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Category - "Keep Calm and Carry On":

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them…

Maybe it takes a child to make us all pull together.
One, two, three: ‘All for one, one for all…’
That’s all.

Why ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ Is Sometimes Not Enough

Seen here from the Millennium Bridge, this picture makes it very clear that St Paul’s Cathedral is at the heart of the City of London. The past turbulent week has made it equally clear that the Church, while offering the vision of ‘a shining city on a hill’, needs also to be in the very midst of its people. Whether the ‘Occupy LSX’ protesters’ encampment was diverted to St Paul’s by a quirk of fate or, as some have suggested, the hand of God, they represent those with whom the Church needs to engage in this 21st century.

The  protesters have been criticised for not having solutions to the problems we face, but then no one else has the solutions either. What they do have is a series of questions which society as a whole, and the Church as part of that society, needs to debate. The Bishop of London offered a debate under the dome of St Paul’s, but a better response from the Church might be a ‘Fresh Expression’ of worship and debate, a more informal way of doing things. One can imagine the cry: ‘we asked for bread and you gave us petits fours‘.

The situation has precipitated a crisis at St Paul’s, with the unprecedented resignation (for different reasons) of its Dean, Canon Chancellor and Chaplain. Part of the reason for the resignations is the prospect of forcibly evicting the protesters. Although it is understandable that the reaction of the civil authorities in the City of London is that this ‘eyesore’ should be cleared away as soon as possible, and certainly in time for the Lord Mayor’s Show on 12th November,  those outside this charmed circle of plutocrats can’t help feeling that they still don’t ‘get it’. Tumbrils have been mentioned on Twitter (though admittedly in the context of ‘Downton Abbey’) but the plutocrats’ reaction is unfortunately reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, on being told that the people had no bread to eat, asking why on earth they did not eat brioche instead.

‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ did not work for Marie Antoinette, and I fear it will not work for St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Church as a whole either.

Some leap of the imagination needs to be made. Some way of connecting with the protesters needs to be found. If the cathedral authorities have really decided that the single most important objective is their removal, then let it at least not be by riot police.

What about rigging up some amplification system and then, borrowing from our Catholic friends the system of Canonical Hours, broadcast at full volume the various offices of the day? These begin at 3.00 a.m. with Lauds and finish about 9.00 pm with Compline. Since the volume would need to be quite loud to have the desired effect, the clergy (working to a rota of course) might need to wear ear muffs. I suggest that after a day or two only the deafest and devoutest of the protesters would still be there, the others having decided to seek asylum elsewhere.


For me, the most encouraging photograph was of Bishop Richard Chartres sitting on a camp stool  in the thick of what looked like friendly but lively discussion. The questions that the protesters are asking are existential ones: why should the Christian faith not provide some of the answers? Over the last five centuries, the management of the Church of England has become as baroque as the architecture of St Paul’s. For those of us who appreciate that sort of thing, its baroque – or even rococo – qualities are part of the attraction. We know that underlying it all is ‘the old rugged cross’: perhaps we need to get it down from the belfries of our churches and show outsiders the essential simplicity of Christ’s answer to some of the most difficult questions, such as the rich young man who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19.16-30).




The photograph was taken by Kunstlebob on 22 July 2011 and is made available under CCL via wikimedia.

Marcus Aurelius and the Brambles

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 CE, was good at multi-tasking. He is thought to have written his ‘Meditations’ in his spare time between conducting a military campaign in central Europe (c. 171-175) and holding on to his seat as emperor.

Christians have no difficulty in recognising that the words of someone nearly 2,000 years ago can still have meaning for us today and Marcus Aurelius would be my other nominee for this title. Books on how to keep calm and carry on when surrounded by conflict still become instant bestsellers. Do you know ‘The little book of Calm‘? Marcus Aurelius said it all first, and in the opinion of some, better.

When I went to university at the age of 17, my mother having just died, my father was about to be posted to India. He presented me with a leather-bound copy of the New Testament and three small books which he had acquired when he went up to Balliol thirty years earlier: the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the thoughts of Pascal and the maxims of the Duc de la Rouchefoucauld. These books, which are still with me four continents and forty years later, are one of the reasons why I hope Kindle will not take over the world. I treasure the books not just as paper and print but because of my father’s annotations – he had sidelined many of the ‘thoughts’ which he found particularly fine with a 1-4 grading system. It is always fun seeing where I agree – and disagree – with him.

Gurdur (Tim Skellett) and I were having a conversation, as you do, about life’s minor irritations and debating what one should do about them. I reminded him of my favourite Marcus Aurelius quote:

Is a cucumber bitter? Cast it away. Are there brambles in the path? Turn aside. No more is needed. Do not go on to ask: ‘why was the universe burdened by creations such as these?’ (viii.50)

One of the reasons I know this by heart is because I find it very difficult advice to take, while seeing that my life would be simpler and less fraught if I could. My husband is a constant reminder of this advice, as every time I begin a sentence with ‘Why do they…’ or  ‘Why don’t they…?’ he stops me and reminds me that these expressions of irritation are pointless: people either do or don’t have a reason for their behaviour but are unlikely to change it just because it annoys me. He’s right:

‘Turn aside. No more is needed. Do not go on to ask….’

My penultimate post recommended Maggi Dawn’s ‘Accidental Pilgrim’ as a book to keep by your bedside forever. I now nominate Marcus Aurelius’s ‘Meditations’ to be added to this list (don’t worry, both are quite slim volumes).

The illustration is a bust of Marcus Aurelius from the Glyptothek, Munich via Wikimedia

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