Category: words

Words, words, words

By , 4 September 2009 6:21 pm

Well, our long summer break has finally drawn to a close. We are now in the ‘phoney war’ stage of meeting students, preparing notes and lesson plans but not actually teaching. That starts properly on Wednesday. It’s a curious moment: the relaunch of what is in most ways a fairly breathless sequence that runs on – head over heels – until May.

Anyway I’ve had some really good news in that, although I was due to teach Geography this autumn along with the perennial Geology and Environmental Studies, the demand for Geology is such that I am being taken off Geography. I’m very pleased about this, not because I don’t like Geography but because at ‘A’ level it is effectively a social science and involves a language that quite simply I neither possess nor understand. So when a Geology paper asks me about earthquakes I can waffle on for ages to students about how they should answer with reference to their tectonic cause and effect and all the various scientific factors: I fully understand the question. But when I come to a geography paper (and I don’t think I’m totally distorting a genuine question) and I read ‘Why do people’s perceptions of earthquake hazards vary?’ I am useless. Actually, I’m probably worse than useless because I would start explaining about plate tectonics and various geological phenomena when, no doubt, the answer is all to do with social, economic and demographic impacts. It’s a little bit like doing The Times crossword or something similar: you look at a clue and immediately think you know the answer, but of course the real answer is something utterly different. So that’s largely a question of a language code that I have failed to crack.

This year we have an added complication of an impending merger between Gorseinon College (where I teach, very academic) and Swansea College (not very academic). All being well things will work out but it’s not an obvious marriage: the hope is though that we will stay pretty much as we are with our generally excellent results undiminished. In the draft document I was given today there was any amount of nuanced statements that we are all trying to read something into. What exactly are they hinting at? Words again.

Another piece of news is that I have just received the cover proofs for a book that is coming out in February called The Return: Grace and the Prodigal by J. John with Chris Walley. This is a book-length treatment of the issues raised by the great parable of the Prodigal (and parables in general). It’s published by Hodder and I am living in hope that it does well. There is another linguistic nuance in the fact that the book is by ‘J John with Chris Walley’. This is evidently supposed to convey something different to J John and Chris Walley, but I am blowed if I know what. Words!

Finally, and probably of more relevance to most of you, is the fact that I have been working on a new fiction book. I wasn’t going to mention it at this stage but I had an e-mail yesterday from the nice lady at Hodder I have been working with, saying she was moving on. So I seized the moment and asked if she could recommend any literary agents and got the obvious response ‘well what sort of a book is it?’ So I spent last night tidying up the one existing chapter and doing a two-page summary. It’s very much a standalone work and it has no resemblance or linkage to the Lamb among the Stars. I don’t want to say too much more about it because it is based on an eminently copyable idea. What I can say is that I have aimed for popularity and have done all I can to make the first chapter as arresting and compelling as possible. Anyway that has now gone on to Hodder and who knows? In the meantime, if there are any literary agents out there who want a really good story then why not get in touch? And here again I will no doubt find myself carefully scrutinising any comment from Hodders or an agent; trying to decode the real meaning behind what is said.

These are just four instances which remind us that words mean more than their dictionary definition. They are curiously slippery and elusive things; so much depends on context, intonation and interpretation. There are lots of deep theological reasons for the Incarnation (‘the Word became flesh’) such as the fact that God had to become a member of the human race in order to legitimately pay the price for human sin. I can’t help but also wonder whether the very elusive nature of words means that sometimes they have to be supplemented with actions to make them unambiguous. In the life and death of Christ we see something louder and clearer than any verbal proclamation.

Blogs, criticism and abuse of words

By , 29 February 2008 7:28 pm

First all some further feedback from the blog tour. I have had some nice e-mails from Marcus Goodyear, who is involved with a website/organisation called The High Calling. The ‘High Calling’ of the title turns out to be the workplace and he is very much involved with helping Christians to live out our lives in the workplace to which God has called us. I rather like this as I have been fed up for many years with that particular view which creates a hierarchy which has ministers and missionaries at the top and those of us who teach or manage pretty much at the bottom. Anyway, I have enjoyed their very sane daily mailings and I commend the website to you.

No less than three separate blogs were devoted to the Shadow and Night by Steve on the Back to the Mountains blog. The first two were very positive indeed and the third dwelt with what he perceived as weaknesses. Two he picked out were that I had failed to understand quantum entanglement and also that there were issues with my angelology. On quantum entanglement he writes ‘There is one place, however, that is just plain wrong: the invocation of quantum entanglement as a means of instantaneous interstellar communication. It doesn’t work that way.’ I have to say I am puzzled at his confidence in a field in which certainty is a rare beast. A physics researcher who is a friend of mine, and who regularly travels to Los Alamos to work on anti-hydrogen had no problems with it. Anyway I am gratified in achieving a unique literary status: I do not imagine any other author has been criticised for their handling of both angelology and quantum entanglement. Do read the site; he has some interesting things to say.

Finally, let me make an observation on words. I was at a Bible study this week, where we looked at the celebrated passage in James on the misuse of the tongue. We all dutifully lamented our wayward words, cynicism and gossip. Then, as we came to a time of prayer, someone mentioned a relative who had been badly mishandled by the government program/ initiative called ‘Care in the Community’ which is responsible for those who are psychologically vulnerable. It has resulted in the closing a lot of specialist care units and sheltered facilities. The motives are of course saving money, and the whole thing was so desperate that instead of ‘care in the community’ it is widely named ‘neglect in the neighbourhood’. Anyway, it struck me that that here was a whole new dimension of abuse of language: the concealment of evil by the language of good. What would James have said?

Have a good week,

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