3 Minute Theologian

Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

Category: Musing (page 1 of 3)

Why is writing so damn hard…?

It had never really progressed, it had simply fallen apart into a series of fragments. And out of two years’ work that was all that he had to show — just fragments, incomplete in themselves and impossible to join together. On every one of those sheets of paper there was some hacked scrap of verse which had been written and rewritten and rewritten over intervals of months. There were not five hundred lines that you could say were definitely finished. And he had lost the power to add to it any longer; he could only tinker with this passage or that, groping now here, now there, in its confusion. It was no longer a thing that he created, it was merely a nightmare with which he struggled. For the rest, in two whole years he had produced nothing except a handful of short poems — perhaps a score in all. It was so rarely that he could attain the peace of mind in which poetry, or prose for that matter, has got to be written. The times when he ‘could not’ work grew commoner and commoner. Of all types of human being, only the artist takes it upon him to say that he ‘cannot’ work.

Gordon’s agony, in George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, 1936

(HT @poetrypotion for the reminder)

Advice to a young man

Ignore everything your father says to you now. He’s an idiot. But be prepared to be amazed about how much sense he’s talking in five years’ time. (It’s not that you’ve grown up enough to understand what he’s saying: he will have learnt a lot).

Learn to lay bricks. This is a good and necessary skill. It’s not just useful for doing DIY around a house. It’ll teach you something about the dignity and rewards of labour.

Never believe a single word or image in an advert. They don’t want you to be happier, taller, sexier, more successful in work or love. They just want to sell you things. (It’s your money they’re after, not your welfare).

Go easy on “stuff”. You’ll have to carry everything you ever bought and wasted with you in the next life, so make it easier on your dead self.

Read at least one book a year which you disagree with.

Read.

Never say that you aren’t ready to settle down or grow up. Guy Gibson won a VC for the Dambusters Raid in 1943, and had to write the condolence letters to the families of 53 killed airmen before he had breakfast next day. He was 23. Growing up is one of the pleasures of life. Don’t postpone it.

The only way you’ll have a life is by learning to give it away: to others in service, to one other in love. Live your life for yourself and it will crumble to dust in your hands. Live your life for others and it will never be taken away from you.

Ignore cool. “Cool” is a lie told to make us despise other people. Cultivate “warmth”. Engage with people, especially those left out by the cool ones.

If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about the way the country is run.

If you don’t volunteer in some way, you have no right to complain about the way the country is going to the dogs.

Life isn’t cheap. Life is expensive, and has always been costly. It’s death that’s cheap: cheap to get and cheap to impose on others. Your life is valuable only as much as you value the lives of others.

A music festival is 100,000 people confusing dysentery with a good time. The best experiences come in small groups. If it’s hard to do theology after Auschwitz, it’s harder to do Glastonbury after Nuremberg.

Look forward to friendships that have lasted forty years. Experiences shared and stories told and retold are the way we know we are human.

“FOMO” and “YOLO”: two more lies. Fear Of Missing Out is the real reason lurking beneath You Only Live Once justifications. Decide what is important to you and your family (however you want to define that) and do that. Don’t let other people try to sell you experiences.

Look for God and happiness in the small things, the small things that last.

There is more truth in a pair of boots that have been polished and patched for 20 years than in this year’s “must have”, “must buy” fashions.

Decide what your favourite meal is, and learn to cook it.

Change your mind every six months, and learn to cook the new meal.

Make sure the cooking involves washing dirt off ingredients: it’s not real food if you use scissors to prepare it rather than a peeler.

Eat something you have grown yourself every week, even if it’s just mustard and cress in a sandwich.

Oh, and bake your own bread.

How to preach, how not to tell the truth

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has had to make a judgment against that scholar, statesman and all-round paragon of civic virtue, Boris Johnson. In a column for the Daily Telegraph (for which he receives £275,000 a year) Johnson referred to polling which indicated that a no-deal Brexit was increasingly and overwhelmingly becoming the favoured option of the British public. A statistician from Reading, obviously someone wholly and embarrassingly caught up in old-fashioned “reality-based” models of discourse, complained, saying that there was no evidence of such polling or shift in the public’s opinion at all.

Benjamin Disraeli, who knew something about the nature of statistics,
and Boris Johnson, who doesn’t care

The newspaper defended their columnist, completely justifiably, saying that:

…the article was clearly an opinion piece, and readers would understand that the statement was not invoking specific polling – no specific dates or polls were referenced. …the writer was entitled to make sweeping generalisations based on his opinions… it was clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters.

https://www.ipso.co.uk/rulings-and-resolution-statements/ruling/?id=00154-19

Michael Stirling, the statistician, unreasonably told The Guardian: “a potential prime minister shouldn’t be able to make things up in a weekly column”.

You see, that’s where Mr Stirling is wrong. A potential prime minister should be able to make things up in a weekly column, in fact the British public expect him to make things up in a weekly column, and I have here numerous opinion polls which, satisfyingly, concur with my opinion. Opinion becomes fact, through the magical medium of wishful thinking.

Which makes me think about preaching. How often does preaching manifest itself as an opinion piece, with no connection to specific learning, chock full of sweeping generalisations based on sincerely but wishfully held opinions, and in no way confusable with “a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters”? All we can hope for, infrequently, is that it might be “clearly comically polemical”, and by that I don’t mean a weak jokey story at the beginning, three paragraphs all beginning with the same letter in the middle, and a pun at the end.

How many times do we preach, as if our sermons have absolutely nothing to do with the truth?

(an unfashionable idea, I know, and certainly one that will never catch on).

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and “polemical opinion pieces.”

Preaching the Christian Gospel must never fall into any one of those categories.

A Socio-Economic Theory of Justice (and good leather boots)

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socio-economic unfairness.

Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms, Discworld 15 (London: Corgi, 1993).

On Returning to England

Let me sing of thee, my Lionheart,
O England, of my dreams
Where sodium lights from oil-slicked roads
On factory walls doth gleam.

Where mardy proles speak scabrous prose
In snugs and pub saloons;
Cathedral towns selling tea-towel views
On shuttered afternoons.

Shared spaces and clipped public hedges,
On bus, tube, morning train
Friday evening home for DIY
And washing in the rain.

Thermos flasks, twisted salt, boiled egg,
Picnics in the car park
Union flags salute from lamp-post jacks
Football’s national mark.

What know ye now of England’s story
If only England knows?
Less than half a sixpenny paper,
Less than the sickly rows

Of suburban villas clutched on cliffs,
Double-glazed, aerialled trance,
Corry and Talent, TOWIE, Bake Off,
Lost now in Strictly’s dance.

England’s Dreaming—Kipling, Blake and Rotten,
Modest indifference.
Our Empire’s wealth and expectations,
Understate arrogance.

The ribbons of the Empire poured out
Darlo’s mills, Redcar’s forge,
Rich, black money washed from Rhondda’s vales
To the big house disgorged.

We used to build the world from this place,
Coppered, tinned and steeled votives,
The prayers of navvies, squaddies, joiners,
Firebox locomotives.

The foundry is a shopping outlet,
The pit a flattened park,
Garden centres in the railway works,
Naval-yard a landmark.

England’s Dreaming—Shakespeare, Caedmon, Bede
In moorland, wood and dale,
We buy the postcards of scenic views,
Rustic pubs sell bitter ale.

England! England! Blue remembered hills!
Home of my parents’ choice.
Allow my return to your faithless breast—
Homecoming now rejoice.

The delights of group working

In its search for a leader the [small therapeutic] group finds a paranoid schizophrenic or malignant hysteric if possible; failing either of these, a psychopathic personality with delinquent trends will do; failing a psychopathic personality it will pick on the verbally facile high-grade defective. I have at no time experienced a group of more than five people that could not provide a good specimen of one of these.

W. R. Bion, Experiences in Groups and Other Papers (London: Tavistock Publications, 1961), p. 123

Change and the Brigadier Belt

How do we experience change, in society and its groupings? Wilfred Bion, with his experience as an officer in the First World War, and his training as a psychoanalyst, had some ideas:

Change can take place, but society needs to defend itself from change that takes place too rapidly, the catastrophic rate of change. The new ideas have to be appropriately contained and represented so that they can become accessible to the non-geniuses who represent the vast majority of any society. They have to pass the test of what Bion called the Establishment, persons whose established rôle it is to preserve the existing status but at the same time to allow for the slow incursion of new ideas. In the church this would represent the assembly of bishops, in the army what has been called the brigadier belt, that is, those persons whose ability does not fit them to rise above this relatively high rank but whose experience and capacity for testing new ideas is relied on to protect the army from wild ideas but at the same time foster steady change.

Malcolm Pines, ‘Bion: A Group-Analytic Appreciation’, Group Analysis 20, no. 3 (September 1987): 251–62,. p. 253

Trammelled by the otherness of the others

My last post was Gregory of Nazianzus’s advice to avoid assemblies of bishops. Carl Jung was even more pessimistic. He thought we should avoid all assemblies of any kind:

When a hundred clever heads join in a group, one big nincompoop is the result, because every individual is trammelled by the otherness of the others. There used to be a funny question: Which are the three largest organizations, the morale of which is the lowest? Answer: Standard Oil, the Catholic Church, and the German Army. Especially in a Christian organization one should expect the highest morality, but the necessity to bring into harmony various factions requires compromises of the most questionable kind. (Jesuitic casuistry and distortion of the truth in the interest of the institution!)…

Real virtues are relatively rare and constitute usually the achievements of individuals. Mental and moral laziness, cowardice, prejudice, and unconsciousness are dominant. I have behind me fifty years of pioneer work and, therefore, could tell a few things about these: there is, perhaps, scientific and technical progress. However, one has not heard yet that people in general have become more intelligent or morally better.

Individuals can be improved because they let themselves be treated. Societies, however, let themselves be seduced and deceived, temporarily even for the good.

Hans A. Illing, ‘C. G. Jung on the Present Trends in Group Psychotherapy’, Human Relations 10, no. 1 (1957): 77–83.

Avoid all assemblies of bishops…

For my part, if I am to write the truth, my inclination is to avoid all assemblies of bishops, because I have never seen any council come to a good end, nor turn out to be a solution of evils. On the contrary, it usually increases them. You always find there love of contention and love of power (I hope you will not think me a bore, for writing like this), which beggar description; and, while sitting in judgement on others, a man might well be convicted of ill-doing himself long before he should put down the ill-doings of his opponents. So I retired into myself; and came to the conclusion that the only security for one’s soul lies in keeping quiet.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Letter 130 (to  Procopius), cAD 382, in Creeds, Councils and Controversies: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church Ad 337-461, ed. James Stevenson and W. H. C. Frend, Rev. ed. (London: S. P. C. K, 1989).

from Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn’s 2006 introduction to Philip Rieff’s seminal work:

Ephebe NarcissusWith nothing shared beyond a commitment to the self, which turns out to be a commitment to nothing, the individual lacks essential resources for flourishing in ordinary times and for solace in periods of great need. The anything goes mentality of niche marketing prevails, driving what qualifies as reading and thinking downward to new lows.

Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, “Introduction (2006),” in Triumph of the Therapeutic: uses of faith after Freud, by Philip Rieff, 40th Anniversary Edition. (ISI Books, 2006), vii–xxvi.

 

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