Sunday, 13 September 2009

Recipe: a pudding

Sir Watkin [Williams] Wynne [sic] Pudding


6 oz bread crumbs
3 oz suet
3 oz sugar
2 eggs
1½ tbsp. marmalade
A little milk

Make the bread crumbs.
Shred and chop the suet finely.
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.
Beat the eggs and add with the marmalade to the dry ingredients.
The mixture should be rather moist, as the bread crumbs swell, so add milk as required.
Turn into a greased bowl, cover with a greased paper, and steam for two hours.
Turn the pudding on to a hot dish, and pour round either marmalade or sweet melted-butter sauce.

Source: The Edinburgh Book of Plain Cookery Recipes, (London, etc., Thomas Nelson and Sons, new and revised edition, [no date]), p.95

Not a very exciting dish, and they might have got my name right, but still - it's not everyday that someone names a recipe after you.

Friday, 11 September 2009

What changed with the Tractarians?

Fr Hunwicke has a typically provocative post on Anglicanism on his blog, Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes. (N.B. One needs to read his second post on the subject if one is not, like some of the initial commenters, to fall into the trap that the author rather wickedly set for his readers. Bravo, Father!) 

In a comment Independent makes a couple of points which perhaps deserve some exploration:

"Such a belief was conpatible with the Receptionist doctrine common among the Laudian Divines and among High Churchmen [...] The Tractarians did not follow a tradition, they transformed it."

This partly true, but also partly untrue - which leads to an Interesting Point.

Some High Chuchmen certainly believed in an objective presence, some seem to have believed in a subjective presence, and some so tie themselves in knots that it's hard to tell exactly what they believed. But apparently receptionist statements are not of themselves decisive. [If one merely took in isolation Aquinas' words, "O sacrum convivium! in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis ejus", one might conclude that the Angelic Doctor was receptionist and memorialist!]

Laudian divines were often cautious what they committed themselves to in print, for obvious reasons. (Other evidence, e.g. their liturgical practices, may suggest a much more Catholic understanding of the Eucharist than their words do - such things were perhaps felt to be less incriminating.)

Later High Churchmen might use receptionist language in an eirenical spirit, appealing to common ground: as if to say, "You and I may differ about whether the presence is objective or subjective, but let us focus on what we agree on, viz. that Christ is received, and the Eucharist is not a matter of nuda signa."

The Tractarians might be said to have "firmed up" the High Church tradition on the Eucharist. They became much bolder about the objective presence, and averse to receptionist language. They could be said to have narrowed the tradition, but it is misleading to say that they were not following it: more precisely, they followed and developed one particular strand of it, to the exclusion of others.

A similar (and related) development took place in their attitude to the Fathers. Earlier High Churchmen were often ambiguous about the relationship between patristic teachings and the Anglican acquis. Many were prepared to "correct" the Fathers in the light of Anglican doctrine and practice; others got into a terrible muddle, trying to reconcile the two.

The Tractarians cut this Gordian knot: they had no inhibitions about correcting Anglicanism where it disagreed with the Fathers.

Again, this is not new: some earlier High Churchman had done so too. The change was that this strand hunted the others from the field.

Whilst this tendency narrowed High Church tradition on the protestant side, it also broadened it on the Catholic side, opening up a far deeper engagement with the Fathers and with Catholic Christianity generally (both West and East), an engagement that proved extraordinarily fruitful. It was an antidote to the insularity and complacency that had too often been the fatal weakness of High Churchmen. Could one imagine the work of the great Anglo-Catholic slum priests had this development not taken place?

All this remains relevant today. There are those (Anglicans and others) who would correct the Great Tradition in the light of some narrower experience. There are others for whom that Tradition provides the necessary perspective to see our contemporary and local prejudices for what they are.

But Sir Watkin's thoughts on that will have to wait for another post ....

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Libya: Milliband / Balls contradiction?

“We did not want him [al-Megrahi] to die in prison,” - David Miliband (Today, 2nd September)

“None of us wanted to see the release of al-Megrahi,” - Edward Balls (Today, 7th September)

Alex Massie on his Spectator blog ties himself in knots trying to demonstrate, in his familiar contrarian way, that Balls has not contradicted Miliband. (And gets rewarded for his pains with a comment accusing him of being Jesuitical.)

However, he misses what is blindingly obvious: the statements aren't (of themselves) contradictory.

The clue is the word "want". The whole point about a dilemma is that it presents you with two (or more) alternatives, neither of which you want, but one of which you must choose. Otherwise it wouldn't be a dilemma.

It's a very basic ethical problem:
  • British Government does not want to release al-Megrahi, because it will annoy the Americans, be an offence against Justice, seem soft on Terrorism, etc.
  • British Government does not want to leave al-Megrahi in gaol, because it will annoy the Libyans, damage British economic interests, etc.
It can't both release him and not release him, so it is forced to identify the least bad option. (Idiot's Guide to Ethics, chapter 1.)

If a Government is politically astute it will, of course, attempt to pursue the selected option as elegantly as possible. It is this that the present administration has singularly failed to do. Conservative commentators naturally exploit this failure. That is fair eno' - all part of the game. But Sir Watkin has a nagging suspicion that many of them fail to understand the underlying logic of dilemmas, lesser evils and hard ethical choices. Which is worrying.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Jesus wants me for ... a dolphin??

Gregory Cameron, protégé of Rowan Williams, Anglican Communion high flyer, mastermind behind the Anglican Covenant, and recently enthroned Lord Bishop of S. Asaph, informs his flock that God wants them to be aquatic mammals of the Delphinidae family:
In this sea of the Holy Spirit, our reaction can be like limpets - to cling on to the rock of familiar territory and to risk nothing new. Or we might be like anemones, putting our tendrils out from time to time to experience the sort of joy that a really good praise service can give,but otherwise getting on with the humdrum. But I think God wants us to be dolphins, embarking with exuberance on a journey across the oceans of his love, jumping and dancing in the waves of life agitated by the Spirit.
How do we become spiritual dolphins?
Splish! Splash! Splosh!!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Is Gordon Brown a Christian?

According to Alistair Campbell, New Labour didn't "do God".

But Tony Blair very plainly did (and continues to - let us hope that God is suitably grateful).

Gordon Brown does The Virtues of a Christian Upbringing (ad nauseam). But is that where it stops? Does he also do God?

Whether he is a Christian or not seems a curiously elusive fact. I say "curiously", because whilst Brown goes out of his way to tell that he is a son of the manse, shaped by that background (Christian Socialism, "moral compass", etc., etc., etc.), it is hard to discover what his present relationship is with Christianity. Does he pray? Does he believe the articles of the Faith? Does he go to church either regularly or intermittently?

Does he consider faith (or its loss) a private matter? Or one it is impolitic to reveal?

Is it significant that he draws attention only to those parts of his Christian heritage that no virtuous atheist could object to?

Is it all an exercise in "dog-whistling" - Brown trying to make himself attractive to Christians, whilst not offending non-believers?

Cranmer nods

Archbishop Cranmer (the blogger, not the compiler of the Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, &c.) is an interesting character. His concern is the intersection between religion and politics. In religion he is a staunchly protestant, solidly low church Anglican. In politics he is an equally staunch Conservative of a traditional right-wing sort.

Sometimes his commentary is intelligent and perceptive (often when one least expects it to be); at other times, mere empty right-wingery and protestant polemic.

His anti-Catholic prejudices can be virulent, but it is notable that he finds more and more to praise in Benedict XVI. One has a sneaking suspicion that if forced to choose he might prefer his Holiness to any actually-existing protestant church leader.

His Grace has an averagely interesting post this morning, pondering why in a country with an Established Church, its Supreme Governor no longer calls her subjects to prayer, but the President of the United States of America, a country which is notoriously sensitive to the separation of church and state, has no such inhibition.

Sadly, the late Archbishop's enthusiasm for his theme leads him astray, when he alleges that Winston Churchill (the last Prime Minister to advise his monarch to proclaim a national Day of Prayer) was "a sincere, devout, Bible-reading, resurrection-believing Christian."

Would that be the same Winston Churchill who declared that he supported the church, but like a flying buttress - "from the outside"? And who admitted, "I believe death is the end"?

Religious liberals and conervatives: dialogue of the deaf

[The labels "liberal" and "conservative" ("traditional(-ist)" likewise) are of course inadequate, if not pernicious, but labels have their uses and we all know what these ones mean (more or less). It is with this caveat that they are used here.]

It's not exactly an amazing insight to say that in their disagreements (and even in sincere attempts at dialogue) liberal and conservative Christians are usually taking past each other.

It is not, however, so often noted that the problem is exacerbated, if not actually caused, by agreement about first principles, not disagreement.

Almost everyone (liberal or conservative)* would assent to the propositions that Christians should both be faithful to the Gospel and preach that Gospel anew in every age.

But the key question is: What does this mean in practice?

To the conservative, the liberal's concern for preaching the Gospel anew tips over into unfaithfulness.

To the liberal, the conservative's concern for faithfulness ends up killing the Gospel.

The conservative finds it hard to believe that her liberal brother really cares about faithfulness, but it's precisely because he does that the liberal gets mightily offended at the implication that he doesn't.

The liberal finds it hard to believe that his conservative sister really cares about bringing the Gospel to the present age in any useful way, but it's precisely because she does that the conservative gets mightily offended at the implication that she doesn't.

How far is too far? How far is not far enough?

* Naturally there are exceptions at the extremities, and there are, too, some people who for pragmatic reasons are suspicious of perfectly reasonable formulations like these.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

As for the gods of the heathen

Meditation on Psalm 115 v.6 - the Psalmist goes to the music hall.

- I say, I say, I say, my idol's got no nose.
- How does he smell?
- Terrible.

A more excellent way

The worst thing about the Church and Managerialism is not that Managerialism doesn't work (tho' it doesn't), nor that it is dehumanising (tho' it is, and it is scandalous that a church should fail to see this). No, the worst thing is that, as Fr Clues implies in his original post, the Church already knows how to order personal and corporate life, but has forgotten this or lost confidence in it.

One need look no further than the Rule of S. Benedict to find the deeply spiritual, but also hard-headed and practical, wisdom necessary for living harmoniously in community - whether that community be a monastery, parish, school or company (or even Diocesan HQ).

On a personal level a Rule of Life presents us with the disciplines of spiritual direction, confession, regular prayer and worship, and the like: the disciplines that we need to flourish (as human beings and as members of a community) by helping align our lives with God's will.

If a church looks to Managerialism for such guidance this is not merely a mistake, but a symptom of profound spiritual crisis.

Fr Jones's post yesterday (already referenced in a quite different connexion) eloquently describes what must be done:

The Church must be renewed from the depths of its Scriptural and credal base, it must be rich in sacramental life, it must be human and and humane, capable of negotiation and able to survive with minimum life support facilities. It must be disciplined but tinged with an anarchic anti-authoritianarianism, it must be able to inspire loyalty and despise fanaticism, it must, it really must reflect the weeping and the joyful meal sharing of Jesus it must have a panache that comes from a realistic and humble understanding of its own inadequacy, it it must be with and for God's own people and not a bureaucracy of self perpetuating organisational mechanisms.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall

Fr T.E. Jones reflected on secularisation in a post yesterday on the admirable S. Peter's London Docks (Peterite) blog:

[...] the last decade has seen a growth in secularisation that has put Christianity on the margins of national life. In spite of excellent (heroic?) efforts of many laity and clergy at local levels, in ecclesial bodies of every sort, the impact overall has been negated by the dominance of an elite of power-brokers who wish no good to the Church. [...] "Life", said John Lennon, 'Is what happens while you are planning your future'. Just so, as the Church planned (a decade of Evangelism!) a national mood changed and we (bless) hardly noticed.

Ironically, the very same afternoon Ruth Gledhill on her Articles of Faith blog at the Times reported Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society bemoaning the desecularisation of society:

But this creep of religion into the workplace has been coming for several years. I spent most of my working life toiling in hospitals and social services. I didn't go to work in the expectation that I would be required to observe someone else's "faith", for most of those years. I was happy for them to have it if it was useful to them, but I was also happy for them to keep it to themselves, as I was happy to keep my lack of faith private.

Of course there are ways in which both complaints can be true, but it's striking how the cries of secularisation and desecularisation mirror each other (neither Fr Jones nor Mr Sanderson are untypical). In modern Britain both believers and non-believers feel under threat.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Performance Appraisal in the Church of England

The Church of England has an unfortunate habit of uncritically adopting yesterday's management practices.

In some cases they are completely discredited and in the process of being abandoned. Sadly this is not yet so for the monster that is Performance Appraisal: it is is far too well entrenched in both private and public sector to be hunted from the field just yet, but it is still a very bad idea and the church has now enthusiastically incorporated it into clerical life under the name "Ministerial Review".

Fr David Clues offers an excellent critique in a post on his blog Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Fr Clues perhaps does not realise how right he is. I could go on at length, but everything that needs to be said has already been said eloquently by John Seddon in his book Freedom from Command and Control, pp.122-123. (Seddon is the only author on the subject of "management" worth reading. He is a maverick, but his views are based on solid evidence and his methods get real results. Perhaps I should rephrase that: he is seen as a maverick because his views are based on evidence and get real results. This is highly eccentric in the field of management, where the mainstream authors are little better than charlatans.)

Thus speaks Seddon:

I began to wonder about appraisal quite early in my career. I noticed it was something that was revamped and relaunched from time to time - a tell-tale sign of problems. If I asked what the issue was, people would tell me managers were not doing their workers' appraisals. It occurred to me that perhaps managers didn't like doing them. Perhaps they saw them as of no value. Sometimes I was told that the reason managers were not fulfilling their duty to develop people was a lack of know-how. So the answer was more appraisal training for managers. I continued to harbour my doubts.

We see other remedies. Self-appraisal. Let the subordinate drive the process - that might get them to do it. Change the forms, include 360-degree feedback. But what we rarely see is questioning of the very value of the exercise. The truth is that appraisal leaves people bitter, bruised, despondent, dejected, feeling inferior, some severely depressed. Talk to teachers who have been through an inspection. Without prompting, many describe the feeling of emptiness when it is all over. So much work goes into preparing for inspection and the inspection process itself. The inspector has a specification to which he works, and any disagreements about variations from the norm as defined by the specification will lead to a more difficult relationship. Talk to people in organisations who have been through appraisal. They tell you how they waited for the 'bad news'. It is psychological torture. In the perennially reinvented courses on how to do an appraisal, managers are told how to deliver bad news - there will always be bad news, since the whole idea is to hold the individual accountable. Some organisations compound the problem by insisting employees are ranked in a normal distribution - you can't have all 'A's; you have to have proportions of each group, including, therefore, some losers. The emotional pain caused by appraisals is incredible, particularly when money is tied to the rating. For substantial periods everyone's emotional energy is consumed by something that is flawed and counterproductive.

I was asked to write an article exposing the problems with performance appraisal for a Sunday newspaper. I submitted my first draft and the editor suggested I should provide balance by talking about what to do instead. My response was that you don't need to find an alternative to doing a bad thing - you should just stop it. He said: 'Ring your friends in Japan and find out what they do.' So I did. I asked: 'What do you do about performance appraisal?' The reply was: 'What is that?' I explained. Japanese people tend to be too polite to laugh.

Seddon and his Japanese friends of course are quite right, the editor quite wrong, but as the economist, Thomas Sowell, points out “No matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: 'But what would you replace it with?' When you put out a fire, what do you replace it with?”

The Church of England, in predictably ovine fashion, has drunk the management Kool Aid. The daft thing is that there never was any need to. If it is absurd not to know what to "replace" the fire with, it is even more absurd deliberately to set your own house on fire, just because that's what everyone else has already done to theirs. This is exactly what the church has done with Ministerial Review.

Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Health Care: ignoratio elenchi rules O.K.

Fr Gordon Reid enters the Great Health System Debate in a post on Saintclementsblog.

A commenter makes a perfectly sensible point:

"The NHS has problems, our system has problems. Trading one for another may or may not be an equal exchange."

But it is interesting (or depressing) to realise that whilst the debate (on both sides of the Atlantic) is often framed in these terms, this is precisely what no-one is proposing. The U.S. Government is not suggesting anything remotely like the British N.H.S. (the closest parallel seems to be with Switzerland) and even radical right-wingers in Britain don't want the U.S. system (Singapore is an example often mentioned at the moment) [and in point of fact the Conservative Party is committed to the present N.H.S., albeit with a few tweaks].

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Never glad confident morning again

Where stands (traditional) Anglo-Catholicism in England?

It is over a year since the Women Bishops vote in the General Synod. What has changed?

Nothing ... and everything.

There was much anguish in the aftermath of the vote. It is perhaps surprising how quiet things have been since then.

Parish life goes on. The Flying Bishops are still flying. Forward in Faith proclaims, "A Code of Practice will not do."

The General Synod has appointed a Legislative Drafting Group, and, in theory at least, all options are back on the table (despite the July 2008 vote).

There has been a trickle of departures for Rome, but no flood.

Reassuring voices say, "Something will be sorted out." Pessimists say, "It's all over." But they speak quietly, privately.

So, business as usual? Rumours of the death of Anglo-Catholicism greatly exaggerated?

There will indeed be Anglo-Catholics of a traditional kind in the Church of England for a long time to come: not just until the first women bishops appear, but beyond. In places they will even grow and flourish.

But something has changed - irrevocably. A thread has snapped.

There will be more departures, whether individual or en masse - to Rome or elsewhere, and some no doubt to Liberalism. Many who leave will be the young, gifted priests and laity who would have become the movement's leaders. Eventually a tipping point will be reached where qua movement Anglo-Catholicism will no longer be viable. It will still be present, but it will no longer count for anything.

This will be true, even if the great majority "stay". They may technically remain as Anglicans, but in their hearts they will have left: a sort of internal exile. The synodical route may end in tears, or the horse-trading and behind the scenes negotiation may produce (against expectation) a surprisingly good settlement. But few will be able to embrace the new dispensation with enthusiasm.

Until last year's vote there was still the possibility (however slender) of a different outcome. But no longer.

What was it that changed then? Why does it matter so much? One phrase sums it up:

Never glad, confident morning again.

The Lockerbie Bomber and Christian Mercy

Fr John Alexander offers on his Videtur Quod blog two thoughtful and thought-provoking posts on Crime and Punishment (Part One and Part Two) in relation to the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber. These were prompted by Fr Ed Tomlinson's post on Justice versus Compassion on The Saint Barnabas' Blog.

I commented as follows on Fr Alexander's first post:

Thank you for your thoughts, Father. I think you are absolutely right to put this question in a spiritual context, in particular the context concept of Divine Mercy and the Christian's calling to share in that mercy (both as recipient and co-agent of mercy with God).

As I said in a comment on Fr Tomlinson's original posting, the Coronation Rite (a much neglected treasury of wisdom) expresses the necessary balance well:

“Be so merciful that you be not too remiss; so execute Justice that you forget not Mercy.”

(Similar words occur in the Consecration of Bishops of course.)

But mercy, tho' attractive, is so challenging. It's the thing that I find shocks non-Christians most (many Christians too when they think about it). They can put up with woolly liberal "compassion", even if they disapprove, but liberal and rigorist alike are revolted by true Christian mercy, clear-eyed and decisive as it is: "I am under no illusions about the evil you have committed, but now I exercise mercy."

Some words of T.S. Eliot come to mind:

"Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft."

On a factual point, the decision in this case wasn't made by a court, but by the Scottish Justice Minister. This is the normal procedure, but it has unfortunately helped to muddy the waters (at least in Britain). People are more inclined to suspect the motives of a decision made by a politician (and other politicians to stir up such suspicions), than of a decision made by a court.

[Comment republished here for future reference.]

What to do on a strange Planet

Should you find yourself on another planet, and should you meet an intelligent being there, with whom (mirabile dictu) you find you can communicate, what do you do next?

You have no doubt often wondered about this. Here is the answer.

First you ask, "Has there been a Fall here?" If you receive the answer, "No," leave straight away before you mess things up.

But, if you receive the answer, "Yes," you go on to ask, "Has there been an Incarnation?"

If the answer to this is, "Yes," you make this request:

"Please direct me to the nearest Catholic Church."