Friday, November 11, 2016

Reading Retreat

Many of you know that, for me, a retreat to get stuck into reading is the best way for me to keep fresh. I like lectures and conferences but probably learn more with my head in a book than any other way. It also explains why I occasionally mispronounce words I have only read, never heard, and attempt to use.

I am back from a few days away. I finished four books this retreat and made a start on a few others.

Rowan Williams - Being Disciples
Rowan Williams is a poet and a wordsmith. He is also aware that nuancing words is all we got, although he wouldn't have put it that way. Nuancing gave us the Good Friday agreement.

This is a short book that demands slow reading. It contains treasure. As Williams says in chapter five, on Faith in Society:

Churches and other faith groups might be called trustees or custodians of the long-term questions, because they own a vision of human nature that does not depend on political fashions and majorities.

He gives me a quiet confidence in my own inadequacy.

Carlo Rovelli - Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
I didn't pay attention in science at school. I wish I had but was never gripped. Maybe if this had been the first set book things would have turned out differently, in physics at least. Writing in English English rather than scientific English (in translation from Italian Italian I suppose) Rovelli covers relativity, quantum, cosmology, particles, loop quantum gravity (I know), time and in a beautiful final chapter, ourselves.

It is short, graspable for a non-scientist and very, very readable.

A.C.Grayling - The God Argument
I persist in consuming the output of those we might call 'the new atheists'. For it is the readers of books such as this with whom Christians will have to reason in the market place.

The difficulty for me is always that the 'religion' Grayling shoots at is often one I would also see as the target. I do not think he can imagine a Christian who does not take the Bible literally, or one who believes that morality is a human struggle and the answer is not usually beamed down from above. Even if it is we still have to engage with others in terms that allow for the incredulity that such might happen. He believes that morality, for the religious, comes only from a transcendent source such as divine command and does not arise from reflection on human realities and relationships. He's wrong.

For me, life as a Christian is life lived immersed in a different set of stories. There are not proof-texts but there are those who have gone before. There are not certainties but faith, hope and waiting. There is not separation from the way the world does its thinking; Christian and non-Christian minds are wired the same way.

But there is a man, on a cross, in the middle of human history, who points in a different direction to selfishness, pragmatism and finding someone to blame for all the trouble.

David Byrne - How Music Works
This book starts with the note that orchestras got bigger to compensate for the problem of string quartets not being heard in venues where everyone persisted in talking. It ends with the reminder that a 1969 UNESCO resolution confirms a person's right to silence,

In between music, and the industry attached to it, is dismantled before our eyes in order to be explained. The value of music to society is seen in co-operation. You can't fight if you're in time. Quoting William McNeil he says:

We don't dance because we're human as much as we are human because we dance.

Almost spiritual.

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