Love, no matter what…

The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking in the House of Lords, appears to believe that the new Gay Marriage Bill will undermine family life.

Welby told peers the bill had created confusion, adding: “Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated – being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the bill is an awkward shape with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it – neither fitting well.

“The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense predating the state and as our base community of society is weakened.

“For these and many other reasons those of us in the churches and faith groups, who are extremely hesitant about the bill in many cases, hold that view because we think that traditional marriage is a cornerstone of society and rather than adding a new and valued institution alongside it for same gender relationships, which I would personally strongly support to strengthen us all, this bill weakens what exists and replaces it with a less good option that is neither equal nor effective.”

Welby said that his concerns did not stem from faith but from what he believes is the best for society. He said: “And so with much regret, but entire conviction, I cannot support the bill as it stands.”

I have never really understood this argument. How does allowing same sex couples to marry undermine or devalue marriage for the rest (the majority) of us? How does it create confusion? Am I less committed to love and to my children because same sex couples also are able to formally cement life long relationships? I say this with respect to the archbishop and to friends of mine who have the same views, but your argument does not make sense to me.

I am forced to conclude that the real issue is not really the ‘sanctity of marriage’ (which is a highly confused concept all on its own) but rather a pervasive discomfort with the morality, theology and physiology of homosexuality itself. People I speak to who take this view, when pushed, often reveal a conviction that being gay is not ‘natural’, and marriage needs protection from some kind of creeping militant homosexual liberalism. I DO understand this argument. Change of what we hold to be right and true is always tough- particularly when deeply held religious beliefs are involved. Our culture has been on a journey of change over the past decades in relation to homosexuality and this kind of change takes time, conversation and mutual exchange on all sides.

I have made my contributions to this debate already on this blog, but as the vote in the House of Lords draws close, I will add this thought- are there higher considerations? Is not the greatest thing that we celebrate as humans love? 

Michaela and I watched this last night- grab a cuppa and watch;

 

Freemasonry- benign oddity or the seed of corruption?

freemasonry

A few years ago, some friends and I put together a festival of art and worship in and around our home town. We brought together all sorts of music, visual art, prayer rooms, poetry. The final event was a worship concert led by a worship leader/song writer from England, who shall remain nameless- suffice it to say that he is of a prophetic bent.

The final concert drew a lot of people- the festival had been rather successful in gathering together our rather disparate and sectarian denominational groups. Sadly, not many people stayed to the end. The worship leader was used to lashing up a Holy Ghost storm, and when the response was more -shall we say – West of Scotland Presbyterian, he switched into Spiritual Warfare mode. It became a train wreck, and I am still wincing as I write this.

The rights and wrongs I will not debate fully here, but one of the issues that the worship leader thundered about was Freemasonry. His declaration was that it was the work of the devil, and the reason for all the spiritual oppression that held us all back from worship, and prevented God from working in our area. I always thought this to be wrong in both theory and application, and even years and years later, there are people in my town who regard Aoradh with great suspicion because of this event.

But what of Freemasonry? I was reminded again of the weirdness of it all whilst reading this article. It is an adventure into Co-Masonry, an order that welcomes men and women alike, but points out that all forms of Freemasonry in the UK are in decline, and have an aging membership.

At its postwar peak, membership of a fraternity that began as a sort of union for medieval stonemasons was boosted by returning armed service personnel as well as some of the most powerful men in the land. George VI, who died in 1952, is the last British king to be listed on the official UGLE website, which also includes Winston Churchill, an Archbishop of Canterbury and a surprisingly long list of celebrities from Nat King Cole to Peter Sellers. The royal connection continues today with the Duke of Kent, who is the current grand master of the UGLE.

Freemasons have long denied suggestions that it is a pernicious old boys’ network, arguing that it is a sort of gentleman’s club, concerned with moral and spiritual growth. Although in the UK the sense that freemasons are no longer the force they once were has given rise to jokes about suburban middle managers prone to rolling up their trouser legs and doing funny handshakes, there are signs elsewhere that membership confers preferment. The collapse of Propaganda Due or P2, an order that linked Silvio Berlusconi to the Italian central bank and the heads of all three secret services until it was closed down in the 1980s, did little to end suspicions.

Given this double whammy of conspiracy and mockery, it is no surprise that all parts of the fraternity are looking for a rebrand. Or the fact that Co-Freemasons want to disassociate themselves from the main branch, employ a PR company and launch a “recruitment drive” specifically aimed at attracting younger women.

A quasi-religion in decline? No surprise there- after all most Christian denominations have shrunk considerably over the past few decades in the UK- we have moved into a phase of individualised fluidity, when anchoring ourselves to clubs with Victorian rituals has really gone out of fashion for all but a few weirdos (like me.)

That is without making any mention of the scandals and controversies around Freemasonry. They are at the centre of more conspiracy theories than just about any other group, and quite frankly I am not interested. Neither am I that keen on categorising a whole group of people as ‘evil’ or corrupt just because of the clubs they belong to.

I simply do not know enough about it all to label people like this. I can attest to the fact that two of the nicest blokes I know- people active in their community, people who live and work with integrity and humanity – are also masons.

I do confess however to some prejudice. This from the same article;

There has been a long and often bitter history of mistrust between organised religion and freemasonry. At its most benign it led to a spat between freemasons and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, when he suggested their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity. He then got into trouble for appointing a freemason to be bishop, thereby proving many avenues are open to freemasons but still closed to women.

Touche.

The worship leader earlier mentioned was right in one sense- Argyll has long been a stronghold of Freemasonry. Each of our small towns has its own Lodge.

There is also, from local gossip, a strong link between our Council and the local lodges. Argyll has had one of the few ‘independent’ led councils- although the SNP currently lead the coalition.  There was a time when some of the senior council officers and the political leadership supposedly shared a common, yet secret brotherhood.

But of course, this is speculation- how can I know for sure? It is after all a secret organisation. If it is true, then no matter how good, how honest the people involved, then this kind of alliance has no part in a democracy. There is quite enough secret use of power even without a quasi religious overlay. We need greater openness, not a shared secret ritual for the chosen few.

So- the question- benign oddity or corruption? I suppose the answer is that Freemasonry can be both, even at the same time. Charity can go hand in hand with the promotion of mutual interest. This can happen equally in churches, cricket clubs or mosques. The difference is the secrecy – can Freemasonry survive without all the ceremonial mystique?

The spiritual side of all this, unlike the worship leader, I am happy to leave to God.

Welcome to the new Archbishop…

At the time of writing this, we await the likely announcement that Justin Welby, the current Bishop of Durham, will be the next leader of the Anglican Communion. There is a 15 min radio profile on him here.

Here is my gathering of a few facts about him;

Eaton school. Most expensive fee paying school in the land, where the rich and autocratic send their kids.

Trinity College Cambridge. Member of the Christian Union, a very Evangelical Grouping known as ‘the God Squad’. The dean however (in contrast to Dean of John Robinson, was a liberal radical, famous for a controversial liberal theology book called ‘Honest to God’.)

Evangelical. Attended Holy Trinity Brompton, Charismatic in outlook.

Joined an Oil Company, became treasurer. Very rich.

1989 gave it up to become parish priest.

10 years ago, fast rise up church hierarchy- Dean, Bishop of Liverpool, Bishop of Durham (less than a year.)

Now Archbishop?

Where does he stand on those totemic issues that have the capacity to rip the church apart? Apparently he is supportive of women in ministry, but his views on homosexuality are less clear. He has suggested that he supports the ‘churches position’ on the matter, which might suggest he holds to traditional teaching.

However, others have suggested he has really good skills relevant to the post- being a great communicator, intermediary, good with managing money and engaging with issues. This as contrast with the outgoing Archbishop, Rowan Williams, who was a brilliant, deeply spiritual, cerebral character.

Leadership matters. We only have to look at the things happening in the Roman Catholic Church at the moment under the leadership of Pope Benedict as he tries to roll back changes made in the church over the last 40 years since Vatican II.

The Anglican Communion is a very different animal however- much more about the vicarage kitchen table than the Papal palace. I hope and pray that Justin Welby will be a leader who we will look back on with same affection as most will be doing on his predecessor.

Archbishop suggests adding meditation to curriculum- shock…

Well, not quite.

Rowan Williams spoke to some Catholic Bishops at the invitation of an unusually reconciliatory Pope Benedict. The meeting focussed on how the Church might be more relevant to an increasingly secular world.

The good Archbish offered up the idea of teaching kids to meditate;

“To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit,” he said.

“To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

“Having seen at first hand, in Anglican schools in Britain, how warmly young children can respond to the invitation offered by meditation in this tradition, I believe its potential for introducing young people to the depths of our faith to be very great indeed.” Dr Williams added that for adults who had “drifted away” from regular attendance at Church, the style of worship practised in places such as Taizé could offer a “way back”.

From the Telegraph.

What do you think? Can developing a contemplative life really have such a transformational effect on the next generation? Can you really inculcate the practice of spiritual contemplation at an early age in this way?