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londinoupolis: Church as a Sacred Ground

6 October 2015

‘When we build a church or set apart a place of worship we do something which reaches far beyond the obvious significance of the fact. The whole world which God created has become a place where men have sinned; the devil has been at work, a fight is going on constantly; there is no place on this earth which has not been soiled by blood, suffering or sin.

Source: londinoupolis: Church as a Sacred Ground

An interesting article about holy or sacred spaces.


A Historical Look at the Vespers Service | Fr. Ted’s Blog

4 October 2015

Vespers is the evening prayer service in the daily cycle of liturgical services. It can be done every day of the year and is designed to be done at sunset each day. Archbishop Job Getcha offers us some idea as to when the various elements in our current Vespers service became part of the rubrics for Vespers.

Source: A Historical Look at the Vespers Service | Fr. Ted’s Blog


Saints, witchcraft and witch hunts

30 September 2015

In September 2015 the Roman Catholic Church officially beatified a new martyr in Southern Africa, St Benedict Daswa.

daswa1This event received quite wide media publicity, though some was rather misleading. Some said that he was South Africa’s first saint, though for several years previously Anglicans in South Africa had been venerating Manche Masemola, a teenage girl who was beaten to death by her family in 1928 when she became a Christian. She was preparing for baptism, and it was said that she was baptised in her own blood.

Another misleading aspect of the reports about Benedict Daswa is that they said he was killed for opposing or not believing in witchcraft. This diverts attention from the most significant aspect of his death and subsequent beatification: he was killed for refusing to participate in a witch hunt. Those who did particpate in the witch hunt opposed witchcraft just as much as Benedict Daswa — something that media reports sometimes failed to make clear.  Tshimangadzo Daswa: South Africa’s first martyr to be beatified | Daily Maverick:

In 1989 heavy lightning strikes caused some homes in his village to be burnt to the ground. The villagers believed this was not natural; they believed they had to find the person responsible for the fire. A decision was taken to consult a sorcerer in a nearby village to seek out the ‘witch’ responsible. Each villager was asked to contribute R5 towards the cost of the consultation. Daswa was not present when the decision was made and when he returned he tried to explain that lightning and thunderstorms are natural phenomena. His explanation was rejected and the people insisted that they consult a sorcerer. The villagers were angered by the fact that he refused to pay the money they had agreed upon.

There are several significant things here.

Not the least of them is that it indicates a huge change in the thinking of the Roman Cartholic Church. In the Great European witch hunt in the Early Modern period, the so-called “burning Times”, the Roman Catholic Church not only connived at witch hunts, it often took an active part in them, and in many cases initiated them. Declaring someone who refused to participate in a witch hunt a saint therefore shows just how much things have changed from 500 years ago.

Perhaps even more significant is that in the 1990s witch hunting was a big problem in South Africa, especially in the Limpopo Province, where Benedict Daswa lived and died. Twenty years ago I wrote an article on Christian reponses to witchcraft and sorcery, pointing out that the Zionists often had a better response than those Christian denominations that liked to consider themselves “mainline”. Declaring Benedict Daswa a saint, however, may be the best response of all.

It could be said that declaring someone a saint has a greater and more noble purpose than teaching a didactic moral lesson that witch hunts are wrong. But, at the very least, declaring someone a saint does draw attention to that person as having lived, at least in some sense, an exemplary Christian life, and if someone is an exemplar then one can tell their story to urge others to follow their example.

The article in the Daily Maverick goes on to point out that in many ways Benedict Daswa’s behaviour was countercultural Tshimangadzo Daswa: South Africa’s first martyr to be beatified:

the Daswa case does raise some broader questions about local cultures and Christianity. For many people in Africa there is still tension between the Christian faith and local culture. Christianity is still seen, largely, as mediated through a western mind-set. Many Christian symbols and expressions are western in origin. Christianity, in many forms, is growing in the southern hemisphere and, specifically, in Africa. The Daswa case highlights a huge challenge Christianity faces: In what ways will the church break free of its western dominance and become more accommodating of non-western cultures? How will Christianity interract with local customs and cultures so that it can be expressed in those local customs, cultures and symbols?

But if Benedict Daswa was countercultural, so were most Christian saints. Their lives were often lived in contrast to the prevalent lifestyle of the society around them. Another article on the Daswa beatification makes this point, comparing Benedict Daswa with Steve Biko Parallels between Biko and Daswa – The Mercury: “While they were very different individuals, both men rejected blindly following the herd, and took a stand for what is right.”

As I pointed out in the article referred to above, the dominant resposse of Western modernity to witchcraft and sorcery is to deny that such things exist, and therefore to believe that the best way to combat witch hunts is to give people a Western education and a modern outlook so that they will no longer believe in the efficacy of witchcraft. This was the approach of many 19th century Protestant missionaries who came to Africa from Western Europe and North Americas. They believed that “civilization” must precede Christianisation. I noted that the Zionists did not take this approach. They took African witchcraft beliefs seriously, and combated them in a non-Western but Christian way.

Declaring someone a saint is in a way similar. It makes no judgements on the efficacy of witchcraft and sorcery, but it holds up someone who refused to participate in a witch hunt as an example to be emulated.

The Roman Catholic Church has also tried the modern approach.

It has published booklets in various African languages on how to construct a lightning conductor, with explanations of how it works. It seems that Benedict Daswa himself gave such an explanation for why he would not participate in a witch hunt.

I recall buying some of those booklets and distributing them to self-supporting clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand in the 1980s. There had been news reports of people being killed by lightning strikes, and I thought the self-supporting priests and deacons could show their communities how to protect themselves.

The booklets provoked a lot of theological and missiological discussion.

One of the priests, Charles Zigode, was a shopkeeper, and he said he refused to protect either his shop or his home with a lightning conductor. Some of the others asked him why, and he said that the Zionists protected their homes with prayer flags. These were bamboo poles with blessed flags on the top. He told the Zionists he did not need a prayer flag, because he trusted in God to protect him without such an artifact. He said that if he were to erect a “scientific” lightning conductor, the Zionists would not believe that it was scientific, but would see it as the Anglican equivalent of one of their prayer flags, and show that he too needed a concrete symbol of divine protection.

There was very little mention in the discussion of the pagan Zulu form of protection, which sometimes took the form of a horn or pair of horns filled with muti, attached to the roof. The Zulu folklore explanation of thunder was that it was the hooves of heavenly herds of cattle, and the best counter to lightning would be to enlist the aid of a heavenly cowboy (umalusi wezulu) to keep the cattle under control.

The point here is that there is not a simple antithesis of Western culture and African culture. There are varying shades of Western and African, modern and premodern, pagan and Christian, with perhaps the postmodern ability to switch between them several times in the course of a single conversation.

And large-scale witch hunts seem to occur most frequently when modernity and premodernity meet and mingle.

The cult of Capitalism

26 September 2015

I passed on one of those illustrated epigrams one finds on Facebook (Warning: Graphic content) as one sometimes does, with the following comment. And then I thought that perhaps that there was more that could be said about it.

RomPope1This has been the central struggle of the Christian faith, at the ideological level, for the last 30 years. This has been at the heart of the Kulturkampf, the “culture wars”. It is this idolatry that has undermined and weakened the Christian faith. It is not so much capitalism itself (which has been around for a long time), but the *cult* of Capitalism that is the problem. And it is the cult of Capitalism that has been the dominant theme of the West since the Reagan/Thatcher years, and through globalization has spread throughout the world. It is the ideology of “There is no god but the Market, and Ayn Rand is its prophet”. I am the Market your god, and me only shall you serve.

A Facebook friend commented that perhaps the decline in Christianity in the West was brought about by the church’s obsession with sexuality. But I don’t think so, though I do think that it was the obsession with sex that prevented them from seeing the elephant in the room.

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen
Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, what saw you there?
I saw a little mouse under a chair.

We see what we want to see, and the Western churches, especially, became so obsessed with the little mouse of sex, in some cases tearing themselves apart over it, that they failed to see the bigger problem, and the huge betrayal that it represented.

In South Africa denominations that had been quite prominent in the struggle against apartheid seemed to sit back after 1994 and wait for the government to fix the country. In the 1970s many of them had sponsored or supported Sprocas, the Study Project for Christianity in Apartheid Society, which looked for alternatives to apartheid, but by 1994 very few could be bothered to think about it.

The ANC had its own Reconstruction and Devel;opment Programme (RDP), which envisaged quite a large part for civil society (which of course included the various Christian bodies in South Africa), but within a year the ANC had abandoned it for the neoliberal GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistibution). If Christian bodies had anything to say about this, it was not widely reported.

The commercialisation of building societies in 1987, and of mutual insurance societies ten years later (with one of them  even having the chutzpah to continue to call itself the “Old Mutual”, a misleading description if ever there was one) evoked minimal comment from the churches. It looked as though most of the churches that had opposed apartheid, and the ANC itself, had swallowed the Thatcherist line, with hook and sinker as well.

As some readers of this blog may know, I’m writing a book with John de Gruchy on the rise and fall of the charismatic renewal movement in South Africa, and one thesis I have is that the decline of the movement in the 1980s was brought about, at least in part, by the rise of the Religious Right in the USA, and the way in which its ideology polluted the stream of charismatic literature (books and tapes) which flowed from the USA to South Africa and other parts of the world. One form that this pollution took was the growth of Prosperity Theology (the gospel contextualised for yuppies), but there were others as well.

RomPope2The extent to which this idolatry of The Market has penetrated into Christian groups of all backgrounds and traditions is alarming. I have been amazed at the number of Christians (mainly in the USA) who are quite happy to defend the thesis that “Universal Health Care is Theft”, and who apparently see no contradiction between that and their Christian faith.

Capitalism is an economic system that has been in existence for a long time. It can be, and has been criticised, modified and reformed. Christians can and have lived under many different economic systems, and none of them will be perfect as long as human beings are not perfect. Marx criticised 19th century capitalism. Some of his criticisms were spot on, others were wide of the mark. Some were spot on at the time he wrote, but are wide of the mark now, because the system has changed and adapted.

But it was Ayn Rand who turned capitalism into an ideology, and her followers who turned it into a cult, and Reagan and Thatcher who turned it into the Established Church of the West, a system whose values and fundamental principles cannot be questioned, and must be imposed on others by varions means, such as Structural Adjustment Programmes. This ideology is sometimes called ‘neoliberalism”, especially by those who are critical of it, because it harks back to the laissez-faire economic liberalism of the 19th century.

The Roman Pope, on his visit to the USA, has reopened the debate in that country, and perhaps encouraged people to think again about things they have never before thought to question. In his explicit mention of Dorothy Day, whose communitarianism is not only an alternative to Capitalism, but ideologically almost in direct antithesis to it, he has opened the way for a wider debate.

For Christians, the Market, like the Sabbath, was made for man, not man for the Market.



St. Lydia the New Martyr of Russia | lessons from a monastery

22 September 2015

The Grace-filled Lydia was finally arrested on 9 July 1928, when the secret police discovered that she was behind the circulation of typed booklets containing lives of Saints, prayers, and homilies and teachings of old and new Bishops. They had noticed that the typewriter on which the booklets were typed had a defective letter K, and were thereby able to track her down.

Source: St. Lydia the New Martyr of Russia | lessons from a monastery

The dissolution of the Anglican Communion and the end of ecumenism

18 September 2015

It seems that the Anglican Communion is at last to be headed for dissolution. And I suppose that the question one must ask is “What price ecumenism now?”

Archbishop of Canterbury plans to loosen ties of divided Anglican communion | The Guardian:

The archbishop of Canterbury is proposing to effectively dissolve the fractious and bitterly divided worldwide Anglican communion and replace it with a much looser grouping.

Justin Welby has summoned all the 38 leaders of the national churches of the Anglican communion to a meeting in Canterbury next January, where he will propose that the communion be reorganised as a group of churches that are all linked to Canterbury but no longer necessarily to each other.

He believes that the communion – notionally the third largest Christian body in the world with 80 million members, after the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches – has become impossible to hold together due to arguments over power and sexuality and has, for the past 20 years, been completely dysfunctional.

The 1910 World Mission conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, is widely regarded as the start of the 20th-century ecumenical movement. The question raised there was how could divided Christians evangelise the world, when Christians were speaking with so many different voices? So the 20th century saw various attempts to bring Christians of different traditions together, and greater unity among Christians would lead to more effective mission.

AngCom2To begin with the Anglicans tried to position themselves as a “bridge church”, an example of ecumenism. They positioned themselves between the Roman Catholics and Protestants, and pointed to the fact that for a long time they had been home to several different traditions — High Church, Low Church, Broad Church etc — which had somehow managed to muddle along together, so the Anglicans could provide a model of ecumenism. Some Anglicans even reached out to the Orthodox, especially those of the Church of England who welcomed refugees from the Russian revolution in the 1920s and 1930s.

Fifty years on things appeared less certain. In the 1960s some Anglican theologians began publishing works of theological revisionsim that enlivened theological debate at the time, and even got a secular-minded public interested for a while. Some called for “relevance”, but ultimately only succeeded in become even more irrelevant to the world around them, because at the root of their notion of “relevance” was the desire for the church to fit into and reinforce the world’s status quo.

From the 1970s onwards Anglicans became more and more introspective, squabbling about their own internal structures — whether they should ordain women, and what ministries they should be ordained to, and so on. As the article cited above put it,

the archbishop felt he could not leave his eventual successor in the same position of “spending vast amounts of time trying to keep people in the boat and never actually rowing it anywhere”.

At that time I was an Anglican, and thirty years ago I left, for that very reason. I could not face the prospect of spending the next thirty years of my life arguing with people in the boat about what the boat was and where and how it should be rowed, instead of actually rowing it anywhere.

AngCom1It seemed that two broadly defined “parties” were emerging, but I didn’t feel at home in either of them. The idea of Anglicanism as a “big tent” and notions of being “inclusive” were a chimera and always had been.

It was actually nothing new. From an Orthodox point of view, the Orthodox who were most open to Anglicans were those who had found Anglicans who were most open to them. They rarely met Anglicans who weren’t interested in Orthodoxy — if they had, they might have had a different opinion.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Patriarchate of Alexandria was seriously considering recognising Anglican orders, on the basis that there was sufficient theological overlap to do so. Bishop Methodios Fouyas investigated it, but found that Anglicans spoke with so many different voices that it was impossible to determine what Anglican theology was. He detailed his findings in a book Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, and that idea was dropped. In any case, Anglicans nowadays seem to be far more concerned about sexuality than about orders, and the debates seem to be far more acrimonious than they were 30 years ago, with white gay activist Anglicans in the West hurling racist insults at homophobic black Anglicans in Africa.

The division here is not a purely Anglican phenomenon, but is found in many Western Christian bodies; I’ve dealt with it more fully in another post, so will say no more about it here.

What does concern me here, however, is what this says about 20th-century ecumenism. For all the talk of unity, it seems that fissiparousness in Christianity is increasing, and wonder about groups like the World Council of Churches, which sprang out of the 20th century ecumenical movement. Is there any future for them, and what purpose do they serve. Will they accept all the broken pieces of the soon-to-be-former Anglican Communion, and try to bring about unity among them? Or what?


Suburban adultery, Scotch on the rocks and martinis

16 September 2015

On Green Dolphin StreetOn Green Dolphin Street by Sebastian Faulks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn’t like this book. I really didn’t like this book. But I couldn’t stop reading it.

I read the first chapter, and thought “this is not my cup of tea”. I read another chapter, and thought I can stop reading it at any time. I don’t have to plough my way through it. But I read another chapter anyway.

I don’t like this book. I don’t like the characters, or the clothes they wear. They are the wrong generation, my parents generation. But still I read. Why? It’s 1960, the election campaign in which Kennedy was elected, the first American election I can really remember. I remember wishing that Kennedy would win, because Kennedy was a Roman Catholic and back then I was a High Church Anglican, and High Church Anglicans were second-class Catholics. Kennedy would bring morality and Christian values to American politics, world politics, or so I thought. The Cuban missile crisis put me right on that score. American hypocrisy, and the thought that Krushchev had saved the world from a nuclear holocaust.

This was posted on Facebook by Logan Wagoner with the comment "Same car, same woman. Wish the world understood this." The car would have been a familiar sight in the setting of this book. So what's changed? The clothes.

This was posted on Facebook by Logan Wagoner with the comment “Same car, same woman. Wish the world understood this.” The car would have been a familiar sight in the setting of this book. So what’s changed? The clothes.

1960 was also the year I first heard the name of Jack Kerouac, the year I read The Dharma bums. Jack Kerouac is the same generation as these people, but what a world of difference.

But still I read it, until I eventually reached the end. I think it is well written, but it recalled to me people of my parents’ generation, with their business suits and ties and hats and women with hats and gloves and lipstick and high-heeled shoes and well-stocked drinks cabinets. When people visited you had, at the very least, to offer them a choice of brandy, whisky, beer and gin. People of that class did not offer skokiaan and Barberton.

And Faulks describes it all, in excuciating detail — the clink of ice in glasses, the martinis, the clothes, and all the rest.

No, it is not my kind of book, and these are not my kind of people.

Faulks is even self-mocking, having characters rather disparagingly referring to novels about suburban adultery, like Peyton Place, in the middle of his own novel about suburban adultery.

I didn’t like this book, but I read it.

View all my reviews


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