Standing for the Labour party for the forthcoming elections has meant that I have been out canvassing for the first time and it has been a far more positive experience than collecting for charity. I have had quite a few good conversations with people who are not natural labour voters and one very robust discussion about the 20 mile an hour speed limit with someone who is. Off now to a meeting to discuss the future of the Southfields Business Forum.
A few people were disinterested or hostile, which always makes collecting a challenge. What surprises me most though is how despite its annual advertising campaign on TV and its huge impact of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which it led, so many people are unaware of the charity’s name or purpose. It is well worth soldiering on though as all the monies help to transform lives and I was gratified to notice that mentioning that Rowan Williams is at its helm did elicit a sense of recognition and delight. Thanks are due, as always, to Helen for organising everything.
What with the swift boxes being colonised by a typically aggressive pair of great tits and the incursion of a sparrow-hawk, trying to snatch a house sparrow from the roost in the hawthorn bush near to the door, there was much to notice this morning. Disturbing the marauding bird of prey I succumbed to sentimentality and threw a small pebble in its direction at its temporary station on the church roof. My lob had the desired effect, driving it back into the air, but also into the path of an angry pair of carrion crows, who then chased it off, making my gesture redundant.
Oh, yes first brimstone spotted yesterday!
That is one of the things I hate most about the Newspapers on the run up to Christmas, but I am tempted to do a very short belated version for January but one which is about books read rather than published, but only covers this Winter
The Railway Man, by Eric Lomax, which I fear will not translate to film however stellar the cast.
The Science Delusion, by Curtis White, who takes a witty swing against the pretensions of hubristic scientists from the perspective of a commitment to the insights of Romanticism.
The Experience of God, by David Bentley Hart, a rich concoction of philosophy, theology, religious studies and irony, in which most of the debate between atheists and theists is revealed to be a gun fight between straw men.
The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad, an anatomy of terrorism which I should have read when I studied( attended) A level English Classes.
Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver, which is a boy’s own MR James story with ice-bergs.
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, by Caspar Henderson, which is about peculiar but enchanting creatures, such as barrel sponges and humans and what they might signify.
On Wednesday I joined the Age Activity Centre in Tooting for lunch, which turned out to be a hugely enjoyable and inspiring event. We have had a small extension of this amazing centre meeting in the hall every Tuesday morning, which so far has failed to attract more than half a dozen regular attenders.
I was surprised therefore, after a short walk and bus journey, to walk into a large hall and find a gathering of over 100 people chatting away and excited about the meal which was about to be served. Most people were from the Carribean and a very impassioned conversation went on over lunch about the use of the term small islander to belittle, but the mood of the lunch was celebratory and familial. I was warmly greeted and delighted to be able to stay long enough to be invited to say the blessing after the meal, which charmingly included a prayer for God’s Providence upon the raffle of prizes donated by Harrods.
The dinner was great too and along with turkey, roast potatoes, and the accursed sprouts, included tasty rice and salad. I was rebuked by Cynthia opposite for not eating all my greens so it really did feel just like a family Christmas.
This afternoon I attended a meeting with representatives from other parishes which have links with parishers in Zimbabwe and members of the MU, convened by the Bishop of Kingston, where we were able to meet the Bishop of Matabeleland, Cleophas Longa, and hear about the situation faced there by our fellow Anglicans.
The 5 years of coalition came to an end in July leading to another uncertain era for the country- already 700 foreign companies have pulled out of the capital Harare and another 100 from Bulawayo, the chief city of Matabeleland. Our diocese struggles to raise enough money to keep going due to the low level of giving by church members, but our situation hardly compares with a diocese which is forced to sell some of its precious cattle to pay the stipends of its clergy.
When David Pollendine came to visit us on Sunday he said how important it is that the Street Pastorsa know they are prayed for. This is probably even more vital for our link parish in Zimbabwe, so this Christmas time do please find a moment to remember Fr Issells Ngwenya and his parish of the Holy Family.
Many of you will remember Geraldine from her stunning performance, with Jasper Britton, in last year’s Arts Festival, when they performed love scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, back to back.
While that provided a roller-coaster ride of delicacy, passion, tragedy and grace, her first original play is darker in tone, and deals more exclusively with the trouble that love can cause. A three hander it hinges on the 3 way relationship between a repressed psychiatrist and two of his clients, a traumatised mother and her lover. I won’t give the exact plot away because it still runs at ‘the print room’ in Bayswater until the 14th, but it is brilliantly acted and most of the writing is sharp and convincing. A story that could easily have become a melodrama also resists being a tragedy and it handles the subject of love with great subtelty.
At morning prayer on Tuesday no psalms were set for the day but instead we had the wonderful Benedicite, which is an ancient song of praise in which all the created order, from snows to whales, sing to God in thanks. The human voice which recites it speaks on behalf of all making it an act of liturgical solidarity- we are one with the created order, not a special privileged bit!
It is a beautiful text which originated in the famous Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, which is in fact the Scripture from which Christianity was born. The Benedicite slipped into that translation in the middle of the book of Daniel, but is nowhere to be seen in any extant Hebrew editions, so all those denominations which since the Reformation have mistakenly thought that only the Hebrew texts count have lost a marvellous treasure.
Reciting it got me thinking about our tendency to not notice the animals in the Bible hence another mistake often rightly condemned by external critics of the church, Christianity’s anthropomrphism! A good example is the idea that Jesus’ spell in the wilderness was a kind of spiritual Greta Garbo moment, in which he sought absolute solitude- Jim Crace’s admirable novel, Quarantine makes the same mistake! But what about the wild beasts that get an honourable mention in the gospels; were they allluded to simply to ramp up the sense of menace , or might that be to remind the reader of the original inter-species harmony in paradise where Adam names all the beasts as friends and all the prophecies of lamb and lion lying down together when God’s day finally arrives?
In his series of paintings of Jesus in the wilderness Stanley Spencer seems to have had the same intuition- he even pictures Jesus with a docile scorpion in his hand!
What with the church lights playing up and the projector cable going missing it could have been a disaster. But thanks to the skill of a speaker with such a grasp of the subject it all went well. Over 50 people attended and we learned more about why the jet stream keeps wandering back and forth- the reducing gap between the temperatures at the north pole and the equator have set it wobbling- and why politicans seems so disinclined to tackle climate change- the public don’t nag them via their mail bags enough- and why intelligent people side-step the science- its inconvenient big time being just part of the answer!
Listening to Professor Rapley re-inforced my view that we need to rehabilitate the notion of the public intellectual and the public forum. There was so much more substance in what he had to say than ever gets on to the air-waves, and no need to go for BBC’s obligatory balance, whereby someone who is informed has 30 seconds to make a point before someone who isn’t gets a right of reply.
Lovely as it is this means that even the Today programme seems to be an arena for a kind of institutional heckling.