Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Category - "Liberty":

“The Collage Of God” by Mark Oakley

collage of god
Wow! Just wow…
In relation to our conversation about Christianity and the rules, someone from the Wychwood Circle Community  very helpfully linked to this piece in the Huffington Post by Mark Oakley about his book. I have ordered it straight away, but meanwhile, here is the opening of his article. I suggest you visit the page to read the whole piece and perhaps also buy the book and we can discuss it here.

Broadly speaking, Christian people fall into two types: resolvers and deepeners. Resolvers are keen to clarify and solidify doctrinal and ethical matters. They like systems of thought, information, prose, full-stops. They often speak of their conclusions being somehow “revealed,” either through their reading of the Bible or the teaching authority of the Church they belong to.

Deepeners, on the other hand, distrust systems and jigsaws of the mind where everything fits together nicely. They prefer poetry to prose, intimation to information, and feel that full-stops need turning into commas because, with God, everything is as yet unfinished. Deepeners will talk of divine revelation but feel more comfortable with God-talk that takes human experience seriously and which is as unafraid to reason as it is unashamed to adore. For these, the mystery of God should be deepened by our God-thoughts, not resolved, and revelation cannot be monopolised by the interpretations of religion.

A healthy Church will undoubtedly need a good conversation between these two types always on the go. Individual Christians probably have a similar dialogue going on in themselves from time to time. At the end of the day, however, they can usually identify which of these two approaches they feel more drawn to.

My book, “The Collage of God,” is written for deepeners. Ever since my experience working in a hospital chaplaincy as part of my ministerial training, I have had to admit to myself that neat and tidy theologies just don’t add up for me. The only way I can make any sense of faith is to see it not as a system but as a collage. By which I mean it is a life-long collecting of fragments, epiphanies, hints and guesses, lit and shadowed — all slowly pieced together into something that often feels painfully senseless close up but which, taking a step or two back, can appear with some surprise to have an integrity and beauty to it. Faith is therefore a beach-combing enterprise and the shores we walk along include the Scriptures, the Christian tradition, relationships, beauty, justice and imagination. The pieces of the collage are placed with truthfulness, prayer and, where possible, a playful delight in the gifts that are being placed into our hands. The pieces don’t all fit neatly with each other but that’s OK. One of the best collages of faith we have is the Bible, where many images and memories jostle together to stir up our response.

Wikipedia has the following:

His initiative of having a series of sermons which explored plays that were currently showing in London, to which the actors and production team of each play came and took part in conversation, is an example of the way Oakley tries to open a dialogue between people of faith and the work of the artistic community. A lecture given by him in Westminster Abbey and Keble College, Oxford in 2002 argued that the Church in its search to be relevant was ironically becoming too secular for the British public and that it should be the deeper human resonances that the Church seeks to identify, explore and dialogue with.[3] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote in 2004 that Oakley’s thinking and approach is in the tradition of Westcott.[4] A more recent article by Oakley in the Church Times, entitled “An Issue! An Issue! We all Fall Down”[5] argues for the renewal of theological generosity in the Anglican spirit. In 2010, the former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, wrote a poem dedicated to Oakley entitled “In Winter” and said of him that: “It’s extremely unusual to meet anyone who isn’t a specialist who has such a subtle feeling for language as he does”. Motion has since added that he believes Oakley to be “the best sermoniser I’ve ever heard. And he’s funny, and he knows a lot, and he’s lived”.

Mark Oakley is also the author of ‘Readings for Weddings‘, an anthology of poetry and prose. And his book, The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry is being re-published next February by Canterbury Press. 

Meanwhile, here is Canon Oakley talking about ‘The Collage of God’ recently at St Paul’s, where he is Chancellor:

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and the National Council for Civil Liberties

french-revolution-causes-480x380I feel sorry for Harriet Harman, really I do. And the Daily Mail has been a bit heavy-handed in its attack.

But the basic problem stems from the acceptance of absolutism in public life, as Lady Bracknell understood so well:

Lady Bracknell: Mr. Worthing. I must confess that I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred in a handbag, whether it have handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life which reminds one of the worst excesses of the French revolution, and I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?

It is a practical impossibility to follow the dictates of liberty, equality and fraternity simultaneously. You can try and combine liberty and equality, but you cannot combine liberty and fraternity for long, because fraternity imposes restrictions on liberty. And so on…

The National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), the forerunner of Liberty,

was a product of the early 1930s and a background of mass unemployment, hunger marches and anti-democratic behaviour by government and civil authorities alike. On 1 November 1932, a large group of hunger marchers reached London after three weeks with a petition carrying 1 million signatures protesting against a proposed 10% cut in unemployment benefit and a new means test. Their leader Wal Hannington was promptly arrested, refused bail and the petition confiscated by the police. Agent provocateurs were used in Trafalgar Square to incite sections of the crowd to violence…The use of plain clothes policemen in this way greatly disturbed many people, such as the writer AP Herbert, who started a lively correspondence in the Weekend Review. Kidd decided to try to bring together eminent writers, lawyers, journalists and Members of Parliament to act as observers at gatherings such as that in Trafalgar Square and to bear witness. This idea soon broadened into the setting up of a permanent watchdog operating through meetings, the press, its own publications and Parliament. The launch of this new body was timed to coincide with the arrival in London of the next group of hunger marchers in February 1934. The inaugural meeting was held in a room in the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London on 22 February 1934…

If you set up an organisation which seeks to protect the civil liberties of the individual as its main goal, it is hard to see the justification for the exclusion of a pro-paedophilia group. Or pro-cannibal or pro-necrophilia, I suppose. Or almost anything else. In other words, if you do not attach any moral qualifications, but regard liberty as an absolute good (as any outsider might understandably have inferred from the title of the NCCL) there seems no logical reason to bar anyone who is fighting for the right to do exactly as they want, when they want and how they want.

Of course the pendulum of public morality was at a different point in its swing in the 1930s. So it was too in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when Harriet Harman first became involved. There were dragons to be fought (at the beginning of the period, the Lord Chamberlain still had to approve the texts of all plays!). As we know, sex was not invented until 1963, but was quickly followed by the Lady Chatterley (and other) obscenity trials, followed by the abolition of the death penalty and the abortion legislation and de-criminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.

Rather like the excesses of the French Revolution perhaps, my generation was caught up in the headiness of it all. I was not involved in NCCL but it is fair to say that the emphasis at the time was on extending liberty in all areas of the body politic (and even to some extent the Church). I expect the NCCL held its collective nose and allowed PIE (1974-1984) onto the board.

Of course, with hindsight, this seems a great error of judgement.

I remain a liberal and libertarian in my political views (as some of you may have noticed). But I agree with Sir Robin Day that, above that ideal, is the idea of ‘The Reasonable Society’.

In this country, we…are entrusted with a set of values through which our reasoning is tempered with humanity, moderated by fairness, based on truth, imbued with the Christian ethic, applied with commonsense, and upheld by law. If there is a gulf of hypocrisy between the professing and the practice of these values, that does not mean that we should abandon them.

Our society…whatever its present troubles, is by nature and tradition reasonable in the way it lives and governs itself. That way is by peaceful reform rather than violent revolution…In the Reasonable Society, there can be no place for absolutes, no place for theories which must be rigidly adhered to, no place for dogmas which must be defended to the death…there should be no principle which is too important to be reconsidered for the sake of others, no interest which cannot make some sacrifice for the common good.

The idea of the Reasonable Society is deeply rooted in our temper and tradition. That temper and tradition has much in common with our climate…and also perhaps with the quality of light and colour which goes with that climate…of light and colour captured with such magical effect by the genius of our greatest painter, Turner, in his landscapes.

The Reasonable Society, and the institutions which have grown with it, has flowered in the temperate climate of our mental habits. Equanimity is preferred to hysteria. Experience is a wiser guide than doctrine. Absolutes are alien to us. We know that absolute equality would extinguish liberty; that absolute liberty would demolish order…The Reasonable Society is not, as may be thought, merely a convenient idea to play about with in argument. It is fundamentally indispensable to the practical working of the British system of democracy. This is because we have no written constitution, no fundamental law to be applied, no judicial review by a supreme court, no basic rights engraved in marble… Such a constitution has only worked, and can only work, with the accompaniment of the conventions, traditions, customs, compromises, voluntary restraints and the national sense of fair play, all of which go to make up the Reasonable Society.”

‘Live Free Or Die’


Yesterday, Remembrance Sunday, we remembered them.

And on Friday 11 November, Armistice Day  itself, we remembered them.

We remembered those who died that we might live free.

We remembered those who died in the first World War, ‘the war to end all wars’.

And we remembered all those who have died in all the wars since.


We who remain have a debt of honour to repay. All that the fallen require of us to justify their sacrifice is to fight, fight and fight again to safeguard the liberty that we, and our allies in war, now enjoy.

The phrase ‘Live Free or Die‘ has a history dating back at least to the Enlightenment, but my favourite use of it is on the licence plates for the state of New Hampshire. Other states have innocuous-sounding phrases like ‘the sunshine state’, but you know you have reached New England when you see this admonition on the car in front of you on the motorway (sorry, expressway).

Where now comes the threat to our liberty? You need look no further than Lambeth Palace (see previous post on ‘Countdown to the Chains of the Anglican Covenant’). So what if the intention is not  the enslavement of Anglicans around the world to the ‘Instruments of Communion’? – do you not think that this phrase has chillingly Orwellian tones? – our enslavement is what will be the result. The post-Covenant character of Anglicanism will be a totalitarian régime which seeks, not episcopal oversight, but archiepiscopal and episcopal thought control. If you think I am exaggerating, I invite you to look at the documents produced by the lobby in favour of the Covenant and then re-read the Newspeak of 1984.

Anglicanism has always offered its adherents a faith less concerned with the minutiae of doctrine (holding such debate up to ridicule by characterising it as the discussion of how many angels could fit on the head of a pin) than how to lead a Christian life, informed by the creeds and 39 Articles and inspired by Hooker’s scripture, tradition and reason. The Covenant takes 5,123 words to describe future doctrine, which will be enforced by the Instruments of Communion,  rather than individual conscience which has sufficed in the past.

Now is the time for the silent majority to wake up to the tiger that is at the gates




I know that I have written two consecutive posts about the threat to Anglicanism which I believe is posed by the Anglican Covenant. I realise that I risk losing my readership, but this risk is the least that I am ready to do. For me, the cartoon’s punch-line ‘If you know of a better hole, then go to it’ is not an option – I have no wish to worship anywhere other than the Church of England, as currently constituted, that I love.

If you need to remind yourself of what we tend to call ‘the Dunkirk spirit’, referring to the second world war, I urge you to read, thanks to Project Gutenberg, Fragments From France, by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, which describes the first world war.  The illustration is taken from its cover.

We rely on donations to keep this website running.