Thursday, 20 July 2017

Greetings from Stockport

Before my sister's boyfriend takes possession of my car when I venture abroad, I'm visiting places associated with my youth.  Stockport is the nearest "crap town" to where my parents live and I've always had a soft spot for it. The impressive viaduct dominates the town, and we all knew as children (though had no proof) that it was "the largest brick structure in Europe", and that was something to be proud of. Stockport has dominated my dreams and nightmares.  My dreams have always contained very vivid, detailed architecture: brick, concrete, leaded glass, marble, dark wood panelling, stainless steel.... cinematic long-shots and close-ups, sometimes with sumptuous detail, often historically accurate; Jacobean, Victorian or post-War and mainly originating from things seen in this town. The people in the dreams are little more than shadows, it is the structures that stand out.

Perhaps that is the thing about towns; they are about structures.  They are constructed, brick on brick, and the people come and go, the bricks hang about a lot longer.

Above is an old photograph of a still recognisable site in the town: water for the mill (the start of the River Mersey), the mill, the viaduct built over the mill and gantries for the electrification of the railway line bolted onto the viaduct. Construction on top of construction.

Nothing lasts forever.  I suppose one day the viaduct will be no more and trains South from Manchester Piccadilly will take a different route. But Stockport would still be Stockport without its viaduct. One day there may be no more trains.

I do think there is a danger that we often view the Church as a town.  We wish to construct, we wish to renovate and conserve, we wish to tear down the the brutalist monstrosities of the 1960s and 70s, we want to build something great. Towns are politics made solid and they stand or fall through politics.  The Church is the Bride of the Word made flesh.  The two couldn't be more different.

The Church is living.  Living things are not constructed.  They respond to the environment they are in but their behaviour is not predicated by their nature; their site, substance or situation. Living things are far more marvellous than that. The Church is not about construction or expansion or progress or design or a better future. The Church will "outlive" time and the Church is timeless.

Too often we are seeing the Church from a political point of view and wishing to make it a better Church.  We are missing the point.  The Church cannot be made better.  You cannot design or construct a better hand, a better eye, a better nervous system, a better body.

We have lived too long under the shadow of atomism. We see things as built of small units, like bricks. We see ourselves as building and making progress.  We see ourselves as bricks in the body politic of the Church or as biological cells in the living Body of the Church.  These are wrong notions.  Each person in the Church has the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity, therefore each is Whole and not a separate entity.  Each may have a particular function, a particular task to do, but these actions are incidental to that Unity and to the love of God. God loves unconditionally.

The love many of us have for the Older Rite and for the Tradition of the Church will become as meaningless as my architecturally sumptuous dreams if we forget the reality of what the Church IS and God's desires for Her..... the desire of no less than full and total unity with Him.

What are you/we going to do about that?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Covenants, games and contracts

Games have three possible outcomes: win, lose or stalemate.  A zero-sum game is a game where the gains of one side exactly equal the other side's losses.  These are usually only entered into through a contract between mutually consenting parties and mostly the stakes are abstract (the win itself - and possible trophy for doing so). Dueling is a notable exception to this rule, the stakes are life itself.

There are also lone player games.  These can be in the form of a challenge to find a way through a set puzzle or they can be a response to some random command say thrown up through the the roll of dice.  In the first case, the direct involvement of a second human party in not necessary, in the second, an audience is usually liked, tomfoolery is enjoyed and outcomes can be extremely hurtful because third parties will be roped in for the entertainment, often unaware that they are part of the game until they have invested something emotional in it and been made a fool of. The "pleasure" to be obtained from them is the adulation of your peers and the fulfilling of a personal challenge for the sake of it. Both these types are simply an excuse to avoid the serious business of living.

Contracts involve a formal process whereby two parties agree to give to each other usually for their mutual gain.  Contracts are temporal and have a legal framework to them in terms of what is and what is not allowed.  I use the term legal loosely.  In my chequered past I had the "good fortune" to be taught the mechanics of the gay clubs.  It was fascinating to see the signs that people would exhibit to show what they have on offer: from simple dominant or submissive to hidden signs detailing really specific sexual preferences. Once the signs were on display, the people were in the market and those desiring such goods, with complimentary goods on offer in return, could engage in contracts for their mutual pleasure. Sadly, what was on display in the gay clubs in grimy Northern England was simply an extreme, colourful and dangerous manifestation of what happens in most relationships between consenting adults that are looking for love.

There is no love to be found in contracts.

Love is essentially a covenant. This is because God's love is covenant and God is love.  It is a promise that cannot be broken and is not dependent on the behaviour of the other. It is an act of the will, it is never an overbearing burden.  It is meaningless without God as a transcendent third making Himself manifest through the covenant. Because it has love at its heart, the freedom of the other party is absolute, there is no coercion, no flirting, no acting, no desire for anything other that what is best for the other. Covenants do not have measurable, predictable outcomes. Covenant simply is.  Covenant is not a game and it is not a contract. Though there may be contractual elements to a covenant (say in marriage), they are not essential.

Why bother?  To engage in a covenant looks on the surface to be self-defeating and pointless and counter-intuitive (like hunting unicorns- you don't catch a unicorn by simply chasing it) perhaps this is so.  However games and contracts will never come close to revealing the essence of our existence but immersion in covenant and study of God's covenant with us may just bring us closer to Him.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

End of an era

I had all sorts of plans to write one of my deeper and more "brainy" posts this evening, but I'm tired and sweaty and my thoughts can wait. Ordinary life is too full-on for philosophical musings.

This time next week, my few remaining things will have been packed into the back of a foreign registered van and I'll have started my fortnight of "sofa surfing" before my departure from these shores.

Today I've had my last day at my current place of work.  I've spent most of this week binning 9 years of paper based resources and doing my best to ensure my successor does not have to be reminded of my presence. The plastic wallets have been kept, my work has been shredded. I couldn't help asking myself which had more worth; the wallets or the work that went in them.

I do have a fondness for the place I have left and there were some glassy-eyed farewell hugs with colleagues and pupils, but there was no looking back, nothing to think lingering thoughts over. It is simply right to be leaving and right to be taking the path I am embarking on.  Just don't ask me to explain it because I can't.

What has been brought home to me is how we never do what we think we are doing.  A girl wrote this in a card to me:

The best science lesson I have ever had was when our teacher told us to make posters on the rainforests and that teacher was you.

I have no recollection of doing that and indeed it sounds like the sort of lesson I'd do in desperation when I was too ill to stand up and "teach".  The note made me smile as it wasn't my Physics but my Biology that had left an impression.

And this is the way of things: never quite knowing what we are doing but doing everything with attentiveness, sincerity, openness, honesty and a smile where possible. That card is a reminder to continue to dwell in ignorance about the effect I have on others... it is always dangerous to start believing in yourself or your abilities, you might cease to do the things that actually matter.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Best ever .....

.... leaving present (2017 style)

80 x top quality English Breakfast Tea bags

Courtesy of a girl in yr 10. Genius, sheer genius.
It is not often I am given something so thoughtful, cheap, portable and useful.

Now all I need is a new kettle and a flex with a 2-pin European plug.... tea drinking will not be hampered by change of location.