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.