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July 31, 2004

An Orthodox Experience?

Given the usual English meaning of the word "Orthodox", it is perhaps misleading to describe the experience of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom as "Orthodox"! In doctrine, form, and theology it could be nothing but a liturgy of the Orthodox Church, and although we enjoyed a "shortened" version, it is self- evident that the assertion of the Greek, Russian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Syriac Orthodox Churches that "the liturgy is eternal" is correct. They would also claim that it is in the liturgy that earth and heaven are at their closest.

After last night, I can see what they mean.

We stood for the entire service, around four hundred of us, as we would do in an Orthodox Church, while the Priest and his assistant performed the rituals of their church. We could have sat, but it did not seem appropriate, and their Liturgy was being offered "For the Unity of the Church", even though the Anglican and Orthodox Churches are now divided, seemingly forever, on the issue of women priests.

The music for the Orthodox Church is unaccompanied - the church having rejected the use of any "secular" instrument in worship around 500AD. At least they are consistent! They also do not use any form of electronic amplification, so the priest needs a good powerful voice in a place like the Abbey! This one certainly did. His sermon in particular was an absolute beauty, covering, in a very serious but compassionate way, the things which divide Christians and those (which really count!) that unite us.

The form of the Liturgy is certainly recognisable to anyone of the "catholick" wing of Christendom. The Introduction is longer and certainly has echoes of the Early Church meeting to commemorate the Last Supper in private houses and over a shared meal. While most of this would, in an Orthodox Church, happen behind the Icon Screen, we were privileged to see the whole as it happened at the head of the Nave of the Abbey. The Priests' vestments were straight from a mosaic of the period of Justinian, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The ritual almost as old.

The form of the service is as follows:

The initial Blessing and the Litany of Peace - sung by Priest and responses by the Choir.

Antiphon - Bless the Lord, O my soul! - Kalinnikov

The Shorter Litany - Priest and Choir

Second Antiphon - Glory be to the Father - Rachmaninov

The Shorter Litany - Priest and Choir

The Third Antiphon - O Lord remember us - Kalinnikov

(The Priest would normally come through the Icon Screen and hold aloft the Book of the Gospels while stood in the congregation - in the Abbey he took it from the Altar and moved to a place between the front rows of people and held it aloft.)

He then intones "Wisdom, be steadfast!"

The Introit:

Intoned by the priest with a choral response, this is:

"O come let us worship and fall down before Christ. O Son of God, who art wonderful in thy Saints, save us who sing to thee, Alleluia!"

The Tropar - a Litany sung by the Priest which encompasses Church, State, The World, individuals in need, and all the company of Christianity.

The Trisagion - Sung by the Choir, this prayer is:

"Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us. (Repeated three times) Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, both now and for ever and for ages of ages, Amen. Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us, Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy upon us."

The Epistle and Gospel are sung

The Epistle is sung by a Member of the congregation and the Priest intones at the end of it

"Blessings upon you Oh Reader of the Word."

The Gospel is sung from the Entrance to the Icon Screen by the Priest.

This was follwed by the sermon (Out of its normal place which is usually Post Communion.)

THE GREAT ENTRANCE is now made and this is followed by

The Cherubic Hymn - Priest - Choir - Gretchaninov

The Litany of Supplications and the Kiss of Peace

The Nicene Creed - Sung by the Choir - Gretchaninov

All I can say about this is that it is a fantastic setting - solo lead throughout - and it really made me conscious of how much we all share.

The Offering of the Holy Gifts - the Bread and Wine are offered by the Priest on behalf of the congregation (who brought bread offerings with their supplications to the service and from these the Communion Bread is taken.)

The Anaphora then begins - this is the Consecration prayers and follows a similar pattern to that of the West, but in the form of a Litany.

The Magnifical Hymn - Sung by The Choir

The Litany of Supplications and the Lord's Prayer

The Communion Anthem - The Choir - Rachmaninov

The Communion

The Post Communion - Priest and Choir

The Litany of Thanksgiving

The Dismissal

The Antidoron
During this the congregation are invited to eat the left over bread from the Table of Offering (which was not used in the Consecration) and to kiss the hand Cross used by the Priest in the Dismissal Blessing.

This summary can in no way do justice to a truly spiritual event - one I will ponder on and treasure for a long time to come.

"Bless the Lord all ye servants of the Lord, Praise Him and Bless Him forever!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:50 PM

July 30, 2004

Beyond the Religious Horizon ...

Found a lengthy dissertation on Christianity and its contribution to the development of Western Society on Russell Newquist's blog which got me thinking - always a dangerous condition!

While I agree with much of what Russell has said, I would depart from his assertion that Christianity is now unable to take us any further forward. Just as the Israelites found themselves having to make a huge leap forward - one which took a number of generations to actually sink in - if it ever did fully - so Christianity stands at one of what Russell calls an "Horizon". This is where I think he is missing the boat. Christianity does indeed stand at an Horizon, and it is an important one, but, before it can move forward, there is some baggage to be shed by the majority of its adherents, and this is where the difficulty lies. It is also not necessarily with the people who, Sunday by Sunday, keep up the attendances; it lies now with those outside who claim that meeting together in worship is irrelevant.

One purpose of meeting together in a congregation is to help each other explore faith, to study the scriptures, and explore what science is telling us - how it fills in the gaps in the scriptural account. The great leap into the dark for the Israelites was, as Russell has identified, the new concept of an invisible God who is everywhere and everywhen. A God so far beyond human understanding that He cannot even be depicted in an image because this would distract and limit understanding of Him. (I use the traditional male reference to God purely because my background says it would be disrespectful to use the pronoun "It".) It is my belief that the next big step forward in faith, belief, and even worship is about to be made. All around us, as knowledge is increased exponentially, as this knowledge becomes more widely available, people are having to re-assess their basic beliefs.

It is no accident that as the Christian Churches have retreated under the onslaught of misguided and misinformed "Humanist" thinking and the outright antipathy of many politicians and media barons, so the range of "alternative" religions and churches has grown. It is built into our psyche to know that there is something beyond this existence, something much bigger that we are a part of. It is, for most, very ill defined and possibly even totally unexplored. It is in breaking through this barrier - one I equate with the "Hypersonic" barrier for aircraft - that we will move forward on the next phase of human understanding and development.

So what holds us back?

At this point in time, at least one of the matters retarding this development is the fundamentalist approach necesitated by the depth of ignorance of so many adherents of Chrsitianity and of the plethora of "New Age" religions (and I include some of the more way out Christian Pentecostal groups in that). "Keep it simple, stupid" is their watch word, and this prohibits thought. It is a case of "receive" the word intact and don't think about it, don't question it, just take it and run with it. My problem with this is that when something is revealed, it is seldom revealed all in one hit; it takes a lot of thought, a lot of prayer, and even more study to begin to see the light and then to feed the flame until it illuminates the mind. Received? Yes, but then you are supposed to do something with it! To grow, to seek more knowledge and more understanding.

That is the real hurdle holding us back - and this is where I disagree with Russell - it is the people themselves who refuse to explore, to debate, to argue - and then here is where I like what Russell has written - to be prepared to think outside of the box and to seek for themselves a wider and deeper understanding! God works through various agents; He is not confined by Church buildings, denominations, or even Preachers. He finds an outlet, and He will convey His message and His word through anyone He finds able.

Well done, Russell - you are helping to move His plan forward. Let's keep it going!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:07 PM | Comments (4)

July 29, 2004

A feast for the senses and the spirit ....

Yesterday we had the Mass for the Virgin Mary. The setting for the Mass is by Langlais and is one of those that is modern, but old, and can be very moving. We also had as the Gradual Anthem (Sung before the Gospel is read) a new work written by Blinko especially for the Musica Deo Sacra. Its words and its sound moved me to the brink of tears. What more can I say?

As Sub Deacon (again?) I had at least had the opportunity to rehearse this one, and it went like clockwork. Good Preacher and great music give a boost to the soul and provide food for thought on one's faith.

The feast continued in the evening with an organ recital by Carleton Etherington having fun on all three of the Abbey's organs (though not simultaneously!), with an excellent programme of works spanning the ages and suited to the different organs. It was a tickets at the door event, and I am glad to say that it seems to have been a sellout. I would have liked to have been there - but a friend I have not seen in almost 10 years arrived at lunchtime and we decided that catching up was possibly more important, as he could only stay one night.

So, I missed Carleton's playing and I missed Compline, but I know that both of these will be something I can do another time. A visit from a good and valued friend may never be repeated. As our preacher had reminded us, the future is always an uncertain quantity, especially in human relations and in terms of life itself. This was one occassion when the more important event, no matter how anticipated the pleasure of the music and of the worship, was to spend time with my friend. We hope to see each other again in a few months, but who knows, other things may intervene (as they have in the past!) and prevent it.

Tomorrow I shall attend the programmed Orthodox Liturgy. I am looking forward to this immensely, as the Orthodox Church's music is for unaccompanied voices, which I find incredibly moving. Watch this space; I will let you know how it went.

For now, it's back to the reality of earning a living.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:53 PM

July 28, 2004

The Case of the Missing Bishop ...

This week, as I have said in a previous entry, we at the Abbey (and a host of people who come from much farther afield - including the US, Canada, and Europe) are enjoying Musica Deo Sacra, a week of sacred music actually being used within the Worship as it was intended to be heard by the composers. It is also an opportunity to hear some really well known preachers and to hear God's word in an exceptionally fulfilling way.

We began on Monday night with a full Solemn Evensong with our Lord Bishop in attendance. We had rehearsed it with him, and it all ran to schedule and very beautifully with the Gloucester Setting and all the music composed by the late John Sanders, one time Organist and Director of Music of Gloucester Cathedral. The Bishop took his leave expressing his delight at the service and the Spirit of God within the place and the people and looking forward to Presiding at the Solemn Mass for the Holy Spirit to be celebrated yesterday. The Monk was to be his Chaplain again, and we agreed the how and where and when things were to be done and off he went.

The Chaplain was in attendance betimes. The Bishop was late. The Chaplain, the Vicar, and several others began to worry. Still no Bishop. Phone calls to offices and to secretaries. Still no Bishop, other than to have confirmed that he had left timeously! Real worry! Especially as he was also the Preacher for the Mass! The Vicar announced to the congregation that the start of the service would be delayed by 10 minutes and the ministry team got going on the contingency plan!

Sub Deacon (The Vicar aka The Lord Abbot) moved up to President, The Deacon remained in place (He is an ordained Deacon) and the Monk found himself bounced into the role of Sub Deacon. The Vicar bravely announced that if the Bishop still hadn't arrived by the sermon, he would rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire him and preach.

The service commenced with Hurford's Litany of the Holy Spirit and the Setting was Missa Aeterna Christi munera by Palestrina. First lesson, Epistle (1 Corinthians 12: 4 - 13) and Gospel slipped passed (Still no Bishop!), and the Vicar mounted the steps to the Pulpit. He used a text from the Gospel "I will make my home with you, said Jesus." And proceeded to preach one of the finest sermons on the work of the Holy Spirit in the world that I have ever heard. He never missed a beat, leading us from the text through the Old and New Testament understanding of the workings of the Spirit until his peroration and conclusion with his original text - and underlining the fact that in accepting the Holy Spirit in our lives, we make a home for Christ in and with ourselves.

The Bishop arrived to hear the end of it, and slipped into the Sanctuary with a substitute Chaplain as we processed up to the High Altar for the Consecration Prayers. He gave the Blessing at the end of the Mass and apologised for being late - commenting that Father Paul's sermon was far more inspirational than his own.

All is well that ends well, the delay was unavoidable (perhaps the Holy Spirit wanted to say something to us?), and we were at least relieved to have our Bishop restored to us in good health.

Well, time I was off to go and be Sub Deacon for today's offering of the Mass. The setting is Langlais, and I hope that the Holy Spirit hasn't any more surprises in store for us.

Peace and grace be with you all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:07 AM | Comments (2)

July 27, 2004

Entering the minefield ....

Being the Archbishop of Canterbury has always been a tricky position. Even St Augustine found it difficult, and he was the first! The Archbishops of Canterbury always find themseleves caught between a rock and a hard place because, on the one hand they must uphold the message of the Gospel, and on the other, respond to the realities of politics, statecraft, and interfaith and intercultural matters. As one incumbent put it, like walking a tightrope with someone at each end trying to cut the rope all the while blindfolded and deprived of a balance pole.

As the senior Archbishop of the Anglican Communion (the Archbishop of York is the next senior) he must try to provide guidance and counsel to all the diverse churchmanship that the Anglican Communion embraces - from the ultra-Protestant to the Anglo-Catholic - and try to hold together a group as individual as cats! In fact, herding cats would be easier!

The Archbishop also has a diplomatic role to deal with, in that he must represent a major branch of Christianity in dealing with the leaders of other faiths and seeking to ease the tensions which inevitably arise between adherents of one or another. Couple with that the fact that he is seen as a political leader, as well, by the many politicians he must deal with in his role as head of the Established Church and you begin to see the minefield that any man taking on this role is attempting to negotiate. In fact, it takes an exceptional man and a whole heep of guidance from the Holy Spirit to survive at all!

Even so, as Thomas à Beckett discovered, you cannot make any decision without giving grave offence to someone. The latest news from Lambeth Palace certainly confirms that by announcing that the Archbishop is to address a gathering of Muslim Clerics at the centre of Islamic learning in Egypt. No doubt this is the culmination of a number of years of negotiation, possibly even going back to the previous Archbishop's tenure of office, and no doubt too there has been much to-ing and fro-ing to get diaries sorted out, avoid major festivals or dates when the Archbishop and his counterpart are not required to be at other events, functions or festivals. But it is disquieting that the date finally agreed is September 11th this year. I would have hoped that someone on the Archbishop's Diary staff would have recognised the sensitivity of this date and the importance of not giving fuel to the strong feelings which both gave rise to the attack and to those injured both physically and psychologically by it. Let us hope that there is a change of schedule or date which will alleviate this one!

I, for one, hope that this date has not been selected by the hosts to make a political statement, and I hope, too, that the Archbishop does not attempt to gloss over the very real feelings of hurt and anger that so many Christians feel and share that the unprovoked and inexcusable attack on the World Trade Centre have evoked. I hope too that he will use the opportunity to express the anger and disquiet of Christians everywhere at the brutal suppression of Christianity and the enslavement of those who refuse to convert in Southern Sudan, in Northern Nigeria, and in other Islamic countries ruled by Muslim Fundamentalists. To not do so would be inexcusable, but we must also recognise that to do so may derail all the progress made to date - much of it out of the public eye and ignored by the press (good news doesn't sell papers after all) - which is helping to bring the radical and fundamentalist branches of Islam under increasing pressure to accept change and to put a halt to the poison preached by them.

Rather than attacking the Archbishop for this, we need to pray for him, for what he and many others are trying to do to ease tensions and get raproachment moved forward. There does need to be a recognition that not all Muslims are evil, that not all Muslims are bombers, terrorists, or even fundamentalists. These are the Muslims we need to help, to encourage so that they in turn can deal with the elements of poison within their faith.

Please pray for the Archbishop and his staff as they do their best to bring God's work and His word into the world and the debate between these two faiths. It is part of the calling of the Church that it must reach out to those who are of a different faith, it must comment on the activities of governments, and it must comment on the actions of individuals which are contrary to the Gospel. It is a minefield, and, even worse, there is no map, no mine detector, and there is someone always ready to plant a few more as soon as the Archbishop has cleared some away.

Yes, this seems a hugely insensitive action, but remember that we do not know yet what he will say to the assembly, we do not have a copy of his text, and the reports we have so far are designed to sell newspapers based purely on speculation, rabble rousing, and rumour. Take what you read in the popular press with a shovel full of salt until we have something from the Archbishop himself - and then make sure you read all of it and not just the selective bits the press will use out of context.

Personally I hope and wish that the Archbishop changes the schedule and the date, but I think there may be other forces at work here of which we know little and understand less. Pray, my brothers and sisters, for the Archbishop, and let us wait to see what flows from it in the fullness of time. It would not be the first time God has done things through circumstances and events which beggar belief.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:01 AM

July 26, 2004

Sunday Sermon

The Monk was the preacher at the Solemn Evensong for the Feast of St James at the Abbey last night and this sermon would have been posted immediately after - if AOHell had allowed me to access MT to put it up. For some unexplained reason it would allow the front pages to load, but refused to load any of the applications. Never mind, the sermon is now in the extended post below! The reading on which it is based comes from St Mark Chapter 1, verses 14 - 20.

St James was one of the four brothers selected on the shores of Lake Galilee to be a disciple, according to St Mark's Gospel. We know very little of his ministry, and he makes only infrequent appearances in the Gospels and once in the Acts. It is there that we learn that he was the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom - at the hands of Herod Agrippa, who had him beheaded.

Legend has it that he had journeyed to Spain and founded a Christian Monastery at Compostella, which has been a pilgrimage place ever since, certainly from the 7th Century onwards when it was declared that his bones had been found there. It is still a place to which pilgrims flock every year from all parts of the globe. Those who have been on this pilgrimage rarely return unchanged in their outlook and their faith; in fact, most come back refreshed and filled with the Holy Spirit.

It is fitting that we remember James and remember particularly what he represents as both one of the first disciples and as the first Apostolic martyr. A man who heard the call to serve God and was faithful even to his death.

+ May I speak in the Name of God,
May his Word be upon my lips, and
His Spirit be within my heart.

“Come, follow me,” said Jesus, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

This must be one of the most well known of the stories concerning the calling of the disciples to follow Christ, yet do we fully understand all that is implied in Mark’s rather abridged account? Probably not, as we are removed in time, in language, and in culture from these events on Lake Galilee. There are several things in play here, some subtle, some reasonably obvious. I have remarked in the past and in my articles on the subject of reading the scriptures that Mark, and the other writers of the Bible, frequently omit to mention things they knew their initial reader would know or understand. It is mentioned only if there is a clear relevance to the narrative, or the intended reader might need to know something else about the events described.

That is very much the case with this beginning of Mark’s Gospel. He begins with the prophecy from Isaiah relating to the ministry of John the Baptist, whose entire ministry is summarized in a total of eight verses. For Mark, clearly, the important events were those that concerned Christ and His teaching, the Baptist was merely a necessary precursor to the main event.

As with the other Synoptic writers, he begins Christ’s Ministry by calling out His disciples, and here, too, we may miss one of the nuances unless we are specially familiar with the Middle Eastern culture. The key lies in the words “to follow”. These are the words of the more modern translations, some older translations use the words “walk with” instead, and this reflects the cultural pattern of the Middle East at that time - where to walk abreast or side by side with a leader or teacher or some superior was unheard of. You walked behind such a person, never at their side, yet in the Biblical sense, and in the mind of the writer of this Gospel, it is this “following” which is required when God speaks to us and calls us to “walk with him”. Thus, our Gospel passage tonight is clearly intended to convey the fact that the call is to follow wherever Christ leads.

A second facet which is much easier to miss because of our own preconceptions is the status of the young men He called. Then, as now, the owner of a large commercial fishing boat - whether he works aboard it or not - is a man of some substance with considerable capital investment. So, in following Christ as they do, they are in fact making quite a sacrifice. James in particular is identified as falling into this category by the fact that his father owned the boat and hired men to man it.

This is also the kind of sacrificial service that Jeremiah was called upon to engage in as well. Surely no one in his right mind would, unless filled by the Holy Spirit or driven to it by a death wish, stand in the Temple Gate or, even worse, inside it and denounce the hierarchy, the government, and the nation, proclaiming that they were on notice to change or the city and temple would be destroyed? Yet this is precisely what Jeremiah was called upon to do - and did. The reaction was predictable and swift. So it would be with Christ and his small group of disciples as well. It just took a little longer to get going.

James, John, Simon (Peter) and Andrew were called from their jobs in the family fishing firms and willingly left parents, families, and livelihood to follow Christ. Would any one of us simply lay down our tools and follow a wandering preacher? Would we obey that call if made here and now? But, the call is one thing; it is quite another to find out what ministry we are individually called to perform. Fortunately perhaps we are not all called to be the sort of prophet that Jeremiah was, or to give up home, family, and livelihood to be disciples as Simon, Andrew, James and the others were. That said, we are called to be disciples in our own community, in our work and in our homes. We are also called to make sacrifices to further the work of God’s Kingdom by spreading the Gospel.

Sometimes that will mean risking rejection as we make our faith known to others and sometimes, as I said last Sunday at the 1100, we should be identifiable by our conduct as disciples, and, in so doing, we risk ridicule by being identified as disciples. Mark’s account of the calling of the disciples is sparse in its details. You are left with the impression that it all happened quickly, that this perfect stranger wandered into their lives and simply called them away. In all probability it was a decision made after a long gestation. They had more than likely known him and heard him many times. Slowly the Spirit grew stronger within them until they were ready and ripe for the call that He made. This is frequently the way any ordinand would describe their growing awareness of a call to follow Christ into Holy Orders, and the church recognizes this by a process of testing and examination designed to make sure that the person is indeed called to that ministry.

This is where the congregation has a problem - we have little to help us explore our vocations as “lay ministers”, for that is what we are, and so must explore and test for ourselves the manner in which the Spirit is calling us to exercise a ministry. We should not forget, either, that none of the disciples was a priest, and neither was Christ. They would not have called themselves clergy, yet they ministered to each other, to those who came to hear the Word of the Gospel from Christ, and to Christ Himself.

Simon, Andrew, James and John heard the call to follow and did so, probably not fully realizing that they were in fact entering a period of testing and preparation toward a ministry which we have called apostleship. These men were called to carve out a new beginning and a new structure for teaching, for healing, for the rescue of the human soul. In much the same way, Jeremiah was called to bring his people back to God, to show them the right way, and to turn them aside from their arrogance and their slothful disregard of God.

Today the Church faces challenges as never before. We live in an age when, like Jeremiah’s people, we have reached a comfortable level of wealth, we have a sense of security, and we have an arrogance in our knowledge and in our own ability to shape the world around us. We have forgotten just how much is God’s grace and not our own efforts. In short, we are in danger of forsaking, if we have not already forsaken, the God in whom, and through whom, we have everything.

So, a question: are we prepared to sacrifice family, friends and comfort in showing that we have faith? Are we prepared to give up some of our comfortable luxury to minister to our fellows? Are we prepared to find out what we are called to do as ministers in Christ?

I am reasonably certain that there must have been many times during the three years that James and his fellow fishermen walked with Christ through Galilee, Judea, and Israel that he and the others felt downhearted, despondent, and wondered if they had made a terrible mistake. I know that in the slightly more than twenty years that I have been a Reader, there have been many days when I wondered what my ministry was all about. I still have days like that, and so I am sure do you. The amazing thing is that, if you continue and persevere you find that things do become clearer, new things open up, and new opportunities become apparent.

God calls us all, but He also gives us all a choice. It is your choice to accept the call or to reject it, to accept it and explore where and how you are called to minister, or to hide your faith under a proverbial bushel and make your excuses. The simple fact is that, having made the commitment to be a Christian, you have already accepted part of the call, it is very difficult to reject or to avoid the rest.

The analogy He used in calling the four men named in tonight’s lesson was apt - “I will make you fishers of men”. They knew how to catch fish, now they would learn how to capture the hearts and minds of men. This is the trick that we must learn, it is not simply a clergy function, it is the call to each and every one of us as well, fishermen or no.

“Come, follow me,” said Jesus, “and I will make you fisher’s of men”

If we proclaim ourselves as His followers, then we must follow where He leads. That means discovering the Ministry He requires of us all - and the willingness to exercise it.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:06 AM

July 25, 2004

Shakespeare on the lawn

Last night the Monk spent his evening enjoying an al fresco performance of Shakespeare's Twelth Night. Illyrium came to the front lawn of Abbey House courtesy of the Ruff Theatre Company and it was superb. I think the Lord Abbot was extremely brave to turn over his home and his lawn to a group of players, not least because they made use of all the doors and several of the windows in their performance!

Twelth Night is, I suppose, best described as one of his "romps". The plot has more twists and turns than a snake negotiating a maze, but it contains some truly comic moments - and its bits of pure pathos. Poor, deluded Malvolio, first allowed to give himself airs above his station and then encouraged, by his fellow servants by means of a rather cruel forgery, to believe that his mistress is head over heels in love with him. Yellow stockings and cross garters! Hysterical!

Add to this mix, Sir Toby, a truly rogueish rogue, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, with courage not the only thing he lacks, and of course the twin brother and sister who make the whole tangle possible.

Played robustly by all the performers, it was huge fun. The addition of a cross-dressing Captain as Sebastian's companion, Sir Andrew being decidedly "gay", and all of Shakespeare's original ribaldry played up, played out, and the costuming, acting, and, as importantly, the setting (picture a large Georgian/Medieval house front flanked by the Gate Tower and the Abbey Church) made this a memorable event. Even the clock tolling the hours was drawn in imaginatively to the play - at one point the striking of the hour provided a wonderful adlib concerning the passage of time for player and audience.

Deserving of special mention is the Health and Safety introduction - in the open air you ask? - But, yes, the Rules require it. So it was given by the actor who played the Fool. It was accurate, it was hilarious, and it got the message over very effectively. He and one of the ladies also managed to drive home the message about mobile phones - by opening the Introduction with the quote "If music be the food of love play ...." at this point the lady's mobile phone rang with the sound of the "Lone Ranger Theme", and she duly took a call from Mama about not being out late and being careful around those acting types. We all dived for our phones to make sure they were OFF after that!

The proceeds from the fun are going towards paying for the restoration of the West Window - one the Players felt appropriate.

Watch this space; there will no doubt be more of this sort of event.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:50 PM | Comments (2)

July 24, 2004

Services unlimited ...

I have spent a large part of the morning rehearsing for the services for Musica Deo Sacra at the Abbey. This is a week of glorious music, sung by a choir drawn from all over England and even the continent, and sung (not performed!) within the worship. It is an annual event, and it draws visitors who worship daily in our Abbey church to the strains of Bach, Hayden, Mozart, Palestrina, Vivaldi, Elgar, Howells, and others. The key is that the music is heard as it was intended to be heard - as worship, within the worship.

The choristers are professionals, semi-professionals, amateurs, and they come together to render this act of praise every year. It culminates on Sunday the 1st August with a High Mass at which the preacher will be the Archbishop of Wales, and the Choir is accompanied by an orchestra, the West of England Players, yet another group who come together to take part in this glorious act of worship. While the musicians and choristers rehearse and perfect their part of the worship, the team of ministers (and this year it includes the Bishop of Gloucester, himself) must rehearse their part of the worship as well.

A High Mass doesn't just happen; it is a carefully choreographed event, and all have to know their parts in it to perfection. One small movement out of place can detract from everyone's worship, the focus of which is God and His glorious grace. Even the movements required for a Solemn Evensong and for Benediction must be rehearsed to make sure that the movements are smooth and do not distract anyone from their worship. Every item needed must be in its proper place, be collected, used, and returned with as much grace as a ballet performance, otherwise it becomes a distraction. So we rehearsed. From 1000 this morning until 1315. And we will have a further rehearsal on Monday evening for Tuesday's Mass, and on Tuesday for Wednesday, and on Saturday for Sunday! Just to make sure that everyone has his movements, actions, positions memorised so that they, too, can focus on worship while moving through the service - without a service book! Only the President of the Mass has that! And the Sub Deacon carries it.

As part of today's rehearsal the Monk was also required to teach a new batch of Sub Deacons the routine for a normal Solemn Eucharist. This took place while the main rehearsal didn't require his attention or presence. It is a great privilege to be a part of this and it is an even greater privilege to be able to open up this ministry to others.

Our Lord called men and women from all walks of life to be disciples and ministers and He still does. Every Christian is called to be a Minister in faith to his or her neighbours, some are called to the pulpit or the altar, some to minister as choristers, and others to minister as part of the Team of Ministers at the Altar. I have served in that capacity now for over twenty years as a Reader/Deacon and before that as a Server and a chorister. It has been fun, it has certainly had its moments - such as being told off at the last minute to be a visiting Bishop's Chaplain with the fierce instruction "and don't let him do ANYTHING!" from the Master of Ceremonies.

Another such occassion was at the enthronement of a new Bishop when he knocked at the great West Door with his staff and nothing happened for a very long time. As he knocked again, we could hear a commotion inside and the doors were flung back to reveal several flustered Church Wardens and a line of fellow Bishops and Archbishops trying to hide their amusement, while the MC's face put one strongly in mind of the Archangel Michael in battle mode! We later discovered that the Church Warden had carefully locked the doors to ensure that they remianed closed until the Bishop's entrance - and then had become so enmeshed in other matters that he forgot to ensure the key was returned to the lock. Then, he and his fellow warden compounded this by immersing themselves in a conversation while all the dignitaries around them got into position - and failed to hear the knock! The MC had had to resort to covering the nearest microphone - the Archbishop's - with his hand and snarled at the Wardens "Open the b***y door!", which was picked up by at least three other microphones which broadcast it to the 5,000 people in the Cathedral while the churchwardens desperately tried to remember what they had done with the key!

I'm sure that the Lord was in stitches by the time we got inside with our new Bishop, whose own contribution to our amusement had been to announce as he struck the door for the second time - "I think they may have changed their minds - thank God!" We spent the rest of the Procession and solemnities trying hard not to burst out laughing everytime we had to turn and face him - and he grinned impishly at us in return.

No, these services don't just happen. I have now to go and memorise about three pages of instructions for the three services for which I will be one of the ministers. The worst one will be Tuesday. I am Chaplain to the Lord Bishop of Gloucester for the day and he is President of the High Mass. My Rubric for dealing with this is just one line -

"Chaplain to deal with Mitre and Crozier as required."

Oh joy, oh rupture. Anyone know where I can get an extra pair of hands attached and how I can become a full blown telepath by Tuesday?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:51 PM

July 23, 2004

Gravis offensae levis gratia ...

So said Pliny when asked to write a history of his times. It means simply, "grave offence will be taken, little thanks will be given."

I have little doubt that future historians of the history of these isles will find it incredible that a nation that once strode the globe in confidence, brought a hundred years of relative peace to the 19th Century, and launched the industrial revolution could collapse so swiftly and utterly. They will marvel at the fact that it was not defeated in war, beaten at sea, or in the air in combat, but undermined and destroyed from within - by its political class and by its so-called Civil Service.

In 1945 this nation had more than 3,000 ships in commission, more than that number of aircraft ready for combat and over 1 million men under arms. Little more than 5 years of a Labour government later, bankrupt and mired in the beginnings of the labour unrest that would see the country become an inward looking and self-doubting society of dependents, the great battleships were being sold for scrap iron, the aircraft carriers laid up, and the armed forces reduced to a quarter their war compliment. But the Civil Service had expanded in the war and expanded still further in the peace. It expanded continuously even as the armed forces and the Empire they had guarded were steadily diminished by those same parasitic politicians and civil servants. By the 1970's the Nation was on its knees - but that didn't stop the growth of the penpushing bureaucracy and their lust for power.

Yesterday the man who holds the office of Secretary of State for Defence announced a programme - the 7th since this government came to power - that will almost entirely destroy this country's ability to defend itself. His announcement will reduce this country's defences to 300 Main Battle Tanks (1,584 in 1990), 39 Warships (80 in 1990), and and 247 Aircraft (430 in 1990). Manpower is reduced from 153,000 soldiers in 1990 to 102,000, 63,500 sailors to 36,000 sailors, and 89,500 airmen to 41,000 after the reductions. The entire plan includes the destruction of the Regimental system which is what has made the army a most effective fighting force and the disbanding of some of the country's most admired regiments.

Will there be any real savings from this? Of course not; the only beneficiaries will be the ever increasing army of parasitic civil servants and their equally parasitic brethren, the permanent cadre of politicians who have together conspired to destrioy this nation from within for their own self-agrandisement and personal power.

Blair has launched more wars and demanded more from our service men and women than any Prime Minister since Lord Palmerston - and he continues to swagger about with his manic smirk even though he knows full well that the Civil Service is stripping the forces of the ability to fight. They are deprived of essential equipment while millions is wasted buying furniture for pampered penpushers, and entire office blocks are rearranged and redecorated because the new Permanent Under Secretary doesn't like his or her predecessor's decor. They get away with it because the politicians haven't the guts to challenge them or to deal with it, and to compound the problem, they are all incapable of identifying anything about the technical side of the functions they manage. They are all "bottom line" managers - firmly believing that by re-arranging the numbers and switching round the funding they are "managing" the operation "efficiently".

I am prepared to bet that the majority of them haven't the faintest idea what actually happens at the delivery end of the operations they manage - and those who do have some inkling probably think it's still done with an abacus as it was in "their day".

Historians will have a field day, but there won't be much to offer in the way of thanks. Democracy will be long gone, as will the wealth, the hope, and the future as a nation. No wonder they want us in Europe; it will be much easier to hide their incompetence.

Sic transit gloria mundi - Kipling was right in his poem "Recessional" - the nation is dead, it remains only for the scavenging bureaucrats to destroy the corpse.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:19 AM | Comments (5)

July 22, 2004

A cut too far?

The latest round of Defence Cuts, the seventh since this government came to power, will see the Navy lose another 12 ships, the Airforce lose its remaining three bomber squadrons, a squadron of Tornadoes, and all the remaining Harriers. The Army is also hit hard with mergers, axings, and reductions all round. In Scotland, six Regiments will become five and then one. The RAF also loses bases and facilities, and the Navy faces similar losses, with the Royal Marines and the Army also having to give up parts of their estates. In all, the strength of manpower will also be reduced substantially, and a further 20,000 jobs are likely to go in industries that support the armed forces. Pretty good own goal I would say.

All of this is to save money so that more high tech kit can be bought and paid for out of an ever decreasing budget managed by morons who think that men and ships can be done away with if we have more technology. As usual we heard the mantra that fewer more sophisticated ships and planes can do more. Well, unless there is some really spectacular secret system out there, I can only say that a ship, plane, or tank can only be in one place at one time. If you go to war with smart bombs and unmanned aircraft, you do eventually reach a point where you have to occupy the ground you have cleared - or the enemy will simply re-occupy it when you aren't looking. The First Gulf War should have taught the Whitehall cretins that, but it is a lesson that has obviously escaped them.

Besides, we are too busy wringing our blood stained hands and being anti-Israel to actually notice that it is not the Jews who are destabilising the Middle East but the oil-rich and blood stained Arabs. But, perhaps that's a lesson too far!

For the moment, this government and their allies in the pen-pushing, feather-bedding chambers of Whitehall are able to decimate the armed forces. However, as Abe Lincoln once remarked, "you can fool some of the people some of the time, you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Thankfully people are starting to notice; perhaps they will soon start to react and do something useful.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:48 PM | Comments (2)

July 21, 2004

Religious debate and the law

I find it very interesting that a group of mosques in New Jersey has gone to the trouble of taking out advertisements denouncing, or at least renouncing, "Wahabism", the peculiarly fundamentalist version of Islam which gives rise to the anti-Jewish preaching, conversion by force, and terrorist "jihad" version of Islam. While they are doing that, our Glorious Home Secretary is trying to protect it and to prevent any debate.

And now even one of his own "Think Tanks" - Civitas - is saying that his proposed law is a bad idea. They can say this far better than I, so read their argument here. Will this influence our Home Secretary? Probably not, like our Illustrious Prime Misery, he is as arrogant as he is ignorant of religious matters - a very economical package really.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:53 PM

July 20, 2004

Pray for the fallen ....

Your prayers today, please, for the two London Firefighters who were killed attending a fire in a three storey building in Bethnal Green this morning. The building consisted of a shop at Ground Floor and flats on the two upper storeys. Two residents had been rescued from the roof, and the building was being searched when a collapse occured. The two fire fighters were on the top floor and sustained severe injuries in the collapse, succumbing to those on the way to hospital. Pray, too, for their colleagues and friends and especially for their famillies.

It is never easy to deal with the deaths of colleagues, and even more difficult if you knew them, served alongside them, or worked with them at any point in your career. It is even more difficult now when the service is being fatally damaged by ignoramus politicians whose understanding of the ethos of the service would not even register on the back of a small postage stamp. Sadly, these incidents will most likely become even more commonplace as discipline is destroyed (recruits now leaving training scholls have no concept of respect for senior officers, no respect at all for their station "leaders" (we aren't allowed to call them "officers" - it's elitist), and although they are mechanically competent at performing tasks, have little understanding of the how or why.

The service has had its chain of command so seriously undermined by the politically correct jackals now in charge that it has lost its discipline, lost its identity, and will shortly lose its cohesion. More and more middle management posts are being filled by civilian managers whose understanding of the service and its ethos or needs is tenuous in the extreme, and this cuts off the promotion opportunities for the rising leaders below them. They also reduce the operational effectiveness of the service as they take over the specialist roles without actually understanding the duality of the matters they are dealing with. Example: a Fire safety Inspector makes requirements for the fire safety and protection of the occupants of a building. At the same time he feeds informatioon back to the forward planners who can then adjust the pre-determined attendances and the operational planning for dealing with incidents in that building. Take away the fire fighter part and you have a person who misses the link and so makes no provision for the safety of the fire fighter. This is not the only area that this is happening in, either - and it all reduces the quality of the information available to the people fighting fires, degrading their training, degrading the ability to develop them.

In the last three years this government and their saboteurs in local government have destroyed the heirarchy of ranks, destroyed the training system and replaced it with something which is unsupported and unusable, taken away the pride that went with wearing a uniform and replaced that clothing with bin men's outfits, taken away the qualifications required for promotion and the discipline of regulations, destroyed the pride of the service and replaced it with despair and bitterness.

My heart breaks for these men and their families, but my anger knows no bounds at the buffoons who have created the chaos which will see more men killed by incompetent tinkering in affairs the politicians and civil servants have no understanding of - and who will be swift to trot out their condolences and their crocodile tears - which leaves a great public service under-skilled, under-manned, and without effective leadership.

May they rest in peace, and rise in glory at Christ's call.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:55 PM

July 19, 2004

Another day, another desperate "initiative".

Sometimes you wonder about leopards. The usual variety as found in Africa generally are pretty solitary, hunt very efficiently - baboons are a favourite food, and have superb camouflage (buff and tawny colouring with large black "rosettes") which allows them to blend into their surroundings. This frequently means lying in wait along the branch of a tree which gives them a view of the country for a considerable distance around. It is said in Africa that the leopard can do many things: take a baby from its mother's side, take the kid from the goat, and the gemsbok from the middle of the herd. The one thing it cannot do is change its spots or its nature.

The current incumbent of the DezRes in Downing Street seems to be trying to say he has broken the mould on that. He is renouncing the mantra of his lifetime; he has admitted that the 60's generation got it wrong. Not him or his cronies mark you; but everyone else from the 60's.

Well thank you very much, Tone, but I will not accept that from you or any of your fellow long-haired, pot-smoking, lesson-boycotting, placard-waving wreckers. It is you and your coterie of cronies and their sycophants who have introduced the laws which ensure that parenting is sloppy - too many social workers interfering in normal families; it is you who has presided over and encouraged the extension of "rights" without responsibility; it is you who has systematically destroyed the link between justice and punishment; it is you and your cronies who have stripped us of our right to defend ourselves, to punish the wrongdoer; it is you who has promoted the rights of cultures which nurture crime and violence. Don't try and blame those of us who have been saying this is wrong all along; it is you and your privileged cronies who have created this situation, and now you want to blame us?

Nice try, but it won't work.

It is true that the "60's values" have wrecked our society. It is the "60's values" supporters who have undermined the police, perverted the justice system so that no one dares to defend their property, and many are even afraid to defend their own lives. It is this useless cretin and his coterie of left-wing "liberals" who have made the pursuit of justice by decent law-abiding citizens a complete and utter farce. And now he wants us to believe he's going to reverse it? Don't make me laugh! This is not a laughing matter!

This fool and his equally stupid and greedy companions have a vested interest in making sure that this decline continues. They have signed up to the most damaging and ridiculous piece of legislation on our statute books - The Human Rights Act - and then got rich on "protecting" the criminal fraternity and pursuing the householders and property owners who have dared to defend themselves and their property - particularly if it resulted in injury to the criminal. Does anyone really think this lot will put things right? No chance!

Since this shower came to power they have systematically set out to destroy decency, to destroy the heritage of everything "English" (the Chancellor still goes to major City dinner's [usual dress white bow tie, tailcoat and trimmings] in a scruffy lounge suit), they have branded "elitist" anything in uniform or with a tradition which they deem "exclusive", and have now set in train the destruction of the fire service and the dumbing down of everything else. This is the collection of cretins whose sycophantic poodles in the Commons and the Lords recently tried to ram through legislation to outlaw smacking a disobedient and wilful child to bring that child under control - as usual, spouting the discredited psychobabble of Dr Spock and the troop of morons who made undeserved names out of expanding his cockamamie ideas, and this is the group who have downgraded cannabis use in the face of medical evidence which shows a clear link to clinical depression and schizophrenia!

The family has been destroyed as a unit - the first act of the Chancellor was to remove the Married Couples allowance and throw the money he made out of that at the Labour Party's layabout electorate - the single parents, the feckless "partners" who abandon their children at the change of the season. Instead they have promoted single parenthood, "women's rights" (read: the right to do as they please, walk out on husbands, families, claim benefit, and demand preferential treatment and "equality" in jobs and everywhere else while at the same time having the exclusive right to form exclusive "support" groups.), children's rights, criminal rights, animal rights - any damned thing as a "right" as long as it doesn't include self defence, marriage, or the right to enjoy one's income, property, or freedom of speech! Traditions? Destroy them.! National pride? Decry it! Mediocrity? Laud it to the skies! This is the Party which has promoted "minority" rights over the majority, has ignored and denigrated history and the advice of far wiser counsel than they have between them, and now they presume to tell us that THEY will put it all right!

Some chance. Watch this space - it is likely that the new rules will further curtail the freedom of the law abiding individual, provide an even bigger "bounty" to the Human Rights lawyers, and make the situation ten times worse. Oh, and of course, it will provide jobs for at least another ten thousand useless penpushing bureaucrats.

Has the leopard changed his spots? Can the leopard change his nature? No way; this is just the latest in a series of desperate "initiatives" intended to shore up support for our Illustrious Leader and let him win another term in office. God help us if he does. Nothing and no one will be safe!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:31 PM

The Right House?

Found this over on G'day Mate and as usual couldn't resist trying it out to see where I would wind up. OK, I confess to being a Harry Potter fan as well. Who couldn't be when it's been filmed in a place you know. Besides, it is also a very good exploration of good versus evil despite what some of the more extreme branches of the church may think. Far from being "a withcraft manual", it explores some concepts which are all too often overlooked these days in education and in far too much children's entertainment.

You have only to look at the "hero" figures that are being fed to the children of today in cartoons and many of the so-called "children's programmes" on television to see what I mean. They frequently make a virtue out of poor social skills, violent tempers, and gratuitous violence in response to difficulty. These are not just "flawed" hero figures, they actually promote the idea that to be a hero is to be some sort of social misfit. It makes a change to find someone being put forward as a hero who is generally the sort of person who you don't mind the kids bringing home, where you might not have to worry about having some sort of temper tantrum and smashing the place to bits.

Well, I tried out the Harry Potter Sorting Hat and, for a moment thought I'd wind up in Slitherin, but I guess I don't fit the profile! Something of a relief to all my friends I'm sure .....

i'm in gryffindor!

be sorted @ nimbo.net

At least the average Gryffindor denizen is outgoing, no more disobedient than normal children, and just a tad more likely to stop and think about how their actions impact on the rest of society than those at the opposite end of the spectrum in the aptly named Slytherin. It's a great pity that we are not able to provide our children with more positive "heroes" in more of the programmes and cartoons they are watching. Let's hope that J K Rowling can continue to write these entertaining and educational books - they deserve the readership they have acquired.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:26 PM

Poetry in stone

Gloucester Cloisters.JPG

The interior of the Cloister at Gloucester Cathedral. The golden sandstone glows in the daylight and gives a feeling of warmth, with the fan vault above to amplify and carry sounds around this beautiful space.

This is part of the Cloister which can be seen in the Harry Potter movies, supposedly at Hogwarts. To the left of the picture is the entrance to the Chapter House, and just beyond it is the door to the Abbot's Parlour, where he would have received senior monks. In the movie it is seen as one of the doors the children retreat through to escape the Troll.

At the end of this wing is one of the doors giving access to the Cathedral from the Cloister, this one going into the Ambulatory just West of the North Transept.

A place of rare peace.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:40 PM | Comments (1)

A spare bit of cheese........

Church Mouse, having been the grateful recipient of extra rations of cheese, recently, found herself wondering what to do with the extra bounty. Wandering the web, she found a great site with recipes from her era that just fit the bill. Retiring to her wee galley, she managed to produce a large dish of Makerouns without much difficulty. Thanks to the Monk, she had enough cheese to make a goodly portion of it, so there will be at least one more meal in her larder besides the one she enjoyed that night.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:39 AM

July 18, 2004

Sunday sermon, anyone?

Today I had the privilege of taking Matins and then assisting at the Said Mass, being Deacon at the Parish Eucharist, and Sub Deacon at the Sung Eucharist where I was also the Preacher.

The readings were interesting and the sermon slot at this service is necessarily short - 10 minutes target - quite a challenge. If you have a mind to read the notes I prepared for it, they are in the extended post below.

Peace and grace be with you all.

“Jesus said unto his disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”

How does one connect up the reading from the Epistle to the Romans, to this quote from the Gospel of St Matthew? How, indeed, does this Passage from our Gospel this morning connect up with the sentiments expressed in the Collect? What does any of it have to do with anger, contempt for others, or debts between us?

What we tend to forget is that these readings were expected to be heard with the lessons from Morning Prayer still ringing in our ears! Yes, by my reckoning and the BCP Lectionary, you should have sat through 2 Samuel Chapter 1 and Acts Chapter 21 verses 1 to 17 first, before attending the communion - and even then you would have had difficulty seeing the link. Mind you, you would probably have had to endure a sermon of about an hour during Matins and we would not have had a sermon here - maybe. So what do we find if we read the Matins lessons? In the first we would have heard of the death of Saul and then David’s execution of the man who slew him. In the second, we would have heard of Paul’s reconciliation with James and the community in Jerusalem.

Significantly, the Jerusalem congregation was still keeping the full Jewish observances, and reading a bit further in Acts you will find that Paul, in an act of reconciliation with his fellow Jews and with the sensitivities of the Jerusalem Church, undergoes the full Jewish purification ceremony. So, is this what today’s Gospel is all about? I would suggest not. Salvation does not come to us from our works or our observances of the law or the ritual or the traditions of this sect or that, it comes from God through the offices of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. As the letter to the Romans tells us, in baptism we are baptized into his death, we are buried with Him, and we rise to life in Him. But it is not, of course, quite as simple, is it?

Well, perhaps it is, but it does take a commitment on our part.

A few weeks ago, I shared a conversation with a group of good friends, some of them present this morning. During our discussion, we pondered on whether or not it is possible, once you are baptized and confirmed, to cease to be a Christian. We came to the conclusion that it is; that by a conscious act of putting aside ones membership of congregation, church, or beliefs you can cease to be a Christian. God gives us that freedom, He has given us the power to choose between being one with Him, or to leave His company. Importantly, He does not shut the door to our return - but it is your decision and your actions which open or close that door.

Today’s Gospel seems to suggest, at one level, that we need to develop the zealous observance of the Pharisees - but then there is a problem, because the Scribes, while observing the law, didn’t do so in the same way and in fact argued that there was no afterlife, in complete contradiction of the Pharisaic doctrine. So what does he mean? This passage is in fact saying that we need to observe their steadfastness in belief, we need to practice that which we are taught. Hence, the injunction not to come in anger to meet an acquaintance, no matter how irritating or difficult. We are not to treat people with contempt - God doesn’t and neither should we! We are to treat each other with respect and courtesy, just as God offers us forgiveness and mercy in our foolishness.
Augustine of Hippo is reputed to have told a newly converted and extremely zealous noble woman who asked what she should do to be sure of entry into the Kingdom of heaven; “Love God with all your heart and all your being. And do as you please!”

A good instruction, even though it appears to be flippant. The simple fact is that if you are committed to loving God, you simply cannot do any of the things we are told not to in today’s Gospel. You cannot truly love God and do anything evil. Here, I believe, lies the key to today’s passage. If we are to call ourselves Christians we must be recognizable by the way we conduct our lives, the way we interact with the world and with the people we encounter. You should not have to tell anyone “I am a Christian”; it should be self-evident.

So, can one be Baptised into the death and resurrection of Christ, and not be a Christian? The answer must be yes, but it does not mean that God cannot still love that person and hope for their return.
“Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”
In a few minutes we will begin the Eucharistic prayers; as part of the preparation for that act of worship and fellowship, we should be considering how we show our faith and our membership of Christ’s body to the world. If we partake of the bread of fellowship in the Body of Christ and the Cup of Salvation in the Blood of Christ, we should also be identifiable by our actions, attitudes, and lifestyles as Christians. Elsewhere in Matthew's Gospel we read:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
We should take care to understand that we are not called to be pedantic, we are not called to be restrictive or to impose a particular pattern or style upon each other, but to love God with all our hearts and all our being. We are called to out-Pharisee the Pharisee, to out-Scribe the Scribe in the way we live our faith and show God’s love and compassion to all the world. That is the call, to practice in our daily lives that which we proclaim in Church and in our worship. It was that which the Scribes and the Pharisees failed to do, and it was that which our Lord condemned in them.

It may surprise you to know that this passage comes from the centre of the sermon on the Mount. It helps to read it in that context and to ponder on the whole, rather than a part.
So, are we all Christians? I would hope so, and I would pray that it is apparent to all who know us.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:24 PM

More promotion of Islam

I am not sure how to take the item currently on the television. I am not, and I must stress this, a supporter of the British National Party. Nor will I ever be. That said, their leader is being presented as the worst thing since Hitler, and a covert BBC team has used selected quotes from a secretly filmed speech to castigate the idiot for saying that Islam is a vile and dangerous religion. Given that the BBC is a left wing propaganda machine, I find this sanctimonious attitude and the selective editing of the speech rather distasteful. If this had been the police, a court would have ruled this inadmissable as it is "entrapment". It is equally worrying that a similar documentary "expose'" prepared for Channel 4, but covering the fact that Asian men are engaged in forcing young girls into sexual slavery has not been aired - because it might inflame "racial tensions". Surely it is this kind of attempt to pander to sensitivity in one direction only that assists in inflaming the likes of the BNP and drives people into subscribing to their appalling views.

That said, I do not agree with his overt statements regarding the actual
essentials of Islam, but I do share his concerns over the danger posed by a religion which seeks to suppress all womenfolk and to circumscribe all debate on the nature of God and the essentials of spiritual growth and understanding. Islam will stifle freedom, and it will stifle future scientific and democratic development. Look at the Islamic ruled countries and you see backward looking, male dominated societies, riddled with oppressive regimes, presiding over oligarchies and impoverished populations.

Russell Newquist actually says this rather well in a lengthy post on his blog. Unlike myself, he is not (or says he's not!) a practicing Christian, but, like myself, his vision of God is the unimaginable God of the Fiery Pillar, the God who cannot be portrayed in any image - least of all in an anthropomorphic form such as that propounded in Sunday Schools! The God I worship cannot be confined to the here and now, nor to the past - He is everywhere and everywhen. He is a God who urges me to explore, to wonder, to challenge, and to grow - not a God who tries to tie me to the 7th Century or the 1st!

This is my problem with Islam; it insists that the morality of the 7th Century is the only way, it denies the evidence of science in the interpretation of some of the poetry of scripture, and it ascribes to mankind the slavery of "fate" in which all things are preordained by God. This is the discredited Christian Doctrine of Predestination - which I, and the vast majority of Christian Theologians, reject utterly. To believe this is to believe that God gives us no freedom of choice, no freedom to change or to grow. In essence this doctrine suggests that almost everyone except a select few are condemned to damnation and that no amount of atonement or "grace from God" will alter this. This is in complete contradiction to the Gospel and the ethos of God's love saving everyone who accepts that grace. This is not a God in whom I can believe, and it is at odds with the entire ethos of the Gospels. Much of it is rooted in the understandings of desert nomads of the 7th Century and doesn't fit with today's understanding of science, health, human growth, and hygene. True, it follows the thinking of the Jewish concept of a God without an image since His being is unimaginable and therefore beyond our comprehension, but this is where we part company again, since theirs is a God who is remote, demanding, and strict, but not loving. Christianity revolves around the fact that God does love His creation and takes a daily interest in the lives of individuals - but who always allows freedom of choice and action. A God who does answer prayer and who does intervene, frequently in ways which we can only see in hindsight. This is not the vengeful God of the Old Testament or of the Quran, but a God who supports, encourages, and gives hope.

In the face of all of this, I find it incredible that so-called "liberals" seek to promote this backward religion upon a society such as ours - a society in which they are also trying to promote fairness and dignity for homosexuals and others that Islam simply condemns (frequently literally to death. Often demanding stoning, beheading, or some equally "civilised" means of execution.) or rules "ka'fir" - unbeliever. There can be only one motive for this. They seek to use it to increase their powerbase and to suppress all debate - particularly anything which might expose their duplicity or their closet anti-Semiticism. This espousal of Islam is merely an extension their hatred of the Jews who dare to be independent and who refuse to bend to their concept of "inclusiveness", "fairness" or any other perverted "morality" these nasty little people try to promote.

If the so-called leaders of the political debate truly wish to promote racial harmony and religious tolerance, they need to be a damned sight more open and honest in this debate; they need to acknowledge that there is a nasty side to non-English, non-Christian cultures and societies as well. Let people see the negative as well as the positives, then, and only then, can they truly understand the tensions. Tension can be creative, it can be a dynamic in moving things beyond stagnation, but it is dependent upon proper debate and openess about the rights and wrongs on all sides.

You cannot condemn the BNP without also condemning publically the enslavement of young women, the forced and arranged marriages, the circumcision of girls and women, the terrible closed mindedness, and the openly inflammatory attitudes and pronouncements on the other. This debate will not go away simply because Blunkett and his fellow blinkered and bigotted supporters choose to castigate and deal with one side of the argument; it will only be resolved by addressing the bigots, criminals and concerns of both parties.

Currently Islam enjoys far more protection, and Islamic culture is far better promoted than our own. The BNP can really only be neutralised by ensuring that the balance is better preserved.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:08 AM | Comments (2)

July 17, 2004

A Haven of Peace

The ancient Abbey Church of Gloucester, dedicated to St Peter, and a Benedictine Abbey until the dissolution in 1539, is now the Cathedral Church of the Diocese. This wonderful church was the place in which the English Perpendicular style was invented. The rebuild started on the South Transept and finished (they ran out of money!) in the North Transept and took a little over 100 years to complete. In that time the "English Perpendicular" was perfected. It also means that the style is different on the North and South Sides!

Begun in 715AD as a modest establishment, it grew considerably under the Normans and the Benedictine Order. It is the burial place of Osric, King of Mercia, Robert, Duke of Normandy, and Edward II of England and Wales. It was to Edward's tomb that pilgrims came to pray for healing after several miracles were reported there, and it was from this stream of visitors that the money flowed for the "improvements".

The great East window is the largest extant collection of original 12th Century stained glass in the country and is an expanse that fills the East Wall.

The Cloister Garth at Gloucester Cathedral - a haven of peace and tranquility.

But it is the Cloisters and Cloister Garth that I particularly love, and many will know them from the Harry Potter films. It is here that one can find some of the most beautiful "fan" vaulting, and, in summer (when will we see some?), enjoy the simple peace of the garth and the tranquility of its surroundings. It is in this enclosure as well that one can see the whimsical gargoyle carvings on the pinnacles that have been renewed, including some that have the heads of the Diocesan Architect, Builder, Stonemason, and Steward. Elsewhere, the Deans who have initiated repairs or reconstruction are remembered in the same manner - a fitting and amusing way to mark some dedicated people whose work has ensured that this haven of the spirit remains preserved for all who seek the Lord and those who seek its peace.

Gloucester pinnacles.JPG

The pinnacle with the Architect and the Stonemason nearest the camera, the Steward and the Builder are on the side furthest from the camera.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:13 PM

July 16, 2004

A Non-political statement!

Indeed! Would the Honourable Reader from wherever please note that I set out NOT to comment on anything political today. But Teflon Tone has done it again!

We told a pack of lies, we perverted the Intelligence, we screwed up the system, we invented things to "sex up" our dossier, but no one is to blame. Least of all that wonderful ex-civil servant, and his chums (also ex-Civil Servants or Party Aparatchiks) have cleared us of all wrong doing.

Good, innit? And there are still people out there who will vote for this liar!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:12 AM

July 15, 2004

A prophetic view of the threat of Islam?

A few days ago I posted a comment on the proposed new legislation designed to "protect" adherents of Islam from "Islamophobia". Since then I have read several articles in a variety of newspapers on this theme - almost all of them opposed to the idea. Not that such opposition will affect the judgement of Mr Blunkett and his friends.

The most interesting item I found on this quoted from a work by one of my heroes, none other than Sir Winston Churchill. Sir Winston wasn't everyone's cup of tea, and he probably wasn't always right, but he certainly had an astute eye and a very keen brain. His comments on Islam are worthy of wider readership, and I take the liberty of quoting him here while I'm still able to:

In The River War (1899), Winston Churchill's account of the Sudanese campaign, there's a memorable passage which summs up very adequately the problem in the Islamic world:

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property - either as a child, a wife, or a concubine - must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

"Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytising faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science - the science against which it had vainly struggled - the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome."

The language may not be to everyone's taste, but he certainly says it as he sees it, and he is to a very large extent right.

Christianity did, for a long time, resist the march of science. That dam broke in the greater part of Western Chrsitendom in the late 14th and early 15th Centuries. Since then, and in particular in the last 150 - 200 years, the mainstream of Christian thought has recognised that science, far from being the enemy of faith, either confirms many of its tenets or at least raises further questions to which only faith, at this time, provides answers. Yes, there are those who cling to their literal interpretations and refuse to accept the affirmation of science in revealing the full extent and wonders of the Creation, but they are a minority. Science and religion are not in opposition, they complement each other, and, as the Medieval Monks who started it all would argue, in pursuing scientific answers and understanding, we widen our wonder and understanding of the God in whom we are all united.

Christianity perceived (wrongly) that it was a "revealed" faith - exclusive and untestable, not to be understood or explored, but to be accepted whole and followed unquestioningly. This position lasted for almost 600 years - roughly from the point that Constantine made it the religion of State - until the late 1400's. Then travel, scholarship, growing literacy all began to open up the word to a wider understanding. It is a "revealed" faith, but not in the sense that it is revealed once, unchangeable for all time. Rather it was revealed in Jesus Christ, but is still revealed as we grow and develop our understanding and reach toward spiritual maturity. The Reformation in many ways almost derailed that, but fortunately it persisted, and our modern society is very much the creation of Christian ethics, philosophy and thought.

It is ironic therefore that those who seek now to denigrate the Christian Church do so by attacking it for being "unscientific" or "superstitious" or, if they can't manage anything more definite, "irrelevant to modern society." Surely it is even more ironic, then, to find these same denigrators seeking to protect (and therefore promote) the fastest growing and most fundamentalist of all religions - Islam!

Islam claims to be a "revealed" religion. Its scholars argue that the word as "received" in the Quran is perfect and therefore not open to interpretation or change. They argue that Jesus Christ was a minor prophet, inferior to Mohammed, and that Christianity is a "false" religion. It should be noted that I find the view they put forward on the role of Christ to be deeply offensiv; to me he is the ultimate manifestation of God Incarnate, not some minor bit player prophet. I find it equally insulting that they can claim that the Quran is a "perfect" and "received" document when large chunks of it are direct lifts from Jewish and heretical Christian writings. Poetic it may be, but it is not perfect in its concept or its ideas. It is a religion which preaches peace yet condones violence and bloodshed as long as it is committed "in defence of Islam" and against "infidels". It is a religion which pronounces the death sentence upon any who dare to renounce it or to question any of its teachings. As Churchill wrote: "Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy." This is hardly a religion which promotes equality of the sexes, races, or religions as we are now being urged to do. This is a religion which steals the individuals thoughts and imposes a mantra of actions, laws, and slavish obedience rather than stimulating thought and seeking to develop an understanding of God and a raproachment of the soul.

I find it unbelievable that in this, the 21st Century, we have to condone the antics of the anti-semitic Mr Livingstone and the rest of his Left wing Socialist cronies who support and covertly endorse the rantings of the sick and frankly disgusting Muslim Cleric who condones, supports and promotes the use of suicide bombings in Israel on the grounds that "Israeli women are militarised." Presumably the Palastinian women who make the bombs, encourage their moronic menfolk, and sometimes strap on a bomb themselves, are not "militarised".

It is time to put aside the "All Muslims are Victims" thinking and recognise that Islam must grow up. The problems in the Middle East and elsewhere relating to Islam are generated by the tension created by the fact that Islam is intolerant of any other religious philosophy. This is not as it is in the Quran, but it is what the Mullahs preach Friday by Friday.

It is Islam which holds back development in most countries where it holds sway, and it is Islam which will bring this country to its knees if we are not very careful indeed. Mr Blunkett's new law will be used to stifle debate, it will be used to further the promotion of Islam, and it will be used to force Christianity and Judaism to the margins. This is a dangerous and potentially explosive idea, and it should be rejected and resisted by everyone.

Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from interference by the cretins who presume to dictate what we may and may not say, believe, or discuss are principles well worth fighting for.

It is a little more than 100 years since Churchill wrote: "It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science - the science against which it had vainly struggled - the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome." Islam is now spreading rapidly through Europe and it will, in due course, stifle science, pervert the law, and destroy progress. It will bring the same corruption that is so rampant in the Middle East and certain areas of the Far East.

If this is the world you would like to live in, it is only necessary to let Blunkett and the rest of his party of arrogant and ignorant aparatchiks continue unchecked.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:21 AM | Comments (2)

July 14, 2004

A compliment?

Oops, the Monk has been noticed by a passing politician. At least he's a Conservative, and has quoted from my post, "Defence of the Realm", in complimentary tones.

Only problem is I am never certain whether being noticed by any politician is a good thing. Past experience tells me it is usually trouble! Still, it is flattering to be noticed and to know that someone who aspires to the corridors of power actually reads what "the masses" actually think, as opposed to what their minions and their mates in the Press Corps think they want to know. Perhaps I should return the compliment and tell you that his blog can be found here. He is a hopeful candidate for North Norfolk constituency (currently held by Blair's closet supporters - The LibDem Party).

Anyone who gives the current shower the door to exit by - whether or not pursued by a bear, as one of Shakespeare's stage directions requires - has my support. Until they show themselves to be as bad as the present lot, anyway!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:19 AM | Comments (4)

July 13, 2004

Save our heritage!

Another wonderful Government initiative announced yesterday! A select committee of Oath breakers from that House of Iniquity called Parliament has come up with another wonderful idea. Let's detach the Honours system from the Monarch - presumably so we can hand out more gongs of our own creation to our chums. Their suggestions include - scrapping knighthoods, renaming the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to drop the word Empire, and a new method of selecting people for gongs - surprise, surprise, putting the awards into hands they control.

All of this presumably precipitated by the moronic "poet" who refused to accept an "Honour" last year - because the British Empire had "raped" his mother. Frankly, the thought of any damned politician having the privilege of giving these awards in the name of "The People" or of "Parliament" sickens me. The Sovereign (Regardless of who is on the throne) is divorced from the filth of politics and represents us all far more impartially than any self important cretin calling himself or herself a President, Prime Minister, or First Minister (to use the 18th Century title). You have only to look at the divisions in the US over George W Bush to see what I mean. As Ozguru wrote yesterday, there are people who will never accept that GWB represents the Office of President and that he actually won the election. In fact, one gets the feeling that there are some who would still be contesting his election in courts had the case not been closed when it was. Is this what we want to see happening over the award of honours?

Of course, we know that the politicians actually control the system. You have only to look at what Tone the Cronymonger has handed out and to whom! The important thing here is that the accolade and the recognition do not stem from this transient and frankly fraudulent party aparatchik, they represent the Nation in a way that no politician, however self important, ever can. Even that arch traitor and regicide, Oliver Cromwell, recognised that!

No, this is yet another example of overweaning ambition, over-inflated egos, and crass incompetence among our political Masters whose ideology comes well before any regard for common sense, or an acknowledgement that the broad sweep of history is against them. The people of London disinterred Cromwell after his death and spent two weeks kicking his remains around the streets of London, with his head displayed on a spike on London Bridge. Such was the popularity of the last man who tried to be a Dictator in this Kingdom. Perhaps our Illustrious Leader and his coterie of poodles would do well to remember that. Visitors to Westminster Abbey will see a stone outside the Coronial Chapel to the Battle of Britain, inscribed, "Her lieth the remains of Oliver Cromwell, one time Lord Protector."

It is worth knowing that only his skull is interred there. All that could be found of him after the people had finished with him.

Let us be honest, Mr Blair and his party detest the English, they detest our history and they detest anyone who achieves anything they cannot achieve or which they cannot subborn to their own corrupt ends. This is why there is now a concerted attack on the foundation of our society, upon our allegiance to the Crown rather than the transient inhabitant of a small house in Downing Street, and upon the whole culture that has made Britain a model and a magnet for those who believe that fairness and dignity are to be found here. Under this regime, that has become a joke.

This assault on the Honours system, imperfect as it is, is an affront to the whole Nation. It is time for Mr Blair and his party to be shown the door. They and their Socialist (read closet Communist) friends have taken this country from a position of respect and greatness and made it a dictatorship, ruled by an elite and unaswerable ruling class of professional politicians and civil servants (the Russians call this the "Nomenclatura") who feed on each other's overinflated egos while destroying all that is valuable. This is no longer a democratic society, it is an Oligarchy at best and is rapidly becoming a state in which the traditional freedoms no longer apply.

The Honours system may well be an illusion of reward and recognition; let it continue, at least it made the vast majority of recipients feel they had been acknowledged and felt proud to recieve the accolade "Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or Officer, or Commander of the same. Those who did not could feel free to refuse the award - and they were a very small minority. This assault on the Honours system is merely yet another example of how the concept of democratic principles have been perverted - now the majority are ruled by any vociferous and frequently treasonous minority.

Welcome to the world of "New Speak" and "Rehistory".

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:54 AM

Re-arrange the deckchairs?

The Thief in Chief, otherwise known as the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced another of his wonderfully creative accounting tricks yesterday. Am I the only person in this country who thinks that if anyone in the private sector attempted to do his or her books in this manner the Serious Fraud Squad would be knocking on the door?

He blithely announces (as he did last year) that Whitehall jobs will go. 80,000 in England and another 40,000 in Wales and Scotland. Hooray! We are all expected to say, look what a wonderfull Chancellor he is, cutting bureaucrats and saving money so we can spend more on Defence, Social Security, and Health Care. Or can we? Can we actually believe this cretin?

Let's look at what he announced last year. Figures of 40,000 Whitehall jobs were to go in the amalgamation of several functions and Departments. This was going to save us even more money in tax. The reality is somewhat different, isn't it? Perhaps these jobs did go? Who knows, Whitehall conveniently doesn't publish these sort of "bad news" figures. What did happen is that the Civil Service pay bill grew almost exponentially. Almost twice the number of jobs were created against those supposedly lost! Watch this space - if he plans to axe 120,000 posts this time around we can expect to see the creation of 240,000 new ones somewhere else!

Part of the problem is that the jobs that go are always possibly the only ones that are actually productive. They are always the people at the actual "coalface" delivering the goods, dealing with the people at counters, on wards, or in classrooms. The new jobs are almost always the ones who just generate reams of useless forms to be filled in to show that the latest batch of meaningless "targets" for this, that, and the next ideological nonsense have been met.

There is only one cure for this. Dismiss every single top Civil Servant - all of them - every last one in a senior post of so-called "management". Then get in people to manage the various functions who actually know what the damned function is, what it is meant to do, and how it is actually done. That will start to save money straight away. It will also scrap every last "Rule Book" with their impossibly complex rules for everything including cleaning one's backside after using a toilet and let people apply common sense at point of use.

Oh, and for God's sake give us a new Government, one that understand that re-arranging the deckchairs on a sinking ship isn't actually going to save the ship.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:22 AM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2004

Defence of the Realm - Part 2

Well, now we know where this government's priorities on defence lie. It does not put any faith in tanks, ships, or aircraft. Nor does it think it needs any fighting troops or sailors or airmen. Heaven forbid we should have any of that lot around; after all, they need expensive (and useless weapons), they need uniforms (ghastly elitist things!), and they need feeding and housing and all those nasty things that are just a nuisance to manage.

No, the answer is simple. Cut them all out of the picture and spend £342 million pounds refurbishing our offices in Whitehall for the 3,150 faceless wonders of the Civil Service who now infest the MoD's Whitehall HQ. Equip each one with a special chair costing £1,050 and we have this whole defence thing sown up. These figures can be checked by any who wish, simply by following this link to the story in the Daily Telegraph.

By my reckoning that £342 million would have gone a long way toward keeping the aircraft we need flying, or towards updating the seven ships they are scrapping, or maybe even making sure the troops actually had ammunition and the proper kit in Iraq. You will note that the Minister, the laughable Hoon (I note that in Australia "Hooning around" means to act the fool or to get up to nothing in particular.) will sneak the announcement about his latest decimation of the armed forces on the day that Parliament rises for its three month hols. Perhaps withholding their pay for the three months they are jetting around the world at our expense, may focus their tiny minds on the fact that this is now beyond being unacceptable. In fact, three months taken out of their pockets will pay very nicely for the retention of the troops to be chucked out of service.

Todays "Big News" is that the Chancellor is expected to announce a spending programme which will result in the loss of 80,000 civil service jobs. Big deal; its not nearly enough and it is only so that he can hire more of them through the back door to staff up even more money and time-wasting sections elsewhere.

It really is time to teach this shower of cretins where to find the English Channel and to practice their diving and swimming - and to take their Civil Service buddies with them!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:40 AM

Requiem for the slain

The Bloody Meadow, so named for the fact that here, on the 4th May 1471, the flower of the Lancastrian nobility and the routed men at arms were quite literally slaughtered as they struggled to escape the battlefield and became mired in the waterlogged field they had been forced back to. The triumphant soldiers under the banner of King Edward IV showed little mercy and gave no quarter, even pursuing those that did escape into the Nave of the Abbey. The slaughter there was stopped by Abbot Strensham who drove the soldiery out brandishing the Monstrance and consecrated "Host" - the Priest's Wafer at the Mass - and threatening them with eternal damnation. He even denied the King entry when it was demanded that he allow the King's men entry to arrest the Duke of Somerset and surviving nobility, until assured that no armed men would enter.

Yesterday morning, on this meadow, but not quite as muddy, amid the tents of the re-enactment society and surrounded by a camp stirring after a night of rain under canvas, and with most in medieval garb, our Vicar celebrated a Mass for the Slain. It was a simple affair, said, with the congregation of twenty or so, stood around the altar and sprinkled at one point with rain, but it had a very tranquil feel to it, and it was an act of worship, not of re-enactment. As it progressed several more people joined in, or simply stood and watched, many afterwards coming across to say that they hoped it would be a feature for the future.

We saw no ghosts, but then we did not expect to. That was not the purpose of the Mass. It was, and is, a Christian way of reminding ourselves that the message of the Saviour is one of peace, and even in war, there are victims on both sides of the battlefield. Thus, we also commemorated those who have fallen in all battles since, and particularly those in our own time, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and even now in undeclared wars which arise from pride, ambition, and the pursuit of power.

It was my privilege as Deacon to proclaim the Gospel and to assist in the distribution of the Communion. As we left, a lady approached and thanked us for coming and for conducting the service. She had not been a memebr of the congregation, but had watched from a little distance. Who knows, perhaps God has begun to work in her life just as he has in ours. It may be that next year there will be even more of the people who saw and heard, but did not join in, who will be there to take part.

Perhaps, too, it began to work even while we were there - we returned to the Abbey to find around twenty of the re-enactors at the Abbey for the Parish Eucharist and a similar number attended the Solemn Eucharist at 1100. We all felt that it was right to do this, and even more so, to do it on the Bloody Meadow. This field of slaughter has now become a vale of peace.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:14 AM

July 11, 2004

The Monk is back!

The Monk has managed to find his way back into his own blog! Blame it on AOHell; their system will not allow me to look at any of my favourite blogs, either - in fact, to beat the buggers I have to go direct to I-Explorer and bypass the AOHell system completely. Only then can I get in to anything at all!

Oh, and the other part of the problem? AOHell would not release the old IP Address for Guru International and so would not track across to the new one. Fun? Well, it's a pity I had to blow several fuses, chew out the Church Mouse, and fire broadsides at several people before I could get any sense out of anyone on it! Poor Church Mouse, she took the brunt of it.

Extra Cheese rations ordered.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:36 PM

Glastonbury Pilgrims return


Life is, on one level, a pilgrimage. It is also about discovery and particularly about spiritual growth. Yesterday I had the privilege of serving at both the Solemn Eucharist and at the Solemn Evensong and Procession of Witness in the ruins of the ancient Abbey of Glastonbury.


The Presiding Bishop, the Bishop of Richborough, waits with one of his Deacons and the Master of Ceremonies for the Procession to move off.

Despite decidedly unseasonable weather and a few showers, the Mass saw several hundred share in the communion and at least as many proclaiming their adherence to the faith of Christ in the Procession which preceded the Solemn Evensong.


The ruined Great Crossing Arch seen from the Galilee Porch with the Pilgrims Altar in place and the Presiding Bishop's Chair.

For obvious reasons I could not take photographs during either service, but these pictures may give a feel for this ancient place of worship. This is a special place, not only for its history (it has had a Christian Church on this site since the 1st Century making it the oldest Christian foundation in Britain) but also for the spirituality of the place. Even though the Abbey is now a ruin, it still exerts its influence and has a feeling of a place set apart for God.

Today I have another interesting ministry role to play - we are celebrating a Requiem Mass for the Slain on the Bloody Meadow at 0800 at the invitation of the organisers of the Tewkesbury Battle Re-enactment, "The Companions of the Black Bear". The Vicar, Fr Paul (also known as the Lord Abbot), will preside, I am to be his Deacon and another of our Guild of Servers will be there to Serve the Office. We have no real idea of how many will attend and this could turn into "the feeding of the 5,000" type scenario. We will have to wait and see what the Lord moves this group to do. Those attending from the re-enactors will all be in medieval period costume - we will be in ecclesiastic garb - which is pretty medieval anyway! That said, our service will not be a simple show; it will be a serious act of worship and of prayer for those who died here, many of whom are buried in the Abbey and its precincts.

So, in one weekend I will have been a pilgrim and have ministered to pilgrims. The Lord works in strange and wonderful ways His wonders to perform. I am eager to see how this one turns out. Watch this space for further news!


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:32 AM

July 10, 2004

Glastonbury Pilgrimage


The second Saturday of July is the day I take myself to Glastonbury every year - not to a "Rock" concert but on a pilgrimage to the ancient Abbey, one time home of Saint Dunstan, (909AD - 988AD), who reformed the monastic orders in England and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. He was involved in the coronation of Aetheldred the Unrede (Or "the Unready" as "1066 and all that" has him titled!). Possibly one of the least glorious periods in the history of Saxon England.

The title "the Unrede" means simply that he would not listen to advice. A bit like a certain current Prime Minister.

Returning to Glastonbury: it is a site that has many legends attached to it, and of recent years the "New Age" and "Pagan" movements have tried to reclaim it as theirs. This is unfortunate, since in reality the archeology does not support their claims to it having been a druidic site in pre-Christian or pre-Roman times. There was certainly a settlement here in the pre-Roman period going back as far as the early iron age. The land here was very swampy, being very low lying in places, and the Tor is thought to have once been an "island" in the surrounding swamp. It is currently crowned by an 11th Century Church Tower, but there are indications that it was an iron age hill fort, albeit a small one.

The Abbey at Glastonbury has always been a place of special meaning to Christians, particularly in England, for two very good reasons. First, legend has it that this is where Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail, and it is here that a Jerusalem Thorn tree grew, purportedly from Joseph's staff. Today the original tree is dead, but a new tree, slipped from the old, grows in its stead. Second, legend says that this is the Isle of Avalon and is the burial place of King Arthur and his Queen. In support of this the medieval monks went to some lengths to find Arthur's grave and reportedly did so atop the Tor. The bodies they found were of a tall man in ancient armour (remember this was in around 1200, so they were probably talking about Roman style armour) with his shield and spear, but, significantly, no sword. Next to him lay a woman in her finery, and the two bodies were carefully removed and reburied in a place of honour in the Presbytery, or Quire, of the Abbey Church.

As a place of pilgrimage the Abbey grew rich, and this did not do much for the spirtuality of the monks. By the time of the dissolution, its reputation was not high in terms of spiritual development.

Today it is still a place of pilgrimage, and today a group of us from Tewkesbury will visit this Mother House of the Benedictine Order, one time home of Dunstan and many other remarkable men of faith, and meet with a large body of pilgrims who have travelled from all over the UK to celebrate our faith together in a full Solemn Eucharist. It is a remarkable and uplifting experience to share this Mass in the open ruins of this great Abbey Church, to sing God's praise in a place that has been used for worship of Him and of His Son for more than 1500 years.

And maybe, just maybe, the legend is true and our Saviour Himself once walked among these very hills.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:02 AM

July 09, 2004

Religous tolerance?


An item on the BBC website about the Home Secretary's proposal to create a new law to "protect" Muslims certainly raises some difficult questions.

There is a very fine line between ensuring fairness, tolerance, and dignity for all races, groups, and beliefs, and denying the freedom to put one's point of view to anyone who differs from the supposed "mainstream". This is especially true of situations where the declared "mainstream" of "decent and right thinking" people is actually a small but powerfully placed minority.

The Home Secretary's latest proposal to "protect" Muslims from the latest fadword "Islamophobia" is a case in point. The law is always a blunt instrument, but when it is drafted on the orders of a man whose tendency is to be a dictatorial bully by incompetents, then it is usually equivalent to holding a shotgun muzzle to someone's eye and urging them to pull the trigger! This is why I am deeply concerned that this is under consideration - indeed, more than under consideration - it is very likely already being drafted and will be forced through that chamber of cretinous luvvies under the usual bullying tactics employed by this government to ram through stupid and unpopular policies. This one will have the added stamp of being pushed as "fair" and "reasonable" and designed to ensure that the followers of Islam are "protected" from those nasty Christian types who have demonised them and stirred up hatred against them.

Welcome to the world of "1984". If you wish to destroy a nation, you first attack its language, then its heritage. This government of snivelling "moralists" have succeeded in both enterprises. The language has been re-interpretted so that perfectly ordinary idioms, selected words in everyday use, and everyday concepts have been branded "offensive". At the same time the spelling, the grammar and the usage have been destroyed by declaring them "irrelevant" in the highest "academic" circles where we have Cambridge Dons arguing (among other no less eminent academics) that spelling is arbitrary and irrelevant because the eye "sees" the corrected spelling as long as the word is more or less obvious. U dint sez! Grammar is also declared to be redundant because it is more or less optional and the modern idiom is much freer. That must be why we have a communication gap with the younger generation now emerging from schools illiterate and unable to put a sentence together without using obsenities instead of adjectives or punctuating the words with "like" or "um" or "right". Even those selected to present TV shows or the news or weather cannot pronounce the place names of our own country, cannot pronounce ordinary words in the language, and barely recognise the difference between singular and plural in some contexts. This is how Orwell introduced "Newspeak" the language of the dictatorship in his bleak novel.

Our culture and heritage is being given the same treatment. Anything that is peculiarly "British" is bad - unless it is Scottish or Welsh of course - and anything that is Islamic, Sikh, or anything non-Christian must, by definition, be good. Therefore we have companies and local authorities ordering their employees not to display the cross of St George (which happens to be the English Flag) because it will cause offence to "minorities". Does this government take action against these idiots? Of course not! To do so would be to show that they support a National Identity for the English and that would never do - the English are a nasty bunch of oppressors who exploit and are generally mean to the Welsh, the Irish, the Scots, and to any other "minority" who come to these shores to enjoy the prosperity they created for themselves and their fellow Britons. Our history is being "re-interpretted" by a string of academics and school teachers with a warped view of ethics, history, and moralism to support their avowed intent to create a new and "liberal" state based on their idea of "liberal" and "free". In their hands, though, neither of those words actually means what the dictionary suggests!

The supposed "liberals" who are driving much of this forward at the present time have a very bnarrow view of liberalism - in short, only what they consider acceptable is allowed and is considered "modern" or "liberated". Free in their lexicon means "free to think and say what I say is acceptable". As I said, welcome to the world of 1984.

The proposed new law will, in all likelihood, deprive us of the ability to debate (not that we really can at the moment!) issues of difference in theology or thought between Christian and Muslim - or any other religion and Muslim. It is likely that as soon as it appears that any argument advanced by any non-Muslim is superior to the arguments presented by a Muslim, the claim of "Islamophobia" or "stirring up religious hatred" will be made and the Christian debater will find himself under the full weight of the law. You may be sure that the law will not work the other way at all!

We are no longer a free people; we are living in a dictatorship run for the benefit of the few in power, a political elite of 1960's pot-smoking, rioting, pitch destroying public and grammar school children of middle and upper middle class background who have now got control of the three elements which ensure that they cannot be removed from power. What are these? Why, the Civil Service, which controls public spending and therefore the "welfare" state, Education, which ensures that their children have almost guaranteed access to the best there is and everyone else is condemned to the abysmal "Comprehensive" system which is anything but "comprehensive", and finally the media, so that they can control what we are told, how it is presented, and how we are to think.

Look at the last of these carefully, on radio and televsion there is a constant stream of subtle, but effective, promotions of ideas and concepts of "better" or "superior" cultural or religious (and here I include Atheism as a religion) thoughts. This flows over into entertainment, with children's programmes in particular targetting the promotion of ideas intended to plant concepts in the minds of children which guarantee the adoption of anti-authority figures and a "counter culture" of youthfull superiority. Watch out when this generation start to wonder why Tone and his cronies don't want to step aside for them to take over! It is evident, too, in the way magazines and newspapers attack and denigrate anyone who is prepared to stand up for a principle. A heinous offence if it is in conflict with what our masters wish to promote, and the person daring to do this must be instantly destroyed morally, intellectually and socially.

No, I have no confidence in the Home Secretary's stated desire to bring in this law - or in his ability to apply it even handedly if it is brought in. I readily predict that it will be used against people like myself who dare to challenge the perceived wisdom that Islam is superior to Christianity, or that it might not be the religion of peace and mercy its promotors claim it to be. An item posted on Samizdata points out the potential legal minefield that would be created by this.

Let us hope that the Lords once again block this stupidity and buy us the time to throw this complete party of charlatans, hooligans, and bullies out of office and onto the scrap heap of history. Unfortunately, it may already be too late.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:31 AM | Comments (3)

July 08, 2004

Defence of the Realm


Oh dear. Our Illustrious Leader has egg on his face, his trousers, and everywhere else on his anatomy. His government has consistently revised defence spending downwards since taking office in 1997, and now the cat is, as they say, loose in his pigeon loft. The latest Defence Review (there has been one every year since this shower of ignoramuses took office) is proposing the axing of a very large number of frontline troops, the retirement of almost our entire air force fleet of aircraft, the laying up or scrapping of almost half our fighting ships, and the closure of even more bases than ever before. Why? Because they have overspent on almost every project, the war in Iraq, and on the "modernisation" and "equality" policies these loonies are foisting upon everyone.

But wait a moment, who precisely is "managing" these overspent projects? Colonel Blimp and his band of Hoorah Henry's in uniform? No, dear reader, it's none other than the faceless and bomb-proof wonders of Whitehall - the ubiquitous Sir Humphreys of the Civil Service. It is their incompetence that is at the root of all this disaster, it must be said, ably supported by the most incompetent and ignorant Cabinet in the history of these isles. Figures released yesterday show that the Ministry of Defence employs 102,000 soldiers, and 102,600 civil servants. Guess where the cuts are proposed to fall? Right, it isn't among the papershuffler Brigade.

The Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue now employ between them more Tax Collectors than the total manpower in the Navy and the Airforce, yet the Civil Service is growing at a rate of 511 new civil servants per week! This is an increase on last year's 444 new civil servants a week which saw the "service" grow to 5.6 million. Other statistics on this are equally frightening - the Health Service appoints three new managers for each new nurse OR doctor appointed. No wonder the waiting lists keep growing; the money isn't there for research or for proper treatment, and the elderly are left to die rather than spend money treating them.

This situation costs every household in Britain £850 a year and and that cost is growing. The simple fact that there are now more bureaucrats and inspectors in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Rural Affairs than there are farmers should be sounding off alarm bells everywhere. This is what is costing this country growth (the Chancellor confuses burgeoning bureaucracy with economic growth - more bureaucrats = more paperwork = more jobs = equals growing economy?) and is killing enterprise. They simply can't help themselves. In order to justify all these extra taxguzzlers they have to pass more legislation which in turn creates more inspectors, which in turn consumes more resources, which ......

Belatedly, Blair and his poodles have realised that they have dug themselves into one very large hole and are now proclaiming that they are going to increase defence budgets. Really? The Treasury spokesman gives the lie to this, saying all the principle plans are now settled, the cuts will happen.

Government needs to be cut back. It needs to be answerable; it needs to be small and confined to the regulation of those matters which promote stability, safety, growth, and the well-being of its citizens. This government has failed on all counts. It has undermined the State with its pursuit of honours in Europe, it has all but destroyed the armed forces, it has undermined the Justice system, and it has irreparably damaged the concept of democracy in this country. The Civil Service, created with the best of intentions by Gladstone in the 19th Century, has become a ravening monster which is now so powerful that it is a political force in its own right. Worse, it is answerable to no one and cannot be thrown out - its elite are untouchable and protected from the fallout of their incompetence.

If this situation is not addressed soon, if this government is allowed to continue destroying everything it fails to understand, if the civil service is permitted to grow unchecked, democracy will not be the only casualty - the entire economy will collapse. No country can support the sort of "public sector" now being built in this one; it is simply ridiculous to expect the taxpayers to continue funding these armies of useless and non-productive taxguzzlers, and the economy cannot afford it. The true cost of all this government is not revealed, there are constant attempts to hide it, to obfusticate the issue. Instead our Queen and her family are forced to endure the annual torrent of abuse over "the exhorbitant cost" of the Monarchy. At 61p per household, a bargain against the cost of the parasites at No 10 - £3.20 per week per household!

Since taking office this corrupt and indecent party has increased spending on the promotion of their policies by over 1000% - enough to pay an entire battalion of fighting troops for two and a half years at current wages. The Cabinet Office alone spend in a year on taxi fares - that's right - taxi fares - enough to pay the salaries of around 10 doctors or 30 nurses for a year!

Defence of the realm? No chance; we had better all start taking lessons in the use of the long bow, the pike, and the sword - it's all we can afford with this army of parasites on our backs!


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:30 AM

July 07, 2004

The World turns on .....


Today is the day that my father-in-law died four years ago of cancer. He was a very special man and a wonderful human being. He was also a very Christian man in the sense that his faith was his life and his life his faith right to the end. The world is definitely a poorer place for his passing, yet, for those who had the privilege of knowing him, he is with us still, for he has left his mark on us all, and he has made us all the better for it.

Eight months before he died, I lost my mother, largely through poor health, but certainly also due to the negligence and indifference of the National Health Service who took her in for surgery and then failed to spot that she had caught the MRSA infection, making no effort to treat it. She, too, was a special person, not least because she was my mother, but also because she, too, was passionate about her family and her friends. She, like Gill, had a strong sense of values and tried to live by them.

As the world turns on, we all grow older and hopefully wiser. As we age we also change, some of us for the better and some maybe just never take aboard the lessons they should be learning from the world around them. Gill and my Mum both have had a large influence on my development as a person; indeed, it would be true to say that I am a mosaic of many people who have had a hand in molding my character over the last 50+ years, some for the better and some as examples of how not to be or grow. I would hope that I have turned out well and measure up to the yardstick of my own faith and attempts to emulate the Christian life. Of one thing I am sure, without Gill, without my Mum, and others who have made a positive impact on me over the years, I would not be the person I am today.

Their passing is also a reminder that I have a duty to try to leave the world a better place, to try to show the generations now following me that there is a path of decency, of faith, and of joy in the glory of God and His creation. That love can and does overcome all other trials and tribulations - even the idiocy of those who see no virtue in Christian values or belief. I hope that the next generation will see me as positively as I remember those before me. We cannot move forward while looking back, but we can move ahead while taking our precious lessons and memories with us. Gill and my Mum are with us no more in the flesh; they go with us now in the spirit and in our hearts, alongside all their friends and acquaintances who, with them, have shown us the way.

May they all rest in peace and rise in glory at Christ's call.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:57 AM | Comments (2)

Admin. Announcement !

Church Mouse will be posting The Monk's entries until some serious technical difficulties are resolved. CM does appreciate the wonderful technologies available in this modern age except when they fail to perform as promised; then she sometimes longs for the return to the quill pen and candles.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:31 AM

July 06, 2004

Nanny says .....

Doctor Spock with his cockamamie concepts of how to bring up children has a lot to answer for. It is his spoiled generation that is now ranting and raving in the Halls of Power and trying to criminalise every decent and respectable parent in the land for attempting to bring order and discipline to their errant offspring. Listening to these overindulged and thoroughly inadequate idiots makes me wonder why we don't have some sort of selection process which tests a person's ability to apply common sense to public policy!

The Lords demonstrated a "common sense" approach yesterday when they overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to a Bill which would have made it a criminal offence to smack a naughty and misbehaving child. Instead, they opted to insert a clause which defines "reasonable chastisement". Of course, the anti-smack lobby are up in arms and are demanding that this be changed, but I think the Lords will prevail - not least because that fatuous dummy who masquerades as our Illustrious Leader has put a block on any challenge from his single issues lobby! I reckon it should be compulsory for these campaigners to have to replace the teachers who are being systematically destroyed by their "poor abused and misunderstood children" every time they come up with these campaigns. Only yesterday a well respected and really good teacher, a Deputy Principal in an inner city comprehensive whom I have the pleasure of knowing well, was booked off sick with injuries incurred preventing two of these "fragile and misunderstood/abused" little angels from committing murder in his school. Had he attempted to defend himself he would now be facing charges of assault and have been suspended from his post. The "children" have been "cautioned" by the police and allowed to continue their schooling. Tony will be off work for the rest of this school year and recuperating through a large part of the summer break.

This is what happens when the concept of discipline and particularly of self-discipline is portrayed as abuse or as bullying. For far too long this insidious undermining of society has been passed off as "modernising" or as "moral" development. Don't smack the child is now presented as the only moral manner of bringing up a child. Like the so-called "real books" method of learning to read (the theory is that if you stick a child in a room full of books they will sooner or later learn what the letters and words mean! About as successful as sitting a monkey at a typewriter and expecting to get Shakespeare's plays), the child is expected to learn the art of social intercourse, discipline, and self restraint totally unaided.

The trouble with these folk is that they are unable to differentiate between a smack given in concern and love to draw attention and prevent an injury and one given in unthinking rage which causes injury. They cannot see the difference between an assault by an adult on another adult, and the slap a child sometimes needs to guide it out of unacceptable or dangerous behaviour.

I had a prime example of the need for discipline last Friday night. I went to my local supermarket to buy my groceries for the week. It had been a tough week, I was tired and I was also rather later than usual as I had had to put in some overtime. Unfortunately, a "modern" mother had her undisciplined brood with her. These youngsters - aged between about 4 and 6 were hyper-active and rushing about screeching and behaving in the usual "excited children mode" but totally without any parental control or restraint. It was when they started pushing individual trolleys and rushing up and down aisles that I found I could no longer concentrate on my shopping - being tired and on a short fuse didn't help - and when the trolley was forced past me for the second time, I made my way to the manager's kiosk and left my shopping there. Asked why, I started to say that I could not shop in these conditions when there was a further crash, the tinkle of breaking bottles and loud screams. The manager paled and asked if I would excuse her; I said certainly, and left. I find people whose idea of disciplining a child is to bleat plaintively "Please Chloe?" and "Nigel, PLEASE don't do that!" without any sanction being imposed are not only not in control of their spoiled and totally impossible brats, but shouldn't be allowed to be parents! I had to return and shop the next morning when the Manager recognised me and gave me a rather apologetic greeting. The mess in the wine display told its own story - trouble is, I bet the idiot mother not only refused to pay for the damage, but probably threatened to sue the store for the "risk of injury to her brats!"

This problem is compounded by the now almost unnoticed attack on all authority figures and the symbols of authority by the Liberal Left. The fact that they now control most schools, universities, the legal profession, the political parties, and, most importantly, the Television, newspapers, and the entertainment media doesn't help. Check out any of the children's cartoon shows on TV. The first thing you notice is that the hero is almost always a slightly anarchic "youth". The second is that the "enemy" is almost always the military or failing them, the police. By association anyone in uniform is now seen as an "enemy of freedom", a neo-fascist bully with the intention of suppressing any free-spirited (and usually pretty obnoxious) "hero" or "heroine" who manages to save the planet from some evil plague usually depicted as having been released by the bad guys in uniform.

History is not so much taught these days as torn apart in order to make the children see what evil people our ancestors were and how they "exploited" everyone and everything. This travesty is presented as "teaching analytical skills". Tosh! Our hero figures have been surreptitiously replaced by popular creations of the left controlled media - viz: the Pop Star culture, the footballers (Soccer to you colonial types who play "proper" football out there in Oz!) all of whom can be built up by the Press and then destroyed as soon as the next "big thing" comes along. You have only to look at the Charles and Diana story (no marriage could survive the treatment they got even if it had been sound to start with) and now the David Beckham and Victoria (Posh Spice) saga.

All of this, coupled with the over protective laws which now confine children more and more to their own home environment and reduce the opportunities to learn about social interaction to what happens at school or in some shopping mall, is producing a nation of socially inadequate, under educated, and undisciplined children. In a recent court case the defence argued that a child who had vandalised several cars had not done so maliciously and anyway the owners' insurance should be the appropriate medium for their compensation. The morons on the bench bought it, which tells you everything you need to know about why our society is in terminal decline!

Sadly, this latest lunacy over smacking and the whole question of discipline, self or otherwise, is not over yet. Do not expect the voices of reason to prevail; the voices of stupidity, the siren call of the "moralist" who neither understands the term nor is bothered by the fact that they do not have any rational case, will prevail - especially if this government succeeds in winning another term. Should that happen - kiss the English and all that is Britain good bye! As it is, I suspect that this vote in the Lords has merely delayed the inevitable and that our society will be swept aside in the very near future by a more vigorous and far less "free" society arising from the morass of multi-culturalism.

Not that we have much freedom now!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:48 PM | Comments (1)

July 05, 2004

Rhapsody for Organ

The Abbey certainly has its moments. Last week the Vergers found themselves on less than a day's notice that an open air concert performance by the English Symphony Orchestra and a range of top operatic soloists scheduled to take place on the lawns of Eastnor Castle was being moved to the Abbey. Making arrangements to seat 800 people at that kind of notice takes some doing. It speaks for itself that they succeeded, and the ESO's concert was a huge success.

On a slightly smaller scale was the recital given by Ben Nicholas on the "Magnificent" Milton and the "Glorious" Grove on Saturday evening. Ben is an extremely talented performer, and we are lucky to have him as Assistant Organist (he is actually the Director of Music at the Abbey School). He has toured widely with the boys of the Abbey School Choir, and together they have made a number of recordings. Ben came to us after a period as Organ Scholar at St Paul's Cathedral and has studied under David Sanger.

His repertoire for Saturday included -

Rhapsody No 3 in C Sharp minor - Howells (Milton)
Prelude and Fugue in C - J S Bach (Milton)
Recit de Tierce en taille - Nicolas de Grigny (Milton)
Passacaille - Frank Martin (Milton)
Allegro vivace (Symphonie No 5) - C M Widor (Milton)
Adagio (Symphonie No 3) - Louis Vierne (Grove)
Grand Choeur Dialogue - Eugene Gigout (Grove)

The Frank Martin piece is very modern and best described as polyphonic in sounds. It is an exciting piece and a musician's piece in its challenging registrations and keyboard gymnastics.

Equally interesting is the de Grigny piece, a classic 17th Century "tablature" style with a range of very interesting variations and themes.

Once again the Milton and the Grove showed their versatility in the hands of a talented organist and musician. All in all, an outstanding performance.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:56 PM

Independence day

Hope you all have a great celebration of your National Day. I had hoped to be in New York to meet up with my brother-in-law from Australia and to celebrate it with him and other American friends. My bosses had other plans - which have now been put back so I could have gone after all - if they had let me know a fortnight ago instead of last Thursday!

Ah well, I will raise a glass to you all from here, instead.

[this was supposed to have been posted yesterday, but the main server took a holiday, too.....better late than never - CM - ed.]

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:36 AM

July 04, 2004

Thomas the twin

Saturday was the commemoration of the life and work of St Thomas, Apostle, disciple, and some say martyr. Having had the pleasure of leading the Office of Evening Prayer in the Upper Room Chapel at the Abbey, it was an opportunity to contemplate his life and his achievements from his starting point of scepticism and doubt. He appears in several places in the Gospels and then we hear little of him thereafter, yet he was as active as Peter, Paul, James, John, and the rest. To us, in the Western Church he is something of an enigma, not least since he alone of the disciples was invited to touch the risen Christ.

Even his name in our versions of the Gospels is enigmatic since "Thomas" is Hebrew for "Twin" and the Gospels refer to him as "Thomas Didymus" - translated in our versions as "Thomas the Twin", yet in effect the Gospels call him simply "The Twin". Since the discovery of a complete version of his Gospel in the Coptic Church in the late 1960's, we know him as a writer, as well, yet his gospel is not (and neither is another document known as "The Acts of Thomas") included in our canon of scripture. We do not know the reasons behind the decision by the Council of Nicea to exclude it, perhaps it simply repeated what the othwers already said, or it may be that as his work had been done further East, it was not considered authoritive. It may even be that there was no one who could vouch for the authorship.

At all events, it was not included in our canon and we can only speculate on the thinking that excluded it. That said, a read of it (it is available in translation) certainly adds little to what we already have. Scholars speculate that one of the common sources of three of the four Gopsels is a source called "Q" which was a list of "sayings of Jesus". Mark uses this, Matthew expands on it, and Luke also quotes from it. "Q" is now lost completely, but Thomas seems to include a large part of that material and adds a few more of its own. Some argue that Thomas' gospel is a Gnostic gospel; this is not the case, yet it does differ from the others in some subtle, yet radical ways. According to Thomas, the Kingdom has come and is here among us. Salvation is here and now, not at some future date, and we must grasp it in the present in order to enjoy the fruits of it.

Remember, this is the man who in disbelief, touched the risen Christ and believed.

So what do we know of his subsequent life? Not a lot really, except that he travelled widely in modern Iraq, Iran, and finally into the South of India. Along the way he established communities, converting people to the message of Christ, baptising and instituting the Communion among those who accepted the Gospel message. His Church, now known as the Church of South India, was flourishing when the first Christian Missionaries arrived in Madras and Goa in 1500. I would love to have seen the faces of the Missioners as they encountered this fully developed Christian Church on the sub-continent for the first time.

Thomas died and was buried among his converts in India, a small white tomb covering his remains until the Portugese learned who was buried there and took the remains back to Portugal where he now rests in a more elaborate tomb and reliquary. Thomas fulfilled his calling and lived to see his doubts overwhelmed in the faith he planted. It is well we should remember him and celebrate his work.

Peace be with you - may we too find the strength in faith as Thomas did.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:25 AM | Comments (2)

July 03, 2004

The Lost Slaves

Recently I came across a fascinating little piece of history, one not even taught much in schools outside, I suspect, of Cornwall - if there! Not many people beyond that area would know (I certainly didn't!) about the slaver raids on Cornwall and the North Devon coast in the 17th and early 18th Centuries. These were Barbary Pirates who were based mainly at Salé near Rabat in Morocco. At one point they had occupied Lundy Island and flew the flag of Islam there while they made free capturing ships and crews and raiding the coastal harbours and villages for women and children as slaves.

Crews of ships were actually more valuable than the cargo as far as these raiders were concerned, as they had a higher market value as slaves. Typically, the politicians of the day didn't do much - it was too far from London to be noticed.

In all, over 3,000 people were enslaved from this small corner of the United Kingdom in 1640, alone, and to this must be added many more snatched from the Biscay coast, Portugal, and Spain. One boy, Thomas Pellow, aged 11, a cabin boy on his uncle's ship captured by Barbary pirates off Cape Finisterre spent 23 years before he finally escaped and returned home to Cornwall where he wrote his memoires. If his story is typical of others of this period it would have been particularly difficult to survive, let alone escape.

The story of Thomas Pellow is a fascinating one. This boy found himself a slave to the son of the notorious Sultan Ismail (among whose more charming habits was to personally decapitate the slave holding the stirrup of any horse he mounted - to prove his prowess with a blade!) and then, when the sultan's son was executed on the orders of the Sultan, to the Sultan himself. Only his quick wit and his ability to ensure that he stayed clear of the Sultan's killing rages allowed him to survive. During this time he was (as a child) flogged until he converted to Islam - something he had no hesitation in renouncing as soon as he escaped during the civil war that followed the Sultan's death.

It was not until the 19th Century and the British domination of the seas that the Barbary pirates were in effect smashed. As late as the 1790's Barbary Pirates were seizing ships in the Channel and the entrance to the Irish Sea, but coastal defences (built to defend against France!) were also having their effect, yet still fishermen and coastal traders were being carried off as slaves. It took several fleet actions against their bases and the destruction of their ships to put a stop to this ghastly trade, yet I do not ever hear an acknowledgement of the suffering of these victims among all the blather about how the "evil Europeans" "master-minded" the enslavement of Africans. As this book makes clear, it was the Barbary Pirates near cousins who did the land based business in the Niger, Gambia, Ghana, and Cameroon areas, ably aided and abetted by the local tribal rivalries.

Perhaps our Cornish brethren ought to start a campaign for compensation from the oil-rich North African descendants of the Barbary pirates. After all, many of those descendants will have Cornish, Irish, French, Basque and Spanish blood derived from enslaved girls taken into harems, enslaved men and boys forced into labour. The anti-European "all Western history and wealth is based on exploitation" brigade should look a little more closely at the cultures they seem to think were our victims. Maybe, just maybe, if they are really capable of putting two and two together and coming up with the right answer, they may just realise that these so-called "victims" were even more exploitative than ours.

Somehow though I doubt we will ever see such an admission. Perhaps, too, it is time to start teaching this aspect of history to a wider audience and to ensure that a proper balance is seen by the next generation of this period of history. After all, slavery is still practiced, though not by the supposedly "evil" West, but, unsurprisingly, by the adherents of Islam in the Sudan, Somalia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. It may have a new name and a new face, but it still involves the denial of the most basic dignity of the human being, the right to change one's employer, the right to one's own income from one's own efforts.

Children and women are regularly seized in Christian Southern Sudan and sold to wealthy men and women in the North and the surrounding countries. These children and women are then forced to work for their owners and frequently to convert to Islam. They have no hope of returning to their own families and friends and are often far removed from their homes. The practice in some Arab countries of hiring Filipinos and Indians as "domestic" labour - frequently through an "agent" and then refusing to pay salaries, depriving them of passports and identity documents so that they cannot escape or report their situation is the same thing under another guise.

Those who consider the West so exploitative had better take off the rose-tinted spectacles and look closely at what their favourite "victims" are really up too. As I said earlier, I doubt that they will ever admit they may have the tale the wrong way round.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:21 AM | Comments (3)

July 02, 2004

Little legal lies?

We are led to believe the the courts seek out and test the truth. This is often far from the case, as anyone who has sat through a major defamation case will agree. Yet, the test of the "evidence" is much more rigorous in the Criminal Courts than in the Civil Courts, and where a "balance of probability" is acceptable in a civil case, it is "beyond reasonable doubt" in the other. Yet, semantics apart, what does this actually mean?

It has often seemed to me that the "reasonable doubt" test is little more than a "balance of probablity" in other language. Vis, the appeal of the man convicted of murdering a foster daughter six years ago, when it appears that there were and are witnesses who would have, if allowed to testify, blown the prescution case. The police now stand accused of having brought pressure to bear upon his wife to distort the truth and help to convict him - by warning her that if he was freed she could well be forced to live with a murderer! This is the sort of argument that is often used in court itself to put the frighteners on a jury and convince them that they would be releasing a violent and dangerous criminal if they acquit. It all lies not so much in what is actually said, but in how it is presented, what is presented, and how it is interpreted. And, it must be said, that it works in both directions. That, after all, is what the Barristers are paid huge sums of money to do.

Sir George Carmen was a past master at memorable one line repartee - at the end of a witrness' testimony. Thus, by summing up everything the witness had tried to say (or not been allowed by Sir George to actually get out as he/she would have liked) in one memorable line as he sat down after a lengthy cross examination of a hostile witness, he ensured that no matter how damaging the testimony had been to his case, the jury only remembered his summary. In effect, the procedure in any court is a lottery. Get the "right" evidence, a really competent Barrister and the court room becomes a playground for verbal duelists and actors who could take Oscar Awards for every performance. Justice is probably served somewhere along the way, but the rules are complex, convoluted in the extreme, understood only by the opposing legal teams and rewritten by almost every case heard.

The problem is exacerbated by the complexity of the rules binding the police investigators, the evidence gathered, and the technicalities that now surround much of the forensic materials. Few if any juries can actually understand more than half of what is said before them in any trial in which scientific, medical, engineering or legal issues are discussed. In addition police are required to meet endless "targets" for performance and clear up rates, which piles pressure on investigating officers to ensure that they secure convictions. Far from making cases "fairer" to the accused, they have made it almost impossible to convict and lead to "selective" evidence gathering in some cases, which ensures that only the evidence that supports the investigating officers hypothesis is preserved and anything else is ignored or swept away. That is not to say that the police deliberately destroy or fabricate evidence, they simply ignore the "inconvenient" and do nothing which would bring it to the attention of anyone else.

I feel very strongly that it is high time we overhauled our justice system. The rules should be simple and transparent. Investigations should be conducted with a thoroughness that tests everything, for and against any accused person, and the defence should have the same constraints as the prosecution.

There should also be stronger penalties for concealing or distorting evidence, or the bringing of false claims. Today's paper also carries a diatribe from former Minsiter of State, Harriet Harmon on the subject of rape - claiming that one in twenty women is a rape victim. Where do these figures come from and what support does she have for this? It seems to me to be another one of those government statistics that fall into the "lies, damned lies, and statistics" categories, yet she is using this to say that the law must not be changed to protect the accused in any rape trial, while the accuser remains anonymous. It is notable that no one seems to keep statistics on how many of the accusations are proved to be false, and it is worrying that many of these claims (I would NEVER say all) have proved to be malicious and have still resulted in an innocent man being destroyed socially, professionally and legally - while the accuser is never named and has the satisfaction of achieving her malicious purpose without fear of exposure.

The legal system needs to be brought back to the purpose of serving both the victim and the public. It needs less of the high flown arguments and semantics and much, much more common sense. Only when it actually reflects the feelings of the man in the street and not the legal and poliutical elites, does it deliver justice.

I will watch with interest the appeal I mentioned at the start of this treatise now in progress;, it will be interesting to see the outcome. I am also trying, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, to keep an open mind on the fairness and veracity of the original trial and the investigators. As they say, if you go into an investigation with a preconceived notion of who is guilty, or the cause of the event, you will see only those things that support your preconception and ignore the rest. I was once told by a mentor - "The mind is like a parachute - it works best when it is open!" I now have reason to know what he meant and hope that I am able to live up to it. I would hope too, that those on both sides of the case, are able to recognise error and find the truth when it emerges.

Justice, to be served fairly and justly, needs to be fair, open, and absolutely impartial. It is far too important to be a game between counsel, and it is far to important to be left in the hands of the social, political, and legal elites who have highjacked it. Let us hope that we can see real justice in action soon. For too long it has been overshadowed by distortions of truth, little ommissions, and sometimes outright lies.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:53 AM | Comments (2)

July 01, 2004

Return to normality?

The Monk has just finished a really high-stress and frenetic three days - running a Symposium for Fire Investigators! He has survived and notes with interest that Church Mouse has done some work keeping things going! Nope, the Monk does not have the problem of that Japanese Monk - and gave up on hair shirts, flagellation, and all those other "improving" regimes years ago!

All in all, I reckon Church Mouse has done well and earned the extra cheese as promised!

As for returning to normality - you must be joking. I have come back to a pile of work, a full slate of classes for the next three weeks, and four "must have this yesterday" business enquiries. A "sickie" is beginning to look like a good option - only problem is it won't solve anything. So, to work, to work!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:09 PM