New review of Where’s Sailor Jack? : ‘‘…romantic, poignant, and extremely funny, exactly what I want from a family saga.’ – Stephen Carver, Blot the Skrip and Jar It

The Church of the Holy Allegory

Tracey Ullman’s “A Christian’s Job Interview” is a brilliant piece of writing. A likeable and impeccably qualified woman is about to get the job. The interview panel think she is wonderful. Right at the end, it emerges that she is a Christian. The mood shifts. The candidate gently points out that for the previous 1500 years the British have been Christian. She is ushered out quickly, and once the door is closed, she is now described as weird.
This appears to be the factory setting of nearly everyone under fifty, maybe even sixty. I find it deeply depressing, indeed as I tell my kids, almost treasonable! But I have to acknowledge that it’s happened. At University, my youngest is friendly, but no more than that, with some ‘Christians’ as he calls them, who are ‘nice people’. By Christian, he means members of the Christian Union. They are evangelical and believe in the literal truth of the Bible which they study earnestly, passage by passage. As such, they then believe that their narrow group is ‘saved’ by their faith in Jesus Christ, with the clear inference that all others are damned. That view clearly will cause resentment, as does their use as a rule book of the very rare temporally-conditioned comments in the Bible on matters sexual. To me, this does no justice at all to the gentlest and least triumphalist of faiths, one that believes in victory only through defeat and which has developed the sublime doctrine of the Trinity in an attempt to understand how creator and creation meet.
The most descriptive passage in the Bible on the nature of faith is Hebrews 11.The first verse is: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The rest of the chapter is a description of many Old Testament figures who “…died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off…”, words from verse 13. These people could believe in what a Christ, maybe the Christ in themselves, could do, without seeing him. That sounds like a biblical challenge to exclusivity claims. It to me also suggests that the Christian message can be reached allegorically.
Christianity is not in the Western zeitgeist. The Holy Dove, the still, small voice of calm, is having trouble being heard. Despite Christian imagery abounding in the arts, with those two giants Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen’s work suffused with it, today’s young give the last word to the scientists, usually life scientists. I’m a physicist by first degree, so naturally find amusing Ernest Rutherford’s comment that all science is either Physics or stamp collecting. It’s true that life science subject matter starts some five billion years after the Big Bang, but I do think they are entitled to see what happened before than as analogous to evolution. What differentiates physics from biology is in the use of Mathematics. And not only does the maths make uncertainty fundamental, but Gödel has shown that no mathematical system can contain its own solution unless it is infinite. Infinities are notoriously difficult to deal with in Maths and he thus suggested that the infinite is outside the system. I make a simple statement. If you could sit outside the system, would it not be rational to view the creation of the conscious human, and animal, world that exists today to be some kind of result? Of course it has resulted from evolution; creationists do the religious cause no favours. Whether consciousness produces any agency can perhaps never be tested. If so it is best to assume that it doesn’t, even if the odd incident suggests otherwise.
What can be said from any introspection is that the mental lives we live are who we really are, rather than the bodies necessary to have them. It’s the mental consequences of the physical world that religion tries to give a meaning to. Maybe there is no meaning. I would dispute that but would accept that it may be only a meaning we give to it ourselves. It is by faith that I believe in a God.
If that God is outside the system, then what use is it to postulate him? I think that’s where religion needs a mystery that sits uneasily both with the bible class mob who try to make salvation a logical matter explicable in words, and the determinist scientists who see everything as physical. The doctrine of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be culturally conditioned and flawed, but speaks to the way we see our mental lives. Not only do we need to be provided, pardoned and guided, but we can think outside the system, as if Gods.
I suspect that during the 1500 years of Christianity in Britain, there have been many whose faith has been mental. It’s highly likely that previous generations had a better ability to understand literary genres than today’s does. Truth comes to us in waves, physical and mental. They didn’t need to separate. The truth in Christianity is a marriage of history and rich theology, with a resulting transcendental imagery. If you can believe in the physical resurrection, which I can, then come worship at the Church of the Holy Cross. If not, come anyway to worship at the Church of the Holy Allegory. You may be the truest of believers.

Moments

 

Live for the moment. Is this the secret of a fulfilled life? Not for a mind/body dualist.The mind is never in the moment.There’s a lag. Memory can’t fully replicate a sensation, but it does last, until it fades.
Seize the moment.That’s a thought, before the event, one that embraces what’s about to happen, maybe even changes it. That’s fulfilling. Until the memory fades.
Life goes by so fast. We miss most of it, one reason I hope for an afterlife. I want to go through it all again, seeing what I missed. (Which is probably mainly others in the picture muttering “plonker” in my direction.) In Where’s Sailor Jack?, there’s a moment when Richard thinks his resurrection body was taken from him. I once lived what I wrote. It wasn’t a moment to be seized. It wasn’t a moment to be lived for. It was a moment to be lived in. Perhaps the only one.You should seize the moment. The rest is decided for you.

Let there be Light

I find myself drawn to dualist notions of reality. There’s not much chance of an afterlife if the mental and physical can’t be separated. I’m betting with Pascal. It seems to be the no-lose option. Unless of course at some stage in the future we’re all reconstituted by time-machine and a committee of atheistic humanists decide who can best assist the construction of heaven on earth.

Physics reduces all problems to the language of mathematics. Gödel has demonstrated what we can probably all intuit, that no complex mathematical system can contain its own explanation unless it is infinite. To me, a numeric infinity is entirely a mental construct. With Gödel, I would take the infinite outside the mathematical, that is the physical, system. In the beginning was the Word. The physical world is the Word made flesh. The Word is descriptive language, not Mathematics. Concepts and virtues are permitted outside the system, and not just as shadows on the cave wall.

I seem to understand myself better too if by viewing the physical and mental as two discrete categories. I’m not saying that there aren’t linkages. The correct philosophical category for me might be dual aspect monist. I fully expect, as the brain scientists steadily map neural activity, that every mental state will be seen to correlate to a physical state. Every physical state will be caused by a prior physical state under the laws of Physics, perhaps with some quantum uncertainty at the smallest levels which from all observation is random. And so any room for mental agency would seem to be zilch at best.

But let’s start from the other viewpoint. We all inhabit our mental universe while living in space and time. Sitting in a comfortable chair, I never stop thinking until I fall asleep, and then I dream. Awake, I recall events, sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches with a vividness which makes me feel that the mental sensation is actually reliving that physical past. Do I choose what to remember? That raises the question as to if there is more than one ‘I’. I think there is. I’ll continue to call the mental ‘I’ and the physical ‘me’ in this piece of introspection, even if that does make the mental the subject. That’s how it feels. If there are no apostrophes around the personal pronouns, then it’s indeterminate which one I mean. When I am doing something I like doing, than ‘I’ am not free, because the act was caused by ‘me’. ‘I’ can recall the sensations with pleasure or disappointment afterwards. If I do something spontaneously, and then regret, am ‘I’ to blame?

I was reading Marcus du Sautoy recently about what can we know. He, a mathematician and brilliant thinker, believes his atheism to be a decision he has made. He also accepts that such a decision has implications as to how he views life, just as the opposite one does for believers. I am not sure if I ever made a decision to be a theist. Christened as a baby into the Anglican church, followed by Sunday school, Bible Class, Confirmation and with a love of both the liturgy and the hymns, it’s difficult to tell. The furthest I can go is to say that ‘I’ now try to live my life accountable to a Creator, to the extent that ‘I’ might have a choice. The two things conferred on ‘me’ by that are in the summary of the Commandments, to love God and to love thy neighbour as thyself. I’m sure most atheists feel strongly too their duties to others. Many would argue that lack of belief in God makes them more determined to tackle injustice. Believers would argue with St Francis that knowing what can be changed, and being accepting of what can’t be, makes for a better mental life. Perhaps these thoughts are at the core of the decisions made either way.

Yes, I do believe a spontaneous act by ‘me’ is something ‘I’ should feel accountable for. ‘I’ should have built better self control into ‘me’.

Is all this negated if our mental capacity is zilch? I think it probably would be, which is why I want to take the mental outside the constraints of the physical system. If there is an eternity, then Alpha and Omega are at the same point. The story unfolds which includes our thoughts and actions. These will correspond to the physical state of our brains, but more importantly includes the texture of sensual experience and the reflection of our conscience. All actions are inextricably linked, perhaps similarly to eternal quantum entanglement. The thoughts are no less real for that. The uncertainties collapse just the once, at the end of time, which is the beginning. Have we thus made the God who makes us?

I do the Times crossword and Killer Sudoku each day. It feels like ‘I’ do the crossword and I do the Sudoku. Equations can be beautiful, and perhaps that’s one of the edges where the two realms meet. But I don’t believe God did the Maths before creation. He said what he wanted. He saw what he and ‘we’ had thought and made it real. The story is fundamental.

One more locust?

I’ve been together through most of my life with Bob Dylan. It started in the upper sixth in 1963, the year made famous by Philip Larkin for the discovery of sex. Not in my world, it wasn’t. That took a few more years. A northern grammar school boy, what else could I be studying but Maths, Physics and Chemistry? Twenty miles down the road, the Beatles had broken through to mega-stardom, with the Mersey sound everywhere. There was some great stuff, along with classic pop coming from America with guys like Don and Phil, the Big O and Gene Pitney.

In these days before teenagers had learnt how to lie in until lunchtime, there was a two hour morning pop music programme, Saturday Club, on the Light Programme introduced by Brian Matthew. The Beatles were playing live, after which John Lennon was interviewed. “That Bob Dylan, he’s dead gear,” were the words as I remember them.

Once the show finished, I rushed out to the record shop to buy Freewheelin. I couldn’t get over how good it all was, head over heels at the wondrous ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’. For me, everything after then, even the great British stuff that followed almost immediately like The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Spencer Davis and The Animals, would never claim my total allegiance.

I’ve bought every single Dylan album since during the last fifty-two years, as well as the one album out before Freewheelin’. We really have been together through life. In these years I’ve ploughed through science and divinity degrees, and had a long business career. I’ve also had a family, finally having learnt the game, if slowly, that Buddy Holly sang about. I’ve only just now written my novel, Where’s Sailor Jack?, so I certainly got to know my song well before I started singing.

At every stage Dylan has struck the chord. I was still catching up at Oxford when the savvy public school types listened to ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ for drug references. I knew where I was from, so I was far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow anyway. I was friends with a few folkies, one of whom would have lent Pete Seeger her axe at Newport. I loved the electric stuff, happily paying whatever the price was to be ‘Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’.

Into the seventies, I lived the pain in that incredible album Blood on the Tracks where every word was etched into my soul from him to me. In one of the concerts at Wembley Arena I went to, Bob wasn’t having his best night, but his acoustic version of ‘A Simple Twist of Fate’ was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard, apart perhaps from another concert when he did ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’.

His Christian phase didn’t faze me. I’m a lifelong unorthodox believer. Like Jesus, he only preached for three years. He saw that the lone soldier on the cross would win the war after losing every battle, the only sense to be made of life.

He’s taken all his songs with him into his old age. The devil might rule this world, but God is the judge, and he’s decided they’re eternal. No-one has written old age like Dylan. We’re all trying to get to heaven before they close the door. We stayed in Mississippi a day too long. None of us can go back, at least not all the way. We missed that moment when all old things became new again. So while it’s not dark yet, it’s getting there.

But thanks to him, I’ve always had the murmur of his songs, like a prayer, in my soul.

Those Autumn Leaves

I’m reaching the empty nest stage quite late in life, being 71 next week. My wife Janet and I are not fully there yet, but the return to university this week for our youngest means that we’re rattling round the house during the day. Our eldest has found pastures new, leaving just our daughter with us and then only evenings. And our family dog, Timmy, is nearly 15, has cancer and a failed kidney. He still soldiers on, leaving an acquaintance observing how he doesn’t want to leave us, but sadly we know that very soon he must. I’ve lost my sister and my Mum over the last few years, my Dad having gone in 1998. In that under-rated Dylan song ‘Nettie Moore’, he sings of there being no-one left here to tell. There still is, but nobody who shares with me where it started.

There’s an old joke from a Rabbi saying life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies. Rob Brydon and his wife in the advert go on a cruise looking forward to the glazed scallops for dinner that evening. I know I’m fortunate that such pleasures might still await, and if they do, I must make the most of them as gifts freely given. Yet I wish Dad was at the end of a telephone to talk to on a Saturday as the football finishes; that I was looking forward to visiting my sister’s beautiful garden as the Autumn leaves turn to flame; that my Mum was still here to ask the recipe of that suet crust we used to have on cold winter days. Most of all I wish it was ten years ago and summer, with Janet, the three kids,the dog and me piling into the old Espace around a picnic box full of sandwiches, sausage rolls, pork pies and cake, for a day out at Nicky Nook, Timmy unable to contain his joy at the prospect.

I swear that at the first glazed scallop on that luxury cruise, I’m going to think of that day with my eyes full of tears.

Kettle Calling Pot

I’ve lived a pretty comfortable life materially. It’s difficult to say that I earned it. I worked at the top in worthy industries, but not in creative or productive roles. I now have a good pension. So this rant is bordering on rank hypocrisy.
It’s just that walking round the streets of our very bourgeois area on the outskirts of the London bubble, I see many burly guys from all parts of the world working hard on knocking down and rebuilding houses that were very pleasant to begin with. These guys could be building new start-up homes for the young or sheltered accommodation for the old. The owners of these palaces are usually making mega-money in the zero sum game that is the City, or advising those that are. It’s a negative sum game actually, once those involved have been paid their exorbitant fees. As a former CFO of a top company, I can’t think of a single derivative instrument that I really needed to buy, and yet trillions are traded in them. As a former Chairman of smaller companies, I can’t think of any bank finance offer that wasn’t close to certain to lead to a default.
Walk round the City or Canary Wharf and all that’s being built are office blocks to house such traders, not hospitals or nursing homes, or high-tech factories. Railway lines are being built, it’s true, mainly to allow more City workers to get into their offices.
Yet outside this bubble, the towns, the old county boroughs, are having nothing spent on their infrastructure. They’ve lost their spirit as they’ve lost their reason for being where they are. As an ageing country with a population that is perhaps 20 million greater than we can feed or keep warm with indigenous food and energy, we need to live on our wits and sell things the rest of the world wants. That used to be manufactured goods: now it’s financial services. But how soon before the world wises up to the fact that they’re paying out massive fees for precious little? I stood at Bankside, looking at the cranes across the river and I couldn’t see the future.

The Honours System

 

After the Olympics, there’s been a bit of discussion about the Honours System. I’d better declare my interest straightaway. Back in the 1991 New Year’s Honours. I was awarded the OBE for “services to the National Grid Company”. I hadn’t hesitated about accepting as to me it would have been churlish towards those who had put my name forward to have refused. And it’s impossible not to respect Queenio. It made for a nice day at the Palace for my mother, my wife and me, followed by a celebratory meal at the Goring Hotel for more of the family.

I had over the previous couple of years taken on additional responsibilities to those in my main role as Finance Director of the CEGB, namely CFO designate of National Grid where I was leading the privatisation discussions with Government, Project Director of the Settlements System for the new electricity market, and Project Director of the split of all the CEGB systems into those for the four successor companies. On top of this, our first-born had arrived in late 1988. He wasn’t a good sleeper and I spent many nights lying on the floor by his cot, or marching the corridor singing hymns to him, after my wife had put in her twenty hour shift.

The additional roles were all demanding, although I had the resources of the entire company available for the privatisation preparation, and excellent project managers for the other two. These were IT based, and were far and away the two most successful IT projects I was ever part of. It was the corporate equivalent of a war concentrating minds. If either hadn’t been ready, then privatisation of all the CEGB successor companies would have been delayed. There was a particular irony for me in that I wasn’t in favour of the new ownership structure, and it removed from my career path the job I aspired to and would probably have ended up in, Deputy Chairman CEGB.

The Settlements system was so crucial that the privatisation of the regional companies couldn’t happen without it either. The Project Manager there was the sort of guy you only gave the job to if you really wanted it done. I used to joke that my role was to walk behind him apologising. But he did it, and he was a lovely man behind the brusque exterior. He got the MBE (my bloody efforts), and I got the OBE (other buggers’ efforts).

He certainly deserved his. Did I deserve mine? Well I went from perfect eyesight to needing a reading prescription as a result of all that privatisation documentation. I don’t think my digestion’s ever been the same since all those sandwiches as the meetings took place, and then having to sit for another eight ours plus round the conference table.

My secretary (you’d call her a PA now) was so proud of my honour that she added it to my personal details for the conference I was attending the next month, which was in Tokyo. The concept didn’t travel well: my name badge said Mr Obe and in the end it was easier to go along with that for the week rather than to change it. (At that conference I also picked up a useful tip. When a Japanese delegate delivers his paper in English, listen to the French translation even if you don’t speak French.)

Prior to this in our nationalised days, I know of honours handed out that were strictly for time-serving, and not for conspicuous extra effort. Naturally I tend to think this is particularly the case with those who’ve got the CBE! Some deserve their honours, some are borderline, some don’t. They haven’t got the haemorrhoids to go with it. Overall, I wouldn’t object to the abolition of all honours.

What they conspicuously can’t handle is sport. The distinctions between MBE, OBE and CBE are arbitrary and to give a young person a knighthood/ damehood while they’re still playing makes the television commentary sound ridiculous. Andy Murray richly deserves an hereditary earldom but it would be better after he retired. And I think that would be true for all Olympians.

But for those who receive them, they do add to the gaiety of life, rather like a gold star did back at school.

Hinkley Point C the new Dungeness B?

Theresa May wants to review the nuclear contract with the French and Chinese. She’s right to, although I hope she is keeping our manners with EDF. The engineers there are good guys.
As everyone at the CEGB knew, as Finance Director I was somewhat of a sceptic on nuclear power. The case for it was that strategically it reduced dependence on British Coal and foreign oil, and that in terms of carbon it was green. In the early eighties, I twice put out under CEGB livery an Analysis of Generation Costs which demonstrated that as a matter of fact all nuclear power stations had generated electricity substantially more expensively than coal stations. The Chairman of the CEGB, then Sir Walter Marshall who was a fine nuclear scientist, was big enough to welcome the document, as did the green lobby, with academics praising its integrity.
At that stage the CEGB was struggling to complete its first generation of Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors, the AGRs, with Dungeness B the by-word in how not to build a power station. It required precision engineering on a massive construction site to a uniquely British design. To be fair, the second generation of AGRs at Hartlepool, Heysham 2 and SSEB’s Torness fared better when eventually commissioned years later. But the CEGB had learnt its lesson, and decided to move to a proven design, the PWR, used widely in USA and France, where most components were to be factory-manufactured. After the interminable Inquiry for Sizewell B, permission was granted and it has been built and operates more or less as expected. The economic case for it though, presaged on rapidly increasing fossil fuel prices and a series of similar stations, has been more than proved wrong. Electricity privatisation, the availability of cheap gas to be burnt in highly efficient combined cycle gas turbines, over-demanding safety fears and lack of political will has meant that no further PWRs were built. The engineering world has moved on. Nearly 30 years later, we’re talking about the mainly French public sector EDF building Hinkley Point C with finance including Chinese Government money. This is to be an EPR, European Pressurised Reactor, a third generation PWR, which is not yet a production-line version and requires much on-site engineering. The few stations being built elsewhere in the world are proving tricky. All this has again brought out my scepticism. We seem to have replaced the old CEGB with the old EDF, and the old AGR with the new EPR without the benefit of national security or good jobs in technology. And the guaranteed minimum unit price is more than double the going rate.
The lights won’t stay on by themselves. So what would I suggest? As an old CEGB man, I’ve never been that fond of wind as it doesn’t blow when you need it. At the tea time peak on the coldest winter day, it’s not blowing at all. The sun’s not shining either, but I’ve been prepared to give more local solar a chance while thinking we’re not the best placed country in the world for that. Electricity can’t be stored; it’s a flow of electrons. What can be stored is gravity energy in pumped storage schemes and chemical energy in batteries. The benefits from pumped storage though are already used for daytime peaks, and battery technology is still developing. To help, I’d have liked a big tidal barrage scheme built decades ago and still think we should give one a bash. Reluctantly, I’ve gone along with a modest nuclear programme.
Now I don’t think we should do the nuclear. We must frack for gas, and I say this as someone born in Blackpool and brought up in the Fylde. I’ve enough faith in engineers to think they can get the stuff out without knocking over Blackpool Tower and St Chad’s Church in Poulton,where I was christened. To buy off the greens, I’d now accept as much wind as we can sensibly manage and abandon nuclear for the time being as a quid pro quo for fracking. I’d try to get as much storage on the system as feasible. And to reduce dependence further on foreign oil, I’d want major incentives for electric cars.
I don’t think the nuclear industry will regain the confidence of the political process with uranium based reactors. Fusion reactors are still a pipe-dream. There is some talk of using the more readily available thorium, which can’t really be used in bombs, a big plus, and that’s where I’d focus developments. India has loads of the stuff.
Come on, engineers and greens. What have I got wrong? Come on, Prime Minister. Let’s get this right.

Testaments Old and New

My local Church, although Anglican, is evangelical. Nothing wrong in that: the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. If there’s good news to tell, it ought to be shared. The problem for me is in the approach to the source of that inspiration, the Bible.
The great reformer, Martin Luther, felt bound both by the Scriptures and plain reason, but not by the word of the Pope or any Council. He told the Diet of Worms that to do other would go against his conscience. I’m not blaming him for that. Faced by a Church thinking that they could sell indulgences, a return to first principles was sensible.
Quite surprisingly, the early Church Councils, which took such a prominent role in the development of Christian theology, did not formally ratify the 27 books that make up the New Testament. Yet these were being used by the theologian Origen in the early third century. Church councils did not fully catch up until after both the Great Schism and the Reformation. By then separate councils of Orthodox, Catholic and Reformed were needed. So Luther committed no logical inconsistency in seeing scripture’s authority as separate from that of the Church. When he spoke, the authority of the books included had come from early custom and practice.
Is it reasonable therefore to assume that this is the same thing as the working of the Holy Spirit? That’s a very big assumption, one I don’t fully share, thinking that the role of that still, small voice of calm didn’t end at that point, indeed that it can be heard at all points in space and time.
I’ve read some of the hidden gospels that didn’t make the grade. In every case, I can certainly see why they didn’t catch on. There clearly was an attempt to ensure no gnostic thinking was included in the Canon, of which Johannine Christianity, based on John’s gospel, was most aware. The other three gospels are mainly a mix of history and teaching and have used similar sources, with Luke’s continuing into Acts.
John’s gospel has an exalted Christology from its first verse, with Jesus as the Word with God from the beginning. It also has the great ‘I am’ metaphors from Jesus, which surely read as rich theology and not actual words spoken.
Then much of the rest is Paul’s. Paul does not start with a high Christology. He reads to me as an Adoptionist, one who believes that Christ joined the Godhead at his ascension. As Paul examined what that might mean, he decided it needed more. He wrote movingly and beautifully in Corinthians. In Romans, in facing up to the faith and works debate, he is anxious to show that salvation is through faith alone, and that through grace. On the assumption that salvation is required, that appears sound to me, although it then raises the question of what faith and belief are and in whom, which are not for this piece. While attending to this, Paul also ties the reader, if not himself, up in knots about if Christ has fulfilled or abolished the law. On these issues, he clearly does not agree with another contributor, James, who was possibly the brother of Jesus and certainly the head of the early Jerusalem church. Paul did not know Jesus personally and thus unlike Peter and James was not constrained by memories of the historic Jesus. Peter and Paul do appear to have developed an uneasy truce between them. But Paul did lay down some didactic assertions which go beyond anything heard from Jesus, and raise questions as to what authority he should have.
No review of the books of the New Testament would be complete without mentioning Hebrews and Revelation. I find Hebrews the book most in touch with what the Holy Spirit tells me through my conscience, and Revelation as not as good an end to the rich theology of Johannine Christianity as I would have hoped for. Others find it inspirational of course. Yet the provenance of Hebrews is unknown.
What those first Councils did succeed in doing was developing a theology of the nature of the Godhead and of Christ. The council at Chalcedon propounded that Jesus was wholly man and wholly God, a formulation that has proved useful through the ages. The Athanasian creed as used in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has God the maker of all things; Jesus the only begotten Son of God, begotten before all worlds, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and is the Lord and Giver of Life. The Godhead is thus described as entirely male or perhaps neuter in the case of the Spirit.
This of course is not new. The creation stories in Genesis assume a male God. Jesus clearly called him Father.
I’m not going to attempt as full a critique for this Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. It clearly has far more literary genres within it than the New Testament. There are two separate creation stories in Genesis alone, attributed to Priestly and Yahwist authors by scholars. In addition, two other schools are said by them to be at work, the Elohist and Deuteronomist. My reading always looks for the tension between the priestly and the prophetic epitomised in Hosea 6:6: ‘For I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’ It still seems in all branches of the Church that there are priests, ministers, elders who prefer the burnt offering of a rule book.
I just offer one example of naive reading of texts leading to an unnecessary conclusion. Ostensibly one hundred and fifty years before Cyrus the Great was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold his birth and name. The fact that the book of Isaiah clearly has more than one author with different styles, and much has been added later is not sufficient to deter the miracle callers. Real faith should not seek a sign.
So at last I reach my purpose in writing this. My local Church is minded to insist on a male lead Minister when the vacancy next arises. A paper prepared by the Rev Andrew Brewerton of Sheffield diocese has been circulated. The main arguments proffered are: the complementary nature of relationships between the members of the Trinity: that man was formed first in the complementary relationship with woman: from the second creation story in Genesis where woman was created from the spare rib, Paul argues that man is the glory of God and woman the glory of man: these patterns are to be followed in Christian marriage in St Paul’s teaching with the husband as head of the wife and the wife a collaborative helper: similarly, that’s how the Church should work, with the Minister a male, the helpers can be female.
I’ll try to show Christian forbearance in responding to this priest-serving construction. Our view of the Godhead is a useful human construct and should be used for no other purpose than in attempting to understand the mystery of God. Maybe we should regard the absence of the feminine within our model as a weakness that needs work. Jesus called God Father as he was totally human as well as divine, and God was seen as male in his culture. The same argument as used by Brewerton against women’s ministry can be used to say that Theresa May should give way to a man in a suit. These are not eternal truths. The Holy Spirit in my conscience isn’t just whispering that they’re wrong.
The physicist in me sometimes solves the paradox of how the quantum wave function is collapsed by suggesting that it only happens once at the end of time, which is also the beginning, the Alpha and Omega. Jesus was wholly man as he lived his life but was in the Godhead as it all started. It’s a fond thought that may or may not have been guided by the Holy Spirit. I don’t see The Dove soaring away, so I’m probably wrong. The Christian message has produced great comfort in life for many and can continue, but to do so it constantly needs to separate temporal from eternal truth. Wiser evangelicals do consider that the Bible contains what is necessary for salvation while not necessarily correct on other matters. It is a wonderful set of books that seeks to raise questions and allows the Holy Spirit to answer them. That Spirit is always at work, in the meadow, at the rock concert, in the Physics class as much as at the Sunday sermon. Keeping women out is an anachronism which makes the Church look mean and foolish, and is not at all Christian.
I do think Paul was right about one thing in Romans. Whether Jesus fulfilled or abolished the law, he didn’t come to add to it. Nothing in the gospels suggests otherwise. The New Testament is not a rule book. And to solve Paul’s dilemma on faith against works, I hope everyone will be saved, with or without faith, the devil included, though none of us deserve it. That does have some biblical warrant, perhaps not enough. Origen hoped for it too. He thought that the brilliant book of Hebrews was from Paul, if not written by him. Maybe Paul had mellowed. Church Councils didn’t. Origen seems to have been anathematised centuries after his death, perhaps for believing that all would be saved or perhaps for seeing Jesus as wholly human as well as divine.

An elite provincial’s view of Brexit

I voted Remain. But apart from London, Brighton, a few university towns, and the very centres of Manchester and Liverpool, few others did in England and Wales. The young voters couldn’t even be arsed to vote. To try to revisit the vote now would patronise lower class provincials beyond belief and quite probably cause a hideous backlash. The big issues to cause this vote are how immigration and globalisation has hit the provincial lower class.
You don’t have to be a Marxist to see that for nearly forty years now, little surplus value has passed to the workers. Bryan Appleyard’s piece this week in the Sunday Times described how all the spirit has left his home town of what was a vibrant Bolton. And that’s while producing great comedians and actors. It was my Dad’s home town too, and Wanderers will always be my team. It’s a county borough stitched up in a metropolitan county it doesn’t want to be in. All devolution planned by Osborne is to the big Cities. What the referendum has shown writ very large is that is not the identity of most English. They don’t live in cities, villages, or market towns. They still live in county boroughs, impotent since that Philistine Heath abolished them.
I digress. Brexit will do nothing to stop globalisation. I’m not sure that anything can but an economy mixed between public and private sectors can help. A unionised public sector does give rise to comparators the private sector has to emulate.
Immigration is the other big reason for the Leave vote. I often check out the Bolton News web pages. Like many other parts of the country, the wall to wall complaint is the stretch to public services and the problems of education in a multicultural, multilingual town. I don’t doubt that many do hanker for the culture of the past, but you can’t change people’s memories.It appears that the Brexiteers’ plan is to replace European immigration with people from elsewhere in the world, not what the more racially motivated Brexiteers had in mind.
We now need to make the best of a bad job. The Tories shouldn’t elect Boris, who has shafted his colleagues, and knocked everyone else out of the way like he did that poor Japanese kid playing rugby.Labour has to ditch Jezza. I’d suggest Teresa May and Andy Burnham. If Jezza shows the perils of picking a Geography teacher to be a leader, and Roy Hodgson the kindly House Master, at least Teresa is Head Teacher material. And Burnham has a Leigh constituency down the road from Bolton and knows that the cities are not the people.
After that we can hope that other countries in the EU want to move to an associate level that would best suit us.