Monday, 23 February 2015

Up St George's tower

I needed to take an engineer up last week so took the opportunity to take a picture of the building work beginning for new housing behind Bradley Manor...

... and to clear the outflow hole while on the roof...

... while also finding that the mesh on the tower's east window is in serious need of attention before birds (or, even worse, bats) get in.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Prone to ourselves

In the 1990s, when I worked as part of the diocese’s training team, I used to be invited to preach from time to time in Lincoln Cathedral and I would often also use exploring the building with groups as a way of exploring, among other things, the dark side of our Christian inheritance. 

Once I was made a Canon of the Cathedral in 2002 the occasional invitations to preach resumed and the first time I returned to do so was in January 2003 in the days after a policeman in Manchester was killed by a terrorist from north Africa. 

I based my sermon then on the ‘testament’ which Fr Christian de Cherge left before his own murder in Algeria in 1996, including strikingly both his awareness of his own sinfulness and his fear that such a death would lead to further demonization of Islam. 

As fresh stories of murders of Christians and Jews in Denmark and in north Africa dominate today’s news yet again, I’ve been returning to Fr de Cherge’s words and, among many other things, to part of what I said about it then.

The last time I preached at this service... I talked about how important it was for me when leading pilgrim groups in this Cathedral to include proper reflection at the tomb of Little Hugh, a centre of thirteenth century antisemitic propaganda and then a tool of persecution.  And tomorrow is the third National Holocaust Memorial Day. 

We know how far some Christians have gone and can go when they have allowed themselves to demonise those of another religion.  And we can see clearly that it is wrong when some members of another religion make the same devastating mistake , but we can hardly be surprised at the phenomenon.  How differed it is to say ‘we can see exactly why you are wrong because it is something we are prone to ourselves’ rather than ‘your evil is unique’.

The picture is from a restored abandoned synagogue in Cordoba which I took when we visited it in 2011.  It is from such places that Sephardic Jews were expelled.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

This week's pictures

This one was taken when I happened to be back at Biscathorpe church again with a friend...

... and then this one near by where a well known band of red chalk outcrops in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Meanwhile, back at Great Coates, an enthusiast for John 'Longitude' Harrison of Barrow-on-Humber drew my attention to the fact that the James Harrison of Middle Rasen who made (and has his name carved deep into) the eighteenth century wooden bell frame in the tower was his younger brother.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Inexhaustible bread

The root elements of a Greek word are no more likely to be a complete guide to the meaning of the word than the root elements of English words are.

One case where it does work well is the word ‘epi-skope’.   ‘Epi’ is often ‘over’.  ‘Skope’ is often ‘sight’ (hence the English ‘scope’).  So you get ‘over-sight’.  This can be directly translated into Latin as supra-vision.  So the words ‘Bishop’ (which is simply the English version of ‘piskop’), ‘overseer’ and ‘supervisor’ all relate to each other. 

It looks very neat – although it in fact looked very controversial to the Protestant translators whose choice between ‘Bishop’ and ‘supervisor’ was a dangerously loaded one in passages such as the one about replacing a disciple (Acts 1.20 – ‘his bisshopryke let another take’ in Tyndale’s translation).

A study day on Saturday prompted me to look again at another possible ’epi’ word where things are much less simple, always keeping in mind that ‘epi’ as ‘over’ can have a twist – for example, ‘stasis’ is somewhere between a disagreement and a riot while ‘epi-stasis’ is to stir up the trouble.

The word in question is epi-ousios (although it is possible that it is ep-iousios).  The ‘ousios’ bit is most often ‘substance’ or perhaps ‘essence’.  So one might expect the word to mean some intensification of substance - say, ‘abundance’ or ‘continuous supply’ or ‘in a very real sense’.

The problem is that the word appears nowhere in Greek literature other than its use in one context in Matthew 6.11 and Luke 11.3.  This means we have no way of seeing how it is used in other contexts.  We don’t  know what it means.

And the reason this is a particular problem is that we say the word regularly ourselves: the context is the Lord’s Prayer, and the word is the one which tells us about the sort of bread we are praying for – traditionally, ‘daily bread’.

Could ‘epi-ousios’ mean ‘daily’?  It could – although the New Testament uses another common word for ‘day’ as ‘daily’ with some regularity.  The striking thing is that we really do not know – which is rather inconvenient since I say it literally daily.

It is quite likely that the word is trying to express in Greek something subtle which Jesus would have said in Aramaic, so we were already at one remove before we got stuck with a Greek word the meaning of which we do not know.

Kenneth E Bailey (who we trust) puts his trust in the Old Syriac translation of the Greek (a second century effort to put the Greek back into a language akin to Aramaic) and suggests something like ‘never ending’.  This would make a prayer that we should never fear famine: ‘give us bread which will never run out’.

Perhaps this is a hint that the kingdom and will of God we want clearly revealed around us now is one where there is no fear at all – of famine (if this is what Jesus meant here) or of crippling and enslaving obligation (the debt, rather than ‘trespass’, of which the next clause of the prayer speaks), of any internal danger (temptation) or of any external danger (evil).

Meanwhile, the cliche picture of the snopdrops was taken in St Nicolas' churchyard arriving for matins this monring.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Mind the gap

Last week didn’t cheer me up about Grimsby’s robustness in the face of recession. 

Educational aspiration has been a theme in this blog before.  One newspaper now reports the ‘learning gap’ between local authority areas when scored for the percentage of state school pupils gaining places in ‘the top thirty universities’ (although there is an obvious judgement call here).  Reading (where I started ordained ministry thirty years ago) comes way out on top – the only place where more than half did so.  Buckinghamshire (where I was brought up) comes third with more than a third.  North East Lincolnshire comes in the bottom ten with a score of 6% (as does Hull).

Two days later, another newspaper reports ‘the growth gap’ (there is some common journalistic style here).  It lists ‘cities (sic) with the lowest and highest growth in jobs 2004-2013’.  Only Milton Keynes outstrips London with 18% and 17% increases each; that is over 750 000 new jobs in London.  Grimsby and Hull are there in the bottom ten again – with a decline of about 7.5% each, which is a loss of 5 000 jobs in Grimsby’s case.

Meanwhile, the nearest thing on which the picture looks down from the Cathedral in Florence is the hotel in which we stayed over the New Year.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Psalm 87

I’m mesmerised at the moment by Psalm 87.

It has a poetic twist.  It assumes that being born in Zion (Jerusalem) puts one at the head of the queue, but it also assumes that when God makes the roll-call he will simply say each of us was born there.

The really mesmerising part of this is that those who sing it have God say ‘I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me... of Zion it will be said “this one and that one were born in her”’.

Rahab is Egypt – remember that the defining myth of the people who sang the Psalm is that this is the country which enslaved them.  And remember that Babylon is the country which had recently destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and deported its people.

The present book of Psalms was the collection brought together for and used in the newly rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.  I don’t know why I hadn’t previously found it astounding that they sang of Egypt and Babylon as sharing their inheritance.

It is the Psalm on which John Newton based his hymn ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God’, and these opening words of the hymn are a direct quotation from the Psalm.

Newton’s mediation on it is that of an eighteenth century evangelical who also wrote ‘Amazing Grace’, so his version spells out the consequences ‘if of Zion’s city I through grace a member am’ given that ‘solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion ‘s children know’.

The Psalm ends with those born in Zion saying ‘all my fresh springs are in you’ and Newton reads this alongside Jesus’ promise of living water: ‘the streams of living waters springing from eternal love well supply thy songs and daughters’.

But, as interesting as I’m finding it to trace how the favourite hymn is simply expounding the Psalm, it is the thought of the people of ‘Second Temple’ singing of God’s inclusion of both Egypt and Babylon which is the fresh spring for me at the moment.

Saturday, 10 January 2015