Friday, 11 November 2016

Poems of the heart: Love's a wizard

Because when the world feels like it's going up in flames,
coping mechanisms kick in, such as rustling up doggerel...
I feel the need for a little nonsense pause,
before heading once more to the breach, my friends.

Love's a wizard

He flourished flowers on demand,
a winning start for any man
and with some charm and with that smile,
well, I was instantly beguiled.
From up his sleeve – or so it seemed –
the rainbow-serpent scarves, in streams
would fight with rabbits,
vie with doves,
all symbols of my wizards love.

My love changed ceiling into sky
and every night, wild geese flew by
and with a wink and wave of wand,
my bathroom turned into a pond.
He conjured goldfish-flowing taps,
and lizards – former shower-caps –
sang songs of life
of love, of art,
reflections from my wizard’s heart.

Though his spells were entertaining,
I soon felt my enchantment waning,
even when, with eerie mutters
dust transformed to diamond clusters;
but diamond pythons aren’t the thing
to give girls as engagement rings
and snakes worn
as accessories
are seen these days as ‘un-PC’.

Plagued by this mesmerising pest,
and with the neighbours so distressed
I wondered how to break his spell –
would my magician take it well?
While black sheep in the lounge-room grazed
and lizards by the pond just lazed,
I ran some gold fish
in the bath
and psyched up for the aftermath

I broke it gently, like one should,
and then I asked him if he could
remove the rabbits, doves, and flowers,
shut my ceiling from the showers.
I kept a scarf for mem’ries sake,
but gave him back the diamond snake.
It’s really not
an easy thing
to date someone in conjuring.
                                                             c. Nik

Friday, 4 November 2016

Book Review: CEB Women's Bible

CEB Women's Bible; Abington Press link

Back in the days when I managed a Christian bookstore, I dreaded the thought of going through certain publisher's catalogues and finding book titles prefaced with 'Women's'.
Invariably, the jackets would be soft pastel pink or bedecked with flowers while, inside, the content felt somehow slightly patronising - as if the intended readers were not particularly bright.  Mostly, the books with 'Women's...' would be cheerfully, relentlessly complementarian in approach, with the aim of squeezing women - in all their wonderful diversity - into a very narrowly proscribed role. As the bookshop I ran was determinedly much broader, these kinds of books were bypassed rather swiftly.
Given that background, I confess I did twitch once or twice when I initially heard about the CEB Women's Bible; I needn't have twitched.

The jacket is mercifully flower-free and is a solid, reliable rust-brown, conveying the impression that this is no light and fluffy number but is meant to be taken seriously. Inside, it doesn't disappoint. This work makes women visible. The editorial team, and all of the contributors, are a diverse group of women; a good mix of serious scholars, pastors, a variety of community practitioners, writers, and speakers. It is very refreshing, and encouraging, to see such a collaborative project, and the all-woman list does much to dispel the feeling that there are no women 'out there' in the fields of biblical studies and theology especially - I say this as someone who, when undertaking my PhD, was the only female candidate in my year group. Perhaps the only quibble I might have, would be the actual translation itself - although maybe I'm too wedded to the way the NRSV reads. Personal taste: your mileage may vary...

The visibility of women continues throughout the CEB Women's Bible. Every reference in the text to a woman, named or unnamed is carefully indexed in the appendices at the back of this edition. An entry in bold font indicates that the person concerned has had a brief portrait written about her, and a page number is also, helpfully, included. These portraits include not only the more well-known women, but shine a light on the overlooked such as those known only as 'greeters at the Meeting Tent' [Exod. 38:8]. The preface to the CEB Women's Bible observes: 'when you open a Bible, you see that a variety of voices have always been part of God's good creation.' The joy of this edition of the Bible is that a variety of women have been given their place, their voice.

There is a strong emphasis upon encouraging a lively engagement with scripture. This can be seen within some of the other features that the CEB Women's Bible has on offer. Introductions to each book of the Bible are provided, giving background context and themes. At the beginning of each chapter a very brief one or two sentence summary is also given. There are reflections scattered throughout which invite the reader to engage more deeply with the text, and are a helpful tool for personal study. To further encourage study and reflection, over 200 sidebar articles ranging from social issues, to theology, through to personal relationships [e.g. adolescence, body image, creation, divorce, grief, immigrants, women/gender and violence] have been written and placed alongside the biblical texts.

Appendices at the back include:
  • an index of all sidebar articles, listed alphabetically, giving the themes;
  • discussion and reflection questions based around the Revised Common Lectionary. These could easily be used as a 'take away' to put on pew sheets to encourage further reflection
    at home during the week, or as material for a weekly study group. For ongoing discipling, and as a Christian ed. resource, this is a great wee feature;
  • several Bible reading plans: a one month plan, the New Testament in 90 days, the Bible in a year;
  • and, for this unashamed map geek, there are glorious full-colour maps at the back which are preceded by a map index - happy day!
The layout, overall is well arranged, and easy to navigate. While I like the idea of the portraits of women being placed close to the appropriate biblical text, occasionally it got in the way of reading the text itself. On the other hand, the sidebars were clearly defined, on a different coloured background, which made it easier to distinguish between article and actual biblical text. As to the fonts: the main headers were nicely informal brush-stroke in style, and elsewhere the text was easy to read. A personal taste thing, really, but I prefer the less formal, not too fussy, approach.

Back in the day when I managed my wee bookstore, this particular book with the word 'Women's'
would not have been bypassed; it would have found a very welcome home among the shelves of
my biblical studies/ bibles section. I'm pleased that a copy is now on my desk, and suspect it won't often be left sitting in my bookcase. It's a great resource, doing a very necessary task: making those who were invisible, visible. 

*Just to note: this Bible was sent to me free, for an honest review. While I've tried to be critical, 
it's mere quibbles here and there. I'm thoroughly enjoying exploring this edition of the Bible, and 
already think the variety of features helps to make it an exceptionally useful tool on multiple levels.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Dancing John


Dancing John*

John Major sways from side to side, dancing and jiggling inelegantly through sweaty revellers. Occasionally he spins around, grey, serious face contrasting with his hip and groovy moves. He’s a dancer, but an earnest one. Drum-beats, hypnotic, pulse through the orange-yellow torch lit air and urge the people forward. Calls of ‘Penny for the Guy!’ and choruses of ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November,’ along with whoops and hollers accompany the drums.

An odd crowd, this: ghosties and ghouls, witches and werewolves, vikings and devils, Morris-men and monks, a scattering of tiny, glitter-clad Disney princesses. Dancing John leads them on, on to the town square and blazing fire. Flames lick discarded wooden crates and pallets, devour a tuneless piano whole, smoke a brown and orange 70’s carpet to finish. The crowd sway in time with John, writhing and wriggling, cheering and jeering as the beat quickens. The devils, red and rambunctious dance ‘round the fire waving plastic pitchforks – buy one, get one free, from Tesco. Drums and chants reach a crescendo and stop, stilling time. It is the witching hour. The hush is broken: ‘penny’ and ‘remember’ now replaced by ‘burn him, burn him, burn him.’ 

John watches over the crowd, expressionless.  Poker-faced and silent, a gentle shiver moves through his body. ‘Burn him, burn him, burn him.’ Dancing John squares his shoulders, bounces up and down, limbering up for his final act, then leaps, to the deranged ‘hurrahhhhhs!’ of the crowd. The giant, papier-mache effigy catches fire quickly, ‘whooshing’ as it does. In the background, a fiddle, drum, and squeezebox strike up a merry tune. Disney princesses dance with devils, a werewolf necks a pint, while a tiny ghost cheerfully polishes off a burger. The annual cathartic scapegoating has gone off smoothly and trouble-free. Police look on, watching the smouldering remains of dancing John’s frame moving slowly in the fire.

*If this were a completely accurate account, I'd have added the dinosaur that 'dancing' John rode on in the Lewes Bonfire Night of '94... perhaps that can wait for another day! Maggie Thatcher, Michael Howard, and Guy Fawkes also showed up. A cracking evening, though, and quite an eye-opening 'cultural' experience for a relative newbie to the UK!