Sunday, September 04, 2005

Who am I?

A Pleased Patriarch
I guess there are lots of people with unpublished books written. I've got one out there in cyberspace somewhere. I'll have to find the URL and post it. The second chapter is entitled: Who am I? Taken persistently, the question takes a lifetime to answer, I reckon. There are lots of simplistic sound-byte answers, and snapshots of me as I like to be seen. The longer you live, the more snapshots there are, and I'm already sixty. Time flies when you're having fun - that's also the title of a song written and performed by my singer-songwriter daughter Rachel: Her elder sister Kath is also a singer-songwriter with her husband Anto: and they have a younger brother Owain who's a techno deejay, producing his own records . Their mother Clare and I have been married 39 years and we met making music as undergraduate students in Bristol. I was ordained an Anglican priest of my native land Church in Wales in 1970. Clare is a practitioner of Eurythmy, a performing and a therapeutic art of movement. So I guess music and performances of one kind or another are all the kids ever knew. The wonderful thing is how much more creative and productive they have turned out to be than either of their parents.

Working close to home at last
We lived and worked in many places, Llandaff, Caerphilly, Selly Oak, St Paul's Bristol, Chepstow, Hales Owen, Geneva Switzerland, and Monaco, before returning to Cardiff in 2001, where I was invited by the Archbishop of Wales to take charge of the Parish of Central Cardiff, embracing the city centre's business, commercial and civic heart, along with the university and studentland. I have four churches, one colleague full time, and another part-time. The city centre has the second oldest building after Cardiff Castle, the Parish Church of St John the Baptist, founded circa 1080, rebuilt in the 15th century - a splendid edifice and ocean of transquility, right next door to the covered market, in one of the busiest streets of the capital. It's a centre for civic functions and artistic activities (see:-, hospitality and support for local people. The church tea-room was acclaimed as one of the six best places in Wales to chill out during retail therapy last winter. The food is great, but the level of kindness expressed to all by the volunteer teams who run it is even greater.

To sing a worried song
Yes, I'm a proud of all that, in many ways, but I'm also a worried man, when I witness the dysfunctional behaviour of so many people frequenting our city centre at night, on weekends, and on stadium match days. I'm painfully aware of how the churches (and not only my church) are utterly failing to reach the hearts, minds and wills of people with a wholesome personal and social vision of what it means to be a free responsible and dignified human being. There's a great spiritual vacuum out there. I remain convinced that Christian tradition and creativity still has essential and life transforming potential to renew society, and make the world a more just and safe place. But somehow Christians have got trapped inside their insitutions, and have been pushed aside by the fierce secular materialistic propaganda that characterises a consuming and competitive society. No, I'm not anti-materialism. I trained first as a scientist. I resist the idol worship that surrounds both products and people, and thinks awe and wonder are commodities to be peddled for profit.

Nowadays I experience the depressingly painful marginalisation of religion from many aspects of public life. It is problematised, stereotyped, devalued by exploitative caricature. Religion as the uncomfortable quest for truth, authenticity, cutting edge reality test in a world of illusions is kept out of the public gaze. Fundamentalists of all kinds hog headlines - they are easy to criticise and heap contempt upon, in the dismissal of religious faith by its cultured despisers.

A death ignored
When Brother Roger of Taizé was murdered three weeks ago, it made front page headlines in his native Switzerland, but hardly made an impact on broadcast or print media here in UK. I learned from a Swiss friend's email a whole day before obituaries appeared. His sixty years of constant commitment to peacemaking through prayer and personal encounter, has touched the lives of millions all over the world. Roger was a personal friend of Pope John Paul and Mother Teresa, both of whom died in their beds with the world media camped outside their doors. Here was a man equally influential whose death was a cruel shock, felt around the world - but Madonna's broken collar bone got more media coverage. For me this is a startling example of how some of the most significant public Christian witness and activity of the past half century has been ignored. This is calculated marginalisation. It's an example of how Christians are being edged out of society by those who think they know better about what's in the public interest.

From the periphery
I've only recently learned about how blogging is beginning to influence news gathering and reporting, and is now a powerful means of alternative communication and information exchange.
Which is part of the reason why I've started this blog tonight, to reach beyond the few who remain in the pews, or read the church newsletter, with whom I share thoughts about life, the universe and everything from week to week. It's not me preaching, so much as thinking aloud, stimulated by the rich and varied encounters of my daily life, conscious that though I am very much a man of the center (middle of the road, middle class, in the midle of the city), my life stance places me very much at the edge of both society, and the church. Hence (I never thought I'd get there tonight), the overall title of this blog, 'Edge of the Centre'.

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