Brilliant and hilarious lecture by Frank Boyce on the conversion of John Henry Newman from Anglican to Catholic and what spurred Newman to leave the ivied towers of Oxford and take up the life of a Catholic priest in Birmingham. Well worth reading Boyce’s newman-lecture-2011, especially if you want a look at the side-splitting, seedy side of Catholic saints. But below is a nice section on the surprising power of stories. Happy All Saint’s Day.
[Writers] have our mission though we may not know what it is. We commit ourselves to something without knowing how it’s going to turn out – but isn’t that also true of parents, of cooks, or teachers, of anyone who starts any project that seems to be failing but which they keep going? Maybe he should be the patron saint of anyone who keeps going in spite of doubt and failure? The patron saint of anyone who can marry strong belief with a toleration of others?
There is an ecology in the World of Knowing things. An Ecology that is often forgotten or undermined. Intellectual rigour can only thrive if our other means of apprehension – imagination, faith, emotion, pleasure – are all at work too. These are all intertwined and when we try to unravel them, we lose. In the current face off between fundamentalist science and fundamentalist religion, for instance, one group has switched off their intellect, the other their sense of wonder.
We think in stories. Before you can build a rocket to go to the Moon, you have to dream of being able to do so. Before you can sail across the Atlantic to America you have to dream of Hy Brazil or the Happy Isles. Think of what an important part of your mental equipment the story of The Ugly Duckling is, or Frankenstein, Cinderella or the Prodigal Son. These stories are like scientific discoveries – they name something that exists in the world but which we couldn’t see clearly – or feel clearly – until we were told the story.
The truly creative act – I’m speaking about writing because it’s what I know but it’s also true of parenting, teaching, evangelising, engaging with others – is a kind a scientific experiment in which all our different ways of knowing are fully engaged. It’s a voyage of discovery. Every voyage of discovery has to begin with the possibility of failure. Almost every discovery made in the history of thought was not quite the discovery that the discoverer was hoping for. You have your definite purpose. You may not know what it is. But you do have your definite purpose.–British screenwriter and novelist Frank Cottrell Boyce, Inaugural Cardinal John Henry Newman Lecture 2011
Right now, as the world prepares for the international climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December, the world lacks one thing to save itself: political will. We have the technology to make appropriate changes. But political will is forged through moral vision and religious persuasion brought to bear by a diverse set of grassroots actions. And grassroot action requires you.
For Christians, part of our mission in the world is to bring religious imagination to bear on the crises of our day. Climate change is one of the most critical crises of our day.
Thanks to Tim Kumfer over at Always New Depths for posting his short essay written for his Ecofeminist Theology and Philosophy class at Duke responding to this question: What resources exist in your religious and/or spiritual tradition for thinking about ecological crises like climate change, pollution, scarce resources like water and food, and species loss?
Here’s part of Tim’s response, but I encourage you to read the whole thing and consider what resources you draw on for shaping religious vision. Also, what fun and effective thing can you do for International Day of Climate Action on Oct. 24. Tim writes:
These themes of resistance to dominant ecological and economic practices within the Bible must be brought into the mix as Christians begin to reflect on our contemporary many-headed ecological crisis. Listening deeply to these stories and paying attention to the dynamics in which they were formed I think we will find more radical conversation partners than we might have first imagined. Our present lives in the first world are supported by structures of empire similar to those which our foremothers and fathers in the faith strove to leave or subvert from within. The rapacious practices of consumer capitalism need to be stopped; Sabbath can point towards alternatives which honor the earth and workers through the recognition of natural limits. A whole-earth Jubilee is necessary now more than ever, one which not only brings greater equality between humans but recognizes the inherent worth, beauty, and necessity of non-human species and the ecosystem. This is perhaps the most important thing which the Christian (and Jewish) tradition at its best can bring to the table: an uncompromising moral vision which can go beneath green washing and eco-capitalist hype to re-present to us the truth which we already know: our lives in the first world need to change drastically for life on this planet to be sustained.