Friday, December 28, 2007

Eight aspirations

Liberal England has challenged me to name eight aspirations or, perhaps, predictions for the coming year. After some consideration I offer the following thoughts, put forward in great hope but not with any sense of prophecy.

  • First: that Mr Clegg should emerge as a man of stature, a statesman for the times, a torch-bearer of liberty.
  • Second: that our great party should place itself at the head of a great and popular movement that declares that the promotion of justice and peace overseas requires justice and liberty at home.
  • Third: that the same movement should declare that reform is based on a trust of the people, not subversion of the popular will, recognising that reform of public institutions in the interests of the masses is a necessary part of progress.
  • Fourth: that representatives of the Labour movement should at last shed the legacy of Mr Marx, not just in their speech and their declarations but in practical recognition that the economy and the populace cannot be ruled by dictat.
  • Fifth: that our national church should reverse the 150 years of decline initiated by the departure of Newman and Manning, presenting itself as a herald of virtue and catholic unity.
  • Sixth: that families are spared the poverty, misery and loss of property and entitlement that might be engendered if disturbing signs of economic instability come to fruition.
  • Seventh: that I can reconcile my unbelief in purgatory with my existence in this peculiar electronic world where words and rhetoric rule over all and the weaknesses of the flesh are hardly present. Is this perhaps an entrance hall into Heaven and the presence of the Almighty?
  • Eight: that somewhere in these halls I should chance again upon the gracious presence of our Queen and have the opportunity once again to share conversation and discuss great affairs with a lady of great wisdom and deep religiosity.

I am then challenged to name five other "blogs" who will also name eight aspirations for the New Year, passing along something called a meme, a word which I suspect of having Greek origin as it cannot possibly be the French word. I have journeyed in several directions in this peculiar world of blogosphere and would mention the following who, in my humble opinion, should participate in this fancy. At my age, I am a little slow and a number of my nominees, I fear, have already been "tagged" and may even have responded to this cheerful challenge: Ciceros Songs, What's Left in the Church, Anti-Itchmeditation, John Davies, Talking the Walk.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Rejoice in the Lord alway! Again I say rejoice!

The words of the epistle rang out across the aisles today. No doubt the writers of the Prayer Book lived in a time when Christmas merriment took different forms from those enjoyed now or in my time. But their message was clear and distinct: this is a time when the greatest joy is to be found in the coming of Our Lord.

Why should there be such joy? People may say that the world lives in darkness, that slaughter and poverty are everywhere and that the coming of the Prince of Peace has made no difference to the misery of mankind. If that is what you believe, then the correct and proper response to the darkest season of the year is to blot it out with alcohol, to gorge yourself solid and avert your eyes from such sorrow.

Or you may argue that mankind has indeed made progress in the last two millennia but that the Christmas story bears no relevance to this progress, indeed that man is master of his own destiny. You may indeed celebrate this but I ask you, where is your joy?

For indeed there has been progress, if in stops and starts. Much of mankind has been freed from tyranny and poverty and even the extremes of fear and subservience.

Whence does this progress date? Surely it dates from that one event in a stable in a small middle-eastern town. Before that time just a few peoples, the Jews, the Greeks craved freedom and were most often denied it, while even fewer believed that peace was possible without tyranny. The Prince of Peace came not as an emperor to impose order and justice but as a tradesman and a vagrant. Consider those reflections of the virgin Mary: He hath exalted the humble and meek. Never again would the humble be destined for slavery; now they could aspire to exaltation.

The echoes of the trumpet call announcing the coming of the Prince can be heard through pre-history, at least as far as the poet Homer. In the same way those who listen can see the footprints of the Prince, marching through subsequent history. He may continue to be betrayed by His generals and ill-served by His lieutenants but His army advances regardless and it is the best of armies in which to serve. It marches with joyful songs, without fear or force of weapons of this world.

I would therefore wish all men and women the happiest of Christmases and urge you to spend time in reflection during this most special of days, in whichever way you may think best.

Another quandary

What am I meant to make of the news that a former leader of this country has adopted the Catholic faith? In my time I had many vehement arguments with this church and objected mightily to the declaration of the doctrine of Papal infallibility, a matter which caused me especial concern as we had championed the enfranchisement of the Roman Catholics but, it seemed as if members of the church would be subject to the decrees of the human Pope rather than the British state. The matter was in part resolved through the good offices of Cardinal Newman although, I should say, not wholly to my satisfaction.

In this respect Mr Blair was perhaps wise to wait until after departure from office to declare his allegiance to the Pope. But I would hope, indeed pray, that this was not his reason for delaying his declaration because, if it were so, it would mean he, Mr Blair, was implying that no member of the Catholic Church can lead this country and that would be a terrible disenfranchisement of the many citizens who belong within it.

Indeed it seems that the world at large is waiting to know whether Mr Blair has changed his political views as well as his religious views for, it seems, that on a host of matters he was at variance with the Catholic Church during his premiership and in no respect could be accused of acting as its agent. He was even, I hear, advised by the Pope not to undertake his ill-judged adventures in the East.

It is all very puzzling when we are told that Mr Blair, in truth, held sympathies for this church for some considerable period. I wonder whether even Cardinal Newman would allow an adherent to be so at odds with his church.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mr Clegg is an atheist

So Mr Clegg is an atheist. He is also an honest man - although I would wish he had been so frank during his contest for the party leadership.

People may say that Mr Gladstone should be bothered about this but I am not. I championed the right of Mr Bradlaugh to join our party ranks in parliament as the first declared atheist to represent the Commons. It is far better that a statesman should be honest about their inclinations and both instances indicate how true liberalism can create a climate of honesty in politics rather than the humbuggery that so often accompanies it.

The Liberal party by its nature embraces people of all faiths and none, united in agreeing tolerance for each other. I am not surprised that it is now populated with atheists and have no complaint with them, provided they do not obstruct the right of the people to enjoy their traditional Christian faith. I would however wish, in a personal capacity, such people to keep open minds and hearts to the Gospel, but that is not a matter for the political realm. My complaint is rather with Christians, who have abandoned the public realm or chosen to pursue their own interests within it, rather than the interests of justice and the common weal, the expression of the compassion of Christ, who declared that God only is the judge of mankind.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Congratulations Mr Clegg

My heartiest congratulations to Mr Clegg and my commiserations to Mr Huhne, who fought a brave campaign and edged so near to his rival. It is to be hoped that both distinguished gentlemen proceed to hold the highest offices of state. Having some limited experience of leadership in the political realm, I will be more than happy to offer counsel in the days and years to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Third Sunday in Advent

I note the nation has been exercised by the reputed loss of the Nativity Play, which, it appears, has been performed in schools for many years. This play, it seems, enables children to act out in simple form the wonderful story of the birth of Our Lord and is frequently performed in schools funded by local education boards.

It is delightful to hear that schools for so long have exercised their responsibilities in Christian education so faithfully. When we gave the task of developing public education to locally elected boards, it was by no means apparent what routes they would take and choices they would make in respect of religion but it seemed right to use that the people should make these choices for themselves. I can only observe now that these Nativity Plays have had little impact in stemming the growing tide of irreligion that has engulfed this nation, except inasmuch as they have enshrined the place of the Christmas festivities in its heart. I can only think how much joy it would have brought to our dear Queen to know that her own special season continues to be marked so well and, indeed, in my walks around our towns and cities I am astounded by the spectacle that erupts from even the humblest abode, a blaze of coloured lights, sparkling stars and shining images.

Indeed it seems that the nation clings almost child-like to the vision of a joyous Christmas introduced by the beloved Albert and enhanced by the incisive writings of Mr Dickens. At worship today, I noted that scant reference was made to the process of Advent and the prescribed reading, which draws attention to the herald of our Lord, John the Baptist. Instead there was a rush to begin the singing of the carols, including that wonderful song of Father Mohre, Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

Yet it is stated that for all the lavishness of celebration, the British people are in growing ignorance of the Christmas story and the significance of the birth of Our Lord. One almost sympathises with the Lord Protector Cromwell who ordered the English to devote their time to worship rather than festivity at Christmas time. For in spite of the gifts of the Magi, the first Christmas was not a time of great festivity but rather an occasion when God himself was born in discomfort, in surroundings of oppression, fear and poverty.

But, in truth, it is not the place of the public authorities to order the people to worship. True worship comes when one contemplates the divinity of the Christ-child and the marvel that here was God incarnate, born in a stable. It is little wonder our children are confused when the Christ is presented to them as a factory-made doll, rather than He who conquered the powers of death and brought freedom to the nations.

I would expand on this important matter but yet again I am castigated by a preacher of religion for alleged verbosity. In my opinion, there are not enough words in the whole universe to encapsulate this greatest moment in history but doubtless modern preachers have their restless audience to consider.

Friday, December 14, 2007


I am bemused to read that a Mr Foster, who speaks on culture for our great party, is exercised by the phenomenon of entertainment "repeats". Mr Foster, it seems, thinks it is wrong that the public should be required to watch anything but new entertainments on Christmas Day. "People are fed up with Christmas because of repeats," he is reported to have stated.

I have endeavoured to build understanding and appreciation of this phenomenon called television over the last few weeks. It contains much to amuse and much to distract and I have cause to wonder how a population that continues to work to earn a wage can possibly embrace all it has to offer. It has expanded considerably in recent years, I understand, so it is now within the bounds of possibility to choose to view a continuous selection of "repeats".

It has been my experience that great stories always bear repeated consideration. I think in particular of the epic stories of Homer and Virgil. To take a more recent example, Mr Dickens released his stories in instalments but then bound them in books so we could peruse them at leisure.

I am bemused therefore why Mr Foster thinks the masses are so starved of entertainment that they will not appreciate a fresh viewing of modern classics, if indeed they are classics, at a time when they have the leisure to imbibe them whilst in the bosom of the family. Indeed at the centre of the festivities is a story that has been repeated many thousand times since it first occurred and I would hope that all Christian families would take time during the day to consider this most wonderful of all stories.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Second Sunday in Advent

As everything of this season points to one moment, I can envisage the difficulties encountered by the church fathers in devising a liturgy that looks forwards and backwards simultaneously. Today we were treated to St Luke's grand vision of the coming of God's kingdom but in my personal reflections I prefer to look elsewhere.

For weekly at evensong the pious recite those prophetic words penned by the Evangelist, introduced by a Latin title. The title, the Magnificat, is a reminder that for centuries worshippers intoned these words in sonorous but meaningless Latin and in their ignorance of the classical language were kept in ignorance of the radical power of this prophecy. I wonder whether Cramner in ordering their translation - for I presume it was he - envisaged the upheaval and turmoil that would accompany the masses' discovering that the Messiah was not sent to uphold the established order, the power of kings and nobles, of emperors and empires.

It is equally amazing that words of such power were uttered by a young woman on the brink of motherhood and indeed echoed the equally powerful words of the mother of the last judge, Hannah, centuries earlier.

He hath shewed strength with his arms; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat; and hath exalted the humble and meek.

It is little wonder that Bloody Mary ordered the burning of Cramner and his associates; it is surprising that her mad father did not see the perils they posed, although it may be that as the second generation Tudor he still felt himself to be one of the exalted humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

It may be that even English loses its meaning when repeated and chanted weekly without comprehension. That is why I prefer to consider these words once a year at this season, to remember that the coming of the Son of God brought hope for millions. For too many millions that hope is not realised in this earthly realm but those who conspire to deny this divine hope should consider that they will in time face the judgement of the Almighty.

There were many ways in which the Virgin's words stated a historical reality, anathema to the rulers of her time and to many of those in mine. No human empire or power can sustain itself in eternity and no individual can ensure status and power for their descendants. It is better to walk humbly in service to the Almighty.

I wished that Beaconsfield and those who were seduced by him had acknowledged this principle in their overweening desire to establish our nation at the centre of a mighty empire rather than as part of a family of freely trading nations. Looking back from here I see them all gone, the British Empire, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and at an overwhelming and unutterably awful cost to mankind. I can only rejoice that the legacy of our liberal principles ensured that our own dear Queen's descendants still enjoy a place of some respect in this nation, although I fear her Majesty did not always understand my explanation of these matters.

The rise and fall of democrats need not be as bloody as that of tyrants but it is the beauty of democracy that the humble and meek can be lifted high and that those who aspire to rival the divinity in the attainment of power will of necessity be humbled and that their downfall can be swift and merciful.

It is salutory now to see the heirs of the Labour movement esconced in the palace of Westminster and the corridors of Whitehall. I do not regret our enabling their access to Parliament although I would have wished my party could have met their aspirations and ensured that Mr Marx's wilder ideas stayed locked within his scribblings.

The heirs of the Labour movement may now be at that place of humiliation, having been seduced by the blandishments of power, having succumbed to the attractions of the goddess Nike - repeated victory regardless of principle. It is my fervent hope that my own party may after so long offer the masses an alternative, if temporal, hope of stable, just and far-sighted government but also that, under the leadership of Mr Clegg or Mr Huhne, it may approach this prospect with appropriate humility and a conviction of service to the people.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

First Sunday in Advent

The First Sunday in Advent always marks the start of a special season, the anticipation of the moment on which the whole of history pivots, the incarnation of Our Lord. The warm glow of candles, the smells and the sweet sound of choristers always, for me, provided a soothing respite from a busy time in the legislative calendar and there was many a service from which I returned invigorated and refreshed for the fray, anxious to resolve issues and slay dragons of timidity or privilege. It was I fear the cause of occasional domestic argument as my dear wife could not always understand why I could not respect the remainder of the sabbath, or indeed the holiest day of them all, by settling by the fireside with a warm glass of mulled wine.

It was pleasing and surprising to a see a Christmas tree in church today and indeed to see them sprouting all over the place around the land, and, I am sure, would have been enormously gratifying to our dear Queen, whose beloved husband was responsible for adding so much merriment to English celebrations. Like many I was at first suspicious of his Germanic customs - although the tree itself is the responsibility of an English saint, the blessed St Boniface, who took the gospel to the Germans. My suspicions were allayed when my children enthusiastically adopted this foreign practice and in time I came, when opportunity allowed, to provide the family tree myself, felling it with a vigorous blow of the axe.