Monday, 27 January 2014

New jazz CD just about to be launched - "Hoagy" with the Chris Ingham Quartet

This is just to let folk know that one of the bands I play with, led by the pianist, singer and composer, Chris Ingham, is just about to release a new CD called Hoagy which celebrates the music of Hoagy Carmichael 

The launch gig is at the St James Theatre, London, SW1 on Friday, February 7. Click on this link to buy tickets.

Following that we already have a few nice gigs booked, a couple of which are, unusually, in my home town of Cambridge. The gig dates in the book so far are to be found at the end of the following review we have just received in the London Jazz News.

Pianist, vocalist, Chris Ingham's CD "Hoagy" on Downhome Records showcases his talents on sixteen of Mr Carmichael's finest songs. These include well known chestnuts like Georgia on My Mind, Skylark and Stardust as well as lesser known gems like Memphis in June and Lazy Bones. He even manages to toss in Dave Frishberg's Dear Bix, certainly a welcome addition.

This outstanding quartet includes Rev. Andrew Brown on bass, drummer, Russ Morgan along with Ingham's able and sparkly piano doing double duty accompanying his vocals as well as providing inspired solo forays. Rounding out the group is Paul Higgs' wistful but puckish trumpet flutterings that appropriately help to celebrate Hoagy's sardonic wit.

Chris' somewhat light and streamlined vocal quality is infused with a covering of Midwestern dustiness- just the job for this kind of material. One gets the sense that he revels in the opportunity to share these songs with whomever might be in his midst- whether in a concert hall or informal house party.

The nifty and concise arrangements are ideal for this varied collection, yet never sound short changed or predictable.

A fine delectation of Hoagy delights conveyed masterfully by an able foursome.


Fri 7 Feb - St James Studio, London SW1- album launch
Fri 28 Feb (1pm) - Cambridge Mumford Theatre
Wed 2 April - Dereham Jazz Society, Lyng
Thurs 3 April - Cambridge Modern Jazz Club
Thur 3 July - The Hoste, Burnham Market, Norfolk
Sun 21 September - Ipswich Jazz Club

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A short bibliography of religious naturalist texts

Yesterday, Frank (the Memorial Church's minister emeritus) and I were also both present at a Cambridge U3A discussion group on the subject of "Humanism and Religion". Frank introduced me and I then gave a version of my talk entitled "Religion after the death of God". In the hour and a half of conversation that followed I tied this into the kind of religious naturalism that I hold to myself and which is gaining a certain foothold within the global Unitarian, Universalist and Free, liberal Christian tradition of churches. I say something about this in my recent address entitled "Who believes that God has eyebrows? - moving beyond the atheist/theist divide and towards a religious naturalism".

A key, modern, Unitarian religious naturalist thinker is Jerome A. Stone. His two major books on the subject are in the sort bibliography which follows but the next links will take you to pdf copies of three of his talks/presentations on the subject:

I would also recommend watching the following short, twenty minute long film of a recent interview with Stone. Just click on the link to see it on Youtube:

The two other important Unitarian religious naturalists mentioned in the bibliography below are: Henry Nelson Wieman and Karl E. Peters. Both deserve, I think, to be more widely read in our own liberal religious circles.

Anyway, after my U3A talk I handed around both the bibliography directly connected with my talk and also the following one relating to religious naturalism. You may find it of interest and/or use.

Short Bibliography - Religious Naturalism

Donald A. Crosby: A Religion of Nature (SUNY Press  2002)

Donald A. Crosby: Living with Ambiguity: Religious Naturalism and the Menace of Evil (SUNY Press 2008)

Donald A. Crosby: The Thou of Nature (SUNY Press 2013)

Ursula Goodenough: The Sacred Depths of Nature (OUP 1998)

Charley D. Hardwick: Events of Grace: Naturalism, existentialism and theology (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Karl E. Peters: Dancing With the Sacred: Evolution, Ecology, and God (Trinity Press International, 2002)

Karl E. Peters: Spiritual Transformations: Science, Religion, and Human Becoming (Augsberg Fortress, 2008)

John F. Post: The Faces of Existence - An essay in Nonreductive Metaphysics (Cornell University Press, 1987)

Jerome A. Stone: The Minimalist Vision of Transcendence: A Naturalist Philosophy of Religion (SUNY Press, 1992)

Jerome A. Stone: Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative (SUNY 2008)

Henry Nelson Wieman: Religious Experience and Scientific Method (Macmillan, 1926)

Henry Nelson Wieman: The Source of Human Good (Southern Illinois University Press, 1967)

Henry Nelson Wieman: Man's Ultimate Commitment (Southern Illinois University Press, 1958)

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Creating new worlds of meaning - Wallace Steven's "Anecdote of a jar"

In the past few weeks I have had a number of conversations with various people in the congregation about the way new worlds of meaning can be created. I always use the illustration of Wallace Stevens' short poem, "Anecdote of a jar." I didn't have time this week to write a new address so I extemporized on themes drawn from the following two addresses.

Evolution Sunday - Anecdote of a jar (February 2011)

A preserving jar and the Christ-child (December 2012)

     I placed a jar in Tennessee,
     And round it was, upon a hill.
     It made the slovenly wilderness
     Surround that hill.

     The wilderness rose up to it,
     And sprawled around, no longer wild.
     The jar was round upon the ground
     And tall and of a port in air.

     It took dominion every where.
     The jar was grey and bare.
     It did not give of bird or bush,
     Like nothing else in Tennessee. 

Two people attended the church for the first time on the occasion of the 2011 Evolution Sunday address. They became very good friends of ours - Ryan and Irish Sirmons. Ryan was training for ministry with the United Church of Christ at the time and was a student at Westminster College, just up the road. He's graduated now and they have both been called to Annapolis UCC, Maryland. When they left the UK last summer as a gift to me and my wife, Susanna, they bought a jar of Tennessee Moonshine. When we had drunk it they put inside the jar a handwritten copy of Wallace Stevens' poem, a feather from a bird, and a leaf from a bush! A wonderful present that we'll cherish to the end of our days. The picture above is of that jar on our communion table at this morning's service.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Playing with Peter King at the Hunter Jazz Club, Bury St Edmunds, Friday 17th January 2014

Left to right: Russ, me, Peter, Chris
It was back in June 2012 (see photo on the right) that I last got the chance to play with what my pianist friend, Chris Ingham (who's on the gig, too, with Russ Morgan on drums), calls  "the indomitable force-of-nature" that is the legendary saxophonist Peter King. Well, this Friday, at the Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds it's happening again and we're all very much looking forward to it. The poster below gives all the necessary details. There's also a bonus set from future star saxophonist Harry Greene, doing a dry run for his semi-final in Young Jazz Musician of the Year. If you can make it I'd love to see some of you there.

To pre-purchase tickets (+£1 booking fee), please visit and follow the links.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Perfect imperfection - lessons from the poetry of Michael Roberts

Michael Roberts in 1945
Readings: Matthew 5:43-48

On Reading Some Neglected Poets
by Michael Roberts (1902–1948)

This is a long road in a dubious mist;
Not with any groan nor any heard complaint
We march, uncomprehending, not expecting Time
To show us beacons.

When we have struggled on a little farther
This madness will yield of itself,
There will not be any singing or sudden joy,
But a load will be set down.

And maybe no one will ever come,
No other traveller passing that way,
Therefore the load we lifted will be left,
A milestone, insignificant.

Poem for Elsa

That day the blue-black rook fell pitifully dead
You wept and stormed, tossing your lovely head,
Hurling commiseration into broken skies
That wept and wept, vainly as any eyes.

You pitifully wept, nor would be comforted
Till a bedraggled robin chirped unfed
Begging for comfort-crumbs, and sought your aid
To mend a world you had not made.

You who compassionately wept, be with me still,
Though the wind lash the dark, the wooded hill;
The hand that let the wild wet creature ache
Moulded the heart that grieves, but shall not break.

The “parable of the bowl and pitcher” by George Kimmich Beach, a contemporary Unitarian theologian:

. . . as a potter you form a lump of clay, you make many decisions, exercising your freedom both consciously and instinctively, to one end, a finished ceramic. [. . .] The original decision in pottery making is not unlike the original decision in faith: once a direction is set, soon it will be too late to change your mind. Choosing a bowl excludes a pitcher. Now choices are being made within an ever narrowing range; necessity is closing in on the maker. But this is the miracle of creation: a reversal is also in progress, for the embrace of necessity gives birth to a greater freedom. With each new choice, new, more refined choices arise; creative freedom I growing exponentially. [. . .] The perfect end to the exercise of freedom is perfect necessity. We think: This bowl, or this life, can only be what it must be! (In Walter P. Hertz, 'Redeeming Time', Skinner House Books, Boston, 1999, pp. 99-105)


We still find ourselves in the season of the New Year's resolution, that annual call to that hope for perfection in our lives. But, whilst I quite understand the healthy benefits of responding seriously to the call to repent of our bad ways and habits I must admit that I struggle with an underlying tendency in all this that haunts our generally Christian culture.

The spectre is, perhaps, best glimpsed in the common interpretation of one of the sayings attributed to Jesus, namely, the command found in Matthew's gospel to: "Be perfect . . . as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5.48).

It has become problematic because of our culture's tendency to think (onto)theologically in which God is traditionally accorded three "omnis" - God is a being who is believed to be Omnipotent (all-powerful), Omnipresent (all-present), and Omniscient (all-knowing). It is, of course, absolutely impossible to be as perfect as God is perfect if this is the case. Our own general powerlessness over most of what occurs even in my own limited lives, our own limited geographical presence in the world and our own overwhelming ignorance of so much, was (and remains) evident to us on an almost hour by hour basis. The perfection of such a God is not ours to be had and yet Jesus seems to be suggesting that we should seek this. This is surely to live a kind of Sisyphean nightmare - one in which we are forever doomed to fail in our task.

(Sisyphus, you recall, was a king who was punished by Zeus for his hubris and general deceitfulness by being forced to roll an enormous boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down to the bottom and to continue to do this for all time.)

I am sure that my early recognition of the impossibility of achieving any kind of success in the striving after such a divine perfection was key in my decision to explore other, more radical, immanent, wholly natural and non-theistic, understandings of God, the divine and the sacred - understandings which explored the idea of God as more akin to open creativity and process. They certainly led me to dispense with ideas of divine perfection with its Omnipotence, Omnipresence and Omniscience.

It was only because I was able to affect this move that I was, much later, able to rehabilitate and re-appropriate something important and healthy that seems analogous to Jesus' teaching and it is this that I would like to bring before you today for your consideration. It is the real, if always difficult, possibility of achieving the perfection - i.e. the completeness - appropriate to your own kind of being.

I first came across what this idea looked like in the real world when I was in my mid-teens by which time I had developed a deep and abiding passion for poetry. My English literature teacher - Mrs Hill - had done a pretty good job of introducing me to the "perfect" pinnacles of English poetry and, naturally, these examples gave me - and indeed, gave our whole culture - the primary, accepted bench-marks for my own efforts. I tried so hard to match their perfection in my own poetry but I failed, again and again and could not even feel, as Samuel Becket encouraged us, that I had at times "failed better". Instead I simply seemed to fail worse every time and this was a matter of great concern to me.

Although, at times, I thought about giving up my ambition to write poetry myself I had not at all run through the powerful irrepressible energy of youth and I continually found myself irresistibly drawn into every second-hand bookshop I came across to spend considerable time browsing through their poetry shelves. In one shop (sometime in the mid-eighties) I stumbled across a volume called "Michael Roberts: Selected Poems and Prose" (Carcanet Press, 1980) and, after reading through some of it, I was sufficiently struck by a couple of the poems to risk purchasing it. The one that struck home the deepest was "On reading some neglected poets"

Part of the reason for buying it (in addition to the picture on the front which I loved and which not only has graced the wall of my study since then but also appears towards the end of this post) was that I knew Roberts had been the editor of the first edition of a highly influential anthology which, thanks to Mrs Hill, I knew well, namely, "The Faber Book of Modern Verse". A book which opened up for me a wealth of new writers to explore. I figured that a man who knew so much about poetry would, himself, be a pretty good poet.

But, on asking around and looking up his name in other places, it became clear to me that Roberts was considered to be very much among the "second-rank" of English poets.

In the introduction to the book I bought that day Frederick Grubb tells us that Kathleen Raine (a friend of Roberts') wrote:

"His style lacks grace, but it is virile and firm. His imagery is not brilliant, like Auden's, or analysed to the last decimal point, like Empson's. He has no song, nor dance." 

Whilst C. A. Millspaugh in "Poetry" (Vol. 48, No. 6, Sept., 1936, pp. 343-345) reviewing Roberts' 1936 collection of poems wrote:

"When in 1930 Michael Roberts published These Our Matins, he appeared as a faulty poet, and now in 1936, with this new book to guide judgement, we find him essentially unimproved. Though these pages record a greater range of experience in a style that on the surface approximates the approved methods of the current English renaissance, they also prove that subject, however timely, cannot substitute for talent."

Ouch! It seems that he just wasn't up there with Eliot and Auden et. al. and, in the mind, and now memory, of the literary establishment he is now best known (if he is at all known), not for his own work, but for that anthology.

But the more I read him, the more I liked him and his work. I knew enough about poetry and its mores and prejudices to see why he was labeled "second-rate" but, as I continued reading, these reasons seemed less and less persuasive and the ranking system just seemed to fail to see something important about his work.

What I was beginning to see in reading Roberts was someone who was able to flourish in a way appropriate to their own unique and highly specific knowledge, conditions, time and place and what I found was admirable, intriguing and exciting. I remember suddenly realising that what I needed to copy was not so much a poets actual style or themes but their simple willingness to be themselves in a best a fashion as was possible.

The perfection Roberts seemed always to be striving to achieve was not a Platonic perfection - some pre-existent divine, God-like perfection - but rather the kind of perfection only possible in the unique, actual, highly limited human-life we have been given.

I know of no better parable which speaks of this kind of life than that offered by George Kimmich Beach - the parable of the pot and the pitcher.

Beach notices that for us the creation of the best kind of life - the perfect, most complete life we can have - is not one which succeeds in achieving ultimate omni, omni, omni stuff but, oddly, something almost exactly opposite to this. It is achieved by becoming less and less omni in almost every kind of way - it is not to enlarge ourselves to cosmic proportions but to narrow down our range to become, most fully and most perfectly, the person we not only might be but also, can be.

But a recognition of this important truth of in what human perfection or completeness consists does not mean everything in our life will always be felt to be perfect or satisfactory by us. Roberts helped me learn this lesson, too.

In the poem "On reading some neglected poets" it seems clear to me that Roberts is talking about himself. He has, of course, respond to the call to write poetry - after all this is a poem! - but he carries with him a powerful sense that his own attempts at poetry are highly likely to be anything other than left by the roadside, "a milestone, insignificant". There is little doubt that a deep, melancholy regret can be felt in this poem.

But Roberts' work as a whole clearly reveals that he knows this is not the whole story and, as the other poem of his I read ("Poem for Elsa") he is alert to the fact that "The hand that let the wild wet creature ache / Moulded the heart that grieves, but shall not break." Roberts understands, as little Elsa does not yet - what kind of beings we are, namely, the kind of beings of whom William Blake spoke in his "Augeries of Innocence" in which "joy and woe are woven fine". As he says, "We were made for joy and woe, / And when this we rightly know, Through the world we safely go."

Roberts knew this perfect imperfection intimately and he allowed it to shape his own life. We may see a glimpse of what this looked like in his own life in the moving introduction to his "Collected Poems" (Faber, 1958) by his wife Janet Adam Smith (1905–1999) where she points to their shared love and experience of mountaineering:

Michael Roberts at Val d’Isère in 1935
"There is . . . the alternation between the effort of the ascent and the peace of the summit reached; between the tension of finding the route and happy relaxation when all difficulties are over, the rope is coiled, the pipe lit, and there is nothing more than an easy walk down to hut or inn. There is the further alternation for - as life implies death, and good evil, each postulating and completing the other - mountains imply valleys. [. . .] And . . , though he hardly ever wrote poetry in the mountains, [Michael's] days on mountains were the poetry of his life, for in them he found intelligible shapes for his deepest impulses and visions. Rock-ridge and ice-fall gave him exhilaration through effort and struggle; alp and mountain lake serenity through satisfied achievement; and the exhilaration and vitality, the satisfaction and serenity, were carried over into the journeys and resting-places of his life. I see it in terms of a journey to the very end, the last stage, in hospital, taking him to the limits of his body. It took him to a destination which was no more final than the dark hamlet we came down to one winter night with William Empson, or the Mountet hut after we had traversed the Zinalrothorn in a snowstorm" (pp.38-40).

Roberts short life and work remains, for me, a perfect example of a less than perfect life that was, because it was fully itself, was full of the perfection that Beach points to when he says "This bowl, or this life, can only be what it must be!"

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Epiphany — Walking with the three kings between doubtful maximal belief and total secular humanism

Clouds above the manse before this morning's service
The word "epiphany" means "manifestation" or "striking appearance" and the epiphany story — in the western church that is — is associated with the arrival of the Magi. This became for the early Christian community the first occasion on which "Gentiles" (i.e. those outside their own Jewish circles — remember early "Christianity" was a religious movement within Judaism) — recognised Jesus as the manifestation of the "Messiah", the "chosen one of God". By the fourth century this title had been expanded to include the idea that Jesus was, himself, God, the second person of the Trinity. Of course, it was particularly this later, Trintarian, view from which our own family of churches eventually dissented and earned us, in time, the name "Unitarian".

The coming of this transcendent God (in the form of Jesus) who brings with him help, healing and salvation was, and is, perceived by Christians to be of surpassing importance. But for many of us here today the idea that, a) there actually exists a transcendent being and, b) that this being is going to come from a world beyond to bring us help, healing and salvation is an impossible one to hold. We may, at certain times, wish we could so believe but the combined weight of experience and evidence continually mitigates against such a belief.

Consequently, our skepticism seems to cut us off from the transcendent and thus, from help, healing and salvation that is promised by traditional forms of Christianity.

In an important sense this seems to me to be true and we should not be afraid of admitting it. However, closer inspection of the matter reveals that we need not be cut off from transcendence per se but only one kind of it, one we might call  "vertical transcendence" — one that is dependent on a divine being above and a natural world below.

Jerome A. Stone, however, suggests we are not at all cut off from what he calls "horizontal transcendence" — a this worldly, situational and relative transcendence. (As Ernst Bloch put it in a different, Marxist, context, there remains for us the possibility of a "transcending without transcendence".)

Today, using Stone's basic minimalist liberal religious model of transcendence (found in The Minimalist Vision of Transcendence: A Naturalist Philosophy of Religion, SUNY Press, 1992) I want to illustrate how we may interpret the Epiphany story fairly straightforwardly and, not vertically, but horizontally. This can, I think, help give us access to a this-worldly understanding of transcendence which, in turn, opens us up to secular sources of help, healing and salvation that, even if they are not identical with, they are at least analogous to that source which is offered by traditional, monotheistic Christianity.

Stone points out that in all traditional monotheisms there is in play a basic triadic model of transcendence. The apex of the triangle is labeled "God", the bottom left point is labeled "grace" and the bottom right point, "law". A transcendent God is experienced in the world sometimes gracefully — giving to us freely, unexpected, and to some extent, unearned, gifts — and also experienced through the demand of either divine law (for example the Ten Commandments) or through some other kind of divine call or command such as was heard by prophets like Isaiah, Amos and Hosea.

Before moving to Stone's own minimalist, secular version of this triadic model it is important to say something about why there is a need for a minimalist version of this.

Stone points out that there are plenty of people in contemporary religious circles who are prepared to make very bold, maximal assertions about the Divine. We all know that, were we to walk into most other churches, synagogues and mosques in most places in the world, we would very quickly find officially expressed maximal assertions concerning the nature of God, whether he is one or three, about his attributes and general character as either loving and/or judgmental and, whether his definitive and binding revelation to us is in the form of a book or a person — Torah, Qur'an or Christ.

However, for reasons I won't rehearse here, there is in the secular world great skepticism about such bold definitive, maximal assertions concerning the transcendent. Stone feels (and I agree with him) that:

"In between [such bold assertions and great skepticism] there is room for an affirmation of a minimal degree of transcendence. If a strong assertion is hard to defend, then perhaps a more cautious and more restrained model will be  better able to answer the doubts of our age while providing the support and prophetic criticism which the [generally monotheistic] traditions have offered. Perhaps a minimal model of transcendence can provide a genuine alternative to the choice between a doubtful maximal model and total secular humanism. If belief in God is abandoned, we are not, as Nietzsche claimed, that if the absence of God is recognised we would be as if unhooked from our sun, condemned to plunge aimlessly in a meaningless universe"
(The Minimalist Vision of Transcendence: A Naturalist Philosophy of Religion p. 10).

Stone acknowledges that such a minimal model — which I'm about to introduce — "may not provide a permanently satisfying standpoint for many people" and that, "[p]erhaps it takes a type of maturity to accept the fact that we see as if in a glass darkly." Yet, for all this, I'm in agreement with Stone when he says that for some of us "who are labouring to recover or keep from losing the sense of the transcendent dimension of life [such a] minimal model may provide at least "a temporary campsite in the ascent of the spiritual mountain" and even, for some of us, "a more permanent, if restrained, way of thinking about the transcendent factors in our life" (ibid. p. 10).

In the light of this Stone places at the apex of the triangle, not the word God (which brings with it too many maximal theologies) but,instead, the more open and fluid word, "transcendence". For  him the most minimal understanding of transcendence is a situational or relative one and he offers two personal stories of how (horizontal) transcendence is also experienced as being analogous to grace and law. Firstly:

"I remember the day my father died. I was sitting in my apartment feeling rather sad when my daughter, at that time about eight years old, came home from school. When I told her what had happened, she said, "Oh, Dad" and put her arm around me. It was one of the most comforting and supportive moments of my life" (What is religious naturalism? p.4-5)

And, secondly he tells us:

"After Martin Luther King was murdered, some residents both black and white, of the city of Evanston, Illinois organized marches to put pressure on the city council to pass an open housing ordinance. At that time it was perfectly legal in that place to refuse to rent or sell a house to anyone, including Blacks and Jews, because of their race or ethnic origin. Now I was quite busy as a father, breadwinner and graduate student. Yet I felt that this was the right moment to pressure the city council. Also my wife and I felt that this was a way to educate our two children by direct participation in values that we held dear" (What is religious naturalism? p.4-5).

In a short interview (which I have added at the end of this post) Stone movingly re-tells both these stories and explains how they relate to grace and law and thus transcendence.

His daughter's action was graceful; it came from outside Stone's immediate personal situation and her action was received as a gift which was able to help him in a way he could not help himself and which was, for him, healing and salvific. It did not come "vertically" from above or outside the natural world but it did still come from outside his own immediate situation and so it was transcendent in a minimal, relative and "horizontal" sense.

On the other hand his experience in Evanston as part of the Civil Rights Movement was perceived as a command or prophetic call to action, somewhat as the prophet Amos felt the need to respond to God's call: "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). Once again this came from outside his own personal situation but this time it was something that did not bring to him or his family an immediately personal healing, rather it was one which simply required them all to act prophetically in the world justly on behalf of others. Again it was transcendent in a minimal, relative and "horizontal" sense.

So, with this secular model now in place we can turn to the story of the three magi and give it a fairly simple secular interpretation that can still connect meaningfully with traditional, (mono)theistic interpretations.

Let's consider firstly the magi. In this (fictional) narrative we are presented with a picture of Zoroastrian astrologer-priests who receive a call from outside their own immediate situation in the form of a new "star" in the heavens. This star, they discover (Matthew does not tells us how), is related to two old Hebrew prophecies (Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2) which, when combined, say, "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6). This call, to another land to pay such homage to a foreign child rather than to their own ruler, speaks eloquently of a divine command to enlarge their vision of who might be for them relevant and worthy of the greatest respect. It's a radical enlargement that reverses the polarity of the world from obvious kingly, adult power to the less obvious, weak power of an illegitimate child born in poverty. Does not this call to the Magi to respect the poor and weak over those who currently hold all the power echo Stone's call to racial justice in Evanston?

Now let's turn to Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Matthew does not tells us how or why they are in Bethlehem only that they are in  a house (there is no mention of a census, nor of a manger and so, by implication, a stable). We do, however, get the impression that, although they are in all outward terms simply an ordinary family, they find themselves in a difficult, compromising and potentially marginalising situation thanks to their brave and loving decision to stay together and form a family despite the fact that their child is illegitimate. They are, in short, a distressed family in need of comfort and affirmative support.

Then, suddenly, and from outside their own immediate situation, there comes a graceful act of support and comfort in the form of the magi who symbolically validate this unusual family in a powerful way through their three gifts. Does this act of the magi not echo Stone's own daughter's act of graceful comfort as she put her arms around him after his father's death?

Now to some this way of using and learning from the story may be utterly insufficient as it makes no maximal claims about a transcendent God - it simply asserts that we can, and do, find (horizontal) transcendent help, healing and salvation in wholly human and wholly natural acts and events.

However, I have to say that when, "out of the blue", I have been gracefully touched by another person's love and care I have experienced something transcendent that is clearly analogous to the miracle and wonder of God's grace. And I feel impelled to give thanks "to God".

Also, when I have suddenly been called forth out of my own closed world into some kind of pro-active, prophetic action, I have found transcendent meaning and value in something that is clearly analogous to a call from God to act for a just and worthy cause.

My point today, is fairly simple. Transcendence experienced as grace and law remains available to someone like me who can no longer believe in the old model and understanding of God as A BEING (see last week's address), "up there" in another world - I find that transcendent sources of help, healing and salvation are still available to me even as I try to walk the fine line between doubtful maximal models of belief and a total secular humanism.


To see the interview click on the following Youtube link or go to Youtube and search for "Jerome A. Stone Interview"

Friday, 3 January 2014

Visiting Wittgenstein and Moore for the New Year

Wittgenstein's grave

G. E. Moore's grave

Readers of my this blog will know that Wittgenstein is very important to me, but G. E. Moore, less so. I came across his famous Principia Ethica whilst studying at Oxford and enjoyed his writing immensely but did not follow it up in any real way. However, a philosopher friend of mine, Jonathan Harrison, lives nearby and every couple of weeks we spend  a couple of hours in conversation on various philosophical/theological matters. Jonathan rates Moore's little book, simply called Ethics, very highly - so highly, in fact, that he kindly bought me a modern edition of it. I began to read it over the New Year and, yesterday, during a brief sunny spell, I thought it would be particularly appropriate to visit Moore's grave along with Wittgenstein's.

On a connected note, St. Giles Cemetery, Cambridge, England (where Wittgenstein and Moore's graves are to be found) is a very pleasant place to spend a quiet hour contemplating life, the universe and everything. I hope the following photos, taken on the same day (2nd January 2014) will encourage one or two of you who live locally to go up there and take a look.

A Happy New Year to you all.