Strangers and Foreigners

It is quite amazing to happen upon Fr Jonathan Munn’s new article “Loyal to a church that has passed away”. In this article is the eternal notion of our being foreigners and strangers in this world that exacts our compliance. It is entirely my experience as someone with Aspergers autism. Being a foreigner, from somewhere else, an exile, is part of our Christian condition in a world that has only accepted Christianity as a principle of Christendom when it gave money and power to the strong. I often think of these themes as I collate my documents to ask France to accept me as one of its citizens in order to conserve the freedom of movement I presently have beyond the impending Brexit.

The notion of exile and nostalgia is present throughout the Old and New Testaments:

Psalm 137: By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept : when we remembered thee, O Sion. As for our harps, we hanged them up : upon the trees that are therein. For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness : Sing us one of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song : in a strange land?

1 Chronicles 29:15: For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.

John 15:18-19: If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

John 17:16: They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

1 Peter 2:11: Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

My article of yesterday evening gave a taste of my own experience in the Church of England. The present rebuild of the organ in York Minster will bring back something that has not been heard since about 1960, but which remained graven in the memories of people I knew in the 1970’s. I may have feelings of nostalgia, but the 1970’s were not a good time for me, living through school, my short time with Harrison’s and coming to terms with being an organ builder not being my vocation, feeling lost and rudderless and ending up in London on a harpsichord-making course which was a poor substitute. The Church of England was something I saw from organ lofts, something to keep at arms length even though something fascinated me. I was drawn to prayer and the Christian ideal as a schoolboy, but I related so little to the Church. It was the same with the Roman Catholic Church and my seminary days.

My own vocation to the priesthood flowed out of my love of church music, which is a part of the whole experience of the Catholic liturgy. I was nurtured by that great cathedral with its parish churches of the medieval city of York. Some of the clergy warmed to me as I sought for something I would never find in this world. Canon Reginald Cant was one of them in his kindness and gentlemanly manner. I considered the priesthood in the Church of England, but the barriers were so high I did not have the strength to even try it. It towered over my head!

Fr Jonathan came to the ACC straight from his own experience of the Church of England. I had about fifteen years of experience of the traditionalist wing of the Roman Catholic Church with its “muscular politics” and lack of compassion in accordance with the very principles of the Gospel.

I have had my own brushes with Fr Little, as he has varied over the years in his own way in and out of American “classical Anglicanism”. The American Christian is one who “gets out” and “proclaims the Gospel”, either a commercial pitch to get paying customers back into the empty churches in a secularised world, or an effort to build a “Christian civilisation” which is in reality the dominance of the strong and wealthy using a religion as a means of control. I don’t accuse Fr Little of such a vast scale of transformation of Christ’s teaching into a political ideology, because he is a little continuing Anglican priest, as Fr Jonathan and I are. Fr Little has varied between hard Calvinism to Arminianism, Anglo-Catholicism in the Prayer Book version or a more pre-Reformation version.

I myself have a preference for the “English” (Dearmer, etc.) style and pre-Reformation liturgies, but I am a priest where the prevailing tendency is closer to traditionalist post-Tridentine European Catholicism without the integralist politics. I am not a sectarian and I tolerate the fact that tastes are not a subject of dispute. Would I be happy in a Church that was exactly all my own ideas and tastes? Perhaps a slight tension keeps things straight and in harmony with the whole.

I don’t know Fr Little well enough, and he is something of a mystery for me. The quote on Fr Jonathan’s blog with its reproach of doing things the old way seems to be a comment rather than something reflecting his own conviction. The ACNA has “modern” liturgies and the “entertainment” style. The American world of mega-churches is so alien to us in Europe and the UK. Perhaps conforming the churches to the world draws people in, takes advantage of the incoming financial resources and helps to work towards a new Christian theocracy. Is that Christian?

I am thankful that I didn’t become a priest in the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church. All the time, here in France, I read stories of solitude and depression in parish priests in the countryside. I know a few personally, and I know I wouldn’t have the strength to withstand the ingratitude, hostility and apathy of parishioners imbued in their ideologies. Little has changed since George Bernanos and the Journal d’un Curé de Campagne, except that it is worse now.

We are strangers in a world that rejects Christ unless he comes in useful for this or that political agenda. What we do in the ACC, Sarum or Anglican Missal, is of little interest to most, yet people of non-religious backgrounds can be “sparked”. One example was Andy and Samantha who live next door to our Bishop and started helping out with practical things. It worked partly through the relationship of friends, and partly through discovering something other-worldly in our liturgy. We have no “sales pitch” and I for one would be put off by such an approach. I am so viscerally repelled by advertising and marketing, that such an approach would repel me or kill me from within. The thought of someone invading my intimate being is knowledge of the kind of totalitarian darkness that would take over the world if we let it do so.

I see the world of fashions, of people living for the ideal of material comfort and social status. Being diagnosed with Asperger autism made me aware of why this value in life meant nothing to me. Not all Christians aware of their alienation from The World or The Pit as some called it share the same condition, but experience of life has brought it together. Some things are innate, and other things are learned from experience.

I don’t know whether conservative Christianity will be longer lasting than populism in politics. Things are changing so rapidly. The assumption is that only old people and ageing Boomers are interested in liberalism and democracy, and that young people want the “old-time religion”. In both religion and politics, the assumption does not have universal validity. Myself, I am not a conservative, but a liberal in the old meaning of this word (at a philosophical level) and attracted by transcendence and beauty in man’s aspiration to the world of the spirit. I am not interested in power and control over other people. I am deeply influenced by the 1960’s and the reaction against that stifling conservativism of the post-war establishment with its gung-ho attitude. I don’t take drugs, live in a hippie commune or listen to their “music” – but there were valid aspirations. It is not a question of following fashions but being free and spiritual as human beings made in God’s image.

The new “liberalism” is a conservative ideology that cannot admit being superseded and passed by as history continues its way. Any salt that loses its savour is no good for anything. The old liberalism (before economics stole the word) was concerned with freedom of the human being to leave this world of conformity and slavery to become fully human and divine. Fidelity to our traditions is not conservatism!

Thank you, Fr Jonathan, for writing such a timely thought.

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2 Responses to Strangers and Foreigners

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    “Loyal to a church that has passed away” – one of my first thoughts reading this phrase, before reading your and Fr Jonathan’s articles was, that there is a character in the first book of Spenser’s Faerie Queene called ‘Kirkrapine’. Having read both, I still think it might be fruitful to compare various things with that – for example, Fr Jonathan’s erstwhile DDO seems an instance of ‘Kirkrapine’: the Church has not passed away, but rapine has been visited upon it in various ways. All those verses of chapter 34 of Ezechiel also come to mind – the flock has not passed away, but been abused and scattered abroad by self-serving shepherds and fat cattle: well to look where it may still be found, with various proper, reverent Rites and Uses.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Somehow, both your articles and Christopher Cox’s second comment at Fr. Jonathan’s together brought this to mind, which I saw the other day:

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