A change of perspective

I am taking a few days break away from the Forest at the moment. This is the first break I have managed since being rather ill earlier in the year and is a welcome relief after the challenges of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. We are currently back in our former stamping ground of Liverpool, visiting old friends.

This morning we went to the Albert Dock, somewhere I have not visited for about twelve years. In the intervening time there has been a lot of development down by the waterfront. New buildings – shops, offices and hotels – have arrived and a new arena for sport and entertainment events has been built. Driving past the Liver building we commented on how some of the new buildings seemed inappropriate to the setting. Two black/dark grey buildings looked particularly out of place.

The buildings seemed to block out the previous view of the “Three Graces” of the Liverpool waterfront skyline – the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the old Mersey Docks and Harbour Board building. These three buildings are glorious in their style and scale.

After coffee and lunch we visited the Tate Modern art gallery and spent an hour and a half looking at the current exhibits of twentieth and twenty-first century art and sculpture. There were some interesting pieces on show and we came away pleased with out visit and headd forthe car before the parking ticket expired.

It was then that I had something of an epiphany. The two black buildings suddenly made perfect sense.

From my new vantage point, one of them recalled the hull of a great Atlantic liner towering over part of the dock as such a ship might have done in the heyday of transatlantic ocean travel the 1930s. Furthermore, from this viewpoint the Three Graces form the liner’s superstructure. A change of perspective helped me to catch something of the vision of the building’s architect. I may not have necessarily been convinced, but I felt I now understood.

In what areas of our lives and thinking might a change of perspective help us better understand someone else’s viewpoint?


What the Bible means (to me) – part the first

For some time now I have felt that I wanted to post a series about the Bible. We read the Bible a lot in our churches. In the Church of England, not only do we read an Old Testament portion, maybe a Psalm, a New Testament reading and one from the Gospels at the Eucharist; we also read an Old Testament reading, one from the New Testament as well as one or more Psalms and canticles usually drawn from Old and New Testaments at Morning and Evening Prayer. That is a lot of Bible.

In addition, classically, we use Scripture along with tradition, reason and experience to determine doctrine and praxis. Synod papers and reports will (if we are lucky) have considered what scripture has to say about the principles relating to matters under discussion. And the theological formation and training of our clergy and lay ministers will have included some elements of Biblical Studies.

However, it is clear that when we talk to each other, especially about the more controversial issues that face the church in our times, that there is a wide divergence of opinion not only about the issues themselves but about the part that our reading of scripture should play in our attempt to come to a common mind. It becomes clear the Bible means different things to different people. Not only that, but groupings have coalesced around these differences of approach, which can then lead to talking past each other as the lack of shared assumptions makes itself felt. As an example of one extreme, take this comment from a recent blog discussion relating to the State of Israel:

The Bible is a book that was written to be taken literally. To read it with your clever eyes and your education is to adapt it for your own end.

Christian Zionists see what is there and interpret all things by the light of the Biblical prophecies, numerologies, and modern prophetic utterances.

For this commentator, there was little or no doubt that the Bible is the word of God, and should determine our attitudes and actions today. But I have lots of questions about the assumptions behind the statements. At the other extreme, of course, are those for whom the Bible is at best a collection of interesting ancient documents, but of little or no relevance in determining how one should live life today. And I have questions about that, too.

So in (some of) the next few blog posts here, I want to consider what the Bible is, how we read and interpret it and what place it should occupy in the life of the individual Christian and the church.

I should perhaps add that my views on this subject have changed considerably over the years – as will no doubt become clear. Comments will be very welcome if they contribute to a fruitful discussion.