Skip to content

Foiling a satanic plot to destroy the world

18 January 2019

The SealThe Seal by Meg Hutchinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A disappointing read.

It’s written by Meg Hutchinson writing as Margaret Astbury, writing as Meg Hutchinson.

It has the ingredients of an interesting plot, but they are badly handled and it is badly written.

A bad-tempered autistic unemployed ex-commando and a chain-smoking journalist on a local newspaper live in a small town in the English Midlands, where the journalist is sent by her editor, under protest, to report on a scene of vandalism in a local cemetery, where the jobless man sees a ghost. The journalist suddenly gets interested in the story of the cemetery, which her editor has lost interest in, and she and her jobless buddy want to keep it secret from a dyspeptic detective with whom they had had some sort of run-in in a previous book.

The cemetery incident, the reader is informed, was the work of a local coven of satanists who seem to have stepped straight out of the pages of a novel by Dennis Wheatley, and for the first 30 pages or so I thought I was reading a piece of Dennis Wheatley fan fiction, but Wheatley writes much better than this — at least he has a coherent narrative in novels like The devil rides out.. But we are never told what the Satanists were actually doing in the cemetery, or trying to do, only that they thought they had made some kind of mistake while they were there.

The reader is presumed to know what happened in the previous book in which these three characters appeared, and the reader is also presumed to be familiar with their relationships with some of the other characters in the earlier book who don’t appear in this one.

The characters are flat, and each seems to have one main characteristic that gets emphasised out of all proportion. The journalist has a capacious handbag in which she carries cigarettes by the carton, and quite a lot of the narrative is devoted to her search for places in which she is permitted to smoke them, and the frustration caused by her failure to find them quickly enough. The jobless ex-commando behaves inexplicably rudely to people when he is supposed to be trying to win their cooperation. The detective is as addicted to stomach tablets as the journalist is to cigarettes.

I kept falling asleep in passages where one or other of the characters is agonising over a decision, where the reader has to wait three or four pages to discover what courses of action the character was trying to decide between. Should I tell him? Shouldn’t I? On the one hand…. On the other hand…. Tell him what? the reader wants to know.

There are curious convolutions of language, like “bodyguards, who bothered to make little secret of the fact they were armed”. As characters are always saying in American soaps, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

There is the newly-recruited satanist who enjoys the rituals and consorting with the idle rich and with evil spirits, but draws the line at murder, but the book opens with him being recruited by the satanists because they helped him to cover up a murder in the first place.

The ingredients for a good story are all there: the evil satanists doing the devil’s work of sowing discord and conflict among the nations of the earth, the international arms trade, the ordinary people like the journalist and the jobless man (who eventually gets a job with one of the satanists, and is threatened by them) who foil the plot. but in the telling of the story the author makes a complete hash of it.

View all my reviews

So much for the review of this book, but it also raises the issue of evil, the devil and political conspiracies that go beyond this particular book. As I’ve noted, the notion of satan and satanists and satanic conspiracies in this book seems to be lifted straight out of Dennis Wheatley, who was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, both of whom wrote about related topics, Williams in War in heaven and Lewis in That Hideous Strength. The difference is that Williams and Lewis had a theological point to make, while Dennis Wheatley was just trying to write potboilers to make money. So he mixed up a lot of eclectic notions of devil worship, satanism and black magic to make the scariest combination that he thought would thrill readers and thus sell his books. The result is a rather crudely materialistic notion of spiritual power.

Lewis and Williams are more subtle, and Williams himself moved in occult circles, and so could be said to be writing from personal experience in his descriptions of such things. I have tried to explore or at least allude to them in a small way in my own novel The Year of the Dragon, It is historical fact that the South African security forces put hexed nails in Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s driveway, and at least considered doing something similar with a bewitched baboon foetus.

What were they thinking?

Were they expecting some kind  Dennis Wheatley/Meg Hutchinson swirling mist to consume the Archbishop, caught in his driveway where he would not have time to surround himself with a circle of salt? Or what?

I’ve discussed some of these things in other blog posts here, here and here, for anyone interested.

Third-World Africa — again!

8 January 2019

Most of us thought that the Cold War ended back at the end of 1991.

Even if we thought that Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis was over-oprimistic, it did seem that the day of the three-worlds paradigm was over. For over forty years the world had lived in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. As one parody of a Western hymn put it:

The Day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
And in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky-high.

Samuel Huntington, rather less optimistic than Fukuyama, predicted that after the end of the Cold War, international conflicts would be intercivilizational and would be religious rather than ideological. Instead of three “worlds” — the West (First World), the East (Second World) and the Rest (Third World), there would be nine civilizations, divided by religion.

But even Huntington did not foresee that the Cold War would revive as a result of the manipulation of the Orthodox Church by political leaders. But it happened in 2018, when the new ecclesiastical Cold War started.

First World Church

President Poroshenko of Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople agreed to establish a new autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine. It seemed to many that the deal was facilitated, or even brokered by the CIA.  And so the old First World was visibly reestablished in ecclesiastical form.

President Poroshenko of Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople

In this Poroshenko was following historical precedents.

King Henry VIII of England wanted his own national church, independent of Rome, and so he nationalised the Church of England, and made life very difficult for clergy who would not go along with his new nationalist church.

Perhaps not as well known, outside South Africa, is the fact that Kaiser Matanzima, ruler of the Transkei “homeland”, did the same thing with the Methodist Church. Matanzima nationalised the Methodist Church in Transkei in 1978, and banned the Methodist Church of South Africa, from which it was forced to secede, in almost exactly the same way as Poroshenko has treated the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Second World Church

In the same way as the new Ukrainian body is being seen as a creation of the CIA, so the Russian Orthodox Church is said to be linked to the KGB. and to be under the thumb of the state in the person of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is said that President Putin wants the Church support his vision for a Russi8an World (Russkiy Mir).

And so the First and Second Worlds have been revived by political manipulation of the Orthodox Church, and the secular media on both sides see whatever happens as either to the advantage or disadvantage of the political leaders. So, in the Western media, the most significant and important thing about the the formation of a “Ukrainian Autocephalous Church” is that it will be “a blow to Putin”, never mind that it is a blow to Orthodox unity. They rejoice to see the Orthodox Church destroyed, as long as Putin is humiliated in the process.

Third World Church

The rest of the Orthodox world is dismayed by these political rivalries, and cannot understand the behaviour of the Patriarch of Constantinople (it is hard to think of him as the “Ecumenical” Patriarch any longer, because his unilateral actions certainly don’t represent world Orthodoxy — he’s gone out on a limb and seems to be sawing off the branch he’s sitting on). And so the rest of the Orthodox have become a kind of ecclesiastical Third World. This was perhaps best expressed by the Patriarch of Antioch when he said “It is unreasonable to stop a schism at the price of the unity of the Orthodox world”—Pat. John of Antioch / OrthoChristian.Com:

Pat. John emphasized that the events surrounding the creation of the new church cause concern not only because of the disunion they create in the Orthodox world, but also because the opinion of the Local Orthodox Churches was not taken into account by Constantinople, reports the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Synods, primates, and hierarchs of the Orthodox Churches from around the world continually warned Pat. Bartholomew that unilaterally creating a new church would have disastrous consequences and they called on him to convene a pan-Orthodox council to resolve the matter, though he repeatedly refused.

“We want to see the unity of the Orthodox world strengthened and consolidated,” Pat. John writes. “From your letter, it seems that you have decided to continue the process of granting autocephaly… Therefore, we call upon you to not make any decisions not supported by the consensus of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches. It is unreasonable to stop a schism at the price of the unity of the Orthodox world.”

The Patriarch of Moscow no longer commemorates the Patriarch of Constantinople, so there is a schism right there. But if the Patriarch of Constantinople is the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria is the Ecumenical Judge, and perhaps he should be called in to judge between them and act as a mediator. And what does the Ecumenical Judge have to say? He recently visited Ukraine.

“The Church does not bow to politicians”—Patriarch of Alexandria / OrthoChristian.Com:

The Alexandrian primate again offered words of support and consolation to the Ukrainian faithful, as he had during the services he celebrated in Odessa, noting that he came to Ukraine to bear witness to his love and to the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the only canonical Church in Ukraine, reports the site of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“Here I lived and shed tears for this country,” the patriarch said. “I have come here to say that I am always with you.”

And he went on to say more — “The Church does not bow to politicians”—Patriarch of Alexandria / OrthoChristian.Com:

Pat. Theodoros also reiterated that he would speak to the primates of all the Local Orthodox Churches about what he “has seen with his own eyes” in Ukraine, as he promised in Odessa, here adding, “I will also tell all the patriarchs that the Church does not bow to politicians. The Church has the Apostolic rules… The canonical Church is guided by the canons. It lives by and will live by the canons.”

Hierarchs from around the Orthodox world have criticized Ukraine’s political interference in Church matters, and a Kiev district court recently decided to hear a case on President Poroshenko’s competency to interfere in Church affairs.

A century of persecution

So it seems that the Orthodox Church has been undergoing a century of persecution by secular politicians, from 1918-2018. In the first period, from 1918-1990, it was by the Bolsheviks and their allies, and from 1991 to the present it has been from the Western Civilization, most notably by the USA, which, in spite of speaking of “separation of Church and State” has actually been working for the destruction of the Church by the State.

Ukrainian security services have been searching church property and interrogating priests just as Stalin’s OGPU and NKVD used to do, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is being threatened with the loss of its property to the new state church, again as happened under Henry VIII in England with the dissolution of the monasteries, and in the Methodist Church in the Transkei under Kaiser Matanzima.

The Western media like to spin this by referring to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as “priests loyal to Moscow” — As Ukraine and Russia Battle Over Orthodoxy, Schism Looms – The New York Times:

Ukraine’s security services have in recent weeks interrogated priests loyal to Moscow, searched church properties and enraged their Russian rivals.

“They just want to frighten us,” said the Rev. Vasily Nachev, one of more than a dozen priests loyal to the Moscow patriarch who were called in for questioning.

But the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is autonomous, and not subject to Moscow. The problem the Ukrainian Security Services have with the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is that they are loyal to Christ, and to canonical church order rather than to the genius of Poroshenko.

Point of view of the author

In this postmodern age it is recognised that everyone has an axe to grind, and that there are no “neutral” or “objective” reports, so authors need to say “where they are coming from”. Therefore  I shall try to explain my point of view in writing this.

I have no objection, in principle, to the idea of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and I have no desire at all to see it as part of a political project for a Russian World (Russkiy Mir). What I do object to is autocephaly arranged at the behest of secular politicians as a political project, at least some of whom do so with the deliberate intention of dividing the Orthodox Church throughout the world, and others of whom seek to make the church simply a tool for their political ambitions as Henry VIII and Kaiser Matanzima did.

There may be some cultural differences here. It seems that some Ukrainians feel that their country is not independent unless their church is independent as well. I just don’t get that. The Kingdom of God is not a secular state. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. As a South African I don’t feel that my country is not truly politically independent because our Patriarch happens to live in Egypt. In fact I’m rather happy to belong to the original African Church, founded by St Mark around AD 44, long before the Russian Church or the Ukrainian Church.

I’m also concerned about the Patriarch of Constantinople’s reckless attempt to divide the Orthodox Church at the behest of politicians, and the way in which this could affect the Orthodox Church in Africa.

In our Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria we have Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian parishes,  many of which have priests seconded from those countries. If some of those churches excommunicate each other because of this incident, what happens to the churches here? At the moment, for example, we go once a month, with the blessing of our Archbishop, to an English service in the Russian parish. What happens if our Patriarchate is forced to take sides in a dispute brought about by a unilateral action taken by the Bishop of Istanbul at the behest of politicians, some of whom have made no secret of their desire to divide the Orthodox Church? Those decisions could affect our church life here too.





In Memoriam: His Grace Bishop Athanasius Akunda

4 January 2019

We were very sad to learn of the death of His Grace Bishop Athanasius Akunda, Bishop of Kisumu and Western Kenya. He was a friend and colleague for the 13 years that he worked in South Africa.

Bishop Athanasius Akunda, when he was Rector of the Church of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, Johannesburg.

Fr Athanasius had been a school teacher in Kenya, where Archbishop Seraphim Kykkotis ordained him as a deacon and sent him to Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA for further training. When Archbishop Seraphim became Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, with its headquarters in Soshanguve, had asked to unite with the Orthodox Church, and needed someone theologically trained who could catechise them in English, and as Deacon Athanasius was nearing the end of his training in America, Archbishop Seraphim invited him to come to South Africa to do that.

He arrived on Ascension Day, 13th June 2002, and I went with Grace Magu, a fellow-Kenyan who was working in the Archbishop’s office, to meet him at the airport, and on the way back took them to the top of Linksfield Ridge to show them something of the layout of Johannesburg.

After a couple of days with the Archbishop Fr Athanasius came to say with us, and a few days after that, on 17th June, we had a rally for Youth Day at Soshanguve, where he was introduced to his flock.

We had planned it as a catechetical event, to which all congregations of the former African Orthodox Episcopal Church were invited, and held a Requiem (Mnemosyne, Panikhida) for those who had been killed in Soweto and elsewhere in 1976, who were commemorated on Youth Day, and explained how the Orthodox Church commemorates the dead. Soon after that Deacon Athanasius began giving catechetical teaching in Soshanguve and Winterveld.

Deacon Athanasius Akunda with a catechism class in Winterveld, 2002

He stayed with us until he was able to rent a room, and later a house in Soshanguve, and we travelled around together, visiting people and teaching, taking one or two other people with us, who could both teach and be taught. On these journeys I got to know Deacon Athanasius, and he shared with me a vision he had for teaching the Christian faith through literature, and partly with that aim in view I began reading the short stories of Chechov.

Simon Thamaga and Deacon Athanasius Akunda. 2002

We worked with Simon Thamaga, the former Archbishop of the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, who had been baptised as a simple layman, and then was tonsured as a reader and ordained as a priest before his death in 2004, visiting the AOEC congregations as far away as Dennilton in Mpumalanga.

Axios! Ordination of Fr Athanasius to the priesthood at Pantanassa Church, Melrose, Johannesburg, by Archbishop Seraphim of Johannesburg and Pretoria. 14 July 2002

Within a month of his arrival, on 14 July 2002, Deacon Athanasius was ordained as a priest and Pantanassa Church in Melrose, Johannesburg, and several people travelled from Soshanguve for the ordination. He also registered at the University of South Africa for his studies for a doctorate in theology, for which I became his co-promoter, and I still have about 15 versions of his doctoral thesis on my computer, as we worked through it over the next few years..

After Fr Athanasius moved to Soshanguve to be closer to the people he was teaching, we continued to see each other quite frequently, as Archbishop Seraphim appointed us as Orthodox representatives to SACTE, the Southern African Committee for Theological Education. And from there we were drafted into SAQA, the South African Qualifications Authority, to participant in the Standards Generating Body for qualifications in Christian Theology and Ministry. A wide range of Christian denominations was represented there, and one of the things that was interesting was that we, as Orthodox, found ourselves closest to the Zionists in most things.

In May 2003 we organised a leaders training meeting for people from all over the diocese, held at the Cathedral of St Constantine & Helen in central Johannesburg, which unfortunately was never followed up. But a few months later a Catechetical School was started in Sophiatown, which later moved to Yeoville, and Fr Athanasius was made Deputy Dean, and there he endeared himself to the students.

His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa,  at the Catechetical School in Yeoville, flanked by Archbishop Seraphim (left) and Fr Athanasius, the Deputy Dean, (right).

Fr Athanasius also used the Catechetical School as the base for starting a new mission parish in Yeoville, which was becoming a cosmopolitan melting pot, with people of many different nationalities and cultures living there, and soon there was a thriving congregation of new converts, which unfortunately had to close when the Catechetical School itself close a few years later.

Another project we worked on together was a diocesan youth conference at the end of 2006. Unfortunately that too, like the leaders training course, was never repeated.

Teachers and students at the Catechetical School in Yeoville

In 2008 Fr Athanasius was also made parish priest of the Church of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, at first on a part-time basis, in addition to being Deputy Dean of the Catechetical School. He asked me, with the blessing of Archbishop Seraphim, to serve with him there as well. We had been among the founder members of the parish, and he wanted me to help him learn its traditions, so we continued, as before, teaching each other and learning from each other.

Holy Saturday 2011. Fr Athanasius at St Nicholas.

In 2010 Fr Athanasius graduated with the degree of Doctor of Theology in Missiology. His doctoral thesis was on Orthodox Dialogue with Bunyore Culture.  At the time of his graduation we talked of writing a joint book on Orthodox mission and culture, a project that will now, sadly, never be completed.

Fr Athanasius at his graduation at Unisa, 4 October 2010

In the course of his research he returned to Kenya a couple of times to do field work, interviewing people about the history and cultural practices of people and parishes. .

When the Catechetical School closed Fr Athanasius became full-time rector of St Nicholas, where he organised the youth for teaching and service, and was a much-loved parish priest.

At the beginning of 2015 the Patriarch visited South Africa, and announced that Fr Athanasius would be recalled to Kenya to teach in the Patriarchal Seminary there, and he left just after Pascha. His leaving was a huge loss to the Archdiocese, but we had to acknowledge that we had not been making the best use of his talents.

But his time at the seminary proved rather short, and within 9 months he had been elected as bishop of the new Diocese of Kisumu and Western Kenya. And it seems that he has been working energetically there getting the new diocese off to a good start.

With H. G.Bishop Athanasius of Kisumu in Homabay, pastoral work visit. To some point we had to trek due to poor Road network. Glory to God (Photo Amadiva Athanasios).

He fell ill in the USA about 6 weeks ago, and sadly did not recover.

Bishop Athanasius visiting Uganda.

Like any human being, he had his failings and weaknesses, but these were outweighed by his love, his gentleness, his sense of humour, and his pastoral concern for people. In the 13 years we worked together, so many things would have been impossible to do without him. We miss him here in South Africa, but his diocese will miss him even more.

I hoped that I might live long enough to see him become Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, but that was not to be.

May his memory be eternal!


Philosophy, science fiction, capitalism & rural development

3 January 2019

Our first Neoinklings literary coffee klatsch for 2019 was attended by more people today as the universities are closed, and many people are still on holiday.

Duncan Reyburn kicked off by saying that he was reading about the philosophy of William Desmond, an Irishman. OK, I nicked the following from Wikipedia, but it is more or less what Duncan said, and saved a bit of typing, giving a brief summary of Desmond’s ideas..

Neoinklings Literary Coffee Klatsch: Annalet van Schalkwyk, Tony McGregor, Duncan Reyburn, Val Hayes, David Levey, Janneke Weidema

  1. Univocal: This potency is that of intelligibility and identity. It is a potency most clearly seen as the driving force behind modernity. The univocal potency helps manifest intelligibility and gives determination to the ethos.
  2. Equivocal: The equivocal potency is marked by its indefiniteness and difference.
  3. Dialectic: Characterized by mediation, the dialectic sense places emphasis on self mediated wholeness.
  4. The Metaxological: From the Greek ‘metaxu’ meaning ‘between’, the metaxological is a view of the ethos from the between as overdetermined. Emphasizing mediation, it leaves the between open (as opposed to the dialectical) and emphasises the interplay between sameness and difference. The metaxological considers the between as overdetermined and does not attempt to constrict or define the between or the ethos as whole or progressing teleologically. It is a more robust consideration of the agapeic origin as overdetermined good

Duncan is reading Being and the Between and Ethics and the Between, but said that the books are horrifically expensive.

Duncan was also reading Gulliver’s Travels to his daughter Isla, aged 4, and she was loving it. That is one of those books that has layers of meaning that one discovers when re-reading it at different ages. I found the same in Bleak House which I am currently reading. I would have missed a great deal of the story if I’d read it when I was younger, before I knew the difference between Common Law and Equity, for example.

David Levey returned our copy of The Owl Service by Alan Garner, but said he hadn’t enjoyed it as much on the second reading. All the professional critics seem to think it is his best book, but we preferred Elidor. We returned David’s copy of Boneland, see my review here. It seemed to question the nature of reality and what is real and what is fiction, and reminded me of a science fiction short story I had read when I was about 15, The New Reality by Charles L. Harness. For me, at least, that story was a preparation for accepting Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts.

Duncan Reyburn said the different paradigms sounded like a multiverse, and that was the theme of a film currently showing, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Janneke Weidema brought us down to earth in the current universe by mentioning Peter Storey’s new book, I beg to differ: Ministry amid the Teargas. She had been peripherally involved in some of the events described in the book. Peter Storey was a Methodist minister, and had at one point been Methodist chaplain to the prison on Robben Island, and had got to know many of the political prisoners held there.

Annalet van Schalkwyk, who has been working on an article on the struggle of the people of Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape to protect their land from rapacious mining companies, had also been reading A Broken River Tent by Mphuthumi Ntabeni, set in the same area. Annalet said she had become very interested in the history of the area, and I suggested that she should read Sir Harry Smith: bungling hero. We had discussed that at an earlier gathering, along with several other books on the same topic. Yet another book mentioned was The House of Phalo: A History of the Xhosa People in the Days of Their Independence.

Tony McGregor had been reading a much more recent book dealing with the same issues in the present, Democracy and Delusion: 10 Myths in South African Politics, by Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh.

In her article on the struggle of the people of Xolobeni Annalet had made use of some of the books of Walter Wink to provide a theological interpretation of the events, especially Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament and Unmasking the powers. My part in the discussion that followed on that is fairly fully described  in a blog post I wrote nine years ago on Social Justice and evangelism, so I won’t retype it here. But I will say that back in 1975 or so I was catechising a couple of fairly recent converts to the Christian faith, and I recommended that they read a work of fiction, C.S. Lewis’s Out of the silent planet, to get a whiff of the Christian worldview and ethos. Shortly thereafter we had a Bible study in which we were discussing the principalities and powers, the rulers and authorities, the Archontes and Exousiae, And the “mature” Christians in the group were flummoxed, and didn’t have a clue what it was about, But it was the two novices who clicked and said “It’s all in that book!” — meaning Out of the silent planet.

We also briefly mentioned BookCrossing, which is an interesting way of passing on unwanted books — ones you’ve already read and are unlikely to want to read again, or ones that you have more than one copy of.

If you’re interested, see here:




. .

St Paul’s Theological College 1968 (Part 5)

18 December 2018

Continued from Part 4.

For those who may have jumped into this in the middle of things, this is a kind of “1968 in retrospect” series of posts, when I was spending a term at St Paul’s Theological College in Grahamstown, South Africa,  towards the end of the year. Some students from that year recently held a reunion with the college warden, Canon John Suggit, and you can see more about that on the web page here. If you’d like to start this series from the beginning, Part 1 is here.

Wednesday 30th October was a college holiday at St Paul’s, perhaps because it was halfway through the term  At Mattins in the college chapel the only ones present were the Warden, John Suggit; the sub-warden, Duncan Buchanan; Brian Angus and me. Brian and I were the “extra” students, who had just come in for one term after studying overseas.

Elizabeth Suggit, aged 11.

People just messed around most of the day. Chris Holmes came to my room to have a beer, and then we went and played the “Chopsticks” duet on the common-room piano. The warden’s daughter, Elizabeth Suggit, aged 11, came in and we tried to teach her to play it too. Chris Holmes was giving her driving lessons in his Mini bakkie, and she said she was going to get her driving licence on her 18th birthday. Howard Lancaster recently reminded me that on one of their lessons Chris was giving her parallel parking lessons by pulling up alongside a Rolls! The owner stuck his head out of his lounge window and told them to clear off!

Another memorable thing about the college holiday was when Mike Bands was standing with a glass of water on his forehead. He lay down on the floor on his back and then stood up again without spilling any.

A day or two later Elizabeth Suggit was ill in bed with tonsillitis, and I gave her a copy of The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber to amuse her. On a gardening day a group of us sawed up some trees that had been cut down in the driveway, and Chris Holmes came to take them away in his Mini bakkie. It had front-wheel drive and was so loaded down with the logs that I had to sit on the bonnet to keep traction on the front wheels.

Chris & Sue Holmes, November 1968

Chris Holmes once took me to see his mother, who lived in a caravan park. Lots of people in St Paul’s had taken photos of his sister, who was reputed to be a beautiful model. I didn’t meet her on that occasion, but did later, and thought she hid her beauty behind too much make up. In the late sixties women either wore too much make up, or none at all. I’m not sure whether that preference coincided with ideological differences, but I generally found the company of those who didn’t wear make up more congenial.

Some of the St Paul’s students continued to frequent the Rhodes University Anglican Club at lunch time on Fridays, where the profits from the simple lunch were given to the Grahamstown and District Relief Association (GADRA), It was a different way of dealing with the problem of high unemployment, which was the cause of the number of beggars on the streets mentioned in the previous post.

GADRA: feeding children of the unemployed

The Anglican chaplain at Rhodes University was Roy Snyman, and the Anglican Club met in a room on the Rhodes campus. Roy Snyman was a rather old-fashioned 1950s-style Anglo-Catholic, and seemed to run the Anglican Club at the university a bit like a teenage youth club. He was a nice bloke, but the set-up seemed a bit paternalistic to me. There were posters on the walls extolling religion along with a few more contemporary ones urging people to make love, not war.

Roy Snyman at the Rhodes University Anglican Club

I was struck by the contrasting ideologies that seemed to be dividing the Christian world at that time. A few years earlier John Davies, who was later the Anglican chaplain at Wits University, had read a paper on Religion versus God to the Anglican Students Federation. In it he spoke of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s idea of “religionless Christianity”. The Rhodes Anglican Club appeared to be extolling religion. And the leaders of the UCM appeared to want the opposite of religionless Christianity. With their “God is dead” theology they wanted religion without God rather than Bonhoeffer’s notion of God without religion.

For anyone who might be interested, I’ve discussed some of the contrasting leadership styles and ideas on student and youth ministry, and in the ASF and UCM, in an article on Youth Ministry, so will not take up more space with it here.

Rod Smith and Molly Wood at Rhodes University Anglican Club

For the ideological side, Western Christianity at that time seemed to be divided  into those who wanted Christianity to be more “spiritual” and those who wanted it to be more secular. In my undergraduate days we had called them pietists and social activists. I found myself in agreement with someone who once remarked that in that particular battle, “both sides are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny”. The social activists were right in affirming that the Christian faith had social and political consequences in the life of the world, but wrong in denying that sound doctrine and a spiritual life were important or necessary. And the pietists were right in affirming that spiritual life and sound doctrine were important, but wrong in thinking that denying the social consequences of what they professed to believe, a denial that undermined the very doctrines they claimed to be upholding.

Liz Pringle and Mary Hofmeyr at Rhodes University Anglican Club

My term at St Pauls, free from the pressure of exams, and with access to a good theological library enabled me to discover the work of Fr Alexander Schmemann, the Dean of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, whose book The World as Sacrament, later enlarged and reissued as For the Life of the World, resolved the problem for me quite neatly. For more details on that, and where it eventually led me, see here.

Visiting the Rhodes Anglican Club also worked the other way round. Sometimes Rhodes students came to services at St Paul’s. On All Saints Day Claire Isted came to Evensong, and Tony Gregorowski and I walked back home with her afterwards for sherry. I had met her back in 1965, when a group of us drove 500 miles from Pietermaritzburg to Grahamstown to listen to an academic freedom lecture, and camped out in her flat. I likened such things to Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, which described angel-headed hipsters “who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity”. Actually the trip had only taken 11 hours in Maimie Corrigall’s brand-new six-cylinder Ford Zephyr, which could cruise along at 100 miles (not kilometres) hour. It was more sobering when four years later a priest, David Poynton, was killed driving that same road, after hitting a stray animal in the dark.

As Tony and I were walking back to St Paul’s a sportscar stopped alongside, and the passenger was Jane Lurie, who had been an undergrad with me in Maritzburg four years earlier. I’ve sometimes wondered what happened to her and Clair Isted, and others we knew back then.

Rhodes University main building, 1968

At St Paul’s we also had Bible study, something we had never had at St Chad’s in Durham. Not formal lectures in Old Testament and New Testament, but actually sitting around and looking at the text rather than reading scholarly commentaries. We were going through I Thessalonians, and it was interesting to see how people waffled off the point, but also how much one could get out of the text if you really looked at it. Of course it helped that John Suggit was no mean New Testament scholar in his own right, but he also let the text speak.

One Sunday at the Joy-Joy Sunday School it was very hot, so a lot of the children were wearing no clothes at all. Afterwards a woman came in great distress and wanted us to pray for a child who was sick. We said we would go to see the child on the way home, and she said Oh no, she could not possibly have white men in her house, it was too dirty, and she said she would bring the child. We said if the child is sick he couldn’t come out, and we would go to him, but that idea upset her still more and she disappeared up the road and we could not find her again.

There was one hymn in the Xhosa hymn book that we sang where the rhythm of the words fitted the rhythm of the music, and I liked it. Lizalis’ idinga lakho. I later discovered that it was Nelson Mandela’s favourite hymn, and it was sung at his funeral. It was composed in Xhosa, rather than translated from English, and that may have been why it sounded better. It always struck me as odd, though, that the Zulu Anglican hymn book did not seem to have the same problem of clashing metres. Zulu and Xhosa are fairly similar linguistically and share a lot of common vocabulary.

I was not sure that I liked the idea of Sunday School. Teaching children in a classroom situation did not appeal to me, and when I did it a couple of years later, at St Paulus School in Windhoek, I hated it (see the link to Youth Ministry up the page). But Joy-Joy was different. It was more like street preaching than Sunday School, and the kids were there because they wanted to be there, not because their parents sent them. They came in response to Hamish Holman playing riffs on his saxophone.

Thelma Suggit

We had Evensong in college and then again when John Suggit took Rod Whibley and me down to Christ Church, the one founded by the lady of Evangelical Principles, where Rod (known as Fred) sang the office and I preached. The congregation sang rather mournfully, I thought. John Suggit said afterwards that he liked my sermon, but my delivery was rather mournful. It must have been the atmosphere of the place.

We went back to his house and played bridge and scrabble. Playing bridge was one of the useful skills I had learnt at St Chad’s College in Durham, where we spent many Sunday afternoons and evenings playing it, especially in winter,. John Suggit’s wife Thelma was quite a keen bridge player, and often had students around to play.

To be continued.






St Paul’s Theological College 1968 (Part 4)

13 December 2018

Continued from Part 3.

I had another letter from my friend Alastair Wyse who had tried to set fire to Westminster Abbey in protest against the church being so obsessed with buildings, reinforced by one from another fellow-student from St Chad’s College, Graham Mitchell, who had recently been ordained and had just attended his first ruri-decanal meeting, at which one old bok had appealed for £67000 to prop up his pinnacles.

The answer, for me, seemed to come from Colin Morris, whose book Include me out: confessions of an ecclesiastical coward seemed to provide the answer:

Obscenity is our zealous begging of money off people and organizations who are more amenable to our blackmail than our message in order to restore our crumbling edifices or to build new ones which are materialized lies — for the reality of our spiritual life would fit neatly into a telephone booth.

Fifty years ago, of course, people knew what a telephone booth was, but I doubt that anyone under 40 could even picture one today.

Four months earlier, at St Chad’s College, on the afternoon before the final doctrine exam, I faced the choice: read Colin Morris, or read the magic book, Quicke’s Doctrines of the Creed. Reasoning that Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, I prayed that the Spirit would protect me from writing heresy during the exam, and read Morris instead. I passed.

Meanwhile, back at St Paul’s, I posted Alastair Wyse’s letter on the college noticeboard. It was more coherent than his first hasty one posted on his way to set his fire, and he had had plenty of time to reflect on it in his cell in Brixton prison. Most of the people at St Paul’s thought he was nuts and that a psychiatrist should be called to defend him. I suppose that is how most people would have looked at St Francis as well, they don’t think he was “achieving” anything. He wasn’t, in the words of one of the St Chad’s tutors, “helping his cause”. Michael Keep said, “why burn tombs when they will just spend money on restoring them?”

But it was, as his letter made quite clear, a symbolic prophetic protest; those who have eyes to see, they will see. Those who have ears to hear, they will hear. But whether they hear, or whether they forebear to hear, you shall speak my words to them, for they are a rebellious house. And if anyone needed a psychiatrist, it was surely Ezekiel. So there were differing views in 1968, that year of student protest. And a couple of days later I learned that Alastair Wise was being seen by a psychotherapist, for whom his parents were paying £25 a week.

I showed the letter to Basil Moore. He said he could see why he had done it, but didn’t believe in kicking corpses, and the church in England was dead anyway. He said there was more point in attacking the church here, because the church counts for something in South African society, while in England it counted for nothing. I disagreed with him there. In South Africa the church was being attacked by the government, among other things because in things like the Message to the People of South Africa the church was undermining the government. It went beyond previous protests from church leaders, because it attacked not merely the practice but the ideology of apartheid. It was not merely saying that the government was going about things in the wrong way, it was saying that the government was doing the wrong things.

James Moulder

James Moulder, another Methodist minister, came to the college and gave an address at Evensong, which seemed much more positive than the kind of things Basil Moore was saying. He spoke about the place of dogma. He took the Anglican Revised Catechism and the Message to the People of South Africa, and compared the two statements. He said something was needed which combined each of these two statements of faith. The Message needed to be stated in such a way that it could be used for preparation for church membership.

And that seemed to embody for me another of the differences between the church in England and the church in South Africa, between St Chad;s College and St Paul’s College. The Church of England was seeking to be “relevant” (intransitively so), and so was trying to change its theology to fit the world. In the Message to the People of South Africa the church was telling the world it must change to fit the theology.

As G.K. Chesterton had put it in his book Orthodoxy sixty years before, “The modern young man will never change the world, for he will always change his mind.”

Ted Goodyer

There was another seminar on punishment. this time on capital punishment, led by Ted Goodyer. As South Africa had more executions than any other country, this would seem to have been a relevant issue. But nobody seemed concerned about it and we kept drifting on to the subject of just and unjust laws. Nobody seemed to be concerned about capital punishment, which was probably why the rate of executions was so high. I wrote in my diary:

There are other problems which beset us, and there does seem to be a connection between a demand for capital punishment and imperialism. And South Africa has now entered into the imperialist expansionist stage of her history and is trying to reach out and build an empire, to draw Malawi and Zambia and even Tanzania into her orbit. South Africa is thus not psychologically and sociologically ripe for the abolition of capital punishment, or for putting the national flag on shopping bags and toilet seats as they do in Britain, now that the British Empire has been dissolved. But if one had suggested the abolition of capital punishment or putting the Union Jack on lavatory seats at the time of the Relief of Mafeking, it would have been ignored, or considered unthinkable, outrageous. So our debate did not really stay on the subject.

Bob Commin

The seminar was followed by a 24-hour vigil of prayer for racial harmony, so Dozy (Bob Commin) woke me at 4:00 the next morning, and after my turn I called Cliff Horsman and Mike Keep. It was concerned, in particular, with the Transkei elections then taking place.

One afternoon I went down town with Rod Smith to take some photos of the place, and we were accosted by several strangers. One was a girl with long hair and too much glue on her false
eyelashes. She asked in a windy far-away voice who we were and where we were going. She seemed to think whatever we said was very romantic. We referred to her as the unknown goddess, but not as beautiful as the statues of Greek goddesses. If Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships, this one would have been likely to have launched about ten.

Those we met on the way back were younger, and male. Because of the high unemployment in Grahamstown at that time (I don’t know if it is any better today) there were a lot of child beggars in the streets. These kids were peculiar. They were aged about 10-12 and when they saw people coming, they might run 300 yards to meet them, and then stand about 10 yards off and whine and mumble something inaudible.

Somerset Street, Grahamstown, November 1968

I once asked one what he wanted and it turned out to be a long “Pleeeze” repeated several times and then “huuungry, two cents, bread” after every ten “pleese”. But their voice changed from whining dog to normal human when shouting to their friends in the next block. The whining was completely off-putting, and hardened my heart against giving them anything. They stopped behaving like human beings.

But then there was an old woman who came to the college to ask for money. She had no papers and so could get work and didn’t have the right to live anywhere. Everyone gave her money when she came, because she was one of God’s poor and is completely human and did not whine like a dog. Begging did not diminish her, it did not take away her human dignity. She still stood as one human being before another. She greeted us in the street, said hello in a normal voice. But the kids didn’t. They neither behaved as human beings, nor did they treat anyone else as human. They could say nothing except this whining “pleez” long-drawn-out, so soft as to be inaudible from a distance.

Michael Bowen, Alan Schmidt and Nicky Suggit, 26 November 1968

But on one occasion Alan Schmidt, son of Theo Schmidt, one of the students, came running, afraid of the old woman who had come to the door, He thought she was a witch, He feared that she would lift her hand and fire would come out, or that she would say a word and turn him into a frog. He kept creeping out on to the tennis court to see if she was still there, and really did seem to be terrified of her.

We had a visit from Fr Gerard Beaumont, of the Community of the Resurrection, who played songs for us on the piano. He played mostly hymn tunes, many of them of his own composition, and we sang them standing around the piano in the common room.

Back: John Cooper, Bob Commin, Andy Oram, Hamish Holman, Cliff Horsman.
Front: Liz Suggit & Alan Radcliffe.
At piano: Fr Gerard Beaumont

He belonged to a “Twentieth-century Light Church Music Group”, which did not merely aim to produce pop church music, but as the 20th century is now almost 70 years old, he had music of all periods. Much of it was the sort of music that would appeal to middle-aged British housewives, the sort of “Knees-up mother Brown” that could be sung by the Bingo crowd. But some of them would be good anywhere, especially the tunes to For all the saints and At the name of Jesus.

There were more pastoralia sessions, with Duncan Buchanan, and this entailed reading a book called Basic types of Pastoral Counselling by Howard Clinebell. I found it exceedingly bourgeois, and the situations it described were mainly those of middle-class white suburban Americans. In my time at St Chad’s I had developed an aversion to northern-hemisphere bourgeois theology, and I questioned the relevance of it in the classes. It seemed to me that none of it would be of any help in counselling people like Alan Schmidt’s “witch” woman, who might be more numerous in South Africa than the kind of people Clinebell dealt with.

And now, fifty years later, I see that there is a new edition of Clinebell’s book, which, the blurb claims, “will help readers be sensitive to cultural diversity, ethical issues, and power dynamics as they practice holistic, growth-oriented pastoral care and counseling in the parish.

And it still seems as bourgeois as ever. Being “sensitive” to problems is not at all the same thing as helping people to solve them.

Continued in Part 5.




Wormholes and tunnels

8 December 2018

The main topics of conversation at our Neoinklings literary coffee klatsch this month was two literary tropes evident in Alan Garner’s early books and several others — first, the boundary between different worlds, and secondly, underground tunnels.

Cafe 41, Arcadia, where we hold our monthly literary coffee klatsch

Concerning other worlds, there are writers like Tolkien, who set his main stories entirely in another world of his own imagining. Then there are writers like C.S. Lewis, who has his characters travelling between our world and another, whether to other planets, as in his space trilogy, or in a different dimension, as in his Narnia stories. Except that in That Hideous Strength, where, following the example of his fellow-Inkling Charles Williams, he has the other world irrupting into this one. And Alan Garner does that too, in his first two children’s novels, and even in Elidor.

The means of literary transition from one world to another are various. For some it is by means of wormholes, In one book I have just been reading, Black House there are some rather good descriptions of such boundaries or transitions as “slippage”. Quite ordinary things, like a house and the road leading to it, begin to seem alien and oddly out of place. In Lewis’s Narnia stories it is a wardrobe made from wood from another world, or a picture. In his space trilogy it is a road at disk leading to a slightly sinister house, as it is in the case of the eponymous Black House

Black HouseBlack House by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A couple of weeks ago I picked up my copy of The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, which I had read 25 years ago, and reread the first couple of chapters. It’s about a boy, Jack Sawyer, who travels across America in search of a talisman that will heal his mother. Then I saw Black House, by the same two authors, and took it out to see what else they had collaborated on. Only after reading the first 50 pages did I realise that this was a sequel to the first book, in which Jack Sawyer, now grown up, has become a police officer, and then retired to the Wisconsin countryside seeking a quiet life.

But there is a serial killer threatening the nearby town, and the local police want Jack to help them catch the perpetrator. Jack at first refuses, but then finds himself drawn in, as the killings seem to have links to his earlier journey, which involved hopping into and out of another world, which he called “The Territories”. It’s not a conventional murder mystery, since we know who the perpetrator is before the police do, and we also know that he is demonised, or at least influenced by a creature from another world.

I was not sure whether to give it three stars or four. The story held my interest, even though I thought some of the descriptions were too long and drawn out. I usually find confidential asides from the author to the reader annoying, and in this book whole chapters were written like that, especially the earlier ones. It had some good descriptive passages, and some very mediocre ones. One of the better ones was this evocative description of a seedy hotel:

The lobby of the Nelson Hotel always smells of the river — it’s in the pores of the place — but this evening the smell is heavier than usual. It’s a smell that makes us think of bad ideas, blown investments, forged checks, deteriorating health, stolen office supplies, unpaid alimony, empty promises, skin tumors, lost ambition, abandoned sample cases filled with cheap novelties, dead home, dead skin, and fallen arches.

But when such descriptions go on for three or four pages I want to say to the authors, “Stop messing around and just get on with the story.” I think I liked The Talisman better. But in both I found the “other” worlds somehow unconvincing. — “The Territories”, as the main other world is called, does not seem to hang together. Like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Lewis’s Narnia, it’s a kind of premodern place without electricity but it somehow doesn’t seem believable.

The other trope was underground tunnels, which seem to feature a lot in fantasy stories and in children’s stories generally. Most of Enid Blyton’s adventure stories, for example The Mountain of Adventure,  feature underground tunnels somewhere. C.S. Lewis has them in The Silver Chair. Tolkien has them in abundance, both in The Hobbit and in several places in The Lord of the Rings. But after Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen every other underground tunnel sequence in literature seems tame.

David Levey lent us Boneland, a much later sequel to The Weirdsonte of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, where Professor Colin Whisterfield is grown up, and searching for his sister whom he had lost when he was twelve, a period of his life that he can no longer remember.He said it is very weird, and very different from the first two books.

We talked a bit about how few children’s fantasy/adventure stories had been written in a southern African setting, and how most of those available are set in other countries and are cultureally strange, and require lots of explanations.

Reading to the children.

On the first Sunday in December, after having the Hours and Readers Service in Mamelodi, I read to the children, Kamo (10) and Shabi (7) from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I had first asked Kamo to read from a children’s book of Bible stories, on Jesus and the blind man, which was also the Sunday Gospel. She read it quite competently. So I suggested that she read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to her brother in the mean time, and if she didn’t manage, I would read her the next chapter next time. Val, as she listened to me reading, was struck by how English the story was. I had begun by explaining about the wartime evacuation of children to the countryside. At one point in the story there was a picture of the eponymous wardrobe. “What’s that?” I asked the children. “A cupboard,” said Kamo. “Wardrobe” is a fancy word.

I tried to write a children’s book with a South African setting, Of Wheels and Witches, and David was about to say something about the use of these tropes in that, but we moved quickly on to discussing other books. But, perhaps rather weirdly, in the light of Boneland, my recently-published The Year of the Dragon features some of the same characters as adults.