- 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 Californian 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.
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
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.