Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Vicar's Study - Unapologetic by Francis Spufford

'You can easily look up what Christians believe in. You can read any number of defences of Christian ideas. This, however, is a defence of Christian emotions – of their intelligibility, of their grown up dignity. It is called Unapologetic because it isn't giving an 'apologia', the technical term for a defence of the ideas.

And also because I'm not sorry.'
In the last few weeks I have been volunteering at a cathedral. Every evening at about quarter to five the choir wander in, a rag tag bunch of boys clasping music sheets and jostling each other as they head to their stalls. A couple of minutes later and the cathedral is filled with sound. Voices blending together, soaring. It draws me into another world, to a sense of order and of beauty and of rightness. Just for a moment as I sit there and let the music flow over me I feel connecting to something bigger than myself. I feel at peace.
It is with this kind of experience that Francis Spufford opens his book Unapologetic. No one can know if God exists, he argues, it isn't something that can be answered definitively one way or another whether you are the Archbishop of Canterbury or Richard Dawkins. But this sense of something, this whisper into the silence, he argues, is a reasonable basis for belief in something greater. Emotions are our 'tools for navigating, for feeling our way through, the much larger domain of stuff that isn't susceptible to proof of disproof'. This emotional experience of an 'otherness', an order, a peace in the world, is the basis of what he explores in his book.

He is certainly not hopping on the hippy train and as he would put it 'joining John and Yoko around the white piano' and proclaiming the whole world to be one big ball of love and peace, man, if you just connect on in to it. No, for me, he gets to the heart of the Christian message about the world that both presents humanity as irreplaceably wonderful and heartbreakingly broken.

This he calls HPtFtU, the 'Human Propensity to F*** Things Up'. We all have it and we all spend most of our time pretending that we don't. Trying to label someone else as the problem rather than recognize our own dark corners. Peace, he argues, is hard won not some default state of human nature. It is our potential not our possession.

He is refreshingly honest about the brokenness of the church (that HPtFtU again!), the brokenness of the world and the depth of human suffering. He doesn't shy away from asking how on earth this can be the case if at the centre of the universe is a God of love. He presents no platitudes, no explanations that perhaps seem ok on the surface but even a tiny amount of exploration suggests a God who stands up to no ones definition of good. Instead he turns to the Christian answer to suffering which isn't a proposition so much as a story..
'Imagine a man, then....Imagine a man in whom the overwhelming, all at once perspective of the God of everything is not a momentary glimpse from which he rebounds, reeling, but a continual presence which in him is somehow adapted to the scale of the human mind, so that for him, uniquely, the shining is not other but self.'
This story of one man, Yeshua (his Hebrew name. Yep, you guessed it, it's that Jesus guy again!), doesn't pat us on the back and say 'there there' or 'just pretend it's not happening' but takes us into the depths of our human experience. I am about the embark in church on eight days of remembering the last days of Jesus' life. We engage in what probably looks like a pretty depressing set of services remembering a particularly unpleasant death to mark that hope in the human situation can't come from burying our heads in the sand.
It is about recognizing that we can't escape the realities of life and death, that we can only pass through them. But more than that it is about saying that someone already has. And not just anyone but The One. That voice of beauty and love and wonder that speaks in those moments of transcending peace. This act, this taking on of all that is broken in the world and in our own hearts, is the death knell for suffering, the remedy for the HPtFtU, the outstretched hand of unconditional love.

And what does that mean when we emerge from all this on Easter Sunday? Francis puts it well,
'Don't be careful. Don't be surprised by any human cruelty. But don't be afraid. Far more can be mended than you know'.
This is an extraordinary book, do read it.

1 comment:

  1. I thought it was an excellent, thought-provoking book.