THE BIG SOCIETYJeremy Davies, Canon Precentor (Monday 8th November 2010)
Perhaps the most pervasive characteristic of our post-modern culture in the first decade of this millennium has been the sense that there is no longer an overarching narrative in politics or theology or economic theory (if there ever was one). There was little consensus, institutions – the monarchy, parliament, the church – no longer held undisputed sway, and everybody’s opinion was equally valuable. Or else those who talked loudest or controlled the media or who won the style battle would grasp the reins of power: Thatcher in the ʹ90s, New Labour in the last decade. The only certain things in our life were not death and taxes but the market, which Mrs Thatcher in one of her more fallible pronouncements assured us could not be bucked. We now know better! If we don’t buck the market, then the market will buck us–and how! As a result, as far as Britain is concerned at least, there has had to be a re-alignment in politics. Coalition government, not seen in this country since the second world war, has for the moment at least replaced the polarised ideologies of left and right in what is being called a progressive politics, in which the pain of deficit-reduction will not be borne disproportionately by those who are least able to do so. Fairness is the new watchword, and we wait to see if private sector bonuses are shaved in the same way as child benefit and unemployment benefits will be. Part of the political re-alignment (which has inevitably had its impact on the leadership of the Labour Party as well) has involved the idea of the Big Society, originally a Tory election ploy which was derided by the left as simply a way of dressing up cuts in public services. However, the Big Society (an overarching narrative if ever there was one) with its emphasis on voluntarism and the involvement of all individuals and organisations who have traditionally had a stake in supporting a just, compassionate and humane society, is growing as an idea. It might correct the imbalance in our dependence culture and roll back the intrusiveness of the nanny state, while recognising the centrality of the state in providing the necessary infrastructure of the just and fair society. If the Big Society idea can, in these terms, get off the drawing board and into practice in our local communities, then perhaps we will begin to see that sense of a common humanity – just, compassionate and humane – which the Church has long proclaimed, and at its best put into practice – recognising that “we are members one of another”. That Pauline expression is used, in context, of those who are members of the body of Christ – the Church. But I am one of those who see the Church not simply as an enclosed sect of the like-minded but a model (a sacrament indeed) of what a true humanity might look like. So the idea that “we are members one of another” is not just an insight into church membership, but a vital imperative, by implication, for the whole of humanity. The Big Society is in essence a Christian ideal (shared and differently interpreted by other religious faiths) and the Church needs both to be involved in and contribute to the outworking of the concept in our country over the next decade. And also the Church needs to discover, itself, how to be just and compassionate and humane. It might be that the Big Secular Society has lessons to teach the Church on how to be Christian - and maybe overarching narratives will prove to be not quite a thing of the past.
ART IN THE CATHEDRALMark Bonney, Canon Treasurer (Wednesday 1st September 2010)
I am thrilled that from 11 September – 12 November the Cathedral will be the home of a very exciting exhibition Liminality: Towards the Unknown Region. Eight top sculptors have been invited to interpret this theme using the Cathedral as their inspiration and I’m sure the exhibition will be stunning. This exhibition is particularly exciting because it’s the first time for some years that we have initiated and hosted a large exhibition of this sort, and we are immensely grateful to Jacquiline Creswell (read more about her on page..) who recently joined the Exhibitions Committee to help us develop our exhibition work. This development has been a conscious move on the part of Chapter to be more focussed with our exhibition work. We recognise that the visual arts have an enormous capacity to speak of the transcendent and of the eternal; as well as the ability to challenge our perceptions of ourselves and the way we live – and in these senses visual art is profoundly spiritual. Recently Emily Young’s Angel Heads provided a wonderful end to our 750th anniversary, Robert Koenig’s Odyssey at the beginning of that year challenged us about the search for home and identity; Peter Eugene Ball’s work in its deceptive simplicity was at times humorous, but also evocative and timeless, as well as modern as the Madonna in the Trinity Chapel shows. Charlotte Mayer’s Thornflower in the Morning Chapel has raised our consciousness about the Holocaust and reconciliation and has been much reflected on by visitors and used in our schools’ work. It has been wonderful to have all these works with us, but Liminality will be the first time a number of different artists have responded to a clearly defined theme in relation to the sacred space that is Salisbury Cathedral. Writing in the Washington National Cathedral’s equivalent of Cathedral News Dean Sam Lloyd wrote earlier this year “halfway houses are what anthropologists call ‘liminal spaces’, places of openness and possibility outside the normal structures of life. In these in-between spaces pilgrims and seekers can encounter God, and even the unsuspecting can find him/herself, as the poet Larkin put it, ‘surprising/a hunger in himself to be more serious’”. We chose the theme of Liminality with that idea in mind of Cathedrals and sacred space as an in-between place, a place of possibility and encounter with that which is greater than ourselves. For many of our visitors the Cathedral is very much something outside their normal structures of life and we hope and pray these and other works of art may indeed inspire, challenge and provoke and thus make us more open to God and his creativity. The second half of the exhibitions title Toward the Unknown Region takes words from a Walt Whitman poem that link in with what this exhibition and much of our engagement with visual arts is about. The poem follows and may I suggest you ponder it and pray with it as you feel is appropriate? Darest thou now O soul, Walk out with me toward the unknown region, Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow? No map there, nor guide, Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand, Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, are in that land. I know it not O soul, Nor dost thou, all is blank before us, All waits undream'd of in that region, that inaccessible land. Till when the ties loosen, All but the ties eternal, Time and Space, Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us. Then we burst forth, we float, In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them, Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfill O soul.