Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy Leap Second!

Happy New Year to everyone! (Well, almost everyone.)

And don’t forget to count down the extra Leap Second tonight! Do what I will do, and simply count “one” twice.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Reviews: Nativitas and Agnus Dei from The Choir of New College, Oxford

It’s been too long since I’ve done some reviews. And I bought a lot of books and CDs in England. So here goes. Today I review two CDs from The Choir of New College that I bought in Oxford.

Nativitas (1997) is a good recording of 23 Christmas classics, such as “Adam Lay Ybounden” and “O Magnum Mysterium”. I say “good” because interspersed among some of the pieces is this cloying New Age flute. It really gets annoying when the flute plays over the choir on the last song, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. I bought the CD to hear the choir, not a flute that doesn’t know its place.

If you aren’t annoyed by the flute, then you can mark the CD up to excellent. It is more ethereal than happy, so take that into consideration before buying. (I like “ethereal” better myself.) And a poor choice was made in including “Once in Royal David’s City” without a solo for the first verse. King’s College does that one so much better, New College should have tried something else.

With those caveats, I recommend the CD. I noticed the cover on Amazon is different than the cover I got in Oxford at Blackwell’s Music. The one I have has a photo of the New College Chapel on the cover. But I assume the music is identical.

But if there is only one CD from New College that you buy, then you must buy . . .

Agnus Dei (also 1997 – quite a year for the choir) is the most incredible choral CD I have yet heard. It is even more other worldly than Nativitas and unspeakably beautiful.

As soon as you hear the first piece, Barber’s “Agnus Dei”, you will know this CD is a world apart. The atmosphere is so ethereal without overproduction (although the production is clearly excellent). Individual voices are very clear, which I like, while perfectly fitting together. And the 12 pieces, while from different ages and composers are also made to fit together very well, making the CD almost seamless.

I’m at a loss to describe it further. Such music as this makes words inadequate. This is a wonderful CD to either listen to carefully, or to use as background or go-to-sleep music.

And the only cloying New Age element is the subtitle on the cover: “Music of Inner Harmony”. No annoying flutes or such in the recording, thanks be to God.

There is a second CD from 1998, Agnus Dei II. But I did not find it quite as excellent as the first CD. If you see a two-for-one special, then get it as I did. But if not, then perhaps stick with the first one.

In any case, I can’t recommend Agnus Dei strongly enough, even for those who aren’t (yet) fans of English choral music.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Corporate Mega-churches

As noted and much commented upon over at titusonenine, The Economist has a feature article on megachurches that use corporate business models -- “Jesus, CEO”.

This is nothing new to me. Back around 1990, before much attention was given to this phenomenon, I noticed my church at the time, Big Dallas Bible Church (name changed), was run more and more like a corporation. There was even a pyramid chart of the staff in the church directory. I’m not kidding. And that staff was large and growing.

And I saw negative qualities often associated with large corporations. Staff were often overworked with long hours. And I saw negative effects on individual staff members. I saw one staff member transform from a friend who was easy and fun with work with to an arrogant adversary. High up staff were overly concerned with their position and authority to the point of at times seeing threats to their authority that didn’t exist. There were power plays against faithful people.

And I saw that power was focused in the staff away from rank and file church people.

So now corporate churches scare me.

Yet I’m not one of those who see all megachurches as of the devil. (And not all megachurches are corporate churches.) The body of Christ should be diverse. And I think there should be variety in how different churches “do church.” And my ten years at my previous church, which can be said to have attained megachurch status, were very positive.

But I just can’t see that running a church like a corporation is how Jesus would lead his church. Obviously, the larger a church gets, the more organization is necessary. But churches that become religious corporations invite the same diseases as secular corporations – as I saw at Big Dallas Bible. I’m convinced even megachurches should avoid buying into a corporate model based much more on secular business practices than on scripture and tradition.

Also, the idea that megachurches, with their variety of affinity groups and with all their available activities, can better meet people’s needs ain’t necessarily so. My current church is just a bit smaller than I was looking for. And it’s by far the smallest church I’ve been a part of. Yet it’s safe to say it is meeting my needs better than any previous church. Part of that is that my needs (and my perception of them) have changed with the years. But still, the effectiveness of a church has a lot more to do with qualities than quantities.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Holy Innocents and the priority of children

A timely follow-up to my post two days ago:

Today, Holy Innocents Day, and its assigned lessons remind us of the exalted position the Lord gives children. In a very real way, children were the first martyrs to give their lives for Christ.

And there are lessons such as the second lesson from my Morning Prayer, Matthew 18:1-14, which begins:

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Good King Wenceslas

Remember, it’s still Christmas.

And in that spirit, here’s an interesting piece on the origins of the carol Good King Wenceslas.

This history is new to me and perhaps is to you. Heck, until recent years I didn’t even know what the Feast of Stephen bit was about.

Good King Wenceslas has been one of my favorite carols since I was small. But I haven’t heard it even once this Christmas for some reason.

Monday, December 26, 2005

And a child shall lead them.

A glory of Anglicanism that’s easy to take for granted is how the whole congregation takes a role in worship. You can be passive in the seats. But you might feel out of place as the congregation, stands, kneels, responds, bows, goes forward, etc. And, if you so like and are active in a parish, you will probably get to lead a portion of worship through reading a scripture lesson or, say, playing a role in the procession or offering.

This Christmas has particularly brought home to me how Anglicanism enriches worship through the participation of laity. I wrote yesterday what an experience it was for this layman to read two of the Nine Lessons, particularly the last one.

In my last two churches before becoming Anglican, both very non-liturgical Bible churches, I can’t recall leading any part of corporate worship during those 16 years. And I was quite active in both. Liturgical traditions such as Anglicanism or Catholicism are oft criticized for clericalism and/or diminishing the laity. But in my experience, laity are given much more leadership in worship in liturgical traditions.

And that includes children. I might say that especially includes children. Acolytes, for example, are usually children and youth in most parishes.

Children played a big role in leading our Nine Lessons and Carols service. Meredith, about 11, began the service by singing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City solo. Later, Sebastian, 9, read the first lesson. He doesn’t have a naturally loud voice, but he read the long lesson clearly and perfectly. And I think it was his first time to read a lesson. He did better his first time than I did!

Meredith and Sebastian’s leadership enhanced the worship in a way an adult or clergyman could not.

And to me, one of the most electric moments in the church year is when a sole boy begins the Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College by singing the first verse of Once in Royal City before a full chapel and a world wide audience of millions. For many, including me, that tingling place in time is the beginning of Christmas.

Giving such weighty leadership in worship to a boy was a foreign thing to me before I began to be lured by Anglicanism. And, especially at Christmas, it is indeed one of the glories of Anglicanism.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Christmas First

This has been a special Christmas for me. Among other things, this was my first time to participate in a Nine Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve.

Since we are a small church, I did two readings as Lector. Doing the last reading, John 1:1-14, is an experience I won’t forget. To read such a powerful passage as the final lesson on Christmas Eve . . . wow. I’d practically have to be as inspired as St. John to describe what that’s like. I almost floated back to my seat afterward. And I think I read it close to perfectly, too.

(I’ll probably make another post relevant to that service the next day or two.)

I hope you all have had an excellent Christmas, too. And, remember, the Christmas season doesn’t end until Epiphany. My lights are defiantly staying up!

Friday, December 23, 2005

A big lump of coal for the ACLU

I’ve been in a Christmasy mood lately, really ever since I got back from England. But reading about an excellent ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has made my mood even better.

A long time annoyance to me is the myth that the Constitution requires “a wall of separation between church and state.” Well, the court put that myth and its propagators in their place:

Writing for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Richard Suhrheinrich said the ACLU's "repeated reference 'to the separation of church and state' ... has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state."

Yessss! A high court finally has the guts and knowledge of history to come out and tell the truth.

By the way, the ACLU lost the Ten Commandments case 3-0.

I could gloat some more and call for the ACLU lawyers to be publicly flogged. But they have gotten a pretty good flogging already . . . and it’s Christmas.

And on that note, Merry Christmas to all my kind readers!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

About those Megachurches closing for Christmas Day

While in England, I noted with interest the controversy over several megachurches not holding any services this Sunday Christmas Day. (I’m glad to see my former church with megachurch tendencies is not among them. They will have services both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Kudos to Denton Bible Church.)

There’s a number of things I could say, but I see over at titusonenine that my favorite evangelical ECUSA rector has just about said it all with very few words.

Said Fr. David Roseberry, “`Closed for Sunday' is the sign that hangs in a business, not a church.”


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I saw the Narnia movie yesterday. . . .

Some friends invited me to come see the Chronicles of Narnia with them, so I went.

I enjoyed it, at least the last half. The first half dragged a bit.

I’m glad I went. And the acting and most (but not all) of the special effects were good. But overall the movie is not in the same league as, say, The Lord of the Rings.

I can see why people’s reactions to the movie are often colored by their reaction to the Gospel. If the Gospel moves you, so will the last half of the movie, because the Gospel is there and presented well. I know I was quite moved at times.

And that goes for those who are moved by the Gospel in a negative way, too. I can see that if someone is offended by the Gospel, he may well be offended by the movie as well.

Keep that in mind as you read reviews both pro and con.

By the way, there was more than a little publicity about the movie over in England. I guess that’s to be expected, particularly with the C. S. Lewis connection.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Free hotel internet . . . or not

Reading a National Geographic Traveler article (Sorry. I don’t think it’s online.) on hotel internet and how some hotels abuse or even lie to guests expecting free internet reminds me of past hotel experiences.

One particular hotel in England shall remain nameless because they resolved the situation to my satisfaction after I made my displeasure known (and provided an otherwise excellent stay). I had researched this hotel and expected free internet with my pricey room. But when I arrived I discovered that not only was it not free, but that the access charges were exorbitant.

As I told them when I left, this is the 21st century and many travelers expect and require free internet with their rooms, especially if room charges are high already. Hotels that don’t provide that will and already do lose business. Such hotels are sooo last millennium.

My policy is that if a hotel does not have free internet, it greatly decreases my chances of staying there. When on the road, looking to turn in for the night, I’ve more than once skipped hotels that don’t provide free internet . . . even if I was tired and eager to get off the road.

But some hotels are less than forthcoming on just what kind of internet access they provide or whether it’s free or not. I’ve seen more than one web site that makes it appear it’s free when it’s not. Interestingly, I’ve found the more expensive hotels to be bad about that.

So in the future, I’ll double check whether internet access is free or not before making any reservations. And I recommend you do likewise if you are an online kind of guy like myself.

And, hotels, get with it. The 20th Century is over.
Conflict in Church of England about to get hotter

Conflict in the Church of England between traditionalists and revisionists is about to get hotter and soon. For now that the new UK Civil Partnership law has come into effect, there will be CofE clergy who will, um, “marry” their gay partners. One Darlington vicar has announced his intention to do just that this week. How Christmasy.

Such public actions present the powers that be in the Church of England with an unhappy choice: force such marrying kinds among gay clergy (And I’m referring to those who have no intention to practice celibacy.) to stand down and make the revisionists explode in anger or do little or nothing and anger the orthodox and increase divisions with them. You can guess what actions I think should be taken, but whatever church authorities do, divisions in the Church of England will deepen and become more heated.

As far as the Anglican Communion is concerned, you can toss any hope of it remaining together if the CofE tolerates sexually active gay marriages/partnerships/whateveryouwanttocallthem among the clergy.

Now, the announced policy is that same-sex civil partnerships among the clergy are o.k., but that they must not be sexually active. Well, we’ll see if that’s a wink and a nudge or not.

When the CofE announced their policy about clergy civil partnerships, I posted that they were asking for trouble. We’re about to find out how much trouble.

More links and comments over at titusonenine.

Monday, December 19, 2005

England photos

I am not even close to getting all my best England photos up, but I got to work and posted some at my new Photobucket site. I do have all my better Cambridge pics up. Enjoy.

I’ll try to post more photos in the next few days.

Oh, they are in reverse chronological order. So you might want to start at the end of the last page.

Note that King’s College Chapel was the first stop. Yes, it was a magnet to me. Stopping there when was I barely off the bus was quite a thrill.
From the Santa is Satan Dept.

New Zealand Santas go on drunken rampage.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bach Rocks.

When I travel I always discover things about myself. Well, over in England, I discovered I really like Bach, especially his organ pieces which are a staple of church organ recitals over there.

If you like Bach, you might want to know that BBC Radio 3 is now doing a Bach marathon all the way up to Christmas.

Guess what I’m listening to.
My, how I have changed.

Something that may amuse you in light of yesterday’s post:
I distinctly remember seeing traditional Episcopal church signs in the 80’s -- before I even heard the word “Anglican” -- emphasizing that they were 1928 BCP parishes. And I thought it strange to get so worked up over a prayer book.

Yes, I have changed.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Tossing the Prayer Book in the Church of England

You may remember that when I visited Canterbury Cathedral, I was repelled by the liturgy there – Advent collects omitted, the Lord’s Prayer so tampered with I couldn’t recite it even while looking at the words in front of me, and more.

Well, as noted over on titusonenine, I’m not the only one appalled by the state of the liturgy in England. I unfortunately missed it while I was there, but the Telegraph ran a column denouncing the Church of England’s wholesale tossing of the Book of Common Prayer.

May I remind the reader that the 1662 BCP is still the official prayer book of the Church of England. Well, Canterbury sure doesn’t act like it. And it’s far from alone.

Now I’ll try to be charitable and say replacing the BCP with Common Worship is probably well meaning. One motive is surely to be more inclusive and make the liturgy more accessible to people.

But the effect is the opposite. It’s divisive. It divides the generations. Older folks used to the real BCP (and traditionalists like myself) fumble along in modern liturgy services. And even once they get used to modern liturgy, a lot of them flat don’t like it. They sure don’t get included much. It divides us further from our spiritual ancestors, taking our prayers further and further away from the prayers they prayed.

And it risks dividing us from the truth. Think about that old childhood game of whispering a message around a circle. By the time the message comes back around, it’s mangled. Excessive tampering with the liturgy risks the same thing. That’s the nature of language. Certainly, in omitting wonderful collects, the Canterbury priests were omitting at least a portion of their truth. (I noticed sloppiness about collects elsewhere in England, but Canterbury was the worst.)

And remember I attended more prominent places of worship. If they played fast and loose with the liturgy, what does that say about the Church of England as a whole?

An aside: there is a strong force in the Church of England that preserves traditional liturgy to some extent – choral music. All the great choral church pieces use the good old BCP.* So if you go to Choral Evensong in England, you are guaranteed to get good traditional liturgy . . . at least while the choir is singing.

*Later, it occurred to me that's not quite correct. But the point remains that choral music encourages sticking to the BCP.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I like Christmas lights.

This is the first Christmas at home for me since I was a kid. So I decided to put up some Christmas lights for the first time. I like them. For some reason, they give me a warm feeling. I even kept them on all night, so I’d see them when I woke up from time to time.

I’ve always liked Christmas lights. I remember my mom driving us around to look at them. And she gave me my own Christmas tree with lights for my room. She even let me have the tacky red flocking on it that was big in the 60’s and that I liked (maybe so our big tree could be normal).

That’s probably part of the reason I like lights. They make me recapture that childhood feeling of Christmas awe. Plus they are just pretty.

But I’m not ever going to be one of those who get into Christmas light competitions with neighbors. ;^)
A ruling that warms this anti-smoking heart

This morning, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out a ridiculous $10 billion verdict against Philip Morris. And I am rejoicing (in spite of feeling a bit cruddy from lingering jet lag).

Now, you may be puzzled. For, as you may have noticed, I have anti-smoking tendencies. No, let’s put it plainly. I can be an anti-smoking Nazi. I’ve walked out of restaurants with inadequate non-smoking seats. I’ve voted with enthusiasm to ban smoking in said restaurants. I’ve (mostly politely) told inconsiderate people to get their cigarettes out of my face. I consider habitually subjecting children to second-hand smoke to be child abuse. I do often flex about smoking friends if I wish, but you get the picture. If people want to smoke, fine, that’s their decision . . . as long as unwilling others don’t have to breathe their smoke or pay their medical bills.

I rant mention this rather unsympathetic side of me so you know my rejoicing in today’s ruling has nothing to do with a love for Philip Morris’ products. Why I rejoice is that people who don’t take responsibility for their own actions, but instead sue for millions when their actions have logical consequences should be put in their place.

Heck, for at least 40 years, the government has been warning people that smoking can kill you. I know because that was drummed into me in elementary school. And prominent warning labels have been on cigs longer than that. If people continued to smoke during that time and ended up killing themselves, IT’S THEIR OWN @#$% FAULT! Yes, their death is still sad, and lung cancer and emphysema and the like is a terrible way to go, but it’s still their fault.

But for people (or their families) to then sue as if it’s not their fault, and for courts to actually give such suits the time of day is outrageous. That $10 billion verdict was beyond outrageous. Rewarding a total lack of personal responsibility like that . . . don’t get me started.

That’s the bottom line for me in such cases – personal responsibility. If you do something stupid and pay the consequences, then at the very least accept that it’s your fault and don’t try to win the litigation lottery from it.

To be fair, most smokers have that much character and try not to inflict their smoke on the unwilling and certainly don’t whine to the courts. But those who don’t have that much common decency get me smoking. I’m glad to see one such set of smokers and their money-grubbing lawyers get put in their place. May it happen again and again and again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I'm back home now. Wow, I forgot just how nice Corpus air is. That freshness, warmth, and humidity perked me right up when I got off the plane.

I don't trust my brain enough at this time to write more than that. So that will have to do for now. Thanks again for all the guidance and kind words.
Day 22: Waiting for the flight to Texas

I might as well fill in some random stuff while I’m waiting for my gate to be announced.

Remember that New College chorister next to me who sang so well? He was one of the three soloists at the concert last night. I guess I do have a good ear. I think he had a rough night though. He nailed, and I mean nailed his first solo during Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. It was great. But he seemed to have a little trouble with his second solo, and he seemed unhappy the rest of the concert. Poor guy.

I heard King’s College last year do the Ceremony of Carols in Dallas. Sorry, my Oxford friends. King’s is better. Purer voices, more precise singing, and the boys sound more like trebles instead of like sopranos.

The British Library was great. To see the Codex Sinaiticus, among other treasures . . . wow. The 4th century Codex is the earliest complete copy of the New Testament. And it looks to be in great shape.

Ah, they announced the gate. I’m off.
Day 21: Ready to go home

posted the next morning at Gatwick Airport

I’ve had a good final day. The British Library, Evensong at St. Paul’s, and a concert from the choir of New College, Oxford are the highlights. (I might comment on those later.) And I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to come to England.

At the same, I’m ready to go home. And isn’t returning home one of the better parts of a trip? I think this trip was about the right length.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Day 20 and I’m tired!

Yes, I’m a bit tired from having full days and walking around London. But I’ll try to post a bit. (This may be my last post before I fly home, btw.)

I went to St. Mary’s Bourne Street. The worship was indeed excellent. (And I could wholeheartedly participate in everything but the Angellus at the end, and I’m not even sure I can spell that.) And they actually wore reddish Rose vestments on Gaudette Sunday (3rd Sunday in Advent), not the pink ones you see many places.

But you know what? I like the worship and the friendliness better at Smokey Matt’s back in Dallas. (And it’s the rector there that recommended St. Mary’s.)

From there, I walked through a district of oh-so-exclusive shops, Gucci, Armani, etc., to Hyde Park. It’s big. Then I got some very reasonable Chinese food and went to the Abbey’s Evensong again, then to an organ recital at Westminster Cathedral, then back to the Abbey for another organ recital. I told you about the walking.

I took a good last look at the Abbey and Big Ben at night before walking back to the hotel.

Philippians 4:4 and following was the introit at St. Mary’s, the second lesson at the Abbey, one of the few passages I’ve read as Lector and I think will be the epistle lesson this next Sunday at home. I wonder if God is trying to tell me something.

I’m also wondering if my ears make me like boys’ voices and church organs more than most people. I’m serious. People who know me know my ears are weird. I have good hearing, but it’s too good. I can’t filter out background noise and understand conversation in noisy places, and certain high-pitched noises are beyond my endurance. Yet when boy choristers hit a note just so and when a big cathedral organ really cranks, it literally gives me a rush. Maybe my hypersensitivity to certain sounds makes those good sounds affect me more.

If anyone wants to medically test me on this, they are welcome to . . . as long as I get to listen to the best choirs and organs. Financing another trip to England will do.

I stood on Darwin’s grave as I waited to enter Evensong at the Abbey. Heh, heh. Later, I noticed David Livingstone is buried in the middle of the Nave.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Day 19: Piccadilly Circus and a wonderful Westminster Evensong

The weather has turned nice in London. I still overhear people complaining about the cold. But 45 degrees, no wind, and a little sun is about as good as it’s been on my trip. So I did another walkabout, up to the Piazza, then over to Piccadilly Circus, and back though St. James Park to my hotel again. (Yes, I have a nice hotel in a good location. I decided to splurge for my last stop in London.)

By Buckingham Palace towards the beginning of my walk, I saw what seemed to be some random flummery with some uniformed horsemen riding up the Mall. I found out it’s the Changing of the Horse Guard (not to be confused with the more famous Changing of the Guard). Near the Changing, I ran into this very friendly Australian of Scottish extraction. Doesn’t that sound scary? He must drive the more reserved English nuts. We had a fun conversation on political history until I told him I had to go. (And I did. I needed to finish my walk by 2pm so I could get to Evensong early.)

On Charring Cross Road, I was impressed by the bookshops, but didn’t find any particular book I wanted. With my full suitcases and the cost of shipping books to the U. S., that might be a good thing.

Piccadilly Circus lived up to its name. Among other things, a Muslim anti-anti-Terrorism march went by. The two antis aren’t a typo. They were protesting against the war on terrorism. And anyone who has negative suspicions towards Muslims would have had those confirmed by looking at the banners, which equated war on terror with war on Islam. That they were inadvertently (or not) equating Islam with terror didn’t seem to bother them. They were also protesting against discrimination against the color orange as that was the color of all their banners.

Remember all those lefties of the 80’s who insisted that they weren’t pro-Communist, but always opposed anti-Communists? Who were anti-anti-Communists? Well, there were a lot of anti-anti-Terrorists marching today.

After enjoying the crazy birds in St. James Park and resting not as much as I wanted, I went to Evensong at Westminster Abbey. It was wonderful. I was thinking beforehand that I haven’t been to a service that really got a hold on me since Oxford. Well, this one got a big hold on me.

The choir sounded great, and their pieces were well chosen. I got to sit next to the choir again (I think most are shy about that. There were about 20 or more people before me.), and I noticed the chorister across the aisle from me had a good voice. Well, lo and beyond, when they sang Dyson’s Magnificat, he was the soloist. To be right by the soloist for such an excellent canticle was special. And he did well. After he finished, his chorister friends gave him quiet affirmation. And when he, smiling, turned in my direction, I gave him a nod, too.

An anthem from Isaiah 35 by Samuel Wesley moved me as well. Really, I can’t think of anything that wasn’t well chosen and done well. The service and its content gave me so much joy, I had to control my emotions at times, seeing I was sitting right next to the choir.

The second lesson was the passage from St. Paul where he says “the dead in Christ will rise first.” I thought with the over 3,000 buried in the Abbey, that might make quite a mess of the place.

I’m so glad I went. I’ll be back tomorrow for Evensong. For Sunday morning, I think I’m still going to St. Mary’s on Bourne St. on the recommendation of the rector of Smokey Matt’s.

An amusing part of Anglican culture is how much we like to sit in the back. In my home parish, the front quarter of the church is almost abandoned most services. And here in England, the places on honor are on the back rows. At the colleges, members and fellows sit on the back row. In Westminster Abbey, the Queen’s seat is in back right by the screen. (You must remember this is quire seating with the congregation facing each other. And the back row is three rows up. We’re not talking about seats way back in the nave of the cathedrals and chapels. But still.)

If you’re uncouth like me, this is great because you arrive just a little early, you get to sit right next to some of the best choirs in the world. This is one part of me that ain’t Anglican, and I’m glad!

Yesterday, when I was near Downing Street, I think history passed me by, and I didn’t even know it at the time. All these photographers were taking pictures of traffic. I thought maybe they were taking pictures of somebody Frightfully Important going to see the Prime Minister, but nothing seemed odd in the traffic to me. Later, I discovered the Routemaster, a historic double-decker bus was doing its last regular London bus route that day. It’s been quite a big deal. (There are still a lot of double-decker buses, but they are much more modern.) I wish I knew what was going on. I would have taken a photo or two myself.
Day 18: Westminster Abbey and more

I had good reason not to post yesterday. I barely had a free moment, I was having so much fun. And I’ll have to condense this one, too.

I started by going to Westminster Abbey. On good advice, I took the verger tour. I recommend it as well. You get to be right by the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor for one thing. Other visitors can’t do that.

Some of many graves in the Abbey were the highlights for me: Elizabeth I and Bloody Mary buried in the same tomb; the spot where Oliver Cromwell was buried before he was dug up and treated rather nastily. I was most moved by the places where Edward VI and Handel are buried. Edward VI’s place is very easy to miss and without the verger tour I probably would have missed it – beneath the altar in the lady chapel.

Charles Darwin is buried in the Abbey, too, by the way.

When I left about 1pm, the line to get in was long. I’d hate to see what it’s like during peak tourist season.

I then walked up to Downing Street. While I was there, someone Terribly Important was ushered through the iron gates. I could tell he/she was Terribly Important because they had a press conference before #10 and were driven in with three cars. More cars and it would be Frightfully Important.

I continued to Trafalgar Square where I caught the end of one of the famous lunchtime concerts in St. Martin-in-the-Fields church. After gawking at a silly new unisex statue in the Square, I walked through St. James Park back to the hotel. Quite a nice walk. Then I rested a bit and did more, but I want to get this day started. So that’s enough posting for now.
Day 17: Tower of London Plus

posted later

This has been a full and fun day. I could make a very long post, so I’ll stick to comments most relevant to Anglicans. (I will say my nerves have been fine since the first day. I’ve been relaxed and having fun since. Thanks to those who have expressed concern.)

I went to the Tower of London in the morning. At 9:30am, it was close to disserted, which was nice. I took some good advice (You know who you are. ;^) and went to the Crown Jewels first and gawked at them to my hearts delight without having to dodge other gawkers.

Something I’ve noticed in a number of places I’ve been is the excellent craftsmanship of centuries ago. Those who think those were “The Dark Ages” or uncivilized need to think again. Often the workmanship of long ago is much better than that of the 20th Century.

It got more crowded later, especially with school kids, which is cool, too. I think they visit sites during times of year when the tourists aren’t around. So I’ve seen a lot of English school kids.

The Chapel of St. Johns in the Tower is simple but beautiful with its two layers of Romanesque arches. I was moved by the Chapel Royal, mainly by the presence of Lady Jane Grey. She was executed by Bloody Mary in front of the chapel then buried under the altar. Thinking her body was there . . . it’s hard to describe how that affected me.

It’s strange how the bodies of royal executees were treated. They were buried in the most desirable place underneath the altar. But they were given no plaque or pavement stone. And their families could not visit them if they were buried anywhere in the Tower.

After the lunch in the Tower (Not very good.), I visited All Hallows by the Tower. It’s green copper spire is hard to miss. Inside, it combines elements all the way from its ancient Saxon beginnings to today. Yet it works, and it’s interesting.

Later on, I attended Solemn Mass for the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Westminster Cathedral. Yes, it was a bit Marian, just a little. And much of it was in Latin, which I like. I thought Latin Catholics were getting in trouble for that a few years back. Anyway, a bishop presided over it. I think it was the Catholic Archbishop around here. And yes, the choir was quite good, even though they were wayyyyy up there behind the altar. No sitting by the choir here.

Further, the worship lacked the intimacy of the Anglican worship I’ve experienced, especially here in England. Even in Anglican cathedrals, you can easily sit close to the choir and the celebrants. But not at Westminster Cathedral. I like intimate worship better.

Oh, and when people went up to take the sacrament, there wasn’t much order, you just got up when you wanted, not the row by row thing us Anglicans do. (I didn’t go up.) And it was in one kind (Bread only.). I really don’t like that. This sinner wants and needs both kinds.

The music and ceremony were excellent. Yet, the very Marian aspects turned me into a spectator for much of the time. But that’s fine. They’re Roman Catholick, and I’m not. And I’m still glad I went. I might go back on Sunday afternoon to hear the organ. It cranks!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Day 16: First afternoon in London

Well, I’m off to a good start in London, though a bit shakey . . . literally. I’ve been nervous at times since I got here, and I’m not sure why. Probably a combination of things.

I walked over to Westminster (Catholic) Cathedral to get a music list. But once there, I walked about. I was very impressed. Especially considering it was built in the late 19th century (not a good century in my opinion), it was done very creatively, with a lot of taste, and without a lot of Victorianism or obnoxious Modernism, thanks be to God . . . or whatever the Catholics say.

Then I just walked around, mainly in St. James Park. It was relaxing. And it was fun to see all the birds and animals expect to be fed. I even saw a squirrel eat out of someone’s hands. If London gets on your nerves, St. James Park is a good place to go. And take some food if you like to feed birds. (I just told them, “What? You expect ME to feed YOU?”)

Well, I’m about to meet some online acquaintances at a pub. It will be a bittersweet (and maybe awkward) occasion because one of their friends just suddenly died at only 27. If you see this in the next hour or two, pray for us and our time.

Tidbit: I just found out it’s supposed to be colder in Corpus Christi than here the next couple days.
In the interests of time, I’m combining posts.

Day 14: Not a good start in Canterbury

Written 12-5-05, late afternoon

Canterbury and I are not off to a good start.

As soon as settled in my room, I went to the Cathedral West Gate. And I was disappointed to see that the Evening Prayer this evening is not sung, but said. I soon noticed the reason why – The BBC was doing a special Christmas Concert in the Cathedral. And soon after that I found out it was sold out.

Now I have checked in on the Cathedral website for months. And I also had an exchange of e-mails. From that, I was confident I would get to go to two Evensongs sung by the choir in the two nights I am here. I very carefully planned my itinerary that way. At no time, including yesterday, did the website mention this concert or the said evening prayer. No, they didn’t even have up the service sheets for this week.

I visited the offices and politely but firmly let them know what I thought of this, as is right for me to do. This is no way to treat visitors who have literally crossed oceans to visit this place, and they should be confronted on it. They apologized, and now I get to practice forgiveness. But there is no excuse for this.

What if I was here for only one night? Wow. And to make things worse, the BBC’s sound check preparations inside the Cathedral got obnoxiously earsplitting.

If you think I’m a whiner, think again. If the choir all got the flu or there was some other unfortunate unforeseen event that changed the schedule on little notice, I would understand.

But for there to be a planned event, and for visitors to have little way to find out from the website in time to change their plans . . . . Like I said, that’s no way to treat visitors.

(To belabor the point and to give an example of the right way to handle things: I would like to go back to King’s College on Friday to look at and research their stained glass. But I see from their site that their opening times that day are not the usual ones and don’t make that very easy for me to do. That’s fine. And I appreciate them giving good prior notice.)

Now the hot water is out as I try to take a bath (no shower). I’m not liking Canterbury right now.

Later: Said Evening Prayer in the crypt where St. Thomas Becket’s tomb used to be, followed by a generous helping of fish and chips calmed me down a bit.

But as I later walked around the Cathedral precincts, in a slightly mischievous mood, debating whether to try to sneak into the Holy BBC service, something occurred to me: they are celebrating the One for whom there was no room in the inn by having a “service” which has no room in all of Canterbury Cathedral for pilgrims without connections.

And I decided I didn’t want to be in there anyway.

Just before 9pm, the Cathedral bell rang. And as it rang, it began raining. It was haunting.

Day 15: Cacophony in the Cathedral and a Memorable Time of Prayer

It’s a week until I leave England. Though I’m still looking forward to doings here, I’m looking forward to home, especially my church friends.

O. K. Let’s get this over with. I’m beginning to wonder if Canterbury Cathedral is capable of doing a service right. 8am Holy Communion was a Common Worship mish-mash. You’d think they’d know that people who would show up for an 8am service are probably pretty traditional. Maybe they just want to cram modern liturgy down our throats. Oh, and the priest left out the two Advent collects. Will he forget Christmas Day, too?

But surely Choral Evensong would be excellent, right? Wrong. The choir just did not sound very good. The boys’ voices in particular sounded weak or off in a number of places. (That’s not their fault, of course. Maybe the conductor had them too busy working for the BBC.) And the organ. . . . It’s hard to displease me with a cathedral organ. But both the organ and the organist sounded like crap. Up to now, I’ve taken in just about every organ postlude in the services here in England. And usually it sent me out with a spring in my step. Tonight, it just sent me out. I was out the door before it was finished. It was that awful.

I certainly hope my experience in the Cathedral these two days is not typical. If it is, the Dean should be sacked.

I’m going to venture to 7:30 Matins next to the Martyrdom in the morning. It would be hard to mess that up in such a special location. But if I walk over there and find out it’s going to be Common Worship or the like, I’m walking right back.

In any case, I’m out of here tomorrow morning, and not a moment too soon.

Other than the services, it was a good day. I spent most of the morning studying the wealth of circa 1200 stained glass in the Cathedral. It’s wonderful, and sometimes funny, too. The Becket Miracle Windows have some fun stories. The healing of Mad Matilda is my favorite. And I must have spent a good half hour gazing at the Bible Windows. The stained glass, like many of my experiences in England, reminded me of my links with saints of the past.

Yes, I’ve had to remind myself not to let the present problems at the Cathedral keep me from enjoying its past. And its past is glorious.

I had lunch with an online Scottish acquaintance. It was a fun time.

Then I walked over to St. Martin’s Church, the oldest church in continuous use in Britain. It even predates St. Augustine. It’s in a beautiful setting that was haunting on this grey day, surrounded by trees and gravestones.

Inside, the attendant was very helpful. And I had two times of prayer there that meant a lot to me. I thanked God for His grace in sending the Gospel to Britain and on to America. And I prayed for some friends to come to faith.

Like I said, to pray in such a place meant a lot to me. I didn’t expect this to be the highlight of my two days in Canterbury, but it certainly was.

As I left, I noticed the little church is only open three days a week. I was thankful I happened to come on one of those days.

You late night coffeehouse cool cats . . . you are out of luck in England. All the coffeehouses close at dinner time, even in the college cities. I was craving for a decaf mocha after dinner tonight, but no such luck. Even the Starbucks below me was closed. (Yes, there is a Starbucks next to the Cathedral.)

Did I mention I wanna go home? Nah, I do want to make the most of my last stop in London. But I’m glad I’m home in a week.

Day 16: To London, thanks be to God.

Sure enough, they used Common Worship for Matins. They didn’t even say the proper collects. No, I didn’t walk out or say anything. I’m considering a letter to the Dean later about their disregard for pilgrims and traditional Anglican worship.

Time to eat breakfast, pack, and get out of Canterbury.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Day 13: A Four Service Day

Today, my last day in Oxford, is a four service day, which has to be a record for me.

First, I went to a quiet 8am Holy Communion 1662 BCP service at St. Michael’s at the North Gate. I was the youngest there, of course. I wanted to take communion in a traditional way, in part so I wouldn’t have to make a decision in case I felt uncomfortable with the goings-on at Christ Church later.

After the service we had a breakfast of tea and toast – very English – and fun conversation. They were amused to hear there are places in Texas where you can’t buy liquor.

Then was 10am Mattins at Christ Church Cathedral. A nice service, proclaimed by much bell ringing outside. You can tell I like that, don’t you. And I was quite impressed with the choir. The boys were a bit exuberant. They seemed very happy to be there to worship the Lord at the beginning of the service. They also surreptitiously conversed and threw bits of paper at each other during the sermon.

Oh. I sang “Lo, He comes” all the way through. First time.

I stayed for the 11:15am Sung Eucharist. Their services are by Christ Church time, by the way, which is five minutes slower than normal time. (Imagine the fun if it were the other way around.) This service wasn’t so nice. Crap modern liturgy, not overtly obnoxious, but wearisome. They even modernized the Lord’s Prayer. And the only male I can remember saying anything (other than the choir) was the lector for the first lesson.

The choir again was excellent though with some making faces at each other. So I’m about to go back for Evensong.

This afternoon was actually sunny. So I just walked around for a bit. I think I’ve discovered one reason Americans are fat – their dependence on the automobile. In Oxford and Cambridge and in most of the world, people actually walk to get where they want to go, even if they are walking to a train or bus. Other than running to Westminster Abbey, my only exercise has been walking to get around. And in spite of my increased beer intake, I don’t think I’ve gained a pound.

Evensong was excellent with good liturgy. One chorister began it by flicking the ear of the one next to him. I don’t know which of the three choral foundations in Oxford is the best. All three are quite good, to put it mildly. But I know which one is the most entertaining.

And go to Evensong early, and you might catch the end of their practice. You can’t do that with the other big choirs.

I have to put in a word for the organist as well. I want to say his name is Clive-Smith, but I can’t swear to it. His preludes and postludes were top notch. He can play very calming and peaceful pieces well . . . and he can rock!

Tomorrow morning, I attempt to get to Canterbury. Don’t be alarmed if I don’t post for a couple days, however. I might wait until London to bother to get online. (And forgive any typos in this post. I want to eat, pack, and get to bed.)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Days 11 and 12: King’s College Choir Concert in London

Yesterday morning, I saw the door of the prison cell where Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley were held. It’s in the tower of St. Michael’s at the North Gate, just down Ship Street, the oldest building in Oxford.

I had an excellent ticket to the King’s College Choir concert at St. John’s Smith Square in London. So I walked over to the Oxford train station, getting there about 2:20. Plenty of time to go to Evensong at Westminster Abbey with probably a visit to St. Margaret’s first, right?

Wrong! My opinion of the train system in London is not high right now. Let’s leave it at that. I’m not looking forward to using it to get to Canterbury, carrying my luggage.

So my first view of the Abbey was while I was running to it to try to get to the 5pm service as it started. Fortunately, I only missed the introit.

As I walked outside afterwards, I got my first view ever of Big Ben. It was a surprise, because I thought it was further north. To see it for the first time at night is spectacular!

The concert was excellent, of course. But some of the organ compositions were weird and not well chosen in my opinion. Oh, I met another composer, Judith Bingham. She was sitting next to me and is quite pleasant. (It’s probably good we didn’t talk about organ compositions.)

Taking the train back was a bit more tolerable. I actually got back to my Oxford room before midnight. There were plenty of end of term student revelers about.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do today other than go to Magdalen for Evensong and an organ recital. I’m a bit tired of going around gawking at old buildings.

Later: I started by going to the Ashmolean Museum. I’m glad I went. But I didn’t stay long. The Fitzwilliam in Cambridge is much more interesting.

I’ve noticed students moving their worldly goods out. And with the end of term, many of the colleges are closed. But, on the Good Professor’s suggestion, I wanted to see the chapels of Lincoln and Wadham Colleges. And both places, the gentleman in front kindly waved me through providing I’d not go elsewhere.

Both chapels are very nice. I didn’t mind gawking at them at all. The early 17th century stained glass in both is wonderful. The themes in both chapels are similar: prophets on the left, apostles on the right, with the Apostle’s Creed in Latin beneath them. Since the apostles have the light of the Gospel, the sunlight shines through their windows. And both chapels have outstanding east windows full of Old Testament types and New Testament fulfillments.

Kids (and me) would appreciate the wonderful great fish shown with Jonah in both chapels.

One of the pluses of performing modern church music is most of the audience can’t tell if a harsh note is the performer messing up . . . or just part of the composition.

Perhaps the best sandwich place I’ve found anywhere in the world is Harvey’s on High Street just above Magdalen. And each time I go there, they give me free stuff. Be aware, though, that they barely speak English and usually have loud (but good) dance music playing.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Day 10: The Bodleian Library.

posted the following day

Today, I visited Oxford University’s famous Bodleian Library. I started at the old Divinity School room where Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley were examined. (Read “show trial.”)

While waiting for a tour, I walked across Radcliffe Square to the University Church and again contemplated and touched where Cranmer confessed the Faith before being led off to be burned. I was deeply moved again. But then I remembered he was cheerful as he was led to his martyrdom, so I thought, “Enough of that.”

Incidentally, the spire of the University Church is big and scary. Oh, and the crowned statue of Mary over the High Street door was used against Archbishop Laud in his trial. It seems all sorts of Anglicans get in trouble there. Maybe I should steer clear of the place.

Back at the Divinity School, I spent a lot of time looking at the amazing 15th century fan vaulted ceiling. It’s a design that is close to unique. (By the way, after I get back, I think I’m going to break down and create a picture site and show you some of these things.)

And I bought this excellent book on illuminated Bibles in the store there. A few weeks ago, I’m not sure I could tell anyone what an illuminated book was. But prompted by the Cambridge Illuminations exhibition, I now find the subject fascinating, especially with Christian books.

The tour itself was a treat. Of course, we saw shelves upon shelves of oldddd books. I don’t know why that makes my jaw drop, but it does. Annnd we went into the Radcliffe Camera, which most of the public doesn’t get to do. It’s a spectacular building, but sure doesn’t use space efficiently. Those Victorians!

The way my schedule and the chapels’ schedule has worked out, I’ve gone to the evening service at Magdalen every night but one. But that may be providential. Tonight, I was blown away. Their services really put the awe and peace and joy of God into me.

I used to think it a waste of time and very Cafflick to go to services everyday. I still think that can become a trap of substituting services for other things God would have us do. But my visit to England is very much reinforcing my understanding of those who do like to go to services everyday. For at least three weeks, I’m one of them.


If you ever visit Oxford and manage to avoid 1. stepping on a burial site and 2. walking into a bicycle, let me know. Graves and bicycles are everywhere here.

Here, I’ve used an umbrella for the first time in many years. . . . And I’ve used it quite a bit.

England is the only place I’ve been where it regularly gets colder in the afternoon.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Day 9: St. Andrews Day in Oxford

posted the following day

I’ve had an excellent St. Andrews Day here in Oxford. In the morning, I visited the Cathedral and College of Christ Church, and it was well worth the price of admission.

The dining Hall is huge and lined with portraits. You can easily see how it inspired the dining hall in the Harry Potter films (parts of which were filmed at Christ Church).

In the Cathedral, a gentleman offered a tour, and I took him up on it. He pointed out details I would have missed, such as the anachronistic flush toilet in one stained glass window. And he was impressed that I knew more of Anglicanism and English history than the average tourist.

I could say more and would advise Christ Church as a priority stop for anyone visiting Oxford.

In the evening, I went to Magdalen again for Sung Eucharist. Yes, they broke out the incense, which seemed to be blowing in my direction at one point.

It was an impressive service in a number of ways. The highlight for me was the choir singing the Sanctus. A chorister started it as a solo, then the rest of the choir joined in and it slowly built to a crescendo. I don’t think I’ve ever so fervently worshiped during a Sanctus before.

And it was fun earlier exchanging the peace with a cheerful chorister.

But what most impressed me about the service was that it was full and unrushed, at a worshipful pace, yet only took about 45 minutes. And I’ve mentioned that their also meditatively paced Evening Prayer service the other night took only 30 minutes. I don’t know how they do it. But with students’ rushed schedules, that’s very smart to have services that are unrushed, yet brief.

Then I had dinner and a pint at The Eagle and the Child and saw where C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and friends held forth.

Then I walked over to a violin concerto at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. They played Beethoven’s only complete violin concerto. Both it and its history are very interesting and somewhat complex. There’s a teenager at my church who is something of a violin prodigy. I’ll have to tell him about it when I get back.

Have I mentioned this is quite a musical place? Often I hear rehearsals when I walk through a college or into a church.