- Very old books
- The calendar
- Getting buried when I die instead of burned or mutilated or set adrift or abandoned or eaten by birds
- Luke chapter 1
- The abolition of slavery
- Always believing (and occasionally even feeling) that I am forgiven and ultimately ok
- Going to church
- Staying home from church
- Christmas carols
- C. S. Lewis
- Believing that my dog was created by God and hoping that he will go to heaven too
- Clerical vestments
- Evensong, and the ability to see morning and evening as holy
- Cappadocian beards (like the one growing on Oliver Crisp)
- Russian icons
- Very old churches with old bones lovingly planted underneath
- Babette's Feast
- The love of names, and the belief that names are holy
- The sign of the cross
- All the women's names, hundreds of them, derived from the Virgin Mary (Mara, Marie, Mariella, Marietta, Marilyn, Marita, Maryanne, Maura, Maurine, May, Mayra, Minnie, Moira, Morag, Muriel…)
- Civil law
- Italian cooking
- Having a lot of other people (billions of them) who will always think of me, no matter what, as a brother
- The resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come
- Codex Sanaiticus
- Being able to read Milton and T. S. Eliot and understand what they are talking about
- Old people
- People who speak in tongues
- The nomina sacra (see #22)
- Holy communion (even when I don't deserve it)
- Kim Fabricius
- People who argue about very old books (see #1)
- The habit of seeing normal things, bread and wine and water, as the best and holiest things
- Learning how to pray
- The meaning of words like grace and love and steadfast love and lovingkindness and mercy and the multitude of thy tender mercies.
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Thursday, 5 December 2013
Here you will see women more beautiful and women more frightening and appalling than anywhere else in the world. You will see women with withered faces and hungry alert eyes and limbs as thin as sticks, combing the pavement for cigarette butts. You will see the Lebanese woman in tight jeans and a peach silk blouse and peach silk headscarf, so lovely you could cry, and the tall black African woman as glorious as a queen with her gorgeous dignity and her gorgeous red and orange clothes and the baby strapped to her waist and the red umbrella that she holds for shade above the baby, and you will see women, former convicts, with tight faces and muscly tattooed arms, and the hunchbacked woman who shuffles past clutching many shopping bags and a little boy, and the woman with the bicycle helmet and the bicycle and the little dog.
You will see disfiguring ailments, faces twisted out of all proportion, bodies barely functioning, legs hardly able to hobble from one end of the mall to the other and back again. You will see young men's bodies covered with expensive colour tattoos and older men's bodies covered with artless prison tattoos, and men of no determinate age with tattoos stretching menacingly up one side of the neck. You will see the most extensive catalogue of facial hair available anywhere in the world: the thin man whose body is bald all over except for the three-foot braided goatee; the round man with the clean-shaven face and the huge neck beard like Robert Browning; the little man with the thick grey moustache that continues in a straight line from the top lip to the tops of his ears and then encircles the back of his bald head, a perfect round belt of hair. If you stare too long, these beards will return one night in your dreams and leave you frightened to go back to sleep again.
You will see the kind fat grocer perched on a wooden stool beside tables laden with ripe fruit. He will call to you as you pass by, "Bananas, two for three dollars. Tomatoes, fresh tomatoes. Mangos, three for five dollars. All fruit grown by wogs. Give the wog a chance, ladies and gentlemen, give him a chance!" You will stop and laugh because others have stopped to laugh too and to buy fruit from the kind fat grocer and his smiling skinny sons.
You will see the tightly knit community of the homeless, the high, and the unhinged congregating around the park benches in front of the cathedral. You will see the heroin dealers with their new sports clothes and their new white shoes and their thick new jewellery, and the edgy characters milling about to score heroin, and the drawn faces hollowed out by heroin, and you will see their girlfriends, not all of whom are prostitutes, scurrying away on errands with plastic shopping bags.
You will see a man resting on his haunches with his head in his hands on the pavement beside the lamp post. Very suddenly he lunges to his feet and, with the precision of a professional boxer, delivers a short sharp blow to the unsuspecting lamp post. Then he goes over beside the green rubbish bin and pulls down his pants and pulls them up again and goes back to the lamp post and squats on his haunches with his head in his hands. He is very sad and agitated because the heroin dealers have not come back yet. Poor fellow, you would give him heroin yourself if you could, just to ease his troubled mind.
You will see a man and a woman, both dressed in matching sports pants with the white stripe down the side, screaming at each other. He strikes her. But it's ok, the police are here, they are never far away, they are always visible in the background in their fluorescent yellow vests. They come over and the woman, who loves her man (where would she be without him?), turns on the police. The police stay until she has calmed down and then they argue some more and a few others wander over and argue too, and then the police have gone because there are other things to attend to, and there are more important things transpiring in the Church Street Mall than a woman screaming at the man she loves and being hit by him.
You will see the man with dreadlocks and a face that looks like Jesus crouching in his dirty blankets on the concrete step, drinking coffee between spasms of maniacal laughter. You will see the big Lebanese man whose brain is addled and who, though he can no longer walk straight or talk in sentences, has never lost his native swagger. And you will see his wife or lover who keeps chasing him away but sometimes touches him fondly when he returns because she cares for him and has always felt safe and good with a man who swaggers like that. Nowhere else in the world will you ever see men with more swagger, or women more ruthlessly loyal to their swaggering men.
You will see lawyers and accountants and local councillors in pin-striped shirts and grey suits, and you will see the accountant in the cheap suit with bits of grass and leaves stuck in his hair, looking as if he could use another drink, and you will see men in borrowed suits on their way to court, one of them a huge brick wall of a man in a black suit with his luxuriant long hair curled neatly and tied neatly back and dyed hot pink, because it's always good to look your best in court.
Everything that Dostoevsky knew, this pavement knows too and would tell you if it could speak. Everything Shakespeare wrote about, the gigantic comedy and tragedy of the human race, the ruined kings, the murderous villains, the lovers driven mad with love or jealousy, the fools and tricksters and the lovely fairies too, it is all here, all passing by in front of you if you will only stop and watch for twenty minutes. In a theatre a few blocks from here I once saw a production of Hamlet and it all seemed right, it seemed believable to see such portentous events unfolding here in Parramatta. Swaggering Hamlet and swaggering Claudius and heartless Gertrude and mad Ophelia and dead Ophelia and the toothless whimsical gravedigger, it all had a certain obviousness about it, as if they all were natives of this place, as if the day-to-day affairs of the Church Street Mall had climbed on to the stage.
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
- Tomorrow night at Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney, I'll be giving a lecture on "George Herbert's God" following a service to mark the feast of Nicholas Ferrar
- Next week in Melbourne there'll be a colloquium with Sarah Coakley. I'll be giving a paper there on "Exegetical mysticism: scripture and the spiritual senses" (mainly on Origen).
- There's a call for papers for a theology panel at next year's Religion in California conference at Berkeley, with a focus on the California body
- Princeton has a conference coming up on the doctrine of creation in patristic tradition
- I'll be involved in next year's online Ecclesia and Ethics conference; they have a call for papers on the theme "Gospel Community and Virtual Existence"
- It looks like a good lineup for the second Los Angeles Theology Conference on the doctrine of the Trinity. Plus you get to be in California.
- Wheaton's theology conference next year is on the Spirit of God and renewal
- And some church events coming up in Australia: a big youth festival, Yurora NCYC, is coming soon to Sydney (I'll be giving some talks there too); and the Uniting Church has a women's conference coming up next year with Nadia Bolz-Weber of the aptly named House for All Sinners and Saints in Colorado.
Sunday, 1 December 2013
There were times in the middle of a story when the monkeys would start screeching and hissing and scratching each another's eyes and throwing rocks into the hole, and the man would have to do some very quick thinking to alter the plot or introduce a new character or bring the villain to a grisly end. When a story ended happily the monkeys would grow very hushed and grateful and contented. When a story ended sadly but beautifully, the monkeys would shake their heads in silent wonderment and creep quietly back to their houses for the night, and the man would eat his bananas in peace and quiet. Sometimes when he was narrating a story of particular sadness and beauty, from where he sat at the bottom of the hole he would hear the monkeys crying and blowing their noses.
Once, when a story had ended badly – a character they loved had died – the monkeys rioted and began tearing their clothes and breaking glass and setting their houses on fire. Their entire civilisation might have been threatened had not the man called the monkeys back and told them a sequel in which their beloved character – a purple starfish named Rick who was a private detective with a hardened outlook on life, a history of alcoholism, and a weakness for the wrong kinds of women – turned out to be not dead after all but only unconscious, and he escaped and was saved and the villains were apprehended and everything ended well. Rick the starfish detective was to appear in over nine hundred other stories, until the man in the bottom of the hole could not bear it anymore; even thinking of Rick made him nauseous. So he had created a new character named Sam. Sam was very different from Rick. He was a clam, not a starfish, and he solved murder cases using nothing but lucid reasoning and his own uncanny powers of observation. Sam the clam drank bourbon whisky and had a gritty outlook on life and most of his stories involved his seduction by a mysterious femme fatale. For six or seven years the man in the hole told stories about Sam and the monkeys were very pleased and after a while they forgot all about Rick the starfish, which was a great relief to the man in the hole.
But after thirty years like this, there came a day when the man found he could tell no more stories. No matter how much the monkeys screamed and bared their teeth at him, he just could not get the words out. Perhaps it was the inadequate living conditions that had given him writer's block; perhaps it was the inadequate diet of bananas and water. Whatever the explanation, one wintry night when the moon was high the man collapsed on to his knees and explained to his captors that he could not think of a story. "I'm sorry," he told them helplessly. "Tonight there will be no story." As he spoke the fateful words, the moon went behind a cloud and the sky went black and the hole grew darker and colder than ever. The man covered his ears as the monkeys shrieked at him. He covered his face with his hands as the monkeys kicked dirt and stones and sticks into the hole.
Then the monkeys began to tear at one another with their fingernails, scratching and biting one another, consumed by a blind animal rage. For a moment they forgot all about their prisoner in the hole. And a moment was all it took. For at that moment the man, wearied by the monkeys' violent and uncharitable ways, stood up straight and peered out of the hole. The hole was about as deep as his shoulders, and with only a little difficulty he found that he could push his elbows out of the hole and heave himself up and climb out. He dusted himself off. He had never thought to climb out before, because like most storytellers he was not a practical person but a daydreamer who, for thirty years, had spent all his time sitting on the ground planning his next story. But it felt good now to be standing in the open air. He took a deep breath and walked off down the street. By now the monkeys were rioting. The man stopped for a second to watch a group of them set a police car on fire. They were so preoccupied with their angry nihilism that they didn't even noticed as their prisoner left the city and walked off into the woods.
The man walked half the night through the woods until he came to the edge of a great lake. He was given passage across the lake by a ferryman who smoked a pipe and whistled through his teeth and had the name Mavis tattooed across his arm. On the other side, the man went down a little trail and found the road, just as he'd remembered it, and from there he managed to hitch a ride back to the village where he had lived all those years ago, before he had ever been taken captive by the wicked monkeys.
The sun was coming up as he walked into the village. Everywhere he looked he saw people and places that he remembered. But everyone looked at him strangely, no one recognised him, for in the time he had been gone he had grown old, his face had grown wrinkled with care, his eyes were pale, his beard was white as snow. Taking him for one of the hobos who used to wander from town to town in those days, a kindhearted woman ushered him into her house and sat him down by the fire. All the children gathered round and stared at him expectantly.
"Are you hungry?" said the woman. "You can join us for porridge if you like." The children watched to see what he would say.
The man, who had eaten nothing but bananas for thirty years, said with genuine feeling, "Porridge would be wonderful." And he did his best to smile at the watching children, though they retreated in fear when he bared his yellow teeth at them.
While the woman was ladling steaming porridge into wooden bowls she gave the stranger a sideways look and clucked sympathetically and said, "Poor soul. You look as if you've got a story to tell."
"No," the man pleaded. "I don't." And he covered his face with his hands and wept.
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
At SBL and AAR,
Scholars come from near and far
To drink together at the bar.
At AAR and SBL,
Everyone is smart as hell
(Their papers can be hell as well).
All the scholars stop and stare
At Oliver Crisp and his facial hair.
If you have a PhD
And like to be abused,
You can pay an extra fee
To go to interviews.
Thousands of new books on display,
But which are worth reading? Who can say?
They greet you with kind words and friendly looks.
But when your back is turned they pounce –
And force you to write books.
Two things are exceedingly long
(I won't say exceedingly weird):
The first is a book by Nicholas Tom,
The second is Oliver's beard.
I went to the afternoon panel,
It sounded excellent too;
But I fled for my life when I heard someone mention
The names of Zizek and Badiou.
My friend had drunk too many drinks
At the Wipf & Stock reception.
He kissed my cheek and said, "I'm straight –
But for you I'd make an exception."
When you see them buying and selling your book,
You suddenly feel exposed:
Like one of those dreams where you're preaching a sermon
But haven't put on any clothes.
By Sunday I was feeling blue.
I missed the ones I left at home:
My dog, my cat –
By Tuesday I had missed my family too.
Sunday, 24 November 2013
Friday, 22 November 2013
The walk back to Salisbury takes about an hour, and even though it was quite wet and cold I made my way along the muddy path with a light heart, feeling very glad and free.
At an upstairs cafe in a restored medieval building in Salisbury I was brought coffee by a girl with a face like Helen of Troy. When she put down the coffee on the table beside my hand, I thought: men would launch ships, they would send their sons to war, for a face like this. She was turning to leave so I asked her for a glass of water, not because I needed water but because I needed her to come back and stand a moment longer near me, outlined against the wide window and the grey sky. I watched her turn to walk away and I thought, my God, even her knees are perfect. I wondered what her knees would look like without the black stockings. And such small feet! I imagined her gently kicking off the small black shoes, one by one, and walking barefoot across the floor.
I tasted the coffee and it was very good. She came back and put a glass of water down on the table. Her hair was longer than I had remembered and her eyes were darker than I had remembered. Because the table was so low, she had to bend down to place the glass in front of me. I averted my eyes. I looked at the light that rippled on the surface of the water in the glass.
I wished I were a stage director. I would give her the part of Cleopatra and find an Antony to make long speeches to her. I wished I were an artist. I would draw her, every inch of her, in blackest charcoal. I wanted to capture the light in her dark eyes. I wanted to bless her, salute her, memorialise her, build an altar to her. I wanted to do so many things.
The glass of water came to rest on the table in front of me. Her fingers slid away from the wet glass. Her small feet padded away on the wooden floor.
I do not mean to make you blush, reader. I record these details purely for the sake of contrast. For am I not the same identical person who, one hour before, had sat in the church at Bemerton thinking the most pious thoughts I have ever had in all my life? That entire hour of prayer and contemplation; my proximity to the bones of a saint whom I have loved my whole life; the feeling of God's will encompassing me like a cloak – what happened to all that? An hour ago my heart had gone to Bemerton. Now with all my heart – the same heart! – I was contemplating other things.
It makes you realise that pious thoughts and religious feelings are a fine thing as far as they go – but they don't go very far. Less than an hour, as it turns out.
So I suppose like everybody else I will have to go on living the Christian life the slow way. I will have to remember that it is more important to be faithful than to be pious. I will have to go on saying my prayers and taking communion and giving alms and wetting my fingers in the baptismal font, day after day and year after year.
I am still glad for one calm clear hour in the church at Bemerton, for the chance to pray with the bones of George Herbert sleeping under my feet. I am glad, too, to have been lucky enough to see a face like the face of the girl at the cafe. For all I know she might have been an angel. For all I know, underneath her clothes there are wings. But angels' wings are no concern of mine. For God made me to walk, not fly.
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
|Drawing of Herbert's church by Guy Ottewell|
Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Saturday, 16 November 2013
Over the past couple of days I've been having a lot of fun writing a tweet for every book of the Bible. Here's where it's up to so far – and thanks to @KristaNDalton for showing me how to storify these tweets. If you'd like to contribute your own versions, we're using the tag #CanonFodder.