Glimpsed

2013-10-10 09.54.20
I like the fact that I can be in the midst of my busyness and then be startled by a reminder of where I am, of where I have come from. Rootedness, and Peterson’s “there are some forms of ministry that only become possible when you have been in a place for a long time”.

An update from Rector Sam

(This is going in the new parish newsletter; thought it would make sense to put it on here too.)

Many of you will be aware that it has been something of an eventful year for me. It may help if I simply list a few key developments:

- I was away on sick leave for three months this summer, the result of exhaustion brought on by sustained stress. I am hoping that whilst the fundamental structural problems relating to my workload (the responsibility of the Diocese) have not been addressed, I am now in a better position to cope with the consequences of that inaction;
- sadly, Rolanda and I have now divorced. We are on good terms, and the children are sharing their time between the Rectory and Rolanda’s new home in The Lane;
- I have stepped down from all of my non-parish responsibilities in the hope that I can sustain my changed family commitments. This means that I am no longer the Area Warden of Ordinands; the Area Healing and Deliverance Advisor; nor a member of the Deanery Pastoral and Standing committee. In addition my day off has reverted back to Friday, and I shall only be working alternate Saturdays;
- I have agreed with Bishop Stephen that I shall be staying in my present post for the foreseeable future.

I am very grateful for all of the love and support that I have received these last few months. I am particularly grateful to the ministry team for stepping in to the gaps thrown up by my absence. As I’m sure you will appreciate, mine and my family’s lives have been through a great upheaval, but things do now look to be settling down and I believe that we can look forward to a more stable future.

With my thanks for our partnership in the gospel…

Some of my favourite thinkers…

There are a good number of writers and thinkers who have had an identifiable impact upon the way that I think. Here are three:

Martha Nussbaum, specifically her ‘Fragility of Goodness’, and even more specifically her arguments about Aristotle and contemplation;

Mary Midgley, especially her ‘Science as Salvation;

Janet Radcliffe Richards, her book ‘The Sceptical Feminist’ which, amongst other things, cured me of any naive use of ‘natural’ as a justification for anything.

I think Susan Haack might yet be added to their number, but I haven’t got to grips with her ‘Passionate Moderate’ stuff yet.

Why am I writing all this? Because I read this article. Which is incredibly sad in all sorts of different ways.

I want to live alone

A song I’m particularly enjoying at the moment – let the reader understand – but if you think you know why I like it, or even who it references for me, I guarantee that you will be wrong… (grin)

From their third album ”Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” 2009 – new album out soon This is quite a good version, with vocals from a particular goddess :)

I wanna live alone
Because the greatest love is always ruined by the bickering
The argument of living
I wanna live alone
I could be happy on my own
Live the rest of my life
With the vaguest of feeling

Wherever you are, Whoever is there
You’ll know that I’ll be here, I’ll be here
Wishing I could be there

So I’m gonna live alone
I’m not saying that our love is the greatest
But I’m in love with you
Wanna stay in love with you
So I’m gonna live alone
Yeah, I’ll be happy on my own
Live the rest of my life
With the vaguest of feeling

Wherever you are, Whoever is there
You’ll know that I’ll be here, I’ll be here
Wishing I could be there

The joy of good, live theatre

Courier article
Well, after an enjoyable cameo role in the panto I’ve managed to get myself a substantial part in the next Mersea Island Players production at the MICA. I’m acting as the director of a small amateur dramatic society, who at one point is rehearsing a part acting as a vicar, so I’m definitely cast against type.

In amidst all the enjoyable strains of learning lines and rehearsing I’ve been thinking about the nature of the theatre, and why ‘good, live theatre’ is an irreplaceable experience. I say that despite being something of a movie addict myself, who hardly ever goes to watch live performances any more. So why do I think theatre is irreplaceable? Well, it’s similar to the difference between work which is done by craft and that which is manufactured.

With live theatre, the emphasis is upon the particular moment. There is something happening in this place and at this time – there are real human beings watching and being watched – and, of course, there is the ever-present risk of something going wrong, whether that be forgetting lines or having an accident or lighting failure and so on. In other words, there is something unique about live theatre as an event. Contrast this with a movie, especially a modern blockbuster. The very essence of what is happening is that it is both manufactured and repeatable. Rather than a direct human interaction between performer and audience, the actors are often recorded in front of a ‘green screen’ on which all the special effects will later be portrayed. This is a fascinating process, and the results range from the awful (Star Wars prequels) to the groundbreaking (the Matrix) yet even when the results are good, it is a very different experience to watch a movie rather than a play.

There is something undeniably primitive about watching another human being act out a story. Small children know and enjoy this intuitively, and will happily play dress-up and act out stories for hours on end. Adults often have that sense of excited wonder drained out of them by all the vicissitudes of life – and the wonderful thing about ‘good, live theatre’ is that is provides a context in which that sense of wonder and engagement can be resurrected. It’s not an accident that I’m using religious language there, for there is an ancient link between theatre and religious ritual – indeed, there is an ongoing academic debate about which emerged from the other. Was it that religious ritual was a particular form of theatre, or that theatre was a particular form of ritual? Whichever is the case, the nature of being able to share in a common experience, journeying through a common story and being changed by that process – this is right at the heart of what makes theatre so special.

This was well known to the ancient Greeks, from whom much of our understanding of theatre descends. They talked about something called ‘theōria’ – a word that has come down to us as ‘theory’ but, as is so often the case, that ‘coming down to us’ is a descent in more ways than one. For the Greeks, theōria was something immensely practical. Aristotle argued that theōria, the philosophical consideration of the nature of things, is the highest and most enjoyable activity there can be, it is the central purpose of the best possible human life. To our ears, this sounds like something very abstract and almost passive. In translations of Aristotle, theōria is normally rendered as ‘contemplation’ which suggests a single, steady gaze held on a single impressive object, like a telescope focused on the peak of a high mountain. This is very much not what Aristotle had in mind. On the contrary, what Aristotle had in mind was something called “sacralized spectating” – the sort of very vigorous and engaged communal experience that comes from a community watching something like the Olympic Games together (either then or now) – or, of course, watching a tragedy in the theatre at Athens. In other words, to participate by watching is at the heart of what the greatest thinkers in antiquity felt was the best sort of life. Our modern media gives us many ways in which to do this – and a dark movie theatre is a very good way in which to do this – yet there is something irreplaceable about ‘good, live theatre’. It is unique, it is profoundly engaging, and it is chthonically human.

Which is why we on Mersea are so extremely fortunate to have the MICA centre available for such productions, and if my view of how the coming years are likely to unfold has any merit, I believe that we will be making much more use of such community resources in the future. To have a neutral community space that can be adapted for such a purpose is a great blessing – long may it last. So please do come along! There are two one-act plays being performed each night on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th May at 7.30pm. They contain adult content (theme and language) and even though I’m partisan, I do think that the scripts are hilarious – the plays have been performed to great acclaim at the Edinburgh festival for example. I just hope that we actors can do justice to the lines…

So that was 2012

Yeah, 2012 – you really sucked. For the first time ever a year that I’m thoroughly glad to see the back of.

Two major highlights: first, getting the book published, even if it was self-published(!) and enjoying some positive reviews and some royalty cheques, although I still haven’t turned a profit… I’m now going to start talking about ‘my first book’ and ‘my second book’! Second, my eldest starting at boarding school, which seems to be working out really well.
Lowlights: several, most of which I’m not going to talk about on the blog, although my job-search has been fairly public, and unsuccessful, and I’ve now effectively given up on that. I haven’t got a clue what the good Lord wants me to do, but – and this won’t come as much of a surprise to those reading some of my stuff closely – it might not be within the institution.

So a moment when I’m concentrating on cultivating thankfulness and the Buddhist virtue of non-attachment, especially with regard to outcomes, which can also be translated as ‘learning to trust in God alone’ – on God alone my soul in stillness waits. I hope he has something good planned for 2013.

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.

Sarah Coakley agrees with me! (perhaps they will listen to her)

Please forgive the egotistical title for this blog-entry, but my inner cheer is too buoyant to repress. I’ve been banging on about the lack of theological seriousness in the Church, the creeping managerialism, and the effect it has on clergy morale for a long time – and focussed all those concerns on the women bishops question here. In the aftermath of the Synod debacle, Professor Sarah Coakley, who is an all round star, weighs in here. Go read.