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06 March 2015


Lost in contemplation

OUR "city-break" in Amsterdam began inauspiciously. On the way to our hotel, we got lost in a neighbourhood of the city best avoided by elderly clergymen of a nervous disposition. We rang the hotel, and, rather impressively, they sent out a search party to find us. Perhaps in the past they had lost guests who, thrown off balance by the disconcerting shop windows on the Trompettersteeg, had fallen into a canal before checking in.

We were at grave risk, anyway, of ending up in the water during our time in Amsterdam. We spent our days in the Rijksmuseum, the now gloriously restored national collection. Contemplating the Rijksmuseum's tremendous Rembrandts, his Night Watch among them, leaves you temporarily concussed.

Stunned by such masterpieces, it's hard to think of anything else, such as the small matter of staying on the pavement on your way back to your hotel. It is much the same if you have just seen a production of King Lear. With your heart and mind shredded by Lear's tribulations, you are in great danger of stepping out of the theatre and straight under a bus.

The comparison between Rembrandt and Shakespeare has often been made. The French critic Élie Faure says that both of them "follow our steps to death in the traces of blood which mark them".

We twice visited our own National Gallery's recent great exhibition "Rembrandt: The Late Works". That show has now transferred to the Rijksmuseum. Perhaps I should go back to Amsterdam and see it for a third time, contemplating once more Rembrandt's unflinching account of our mortality. But I'm not sure that I dare.

Waste of time?

I HAVE been tidying up. I have been doing so, to no great effect, since my infancy. I am still the toddler who never puts his toys away. The trouble with tidying up is that you stumble across things that distract and detain you. Those toys, for example, never make it back into their box because a broken-down clockwork car requires your immediate attention.

Today's clearance of long-unvisited files grinds to a halt when I stumble across a yellowing document. It turns out to be a copy of my first publication. (I provide the reference: Pridmore, John. 1955. "Haggai." Nightlight 2(1): 7.) Nightlight was a tatty pamphlet of half-a-dozen or so cyclostyled pages, circulated in the mid-'50s among the Christian Unions of a number of south-London independent schools. It fizzled out after a few issues.

I abandon my tidying up to peruse this piece of juvenilia. Its tone is characteristic of much post-war Evangelicalism: hectoring, joyless, and smug. I see that I struggled to say anything edifying about the book of Haggai, beyond urging my readers to take a lead from Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah and all-round good egg. (If I already knew the ribald limerick about Zerubbabel, I was too pious to quote it.)

I know that self-pity must be avoided at all costs, but part of me feels sorry for that poor kid with his head buried in the Minor Prophets when he should have been out enjoying a misspent youth.

Things to come

THIS file of early works yields another diversion - a copy of what must have been my earliest broadside in a broadsheet. Published 45 years ago in The Church of England Newspaper, it was "A Plague on the Pastoral Measure". (I see that I had already adopted the emollient tone that I have always tried to maintain in the church press.)

I began with a far-fetched flight of fancy. "If you walk blindfolded into your nearest church bookshop, and reach to the shelves for support, you will find, unlike Karl Barth with his commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans, that you have not caught hold of a rope that sounds a bell that rings around the world."

More probably, I suggested, you would find that you had in your hands a document less likely to strengthen the faint-hearted or to support the weak. You would find yourself clutching a report. All those years ago, the tide of reports flowing from our compulsive planners was already mounting, though it was not yet the tsunami it is today.

My objection to the Pastoral Measure was to its assumption that "the efficiency befitting the Church of God is the same as that appropriate to ICI or Shell". In those days, the disease that had already taken hold did not have a name. Today, we know it as "managerialism": our Church's craving to keep up, at all costs, with the secular business world, embracing as its own that world's understanding of success, and how to achieve it.

It is an affliction whose growth today invades every level of church life. (Ask your vicar.) The fear is that the malady is now incurable. Except that one does not fear, because, of course, the order of things that our betters are seeking to shore up is not the way of Jesus - who never planned a thing save to suffer and die - but of "Christendom", the institutional counterfeit of the rag-tag-and-bobtail fellowship of his followers.

"Christendom" may yet put on a show. But not for long. Already, stealing on the ear, there sounds the distant triumph song.

With this Diary, I must, after 20 years, "sign off". I am deeply grateful to the many Church Times readers who, over the years, have been kind enough to respond to my jottings.

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


Fri 20 May @ 19:46
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