We’re Getting Rid of the Internet

Yes, you read that right.

It’s been a thought I’ve been incubating over the last year and one that I have spent lots of time considering. A number of months ago I expressed my feelings to my wife and she agreed that it was time to cut the cord (so-to-speak).

Soon we will be moving. I will be taking my first parish and we will be leaving the apartment where we have been for two years and moving into a rectory somewhere else in the Diocese. When we get there we will not be installing internet (I have not had television for 6 years now, that also won’t be coming into the house).

Not only will we not be installing internet, but we will also be “downgrading” our smart-phones to flip phones with no data access.

We will have access to public libraries, coffee shops, and I will likely have an internet-enabled church office very near by, so we will still access the internet, but we are making a conscious choice not to make it part of our home life.

Computers have been a part of my life for a very long time, both of my parents’ jobs necessitated them having computers at home, even when I was in very early elementary school at a time when no one else had computers. Soon after, just as dial-up internet was being made available publicly, we had that enabled in our home. My fascination with computers was largely due to the tinkering side of my personality, and the internet opened up a whole new world of people, interests, knowledge, and fun that had before then been very different to access. From then on the internet was a household and daily part of my life.

 

In so many ways my access to the internet has led to good things: people I have met, access to incredible amounts of knowledge and things to read, games that could entertain for hours. It also does something though, that when unchecked, becomes quite insidious: it desensitizes, it makes disturbing imagery intimately close, and it skews ones desire such that there is an almost insatiable drive to keep browsing.

This desire combined with unfettered and intimate access means that the gritty and gruesome details of the latest ISIS massacres are welcomed right into our beds as we check our phones before we sleep, or right after waking up.

I once remember a journalism professor remarking to us that what makes radio unique above all other forms of media is that radio is with us where television and newspapers are not: a human voice that is with us in the shower, next to our beds, in our cars as we drive, in our ears as we walk, in our kitchens. Like phones, radio exists in those intimate places in our lives that other forms of media cannot penetrate; unlike radio, which is scheduled and finite, the internet provides an endless rabbit hole of fascinating and often depraved things to click and read.

Where once I sated my desire to get lost in reading with books, now I reach down beside my bed and pull up Google. Where once I could distract myself from reading books with day-dreams, now even that time has surrendered itself to my iPhone.

Now at this point you might be saying to yourself, “But Colin, this is your problem, not the internet’s. This is a problem of your self-control and discipline,” and indeed you are right, it is. It is extreme, perhaps, but there is something to be taken I think from a loose interpretation of Christ’s words in Matthew 5:30–it’s not my hand I will be cutting off, but rather the very thing that enables us to spend our time in a way that neither of us want.

It has been such a dependable routine for so long I know that there will be pains in the beginning, it will not be easy. Thankfully the excitement of starting a new job and setting up our home will help mitigate whatever difficulty we have and hopefully books, focus, and quietude will again become parts of our regular home life.

Lenten Wisdom in Verse – Thursday and Friday after Ash Wednesday

What Lenten discipline would be complete without falling off the wagon after the first day? I offer this afternoon the poems for yesterday and today, both poems are written by Malcolm Guite, chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge.

Thursday

Stones into Bread
 
The Fountain thirsts, the Bread is hungry here
The Light is dark, the Word without a voice.
When darkness speaks it seems so light and clear.
Now He must dare, with us, to make a choice.
In a distended belly’s cruel curve
He feels the famine of the ones who lose
He starves for those whom we have forced to starve
He chooses now for those who cannot choose.
He is the staff and sustenance of life
He lives for all from one Sustaining Word
His love still breaks and pierces like a knife
The stony ground of hearts that never shared,
God gives through Him what Satan never could;
The broken bread that is our only food.
There are three days between Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday in Lent, the first day of the first week of our six-week pilgrimage. Since Christ’s own primal Lent, his sojourn as the Word in the Wilderness, is prefaced by his three temptations, by his confrontation with just those corruptions of the good that confront us every day, it seems good to spend these three days reflecting on these three temptations, which will themselves form the readings and subject for reflection in many churches this coming Sunday. I have chosen to follow the order of the three temptations as they are set out in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 4.1−12). His order seems to me to make most spiritual and psychological sense. We start with the most straightforward, (and often most insistent!) of temptations, those generated by our bodily appetites and needs: the temptations to serve first our own creature comforts, to tend to our obsessions and addictions before we have even considered the needs of others. But then we move on to the deeper temptations to serve and feed, not just the body, but its driving ego, with its lust for power, the temptation to dominate in the kingdoms of this world. We may have overcome the first temptation only because we are captivated and driven by the second. We diet, and discipline our flesh in gyms and health-clubs, we submit our appetites to the dictates of personal trainers and three-month fitness plans, but only because we hope thereby to sharpen our image so as to shine and succeed in the world!
And then comes the last, the subtlest and worst temptation of all: the temptation to spiritual pride. We may rise above worldly ambition only to congratulate ourselves on how spiritual we have become, how superior to our fat-cat neighbours! The very disciplines and virtues designed to bring us closer to our saviour, to make us more available as ambassadors of his love become instead the proud possessions that separate us from the one whose strength is made perfect in weakness.
But this is to anticipate, let us begin at the beginning with the temptation to turn stones into bread. Jesus meets this temptation with the profound reply ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’. A word which certainly needs to be heard by Christians living in affluent Western societies dominated by consumer culture. I believe that Jesus underwent this ordeal on our behalf, to break open the ground of the heart and make real choice possible for us.
In this and the other sonnets on Christ’s temptations I have born in mind two essential, but easily forgotten truths. The first is that because Jesus is both fully human and fully God there is a double aspect to each of these temptations. On the one hand Jesus experiences these temptations exactly as we do, in a fully human way, feeling their full force and yet showing us both that it is possible to overcome them and also, the way to overcome them. As the letter to the Hebrews says: ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are but without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15 NRSV) But at the same time He is God and his action in defeating the Devil in resisting the temptation, casting back the tempter and creating, and holding a space in which right action is possible is done not just privately on his own behalf but is done with and for all of us. In the old Prayer Book litany there is a petition that says ‘By thy Fasting and Temptation, good Lord deliver us’. If Jesus were simply set before me as an example of heroic human achievement I would despair. His very success in resisting temptation would just make me feel worse about my failure. But he is not just my exemplar, he is my saviour, he is the one who takes my place and stands in for me, and in the mystery of redemption he acts for me and makes up, in his resistance to evil what is lacking in mine. I have emphasized this double aspect of the temptations by beginning the first sonnet with a series of paradoxes that turn on the truth that it is God himself who feels and suffers these things for and with us:
The Fountain thirsts, the Bread is hungry here,                                                     
The Light is dark, the Word without a voice.
And I have tried to bring out the way he endures these temptations both with us and for us. We ‘must dare with him to make a choice’, but at the same time ‘he chooses for the ones who cannot choose’.
The second essential truth is that we should not see the temptations in entirely negative terms. The Devil is no substantial being. A shadow himself, all he can do is cast shadows of God’s substantial good. All good things come from God and those things which the Devil pretends to offer, but in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons, are cheap imitations of the very things that God does indeed offer and that Jesus himself receives, enjoys, and crucially, shares. He refuses to turn stones into bread for himself at the Devil’s behest, but later, in the very same wilderness he takes bread, gives thanks, and breaks it, and feeds five thousand with all they want, and twelve baskets full left over! This was the substantial good from God, in light of which, and to gain which, it was necessary to refuse the shadowy substitute.
CS. Lewis evokes this truth very well in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Everything that the White witch pretends she can offer to the children is a stolen and corrupted version of something that Aslan fully intends them to have in its true substance. She pretends that she will share the throne of Narnia with Edmund and then leave it to him, and yet the whole story is about how Aslan will truly and substantially crown all four children kings and queens of Narnia. And this holds true in the smaller things too, even down to this matter of personal appetite. If Edmund had turned down the Witch’s Turkish delight he would have come sooner to Aslan’s feast!
Friday
All the Kingdoms of the World
 
So here’s the deal and this is what you get:
The penthouse suite with world-commanding views,
The banker’s bonus and the private jet,
Control and ownership of all the news,
An ‘in’ to that exclusive one per cent,
Who know the score, who really run the show,
With interest on every penny lent
And sweeteners for cronies in the know.
A straight arrangement between me and you,
No hell below or heaven high above,
You just admit it, and give me my due,
And wake up from this foolish dream of love …
But Jesus laughed, ‘You are not what you seem.
Love is the waking life, you are the dream.’

A symptom of this amnesia, of this serious spiritual malaise that afflicts our culture, can be found in our extraordinary use of the word ‘exclusive’ as a positive term! The liberal West is allegedly the most inclusive culture there has ever been and we deploy a great deal of rhetoric about including the marginalized, and take care that everyone should use politically correct and ‘inclusive’ language. But this is of course just a fig leaf. One look at the advertising in any magazine or website, one glimpse of the commercials that saturate our airwaves tells a different story. Every Estate agent advertising their residential properties (or ‘homes’ as they like to call them- as though a home was something you could sell) reveals that their favourite word is ‘Exclusive’. Come and view these ‘exclusive’ flats, come with us on this luxurious and ‘exclusive’ holiday! And nobody asks, just who is being excluded. Nobody responds to these ads with a letter to say: ‘I am interested in your product but perhaps I am one of those unfortunate people whom you and your exclusive clientele would like to exclude! No one asks themselves, as they read these ads, ‘Just what is it in me that is being roused and appealed to here?’ For it is not our generosity, our courtesy, or our sense of community that is being worked on and developed in this appeal. Rather it is the worst in us; the desire to be considered ‘special’ and ‘better’ and ‘superior’ at the expense of other people that is here being inflated and inflamed. In his chilling essay ‘The Inner ring’ C. S. Lewis lays open this fallen desire in all of us to belong to exclusive clubs, cliques, and circles, to be someone who is ‘in’; ‘in the know’, ‘in the right circles’, ‘in on the real knowledge and power’ among ‘those who really count’, and to look down on those who are ‘out’, excluded, not part of the magic circle. So much of the consumerism that is choking our society and bringing misery, alike to the haves and the have-nots, is driven by this desire to have and to wear, and to drive, the status symbols, the ‘exclusive’ signs of belonging. Time and again goods and services are offered by their manufacturers not for their intrinsic virtue, the beauty of their design, or the genuine pleasure that might be had from owning or using them, but for their ‘exclusive’ cachet, their ‘exclusive designer label’.

The other word which worldliness loves and has in turn subverted is the word ‘Dream’. We are to have ‘dream homes’, ‘dream holidays’, ‘dream wedding days’. As though all dreams were to enmesh us deeper in the tangles of getting and spending, not to lift our vision, change our perspective and give us glimpses of Heaven. I have tried to highlight some of these issues in the following poem, and here I see Jesus taking the worldly ‘dream’ on its own terms and calling us instead to wake up to the fullness of life. Perhaps only then can we, in Eliot’s phrase ‘Redeem the unread vision of the higher dream’.

December 6th–The Halifax Explosion

Here is a post I wrote a few years ago about the Halifax Explosion. Today is the 98th anniversary and this morning I attended the annual memorial service at Fort Needham Park in the North End, a site which overlooks the neighbourhood of Halifax that was completely destroyed during the explosion.

My placement as a divinity student for this year is at St. Mark’s, a church in the neighbourhood that destroyed. The original structure was much closer to the harbour and was completely obliterated in the explosion, the present building was built in the early 1920s. In the explosion around 75% of the people in the parish were killed (that’s parish as a geographical area, not as the list of congregants.)

And There Is Every Quest

I thought I might mark this day (while also St. Nicholas day) by posting something else about another important think I (we) recognize on this day, here in Halifax.

I make no attempt to veil or anonymize the fact that I am from Halifax. I was born in the Maritimes, but essentially grew up about 20 minutes outside of the city. It is only recently that I’ve realized, through friends who have moved abroad, that this particular event is reasonably unknown outside of the Maritime provinces. From very early on in school we are taught about it, around this time of year, and we would often observe a moment of silence in school to mark the occasion. I remember once, when I was quite young, a classmate whose Grandmother survived the explosion came to speak to us.

But, as someone on my Facebook feed this morning let people…

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Worship Is Civil Disobedience

presentation-of-christ-luttrell-psalter

Two days ago was the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Feast of the Purification, also known as Candlemas. There was also a vicious snow-storm raging all of Monday and by the time my Wife and I had to go out there was already about 12cm of snow down on the ground and the roads weren’t plowed. It was a mess, but we had errands to run and she had to lead the children’s school at Church at the 6pm service, so we braved the snow (we have snow tires).

When we arrived at the church we found that a small choir, the Priest and servers, three children, and six parishioners had been able to make it through the storm and traffic and to the service. The guest preacher was not able to make it that night and so in the words of the Rector–better a bad sermon than no sermon.

He had three brief points to make about the Feast but it was the first one that struck a chord with me. He said that our being there for the service was an act of civil disobedience. The small congregation laughed at the idea, and he continued by saying that through our ignoring weather bulletins, police warnings, and news outlets all beseeching us to stay off the road we were participating in an act of civil disobedience against a society that puts no emphasis on adoration and forgets what we are for.

Efficiency, productivity, comfort, ease, individual interest–these are all some of the greatest demons that the worshiping church wrestles with. His words weren’t a condemnation on those who didn’t show up, but a reminder that what we are for is, solely, the worship and adoration of God. Cancelling services, especially on Feast days but on any day as well, is to submit the Church and our very calling and purpose to the notion that what is more valuable is our comfort, our ease, our own individual interest and even to an extent our safety.

It is to say that the Church and what happens in it is no different than the shoe-store up the street or the coffee-shop around the corner: if things get too bad outside, if the sidewalks aren’t clear enough, if we aren’t getting enough business: we close up; that what the Church offers and what we offer in the church isn’t worth the wet-feet or slipping tires. It’s to say that the Church belongs to the same secular order as shoe, grocery, or convenience stores rather than to see it as something that can lift that order of things up and transform it.

Whatever the weather, our worship should always be understood as a small act of protest against a society which values the individual over the community, the self over other, and comfort over sacrifice. It is through this act of protest that the Church stands apart and as a beacon for those who are becoming disenchanted with individualism and self and seek deeper meaning in true community.

Daily Lectionary Meditations: Faithfulness Through Suffering

The Morning Prayer readings for the Monday in the Third Sunday after Epiphany
Old Testament: Habakkuk 3:2-end
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 7

In this selection from Habakkuk the prophet is doing two things. Firstly, he is recounting and showing the extent of the Lord’s wrath, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls…” (3:17) in fact this is part of Habakkuk’s prayer, which begins at 3:1; in this prayer Habakkuk goes through the various incarnations of the Lord’s wrath but comes to a close with this, perhaps beseeching, prayer, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.” I think the line on which this whole prayer turns and what draws us into the mind of St. Paul is Habakkuk’s statement that he will, “joy in the God of my salvation” (3:17).

St. Paul writes in the second reading about marriage. Admittedly a chapter that might cause consternation for some, I think it’s right to actually read in it a great reciprocity. There is a back and forth with which Paul speaks of the relation of two people in marriage, many instances of “as with wife, so with husband” (7:2,3,4,5,11,12,14, etc). St. Paul here caused me to think back to my own wedding which took place only in August and the vows that my wife and I both made, “…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance and thereto I give thee my troth” (BCP 1962 Can. 566). Paul’s writings in 1 Cor. 7 points to the sort of reciprocity that are part of our matrimonial vows–sickness and health, better or worse are not accepted conditionally with an, “until I am bored of it or meet another,” clause, they are the vows.

Insofar as our marriages to one another on earth, “signify(ing) unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church,” we are meant to at least strive for a perfect love, faithfulness and unity within that marriage. Habakkuk and Paul though recognize the difficulty of that in a world of transience and fallenness; Habakkuk sees the wrath brought down upon those who have transgressed and we can feel the sort of bleak outlook Habakkuk has of the future, however he still joys in God, for God is ultimately the God of his Salvation. God, God’s offering of Salvation, and the Salvation itself so far transcend the punishment and dearth Habakkuk sees on earth that in right relation, even in tribulation and suffering, we ought to be rejoicing in God because God remains for us, still, the God of our salvation.

The matrimonial vows recognize the same transience and suffering in the world–whether rich or poor, better or worse, sickness or health, as the church wed to Christ or as husband wed to wife our joy should be in the God of our salvation remembering that it is that end to which we are called, and not to the sickness and tribulation of the world.

The genius of the Prayer Book is that these readings and themes are never divorced from the time of the calendar in which they fall. The collect for the Third Sunday After Epiphany ought to be the collect for any time we feel bogged down in the infirmities in the world and not drawn up in the joy of the God of our salvation,

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our

dangers and necessities stretch for thy right hand to help and defend us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Feast Days As Theophanies

With some of the big holy days that follow immediately on the heels of Christmas now behind us, and looking forward towards those final days of Christmas and towards Epiphany I’ve been thinking about feast days in our calendar and more deeply about the notion of Christian time.

I have been involved with various churches in my life and all handle holy days in different ways. Some mark it in the bulletin but will say no more about it, others put in the bulletin and mention it only by name in the sermon, while others don’t let the major days pass without a celebration of the Eucharist. Even more, others have adopted the tradition of transferring feast days that occur in the week to the Sunday, but I’ll come to that.

So often how these days are handled by a church comes down to convenience. Celebrations of the feast day through the week are often viewed as something that won’t garner a large congregation, or are simply too much to ask of a congregation (codswallop); the feast day is then either not marked in any significant way or simply moved to the most convenient Sunday. It’s this attitude of convenience that has in so many congregations made the keeping of the Daily Offices something that belongs to antiquity; much of the rationale behind revised lectionaries hinges on an assumption that either Morning and Evening Prayer are not being said in parish churches, or are not being attended and thus a revamping of the lectionary is needed to get Christians their weekly dose of Old Testament. In the case of the offices there is an inherent devaluing of Morning and Evening Prayer if we assume nobody will show up, and in the case of transferring the celebration of holy days to the most convenient day there is an inherent statement behind made that our Christian life is strictly a Sunday activity.

But, following the Church calendar is not an easy thing to do; if we follow it strictly we might have at least 80 days of penitent fasting throughout the year, various days besides Sunday when public worship is happening, celebrations of people we may never have heard of for reasons why may not completely yet understand, and besides all of this we wrestle with our secular calendars and schedules as well. However, the error that altering feast days for convenience feeds into is subordinating the Church calendar to our secular schedules; rather we should be viewing the Church year as something which perfects the secular, not confounds it; it is redemptive, not destructive. This isn’t to say we need to forsake our secular calendars for the Church’s either, but that we don’t have to choose between one or the other. What we must do is place our time at the mercy of the Church calendar and of God. To do this is an act of self-denial and it may be uncomfortable, but anything less and we undermine the importance of each special day marked on our Church calendars or in the beginning of our prayer books.

A perfect example of this are feast or Saints’ days.

In a sermon I preached this Autumn I said that what appeals to us about people like Batman or Spiderman are that they are people who do the amazing and seemingly impossible, they capture our imagination and seem to enchant our own lives, even from the pages of a comic book; who hasn’t read Harry Potter and not wished in however small a way that they went to Hogwarts? Saints aren’t a great deal different. They are people who did the seemingly impossible, martyrs who accepted torturous ends or miracle-workers who were able to do super-natural things; we read about them and celebrate them with feasting days because of the way they continually remind us that the Kingdom is present even here and now. They redeem the time and enchant our lives through theirs, they remind us that our vocation is to be like them.

Feast days are meant to stand as signposts for us throughout our year, like lights shining in the dark to point us towards our end. We may not be able to mark each one with an actual feast but we can certainly mark it in reciting the Daily Offices and given Collect for the day, attending public worship, or even by wishing our friends a happy and joyous Feast of the Circumcision, or a blessed Feast of St. Andrew. These lights-in-the-dark, these theophanies, are meant to enchant, to make holy the mundane, enchant the secular, and to point us to the next great signpost in the Calendar.

Any hope of following more faithfully the Christian calendar has to begin with seeing each celebration as intentionally placed; St. Stephen, St. John Apostle, the Holy Innocents, Thomas Becket, these aren’t commemorations thrown after Christmas for convenience’s sake. Why we celebrate the birth of Christ on one day, and commemorate Stephen, the first martyr, on the next is a question that should lead us to consider the danger in devaluing festal days by not-recognizing or by moving them. Theophanies are given for the purpose of drawing us into God, when secular time consumes us recognition of feast and saints’ days is that which ought to re-orient us. To move them or to forget them is to place ourselves not at the mercy of theophany, but at the mercy of our secular time.

 

Redeeming the Time

This is a really great post on the importance and helpfulness of the Daily Offices for our devotional use.

I (we) pray the offices from the BCP and use the Eucharistic Lectionary as found in the BCP, but the importance of common, regular, rhythmic worship is important no matter what is used.

It’s a part of our tradition and faith that people view largely as a nuisance but also something that I feel people are thirsting for. Praying and promoting the Offices as a means for our ongoing conversion is something I think a great deal about and always keen to talk about.

Becoming A True Pilgrim

     I come from a liturgical tradition (Anglicanism). In this tradition there are many ways we mark the passage of time. We have holidays, liturgical season, feast days, etc. One of the most important, if underutilized, ones is the Daily Office.

The idea of ritualization of time goes back at least as far as Exodus 29:38-42, where God instructs Moses on how to make daily offerings. The Didache (written in the late First Century) gives instruction on which days to fast on and on how to recite the Lord’s Prayer at least 3 times per day. By the time the New Testament Canon was established in the Fourth Century, there was a set pattern of prayers throughout the day. When St. Benedict established his monastic system in the seventh century, it revolved around the regular schedule of prayers throughout the day. The examples continue to the present…

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