It has been the same since the very beginning – at least according to the Bible. In the garden of Eden, according to the book of Genesis, the devil in the form of a serpent encourages the man and the woman to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree so that they can become like God. For that, he tells them, is what will happen if they eat. Not content with what God has given they want more – and to be like God, to be equal to God, seemed so desirable – so they ate. And they are expelled from the Garden of Eden as a result of their disobedience. The story of Adam and Eve being thrown out of Eden is what we call The Fall. Even from the beginning, says the Bible, people got the whole idea about status and power upside down. They wanted to be raised up to be equal to God – not realising that God had different ideas. We’ll come back to that thought in a while.
Around ten years ago the Guardian newspaper published a list of the thousand novels that everyone must read before they die.
I think I have some way to go. I looked through the list yesterday and I have now managed to read 87 of them. In case you think that actually sounds rather impressive I should explain. The list contains many of the great classics from around the world, Dickens, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Jane Austen and so on, and many of the books are seriously heavy going. It also contains great modern novels that you probably know better as films – Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, the great Philip Marlow novels of Raymond Chandler, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I managed to resist cheating and didn’t include those in my total even if I’d watched the film. Continue reading
Those above a certain age will remember the television series Dallas which ran for thirteen years from 1978. I don’t mind admitting I was addicted to it. It told the stories of the two brothers Bobby and J R Ewing and their constant power struggles with each other and with people like Cliff Barnes for control of the Texas oil industry. There was surely no-one who had not heard of J R Ewing. Dallas was briefly revived a few years ago.
J R Ewing became infamous for his lust for power, and his determination to have power whatever the cost. And one line he said in the revival has stuck in my mind ever since, at it seemed to be so true of many people who achieve power in our world. At the age of 80, still craving power and money, J R says his son John Ross: Nobody gives you power – real power is something you take. Continue reading
It has been said: Always expect the unexpected!
It was in fact Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who died around 425 BC, who first coined the phrase: he wrote: If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.
I’m not quite sure exactly what he meant by that – certainly not by the second part of that saying! He seems to have made a habit of being deliberately enigmatic. He also came up with such gems of philosophical thought as:
There is nothing permanent except change
and – see what you make of this one: The way up and the way down are one and the same.
Always expect the unexpected!
Oscar Wilde emphasised the importance of expecting the unexpected by updating that quote from Heraclitus. Wilde, in his usual manner, said: To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. Continue reading
Today, Trinity Sunday, I preached on the wonderful hymn Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.
The press sometimes seems to take great delight in quoting one survey or another claiming to show that religious belief is in decline. Actually not true although patterns of churchgoing have changed – and in this diocese at least we have begun to see some growth. But there is one area that we have seen real decline – and that is in the length of hymns that churchgoers are apparently willing to sing. And even clergy. One well-known broadcasting cleric tweeted not long ago that no hymn should be more than four verses unless it’s for a procession. And you can measure this decline in the acceptable length of hymns by looking back at our hymn books. Continue reading