CArs: accelerating the modern world
Victoria and Albert Museum
until 19th April, 2020
‘Multum in parvo,’ Mr Sponge’s dangerous nag from his ‘Sporting Tour’ neatly sums up this exhibition. There is much here in a small space. Indeed, the V&A have produced a brilliant essay on the motor car as the defining symbol of the twentieth century. The car is shown to be a symbol of freedom and wealth, of speed and the future, of industrial power and of democracy, of national pride and of globalisation. It also symbolises pollution and big oil, the exclusion of women and the suppression of the worker, profit before safety and reckless drivers. The car may also prove to be the crucible in which the world of artificial intelligence was forged. And it gave us the cloche hat.
To pack so much into a few square feet of exhibition space is no mean feat, rather like the smallest car in the show, the Messerschmitt KR200 “bubble car.” Inevitably the whole story, footnotes and all, cannot be told. The Japanese motor industry hardly features. The story of workers’ rights is hinted at in the truncheon of union leader Walther Reuther. There is no mention of how the unions’ victory created a mini-welfare state which in turn brought down the great U.S. car companies. And there are so many cars not here. No 2CV. No Rolls Royces. No Citroëns with their hydropneumatic suspension
Instead the emphasis is on the great years of the U.S. car industry with Europe as the also rans. So the Germans have their place. There’s the first production car, Benz’s Patent-Motorwagen No 3 (1888), capable of travelling sixty miles at ten miles an hour. And there’s the French. By 1905 cars were able to reach 100 mph and the French set up the Grand Prix series for racing cars to compete with the trophies given by the outrageous and Francophile American Gordon Bennett.
But it’s the industrial might of Ford – it’s manufacturing process based on pig slaughtering in Ohio – which overwhelms the visitor. So much so that it comes as a surprise to see a model of the British built Golden Arrow. This dates from the time when the British held world speed records on land and sea and were innovators in the use of the wind tunnel and streamlined technology. And yet the Brits feature less than the Germans and the French. The show does have an actual British car, an E-Type Jag, one of the most beautiful and unreliable cars ever built. Yet its beating heart is the Ford Mustang muscle car – its ‘Bullitt’ rather than ’The Avengers.’
Alongside how industrial production developped, the show gives a strong sense of the importance of selling to the motor business. Michelin began its guidebooks to encourage people to travel and to buy Michelin tyres. The early might of Ford was undermined by General Motors when GM took advantage of Ford’s refusal to paint its cars anything but black. GM saw that women often had the final choice when it came to buying cars and women wanted different colours.
That is one of the few examples of the big players paying attention to women. Usually women were there as part of the advertising – there’s splendid films of 50s women posing with small dogs and big fenders, and MoTown acts skipping about a production line. Quite why the first women pioneers in racing were never replaced is not explored.
One element of car culture where the U.S. was not a leader was safety. The show gives us an early seatbelt from Volvo. And there is a dummy of an Australian man, or how much Australian man needs to evolve to survive road accidents – he needs a large flat face, a slab of muscle for a neck, and lots of nipples on a large paunch.
The contrast with women’s fashion is entertaining if unfair. Not only was fashion more elegant but it developed much faster to take on the style and practicalities of fast driving – long flowing coats replaced complicated layers of cloth, and the cloche hat replaced the broad brim.
The same æsthetic led to the aerodynamic meat slicer. And to the Tatra T77 from 1934, streamlined like an upturned boat. A real boat right side up formed the body for Suzanna Deutsch de la Meurthe’s 1922 Hispano Suiza, a marriage of the petrolhead’s and cabinet maker’s arts and the centre piece of the exhibition.
We begin and end the show with visions of the future in film. They all feature flying cars – but not cars with wings, so Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang doesn’t count. The more prosaic future is A.I. and it is already with us in footage of a new BMW plant where the all work is done by machines and the odd mechanic potters about to make routine checks. The era of Henry Ford is well and truly over, but the car is still evolving.
Saying Yes to Life:
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2020
SPCK, 192 pages, 0978-0281083770
The Wind, the Fountain and the Fire:
Scripture and the Renewal of the Christian Imagination – The 2020 Lent Book
Bloomsbury Continuum, 192 pages,
My Sour-Sweet Days:
George Herbert and the Journey of the Soul
SPCK, 144 pages, 978-0281080328
The Radical Reconciler:
Lent in All the Scriptures
Chris Wright and John Stott
IVP, 176 pages, 978-1783599448
Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety
SPCK, 144 pages, 978-0281083558
Alive in God:
A Christian Imagination
Bloomsbury Continuum, 432 pages,
The Grace-filled Wilderness
A Journey Through Lent
SPCK, 216 pages, 978-0281080106
The Glory of the Cross:
A Journey through Holy Week and Easter
SPCK, 120 pages, 978-0281081974
There are years when Lent reading is like a journey into the empty desert, so poor and scarce is the reading, and others when it feels as abundant as the Avilan well of St Teresa in the answer to prayer. Fortunately, this year is one of the latter with a host of new titles to suit all styles and purposes.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2020, Saying Yes to Life, by the academic and theologian Ruth Valerio, is a very welcome Anglican contribution to the global debates on ecology and climate change. It is not quite a teaching document in the line of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, or Patriarch Bartholomew’s encyclicals, but it is a refreshing and stimulating work which combines serious theology with an accessible focus on how we might address the situation in our everyday lives. Taking the Genesis Creation narrative as her scheme, the issues of light, land, water and wildlife, are all given comprehensive treatment – and not simply as a penitential Lenten exercise. She brings in a panoply of voices including ancient Mesopotamian texts, an Indian patriarch, poetry and psalms, extra-biblical sources, travel writers, ordinary parish stories from Waterloo and Chad, and many more. The six chapters each finish with discussion points and a prayer, with a concluding section at the end of the book on ‘The Seventh Day’. Energetic and thoughtful, it will enliven personal reading and group settings alike.
Mowbray has been acquired by Bloomsbury so that imprint is now simply ‘The Lent Book 2020’ which this year is The Wind, the Fountain and the Fire by Mark Barrett OSB. Based at Worth Abbey, he writes with Benedictine insight and depth on Psalm 78, answering for himself a lifelong question to address “How do you cope with Ps. 78?” first posed to him by a nun when a novice. ‘Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth’ opens the longest psalmic account of Israel’s sacred history in the Hebrew Scriptures with which Barrett has wrestled over 40 years through worship, study and his own spiritual journeying. The book too travels through the psalm, opening out into a general exploration of the psalms and their place in the life of the Church, using the Sunday Gospel texts as signposts along the way. There is a lot in this book; it’s solid but not long and strikes genuine notes of hope. Five chapters, it’s perfect for taking away on retreat but recommended anyway for its work on ‘scripture and the renewal of Christian imagination’ in, as Thomas Merton described it, ‘the climate of monastic prayer’.
Mark Oakley continues to raise his profile as one of our foremost experts on poetry in all its spirituality, splendour and liturgical kinship. My Sour-Sweet Days neatly offers 40 George Herbert poems (one for each day) with some literary explanation on each work, nicely dovetailed with theological reflection, on average in three pages. The priest-poet Herbert (1593-1633) deserves to be read more widely and Oakley helps us fluently and articulately to see why. His first biographer, Richard Baxter, wrote in 1681: ‘Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth in God…Heart-work and Heaven-work make up his books’. He ranks among the Anglican Divines, knew Donne and Ferrar, and Charles I read Herbert in prison. This is not a book arranged progressively for Lent in a strict sense beyond the 40 structure — ‘Easter’ and ‘Easter Wings’ are the third and fourth poems — that said, it will greatly enhance any Lenten devotion as a book you’ll want to keep, and keep returning to.
A more defined approach is given in The Radical Reconciler: Lent in all the Scriptures by Chris Wright and the late John Stott. Wright is the International Ministries Director of Langham Literature (which was founded by Stott, the long-time incumbent of All Souls, Langham Place) and all royalties from it go there. The six chapter headings alone illustrate favourite evangelical themes, including ‘evil defeated, death destroyed, sinners forgiven, enemies reconciled, history governed’. The success of the approach is arguable, fusing Stott’s Bible Study notes (prominently presented almost as Gospel texts) with Wright’s breathless, wide-eyed reflections. There are discussion points (‘Are there circumstances in your life that might need the tough words of 1 Peter?’) and instructions for holy living too. An attractive book and clearly presented, it’s probably more for a house group than private reading.
Another rehabilitated voice is Henri Nouwen in Following Jesus: Finding our way home in an age of anxiety. With a Foreword by uber-guru Richard Rohr, who it turns out actually knew Nouwen in parish life in the US, the book gathers six talks delivered by the Dutch priest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during Lent 1985. This was also a turning point for him; having returned from missionary work in Peru two years earlier to teach at Harvard, he was unhappy and about to move decisively to Jean Vanier’s L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto. Painstakingly transcribed and adapted by Gabrielle Earnshaw, there is no doubting the ring of authenticity on every page. So idiosyncratic and obvious is the Nouwen voice that the text almost demands to be read aloud. It’s beautiful stuff, though. If you love Nouwen then you’ll love this. It’s personal, spiritual, deep, readable, coherent and soundly theological. It’s striking how his writing has stood the test of the time and the messages are ones we still need to hear today. There is much here to ponder and be nourished by. The inclusion of prayer at the end of each chapter offers further devotional guidance.
A catch-all comes from Timothy Radcliffe with Alive in God: A Christian Imagination. It’s a 382-page doorstop (plus notes and index) from the effervescent Dominican. Again, this is not strictly a Lent book (or intended be) although with ‘Imagination’ as the introduction he does then use the progress to Jerusalem for ‘Journeying’, the Farewell Discourse in ‘Teaching’, and ‘Risen Life’ naturally covers the resurrection. The four chapters offer a kaleidoscopic and undefended tour — whistle-stop at times considering Radcliffe’s tendency to bring in almost two to three voices, anecdotes or cultural sources per page like unbelievable things before breakfast — of ‘what it means for us to be alive spiritually, physically, sacramentally, justly and prayerfully’. And it’s bracing when it comes to the anti-intellectualism of modern society. A full review by Nicholas Stebbing CR can be found elsewhere in this magazine.
Another writer who marshals a variety of cultural sources (from Poldark to political conferences!) is Magdalen Smith. The Grace-Filled Wilderness is cleanly structured across the six weeks, with discussion points and questions ‘Prayer and action’. Latterly Director of Ordinands for Diocese of Chester, she brings vocation into it sensitively and without tripping over the differences for lay and ordained; it’s always nice to see the Ordinal quoted. This is a book which engages with identity and otherness, asking us to be in touch with emotion and practise deep self-awareness, taking Scripture and the season as a cue. Some may prefer a tougher approach, but there is plenty here to work with and it’s a good to have this title in the mix.
Holy Week on its own is dealt with briskly by Vincent Nichols. The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster has given us a slim volume in The Glory of the Cross, but it bears reading all the same. Arranged in sections for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, it takes the lections and offers brief, homiletic reflections, making links and reinforcing the message. Helpful for preachers, perhaps, or for anyone looking to enhance their Holy Week experience with some further private reading.
Alive in God:
A Christian Imagination
Timothy Radcliffe OP
This is a superb book and I can’t possibly give it a proper review; there is too much in it. Fr Timothy’s basic thesis is that we in this modern age are trapped in all kinds of strait jackets and we need to escape. The only means of escape is the imagination. Imagination is not fantasy; it is a different way of seeing the world, one that is not confined in boxes of so-called facts (see Mr Gradgrind of Hard Times) but sees dimensions of human existence outside these artificial walls. “Stone walls do not a prison make/ nor iron bars a cage.”
Politicians, economists and society in general try to cage us in. Even the Church does it when it falls in with the assumptions of our society. Only the rich are powerful; only those in power have authority. As we move down the ladder of wealth we become less and less important. We categorise people. Anything that categorises people dehumanises them. That is what racism does. That is what language like “asylum seekers”, “refugees”, “benefit scroungers”, “the unemployed”, “the poor”, “sex offenders” tends to do. These are all real people like you and me with the same hopes, fears, griefs and joys. See them as people. Treat them as people because that is what God does.
Nothing in human life is alien to God therefore Fr Radcliffe uses every possible way of breaking open our imagination. Apart from his very considerable (but lightly worn) knowledge of theology and his vast experience of human life travelling round the world as Master of the Dominicans, he seems to have read every good novel published in the last fifty years and seen every film; and remembered them! The book is filled with quotations from poems, speeches, incidents from fiction and real life (a false distinction, I suspect!).
He is particularly good on issues of poverty, climate crisis and the technocratic domination of our world. Yet, like Pope Francis in Laudato Si, he is full of hope. God is here and he is a God of hope. We can work with God and defeat these problems. We must not be intimidated by the scale of the problems, or the seeming power of those who create them. Satan’s power is never as great as he makes us believe. A small teenage Swedish girl has confronted governments and power blocs on climate change, and discountenanced them. We can do the same. We just need to start. Imagine a different world. Imagine a different way of relating to people around you. Imagine relating to God as Jesus did. Just imagine and you can start and you will be surprised how possible it becomes.
The motto of the Dominicans is “Veritas” – “Truth” and Fr Timothy speaks deep truth, the truth that is of God. Reading him, though, I often think his motto should be “laetitia” – “joy” or “libertas” – “freedom”. His writing on poverty, climate change, human growth or any of the vast range of subjects he touches on is never depressing or gloomy. He shows that when you seek truth you find God and God is never dull or boring. He is full of life.
A word of warning: read slowly, thoughtfully, a few pages at a time. Fr Timothy is deceptively easy to read, but he is saying very important things and his many quotations and examples are rich in possibilities and could be learned by heart. And at £12.99 for 400pp it is excellent value for money!
Nicolas Stebbing CR
The Long and the Short and the Tall
Obituaries of some CR brethren
Mirfield Publications 2019 £7.50
ISBN 978-0-902834-5–7 152pp
‘God never came from an oxygen cylinder. God for Geoffrey was the air he breathed always and everywhere. Whether the air was cloudy with incense smoke or tobacco smoke, it made no difference. Everywhere was the house of God and the gate of heaven’. So writes Harry Williams of his fellow Community of the Resurrection (CR) monk Geoffrey Beaumont (d1970) in one of 31 short obituaries capturing the character and depth of ‘the long and the short and the tall’ in that community. (Musician Fr Beaumont made his mark more than most through his widely used Beaumont Mass). I found reading the obituaries of these men who have lived their life as under religious vows in community life affirming. As a Mirfield trained priest myself, it was especially good to read obituaries of men I knew like MJK (Martin Jarrett-Kerr d1991) with his great bounce and intellect or athletic Bermudian ‘Zach’ (Zachary Brammer d2010) with whom I played squash. Zach was once ‘a stately crucifer, a fumigatious thurifer, a competent cantor, an excellent reader, and oh what a pleasure to hear him as subdeacon at the high mass sing the epistle to the Sarum tone’ (Robert Mercer).
Awakening to God in all things seems a subtheme of this book. The conversion story of Herbert Bennett (d1949) is summarised by Osmund Victor in Masefield’s verse from Everlasting Glory: ‘O glory of the lighted mind, how dead I’d been, how dumb, how blind, the station brook to my new eyes was bubbling out of Paradise’. Fr Bennett served the Rand for 30 years ‘with immense evangelistic zeal and a great love for African people’. He was succeeded by brethren for whom evangelisation became inseparable from challenging injustice such as Trevor Huddleston and Simeon Nkoane (d1989) who wrote: ‘South Africa is a challenge to every Christian. Whatever view you hold, please, for God’s sake, for the sake of all South Africans and for our country – do something’. The stories in this book chronicle action by such as Leo Rakale (d1980) for many years the only African CR brother, ‘never an advocate of violence… but he never had any doubt about the true destiny of the African people in South Africa and it is sad that he should not have lived to see the dawn (after so many false dawns) breaking’ (Huddleston). When Leo was Fr Raymond Raynes CR’s Curate it’s told in a school test he asked, ‘Who is St Barnabas?’ ‘St Barnabas was a man who sold everything he had and joined the Community of the Resurrection’ a pupil responded. Fr Raynes insisted he be given full marks. ‘What is the Church of the Apostles if not the community of the resurrection?’
It is the genius of CR to combine catholic and evangelical within Anglican obedience. Of Lionel Thornton (d1960) we read: ‘Ever a bold, intrepid upholder of the Catholic Faith… he is perfectly prepared to face in complete confidence and fairness any attack on the Faith from whatever hostile quarter… the ground, the rock, the foundation of all his belief was the Word of God, the Bible. His own copy… was literally, quite literally falling to pieces through constant use, with leaves falling out… Fr Thornton was saturated in the Scriptures. Of him it can truly be said that he was ‘a one book man’’ (Aelred Stubbs). Michael Ramsey adds his own obituary note on his friend, that Thornton showed ‘how Biblical faith and modern knowledge can go together’ as well as championing a sacramental world view counter to the Reformation tendency to make ‘a closed circle… round the inward personal element in religion (separate from) the world of external things’.
The long and the short and the tall; the title implies a kaleidoscopic anthology of things bright and beautiful from those called to serve in the Community of the Resurrection. I end with a piece from the obituary of ecumenist Christopher Lowe (d2001): ‘What is striking… is the joyfulness with which he kept going which seemed to be increasing towards the end, a certain lightness which… had its roots in a conviction… that in what he did he was merely assisting the hidden work of Our Lord… with all his untiring perseverance he never imposed himself. He always remained in the background of what he brought about… it will not have been hard on him to leave everything now in the hands of Him whom he has been working for. No doubt he will go on pulling heavenly blessings down on all those he has been in touch with [through] regular contacts and visits… these friendships are sure to live on and to continue bearing fruit for the kingdom of God’. So be it, and of all of us in the orbit of CR past, present and to come!
Nicolas Stebbing CR
Book of the month
Philosopher of the Heart:
The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard
Allen Lane, 2019
Writing the biography of any philosopher is always an enterprise fraught with difficulty. Particularly if they are a philosopher you want to read as a philosopher, and not just an interesting person whose story you are wanting to write down for posterity. There is always a temptation to attempt to psychoanalyse any thinker one sits down to biograph (a verb I learnt specifically for this review), to try to explain some of their stranger ideas in light of who they are as people, and not whether their thoughts stand up to philosophical scrutiny. Examples include attributing St. Augustine’s sexual morality to his Freudian relationship to his own sexuality, explaining Hobbes’ love of the peacekeeping power of an absolute monarchy in light of his living through both Civil Wars, and connecting Kant’s rigid and impersonal ethics to an unjustly ascribed and undiagnosed autistic spectrum disorder. Reading any of these philosophers in light of their biographical quirks risks ignoring their philosophy as philosophy, and treating it just as an extension of their personality, which might be very good psychology, but is absolutely dreadful philosophy.
The problem with Kierkegaard is that you cannot study his philosophy without studying his biography, and vice versa, because the one is so deeply tied up with the other. Kierkegaard’s early works – Either/Or, Repetition, and Fear & Trembling – are all written with his ex-fiancé in mind, and Kierkegaard even goes so far as to keep two copies of every one of his books, one for him, and one for her. These books are written as much for her as for anyone else, with Fear & Trembling opening with a dedication that tells us that the message will be understood by one person alone. Regine Olsen is as much as part of how Kierkegaard understands philosophy as she is a matter of biography, which makes her a problematic character: are we to understand her as a philosophical problem or as a character in Kierkegaard’s life story? Kierkegaard himself does not seem able to answer this question, and in a sense, it’s in watching a thinker so interested in the struggles of life struggling with his own life that we really see the fruit of his philosophy, that we come to understand what he means when he talks about living in ‘inwardness’ or ‘passionately’.
Kierkegaard himself has always loomed large in my own faith-life, with Fear & Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death stirring me out of my dogmatic slumber – to coin a phrase – and into a more lively and vigorous Christianity. Kierkegaard stands in the story of my own life both as a hero and as a villain, variously prompting me to rise to the challenge of my own vocation, and also proposing a model of Christianity seemingly inaccessible to all but the most erudite philosophers. The other problem with Kierkegaard is that he wants to provoke an individual to action, meaning that he is always bound up in the lives of his readers; what Kierkegaard means to me ends up being much more important than what he meant to say.
As a part of my struggles with Kierkegaard, I sat Carlisle’s module in my third year of my undergraduate degree at King’s, where she’s a lecturer in theology. At the time, I remember not being very impressed with Carlisle’s reading, finding it insufficiently Christian (there was, as I recall, regular mention of Buddhist takes on Kierkegaard, something which made me unjustifiably grumpy), and thus, to have entirely missed the point of reading Kierkegaard. But in my youth, I was far too hasty in my judgement. The problem with Carlisle’s course was never Carlisle’s take on this, that, or the other theologian, the problem is that for Kierkegaard, “life is a reality to be lived, not a problem to be solved”, and a university lecture course gives space only for problem-solving, not life-living.
Carlisle’s reading of Kierkegaard is, I think, a good one, and she does much better with 264 pages of book than of 10 weeks of lecture, because here she can overcome this awkward distinction between biography and philosophy. In a book, Carlisle can write out Kierkegaard’s life story as a story, full of flashbacks and metaphor, exactly as Kierkegaard himself sought to make sense of his own life in The Diary of The Seducer, Repetition, and The Point of View. Carlisle writes the life of a man so interested in old folktales almost as a folk tale, a narrative, almost as if he were a character spun purely out of her imagination. In a distinctly Kierkegaardian manner, Carlisle steps not just in Kierkegaard’s shoes, but Søren’s; having had conversations with her, I can confidently say that one can hear this book read in Claire’s voice, and not just as Carlisle’s lecture. This strange narrative approach works with Kierekgaard, though, because there is no point in his philosophy when he is not struggling with himself, and no point in his struggle when he is not doing philosophy.
He was a man of great and deep sadness, and you can see how that sadness grows and feeds into a philosophy whose last great outpouring is a book called Works of Love, which teaches that the unrestricted love of one’s neighbour is the highest joy. One can see Kierkegaard’s whole life, his worry, his doubt, his wonderful sermons preached in the Cathedral of Our Lady and his stunning critiques of contemporary philosophy, and through that lens, one can understand why such a sad man would instruct you to “not forget to love yourself”.
There is, however, a problem with this style of biography, which is that one cannot do a philosophical history in the traditional sense, full of citations and comments on awkward translations and snitty remarks about other scholars in the field. This book is a storybook, and it reveals its biography slowly, like any good literary character study ought. Carlisle has not written a book for scholars to pore over, but a little insight into the work of a man whose thought has touched so many hearts. There are, of course, drawbacks here; it is hard to do anything like traditional philosophy with this book, since its approach to citation is a little laissez-faire and its interpretation of Kierkegaard seems quite personal to Claire and her approach to philosophy, but I cannot fault her on that. After all, I want to see Kierkegaard as the man who challenged me to be more obedient to my calling, and not someone whom a lecturer in theology can teach a 10 week course on; there is a reason I’ve tended to keep November 11th as his Feast.
Ultimately, that is the problem with any writing on Kierkegaard: Søren is a deeply personal writer, and he is deeply personal to read. The only take on Kierkegaard of which one is likely to approve is one’s own, but I like to think that Søren would be rather pleased to hear that. My advice to that Single Individual who chooses to read Carlisle’s book is to treat it as an introduction, and then to hurry off to the nearest bookshop and get a copy of Fear & Trembling, consume it, and learn how valuable a thinker Kierkegaard is.
Philosopher of the Heart is published in paperback this month.