Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The VM Awards for 2011

Ok… It’s the last day of 2011 and before I head out to perform my last clerical duties of the year, as per the tradition (ie. I did it last year…) I offer you an eclectic set of VM’s Awards of the Year… as if anyone cares…

Anyway, last year kicked off with what was to be my (and many people’s) favourite film of the year – The King’s Speech, in which Colin Firth stammered his way to a p-p-plethora of awards… Still think Helena Bonham Carter was the best thing in it however…

It took until the end of the year however for me to come across my favourite album of the year… it was a Christmas present to my eldest son from some discerning giver… What do you give a jazz trumpet playing teenager with pretensions at being a guitar playing rock god (when not studying for medicine or strutting the stage that is)? – why obviously Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues Live at the Lincoln Centre… Two genuine musical genii sharing the same stage… And as I am eventually carried out of my funeral service (some years from now I hope), I want their version of “Just a closer walk with thee” to be playing through the PA…

Which on a number of levels brings me to my favourite concert of the year… Been to a few different gigs during the year, but given that I’ve been waiting for about 35 years to see him, my favourite of the year had to be Eric Clapton in at the Odyssey in Belfast… He has the stage presence and rapport with an audience of my Uncle Walter (and he’s no longer with us), but Clapton’s playing is absolutely peerless, and that is now one more thing ticked on my bucket list…

All of the above were easy to elevate above their peers this year. Other awards were harder to tease apart… Especially plays… Was deeply disappointed with Jacobi’s Lear earlier in the year at the Opera House, and Branagh/Brydon’s “Painkiller” at the newly refurbed Lyric was funny, but ultimately disposable… So I suppose it should ultimately be between two other Lyric shows, both involving old friends (though that probably wouldn’t sway me), “Faith Healer” or “The Crucible”… Because of my own involvement in the former many years ago I still can’t get any proper objective perspective on it… and it is a hard play to jump up and down about at the best of times as it is mentally and emotionally draining… On the other hand, the opening show in the new Lyric… “The Crucible” directed by Conall Morrison. The reviews were mixed, particularly at the beginning of it’s run, and even when we saw it at the end of it’s run some performances were a little patchy, with a lot of unnecessary stomping and shouting… But it had an emotional energy sadly lacking in the aforementioned Lear… with the use of local accents enabling the obvious resonances with contemporary Irish society to hit home more easily. Also the set seemed as if it had been hewn from the same wood that clads the inside of the main auditorium of the new Lyric. However, ultimately it is the setting of a theatrical experience that makes my favourite play of the year another Arthur Miller play, “Incident at Vichy”. A free performance in the Belfast synagogue by a semi-professional cast as part of the Jews Schmooze Arts Festival, it was a truly challenging, powerful production, and points up the fact that while it is good to have appealing (but expensive) professional theatre spaces, like the Lyric, the Opera House and the new OMAC, some of the most provocative theatre happens in unexpected places… and we need more of that…

Book-wise its been a bit of a dry year… with little to cheer about. My theological reading has been relatively low-brow this year, and, as such my favourite has probably been “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning… It’s not without its faults, but it spoke to where I was at the time I read it and I will be recommending it to people in similar positions in the years to come.

Most of my fictional reading has also been, as usual, complete, unashamed trash… Read “Any Human Heart” at the beginning of the year and “The Shipping News” at the end of it and both left me feeling jaded… Also read Stig Larsson’s second instalment of the “Millennium” trilogy – which I thought was better than the first one, but I didn’t feel strong enough to go straight to the third one… Most of my other reading has been historical fiction, including another by the uncrowned king of the genre, Bernard Cornwell, this time taking a slightly different, more thought-provoking approach in his War of Independence novel “The Fort”. But my favourite was an Amazon recommendation – “The Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield, which was exciting, lyrical and mentally stimulating all at the same time… But by most will be dismissed as a “sword and sandals” pulp fiction novel… sadly.

Which brings me to my penultimate award for this year… for my favourite piece of technology… In a year where I’ve had to replace a lot of bits of technology around our house due to wear and tear, with the usual spiral of comparing prices, technical specs and consumer reviews… my favourite tech purchase wasn’t the PS3 the kids got for Christmas (I haven’t got near that yet), nor my new HTC Desire S smartphone (largely because I’m still not totally happy with the diary function – any suggestions guys?), but my Amazon Kindle… I bought it early this year as I expected to be doing a lot of airtravel, which didn’t actually materialise, and thought that loading books on a single e-reader would be a lot more convenient than taking my customary pile of paperbacks… Now many bibliophiles are very snooty about ebooks… Anne Robinson apparently said last week that "Owning a Kindle is like wearing polyester knickers....." I wonder how she knows. For me, however, its not a case of either/or… I love the feel and smell of books… But the Kindle is just so convenient… And actually, I’ve ended up using it for purposes I hadn’t originally planned, including storing all my documents for meetings, sermons and even radio talks like this… The Kindle I bought was one of the cheaper ones and it has more than paid for itself in saved ink costs through not printing everything… So all in all it was quite a successful purchase, and I’ve sung its praises to so many people I almost feel like asking Amazon for commission, although I do notice that the version I bought, the renamed Kindle Keyboard Wifi is not currently available... So perhaps I'll rein back on my recommendations.

And finally, I come to my single award for Blog of the year – I had multifarious blogging categories last year, but I (like many others it seems) have been paying less attention to my and others blogs this year, so I am making only one recommendation on that front – the VM Blog of 2011 award goes to WhyNotSmile… Not just because she got stroppy when she got an “honourable mention” last year, but because even though her output has dropped (only one post in December - come on), it hasn’t dropped as much as most and it is still guaranteed to encourage what it says in the title… So I hope this virtual award prompts her to start posting again...

So that’s my round-up of 2011… Not a profound way to the end the year… But hey ho… What do you expect from me? At least I didn’t finish the year with some sort of miserablist rant… Let’s leave that to next year...

God bless you all in 2012...


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Have some Craic this Christmas!

Happy Chrismas to all those who have enriched our lives this year and have followed us on facebook and on this blog. Hope God blesses you in the new year and perhaps we'll meet up in the real world and not just  on the interweb...
But throughout what remains of this year, and next, wherever you may be and in whatever you face, may you remember that Jesus in Emmanuel - God with us.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

O Come all you Faithless...

So we've now finished our look at the so-called "O Antiphons..." with a big help from Maggi Dawn and her translation of this advent liturgy.

Seemingly the Benedictine monks arranged the antiphons so that if you take the first letter of each one in reverse order - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia, they spell “ero cras” – which in Latin means “tomorrow I will come”.

This comes from the time when Christmas Eve was the big celebration of Christ's coming... And indeed in many parts of the world it still is today… Within Britain and Ireland the last vestiges of this is to be found in the Midnight Communion/Mass, which still has an enormous attraction to those who would never normally cross the threshold of a church… Some well lubricated with Christmas spirit… This led one character in the wonderful BBC “Rev” Christmas special to refer to Christmas Eve Communion as “the religious equivalent of a kebab” (do check this episode out – if not the whole series – it will make your Christmas), and frequently it has been said that the only appropriate hymn for this sort of a service is “O come all ye faithless…”

But we’re all faithless, to greater or lesser degrees… Father God alone is faithful… For us to sneer at anyone who regard themselves as regular churchgoers because they go regularly every Christmas, is to display the mentality of the “elder brother” in Jesus’ famous story of the loving Father and his two sons… The Father goes out to meet both of his children, and wants everyone to come in and enjoy the celebration…

Anyway, I hope that you enjoy your celebrations of Christ’s coming… And that you have enjoyed these reflections on the O Antiphons… I said yesterday that maybe I should have a go at translating them. Well, last night in a fit of sleeplessness I did… Here’s my humble offering…

Come, O come, O Wisdom from on high
From you all human foolishness flies;
Breathe your order into chaos as in the beginning
Grant us your vision as you wing your way over all the world.

O come, O come, O Adonai, Our Lord
Who revealed himself to Moses in a burning bush
and gave us the Law through him on Mount Sinai
come with your strong arm to rescue and redeem.

Come, O come, O Shoot from the stump of Jesse,
Before you the rulers of the earth are speechless
To you all the nations will bow in prayer
Come and free us – Hurry to help us.

Come, O come, O Key of David,
The sceptre of the House of Israel;
Release the prisoners from their dungeons
And open the gates to our eternal home.

Come, O come, O Dawn long longed for.
Sun of righteousness, O light of love,
The glory of eternity breaking into time,
Life driving away the darkness of death

Come, O Come, O King of all the nations,
Come to grant our hearts’ deepest desire;
The salvation from strife that comes from you alone
The cornerstone upon which true unity is constructed.

Come, O come, Emmanuel,
God with us – our King and Judge
Our hope and our salvation
Come and rescue us O Lord, Our God.

ERO CRAS – Tomorrow, I come…


Friday, December 23, 2011

O Come - Emmanuel

We are most familiar with this antiphon as the opening verse of John Mason Neale’s stirring advent hymn:
O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Latin 13th century translated by John M Neale (1818-1866)

The interesting thing is that the original Latin makes no reference to Israel, but returns again to the coming King as ruler of the (gentile) nations:

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

Which Maggi Dawn translates:

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

I can’t even begin to speculate why Neale changed the emphasis. Was he a British Israelite? I find suspicions about him being a closet papist in his internet biographies but no reference to such a British Israelite philosophy, although it wouldn’t have been unusual in 19th century Anglicanism…

But the original, medieval version carries no such ideology… It is simply a reiteration of much of what has been said before…

But perhaps nothing new needs to be said after addressing Christ in the initial title of Emmanuel… God with us… Look up Emmanuel on the internet, and you need to be careful what you click on thanks to a certain series of movies in the 1970s.

But Emmanuel… God with us is one of the most powerful Hebrew/Aramaic words in scripture… It has survived translation from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English… And even today it continues to have resonance… It is the title with which I have addressed God in prayer in many circumstances in recent days… with the mother of a terminally ill child, with the parents of a new born baby, with a woman struck dumb by a stroke, with another frustrated at having her life curtailed to her small care-home room by another room, with a man facing a major operation, another facing imminent death… and with numerous lonely people for whom this season brings little by way of comfort and joy…

Jesus is Emmanuel – not just for high days and holidays, but for the dark and difficult days too… The days when the stench of the stable is stuck in your nostrils…

Thursday, December 22, 2011

O Come - King

The antiphon for today is one of those missing from the traditional English version, but in Latin it reads:
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
Maggi Dawn translates it as:

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

While Alan Luff offers this:
O come, the nations' King, impart
To them the longing of their heart;
United us with that cornerstone
In whom the saved are built as one.
Alan Luff (born 1928) translated from Veni Emmanuel © Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Is this version missing from the traditional English version translated by John Mason Neale because the metaphor of Christ’s kingship sits uneasily with our modern democratic mindset? I doubt that given that he did his translation in the 19th century at the height of the British imperialism, when the idea of a Kingdom that embraces all nations might have been easily understood… Even if the Kingdom of God is slightly different from the British Empire… although disentangling one from the other in the hearts, minds and politics of 19th century British church would have been quite difficult… just as the geo-politics of the US, and its “manifest destiny” are dangerously entangled in the missiology of a lot of American churches.
The Kingdom of God will not be coterminous with any earthly kingdom, empire, nation or strategic alliance of nations… It will, one day extend around the globe, and will truly be the Kingdom on which the sun never sets. But when it refers to a Kingdom, lets not confuse it with a constitutional monarchy like our own… If Christ is to be King, then it will not be within carefully legislated parameters. It will not be a dictatorship… But it will not be a populist democracy either, with what is right being determined by what is popular. Its borders will not be marked on a map but on the contours of individual human hearts.
The real reason I think Neale dropped this verse from his version? It’s probably because of the awkward mixed metaphor of kingship and cornerstone… Neither Maggi Dawn’s or Alan Luff’s versions capture my imagination in the way that their readings of other verses do… And that is not me being critical of their creative skills – far from it… perhaps I should do a version of these O Antiphons for myself, just to demonstrate how good the two of them are! It’s simply a lot to cram into 4 short lines… But then, how can you sum up what the Kingdom of God and Christ’s Kingship really means in a few lines?
Dr. S.M. Lockridge takes a wee bit longer than that in the following prayer/poetic sermon… I’ve posted this before but he seemingly preached it many times himself, so that’s fair enough then! Sit back and enjoy… then kneel before the King of the Nations…

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O Come - Dayspring

O come, O Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by your advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Latin 13th century translated by John M Neale (1818-1866)

The only thing that Dayspring means to me is that it is the tradename of a company that has a line of cloying Christian greetings cards for all eventualities... It wasn't until I read the Latin original that I realise it has a clearer meaning:
O Oriens,

splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
Oriens means daybreak, or sunrise... Is it an accident that the ancient writers of this series of songs saved this one for the day before the shortest day of the year and the true beginning of winter? I don't think so...
Maggi Dawn translates this verse with a wee bit more liberty writing:

Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

This obviously draws on that promise in Isaiah that features in the standard set of readings for the 9 Lessons and Carols:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2 (ANIV)
Jesus went on to claim for himself:
"I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life."
John 8:12 (ANIV)

It's only at this time of year that I see the sunrise... unless I've been working through the night, a la "Singing in the Rain"... I'm not a morning person... But as followers of the light of the world we, in turn are called to be "morning people", sharing the light of light, in the midst of the darkness of death, because Jesus also said...
You are the light of the world...
let your light shine before men,
that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in heaven. 
Matthew 5:14, 16 (ANIV)



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O Come - Key of David

Ooops... This one escaped in the form of an earlier draft that only had the following verse from Neale's translation of the Antiphon for today:

O come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Latin 13th century translated by John M Neale (1818-1866)

As has been my pattern this past week, I had intended to include the original Latin text and Maggi Dawn's stimulating translation.
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Like all the O Antiphons, this one draws on Isaiah's prophecies, in this case:
I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David;
what he opens no-one can shut, and what he shuts no-one can open.
Isaiah 22:22 (ANIV)

Of course all you Revelation junkies out there (and sometimes reading Revelation seems to be a bit of a dangerous drug...) know that John picks up on this image in the letter to Philadelphia where he writes:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.
What he opens no-one can shut, and what he shuts no-one can open.
I know your deeds.
See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut.

Revelation 3:7-8 (ANIV)
But Jesus at one point layed into the Pharisees saying, among other things:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!
You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces.
You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Matthew 23:13 (ANIV)

The key to God's kingdom has been entrusted to his church (let's not get into an argument about Peter's place in all of this)... But I worry at times that we've become a bit security conscious...
I've got a few elderly members of my congregation, brought up in the more trusting times and environment of the Lower Newtownards in and around the Second World War... no-one had anything worth stealing and they just left their front doors open so their friends, family and neighbours could just wander in and out of their house as pleased them. So nowadays, with the advent of Yale locks, they simply leave their keys stuck in the outside keyhole of their doors most of the day, and see nothing wrong in that...

With the church and its stewardship of the Kingdom of God, I've got a nasty suspicion that we are more like the Pharisees, than those gloriously naive members of my congregation...
And who do we regard as being on the inside and who is on the outside? Recently we gave our youngest son his first housekey, after a few "left on the doorstep" incidents... But are children keyholders in the Kingdom, as Jesus clearly described them to be? And what about the poor, and those who speak up for them - are they best kept on the outside like the protesters outside St. Paul's... being allowed to "occupy" a few square yards of pavement, for a while... Until it becomes economically embarassing?
And what about the "unchurched" (what an awful term) how are we throwing open the doors to the Kingdom to them in ways that doesn't just look like we want their bums to polish our pews and their money to pay for our property expenses?

And with that in mind let me share this petition adapted from a “Prayer for Christmas Morning” by Henry Van Dyke
Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love in our hearts and indeed all over the world,
so that your promise of peace to all people might be fulfilled.

ps. Because this fuller reflection has turned up so late tonight, I've put back tomorrow's offering by a few hours...

Monday, December 19, 2011

O Come - Shoot, Root, Rod, Rood, Radish whatever...

O come, O Rod of Jesse, free
Your own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell your people save,
And give the victory o'er the grave.
Latin 13th century translated by John M Neale (1818-1866)

English is a funny old language. I'm not stupid, I know my Bible and I've got a good working knowledge of the origins and derivations of words in English, yet every time I sing this verse of this advent hymn I have a picture of Jesus laying about him with a big stick, beating the Devil and his demons with this "rod of Jesse".

Of course thats not the intended image. The original Latin of this verse goes:
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,

super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
The modern English word "radish" is derived from the Latin "radix" but it is not this specific usage referred to here (the image of Christ as a small purplish vegetable is no more helpful than that of him as a headmaster's cane!) but rather the general translation as "root"... As Maggi Dawn translates this verse:
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will keep silence,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come, deliver us, and do not delay.
Medieval genealogy, and in many ways the way we lay out "family trees" today, is at odds with the way we talk about our ancestry. We talk about our roots as our predecessors, yet when we draw them out on a family tree our "roots" are at the top of the page...  Whereas our shoots (for those of us blessed with children) are lower down the page... When I was doing a family tree recently I discovered that there weren't as many roots in my family as I thought... and that they were somewhat tangled... That could explain a lot, says you...
But in both physical trees and the family variety, both the branches and the roots contribute to the well-being of the plant... Drawing in and creating the nutrients to keep it alive.
Today's Antiphon, emphasises Jesus' rootedness in a specific Jewish family, with royalty running through it's DNA... However, in the days since David it had been seriously pruned back in terms of its power and influence. So much so that Jesus' earthly father may have been descended from David, but he was a working man in a Galilean backwater.
Maggi Dawn reminds us that you should prune roses as if they belonged to your enemy. Cut them back as drastically as you like, they will always re-grow. Indeed the late great Geoff Hamilton of Gardener's World suggested, just go at them with a set of electric shears down to about 2 inches from the ground. That's my sort of pruning. And its the sort of pruning that Isaiah must have had in mind when he wrote:
“A shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his root”.
(Isaiah 11:1)
When the affairs of the house of Jesse seemed at their lowest ebb... that is when God used them for his purposes again. Not as kings or rulers in the worlds way of looking at things but in a way that would change the world forever.
And that's worth thinking about when we, the shoots that have subsequently sprung from (or been grafted into) Jesse's stump (See John 15:1-6 and Romans 11:11-23) feel that we have been pruned back more than we can bear...
Just wait for the spring...
O Come...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

O Come - Lord

O come, O come, O Lord of might
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe
Latin 13th century translated by John M Neale (1818-1866)

The original Latin of this is:
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
Which Maggi Dawn translated as:
O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and on Mount Sinai gave him your law.
Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us
Maggi keeps the word Adonai in her translation of this verse of the old Advent hymn... The title which we are told was ascribed to God, and used in place of his sacred name of YHWH when the Jewish rabbis were reading from scripture, for fear that they would take God's actual name in vain, leading to the later mix up of the consonants from YHWH and the vowels from Adonai, to produce the composite "Jehovah."
Makes me wonder how many times a pernickety approach to God's law and getting things mixed up have led to a misapprehension, not only of the name or title of God, but his entire character?
I suppose in some ways that is why God in his grace had to reveal himself as the incarnate Word... to flesh out and fulfil the law... And save us, not just from the penalty of the Law, but our tendency to get everything confused...
But 2 millenia on and we're still elevating law over grace... trying to legislate the coming of God's kingdom on earth, whereas we know that his kingdom comes when we bow the knee before Christ as King, as the shepherds and wise men did before the baby of Bethlehem, and then get back off our knees and live out Christ's loving lordship in our everyday lives.

As it says in the last book of the Bible:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

O Come - Wisdom

Yesterday I shared Maggi Dawn's introduction to the "O Antiphons" better known through the hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". However, as I said yesterday, most versions of the hymn omit 2 of the original verses, and we actually begin with one of those missing verses, which Alan Luff recently translated as:
O come, thou Wisdom from on high
Before whom all our follies fly;
Give thy sweet order to all things
As through the world thy prudence wings.
Alan Luff (born 1928) translated from Veni Emmanuel © Stainer & Bell Ltd.

For Latin purists Maggi Dawn posted the original Antiphon as:
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
In the modern world we value knowledge and information... and we have never had so much of it at our fingertips, floating around in the ether, ready to download at any time. But Glenn Campbell over at Kilroy Cafe writes:
Society is currently intoxicated with information, thinking that information will solve everything. In fact, information solves nothing! The same problems of the world persist! Certainly, good data is important input to any decision, but data doesn't make the decision; wisdom does. If balanced wisdom isn't there, then the decision will fail no matter how much data you have.

How we use that information is a matter of wisdom... and there doesn't seem quite so much of that floating around. I often wonder what T.S. Eliot would have made of the internet given his famous question...
"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
Earlier in the year over on Newsbiscuit I came across this piece:
People with too much wisdom and experience could find themselves redundant in Digital Britain’s new knowledge economy. ‘In the Internet age, when wisdom is just a mouse click away, there’s little demand for people who had to spend their whole lives learning by experience,’ said Gino Spencer, chief evangelist of Zeitgeist Social Media.

The traditional model of obtaining wisdom was a three stage largely manual process that involved huge investment of time and energy. It involved book reading, followed by word of mouth references, recommendations from friends and counsel with a bloke in the pub who knows everything. But the really crazy bit came next, when this heresay data was cross referenced with a period of personal experience.
‘What a palava,’ says Spencer. ‘These days, you can consult your iPad and get instant wisdom.’

It is a spoof, but I think there are people who function like that, and actually in Judeo-Christian tradition however, Wisdom isn't simply a matter of "learning from experience", but rather it is seen as a gift of God. I say "it" but to be more accurate I should say, "she" as Wisdom is a person, an aspect (a FEMININE aspect) of the Divine. In the New Testament this is equated with the Holy Spirit... Suggesting -
1) Wisdom is more than simply Emmanuel "God with us" but is God in us.
2) Perhaps in the macho modern world we need to get in touch, if not with our own feminine sides, we need to get in touch with God's
3) True Wisdom is relational... not simply abstract thought... facts, figures and strategic plans
As James writes:
the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
James 3:17 (ANIV)

I want to download wisdom like that...

Friday, December 16, 2011

O Come - O Come...

Last year in the run up to Christmas, Maggi Dawn published a series of posts on the so-called "O Antiphons" and in her introduction she said:
"The “O Antiphons” are seven short songs, one of which is said or sung each evening for seven nights before Christmas Eve – the last “octave” or seven days of Advent, 17-23 December. (There are some other traditions in which extra antiphons are inserted – for instance, the Sarum liturgy has eight, and another has twelve). By ancient tradition, the Antiphon for the day was sung before the Magnificat at Vespers, the evening office, and in the Anglican tradition the antiphons are used in Evening Prayer. They weren’t in the Book of Common Prayer, but you can find them in the English Hymnal, and in Common Worship.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the Antiphons, you probably know the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Veni Emmanuel in Latin), which condenses all the antiphons into one Advent hymn.
They are called the “O” Antiphons simply because each one begins with the word “O…” followed by one of the traditional Messianic names drawn from the book of the prophet Isaiah...
The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is uncertain. They were referred to as early as the 6th century by Christian philosopher Boethius, and were in use in the liturgies of Rome by the 8th century. But it’s evidence of their wide usage in the monastic tradition that suggests they originated in the early centuries of the Christian tradition."
I didn't know any of that. So who says that the internet is a useless, time-wasting tool!?

So, following that ancient tradition I thought that I would reflect on the 7 verses of that hymn as we enter into the final days of Advent and the run up to (or stagger towards) Christmas... "Seven verses?" say you... "I've only ever sung 5!" Well, stick with this series and you too might learn something new... In the meantime, here is a modern instrumental version of this beautiful advent carol, by Casting Crowns, with images taken from the film "The Nativity."


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Santa, God and Satan

A few days ago I overheard this conversation which Sally later posted as her fb status update:
Sally: So do you think Santa is a real person?
Ciaran: What?? You can't disprove Santa is real. Well you can, but then you would crush my childhood dreams and I will bring Childline down on your head like a hurricane.
Everyday life in the Campton household.
Anyway, a few days before I overheard another conversation on a bus which included the line:
"I gave up believing in God shortly after I gave up believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy."
I'm sure you've come across similar, and if not, spend 5 minutes looking at the comments on many "Christian" contributions to YouTube or other open-access Christian website.
Such an attitude to the idea of God reflects more on our "consumerist" attitude to God... he's there to bless us and to turn painful experiences (like losing a tooth) into gain (hopefully financial!).
If you want to start debating with someone on the back of statements of this kind then  this post by Michael Patton over on Pen and Parchment last March may be of interest... It certainly makes a change from my younger days when it only took Santa to be mentioned in evangelical circles for someone to mount a spiritual high-horse in which the fact that poor old St Nicholas' modern monicker is an anagram of Satan, would be the clinching argument concerning the evils of the modern Christmas, although those arguments are still out there... (everything's out there on the internet if you are prepared to waste time looking for it).
However, perhaps before debating with non-theists about the logical inconsistencies of their Santa/God analogy, we could have a look at how we who claim to be theists, approach God... Because this erroneous understanding of God as a cosmic-Santa, has not arisen purely in the minds of non-theists spontaneously without "cause", but is probably founded on the fact that we in the church often talk about him and treat him in such a way, spending more time on our Christmas prayer lists, than in listening to him... More time trying to get him to work for us than in truly worshipping him...
Perhaps if people outside the church saw us worshipping the God of scripture rather than a God with a fluffy beard who will bless us (or otherwise) on the basis of whether we are naughty or nice then perhaps they might take us, and God, more seriously.

ps. Am I the only person in the western world who has never seen "Elf"?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

O Come and Behold Who?

I originally picked this up at the beginning of the year, but Christmas had been and gone by that stage, and with it the season of carolling (to which most ministers generally respond with a collective sigh of relief). But it has now swung round again and anything that gives us a new angle on overly-familiar songs sung repeatedly over a few weeks is worth thinking about. In this case the word "angle" is particularly apposite.
Now I have repeatedly pointed out some of the political dimensions of the nativity story as we find it in Matthew's and Luke's Gospels, but Esther Addley, on Comment is Free, suggested that some of our favourite carols had political origins too (though perhaps not always quite in tune with the original gospel story). Her account of 'O come all ye faithful' is particularly interesting. I don't know if there is any truth in it, but she suggests that Adeste Fideles, the Latin hymn from which the carol was translated, was not composed by a medieval mystic as was once thought, but by John Francis Wade, a Jacobite loyalist who may have written it as a coded call to arms for those loyal (the "faithful") to the exiled Bonnie Prince Charlie on the eve of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. In those terms, the Bethlehem to which loyalists are summoned can be read as England, while the line translated as "Come and behold him, born the king of angels" may in fact contain a pun on "regem anglorum", the king of the English.
So in this province of ours where many revere a king who was regarded as the Dutch usurper by those Jacobites, there may be a certain irony in the lusty singing of this rebel song...
But then the song the original angels sang outside Bethlehem was an act of open rebellion against the usurping earthly empires...
(My original link to this story was via Burke's Corner, but the original post seems to have disappeared.)