Friday 27 December 2019

A pure blood line

Matthew’s opening verses state Jesus’ descent from Abraham and David, and set out a line of descent from them until Joseph (Abraham begat Isaac, and so on, in over forty steps).  It is increasingly noticed that four times it includes additionally the name of the mother, and it intrigues some of those who notice this that the circumstances of each conception was, in some way or another, scandalous.  In drawing people’s attention to this last week, I gently offered some parallels from the current news.

Matthew is clear that Joseph has no union with Mary before Jesus' is born, yet the line he traces is that of Joseph.  It may simply be that Matthew does not share our understanding of genetics.  An adopted son, or a child fathered by a younger brother on behalf of a deceased older brother, each might be seen as the real son of the father who had not helped conceive him or her.

Judah fathers Perez by his daughter-in-law Tamar, who had disguised herself as a prostitute to trick him into sex.  The death of his son, her husband, had left her at the mercy of his family.  They had consistently prevented her from then having children by any of his other sons.  Judah was all for having her burnt to death, but comes to see that ‘she is more righteous than I’ (Genesis 38.26).  The newspaper story is of a woman whose punishment for a crime against her in-laws had been mitigated because she had been the subject of coercive control by them.   

Salmon fathers Boaz by Rahab, genuinely a prostitute, who had sheltered the Jewish spies in Jericho and whose family was thus spared when Jericho (literally) fell.  The line of descent thus includes both those who entered the ‘promised land’ and the Canaanites who already lived there.  The newspaper story is of the attempted defence of genocidal ethnic cleansing of Rohingya and Kachin in Myanmar.

Boaz in turn fathers Obed by Ruth, who had also been widowed and who had come to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law who came from there.  She is a Moabitess who has to glean in the fields to have food.  Obed’s son Jesse (often presented in Christian art literally as the root of Jesus’ family tree) thus had one Jewish grandparent, one Canaanite and two Moabite.  The newspaper story is an unbroken continuation of the Windrush story – a young women brought up in this country rendered homeless because her parents could not produce British passports.  It might have been of asylum seekers going to Food Banks or having commitments to them removed from the new version of the EU Withdawal Bill.

David fathers Solomon by ‘the wife of Uriah’.  Bathsheba, who had caught the King’s eye and been summoned to his bedroom, is not named.  The King had actually compassed Uriah’s death when his attempt to conceal Solomon’s older brother’s parentage failed.  The newspaper story is a continuation of the Me Too story – a young actress summoned for an audition which turned out also to be in the Director’s bedroom.

It is impossible to be sure what was in Matthew’s mind.  On the one hand he is clearly setting out Joseph’s and Jesus’ unambiguously ideal male parental line – pure bred, pedigree.  On the other hand he has Joseph descended from both the ethically cleaned and the ethnic cleansers, from Canaanite and Moabite stock, from among the abused and exploited; it weaves everything from genocide to the instinct for honour killing into the story.

Does the following sentence ‘now the birth of Jesus the Christ took place in this way’ (Matthew 1.18) belong not as the introduction to Mary’s story but as the conclusion of this ancestral tale – ‘the circumstances of Jesus’ birth is the next consistent part of this story’?

Does the careful description of Joseph facing his dilemma as a ‘righteous man’ (1.19) actually root him as the descendant of not only righteous Tamar but of a string of foreign and sexually compromised righteous women?

What Matthew himself cannot have intended, but what I valued noticing, is that Joseph is aware of such circumstances being one of ‘disgrace’ (1.19) and one if which he is ‘afraid’ (1.20) - so when John spells this out as ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14) the impact of grace is so much more powerful (poured out on those who know what disgrace means), as is truth when it charts the way for those who are afraid to do what is right.

After preaching some of this on the Sunday before Christmas, my eye lit on the painted list of incumbents – my respectable heritage (Peter Mullins, in line from William Grimshaw and Patrick Brontë).  A closer examination reveals Commonwealth and Restoration expulsions at the top of the board and a single belated female name near the bottom.  I’d guess that there are stories of neglect and perhaps even of abuse not made clear at least somewhere on the board as well – recent news stories would make this seem likely in many parishes - and I am simply an inheritor of it all equally rather than a self-flattered holder of a distinguished office.

The picture (an old Brontë Society postcard reproducing an earlier photo) was part of a Christmas present.  The old decrepit single clock and face removed in 1868 is absent.  The new clock and faces installed in 1870 and the heightening of the tower to accommodate them are also absent.  I wondered whether this indicated an 1869 photo - but local historian Steven Wood tells me that it is actually a doctored photo from the 1870s seeking to recreate what the church would have looked like in the Brontës' time but forgetting to add in the old clock face.

Saturday 14 December 2019

What just happened?

Half a dozen points not (much) noticed in the commentaries we all saw yesterday.

Conservative Party strategists know that they need to garner the support of 25% of the electorate to be able to govern with a majority.  They achieved over 29%.  Two things follow.  One is that their party legitimately forms the Government and can claim authority to deliver the whole of its manifesto.  The other is that it does so without the direct support of 70% of the electorate (which isn’t unusual – something similar was true of the Blair, Brown, Cameron and May Governments).

More people turned out and voted for the potential ‘let us at least have a Second Referendum’ alliance (Labour, Scottish Nationalist, Liberal Democrat and Green) than voted for the ‘get Brexit done’ parties (Conservative and Brexit).  But our electoral system delivered 263 seats to those ‘stop Johnson’ parties and 365 seats to those ‘back him on Brexit’ parties.

This was in part because the potential alliance parties failed to agree to stand aside for whichever one of them was best placed to defeat the Conservatives in key seats, while in sharp contrast the Brexit party did choose to stand aside in Conservative held seats and the majority of its previous electoral supporters clearly voted tactically for the Conservatives in Labour held seats.  It might not be too extreme to conclude that Liberal Democrat votes lost it for Labour (and for themselves) and Brexit party votes won it for the Conservatives.

Although this is generally true, in some particular seats I notice it isn't true at all and in these it could have been worse for Labour if the Brexit party supporters had stood aside - for example, there are two Hull seats where the successful Labour candidate would have been ousted if the Conservative and Brexit party votes had been combined.

If the north of England was a separate country (the three  ‘economic regions’ North, North East and Yorkshire & Humber– roughly everything north of a Chester-Cleethorpes line), it would still have a majority Labour Government despite the spectacular and decisive Conservative inroads: Labour 88 seats and Conservative 68 seats (about half newly taken from Labour) with Liberal Democrat and the Speaker one seat each. 

Government funding for building new hospitals is programmed to deliver a single new hospital in this whole area during the lifetime of this parliament (in Leeds).  Universal Credit will now be fully rolled out across this area during the lifetime of this parliament (without now any effective parliamentary pressure to further modify how the transition is handled for existing benefit claimants).  And, although this is the one supposition in this blog post, manufacturing-related industry in Keighley, fishing-related industry in Great Grimsby and steel-related industry in Scunthorpe (the three constituencies in which I have been an incumbent for most of the last thirty years, each now with a new Conservative MP, two with absolute majorities) will find it tough to weather the economic turbulence of the period of new trading relationship negotiations and are unlikely to find the new trading terms which then emerge transformative.

Which raises one intriguing possibility.  What effect on Government policy might there be if good new constituency MPs consistently feed back the impact things like this are having on their constituents and their own chances of re-election?

Notwithstanding things like Greta Thunberg being labelled Time magazine’s Person of the Year, the average voter doesn’t regard the climate emergency as an issue deceive enough to affect their behaviour.  2.7% voted Green and some others will have switched or retained their vote chiefly because they had weighed the parties’ different environmental policies, but most voting appeared to have been on the basis of Brexit and/or domestic policy issues, there was certainly negligible feed-back from canvassing warning party campaign strategists that it was a significant issue, and there was no genuinely destabilising kick-back on the leaders of the Conservative and Brexit parties for not bothering to prioritise a television debate on the issue.

The picture is one of St Michael’s, Haworth’s redundant eighteenth century font in the churchyard.  I  took the picture this week while beginning to develop some material for a potential William Grimshaw related leaflet; it carries his name, the date 1749, and the text I have indeed baptized you with water but He will baptize you with THE HOLY GHOST.

The two paragraphs in italics were added on 15th December.

Monday 9 December 2019

Still not reflecting

Well, I am reflecting a bit: apart from anything else we've had an Archdeacon's inspection, election campaign induced nausea, my own annual external Ministerial Development Review process, and a tide of Christmas preparation.  Just nothing yet suitable to resume blogging. 

The top picture is an Advent / Christmas season banner for St Michael's created during All Age Worship there at the beginning of the month: each bauble carries a member of the congregation's hope for something to be transformed (the set reading was about spears being reforged as pruning hooks) and the presents carry the message 'Come let us walk in the light fot he Lord' (the concluding words of that reading). 

The bottom picture was taken when parking ahead of collective worship at Stanbury Primary School a couple of days later when they (the pupils, not the sheep) were treated to a very similar theme. 

And I cannot tell you how much I have appreciated reading Robert Macfarlane's Underland, Robert Powers' Overstory and Jean Sprackland's Green Noise.

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, springs, and 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 indeed possible.