Category Archives: Sunday reflections

Religious, spiritual and artistic reflections

Paul Klee: vision, craft and art

firefullmoon_KleeToday we went to see the Tate Modern’s exhibition of Paul Klee. It closes on 9 March. If you haven’t seen it, and you enjoy art, I would urge you to go soon. I was surprised how much it moved me. It made me reflect on what art should be.

Paul Klee was born in 1879 in Switzerland, but took German citizenship from his father. His career took off when he joined the Bauhaus group in 1920. He was condemned by the Nazis as a degenerate in 1933, refused to cooperate with the Nazi government, and retreated to Switzerland. He died there in 1940 of an incurable wasting disease.

The exhibition starts in 1912 and works through Klee’s life chronologically. I am not an artist; I have no artistic training; symbolism usually passes me by. My enjoyment of art is entirely intuitive.The first few rooms didn’t get through to me at all, except some quotations from the artist in the commentary – which bespoke wonderful insight. Then, as it reached his Bauhaus period, it all came alive. From then on, I was entranced. It was at the Bauhaus that Klee started to teach. Perhaps the act of teaching brought clarity to his work. I certainly found the simpler colour compositions more striking (or at least, those with fewer colours!).

There is an astonishing variety to Klee’s work. It is all painting and drawing; the pictures are quite small; it has a hand crafted appearance. Apart from that, his range was huge. Flicking through the exhibition’s catalogue, I found the reproductions very disappointing. Perhaps his use of colour is so subtle than even modern reproduction technology can’t convey it properly. The right contrasts don’t come through. And he is very textural – which does not come over on a flat reproduction. That’s why it has to be seen in a gallery. Some of my favourites are from private collections – yet another reason I’m very glad I made it.

One thing struck me, beyond the beauty and power of the images: the trouble Klee took with the craft itself. He was forever developing new techniques, and he was able to produce a delightful variety of effects. In this era, the artist was seen as a craftsman. That has always been so historically, of course, but I fear we have lost this insight in the post-modern era. Modern artists seem to think that vision and creativity are the thing – and technique secondary, and even a distraction. I hope I’m wrong. My opinion is perhaps unduly influenced by a television series a few years ago, which was a sort of Masterchef for artists. A group of young artists were given a series of challenges, with the overall aim of attracting the interest of the collector Charles Saatchi. One of the early challenges was to draw a model from life. The young artists couldn’t see the point of this, and their results were awful. And they were right: it was most piss-taking of the contestants who won – because she had a creative idea which she was able to realise in a gallery with the use of no technique at all (it was part of a tree impaled on some railings). Have a bright idea; get noticed; you’re made. The rest is a distraction; that seems to be the attitude.

What a contrast with the great artists, including modern ones like Paul Klee! Of course none of Klee’s mastery of technique would have meant anything if he had not also had creativity and vision. But you have to be very lucky to be able to realise your insight without a mastery and love of technique and hard work. Or perhaps more strongly, surely all that hard work to render your vision in a work of art develops and deepens the insight. Klee exemplifies that idea.

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Vienna 1900 – parellels with Europe today

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Today we went to see the last day of the National Gallery’s exhibition of portraiture from Vienna at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. The art was interesting in its own right, but the main impact for me was learning about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which lasted from 1867 to 1916, and its implications for our time.

Austria-Hungary came into being after the Habsburg Austria Empire’s disastrous war with Prussia in 1866. This put to an end idea that the Habsburgs would lead a united Germany. It also put paid to the Austrian Empire’s possessions in Italy, which joined the new Kingdom of Italy. Austria’s rulers had to consolidate what they had, and they took a distinctly liberal approach. The Kingdom of Hungary was established as a parallel entity to Austria, rather than simply being part of Austria’s extensive possessions, and it took perhaps about half of the total land area. Hungary included what is now Slovakia, Croatia and the Transylvanian region of Rumania. In each part of the dual monarchy, democratic reforms were enacted, with elections and citizenship open to all (I think these were more advanced in Austria than Hungary).

Many people of different backgrounds migrated to Vienna, which became a liberal, multicultural place. Jews, in particular, were offered a route into the higher echelons of society, and many assimilated into the Austrian culture. But by 1900 all this liberalism was creating a backlash, and tensions started to mount. There was political stalemate, broken by the First World War in 1914 – which Austria-Hungary itself started, by attacking Serbia. This brought catastrophe down on the Empire, which broke up after Emperor Franz Joseph’s death in 1916, with complete dismemberment when the war finally ended in 1918. Things got worse after that, with anti-Semitism growing into the horror of the Holocaust. Hitler was an Austrian and part of the Vienna scene before 1914. The betrayal of Jews, in Austria especially, has left a stain on Europe’s history that will never be expunged, to rank alongside exploitative, racist colonialism, which Austria at least did not take part in.

Austria-Hungary was widely disparaged at the time – “the sick man of Europe”. Its attempt to forge a multicultural national entity was thought to be undemocratic and illiberal. The right way was to form nation states from largely one language and culture. Nowadays we have much more sympathy with the Austria-Hungary project. National identity is a complicated business, and the idea of creating states based on linguistic and cultural heritage proved to be romantic fiction at best, and licence for oppression, murder and war at worst. All European nations wrestle with the issues of being home to multiple cultures, and we have created a vast, multi-national entity in the EU, which shares many features with Austria-Hungary.

What the Exhibition showed, however, was that for all the tension and ultimate political failure, Vienna in particular produced a flowering of creativity. Many of the period’s greatest artists worked there (we can think of Gustav Klimt and Gustav Mahler, and the highly innovative Arnold Schoenberg). This creativity was not confined to the arts: there was Sigmund Freud, and in the discipline of economics, Joseph Schumpeter, each responsible for ground-breaking ideas that we now take for granted.

But there is a discomforting parallel with Europe today. The European liberal and multicultural project is under fire. Nationalist groups, promoting intolerance, seem to have the political momentum. This is creating a tension, and causing liberals to doubt. In Britain it is disheartening to see that both Labour and Conservative parties have decided to pander to the anti-liberal momentum, rather than stand up to it. And meanwhile, just as in the 1900s, economic advance seems to create inequality, creating yet more tension.

Are we heading for disaster? I don’t think so. The horrific events of the first half of the 20th Century still cast a strong shadow. But liberalism does need to reinvent itself. I dedicate myself to that cause.

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They Came to a City: what happened to wartime Utopianism?

they_came_to_a_city_01Last week we we saw the film of J.B. Priestley’s They Came to a City shown by the BFI as part of their season of Ealing Studios films.  As entertainment the film lacked a certain something, but as a political and historical document it is of real interest.  It reflects the wartime desire of many Britons to build a better society once the war was over – as a sort of quid pro quo for pulling together as part of the war effort.  Does this have anything to say to us now?

The film, made in 1944 from a play produced in 1942, transports nine people drawn from across British society to a Utopian city, where life follows the Priestley’s distinctly socialist vision of the way life should be.  We don’t see the city itself, merely the reactions of these individuals to it: they are offered the choice of staying or returning to current society.

The film only offers hints of what this ideal society is.  Back in the 1940s people probably had a better idea about it than we do now.  It is an egalitarian society where people are focused on well-being rather than possessions, cooperate rather than compete and “do an honest job for the community for what the community thinks we’re worth,” to quote a later Priestley work.  People are happy, and capitalism, or its prewar incarnation, is banished.

The three working class characters, including the two principals, all like this vision and want to stay – or promote its ideals in the real world.  The capitalist plutocrat hates it: he is told that what he does for a living is criminal there.  Two of the three aristocrats also reject the city, for similarly predictable reasons: the male character giving a little speech about how he didn’t really like to have to deal with people at all.  The middle class couple is split.  The bank manager husband is keen to throw off the oppressive stupidity of his organisation; his rather neurotic wife is horrified: she wants a garden and children of her own, and doesn’t want to mix with “common” people.

The film is making two distinct points here.  First is that many people want this ideal society but are convinced that it is impossible or impractical to achieve, and so do not strive for it.  It is important to inspire such people with the hope that it is possible: which is what the thought experiment of the city does, and gives rise to film’s messianic conclusion.  The second is that the ideal society will be disliked by many people, and not just those at the top of society.  At all levels people pin their hopes on a vision based on the way society is: material possessions, status and so forth, and so resist changes to the way society works.  The opposite is also true, of course: some of the upper echelons of society will be as anxious for liberation as anybody else, represented in this film by the upper class daughter who breaks from her mother to stay in the city.

How does this look now?  The first reaction is to think that all the hopes have come to nothing, and that we are reduced to the cynicism that Priestley was so anxious to combat.  Putocrats flaunt their wealth; capitalist competition drives most of the economy; people remain obsessed with possessions and status.  Utopianism is dismissed as impractical.  You can imagine Priestley preaching to us today with the same fervour.

But that’s a glass half empty view.  Since 1945 much of the socialist vision has come to pass.  Social security, the National Health Service and free education are now all accepted foundations of modern society.  The proportion of economic activity not driven by competition: government administration and services mainly, is much higher than the pre-war level.  Even a shadowy idea of competition within the NHS is bitterly contested, with most people instinctively against.  Class distinctions may be persistent, but they are a faint shadow of what they were.  The overwhelming majority of Britons would identify with the (rather articulate) working class characters in this film, who seem distinctly middle class to us.  The aristocracy is an irrelevance.  The middle class characters look hopelessly outdated.  Apart from the working class characters only the plutocrat remains of our time – and he is a figure of humble origins made good.  And poverty of the sort taken for granted before the war has been largely banished – and people are much happier in all sorts of ways.

But it is not our way to reflect on these gains.  However close we get to utopia it always seems an infinite distance away.

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Two sides of the Church

It has been a big week in my ongoing spiritual odyssey, as I wrestle with my agnostic contradictions.  My anti-Church  hackles were raised, all too predictably, by the Church of England’s response to the Government’s consultation on gay marriage.  But I was was  disarmed by the response of a priest to a blog on the subject.  And then I chanced into hearing an episode of Richard Holloway’s radio series Honest Doubt.

First that Church response on gay marriage.  To start with I relied on news reports, mainly from the BBC.  And these were (predictably) provocative – saying that the Church felt the issue to be one of the gravest in its 500 year history, and implying that the Church still considered marriage to be about having children.  I could not but feel this was a calculated insult to my own, childless, marriage.

But rather than sounding off in that vein, I thought I had bet read it (summary here, with link to the full response).  It was of course, much more measured.  But it also cut no ice.  Indeed it seemed to be just begging the question (in the proper sense of being circular rather than the common usage of “inviting the question”).  Two problems preoccupy the drafters: first that it changes the meaning of marriage.  To which the liberal response is, “Well spotted.  So?”  The second worry follows: it means that the Church’s definition of marriage will no longer follow the state’s.  They say that there should be no difference between “religious” and “state” marriage; there should be just marriage.  The natural response from liberals is, “Well, that’s entirely up to you.  Why should that bother us?”  The Church marriage would be fully recognised by the state; it would be a subset of state marriage.  Actually, the reason for the Church to worry about this distinction was spotted by many commentators.  It is part of that wedge with is slowly separating the Church of England from the state and may one day force its disestablishment.  But to most people the establishment status of the Church is just an ornament with nostalgic value, rather like the monarchy.  Few are against it, unless it tries to flex its muscles.  Trying to prevent overdue change to civil customs is just such a muscle flexing: and if it leads to disestablishment, so be it.

On reflection it is difficult to be angered by the Church’s position.  It is just demonstrates all the disappointment I have in it and other Christian institutions.  It just cannot reinterpret ancient principles in light of its more fundamental principles and our changing understanding of the world.  It is just heading for the dustbin of history.

Meanwhile atheistic Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack challenged the Church on the grounds of historical inconsistency.  One of his posts was entitled Could a theologian please help…?  The point at issue was divorce rather than the single sex bit – if the Bible says that marriage was to be for ever, why did they change their view on remarrying the divorced?  Typical smart Alick stuff from an outside commentator.  But it drew a long and wonderful response from a Methodist minister, Philip Wren.  He took time to start with the biblical quote from the Gospel of St Mark that defines the basis of marriage (“…what God has made let no man cast asunder.”)  But he explained it  in terms of the tension between forgiveness and sin.  It’s the sort of stuff that reminds me why I’m agnostic rather than atheist – Christianity is not about neat, cut and dried rules.  It’s about love and redemption.

This was enough to throw the Christian religion back into a more favourable light.  And then, by accident, I caught one of the BBC Radio 4 talks on “Honest Doubt” on Friday, tackling the issue of morality – if we throw out God and religion, on what basis do we found and enforce morality?  The honesty with which it confronted the question made me stop in my tracks.  I immediately went find other talks in the series from the BBC website.  Unfortunately the it isn’t available in podcast, and they apply a strict 7 day rule – so I could only backtrack a week on iPlayer, and missed the first 10 episodes (it extremely irritating when BBC do this, for no good reason that I can see).  I wasn’t disappointed as the series went through the various Victorian thinkers’ reactions as the faith was shaken to its foundations by a series of shocks.  I was particularly taken with Keats’s idea that truth comes from the process of doubt itself.

The talks are given by Richard Holloway, a former Bishop of Edinburgh and professor of theology.  I was hugely struck by the way a religious person could have the courage to confront deep questions that few dare to (amongst atheists as well as churchmen).  If they could do this, I thought, there was hope for the church yet.  I could be a member of a church that contained Richard Holloway.  As I researched Dr Holloway (my practice of using people’s titles as a mark of respect causes difficulties here – his not a bishop or a professor; I assume he is a doctor though!) I was not reassured, though.  He resigned from being a bishop, and now describes himself as an agnostic – his views taking him beyond the pale so far as the official church is concerned.  My struggle continues, but it is good to know that I am not alone.

The talks are given by

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Football: after optimism fails, England fans try low expectations.

I’m not a football fan, in any of its forms.  I don’t follow a football (soccer) club.  But I do get swept into the excitement of the big international championships that take place every two years: the European Cup and the World Cup.  The European Cup for 2012 has started but there’s almost no visible excitement in this football-mad nation (England – here not the other British nations) – so there’s nothing to be swept by.  The Jubilee Union Jacks are slowly coming down – but few George Crosses are replacing them.  What is happening?

I think that what we are seeing is the playing out of two competing theories of motivation amongst pop-psychologists and sports coaches.  First: nothing succeeds like optimism.  Second: excessive expectations only bring disappointment.

The first theory has become very fashionable.  Various statistical studies, at least in the myth, have shown that high expectations improve performance.  So it helps to think that you are going to win.  This type of thinking is now deep in the popular culture – as you can see from the silly boasting by contestants in reality TV contests, replacing the formerly very British (or anyway English) modesty.  But England football fans have tested this idea to destruction – going into contests with high expectations, and much talk of how we can win.  The results (especially the 2010 World Cup) have been dismal.

So the alternative theory gains ground.  Teams can be paralysed by the weight of high expectations; they often peform better when they have less to prove.  And indeed some of the most memorable England football performances have been when the team has been written off (I still remember beating Germany 5-1 in a qualifying match a decade or so ago).  It seems that the county’s fans have taken this idea seriously; keeping mum about the side’s chances, in the hope that this will improve the performance.

Meanwhile I may well miss England’s first match tomorrow – consciousness is so low that somebody is try to arrange a meeting that conflicts with it!

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When is evangelism intolerance? A dilemma for some Christians

I have a great deal of sympathy with the article by Deborah Orr in the weekend’s Guardian: Whether you are religious or secular imposing your views on others is foolish.  Ms Orr complains about strident campaigning from Christians against abortion and gay rights, as well as secularists complaining about the mention of God in the Boy Scouts’ oath.  I disapprove of these strident attitudes too, and it doesn’t make me feel better about those who advance them.  But I fear the distinction between free speech and imposing views isn’t as sharp as she implies.

Ms Orr praises the “live and let live” Christians she knows, who don’t seek to impose their views on others.  This sounds perilously close to not wishing to convert others to their faith.   I don’t think that is necessarily wrong, but many Christians feel that it is their duty to spread the faith – to evangelise.  Now I have enough of a Christian education to enjoy picking holes in what many practising Christians say, in spite of my having lapsed from the faith.  But in this case I find the duty to evangelise a difficult idea to challenge – it’s solidly grounded in scripture both in  letter and spirit (unlike, I would argue, many Christians’ views on gays, and, indeed, abortion).  The Christian and Islamic faiths differ from others, like Judaism and Hinduism, in this.  You are not meant to keep your light under bushel.

So I quite understand the Christian need to proselytise – and probably that is what many Christians think they are doing when advancing their views militantly on gay rights and abortion.  It mystifies me why so many Christians think these things are so central to their faith – but clearly many do.  Ms Orr, of course, is quite happy about the idea of free speech.  she is happy enough for Christians to publicise their views, provided they show equivalent tolerance when people who disagree with them publicise theirs.  She is objecting to two things.  First the idea that conflicting views should be suppressed because they are insulting to those of faith – part of a process of secular persecution.  I have almost no sympathy for Christians (or Muslims) on that score – surely the duty to bear insults with good grace is the flipside of the duty to evangelise?  But she also objects to attempts to “impose” their views on others, by, for example, Christian registrars refusing to conduct civil partnerships between gays – or the Christian landlord refusing to accommodate a gay couple in a bed and breakfast.  Also, of course, the use of violence to stop people using abortion services – and the attempt to advertise “gay cures” on London’s buses.

Ms Orr doesn’t talk about Christian surgeons refusing to conduct abortions – but isn’t that similar?  I don’t think many people would object to that, though this clearly creates problems and may restrict freedom of choice.  This at least shows that there is some grey amid the black and white.

But, to be fair, Ms Orr uses the word “foolish” rather than “wrong” to describe this behaviour – and this is much nearer to the mark.  This behaviour seems to be much more about a rather modern habit of wallowing in victimhood to attract attention from others.  Christians should have the teaching and spiritual resources to rise above that kind of behaviour, even if atheists do not.  Many do of course, so it is does the churches no good when leading figures like George Carey and Cardinal O’Brien pander to the victim culture rather than showing spiritual leadership.

 

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Rowan Williams’s legacy

Rowan Williams is stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury. For all his faults he is one the world’s great intellectuals. Can the Church of England sustain its establishment status without him?

Archbishop Williams’s departure has drawn a lot of comment.  I’ve seen references in Twitter and such to some very negative views, but I must admit I haven’t given these much time.  I have read one of his books (Lost Icons, published in 2000); rereading the review of this book I wrote at the time reminds me of just how profound and disturbing (in a positive sense) I found it.  His language is over intellectual; he seems to idolise a past that never existed – but he poses challenging questions that modern agnostic liberals like me that I have no ready answers to.  He makes most commentators on religious and spiritual subjects seem utterly superficial – and I have feeling that if I was left alone in a room with him my comfortable agnosticism would end up in tatters and I would be going to my local (CofE) church the next Sunday.  I know of no other person that could have that power.  I have total respect for everything he says, even though I disagree with much of it, especially when it comes to politics.

As for his stewardship of the Church of England and the Anglian Communion, I don’t have much to say.  In spite of my tendency to lecture practising Christians on their own faith, I feel completely out of my depth when commenting on the ins and outs of Church affairs.  This post which I picked up via Twitter has the ring of truth though.

But though Church politics are not something I am part of, they do impact on general politics, of which I am.  And the Church of England has a special role, as it is an established part of the state.  This is much discussed, and generally thought to be a positive.  Apart from adding a decorous component to official ceremonies, it forms a link to the country’s past heritage.  Much good can come of ambiguity.  But it is under threat for two reasons.

The first is because the Church could fragment into a number of pieces, none of which is able to sustain its state role.  Tensions abound over the status of women and gays.  I find it impossible to understand why, of all the issues that the Church has to deal with, these are the ones that threaten schism.  Can’t they just agree to differ, as they do with so much else? But it is clearly a big problem.

And the second, related, threat is that the Church is losing its moral authority over the general, agnostic populace.  Most people in this country describe themselves as Christian at some level, and have customarily looked to the Church for moral leadership.  This is what prevents the Church’s establishment status from being just a sham.  But the population’s general sense of moral values has been changing.  So far the Church of England has skilfully adapted its own practices (on divorce, contraception and women priests, for example) to stay within touching distance.  On occasions it has even led the change from the front – such as on racism and inclusion.  But with the growing acceptance of gays in civil society, the Church has mostly lost the plot, not helped by its need to stay in touch with values of the flourishing African church.

Churches must be led by their spiritual calling, and not by the fashions of the society they inhabit.  But to preserve the Church’s special status as part of the political establishment it has to stay within a broad moral consensus.  If the Church, or strong elements of it, persist in teaching things that we, the rest of society consider to be morally wrong then it is up to us to exclude them from that special status.

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Crimes and Misdemeanors: Woody Allen at the BFI

Last Friday we went to seen Woody Allen’s 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors in the BFI’s  Woody Allen season.  There are two more showings to go (including this evening), and I would recommend this dark comedy.

I am quite familiar with Allen’s earlier comedies (Sleeper, Annie Hall, etc), with Allen playing an engaging but ineffectual intellectual who manages to get the girl in the end.  In this film Allen plays that same character, as a New York maker of documentary films, but this time his life moves from failure to abject failure, as he competes with his shallow but successful brother-in-law, played by Alan Alda, and ends up with no girl at all.  Altogether a darker and more realistic observation of the nature of success in society – I nearly wrote “modern society” but this story is surely as old as civilisation itself.

But it is not the main plot of the film, just a counterpoint to another, even darker story about a successful ophthalmologist (played by Martin Landau), who decides that his unstable ex-mistress (Anjelica Huston) has to be bumped off before she spills the beans and destroys the rest of his life.  He succeeds, is wracked by his conscience, but comes through.  Amidst all this there is a lot of dialogue about the nature of God and morality – in a very Jewish setting.  This plays to a modern rather pessimistic view of reality, where just deserts can be avoided with a bit of care and luck.

The very Jewish nature of the discussion, with the trauma of the Holocaust very much part of the picture, put me in mind of the state of Israel – though there no references at all to it in the film.  There people also  ruthlessly resort to force majeure, including the loss of life of varying degrees of innocence, amid much talk of morality, which, in the end, seems to count for very little.  Life goes on.

PS If you go at the BFI, don’t bother with the programme notes except to look at the credits.  It consists of a dense review written 1990, a truly appalling examplar bad art criticism.  Hard to read, trying to be clever, and (almost) devoid of genuine insight.

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Why is it to hard for the Christians to capitalise on Christmas?

Why should we take down our Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (January 5th)?  According to this website it’s because the wood spirits will bring us bad luck otherwise.

Christmas is the second most important festival in the Christian calendar, and it has become the biggest festival in modern Western society.  But Christianity plays a diminishing role.  In the many-layered concoction that Christmas has become, Christianity has left a number of distinctive strata.  The carol service, the children’s nativity play, concerts of sacred music and midnight mass.  These come on top of European pagan strata, and underneath more recent secular ones (Father Christmas and all that).  And as this website shows, more secular types sometimes try to escape the Christian nature of Christmas by appealing to the more ancient traditions.

By and large Christians seem to be accepting this retreat with good grace.  We did get a grump from the Pope about excessive commercialisation, but that was about the only grumbling I picked up this year.  The Archbishop of Canterbury was on the front foot and positive.  This is wise.  The trouble is that the Christian Christmas message has diminishing evangelical weight.

Christian Christmas (it’s a stark sign of the retreat that I have to call it that given that Christianity is embedded into the festival’s very name) is about the fact of Jesus’s incarnation.  It’s about who he is, rather than what he said.  And this takes us into the areas of Christian doctrine that resonate least with the modern world.  “God sent his only Son to save the world” is an expression of faith has become a meaningless string of words to people without faith but with a modern understanding of the Universe.  You are not a Christian because you believe this; you believe it because you are a Christian.

And it shows.  Those carols and nativity plays are distinctly unthreatening to the modern secular sensibility.  The words of the carols have become meaningless, if charming images.  There’s a lot about Kings and Kingdoms, reflecting political arrangements that we now consider to outmoded, and indeed illegitimate as anything more than a token figurehead.  The Virgin Birth is clear nonsense to the modern mind (What does God’s genome look like?).

There is much in the Christian message that resonates as powerfully today as it did 2,000 years ago.  But these Christmas trappings get in the way to the non believer.  To the believer it might be different – they serve as link to the ancient past.  They might help deepen faith, but they will not broaden the appeal.  So Christians at Christmas are best off preaching to the already converted, and watching the evolution of the secular festival with amusement.

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My 9/11

11th September 2001 was a wonderful, bright and sunny day here in London, just as it was in New York.  You didn’t need a jacket outdoors.  I was on duty for a presentation to a prospective client that morning, at the client’s offices.  I was done by lunch time and walked through the lobby blissfully unaware of what was happening over the Atlantic, though it must have been on television screens in the lobby by then.  As I walked through the sun from Gresham Street to our office on Moorgate I was in a world of my own, relieved that the presentation was done.

It wasn’t until I reached the office with sandwiches in hand that I found out.  “Somebody has flown a plane into he World Trade Centre,” a colleague said.  I had in mind a light aircraft, or perhaps something a bit like the plane that flew into the Empire State Building in the war.  It was only as I tapped into my computer that the scale of it started to become clear.  The internet was overloaded, so the information only came through slowly.  At first there were the burning buildings.  And then the towers collapsed.  We held an emergency management meeting, since the trading and custody activities that we administered would certainly have been affected.  But there wasn’t much we could do.

Our management team had held a global conference in New York only that April.  And we’d had dinner at the restaurant on top of the World Trade Centre tower.  We’d used those lifts.

Nobody could do much work; we gathered in small groups.  Apart from trying to understand the sheer horror, the main concern was what the Americans might do in response.  Revenge attacks would only make things worse, we all thought – but were all too likely.

I went home a bit early, I think.  A lot of City workers had been sent home in the afternoon.  I joined my wife in front of the television – she had been home that day and had been watching the TV as the second plane struck, having turned it on more or less by accident just after the first one had.

I had a meeting scheduled for that evening. The local primary school where I was a governor had an OFSTED inspection going on – and the inspectors wanted to talk to governors that evening.  Would it be cancelled?  No notice to say it was, so I went.

And the meeting did go ahead.  The head of the inspection team, a self-important little man, carried on as if nothing had happened; he didn’t even mention it.  This was his day of power, and no terrorists were going to spoil it.  I managed to sit through it, but said nothing.  Back home to watch the TV.

And that’s what I remember.  How have we been spending the 10th anniversary?  We went to see Marlow’s Dr Faustus at the Globe.  We started in a shower, but the weather was mostly nice.  An interesting and enjoyable play, well produced and played to a packed house.  Going there and back we had to go to Waterloo, since the Bank branch of the Northern line was closed.  We worked our way through the crowds attracted to the Thames Festival – and had a delicious venison sandwich for lunch from one of the stalls.  On the way back we visited the Tate Modern to have tea in the Members’ Room and to see the Miro exhibition in its last couple of hours.  Mostly his work is beyond me; but some of the paintings were breathtaking – especially the huge triptychs.  The resonances with other Spanish artists, Picasso and Dali, were interesting, as was the relationship to political background in Spain (and Catalonia); I can only imagine the man’s total despair in the early 1940s.  As we hurried for the station in the rain we passed a carnival parade gathering for its moment of glory behind the National Theatre.

The South Bank was packed with people seemingly of all nations having a nice day out.  Apart from the rain the only blot was Transport for London’s decision to keep the York Road entrance to Waterloo tube closed – in spite of the crowds.  The folly of this was illustrated when they had to close one of the down escalators because of an accident.  Such are our everyday frustrations ten years on.

And later I will be joining some of my local Lib Dem friends in the Nightingale pub for our regular monthly drinks.  Life is well within its usual frame.  But we don’t forget.

 

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