Yesterday was day 3 and the day I’m thinking the conference finally left its runway and took flight – even if it was only a short hop around the bay and back home. We were lifted intellectually above the ground by Regius Professor of Theology at the University of Oxford and Canon of our cathedral, Graham Ward. The surprise element of his talk was a viewing of the music video of Lana Del Ray’s disturbing song “Born to Die”; as an example of the mashup of mythic themes and Christian iconography in the products of contemporary popular culture.
I’m thinking here that with the input of our own Professor of Theology the conference discovered its pearl of great price – it’s treasure hidden in a field. What’s more than a teeny bit worrying is that we didn’t go out and sell all that we had to purchase it. Our own Professor of Theology who according to the conference programme blurb ” has written extensively on..the role of theology in an increasingly secular ( he didn’t write this I’m thinking) age” , whose task was to interpret to us the culture of the world around us – especially the critical signs of the times – and give us ideas about how the church should be responding – was given 50 minutes between coffee and (yet another) 75 minute long church service.
The material and ideas Graham Ward’s talk was handling are vitally important. They connect directly with the biggest issue facing churches in Western Europe today – what do we do now? What do churches do next after the earthquake of European modernity – of which post-modernity is simply the second movement in a developing piece. Carry on regardless hoping and praying a rabbit will be pulled out of the hat by God or someone? Maybe the new Archbishop of Canterbury or the new Pope? Or do we stop, change direction and how? In fact Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis are each in their own ways putting a stop to the” carrying on regardless” behaviours. They are connecting to people beyond the church in what they are choosing to talk about and in symbolic acts signalling the Church is changing direction – repenting of the Church’s former false certainties about where truth and power lie. And they calling the Church itself back to our roots in Jesus.
On Day 4 as luck would have it one of the speakers is not available and we’ve been given the chance to meet in small groups with an open floor. We’ve got homework – the idea is to study a bible passage – which we may well do – but I for one will be wanting to confer – what conferences are for actually – about what Graham Ward has shown us about the signs of our times.