Just returned from my say cheerio to Sean trip to Manchester. Turned out to have all the most important ingredients in abundance.
Met with Catherine (married to Sean), Sophia and Lucy ( two delightful daughters) and so made three new friends. They are a family skilled in welcome, and where hospitality includes inducting the guest into the delights of CBBC. Then there was the bonfire and fireworks party (actually a mini street party chez Winter) doubling up as both Guy Fawkes commemoration and Obama celebration, (complete with pre-printed Obama badges universally distributed to all attendees by Sophia) and sustained through the cold by Sean's gourmet pumpkin soup and piles of rolls and sausages, apples and tangerines.
Good conversations with Sean and others about the next stages of life, the logistics and the plans, the new job and the new country. All very exciting, only tinged with the (slightly selfish) sadness that distance might be a factor in future opportunities to sit, talk and enjoy.
Had a varied cultural day on Thursday on which I'll post later. Just to say I went to the Holman Hunt and Pre-Raphaelite exhibition and the Manchester City Gallery and saw several versions of Hunt's 'The Light of the World.' I also saw paintings I hadn't known about, and a couple I did and was so pleased to see - not least 'The Scapegoat', a painting of powerful imaginative pathos.
Part of the day was a visit to the John Rylands Library. As I walked in I thought of F F Bruce, that great Scottish Evangelical NT scholar closely associated with Manchester and the John Rylands Library. Bruce did so much to erode the bulwarks of academic suspicion that all but excluded evangelicals from the higher echelons of academia. Some time it will be important to properly assess the influence of people like Bruce in redeeming evangelical scholarship from its own defensiveness. And the John Rylands building! What a masterpiece of Gothic showing off! But my main mission was to see Papyrus 457, that tiny fragment of the earliest part of the NT we have - itself a work of art, painstaking strokes of ink painting on papyrus, words about the Word. Just realised that works as Haiku.
Painstaking strokes of
ink, painting on papyrus,
words about the Word.
As a piece of spoil-sport reality crashing in on such cultural peregrinations, I also found Wesley Owen Bookshop and the Catholic Truth Society Bookshop just round the corner. I, the patron saint of impulse book buyers and incorporating those who will buy a book to mark any occasion that serves as excuse, bought nothing in either of them. They are two examples of what happens when bookshops stock only what is theologically congenial to the dominant clientele. I am left wondering what the underlying message is when a shop only sells what certain sales managers think is congruent with the true gospel message, as they see it, from their perspective, as represented by their company / branch of the church, over and against those who, when it comes to key essentials, are, by and large, more or less, wrong!
In one I could buy Banner of Truth and in the other Ave Maria Press; I could have Raymond Brown on Hebrews in one, or Raymond Brown on John in the other - the first was a Baptist minister, beloved expositor and Principal of Spurgeon's College, the second a Jesuit NT Scholar who was a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Both shops had music playing, - one a gently insistent Benedictine chant, the other was a hymn compilation that happened to be playing Amazing Grace - and as I listened to Newton's hymn, I smiled at the subversive activity of the Holy Spirit - the Benedictine chant had been playing in Wesley Owen bookshop, and 'Amazing Grace' in the CTS, - perhaps a gesture of impatience from the One who urges the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.
Time spent in the MLK Library was mainly given over to reading a particular book I want to finish, and burrowing in unfamiliar journals like a manic truffle hunter. Came away with several heavily annotated slips of scrap paper with references to articles, books to go looking for and various other fragments of data that, like the jars of screws, nuts, ball beairings, clips, clamps and nails in my father's shed, are captured and kept because 'they might come in handy some time'.
Tomorrow I preach in my own church in Paisley - Remembrance Sunday. And Isaiah 25 which begins with a hymn about a dangerous world, and the acts of God that 'silence the song of the ruthless'. In Congo and Darfur, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Gaza and Israel, in the US and the UK, the song of the ruthless has drowned out the cries of complaint for long enough.