Thursday, April 19, 2007

SERMONS IN STONE..... is the name of one (yes, just one) of my latest projects. I was asked by the NCBC powers that be to compile an album of photos of our church buildings as they used to be before the recent renovations. This album is intended to be an artifact that people can browse in order to see how things have changed, property wise. This task provided me with an excellent cover story to commence a project that I have had in the background for years: Namely, the “Sermons in Stone” project. It entails using a set of photographs of our church architecture to illustrate a piece of text I wrote ten years ago called “High Pulpits, High Priests and the Bedford Blessing”. This piece briefly explored the architectural significance of the ex-Dereham Road Baptist church in relation to the mediaeval period, through the reformation, to the coming of the exotic sounding “Toronto blessing” (except that the “priesthood” who administered the blessing at the Dereham road venue - and wouldn’t you just know it - hailed from ........... Bedford)

In the cover story of an “nostalgia album” I had the perfect excuse to prize out some excellent photographic material from skilled photographers like Steve Genders and Les Thacker both of who obviously have some class equipment. Because every one at NCBC obeys the leadership to the letter, this couple of poor stooges had to hand over their artistic work to me! The album will, of course, ultimately be published in order to maintain my cover story, but the background project will be a little bit more nefarious. Little do they know!

As I have said “Sermons in Stone” is just one of my projects. Another of my current projects also harks back to the past, in fact right back to 1977 when I was involved with the ultimate mathematical control freaky: a study of randomness that attempted to capture it completely in mathematical equations. There was a paradox here that fascinated me – how can you mathematically characterise unpredictability and chaos by bringing it into the compass of the Great Rationales of Mathematics? Aren’t chaos and unpredictability the antithesis of mathematical order? To embark on this project is the ultimate conceptual imperialism. Right up my street.

This project was partly triggered by a question raised Arthur Koestler in his fascinating book “The Roots of Coincidence”. In chapter 1 he tells us how roulette wheels, the daily frequency of ‘dog bites man’ in New York and the number of lethal kicks delivered to German soldiers from their own army horses, all conform to the mathematical patterns of statistics and then he asks a simple but profound question:

How do those German army horses adjust the frequency of their lethal kicks to the requirement of the Poisson equation? How do the dogs in New York know that their daily ration of biting is exhausted? How does the roulette ball know that in the long run zero must come up once in thirty-seven times?
My mathematical work on this fascinating subject was completed by 1987 and I defined, at least to my own satisfaction, the notion of randomness without resort to algorithmic information theory. I typed up my findings, somehow managing to create all the mathematical formalisms using the limited character set of a mechanical typewriter. Hence, my current project is to transfer this paper to computer format, probably expanding and enhancing it in the process. In some ways this mathematical project does have parallels with my attempts to formulate the Open Gospel – in both cases my desire was to find order and theme amidst disorder and complexity. In the first case the complexity is found in those prosaic patterns of heads and tails generated by the throws of a coin and in the second case the complexity was found in the chaotic varieties of Christian culture.

Why do I do these projects? It’s not necessarily that I am particularly expert at them or that I uncover anything special. There are probably two reasons; the first is that I find mystery to be kind of food, a food that I need to devour in order to sustain myself. Thank God then that His mysteries are infinite in number thus ensuring an eternal supply of ‘food’. The second reason is that if I don’t keep at it, if I don’t keep hunting in this world of mystery, boredom, to the extent of being a mild form melancholy, settles upon me – I find the stimulation is necessary. It’s like having to run to keep warm, or like the shark that has to keep swimming to prevent itself from sinking. If you think that there is something wrong about this then think again. God’s creative activity has pulled all sorts of strange creatures out of the nether world of contingency space. I, along with you weird lot out there, seem to be the strange forms he has graciously extracted from the everlasting limbo of possibility, into eternity.
c 1977, 1987, 1997, 2007

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