A New Illuminated Bible
A new illuminated Bible, created by hand, has just been completed. This is the first time for 500 years such a Bible has been commissioned by a Benedictine monastery; in this case, St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, in the USA. The project was first discussed in 1998, when a calligrapher, Donald Jackson, approached the community with a proposal for the book. It took 15 years for the book to be created. There is of course just one original, but 300 copies have also been produced and cost a minimum of $160,000 each. One is now in Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Some may question the purpose of the project. I however am with the monks who commissioned the Bible, in order to “ignite the spiritual imagination”. Imagination is one of the defining marks of being human, it allows us to reach out, to see beyond the present into the realms of what-can-be, what we long for. Art, in all its forms, can take us to places words and logic cannot. Donald Jackson speaks of how he lets the inanimate materials he works with, paper, wood, glass, “speak from its own personality”, how he longs “to leave it more handsome than [he] found it”. He breathes “life, soul and rhythm” into letters. I love this vision. This is accessible to anyone, but for myself, as a Christian, it opens a window to God.
Rev David Poyner
The Theology of Dr Who
Dr Who is 60. We did not have a TV when the programme first came out and in any case, I am too young to have remembered the first Doctor, William Hartnell. I can just remember the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton and I recall being very scared by an episode I watched at my grandparents where he met up the with Yeti, the Abominable Snowmen. Reading about this on Wikipedia has renewed shivers. But it is mainly Jon Pertwee, the 3rd Doctor who I remember. I was entertained, but never especially scared and I certainly did think of the programme as being remotely spiritual. But that was then, now I’m a vicar and I do see many things differently.
The Doctor travels through time and space to help humanity and fight evil. Somewhere in this, there are connections with eternity, a reality outside of us and a sense that we need help to redeem ourselves. Doctor Who was written as children’s entertainment and for 60 years it has (mostly) succeeded, a remarkable achievement. But perhaps that is because it touches on some very deep themes that are timeless and relevant to people of every age. With periodic re-incarnations of the Doctor, it may owe more to Eastern religious thought than the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but perhaps unwittingly it does point to a wish for a saviour, human but somehow not human. Are you looking to Advent?
Rev David Poyner
Power or Virtue
I recently read an extract from a talk given by Rory Stewart on the goal of politics. Stewart is a former Conservative MP and cabinet member; he stood for leadership of the party (and the job of Prime Minister) when David Cameron stood down. He resigned from the party over disagreements about Brexit. He is now an academic and broadcaster.
Stewart suggested that there are two competing visions of how politicians should work. One is typified by the 16th century thinker, Machiavelli, who believed that the first duty of any leader is to achieve and maintain power. If a politician never has power, they will never be able to lead. By contrast Stewart drew on older ideas, derived from Greek philosophers, who believed that the goal of any life was to pursue “virtue”. Here the politician is to prioritise doing what they believe is right, the greater common good, over the pursuit of power.
I suspect most of us borrow from both camps; I can play power games, albeit not very well. However, it seems to me that the Christian view must be that virtue trumps power; it is the former that should motivate us and our leaders, not the latter. You will have your own views on where current leaders, both in this country and abroad, stand on power versus virtue.
Rev David Poyner
Remembering a Person
Who we chose to remember and why we remember them says a lot about ourselves and the society we live in. This weekend, Remembrance services will take place against the background of the horrible events unfolding in Israel and Gaza; let us not forget also conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen Armenia and Syria. There are conflicting voices about how those might impact on our own response to Remembrance; do we include them, are they a distraction, are they even a danger?
For those of my generation, one response is to focus on the individuals. I will not have personally known any of the fallen, but I often know their families; I am old enough to remember their parents or siblings and to have sensed their loss. I still remember the rawness when my great aunt, 60 years after the event, told me of how she and my grandmother heard the news of the death of great-uncle Ern, killed just a few days before the end of World War 1. He is not just a name for me on the war memorial in Ditton Priors church. By focusing on an individual, I find a personal connection between events far away, long ago. And even if I do not have that personal connection, there are now plenty of resources to tell the stories of the names that I can read and help me engage. And perhaps there is also a lesson to help us all respond to the current conflicts. A member of one of our congregations has recently shared her anguish over a friend, Mohammed Ghalayini, a Manchester civil servant now trapped in Gaza. By hearing his story, I find I can better respond, pray, for all those, Palestinians and Israelis, who are victims of the war there. Sometimes we remember best by getting personal.
Rev David Poyner