Thursday, November 19, 2015

Is it really me?

I was watching Countdown on TV. The word was ‘dominee’ and Susie Dent in Dictionary Corner told us that in South Africa it means a minister of religion. As she added definition I found myself thinking ‘Minister of Religion? I’d like to be one of them'. And then I paused. I am one of them. A minister of religion. Ordained at that. An Anglican priest with thirty years parish experience.

So what was I saying? What did I mean? How could I long to be what I already was?

The truth is that I never found a way of being a priest and being myself at the same time. I was quite convincing in the part - but it was a part I was playing - an act I was putting on. I had many of the gifts that were needed for that role. But it rarely felt like me.

Monday, August 03, 2015

"Are you sure you're a Vicar?"

This is a question I’ve been asked many times when I’ve been off- duty, in mufti, doing ordinary things with other ordinary people. It’s always expressed in a friendly way, but nearly always with reference to a perceived shortcoming on my part. It might be my use of ‘unrefined’ language under pressure. Or it might be my admission that Christian faith does not obviously and easily make sense. The tentative, critical and open way I read and interpret the bible seems to worry unbelieving acquaintances even more than believing ones.

The funny thing is, however, that no one asks the “Are you sure you’re a Christian, a priest, a Vicar?” question more than me, of myself. And, throughout my years in parish ministry, never more than early on Sunday mornings as I got up out of bed in the darkness.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Brian Cox

It’s hard to escape nowadays the figure of Professor Brian Cox on our television screens. The universe he describes is so old it is timeless, and so vast it is infinite.
The planet we are on, one of countless masses hurtling and spinning into an ever-expanding void, feels like home until we begin to give it a second thought.
Did it begin in time, or with time? Did time exist before the universe, and if so what existed before the universe existed?
And this void we (the universal ‘we’) are expanding into, how big is it? Does it have an end? Or an outside?
But I have a greater puzzle to share with you. If you find these questions disturbing to the point where you feel compelled to spend much of your conscious life probing and analysing them, and if they so upset you that they find a place in your everyday conversation, you may be considered a little eccentric if you are lucky, and just plain bonkers if you are not. Whereas if the things you want to probe, analyse and talk about endlessly are games, sport, celebrities, music, entertainment and other things of little or no importance, you will be hosted and toasted as ‘one of the best’ and, above all, sane.
A definition of sanity then seems to be: Not being disturbed by what is disturbing.

Book Group

Ours has been going for years. We meet monthly at our house. Always we eat cake, talk about a book we have chosen to read and usually a couple of poems that I have found relevant to the book, and generally discuss all manner of things broadly cultural that we have recently encountered. There are six regular attenders.

Last night we reviewed Us by David Nicholls. None of us liked it that much. We found the characters hard to sympathise with.

One of my favourite quotes is: Other people’s sex lives are a little like other people’s holidays: you’re glad that they had fun but you weren’t there and you don’t necessarily want to see the photos.

Here are the poems. The first conveys the rather cynical view of life and relationships we found in Us, the second presents a sweeter picture. Enjoy them.

Self's the Man
by Philip Larkin

Oh, no one can deny
That Arnold is less selfish than I.
He married a woman to stop her getting away
Now she's there all day,

And the money he gets for wasting his life on work
She takes as her perk
To pay for the kiddies' clobber and the drier
And the electric fire,

And when he finishes supper
Planning to have a read at the evening paper
It's Put a screw in this wall -
He has no time at all,

With the nippers to wheel round the houses
And the hall to paint in his old trousers
And that letter to her mother
Saying Won't you come for the summer.

To compare his life and mine
Makes me feel a swine:
Oh, no one can deny
That Arnold is less selfish than I.

But wait, not so fast:
Is there such a contrast?
He was out for his own ends
Not just pleasing his friends;

And if it was such a mistake,
He still did it for his own sake,
Playing his own game.
So he and I are the same,
Only I'm a better hand
At knowing what I can stand!

The Orange
by Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Try again

I have decided to have another go at regular blogging.

Look out.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hell on earth

"Were a stranger to drop on a sudden into this world, I would show him, as a specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might justly think, that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow."
- David Hume (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion)

To which I would add the reflection that when writers and artists seek to depict what hell would be like they draw on human experiences with which we are already familiar. Heaven is more often described as beyond our imagining.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Staying home

We're all going on a summer holiday, sang Cliff Richard. Not us. Not really. Not this year. Just a few nights away visiting distant family members. But hardly a holiday.

My wife remembers asking herself as a girl what holidays are for. What are you meant to do? Where to go wasn't a problem then. Parents decided. If lucky, you were taken.

As a boy I always knew what holidays were for. Escape, in a word. Escape from routine, especially the dreaded routine of school attendance. I never liked school. To wake up free of that ghastly obligation - what bliss!

At my age novelty makes me feel sad. Why have I never done this, been here, before? Revisiting old acquaintances, places, experiences is more satisfying. Moreover since retiring from parish ministry I have nothing and nobody to escape from. My centre of gravity (and how I love gravity) is here at home.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On Not Being Asked

I wasn’t asked
Whether I would like
To be born.

I should have been.

It was that important,
Awkward, Painful.
I cried, I’m told.

No wonder.

Loud, and then louder.

If only I had known
What was to come,
But by the time it did
I had learned
To count my blessings,
To look on the bright side

Of life
That was given to me

Without asking.