Monday, 31 October 2011

OccupyLSX - an update from last night's visit

As I mentioned yesterday a few of us (five to be precise) from Cambridge were moved to show our support to the protesters occupying the space to the side of St Paul's Cathedral and holding it's meetings and General Assemblies on the steps of the main west doors.

OccupyLSX

We attended their General Assembly last night and were very impressed at the process they were employing - especially since they were discussion a document that had been released to the press in a fashion that made it appear as if it were one of their official collective statements - which it was not. There was some real heat generated about this but the process of genuinely open discussion meant that this tension was worked through in a very impressive fashion. Truly we saw a genuine grass roots democracy at work.

Also impressive was their recognition that they had to take their time - they know (and so do we) that sound-bite length gestures are not sufficient because we all need to be beginning a lengthy and genuinely deep and global-wide conversation on how we should be distributing the wealth and resources of our planet for the use of all.

My friend and colleague, Dr Claire Henderson Davis prepared a personal statement (which I wholeheartedly endorsed) which she gave to both the BBC and to the protesters themselves. Claire and I also had a very brief interview with the BBC about her statement and the general situation. I doubt the footage will be used by them but this Sunday (6th November) at 10.30am Claire will offer the statement up to the Memorial Church to encourage us to further thought and reflection. On Sunday afternoon I'll publish her statement on this blog so we can talk about it further at the Wednesday evening conversations in the church hall (7.30pm for 8pm). As of this moment it also looks like there'll be other initiatives developing here in Cambridge - I'll keep you informed of them as they happen.

As Claire says 'this is a prophetic moment and we will be poorer for not seizing it.'

So I invite you to come on Sunday morning to hear Claire speak and/or to join in the conversation on this blog and, of course, on the many other forums available to begin and continue the much needed conversations about alternative ways of organising ourselves.

But in general I urge you all to support the protesters in focussing our attention on the pressing need to sit down and work through this mess which our present financial and political systems have created for everyone. It's time to talk change.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

OccupyLSX

After the service today a few of us decided that we needed to go down to London this afternoon to show our solidarity with those camping outside St Paul's as part of the OccupyLSX. I'll let you know what transpires from our point of view sometime later this week. I'll get this Sunday's address up as soon as I can.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

The 'right word' but not 'the word'


Reading: John 1:1-14

Along with the philosopher James C. Edwards I think a key important fact of life for many of us as late twentieth and early twenty-first century Western European and North American intellectuals is that ‘full Pathos, full belief, comes only with intellectual or artistic inevitability’ (James C. Edwards, The Plain Sense of Things, Penn State Press 1996 p. 231)

Consequently, it seems to me that one of the chief tasks we have as a modern church community is to try to articulate in what might consist this intellectual and artistic inevitability and then to explore ways by which we may fruitfully and healthily hold them together so as to embody the full belief that flows from them in a way appropriate to our own time and place. We need to do this so we can move away from merely holding theories about what might be an appropriate religious life – which we are very good at – and back into living an appropriately committed religious life – which we are not so good at. We’ll begin with a consideration of what might be meant by ‘intellectual inevitability’ because it can be dealt with amongst ourselves reasonably briefly. (We’ll have to spend a little more time with artistic inevitability for reasons that will become clear).

For us intellectually inevitable full belief comes most powerfully to us through to the disciplines of the natural sciences and their many wondrous, visible and often obviously practical results. Our full belief comes, not because all of the results of the natural sciences are always and forever true, but because we know that scientists are always checking their findings against what is ‘over there’ (i.e. what we call the physical universe). Because the universe itself calls them to account the genuine scientist always feels herself to be firmly under the discipline of truth and she knows that ‘whatever she is doing she must get it right, must do it right. She is not, in the first instance, in the business of satisfying herself, and she can’t change the rules in order to make her attempts at whatever she is doing more successful’ (ibid. p. 224).

Thanks to the clear trustworthiness of this process and the many practical successes of scientific endeavour the universe now appears, shows up, or shines for us in countless scientific ways and, with full belief and a clean heart, we live in the light of science (see note 1 below).

However, we not only encounter the ‘universe’ as scientists but also commingle imaginatively with a ‘world’ (see note 2 below).  Along with the intellectual inevitability of the natural sciences, there is also what we can call artistic inevitability. But here we’re not as clear as we are in the natural sciences about what we mean by this ‘inevitability’ and, consequently, it becomes hard for us to know what it might be to live out of it with full belief and a clean heart.

To help reveal this we firstly need to consider the artistic process as it is actually experienced by us. In this address I’ll simply stick with writing because at some time or other we’ve all probably tried to write a piece of fiction or a poem. (As I do this it is important to remember that what I say applies equally to the other arts.)

Whenever you sit down to write a story or a poem you quickly discover, as one does in the sciences, that this activity is not merely about satisfying yourself or being able to change the rules in order to make your attempts at whatever you are trying to do more successful. To be sure some of the difficulties you will face in writing have to do with the (real or perceived) need to conform to certain rules of grammar or style, but here I’m not referring to these straightforward technical and stylistic matters. Instead I’m concerned with those moments when, even when the grammar and style of what you have produced is correct and appropriate, you simply know that what you have written is just not right. You realise that you have no choice but to continue to seek just the right word and, in this often difficult seeking, you come face to face with the recognition that you ‘must get it right, must do it right’ and this feels very much like what a scientist is doing when they are checking their results against what is ‘over there’. If and when the right word comes, it comes with the power of artistic inevitability – you know in a very particular way that this is the right word. You have said what you felt you and the ‘over there’ (the world) called you to say.

However, thanks to the intellectual inevitability and full belief we get from the natural sciences very few of us really think that the ‘over there’ of the artist is the same ‘over there’ of the scientist. Unlike the ‘over there’ of science which can continually be referred back to check the accuracy of one’s results and theories, the ‘over there’ of the artist cannot. Consequently, despite my earlier words, there easily creeps back into our minds the thought that, in the end, an artist really is only in the business of satisfying herself and that she can, and sometimes does, change the rules in order to make her attempts at whatever she is doing more successful. To claim that the ‘right’ word she finds as coming with ‘artistic inevitability’ and also to claim that we can act out of it with full belief and a clean heart seems, well, at best a nice idea and, at worst, mere flabby nonsense. But I don’t think so.

Though in a moment I’m going to bring the scientist and the artist back together, at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, an artist is doing something very different from the scientist – we are not relying on her to reveal to us the structure of the physical universe or ensure that buildings or aeroplanes stay up where they belong. But in another way the artist and a scientist are doing something similar which, as I have said, is the need constantly to be revising and checking their results against an ‘over there’. However, the ‘over there’ of the artist is the world as it is marvellously appearing, showing up, or shining for us now it is not the discoverable, repeatedly testable ‘over there’ of the physical world. To illustrate what I mean I return to a wonderfully concise everyday example offered us by the poet Lucretius that I have used before:

A puddle of water no deeper than a single finger-breadth, which lies between the stones on a paved street, offers us a view beneath the earth to a depth as vast as the high gaping mouth (hiatus) of heaven stretches above the earth, so that you seem to look down on the clouds and the heaven, and you discern bodies hidden in the sky beneath the earth, marvellously (mirande) (De Rerum Natura Book 4:414-419 trans. W. H. D. Rouse, Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press).

[T]hink of a situation which you know for certain that the little puddle there in the street at which you look down is no more than a finger’s depth and yet you can, if the light is right, stare down into the water and see on the surface an image as deep and high as the clouds far, far above you as if that puddle were  some small ocean (De Rerum Natura trans. David R. Slavitt, University of California Press, 2008 p. 154 - I am a huge fan of David Slavitt's modern translation and, indeed, all of his translations are worth exploring).

Lucretius’ genius is his ability always to be both a scientist and an artist and in a way few others have been as such he is capable of experiencing (and expressing to an audience) the reflection of the sky in the puddle as ‘an appearance of nature and as an index to the wondrous truths of physics’ (John I. Porter, ‘Lucretius and the Sublime’ in ‘The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius’, ed Stuart Gillespie and Philip Hardie, Cambridge University Press 2007, p. 173. Emphasis mine).

Lucretius knows that the weather will change, blue skies will turn to grey and, in consequence, the puddle’s appearance will also change. He knows, too, that our circumstances and moods change and that a blue or grey sky reflected marvellously in a puddle has the ability to alter our moods and thoughts in all kinds of ways and bring forth from our imagination all kinds of poetic images that are available to our own culture – whether of the gods, the bright Olympian heights or the dark and gloomy reaches of Acheron. Lucretius knows, with artistic inevitability, that these kinds of images arise in the human imagination and that the discipline of the poet is to answer these ‘over theres’ by finding and using just the right word to acknowledge and explore them in appropriate and helpful ways.  But as a scientist he also always knows, with intellectual inevitability, that these images, these appearances and shinings of the world are possible only because of the ‘over there’ of the constant and testable natural laws governing the puddle’s physical form.

Lucretius’ great genius is always to be indexing together intellectual and artistic inevitability (and a certain understanding of reality and appearance) in an extraordinarily powerful and healthy way – encouraging us to pursue both the poetic arts and what we call today the natural sciences. It is this skill at indexing them together that increasingly makes me think that Lucretius provides the basic model, the basic way of being-in-the-world that we, who value both the arts and the sciences, are desperately seeking.

We know that the disciplines of the natural sciences require that the scientist checks and revises their results in the light of changed knowledge and circumstances. But the true artist (who can be, has been and should more and more be a scientist – or genuinely knowledgeable of science’s methods) always knows they must do something similar because no matter how ‘good and true a poem may be, there is always call for more such poems’. They understand appearances always change and there is a constant need for each generation to speak of the world as it is showing up, shining, for them and this is why we continue to write stories and poems even though before us have gone countless writers of unsurpassable greatness. (We only keep and continue to use the old poems and texts because and insofar as they still, now and then, in certain circumstances, speak to us the right word for this moment now.) The crucial point to see here is that although there is ‘the right word to speak, the one properly required for this sentence (if only [we] can hear it)’, in the end ‘it is the word properly required only for this sentence, not for the next or the next.’ And, as the philosopher James C. Edwards powerfully put it, ‘It is the right word, the only right word; but it is not the Word of the Lord, nor of any of the Philosophical Fathers’ (James C. Edwards, The Plain Sense of Things, Penn State Press 1996 p. 234)

This address was framed by a reading of the Prologue to the Gospel of John. Once we took it most surely to refer to the Word of the Lord or later, perhaps. the Word of some philosophical Absolute whether it was that espoused by Plato, Spinoza or Hegel. But today I offer it back to you as a reminder that although, yes, in the beginning was the ‘word’ – for without it neither you nor I could begin to speak with each other of the wondrous or dark ways the world is appearing or shining for us as scientists and artists – we know that no word is the last word, not in science nor in the arts. However, whenever the word comes to us through processes we can trust it  strikes us in a fashion strong enough to live out of it, although always provisionally, with full (i.e. appropriate) belief and a clean heart.

*****

Note 1. It is a light which reveals to us many things like that the earth is about four-and-half billion years old, that the physical universe is between thirteen and fourteen billion years old, that the biodiversity of life evolves by means of mutations, genetic drift and natural selection or that the earth revolves around the sun and our solar-system is not the centre of the universe. Science has lit up, too, many materials and protocols which, for example, help us build bridges and buildings in ways such that they don’t fall down willy-nilly. None of this means things won’t break down, theories won’t change, new things won’t be discovered but it does mean we have an intellectually inevitable full belief in the scientific process as a whole.

Note 2. Cf. Heidegger’s discussion (Being and Time (trans. John Maquarrie and Edward Robinson, Oxford, Basil Blackwell 1973) of the four kinds of 'world' on p. 93 (p. 64-65 of the German) where Hubert Dreyfus helpfully points out the first two are really talking about the ‘universe’ of entities whilst the second two are talking about ‘worlds’ – i.e. the worlds of physics, the business world, the artistic world etc..

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Friendship, self-reliance (freedom), an analysed life - living well in the financial crisis


When last week Mervyn King the Governor of the Bank of England, a man as embedded in the world of free-market capitalism as it is possible to be said, "This is the most serious financial crisis we’ve seen, at least since the 1930s, if not ever" then we know we should be taking serious note and begin to think about what might be the ramifications of the nasty unravelling of the system we have been observing since 2008. King also said that, although "we’re having to deal with very unusual circumstances" it is important "to act calmly to this and to do the right thing".

But this is quite hard thing for regular folks to do because in any technical sense at least we feel - are - utterly powerless and unable to act and, as we watch, on the one hand, precipitous drops in our wages, savings and pensions and, on the other, alarming rises in the cost of our food and fuel we can hardly go about feeling calm can we?

It should be obvious to everyone that this mixture of powerlessness and worry is very toxic and can - and I would say is, especially in countries like Greece - lead to a desperate state of affairs where people begin to think that, since the present system is no longer capable of delivering up what has be called (thought of as) financial well-being the only thing to do, other than merely carrying on with increasing desperation, is to lay an axe at the roots of the whole "tree", the whole system, and to bring it crashing down so that the task of planting elsewhere a new "tree" with new roots and fruits can be got on with.

Now, sometimes, this radical cutting down of a tree (or a system) is required. The tree is truly sick, it must be felled and a new one planted if we are to have a hope of a crop in the coming years. I have no doubt that each of us will have a different view on whether this is or is not the case with regards to the present financial system and I know that today it is unlikely that we would find here consensus on this matter. But what is clear, however, is that an important conversation is now beginning across Europe on this subject. As some of you will know over the last two weeks even the BBC broadcast a two-part documentary called "Capitalism on Trial" presented by the former Conservative MP Michael Portillo.

But, as Mervyn King noted, in any crisis situation where the circumstances are unusual it is vitally important "to act calmly . . . and to do the right thing".

Maybe cutting down the tree, i.e. the present system, is what will ultimately need to be done. But taking the opportunity we still have at this moment to be calm about things it is vital to recognise that if we only have in our heads an image of cutting down a tree and replacing it with another this can easily stop us from seeing an important additional matter that must be explored during any time of crisis - namely our own behaviour.

Because it is an image that locates the problem wholly in the tree, in the system, it can stop us from examining ourselves. The problem is perceived as being external to us, "out there" - a problem for which there is or might be an easy external technical solution. In this case to replace one tree or system with another. But Jesus' "Parable of the unfruitful fig tree" found in Luke opens up for us a space in moments of crisis during which we have the opportunity to reflect upon our own behaviour:

"A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down'" (Luke 13:6-9 NRSV).

Jesus' parable reminds us that the current poor state and unfruitfulness of any given tree may not wholly be the fault of the tree itself but in the way *we* are behaving towards it. Notice that in the parable the wise gardener does not rule out the possibility that in the end the tree may still need to be cut down, but what he is primarily concerned to get us to see is that during the interim there must be some kind of change of attitude, a change of behaviour - a change in the way we are being-in-the-world.

The parable is a reminder that there is always a relationship between the gardener and the tree whether that tree is to be axed or saved. By extension, I want to make it clear that there is *always* a connection between us and the kind of society (with its associated financial systems) we live in whether it is to be swept away of saved.

The point I want to bring right to the fore is that Jesus' parable suggests that if the tree is to be saved we have to change our behaviour, and if the tree is to be cut down we still have to change our behaviour. By extension if our financial system is to be saved we have to change our behaviour, and if the financial system is to be cut down we still have to change our behaviour.

It seems to me this parable is for us vital to heed because it rempowers us in a key, fundamental area of life during a very disempowering time. Although we cannot ourselves, right now, get inside and control the utter craziness of the markets, or alter the mad "logic" of the financial system we can in this moment of our history begin explore how we might go about changing our basic way of being-in-the-world. We can be undertaking some good ground-work as all good gardeners do.

There are many things I think we must look at but, for me the most pressing, is how as a society we have come to think that we can find happiness in having lots of money to spend on lots of stuff. But I'm with Epicurus (341BC - 270BC) in thinking that this is wholly wrong-headed.

He thought we found real happiness in three goods - friendship, self-sufficiency (i.e. freedom) and an analysed life.

Of course, it is an obvious point that friendships help happiness but to this basic insight Epicurus added the need for the constant presence of one's friends and, to achieve this he set up his Garden Academy where his friends lived together in close proximity though in their own private quarters. Precisely this solution is not possible for us but in this community, with its regular gatherings for worship, eating and conversation we can create something similar which cuts against the modern trend towards social isolation and excessive individualism.

With regards to self-sufficiency or freedom, in founding his Academy Epicurus desired that its members should be financially independent, economically self-sufficient and not answerable to dreadful bosses for one's income. This third-century BC approach in what was still, broadly speaking, a rural environment is clearly not going to be possible for us in the same way in a twenty-first century urban environment, but we can affect something relevant to our own place and age which is to free ourselves from our present mental and psychological slavery to the belief that our happiness depends on endlessly buying stuff we simply don't need. Together, as genuine friends, we know we don't need to buy the fanciest clothes, the newest TVs and computers or whatever to value ourselves and others, to see the deep value and worth that is found in friendship and good company.

One of the key things we do with our friends in this place of meeting - in addition to expressing our gratitude for our friends and freedom - is to take time to analyse our lives and it is the analysed life which is Epicurus' third good. Alain de Botton sums this up as:

"A life in which we take time off to reflect on our worries, to analyse what is troubling us. Our anxieties quickly diminish if we give ourselves time to think things through and to do that we need to take a step back from the noisy distractions of the commercial world and find time and space for quiet thinking about our lives." 

Again this kind of reflective life is what a church such as this can provide.

With these three goods in mind we can move to a basic Epicurean insight that is absolutely relevant to the present pressing and debilitating, disempowering fear that all our wages, savings and pensions might soon be going down the pan. Here's how Alain de Botton presents it (in his short documentary on Epicurus which you can watch by clicking on this link).

"Of course, having loads of money never made anyone unhappy. But I think the lovely idea in Epicurus is that if you are denied money for whatever reason and yet you have his three goods . . . then you'll never be denied happiness. And, conversely, if you've got loads of money but you're lacking [the three goods] then, according to Epicurus, you'll never be happy. So if you try and draw this relationship between happiness and money on a graph - imagine that on the left hand-side of the graph you've got levels of happiness and then on the bottom you've got levels of income. Now for Epicurus as long as you've got levels of money to provide you with the essentials of life you can be happy fairly early on if you have his three goods and you won't get any happier the more money you accumulate. The level of happiness stays pretty steady. However, if you've got loads of money but you haven't got any friends, you're not self-sufficient, and you've got loads of anxieties then your level of happiness is going to stay very flat. And I think that is a lovely, consoling idea for anyone who is worried that they might actually lose their money or is denied the chance to make any."

I realise that none of this changes the fact that we are in the most serious financial crisis we’ve seen, at least since the 1930s, if not ever. It doesn't make clear whether the axe *is* laid at the roots of our free-market capitalist society or whether even significant manuring is going to keep it alive. Time will tell. But whether or not it is for the chop or for rescue we can do something here and now that will help in either case - we can gather in friendship, we can insist upon our freedom to value things other than mere products, and together we can find time and space for quiet thinking about our lives. In short happiness is not denied us and the possibility of having an abundant life promised by both Jesus (John 10:10) and Epicurus remains, here at least, alive.

*****

(NB. Of course it is vital to realise that whenever the situation arises where people no longer have levels of money which can provide them with the essentials of life then we're into a very different situation than the one I outline above. Let's hope we do not see that day arise . . .)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

And who's to say where the harvest shall stop?


The 1934 Disney short cartoon illustrating Aesop's fable The Ant and the Grasshopper embedded below was one of the "readings" in the service so it will help to watch this at the outset. However, aside from it's immediate relevance to this address, it is remains a delight in and of itself. Go on, treat yourself! 


Luke 12:13-21 (NRSV)


Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me."But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

*****

Marcus Tullius Cicero - "The Sword of Damocles" from the Tuscan Dialogues trans. C. D. Yonge

[Dionysius] showed himself how happy he really was; for once, when Damocles, one of his flatterers, was dilating in conversation on his forces, his wealth, the greatness of his power, the plenty he enjoyed, the grandeur of his royal palaces, and maintaining that no one was ever happier, "Have you an inclination," said he, "Damocles, as this kind of life pleases you, to have a taste of it yourself, and to make a trial of the good fortune that attends me?” And when he said that he should like it extremely, Dionysius ordered him to be laid on a bed of gold with the most beautiful covering, embroidered and wrought with the most exquisite work, and he dressed out a great many sideboards with silver and embossed gold. He then ordered some youths, distinguished for their handsome persons, to wait at his table, and to observe his nod, in order to serve him with what he wanted. There were ointments and garlands; perfumes were burned; tables provided with the most exquisite meats. Damocles thought himself very happy. In the midst of this apparatus, Dionysius ordered a bright sword to be let down from the ceiling, suspended by a single horse-hair, so as to hang over the head of that happy man. After which he neither cast his eye on those handsome waiters, nor on the well-wrought plate; nor touched any of the provisions: presently the garlands fell to pieces. At last he entreated the tyrant to give him leave to go, for that now he had no desire to be happy. Does not Dionysius, then, seem to have declared there can be no happiness for one who is under constant apprehensions? But it was not now in his power to return to justice, and restore his citizens their rights and privileges; for, by the indiscretion of youth, he had engaged in so many wrong steps and committed such extravagances, that, had he attempted to have returned to a right way of thinking, he must have endangered his life.

*****

"Gathering Leaves"
by Robert Frost

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.


I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.


But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.


I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?


Next to nothing for weight;
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.


Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?


*****

It seems to be an unalloyed good whenever a harvest provides us with a crop whose abundance is such that we are able to gather a little extra into our barns for later use. Experience of countless generations teaches us that the harvest next year may not be so good and, if so, we may need this extra bounty. Or possibly a neighbour's crop will fail and then our own stores can be used to tide them over - a goodwill gesture which, over the centuries, developed into the remarkable, practical and wonderful idea of insurance. But, in addition to these common-sense practices, we have inherited a sense that there is something important to be said for offering up with thanksgiving the "first fruits" of our harvests (cf. Leviticus 23:10). Connected with this, even as one gives up the "first fruits" freely to God this same God insists that: "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien" (Leviticus 23:22).

Yet, for all this, the obvious goods of the harvest also provide opportunities for the development of selfish and lazy lifestyles and of hubris resulting in a wildly distorted overestimation of both human power and human purpose. Jesus points us to both in his parable. As a culture, we have not heeded this warning and have slowly delivered up to ourselves a global system that cannot work without a belief in infinite growth and profit. To believe that this is either realistic or sustainable is clearly to have descend into an hubristic madness, a madness which now threatens, not only the health and well-being of the single greedy rich man in Jesus' parable, but our whole planet.

I realise that this is not a happy thought to have at harvest time but if, today, we are going to have a genuinely joyous harvest celebration that is not merely a sentimental whistling in the wind, we have to begin by acknowledging this.

Indeed, as I reread Jesus' parable this year I was strongly minded of the story about Damocles. A story which eloquently reminds us that whenever we inhabit the world in such a hubristic way a sword will always be hanging over our heads by the thinnest of threads. As Cicero put it in his "Tusculan Disputations": "Does not Dionysius seem to have made it sufficiently clear that there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms?" Does not this looming fear nag us all as whenever we see the misuse of our culture's many abundant harvests?

But Harvest should *not* be a time of looming fear and anxiety but, instead, one of joy and thanksgiving and, even though we should rightly remain concerned about whether the harvest will be abundant, this day needs to become again for us a time when we experience not a fearful sword hung above us born of human-kind's desire to rule and lord it *over* the world, but a day of gratitude for our intimate comminglement *in* this extraordinary world.

It is this gratitude for the harvest and an associated sense of joyful and trusting comminglement in the world that I want to make visible in the hope that today we may experience just a tiny taste of the grace of God's giving.

It is clear that for there to be a harvest of the kind Jesus thought was desirable it must have a certain kind of depth to it. I take it that he means even as we gather an obvious harvest and "store up treasures for ourselves" we must simultaneously be gathering another by "being rich toward God". It is this second harvest that has the power to pull us away from the ends chosen by either the rich man or our present culture.

One way to reconnect with this other necessary harvest is by deliberately gathering something obvious that is of far less importance for our immediate survival than, say, wheat, rice or potatoes. By collecting such a "secondary" crop we can more easily see whether we are, in fact, "being rich toward God."

I know of no better such "secondary" crop than autumn leaves, a crop which leads me as a necessity requires to Robert Frost's 1923 poem "Gathering Leaves":

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.


I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.


But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.


I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?


Next to nothing for weight;
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.


Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?


Frost presents us with an activity that under normal harvest circumstances would be deeply frustrating. One's tools aren't really up to the harvest task and the bags one eventually fills remain worryingly light. All that seems to happen is one makes of a lot of noise and a proper grasping hold of the crop (that is to say the gathering of the crop) remains utterly illusive. Even when the crop is gathered it's lack of weight remains disturbing and the one obvious fruit of the harvest - the wonderful colours of the leaves - is disappearing even as one is gathering them. It is a crop, as he says, "next to nothing for use". If all these things were the case with our gathering of wheat, rice or potatoes we would be left distraught and, of course, rightly so. But remember, that this is a poem written to help us see that "secondary" crop.

We begin to see this because the images Frost uses to present this frustrating harvest are, by contrast, beautiful, joyous, fun and even comic. Our spades are big spoons and our bags balloons. The noise we make is like that made by the beautiful rabbit and deer and our failure to grasp is transfigured into the delightful experience of leaves tumbling over us - a delight we can all remember experiencing as children. Indeed I cannot but think that this poem is an illustration of Jesus' teaching that only those who become as little children will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18). But we are children no longer and so Frost moves us seamlessly from the childish joy of the opening stanzas to some of the worries that adulthood brings, about weight, colour and use. However, Frost does not allow us to stop there but, with the momentum of the childish joy he has just evoked in us behind him he pushes us on to see that "a crop *is* a crop" and that what counts as a harvest does not merely stop at weight, colour and use.

It's the kind of harvest which helps us see, like the grasshopper in the Disney short, not that "the world owes us a living"  but that we owe "the world our living"; a harvest whose fruit becomes the kind love and compassion which lets the ants and the Ant Queen forgive and draw the foolish grasshopper into their fold and which, in turn, frees the grasshopper to repent and mend his ways. They discover they need each other - the ants learn the joy of singing and dancing and the grasshopper learns to live more appropriately in the world - both their lives together produce yet another fruit. It's the kind of harvest that shows we are indeed 'being rich toward God' which, as Jesus taught, is also to be rich toward our neighbour.

It is only through the shared fruits of both harvests that we can hope to remove from above our head (in our imaginations and in reality) the sword of fear and to approach the common table, appropriately and with joyous thanksgiving together, with God and our neighbour, to eat, drink and be merry.