Diary

08 August 2014

ISTOCK

The medium of dance

THE world has changed terribly in my lifetime. I give one instance: I was in Cambridge recently for an examiners' meeting. If you walk into town from the railway station, the first of the many churches you encounter is St Paul's.

When I was at Ridley Hall in the '60s, you knew what St Paul's stood for. Under the ministry of the redoubtable Herbert Carson, "the five points of Calvinism" were proclaimed. These, you recall, are Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. (If you have trouble remembering them, the acronym TULIP will help.)

Passing St Paul's on my way to the meeting, I was curious to see what this fearsome Reformation stronghold had to say for itself these days. I checked the noticeboards, and a forthcoming attraction caught my eye: a course in "Tribal-style belly-dancing". This is a pursuit that I do not recall being advocated by Carson.

 

Secret valleys

IT IS one of life's few certainties that one is rarely electrified in Worthing. But, recently, we were. The European Arts Company's staging of The Trials of Oscar Wilde came to the Connaught Theatre for just one thrilling night. Our good friend John Gorick played Wilde. ("Is this the same John Gorick", I hear you ask, "who so memorably played the part of the Korean interpreter in a recent series of Holby City?" Indeed it is.)

John delighted us with Wilde's wit. But he also bore witness to Wilde's pain. The play's heartbreaking conclusion has the judge and Wilde speaking antiphonally from either side of the stage. The judge rehearses, one by one, the crimes, as they then were, for which Wilde stands condemned - and takes savage delight in doing so.

From the other side of the stage we hear Wilde reciting the famous closing lines of "De Profundis", the astonishing apologia that he will write during his incarceration: "Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide and secret valleys in which I may weep undisturbed. . ." There are few of Wilde's witticisms in "De Profundis", but much of his capacity for compassion and gratitude.

Wilde's suffering - and it is beside the point how far that suffering was self-inflicted - brought him very close to Christ. "Once at least in his life," Wilde wrote, "each man walks with Christ to Emmaus." Wilde did so in Reading Gaol.

 

Staff of life

IN ONE respect, life in retirement has not changed since I was on the payroll of the Church of England. I no longer climb in and out of pulpits, but, defying the psalmist, I continue to "exercise myself in matters that are too high for me".

A week or two ago, I spent the best part of the day at the prestigious Clore Management Centre of Birkbeck College. With my wife, I was at a conference, arranged by - deep breath - The Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agricultural and Health.

The theme of the conference was "Agri-Food Policy and Governance for Nutrition and Health". I didn't wander in by mistake. Nor did I gatecrash. I was there - for all my insecure purchase on the issues under discussion - as an official participant. I made little contribution to the day's proceedings.

Later, I reflected that I should have piped up more - if, that is, my claim to be a Christian of sorts is not totally fraudulent. Feeding the hungry and healing the sick, I seem to recall, should be matters of consequence for anyone stumbling after Jesus of Nazareth.

 

It's all Greek to him

AT LAST month's meeting of the General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury bade farewell to the retiring Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard. Archbishop Welby suggested that one of the "mafias" in Synod comprised those who were taught by Bishop Pritchard.

The Archbishop might have added that there is another and yet murkier mafia, the raffish crew of which I am one - all now variously doddery, doolally, or deceased - who were not taught by Bishop John, but who had a share in teaching him. John Pritchard was one of my New Testament Greek class when, as a callow youth, I was on the staff of Ridley Hall.

I take the credit that, to this day, Bishop John can render into flawless Greek such observations as "Behold! There is fish behind the ear of the apostle!"

 

Peaceful hymns only

ON MONDAY, we turned the lights out for an hour as we recalled the words attributed to Sir Edward Grey, spoken a century ago on the eve of Britain's declaration of war on Germany: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

How can we continue to commemorate the First World War? My own simple suggestion is that we stop singing triumphalist hymns - at least for the next four years, but preferably until the last trumpet sounds, and we have some reason for singing them.

I open my New English Hymnal and a familiar line from an Easter hymn catches my eye: "Death's mightiest powers have done their worst." Scholars dispute the date of the resurrection, but on balance they agree that it must have taken place well before the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Those 24 hours suggest that death had not quite finished.
 

The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has retired to Brighton.

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