Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Good News

I’ve just taken down my copy of the Good News Bible, prepared in ‘standard, everyday, natural English’ and published in 1976, over forty years ago.  It was given to me by my mother for Christmas that year; I would have just completed my first term in the Sixth Form. 

I remember the excitement of the sales pitch that the word translated since Anglo-Saxon times as ‘Go(d’s)spel’ was here directly rendered ‘Good News’ and being intrigued by just how much more could be opened up in the same way (as, for example ‘repent’ becomes ‘turn away from your sins’).

Three years later, in my first term at University, I was trying to come to terms with the vocabulary of New Testament Greek myself, words like logos (word), phone (sound) and thanatos (death).  I found that the prefix eu- (nice) turned each of these into English words I recognised: eulogos (nice words) gave me eulogy (a spoken tribute); euphone (nice sound) gave me euphonious (pleasant to hear); euthanatos (nice death) gave me euthanasia (mercy killing).

So I found exactly where the sales pitch of the Good News Bible was grounded: an angel is a messenger, and thus euangelion (nice message) gives us evangelist (a writer or proclaimer of what at different stages of the development of English has been rendered gospel, glad tidings and good news).

It was only much later that I found that the New Testament writers who wrote the word ‘euangelion’ were also reading it as a word in their own Bibles – the standard Greek translation in their own time of what we call the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament.  And here, as often as not, euangelion was being used for the announcement of a victory, almost as if it was in fact a technical term for a joyful despatch from a battlefield.

So, on Sunday, as the opening words of Mark’s Gospel came round once more and we began to proclaim ‘This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God... I will send my messenger ahead of you to clear the way for you... someone is shouting... make a straight path for him to travel’, I was put in mind of Rowan Williams’ reminder that this has the force of an announcement of regime change.

Not Good News as in ‘settle down children and let us hear some of the lovely stories about Jesus – and then we can have a hot drink and go to bed and have sweet dreams’.

But Good News as in ‘dance in the streets because the word abroad is that the despot who has been in charge for far too long is under house arrest and the longed for successor is now actually in the country - and then align yourselves urgently with the new possibilities opening up in front of you lest either he’ll find you colluding with the old corruption or, worse still, we’ll all miss the chance and the new cabinet will simply get filled up with the same people as the old one ’.

The picture is the result of an apprentice at Airedale Springs in the parish practicing programming a machine to twist single pieces of wire consistently into a carefully specified shape.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Light where horses race

Back at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park again for my Day Off last week, we hugely enjoyed the Tony Cragg pieces (top two pictures) but were most fearfully engaged by Alfredo Jaar's work most of which was under a 'no photographs' embargo but which also included his The Garden of Good and Evil (bottom two photographs) which expresses the hidden places of detention in the world.  

He quoted Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet already important to us: I love the particles of sky that slip through the skylight - a metre of light where horses race.  I was obviously put in mind of Oscar Wilde's little tent of blue which prisoners call the sky - but also taken back to Irina Ratushinskaya's frosted window and Anne Frank's horse-chestnut tree.     

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

I'm good at this

I led Collective Worship in a couple of Primary Schools yesterday.

I used some of my very limited knowledge of British Sign Language (BSL) to teach a small selection of signs and get the entire hall to use them for a concluding prayer.  So far, so normal.

One Headteacher ran with the idea as I was finishing and asked me further questions.  I explained how little I knew, how I had helping lead worship with an interpreter for a congregation of deaf people in the past, and how the Friday Church at St James’ was learning the Lord’s Prayer in BSL clause by clause so that we could now do about half of it.

‘Reverend Mullins has told you how little he knows,’ the Headteacher said to the children, ‘but you’ve seen how much he does know - he meant to say “I’m good at this, and I’m working hard to be even better at it”.’

I thanked him afterwards (he knew the BSL sign for ‘thank you’ by then) for reinforcing the school’s ethos in the face of the constant danger of it being undermined by inadvertent external influences like mine and English self-deprecation.

The picture is part of the classic view down Haworth’s Main Street made even more classic by the sun on this year’s first dusting of snow.  I’m told that the classic Hovis advert filmed on Golden Hill in Shaftesbury is based on a 1940s poster advert depicting a delivery boy toiling up Main Street, Haworth, but I haven’t yet been able to find a copy.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Halifax details

And, not a small detail at all, the surprising scale of the Piece Hall (originally for the sale of cloth) which rivals any major Italian piazza:

Friday, 17 November 2017

Framing and curating

Different choices of possible frames for a piece of art bring out different aspects of it.  I was reminded of this by one example this week: ‘the silver one brings out the central motif clearly while also making the piece seem colder, while the red one brings out small elements which are there in the background and by doing so makes the piece warmer’. 

And I just wondered whether that might actually be a (partial) image of preaching?  One is putting a frame around something (a passage of scripture, an experience of faith or of life) to ‘bring out’ something from it. 

There will be the obvious dangers.  Choosing a loud, large and inappropriate frame which draws attention to itself rather than the art.  An habitual choice of a favourite frame which (perhaps unconsciously) will only ever bring out a strictly limited selection of colours or features.  Or simply an unawareness of the effect ‘framing’ is having on what is being noticed.

All of which also reminded me of a different image offered over the last few years.  The image is  having responsibility for ‘curating worship’ – the responsibility for developing and leading liturgy is like the responsibility of the curator of an art exhibition.  The image is all the more compelling because all licensed clergy are ‘curates’. 

Perhaps that is also a(nother partial) image of preaching?  Choices are made about the things (scripture, experiences, reflections on them) which are included or excluded.  And, crucially, choices are made about what one chooses to exhibit side-by-side, how one labels anything, and about the order in which one leads people past things.

So, working with our 'Worship on the road to Emmaus' groups, I noticed that 'framing' our Communion liturgy with, or 'exhibiting it' alongside, Luke 24 (the Emmaus story) ‘brings out’ the way each such service situates us on the evening of Easter Day with what feels like the hardly credible first resurrection news and experiences freshly invigorating us.

And then, this week, 'framing'  exactly the same service with, or 'exhibiting it' alongside, Jeremiah 32 (the prophet investing in land in a war zone – a story which comes up once every three years in our Sunday reading cycle but with which our groups were unfamiliar) ‘brings out’ the way each Communion service is situated in desertion and in hope apparently being crushed by naked political power (it is literally ‘in the night in which he was betrayed’ after all, the covenant of hope is in this context).

Other 'frames' for the Communion service, other things which might be 'exhibited' alongside it, are a meal, the Passover, or a (wedding) banquet.  Each would ‘bring out’ something we might otherwise not spot or value or be challenged by.

And what about the way each Christian denomination is a frame which makes us notice and overlook quite different aspects of the whole Christian story and tradition?  Or what is 'brought out' of both our rapidly changed culture and our faith stories when they are exhibited next to one another?

The picture is Bridgehouse Beck at the bottom of our road.  It will flow into the Worth close by and on into the Aire in the next town, which will flow into Calder on the other side of our district and then into the Ouse on the other side of our county, emerging into the Humber estuary to flow through the edge of the parish I left behind in Grimsby nearly six months ago.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Developing views

I was in Lincoln Cathedral yesterday for the first time in six months and found the long planned work has been completed to furnish the area around St Hugh's shrine as a centre of worship rather than as a vast empty retro-choir space.  There are hints of a sheepfold about it.  I also found  a new willow-creation of St Hugh's swan by the shrine (look out on the left of the picture).  

Meanwhile, leaf-fall has also subtly changed the view from our shower room window in Haworth.  We can now just make out the chimneys of the former  mansion (now the Youth Hostel) on the horizon; the mill-owner would have looked down on the housing developed on the brown-field former mill site below.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Entwine our desires

I’ve been playing with the text of an early Latin Collect which came up recently.

Dirigat corda nostra quaesumus Domine tuae miserationis operatio, quia tibi sine te placere non possumus comes out (in the word order of the modern English Collect) as something like Lord, because without you we cannot be acceptable to you, may the activity of your compassion, we ask, direct our hearts which Cranmer’s seventeenth century revisers rendered O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee, mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.

Both the translation process and the way this has been ‘improved’ by the reference to the Holy Spirit is clear thus:

Source / Prayer Book
Lord / O God
because / forasmuch as
without you / without thee
we cannot  / we are not able to
be acceptable to you  / please thee
may the activity of your compassion / mercifully
we ask  / grant that
- / thy Holy Spirit
- / may in all things
direct / direct
- / and rule
our hearts / our hearts.

Leaving that to one side, my playing has tried to create new prayers which capture what the Latin originators might have been encouraging us to feel towards:

Stir our hearts, Lord, we pray,
because we cannot come to you
without your mercy at work in us

or even

Entwine our desires
with your mercy, O Lord,
that you might delight in them.

Source / First new prayer
Lord /  Lord
because /  because
without you /  without your
we cannot  /  we cannot
be acceptable to you  /  come to you
may the activity of your compassion /  mercy at work in us
we ask  /  we pray
direct /  stir
our hearts / our hearts

Source / Second new prayer [negative ‘because without you we cannot be acceptable to you’ shifted to a positive ‘that you might delight in them’]
Lord /  O Lord
because /  that
without you /  you
we cannot  /  might
be acceptable to you  /   delight in them
may the activity of your compassion / with your mercy
we ask  /  [this is only implied]
direct /  entwine
our hearts /  our desires

Meanwhile, the largess to the poor is the feeding of the hungry as one of the corporal works of mercy in the Charlotte Bronte memorial window in St Michael's, Haworth.