Comments: opinions to mull

Thankyou for the article by Christopher Howse. There's something about Wales that evokes a deep sense of calm when seen through the eyes of poets like R.S. Thomas.

Christopher Ohlson makes a good point about hymnody. As a church musician I would say that the most common feedback I get from my work is from people who claim they couldn't sing the hymns. I should point out that this is a parish where the New English Hymnal reigns supreme! As the parish director of music I am charged with the responsibility of choosing the hymns for use in worship. My criteria tend to be that the text is topical to the readings and that the tune (if not well-known) is easy to pick up within 2-3 verses of a 5-6 verse hymn. Nothing is chosen solely on the strength of the first verse - but this tends to be where the judgement is made by most people in the congregation (and clergy!).

I think Ohlson begs the question somewhat. Are we to believe that inspired poetry and music for liturgical use stopped being written sometime shortly after the nineteenth century? As he points out, our own age has some serious issues to face before God. Perhaps the crisis in religious poetry is that poets no longer view their work first and foremost in terms of song. I welcome contradiction here, but the sheer verbosity of much modern hymn-poetry would seem to suggest otherwise. Professional poets with a strong religious identity - I think, for example, of Kevin Hart - don't tend to write in a way that would be readily accepted for hymn books these days; I regard this as everyone's loss. A similar problem besets writers of hymn tunes, too.

Posted by kieran crichton at Saturday, 10 March 2007 at 11:50am GMT

Roderick Strange's article reminded me of a comment by Ruidh(?) a few weeks ago that his wife will not allow him to take communion until he is reconciled with her after a fight, even though he feels just fine.

I also found myself thinking about a modern disasters and how respond to those:

- Do we provide genuine help and compassion, or the minimum for a propoganda spin to convince others we are nice people? The 2004 Tsunami exposed states were praising themselves for their initial paltry contributions; while it was the masses who got on with demonstrating how much was really required.

- Are our consciences clean? Have we done the best we can in the circumstances given to us? If you are involved in a car accident - did you contribute to the accident or is it really something that came out of left field? You can usually tell after the event who has a clear conscience. The one ranting and raving and pointing fingers is usually trying to get someone else to admit liability so they don't have to take responsbility for their poor maintenance or their negligent and/or aggressive driving skills.

- Do you have unresolved baggage? Are there things you wish you had done or said that you have not done (or apologies that you wish you had made and have not done so). If you were to lose someone close to you tomorrow, are you at peace that the relationship is in order? (Or if it is not, that it is beyond your control to improve the situation anyway).

Stuff happens. Sometimes there are opportunities e.g. now that we know we get SE Asian Tsunamis, we can put in place an alert system to save lives. We can't stop the tsunamis from happening, but we can save lives where there is enough distance to get people to higher ground.

What does not help is to say that it all came from God and so we are not responsible for helping people in the now or preparing for a future contingency. When we discover an engineering/design fault in buildings and machines; we put in place strategies to avoid it in the future. We need to do the same thing with our social dynamics too, from our families, to our faith communities, to our broader society; with ourselves, with each other, and with our neighbours.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 10 March 2007 at 7:47pm GMT

I liked Giles Fraser's article and agree with his sentiments.

James Alison's article led to an "ah ha" moment. No wonder biblical hermeneutics is so off the rails (something I'd worked out a couple of years ago).

Before we go to study the bible, we learn to think like philosophical Greeks for three years. We then go and study the bible through that filter.

What is lost is the internalisation of the biblical imagery and the biblical "key words" that pop up throughout the bible. If people want to think hermeneutically, then they need to internalise the biblical imagery and then compare that to the ancient Greek paradigms.

Jesus came from a Judaic background and had a dialogue with the Romans (and some Jews). He did not come as a Roman and have a dialogue with the Jews (and some Romans).

Think like a Roman, be blind to the cultural norms of the Roman empire e.g. tolerance to slavery or cruelty or power at any costs.

The bible is meant to help us think not like a Babylonian. It was created to be a counterweight to the normal course of evolution. It is God interjecting into humanity's consciousness to challenge our assumptions and precepts, and to say "imagine this instead".

It is the greatest "what if" book this world has ever seen. What if there was no greed, poverty, slavery, cruelty, oppression, violence, deceit? What would the world look like then? What can we do in the here and now to help that kind of world come about, on a personal, community or global level?

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 10 March 2007 at 7:56pm GMT

The article by Howse was charming! I just wished he had pictures of it:

Posted by Annie at Saturday, 10 March 2007 at 8:23pm GMT

Monsignor Roderick Strange in TimesOnline recalls that Jesus was saying that the people caught up in incidents were no greater sinners than the rest, but unless you repent you could have a disaster too. This was, of course, Jesus's world view that accident, coincidence, illness and death were related to sin, and this outlook is the origin of the later view continued by the modern day evangelical that Jesus being sinless did not have to die but did die so that we do not have to (yet we do die, so the not dying is now some sort of spiritual carrying on after we have died...).

But what we know is that we get ill and die for biological reasons, and that people who repent can still have an accident. Indeed the chances of a crook winning the lottery are, in the long run, proportional to the number of crooks doing the lottery, and the best people can suffer a horrible death because it is nothing to do with their ethical condition.

So when Roderick Strange says 'We all need to give attention to our failures in loving, which we call sin. Not to do so is to court disaster' I have no idea what he means, if he means it in the above sense. This is why we actively have to redo theology, and not just repeat it out of cultural context.

My own MA in Theology was something similar to James Alison's, in that there was much I had not considered nor the sheer range available, but so many in the class had built in assumptions and were after one result at the end of it all. The question "why?" is always a good one. As Giles Fraser suggests, you have to have (at least) a critical approach to the Bible.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 10 March 2007 at 9:46pm GMT

Cheryl, I liked James Alison's article very much, and I also like your reflections on it. However, he doesn't say that he studied Greek philosophers for 3 years, he says he studied "philosophy" and I would expect that to cover the whole canon right up to modern philosophers.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 11 March 2007 at 9:36am GMT


My frustration that theological colleges have taught people to think from a non-Hebrew bible perspective and then to study the bible.

Your point is valid in that philosophy is more than Greek. But the concerns about filters on thinking is also valid.

It has been pleasing to see some faiths recognising the need to re-explore biblical hermeunetics. A part of that is understanding that the bible creates an internalised imagery that is counter-intuitive to other philosophy streams. Not being aware of the risk of filtering has led to blindness in recognising some of the biblical symbolism. They didn't know that they didn't know.

Now they know that they didn't know. But they still don't know what they don't know.

Next they will learn what they need to know.

Then they will learn it.

Then they will think differently and things will be transformed.

As the archbishop of Perth, WA said a few years ago. God has a way of making old things new again.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 12 March 2007 at 10:22am GMT
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