Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Small Kitchen Waltz

Time to inflict some more of my writing on you. I am, apparently, a ‘millennial’. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is a word used by trendy but idiotic people to pigeonhole every single person born between about 1980 and 2000. Because obviously generalisations made about such a broad range of ages, influenced as we have been by the rapid advances in communication technology over this period, must hold good. Ok, rant over.

One of the ‘millennial’ traits that does hold true is the fact that I do not own my own house; I’ve lived in a string of different rented flats and houses over the last decade. One common feature of such places, especially when shared with partners or housemates, is that the kitchen is usually woefully inadequate to requirements. As a result, when more than one of you wishes to use it, you are forced into an intricate dance in which you circle and weave around each other, often while holding hot pans or full kettles.

It is to people who have lived or still live in such circumstances that the below is respectfully dedicated. This is actually written as a song rather than a poem, and I do have a tune in mind. If you’re very unlucky and run into me in person I will share it with you.

The Small Kitchen Waltz

My darling we rented a small maisonette,
When we viewed it, it seemed rather ace.
But when we inspected one thing we neglected:
Does the kitchen have quite enough space?
It’s something we both should have noticed at once,
But really it’s neither our faults,
And we both can get in if we side-step and spin,
And we join in the Small Kitchen Waltz!

The space from the sink to the bin’s rather small,
From the fridge to the cooker’s not wide.
And when I am in it, you must wait a minute,
There’s no room to work side by side!
But if I step this way and you move around,
We can cook and wash up without halts.
And each day of the week we’ll be pressed cheek to cheek,
As we dance to the Small Kitchen Waltz!

As we join in the dance that’s been trodden before,
By those with no room to manoeuvre,
If you pass me the saucepan, and move to your left,
I can turn and then plug in the hoover.
Then I’ll move to the right, and we’ll circle again,
As you get down the spices and salts,
And my dear we’ll make do, though there’s no room for two,
We will circle and slide and we’ll spin to the side,
Taking our chance in this romantic dance,
As we master the Small Kitchen Waltz!

Copyright Thomas Jones 2017

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Scientific Advancement of Theology

An opinion piece by Giles Fraser on the Guardian website has garnered a fair number of comments, and being a piece of a religious nature, has obviously attracted the usual angry atheists.  One commenter rubbished the entire study of theology, and supported his position by quoting Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason:

The study of theology as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits of no conclusion. Not any thing can be studied as a science without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is not the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.”


Another poster pointed out that theology has changed since then.  A third poster responded to this with:
“What theology since then? As Hitchens said, "Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago". Nothing has changed since the days of Paine.”

There a few things to be said in response, least of which is that, as Paine says, theology certainly isn’t a science in the sense that most scientists would define it. I take absolutely no issue with that. Also, ‘Religion’ can speak no words at all, since it lacks a mouth, but I’ve been over that before and have no wish to belabour the point.

However, to suggest that theology has remained unchanged in the two hundred years since Paine wrote is simply untrue; it cannot be true. I say this because in many ways the people writing about theology now are very different to the people writing about it two hundred years ago. We have different outlooks, society is different, our values are different. We view what has gone before us with different eyes.

Ironically, given the constant attempts to set them in opposition to each other, this change in perspective and theology has changed, perhaps even advanced, because of science. Since Paine wrote his words, science and technology have changed not only our understanding of the universe, but the very world in which we live. We now know about evolution and genetics, our knowledge of astronomy is vastly greater than it was then, we know about molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles, radiation and quantum physics. Our place in the world is not what we thought it was, and so we have had to adjust our conception of God and how He works.

As a result of these, our understandings of God have had to become more nuanced. God didn’t merely wave his hand and there was the world. God didn’t create man out of dust. Our sun is not the only sun, our planet is not the only world that might contain life. Life itself might exist in forms that are almost totally unrecognisable to us. This knowledge has to inform our theology. Where it has not done so, we see fundamentalist sects sinking into extremism fuelled by a siege mentality as the tide of scientific evidence to show that Genesis is not literally true threatens to overwhelm them.

I have said that theology is not scientific; that’s absolutely true, nor should it be. After all, since it deals with matters upon which science cannot have a bearing, it cannot be scientific itself. However, it has changed with scientific discoveries, and with the social changes that have been brought about by those discoveries and the technology that they have produced. Theology is not, should not and cannot be static and stagnant. God is unchanging, but few would claim that we are close to an understanding of Him yet. Our understanding of God must continue to change, to grow, to expand, even as we do. We must constantly adjust and refine our conception of God based on what He has revealed and is revealing to us and, indirectly, science helps us do just that.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Not What Will Happen, But What We Must Do

Immigrants. Migrants. Refugees. Asylum seekers. Day in, day out, morning, noon and night, the news is filled with them; their faces, their shelters, their journeys, their crimes, their corpses; where they’ve come from, where they’re going, what they’re doing, why they’ve come. Simultaneously, we are told about ourselves; how we’ve met them, how we’ve blocked them, how we’ve helped them, how we’ve turned them away. Preachers and politicians and broadcasters have spilled oceans of ink to tell us why we should welcome them, why we should hate them, why we should help them, why we should stop them.

The Christian response has been, at best, mixed.  I was made aware of an article written by someone in America who considers themselves to be Christian. He was writing on why God approves of building walls and turning away refugees. All I can say in response is that his god is not my God. It smacks of using religion to justify what you’ve already decided to do, rather than to instruct you on what you ought to be doing. As the quote goes, if your god hates all the same people as you, they’re probably made up.

The Pope has recently spoken out to urge countries to take in more asylum seekers, and condemned the populist rhetoric and self-centredness of some countries towards those in desperate need of help. Other churches and church leaders have said much the same things.

Other have warned of the consequences of taking in large numbers of asylum seekers from Muslim-majority countries. On top of the supposed economic perils, they warn of the dangers of accepting thousands of people with views and beliefs purportedly inimical to our own. ‘Islamification’, ‘cultural dilution’, ‘racial displacement’, even ‘cultural suicide’. We are told that we are a Christian culture, and that therefore these Muslims are not and should not be welcome.

These concerns are not wholly without justification. I admit that. I would, however, make two points. The first is to ask whether a culture that leaves men, women and children in the camps, on the streets, on the beaches, or at the bottom of the sea is a culture worth saving? It certainly doesn’t sound like the sort of culture I’d have any interest in rescuing or maintaining. The second is to point out, especially to those who’d try and use Christianity, either personal or cultural, as an excuse, that these concerns don’t matter. Not a bit. Even if they’re justified and genuine, they don’t matter.

Others may argue that the example given in the Bible justifies us in excluding or turning away refugees. I would merely remind them that we have been instructed otherwise. God Himself has told us directly, and in no uncertain terms; welcome the stranger, feed the starving, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. Most importantly though, and most pertinently to this situation, is that he told us ‘to love one another as I have loved you’. Do you want an example of God to follow? There it is. Christ loved unto death. You might almost say he committed suicide.

What God really requires of us though, in this case, is not love. We need to love yes, but much, much more importantly, we need to have faith. C. S. Lewis is always a rich source of quotations, and the character Puddleglum from The Silver Chair is one of his finest channels of wisdom. I won’t quote the line, but rather paraphrase; ‘God has given us our instructions.  He hasn’t told us what will happen if we follow them, only what we must do.’ We need to believe that God knows what He’s doing, and I think that might be the hardest kind of belief. It may bear further examination, but for now, we need to believe that He does indeed know what He’s doing, and follow Him accordingly.

If it helps, I don’t believe for a second that it will be anything like cultural suicide. My hope is that it will be a cultural rejuvenation. Just imagine if every person who claimed to be Christian, and every person who carps on about us being a Christian culture, actually went out and welcomed the stranger, fed the starving, sheltered the homeless, loved with a love that glows and shines and can be seen from orbit. If that happened, do you suppose a single one of the people who came here could do anything but respond to it in kind?

It’s a faint hope, and I am a pure hypocrite. I am not anything like the being I describe above, but it gives me something to aim for. In the meantime, I will put my faith in God, try and do what He tells me, and let Him look after the consequences.