Wednesday 26 June 2019

Human tides

Once (I remember it was on one of the hour-long train journeys between Doncaster and Grimsby when one had come up fast from London and now deeply regretted the slowness of the connection with the East Coast main line) two English people (I never deduced their relationship) talked long and loudly about why they were glad one now lived in Spain (where I gathered he spent most of each year) and the other in Canada (from where I gathered he was returning for the first time in very many years) since immigration had ruined England.

Making the immediate limited obvious point is too easy.  Making the faux sophisticated point that we are all relatively recent immigrants is too smug.  There is a more challenging point which it is much harder to face. 

The European population surge of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (as an agricultural society intensified and gave way to an industrial one, alongside improvements in sanitation and medicine) was dealt with by the safety-valve of mass emigration to places such as America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa – there may be more descendants of the eighteenth century inhabitants of the British Isles today outside them than inside them – and the largely displaced native populations of those countries took the consequences of this.  It happened despite the fact that new travel and international communication possibilities were in fact comparatively poor.  It happened while the environmental consequences of industrialisation were visibly acute only in the largest urban areas. 

The world-wide population surge of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (similar factors are rolled out across the world) has happened with no remaining safety space – the human population of the world has more than doubled in my life-time – and native peoples of both the British Isles and the countries we have populated are undisplaceable and unwilling to face any consequences.  Travel and international communication possibilities are much greater so intensify the pressure.  The environmental consequences of industrialisation are now visibly acute everywhere. 

In this context, ridiculing overheard train conversations, railing against Trump and despairing at Brexit are hardly the point.  Those who do not perceive themselves to be the products of eighteenth and nineteenth century population expansion and redistribution unconsciously wish to isolate ourselves from the consequences of visible twentieth and twenty-first century population expansion and redistribution pressures.  It is simply that this instinct (expressed by a majority as sneers at multi-cultural societies, as votes aimed at making one’s own nation great, as policies to uncouple formal international interdependence) cannot actually remove anyone from the global situation in which we are all caught up together. 

Dead children on Mediterranean beaches and in the Rio Grande are individual human tragedies and are also the hard to face markers not of where our boundaries will be preserved but of where these shifting human tectonic plates are colliding inexorably.  

The tree is at the end of our road.

Monday 17 June 2019

St James as was and as isn't

Two views of St James', Cross Roads which I hadn't seen before I was lent the brochure for its Golden Jubilee (which was held in the year I was born).

The top picture is the north side of the iron mission church erected in 1887 and demolished twenty-two years later.

The bottom picture is the the south side of the present church almost exactly as it would have been built in 1910 if the  proposed tower had been erected.

The brochure says that they did not want the church to open in debt so the organ and the tower were not there when the church was consecrated - the First World War then throwing planning and finances askew so that the organ was installed (in 1916) but the tower never begun.

Sunday 9 June 2019

Bradford Industrial Museum

The bottom picture is an eight foot high 'coat of many cultures'.

Monday 3 June 2019

Bound by original sin

We may have entered a new geological epoch.  The suggestion continues to obsess me.  The fear is that human activity is shaping the structures of the earth itself.  Permanent evidence of industrial pollution, nuclear activity, plastic waste, carbon dioxide release and antibiotic contamination are being laid down.  Human influence on the cycles of global cooling and warming will be affecting sea levels and thus shaping future land formation and loss.  Human activity looks set to give rise to the next mass extinction of species.  So the suggestion is that the Holocene (simply ‘the most recent’ epoch) has given way to the Anthropocene (the ‘human’ shaped epoch).

My obsession isn’t about decisions to be made by those entrusted with geological nomenclature.  It is about how this reaffirms and refocuses our doctrine of ‘original sin’.  Not so much ‘our mythical first ancestors initial disobedience, grasping of knowledge and consumption of creation, gives rise to a fatal intrinsic predicament for every one of their descendants’.  Rather ‘our shared human choosing, discovering and living inescapably embeds us in damage, destruction and the death of others’.  Either way, the same insight into human nature.

It obsessed me to much that I focussed on it again yesterday, the Sunday between Jesus’ apparent departure (Ascension Day) and the fresh gift of the Holy Spirit (the day of Pentecost).  Not quite the absurd idea of ‘a Sunday of the absence of God’.  More the Sunday calling out “Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth” (as well as “Thy kingdom come on earth”). 

I couldn’t quite bring myself to domesticate those cries into the Church of England’s invitation to use these days to pray for the religious conversion of five specific acquaintances - when what ought to give voice to those cries from originally sinful humanity is the vast need for the renewal of the whole earth and of God’s rule over it.

A central fragment of our set scripture reading then stood out for me like a parable. 

Paul and Silas’s activity has provoked anti-Semitic persecution which results in their own flogging and their confinement in chains in a prison’s inmost cell.  There, as midnight approaches, they pray, sing hymns, and fellow prisoners are strangely attentive to them.  When an example of God's acting is suddenly there, they do not quickly run towards their own personal freedom which this opens up, but call out reassurance to those driven to suicidal despair by the strange radical nature of the change being wrought around them.  Those habituated to the system of confinement ask what technique might be available to them to escape it as well, and are told that the only technique is to trust God can do what our sinful embroilment means we will always fail to do.  (Acts 16.19-32). 

So our own ingenuity and skill provokes horrific unintended consequences, brings down vicious punishment on us, and ultimately shackles our ability to move or respond.  As the Doomsday Clock is edged closer to midnight, the only faithful option left is to pray and sing, longing for God’s activity to release us.  Those who have been observing our longing cries, and those disorientated by any sudden luminous example of the way those cries can be answered, ask “how can I too be freed from the consequences of the human predicament?” and are promised that “God is already on to that”.

The story and parable does continue with baptisms, for all we know possibly even of five people (Acts 16.33-34).

And, although I didn’t mention it on Sunday and need to look properly at it again soon, I’m taken back again to the same Paul telling us that creation itself is watching for and longing for precisely this revealing of a new humanity – almost a poem with the apo- and ape- intensifier for eager-expectation (ape-kdechetai), stretching-towards (apo-kapadokia) and un-veiling (apo-kaluphin) (Romans 8.19).

The new welcome Bronte Society originated sign at the foot of the Haworth Church steps points out a better way, albeit still one which involves bumping across cobbles.