Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Christmas Anthem

Scene: watching Downton Abbey in my living room, eating turkey sandwiches and drinking wine.

Aunty Roaring: "Nigel Havers is all right, isn't he? He'd do for Edith."

Mummy Roaring: "He's no George."

Cue a LOT of shrieking when the Nespresso ad appears.

Mummy Roaring: "Do you think he'll still come and visit me even though you bought me a Lavazza machine for Christmas and not a Nespresso one?"

There's only one place he'll want to be this Christmas, Mother:

Thank you all, and goodnight.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 24

Ah, every now and again Ramping takes a break from the Hipster Atheism of the Guardian and is pleasantly surprised by a little media festiveness from less ideological newspapers. Thus forthwith today he was cheered by the total dominance of Christmas in the Financial Times. A lovely piece on forgiveness of debts that even anti-captialist RQT would have approved of, and some Judtian reflections on Christmas as the levelling of differences between god (sic) and man that, while perhaps standing in an awkward relationship to their supplement "How to Spend it", might speak to those who most need a Christian thought for the day. However, most pleasing was a piece on the difference between 'Fox Christians' and secularists. Its author reminded us that 'The Financial Times is not the place to seek spiritual advice.' SHOCK! Still QED more spiritual than the Guardian whose idea of Christmas celebration is probably goodwill towards Ed Miliband (it's his birthday on Christmas Eve - 42 today!) and signed copies of Polly Toynbee's autobiography. But in conclusion the FT encouraged 'To Fox News, we urge a little humility. In the gospels, Jesus urged his followers to render unto Caesar what was Caesar's and to God what was God's. By this he meant, pay your taxes and keep religion separate from politics. We wish you Happy Holidays. To the politically correct we urge you to lighten up. We also wish you a Merry Christmas.' Ok, so s/he gets Jesus wrong. But still a little humility and a little Christmas merriment is no bad thing.

In other news there is only one possible advent anthem for Christmas eve. The song that combines hope and hopelessness, love in all its painfulness, some insults that the Guardian would print in full in scare quotes and then frown upon, social realism and solidarity. A song for all time that has only ended in disaster every time it has been covered. Your penultimate Advent anthem...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 23

So The Family Roaring have arrived. I have spent the evening eating, watching Niles Crane ironing his trousers and comparing make-up tips on the stairs with Mummy and Aunty Roaring. In a different place this year, but Santa will surely know where to find us.

So, naturally, I thought of this (it starts about 1:45):

"The main thing is that we're all going to be together, just like we've always been, that's what really counts. We could be happy anywhere as long as we're together."

Advent Anthems: 22

The Spice Girls' first Christmas No. 1. Because safe sex is even more important in the holidays than the rest of the year.

This takes me back to being thirteen and in love. 'Putting it on' was just a distant dream, though. Ah, youth.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 21

"hey Charley for chrissakes do you want to know the truth of it? I don't have a husband, he don't play the trombone and I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer, and Charley, hey I'll be eligible for parole come valentines day."

I love Tom Waits. He has the voice of a man you want to listen to when you're drunk. He reminds me of the bad characters Gary Oldman played in nineties movies. I want to find someone who'll take me out dancing every saturday night. This video is a Christmas card for lost souls. It makes you want to lose control and not care any more. It makes you regret ageing and feel old. It makes you lean against a wall and wish for something else. It makes you nostalgic for something you never had. It is the happiness at the end of a bottle that never arrives. It is the feeling that people should be kinder than they are. In short, it's a little bit like Christmas.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Advent Anthems:20

Christmas is going to the dogs. It's a thought my beloved Henry would approve of and since Christmas is a hard time of year for elderly arthritic retrievers, today's anthem is dedicated to him.

It's not Henry in the video but a fellow retriever. I think Henry would approve.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 19

OMG - Hadley Freeman totally reads this blog. First she reinforces our message about the wrongness of Carey & Bieber (AA9) and then she reinforces our selection of East17 as the greatest Christian single of all time (AA14). Hadley had clearly stepped out as the foremost journalist upon writing an homagery column on Zoolander, so we're not too surprised at this synergy of opinion. In unrelated news I am still recovering from my vicar's blanket ban on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" from any Christmas service. So here is the finest version I know of by the best live band I've seen:

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 18

Last night I finally watched Fifteen Million Merits, the second installment of Charlie Brooker's wonderfully depressing series of dystopias. I was very glad I recorded it, because if I had watched it straight after the X-Factor final, I would have been up all night worrying that Little Mix had been sold into porn-slavery. Luckily that never happens in pop.

Anyway, it was rather excellent, with added backstage-authenticity presumably provided by co-writer and Person In her Own Right Konnie Huq.

But even MORE excitingly, the Huq-Brooker collaboration has extended to making babies! Can you imagine??! I suppose this child will be an expert at video-games and making Tracy Islands.

It's hard to think of appropriate captions when you think of Charlie Brooker.

Luckily this is the right time of year for baby-themed songs. I was going to make you listen to the Lion King version of When a Child is Born sung by Il Divo, but I hurled all over my keyboard, so we'll make do with this. (You clicked the link, didn't you? Idiot.)

Dylan sung by Maria Muldaur. (If you're pious, you can imagine Mary singing it in the stable.)

There’ll be a time I hear tell
When all will be well
When God and man will be reconciled
But until men lose their chains
And righteousness reigns
Lord, protect my child.

Advent Anthems: 17

Oops, we got a bit out of sync! Not my fault, Ramping is bounding all over London eating canapes and making people give him presents. (I have been watching small children pretend to be angels all weekend so I was legitimately busy.)

Here's a catch-up Anthem (see if you can spot Jane Leeves):

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 16

To remind you of the "Real Meaning (TM)" of Christmas:

Don't you wish this guy would run your Midnight Mass? Or would you rather preach a nice sermon about how Christmas is a time for all the family? Discuss.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 15

This is a special Advent Anthem dedicated to Jon Morgan. The video is a beautifully crafted telling of the nativity and its message is the very meaning of Christmas. You may not remember reading about the vampires in the Gospel account of Jesus' birth, but how much more terrifying is that? They are always there. But Love will keep them from your door. So relax and enjoy the video.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 14

It has been speculated that as Cameron boarded his private jet Merkozy was stood on the runway doing exaggerated hand gestures dressed all in white fur. Poignantly it began to snow, some of the flakes catching in its bizarre facial hair. Traces of this song could be heard above the roar of the propellers.

Perhaps the greatest Christmas song of all time, though apart from the church bells at the end (which could just as easily be wedding bells) it is more affectively than substantially Christmassy. Still as an homage to Continental drift I shall have it on repeat play all through today.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 13

This is one of my favourite putting-up-the-Christmas-tree-with-a-glass-of-wine songs: Christina Aguilera belting out 'Merry Christmas, Baby' accompanied by the extremely wonderful Dr. John.

Christmas is about excess, and Aguilera invented the trashy-diva look, and always over-sings like a bad bitch. I love her.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Advent Anthems 12: Sex, Cannabis and Cake Edition

After an exhausting weekend, with an ad-to-minute-of-actual-television ratio of about 3:1, Little Mix (aka Tulisa's "Little Moofins") were crowned champions of pop, beating Bruno Mars impersonator Marcus through Girl Power, Tears and Not Being As Thin As You'd Expect.

Really, they are inspirational young women. Did you know that they are the first group of girls to ever achieve anything? And that Jesy's seriousface is the best one in the business?

Teenaged girls cry A LOT.
Little Mix and Marcus got the chance to sing Christmas songs for their supper, but my highlight (apart from Leona Lewis' frankly bizarre cover of a Nine Inch Nails song) was the tremendously over-lusted-after Michael Bublé slurring his way through 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' like your drunk big brother who thinks he's super-sexy embarrassing you in front of your friends on Christmas Eve.

Fun fact: Bublé's ex-girlfriend (allegedly) described him as a "self-obsessed jerk" who craves "sex, cannabis and cake". She told News of the World (oh how I miss it) that "Michael saw himself as a real ladies' man who could schmooze any women into bed, and had done on tours. He told me I was too uptight and needed to loosen up.

"Many times he told me, 'I have the perfect, best-looking penis.'

"He bragged about how it gave the ultimate pleasure to women. I just ignored him. But he was good in bed."

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Advent Anthems:11

Christmas for me IS Phil Spector. I still associate Motown with Christmas because my mother had a double sided tape with Phil Spector's phenomenally good Christmas on one side and his Motown classics on the other. So River Deep and Mountain High, Then He Kissed Me, and Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts all take me back to childhood innocence and expectation. Still, it's kind of a nice fit.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 10

Yesterday we followed a star out to a little town in a province far, far away. Birmingham. We went hoping to find a baby lying in a manger but unfortunately despite being due Thursday the little guy was late. We stayed as long as we could hoping for a dramatic rush to the hospital with towels, hot water etc. but were bitterly disappointed. In any case our marvellous hosts, Luke and Zoe, supplied plenty of cheer including reindeer sausages and Christmas music. Being a lecturer in the liberal arts (and possibly the dark arts), however, it was "arty" Christmas music and so we had the delights of Low's Christmas album. For those who don't know Low's music, it's somewhat bare and slow-moving at the best of times. The very fact that they have a Christmas album is almost hilarious, but this their version of "Little Drummer Boy" is exactly what you'd play if you wanted to parody them. Luke informed us that they are the only band to have ever set off Radio 1's trigger alarm on John Peel's show, for having too long pauses.

Here by contrast is also Bing and Bowie's 'marvellous... really fine' version. If you take out the little chat beforehand it's less than half as long. Love Bing. Am sure we'll be seeing some more of him later...

Friday, 9 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 9

This week has been all about the cougar: turns out that annoying 32-year-old presenter Caroline Flack is dating Harry Styles (17) from One Direction. Jan Moir is, obviously, disgusted. (Harry's mum is apparently quite cross, too.) She'd probably have a heart attack, then, if she saw the below 41-year-old mother of two showing her pants to a boy who looks about 12.

You're welcome.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 8

So I went to see Frisky and Mannish's excellent pop-parody last night at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. It was super-fun and being Christmas part of their set was given over to festive tunes. Arguably the most amusing moment was their deconstruction of "Mary's Boy Child", which apparently contains direct lies: "Man was saved forever more because of Christmas day". (Frisky [I presume Frisky is the man] made no bones that Man was in fact saved because of Easter.) But the highlight was the encore when they unveiled the most pernicious Christmas release ever; pernicious because it contained all the fatal flaws that Christmas songs may be heir to: stating the obvious (that it's Christmas), pathos, overly-catchy chorus, innuendo and political subtext. Frisky and Mannish are well worth seeing if you get the chance. The following video, for all the good it achieved at the time, really isn't:

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 7

Today's Anthem has something for all the family. Jon and Cindy with their personalised stockings cut a very fine couple. And the poignant lyrics pay homage to the dangers of being too caught up in a relationship: "My baby's gone, I have no friends". The guitar seems to hum "justice" in the background. And then there is the inspired rhyming of "relations" with "salutations". All in all a work of poetry that avoids all trace of festive-cliche. A masterpiece of Christmalia and all in just over 2 minutes.

And Cindy Crawford. So hot right now. Right now and always.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Advent Anthems: St Nicholas Edition

Ok, so I went to the sweetest St Nicholas mass in an actual St Nicholas church today. We sang him a special song and everything. It was awesome. Then I felt so Christmassy I went and bought TEN strips (sheets??) of tinsel and some super-tacky baubles and some 'solar-powered' Christmas lights, because it's a recession credit crunch.

But I am also awesome because I've only gone and put up the freaking BOSS as today's Advent Anthem! OMG it also has Clarence Clemons being a legend in it. As you can tell, I'm a bit excited.

HE SEES YOU WHEN YOU'RE SLEEPING! (Honestly, Bruce is always watching you.) HAPPY ST NICK'S DAY!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 5

Assuming you watched Ms. Kelly Rowland 'putting it down' (i.e. disappointingly not singing 'Dilemma') on the X-Factor last night, and you also told all your friends you were watching Charlie Brooker's new show about pig sex on C4 because you're that sort of Guardian reader, but you actually watched Beyoncé being incredibly hot on ITV because you secretly read the Mail, you will thank me for reminding you of the glory days of Kelly, Bey and the Other One.

Well, you won't thank me, because this is literally the crassest Christmas song ever recorded. I think it's called 8 Days of Christmas because of Hanukkah (that's what Wikipedia says anyway, and I am nothing if not thorough in my research). Don't ask me, I'm not some sort of prosperity-gospel-promoting R&B star.

Though if I was, I might be responsible for "ruining Christmas" like Beyoncé. See what happens? You record a capitalism-themed Christmas song in 2000, and by 2011 you're stealing video games from Joe the Plumber. It's like a parable about the real meaning of the baby Jesus.

Anyway, "enjoy".

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 4

I've just watched the pandas being FedExed into Scotland.

It is going to be rather snowy in their new home, according to the weather reports, but fear not! BBC Scotland correspondent Colin Blane reassured viewers: "I have been told the male panda, Yang Guang, is very fond of a roll around in the snow."

We'd like to wish Yang Guang and Tian Tian all the best in their quest for wintry sexytime. The following Advent Anthem should be inspirational to anyone trying to breed under adverse conditions:

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Advent Anthems: 3

Shine a light through an open door,
Love a life I will divide;
Turn away 'cause I need you more,
Feel the heartbeat in my mind.

We found love in a hopeless place.

It's the homeland of Roaring but it could be Advent in Palestine in any century.

Advent Anthems: 2

Sometimes, you just know you've stayed up too late. And it's too late to post an Advent Anthem, but you know you have to.

Sometimes, Mariah isn't enough. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Advent Anthems


This is our first Advent Anthem, to warm your cockles. Or whatever. It's perfect if you're very shy. Or very outgoing.
This month, we're dedicated, no matter how drunk we might be (and we may be at the pub as we speak), to delivering your Advent Anthem each day.

To begin our Advent Adventure, here is your favourite (who just released an American-friendly Thanksgiving album) and ours.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Ain’t about the cha-ching, cha-ching.

I recently bought the Jessie J album. Big mistake. One of those where you’ve heard a couple of good songs - 'Price Tag' and 'Do It Like a Dude' and thought this’ll be fun, only to discover it’s full of ballids (following the new spelling). Worse still, it has the most ear-wrenching earnestness that galls with a self-righteousness and banality ripped off fortune-cookie-wisdom. 'Price Tag' itself has its own 'Where-is-the-Love?' earnestness, but it’s forgivable - if only for the ridiculousness of a pop starlet at the very heart of commercial pop releasing a massive selling single that is ‘not about the money’. You’re laughing all the way to the Itunes store. (Not very far).

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A Theology of Gift

In my seemingless endless quest to finish my PhD and spend my free time watching Buffy and eating hummous guilt-free (obviously I still do this but I feel bad about it at the moment), I just found this gem of eucharistic theology:
‘In reality, this is all one gift, forever repeated differently, whose lineaments cannot be disentangled without seeming to be laid out in stages: we receive our capacity to receive in receiving that which we are to receive; to receive our humanity, we must already receive the gratuitous excess of divinity, and to receive the gift of humanity and divinity, we must already have begun to transmit this gift.’
 For some reason, it made me think of this:


Saturday, 8 October 2011

Gardens of Delight

Every boy by the end of his teens believes he has eaten the perfect kebab. Usually this has happened in an early ecstatic intoxication, when the buzz of alcohol is undiluted by developed resistance, when flirtation seemed like transcendence and every night seemed endless and magical. I, no less, first in Swansea and then in Exeter delighted in this after-hours pursuit, chasing the dead lamb, finally coming to what seemed like perfection at Uncle Raj’s. Not my uncle you understand. Everyone’s uncle.

But, while foreign excursions to the Middle East barely registered, this all changed in Cambridge. Once I got my hot hands on a kebab from Gardenia’s I found out that heaven was wrapped up in fresh salad and tsatsiki. So good was this experience that I started going there for lunch after doing my postman’s round. Gardi’s remained unsurpassed for years (though it was approached by some excellent Nan kebabs from curry mile in Manchester).

Well. This has all changed and, like Augustine grimacing at a rotten pear, I have realised the errors of my puerile confusion. For happenstance has conveyed me to live within a stone’s throw of the Edgware Road. If you have not been transported by the epiphanic release of Lebanese shawarma, then I’m sorry but as far as I am concerned your life is a damned lie and you are unredeemed with poverty.

Just over a year ago a latish night turned into a hospital trip as a friend got sick. Finally she discharged herself at 6am and we stumbled down Edgware Road where, to our unsurpassable delight, Cafe Helen, queen of kebaberies remained steadfastly open inviting our trade for an experience both carnal and spiritual. This is the attitude that will take us out of dull austerity measures. Rushed lunches have since conveyed me to various establishments of “Londonistan” and to unrivaled pleasures.

My last heady trip, this week, left me guiltily failing to conceal cumin-stained breath and a soggy fat-greased paw as I greeted a pram-pushing parishioner. She smiled as she passed on her way to Edgware Road, though, so I suspect she too had indulged in the fleshly temptations of schawarma.

The sharpness of youth so often crystalizes into memories our experience later falls short of, as though the fiery sword of the cherubim guards the way back to our youth. The joy of newly experienced delight though is a reminder that for all the romanticising of youth, we are always on the edge of glory, or as the angel put it: ‘then the earth/ Shall all be paradise, far happier place/ Than this of Eden, and far happier days.’ Experience may bring us to a torture garden, but it may also bring us to a new garden of delights.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Tainted Love

This Saturday Roaring is to become the Revd Roaring; a hard earned epiphet. By coincidence I also this week picked up Oliver O’Donovan’s very recently reissued commentary On the Thirty-Nine Articles. In the first edition Oliver had made no mention of Article 26 of which the guts is as follows:

"Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by [the minister’s] wickedness [latterly “unworthiness”], nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men."

Given the schismatic pulls the Church of England currently endures he returns in the new preface to note how this Article should have ‘warded off this vertiginous nightmare’ that is the conservative doctrine of Sacramental Taint.

Sacramental Taint has been addressed elsewhere in these conversations being the most pernicious doctrine that any sacramental action performed by a women is ineffective if not blasphemous, thus undermining the faith of those who receive sacraments from women and in the case of those ordained by women denying their orders.

But as Ben Quash pointed out some years ago this sad doctrine parallels almost exactly the position of the rejected, schismatic Donatists, where identical liturgical and creedal positions were violently separated by alternative episcopal oversight. The sense with which the Donatists believed the Catholic church to be polluted was the result of the holy perfection with which they imbued the church. A holy perfection that drew a boundary beyond which grace could not transgress.

From this we can see why Ben Quash draws Irenaeus’ distinction between schism and heresy, where heresy is a fault of faith and schism a fault of love: that schismatics ‘are destitute of the love of God, and... look to their own special advantage rather than the unity of the Church’. In like manner O’Donovan insists that whatever the error the conservative cannot forget the promise to the Church that ‘the gates of Hell will not prevail against it and that Christ is in its midst’; so even with a conscientious certainty of the Church’s error, sacraments are always effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise.

The posturing of conservative Anglicans and Donatists is shown up by the measure with which they pretend innocence. Holiness. Andrew Shanks has developed a particularly rigorous attack on the idea of innocence drawn from Gillian Rose. But the essential point is actually quite simple: that every attempt to present ourselves as innocent is self-justification. To feel innocent is to judge others guilty and feel superior. It is an act of exclusion; of violence; of turning away.

The subject remains on my mind because voting is continuing across the Church of England on the consecration of women bishops. This question, though, of how we agree to be one church is effectively prior. If it is the Church that acts sacramentally, if it is effective through Christ’s institution and promise, if the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us, then who are they that turn their backs on the sacramental promises of Christ? Schism is a failure of love and faith.

This may seem like a sour note to welcome with joy the Revd Roaring to the Diaconate. I take it though as an assurance of her vocation; that the Church has chosen her, brave lioness that she is; that Christ has chosen her to mediate his grace. It is also a reminder that Anglicans above all must ‘keep their minds in Hell but despair not’ - that we must forego the lure of innocence and holiness, live with the agony of a passionately struggling church but cling on in faith, hope and love to the presence of Christ.

But this has ever been the way. Schleiermacher wrote in 1799 of the constant struggle Christianity rightly asserts at the heart of humanity, forever gaining and losing its religion:

“Even while the finite wishes to intuit the universe, it strains against it, always seeking without finding and losing what it has found; ever one-sided, ever vacillating, ever halting at the particular and accidental, and ever wanting more than to intuit, the finite loses sight of its goal. Every revelation is in vain. Everything is swallowed up by earthly sense, everything is carried away by the indwelling irreligious principle, and the deity makes ever-new arrangements; through its power alone ever more splendid revelations issue from the womb of the old; it places ever more sublime mediators between itself and the human being; in every later ambassador it unites the deity more intimately with humanity so that through them and by them we might learn to recognize the eternal being; and yet the old lament is never lifted that we do not perceive what is of the spirit of God.”

Or, as T.S. Eliot put it more succinctly:

“The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without”

Congratulations to an ever more sublime mediator...

Oliver O'Donovan, On the Thirty Nine Articles (London: SCM, 2011)
Ben Quash & Michael Ward, Heresies and How to Avoid Them (London: SPCK, 2007)
Andrew Shanks, Against Innocence (London: SCM, 2008)
Schleiermacher, On Religion (Cambridge: University Press, 1996)
T.S. Eliot, ‘The Rock’, II, in Collected Poems (London: Faber, 1963)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

I'm a free bitch, baby (part 2), or HELLO AGAIN!

So. While I’ve been away, supposedly writing my PhD and moving house (but actually going to G-A-Y Late and watching Glee obsessively), I have discovered, thanks to the very brilliant blogger Lesley Kinzel is run by Jane Pratt, who invented Sassy and Jane. It is a very cool website with articles by a whole range of women, different ages, sizes, races, sexualities… etc. etc. etc it’s basically a feminist space of coolness tackling everything from shoes to sexual harassment.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Wedding

I recently had the pleasure of attending a wedding of an English gentleman and a Dutch lady. It was a rather lovely affair, unusual for the fact that the sermon and the best man's speech was given by the same person. Below are the transcripts, as requested by the Dutch family. Most of the points are entirely unoriginal and are simply borrowed and stolen from Plato, Roland Barthes and Vince Vaughan.

The Wedding Sermon...

“Love bears all things”

We all understand love as a story. The sort of once upon a time in the romantic south of France story where a boy meets a beautiful girl. Obviously he falls in love, pursues her; she gets a bit woo’d - maybe they fall out over a misunderstanding, some students in Gent or a trip to a military base in Afghanistan. Eventually, after a gloomy mid-point, everything gets ironed out, they make up and she marries him before he can escape to somewhere else dangerous and inhospitable. We compulsively watch hundreds of identikit stories like this replayed again and again in Rom-Coms, chick-lit, and old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210; when we’re in love as part of the smug-partnered set, and when we’re not as a socially acceptable merlot-fuelled form of self-harm.

One of the most famous ideas behind love stories comes from Plato: the story of soul-mates. We get this in all those meaningful phrases, “she’s the one”, “you complete me”, “my other half”, or in John’s case “my better half”. The story goes that originally humans were odd eight limbed androgynous creatures with two faces who scuttled about causing trouble. Zeus, in his great wisdom, cut them in half and sewed them up to make them weaker but more useful. The only problem was that they naturally felt incomplete and died from hunger as they clung to their separated halves. Each of us, apparently, is in this state looking for our missing half to heal the wound in human nature. Love is the name for this desire for wholeness. Soul-mates appear in hundreds of films - It had to be you, Made in Heaven, Serendipity, Ghost, Monster in Law, Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet - that one has a good book of the film - and of course the Runaway Bride.

The thing is, though, although Plato presents it very nicely, he also dismisses it as a load of rubbish - after all if we only fell in love with the other piece of our self that would basically make us all narcissists! He has his hero, then, Socrates, tell a quite different story. The context for these stories, by the way, is a dinner party where a group of drunk friends get together and each gives a speech saying how deliriously fantastic, beautiful and intoxicating love is. Basically, it’s a bit like a wedding.

So he says that after the birth of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, the gods had a feast, and they all came along including the god, Re-source. Funny name but at least it tells you something about him - that he’s resourceful - and it’s no more odd than the most recent Beckham, who they named “Harper Seven”. After dinner the less fortunately named goddess Poverty, who was always in need, came begging at the gate. Now seeing Resource, who’d got drunk by this time, stumbling into the garden to have a nap, Poverty saw a chance to relieve her self of her perpetual lack and so snuck over and slept with him, becoming pregnant with his child. And this child was Love.

Now because he is the son of Resource and Poverty, Love is always poor and far from being sensitive and beautiful, he’s tough with hard skin, no shoes and is always sleeping rough. He lives in doorways and by roads, and like his mother, Poverty, is always in a state of need. But like his father, Resource, he schemes to get hold of beautiful things. He’s brave, impetuous, a formidable hunter, cunning and full of tricks.

The point is this. We live in a world that idolizes love. Love actually does make the world go round, it lifts us up where we belong, all you need is love - don’t worry I’m not going to slip into Ewen MacGregor - but love is always something to aspire to, to dream of, like an American watching the royal wedding - it’s pure, sublime almost untouchable and only for the beautiful. But Plato’s point is that far from being pure, beautiful, clad in lace and soft lighting, - like a fairytale - love is a combination of poverty and resourcefulness. To love is to recognise a lack in yourself, something missing. Something you want very dearly, something you depend upon - that causes you pain not to have and be with. And we don’t really desire the things we have. I was very excited about getting surround sound for my TV. Now I don’t even notice it. Life has a way of numbing you to all pleasures but novelty. But to love is to keep recognizing something missing, something desired, to not take for granted, but to yearn for more and more of the beloved.

But love is also resourcefulness. Most English boys of course mope around listening to Radiohead during their teenage years, though knowing John he was whistling along to Marvin Gaye. I’m not sure if there’s a Dutch/Belgian equivalent since the only group I know from this part of the world is 2Unlimited, famed for their hit song “No, No Limit.” I imagine though that Gertje was perhaps reading something clever but miserable like The Sorrows of Young Werther - either that or just taking great delight in breaking boys’ hearts. But love doesn’t mope. Because to love is have your beloved as your highest priority; which means all your resources, your courage, your cunning, your charm will be directed towards possessing, pleasing and gaining the affection of your beloved.

And it stops at nothing. It is a continual desire to use what we have for the benefit and celebration of our love. Where most Romantic Comedies - thinking of say Speed - finish with a big heartfelt kiss, and subtly replace the heroine for a repeat storyline in a straight to Dvd sequel - love demands resources through and even beyond the wedding night. So that’s it for Plato - love is poverty and resourcefulness. Recognizing the depth of our need, affection and desire for another, which makes us vulnerable and dependent; and giving everything we have for the sake of that beloved.

And we see the same in the reading we’ve just had. If love is patient, kind, not envious or arrogant, insistent or irritable, then love is making itself vulnerable to its beloved. It’s giving over some of its independence and agency in trust. That’s why you’d better be pretty sure about that trust, maintaining that trust and always giving to each other genuine reciprocity. But whether we like it or not, love makes us vulnerable. But with this ‘it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. These are its resources: it has endurance, trust, optimism and courage.

And there is no doubt that when St Paul is writing this he has in mind the crucifixion as the consummate picture of vulnerable and resourceful love. The hymn we just had is one people usually remember from school - and particularly, I think, the verse with the alliterative whipping and stripping tends to stick in people’s minds - it’s John’s favourite anyway. But again the theme is the poverty and resourcefulness of love. That through torture, execution and the hell of it all, the dance of love goes on through its resources of hope and kindness. And, through our poverty and resourcefulness, our love is fashioned and cannot be destroyed. Or to put it another way, the love God has for us and the love we are commanded to give one another, the love we promise, is never lost but kept safe with God.

If love is poverty and resourcefulness, if it depends upon trust, then it is not just a sentiment but a promise. “I love you” is not an ordinary statement. It is a question. There are only two responses. Either - “I love you too” - or anything else. Anything else here amounts to “I’m just not that into you.” Even “ohhh love you,” or, “you’re so hot right now,” or Patrick Swayze’s “ditto,” doesn’t cut it - “I love you” demands the formality of “I love you too”, because it’s also a commitment, a promise. Between You and I - out of the resources and poverty that is love. Marriage is this same commitment, between You and I, between Gertje and John today, to say “I love you” - “I love you too”, every day, out of poverty and resourcefulness, in an echo of the divine love that makes the world go round.

The quotation at the front of the order of service gives a picture of life and of a relationship as an exploration: “We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” Whatever our fortune we always begin and end in poverty. And to be an explorer requires self-chosen poverty. It is only by standing still that people accumulate. Beneath the quotation John and Gertje thank all of us gathered here. As we hear their vows now, then, we should recognize that we too are part of their love, their marriage, standing with them in their poverty at this new beginning - and after this wedding the poverty is almost certain to be quite genuine - and, as we are able, even if it’s only raising a glass of champagne, offering our resources to a lifelong love story. Amen.

The Best Man's Speech...

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, John has asked me to speak briefly, “speeching” as Gertje would call it, on behalf of the bridesmaids. And may I add my own thanks and praise to his. You are probably by now sick of the sound of my voice but have some compassion - if I had not had to give this speech I would have by now drunk at least three times as much champagne. And that’s just at breakfast. It’s not often you get the chance to speak twice at a wedding. John clearly felt I needed a practice run before this speech. Either that or he figured that getting in a priest would be damage limitation. I had worried earlier about picking up the wrong speech in church and having to explain the theological significance of John’s short-lived venture into cottaging. Merely, in this case, an internet search looking for somewhere we could go on holiday in the country that threw up some unexpected results.

My relationship with John began while he was a fresh-faced undergraduate at Exeter. It became clear we wold be close when we both found ourselves slipping away from college at 3pm every afternoon and sneaking home. Sharing a passion for the early series of Beverly Hills 90210 has always, for me, been the defining point in our relationship. I haven’t though been able to find out much about John’s early life. It is a testament to the fidelity John inspires that when I emailed round hunting for stories no one got back to me. Of course I tried hacking into John’s mum’s voicemail but that didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

Now everyone knows and loves John as an outstandingly charming, well-brought up boy with the very best of English manners. Everyone, that, is except my mother. And I only share this now so the Vanhouttes know what they’re getting into. We’d been to a party. Well several parties and two after-parties and, it being late, 4am, I realised it was time to go home. Seeing that John was deep in conversation with a new found friend I quietly slipped away. This displeased John. About twenty minutes later he realized that he had been abandoned and called my mobile. Upon reaching the answerphone he unleashed a fifteen minute stream of consciousness that James Joyce would have been proud of, varying between a caustic summary of his emotional dis-ease at being left behind and the various physical consequences this might have upon my person when he came upon me - alongside a detailed David Attenborough style commentary on the deteriorating nightlife, the habits and plumage of 4am Exeter.

By a fluke of technology my 3210 Nokia had strangely diverted the call to my parents’ home phone. Mother, fearing an emergency, struggled out of bed in the middle of the night and arrived just as the message clicked on. My mother, a rather conservative and fretful woman, listened throughout with growing horror to the sick pervert who was planning on hunting down her beloved child. By the time I was reunited with my phone I had 18 missed calls from her and my entire family were mobilised. To this day Mother remains unconvinced of John’s suitability for diplomacy.

But all of you here will know John as an outstanding friend with a natural ability to bring people together and to create a sense of community and fun wherever he goes. While he was a postgraduate I had the honour of presiding over the postgraduate society with him, which he turned from a handful of geeks playing chess to Pi Gamma Sigma, a thriving social scene that brought all sorts of people together. And it’s good to see Professor Tiger come all the way from Boston to be here today. I love you Tiger.

The highlight of the year was the annual Christmas party, which at John’s insistence had a snow machine and a Santa’s grotto. In a spirt of collaboration we had both dressed up as Santa Clause but John was able to take the role much more seriously. When I finally made it into the grotto I could see John had been taking up the slack left by me as he sat there with a girl on each knee, listening to what I assume was their Christmas lists.

On our way home we were stopped by a police woman who rightly castigated us for drinking wine as we walked. Curiously, and perhaps irresponsibly, rather than just confiscating the bottle, she insisted that the two Santas immediately finish it off and I can report that John manfully, great friend that he was, took his share without complaint. Afterwards, spurred as always by a keen moral sense, and taking seriously his role as a surrogate Santa, with great energy he reminded the passing eateries, all of which were closed or closing, that their lack of generosity would be rewarded only with coal.

But to return from such ancient history, I must say that I know of no one more loyal or tolerant. Even on his stag weekend, when a bout of seasickness had me decorating his wetsuit on the back of a jet-ski, or when I threw him off into the sea, not a word of criticism was voiced. I must thank Christian, the better best man, for organizing this. Aside from a rather intemperate request for an unusual local dessert from Michael and Dave stumbling round the ring road for half the night and losing his shoes, it was a very respectable affair. Unlike Gertje’s stag night in which I hear she dressed up as a pirate and went round the seedier parts of Amsterdam [The speaker had meant to add “including a once-in-a-lifetime motor boat trip”]. I can see who’s going to wear the trousers in this relationship.

And may I take this opportunity to say how beautiful you looked today, Gertje. A dress even more perfect than Pippa’s at the royal wedding. I hope you didn’t find there was too much praying at the service. And thanks to Gertje’s parents - it takes a man to give away an angel.

But to return to John. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how bright, talented and successful he is. A friend of mine remarked to me years ago on how John always seems to land on his feet, and although Gertje is reason enough to suspect that John is a lucky, lucky man, this is not without his own considerable courage and determination. Having already served in Afghanistan and looking towards Pakistan this courage is readily apparent. And he’s hugely lucky to have found someone to share this sense of adventure with - as Gertje has already had her own adventures in China and elsewhere, and matches him for courage, ambition and fun every step of the way. I’m sure you will share many more adventures together - I don’t know of any couple more suited to it. I’ve been privileged to see your relationship develop and I’ve never known John more in love or more happy. I know that you will both enjoy a wonderful life together.

So treasuring in our hearts all our personal memories of John and Gertje, and looking forward to sharing many more with the both of them, let us once again be upstanding for the bride and groom...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Church of Glee

A friend of mine has recently got into evangelism. He invites me over for dinner once every week or so and we watch four or five episodes of Glee. I usually drink too much wine, miss the tube and fall asleep on the bus, ending up lost in the hell-hole that is the Paddington basin at 1am, frightened and alone.

Anyway, given this protracted viewing I have worked out the script-writing strategy behind the program. Basically - choose 2 or 3 massive 80s power-pop ballads. Slip in a few Mean-Girl-esque bitchy lines and for the other 30 minutes have beautiful people flimping and flomping about with pained/ecstatic expressions.

And it’s the best TV ever.

What is so awe-inspiring about it is that even when it is dealing with some pretty dark subjects it manages to be utterly, relentlessly up-beat. Whether it’s teenage pregnancy, paralysis, being disowned by your parents, assaulted or dumped the answer is always a perfectly choreographed, perfectly arranged ballad. There is something eschatological about it as though every human experience is raised to an absolute pitch of expression and then released in a communitarian outpouring of polyphonic soul.

Don’t ever go running with the Glee soundtrack though. It literally becomes impossible to take breath.

Anyway I was thinking about this as I read a newly added friend’s blog, who seems to come from a more charismatic tradition. She notes that charismatic worship consists of ‘dramatic... HUGE statements’, and questions whether we really ‘mean’ it or ‘feel’ it. She wonders whether inserting “I’m trying to” before some of these phrases might make them a bit more honest. But as she herself notices, “I’m trying to surrender everything” or - I’d really like to rise up like an eagle - or - I wish I actually did want there to be nothing I desired that compares to you - don’t have that Glee-good feeling that’s going to make you feel close to God or transformed in any way.

This perhaps is a strength for traditional hymns in that they tend to be creedal statements, which don’t make presumptions about what sort of place you’re in or exactly what you’re expecting to happen. And while it may be easier to throw heart and voice into “My Jesus, my boyfriend, this song is all about me”, most Anglo-Catholics manage a similar joy with “Jerusalem the Golden” - except maybe for that high F, before which some quite rightly get a little faint.

Anyway, the same thing came up at a recent training meeting with some curates from central and west London. Certain evangelical priests confessed to feeling really low on Sunday mornings, not being able to get out of bed etc. and I suddenly thought - omg how freaking stressful it must be to feel you have to create this gleekmosphere of transcendent praise, to tease out emotions so as to force the sort of confrontation needed for conversion, to deliver that raw emotional force to make people vulnerable. I’m not being disingenuous here - these are Godly people, though of course God is not necessary to create this kind of atmosphere - but I’m not surprised that it would be totally exhausting.

My church takes an easier approach to creating atmosphere and invokes the Spirit for Pentecost by lighting shots of sambuca at the back of the church. And I know what you’re thinking - how Presbyterian with your individual shot glasses. But seriously a shared chalice of flaming sambuca would be a death-trap.

But should we gleek our worship? My mother used to call me Pollyanna but even I’m not sure we can trip through life gleeking up the crap that happens in four-part harmony. Not unless we’re Bono. There is something eschatological and something beautiful about Glee but if you tried singing through other people’s problems they’d probably just think you were an asshole. Or if they’re your problems you're likely end up like Britney trapped in a tragedy of parodic art-imitating life-imitating awfulness.

Glee club gives its own warning to wannabe Glee churches:

“Glee club... it's about expressing yourself to yourself.”

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Votes for Women

I had the chance this week to vote on the issue of women becoming bishops. The vote didn’t count for anything except to give a wider national picture to someone at some point. It was a pretty typical church debate. The liberals umm-ed and ahh-ed about including everyone, while a conservative stood up and gave an impassioned plea on behalf of the “oppressed minorities”.

It was moving though. He spoke from the heart and the liberal catholics probably all thought of friends and churches they knew, people who would be hurt and feel excluded by a changing church. The only problem is that any women who might already be feeling hurt and excluded are easily forgotten. If someone’s going to get hurt it always seems more charitable to do nothing but, without slipping into Edmund Burke cliches, doing nothing, in an unequal world, can be equally unkind.

The Church has already previously ruled out any possibilities that would lessen the significance of diocesan bishops or leave women in a less full expression of this. (This didn’t stop them tabling a second proposal to effect this at the meeting.) These options would just serve to introduce more schismatic divisions to a church already fraught with contradiction, or again engrave inequality on the broken stone tablets. But this means that the current proposal, with whatever code of practice is to come, is the only possible means to remove one of the most significant remaining inequalities from the church.

We have traditionalists on one side and disenfranchised women on the other. The choice is not doing nothing or hurting traditionalists. The axe is laid at the root of the tree. Either we again surrender our credibility and capitulate to injustice and bad theology, or we accept that the Gospel today requires us to fully recognise the ministry of women.

My deanery voted against the measure. It shocked me. I would not have thought it possible that a majority of people would reject a basic principle of equality. It is a misplaced kindness that is unkind. An ungenerous generosity. An unreasonable compromise. It is time that liberals find their voice and ring the changes.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Lenten Reading

This is the most ridiculous sentence I've ever read:

'She would say: 'At last, one can breathe!' and would roam the soaked paths - too symmetrically aligned for her liking by the new gardener, who lacked all feeling for nature and whom my father had been asking since morning if the weather would clear - with her jerky, enthusiastic little step, regulated by various emotions excited in her soul by the intoxication of the storm, the power of good health, the stupidity of my upbringing and the symmetry of the gardens, rather than by the desire quite unknown to her to spare her plum-coloured skirt the spots of mud under which it would disappear up to a height that was for her maid always a source of despair and a problem.'

One sentence. It's more convoluted than 2 hours of Inception; the characters have crawled inside so many clauses that the outer-layer "real" narrative has entirely stopped and the characters are all lost inside the infinitely tedious wallowings of their own dreams within fantasies within dreams. Like a child sans ritalin scribbling out all her thoughts till she forgets what she's doing and goes back to gaping, wild eyed, little legs pumping up and down on a pint-size trampoline.

Only a little later down the page we have:

'My poor grandmother would come in, ardently beg her husband not to taste the cognac; he would become angry, drink his mouthful despite her, and my grandmother would go off again, sad, discouraged, yet smiling for she was so humble at heart and so gentle that her tenderness for others and the little fuss she made over her own person and her sufferings came together in her gaze in a smile in which, unlike what one sees in the faces of so many people, there was irony only for herself, and for all of us a sort of kiss from her eyes which could not see those she cherished without caressing them passionately with her gaze.'

It's like a little Homeric excursus into utter banality. It's nearly a book in two sentences. And we all know the real story, written (much better) by yours truly:

'The old swine boozed down his cognac while his mean old girl played out her usual passive-aggressive routine.'

This, I suppose, is why I'll never be a novelist.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Roaring has demanded that I review RiRi’s ‘S&M’, recently exhibited on a screen near you, claiming that she is going to write some ‘theology’. I think this is code for climbing into bed with a Chinese take-away, a bottle of wine and Gone With the Wind (again).

Having been banned in 11 countries, with MTV apparently considering a re-edit, and suffering a pre-7pm anti-curfew by
Radio 1, I was ready for a Massive Spontaneous Orgasm upon pressing the play button.

I think though The Mirror captured it quite nicely with their insightful comment:


Aside from the mild hilarity of actually seeing that expression caught in print, it’s not exactly the response you’d be pleased to receive if you’d burgled Ann Summers and pulled all the Valentine stops out for when your man gets home.

"Oo-er" is a bit more Carry on Camping.

The Carry On movies weren’t sexy for a whole different reason though. After all Rihanna is more attractive than Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor combined. (Just imagine.) S&M is actually an anti-sex video, which I’m afraid can only be explained by reference to a Roland Barthes essay on strip-tease as the exorcism of sex.

Writing in 1957, he observes how the props of the music hall and the exoticism of the dress imply the unreality of what lies beneath:

‘the nakedness which follows remains itself unreal, smooth and enclosed like a beautiful slippery object, withdrawn by its very extravagance from use.’

And this is before the Advent of Photoshopping.

And speaking of the allegedly erotic dancing of strip-tease, he points out that the ritual gestures and the constant motion actually conceal nudity and the fear of immobility. The ease and seamless nature of the act make them remote and non-erotic - a fact immediately verified by considering amateurs or our own partially bungled, awkward and embarrassed attempts, which by their fear and vulnerability actually succeed in being erotic. Provided we don’t fall over and start crying.

So through all her different poses, which bring to light in silly ridiculousness all kinds of fetish (even her Scary Spice impression from the video... [sorry this was Roaring's observation which my shameful lack of interest in Spice Girls videos is unable to corroborate]) that depend upon being secret, shameful, forbidden &c. for their allure, she magically weaves a vacuum of anti-sex through her flawless, glazed hips, sexorcising the world. Except presumably for teenage boys who wank off to it anyway because it’s apparently a WOMAN, although a WOMBAT would probably do the trick in a fix.

Also, the oft-repeated line: “Sex in the air, I don't care, I love the smell of it.”

Seriously. Oo-er.

Barthes essay is most amusing because what he really hates is the amateur strip-tease competitions; that stripping can now be thought of as a career, that it is made ‘familiar and bourgeois’, that we ‘could not conceive eroticism except as a household property, sanctioned by the alibi of weekly sport’.

Pole-dancing classes anyone?

The story gets even weirder though when you read in today’s Guardian Joy Nilsson, postgraduate student at a London university, on a protest march against the closing of lap-dancing clubs: “If they close the clubs many women will drop out of higher education... I love my job and I’m very proud of what I do - it fits perfectly with my studying, it’s very flexible and you get your money up front. What other jobs give you that kind of freedom?”

Apparently 1 in 3 lap-dancers in Leeds are doing it to fund their education. This presumably fits in to the government's “Big Tits Society” area of policy.

So what MTV tells us is that our culture has successfully exorcised itself of sex for money. Culturally sex has become banal. Just think of Bridget Jones’ casual reference to anal sex - you probably didn’t even notice it. This hasn’t in anyway diminished the fact that sex is still sold everywhere for money and that bodies in poverty are exploited. But in a sexless culture this ceases to be a moral concern, it becomes simply an economic concern.

Incidentally, these themes come together in Mike Figgis’ production of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. The libretto is vicious to poor Lucrezia and throughout we are treated to the ENO's garrulous shouts of “WHORE WHORE WHORE EVIL WHORE EVIL INCARNATE &c.” Figgis has worthily sought to combat this misogyny by interspersing a series of films, which speculate on her earlier life with mood pieces suggesting a decadent, incestuous and violent family life through which her later actions become the result of familial abuse.

Although this does at least introduce some complexity into this flatly evil woman, these short pieces all have the soft lighting, arty posing and mannequin-actors of soft-porn movies - or a music video. The distance this builds from reality destroys the actual vulnerability of Lucrezia and we’re left with LuLu sucking her brother’s finger in a sort of unreal sexless incest. It is somehow both non-erotic and sexually abusive.

Which really is the worst of all possible worlds.

Really fabulous singing though.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

What's that coming over the hill?

(Trigger warning)

When I first saw the (leaked, probably unfinished) video for Kanye West’s ‘Monster’, I felt a bit sick. Then I thought, Kanye is an asshole. Everyone knows he’s an asshole. And the concept for the video is not that original. Basically, monsters have jumped the shark.

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