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

Archives: resurrection

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.

He is risen indeed

He wakes up. It’s dark. There’s a crack of light coming in from behind the stone. It must be morning. He puts his finger to the stone. It rolls away easily, making the earth shake. Two angels are outside with a robe. This is what he expects. He changes out of the linen clothes and folds them neatly. He nearly forgets the head napkin. He goes into the garden with the angels and watches as Mary Magdalene looks in the tomb. He sees her run back to fetch John and Peter. They come, and go back home scratching their heads. Mary stays around. She sees the two angels by the tomb. She tries to talk to them through her tears. She turns to see Jesus, without knowing who it is. He must look younger, he thinks. He calls her by her name. She recognises him, rushing to give him a hug. He asks her not to touch him this side of Paradise. “Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

You’re a long time dead

When I finished “Where’s Sailor Jack”, I thought I’d got about as far as I was ever going to get in seeing a meaning to life. Since then, Mum’s died. It’s only gazing down with a handful of earth that you realise how far under six foot is. Feeling the moist earth below the green grass of Lancashire is a chillingly cold comfort. I’ve finally got round to booking my spot in the same graveyard, where my headstone will join those of all four grandparents and both parents.
Luke says: “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” He’s right about there being no person in the grave. Where he was though, there wasn’t even a body. Recognising that problem for the rest of us, Paul sees us all raised at the last trumpet in a twinkling of an eye, conjuring up images of a low budget zombie movie. If time is the great illusion, both could be right. My hope is that my soul, in me from birth but created from living my whole life, will be combined with my resurrection body taken when I was a young man. My physical body will decompose to put nutrients into the dark earth.
Without this, the impending, suffocating darkness would make present life a charade. Life never feels pointless for long. If there is a timeless eternity, today’s events are in that just as much as rose and blue tinted past ones are. In my children’s souls already are events that will take place after I’m gone.
This is not an elegy in a country graveyard. There’s no escaping the future coldness of personal time. Without others, these end days would be bleak. Next, to find out if they are anyway.