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Moral and Spiritual Dilemmas in Challenging Times – CCJ

DOGThis study guide encourages discussion groups to delve into divisive issues such as nationalism, populism and extremism from a faith perspective.

Contributors include the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism and CCJ President, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, and the novelist and speaker, Salley Vickers.

It consists of six short chapters and accompanies the new edition of Amy Buller’s 1943 book, Darkness over Germany: A Warning from History, which explores how young people were drawn into National Socialism in the 1930s and draws light on many of the most pressing social issues we face in current times.

The resource may be used by churches during Lent but is designed for use by all faith groups at any time of the year, for example for Holocaust Memorial Day or Remembrance Sunday.

liberal democracy is globally not in a good way. The rise to prominence of charismatic and authoritarian leaders in several countries, the growing presence of populist and sometimes openly racist political parties at elections, the rising temperature of public debate and the deligitimising of opponents and minorities, the rhetoric of ‘the people’s will’ – all these very visible features of the international scene represent in different ways a rejection of some or all of the classical pieties of democracy.

So the republication of Amy Buller’s long-neglected classic, Darkness over Germany, is as timely as could be. Without insistently stressing any theory, she allows the central question about democracy’s crisis in Germany to emerge from an astonishing variety of conversations with German citizens. And her conclusion is starkly clear: the collapse of German democracy and the rise of Fascism was rooted in a far-reaching collapse of any sense of the meaning of personal action in society. People had dwindling confidence in a broad range of historic institutions which had once offered attractive and credible narratives of a life well-lived; or else their work – or their lack of work – separated them from the possibility of meaningful activity, from a sense of making a distinctive and visible difference. To put it differently (and provocatively), Amy Buller identified the problem as the prevalence of a purely negative form of secularity, a disenchanting of traditional resources of meaning and a reduction of identity to a minimal and functional level, with only the most limited ‘mythology’ of human capacity or dignity to put in the place of what had been lost

There are a number of parallels between what Buller discusses in Darkness over Germany and issues relating to the media portrayal of Muslims and immigrants in the UK and Europe today. One parallel is the fear of an ‘other’, with covert power to usurp all that is British with an alien ‘sharia’ (another word misunderstood and misused), and which also provides an easy target to blame for unemployment, overcrowding, and the scarcity of public resources.

What happens when ‘speaking truth to power’, as in the case of the Catholic newspaper Buller refers to, is interpreted as a danger to the state?

In the chapter ‘The Tragedy of the Unemployed Student’, Amy Buller raises some important issues about being a young person that are as relevant today as they were in the 1930s. Although the context is very different, Walter and Wilhelm’s experiences parallel those of many young people now, in particular the struggle to find a place and role in society, and the resulting tensions that can develop with older generations.

The chapter describes two key interactions involving young people who have joined the Nazis: between Walter – who has faced a long period of unemployment – and his parents; and between Buller and Wilhelm, who is a friend of both Walter’s family and of Buller.

While Walter and Wilhelm may feel a sense of redemption and renewed purpose having joined ‘the Party’, the older generation (represented here by Walter’s parents and Buller herself ) struggle with the young men’s life choices. Walter’s parents, who are Christians, voice opposing attitudes that are frequently expressed within society when someone is perceived to be misguided. On the one hand, Walter’s father is abrupt and unforgivingly judgemental about his son’s decision; on the other, Walter’s mother takes a softer approach, whilst searching for a logical justification for her son’s actions.

Buller’s attitude represents a middle way between these two stances. She is highly sympathetic to Wilhelm (and no doubt to Walter, also), understanding the pressures that he is under, but at the same time she is deeply concerned about what he is now involved with, and about the dark undertones behind the Party’s ethos. This concern leads to a sharp exchange about Nazism and religion, with Wilhelm asking her, ‘how can you … say we are anti-Christian? … tell, me, is it not religious to believe that there is a purpose for everyone in this life?’

In their dialogue, Wilhelm expresses his frustration about Buller’s generation and its reliance upon what he perceives as ‘false hopes’. This is clearly demonstrated by his response to Buller’s bewilderment about Karl, another bright student known to Buller and Wilhelm who committed suicide because he felt there was no place for him in society. ‘What do you mean? There must have been a place for him?’ exclaims Buller. Wilhelm responds: ‘God, how awful it was!’ His exasperation demonstrates how the disillusioned student population, of which Wilhelm was a part, were indeed ‘living by an experience which people outside just don’t understand’.

One of the features of Buller’s book is that it is without the bias that inevitably coloured post-Second World War accounts of the German people. She is able to write with unselfconsciousness about the seemingly positive aspects of the Nazi influence – as she does here with her account of the energised youth of Germany expressing an optimism and unity which, as she says, ‘rightly directed [might] prove very valuable’ – in contrast to the dissolute aimlessness of the generation before.

Professor Braun appears first in ‘A Professor Meets the SS at Midnight’. In this chapter we hear of how he and his wife are being monitored by the Gestapo, under suspicion – probably correctly – of harbouring scholars, including Jews, who were under threat from the Nazis, with SS officers paying regular visits to search their home. Professor Braun is unfazed by these encounters and greets his unwelcome visitors with good humour and hospitality. ‘Just decide which room you want to examine while I tell my wife it is coffee and cakes for four’, he tells one group of young officers. Such a response was clearly unexpected and no doubt disarming, but it also enabled the professor to strike up an unlikely rapport with one of the officers, 19 year-old Hermann. We are told how Hermann returned alone one night, in distress, to see the professor and to bare his soul, especially his fear of being posted to work in a concentration camp.

In the following two chapters, ‘The Professor Discusses Nazi Philosophy and Students’, Buller recalls two meetings with Professor Braun in which he explains why he thinks young people like Hermann are so susceptible to Nazism. He traces it back to the immediate period after the First World War, and the search by young Germans for something positive to strive for after such a catastrophic time. The search, he said, was initially idealistic, but as economic conditions improved and society became more stable, idealism gave way to pragmatism and the opportunities afforded by new technology and through sport. This brief period of hope came to an abrupt halt with

the economic collapse following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and youthful optimism was replaced by disillusionment and pessimism – not least among the highly educated, with extremely high rates of unemployment for recent university graduates.

The professor goes on to argue that this caused young people to revolt against a political system that had failed them, and against the standards and values of the older generations. He believed that these shattered hopes made young Germans of the 1930s particularly susceptible to Nazism, which offered something different and radical – not only the political rebirth of the nation, but a new philosophy of life. In this sense, according to the professor, Nazism is more than a political movement, it is a ‘political faith’ – a substitute for religion – and one in which young people, in particular, projected their longings for and expectations of better times onto its leader, or Führer.

For people such as Hermann, this initial enthusiasm for Nazism dissipated once they realised its more sinister dimensions. But Hermann, by then, was trapped both by the hold the movement had gained over society and by peer pressure. The Brauns were worried that unless Hermann could escape quickly he would become desensitised to what appalled him about Nazism and give in.

Hermann’s plight is an extreme instance of what many of us experience. Seeking something to believe in that can offer us a sense of belonging and purpose seems to be part of the human condition. Perhaps this is especially the case for those in early adulthood who are starting to make their own way in the world – perhaps even self-consciously rejecting the standards and values of their parents and grandparents in the process. No doubt it is also one reason why people are drawn to organised religion.

In the chapter ‘The Courage of Children who Opposed Nazis’, Amy Buller provides four vignettes or ‘pictures’ of young Germans acting in defiance of the Nazi culture. The first is of a 15 year-old schoolgirl during a lesson at a Silesian Girls’ School. We are told that after her Nazi teacher describes the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War, as ‘the most vindictive and brutal treaty of modern times’, the schoolgirl bravely asks, ‘what sort of treaty do you think the Germans would have made if they had won the war?’, for which she is thrown out of the classroom. Later that evening, the schoolgirl meets with her friends to draw up the imagined treaty, which is left on the teacher’s desk.

Described by her mother as ‘good young Germans’, the schoolgirl replies, ‘we are bored young Germans’, and says of the teacher, ‘it was great fun to make her so angry.’

This picture shows the girls enjoying their schoolgirl prank, which is an act of resistance against their stifling oppression. It also shows, in the attitude of the teacher, the great danger of talking down to young people.

The second picture is of Esther, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. As her family sing hymns at their home, 11 year-old Esther opens the windows to ‘let other people know that we are as proud to sing our Christian hymns as the Nazis are to sing their songs.’ Esther then tells Buller how she has formed a group for other Lutheran girls who have committed to Bible reading and prayer, and to leaving the Nazi League of German Girls. While this is happening, Esther’s small brother Fritz builds a street scene with bricks and spits into it, explaining that one of the people on the street is a Jew and that he had been told by his teacher to spit when passing a Jew. Fritz, of course, did not understand what he had absorbed in the classroom.

In this picture, we see how the faith of Esther’s family gives her strength and the ability to see through Nazi propaganda as she joins with others to find strength; yet the family is unable to protect young Fritz from the poison of Nazism at his school.

The third picture is of a teenage girl, Hilda, a member of the Hitler Maids who has become disillusioned with Nazism after the imprisonment of the famous Lutheran pastor, Dr Martin Niemöller. Hilda is late for a family lunch on Whit

Monday, the day after the Christian feast of Pentecost. When she finally arrives we discover that earlier she had gone with her school, where she had endured a hate filled, pro-Nazi sermon. Hilda was also enraged to learn that morning of the arrest of her friend’s father, a well-respected pastor and war hero, and so had stormed off to the house of the local Nazi leader to complain about the arrest and to warn him that she and many other keen members of Nazi youth groups will leave the Party if this sort of thing continued. In the discussion that follows, Hilda’s father expresses mixed views about Nazism. He is positive about the employment the Nazis has given young people, but also aware of the bad things that they have done, which he attributes to leaders who are ‘ignorant and vulgar’. He hopes that the Nazis will be reformed and that the excesses of Nazism will die down. Her grandfather, however, thinks this is naive hope and warns, ‘we shall pay bitterly for our apathy and compromise.’

The final picture is of 16 year-old Johann, a member of the Hitler Youth. In November 1938, during the notorious Kristallnacht pogrom, Johann is shocked to see elderly Jews being beaten in the street by SS men as his school mates jeer. Soon after, when Johann’s school gathers for a Christmas celebration, the local Nazi leader makes a coarse speech and a gets the school to sing an anti-Jewish song, followed by the infamous Nazi anthem, the ‘Horst Wessel’. Immediately Johann, whose attitude to Nazism has changed as a result of these experiences, pushes his way through to the piano and nervously begins to play ‘Silent Night’. Some boys hum along. After rushing home from school, Johann is visited by a sympathetic teacher and then resigns from the Hitler Youth, knowing that for the foreseeable future he cannot go to university. Despite all this, Johann finds happiness and inner strength.

These four examples show how young people can get caught up with groups, movements and causes, and the tensions this can lead to. At least three of the four young people had joined Nazi youth groups. No doubt they had been encouraged to do so, perhaps by their teachers, and were swept along with their friends. They probably thought joining a group would be fun and worthwhile. All of them, however, begin to see through the sham, and their moral awareness leads them to take a stand against what they had become involved with. This took considerable courage. Many of their contemporaries, of course, did not share either their sense of outrage, or have their courage of conviction.

Buller writes of the ‘unexpressed but profound demand that life should not be thwarted’. Hope is not enough on its own. Hope must be realistic enough to have the possibility of being put into practice; hope must reflect practical potential for steps towards fulfilling the dream and bringing it into being.

The need for action alongside ambition is therefore essential for not missing the opportunity which hope expresses. There is a palpable feeling of urgency in the questions Buller poses her students about reconstruction after the war. Out of the awareness of hope she directs the reader towards the choice of how to make a better future. She sees the active participation of young people in society as essential for giving them a sense of purpose and creating a feeling of involvement in working for the common good. Buller’s students put it well: ‘as a generation left school or university, it should know it was wanted’ having ‘a part to play in fulfilling a purpose, which means that they can look into the future with confidence.’

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Dangerous Prayer: Discovering a missional spirituality in the Lord’s Prayer – Darren Cronshaw

DPThe author believes that prayer shouldn’t be escapist or just about changing ourselves but missional, motivating us to seek to change the world in the direction of God’s kingdom. He gives us a verse by verse exposition of the Lord’s Prayer to show how this can happen. We are challenged to be part of the answer to our prayer so be careful what you wish for. To ask for our daily bread is to desire to subvert the global economy. Praying for the kingdom questions political manifestoes. To seek forgiveness is to work for truth and reconciliation.

Sustainability in mission is not possible without prayer; vibrancy in prayer is not possible without mission. Christians on mission need a vibrant life of prayer in order to be effective yet to have a vibrant prayer life they need an outlet in mission.

The Lord’s Prayer offers a radical inspirational framework to help move Christians beyond praying just for themselves and to have their imaginations captured by the mission of God and concern for global needs. Jesus’ words guide us to pray for God’s Kingdom on earth, for restoration, for food for all who are hungry, for people to experience forgiveness and all that really is good news about Jesus.

It is a dangerous prayer because of its counter-cultural and radical stance.

It’s a bit repetitive in places but there are many helpful anecdotes and references to films.

Though the author is evangelical, he quotes with approval catholic, orthodox and liberal theologians.

With journaling exercises, discussion questions and references to video clips, it could stimulate a course on prayer.


Karl Barth wrote, ‘To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.’

In the 2003 movie Bruce Almighty, TV reporter Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) takes the job of God (Morgan Freeman) while God goes on vacation. Bruce uses his newly acquired God-powers for himself a few times, then gets in the business of helping people by answering their prayers. He turns p-rayers into emails, saves time by automati­cally replying ‘Yes’ to all, and goes out to a party. Later on he notices that everyone in Buffalo has won the lottery, with the result that each person wins $17. This is a fair summary of many people’s prayers: requests for their own enrichment.

Staying indoors, being quiet and doing nothing has never particularly grabbed me as most life-giving activity.

the words of John of the Ladder, in which I also find consolation: ‘If some are still dominated by their former bad habits and yet can teach by mere words, let them teach . . . For perhaps being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin practice what they teach radical inclusive hospitality of God who wants to welcome all people now, as in heaven, and how we as God’s people mirror that

A father in the ancient Near Eastern context was responsible for a whole household. A good householder runs a home that protects and provides for everyone in it, equitably. Thus when we address God as our ‘Father in heaven’ we are addressing God as ‘Householder of Earth’. The intended focus is global.

Once we have said ‘Our Father’ in the morning, we can treat no one as stranger for the rest of the day. (Mary Hughes, English Quaker)

When we begin our prayer with getting a fresh perspective on the character of who we pray to, it can make a difference to what and how we pray.

Saint Cyprian spoke wisely in saying: ‘You can­not have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.’

One of my early church heroes is Martyr-Bishop of Carthage, St Cyprian. He wrote during persecution and was himself executed in AD 258. But in 252 he was the first to name the prayer as the Lord’s Prayer, or in Latin ‘De Dominica Oratione’ . He commented: The Teacher of unity and peace did not wish us to pray separately and privately: that is, He did not wish each one to pray only for himself. We do not say, ‘My father’ or ‘give me this day my daily bread.’ Each one does not ask that only his trespasses be forgiven or that he only be preserved from temptation or freed from evil. We have a public and common prayer. When we pray, it is not for one person but for whole people — because we all are one.’

Unlike previous generations who had fallen into the trap of viewing God like their stern, distant fathers, today we are more likely to imagine God as something akin to a permissive mother. The Mom who would drop anything to come and give you a lift, who would pay for all of your breakages, write you sick notes when you took a day off school, and who let you eat chocolate just before bed because you threw a tantrum. When you view God as a permissive mother, it is natural that the universe be­comes morally insignificant. Faith becomes a favour to God. Devotion and worship is transformed into an expectation of entertainment and a desire for reward.

It is important to start with a correct view of God’s awesomeness ­not imagining God as our ideal permissive parent.

It is helpful to know the nature of the God whom we pray to be­cause that can motivate us to pray and fill us with faith, knowing God is a caring parent who wants to hear our prayers. But as we come to our loving parent in prayer with a sense of family intimacy and easy access, it is also appropriate to come with a sense of respect and gray­itas. Wright comments: ‘This prayer starts by addressing God inti­mately and lovingly, as “Father” — and by bowing before his greatness and majesty. If you can hold those two together, you’re already on the way to understanding what Christianity is all about.’

May you experience the peace of God in your trouble,

Hope when you are tempted to despair,

Joy through your pain,

Faith and courage when the heavens seem silent,

And the sure knowledge that the Lord has been through it all too.

He understands, he cares, and he loves you, very much Rowland Croucher, Still Waters, Deep Waters: Meditations and Prayers for Busy People

We do well not to pray the prayer lightly. It takes guts to pray it at all . . . ‘Thy kingdom come . . . on earth’ is what we are saying. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what would fall? Who would be welcomed and who would be thrown the Hell out? Which if any of our most precious visions of what God is and of what human beings are would prove to be more or less on the mark and which would turn out to be phony as three-dollar bills? . . . To speak these words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze. (Frederick Buechner)

In 2154, in the imagined future earth of the 2013 dystopian science fiction movie Elysium, most of humanity lives on an overpopulated and polluted earth. In the orbit of space, however, there is a protected and luxurious existence possible, for those who can afford it (the rich 1%), in a newly created habitat, called Elysium. The class of people on earth struggle with crime-controlled neighbourhoods, an oppres­sive justice system, under-resourced healthcare, unfulfilling industri­alized jobs and monitoring by robots. Citizens of Elysium live idyllic lives and are well provided for. Each house has a `Med-Bay’ that can repair any injury or cure any disease. Naturally, people stuck on earth long to get to Elysium, either by making lots of money or by travel­ling there as illegal immigrants (on hijacked rocket ships).

Elysium is a caricature of the world and its rich Western nations that have the resources to help solve global poverty, but keep it to themselves for their own security and enjoyment. Moreover, there is poverty in the Western world too — our neighbourhoods do not perfectly reflect the idyllic scenes of Elysium. This global system needs a reboot. What is questionable is whether that can come, as the stereotypical Hollywood movie suggests, from the violent overthrow (led by Matt Damon) of a few bad guys who are preventing resource distribution. But the movie showed a powerful image for me that every home in Elysium has the means for healing people who are sick. And my home has resources that can make a real difference in the lives of my neighbours — in my street and across the world.

The Elysium global system, rebooted, sent aid to help everyone who was sick. The heroes helped bring Elysium’s resources to earth, where those resources were most needed. People on earth were treat as people who belonged in Elysium. The cry ‘On earth as in heave was answered. Can things be that stark and simple? Is a reboot of o global system, to a greater or lesser extent, possible? When we `Your kingdom come’, and when we follow that up with ‘Your will done on earth as in heaven’, we are pleading on behalf of everyone in need — and that everyone would be treated as citizens of heaven.

Dallas Willard celebrates the character and calling of God, and critiques what he labels a ‘gospel of sin management’ that suggests ‘this is either only a private matter of forgiveness or merely inspira­tion for social action, without relating Jesus to the whole of life. It is important not to hold too narrow a view of the kingdom. Sometimes the gospel message has been packaged as, ‘Say sorry to God and go to heaven when you die’, as if that is all there is to it. But just as impor­tantly as where we go when we die is what we live for before we die. It is not just about what happens when we die, but what happens when we live. Let’s not squeeze the life and relevance out of the gospel and make it just about eternal life insurance and sin management. The kingdom is more than that. It relates to public and domestic, friend­ship and sex, leisure and business, war and economics, clothing and community, transport and holidays.

Michael Moynagh argues that the gospel message of the kingdom is more than ‘Say sorry to God and go to heaven’ (being `saved’) and more than even ‘God has a wonderful plan for your life.’ The gospel message is that ‘God has a wonderful plan for the world (the King­dom of God or the reign or the network or the family of God) and he invites you to come on board and join in. God accepts you — come and acknowledge that. God calls you to change your life and serve the world (and not just live for yourself) — grasp the enormity of that.’

Hadassah is a hero of mine for her subversive and countercultural appeal for a different world. She changed the destiny of 127 nations. She lived in the fifth century BC and you may know her under a dif­ferent name, Esther. She was queen -to powerful King Xerxes. One day she went from obscurity to royalty through success in a Miss Persia contest.

There are two other main characters in Esther’s story. Haman is second-in-charge to the king but a real jerk. The book Don’t Let Jerks Get the Best of You divides the world into three categories of jerks. First-degree jerks, like most of us, sometimes display jerkish behaviour. Second-degree jerks habitually demonstrate jerkish behavior and need careful management and maintenance of boundaries if they are in your family or workplace. Nth-degree jerks are systemically jerkish and difficult to relate to — normally you are better just resign than trying to get on with an Nth-degree jerkish boss. Haman was Nth-degree jerk. Some people are evil and seemingly unredeemable

Haman’s jerkishness was played out on a global scale when he attempted to kill the Jews. He was not the first to plan genocide for the Jews and tragically not the last, but his egotistical plotting meant the Jewsof Esther’s day were under threat. So Esther, as a Jew herself, wanted to go to the king and appeal for her people.

In ancient times, however, you did not presume to go into the throne room. Anyone who went uninvited into the throne room was automatically killed. The death sentence was prearranged, unless the king held out his sceptre and granted you access.

She figured she had a reasonable chance of access, but was nervous. ­Mordecai, Esther’s cousin who had been looking out for her, counselled:

Don’t think for a moment that you will escape there in the palace when other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives die. What’s more, who can say but that you have been elevated to the palace for just such a time as this?

Esther 4:13-14, emphasis mine and probably Mordecai’s too

Mordecai’s words to Esther capture my imagination. Why does God place us where we find ourselves? Who knows whether God has placed in your family, street, school, vocation or community group for such a time as this? The missio Dei or mission of God is active the world, and God seeks people to cooperate with God’s purpose, God’s kingdom. Our challenge is to be open and available.

Esther rose to the occasion. To Mordecai she responded, ‘OK, you and I will go.’ To her beauty advisors and hairdresser I imagine she said, ‘OK, you had better do a special job today.’ She beautied herseIf up. She added a prayer to Mordecai’s. She rehearsed her speech. he went into the throne room with a tinge of nervousness. When the king saw her in her beauty he said, ‘Hubahuba — what can I do for you today? You can have whatever you want.’

Thus Esther had the opportunity to plead for her people.

Haman got the rope. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, got the second-in-charge job. And the Jews avoided genocide and lived another day.’ Why? Because Esther went into the throne room and asked.

God’s presence is not scary, and God is not influenced by the way we look or the gifts we bring. But just as Esther approached the king with her request, we go to God’s throne and plead, ‘May your name be honoured. May your purposes be fulfilled. May your kingdom come soon. May your will be done.

‘Slow Church’ advocates, who urge us to avoid the temptation of modern so-called hospitality that keeps people at arm’s length, and instead sit with peo­ple patiently, celebrating opportunities to share life and seemingly `waste time’ together.’

Wright invites us to pray in a way that foreshadows what God dreams to foster in the world. To adopt a music metaphor, he urges the church to reflect ‘a returned orchestra to play the kingdom-music until the world takes up the song’, in order that ‘the medicine and the music of the gospel might make fresh inroads into the sick and cacophononous world all around us’

I am convinced that the main point of Jesus initiating the Lord’s Supper or communion was that Jesus wanted disciples to continue his patterns of eating; with inclusive hospitality Jesus was saying, ‘I’m going, but let the party continue:

Community and mission can happen at their best in the context eating our daily bread. I agree with Michael Frost that a simple, natural approach to sharing life together starts with sharing which can lead in surprising and eye-opening directions: ‘Serve something delicious, and then just watch the conversation flow and trust God to stick his nose in somewhere.

Russian novelist and philosopher Leo Tolstoy tells the instructive story, ‘How Much Land Does One Man Need?’ A peasant, who be­comes a landowner, is given the opportunity to run as far as he can in one day to accumulate more land, as much land as he can pace out in one day. However, in the physical exercise of striving to run further to get more land, he dies. Instead of hundreds of hectares of land, he gets a small plot of land to be buried in, and the story concludes: ‘This is how much land a man needs.’ The story illustrates the tension of goals common to many of us. The man goes from peasant poverty to rich capitalist, but in the process loses his life and soul.

McLaren passionately calls for a new kind of Christianity that engages with these global issues. He asks, why have Christians the origin of species but given minimal attention to the conservation of the species? Why is there widespread commitment to the protection of the unborn but less conviction about not killing enemies who are already born?

St Augustine of Hippo reportedly said, ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters: Anger, at the way things are, and Courage, to work for change.’

As Samuel said, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ (see 1 Samuel 3:10), let’s take time not only to hear but to listen to God. Too often our prayer attitude is, ‘Listen, Lord, your servant is talking’, rather than, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’ Even worse, our requests might imply, ‘Listen, God, you are my servant and I am talking.’

The 2012 Greenbelt Festival in the United Kingdom offered timely counsel in ‘The Lord’s Prayer Challenge’:

Don’t say ‘Father’ if you do not behave like a son or daughter. Don’t say ‘Our’ if you only think of your self.

Don’t say ‘Hallowed’ if you do not honour that name.

Don’t say ‘Your kingdom come’ if you are weighed down with material goods.

Don’t say ‘Thy will be done’ if you do not accept the hard bits.

Don’t say ‘As it is in heaven’ if you only think about earthly matters.
Don’t say ‘Our daily bread’ if you have no concern for the hungry or the homeless.

Don’t say ‘Forgive us our sins’ if you remain angry with someone.

Don’t say ‘Lead us not into temptation’ if you intend to continue sinning.

Don’t say ‘Deliver us from evil’ if you are not willing to make a stand against injustice.

Don’t say ‘Amen’ without considering the words of your prayer!’

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Uglier than a Monkey’s Armpit: Untranslatable insults, put-downs and curses from around the world by Dr Robert Vanderplank

UTAMAMost languages have insults based on bodily functions and private parts. This book is a schoolboy’s dream – how to use rude words but sound educated.

In Modern Greek, ‘malaka’ means ‘wanker’ to read that back into 1 Corinthians and tell a bunch of schoolboys that wankers won’t get to heaven.

What is a grave insult in one language, will appear to be comically mild in English, or even just downright nonsensical. Take for instance the Lithuanian threat, nusišypsosi šaltais dantimis, or you will smile with cold teeth. Or the Bashasa Indonesia hidung belang, which is a very insulting term used to describe a womanizer or a man who frequents brothels, but is literally translated as striped nose. Or the Italian figlio di papa, which literally means daddy’s boy, but is the equivalent of the English mama’s boy—it is no shame in Italy to be a mama’s boy, but to owe your success in life to your father’s position is embarrassing.


In the Czech language, if you’re a bit slovenly, they say that your coat “looks like it’s been pulled from a camel’s mouth” and, in Spain, if you can’t quite see the point of something, they say that you “see less than three men on a donkey”. My favourite is one that I’ve been trying to work into conversation for the last few weeks: “I wouldn’t look at you with my bum.”

It’s organized by language for an overview of each culture’s favoured profanities.

We could have heard more, for instance, about Pietro Aretino, the 16th-century Venetian satirist who was paid by the rich and powerful to write exquisitely offensive letters to their political enemies. Why has no one started a little boutique consulting firm doing the same today?

The author: There’s a whole underground tradition — just as there is, for instance, of childhood culture, of skipping rhymes, playground insults, all that kind of thing — which bubbles along for centuries.  We occasionally pick up a reference to something from centuries ago that seems very familiar and we realize that this has been a continuing tradition.  But since grown-up people don’t remember it or write about it, it doesn’t get covered.  One thing that’s come out of the interest in the last few decades in the history of private lives is that historians have taken more of an interest in digging out this kind of thing.


“Misokkasu”: Scum of soya paste. (Japanese) “Tu es um borra-battos.”: You s**t in your own boots. (Portugese) “Like a fart in a trance.”: A dreamy person who seems at a loss what to do. (Scottish) “A pies ci morde lizal!”: Literally, a dog has licked your gob. (Polish) “Prumphaensn.”: Fartchicken. (Icelandic)


For me, insults and curses are the “dark” side of manners and customs and all the more interesting for that, as they may inform us about what lies beneath the social codes, what verbal games men and women play with each other.

“tu me prends la tête” (literally “you are taking my head”

“taru nakkhod jai” in Gujarati (“may destruction befall you”)

“You can’t have a full barrel and a drunk wife.”

“undi qhela uboya wo-nodoli” means that someone is “as fickle as doll’s hair”

This satisfying word came over from England as a mere name for an ant, but Americans made it a contemptuous epithet for an “insignificant, contemptible, or irritating person”. From H.L. Davis’s 1935 novel Honey in the Rock, about pioneer Oregon: “Anybody who called owning horses disorderly conduct was a liar and a pissant.”
prumphænsn (PRUHMP-hine-s’n)
This delightful insult literally means ‘fartchicken’.
And a Slovak one they cut from the manuscript:
Pojebali kone voz! (POH-yeh-buh-lee KOH-nyeh VOHZ) (Slovak)
This lively expression, ‘May the horses fuck the carriage,’ illustrates the fact that Slovak cursing makes greater use of sexual terms than that of the Czechs.

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TACAIECCI like the start of this book where he talks of inviting us into a time-machine but I don’t think it will be an easy read for those who know little about Church History.

He’s weak on the Holy Spirit.

The Apostles’ Creed is an expression of Christian theology that was formed in a period of fascinating and creative debate. The creed is not simply a dogmatic, static, and cryptic symbol of Christian faith, but, on the contrary, a lively narrative that can still inspire imagination, critical reflection, and faith.
In The Apostle’s Creed, the ancient debates that led to the formulation of its twelve pronouncements are examined. The richness of early Christian thought is explored by looking at the ideas behind each creedal pronouncement and tracing the theological debates that inspired each statement. Early Christian theology is not treated as ‘unanimous,’ but as pluralistic. The polyphony of theological opinion, which characterized the Christianity of this period, is therefore highlighted and celebrated.

In explaining the context that gave birth to the creed, this study refers to the testimony of various ‘witnesses’ of those theological arguments. This includes opponents of the apostolic and church Fathers: the Gnostics, ‘heretics,’ and Jewish and pagan critics of Christian faith.

Table of contents

The book is structured along the Apostles’ Creed:


1. I believe in God the Father Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth
2. And in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried
5. He descended into Hell, the third day he rose again from the dead
6. He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost
9. The Holy Catholic Church
10. The Communion of Saints
11. The forgiveness of sins
12. The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.



“’Those ancient Christians were people passionate about God and our relationship with the divine’.

we must remember that Christianity is not an immobile, soundless ‘gazing into the sky’ (Acts 1.9-11). Christianity has not come into being in order for us to remain in silent awe of the transcendent Absolute. On the con­trary, it is a religion of the Word (Gr. Logos), it bears witness to the dialogue between the Creator and the creatures, and thus it is called to communicate in an intelligible, coherent and stimulating way.

Christianity has not come into being in order for us to remain in silent awe of the transcendent Absolute. On the con­trary, it is a religion of the Word (Gr. Logos), it bears witness to the dialogue between the Creator and the creatures, and thus it is called to communicate in an intelligible, coherent and stimulating way.

The history of religions shows that it is possible to dis­tinguish, among various traditions, more or less specific intel­lectual doctrines of salvation, ethical codes, liturgical practices and elements of mystical experience. But only Christianity from its very beginning called its faithful followers of Christ to confess a particu­lar faith which was much more than just an emotional adherence to Jesus.

That doctrine and its par­ticular expressions in the creeds emerged as a form of catechesis practised by the early Church. There is a strong evidence of the

fi practice of asking, usually three, questions during baptism, to which the neophyte responded three times saying, ‘I believe’. That is also the reason why the baptismal confession took the form of a dialogue, of questions and answers which were later replaced by an official statement of faith. One among many examples of this baptismal practice is recorded by the Apostolic Tradition.? The neophyte was well prepared to respond to these questions not only with faith but also with the necessary degree of knowledge about the history of salvation. It would have been natural for the local churches or provinces to develop their own variations of the questions to the neophyte, as well as their own particular practices of preparing the candidates, and even variations in the rituals of the baptism.

Thus, what we see today as the Apostles’ Creed is like a massive tree. But it started as a ‘seed’ that was grown in a particular soil and with specific climatic conditions. These elements will be examined through a commentary on each statement of belief.

thanks to the new discoveries, which include ancient documents, we are able to see the definition of orthodoxy as a gradual process which occurred through debate with alternative theologies (`her­esies’). Therefore it is inaccurate to understand ‘orthodoxy’ as the original, pure and innocent stage of Christian doctrine, and ‘her­esy’ as its later corruption and degeneration. Thus, I present early theological debates in this light of competitive struggle between various Christian schools or traditions. One of them, soon domin­ant, I call `proto-orthodox’, that is, the ‘archetype’ of later Chris­tian normative doctrine accepted and confirmed by the Councils and Synods.

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

This short uncompromising statement expresses the core of the first Christian dogmas and some of the theological axioms, which was the basis of the further formation and use of all creeds. Here in the Lukan elaboration, the Apostle Peter stresses the specific understanding of God’s relationship with humanity through the crucial role of the only mediator authorised by God: Jesus Christ. This theology is far from any concession to religious pluralism, as it unquestionably affirms that all need to be saved by Jesus, and that faith in Jesus leads to salvation.

for those non-Christians, including a number of intellectuals, faith and religion were mainly a matter of a regular participation in a public cult, not a subject of dogma or even a claim of exclusive truth about the nature of gods.’

faith was not just a one-off act, but rather a long process of transformation (Gr. metanoia) that led to baptism which made a neophyte a full mem­ber of the Church (e.g. Gal. 3.27). Thirdly, one’s faith inspired the whole of one’s existence and offered a new self-understanding and a new perception of the visible and invisible world, its rules, events and destiny (e.g. Col. 1.15-20; 1 Pet. 2.13-19; Rev. 17). Fourthly, faith established a specific fraternal relationship of love/charity between an individual and the Christian community (1 Jn 4.11). Last but not least, since the first generations of Christian believers found themselves misunderstood, castigated and persecuted, their faith called for an intelligible and convincing defence (1 Pet. 3.15).

One scholar notes” that the Coptic word for `father’ translating the original Greek term pater is also used to designate the androgyne divinity. This philological observation revises the use of male names for the principal Deity and intro­duces male—female terminology in many documents from the so-called Nag Hammadi Library discovered in Upper Egypt in 1945.

Since Gnostic communities existed as a part of the Christian movement these few examples of their theology of God show a very pluralistic approach to the divine. There is a striking contrast between these Gnostic notions that underline the female ability of the divine to conceive, care for and nourish offspring, and the view of ‘catholic’ Christians who, in response emphasised God’s father­hood. The Gnostic Christians reflect on the story of the creation of the first human beings (Gen. 1.27) as ‘icons’ of God, as if their gender reflected God’s masculine/feminine qualities.17 At the same time the mainstream Christianity underlined the fatherhood of God as a guarantee of order, domination and organisation of the creation.

Faith in Father Almighty clearly underlined his omnipotence, omniscience and omnipres­ence. But it was neither academic speculation nor philosophical curiosity about God’s nature that brought a philosophical category into the Creed. Experience of different sorts of evil in this world raised the fundamental question about God’s response to it.

Astrology and belief in fate questioned the Christian concept of God’s provi­dence and his autonomy, in which everything that exists is dependent on God and remains under his rule.” Belief in fate and the power of stars found a well argued response among the Apologists. Athenagoras of Athens, for instance

within the inner-Christian circle, the Gnostic notion of `emanation’ of the whole spiritual reality from its divine Source presented the origin of the invisible world as a necessary, unstop­pable and uncontrolled overflow. According to the ‘catholic’ critics, this kind of emanationism did not leave any room for a conscious, purposeful and free act of creation, but everything was determined by ‘automatic’ procedure which produced abundant

it asks a lot of good will from those believers who were well educated in the classical Greek philosophy and knew the ancient axiom that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes’. This time the proto-orthodox polemists aimed to reverse this paradigm and claimed that ‘all come out of nothing’, as a unique miracle of mighty God.

Another philosophical opinion, which was confronted by the belief in the Creator of heaven and earth proclaimed that although the reality was called into being, however, it is not a ‘body’ or an `extension’ of its divine Source. In this way another Greek theory, so called ‘pantheism’ (Gr. pan = ‘everything’ and theos= ‘god’) , was rejected. From a Christian proto-orthodox point of view, the uni­verse and God are not ‘mixed together’. The opinion that ‘God is everything’ and at the same time ‘everything is God’ in the way that the matter contained divinity while divinity was perceived by the material universe, was untrue. This Stoic concept was assessed by early theologians as a dangerous confusion of the Creator and the creation, which may lead to divinisation of the human and natural element, while deifying what was created

reaffirmed by this pronouncement as the Virgin, which is related to early Christian rhetoric competing with pagan, female deities.

Mary was presented as ‘pure virgin’ totally consecrated to God, sanctified by the presence of the holy child in her womb.

One of the New Testament pseudepigrapha, the Gospel of Nicodemus contains, among others, sixteen chapters which later received the title the Acts of Pilate, relating how the main character became a Christian. In addition to that, in the Coptic and Syrian churches Pilate has been canonised.’ Certainly the Scriptural detail that Jesus of Nazareth was executed under the rule of Pontius Pilate is one of the definite facts of Christianity. His role in early Christian apologetics and also in the creeds is to bring very important histor­ical credence.

Ignatius’ frequent use of the adverb ‘re emphasises that Christ’s incarnation, crucifixic Pontius Pilate truly happened as a fact or an even metaphor.

To Tertullian, the emperor is the instrument of God who enforces the law” as well as guaranteeing the stability of the state. The emperor punishes crime” and protects the rights of his subjects. In some way, he represents God’s law and order. Pontius Pilate thus in Tertullian’s elaboration was a symbol of his appreciation of the Roman Empire, a civitas that may inspire a Christian understanding of society, structure and respect for tradition and order. Pontius Pilate was much more for Tertullian than a private person accidentally attached to the credal formula. His opinion constitutes the climax of the transition of Pilate’s status in early Christian literature. The position of Pontius Pilate changed dramatically alongside the development of Christian apologetics and in the search for a new political alliance with the Empire. Pilate began his role in the Chris­tian literature as co-culprit with the Jews in the gravest crime..

The First Book of Enoch contains some ambiguous passages describing the time of repentance given to the sinners and the giants between the first judgment (the Flood) and the final judg­ment at the end of the world. It is to them that the name of the Son of the Man was revealed bringing joy and hope of salvation. A similar notion is presented by the Ascension of Isaiah, where the Word of the Lord descends through various levels of the universe, and ultimately enters the realm of Sheol to liberate the angels who are there. But, and this point must be underlined, it does not des­cend to the great abyss, the place of eternal imprisonment of evil angels.’

The Apocryphon of John mentions the descnt into Hell in order to waken the one who is in deep sleep.

In contrast with the proto-orthodox or apocryphal documents, this passage does not mention any Old Testament figures. This argument suggests that the act of liberation in Hades reaches indi­viduals who are able to receive salvation and gnosis, but it is not related to anyparticular ‘righteous’ characters from the time of the Old Covenant. In another words, the text does not continue the Scriptural connotation of Hades as the realm where the ‘souls of saints’ are imprisoned.

this act of redemption, unlike in the Apocryphon, of John, is presented as part of a struggle within the cosmological structure of the universe, rather than as a liber­ation of the soul from a bodily existence. The Teaching of Silvanus does not suggest any theory of predestination of the redeemed. It also underlines the paradox shared with the ‘orthodox’ sources that death of Christ has power to give life to those who are dead.

sources show a notable silence about any details of ascension, ref­erences to geography are missing, and no further information about chronology is given. It is as if these characteristics were not important to the main corpus of the Gnostic testimony and mes­sage. Also, the issue of measuring the chronological distance between resurrection and ascension is treated with liberty. The Scriptural, later canonical notion of ‘forty days’ does not play any significant role in Gnostic hermeneutics. On the contrary, while some Gnostic documents suggest that Christ’s exaltation was immanent after his resurrection, others as recorded by Irenaeus I believed in eighteen months (!). The Apocryphon of James proposes ‘five hundred and fifty days’ as the period which separates the Lord’s resurrection and ascension.’ Here we have another view on a the length of Christ’s sojourn after his resurrection, but whatever meaning is hidden behind the number,” it is certain that the final ascension did not take place immediately.

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The Art Nouveau Poster – Alain Weill

TANPBeautifully produced coffee table book.

In July 1881, bill-posting became legal in Paris. The result was an explosion of creativity over three glorious decades recognised as the golden age of poster advertising, stirring together elements of new printing technology, William Morris’ attempts to reconcile medieval artistry with modern industry, the influence of newly-open Japan on European engraving and aesthetics, and the talents of artists as diverse as Jules Cheret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley.

The Art Nouveau Poster is the most comprehensive survey to date of this vivid and much loved subject, featuring over 400 illustrations from all of the major European centres, Britain and the United States, with an informative and accessible text. A final chapter looks at the revival of interest in the 1960s following major retrospective exhibitions of Alphonse Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley, and features work from the psychedelic era.

It was first published in French, as L’Affiche Art Nouveau. Author Alain Weill also wrote The Poster: A Worldwide Survey & History, the first and only complete history of posters.

The poster as an art form was a product of the Belle Epoque, benefiting from the development of chromolithography and an advantageous French law: “Although still in its earliest infancy, the poster was about to enjoy a golden age… In this it was helped by a specifically French development in the form of a law that came into force on 29 July 1881, allowing posters to be stuck to any object and to any site that was not specifically excluded.”

For the next two decades, Paris was gripped by “affichomanie” (‘poster-mania’, coined by Octave Uzanne). The leading poster designer of the period was Jules Cheret: “Cheret was undeniably the father of the poster and was hailed as such by his contemporaries.”

Alain Weill (born 7 September 1946) is a French expert in graphic design and advertising, a specialist on posters, art critic and collector.

As an essayist, Alain Weill has authored many books and exhibition catalogues dedicated to graphic arts and advertising posters. He is an expert in graphic arts and advertising creation, notably with the company of auctioneers. He is also a food critic, and a founding member of the Council of Culinary Arts.

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Oxford Apostles: A Character Study of the Oxford Movement by Geoffrey Faber

I first read this book in the early 1970s as I am fascinated in our Anglo-catholic forebears. Later historians write glowing accounts of these and hate this book for its suspicion of the sanity of the likes of Dr Pusey.

This is a character study of the Oxford Movement, an attempt to understand and to explain a deeply interesting crisis in the history of ideas, by a study of personalities.

The central figure in this study is Newman, whose life is traced in detail up to the point of his conversion to Roman Catholicism. Round him are grouped a number of other men, whose careers and characters are presented with equal vividness – Keble, Pusey, Froude, Whatley, Blance White, Hampden and many others of lesser significance. The author combines these various life-stories with great skill into a single dramatic and moving form; and his expositions of the ecclesiastical and political background of early nineteenth-century Oxford, and of the general characteristics of the movement, hold the reader’s attention.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890), the famed Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism and was ultimately named a cardinal, is also known as a poet and prose writer. He is less well known as an accomplished musician. Newman grew up in a pre-Victorian household in London, where literature and music were important. Both he and his father were adept musicians. At age ten, Newman’s father gave him a violin, and Newman quickly became a competent violinist. Later, his brother-in-law, Tom Mozley, would say, “He would have been a second Paganini if he had become a professional musician” (Geoffrey Faber, Oxford Apostles: A Character Study of the Oxford Movement, 1933).

Geoffrey Faber (1889–1961), wrote as a distinguished Oxford graduate and as the grandnephew of J. H. Newman’s fellow traveller to Rome, the hymn writer Frederick W. Faber (1814–1863). It was a matter of historical record that Faber, a devoted follower of Newman both while at Oxford and in his re-affiliation to Rome, received brusque treatment from Newman in the years following. Skilfully written by one who became the co-founder of a publishing house bearing the Faber name and with a dash of irreverence towards the hallowed memory of his subject, he attempted an account of Newman’s career which took seriously a number of unresolved conundrums. Faber, influenced by Freudian psychology, took particular interest in Newman’s prolonged and unrelenting relationship with his mother, his claimed determination from age fifteen to follow a life of celibacy, his overwhelming preference for male company (long before his re-affiliation to Rome), his recurring tendency to have severe health crises when confronted by great tasks, and supremely his self-absorption. Faber strongly implied the existence of dark psychological forces at work in the Tractarian hero. In modern parlance, we might call The Oxford Apostles a piece of psycho-history. Faber was, at the same time, a good scholar and a lucid writer.

Newman’s detractors argued that character flaws undermined his ability to address marriage in a meaningful way. There were complaints about his individualism, ingrained chauvinism, and morbid sensitivity. Perhaps the most curious critiques are those which target Newman’s ‘perversity,’ ‘effeminacy,’ and his homosexuality. Rumours of this type were floated by the Queen’s chaplain, Charles Kingsley, during his public controversy with Newman in the 1860s. Kingsley had become a leading spokesman for the tradition of ‘Muscular Christianity’ in Victorian religious thought. For this ‘manly’ Christian Englishman the choice of a celibate life-style would automatically raise suspicions. Newman did little to rebut such personal attacks aside from noting how deeply this ‘prejudice’ against celibacy was engrained within popular Protestant culture. Ward’s classic biography unwittingly fuelled suspicions by accenting Newman’s sensitive or ‘feminine’ side. Geoffrey Faber’s Oxford Apostles welded these hints and whispers of possible deviance into a Freudian exploration of Tractarian sexual abnormality. The echoes are still found in contemporary literature.

Pusey was a mother’s boy who spent hours reading. He became a  professor at the age of 28.

I wonder whether people with OCD become daily communicants or whether fellow Anglo-Catholics make this an expectation.

Newman noted priests laughing while hearing confessions.

People were said to come as cheerful agnostics but leave as miserable sinners after encountering these people.

Homosexuality is seen less as a pathology and more as a thing to transcend/sublimate.

First published in 1933.

The author was a nephew of the noted convert and hymn writer, Father Frederick William Faber.


Amongst the freshmen, was; a young man named  John William Bowden …..saw in him a type of beautiful man-hood…… His were the first overtures; they-were accepted, and he fell completely under Newman’s peculiar spell.. The two friends…….lived simply with and for each other all           their undergraduate time.
…taking their meals.together, reading; walking, boating together…visiting each other’s homes in the Vacations

The Tractarian party….claimed,, when it was born, to be the a more ancient party, dating from the reigns of James 1 and Charles I, represented in the eighteenth century by the non-jurors…..belief in the divine right of kings…..continuity of an episcopate unbroken from the. Apostles…… They rested their faith upon the….revelation upon the Bible, as the Church and the Councils of the Church alone, knew how to interpret it…..They held the prestige, the independence: the ….of the Church to be more important ….. and they resented bitterly the subordination ….to the lay rulers of .the State….. belief in a God, whose unseen splendour was manifested on earth to the eyes and ears of the faithful in a ….divinely instituted society. The Church, its priest­hood and its sacraments, were the ordained means of grace; and no beauty of character or purity of intention could be allowed by men to offer the hope of salvation to any soul’:: which refused to travel by the appointed road. The Reforma­tion had obscured, but not destroyed; the true tradition. It could not do so; man.might reform the abuses of man’s own making; to reform the Church of Christ was not in his power. All earthly dominion took-its sanction, for Christians, from this sacred source. The pattern of a truly Christian society must follow that of Christ’s revelation. There must be men in and under authority, and over all the King, his coronation a sacrament of the Church, holding his authority from God, whose glory he and all his subjects had been created to serve.

They loathed the title of Protestant….Newman writes …the word Protestant does not occur in our formularies: is an uncomfortable; perplexing word….We are a “Reformed” Church not a ”Protestant church.’

He went on to point out to his French readers that if the Anglican communion were composed solely of thee three parties it would inevitably be split into separate sects.  It was prevented from doing so, he explained, by the fact that the great mass of churchmen either did not belong to any particular theological party or, if they did, held its tenets in a very mild and unemphatic manner. ….., expressing itself in devotion to …..the Establishment. This ecclesiastical Toryism, symbolized by the toast of  ‘Church and King’, was not to he confused with the theological Catholicism resuscitated by the Tractarians. It had no real theological roots, it was nationalistic, rather than Catholic; it worshipped a compromise; it distrusted dialectic, as much as it disliked enthusiasm; it hated Rome because it threatened the Establishment from without, Dissent because it weakened it from within.

John Henry Newman: Enough, I eat His Flesh and drink His Blood,
More is not told — to ask it is not good.

Newman’s surrenders were emotional, never intellectual surrenders.

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A Question of Manhood by Robin Reardon

How come this author knows so much about the feelings of teenage boys? The author says: Several years ago, after working one-on-one with an independent editor on my general writing skills, I realized that I enjoyed writing the most when I could be a little melodramatic, the way many teens are. You know how they move back and forth quickly between being very intense and very “whatever”? This is my natural fiction voice.

There’s a copycat incident of what happened to Matthew Sheppard 12 years before this was written.

But there are no real pop culture details.

November 1972. The Vietnam War is rumoured to be drawing to a close, and for sixteen-year-old Paul Landon, the end can’t come soon enough. The end will mean his older brother Chris, the family’s golden child, returning home from the Army for good. But while home on leave, Chris entrusts Paul with a secret: He’s gay. And when Chris is killed in action, Paul is beset by grief and guilt, haunted by knowledge he can’t share.

That summer, Paul is forced to work at his family’s pet supply store. Worse, he must train a new employee, JJ O’Neil, a gay college freshman. But though Paul initially dislikes JJ for being everything he’s not—self-confident, capable, ambitious—he finds himself learning from him. Not just about how to handle the anxious, aggressive dogs JJ so effortlessly calms and trains, but how to stand up for himself—even when it means standing against his father, his friends, and his own fears. Through JJ, Paul finally begins to glimpse who his brother really was—and a way toward becoming the man he wants to be.

It’s November of 1972 when the story opens. The first state in the U.S. to eliminate anti-sodomy laws was Illinois in 1961. Before that time, all U.S. states had laws that either specified sodomy as illegal or referred more generally to “acts against nature.” Although the definition of sodomy (oral sex, anal sex, and sometimes sexual acts of a human with an animal) can pertain to heterosexual activity, the laws were most commonly applied to same-sex partners, primarily men. Beginning in1961, various states eliminated these laws at different times. In Pennsylvania, the sodomy law Was repealed for married couples  only in 1972, leaving homosexual activity illegal.

Then in 2003, after hearing the case of Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “Homosexual Conduct”laws, which rendered them unconstitutional for all states.

A Question of Manhood takes place  only a few years after the  Stonewall riots, which began in New York City on June 28, 1969 and lasted for six days. News about this event would no doubt have brought about an intense negative reaction from people like Paul’s father.

In 2005, a report released by the National Academy of Science pointed incontrovertibly toward homosexuality being a natural, normally-occurring phenomenon. The report indicated that while straight men respond sexually only to female pheromones and not at all to male pheromones, gay men respond sexually only to male pheromones.

J.J. O’Neil is a young man with his sights set on being a veterinarian. His skill at dog behaviour, and his ability to transfer to Paul not only his knowledge of this practice but also the underlying implications of taking responsibility and of being a leader are central to the development of Paul as the story’s main character.

In creating J.J.’s role, the author studied the methods of Cesar Milan, also known as The Dog Whisperer. Her observation is that Milan’s techniques are successful owing to his keen understanding of how dogs behave with each other and his ability to translate that understanding into actions humans can perform. A more ineffable aspect of Milan’s success, which he stresses in his explanations, is the ability to transmit energetic intention that dogs can perceive. He refers to it as “calm assertiveness.”

Milan often stresses the difference between dog training, which involves a person teaching routines to the dog based on specific instruction, and dog behaviour, in which it’s the person who needs to learn, not the dog. As Milan puts it, “I rehabilitate dogs. I train people.”

A Question of Manhood is not directly about the Vietnam  war, which began for the U.S. as an effort to halt the spread of communism;  but the most important person in Paul Landon’s life, his brother Chris, fought and died in that literal and metaphorical jungle.

The “Jesus nut” is, as Chris describes it, what holds the whole rotor mechanism to the top of the helicopter (a.k.a. Huey) , so called because if it comes off when you’re in flight, only Jesus can help you. Just the fact that the soldiers coined this term tells us that malfunction happened far too often. Chris describes one scene where this happens as a Huey was lifting wounded soldiers to intended safety.

Punji sticks are wooden or bamboo spikes placed upright, typically in a camouflaged pit and often  covered in poison or faeces to cause infection. The intent was at a minimum to maim, and an incoming medical evacuation Huey would reveal the U.S. forces’ fallback landing zone location to watching Vietcong, who would usually try to shoot the Huey down.

The description Chris gives Paul of using a machine gun rather than a rifle to pelt the area in the general proximity of your enemy is directly from these stories. Every fifth round was painted with red magnesium so that even in daylight soldiers could see where the bullets were going.

Chris’ description of the dump trucks, packed full of heavy dirt and engineered to travel in reverse, was from the online stories. The truck would follow men who were walking with hand-held mine sweepers, and the truck would set off any that they missed. The theory was that the bulk and weight of the loaded truck would keep damage to a minimum.Drivers often got high on marijuana to help cut the natural fear of driving over mines.

It was not uncommon for the Vietcong to booby-trap a large area, wait for U.S. troops to appear near it, and shoot at the U.S. soldiers to drive them into the booby-trapped jungle to be killed or wounded by mines set off by trip-wires, hidden pits with punji sticks in them, and other horrors.

There were many instances reported in which bombs or other weapons were used by apparently innocent people: women, children, very old men. The veterans’ stories I read often mentioned the dread of never knowing who the Vietcong were and who the innocent residents might be.

One of ther author’s passions is “comparative religion.” She says:  In my first book, A Secret Edge, you can read a little about the differences among the religions of Christianity, Buddhism, and  Hinduism. My second book, Thinking Straight, is an intense examination of the challenges gay Christians face. In A Question of Manhood, there are also religious references, but in this story they are metaphorical rather than stated.

To Paul Landon, his older brother Christopher is perfect, and the disciple Paul worships him. Andy Landon, their father, is the exacting Old Testament Yahweh, demanding sacrifice of his son to atone for human sin (in this case, Christopher’s own homosexuality), and Christopher walks that path knowing precisely where it will lead and how he will die.

J.J. O’Neil, whose initials stand for José Jesus, is ridiculed by Paul’s ne’er-do-well friend Marty Kaufman as the “dog messiah.” And to quote the homeless Jack (the wandering, ill-kempt John the Baptist), who sometimes hangs out in front of Andy Landon’s pet supply store and sees J.J. working with dogs that are confused and driven by fear and aggression:  “Takes all their burdens. Calms those dogs right down. A little Jesus, that’s what he is. Just lifts all their problems right off of them…Not like Bible Jesus, though. People can turn all their decisions over to that one. And they say, ‘Thank you Jesus!’…But here? Little Jesus puts the burdens smack dab onto the people! Halleluiah, praise the Lord!”

Part of what Jack is saying is that when people turn their burdens over to Jesus, a common reaction is relief attributed to freedom from responsibility. Personally, I see Jesus creating a fresh starting point, providing the tools needed, and then expecting people to follow his example, which is a very different thing, indeed, from exonerating anyone of responsibility. J.J. teaches people how to be leaders for their dogs, removing from the dogs a responsibility they can’t handle and giving it to the dogs’ people. Jesus teaches people how to be leaders for themselves, and with that comes a sacred responsibility –not amnesty from it.

If this book, the author says: the theme of Christianity is less obvious and less directly related to homosexuality. In this book, the idea of turning everything over to Jesus is shown for what it is: something that’s appropriate for dogs, perhaps, but not for people. The expression, “Pray like hell, but row away from the rocks,” comes to mind. It’s not enough just to pray; we have to use our brains, as well, or we’re denying our own humanity…. I want readers to get is that Christianity is supposed to be about love, and anything that doesn’t support and promote love is not following the example of Jesus of Nazareth. So someone carrying a sign that reads, “God hates fags” is actually sinning themselves, no matter how many Bible verses they quote. These verses were written in a time when everyone in the Middle East believed that all human life came from male ejaculate, and the mother contributed nothing. When you think what this means—that any man who spilled his seed outside of a female, a human oven, was killing someone—then of course they condemned any action (like masturbation, for example) that didn’t at least plant the seed in the “right” place….. the idea that leadership, manhood, could be demonstrated by a gay boy in a way that a confused and troubled straight boy could learn about them, seemed like a refreshing story line. I use dogs, and dog behavior, because dogs are straightforward in how they expect and demonstrate leadership—and because they are so easily led astray by a leader who uses pack mentality to lead them down the wrong path. So this story, which takes place in the 1970s, is not intended to demonstrate the way gay people should be treated as much as to demonstrate how all people should be treated: They should be treated as who they are, not as we want them to be.


Several times as I sat there, I felt sure I was supposed to be praying or something. Was there really no place in the service where everyone just sat still and had a word with Jesus? But then I thought, what would I say? Besides, God had probably forgotten about me. So mostly I just sat there and let things wash over me

I waited. I tried to focus on what it might sound like if God or somebody like that spoke to me, but the minister’s sermon started creeping in. At least, his words. The meaning of these little speeches always seemed pretty obscure to me. But he was making so much noise that if Jesus spoke, I missed it. Of course, if God or whoever wanted me to hear something, I’d hear it. If he can make a virgin pregnant, he can speak to me inside my head, or in a way so the only people who could hear it are the ones who should. Right? So was this still punishment for me? And would somebody up there please help Chris?

“No. What I was thinking is that it’s ironical that your name is Jesus since what you are is a sin. I was going to say that it’s about what God wants. It says so in the Biblne.ironic. And I don’t. ”

“First, you don’t mean ironical, you mean ironic. And I don’t  happen to agree. And as for the Bible, are we talking about God who made the earth in six days? If so, he made you, too. And he also made me. And he made me who I am. I guess co n-

I’d rather argue with the Bible than with God when there’s a conflict. And by the way, there’s a lot of stuff in that Bible of yours that you don’t follow. How come you get to I don’ choose which things are sacred for you and which are not, and I don’t?”

“What are you talking about?” My face must have been crim­son; I was thinking of my few minutes with Lady Pink Vest. Plus I was irritated about being corrected; JJ wasn’t my mother, after all.

JJ half smiled. “I can see you’ve got something in mind al­ready. I don’t pretend to know what it is, but I don’t need to know. There are so many things-I already know. Like I’ll bet you didn’t even know you weren’t supposed to wear linen and wool together. Or plant two kinds of seeds in the same field. Do you have a sister?”

“What? No….”

“Too bad. Your father could sell her into slavery, as long as he took her far enough away, and maybe pay for part of your college education. Have you ever cursed your father? Because he would be expected to kill you for that.” I just stared at him. “So, as I said, I’d rather argue with the Bible than with God. And if you think they’re the same, then you’d better go and fa­miliarize yourself with all the things in the book of Leviticus that will get you stoned to death by your neighbors.”

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