Parish Monasticism

For some years now, I have been increasingly convinced that God is calling us to ways of being parish church which will take us into a much deeper form of community. Over the past year, I have discovered that many other clergy (and some laity) are thinking along similar lines and that a movement appears to be beginning around what we have come, tentatively, to call “Parish Monasticism”.

In this, my first post on the subject, I am beginning a journey of exploring how parish monasticism might work out practically in a Church of England parish context. I will be using this and future posts to help organise my thoughts on the subject, so what I say is tentative and feedback is welcome.

For other thinking on the subject, you might like to read Ned Lunn’s detailed exploration through the lens of St Benedict’s Rule. Holy Trinity Salcombe’s mon2sat and Walk the Extra Mile websites are also very relevant. If you wish to find other people interested in Parish Monasticism, you’d be very welcome to join the facebook group.

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The lion and the monkey king: a parable

It was the monkey king that started it. And by the time it was all over, half the jungle was wrecked and everyone was sorry, even the lion. Of course, it’s easy to say that with hindsight, but at the time everyone was so sure of themselves.

I say “the monkey king”. In truth, this was a self-styled title and there was never a time when anything like a majority of the simians recognised his legitimacy. Indeed, if it weren’t for those which flocked to his banner from out of every corner of the jungle, he’d never have had any power at all.

The monkey king hated the lion. Hated the lion’s strength. Hated the lion’s casual rule over the whole jungle. Hated the lion’s arrogant self-interest. And this was part of the monkey king’s allure, for there was no part of the jungle in which there weren’t a few who were disenchanted with the lion’s rule. So, whilst many found the pax leonis convenient, there were always the hotheads who would sacrifice all for a different world. Tinder, just waiting for the burning brand to set them alight with ardent zeal – a zeal with more than its fair share of delusion, but nonetheless a zeal fired by the truth that the price of the lion’s peace was that the lion would occasionally eat people.

And so they came, and the monkey king established his hold over one already-unstable corner of the jungle, using, through his converts, a combination of brutality and intimidation: the usual tools of any dictator, lacking in imagination but very effective.

It was easy to subjugate that one part of the jungle. And the monkey king dreamed of expanding his borders further and further. Neighbouring areas become worried. But far and away more important to the monkey king was beating the lion. He was sure he could. If only he could lure the lion into his one part of the jungle.

As it happens, the lion was already keenly aware of what the monkey king was doing. What ruler wouldn’t be? Especially as many animals, fleeing the monkey king’s reign of terror, kept approaching the lion, suing for sanctuary. But, then, the lion had plenty of other concerns, too. Not least, his pride and all the business of policing the jungle as a whole. And, whilst the lion very much enjoyed his meals, he did not enjoy wholesale slaughter. Large body counts were untidy and always left him feeling an unpleasant compunction. Best not to take too direct action too often.

So the monkey king, whilst never at the bottom of the list of the lion’s concerns, was never at the top of the list either. The monkey king needed to be at the top of that list, for it would be quite something for the lion to fully rouse himself and charge across the jungle to the monkey king’s patch.

Here, at the crux of the story, was the monkey king’s genius (evil genius, but genius nonetheless). The lion’s teeth and claws were ferocious and powerful. No one could withstand them. But the monkey king very astutely guessed that the lions flanks and tail were more vulnerable. Indeed, here was the lion’s weakness: he lived in constant fear of the slightest injury to his flanks and side. And so even the slightest harm got his complete attention.

The monkey king resolved to exploit this weakness. He sent his zealots, one by one, to sting the lion’s flank. Most of these ended up at the wrong end of the lion’s pointy claws and teeth. But one cannot defend every direction at once, and the occasional raider hit his mark. And with every successful hit, the lion’s fear increased until one day, the monkey king, who would once never have rated a second glance from the lion, filled the lion’s entire vision: the great terror waiting to descend upon him and destroy him. And with fear came anger. White hot passion, crying for the utter destruction of this “fascist” ruler (as the lion called him) who held in contempt everything the lion held dear. And so that great strength was finally roused to its fullest fury and the lion charged.

No one can tell how many animals were trampled under foot or flung violently aside in the path of the lion, bodies crushed and broken. Nor can one count how many the monkey king’s zealots killed. All anyone recalls is the sheer terror of the melee and the countless live lost. And no one can say whether the lion’s actions were for the best – after all, the monkey king’s rule was brutal and needed to be stopped. But one thing all agree is this: never again! Never! (Although just a few of the oldest animals, with the longest memories, keep trying to remember where they’ve heard that phrase before).

‘Tis but a flesh wound

Friday’s attacks in Paris were horrific and shocking, as is the emerging story about the terrorist bomb which destroyed the Russian plane over Egypt. 129 killed in Paris and 224 killed in the plane crash. Non-combatant civilians indiscriminately slaughtered. Horror. Our sympathy rightly goes out to those who are left behind.

But here’s the deal: the only power terrorism has is the power to invoke fear and anger. So we need to be very careful about how we respond to these atrocities. President Putin has, reportedly, vowed to “find and punish” those responsible. President Hollande has referred to Friday’s events as a “act of war”. This is fighting talk: retribution and war. The message is that we are frightened and angry, which is exactly what the terrorists want.

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(Belated) reflection on assisted dying

I know assisted dying is somewhat past topical, however I continue feel that the recent public debate on the subject missed the key point. The main argument advanced against assisted dying was about protection of the vulnerable. Whilst I sympathise strongly with this argument, I think it is secondary. The primary argument against assisted dying, it seems to me, is that it represents a dangerously wrong revolution in our perspective on suicide. Continue reading

The fix-it society

A colleague recently mentioned to me that he knows a church which hosts a regular fix-it club where broken household items can be brought to be mended. I love this idea – it strikes me as a prophetic stand against the consumerist throw-away culture in which nothing lasts long before it is assigned to the scrap-heap. Indeed, in which this is a basic assumption in the design and manufacture of so many goods.

For me, fixing things is entertainment. Just last week, I spent a delightful day diagnosing the fault in an almost unused, but out-of-warranty, mini-fridge. The switch-mode power supply’s main FET had blown, taking four diodes and the fuse with it. The new components cost £1.26, which is a lot less than the £39.99 retail price for a new fridge. And only a few grams worth of dead electronic components were thrown out.

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Words

Words get in the way:
We use so many words
to fill in the silence
wherein dwells The Word

Words get in the way:
We keep repeating words
and phrases

Turning them over and over
seeking understanding
meaning
comfort

But words get in the way:
Words that hurt
sever
destroy

Words that distract:
words saying love is energy
and passion

As if somehow the emotion of the moment
might conjure up The Love.

But The Love dwells in the silent act
And The Word waits for all our other words to fail.

Good Friday poem

As a (somewhat risky) exercise at our Good Friday kids worship this morning, we composed a poem between the adults and children who were there. Below is the result:

Good Friday

It smelled like blood
All went dark
A storm raged up
A savage tear –
the curtain torn in two
the ground shook
Pain, fear, dying
The bleeding son cries
Forgive them Lord!

It Is Done!

The truth will set you free

As I followed the proceedings of General Synod this week, I became aware that the acronym MACSAS appears to have become part of our language. MACSAS is “Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors”. Having found their website, I have been browsing the stories on it. These are not comfortable stories to read as they tell of serious crimes and deep betrayal of trust by clergy and the subsequent failures of the church to pursue justice in response. The stories are not comfortable, but we need to hear them and respond with humility and honesty. A common significant pain point in the stories of abuse “survivors” (a much better word than “victim”) is that they have all in one way or another been disbelieved. Continue reading

Free will (vs God’s sovereignty)

@TomPettinger and I have been discussing free will and God’s sovereignty on twitter, resulting in an agreement that Tom (Pettinger – we’ll take his surname as read from now on) would write a blog post about sovereignty and I would write one about free will. Tom has beaten me to it with his offering, which is here, and should be read as a counterpart to this post. Reading it myself, I kept thinking “that’s not fair, he keeps using all those Biblical passages I don’t entirely know how to handle”, which is about the best comment I can make on why Tom’s post really must be read alongside this one.

Tom begins his post by defining some broad boundaries, i.e. the meaning of “free will”, approach to Biblical interpretation and scope of argument. As the second poster, I will add one further constraint: in this post I will attempt not to reply to Tom’s post, but rather just to make the case I promised to make. So, within these constraints, my task is to argue from the Bible for the existence of human free will. Or, put differently, to argue that God is, in some way, constrained by choices we human beings make.

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