Friday, 15 February 2019

Together burdened

We are not skilled at interdependence.

We seem to be comfortable with both independence (‘I can do what I like’) contrasted with dependence (‘I have to do what I am told’) but uncomfortable finding a way in between (‘we do this because it works best for all of us’).

Because some people seem willing to park wherever they want however much inconvenience or danger this might cause others (a form of total independence), we find other people have developed rules for everything from disabled parking spaces to double yellow lines to keep them in line (a form of total dependence) knowing we cannot rely on individuals making a balanced judgement for the well being of all (a form of interdependence).

I thought of all this in part when reading about the damage done in Joshua Tree National Park in Californian which was left open but unsupervised during the recent American Government shutdown.  Human beings given total freedom destroyed and polluted, ignored the regulations which would have kept them in check, and simply failed to be adept at balancing their own will with wider good.

We seem to see the attractions of degrees of political independence (reclaiming our sovereignty, making our particular nation great).  We might see the attractions of degrees of political dependence (an external jurisdiction on matters of dispute, operation within established agreements).  But we are discouraged from even contemplating what political interdependent would look like (despite people crying out for this perspective all the time in everything from fair trade to climate justice).

There is a poetic  sense (rather than a literal translation) in which the New Testament Greek word sometimes rendered ‘better’ and sometimes ‘more profitable’ is sum-phero which is almost with-carry or together-burdened.  It was 1 Corinthians 6.12 as much as the Joshua Tree National Park which prompted my thinking.  We know Paul wrestles with the contrast between freedom from law subjection to the law.  Here he says that we are free - but not all freedom is ‘helpful’ (sum-phero).

We need a critical mass, sufficient shared-fetching, an instinct for inter-dependence.  We seem programmed as human beings to settle instead for a stale opposition between whether I get my way or get told what to do instead.

Meanwhile, I’ve only just noticed the little hands holding the bottoms of every scroll of foliage around the sanctuary in St Michael’s, Haworth.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

In open waggons

We'd noticed many years ago that coaches in Skegness are more likley to come from the East Midland while those in Cleethorpes are smore likley to come from South Yorkshire  - as foreshadowed by the Victorian west-east railway connections.  So, now we notice as well that, while the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway went south of the Humber (taking Sheffield day trippers to Cleethorpes), the Manchester, Leeds and Hull Railway went north of the Humber (taking Leeds day trippers to Hull), and, we guess, coaches on the Yorkshire coast today are more likely to come from West Yorkshire.  One fifth of an average mill worker's wage today would be about £60.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Aspects of three churches

Lees Methodist Church, taken before preaching on Sunday as part of a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 'pulpit swop'.

St James', Cross Roads, taken arriving to celebrate Communion this morning.

St Gabriel's, Stanbury, taken from across the valley this afternoon.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

A horrid and cruel deformity

Patrick and Maria Brontë married at the very end of 1812 and had children in January 1814 (13 months later), February 1815 (13 months), April 1816 (14 months), June 1817 (14 months), July 1818 (13 months) and January 1820 (17 months).  Maria, who died in September 1821, would have spent more than half her married life pregnant. 

That seems a startling enough fact to note for its own sake, but it is also the explanation for the series of year-long celebrations being marked by our neighbours at the Brontë Society.  The oldest two children died as schoolgirls, but the remaining four reached adulthood, fame and, now, bicentenaries between 2016 and 2020.   

There is one lacuna in what would otherwise be a five year programme (no child was born in 1819) so this year they are filling the gap by having a year-long celebrating of Patrick himself, to which St Michael’s, Haworth is to make very modest contribution of its own, something about which I have been having to think.

A recent item in the Keighley News praised me highly (and embarrassingly incorrectly – most of the social initiatives involved have been the work of a valued neighbouring Baptist Minister and by the Social Prescriber at the local Medical Centre): ‘Haworth’s Anglican Rector has been compared to his illustrious predecessor... (who) had schools built in Haworth and campaigned for new sewage systems which saved literally thousands of lives’.  The only points to note here are what local people know and value about Patrick Brontë (improvements to local education and sanitation in particular) and that local media regards it as self-evidently an ‘accolade’ to be compared to him.

Leave aside education and sanitation for a moment.  Imagine, if you can, a Government wishing to reform poverty relief or social security.  It fears that the costs involved have got out of control.  It thinks that anything more than a grudging basic system encourages people to live on benefits rather than seek work.  But the practical working out of its new system produces inhumane conditions, felt particularly in the industrial centres at great distance from where Parliament meets, which even drive some people to take their own lives.  This is the story of the 1830s – the reform of the Poor Law and the introduction of Workhouses.

What is the parson of an industrial village to do, even one who describes himself as a ‘conscientious Conservative’ in the process?  Would protest, public meetings and letters to the press sound like bits of the trendy modern liberal post-1960s Church of England?  

In February 1836 London media reported his attempts to drum up support for a petition to oppose what the Government was doing – a meeting he called for what was then the new School Room had been so crowded that it had to relocate in the neighbouring churchyard. 

The following year he wrote to the Leeds media:

The Poor Law Amendement Bill ... is a monster of iniquity, a horrid and cruel deformity... It must be repealed... A set of unfeeling, antiscriptural men have lately arisen [he means the Whig Government]...  supported... in a great measure by the very men whom they wish to oppress... What are we to do...?  We will not submit to go their bastiles.  We will not live on their water gruel, on their two ounces of cheese, and their fourteen ounces of bread per day...  We never will endure the idea of men rolling in affluence and luxury, prescribing to us the most extreme line which can keep soul and body together.  We have religion, reason, justice and humanity on our side...  Petition, remonstrate and resist powerfully and legally and God, the father and friend of the poor, will crown all your efforts with success.

And this week, 182 years later, the Work and Pension Secretary finally said of the latest social security reforms ‘maybe things that were proposed previously weren't effective or weren't compassionate in the way that I want them to be’.  The genuine successors of Patrick Brontë would, on this evidence, be obliged to use a word stronger than ‘maybe’.

The picture is another sculpture from Trafalgar Square taken just after Christmas.  The 'fourth plinth' now has a recreation of a sculpture of a lamass (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C, destroyed in 2015.  It is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans reflecting the destruction of the country's date industry.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Dismantling the crib

Creative thinkers have heightened my appreciation of our cribs this year, finishing on Friday with finding this carving outside St Martin-in-the-Fields.

I hadn’t appreciated the role the fourteenth century St Bridget of Sweden had played.  It appears that either a direct portrayal of her vision of the nativity, or an unconscious echo of it, is evidenced  every time a painting has a brighter light radiating from the crib than the one from the candles pictured.  She may also be the one responsible for other details such as Mary’s hair being long and golden.

She also mentions the ox and ass, which had in fact been long included in the scene via legend which, I was reminded elsewhere, developed not so much the hint about the manger in the Gospel account but rather made a theological statement based on to Isaiah 1.3  - the ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

And, most intriguing of all, Neil McGregor observed that subsequent painting came to be more likely to include the magi as three kings than to include the shepherds.  His suggestion was that the commissioning and financing patrons were simply more likely to want to include sumptuously dressed and even crowned figures like themselves.

Which inevitably reminded me that a heavily pregnant young women being shuffled round the country to meet the administrative convenience of occupying forces and quickly then driven out in fear of the child’s life evokes a picture for us more like a Syrian refugee camp than anything else, notwithstanding the status of the displaced family having relatives among the staff of the temple in the capital.

And which did make me notice for myself that the mistake of imagining instead that the place to look would be in the company of kings is actually one that goes back to the very beginning, with the magi as not-so-wise-men-after-all having the next best thing to a neon light pointing them to the right place but instead pitching up at Herod’s Palace as if it was the obvious place at which to inquire instead.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Christmas workload

A further dip into the Haworth registers shows that Patrick Brontë took seventeen christenings and four weddings on his first Christmas Day (1820).  The logistics alone are mind boggling.  I think I was aware that it was an unusually popular day for weddings – simply because Bob Crachit wasn’t the only one for whom it was a rare day off – but I hadn’t anticipated it being so for christenings as well, let alone anticipate such a number.

There had been none on that day the previous year when there wasn’t an incumbent and presumably there wasn’t an alternative clergyman easily available, which reminds me of the arguments going on in those years about enforcing clerical residence – it was said that the non-availability of a resident parson would severely restrict timely access to ministry and in this case (through vacancy rather than habitual non-residence) this was true.

The thought about Bob Crachit made me dip one step further.  Twenty-three years later, in the year that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published (1843), things had eased off a bit.  There were two Christenings on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas Day, one Wedding on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day.  But I note in particular that – forget Tiny Tim – he buried one year old Frances Sugden on Christmas Eve and five month old James Roberts on Boxing Day.

The picture is one of Giuseppe Penone's tree installations at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Saturday, 15 December 2018


I find that the only new photographs on my camera are of the picture hanging in the lobby of the Bronte Parsonage Museum of the Duchess of Cornwall's visit in February (I'm in the middle of the reception line and it happens to be my hand she is shaking) and of a section of the Incumbents Board in theParish Church next door (to which my name has just been added).  Make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, I have, as requested, prepared a prayer to use on the platform at Haworth Station this evening when the annual steam Carol Train will pull in and disgorge passengers and a brass band for a carol, a Bible reading and a prayer before they return to the warmth of the carriages and refreshments and move on to the next station:

The angels proclaimed peace and goodwill towards all people,
so we pray for those who will try out patience and goodwill most in the next two weeks. 
We pray for those among our in-laws, relatives and visitors who need a prayer most.   
For those who will monopolise our bathrooms, our drink cabinets and our TV remote controls. 
For those who vote differently to us, and who will tell us why;
for those who don’t vote at all, but who will still put us right anyway.
For those who will want to stay safe indoors when we fancy getting out on the moors,
and for those who will urge us into the cold when we fancy staying snugly inside.
For those who play charades.
For those broadband providers, queues and waiters who we will find too slow.
For those children, neighbours and pubs who we will find too loud.
For the young and old whose temper or stupor will indicate they have had too much.
And we give thanks for those who make it easiest for us to love and appreciate them.
Above all, we pray for the great miracle of grace which would be needed
for each of us to be less judgemental, less irritating and less self absorbed ourselves.
We pray for the peace, and for the good will to all people, of which the angels sang.