that need the broom treatment. There’s huge need in British society today for “cleaning up our act”. Inflammatory behaviour, inflammatory language, all forms of (often alcohol-fuelled) violence, exclusive language (especially religious language) needs to be “cleaned up” urgently. There’s too much talk within some of the Christian communities I’ve been involved with across a lifetime that smacks of “we’ve got it right; we and we alone have got the gospel” – and I don’t believe for a second that Jesus of Nazareth did or would brook any of that kind of attitude.

I often make a point of assuring people who express interest that the posts I publish on this private blog represent my own personal views. I do not presume to speak for anyone else. I know, of course, that my public ministry as an Anglican parish priest requires that I speak, in some broadly agreed sense, for the Church of England in my parish. But the Church of England represents a whole raft of opinion, theology, spirituality – some of which I speak for, and some of which I do not. Speaking for the Church is by no means an easy consideration – and I “pray to speak” with a proper humility. How could I claim to know all that “the Church of England” might want to say on this, that or another subject? How much more difficult it becomes when people presume to speak the wholly expressed will of God; when people dare to suggest that their own religious (or political) tradition, and theirs alone, offers the path to “full salvation”.

Words do matter. Words can include or exclude. Words do include some and they also exclude others, political words, religious words, broadcast words, twittered words or domestic words. We need to “clean them up”. Our language needs the more truly to represent our national, political and (for some) religious aspirations. But that ever-evolving process takes time, and time is not an available luxury in the midst of a crisis. So where words have failed, and continue to fail, cosmopolitan gatherings of people standing shoulder to shoulder, wielding brooms of many colours (and yes, thank God, there have been church-folk among these) are they who win the day, and who win the loudest applause. Cross-political, cross-religious, cross-community: polite, genial and gentle are truly cosmopolitan values. May Robert Robinson be remembered with gratitude and affection tonight, and may his values never become relics.

FILLING OR FEEDING?

I’VE DONE A BIT OF CHUNTERING over the years about liturgical inanities. If music is, as Bishop Michael Marshall suggests, “the bicycle of the liturgy”, then we’d better make sure that the ideas – the old and the “fresh expressions” – thereby conveyed are what we want to say theologically, what we want to say about God, and about ourselves. Nick Baines’ More Liturgical Osmosis has

this morning we sang that unfortunate song, O let the love of God enfold you. Why unfortunate? The chorus line asks God to ‘come and fill your lambs’ – but doesn’t say what with. Sage and onion stuffing?! It is a very odd line to sing without feeling weird. So, why do we keep singing it – especially when the post-resurrection Jesus enjoins Peter to ‘feed’ and ‘tend my lambs/sheep (John 21), but not to ‘fill’ them?

“Why do we keep saying it / singing it” (whatever “it” is) is just exactly the question the Church is called to ask every day of its life, for some of the things we say and sing and do are trite at best and dangerous at worst. If we can come up with good reason for doing / singing something, great. If not, let’s drop it. But then, of course, a vexingly bigger question confronts us, whether in the realms of sex, religion & liturgy, or politics: who (citizens of the world in 2009) are “we” ?