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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Lost Sons

SPCK have just published my new book, Lost Sons: God’s Long Search for Humanity. I don’t want to indulge in self-promotion (moi?).  But now that it’s out I hope you’ll allow me to say a little about it.

Earlier this year the title felt as though it had a rueful irony to it.  A book is like a baby: a unique individual whom you have begotten. Its life becomes separate from yours; it has a character, temperament and will of its own. This offspring just didn’t seem to want to be born. It felt like a lost child.  The labour pains were considerable.

I’ve pondered why this might have been.  Maybe the content touched me too personally.  I am after all a (late) father’s son and a son’s father.  So the theme of sons who are lost and found was bound to bring up material from my own past and present.  It would take a psychotherapist (e.g. my wife) years to get to the heart of what all this might mean. 

The book looks at stories in the early part of the Bible that tell of sons who are ‘lost’ in various ways. Abel is murdered, Canaan cursed, Ishmael abandoned, Isaac destined for sacrifice, Esau supplanted, Joseph betrayed, Moses hidden. Adam is the archetype of them all, and us: the child who hides himself from God. In each case I try to show how Jesus in his passion and death is God’s ‘Lost Son’. It is not that these Old Testament stories are all ‘types’ who prefigure Jesus. But the first Jewish readers of the gospels would have known these stories intimately and would, I guess, have brought their own associations to the passion story, seeing ‘pre-echoes’ if you like in these lost sons.

But the wonderful thing about God’s Lost Son is that he is ‘found’ again in the resurrection.  And this turns out to be true of many of the ancient lost sons. Ishmael is rescued from the desert.  Isaac is not killed on the altar because an angel stays his father’s hand.  Esau is reconciled to the brother who supplanted him as Joseph is with the brothers who sold him into slavery.  Moses is discovered in the bulrushes and brought up in the royal palace. So the book is about resurrection as well as death, even if sometimes we have to go looking for it in dark and baffling places.

This may remind you of the parable of the Prodigal Son or, as I think it’s better called, the Lost Son and the Loving Father. It was constantly in my mind as I was writing.  In the introduction, I tell how that marvellous parable seems to have a counterpart in the Hebrew Bible in the moving story of Abraham and Isaac (depicted by Chagall in the painting on the book’s cover – see to the right, and don’t miss the little crucifixion scene in the top right-hand corner). In both stories it isn’t just the son who makes a journey to a ‘far country’ (an idea that appears in both stories) but the father as well: physically for Abraham, imaginatively for the father of the Prodigal. Perhaps the book is an invitation to make that journey as both father and son, ago into a far country and in doing so, enter more deeply into the mystery of the passion.

I dedicated the book to my wonderful not-lost son Aidan.  My three equally wonderful girls are asking when I intend to write a book called Lost Daughters and dedicate it to them.  I am thinking about that.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Responsible Tweeter

This is my 50th blog as the Decanal Woolgatherer.  What to write to mark this half-century?

This has been my first year of trying my hand at using social media.  In that time I have become especially interested in the opportunities and threats they pose, and what constitutes a responsible, ethical use of them. In particular, Twitter has caught my imagination for its elegant miniaturism, how so much can be said in so little.  But this can be for good or ill – and for interesting or boring.

I wrote an early blog about the spirituality of Twitter which you will find buried on this blogspot below the output of the last few months. But I thought I would try my hand at twelve principles or commandments of Tweeting.  Others have offered good online guides to Twitter that contain many or all of these.  However I’ve encapsulated each principle in 140 characters or less so they can be lifted out of the blog and tweeted self-referentially in the very medium for which they are, not so much a set of imperatives as a series of hints and nudges. The emphasis is on the positive: mostly 'dos', a few 'don'ts'.  

Here goes then.


1        Be judicious. Powerful tools need careful handling. You are on a public stage.  Apply the same criteria as you would to any public medium.
2        Be chaste. Promiscuous tweeting suggests addiction. Only press ‘send’ when you have something to say. If not stay silent.
3        Be courteous. Don’t disparage or insult others (you risk libel as in any print medium). In dissent, be questioning rather than assertive.
4        Be disciplined. 140 characters impose a verbal boundary. Stick to it and don't sprawl lazily across multiple tweets on the same topic.
5        Be conversational. The art of tweeting is to engage with others, not hurl speeches into the void. Invite responses and give them.
6        Be interesting. Life is not all information, observation, profundity or humour, but don’t bore followers with trivia. Try to be original. 
7        Be tentative. The question-mark is a great way of turning bald statement into an invitation to explore. Better to travel than stand still.
8        Be communitarian. Social media are at their best in creating online communities and relationships. It is good not to be alone. Join in.
9        Be discreet. Don't break confidences, substitute for meeting, hold private conversations publicly or disclose improperly. Keep boundaries.
10      Be wise. Twitter can raise awareness, affirm spiritual and humane values and inspire others. Serve truth, goodness, justice and wholeness.
11      Be generous. Share your own good things: stories, photos, blogs etc., and others' too.  Retweet/favourite the best. But don't self-promote.
12      Be relaxed. Don't obsess about follower numbers (sins of pride or envy). Small communities are often the best. Learn, grow, chuckle, enjoy.