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Hallo again to all.

It's dreary midwinter here in the northern hemisphere. In such weather, we're far more likely to brood longer, with less result, on church matters. We brood on everything from the complex issues of human sexuality stirring our Communion to childish preoccupations with liturgical trivia. And yet in late winter, all can be magnified to proportions far beyond the sensible.

For years we have subscribed to Anglican mailing lists, of all varieties. Recently we've noticed that members have taken to forwarding, with increasing frequency, articles and stories that support their particular position. Rather than inspiring a vigorous and enlightening exchange, the cumulative forwards seem mostly to dampen interaction. Perhaps the mass of forwarded opinion is supposed to reflect: 'Look at how many people think the way I do'. Or perhaps it is more: 'I forward, therefore I am'. Whatever the reason, the result becomes a sort of textual obsession: too much brooding in print.

Peeling potatoesOur Anglican heritage of reason, of using all one's mind to love the Lord, is one we cherish. And yet with this great heritage can come a tendency to overanalyse, which can lead to argument and intellectual bickering or, in the opposite direction, sloth and a vague miasma of 'What does it matter? I can't possibly solve this problem' -- the paralysis of analysis, as someone once quipped. Whether the issue is theological, philosophical, metaphysical, liturgical, practical, or some fiendish combination of all those things, we can obsess about it, lost in our speculative brooding.

There seem to be some matters on which Anglicans agree. The Trinity, for instance, is never likely to be understood this side of heaven. Apart from the inhabitants of senior common rooms in theological colleges, we seem not to talk about it: most of us are content to leave the Trinity as an impenetrable mystery and a doctrinal love song. But once, that doctrine was contested vehemently and protractedly. It served as the breeding ground of schisms, sparked heresies, and roiled Christendom for decades. Who of us today would find The Trinity a subject on which to work up such deep passions? Can we imagine a Windsor Report on the Holy Trinity?

Perhaps there has never been a time when the Church has not been preoccupied with one thing or another. It is only in our time -- when we would know instantly how a bishop in Australia responded to a measure passed in a Church of England synod -- that the intensity of communion-wide focus on this or that can seem too great for our own good. There is, of course, no solution. We can't go back. We can't return to quill pens and handwritten letters, we can't forsake the 'phone and stomp on webcams. But if we are wise, we might at least consider whether our broodings -- be they aloud in a parish meeting, written on an email list, in a letter to the editor, or tossed around in our own minds -- are deserving of the time and space we give them. Much pointless doodling seems to make its way into print and onto the air. That doesn't help to advance any cause, much less the Kingdom of Heaven.

We once read some good advice by one John Clark (whom we cannot identify beyond his name). Mr Clark wrote: 'When the metaphysical monster attacks, peel a potato'. We think that fine counsel indeed; a buoyantly practical antidote to late-winter brooding. See you at the kitchen sink.

And of course next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 30 January 2005

A thin blue line
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