November 2011

Ordinary Christians are constantly being invited to forget their language.

 Clergy are also tempted to dilute  the force of the language we represent in an attempt to be relevant. Yet paradoxically the pluralist character of our society offers us, once again, the space to embody and articulate distinctive  Christian discourse without feeling the necessity to reduce this to a more limited secular speak. Indeed secular speak is itself less secure as a language game than many of its protagonists would I hope. Under the challenge of late or post-modernity it is increasingly being seen as a particular and relative dialect rather than a definitive and universally intelligible language.

The question which all this raises, therefore, is how ordinary Christian communities in this sort of society are going to recover their language and become confident, fluent speakers of this lan­guage. In some way the answer lies in the way languages emerge and are learned. If by language we mean the way we render intel­ligible the multiple signs which comprise creation and acknowledge that languages are intrinsically social, then lan­guages require communities in order to emerge and develop. Furthermore, if they are to remain part of that linguistic tradition, these communities need to be conscious of how their identity informs the way the language is spoken. Languages are dynamic rather than fixed, they develop in and across time and space and I are relational rather than idealistic. Conversation is where languages live, even as texts. Hence the character of the communities who speak a given language will be webbed into the tradition of this language, will be attentive to other speakers as well as hav­ing their own distinctive dialects.



Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence?
I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring,
one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
Open your doors and look abroad.
From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of an hundred years before.

In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one
spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred years.


Rabindranath Tagore, The garden



I believe the earth
exists, and
in each minim mote
of its dust the holy
glow of thy candle.
unknown I know,
thou spirit,
lover of making, of the
wrought letter,
wrought flower,
iron, deed, dream

the ordinary glow
of common dust in ancient sunlight.
Be, that I may believe. Amen.


From Denise Levertov, Opening Words


Clive Hicks-Jenkins was born in Newport in 1951 and educated in Theatre Studies at the Italia Conti School. He currently lives in mid Wales. His painting has been critically praised in The Independent, Modern Painters, Galleries and Art Review. Shelagh Hourahane, in Planet, has called him ‘an inspiring and masterly painter’, and Robert Macdonald described his work as, ‘One of the most powerful series of paintings and drawings produced in Wales in recent times’. He is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Wales Aberystwyth School of Art and has been a guest tutor in drawing at the Royal College of Art.

Hicks-Jenkins was the winner of the Gulbenkian Welsh Art Prize in 1999 and a recipient of a Creative Wales Award from the Arts Council of Wales in 2002. He has had exhibitions at Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford, The Museum of Modern Art Wales, Newport Museum & Art Gallery and Brecknock Museum. He is a member of  The Welsh Group, 56 Group Wales and is a Royal Cambrian Academician. His paintings, prints and artists’ books are in many public collections in the UK and the USA. 

For some clergy, professionalism is their way of compensating for a sense of being an anachronism as a cleric.

So skills in parish administration — skills in this, skills in that — are all part of “I matter because I have these skills,” as opposed to “I have internalized the theology I’ve been taught in such a way that it gives me a ground to stand on and a sense of self that I can confidently act out of as a priest.”

 It’s the professionalization of ministry at the cost of theology. That may be harsh, but that kind of integration is essential — making those connections so that you are formed as a theological person and not just possessing some theological information that you can’t translate because it doesn’t meet you at some deep place.

 People are hungry for meaning. Meaning making is a primary function of a religious leader, and it comes out of how they’ve appropriated their tradition and connected it with what is going on in the world.

 (Frank Griswold in interview)


The King James Bible began life at a conference convened by James I at Hampton Court Palace in 1604. There it was ordered that a new translation of the Bible be produced, as the King strove to forge unity between Scotland and England. It was the culmination of over two centuries of struggle to create a Bible in English, going back to John Wycliffe in the 1380s.

The gestation of the King James Bible itself began with William Tyndale. He was the first to translate the New Testament into English from the original Greek, but in 1536 he was burned at the stake in Flanders for his efforts. In 1538 Henry VIII ordered that a Bible be placed in every church in England and Myles Coverdale was commissioned to produce what became known as the Great Bible. This was largely based on Tyndale’s work.

Translation of the Bible remained controversial. In 1560 English Calvinist exiles in Geneva produced the Geneva Bible, beautifully produced but with tendentious translations and notes that James abominated. Partly in response, in 1568 the English Church commissioned the Bishops’ Bible. This was used every Sunday in Elizabethan churches but was ponderous and never popular. And English Catholics in exile produced a New Testament in Rheims in 1582 and an Old Testament in Douai in 1609–10.

The King James Bible was produced in the light of each of these versions. It was the work of fifty-four scholars working in six translation committees – or Companies – based in Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster, two in each centre.

The crucial final editing took place here at Westminster Abbey, in the Jerusalem Chamber, where the translators read their new version of the Bible aloud from start to finish. They ended up using a relatively limited vocabulary compared – for example – to their contemporary Shakespeare, but they coined many phrases we still use today: ‘the powers that be’; ‘the apple of his eye’; ‘signs of the times’, ‘a law unto themselves’, ‘from strength to strength’, ‘the writing on the wall’.

‘The scholars who produced this masterpiece are mostly unknown and unremembered. But they forged an enduring link, literary and religious, between the English-speaking people of the world.’

(from Winston Churchill, The New World, 1956)

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