Monthly Archives: February 2012

The first night of spring

And how, you ask, do I know? Is it beautifully sunny weather? Or are the skies full of butterflies? Do I now return from a ride dry and with warm toes? No.

Nor, except by logical extension, am I at all sure I have had the first day of spring. But the first night – yes.

Last night, as soon as I set foot out of doors I heard them. A low sound like a rubber engine, if you can imagine such a thing. Or a chain-saw made wholly of silicone, running on stand-by. It had not been there the night before, or the night before that. I am always about at night, and up to now there has been dead silence.

The pond was full of it -both water troughs were full of it. It echoed out of the bog, quite literally left, right and centre. The frogs are back. They have woken up, and they want company – they want sex.

And so the spring kicks off – and I rejoice.

Faith: ways of creating

So, I sit lightly to the Bible – I am most definitely not going to believe something just because it happens to be written there. I am however equally certainly going to give it an attentive hearing, for there are the most amazing things in the Bible. Anybody who knows some of the really astonishing ideas in it is going to give a fair hearing to the rest.
Of all of it, the Hebrew Scriptures are probably the least known and the most understood; that is to say, the writings of the peoples of Judah and Israel, which was the Bible to Jesus, and which we also know as the Old Testament.
I cannot give a full, proper introduction to them; for one thing, to do so would be a full book in itself, and for another I am not qualified so to do. What I can do is to offer a taster, and to blow away some misconceptions. So here goes (and apologies to theologically qualified readers who know this like the backs of their own hands).
The Hebrew Scriptures were not written in the order we now have them. A lot of them were written down either in the time the Jewish people were in exile in Babylon, or in the time afterwards when many returned to Jerusalem, or in the time when the Persians were the overlords of the country.
Probable exceptions to this include some of the stories about the Exodus, some of the stories about King David, some of the history of his successors, and some of the so-called prophets, who were active in Israel and Judah before they fell.
I think it is possibly easier for my readers if I tackle the bible in the order we now have it.
So – the story starts with an account of the creation. This was almost certainly written in and/or after the Exile. It looks as if the writers know the Babylonian creations myths, in which one God (Marduk) battles the Chaos Monster to create order and the world. I say writers, because the English translations partially hide the two names given for God: Elohim (God) and Yahweh (translated is the LORD). Here, as in many other places in the Hebrew Scriptures, original texts have been put together later to make the work we now have.
What both writers have in common is a desire to show God as creating the world, and the world being good. It is not a matter of Good and Bad battling it out, and Good coming off best: the whole thing is a carefully constructed whole. Interesting.
But as so often with the Bible, not a unanimous verdict: in other places (eg Isaiah 51:9–10) there are traces of a creation in which God hacks the Chaos Monster Rahab to pieces and makes order that way.
Welcome to the world where the Bible argues with itself, and produces insight that way.
Next time? The surprisingly sophisticated theology of the Patriarch stories.

The virgin Virgil

Bird life other than barn owls is however in a very healthy state. I have great, coal, and blue tits in numbers, robins, dunnocks, house sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes and each day now two herons, frogging in the pond. A neighbour saw a goldcrest, but sadly it did not make its way up here. I worry over the frogs, but it is plainly a bad time of year for herons.

I would love to have ducks, and last year I was visited by a flight of my favourite of all ducks, Muscovies. They sat on my gates and talked to me. I was so tempted – but ducks eat frogs. Muscovies would soon clear my pond of all amphibians. Despite their intelligence (Muscovies are at the top end of farmyard avian intelligence, just as guinea fowl are at the bottom) I cannot permit all my frogs an toads to be annihilated.

I am however going to try my luck with the geese again. Horatia and Virgil have never manage to have any babies, and I suspect they have never mated. I don’t know for certain that Virgil is male so I am buying in a young gander and two geese. If Virgil is in fact a goose and not a gander, the gander will have four wives, not an impossible thing and if Virgil is male, but not able to bring himself to mate, the new geese will in time provide fertile eggs for Horatia to sit on. I am eagerly anticipating the delightful task of finding suitable Roman names for the new trio – preferably from among the ranks of writers and not the warlike or statesmen.

Living Faith – the Word

This is the start of my occasional series on ‘mere Christianity’.

So let us start with the word of God, oh, better idea; let us start with the Word of God.

For us, the really sacred figure is Jesus of Nazareth, whom his follower came to believe was the Anointed of God, in Greek (the language in which the New Testament is written) ‘the Christ’. Jesus is how we see God – he is, if you like, the window through we look when we are trying to see into the big deep mysterious house we call ‘God’ – a house which sometimes seems utterly familiar, like a place we have always known, and sometime so strange we doubt the evidence before us. This is something I want to come back to, but for now, keep with the image of Christ as a window. Jesus is astonishing (something else to come back to) but he, we believe, is uniquely the best way of seeing and understanding God. The very beginning of John’s gospel, one of five early accounts of Jesus and by far the most poetic, calls him ‘the Word of God’, the logos, the root which gives us logic, and all the ‘ology’ word-ends. It is as though God speaks, and what he speaks is not a sound, but a person.

If Jesus is uniquely the best way of understanding God, it follows that the Bible can only be a second-best way of seeing God. It is not, and it cannot be, the Word of God. It is Jesus who (according to John) was ‘next to God, and was God’. The Bible may be jolly interesting, but it is not and never has been ‘next to God’ or, of one prefers the more sedate translation, ‘with God’. The Bible is words, not the Word.

It follows that liberal Christians tend to sit a heap lighter to the Bible than atheists (no names, no pack drill) think they should.

Silent skies

This is a not-good post which I have delayed making. My barn owls are dead. Since they move in, they have been here and last year, gloriously, they raise two clutches of babies. They were till here in early January – though worryingly less active. For the last three weeks, silence. The only possible explanation is that they are dead.

They are not a long-lived species, not in the wild. High winds, rain make it hard for those silent feathers to fly. The same beguiling ability to over-fly a human, with no noise until the breathy voice give them away,make them especially liable to get soaked, cold,and immobile in heavy rain. Then, snow complicates hunting by hiding the mice. An you cannot feed a barn owl, they only take live prey.

The net result is, this year my beloved owls have died. And there was nothing I could do.

My only consolation is that one of the young male they bred i till alive, and living further down the road. I ee him from time to time. If, if he managed to breed, then hi children might, might just move in here. Anyhow my dear dead owls did manage to pass their little spark of life on.

Not mere Christianity

There was an excellent blog recently from a man who went into a bookshop looking for a good introduction to Christianity which was not C. S Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity’. He failed to find anything, and left depressed. As an answering blog pointed out there is in fact plenty of inspiring Christian writing around. I’m not sure I am capable of inspiring Christian writing, but I think I want to have a go at discussion some of the basic Christian ideas on here. Panic not, dear sceptical readers, I will not allow this project to take over the blog, just fill in some of the silences.

Lewis’s deliberately provocative title was intended to go to a basic Christianity. beyond party difference, as it were, and especially beyond Protestant/Catholic divide. These days going beyond Protestant/Catholic divide is a doddle unless you are talking football. Going beyond right-wing uber-Fundamentalist Christianity and liberal Christianity is not. The kind of beliefs one sees unattractively embodied in some of those who stood for the Republican Party Presidential candidate is not something I recognise as Christian, and I would not want in any way to be associated with it. Best to say straight out that they may be my brothers and sisters in Christ, but I am not interested in having my beliefs in any way confused with theirs. My readers are as well to assume that I detest pretty much everything they stand for unless I tell them otherwise.

So I can make no claim that this is ‘mere Christianty’ – Christianity beyond dispute. But what I present here will be,in the main, what moderate liberals would recognise, even if they disagreed in particulars.

Full moon rising


I live in a beautiful place miles from nowhere. It is high and windswept and one of the most frequent comments I get is: ‘It must be lovely here in summer.’ Sometimes, it is. Sometimes there is sun and a light breeze and not too many midges or cleggs (blood sucking flies who leave an itchy bump that makes one realise just how benign the mosquito is.)

But to really appreciate this place, you need to be here in late autumn, or in the snows of winter, or in very early spring. Those days when you would not in fact, pack up and spend the day on a beach, or in some chosen bit of even more beautiful countryside, or having a BBQ or sandwich in the fly-free environs of suburbia. Those moments when you can enjoy twenty minutes outside, but not two hours.

Day like yesterday, when a brief spell of warm sun in the middle of the day made the place a joy just to walk through. Or moments like tonight, when the full moon rose at dusk, and cast a spell over its mud and shabbiness.