Friday, 5 September 2014

"The Church's One Foundation" Thumbs down

A couple of Sundays ago at my parish Church we sang “The Church’s One Foundation”.

 I had a visceral and negative reaction to this hymn, and on my blog I referred to it as being triumphalistic. 

 A respected friend (and Priest) questioned the use of this word.  He was right – it was a poor choice on my part.

 So here is my attempt to “fill out” why I strongly dislike the hymn (and why I wish that we did not sing it).


Presbyterian Minister and Hymnologist Louis Benson (1855-1930) quotes one English archbishop as saying that “wherever he was called upon to open or dedicate a church, he could always count on two things—cold chicken and ‘The Church’s one Foundation’.”

As I have previously noted the hymn was written in 1866 by Samuel John Stone (as part of his series of twelve hymns which he wrote to explicate the Apostles Creed).

“The Church’s one Foundation” is in part a riposte to the alleged heresies of Bishop John Colenso, see:

The original text had seven verses including this one which mercifully has been omitted in most hymnals.  

3 The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Two of the original verses have been conflated to give us the familiar five verse hymn.


6 Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s Hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

7 O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide! Amen
When we sang “The Church’s one Foundation” at Church the other Sunday I uttered a groan. We sang all five verses at an Eight O’clock service, which alone was tough sledding.  But my groan had more to do with the text.

I have a minor quibble with the words “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord”, a quibble which arises from Ephesians 2:20.

I am also not ecstatic about the assertion that “from heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride”, even though Ephesians 5:25/26 provides some scriptural support for these words. 

I believe that Jesus “came from heaven” to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to demonstrate life in that realm. “Kingdom life” challenges the principalities and powers, and for that Jesus was crucified.

See Luke 4:43 43But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’ 44So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.*

Therefore it is not entirely clear to me that Jesus “came from heaven” to found a Church.  My belief is that the Church is accidental (or providential) in God’s purposes.  It can be a signpost to the Kingdom, or it can be a barrier to the Kingdom.
(Side note) Surely,  if God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones (see Luke 3:8), then God can also raise up children other than the Church to bring about God’s purposes.

Whether or not that is so, we have the Church and we are stuck with it ..... but

·        I do not care for the kind of Church which the hymn suggests:  a Church which is an end in itself, to be preserved and defended against all enemies. 
·        I do not care for a Church which is self-referential, and/or is concerned with self preservation.

·        I do not care for Samuel John Stone’s Church, a Church which is utterly passive
Bad things happen to it:  “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed”, or “toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war”.

However  this Church can do nothing  more than to await the parousia  viz: “saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song!”, or long for heaven “Till, with the vision glorious, her longing eyes are blest, and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.”

·        It is a Church without the Holy Spirit. 

·        It is a Church with no call to share in God’s mission. 

·        It is a Church in which living into the life of the Realm of God and thereby being a signpost to God’s kingdom have no place.

·        It is a Church which is not under the judgment of God.

I believe that we learn much of our theology from the hymns and sacred songs we sing.  Some of this theology is bad.

 In my opinion Samuel John Stone’s hymn is a good example of such “bad Church theology”. It is a period piece which may or may not have been useful in the mid 19th Century, but it is not useful for us. 

 Hymns such as this, which are about the preservation and defence of the Church, will never move clerics and congregations away from survival theology and towards kingdom/mission theology. So why do we sing them?

 We sing them because they are familiar.  But if familiarity alone is to be the matrix for our liturgy, preaching and music then we shall become a museum of ecclesiastical heritage and not a signpost to the Reign of God.

 There are better choices.  The following, by 20th Century English Methodist Minister Fred Pratt Green is an example.  It is not perfect, but I believe that it moves our hymnody into a more biblical direction.

The church of Christ in every age,
beset by change but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.

Across the world, across the street,
the victims of injustice cry
for shelter and for bread to eat,
and never live until they die.

The let the servant church arise,
a caring church that longs to be
a partner in Christ's sacrifice,
and clothed in Christ's humanity.

For he alone, whose blood was shed,
can cure the fever in our blood,
and teach us how to share our bread
and feed the starving multitude.

We have no mission but to serve
in full obedience to our Lord:
to care for all, without reserve,
and spread his liberating word.

So there you have it! 


1.    This is not a term paper, I am simply thinking aloud.

2.   My debt of gratitude is expressed to my colleague Patrick Michaels, the Minister of Music at St. James’s, Cambridge MA.  He taught me so much.

3. I look forward to your responses  - please send them to me  With your implied permission I will publish them in about a week.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bullying in popular culture: Gordon Ramsey, Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos, Judge Mliian and Judge Judy, Dr. Phil,

We are all aware of the unbearable bullying which some children in schools ( K -12 ) have to endure; in many cases cruel, vicious and dangerous verbal bullying via various "social media" services.

We are less aware that such bullying continues in College and University life -  very often perpetuated by Sororities and Fraternities by means of (often illegal) "hazing".

Many of us have also encountered bullying in the workplace; or in married life.

I suggest that popular T.V. condones a bullying culture.  I watch some of it during afternoons, but I am coming to believe that it can be toxic.

I think of that British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, with his restaurant makeover shows.  That man uses the F word as if it were a comma or semi-colon in a sentence.  He screams and yells at hapless restaurateurs who often cower under his abuse and seem unable to tell him that his behaviour is out of bounds.  And for that he gets paid.

Jerry Springer lives in Sarasota.  In a recent local newspaper article he claimed to be so liberal that he could not run for office.

His alleged liberalism does not extend to his T.V. show.

That show often features "cat-fights" in which young women pull each others' hair, and/or wrestle each other to the ground.  And he has the shows in which some young man has dated a woman who, on the show, declares "I am really a man".  Then the "real man" attacks the "trannie". (Nice Mr. Springer has recently announced that he will no longer use the word "trannie" ).

I think that most of the guests on the Jerry Springer show are in fact very bad actors.  But the message is clear -  young women resolve their differences by fighting, and trans-gendered people are to be beaten up.

His audience consists of frat and sorority types who bay with glee when guests are discomfited. They are  like Roman Empire citizens in the Coliseums.

Hey there Mr.  Springer  -  that's not very "liberal".

Steve Wilkos  (once a bodyguard on the Springer show) now has his own show which deals with the darker side of human life.  Wilkos can sometimes be very funny and he is quite good at exposing human hypocrisy.    But, boy oh boy, he is a dreadful bully.

See this for a Wikipedia article which illustrates my point.

Judge Marilyn Milian,  a former judge at the State Circuit Court, Florida presides over "The Peoples' Court" (the original "Court" reality show). The Peoples' Court was, for a long time, presided over by Judge Wapner, of whom Wikipedia writes "On the show, he ran a respectful, serene courtroom and was known for his stodgy, easygoing manner".

Not so Judge Milian. She specializes in screaming at litigants. Such bullying behaviour would surely lead to disciplinary action in a real court. "Real Judges" are not allowed (or should not be allowed) the luxury of such self-indulgent bullying.

I was, for a while, a fan of Judge Judy, (once also a real Judge)  With a roll of the eyes, or the uplift of eyebrows she can be very amusing.

But she is incredibly moralistic and politically right-wing in some of her opinions, and she is an expert in her "put-downs" of litigants who are ill-prepared, or nervous, or even foolish.

She often screams "that's outrageous", or "I don't believe you", and she rarely explains the legal theory which underlies her opinions.

She comes across as a hectoring moralist rather than as a dispassionate Judge.

Finally there is Doctor Phil.  He first surfaced as a rather folksy "advice giver" on the Oprah Winfrey show.

He now has his own show.  It's a fairly self referential, and often plugs his books.  It's one of those shows which purports to "solve"  complicated problems in the space of one hour (less times for commercials).

Dr. Phil comes across as an expert in human relationships.   But he is utterly capable of yelling at his guests in a way which no honourable Psychologist would find acceptable.

It's hard to know whether Dr. Phil sees himself as an entertainer or as a Psychologist. I suggest that he cannot have it both ways.  Certainly if any of the Psychologists with whom I have consulted had addressed me in the angry or patronizing way which Dr. Phil displays on his show I would have walked out.  He too often comes across as a bully.



In short, I see the culture of bullying as the curse of these popular T.V. shows.  I worry about their "trickle down" influence.

So, why do I watch them?

1.  Sometimes because as a preacher I need to be aware of popular culture.

2. Sometimes because I am bored and have nothing better to do.

3. Sometimes because I am as susceptible to titillation as the best of you.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Doing what needs to be done

There were but two people who came to the prayer service at Resurrection House today.

One was a regular.  I know him only by his street name of "Blue".  He is at one and the same time a lost sheep and a plausible rogue.

Blue, in his early thirties, always makes a fuss of me when our paths cross at Res House.  Of course I do not trust this "fuss".  For it always precedes a request for dough.

About a month ago I entrusted my wallet to the Director of Res House just before the service, so that I could tell Blue that I did not have any money "on me".

This morning I decided not to be disingenuous.  When, after the prayer service, Blue asked me for money I simply said  "No, I will not give you money".

The other worshipper was a newbie.  His name is D. and I guess that he is about 25 years old. He has an open, honest and friendly face. He prayed with clear sincerity.

After service D told me that "we"  (I do not know who is the other part of "we"), had come from Michigan to live with his Uncle, but that this Uncle is in the hospital so "we" will be on the streets until Uncle recovers.  Who knows?

I wanted to grab these two young men and say "you do not have to live this way". I wanted to be able to tell them about job training opportunities in SRQ, and about decent housing for indigent or low income men.  I wanted to tell them about free and accessible mental health care.

But that would have been impossible.  There is no job training, there is no low income housing, there is no decent mental health service for the poor.

The City of Sarasota, and Sarasota County have just caved on a plan to provide a full service "Homeless Shelter" for men such as Blue and D.  The City and County retreated from the plan in the face of ill-informed public pressure -  the NIMBY factor.

The City and County chose to retreat in the face of the myth that homeless people are thieving varmints, or irresponsible leeches, or lazy free-loaders.

But never fear.  The City has a new plan.  They want to use a mixture of public money and charitable donations to offer homeless folks a one way travel ticket  (up to a value of $1,000) so that the homeless can be shipped back to their City/State/Town  place of origin.

The City has no plan to provide essential services to homeless men, woman and families who are Sarasota natives.

To be honest, my only plan is to pray with plausible rogues such as Blue, and lost sheep such as D.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Scary - Strange - Sly - Super - Silly


I "hate"  (strongly dislike) using my CPAP machine.  I feel so very uncomfortable when I  wear the face/nose mask.

I do so "for my own good" (As my Mum used to say when administering a noxious and Physician prescribed "tonic" [heavy in iron]  "this is for your own good")

My Sleep Doctor tells me that this mask must be bound tightly to my face.  I am obedient to his orders.

Last Friday I placed the mask on my face for my own good.  In a semi-drowsy state I determined that I should increase the air pressure. 

I thought that I was doing this.

In fact I was turning the damn machine off.

SO the mask was bound tightly to my face, but it was not delivering any air. In fact it was restricting my ability to breath.

There were consequences in my dream life.

I had a weird and scary dream in which my Mum had purchased an expensive antique map of Norway, only to discover that the map was a fake.

I tried to warn Mum, but my dream did not allow this. A priest kept blocking my way to her.

Then the dream  moved to a place in which  I saw an old friend of mine  (long since dead) shot dead.  I tried to do something about it I was bound tightly in blankets  by some enemy.  I pleaded with the "enemy" saying "let me go, I want to see my Mum".

Then I woke up, all entangled in my blankets, and gasping for air.  Deeply gasping for air, and terrified by what I had dreamed.

It was another experience of dreadful and dangerous sleep apnea and the use of CPAP machines::  i.e. " dammed if you do and damned if you don't"

CPAP machines anyone?
Joy is a neighbour who lives across the pond from me.  She is eighty-something. She walks every morning.
Joy is very fond of my dog Penne.  The feeling is mutual.
When we meet,  Joy greets me as John.  That indeed is my first name, the one I use with my family members in the U.K, .  but not in the USA, where I am known as Michael, ( my middle and preferred name).
The  name John is not published as my first name in our Condo. Directory.  So "why the heck" does Joy use it?
Who am I to know?   I haven't a clue. 
But I will never correct Joy. 
My senior cat Adelaide is utterly sly.
Each morning and evening I set out wet/canned food for her and for  junior cat Ada 
Adelaide gobbles her food.  Ada eats a bit and saves some for later. 
 Knowing this,  I set out Adelaide's food in the kitchen  where she consumes it in haste, and I set out Ada's food on the lanai for her to consume at her leisure.
Greedy and sly Adelaide has figured this out.  She thinks that she is very smart, so she enters the lanai, and slinks around  its  perimeter -  thinking that I will not see her as she raids Ada's dish.
Of course I see this, and with a click of my fingers  I "order" Adelaide away from Ada's "leftover"  foods.

I had a wonderful Anglo-American brunch last Sunday at the home of my friends Jack and Donna.  Jack, the chef,  served French toast - made from his home made banana bread - with strawberries and whipped cream (the American bit), alongside imported English bacon, sausage and black (blood) pudding  (the Anglo bit).

The blood pudding was superb.


Our mutual friend Muriel stopped by after lunch last Sunday for coffee and a chat.

Donna noticed that I have new glasses.

She said  "they make you look very intellectual".

Quick as a flash Muriel responded  "well he had to do something".



Sunday, 31 August 2014

Labor Day 2014 is next Monday (3) (Republican class warfare in North Carolina)

Every time working people and their advocates call for a living wage and decent benefits, or speak about the greedy excesses of the 1%;  the ultra-right (which now dominates the Republican Party) accuses them of class warfare.
If there is class warfare in these United States it is being waged against poor, working class, and even middle class citizens by the plutocrats.
North Carolina is a tragic, dangerous and sad example of what happens when such plutocrats rule the roost.  (It's a State which allows 12 year olds to work in the tobacco fields).
The Gospel reading in the Episcopal Church today had something to say about this:  "What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul"  (King James Version by memory).
The once honorable and noble Republican Party (the party of Lincoln)  has lost its soul even as it has gained the whole world in the State Government of North Carolina (and many other States).
See this from Bill Moyers.