In that spirit, our theme for worship this month is, The Gospel According to..., in which we have invited preachers to share the way in which the work of a musician, writer, poet or artist has shaped their theology. From high culture to pop culture, Caravaggio to Billy Joel, I know we are in for an exciting and thought-provoking month.
When you think about the influences on your theology, who do you think of? Perhaps the first people who spring to mind are religious leaders or writers from the Christian tradition. But if you think about the music, art, and books that are meaningful to you, you might find more influence on your theological thinking than you first thought. For example, in my own reading life, atheist writers such as Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett have helped me to understand the potentially destructive power of religious dogmatism and they regularly challenge me to think carefully about how I relate as a person of faith to the diversity of people around me.
The first Terry Pratchett novel I read was Carpe Jugulum*, which contains an exchange between an elderly witch and an earnest young preacher, which I have never forgotten, perhaps because I read it when I was first encountering God and church for myself:
There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example,” said Oats.
“And what do they think? Against it, are they?” said Granny Weatherwax.
“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”
“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.
“It’s a lot more complicated than that . . .”
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes . . .”
“But they starts with thinking about people as things . . . ”
I have never been able to get past the idea that thinking about people as things - objectification - is at the heart of human sin. In the book of Genesis alone we see Jacob cheating his father and brother to receive material inheritance, and Jacob's own sons disposing of their brother out of jealousy, not to mention the men of Sodom and Gamorrah who felt that all visitors were theirs to rape. Jesus calls time and time again to love because you cannot fail to see the humanity and divinity in one whom you love - that is the only sure counter-measure against objectification and sin.
In the month to come, as you hear about the diverse ways in which the music we hear, the images we see, and the books we read may shape our views of one another and God, be alert to the influences around you and thank God for the ways in which we can see and experience the Divine in the mundane.
*'Sieze the Throat'