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Neoinkings: Time to talk

5 January 2017

At our Neoinklings literary coffee klatsch this morning, the main theme of our conversation was time.

Literary Coffee Klatsch, on the 12th Day of Christmas. Val Hayes, Duncan Reyburn, David Levey

Literary Coffee Klatsch, on the 12th Day of Christmas. Val Hayes, Duncan Reyburn, David Levey

But it started with children’s books, with Duncan Reyburn describing how he read books to his young daughter Isla, aged 2, reading about The cat in the hat. We got on to Bible stories. and noted that most books of Bible stories for young children were not much good. Val and I recalled a series that were good, produced originally by the Bible Society of the Netherlands. They had one line of story, and the rest of the page was a picture, and the pictures, by Kees de Kort, were excellent. They were produced in a wide variety of languages, including most of the 11 official languages of South Africa.

Jesus books

Jesus books

Unfortunately when the Bible Society of South Africa reprinted them they did not use the original illustrations by Kees de Kort, but used rather abstract line drawings, which are much more of an adult taste, and much less attractive or intelligible to young children.

Duncan remarked that some Bible stories were really scary and nasty, perhaps too much so for young children, like Daniel in the lion’s den and the three young men in the fiery furnace. I remarked that people in real life can be pretty scary too, and Val said she had read somewhere of a child whose parents had protected him from all stories of monsters, so he made them up all by himself, and said that children who had no siblings, like eldest children and only children, being somewhat sheltered from the nastiness of other children. I’m not so sure about that. I recall, when I was about 4 years old, hitting a friend over the head with a hoe (a toy hoe, but still a hoe). It produced a spectacular welt and bruise, and when an adult said my friend had a nice egg on his head, I went into peals of laughter, not at having hit him — I was sorry for doing that once the heat of the moment had passed, but by the description of a bruise as an egg. But the adults thought it was very callous. My mother also told me that I had once had a bite mark, with deep tooth marks, on my arm. She asked who had bitten me, and I had insisted that it was a mosquito. So stories of violent human behaviour are not neccesarily alien to young children.

Duncan commented that when Isla had got a proper bed to sleep in (not a cot), she was convinced that there was something under it

Jesus and the storm, by Kees de Kort

Jesus and the storm, by Kees de Kort

David Levey joined us, and spoke of Madeleine l”Engle’s children’s books, like A wrinkle in time. which dealt with the problems of entering a two-dimensional world. I recalled one of my favourite short stories by Stephen King, Mrs. Todd’s short cut and Duncan said that there was a film currently on circuit, called Arrival which dealt with alien creatures arriving on earth, and the difficulty of translating language whose concepts were utterly alien. It was a good film but they went and spoilt it, according to Duncan, by saying that science could not yet analyse the nature of love.

Then Duncan Reyburn tells us about discussions he’s been having with people who believe in Open Theism, which he finds too constrictive, and its exponents seem to regard God as being constrained by time, as if time were uncreated, rather than God, which would make God a kind of demiurge, and Time itself God. David Levey said that that sounded a bit like Process Theology, but Duncan says no, Open Theism is more like Process Theology Lite.

It’s all a bit beyond me, because I stopped following trends in Western theology around 1985, but it reminds me of a theory I have, that most people I’ve discussed it with seem to think is too far-fetched, but it goes back to the Middle Ages, when Western theology tended to develop along different lines from Orthodox theology. Partly this was scholasticism, and there was a change in Western thought that began around them, when the primary distinctio0n ceased to be that between creator and creature, but became rather the distinction between natural and supernatural. The Open Theism notion of God as bound by time seems to be an extension of that.

But it’s also seen in eucharistic theology, with the notion of transsubstantiation, and the Western idea of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist — that if it was real it could not be symbolic, and if it was symbolic it could not be real. In literature this concern seemed to be reflected in the popularity of stories of the Quest for the Holy Grail around that period.

We discussed a few other things, like “charismatic worship” (which seems to have congealed into a fixed pattern rather than being charismatic) and introspective hymns that seem to focus on the emotions and inner experience of the worshipper rather than on God, Both seem to focus more on manipulating people’s experience of worship rather than worship itself. Perhaps this is part of the Zeitgeist — it’s an attitude found in software development as well, where programmers aim for an enhanced “user experience”, which is far more important than whether the software does what it is claimed to do, or indeed whether it does anything useful at all.

I’ve probably got quite a lot of this wrong, but it was nevertheless an interesting discussion.

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