tag : bright yellow-green apples: July 2004

"I see little point in persisting in a discussion with one so obstinate as you" Martin White

Saturday, July 31, 2004

crime and punishment

There are two things which caught my eye today, other than Pope John Paull II's retelling of his anti-feminist views, in the usual Saturday morning newspaper read.

There is an article by Karen Armstong discussing the need for a greater acknowledgement of collective responsibility in the face of rampant demonizing and convenient scapegoating of individuals. Yes we are all culpable as individuals for many things, but societal terms tend to be forgotten. Example. This is welcome, given the News of the World’s recent poisonous campaign of principle, apparently against the very existence of Myra Hindly.

Kill the scapegoat

There is a typically polemical exposition by Giles Fraser on the obsession with the language of punishment that many parts, again, of the reactionary and tabloid cultures. He seems to be arguing for a more socially constructive response to wrongdoing.

the price of punishment

I suppose the common thread, in this age of tough on crime, is that there are more constructive responses to wrongdoing, by society as a whole, than the gut reaction that we are told by ‘common sense’. Where's Chris Morris when you need him?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

self and others; bad reaction

It's difficult to communicate just how fickle emotions can be. I've been having a good run of balanced contentment, for want of a better word, recently. That is, untill just a few minutes ago, when much of the self-confidence I'd managed to scrape together has drained away. hum, occasional inferiority complexes & low self-esteem coupled with acute sensitivity & easy presumption can be quite an impenitrable combination to deal with...

...let's hope sleep helps to restore the hope that I have something to contribute to others.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

let's be pharisees

My latest plan to rehabilitate the reputation of Pharisees coincided nicely with a nicely coincidental chance stumbling over a comment that managed to help me find some good in the book of Leviticus. Whereas before I was ambivalent at best, and appalled by the legacy it leaves at worst, I can now see that there is at least something of a lesson for us here and now. It is about making everything in life pregnant with meaning, trying to cultivate awareness for the divine in all by seeing more continuum between ritual and so-called 'mundane' action. Rather, as someone noted here, how the Celtic traditions were later to bring afresh.

Thus I claim no originality, but perhaps this should see a reflowering in Christianity of a concerete cultivation of  sentitivity to meaning all around as well as in spaces? After all, most of life is spent doing, no matter how much we all might want to wait and refelect...

On a slightly less reverent note, if you still haven't jumped on the Goldie Lookin' Chain bandwaggon by now, I suggest you do so quickly. You knows it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

kerygma, dogma, and everything inbetween

Apparently, St Basil (329-79) advocated an approach to faith which saw things in two main terms. The former, kerygma, was about the public teaching, discussion, and knowledge – it was conscious and rational, thought through and debated. The latter, dogma, was about the intuitive experience, deeper meaning, the unspoken encounter and silent awareness of things by ways that bypassed the conscious – in many ways they could not be dealt with other than by belonging and participating.

It’s rather disturbing that at this time, we still seem to place a premium on kerygma – trying to make faith essentially an intellectual exercise. You discuss Jesus with people until they come round to your position and they then declare Jesus as Lord and are now ready to take on the role of debating with others and bringing them round by words – whilst within the Church everyone talks.

Believing before belonging? Many people of religion still see that as the norm, despite how it runs counter to the needs of most people in our time and place - they look for something of what Basil pointed towards in his more balanced exposition.

And yet, I would suggest, it is the very nature of belonging and intuitively encountering, which religions most have to contribute to the needs of people. If people want philosophy they can find that anywhere, talking shops abound. Yet religions are in a unique position, as communities, to help people find encounter in their lives – we deal in the numinous, however the imagination might want to explore what that means in practice.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

bread and wine continued

Well this is fun, I'm currently in a bit of a dialogue with Ruth Ann the erstwhile guru who has shown at last an area where we differ in some notable way. Continuing from the earlier 24-7 dicussions. You might cal this the fuzzy sacrament wars.

After setting her thoughts to verse, here's my personal responce of sorts. As ever, less articulate and more fragmented, but I couldn't leave it without comment. Of course.  

more than just

of course the
pilgrimage of food was simple
material and spiritual sharing
for meaning, in
person is invited. by meeting other
they had begun trust among
are involved in discover that roads
with many others, among peoples on the other.
demarcation lines rubbed out
well. create a community
encourages to build. welcoming people.
a life together to unity can be opened up
bread and wine in themselves
 , always important, & them as well
a concrete sign of reconciliation
in a climate of openness and listening,
seeking from divided and separated.
participants amidst the
known and unknown foretaste
accept gift, give in a common
complete in you what he has begun
thus take part in their lives

they say the table is redundent?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

easy money

I finally have links up, a mixed bag of creative and engaging writers with various shades of outlook. But all, in my view, inspiring people. One of them, Maggi Dawn (who is a fellow post liberal, it seems) did a rather nice thing by coincidentally using the same camp fire image as I have on my main website front page - it's great for me to be associated in any way!
In other, less marvelous, news it seems that Tony Blair's going to get tough on the 60's. Rather than railing against any liberal consensus of that time, instead of throwing prison sentances around and talking tough, I would suggest it more pressing (if less popular with the Daily Mail) for him to take on the 80's selfish individualistic materialism consensus - which has proved so destructive, and yet is so beguiling to moralisers .

Friday, July 16, 2004

the power of bread and wine

I caught myself listening to the sunday service broadcast on Radio 4 a few weeks ago, which is a rare occurence now that I find it too fuzzy and insubstantial to keep my attention. But one part did strike me as familar, and sure enough I found the extract in a favourite book of mine (the very excellent "the Liturgical Movement and Methodism" by Raymond Billington) the other night which flags similar thoughts in the slightly stuffy language ofthe 60's:
"...it is not too bold a thought to describe Christ himself as the one sacrament, from whom all the other sacraments take thier validity and efficacy. He became flesh, and ministered to men, and died and rose again in order to reveal, at one point in time and in one place, what could be true everywhere and allways but which faithless man would - or could – never accept short of seeing it for himself. The demand of Thomas to see and feel the wounds of Christ is not so unreasonable: and in the eucharist his wish - and that of all those who feel like him - can be fulfilled."
Most of us are Thomas, we need the tangible in order to find the divine in our lives. And I doubt there are many more powerful means of encounter with Christ than materials - in this case the most acessible of all, food and drink, that catches senses with anticipation and fulfillment. The table of Christ represented by communion has so much potential, yet unrealised, for helping people to encounter God where words focus and philosophical argument, still in vogue for much of the Church's missionary focus, will be dry and limited. Just being there.
These thoughts coincided nicely with someone asking why it was that I cared so much about sacraments. More to be found here.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


I don't normally do more than one a day, but (1) for some reason my latest, highly political, expression has gone and got lost on the way to being posted and I'm trying to kick it into view (2) there's a new addition to my virtual chapel, a contemplative space.

unrepeatable errors

Well well. Wasn't the Butler Report a surprise? The government gets to hoof off the blame for any misunderstanding about what the reasons were for charging off to war on Bush & Cheny's coattails onto the intelligence services, and at the same time blatantly shift their official position to the slightly more credible stance that there were never actually any WMD of threat to us in the first place. All in one clean action. Not bad at all. And they wonder why people are increasingly cynical about politics...

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

playing with fire

An interesting question came up yesturday, someone is investigating whether it is possible to be a Christian Witch. I gave the matter some thought. And then gave up trying to be clever, in favour of a slightly inbalanced homily.

Let's get earthy again, the corpse of Plato needs to be laid to rest.

Monday, July 12, 2004

a new kind of ecumenicalism

After talking to Sarah the other day, this came to mind again.

I've begun increasingly to notice how my presumed ideas about how I relate to people of different faith positions have been challenged and drastically altered of late. Before there was a filtering of who I would even listen to about Christianity, they had to be flagged up explicitly as liberals for me to take them seriously. In retrospect this is quite an admission, and I hope the fallacy’s been fully overcome by now. Now it seems to be that there's an affinity with people less on the basis of a set theology, and more on an approach to life and faith. Whether they be conservative or liberal Christians, those that move and inspire me, who I find myself respecting, are those who are open and generous in their considerations, creative and lateral in outlook, free with their respect and sharing of the divine. We all have something to share, and some do it with great spirit.

And so these people that I now look to, who challenge and enrich me, are no longer selected as to they’re being 'allies' in that old way I did with such earnest. I have just found that they have naturally come to light, and am very grateful for their being around. Maybe this is what Brian Mclaren and Dave Thomlinson both envisaged, the rising above simple liberal<------------->evangelical polemics into another altogether different space of relating? I am convinced now that base theologies are effectively irrelevant (out with the systematic theology, in with the Taizé) compared with approach, in the dreaming of our new lived Church for this 21st century.

Shall I name a few personal names? Not for now I think, that would be to embarrass and inflate egos, though a few probably know who they are to me. There’re lots of great types about, who live out this openness of Church relating beyond former formal lines, and you'll surely come across them up in time. But then we’re all one in Christ anyway.

Friday, July 09, 2004

change is as good

Still missing Reading, despite being able to let go and come back here to Matlock. It’s funny how we all seem to have the conservative spirit that makes us resistant to any change - whether it's a tree being cut down or a new typeface of a newspaper. Moving on is therefore still hard, and not just for me.

But then I was reading the book of Ruth late last night, in a very uncharacteristic biblical fashion, and found a good story of how moving on to new things can easy give as many opportunities as remaining. There's a great bit of poetry lodged near the start that gives an inspirational mandate. You don't get much more trusting than this:

"Where you go I will go,
and where you stay I will stay.
Your people will be my people
and your God my God."

Also on the plus side is the creative urge. My attempts at getting abosrbed in poetry are coming on nicely. A semi-pastiche attempt at sentimental whimsy went well, as did my B. S. Johnson inspired experimentalism.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

no more persecution for you

They might well have been right, today it's peeing it down over Matlock.

Exciting news. It seems David 'Judge Dredd' Blunket wants to have another stab at passing a law outlawing any comment which might be construed as derogatory towards people based on religion. Alright maybe I’m exaggerating a little, effectively it looks like an equivalent to anti-racism law.

The BBC report

This might be fair enough, the law should work against prejudice of any sort, and I’m not always happy about the sometimes rampant derision of people with faith (often in the name of rational modernity, when it’s become every more apparent that people are irrational and we all seem to have a spirituality of some sort). But is such a crude measure really the best way?

It does seem to come close to that delightful ban on religious symbols in French schools – actually a self defeating move in the name of tolerance. I can see people resenting special protection afforded to those of who are part of organised religion, especially if there is a limit on the satire which necessarily keeps us on our toes.

But then if it winds up Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee nicely, then I won’t mind too much.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

rehabilitated Christians

Lot’s of people I know come out about being ashamed of calling themselves Christians. This is not in the usual sense that some would delight in denying, the ashamed of the gospel cliché scare stories delighted in by CU speakers. No. Many of us want to say “I’m a Christian, but...I don’t think gay people are evil by nature/I don't reagard Muslims as living a false religion/I'm not galzed over and stuck in the subculture of Matt Redman”. We want to leap and reassure at the outset that our faith does not necessarily equate our being judgemental, repressed, or intellectually withdrawn.

How to be a Christian unselfconsciously? How to reclaim the identity from those who get the headlines, so that we need not be neurotic of deliberately marginal by necessity? I'd love to find a way, so that I could happily call myself a Christian in the same way as a Sufi mystic might be able to call himself a Muslim wholeheartedly. We discussed it here.

But there might be more pressing matters to deal with right now, according to rumour it seems Britain is being ravaged by storms at the moment. The lightning was great fun last night, flashes in the corner of my eye as I was watching the Royale Family. Mind out for the falling trees everyone.

Monday, July 05, 2004

what do we have to give

Q: Are you a Christian?

"Atheists say they are Christians. When asked why, they blurt out "I was baptised as a child" (which is common here)"

"It's a stupid word and it doesn't have a meaning. Why do you want to be part of a religous group anyway? Aren't you happy enough with your own indivdual faith? Why do you need to feel part of a group to feel more secure? No two people will have 100% the same beliefs anyway...I have my own belief, faith, and relationship with God. I am together in the head enough to know that it is right for me without conforming to a large scale school of thought. I don't give a monkeys if you call me a Christian or not...I bet God doesn't care either - it's only a word. Have a genuine relationship with Him and be real to yourself and it's all good."

There is a lot in what people say about Christianity in this country, indicated by the two excerts I chose to show up, which seems to zoom in on the individual. As far as I can see, the aparent primacy of individualism misses the point more than a little.

I was baptised as a child. This is currently one of the most subversive things going in the Church, it by-passes the torrid atomisation of things which even we Christians are falling pray too. Why else would there be so many who assume adult immersion superior to a Christening? The progressive fragmentation of communities under the banners of the fascade of choice has contributed to our bleeding of community. The wranglings over all our private faiths pale in comparison with the interrelationships of people that are really causing pain and loss. We need to belong, says the cliche. So why look to the Church for it, if we're falling the same fate with happy galzed eyes?

This is what our faith means, what it can do to breath life into the dessicated parts of our society, according to my own personal humble opinion (spot the irony there!). The way we relate to our context (fellow people, the wider world of nature, the divine reality we share in its many faces) shows beliefs and private doctrine up as a red herring in comparison. That's why I am wary of labels, Christian and non Christian - the way people relate shows the nature of thier faith, given it's mandate, more than our own formulations and whether they tally with the list of dogma givens or our own private goals and room devotions.

Ultinamtely I couldn't care what you call yourself, and this partly derives from my inckling that Jesus Christ was most interested in seeing people relate well than adopt the list and name.

[adapted from a post on www.24-7talkback.com]

Friday, July 02, 2004

swing your own incense

The latest directive from UCCF on the permitted living status of my housemate as Reading University's relay worker next year unsurprisingly had me a little wound up in indignation. Aparently, whereas before he wasn’t allowed to live in the same house as a female, now he is as long as there are at least two there. Leaving aside the enormous assumptions going on in such living regulations. This made me consider relationships in general.

In young Christian environments there seems to be a lot of self conscious consideration and neurosis in dealing with the opposite sex, relationships and intimate relations in the religious ghetto. From this you might be able to tell that I'm in high cynicism mode today.

Cynicism aside. I seem to recall one of the most sympathetic writings on celibacy I have managed to encounter, after having struggled thus far to see any positive aspects to the idea, pointed out that remaining institutionally and personally separated from romantic involvement with others ensured that relationships with those around the person in question were not strained or pressured by any such intentions. It enables someone to be a blessing to someone else without any weight of expectation.

There is something to be said in this, and I think the example of single people, who are able to be of even greater help to others because of their situation, concurs with such a moderated view. It has made such a 'vocation' almost seem viable to me, and who knows maybe it will yet - even if in a non-institutional way. But ultimately I fear it still rests on the separation out of particular people on some ontological basis. Relationship rules, one of many different markers, almost seem to deny that each and every person in the community is called to selfless service of others. That all should be equally concerned to fulfil our mandate of care to each other. It's such a background of 'set apartness' which made me shift uncomfortably on my kneeling pad as assistant server a few years back, aside from the deliberately stoical position!

I'm not happy about separatism of our officiators and leadres in general. It's not just that I think vicars and relay workers should be fully part of their community, even more so I think that everyone in the community should play such roles. The priesthood of all believers might mean something more than a sectarian protestant rallying cry. Idealism...

Thursday, July 01, 2004

this and that

Today was a joint pilgramiage with a friend to the Tate Modern, reaquainting myself with some of the finest art of the last centaury. That great temple to art - set on an axis facing St Paul's Cathedral, the other major temple of London - included some of my favourite artists. I would recommend the work of these to anyone for thier wit, creative freedom, and ingenuity in finding no visual paradigms (yep, had to get a pretentious word in somewhere). See if they can get your expressive side going:

Sigmar Polke
Howard Hodgkin
Kurt Schwitters
David Hockney
Georges Braque

And for anyone who isn't convinced of the importance of visual art in the scheme of things, here's an attempt to set out a possible role of artists in the missio dei, the overall mission of God.