Saturday, 26 September 2009

Scared of Father Christmas

Page 3 of The Croydon Advertiser this week features a story about a little girl who is so scared of Father Christmas that her anxiety threatens to spoil her enjoyment of Christmas. Her father has written a book for Santaphobic children to help them overcome their fears. Apparently many children in the USA and UK are terrified of Santa.

How ironic that we forget the One after whom Christmas is named and terrify our children with a character who doesn't exist. But I suppose it's hardly surprising that some children are scared. Our society is paranoid about the relationship of adults and children and the rest of the year we tell our children to avoid strange men - and what is stranger than an old bearded man in a red suit. What is even more ironic is that the portrayal of Father Christmas that we are familiar with today only dates back to a 1930s advertising campaign by Coca-Cola.

I was saddened by this story - sad for the little girl whose Christmas has been spoilt, but also sad that our society has got its values so confused.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The Joys of Music

I've been to two concerts in two days this week: the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at The Barbican Centre, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Southbank Centre.

As a parent and keen supporter of the LSSO I have to record my admiration again for this wonderful enterprise. To see a hundred or so young people totally dedicated to the ultimate team activity is truly inspiring. Rossini's 'William Tell Overture' requires both great sensitivity in its quiet opening for the cellos, and tremendous discipline in its wild galop and the LSSO gave both. Joined by Matthew Trusler, the soloist in that perenial favourite Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, the orchestra was inspired by his virtuosity. After the interval there were two heavyweight works that taxed the orchestra to the limit: Richard Strauss's 'Till Eulenspiegel', and Ravel's 'La Valse', both played with great commitment. I'm sure the Chicago Symphony might have played more accurately, but the LSSO brought an excitement to the music that only comes with youthful enthusiasm. We were treated to a wonderfully suave arrangement of The Girl from Ipamena as an encore.

How lucky we are in London to be able to hear the best orchestras in the world. I remember some 30 years ago queuing for tickets to hear the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan, and yesterday I was able to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink. Using reduced numbers they opened with Haydn's 'Clock' Symphony. Haydn's music is so refreshingly cheerful and imaginative and the orchestra played it with clock-like precision and playfulness. The 2nd work was Bruckner's Seventh Symphony. I remember hearing this for the first time at the Royal Festival Hall when I was the same age as my daughter who came with me yesterday, and it made an indelible impression all those years ago.

You have to be patient with Bruckner as his music unfolds at a majesterial pace - think of the scale of cathedrals and mountains. Though a humble and devoutly Christian man like Haydn, prone to anxiety and swayed by criticism, his music is monumental in every sense and leaves you with a sense of his devotion to his Creator. Combining the melodic gift of Schubert and the scale of Wagner, with his own intense and chromatic harmony, Bruckner's music is not for people in a hurry. It leaves you - well me at least - with a sense of awe and wonder. Bruckner regularly thanked God for his musical gift, and I thank God for Bruckner.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

What the whole world's waiting for.

I'm reading Tom Wright's 'Surprised by Hope'. As usual with this author what you get is highly concentrated and thought-provoking writing in a good humoured and combative style. According to Richard Burridge Tom Wright is a 'Marmite man' - that is you either love him or hate him. Well, I love Marmite and the writing of Tom Wright.

In the chapter entitled 'What the whole world's waiting for' Wright draws attention to St Paul's belief that the whole creation is waiting, as in a period of gestation, to be redeemed. Creation itself will one day experience resurrection, following the resurrection of Jesus, and we ourselves will one day experience it in a personal and individual way.

It made me think again about the stages of human life. It seems to me that there are four significant stages, each of which begins with a crisis event: the first 'crisis' is that of conception which brings life into being, followed by a period of gestation (nine months); the second crisis is that of birth, followed by a period of 70 or 80 or more years; the third crisis is that of death, followed by - as Tom Wright, following St Paul, suggests - a period of 'sleeping'; and then finally comes resurrection followed by something very glorious that we can't understand now any more than an unborn child can know what life outside the womb will be like.

This confirms for me the value and sanctity of life through every event and process. This includes the moment of conception and life in the womb - an event followed by a process. Without the event there is no process; without conception there is no life. Or to put it the other way round: after conception there is life. This makes me feel very uneasy about artificially ending the life of an unborn child after conception - ending the process after the event, or, for that matter, artificially ending life by hastening death (suicide - assisted or otherwise).

I haven't finished Tom Wright's book and I'm keen to see if he has anything to say to those without faith in Christ - what does resurrection mean for them? But for those of faith he has very challenging words which pour scorn on a lot of the quasi-Christian myth and superstition surrounding death that passes for theology today. It is challenging me to think more carefully about what I believe, and about the pastoral care that I offer those who are bereaved.

I think 'Surprised by Hope' should provoke some lively debate among those who declare their belief in the resurrection.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The most boring sign...EVER

I've been scanning some of my old photos onto the PC. I took this one in Gloucester in 1973.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Tom Wright on gnosticism

Classic Tom Wright. If scripture is a 'two-edged sword' then Tom Wright is a scalpel who cuts right to the heart of the matter. Very relevant to today, and an exciting new resource from St John's College, Nottingham.