This week is the anniversary of my Ordination to Christian ministry. Every year that's a special date for me, and I find ways of marking it as another milestone on my own Emmaus Road.
I have a list of the books I've bought to mark this date, 36 of them now. You know you're getting on when some of the early ones show their years- not just the ageing of the book and the signs of reading, and in some cases re-reading. But the contents were for a different time, the analysis emerging from a previous cultural cusp, and revisiting some of them the realisation that this isn't just where we are now. But most of them are not so timebound, and remain valuable teachers and conversation partners.
I'll never part with J V Taylor's The Go-Between God, one of the most refreshing books on the creative work of the Holy Spirit in the world, the church and the Christian's personal life.
My hardback edition of the two volumes of The Victorian Church by Owen Chadwick are thick and solid, in contrast to the writer whose prose is lightly erudite and seductive in the way he makes Church History a joy to read.
Belden Lan'es The Solace of Fierce Landscsapes, is a book about the experience of the desert as the place where God is encountered in the experience of absence, loss and longing, and it is that rare thing - a book about loving God for God's sake, and hanging on in trust when all that keeps us going is the grace of the God who is there, and the only evidence of God's presence is the being held.
Brueggemann's Old Testament Theology is a ridiculously provocative book, and apart from a couple of other things I've read on the Old Testament the most stimulating, annoying and persuasive thing around. I've read Brueggemann throughout my ministry, and he is that most helpful of friends - the ones who don't go in for bland niceness, but like a good argument about what's most important.
And David Bosch's Tranforming Mission remains, depsite so much work done and change experienced in the whole wide world, a defining classic of how a theology of mission should be constructed, from the biblical, theological and cultural resources of the church in the world.
Which brings me to Frederick Dale Bruner's commentary on the Gospel of John. My love for this gospel was instilled by a verse by verse Greek exegesis in College, over two years. I don't need another commentary on John given the embarrassment of riches in my own and other libraries. Except Bruner is a different kind of commentator, and his two volumes on Matthew published in the 1970's were early examples of a commentary that takes seriously the tradition of exegesis. So in this commentary several classic treatments from Augustine to Westcott, by way of Aquinas, Calvin and Godet, are treated as respected voices, alongside the contemporary approaches to exegesis. Bruner's interest is to hear the text, and hear it through the voices of those who have studied it and lived it. It is a commentary for the church before the academy; but it is an academic commentary that takes seriously the text, the Christian intellect and a Church rooted in a faith that calls for our deepest thought baptised in prayer.
From now to Advent I'll let Bruner convene the round the table discussion on John, and hope to learn more about what it means to be ordained to the service of Christ in the Church - maybe by then I'll have reached that story about the basin and the twoel.
Not had a poem here for a while. Looking over a few photos taken off the Moray Coast (the day we saw the pod of dolphins), they made me wistful with inward hard to name longing. The sea does that to me. Maybe it's the rhythm of the waves, the play of light, my own smallness gazing at immensity.
Keats was a Romantic poet - I'm not sure how much credible currency he carries in a culture that can be crudely unromantic about the natural world. But his words place me in front of the sea, insist that I look and listen, and be startled back into a deeper perception of who I am, what life is really for, and why being a human being capable of such reflective thought and self knowing humility in front of a vast gentleness of dangerous power, is a reminder of the truth at the centre of all existence, including my own - "Fear not, I have called you by name, you are mine....when you walk through the waters they shall not overwhelm you...... ".
the SeaJohn Keats
eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
for days from whence it sometime fell
When last the winds of heaven were unbound.
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude
Or fed too much with cloying melody -
Sit ye near some old cavern's mouth, and brood
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!
On the way to College each morning this week I've been delayed.
Monday it was the lolipop man stopping the traffic with a high waving lolipop, stopping the traffic for one adult to cross the road and no children in sight. That got a few irate horn blasts for lolipop abuse.
Tuesday I was a witness to a motor cyclist who came off his bike because a dog on an extension lead (not the electrical kind) had run across the road and created a tripwire. The biker wasn't too badly hurt but was rightly mad - I've no idea what the insurance issues will be.
Wednesday it was the huge articulated European transport Lorry which stopped within inches of the Nitshill Bridge and blocked the traffic both ways. No way to reverse because backed in by the Traffic queue - no way forward because, well because of the bridge.
Not the best start to the working day - not talking about me, but the lolipop man who thought he was being helpful, the motorcyclist who probably has no comeback for the damage, and the lorry driver who stopped on time but had nowhere to go, and surrounded by impatient to hostile commuters!
Hard to go in after such encounters of commuting life and sit down with a cup of tea and pick up where I left off in my reading of the more abstract realities of contested ecclesiologies, patristic Trinitarianism and contemporary approaches to mission for faith communities on the cusp of a culture fuelled by disruptive innovation and recessional panic!
But such is the life of a theologian - and seriously, the social and civic attitudes that underlie anger at a car having to stop for a walking human being does indeed provide food for theological critique of the values we live by;
and the questions raised by the unforeseen accident, the injury to others we intend or don't intend, and how to resolve situations that have gone wrong between people, there is an entire theological and ethical agenda for the church;
and to ask ourselves what resources we have to deal with those situations where we are stuck at a low bridge with no easy way forward or back, and all around us people just wanting to get on with their own lives.
I guess that embarrassed lorry driver mirrors the experience of so many folk trying to work out how to make their lives work and be able to move forward from the mistake they have made.
And I'm pondering the parable of the church as articulated lorry, confronted by a low bridge, trapped by the traffic, nowhere obvious to go, the driver frantically directing traffic around a vehicle made for movement but stuck by its own shape and wrong turnings.......
The image of the Eagle Nebulae always reminds me of the context within which all the strangeness of the ordinary is held, 'In the beginning was the Word...and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us'. And whatever the future of the church, that truth is the intellectual, spiritual and and moral directive for how the Church as the Body of Christ is to live in the creative energy of resurrection, and with trust in the God who in Christ is reconciling the world into the life of the Triune God.
While in Amsterdam for those few days on my Van Gogh pilgrimage, I also visited the Anne Frank House. I had tried to book online before leaving to avoid the long queue, but it was booked a week in advance. However long queue or no long queue, I had already decided such a visit was a must.
So we arrived not long after opening at 9.00, and the queue was already long and slow moving. Now I'm not the most patient or contented queuer, but there are times when inconvenience, delay and anticipation are more significant than cramming every unforgiving minute with value for money tourism. We got talking to the couple behind us who had just flown over from Bitmingham, and who were also making a pilgrimage to this place of humane and humanising memory of a young girl whose honest goodness and innocent intelligence defied and triumphed over the inhuman bureaucracy of the genocidal imagination.
Then once we got in, after an hour's waiting, we made our slow way through the house, with the sound of the Kerk bells from nearby, the same bells she heard sounding when in hiding. And the slowness of those in front of us allowed time to see, to think, to pay attention, and so to imagine. One of the greatest moral challenges of our age is the safeguarding of the moral imagination, the developed capacity to anticipate, and have symathy with, and realise in thought and vision the cost and consequences of the intractably human lust for power, power over others, exerted for ends other than humane.
Anne Frank's Diary is one of the most astonishing achievements of World War II. Not just the transparent goodness and hopefulness of the entries; and more than the faithful recording of the experience of what it is like to be afraid, and hated by the powerful and ruthless; and more too than the exposing of political malignity observed and critiqued by a young woman wo was naive, but wise, and whose own future would be foreclosed by the lethal consistency of the racist mindset. The Diary is first hand evidence of human resilience, of spiritual awareness, of life loved as gift and mystery, and of that instinctive will to live and to live well, that occasionally illuminates the historical landscape, and gives us all hope and a much needed reminder of the glory of a human life whose music cannot be silenced.
Then near the end of the exhibit, time to look at the faces of those who hid in the hiding place, blqck and white photographs, and behind the face of Anne Frank, another queue, at the arrival station of Auschwitz, and then images of the Shoah and the Camp liberations. I was overwhelmed by then, having just stood in a slow moving queue to enter this house, and to pay respects to this story of one girl amongst 6 million of her people, and one girl amongst countless more people across continents, whose deaths are the fearful mathematics of state generated hatred linked to military ambition.
It is one of the sanitising statistics worth pondering, that all day every day, this house is open, and the queues are constant. And if everyone who comes to this place comes respectful and goes away subdued by a wondering sadness but a renewed commitment to the nourishing of humane values, then there is hope for us. The Hebrew Bible has the prophetic observation, "a child shall lead them". And so she did, and does.
Working on the design for a new tapestry. I think Greek script in the New Testament is a beautiful form of writing. Several NT Greek words have profound resonance in Christian thought and experience. I am exploring ways of using colour and shape to give visual texture to those resonances, while at the same time wondering if colour and shape have any contribution to an exegesis of key words in theology and spirituality.
So I spent a while drafting a design, choosing colours and now just seeing what builds. But while stitching each letter, and therefore looking closely at these words, slowly giving shape, choosing colour, co-ordinating action of fingers and vision, I am wondering what the contemplative patience of such work contributes to a deeper appropriation of a text.
Whether such a visual medium contributes to the meaning of the text would require a much more technical discussion of hermeneutics, theological asthetics, liturgical symbolism and iconography. I've no such ambitions. Working tapestry is a form of meditative activity, which may at times draw the heart into contemplative attentiveness, the controlled freedom that comes from serious engagement with and receptiveness before the text. That said, there's something different about designing a tapestry around the form of a script, the shape of letters and words, and allowing that treatment to be shaped by theological presuppositions about the meaning of the words. What would be interesting is whether anything new emerges from a several week process of concentrated creative work focused on the form of the letters and words.
So we'll see what comes of it. For those interested I work in stranded cotton, blending the colours like paint on a pallette, and use a minimum of 22 points to the inch canvas.
The words were originally part of a sermon by G Campbell Morgan, preached at Westminster Chapel in the 1930's. Campbell Morgan was one of the most attractive classic evangelical biblical expositors. His sermons on 1 Corinthians 13 are spiritual reading that is both soul searching and psychologically astute. Not often is such literacy, rhetoric and spirituality fused into biblical reflection and made accessible through a demonstrably holy personality.
His commentary on Hosea is still one of the few that explores the full range of emotions in God that makes Hosea 11 amongst the most theologically subversive chapters for those who want a God predictably sovereign or indulgently loving - Holy Love is agony, but agony that persists in mercy.
The photo was taken on a walk beside a burn - (from Scots Gaelic for a watercourse that feeds larger rivers).
While listening to the replay of yesterday's Today programme in which Minister for Policing, Nick Herbert, was accused by Evan Davis of "talking boring waffle" and evading direct questions, I noticed this, and my heart was glad.
In the torrent of words and cliches, interrupted by the sporadic gunfire of a not to be denied radio presenter, I multi-tasked - and listened to the political bickering while reading this story. The Radio 4 exchange was a cacophonoy of disagreement and non resolution; the story was music to my ears, and set me up for the day. The human voice, and the gift of language, the capacity to communicate and to say outwardly the truth that is in us, is one of the defining characteristics of being human, and humane. Used as an assertion of power, an evasion of truth, as rhetoric to construct illusion and unreality, as an instrument of conflict and a defining of the other as over and against, that same voice obscures that which is humane and enriches humanity. One of the necessary counterpoints is music, the skill and sensitivity, the creative urge and iron discipline, the givinbg of the self to the music so the music can be given. That's why my heart is glad - that a young man has found his own way of making music, against the odds, and with no deficit of excellence.