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19 July 2013


Gruesome Kings

FOR well over 20 years, I have contributed to the BRF New Daylight Bible-reading notes. Usually, a set of notes - typically covering a fortnight's readings - will bring me one or two letters or emails from readers. My notes last month, however, evoked a minor storm of comment, some baffled, some indignant, and a couple complimenting me on my courage in tackling such a tricky enterprise.

Well, it was not my courage: the editor (the excellent Naomi Starkey) apportions the texts, and this particular lot had fallen on me.

The lot in question was 2 Kings 9-12, which I described in my introduction as a blood-soaked narrative. Indeed, Stephen Dawes, in the BRF's own People's Bible Commentary, claims that the first 14 verses of chapter ten describe "one of the most gruesome sights in the whole of Kings", which is saying something.

In these four chapters, people are killed by arrows, put to the sword, tossed out of windows, fed to dogs, and have their heads chopped off and put in baskets. I wrote: "Modern sensibilities are tested to the full by this kind of biblical narrative."

Fair interpretation

HAND on heart, I did my best. I tried to counter the notion that there are two "Gods" in the Bible: a nasty one in the Old Testament, and a nice one in the New. I tried to distinguish between means and outcomes. And I faced as frankly as I could the difficulty that God appeared not only to approve of this mayhem, but actually at times to order it.

My correspondents were universally polite, but my efforts seem to have done little to assuage their misgivings over this kind of narrative. But, like Everest, it's there, and a Bible Reading Fellowship cannot simply pretend that it is not. Mind you, I got a reward. My next assignment, to appear next year, features "favourite Bible passages". Not a single killing in sight. Thank you, Naomi.

Following suit

I TOOK a funeral last week for a former Savile Row master-tailor. In a tribute his son reported his father's delight on being told a couple of days before he died that one of his suits from 40 years ago was being sold on eBay. He did not say what price was being asked, but authors know the feeling.

I picked up a copy of my own autobiography, published 12 years ago, on the charity table in my local Co-op for a tenpence donation. I just could not watch it lying there, among the dog-eared Mills and Boons, and sci-fi, and out-of-date car manuals. It is now safe on my rescue shelf.

Anyone for a bap?

WHEN I went to it nearly 30 years ago, it was called ABM - Advisory Board of Ministry, popular parlance for the residential selection conference for would-be ordinands. Once, long ago, it was CACTM, then ACCM, and I have a vague memory that even before them, when one had no need to be sensitive about such things, it was called MECCA, or perhaps I'm dreaming.

Anyway, it has now got yet another name - BAP (Bishops' Advisory Panel). I discovered its new nomenclature only when a young man from our congregation went off to face the advisers a couple of weeks ago.

The problem with acronyms is that they often simply morph into words: ASLEF, UNESCO, DEFRA, and so on. But BAP? The problem is, it is a word already; so when Gary said he was "going to bap" I thought it was a trendy way of indicating that it was time for a snack.

I am not sure I approve of identifying an important body, selecting men and women for the Church's ministry, by the name of a soft flat bread roll, usually enfolding some cheese, bacon, or (forgive me) Marmite. Frankly, it lacks gravitas.

Not wanting to appear unhelpful about such a strategic body, I have a couple of alternative suggestions: Bishops' United Recommendation Panel, and Search Panel for Anglican Ministry. I think either of them would provide very safe acronyms for the future.

Froth and bubble

A PLEASANT summer's weekend with friends in Nottingham included a visit with them to their parish church for an "all-age service".

Nice music - piano and guitar, liturgy on the inevitable overhead projector, two expertly wielded donkey puppets making a passable fist at expounding John 14.6, and something absolutely new to me at the intercessions: bubbles.

After each section of prayers, members of the congregation were invited to blow bubbles, representing our hopes and intentions winging skywards. Each row was provided with a bottle of bubble foam and a blower, which were to be passed along for each of us to create our bubble.

Some, like me, couldn't raise a bubble at all. (I suspect "all-age" doesn't include octogenarian.) Others, like the little boy next to me, took three or four goes before producing a positive cascade of soapy intercessions.  "You're holding the blower too near to your mouth," the lady next to me advised, and I did indeed improve by the time the bottle returned after the next set of prayers. By the time I had managed one miserable little bubble, however, I had forgotten what we were supposed to be praying for.

By the third set of prayers, the logistics were beginning to break down, the bubble foam was running out, and adult enthusiasm was flagging somewhat.

Full marks, then, for ingenuity, effort, and "fresh expressions", but I still think bubble intercessions may need a little refining before they make their way into Common Worship.

Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.

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