Friday, 27 June 2008

I'm not too 'chicken' to say this

I have been known to have an above average concern for social justice - but loathe political correctness. So, I'll 'confess' a few things no one today should admit. For example, I hate water and never drink any. I watch television if there is something I really want to see, but never watch news broadcasts unless I see an online headline which tells me that some major story is worth pursuing. I love the arts, and, if I say I went to see an exhibit, play, or concert, it is not a plea of "get me away from this destructive lifestyle, and convince me to chuck the arts and go play racquetball instead!" And (drum roll, please) I care far more about myself and other people who are not 'of means' having nourishing food on our plates than about whether chickens are free range.

I suppose many of you read of this week's battle between Tesco and supporters of the feathered population. (I'll not expound much here, but there have been previous matters which gave me a less than warm opinion of Tesco's policies... because of how they treated employees, not because one could obtain chicken and eggs at a more reasonable cost than elsewhere.) I somehow remembered when my grocer father participated in a demonstration on behalf of those employed in a factory where those at the top treated the chickens better than the people. I applaud Sam's participation - but he was demonstrating on behalf of the employees, not the chickens. He knew well what it was to try to house and feed a family. My own turn of mind may be more philosophical, but I'll be concerned if any company's low prices mean their staff are treated as if they were slaves.

I have lost no sleep in my life worrying about the quality of life of chickens. I am inclined to doubt that chickens have the degree of reason, reflection, and will which would lead them to ponder their quality of life. (Actually, when it comes to the animal kingdom - and, no, I shall not amend that to say 'non human' - I think few people have a quality of life to match that of my cat - but, when my other, desperately ill cat was suffering, I sent her to the Rainbow Bridge without thinking it was a murder.)

As my readers know well, I have a passion for theology, and have studied it in great depth, especially in recent years. I have been privileged to pursue the work of many great theologians and philosophers, most of which is very enriching. Yet I am bored to tears with the inevitable references to 'the non human.' Supposedly, even the concept of the human soul is elitist, and used to condemn the non human population.

At the moment, I am rather immersed in moral theology, and much is intriguing. Yet it is very difficult to sift the best of the contemporary writings when consideration of ethics and morals has to be padded with comments to ensure that no one assumes superiority on the part of the human.

I have a serious concern for stewardship of the earth, and a Franciscan awe for all of creation. But I do not understand how any theological speculation or doctrine (dear Lord, what will this do to your Incarnation?) can make the slightest sense if it has to be twisted to ensure one does not offend dolphins.

I'm now off to prepare a spinach omelette, adding to my grace before meals the thanksgiving for those who produced and sold the provisions (as always) - and further thanking God that the fairly reasonable cost of 'barned' eggs makes it possible for those of my class to get in a bit of protein each day.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Somewhere in the neighbourhood of Dickens

My readers should be forewarned that this post will contain a host of associations so loose that they would need a wrench beyond that which Dickens sometimes gives to the heartstrings. I always enjoyed (most of) Dickens, though I'll admit that, for reasons unknown, I did not read much of his work in later years. I still want to send a complete set of Dickens' novels to those who seem to have neglected dear Charles' work while concentrating only on Trollope... (Philosophically if not in fact. Just to mention the Dickens character who is best known, I've known many a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge - too bad that the consummate laissez faire capitalist is too oft depicted as a cartoon miser. One might not meet Obadiah Slope on every corner, but the sort of dream world which Trollope satirised exists in some minds today - and it is not all that amusing when it is used to make it seem that making the poor die in the streets was quite a nice circumstance for those who could live very lavishly in the days before taxes.)

Enough of my social concerns for the day... on to looser associations. Last month, I had the pleasure of once again attending the Dickens festival in Rochester. Much of it is pure fun - the Mrs Rochester contest is hilarious, and I envy those who are so uninhibited that they can (as one candidate put it) not fear to make fools of themselves. The parade included people who either were recognisable characters from Dickens, or who just were 'types' from his period - and I was amused, much as I was with the contest, to see women, of my age or even a bit older, having great fun dressing as the idealised, "Nancy sings Oom Pah Pah" type of East End prostitute. (Of course, we all know that Jack the Ripper's victims - prematurely aged women in their forties, with no teeth and driven to desperation - were far more the norm than the crowd singing "I'd Do Anything" in Oliver! - but dramatic licence is de rigueur in some forms of entertainment, if not all.)

Bear with me, dear readers. Now that I once more have a working computer, I am trying to oil the wheels of my blogging once again, and may take a while to get up to speed.

Switching into yet another very loose association, I'll admit that I enjoy watching the I'd Do Anything competition (for which I provided a link in the title of this post as well as here.) It indeed nearly inspired me to write at length about method acting... but I no more have the energy for such a post today than I do for an in depth literary treatment of my old friend Dickens. Details are on the BBC site, but I'll say briefly that preparation for this competition was exceedingly demanding and thorough.

I'm sure that the 11 potential Nancys who did not win the competition, particularly those eliminated towards the end, will not be strangers to the West End for long. Even apart from their clear talent, I wonder if the most difficult acting jobs of their lives (at least to this point) was having to be eliminated, have those remaining sing "Be Back Soon," then perform "As Long as He Needs Me," signature number of the character they ached to play and would not, without flinching.

On the last night, certainly both Jodie (the winner, based on viewers' votes) and Jessie were splendid - not that this was news to those who'd seen previous 'rounds.' (I personally thought Jessie overacted a bit, and that her passion could be mistaken for anger at some points, but the comments on the I'd Do Anything site show that lots of viewers are disappointed that she was not the winner. In any event, she is a serious talent, and I doubt she won't be headlining on the West End soon.)

My own days of singing (I'm hardly an accomplished actress, but was an artist quality operatic singer in my day) were all in companies of whom no one other than the members have never heard - like most promising sopranos, I never amounted to anything in my field. I certainly have no experience to compare with any chance, let alone appearance, at the West End. Yet I did feel for Jodie, despite that she won. Of the five judges, including the director, three stated a preference for Jessie. Posts on the site, comments in the media, and so forth have called the winner, despite clear talent, a 'safe' choice - the one who'd be chosen because she was a 'traditional' Nancy - too fat (perhaps I'm blind, but I think she has a good figure) - the candidate who should not have been chosen over the 'young, pretty' Jessie. (Jodie could easily be my daughter, but I don't think that is the reason I am puzzled at to where anyone would think she was not both young and pretty...) I cannot fully envy anyone who, despite having the coveted role, has to receive such publicity - or embark on the run of the show knowing the director would have preferred someone else.

What is my point in this post? For once, I don't know that I have one. Perhaps it is just a vague idea that no one can ever please everyone - and that fame means constant criticism. Ask Dickens...

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A small word on the poetic

My readers will probably be surprised at my suggestion that any entry of mine is 'small' - I suppose the difficulty for the 'anchorites' of any era is that, with so much solitude, blessed though it may be in itself, those of us who love words have little chance to share them and can tend to rather overdo that for which we seldom have the chance to indulge. Yet resuming my 'blogging' is rather like trying to ride a bicycle after years away from the practise (not that I ever did that well either.) I was seeking to have some inspiration and produce an interesting entry - and, with no such inspiration at hand, I decided just to share a few rambling thoughts.

I sat my final exams for my divinity degree in May, and, anxious though I am about my results (I shall reassure the young that this approach never varies, even when one has been a student for half a century), I am happy that I survived intact. :) In fact, I found I was rather enjoying myself during my Philosophy of Religion exam, though whether the examiners will enjoy my glibness and originality remains to be seen. (See previous blog entries to get some of the flavour...) I believe I did well enough on Old Testament, but I had a bit of a memory lapse during Old Testament Theology.

I was most fortunate that, during that same period, I had the chance to spend ample time with dear friends whom I do not often see. They are a diverse bunch, with varied interests and usually others in attendance, equally delightful, for me to meet, and it was a great pleasure. On one occasion, when I arrived slightly earlier than the other guests for a lunch party, I found myself involved in a marvellous discussion (with my two friends who were the hosts) of Cranmer, development of the Book of Common Prayer, and the brilliance of the language of Anglican liturgy. (I have heard that, here and there, there are those who have never engaged in such conversations socially - I suppose that could be true. Then again, I've also heard that there are a few people in the world who do not love Shakespeare, Chaucer, great music, or art - that's a bit too incredible for me to believe.)

I've noticed that it is not unusual for those who are devout, especially when their focus is on the liturgical, to have interests in the arts and literature. Cranmer may not have met any standard of heroic sanctity (the earliest days of the Church of England were no more dominated by those of great holiness than were their contemporaries in Rome... just what was it about the Renaissance?). Yet he was a liturgical genius, not only able to join elements of texts from ancient practise with common worship accessible to all in his time, but to demonstrate a facility with the language which was on a par with the great writers who were his near contemporaries.

I am well aware that the very recent liturgical reforms often centred on simplicity of text. (I shall refrain from commenting about avant garde versions in dialects. I suppose that everyone, who speaks any tongue, converses in dialect... but it's an insult to people's intelligence to think they wish to use the same in worship. It would be rather like being in a courtroom and having the judge call out, "Hey, listen up!") Repetition was often frowned upon, for example. Yet, as I was mentioning to my companions, it was a sad loss, in the Roman Catholic Church, when, just as one example, Ostiam Puram, Ostiam Sanctam, Ostiam Immaculatum (no comments about my Latin, please - I know it is rusty) was excised from the Eucharistic Prayer. I believe the Host should have been permitted to remain pure, holy, and immaculate - for repetition, beautiful use of language, capture the poetry which so enriches worship.

Many Christian doctrines are wonderfully captured in our prayer, even if, as I've mentioned in previous posts, we cannot explain them in 'essay form.' "Felix culpa," so magnificent in liturgy, can seem a rather bizarre concept. "Glory be to the Father, etc." makes perfect sense during the Offices, though one cannot explain the Trinity. We need to be reminded of divine transcendence, and the limitations of our own vision, even as we glorify the divine nature we have been privileged to share.

Coincidentally, this past Sunday I attended an excellent lecture about Gerard Manley Hopkins. (I must write an entry about him one day. It is unfortunate that one who had such an appreciation for beauty, and wonderful artistry with language, became so totally focussed on crucifixion, suffering, and sacrifice that his own life would be dismal - and that his desire for detachment and severance of connections with a previous way of life, good though that life had been, caused much of his early poetry to be destroyed.) The lecturer was emphasising how Hopkins' poetry leaves us with wonder, not full understanding.

The poetic expresses eternal truth - not necessarily religious, of course - yet equally reminds us of the limitations of our own vision. We tend to be both too literal today and too afraid of violating political correctness to capture the poetic. "Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy Name..." Well, liturgy can hardly get much better than that, can it not? Yet it is excised from many celebrations, or merely used as a suggested meditation before the service. I suppose the fear of alienating others makes some hesitate to suggest that God knows all... I must be slow, because I would have thought that the divine knowing all would mean being able to bestow the grace to cleanse us to perfectly love, even if we ourselves cannot see the obstacles in our path.

...Now, I shall stop being so pedantic for the moment, and consider whether my next essay for the web site should be, perhaps, on the Wife of Bath...

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Nothing much

It has been so long since I posted an entry that I thought I'd let my readers know I am alive and well - and survived the exams in May. :) I've been having computer problems, but hope to remedy them soon and to get back to entries here.