Monday, 28 June 2010

A lovely day at work . . .

It was a lovely sunny day this morning and as we (at the Woolf Institute) were saying goodbye to a colleague - Navras Jaat Aafreedi one of our visiting fellows (fourth from the right) who is from the Department of Social Sciences, School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Gautam Buddha University, India - those of us who were in the office at the time thought we'd have a photo taken and here it is. Left to right: myself, Dawud Bone, Esther Haworth, Navras, Tina Steiner, Marta Dominguez Diaz and Lucia Faltin.


Later on in the afternoon we said farewell to another visiting fellow Eva Maria Ziege. She is a Sociologist by training. She was educated at the universities of Bonn and Potsdam. Her post-doctoral thesis (Habilitationsschrift) on the Frankfurt School's grappling with antisemitism while in exile was published by Suhrkamp in 2009. She has held positions at the Humboldt Universität in Berlin and, most recently, as a DAAD Associate Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. Right to left is myself, Eva-Maria, Dawud, Jasmine and Lars Fischer and then a number of the CJCR MSt students.


So a lovely sunny day but sad to loose two such interesting and friendly colleagues.

 

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A horse and a dog were friends . . .

Ernst Bloch, the German Marxist philosopher tells a story about a horse and a dog who were friends in which "the dog saved the best bones for the horse, and the horse put the most fragrant bunches of hay before the dog; each wanted to do his best for the other, and neither one was fed" (Bloch, Ernst, "Traces", p. 10).

Most obviously this story shows us something about friendship. As Bloch observes, one simple lesson that what would help a great deal is having more modest expectations of what others, mostly kindly, offer us from time to time.

But Bloch's little story points to something else that can, I think, be helpful to us as a particular kind of religious community seeking an effective contemporary way to be liberal in the face of the loss of certain key old liberal religious certainties. We begin to catch a glimpse of a way forward by starting with Bloch's concluding words: "[W]hen one sees [the other's] bundle of hay - their evening, their Sunday - one cannot understand how they can bear to live."

I'm sure all of us can remember an occasion when we have experienced just this kind of visceral feeling. Perhaps after an evening spent at the home of a friend, a neighbour or some other acquaintance or, to bring it into the obviously religious context, after those occasions when we have been invited, often very kindly, into another Christian church setting or a religious community holding an entirely different faith to us.

But when this feeling arises it can be quite disconcerting and stressful as a liberal because considerable effort has been expended in developing a broadly secular tradition which holds that somehow other faiths and beliefs quite different from our own should be accorded an absolutely equal place along with our own in the so-called "market-place of ideas." However, despite this hard work, perhaps inevitably, this visceral feeling has never stopped popping up now and then and so there remains a pressing need amongst us to develop a theology to deal with it.

The old liberal theological solution can be outlined as follows. It divided religion into two elements, the transient and the permanent (cf. particularly Theodore Parker's influential sermon of 1841 on this subject). For convenience I offer it to you in this simplified and condensed way - its actual development is, of course, far more complex than this account.

On the one hand were bracketed together those things that we found to be either merely puzzling or even actively distasteful (such as creeds and certain ritual practices) and, to make our dislike less important, we interpreted these beliefs and practices as being somehow merely accidental or matters of personal taste - accidents of culture, time and place.

On the other side of the equation we bracketed together the things which we thought reason had revealed to us as permanent, timeless and universal and we took seriously in another religion only these things. These things formed, we believed, the universal heart or core of pure religion - a religion we believed we already had or were, at the very least, on the way to uncovering. (There have been, and still are, published many books which collect together various bits of various religions together and which are given titles like "The Essential this or that".

Consequently we could simultaneously be appalled by some aspects of another religion (and ask how on earth its adherents could possibly live like that) but, at the same time we could dispel our latent guilt for feeling this by 'magnanimously' believing that, despite this, we were capable of seeing through to the universal and permanent which lay at the heart of any other religion.

By this method it appeared to us (and still does to some liberals) that we did achieve a kind of unity but it is vital to realise that we only achieved this at a considerable cost - namely unity on our liberal terms. It was a kind of liberal universalist colonialism. It is a tempting thing to do but, once thought about, it is hard for us to think this doesn't seem quite right.

Here we may usefully return to Bloch's story.

Firstly I want us to note that it is not one merely about taste or something merely accidental. It is not that the dog merely prefers bones to hay, and the horse hay to bones; No! *constitutionally* speaking, the dog cannot eat hay and be fed and the horse, *constitutionally* speaking, cannot eat bones and be fed and it will be so until the end of time. Taste doesn't enter into the picture. What it is that constitutes dogly-being or horsely-being includes the need to eat bones not hay, hay not bones.

But our the liberal desire for higher order theoretical unity tends to make us jump from the particularities and see a higher unity - by saying, for instance, "Ahah! but they both need food." This jump might have some limited practical local use but as an expression of some real, existing higher unity it is an illusion caused by our language because 'food' doesn't exist; no actual dog or horse has ever eaten 'food' and been fed it has only ever eaten bones, no actual horse has eaten food and been fed, it has only eaten hay.

Secondly I hope you can see that unity on our terms is rather like trying to feed a horse with our bones. We thought we had a universal and timelessly nourishing food (with no sell-by or eat-by dates) but the horse, of course, has taken one look at our fare and, even though we may have offered it for the most part in friendship, the horse asks us how on earth we can bear to live like this? Our food is, for the horse of course, inedible.

In the light of these two points I want us firstly to see that this constitutional inability to eat what sustains another takes place between a dog and horse who were friends - neither of them need be ashamed of not being able to eat what they have offered each other. The trick is to become aware of this and seek to move our friendship forward on other grounds.

The second point is related to the preceding one. I'm increasingly feeling that the old bones of our liberal religious tradition are not incapable of being eaten by the horse but that they also aren't looking too tasty to us anymore. Why? Well our historical and, at the time, not unreasonable hope was that we would be able to achieve unity (or at least friendship) between religions (between dogs and horses) at the higher level of theory or theology. But that hope is simply unsustainable now for many of the reasons I have been exploring with you over the past few years. Consequently, if we wish to continue to move forward in our desire to contribute to a certain kind of unity, or at least real friendship, between religions then we must change our approach.

How might we do this. Well, we can begin by taking seriously Wittgenstein's advice to "Look, don't think!" by which he meant we should look, actually look at what is before us and not to be tempted, as our liberal tradition is wont to, immediately to jump to abstract universal theories about the world which don't take seriously the particularities of existence (e.g. jumping immediately to 'food' without understanding the need for bones and hay). More than incidentally I interpret Jesus' call to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air as a similar call to that made by Wittgenstein.

If we wish to rescue our liberal tradition we need to engage in a course of disciplined moral reflection that consist in paying infinite patient attention to the individual realities of our world. (This is a long term project that may take many generations before it bears mature fruit.) As one of the great twentieth-century British Unitarians, Robert Travers Herford, once observed to a group of Anglican clergymen, "Our duty is not to convert each other but to understand each other."

This discipline will, I hope, also help guard us from becoming bewitched again by the illusory belief that we can discover and apply universal, permanent first principles of action that will suit everyone for all time and which can become the basis of a universal religion.

It is important to realise that an obsessional belief that a theoretical higher unity is more valuable (and real) than actual realities is something which is, I believe, increasingly standing in our way to a proper engagement in the "direct and unimpeded action for the concrete good of our neighbours" and the realisation of a practical ethic of love our liberal tradition has long desired - an ethic whose exemplary model is for this community Jesus of Nazareth. This practical ethic of love only becomes possible for us in this new, post-theological, context when our neighbour has really been *noticed* by us with all their particularities. We have to learn to accept that our neighbours' (both Christian and those from other faiths and none) creeds and practices are the things that feed them and make them what they are in the world, to them these things are not merely accidental matters of taste but essential to their well-being in the world
 
Only then will we be able truly to meet our neighbours as they are and, rather than being eternally disappointed and frustrated by our inability to share each others' hay or bones, come to that for which we have longed for so long, namely, a unity based upon genuine reciprocal love. 

(For much of what I say in the last few paragraphs I am indebted to James C. Edwards - especially his Ethics without Philosophy" p. 243. He is writing about Wittgenstein's thought. Edwards has been hugely influential on my thinking - though I hope you realise I'm to be blamed for the stuff on this blog, not him!).

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Conducting each other into new worlds of thought - or Moss, our sweet cousin. A wedding homily for Jo and Aidan Craigwood

This Sunday's address was the brief homily I offered at Jo and Aidan's beautiful and moving wedding at the church on Saturday 19th June - a service that they carefully created over a year and a half. (The wedding photos in this post were taken by Tom Catchesides.)

I thought that allowing this piece a wider audience would be worth doing because it relates to what for me is one of the primary fruits of our religious community - namely to provide people with the opportunity for honest and open conversation about matters of faith and belief and to encourage us all slowly to turn this into embodied and impassioned ways of being in the world (i.e. not just to create abstract theories about the world). This seems to me to be a vital discipline for us because we live in an age in which, for those who might be attracted to such a religious community, the old religious certainties have gone and, in consequence, we are in need of finding ways to learn to build, think and dwell in what is really a new land - that open, creative sacred space where the gods of ancient times used to dwell and about which I have recently been speaking.

Jo and Aidan are one couple who have, together, clearly conducted themselves into greater, new worlds of thought, and through a process of building, dwelling and thinking begun to embody what they have discovered in their loving act of marriage. In my now year-and-a-half long conversation with them I have learned at least as much from them as anything they may have learned from me. In other words I, too, have been conducted into new worlds of thought and for that I am truly grateful and offer them my very best wishes for their future life.

But before the address itself here are two of the readings from the wedding service which were, of course, chosen by Jo and Aidan: 

Idleness
Lu Yu (late Sung dynasty) trans. Kenneth Rexroth (1956) 

I keep the rustic gate closed
For fear somebody might step
On the green moss. The sun grows
Warmer. You can tell it’s Spring.
Once in a while, when the breeze
Shifts, I can hear the sounds of the
Village. My wife is reading
The classics. Now and then she
Asks me for the meaning of a word.
I call for wine and my son
Fills my cup till it runs over.
I have only a little
Garden, but it is planted
With yellow and purple plums.


Selections from ‘Talk and Talkers’ I and II
Robert Louis Stevenson (1882) 

There can be no fairer ambition than to excel in talk. [. . .] It costs nothing in money; it is all profit; it completes our education, founds and fosters our friendships, and can be enjoyed at any age and in almost any state of health...
 

But the true talk, that strikes out all the slumbering best of us, comes only with the peculiar brethren of our spirits, is founded as deep as love in the constitution of our being, and is a thing to relish with all our energy, while yet we have it, and to be grateful for forever...
 

In the garden, on the road or the hillside, or tête-à-tête and apart from interruptions, occasions arise when we may learn much...; and nowhere more often than in married life. Marriage is one long conversation, chequered by disputes. The disputes are valueless; they but ingrain the difference...But in the intervals, almost unconsciously and with no desire to shine, the whole material of life is turned over and over, ideas are struck out and shared, the two persons more and more adapt their notions one to suit the other, and in process of time, without sound of trumpet, they conduct each other into new worlds of thought.

********** 

Jo and Aidan's Wedding Homily
19th June 2010 - Cambridge


Every Sunday on every order of service in this church there are printed some words of the American transcendentalist author Bronson Alcott (father of the more famous Louisa May Alcott); they read as follows:

"Conversation as the natural organ communicating, mind with mind, . . . is the method of human culture. By it I come nearer to those whom I shall address than by any other means."

Honest conversation - in which all sides are genuinely open to enlarged conceptions of understanding - honest conversation has always seemed to me to be essential to the creation of the genuinely good, true and beautiful life. Given this I was delighted when Jo and Aidan asked me whether I would speak in some way about conversation, a subject which their readings eloquently revealed to us is a matter of great importance to them. In the year and a half I have known them I have also become aware that this passion for conversation is intimately tied to yet another, namely a deep love of the natural world - a love which was also expressed in their choice of readings. As they told us in their introductory words they felt, along with Robert Louis Stevenson, that these readings point to an end in which "shared experiences add up to something, somehow, much greater – new worlds of thought."

*****

It has long seemed to me that over the centuries our Western European and North American culture has for many reasons, none of which I will rehearse here, become overly concerned with theories *about* the world. This attitude, though it has revealed many wonderful things about the world in which we live, has had the unfortunate side-effect of encouraging us increasingly to observe life almost as outsiders and, in the process, we have often forgotten how to be fully *in* the world, able to experience it directly and with a deep sense of wonder.

Of course, whether we are aware of it or not, we are always-already-in-the-world but it seems to me that key to the leading of a truly fulfilled and good life is to have some regular disciplined practise which can keep us fully aware of our intimate comminglement with the whole world.

The art of sustained honest conversation in community is one such practical discipline that can be particularly effective at developing and sustaining this awareness in each other. However, it is vital to realise that I am not just referring to the kinds of conversation we have one with one another but also the kinds of conversation we can have with the natural world itself.

Someone who clearly engages with the natural world in this fashion is the contemporary American poet Mary Oliver. She has an uncanny knack of conversing with the world as it presents itself to her and then, in response, to formulate, not dry, abstract theories about the world, but instead offers us words which can help draw us back into the world with great gentleness, compassion and love. Her poems, to me at least, always reveal "somehow, much greater – new worlds of thought".

I could have chosen any number of poems which illustrates this conversational process but I have chosen just one, entitled "Moss" and I chose it simply because Jo and Aidan offered us Lu Yu's poem in which we discovered that in the company of moss he and his wife experienced something of the deep fulfillment that comes about when we are prepared to converse deeply with each other and the world. As the Roman poet Lucretius observed:

Nature's gifts are simple. [. . .] She has no need to improve on the simple pleasures of friends stretched out on a grassy knoll beneath the arching branches of living trees near water purling in some brook. What riches can equal that? (De Rerum Natura, Bk II, line (in this edition) 220ff - trans. David R. Slavitt)

So now, in your imagination, lie down with your eyes close to the moss and look carefully at the plants and creatures Oliver describes and as you do this listen, too, to her conversation with this world; let the conversation draw you back into an immediate experience of life itself:

MOSS

Maybe the idea of the world as flat isn't a tribal memory
or an archetypal memory, but something far older - a
fox memory, a worm memory, a moss memory.

Memory of leaping or crawling or shrugging rootlet by
rootlet forward, across the flatness of everything.

To perceive of the earth as round needed something else
- standing up! - that hadn't yet happened.

What a wild family! Fox and giraffe and wart hog, of
course. But these also: bodies like tiny strings, bodies like blades and blossoms! Cord grass, Christmas fern, soldier moss! And here comes grasshopper, all toes and knees and eyes, over the little mountains of dust.

When I see the black cricket in the woodpile, in autumn, I don't frighten her. And when I see the moss grazing upon the rock, I touch her tenderly,

sweet cousin.

(New and Selected Poems Vol. 1 and Vol. 2)

Oliver's conversation with the natural world, her poetry in conversation with me who, in turn, has been engaged in conversation with Jo and Aidan and now, with all of us conversing with all of you through the medium of this service (and now blog) - the much greater, new world of thought that appears before me right here, right now, is that this service, in addition to being the formal bringing together of Jo and Aidan in marriage, is a profound symbol of a deeper togetherness that holds us all together as one family on one earth.

This new world of thought born of conversation encourages me to say that Jo and Aidan's coming together in love points us to a sense, a truth even, that we all belong to each other - we are all brothers and sisters one with another and cousins with everything else in the world - even the humble moss on Lu Yu's lawn or Oliver's rock. How right Lucretius was, "Nature's gifts are, indeed, simple and what riches can equal this?!"

So when we next see moss grazing upon some rock or lawn, don't forget to touch her lovingly and tenderly, your sweet cousin, and let her be for you a reminder of this joyous day, when we were privileged to witnessed the tender touch of two people brought together in a loving conversation which will, for a lifetime, forever be conducting them into new worlds of thought.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Becoming philosopher-alchemists . . . "In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high."

I want to preface my Sunday address with a few additional sentences.

After having outlined some difficulty in the world and/or local community that we face, I would love to be able to say to members of the congregation I serve "But of course, as we know, God is love and so, secure in this knowledge, and following Christ's teachings, we know that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." I would so love to be able to do this and for those before me to draw genuine comfort from these words. But - for all the reasons I have given in earlier addresses I can't, for even as we may appreciate the words' sentiments (and genuinely wish we could feel them to be true) to us it feels like whistling in the wind.

On the other hand there exists no simple translation of this theistic hope into a non-theistic secular language - i.e. where I can say "Well trust in God and Christ really means such-and-such" and then to let the "such-and-such" do the simple work of instilling genuine hope in us.

No, I think we have to find a way to be able to use the religious language we have in a way that doesn't mean we read it either literally (as quasi-scientific) OR metaphorically. This means one has to attempt to show how, in the Christian context I work, we can continue to use Christian language and genuinely access its hope but without slipping back into old usages or being encouraged to accept of reject Christianity on the old grounds many of our liberal compatriots do - an acception or rejection that is just based on the old way of thinking how religious language worked.

Genuine human expression of hope seems to me ineluctably tied to the language offered to us by religion but it only seems to me to be genuine when we are freed from certain ways of understanding that same language (a la Wittgenstein and Heidegger). If we slip back in any way into old usage (either to reaffirm Christianity in some way or to reject it) then my whole project founders (as I realise it so easily can and probably will).

But success matters in the present context - REALLY matters that is - because it increasingly appears we are entering a period in our culture when old fashioned truth-claims about religion are once again being made (by both religious and secular groups) that I fear will lead to something very nasty occurring in our culture. Just take a look at this BBC report about today's YouGov poll.

How long before this fear is played out violently against our Muslim brothers and sisters?

The constant misunderstanding of what religious language can and can't do (on all sides) contributes to this worsening situation and my words below are a totally inadequate attempt at freeing us from the bewitchment of language that allows such dangerous arguments to gain traction in our society.

I know my address might seem to many merely to be a abstract and irrelevant rambling that disappears up its own arse (and perhaps it is) but I assure you that it is offered because I really do fear that something wicked this way comes and I'd like to offer us some tools to help avoid it.

Now something so bleak is hardly something one likes to admit in polite liberal church circles - is it? . . . and maybe that's why my address below was so oblique. Well, in these introductory words I finally pluck up courage to avoid the oblique. These are dangerous times my friends and it will take much better rhetoric than what I offer below to inspire people to act sooner rather than later.


However, having said all of this I admit that what I'm trying to say below is at present really beyond my grasp and I apologise for this piece of serious over-reaching. But, as Thoreau once said: " In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high."

****************************************

During last Wednesday's conversation I was reminded that I gave an address a year ago which explored some territory in a way that seemed to help make better sense of what I was trying to say last Sunday. In consequence I offer you the basic element of the earlier address directly tied into the major theme of last week's address.

We begin with an observation made by Wittgenstein who was concerned to show that no language is complete. He did this by likening language to a city:

". . . ask yourself whether our language is complete; - whether it was so before the symbolism of chemistry and the notation of the infinitesimal calculus were incorporated in it; for these are, so to speak, suburbs of our language. (And how many houses or streets does it take before a town begins to be a town?) Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses" (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 18).

With this thought in mind I'll begin by recounting some elements of what it is like to live and work in London today (or the very recent past) and, as I do this, I'll also be asking you to imagine William Shakespeare living in the London of his own age . . .

Although I was living in London in late 80s and Shakespeare was there in the late 1500s it was a complete city for both of us. We crossed it regularly on the way to work, Shakespeare to theatres, me to gigs, and both of us traveled to the homes of friends and colleagues and frequented its inns, shops and markets. We shared knowledge of the routes of many of the same London streets as well as their names and both us, at times, traveled on them to get out of the city on hot sultry days like this. Of course, where the city ended and ran out into the countryside was for both of us in a different place but - and this is my basic point - London was for us both a complete (though not *completed*) city.

Yet, for all the continuities and overlaps - remember London is still meaningfully called London - for all the continuities and overlaps to live in London of the late sixteenth-century is clearly a very different thing to living in the same city in the late twentieth-century.

Given this it should be obvious that I must use very different directions and descriptions to those used by Shakespeare because if I didn't I simply wouldn't be able to get around. All around me are new buildings, roadways, bridges, sub-ways and footpaths. By the same token we may observe that Shakespeare, were we able to resurrect him, could not get into a London taxi and, using a map of the London of the late 1590s give adequate directions to the driver to get around the city. Of course he couldn't because even to get to things that are pretty much the same as they were in his day - say the river Thames or the Tower of London) - he will have to negotiate the multitude of "new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses" and no amount of romantic longing on his part is going to bring back to life the city routes of his memory. But I'm sure we can all just see that the London of Shakespeare's age is the same city we know even though they are clearly very, very different.

Now this seems to describe something similar to the situation of inheriting a religious tradition (which is the same as being born into a complete, though never completed, city) - in our case Christianity. Even as some major landmarks remain much of what it was has simply disappeared or been raised to the ground to make way for new developments whilst other aspects of it have been extended in new suburbs - I think it remains meaningful to keep calling our tradition Christian (just as we still call London London).

Now, although you won't be able to find a modern Londoner trying to deny that the city where they were born is London even when they are well aware it is clearly not the city of her parents, grandparents or Shakespeare we do seem to get religious people denying this kind of continuity exists in religion. Now why is this?

Well it occurs because there is ingrained in us - by now hard-wired into our consciousness - a huge and dangerous confusion about language and what it can and can't legitimately do. As I mentioned last week

. . . the trouble is that one of the *absolutely* key historical defining characteristics of our own Christian tradition was the belief that, in [a] quasi-scientific way, we would eventually be able to show or prove to the world that Trinitarians were wrong and Unitarians were right; that Unitarianism was true and that Trinitarianism was, if not wholly false, then at least a very corrupt form of what we thought was pure, simple and true Christianity. It was sincerely believed by our forebears that if we could just describe matters simply and clearly enough then people would slap their foreheads, a la Homer Simpson, and say "D'oh!, of course, how right you are - now I see it clearly too".

To return to the city anology we may say our forebears thought that a pure, true London could be described and pointed to so that everyone - you, me, Shakespeare and all the rest - would be able to say "Aha! You're right THIS is the true London! How wrong I was to think that the city I actually lived in was the real London."

I concluded this section of last week's address by noting that although in its strong theological form, at least amongst Unitarians in Europe and North America, this belief has significantly dwindled (perhaps even totally disappeared) it remained with us in a more spectral, shadowy form in the vague feeling amongst many modern Unitarian congregations that we somehow *deserve* to grow and flourish (by some natural right) rather than as many congregations are, alas, actually dwindling and dying.

My point - even though I know this is devilishly obscure and hard to grasp I want to make passionately because if you can grasp it then you will stumble out into the creative clearing I have recently talked about - my point is that to continue to try and uphold the old Unitarian project - even in its shadowy spectral form - is the equivalent of trying to prove my imaginary modern Londoner right in her claim that the city she was born in is not the same city Shakespeare was born in.

But that's wrong in a key way for we know she was born in London - the same city as Shakespeare. To claim that her city of birth is not London is just plain wrong even as we know it is a city unbelievably different to that known by Shakespeare. Our community is, in this sense, a Christian one, even though our understanding and practice results, today, in a faith unbelievably different to that known by our forebears.

One thing that strikes me with the force of inevitable knowledge and which continues to keep me in the Christian ministry (Christian in the sense I am grasping for above) is the sense that human knowledge - that is to say, not disembodied facts about the world but rather the knowledge of what it is to be a particular kind of being in the world and not another - human knowledge is contained only in the kinds of procession I have been talking about here and that when these processions end so too does the knowledge. Consequently I desperately want to help us to see that we still live in this procession and that the religious "city" in which live today, even when it is clearly a city radically different from that known by earlier generations, is the same one as our forbears. This allows us to see how we can be different from our forebears but which also offers us a traditional way forward into a future that is very different from our present. It gives us, potentially at least, genuine access to the hopes of Christianity but without the cost of buying into its old metaphysics.

To bring us to a conclusion I cite Wittgenstein again though I have taken the liberty to change his original words. He was talking here about games but I am inserting the many Londons and Christianities there have been over the centuries:

"Don't say 'There must be something common, or they would not all be called [London or Christianity] - but look and see whether there is anything in common to all. - For, if you look at them all [all the Londons and all the Christianities] you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don't think, but look! (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 66).”

What this means - and this really is the oddest thing of all and also the really, really significant break with our religious forebears and why, of course, it is so damnably hard to express - is that when we think about our religion (like we do in all our services in one way or another) we have to find ways consistently to change our thinking into a looking - i.e. into an action, a way of *being in* the world. As Judith Genova put it, if we can learn to act as philosopher-alchemists then there is a hope that we can distill our inherited words and produce, not theories about the world, but instead refine them into pure and beautiful actions.

In the end I guess this is a version of the desire to develop a practical Christianity that is not reliant on Christian metaphysics but nevertheless one can existentially commit to - with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Only such a commitment will be strong enough to face up to the challenges of our day.

However, assuming we can do this (which I admit is unlikely) we mustn't ever be tempted into once again creating religious (metaphysical) theories about the world as our forbears did - as I said earlier and last week that is a project which I think can be shown to have failed. No, we really must make all our thinking a looking, an action not a theory.




*******

PS - now all I have to do is figue out how to heed these final words myself . . .