I was informed by text one September 11th that if I were a good Catholic (instead of a proudly wicked nonconformist) that I would know this day was St Clara’s day – patron saint of journalists and those who write for the truth to be known. Now, I note that there are several St Clara or Claires, but I don’t really care who this saint is and when her day is. I just love what she stands for. As a writer and a truth teller, I was pleased that the church [no big C], which I disapprove of more than ever, has given a day to at least one saint who upholds truth telling and speaking out.
The irony is not lost on me. As I began preparing for this, I watched the Anglican church come out of lockdown and the local diocese’s ordinations. I was aware of acute discrepancies between what the candidates swear to do and be, and what actually happens. The church has conformed to covid controls, and made its own – one in particular was unworthy of its inclusive church pretensions because of its disability discrimination regarding masks and toilet use. Yes, it is the exact opposite of all you’re supposed to stand for. And yet, head touching of multiple candidates was still allowed, because zapping with authority and the apostolic succession is so important to conformist churches.
I noted the church’s use of [no sainting here] Peter’s phrase – the ‘royal priesthood, holy nation’ that I was used to crooning in the 1980s. As a nonconformist, it had never occurred to my younger evangelical self that this quote from 1 Peter 2:9 could mean that the priesthood of any established chain, such as Anglicans, Catholics, or Orthodox, is royal and passed like a bloodline, Reiki master style, or something out of the Da Vinci Code. ‘Royal priesthood’ seems much more of a feature of the old Jewish religion than the new Christian Way that was offshooting from it. ‘Holy nation’ feels like a reference to the Jewish people. Writing as and to those familiar with Judaism, Peter’s words, for me, say: I am equating this new kingdom of God with what we are used to. He also seems to say that Gentiles are included in what had been a closed camp. All believers belong to the holy nation now – it’s not about ethnicity and geography any more. Amen!
But I’m aware of Peter being misused and also that he deliberately took mantles not given to him. I again mention Lauri Ann Lumby’s understanding of Peter in her novel, Song of the Beloved: a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which draws on extra canonical sources and her own considerable knowledge. I have great respect for Lauri’s work, and she is not alone in the opinion that Peter’s version of Jesus – along with his brother James – is a skewed one, which suits people trying to build another hierarchical ownership system, just like the one they broke away from.
I am seeing this thread in British history, which I hope is meaningful and transferable for all my readers/listeners, wherever you are. I’d like to take 4 points from it and weave these questions:
1) How do we please God? 2) How do we please our rulers? 3) How do we live well? 4) How do we recognise one who lives well and pleases God and his ruler? (They probably do say ‘his’).
And the answer for each is the same – for them. It is not the same for me.
The traditional answer to those four questions is:
For 1-3: keep the law; and 4 is – by ease, wealth and status in their lives.
For the traditionalist, 1&2 are entwined: God leads via those he ordained, in a hierarchy, whose status shows the favour found with God. Hear my duck noise!
Let me start with the Roman empire, which links Jesus and the early church’s day, and the first stop in my land’s history. When I’ve heard historians speak of Rome, it’s often with some admiration. Not: here was an atrocious, hard, ruthless people who ruled much of Europe, the Middle East and even parts of Africa, and tried to squash our indigenous way of life – and charged us for it, calling it ‘protection’.
We seem to admire the people who were organised and tactical fighters with shields that tessellated, who built straight roads and our first towns and lasting buildings. Because they had underfloor heating, we somehow think that if they were technologically ahead, that these people are worthy of our respect. Because they did what we did – rule a vast area with might and wealth, supplanting natives – we quite like our Italian tin and brush hatted not quite friends.
There was a TV and book series: What The Romans Did for Us. It extended to the other eras which I’m going to visit.
My answer to what these people did for (or to us) is similar for each:
They introduced hierarchy and homogeneity (and yes, hypocausts).
Forts and towns followed a pattern; soldiers followed a pattern; residents followed a pattern. It’s called the laws of the New Leadership. Do as you’re told and you may live, even thrive. We’ll rename your geography, bring our uniforms, language, gods.
I note Rome’s own gods, and how Christianity and Judaism often portrays its One True one. Please God (in both senses). God needs obeying and placating. Give up something to him/her. A sacrifice, a present. Praise him; make a promise of allegiance. Offer yourselves. If you want something, a certain outcome in war for example, you must follow these guidelines. If you don’t get what you wanted, your god is displeased. You must work out why and ameliorate before you suffer more.
Another irony is that Rome, who persecuted Christianity, became its headquarters. And Christianity advanced in the way that the Roman Empire did: spread and conquer. Accept this system or die. Even in less aggressive forms, there is something tactical and militant about mission. The Church of England’s tagline is: “A Christian presence in every community.” I’d once have found that comforting, but it now sounds ominous. There’s a sense of ownership of their patch, even of nonworshippers. When a new couple told a minister that they’d just moved into the parish, the minister said, “So that means we own your soul.” It’s just what some churches think.
The were 2 different styles of mission in Britain: one from Ireland, starting at Iona; and one from Rome, starting in Kent. One wanted to supplant the extant Pagan beliefs; the other incorporated them. Whilst I critique both, it’s my understanding that the Celtic way was a less authoritarian and more egalitarian form of faith. Sadly, the Celtic way lost out. Their military leadership may have receded, but Rome found a new way into Britain. Now the church – considering itself worthy of a capital C [snort] – had councils, and made decisions about the Good Book and what was considered acceptable belief. In Northumbria, the Roman way won in another council – the synod of Whitby – and the Celtic church was superseded.
Yet it’s not forgotten, and like Mary Magdalene, it’s enjoying a resurgence.
My next stop is 1000 years on from the Roman invasion. I’m intrigued that when they left four centuries later, Britain returned to its Celtic ways. I’ve seen reconstruction pictures of Canterbury and Colchester – large walled Roman towns – lying in ruin with thatched huts and pigs running round in gardens, where once side by side houses of tile and brick stood. Towns were abandoned with the cessation of the military and central administration.
But then new invaders came, with almost the same name as those in AD 43.
They even copied the architecture of Rome, which is knowns as Romanesque.
Another group from continental Europe, this time from the North.
They had the same game plan: conquer in battle, claim the capital, and then start building – motte and bailey castles instead of milecastles, replace churches with bigger ones, our style. Claim Pagan holy spots with sites of our own.
As I read about Dunfermline in Fife, I was sad to realise that a famous Queen – Margaret – and her son, David, did Scotland what I think is a disservice. Margaret was sainted for her piety, which really meant that she set up monasteries. Both she and David had spent time in England, and they took what they found there to their homeland, instead of the preferable reverse.
Much like at Durham, the largest church yet seen was built on the site of a simpler, older one; and a palace complex was mixed in with the monastic accommodation and leadership. (David did the same at Edinburgh). Kings started being buried at Dunfermline abbey, as they were at contemporary Westminster. It tied secular and sacred power together; it made a statement via a building, towered in both senses. God is mighty, we are mighty. Masonry might costs. You might want to think about that when visiting, and contribute whilst you contemplate how vast and untouchable God is in the long dark space where words of another tongue will be said amidst flashes of colour and smelly mist (what the Welsh call incense). Hence God is mysterious, and those who enact his mysteries are to be revered because of the glorious robes they wear, the words they utter that you don’t understand, the ceremonies that they do – although they’ll be behind a screen, and you can’t see.
Just like the Jews had wrongly taught that God’s name is unsayable – lest its power be accessed by all; just like the Bible wasn’t in the common tongue and could only be read by priests; now they said: God is at the altar, and the altar is very far away. You won’t be able to get to the High one (of course, there are hierarchies – the ones in the nave you use aren’t as holy as the one up the far end for the important people, where all the gold is).
As a cathedral lover, I’m struck by how reprehensible this view of God is, and how unlike the New Testament, and the God of my understanding.
Margaret introduced the Benedictine Rule (note the word, it’s true in both senses) – more Italian monopoly, like the board game, for this was the predominant monastic system which also was about hegemony and homogeneity. These buildings had a set shape, as did their service patterns, and their trappings of worship, familiar today but alien and offensive to those of nonconformist and Celtic understanding.
Thus queen and king imposed a foreign way which was part of the conquerors’ world, to a place that wasn’t even conquered. This was the era of private ownership. This was the time that both Scotland and England had a unified single sovereign each over the whole land, which had hitherto been a group of tribal kingdoms. I note that early abbots and bishops were Norman or Italian – thus preserving and imposing the nationality and ways of the incoming nation.
They brought back walls, in all senses. They brought in feudalism.
So what did the Normans do for us? They reintroduced a system, secular and sacred. They were even prepared to fight so-called holy wars to defend territory from other would-be acquisitive and not dissimilar religions of the book with theocratic rule and proselytising tendencies. Now sacred and secular were really muddled.
My next stop is half a millennium later. At last rid of being someone else’s empire, we began to make our own, which continued for half a millennium. The Church – for there was but one way allowed to worship God – badly needed reform, as much of Christendom recognised. But we didn’t really reform here, we just changed its name and its head. It drowned all music but its own, including adherents to the extant version, and those would-be more radical reformers. This was an opportunity to reset, to develop anew, but it was missed. Hitherto church wealth went into private hands. You might call it redistribution, but it was just another group having unequal power, another group who felt that conformity and homogeneity – and surveillance – lead to safety. You can have the Bible in your own language, and services, but there are only state approved ones. Anything else is forbidden, and will be punished. Whereas Britain now stood alone from continental rule, it was making itself insular and ruled by another tyranny. (Familiar?) Whereas those powerful rich monasteries might have been corrupt and unaccountable, the real issue was that they didn’t answer to bishops or the king, and they also preached to the community, things which might have given the populace freer ideas. However, despite further attempts at tightening and persecution, by the end of the next century, new Christian groups prevailed and had at last a modicum of freedom…
But it took until my last stop – the 19th Century – for full emancipation. Catholics and Unitarians had to wait until Regency times to practice legally; under George IV, Celts were freed to speak their language and wear their dress, and the first new university in England was founded, finally ending the stranglehold of Oxbridge. That same decade – the 1830s – the Reform Bill was passed; and our Houses of Parliament were burned. By the end of the century, under Victoria, we had a new set. And what did they say? We are the head of an empire, with buildings which reflect the start of it. We are a wealthy nation, thanks to our expanded territories and industry. We try not to think about the inequalities in our land. Some of us do, and we call the generous endowments ‘philanthropy’ – but how much love of fellow humans is there really in these foundations? For it means that rich individuals, church, and state control more – education, welfare, health – whilst puffing up the name of the endower, as medieval sponsors did with their fat cat tombs and almshouses (read: get out of Hell card). Look at the offices, banks, town halls of this era, and how the railways stations and factories have cathedral-like qualities, which say: we are proud of where we’ve come from and where we will go.
What can I say of the Victorians? Another opportunity missed; a time of two halves. A time where technology and growth were put before equality, and attempts at righting the balance were avuncular and patronising at best; a time when dangerous new health practices were begun. Hysteria is homogeneity, and straight jacketing is metaphorical. Yet it was also a time of broad spiritual resurgence.
The next century soon started breaking down the strata so proudly preserved by the Victorians and ensuing Edwardians. The Empire fell apart; women got the vote and increasing equality. Conservatism was shaken by left wing ideas and flower power. Welfare was born, of the non workhouse variety. Yet as improvements seemed to be made, strictures tightened elsewhere, and ominious new structures were created.
The 20th Century was a roll towards the Age of Aquarius – or God’s New Kingdom. Still the prevailing beliefs are that hard work and productivity please your rulers and your God, and each other; that sacrifice is at the heart of life as much as faith; that rule keeping is right action, endorsed by the judiciary as much as Judaeo-Christian belief; and that wealth and health are signs of God’s blessing – in the New Age thinking as much as the Prosperity Gospel. Hence, we’ve not moved far.
And we need to – for it’s not truth. God is love, not fear; love does not need placating. God doesn’t care about status – She rather likes upending that value.
Shaken pillars are now being dismantled. We are at a very exciting time, a real watershed moment. I’ve often wondered how close to those previous moments – when an army is coming, when new scary laws come in – are the times we live in. Would we recognise it and what could we do? Not live another 400 years in their thrall, that’s something I’m certain to not let happen. And although we must be responsible with what we say, I’m aware that so-called alternative or conspiratorial ideas are being censored, whilst newspapers – yes, even you, Guardian – are not truth telling. (And yes despite a crap attempt at a dissemination website, I note that there’s a correlation between Gates funding and how outspoken you are.) We need truth tellers, so thank you to all those websites and other channels who have spoken out – but mind that you don’t keep us in fear. I’m wary of double agents.
I am practising truth telling, as I hope I always do, in my blog and elsewhere; but truth telling also means speaking positive truth, and I hope that when I call into question and affirm our worth and sovereignty, that my readers and audience feel empowered, as I do writing and speaking it.
I’m seeing lots of links, and that the things I write about – from tipping to television licences to antiterrorism to tracing and testing – all have a similar undergirding. There is an imbalanced contract, where the few are not really giving us a service, but tacitly expect us to serve them. There is a cost to the ‘service’ – which is fiscal, and/or compliance. It’s time that we woke up from the deep state, deep church (I note that the Anglican church is one of the world’s richest ‘endowers’ – a corporation set up in 1948.) We are not in bond, we are free.
Sept 12th is St Elspeth’s day, according to role playing. She watered through a long drought, knowing that plant was not what it seemed. There’s also a warrior Queen Elspeth who fights injustice. I hope that I embody both. Whether your birthday is around now – and I’m aware of two local people in office I’ve mentioned in this blog with a birthday whose behaviour clashes with the saint of that day – this is a time for you to start truth telling, standing in your truth, and making sure that history won’t look back on this era as a going back to what was worse, or allowing the advancement of technology or keeping us safe to really be about the advancement of the interests of the few. Let us move back and forward, to the best of what was, and innovate something we’ve not yet dared try, and push out of this broken, fear based system for once and for ever.
I’ll have more to say on all this.
The next sermon is the last Sunday of the month for something harvest and equinox