The Grapes

Ran (cloudy skies at 96% humidity), fruit breakfast and coffee, clean up and go to Morning Prayer, then a clear day for honest work. At 6:00, I’ll be observing an online talk and panel discussion on a Christian theology of Israel, given by Paul Griffiths (a ferocious and unpredictable, unruly intellect). My impression is that he’s utterly committed to a version of theology which comprehensively acknowledges the primacy of God’s covenant with Abraham, concomitant with a certain belatedness of Christ’s incorporation of gentiles into the people of God — but that line requires such delicacy that I’ll be eager to see how Paul manoeuvres the many challenges that will surely arise.

Paul Griffiths is the professor who resigned his post at Duke University (we were colleagues when I was Visiting Professor for a year) when he outraged students and colleagues by denouncing a mandatory diversity training session. I have several things to say about this. First, I have the impression that Paul consistently supported and encouraged people who had historically been sidelined and excluded by academia — if he respected them intellectually. Second, some mandatory consciousness-raising events derive their benefit more from the public demonstration of commitment than from any learning that the event engenders — it’s a sort of sacrifice of time, energy, and patience as an earnest sign of commitment. Opinions manifestly vary concerning whether that sign, that sacrifice, is ‘worth’ what it costs. Third, there are plenty of academics who think themselves above such sacrifices, who deceive themselves and the truth is not in them with regard to their need to learn more about power differences within the academy. By the same token, qualification as a diversity trainer does not immunise such a trainer from criticism, and some trainers are less subtle in their apprehension of the nuances of power relations than are some of the academics they’re training.
Paul combines a rare, intricate array of characteristics: amazing brilliance; thorough familiarity with the theoretical analysis of racial, gender, sexual, and interreligious power dynamics; a conservative view of Catholic social theology that nonetheless comprises elements much more commonly found among ‘progressive’ circles; and rough-edged impatience at administrative time-wasting or intellectually feeble arguments. Not surprisingly, different interlocutors will assess Paul’s interventions in various discourses differently. He has imperfect self-knowledge, and his critics and supporters have imperfect self-knowledge; he and his critics may not understand their counterparts as well as they think they do. Horses for courses, etc.
The topic of a Christian theology of Israel is exactly the sort of fragile construction that Paul might execute with exquisite finesse, but also might cause further outrage. We shall see.

First Monday After Trinity

Ran two miles (as one does), fruit breakfast, Morning Prayer, went to R&R where I dug into productivity and coffee, and finished two tasks hanging over me. Picked up groceries on the way home, and the ladies greeted me effusively.

I’ll devote my afternoon to an odd but satisfying church task, and will aim to end the day without having been over-stressed or exhausted. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up refreshed and eager.

Walk On

Or ‘run’, as I’ve done for both of the last two days. Yesterday I had a hot breakfast, went out to bless a parishioner’s new home, came home to do some garden work, catch up on some email, listen to Cornel West’s second Gifford Lecture, walk the dogs, message back and forth with Margaret, pick up some groceries, and wind up the day. Today I had a fruit breakfast, went to Trinity Sunday Mass at St Michael’s, socialised with congregants, came home to send some church emails, caught up with Margaret and sent her photos of slug damage to our garden, walk the dogs (we did the whole Ock River Walk, which was pleasant apart from the rain and mud) (and Flora’s dire dread of flowing water), reach a resting point with Margaret, and now will try to squeeze in reading a whole book ms and refereeing it, my last such task (as I’m retiring from the Editorial Board).

Close But Not Comatose

I am barely moving, but because I’m not sleepy, I’m letting somebody else do the thinking for me. Today, that’s Prof. Cornel West, from whom I postmodern thought decades ago at Yale Divinity School. West gave the Gifford Lectures this year, in Edinburgh. He reminds me that not only did I learn a great deal about postmodernism from him, but I learned a lot about lecturing from him, and style, and the possibility of a being a philosophe bricolant.

Lecture One: Philosophic Prelude
Lecture Two: Metaphilosophic Andante
Lecture Three: Folly Presto
Lecture Four: History Adagio
Lecture Five: American Allegro Molto Vivace
Lecture Six: A Love Supreme (A Way Through)

Zzzzzzzz

Yesterday I ran my two miles, breakfasted on fruit and coffee, went to Morning Prayer, caught the bus to Oxford, gave a tutorial, dined in college, took the bus to Abingdon and came back home via Waitrose, constructed the printed form for today’s funeral, and worked on my homily. In the evening I planted some flowers that Margaret had ordered, and distributed wooly slug deterrent. This morning I ran, breakfasted, said Morning Prayer, and walked in to St Michael’s for today’s funeral. The service and the committal both went fine; Tonks Brothers, the funeral directors, were a (solmen) joy to work with.

But now, having slept a bit less than optimal, and had a busy and draining morning, I am close to being comatose.

On Our Own

The [canine] ladies and I bid Margaret goodbye this morning at 5:00. It’s rainy, so I think I won’t try to run. I’ll make a hot breakfast, go to Morning Prayer, come back to calm the ladies, go to Chapter Meeting, come back, I hope, to check in with the ladies, then make the two-long-bus-ride trip to Church House again for an interview with Bishop Gavin, and head home at rush hour, which will prolong the interval till my arrival and stress the ladies — but that’s how ecclesiastical life goes. When I get home I’ll take them for a walk, then hunker down for the evening. I’ll have an essay to mark — heaven permitting, it will be in before I leave for Oxford, so I can mark on the bus — and make my lap available for anxious dogs, disappointed that Margaret isn’t there for them.

Days Running

I ran both yesterday and today, two miles, yesterday proceeding to R&R for coffee after Morning Prayer. We then made our way to HSBC to open a new account, into which we can deposit cheques from US sources (a difficulty with TSB, which seems actively to be discouraging people from banking with them these days). Today we don’t have that sort of excitement in view; I’ll make a couple of Zoom calls and devote the rest of my time to a funeral sermon, and Margaret has business in Oxford.

One of the peculiar feelings attendant on Holly’s death involves my being the last living witness to the early life in our family. Dad died, Mom, now Holly, and of everything from the time we spent together, all eighteen years or so, I’m the only one who knows. I can’t say to anyone, ‘Say, remember when…’ or ‘Was it this way or that?’ Especially for someone as non-memorious as I, that’s a disorienting feeling.

New, Diminished, Day

Last night closed the obsequies for Holly, my sister.

Family Get-Together

Cousin Alison had arranged a Meeting House of the Wilton (CT) Friends as a gathering place convenient to a great many of Holly’s dear (lower case) friends, and provided a Zoom link for remote mourner to join the event. Uncle Rich logged in from Arizona; cousin Rebecca and Greg connected from Colorado; and Margaret and I logged in from Vale of White Horse. Being as stodgy as I am, I feared that the gathering and reminiscences would make me uncomfortable, but contrariwise they were intensely moving. The recitation of Holly’s many kindnesses, her profound instinct for fashion, and her indefatigable determination to make, keep, and enhance relationships underscored Holly’s remarkable life.

They also helped me to understand some of the distance between us. The activities Holly organised, the selfless gifts for which everyone knew her, and the spheres of her expertise all were oriented in a way that structurally militated against either of us understanding the other.

I miss Holly, and will miss her more, over time. Best wishes to her as she navigates the Styx, or the Nile, or whatever other water may separate her from us. Best wishes to the many, many who grieve her loss; ‘She was like family,’ they say, and she was indeed welcomed and acknowledged as one. May Holly’s memory be a blessing. May she be ever blessed, as she blessed us.

Whitsunday, Last Day

Two miles in pleasant weather (at a decent pace), Morning Prayer, hot breakfast, Pentecost Mass at St Nicolas’s, home to unwind for the early afternoon. Sermon below.

In a couple of hours, we’ll connect with family and friends in Connecticut for a memorial to my sister Holly. Then sleep, and begin a fresh week.

Sermon for Pentecost Year B

Take It Easy

Not just a song by the Eagles (‘f***ing Eagles, man’), not just something I remember my dad saying, but my approach to my two miles this morning. I woke up feeling washed out, my muscles and joints loose but not really limber, not feeling any energy surge at the beginning of the day; I walked most of my two miles, then, and it was comfortable and beautiful (though few things are as beautiful my crack-of-dawn run, real run, yesterday morning). I walked and watched what was going on around me, ran a few paces when I felt like it, and satisfied my felt need to keep my body moving first thing in the morning.

Sunrise over the Thames as it runs through Abingdon, seen from St Helen’s Wharf looking east to the Bridge

I process emotion in complicated ways, and I had been holding on to a lot of stress and tension between my sister Holly’s death in April and the Mass of Requiem I said for her yesterday morning, with a dear handful of the faithful from St Helen’s. For all my dissatisfied suspicion about the discourse of needing closure, yesterday’s Mass was the correct, fitting cadence to the protracted interval of suspended grief and tension.

End of a Busy Week

Two miles each of the last two mornings. I made a hot breakfast yesterday, so it was fruit this morning. Coffee, of course, shower and in to church. Yesterday I arrived for Morning Prayer; this morning I arrived very early to set up the Lady Chapel for a small Low Mass of a Requiem for my sister. That went smoothly and well — it was the right thing, a relief, the right ending of this interval of grief.

As to the rest, I have a sermon to write for Sunday and a funeral to plan for next week, some emails and general correspondence to catch up on. But the end of the week is here.

Very Busy Week

Yesterday and today, two miles each. Fruit breakfast, shower, Morning Prayer (at church yesterday, at home today), finished paperwork, caught up (somewhat) on email, and so on and so forth. Monday was a long trip to Church House in Kidlington; this morning will be a Zoom conference to wrap up my orientation as a priest new to parish ministry in Oxford Diocese. Then Chapter Meeting at the church, then a meeting with Fr Paul to talk about funerals, then a pastoral call. Good thing this is a part-time post!