- J.M Coetzee on The Angry Genius of Les Murray
- Yvonne Willkie ruminates about old sermons
- Peter Singer writes about Bhutan’s ‘gross national happiness’
- Ben Myers reviews Rob Bell’s Love Wins (btw: Steve Holmes did a series of helpful posts on Bell’s book back in April)
- Brad East shares some Luther who reminds us that the only God we know is the God who suckled on Mary’s breasts
- David Congdon reviews The Bible Made Impossible
- Evan Kuehn points to two recent articles on Schleiermacher: Robert Merrihew Adams’s on philosophical aspects of his Christology, and Johannes Wischmeyer’s on Schleiermacher’s involvement with the founding of the University of Berlin
- Matthew Milliner reminds us of the legacy of John Ruskin
- Paul Fromont on Allie Eagle’s latest project (which, by the way, includes that half-finished pastel drawing of yours truly featured on my author page)
- Rick Floyd (who has a new blog address) shares his 9/11 sermon, first preached a decade ago
- J.R. Daniel Kirk, who is normally worth reading, proves his fallibility once again with a shocker on Is Systematic Theology Necessary?
- Michael Jenson is reading James Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, and thinking about ‘oppressive egalitarianism’
- Garry Deverell shares his sermon on the paradox of forgiveness
- Rowan Williams on the Big Society.
- Les Murray and the Poetry of Depression, a review-piece by Meghan O’Rourke.
- The latest edition of Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte (Vol. 18, No. 1, April 2011) is now available and includes an essay on ‘Albrecht Ritschl and the Tübingen School. A neglected link in the history of 19th century theology’ by Johannes Zachhuber. The Forsythian in me is excited to see this. [I also found a version of this essay here].
- The preacher your preacher could preach like.
- Alain Badiou responds to Jean-Luc Nancy on Libya, and on elsewhere in the Middle East.
- Kurt Vonnegut on the simple shapes of stories.
- Warner Brothers wins the Roger Awards.
- The latest edition of the Journal of Reformed Theology (5/1, 2011) is out.
- Robert Manne on the untold story of Julian Assange.
- T&T Clark launch Continuum e-Books.
- Michael Jensen is blogging on human nature and the arts (parts I, II, III, IV).
- The Postcolonial Theology Network and Whitley College are hosting a conference – Story Weaving: Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology.
- Michael Jinkins on Martin Luther King’s questions about the church.
- Bruce Hamill reflects on what the church is called to be in our world.
- Travis McMaken has been posting on and linking to posts on David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures (parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI).
- John Pilger on Westminster, Libya and Yemen.
‘… the Kingdom of God, which is not solely of this world, is slowly coming closer to being more clearly figured in this world … we who are not saints are caught up, not by God but by the logic of our choosing to delay sainthood, in a combat we keep thinking is new (or even Modern) because of the novel shapes and pressures it keeps presenting, a physiognomic struggle between those who somehow accept grace and those who bear the distorting strain of trying to block it off, to act without it or against it. This, I think, rather than the usual superficial divisions between Right and Left, Black and White, religious and irreligious etc, is where the real lines are drawn … But when I come to meditate on topics such as grace, I don’t finally trust myself to talk about them in prose. For the important stuff, I need the help of my own medium of poetry, which can say more things’. – Les A. Murray, A Working Forest: Selected Prose (Sydney: Duffy & Snellgrove, 1997), 146–7.
‘While (the Christian) vision is no longer the dominant one (in Australia), and may never have been, neither is any other at the moment. There is as yet no other vision abroad in our society which commands the same authority as ours does, the same sense of being the bottom line, the great reserve to be called on in times of real need. Many of the themes of the rallies are necessary problem solving and little more, and much in the spiritual supermarket is fair weather stuff, adjuncts to a prosperity which may now be vanishing. Unbelief, once a daring and rather aristocratic gesture, must now have exhausted most of its glamour; it is certainly no longer exclusive, or particularly rebellious. Much the same could be said of sexual indulgence, pornography and the like. Having by now surely lost most of its flavour of forbidden fruit, sexual licence has to justify itself in terms of whatever real satisfaction it can give; its utility as a bait to draw people out of traditional ways and beliefs, and if possible into new allegiances, must by now also be wearing thin. And it will be difficult at the very least, for the cult of unremitting youthfulness and physical beauty to survive in the era of aging populations which it has helped to produce. By now liberal humanism is as badly fragmented by dissension as our witness ever was, and its fiercest adherents are often covertly uneasy at its lack of gentleness, its readiness to force the facts and its desolate this-worldliness. Its unrelenting adulthood forces people onto the thorns of tragic complexity and the strange intractability of the world, and often when people who subscribe to it relax for a moment, their eyes are seen to contain an almost desperate appeal: please prove us wrong, make us believe there is more to it than this, show us your God and that Grace you talk about. We are more widely judged on our own best terms than we think, and more insistently expected to be the keepers of the dimension of depth than we find comfortable’. – Les A. Murray, ‘Some Religious Stuff I Know About Australia’ in The Shape of Belief: Christianity in Australia Today (ed. Dorothy Harris, et al.; Homebush West: Lancer, 1982), 25–6.
Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture
into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing’s said till it’s dreamed out in words
and nothing’s true that figures in words only.
A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.
Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?
You can’t pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can’t poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,
fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror
that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There’ll always be religion around while there is poetry
or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds – crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.
That slim creek out of the sky
the dried-blood western gum tree
is all stir in its high reaches:
its strung haze-blue foliage is dancing
points down in breezy mobs, swapping
pace and place in an all-over sway
retarded en masse by crimson blossom.
Bees still at work up there tack
around their exploded furry likeness
and the lawn underneath’s a napped rug
of eyelash drift, of blooms flared
like a sneeze in a redhaired nostril,
minute urns, pinch-sized rockets
knocked down by winds, by night-creaking
fig-squirting bats, or the daily
parrot gang with green pocketknife wings.
Bristling food tough delicate
raucous life, each flower comes
as a spray in its own turned vase,
a taut starbust, honeyed model
of the tree’s fragrance crisping in your head.
When the japanese plum tree
was shedding in spring, we speculated
there among the drizzling petals
what kind of exquisitely precious
artistic bloom might be gendered
in a pure ethereal compost
of petals potted as they fell.
From unpetalled gun-debris
we know what is grown continually,
a tower of fabulous swish tatters,
a map hoisted upright, a crusted
riverbed with up-country show towns.
Les Murray, ‘Flowering Eucalypt in Autumn’, in The People’s Otherworld (Sydney: Angus & Robertson), 1983.
Part of my meditation on this Good Friday has been focused around a poem by Australian poet Les Murray. The poem, One Kneeling, One Looking Down, was inspired by an aboriginal legend in which a man was killed, and then raised from the dead by his two wives. In order for this ‘resurrection’ to happen, both wives had to agree on it. Murray’s poem depicts a moment of engagement between the two wives: the older wife wanting to have her husband back and the younger one resisting. Apart from the obvious echoes of the Easter narrative (not least the two women, the many impossibilities, freedom through death, etc), Murray’s piece also invites the reader to experience something of the fear and hope, sense of betrayal and renewed possibilities, that the Easter narrative explores. Of course, one does not want to push the echoes too far. Part of my meditation today was on ‘seeing’, even re-writing, the poem’s episodes as a Trinitarian event in the life of God. In this, we not only have one kneeling (in faithful obedience) and one looking down (in pained delight), but also one holding him up in that kneeling posture. But again, one does not want to push the echoes too far …
Anyway, here’s the poem:
ONE KNEELING. ONE LOOKING DOWN
Half-buried timbers chained in corduroy
lead out into the sand
which bare feet wincing Crutch and Crotch
spurn for the summer surf’s embroidery
and insects stay up on the land.
A storm engrossing half the sky
in broccoli and seething drab
and standing on one foot over the country
burrs like a lit torch. Lightning
turns air to elixir at every grab
but the ocean sky is troubled blue
everywhere. Its storm rolls below:
sand clouds raining on sacred country
drowned a hundred lifetimes under sea.
In the ruins of a hill, channels flow,
and people, like a scant palisade
driven in the surf, jump or sway
or drag its white netting to the tide line
where a big man lies with his limbs splayed,
fingers and toes and a forehead-shine
as if he’d fallen off the flag.
Only two women seem aware of him.
One says But this frees us. I’d be a fool -
Say it with me, says the other. For him to revive
we must both say it. Say Be alive. -
But it was our own friends who got
him with a brave shot, a clever shot. -
Those are our equals: we scorn them
for being no more than ourselves.
Say it with me. Say Be alive. -
Elder sister, it is impossible. -
Life was once impossible. And flight. And speech.
It was impossible to visit the moon.
The impossible’s our summoning dimension.
Say it with me. Say Be alive again. -
The young wavers. She won’t leave
nor stop being furious. The sea’s vast
catchment of light sends ashore a roughcast
that melts off every swimmer who can stand.
Glaring through slits, the storm moves inland.
The younger sister, wavering, shouts Stay dead!
She knows how impossibility
is the only door that opens.
She pities his fall, leg under one knee
but her power is his death, and can’t be dignified.
From Les Murray, New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2003), 450-1.