Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Mythic Stories

Telling stories becomes a kind of addiction. Once you get the habit, you grab every opportunity to indulge it; and if a long time passes without its enjoyment, you start to suffer strange cravings, a wild restlessness and a sense of emptiness and futility.

We've just had our children's Holiday Club at church, which has become an annual event over the past few years. This year the format and timing were slightly different because of the change in the school year that Oxford have introduced: the move to a six term year. (I won't even try to explain this, since it passes all understanding and explanation. I think it's something to do with having a new director of education, and the severe temptation that so many people in new jobs suffer, to change things for the sake of it, just so that it looks as if they're doing something. This is surely one of the worst compulsions of modern times.)

During this Holiday Club, then, I had the opportunity to tell two stories: one of them was supposed to be the story of God's Greatest Rescue; in other words, the whole of salvation history in a five or ten minute story. This ended up - because I couldn't think of any other way, and because that was how the story told itself - as a mixture of the simply biblical: annunciation, birth, life of Jesus, crucifixion and resurrection; and the mythic or Miltonic: that all this was a part of the great drama of the good vs. evil struggle between God and his Old Enemy, the devil.

How can you tell this Big Story any other way? And yet, it feels not so very different from the Big Story of fundamentalism that Dave writes about. It simply is the Christian Story, as told by the Bible, Dante, Milton, C.S.Lewis, and all. Where is the boundary between the Story that changes lives, and the Story that destroys them?

I want to say, it's at the point where the person using the Story makes the move from the Imaginative to the Rational. You have to make that move. It's imagination that changes lives, more than ideas. But after your imagination has been engaged, you're bound to want to think about what it means, and what you have to do in consequence. The crucial thing is, how you make that transition. It's when you not only tell about hell, but start to measure it - its duration, temperature, population - that you begin to tear the wings off the butterfly of the soul, and force it into the shape of a dried stick.

One of the hardest temptations to resist, is the temptation felt by every preacher who tells a story, to go on and explain it. Jesus didn't do this - much to his disciples' distress, when they urged him to tell them what the parables meant. Nothing in my own ministry has convinced me so much of Jesus' superlative skill as a storyteller - the Storyteller - as the experience that when I have yielded to that temptation myself, it kills something precious. And so it must be when you turn an image into a dogma. The unquenchable fire that Jesus warns his listeners about is just such an image, designed to move your imagination so that you see the urgency and crisis of your present situation, and do something about it. Provided that the something you do is not to formulate the dogma of eternal punishment, and use it to deform people's souls and manipulate their lives.

I didn't mention hell in my story, as it happens. But I did mention 'God's old enemy' in a way that would become dualistic and Manichaeistic, if you made a dogma out of it. In the story, it was an image or device to make the hearers see that there is a conflict, an agon, and that we are synagonists in it.

posted by Tony at 8/31/2004 06:48:46 PM 1 comments

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Saint Pelagius (c.350-418)

The Northumbria Community, in its Celtic Daily Prayer book, keeps this day, traditionally the feast day of St Augustine of Hippo, as a celebration of the British theologian Pelagius, whom Augustine did so much to malign and persecute. The book has this to say about him:

Pelagius was a British theologian, teacher, writer and soul-friend who settled in Rome. He was highly spoken of at first - even by Augustine. He taught about the value of soul-friendship. He celebrated the fact that the goodness of God cries out through all of creation, for 'narrow shafts of divine light pierce the veil that separates heaven and earth'.

But soon he was criticised for teaching women to read Scripture, and for believing that the image of God is present in every new-born child, and that sex is a God-given aspect of our essential creation. He did not deny the reality of evil or its assault on the human soul, or the habitual nature of sin. Augustine's own peculiar ideas were in sharp contrast, seeing humanity as essentially evil, and polluted by the sexual activity which causes conception to occur.

Augustine tried twice in 415 to have him convicted of heresy - on both occasions Pelagius was exonerated in Palestine. In 416 Augustine and his African bishops convened two diocesan councils to condemn him and Celestius, another Celt. In 417 the Bishop of Rome called a synod to consider the conflict, and declared Pelagius' teaching entirely true, and urged the African bishops to love peace, prize love and seek after harmony. They ignored this, and in 418 they persuaded the State to intervene and banish Pelagius from Rome for disturbing the peace. The Church then was obliged to uphold the Emperor's judgement, and excommunicated and banished him, though no reasons were made clear. He returned to Wales, probably to the monastery of Bangor.

posted by Tony at 8/28/2004 04:57:11 PM 2 comments

The Paralysis before the Performance

maggi has written about her writing deadlines, and how hard it is to get your head around them till the last minute, when suddenly they become overwhelming. But at least she concludes that with a few seriously late nights, it will all come out right.

Right now I'm feeling paralysed by the thought of some of the storytelling deadlines that are beginning to appear on my horizon. Because somehow storytelling doesn't work the same as writing. The creation is all in the performance, and then it's gone. And in many ways (I find, at least) it's hard to prepare or rehearse or practise, because until the audience is there, and the moment of the performance, the story isn't able to arrive either. This makes learning and practising hard for me - I don't know how the real professionals deal with it. It also feels worse because I haven't had any real performances for several weeks or longer, and I find I lose my nerve (see The Emperor's New Clothes below), and it's a bit like having fallen off a horse and needing to get on again. The sooner you do it the better; and the longer you leave it, the harder it gets.

I have a couple of larger gigs coming up, than the regular Sundays (and these are, after all, often preaching times more than storytelling). The first is the Wallingford Bunkfest next Saturday, when I'll be telling stories with Peter Hearn, Barbara Neville and Tina Bilbé. Then the Diocesan Annual Reader Conference on September 17, followed by a talk to a church group on September 20. The Bunkfest will be mostly secular stories, which in a way are easier because you remember more by images, and verbal accuracy isn't quite so important. But in the other two, where I'll be telling more biblical stories, that verbal accuracy does matter. Following my teachers in NOBS and The Telling Place, I prefer the 'text telling' approach. And this is incredibly time consuming at the preparation stage. The internalising, learning by heart, of the text, is a slow, patience-demanding process. It's more like the formation of a soul than the baking of a cake or building of a model - and even those often demand patience.

At the moment I'm trying to learn the Creation story in Genesis 1; but even as I'm doing it, I realise how rusty my memory of other stories in my repertoire has got, and I'm dreading the thought of how long it will take to revise them.

posted by Tony at 8/28/2004 11:41:16 AM 2 comments

Friday, August 27, 2004

Never thought I'd live to see the day ...

...when Alison says to me, 'I'm keeping an eye on the clock, 'cause I don't want to miss the boxing.' This from a woman who has always said that boxing is a stupid men's pastime, dangerous, harmful, ought to be banned, etc. But it turns out that we have a 17-year old British boy from Bradford, Amir Khan, in the semi-final of the Olympic boxing, and, 'Well, you've got to support your local boy, haven't you?'

I like to think of my approach to the Olympics being like Odysseus' crew, with their ears stuffed with wax to avoid hearing the sirens' song. But yes, I did watch the bout, and was pleased to see him win a place in the final.

But it doesn't mean I've learned to like the Olympics! I sometimes think I'm the only one still blogging in the midst of the Great Olympic Silence that seems to prevail everywhere else.

posted by Tony at 8/27/2004 06:03:53 PM 0 comments

Still No Aubergines

Over a month ago I reported the impossibility of finding an aubergine at our local Sainsbury's. Today there were still none there, and I didn't even try to ask, for fear of what the current tall tale might be.

Is it just in Oxford, that we're afflicted with this dearth of aubergines? Where do other people get theirs?

posted by Tony at 8/27/2004 04:59:54 PM 0 comments

John Naughton

I was moved by John Naughton's post on the second anniversary of his wife's death. John is one of the most interesting people on the Web, the author of A Brief History of the Future. And worth subscribing to, if you don't already read his Online Diary.

posted by Tony at 8/27/2004 03:02:05 PM 0 comments

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Liturgically Sad

Just watched the DVD of Master and Commander. Great film, and I love Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels that it's based on. It's not a bad adaptation either; though by and large I am very tolerant of films of novels-I-love: I rarely dismiss them as no good, like some people feel they need to do. Thrilling scenes of bloody battle, seascapes, views of the Galapagos, etc.

So what did I find fault with?

That in the burial at sea, when the assembled ship's company join in the Lord's Prayer, they don't use the BCP version, but are all clearly saying, "Our Father, who are art in heaven ... as we forgive those who trespass against us ...

Suddenly I feel like one of those anoraks who criticise the Miss Marple films because they're set in 1951, and that model of bus wasn't introduced until 1953.

What's the name for a liturgical anorak? A chasuble, perhaps?

posted by Tony at 8/26/2004 09:13:44 PM 4 comments

The Stories We Tell Ourselves - The Stories That Tell Us

Everyone has a story, or stories, that they are constantly telling themselves in their mind. These are the stories that we inhabit, these are the stories that clothe us because they shape how we feel about ourselves, and how we see ourselves in the world.

When I discovered my storyteller-identity, it was like falling in love, and being fallen in love with, all in one. It was like finding I could suddenly work magic, where previously I had only been reciting hollow incantations. Stories are powerful, and when you feel the power of the telling, it's intoxicating.

But it also felt very fragile. It was such an intangible, incomprehensible ability. I kept thinking it was somehow an illusion: that for some reason it had worked all right the last time; I'd somehow, unaccountably, got away with it, managed to fool people into thinking I was a storyteller. But any moment the spell might fail, their eyes would be opened and they would realise I was a fraud, a phoney.

Then I realised that the story I was telling myself in my head was The Emperor's New Clothes: where the Emperor manages to deceive all the foolish celebrity-following public that he is wearing a most beautiful suit that only the intelligent and discerning can see; to the rest, hoi polloi, it is just invisible. Until a little boy, who hasn't heard this rubbish and wouldn't buy into it anyway, cries out, "The Emperor isn't wearing any clothes!" And in this story in my head, I was the naked Emperor.

So I decided I needed to change my internal story. Until I find a better one, the story I'm telling myself is The Brave Little Tailor. Where the little guy, the common man, through sheer cheek and courage and confidence in his own ability slays giants and wild beasts, wins the hand of the Princess, becomes and remains a Prince 'to this very day'.

posted by Tony at 8/26/2004 04:55:35 PM 1 comments

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Toeing the Party Line

I had a moving email from a recent ordinand, responding to my post about escaping from evangelicalism. He describes something of the pain he felt at seminary, because of the pressure to conform, to appear to be as believing (and in the same way) as everyone else, to have all the convictions and answers that everyone else seemed to have. But it just wasn't him. And he's still feeling scarred, only just beginning to believe that it's all right to be himself in ministry, to be asking deeper and more fundamental questions, to be honest about where you stand and what you believe.

I felt like weeping for a church that treats its trainee clergy like that. In any other context you would call it abuse: apart from the anglican gentility of it, it's not very different from the brutal Marine Corps instructor in Full Metal Jacket (who eventually gets his full metal jacketed comeuppance). Something is not right here; something is clearly working out of the camp of that Satan who day and night accuses our kin.

But it also occurs to me that the trainers are victims of the same systemic oppression. At the time of the Jeffrey John affair last year, when I visited one of our local seminaries to lead a workshop (on storytelling) one staff member in particular was trying to get me to sign up to the letter of protest to the Bishop that he and some colleagues were preparing to fire off. No way was I going to do that; yet I was too much of a coward - and a guest, moreover - to get into a big argument about why not. Yet there was clearly an expectation that, as 'one of us' (!) I would agree with their opposition to Jeffrey John's appointment.

I was surprised at the time that all the faculty seemed to be of one mind, when I would have expected at least some of those I know to think differently. But I realised later that it must have been terrifying for them, perhaps even impossible, to express a different view if the 'party line' was so clear. (Or at least, if there were some who were making a big noise about it and asserting that it was so clear.) It would be like jumping ship, in the middle of a shark-infested ocean, with no other ship in sight to pick you up. Moreover, you would have made yourself such a pariah, that there would be no hope of ever getting back on board, if at the first tickle of a shark's tooth you changed your mind. If the Party treats its officials so badly, what hope is there for its novices?

I felt glad to have got off that boat a long time ago. For it meant that the worst pain I got (but it was still painful) was from upsetting some people I love and respect, who thought I was still a true Party man, the way I did when I stood up at last and came out about what I really believed about the issue.

posted by Tony at 8/25/2004 06:19:00 PM 4 comments

And another thing ...

.. that drives me crazy is that she won't RTFM. So she has all this high-powered computer technology on her box, but doesn't use about 90% of it. And even the instructions on the orange juice - 'For best taste, shake well' - she gives a little limp-wristed twirl to the carton, and then can't understand why it's a bit thin, with no bits floating in it. Till you get to the bottom, when it's all bits. I'd better stop, or I could probably go on for, oh, 30 seconds.

Ain't love great?

posted by Tony at 8/25/2004 10:55:03 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

After 25 Years, It's Nice To Know

Next to the canon of Holy Scripture, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's musical Fiddler on the Roof is the nearest thing to Holy Writ that I acknowledge. The Norman Jewison film of it, was the first film I took Alison to see when we started going out together. It spoke powerfully to us of the place of God, and of faith, in the lives of ordinary people living in an environment hostile to that faith. It spoke of the integrity of the faith community, and the heartache that would be involved for anyone whose loved ones left that community, especially to marry 'outside' it.

And as the years passed, and we lived on a clergy stipend and had three daughters (and a son, but there the similarity ended), I came to identify very much with that poor man Tevye, devoted to God and hassled by all the womenfolk in his life.

One of my favourite songs is the one where Tevye, much exercised by the way that all his daughters are marrying for love, instead of following the traditional way of arranged marriages, asks his wife Golda, 'Do you love me?' She responds with impatient annoyance: What do you mean? All these years I've struggled and starved with you, etc., where does love come into any of this? But he goes on pressing her, until at last she admits that she has done all this for him, and 'if that's not love, what is?'

Tevye: Then you love me?

Golda: I suppose I do.

Tevye: And I suppose I love you too.

Both: It doesn't change a thing, but even so: after 25 years, it's nice to know.

Well, we've been married thirty years now, and even after thirty years, it's still jolly nice to know that we love one another. How do we know? Well, one way is that we can acknowledge the things about the other that still drive us crazy, but know that they really don't matter. Our love is stronger.

Most of the things that really annoy me about her, involve the washing up, which is the only thing I've ever found that I do better than she does, so naturally it drives me crazy that she doesn't do it as well as I do.

Example: she never washes up the teapot but just rinses it out, alleging that using washing-up liquid on a teapot spoils the flavour. She'll allow brown rings to remain at the bottom of the coffee mugs, unless I'm standing there looking over her shoulder. She doesn't wipe the cutlery but just dips it in the water and takes it out again. And so on.

Naturally, the things she complains about that I do are totally trivial... Which almost certainly means that she has a lot more to put up with me, than I do with her.

The main thing is not the maddening tics and quirks, but the long-lasting, slow-flowering loyalty, respect, admiration, and pride in one another's achievements - the things we have been able to achieve, because of the shared love and support.

Someone recently asked visitors to his blog to name their 'best brag'. I think mine is something to do with this ...

posted by Tony at 8/24/2004 07:26:45 PM 0 comments

The Wind Singer

Well, I don't have plans to read all the intended holiday reading that I didn't actually read when we were away, and especially the re-reads among them. But since The Wind Singer by William Nicholson was a new one I bought (together with those two Cornelia Funkes, remember?) I thought I would read this one.

In fact I saved the best of the three till last. William Nicholson is the writer or co-writer of Shadowlands, Gladiator, First Knight and various other films and plays, along with the Wind on Fire series of children's books. The Wind Singer is the first of this trilogy, but I'm not going to hold that against it. In fact, I look forward to going on and reading the subsequent volumes.

Unsurprisingly the story tells of the triumph of good over evil, in ridding the city of Aramanth from the tyranny that has governed it since time out of mind. It has a feisty, resourceful heroine and a sensitive empathic hero (they happen to be twins); and it has some of the most terrifying hazards I have come across in any literature, in the shape of the 'old children' who relentlessly pursue our heroes, and threaten with the slightest touch to sap their youth and make them old too. You can read it as an amusing satire on the education policy of recent British Governments (the way to improve something is to go on testing it and measuring it - who said our politicians have never progressed beyond the mindset of adolescent boys?) You can read it as a Christian allegory of saviour/redeemers venturing into the very home of evil to bring back the captured treasure that will restore life and joy to those who have sat in darkness. You can read it as just a rattling good yarn. For any and all of these, it's worth a read.

posted by Tony at 8/24/2004 06:41:19 PM 9 comments

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Ties That Bind

or, Why it's hard for evangelicals to leave

Dave over at The Grace Pages has started telling his version of the story of why it's so hard to 'get out' when you've once been a fundamentalist. He has some good things to say about the story and world-view that go along with fundamentalism and make it peculiarly hard for anyone who has once signed up to it, to move on.

My own experience has been that it is also pretty hard to get out when you've been an evangelical. (OK, some of you may be thinking, So what's the difference? but I was definitely an evangelical in a group that strenuously denied being fundamentalists, so naturally I believed that too.) Not that 'get out' is quite the right word - in all sorts of ways I'm still evangelical - just ask my colleagues in the local Chapter if you don't believe me. The fact is, it's difficult to move your position in all sorts of ways: within the camp, over to the other end,just somewhere near the door, never mind making a complete break for it.

Perhaps it is something to do with inhabiting an edifice of truth which does claim to be complete and finished: so that any attempt to move any of the walls (or even the pictures on the walls) feels like it will bring the whole thing crashing down, because every bit is load-bearing. (Which is why resisting any change in the Church's teachings on sexuality suddenly becomes the last-ditch stand for orthodoxy.)

But I think it also has a lot to do with belonging. These are groups which deal with something intensely personal, your own faith in Jesus and relationship with him. In fact, they stress the centrality of that very direct and personal relationship. This makes for an extraordinary sense of belonging, far stronger than that experienced by train-spotters, real ale fanatics, or even bloggers. These ties are thicker than water, thicker than those of blood. So when you feel you want to move on, question the group that has nurtured you and given you your self-identity, maybe even leave it - you feel like a traitor, and even worse you feel like a traitor who no longer knows who or what he is.

Put it like that, and it surprises me much less that 'moving on' for me was an intensely traumatic experience which I didn't come out of without a pretty unpleasant little bout of depression. And depression, as you'll know, is a bit like malaria. It keeps recurring in the form of other mental fevers: paranoia, anxiety and the like. But at least I think I am out; in the sense of being free to come or go as I please, enjoy the good things of the house (and they are many) but still be able to go home, to a wider home, at the end of the day.

posted by Tony at 8/23/2004 06:21:42 PM 0 comments

The Gospel of Blog

I thought I'd have a go at trying to explain blogs and blogging in our parish magazine ... Who knows? We may yet have an emerging blog church here on the edge of Oxford.

posted by Tony at 8/23/2004 04:46:41 PM 1 comments

Come Back, 1984

I loved this story by AKMA, which paints an alarming if also comical picture of modern life in the USA. Makes you wonder, whatever next?

posted by Tony at 8/23/2004 08:25:45 AM 1 comments

Sunday, August 22, 2004

I love these people

Songs of Praise at Elsfield this evening, and we closed down our evening service at Marston so that the folk from here could go and support their neighbours up the hill. Carolyn and Anthony (churchwardens) had given me a list of hymns that people had nominated, from which I chose 11, and added to them a 12th which was one of my own favourites: 'I, the Lord of sea and sky'. The little church was pretty full and we sang with gusto; most of them real old favourites, some of them things that some people had known from childhood, while others had never heard of them. Even in this 'homogeneous', old-fashioned congregation, there is a wide variety of people with different backgrounds (Anglican, Baptist, Methodist) to say nothing of having used different hymn books at school. Sometimes you feel the ecumenical movement has 'worked', for here we all are, worshipping God together and enjoying it. Nothing could be more theological than hymns, yet the fact that they are also poetry set to music makes them somehow more widely acceptable than any 'agreed statements' between the churches. Why can't we just all sing, instead of writing, or making formal definitions?

The acoustics at Elsfield are marvellous; I can't think why recording companies aren't beating a path to our door, demanding to pay us lots of money to use our building to make their recordings.

I chose the wrong tune to 'Lead, kindly light', and after we have limped and struggled through it, I let them sing the last verse again, this time to the 'right' tune. It's great to have a congregation who don't mind the vicar getting it wrong, or having to put him right; and it's great to have the informality to be able to do this. It's because we love one another; and it reminds me how truly blessed I am to be the pastor to these two wonderful groups of people. God, I love them!

posted by Tony at 8/22/2004 07:37:55 PM 1 comments

Friday, August 20, 2004

Ten Books salvaged from the fire in my life

Not too many takers for the ten books you would choose to resource the rest of your ministry idea. Maybe it's such a terrifying thought we just can't bear to contemplate it? Or perhaps it's that it's more revealing of our true selves than we care to be. But perhaps it's only fair for me to confess to my first list (though it's probably the kind of thing you change your mind about every week.) So here goes:

Rule of St Benedict
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain
Greek New Testament (as long as I can have the edition with a dictionary in the back)
C.S.Lewis, Screwtape Letters
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Homer, Odyssey
Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant
Samuel Pepys, Diary
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

Hard, isn't it?

posted by Tony at 8/20/2004 07:26:21 PM 0 comments

News from a past life

In an earlier life (well, that's how long ago it feels) I was a librarian. Back then, it was still considered cutting edge technology to have computerised issuing of books, and even this was done by physically taking magnetic tapes recorded at the desk, to the mainframe computer at head office for processing overnight. The idea of computerised access to the catalogue, let alone Internet or the People's Network, would have been undreamed of.

Yet I'm sure it is in part my librarian nature that all this stuff appeals to, this is part of why I love it so. So I was pleased to come across this article about blogs and libraries: a match made in heaven: Regular Columns: 'Weblogs: Do they belong in libraries? ', Ariadne Issue 40

posted by Tony at 8/20/2004 07:13:14 PM 0 comments

Did I dream this?

As the summer holiday recedes further and further into memory, as it is wont, I am haunted by a strange half-remembered fragment of a radio news story that I didn't hear the whole of, one morning. It appeared to say that the African Union were sending peace-keeping troops - from Rwanda - to the Darfur region of Sudan, to help prevent the feared genocide there.

It's the strange lack of comment on this, or any suggestion that anyone else thought it bizarre, or possibly some sick satire, that makes me think I must have dreamed it while wandering bleary-eyed to the bathroom.

But I suppose it's no stranger really than many of the other real events in the world.

posted by Tony at 8/20/2004 07:57:01 AM 1 comments

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Grace Pages

Dave tells a sad story of computer disaster and frustration, and the return of The Grace Pages at a new location. Catch up with him here. Blessings on the new location.

posted by Tony at 8/19/2004 10:19:13 PM 0 comments

The Babylonian Captivity of Evangelicalism

Quite a few of the blogs I read are by ex-evangelicals, post-evangelicals, fugitives from evangelicalism, people who still wrestle with their evangelical faith or background, people who are victims of, or scarred by, evangelical theology. And I too am one, or more, or all, of these.

Leaving aside the question, Why is it so difficult to get out, once you've been in? (possibly for a later post), what's pretty obvious is that many of those who still proudly wave the evangelical banner are seriously alienating the rest of us, along with the great majority of the human race. In the Church of England, you've only got to look at the antics of Reform or Anglican Mainstream to get the picture. (What, you thought I was going to link to them? I know links are what blogs are supposed to do, but, no way!)

But, bad as this may be, over in the States it looks even worse. There, it looks to us for all the world as if being an evangelical means, as an article of faith, that you are a member of the Religious Right, vote Republican, and believe whole-heartedly in Bush and all his works. It's great to read Tony Campolo's interview (thanks to Jenee and textweek for this link) in which he claims that Evangelical Christianity has been hijacked by the Religious Right, to support their political, social and economic agenda. But oh, it's as if he's having to walk on egg-shells, to avoid alienating any more of the constituency which are also his bread and butter. Applause to him, though, for at least trying to speak out.

But even he gives the game away about what is surely the real problem, when he says,
However, the thing that evangelicals would add to the Apostles' Creed is their view of holy scripture. They contend, and I contend, that the Bible is an infallible message from God, inspired. The writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit and [the Bible] is a message that provides an infallible guide for faith and practice.

If the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture are the centre of evangelicalism, as they seem to be, then no wonder the whole edifice is flawed. For this is a dogma which is literally unbelievable, manifestly false, and bound to cause extreme psychological and spiritual harm to anyone who is constrained (by self or others) to try to believe it.

As an Anglican I believe that scripture is supremely authoritative. It is the prime means by which God speaks to us, it is the word of life. But even in what it says (let alone what others through the centuries have understood it to say, and asserted that it says) it contains inaccuracies, mistakes, downright bad stuff. Why? Because, unlike scriptures which claim to have been dictated by God, it was written by human beings. And human beings make mistakes. But this actually makes it superior to those other scriptures. For because it was written by fallible humans, and has that human and divine nature, it is to us the bearer of Christ, who was himself both fully human and fully divine.

I would love to see evangelicalism rescued from this Babylonian Captivity to a dogma about scripture, and rediscover what I think is its true heart: the good news of the possibility of a true deep and loving relationship with God, through commitment to a Jesus who is worthy of that commitment, because he is - as he always called himself - the Truly Human One.

posted by Tony at 8/19/2004 06:07:13 PM 4 comments

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Season in Hell

or, Why you've got to travel light

The whole point of going away on holiday was so that, when we came back, the builders would have finished and gone away. Well, OK, the whole point was really to have a holiday, enjoy God's recreative grace, and come back refreshed. And ready to grab our working life by the -er, throat. Instead of which, the builders only went away at the end of last week, leaving the decorators in possession. The decorators couldn't do anything while we weren't here, because they didn't want to empty our shelves and cupboards of all the valuables (i.e. crockery, drinks, videos and DVDs, books etc.) that they contain. So they are waiting for us when we get home, like ravenous bugblatter beasts.

We look at the stuff that we've got to move and are paralysed with the question Where do you start? So much stuff that you don't need, never use, but can't bear to throw away because it's your life and your shared history. But neither can you bear to move it somewhere (even if such a 'somewhere' existed) for two days and then put it back when the bugblatter beasts have gone.

OK, some of it has got easier. All those old vinyl LPs I thought I was going to have someone record onto some other medium, because we haven't had a record deck for years. They've got to go. But what about the photographs of holidays 30 years ago, that we never look at? The childish scrawls of pictures of Daddy? What about all the unused gifts we've received over the years? Well, let's give 'em to the next WI or Over 50's sale. Good idea - but wait a minute, we can't put that in the sale, because so-and-so gave it to us, and so-and-so will probably be there at the sale. They're certain to recognise it. Or something even worse might happen: they might think, That's just the thing for Tony and Alison, and give it to us again. Aargh!

When life has this way of leaping out at you and rubbing your face in the fact that all the great spiritual teachers who tell us Travel Light may just have a point, you'd think we would learn, wouldn't you? Instead I make another good resolution to get rid of some of these material possessions, that I know I won't keep until the next time life bushwhacks me.

I had a terrible thought today, as I remembered those stories SPCK tell about the African pastors who only have three books to aid their ministry - and this is why we should help them by sending them twelve more, or some such. The thought was: Lucky blokes.

If your life was on fire, and you could salvage only ten books to see you through the rest of your ministry - which ten would you choose? (We'll allow you the Bible and Book of Common Prayer or equivalent.) Which other ten?

posted by Tony at 8/18/2004 06:03:58 PM 2 comments

Weeping over the Holy Places

In Shrewsbury last week, I looked into St Mary's church, large building in the town centre, like a mini-cathedral. No longer a parish church, it was declared redundant in 1987, and is now in the care of the Churches' Conservation Trust. Since it became 'redundant', more than a million pounds has been spent on the fabric, and the building is kept open, with volunteer custodians, as a tourist attraction. Occasional services are held there, as are occasional concerts. But a congregation of Christian believers are not able to use it and love it as the holy space that it was for generations of their forebears.

Something isn't right about this. The State will put money into ancient and holy buildings as 'heritage centres', but does virtually nothing to assist congregations which actually struggle to love and maintain the buildings in which they still carry on a regular, living worship.

If we were Australian aboriginals, wouldn't we be fighting to resist this erosion of our songlines and sacred places, by the secular powers-that-be?

posted by Tony at 8/18/2004 02:58:33 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Technology and the Elderly

Driving to the flat on the first day of our holiday, we answered the ringing mobile phone and it was Mum.

Aged P: 'Oh, I thought you'd be at the flat and I would get you there.'

Wife: 'No, we're still on our way there, we're in the car.'

Aged P (in great astonishment): 'I didn't know I could get you in the car as well!?'

The concept of the mobile phone and how it works, is still alien to people of my mother's generation. (Though I think it can take others a while to get used to it, as well; like the young woman we overheard once answering her phone in the entrance to Sainsbury's: 'Yes, I'm in the supermarket - but how did you know this is where I would be?')

To those of us who have seen so much technological change in our lifetimes (but haven't my parents too?) and think of ourselves as pretty computer and technology savvy, it seems almost incomprehensible that we could be as fazed by new technology when we are 80. But who knows what might be everyday gadgetry by then: teleportation, text and image transference by brain implants (constant broadband access to whatever succeeds the Internet, and all via that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude)? And - no, it's too far-fetched even to mention it - maybe a VCR that can be programmed by someone over the age of 15.

posted by Tony at 8/17/2004 09:57:12 PM 1 comments

Hat Pride

I'm very pleased with, and proud of, the Tilley hat that Alison bought me for my birthday present at the gents' outfitters in Church Stretton.

It describes itself inside the brim thus:

The finest in all the world
Guaranteed for life, insured against loss
It floats, ties on (front and/or back), repels rain, blocks UV rays and won't shrink, it comes with eight 'brag tags' in the security pocket plus a four-page owner's manual.

Ten-ounce USA-treated cotton duck; the best of British brass hardware; hydrofil headband for superb anti-sweat comfort; handcrafted with Canadian persnicketiness.

There are also legendary tales of one owner, a zookeeper, who has had his Tilley hat eaten by an elephant three times. Each time it is returned, he merely washes it thoroughly and wears it again. (The manufacturers offered him a replacement in return for the original one to put in their museum - he declined.)

I have been coveting Hubert's for some months; now I am a proud owner too.

posted by Tony at 8/17/2004 09:49:02 PM 2 comments

Holiday Reading

Before I went away there were some serious and worthy blogs by people about their planned holiday reading. What I haven't seen since, is any account of the match (or mismatch) between the plans and the achievement. So from me at least, it's confession time.

Here's what I planned to read:

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone
Fr. Rolfe, Hadrian VII
R. D. Blackmore, Lorna Doone
Thomas Hardy, The Hand of Ethelberta
William Nicholson, The Wind Singer
Katharine Briggs, British Folk-Tales and Legends

plus two worthy work-related volumes:

mission-shaped church
Malcolm Torry (ed.), The Parish

And what I actually read was:

Tom Holland, Rubicon
Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Lynne Truss, Making the Cat Laugh
Malcolm Pryce, Last Tango in Aberystwyth

So, something factual, something profound, but mostly something funny, seems to be what I need to read on holiday. And definitely nothing theological.

posted by Tony at 8/17/2004 06:37:29 PM 5 comments

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

News from Church Stretton

Just to show it can be done! For those of you who don't know Church Stretton, it's one of the loveliest places on God's good earth. Not that we like to tell too many people about it, because one of the nicest things is its unspoilt, uncrowded character.

Plus the local library has broadband Internet access, and when it's not crowded with teenagers (i.e. any time before noon) there's a spare computer for us oldies to use.

Hey, does this mean I'm actually addicted to blogging?

posted by Tony at 8/03/2004 08:45:50 AM 2 comments

Monday, August 02, 2004

Birthday Card

Can't resist posting this before I go. Received a birthday card this morning from one of the saintly elderly ladies in the congregation, showing on the front a cartoon reproduction of Vermeer's The Kitchenmaid.

Underneath, the caption:
The Times: "Words can't describe the sublime way Vermeer has depicted the earthenware in this masterpiece."
The Sun: "Nice jugs!"
Would it be more disturbing to think she didn't understand the joke? Or to think that she did?

posted by Tony at 8/02/2004 06:41:16 AM 2 comments

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Signing off for a while

We're off for a fortnight tomorrow, so though the local library where we're going has computer access for all (part of the Government's plan for Internet access for all?) I'm not sure whether I shall be allowed to spend time there posting to this blog. The librarians might allow it, but I'm not so sure about the wife, who may have other ideas about what I'm expected to do on holiday.

Come back in two weeks' time. Seeyah!

posted by Tony at 8/01/2004 03:28:32 PM 0 comments

My Friend Moriarty

Quite pleased with myself after this morning's Family Service, at which many of the regular congregation were away on holiday, so we had reserve musicians, plus a baptism, plus having to cope with the parable of the Rich Fool.

Fortunately My Friend Moriarty came to the rescue. For those who haven't met him before, he looks very like my identical twin brother, but is everything I'm not: suave, debonair, handsome, rich, adventurous etc. When his home and the whole of London are on fire, he puts everything he has and loves in his hot air balloon: house, car, money, books, wife, baby, friends, books and possessions, and flies to safety. But as the balloon is threatened again and again with disaster, he has to make the choice of throwing something out of the basket. With the congregation's help, we got down to the things that really mattered - and stopped. But then had the message that, in life, everything we have and love will be taken from us; unless we have God, and have lived for him rather than all those other things, we will have nothing at all, when that happens. Came across quite powerfully, I think.

posted by Tony at 8/01/2004 02:18:00 PM 0 comments