Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pretentious Pentecost?

St Davids Cathedral
Originally uploaded by Pembroke Dave
I just heard a man describe balloons as pretentious. It was Pentecost Sunday and he was referring to the
way that some congregations dress up their building to add to the air of celebration as they mark The Church’s birthday. He didn’t approve of the practice.

The man made these observations from a pulpit box four feet above his congregation while wearing a get up comprising a white gown topped with a crimson cape featuring a front panel that can only be described as a riot of gothic green paisley. He was the preacher for the parish eucharist in St. David’s Cathedral. The Cathedral is a monumental building on the outskirts of an average sized village. It is truly imposing, ornate and no doubt eye-wateringly expensive to maintain.

The service tried to stay in keeping with its setting, it sought to be impressive. But no matter how poetic the liturgy, and no matter how accomplished the organ-playing, it’s hard to do impressive with a congregation of barely fifty, ninety percent of whom don’t seem to like singing. Shame really. If you attempt impressive, it’s best to pull it off, otherwise you end up looking silly and, even worse, pretentious.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Type revisited
Originally uploaded by guioconnor
Thought I’d be blogging a lot more these days. I’m on sabbatical and enjoying getting stuck into reading, research and writing. Nothing much though has sparked what felt like bloggable ideas, so this is more of an “it’s about time” rather than a “hey, guess what struck me”.

Some thoughts on the writing process:

1. It is so tempting to act as if I’m supposed to turn each chapter into a PhD. First time in my life I’ve ever been remotely interested in patristics. Knowing how far to go and when to stop is a real challenge.

2. Finding the right voice is also a bit of a conundrum. The book’s meant to be based on academic standard research but it is not to be an academic text book. I really want to make it readable and I’ve already come up with loads of what seem to me to be nice turns of phrase, neat, catchy and down to earth - Gregory, Greg and Basil as a Byzantine boy band for bishops anyone? Now this would work well in a sermon or blog but …

3. Constantine and what he did to the church: seems to me both sides of the argument are wrong. He was neither an out and out angel nor an unspeakable demon. Yes of course he was hugely significant. Yes of course the lust for worldly power screwed up faithful witness, big time. But it really wasn’t all down to the emperor. So easy to hang it all on a particular individual. Easy, but wrong.

4. Which brings me back to finding the right approach. Not so much style this time, but argument. Let’s face it, it’s far easier to make a splash and get a reading if you have a clear point to make and if you make it with a flourish. You know, forget the nuances, just ram it home. On the other hand the evidence has a habit of getting in the way of a good point. But how to be subtle AND communicate with force? Is truth always the price we pay for effective rhetoric?

5. The best way to get something written is to avoid procrastination and resist distraction. So I’m going to stop.