Friday, 25 February 2011

Play it again, and again, and again

We've been on holiday this week and one of the things that we enjoyed was to complete Series Seven of The West Wing, for the -th time. I confess to feeling some kind of embarrassment about saying just how many times we've watched this brilliant tv drama on DVD. Another thing we did was to meet up with our son, Andrew, in London, and see The King's Speech; the second time for us, the first for him. Again, I feel a need to apologise for 'the second time'.

Why my discomfort about seeing something again (and again)? I guess it's because once you've seen a film, like reading a novel, you know what's going to happen. (Also there's probably something around for me about 'wasting time'.) But in my defence - there I go again - although there is some predictability and lack of surprise, the experiences have been just as enjoyable as the first time, albeit different. And repeated viewings still disclose new things, and give depth and richness, that aren't taken in on the first viewing.

My reaction surprises me to some extent, because when it comes to other forms of art, it's a given that to return to a painting or piece of music is a desirable and even necessary thing to do. Reacting to a work of art on first seeing or hearing is vastly different from reflecting upon it.

This last week I've been listening again to the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin. Alex Ross, in his latest book, Listen to This, describes it as 'a quarter-hour-long soliloquy of lacerating beauty ... with its white-knuckle virtuosity, its unyielding variation structure, and its tragic D-minor cast.' The first time of listening is an experience of high drama, especially when played by Itzhak Perlman -  available on Spotify - but to appreciate its scale, its architecture, its depth, and the extent of its beauty, requires repeated listening. Significantly, within the piece there is an 'again and again' aspect as it consists of sixty-four variations on a four bar theme.

In The King's Speech, at the climax of the film, as the King addresses the nation at the outbreak of war, the accompanying music is the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The rhythm which defines the music's character and mood, is repeated relentlessly and unapologetically. Music without repetition would be something altogether different.

'Again and again' can be boring within art, but it can be life-giving. And actually, despite our culture's obsession with novelty and newness, 'again and again' is a constant in life. It's a constant of the Christian faith as well. Just one example, 'Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' And the apostle Paul goes on to comment, 'For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the the Lord's death until he comes.'

How we handle the 'again and again' so that it isn't mere ritual devoid of energy and life, is another matter, but 'again and again' is ok.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Big Society, Big Mission

This is the title we've given to this year's CBA roadshow, created by my colleague Helen Wordsworth, and delivered by the two of us. So far we've been to Chesham and Luton. Monday is in Northampton, and Thursday, Milton Keynes. The final presentation is at Kings Langley next Wednesday.

It's a great engagement with the theme, exploring how we both serve our communities and make disciples. Although it will be interesting to experience the response this week, reading the main news story on today's BBC News website, Cuts 'are destroying big society'. It goes on to say that the government are 'destroying' the UK's volunteer army and undermining its 'big society' vision with its cuts programme, according to a voluntary sector expert.

In the opening section I've been given the task of adopting a somewhat cynical view of what the government is up to in its Big Society agenda, to which Helen responds more positively. I have the easier task and must try not to overplay it, especially this week.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Being Human

It was with real excitement that I looked forward to series three of Being Human on 23 January. I came to the first series late through DVD, although when I initially read about it I was intrigued.

Having watched the first two episodes of the latest series, I'm feeling again what I felt through the previous two series: frustration that I need to be a bit circumspect about my enthusiasm.

You see, Being Human is about three different characters, who at the beginning of the first series, share a flat. One is a vampire, one a werewolf, and one is a ghost. That's not likely to be welcomed as a great opener to a sermon, or the introduction to an illustration. And actually that's a real shame - my sons' generation would be there in a flash. But knowing how some Christians find C.S. Lewis dubious, and Harry Potter decidedly dodgy, I guess that Being Human really would be a bridge too far.

The real interest in the plot is that the vampire is 'on the wagon', the werewolf is surprised to be one, and the ghost initially can't work out why she's a ghost. In the second episode of series one, she asks, 'Am I going to be like this for eternity?' None of them are human but they are desperately trying to be human, and doing so through relationship. And the issue of what it is to be human in community underlies the whole storyline. It's hugely theological!

There are moments of great hilarity, with some wonderful one-liners. There are moments which are deeply tender and moving. I need to come clean and acknowledge that there is some gore as well as some sexual content; but overall this is a drama which is both comedy and intensely serious, with a terrific story line which gets better and better.

In the first episode of series three, Mitchell goes to purgatory to rescue Annie, the ghost, who's been dragged there, at the close of series two. There he's made to face up to his crimes, and the engagement with themes of sin, guilt, shame, and in particular repentance, was profound. In the second episode, the ongoing themes of the need to love and be loved, and belonging were richly explored.

Running concurrently with the third series is an online spin-off, Becoming Human, which I'm going to take a look at.