From August 2004

I have a very clever little book by David Head from 1959 called, He Sent Leanness:  a book of prayers for the natural man.  This book could be written now, I suppose, but it would not now find a publisher, nor would it be bought if it did.  People just wouldn’t get it.  The book depends too much on knowledge of the rhetoric of the Prayer Book and on a theological understanding which, while hardly scholarly, still is beyond most of our secularized peers.  Much of its cleverness comes from contrasting extremes.  Consider, if you will, the contrasting forms for A General Confession.  One version runs in part,

Benevolent and easy-going Father:  we have occasionally been guilty of errors of judgement.  We have lived under the deprivations of heredity and the disadvantages of environment.  We have sometimes failed to act in accordance with common sense….Do thou, O Lord, deal lightly with our infrequent lapses…that we may hereafter continue to live a harmless and happy life and keep our self-respect.

The other version addresses the Calvinist God:

Almighty Judge:  we have lived far from thy ways like wild goats.  We have on all occasions rebelliously followed our own inclinations.  We have deliberately and shamelessly broken thy holy laws.  We have never done anything we ought to have done; And we have done everything we ought not to have done; And we are utterly depraved….

The notion that Anglicanism is the via media, the middle path of moderate sweet religious reason, has been shamelessly abused in the last century, and in any case always had its problems.  But it is nonetheless pleasant to position oneself as standing in the moderate middle, and so I offer the following contrasts for your contemplation:

‘Orthodox Anglican’ = ‘one who maintains traditional views on sexual morality, especially homosexuality’. (Comment:  a bit of silliness that makes Osama bin Laden and Fidel Castro orthodox Anglicans, no doubt to their great surprise.)

‘Ayotollah’ or ‘Fundamentalist’ = ‘one who maintains traditional views on sexual morality’. (The contrasting silliness.)

‘Why won’t God give me X?’

‘How could a loving God allow such things to happen?’

‘The Church must change or die.’  (Paraphrase of John Shelby Spong, who managed to reduce his diocese by a very large percentage, but is glad to speak and write as if he were a raging success who is entitled to prescribe for us all.)

‘That’s not the way Bishop Haverland did it.’  (A phrase my successor is liable to become heartily sick of hearing.)

‘Everyone like us is We, and everyone else is They.’ (Kipling)

‘Diversity’. (The usual suspects, and their corporate sponsors.)

‘I believe in Science.’ (= ‘You should turn off your mind and accept my opinion.’)

‘You have to have Faith.’ (= ‘You should turn off your mind and accept my opinion.’)

‘Think!’ (= ‘You should turn off your mind and accept my opinion.’)

‘Bishop, take care of your health.’  (Said to me at the funeral of a colleague out of state.)

‘Can you come and do confirmations for us?’  (The next words of the speaker, also from out of state.)

‘You never tell us anything!’ (- a parishioner to a rector at an annual meeting)

‘What don’t I tell you?’ (- the rector’s unanswerable reply.)

Familiar hymns’ (= the hymns John knows.)

Familiar hymns’ (= other hymns, which Jim knows.)

‘People don’t understand me.’  (Genius)

‘Genius doesn’t understand us.’  (People)

That’s your opinion.’  (‘And not mine.’)

That’s just my opinion.’  (‘And should be yours.’)


I’m not as clever as David Head, but you get the idea.  It’s a kind of parlor game which anyone can play.  I hereby offer a bottle of good sherry to the best at least vaguely contrasting pair of at least vaguely religious or churchly ideas.  Multiple submissions are allowed.  Contest ends September 15th.  Results announced in the October newsletter.

Commentary from 2017. 

On the easy-going confession, and to show that we are largely beyond parody now, consider this actual, self-described ‘Christian Confession’ from an ecumenical service attended, alas, by me some years ago.  The ecclesial body which hosted the service, by the way, in the heading of the bulletin called itself a ‘Community’, with the ‘C’ in ‘Community’ being a smiley-face.  (I still have the document to silence the skeptics.)  In any case, here’s the ‘Christian Confession’:

Minister and People:  We are the People of God, The Body of Christ.  God loves us and has chosen us for His own.  Therefore we must put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  We are to be helpful to one another, and to forgive one another.  Whenever any of us has a complaint against someone, we must forgive each other in the same way that our Lord has forgiven us.  And to all of this we need to add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.  The peace that Christ gives us is to be judge in our hearts, for to this peace God has called us together in one body.  We must be a thankful people.  Christ’s message, in all its richness, must live in our hearts.  We must teach and instruct one another with all wisdom.  We must sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs with thanksgiving in our hearts.  Everything we do or say, then should be done in the name of our Lord Jesus as we give thanks through Him to God our Father. 

This hortatory paraphrase of part of Colossians 3 is mostly unobjectionable, but it contains not a single bit of confession.  At most it envisions the possibility that confession (or complaint, at any rate) might be needed on occasion, when presumably the easy-going peace of Christ ‘in our hearts’ will absolve us readily.

In due course my proposed contest did have many entrants.  The curate of the day, Canon Cotterell, proposed this pair:

  1. The best rector is the one who has just left the parish.
  2. The best rector is the one who has not yet arrived.

I gave Father Cotterell high marks.  I pointed out, however, that as the parish at that point in its history had only had one rector, the first element of the contrasting pair could not be fully appreciated.

Chris Davis proposed:

  1. Some folks do anything for the Church.
  2. Some folks will do anything and call it the Church.

Second place went to a young lawyer whom we now know as Father Jonah Bruce:

  1. ‘The doors! The doors!’  (The Eastern Orthodox liturgy, originally to signal the need to bar the pagans and catechumens)
  2. ‘Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.’ (Motto, at the time, of the United Methodist Church)

First place went to Bonnie Marie Thomas, for a paragraph of ‘furious opposites’ (G.K. Chesterton):

The first shall be last.  Find your life by losing it.  God’s Kingdom has come but not fully.  Enter the Kingdom of heaven like a child.  He who serves is greatest.  Where sin abounded, grace abounds.  We are saved by grace alone, but faith without works is dead.  I am but dust; for my sake the world was created.  ‘You did not choose me, I chose you.’  Pray, give, forgive, love – and this is a light yoke!  I think it is all paradox.


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