Posts Tagged ‘nativity’

Bethlehemian Rhapsody

December 9, 2013

Bohemian Rhapsody, now for Bethlehemian Rhapsody.

Not your usual Nativity scene.

Shown on screen at Spirit of Rock: rock n roll Christmas party at North Camp Methodist Church.

The Nativity of Our Lord

December 23, 2011

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Please be seated.

In this passage at the beginning of John’s Gospel the Greek word for ‘dwelt among us’ – skenoo – is more literally translated as ‘tabernacled’ or ‘tented among us’. It’s also an echo of the Hebrew word for tent – mishkan or ‘place of encampment’, which contains the root meanings shekhinah (‘divine presence’) and shakhan (‘neighbour’).

John is telling us that, with the birth of Jesus, God is pitching his tent among us, as he had previously done in the midst of the people of Israel in the wilderness. He’s on the move again, exposed just as we are to the elements, to the powers and principalities, to the unruly fathoms of the human heart. Christians usually lump this lot together as Sin.

It’s a very rich semantic field, this verse from John.

capitalism is crisis

capitalism is crisis

It’s almost as rich as the field of meaning in the encampment around the Cathedral Church of St Paul’s in the City of London. And because preaching a Word at Christmas, amidst the surfeit of festive cheer, is not an easy thing to do, I decide to take the 76 bus from Hackney into the City to go and visit the tent people for some inspiration.

The bus passes the Finsbury Square encampment, which now looks like the morning-after-the-party. It’s become a field of mud with a deserted ‘info tent’ and a sign, fallen over in the breeze, offering ‘free hugs’ – but with no indication of any happy huggers to dispense them. The bus continues through the City, sloping along the wall of the Bank of England, and then loops round beside the Cathedral itself. I stay on and get out at the Royal Courts of Justice.

This is where the City of London Corporation is making its case in the High Court to rid itself of the campers. The City says that it does not object to lawful protest, but that it does not consider that the tents themselves are a necessary part of the protest. It says they are an obstruction on the public highway and they need to be removed.

sorry for inconveneince

sorry for inconveneince

I arrive just in time to hear the camp’s barrister cross examine the Registrar of the Cathedral (the chief administrator), Nicholas Cottam, who has been called as a witness in support of the City’s case for eviction.

Mr Cottam, a former Major General, says that he wishes to remain neutral in relation to the substantive issues raised by the camp, but that he has been particularly agitated from the start about the hazards of fire (amongst the other health and safety concerns). He says that, given the location of the tents and the emergency service’s reliance on Sat Nav devices, the fire brigade would be confounded by the camp were they ever required to extinguish a blaze in the burning building.

Maybe it is understandable that the administrator for Wren’s cathedral, which emerged from the cinders of the Fire of London, should be peculiarly sensitive to these incendiary dangers.

But the counsel for the campers is not entirely satisfied:

“A place of worship does not need to be wrapped up in metaphorical protective clothing does it?” he says in that leading way that barristers have, “the cathedral is surely a working building.”

“It is not a working building,” says Mr Cottam, “It is a sacred space – a place of sacred worship and respect.”

But what of ‘liturgy’, commonly understood as ‘the work of the people’, that is at the heart of that collective experience of sacred worship? Has London’s original dome become simply a grand mausoleum for state ceremonial performing cultic rituals of order and control? Have we forgotten that the building is itself no more than a big top with some fancy equestrian statues and a great acoustic?

When we identify too closely with these physical pillars we are in danger of taking our eyes from that pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness and will lead us also through the dark days ahead. To follow this fire we need to be ready to pitch and strike our inner Tent.

We have something to learn here from Jews who, annually at the feast of Sukkot, the feast of Tabernacles (or Tents), remind themselves of their years in the wilderness; that they are a people on the move.

If the camp is a judgment on the Church, recalling us to our biblical roots, it also a judgment on the City of London Corporation.

Occupy St Pauls’ daily General Assembly brings to mind the Saxon folk-moot that gathered at St Paul’s Cross in the churchyard of the Cathedral. This is where the City of London Corporation has its origins. This is where the Citizens of London historically deliberated on matters of common concern, in the lee of the Cathedral, and it is where they elected their Portreve, the office that became the Mayor after 1189, as well as their Chamberlain, the man responsible for the money.

bankers need hugs not bonuses

bankers need hugs not bonuses

Although the current High Court action to evict the tent people is lodged in the name of the “Lord Mayor, Commonalty and Citizens of London” – legally a body corporate, constitutionally representing a balance of interests amongst the Citizenry – in much of its operational life the City Corporation has come to represent the single interest of capital.

And so we have a situation in which the oldest democratic institution in the world has now become a lobby group for the financial services, the ‘business city’.

“We have no ‘authority’ to take on this role [promoting the business city],” concedes Stuart Fraser (the current Chairman of the City’s Policy and Resources Committee) in an exchange of letters with me at the time when I was also a City Councillor, “which is why it is funded from our private funds – City Cash.”

No one knows for sure how much money is in this particular pot because the City Corporation refuses to publish the accounts. The City puts the total equity amount in the Cash at around £1 billion. Some say, however, the funds are at least double that. As the consolidated accounts below show there is about £500M tied up in cash. Because the City doesn’t put a value on its vast property portfolio these figures are all speculative and more work still needs to be done on unravelling these accounts.

But how can money held in trust for the Citizens of London be considered ‘private’ money? And on what grounds can it be used to promote the ‘business city’, a role the Chairman of Policy concedes the City Corporation has no ‘authority’ to perform, beyond that which it gives itself and that which Parliament, in turn, allows?

Statements of accounts are not just financial ledgers. They are also moral documents. They reveal our priorities and expose our commitments. Our January credit card statements bear witness to this. The City of London Corporation should not be fearful of publishing the Cash Accounts.

The Gospel writer’s story of the Word ‘dwelling among us’ is also a judgement on our well-defended distinctions between what is private and what is public.

In this new age we are called to participate in a common life where we belong to one another in mutual dependence and with mutual accountability. At times this may be place of windy exposure and vulnerability. It’s a campsite.

If we let them do so the tents may remind both the Cathedral and the City of our origins.

But in the end they will be swept away.

In the end we will all be swept away. There is no abiding city.

For now let’s remember faithfully, with grace and truth, where we have come from and whose we are and be thankful.

And all for His sake.

The End is Nigh

The End is Nigh

Posted by Father William Taylor on his blog Hackney Preacher.

Father William Taylor is a rare example of an ordinary person who has served as a councillor, what is known as a Common Councillor, in the Rotten Borough of the City of London. A secretive organisation that lobbies on behalf of City of London banks, that sits on a massive cash pile and property portfolio.

Father William Taylor has shed a little light into this undemocratic black hole by publishing the accounts.

Guest post: City Cash by Fr. William Taylor

Nativity scene at Lincoln Cathedral

December 27, 2010
nativity at Lincoln Cathedral

nativity at Lincoln Cathedral

nativity at Lincoln Cathedral

nativity at Lincoln Cathedral

nativity at Lincoln Cathedral

nativity at Lincoln Cathedral

nativity at Lincoln Cathedral

nativity at Lincoln Cathedral

This wonderful almost life-size nativity scene can be found just inside the main door of Lincoln Cathedral.

Also see

Capturing Lincoln Cathedral

Midnight Mass at St John’s

Christmas in the Middle East

Christmas Carol Service at St Peter’s

December 19, 2010

I was actually wishing to go to an evening service at St Mark’s as I had never attended a service at St Mark’s but when I checked there was no evening service. St Peter’s then. But no, I did not feel like going, but a voice in my head told me to go.

I trekked through the snow. It must have been hovering around freezing as the snow was a little mushy, pleasant walking, and I walked fast to keep warm, but nevertheless by the time I neared St Peter’s I was chilled to the bone. As I approached St Peter’s I saw others heading that way, so I was pleased I was not the only one running late. The weather I thought.

I was greeted with a warm mince pie and mulled wine which was very welcome. People were wandering around, probably less than half full. A carol service I was told, which I thought was rather nice. I then learnt the service had been time shifted to 7pm, not its usual time of 6-30pm, so far from being as I thought late I was actually nearly half an hour early. The church soon filled and by 7pm, it was almost standing room only for late arrivals.

The first time I ever attended St Peter’s was a carol service about a decade ago. I was taking photos outside when I heard music from within the church. Investigating further I found it was a rock group rehearsing. I chatted to one of the group. Very generous of the church to let you use it for rehearsals, and the acoustics are excellent, I mused out loud. No, we are playing tonight, a carol concert, would you like to come. A group mangling carols did not sound particularly inviting so I politely declined. Later, I thought no, I have been kindly invited, the least I can do is have the good grace to accept the kind invitation. I attended and was pleasantly surprised. They were excellent musicians.

That was ten years or more ago. Now back to tonight. The lights were turned out and it was only then I noticed the pillars were encircled by candles. A very attractive scene. I regret no camera with me to record it.

We were entertained by a Monty Pythonesque nativity drama.

Christmas is a season of good tidings and joy, but is it for everyone?

Was it for Mary, an unmarried teenager who finds herself pregnant? Was it for Joseph who finds his betrothed not only pregnant, but not pregnant by him? He could have left her, but decided to stand by her. Think of the scandal. What were they to tell friends and relatives?

Christmas is not a season of good tidings and joy for those who have lost their job, those alone at Christmas, those who are homeless, those who have split up from someone with who they are deeply in love.

A strange translation of Luke. Sheep herders brought glad tidings. Sheep herders! The English language has the perfectly good word shepherd.

At least the reference was to a manger, not as I heard a few days ago animal feeding box!

Why shepherds? Jesus referred to himself as a shepherd tending his flock. In one of his tales he talks of being delighted at finding one of his sheep that had strayed and that one lost sheep was more important to him than the others that had not.

In The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the central character is Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy. He has dreams, but unlike most people who fail to follow their dreams, he has the courage to change his life and follow his dreams. He also meets the mysterious Melchizedek who encourages him to follow his dreams.

I had an interesting conversion with the wife of the rector re making a labyrinth a central feature of the floor of the church. The floor has to be dug up during essential renovations, the pews are to be ripped out, it would therefore be an opportunity lost not to make a labyrinth a central feature of the floor space.

I was a little disappointed at so few carols at what was a carol concert. I felt very sad my lovely friend Sian was not with me.

At this time of year when our thoughts turn to Bethlehem, please give a thought to Bethlehem today. Once under Roman occupation, now under Israeli occupation. Bethlehem is an open-air prison encircled by an Apartheid Wall. [see Bethlehem Hidden from View]

Israel is blocking Christians going to Bethlehem at Christmas, including clergy. Why, because they are Palestinians.

One way we can help is by buying Palestinian fairtrade olive oil, for example Zaytoun which can be bought from The Triangle and many other sources. We only help finance ethnic cleansing by buying Israeli so-called Peace Oil which I regret to say is on sale in St Mary’s in Guildford. [see Peace oil or taking the piss?]

Also see

Victorian Christmas Carol Concert St Mark’s

The Digital Story of Christmas Nativity

Incredible ‘impromptu’ performance of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus

Handel – Messiah – For unto us a child is born

The Digital Story of Christmas Nativity

December 16, 2010

A very clever take on the Christmas Nativity story.

How social media, web and mobile tell the story of the Nativity.

Christmas story told through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, Google Maps, GMail, Foursquare, Amazon …

Times change, the feeling remains the same.

Some things sadly never change. Bethlehem was under Roman occupation then, suffers under Israeli occupation now. The Palestinians of Bethlehem live in what amounts to an open prison surrounded by an Apartheid Wall. Please spare them a thought as you celebrate Christmas. [see Bethlehem Hidden from View]

All the more tragic that there are churches like St Mary’s in Guildford that support the apartheid regime and ethnic cleansing by having on sale Israeli so-called Peace Oil. [see Peace oil or taking the piss?]

Many thanks to Paulo Coelho who posted this unusual take on the nativity on his blog.

Also see

Victorian Christmas Carol Concert St Mark’s