Sunday, 1 December 2019

Early Christian Ilkley

I would travel a great distance to see the sorts of treasures in All Saints’, Ilkley, so it is beyond absurd that, until now, I haven’t travelled the short distance across the moor to see them.

The church is built within the site of a Roman fort and was founded at the very beginning of local Christian life in the seventh century.  Windows in what may well have been the first stone church were of reused Roman stone.  The first picture shows the pagan carving on a Roman altar.  The second picture shows this and a similar stone with the window shapes cut into them.  The windows would have been at ninety degrees.

And eighth century stone crosses also survive.  The first picture shows one – the head and main body actually come from different crosses.  The bottom two picture show details of the carving on it.

If Ilkley’s church was a seventh century foundation, how much later was Haworth’s less than ten miles away?  We have no idea.  I speculate that ‘there has been worship on this site for at least a thousand years’ and add ‘a site with hill, spring a St Michael dedication can indicate Christians taking over a pagan site' and, although there is absolutely no direct evidence to back this speculation, the survivals at Ilkley hint that something like this is possible.     

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Blogging hiatus

Closer than before to the 260 year old William Grimshaw chandelier in St Michael's, Haworth - attempting to clean it a bit as part of yesterday's 'spring clean' after two months of successful rewiring and relighting work going on in the church.

Grimshaw chose Philippians 1.21 ('to live is Christ, to die is gain') as a text  engraved onto the chandelier.  I was pressed again the other day to produce some Grimshaw material (to balance the Bronte material we have in abundance) and might use the text when I do so.

But a more pressing issue (just as the rewiring completes) turns out to be the need to repair (and plan to replace) the electronic action of the organ which has chosen this moment to malfunction - a cheap and poor buy in the 1980s we now learn.  Here is the back off the console under remedial inspection.

Meanwhile. outside St Gabriel's, Stanbury this morning, we thought we spotted a horned creature with a curled lip, which is as good as I can do at the moment until my blogging zeal returns.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Sicily round trip






Monday, 7 October 2019

Sursum corda

We are the weather (the creative title for a new book) succinctly evokes our interdependence with nature. 

Equally evocatively, recently published research suggests that less than half the cells in our bodies are human: the majority of our body’s cells are everything from air in our lungs and fungi on our skin to bacteria in our gut and viruses in our blood.  We are an ecosystem.  The boundary between us and the rest of nature is nowhere near as sharp as we might have thought.

What these evoke is more immediate and fresh than the well valued reminder that we are all star dust, all made up only of elements first created in the stars.

But an observation which I tripped across this week renews that image for me as well.  It is that the instinct of the alchemists was right.  Gold can be made from base metal.  In fact, all the gold we have was so made in the nuclear reactions at the centre of past stars.  All the alchemists lacked was a realisation that their work on this planet could never be sufficient to begin to replicate the process.

I want God to make my baseness golden.  It turns out that this is a real possibility - yet a possibility which earth-bound resources cannot alchemise.  Which, of course, takes me back to the beginning of George Herbert’s Easter

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.  Sing his praise
                                                  Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
                                                  With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Meanwhile, the long needed re-wiring of St Michael's, Haworth began this week, and I am eager to see the impact of the new lighting scheme which will emerge in November

Saturday, 28 September 2019

A frightening prospect

There are lots of things to fear about the prospect of an unpredictable result of an election if we had one soon.

Many people would vote on the issue of Brexit – those looking for a ‘no deal’ exit might vote Conservative, those looking for a confirmatory referendum on a fresh version of the Theresa May ‘exit’ deal might vote Labour, those looking to ‘remain’ might vote Lib Dem.  But a new Government would claim a mandate for its whole Manifesto.  So what if a voter wanted ‘no deal’ but didn’t want a particularly right-wing Conservative programme, or wanted the results of renegotiations put back to the people but didn’t want a particularly left-wing Labour programme?  How would the will of the people be expressed or interpreted by all that?

Meanwhile, the will of the people expressed in Cameron’s other referendum meant we retain the present ‘first past the post’ electoral system.  A good showing for the definite ‘no deal’ Brexit party and/or for the definite ‘remain’ Lib Dems might actually produce some very unexpected results.  For example, a previously safe Conservative seat might find the majority ‘no deal’ votes split between Brexit and Conservative candidates and a previously second placed ‘remain’ Lib Dem MP elected as a result.  Or a previously safe Labour seat might find that the Lib Dems had leached off many Labour ‘remain’ voters and a previously second placed ‘no deal’ Conservative MP elected as a result.

And it can’t be unlikely that as a result the new Parliament would have no party with a clear majority anyway, reflecting the truth that the country is fundamentally divided, and leaving us in the parliamentary stalemate in which we are at present.  It is theoretically possible that it would have substantial blocks of Brexit, Conservative, Labour, Lib Dems and nationalist parties no easy combination of which could combine to form a majority administration at all.

In these circumstances, I couldn't see people, publicists, politicians or press becoming politer and more subtle in presenting their perception that the will of the people is with their own point of view.

Which leaves me with the potato people created at last night’s Friday Church in preparation for St James’, Cross Roads’ Harvest Festival next week.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Mercy brings mercy

The footnotes in the edition of the New Revised Standard Version published as the Jewish Annotated New Testament are always worth a look, but I wasn’t much helped preparing to preach on Luke 16.1-8 this morning by its The parable defies any fully satisfactory explanation. 

The writings of Kenneth Bailey can also produce significant alternative perspectives, but his opening many commentators affirm that this parable is the most difficult... the seeming incongruity of a story which praises a scoundrel has been an embarrassment to the Church since Julian the Apostate used the parable to assert the inferiority of the Christian faith and its founder didn’t promise well either.

Both sources turn out to be sniffy about the very popular suggestion that the steward might simply have been removing exorbitant interest charges, something Bailey traces back to a single 1902 Expository Times article which makes groundless assumptions about the original social context.

Anyway, as a fool rushing in where angels have failed to point out where the stepping stones are, I attempted a re-write.

There was a huge corporation which had a credit-control manager.  Suspicions were raised that this manager was allowing serious losses to occur.  So he was summoned and told, “bring your passwords and access codes along to Human Resources first thing in the morning” and he knew he was losing his job.
He asked himself, “What can I do without it? I am not good at anything else, and I could never pay my mortgage on social security.  Perhaps there is one thing I could do so I could still hold my head up high in this industry.” 

So, from a lap top at home, one by one he accessed the accounts of those who owed most.  He contacted the first at home and asked, “How much can you actually pay?”  He got an answer and he said, “if you’ve paid that by direct transfer overnight, I’ll close your account as fully paid at the start of business tomorrow.”  He did the same thing with a lot of the others. 

The following morning he turned up at Human Resources at the appointed time and found his line manager was also there.  Spread out in front of him with a print out of all the accounts which had been altered and closed overnight.  They both knew exactly what the situation was.  They looked each other in the eye.

Just how many different ways might this story end?

Suggestions at West Lane Baptist Church this morning included the sacking of the credit-control manager, his prosecution, his praise for bringing in a flow of cash just as the corporation was about to go bust, and the sacking of his line manager for extreme failures in supervision.

His line manager said, “we have never before recovered this amount from our bad debtors in a single week, and we’ve never found anyone so aware of the weaknesses in our computer systems;
I tell you what, we would actually benefit from you coming on board in a new role to deal with our worst defaulters and to ensure our computer network is much more secure – if only the people in corporate social responsibility and those on our ethics committee had half your understanding of the lives of our clients and the weakness of our systems and a quarter of your problem solving skills”.

The problem of securing the viability of this or any other interpretation is the loss of the original context in which the Galilean rabbi spoke the story. 

Bailey does have an intriguing hint in his close reading.  The two striking elements of the story are the steward’s ruse of having the bills altered and the master’s commendation of this dishonesty.  Just perhaps, it is this parallel (irresponsible remission of what is owed financially on one side and radical forgiveness on the other) which is the clue – extraordinary mercy shown, unexpected mercy received.

If so, the final sentence has a striking tone.  The master commended the dishonest steward because he had acted shrewdly - for the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light becomes not so much if only the people in corporate social responsibility and those on our ethics committee had half your understanding of the lives of our clients and the weakness of our systems as much as if even those involved in corrupt business practice are often onto the mutual value of forgiveness, mercy and remission, why are so many religious people (for the avoidance of doubt, that would include me) not only not onto this but actually mired in judgmental strictness instead?

The top picture is the relaying of track this week on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway a few hundred yards from our house and from the ‘Railway Children’ tunnel.

The bottom picture is the discovery, at yesterday’s Heritage Open Day, that the 1848 church school room at Stanbury (now our St Gabriel’s church) also had its own badged crockery.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

A frightening vacuum

There is an objective crisis the disturbing nature of which is being drowned out by partisan noise (the manoeuvres we once condemned in others we now embrace ourselves, the strategies we once deployed yourselves we now denigrate as the undemocratic moves of others).

Six things are true.

1.  The Prime Minister does not have the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons.

2.  There is also no willingness in the House of Commons to pass an actual motion of no confidence (which is the route by which opposition parties have toppled such Prime Ministers in the past).

3.  And there is not majority for having General Election (which was how such Prime Ministers would have simply resolved the matter before the Fixed Term Parliament Act but can no longer do so).

So, the Prime Minster cannot govern nor be removed (although he can continue to make policy announcements and follow through those which do not require parliamentary approval).

4.  There is no majority in the House of Commons for rescinding Article 50 (don’t let the partisan noise about a ‘remoaner parliament’ distract anyone about that).

5.  There is also no majority for leaving the EU under the terms agreed by the previous Prime Minister (several parliamentary votes prove that).

6.  And there is no majority for leaving without a deal (a couple of parliamentary votes prove that).

So, the House of Commons could not resolve a way forward on the issue of our EU membership even if it was sitting at present.

The objective crisis isn’t fundamentally that we have ‘people versus parliament’ or ‘Prime Minister against parliament’ or ‘parliament sidelined’ (however loudly partisan noise brays that these things are the case). 

It is that we have hit parliamentary ‘stale mate’ – and what happens when we have no Government or parliamentary moves open is a genuinely dangerous situation.

Meanwhile, the hands on one of the faces of St Michael’s, Haworth’s tower clock are also twisted and mutually unmoveable – the flag on the tower heavy with rain broke loose and tied itself around them – so the clock cannot operate at the moment at all.