Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Understanding and hidden secrets

I took this picture yesterday (when it was sunny!) As you can see me photography skills are still quite limited and I managed to get the flower out of focus, but I still think it is quite interesting.

Newman's opinions on poetry are of course, highly controversial. They may lead to the idea that atheists are all bad people and that it is impossible to debate with unbelievers the purpose of belief. I can understand that these ideas may seem unpleasant but I think they all grow and reflect the huge contradictions that Newman had to live with. He was also an extremely capable academic. How could someone so academic still conclude that reason had no role for faith?

Gilley continues to explain Newman's fascination with the Church fathers and his ideas that would anticipate his conversion to Roman Catholicism, all of which are highly intriguing. The Early church had withheld teachings from the church because of the(somewhat dubious idea, I think) that they did not think the church was ready for the complete teachings. This was known as 'Disciplina Arcani' - discipline of the secret. This led to the idea that the church has the greatest authority. This comes from the idea that Jesus did not speak plainly, he did not give his wisdom to whoever, he spoke in parables so that those who were wise would understand.

This comes from Luke 8:9-10, one passage that has always puzzled me:

'9His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
" 'though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.'

This idea that certain people have been given authority and understanding over the church is something that I would completely disagree with.

Anyway, Gilley also gives the following quote from Newman about a holiday in Devon:

"the extreme deliciousness of the air and the fragrance of every thing ... really I think I should dissolve into essence of roses, or be attenuated into an echo, if I lived here"

Monday, June 27, 2005

What a perfect scene?

This is my attic. As other people will realise for those of us who like to read, nothing could be better! In fact apart from a large comfy chair (which I could never get up) or a very large pot of coffee I can't think of anything better. Unfortunately as usually happens the scene was set and I didn't have the time to read!

I did get a little chance to read today, I learnt a new word - 'glebe' not the duck, a glebe was the property owned by a church in olden times that they could raise money from. I have been reading 'Newman and his age' by Sheridan Gilley. John Henry Newman was one of my heroes in school when I was studying 19th century church history. Although in many ways I never understood him fully. He is a man full of contradiction, liberal and conservative, a strong Anglican who became Roman Catholic, he grew up evangelical and changed to high church whilst at Oxford, a man who had mediocre exam results but still managed to get into Oriel one of the best Oxford Colleges.

The past few weeks I have really started to understand things that I had a rough grasp at school. He got into Oriel because the tutors in Oriel despised the exam system, they wanted to measure a man by the way he thought, not by exam results, I haven't reached his conversion as yet I am just about reaching his involvement in the Oxford Movement. One of the things that impressed me about Newman at school was that he was considered a spiritual master. He was the man who stood up to drunken students being forced to attend church. Looking back I really don't think I ever understood what he was about. Until tonight. Sheridan Gilley is very good at looking at the spiritual journey of Newman and analysing the environment he was living in to be able to commentate on how his mind was moving and thinking.

Gilley is describing how Newman discovered a mindset that his faith was 'the unsophisticated infancy of notions'. This idea first proposed by the church fathers such as Clement was that religious truth was not a scientific concept, it was not something that has 'proof'. This truth comes from 'pious and religious feeling'. He goes on to say:

"Moral truth is gained by patient study, by calm reflection, silently as the dew falls, unless miraculously given, and when gained it is transmitted by faith and by 'prejudice'. . . which any Cambridge man might refure with the greatest ease."

What Newman is saying here is that his view of spiritual faith is not liberal, rational or scientific (like any man from Cambridge), in fact if you try to make it rational or scientific you will fail and fail utterly to understand. This is perhaps why Newman is so highly criticised by modern historians such as A.N. Wilson. All through his life he had so many disagreements and arguments, I suspect a lot of people never understood this idea, even when he was alive.

Gilley then explains how Newman found great strength in Romantic moralism and in the 'poetry' of faith:

"The most sceptical of men, like Hume and Gibbon, will also be the least poetical. 'Revealed religion should be especially poetical', and the Christian with spiritual insight will see the world through the poet's eyes."

This is what impresses me about Newman. This is why he is so important, his message is more important than ever for the people of today.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Jim Wallis in 'The Independent Magazine'

There was a very interesting article yesterday about Jim Wallis in 'The Independent Magazine'. Jim Wallis is well known for being a christian leader favouring the left side of politics. I think it is fascinating that a Christian leader is standing up in USA and saying that perhaps Bush and the Christian right aren't the best way to be. I have heard of Jim Wallis, about ten years ago but he was quickly forgotten and I have just assumed that he was forgotten. No, Jim is back and he has already stood up to Bush when he arranged for a letter of protest to be written against Bush when he visited Calvin College in Chicago.

Here is a paragraph from the last page of the article:

"There is a golden opportunity to reverse the tide now, he believes, because the right has over-reached and, to at least some extent, begun to lose its audience. 'All over this country there are people of faith who don't see their faith represented in the media, in the way religion was used in the election, in the way it is invoked in the White House or the Congress. They hear the shrill tones of the religious right, an the disdainful tones of the secular left, but they don't hear themselves. They are a silent majority, if you like, and they feel their voice has been left out."
Belfast 25/6/05 New digital camera

Yesterday I was testing my new digital camera. Can I make this a photoblog please?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Last week I started to read 'The Porter and the Three Girls of Baghdad' part of the Tales from the Thousand and One nights. I have never read anything so mysterious, exotic and fascinating. Full of djinn, one eyed dervishes and other strange phenomena, this is a book to be read late at night prefereably outloud around a campfire. This one little exerpt captures the whole mystery and the strangeness. Here one of the one-eyed dervishes is reflecting on all the events that happened to him:

"I pondered over all that had befallen me from beginning to end; how I had escaped the highwaymen of the desert and how I met the tailor, my amorous sojourn with the young woman in the secret palace and my deliverance from the jinnee, my life as an ape and my purchase by the king, the loss of my eye and the breaking of the spell. Nevertheless I thanked Allah, saying: 'Better a lost eye than death.'"

Many of the incidents involve a man being told he can do anything he wants except open that door or ask a certain question and in the end they become so curious that they do the thing and then everything goes chaotic and crazy.

Monday, June 13, 2005

I came across Robert Southey quite by accident, he was one of the favourite poets of John Henry Newman. I really like this sonnet, it shows how a poem with a very strict rhyming scheme can still be very moving.

Sonnet 06

(to a brook near the village of Corston.)

As thus I bend me o'er thy babbling stream
And watch thy current, Memory's hand pourtrays
The faint form'd scenes of the departed days,
Like the far forest by the moon's pale beam
Dimly descried yet lovely. I have worn
Upon thy banks the live-long hour away,
When sportive Childhood wantoned thro' the day,
Joy'd at the opening splendour of the morn,
Or as the twilight darken'd, heaved the sigh
Thinking of distant home; as down my cheek
At the fond thought slow stealing on, would speak
The silent eloquence of the full eye.
Dim are the long past days, yet still they please
As thy soft sounds half heard, borne on the inconstant breeze.

Robert Southey

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Fear of Annihilation

The past few days I have been reading ‘The Battle for God’ by Karen Armstrong. The last section has been about Jewish fundamentalism over the period 1960 - 74. The first thing that struck me was that fundamentalist movements in other religions are much more interesting and exotic. One of the influential movements was known as ‘Gahelet’ aka the glowing embers. Drawing on the idea of the religious remnant, the faithful that are exiled, the ones who are truly religious. This idea crops up in most forms of fundamentalism according to Karen Armstrong from the fear of annihilation.

The big idea of the Gahelet was that they wanted to set up a Kibbutz where the men would study the Torah all day, whilst the women did the farming and cooking. I’m not going to say anything!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Thomas Oliphant

Occasionally I like to subscribe to some of the big newspapers in USA to find out what is going on and to try to find some entertaining reading. I subscribed last week to the Boston Globe and I was reading the opinion columns when I found this article by Thomas Oliphant. He described in a very interesting article how he was recovering from an aneurysm and the things that had been happening to him. He concludes with the following conclusion:
Normally, aneurysm patients have problems -- delicately called deficits -- for months. Miraculously, I can concentrate again and finished reading a book last week. Sadly, I now know who the president is.

See this link: (although you may need to subscribe)

My journey into darkness

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I realise that the last comment was not properly answered. In reply to the comments from my last post the reason I was a little bit annoyed with the film was that when I was reading the book I felt a turmoil because both of the characters situations were equally understandable, I genuinely didn't know how the situation should be resolved. I felt sympathy for the alcoholic and sympathy for the immigrant. In the film I think this didn't come across. Fair enough, the book is never the same as the film but that was the most important aspect to me.

About the Iran thing, Iran is usually avoided because no matter what the comment, about whatever time period the Middle East is an extremely sensitive topic and it is assumed that no matter what is said it will arouse bad feelings. This creates a situation where nobody wants to make any comment at all. I think we all have to strive to resolve this situation, try to understand the situation better, if we make comments, be prepared to stand by them or take the criticism.