Jumble Sales of the Apocalypse
Church Times Bookshop £9
THE book Jumble Sales of the Apocalypse is a witty and humorous walk through the ephemera of eternity. In this collection of his columns for Reform magazine, author and humorist Simon Jenkins explores the many ways in which mere humans try to understand the invisible God and the mystery of the Trinity.
It seems that the best and most time-tested way is to make him visible, or at least tangible. Through unexpected church names, the showbiz lifestyle of medieval relics, and antics of obscure saints, to the twisting language of dubiously motivated prayers and the likelihood of an angel’s changing your car tyre, showing God as present among us in the everyday has been a fixation for Christians since Jesus was around.
Jenkins writes this series of short essays in a warm and knowing style, with clever nods to theology and tradition (”He seemed to know the Torah scroll back to front, which is just as well as you can’t read Hebrew any other way”). Affectionate jabs at how religion is practised hit their targets, but also reflect the well-intentioned muddling through that makes up much of Christianity, including his own.
The conflation of ancient doctrine and dogma and modern practicality are a recipe for comedy; take the new home of a saint’s shin bone (”It’s exactly the right size for hand luggage on Ryanair”) or speculation on how much chocolate companies must hate Lent when their sales drop off a cliff for several weeks. He covers centuries of debate over clerical titles with the same tongue-in-cheek winking with which he discusses the Christian certainty that God finds parking places for his followers.
© simon jenkins 2017Ecclesiastical humour: a cartoon from Jumble Sales of the ApocalypseThis is a light and entertaining read with serious intent, and offers the comforting suggestion that it is OK to overlook or be amused by these mild heresies, as nothing that humans produce can come close to explaining God or faith. Each of these essays contains an informative and yet world-weary take on a different aspect of the kitsch, pomposity, showmanship, and allegory that abound in Christianity. Like a metaphorical Tower of Babel, the book piles oddly-shaped bricks on each other, showing humanity’s on-going attempts to reach heaven through novelty Advent calendars, DIY Christingles, and holy emojis.
The end result displays a resigned affection for the bumbling, machinations, and odd traditions that make up religion, and a chuckling sigh of relief that we are all just doing our best to make sense of it.
Vicky Walker is the author of Do I Have to be Good All the Time? (River Publishing and Media, 2011).