Thursday 26 June 2008

Say seize the day and ride the gospel of absurdity

absurd: that which is plainly opposed to received notions of propriety and truth

I love this photo of our daughter Judy, who has just finished her first year at University. It was taken on a cycle path as she and her friend Anna revelled spontaneously in a gloriously absurd moment of joie de vivre. That's my girl, go for it Jude!

To me it just sums up so much of my own philosophy of life and approach to theology: carpe diem - sieze the day - this is not a dress rehearsal. It probably also shows what a good nonconformist looks like. And let me simply say that in my experience it really helps to have a highly tuned absurdometer if you are to survive life in the church. A rather sneakily absurd thought is to wonder whether the reason Jesus said you can only really get the Kingdom of God if you come at it like a child, is because kids do carpe diem with such innate openness. These two great videos by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros show what this looks like and just what we as adults have lost (Hoppipola = 'dancing in puddles').

Of course 'Carpe Diem' is at the crux of one of my favourite movies, Dead Poets Society. Robin Willams plays Mr Keating, a progressive teacher of English Lit at an appallingly stuffy and repressed private school in the States - a glorious metaphor for just about any institutional target you care to choose. Keating is an archetypal non-conformist, a person highly tuned to revel in the absurd. He gets the students to stand on his desk as a reminder to look at the world in a different way. With Carpe Diem as his watchword he takes some words of Henry David Thoreau as his hallmark:

and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived …  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life

The Jesus I meet in the gospels wants us to live deep. In his life I see the stunning gospel of absurdity turning established notions of power, status and purpose upside down and inside out. It is this gospel, the absurd gospel of the Kingdom of God, which is re-energizing and re-envisioning the church in our time. The photo of Judy depicts exactly how I felt at the end of the recent RUN Conference in Peterborough, where Brian McLaren was so inspiring. Carpe Diem - seize the day! So to close my absurd ramblings I offer you the delicious absurdity of ASJ Tessimond's wonderfully provocative poem Heaven. In these extracts he cycles the gospel of absurdity to the max, and to great effect. It begins with the line, 'In the heaven of the god I hope for (call him X)', and contains these delightfully challenging images. Hang on tight and enjoy!

Here on the gates of pearl there hangs no sign
Limiting cakes and ale, forbidding wine.
No weakness here is hidden, no vice unknown.
Sin is a sickness to be cured, outgrown.
With the help of a god who can laugh, an unsolemn god
Who smiles at old wives’ tales of iron rod
And fiery hell, a god who’s more at ease
With bawds and Falstaffs than with pharisees.

Here the lame learn to leap, the blind to see.
Tyrants are taught to be humble, slaves to be free.
Fools become wise, and wise men cease to be bores,
Here bishops learn from lips of back-street whores,
And white men follow black-faced angel’s feet
Through fields of orient and immortal wheat.....

And X, of whom no coward is afraid,
Who’s friend consulted, not fierce king obeyed;
Who hears the unspoken thought, the prayer unprayed;
Who expects not even the learned to understand
His universe, extends a prodigal hand,
Full of forgiveness, over his promised land.


  1. love this, love the photo!

  2. Many thanks Sally - glad it worked for you

  3. Hi stumbled across your blog while 'hopping' the other day, probably from Sally at Eternal Echoes... have enjoyed browsing it and used your Pebbles pic for my current header as they went so well on a montage with a stone angel, hope that is ok. If not let me know and I will remove, I change the header regularly... it is in flux!!

  4. Hi Danny, Im really glad you enjoyed the images and found them productive. By all means use the image of pebbles, its there to be shared.