Wednesday, November 29, 2006

another year

As I sit here in my study it is almost time for the chimes at midnight to strike the end of my birthday.

A day of humbling joy, a day of cards and gifts and good wishes and generosity that has taken me by surprise. A day that has almost swept my heart away with the kindness of people and the love of God.

I have not been looking forwards to this day. It has felt like the end of something. But the sheer wonder of receiving so much from so many has made it feel far more like the beginning of something. Perhaps I have been looking backwards too much lately: so much, in fact, that I have failed to notice the beauty of the present - which has been the real gift of this day.

On the old organ at St Aldate's in Oxford there was a card with this verse from St Paul, and perhaps I feel the wisdom of it just now: "forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus".

And there are those chimes, right on cue.

The photo is of me and Matt, this evening, late.

Friday, November 17, 2006

History Boy

Spent a pleasant evening yesterday watching Alan Bennett's play "The History Boys" in Cardiff. The film gave me a great nostalgic trip a few weeks ago - the play less so.

And yet, the final line of the play carried with it a poignancy and a sense of urgent futility that struck me as one of the most beautiful lines I have ever heard from the stage.

After all the "success" of the eight boys achieving their Oxbridge places from their hapless northern grammar school, after their seventh term studies and shenanigans, after their teachers present foibles and future failings are made abundantly clear, after the boys' own ordinary ways forward are revealed, the newly deceased Hector emerges behind them in their grieving reverie to encourage them onwards:

"Pass it on, boys," he urges, "pass it on!" Curtain down.

As I say, I found this to be a stunning end. For in that group of lads, all fail. The communicators (teacher Irwin, journalist Scripps) are portrayed as passing things on - but words and not beauty, self and mockery without self-mockery that makes either tolerable. The one who loves beauty in the abstract - Posner - is seen as lost in his own little world, communicating nothing. The one who chases beauty in the concrete at school (Dakin) now chases unlovely money. The rest vary from the worthy to the warped - but principally are forgettable. Which Hector was not.

Pass it on. To whom? How? It seems they found education was just for exams after all. Irwin won; Hector lost.

And I sat there, thinking of all the teachers I enjoyed at school. Robin Taylor, Jack Longstaff, David Ramm, Lynn Martindale, Graeme Slack, Alan Petford, Mme Lindley, Tim Heavisides, a myriad more. All those at university who made me stand up for myself, like Henry Mayr Harting and Roger Highfield. Those at Wycliffe like Tom Wright, David Wenham and Alister McGrath who made my brain think theologically. And in my life I find myself to be a deeply flawed human being treading in the footsteps of deeply flawed human beings, handling the precious gifts of a faith that is more valuable than I know how to say.

All the gifts those guys gave me at school, university and theological college - skills and visions and imaginings and the like - now fill my life as I hear Hector's words as Jesus' charge to me:

Pass it on, boy, pass it on.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Casino Royale

Loved it. Not perfect, but fantastic Bond. Superb acting, great set pieces, good music (nice nods to former film scores along the way - especially in the brief "falling in love/recuperation sequence", very OHMSS); slightly messy storyline with too many endings - although the final, final ending might be one of the best endings of any Bond movie ever.
Thank goodness for a real actor and a decent director.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ageing Gracefully

November 1st 2006. So begins my final month of this decade of my life.

Today is that significant birthday for Andrew Dunne, oldest of my friends, in that I have known him (with gaps) all my life. We went to infant school together. In the picture he is at the bottom left, I am at the top right. We are 6, or maybe 7 years old. Mrs Mason's class. These days we both have a lot less hair, and I think are less likely to be seen wearing a tie. (Can you imagine! Six year olds wearing ties! There are probably laws against it now!) I have a fantastic photo taken by him in the school yard when were about ten; me, Darren Greenfield and somebody else, and the graininess of the shot makes us look like street kids from some seventies TV cop show. If Andrew had been in it I'd have used that one. I think perhaps he took it. Happy birthday, Andrew. Older and wiser than me!

Another decade. This month. I received my first card two days ago. I threw it onto the piano in disgust. "I'm not there yet!" Last week I saw a couple of former teachers, one of whom asked, "Which year were you born?" "I'm still the right side of that decade marker," I joked. Just. Skin of my teeth. Finger nails.

I'm not vain, you understand.

But sadly I'm not young anymore either.