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  • Lonesome Hallelujah

    Last night the BBC in their infinite wisdom decided to show the film Shrek, which in my opinion improved Saturday night viewing at least a thousand fold.  I am not convinced it subverts the fairy tale, after all boy & girl meet, boy & girl fall in love, misunderstanding messes things up, misunderstanding is resolved and couple marry and live happily ever after.  Nonetheless, it is fun to watch and in places quite powerful.

    I always find the scene where images of Shrek and Fiona are interspersed alongside the song Lonesome Hallelujah quite moving, and yesterday realised that it's the music rather than the story/images that effects this.

    I looked up the lyrics - in Shrek's form and the orignal Leonard Cohen form (there seem to be a few differences) and was immediately struck by the Biblical threads that run through them.  Granted, Cohen (who has a Jewish background and is now a Buddhist) elides David & Bathsheba with Samson & Delilah, but I was really struck by the idea of a 'lonesome hallelujah.'  It seemed - seems - a very profound phrase that echoes aspects of the psalms and indeed other aspects of the God-story in the Bible....

    The Lord gives and the Lord takes away - blessed be the name of the Lord

    A lonesome Hallelujah


    Even if I walk through a valley as dark as death, You are with me

    A lonesome Hallelujah


    If you had been here, my brother would not have died, yet even now...

    A lonesome Hallelujah


    My God, my God why have you forsaken me... into your hands I commend my spirit

    A lonesome Hallelujah


    Hallelujah Hallelujah.


    More about Cohen's life and music can be found at places like Wikepdia, the full lyrics of the song are widely available on line.  Life can be tough: isolation, loneliness, failure, regret can all be part of our experience, yet we still have a choice, 'to curse God and die' or, if only through gritted teeth, to offer our own 'Lonesome Hallelujah.'

    It's an odd song to include in what is essentially a children's film, but it has certainly given me something to think about.

  • Catching the Tide or Missing the Boat?

    When I was a cheery little theology undergraduate, I twice undertook pieces of work where I had just finished what I thought was a decent piece of (level appropriate) research when someone published something that did exactly what I'd just done, in one case in about three pages!

    A good piece of primary research into how single people experienced church life was completed just as Kristin Aune published her book Single Women, Challenge to the Church (which is good stuff, just stole my thunder!).  Then my attempt to use a literary approach to explore the relationship of the fourth gospel with antisemitism turned out to have been pre-empted by Adele Reinhartz in a few pages of her stunningly insightful and eminently readable book Befriending the Beloved Disiple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John.

    Now, just when I want to look at how Baptists write their own history, and I dare to suggest that they have not caught up with current trends in historical methods, two people publish books to undermine me!! Mind you at £50 and £35 each, I think I'll have to wait for libraries to get copies before I read them.

    So, am I missing the boat or catching the tide?  My current area of research goes far beyond historical method, and if Baptist history writing is developing, far from undermining my thesis, it gives it more relevance.  Just makes the quest for originality that bit more elusive!

  • Snow Joke

    A few millimteres of white stuff and England (not Britain) grinds to a halt.  Even the forecast of snow showers followed by rain drove half my wrinklies into panic buying frozen food.  What a load of wimps we are!

    Professional Engineering magazine often publishes responses to 'throw away' questions and the copy that arrived yesterday picked up this exact theme.  Here are three responses that made me think, smile or both...

    • The TV coverage of 2ft of snow in Scotland lasted 15 seconds; roofs removed and people crushed in Yorkshire, 15 seconds; Londoners being put out when trains were not running, 3 minutes.
    • Terrorists are taking the wrong approach.  All they have to do is build a machine to distribute snow at strategic locations and the entire country is plunged into chaos.
    • We have become wusses.  Footballers wear vests.  Town dwellers drive 4x4s.  Councils are paranoid that some individual will choke on a snowflake and sue.  My Mum used to swaddle me in cast-off clothes and send us to school where the heating never worked.  Thank heaven for global warming.

    Ah, the good old days when you wore your wellies to school, tried to thaw your fingers (and your milk) on the radiator and built gigantic snowmen at playtime.

  • Progress? (Chicago 15th A is a tolerable template!)

    Long, long ago when I was a rookie engineer and computers were mainframes and it cost around £1k a go to run a scientific programme, all our reports were hand written, checked by the boss and then sent to the Document Production Department where a dedicated person typed them into a primitive, DOS-based word processor guaranteeing conformity to house style, a trained draughtsperson turned your diagrams into things of beauty, and an editor made sure that the whole thing was correctly ordered and presented.  By the time you got it back -about week later - barring the odd minor error that had been missed or arose due to bad handwriting, it was ready to go.

    Then came personal computers and people who did not know what they were doing started to type their own reports.  Properly set up indents gave way to clumsy use of the space bar and tab key.  People did not know that you are meant to leave TWO spaces after a fullstop before the next sentence (unless you work for Boeing then it's three).  Ham-fisted efforts to use the drawing tools saw ugly diagrams, and as for a house style, well forget it!

    So along came Electronic Document Management systems resplendent with templates and macros, produced by very clever computer boffins but never quite doing what you needed them to, never quite flexible enough for what you had in mind.  House style was back, and CAD progammes improved the diagrams, but even so, all was not as it once was.  Wise employers retained some of their specialist document production staff (i.e. typists and editors) to tidy up the documents and work with the boffins to improve the software.

    And then someone realised they were on to something good here, and, lo, came software that combined databasing, document templates and the macros to link them together.  And the scope was endless and a single programme could, well nearly, do the job for engineers, scientists, historians and theologians - just so long as they knew which template was the closest to what they needed and were willing/able to tidy it up before publication

    Chicago 15th A is a tolerable template!  (Thank you nice kind supervisor for pointing me towards it) It nearly does what I need it to do.  All the frustrations with 'nearly' software I thought I'd escaped from continue.  Yes, it is quicker and more accurate than typing it all in myself, and when I get to large numbers of references and enormous bibliographies I'll be glad of it.  But progess?  I'm not entriely convinced!

  • Zaccheus and Inclusion

    I have been working on my sermon on 'An Inclusive Community' and decided to supplement the suggested reading of the call of Levi from Mark 2 with the story of Zaccheus from Luke 19.  It is Zaccheus who has proved more helpful as I think I can justify identifying different aspects of exclusion, and hence inclusion...

    1. He was physically excluded (altogether: 'Now Zaccheus was a very little man...')
    2. He was socially excluded - he was a Roman collaborator
    3. He was religiously excluded - he was a 'sinner'

    This is handy because it allows me to look at different ways we, inadvertently or otherwise, exclude people from our communities of faith and some of the tough questions that arise.

    • For example - we have a very word-based visual culture, so what of those who cannot see, those who cannot read English and those who cannot read at all?
    • For example - who are the people /people groups we don't like on principle?
    • For example - if we define certain lifestyles as 'sinful,' who are we excluding?

    We then get questions, for example, about

    • How to avoid 'trying to please everyone' and ending up 'offending everyone equally' in worship
    • How do strike a balance between 'legalism' and 'laissez faire' attitudes on complex moral dilemmas

    Part of my aim, I have to admit, is to try to nudge people beyond their Sunday School answers and to start engaging with some real questions.  Alongside the sermons I am producing home study material which will be quite demanding but, I hope, adequately accessible.  It is tricky trying to stretch those who have had a university education, encourage those who left school at 14 and avoid either getting sacked or frightening people.  But it is fun trying.

    Oh, and if Jesus went to Zaccheus' house for tea, as the song says, did he have his fruit and cream before or after his cake?  This seems to be a north/south divide issue... answers on a postcard to the usual address