Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Only the Local is Universal" - James Attlee at QI

Really enjoyed hearing James Attlee at the QI building (see pic) in Oxford last night along with a few other hOMEies.

Attlee is the author of the book 'Isolarion' which is about the Cowley Road here in Oxford (I mentioned it yesterday).

It was fascinating to hear him talk so much about spirituality (for instance the idea of pilgrimage which he talked about at length) and then to claim that, although he has a religious background in terms of his upbringing, he now has no religious belief and that "all the overarching belief systems have failed". I guess it's a story that we're getting very used to hearing by now - religion bad/spirituality good.

And in a sense he's right - they have all failed, certainly in their current form. Christendom is crumbling around our ears and many inside the church don't think that's a bad thing. But I guess many of us would want to avoid throwing the (holy) baby out with the bathwater. Out of the ashes of Christendom comes new communities of Christian practice.

Attlee also talked about the 'fragments of global cultures that have washed up on the Cowley Road', his fight to prevent the local council from tidying the place up and prettifying it in a bland way ("why can't we just walk round the empty fruit cartons on the pavement? why are we all so obsessed with walking in straight lines in the city?"!!), and the importance of simply walking around (which I felt really challenged to make part of my practice).

But the moment I enjoyed most was when he was talking with passion about the annual Cowley Road Carnival (this year happening on Sunday 1st July). He talked about what a difference having no cars around made, but most tellingly he talked about the effect that the Carnival has on the local consciousness - it leaves a trace and opens up possibilities. It enables you to imagine the city differently.

Sound familiar?! I think it's a great image of the task of local Christian community.

1 comment:

Dean said...

An excerpt from Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey by James Attlee is available on the University of Chicago Press website. The excerpt is the chapter titled "Further Purification of the Pilgrim," in which Attlee visits the Eau-de-Vie Flotation Centre in Cowley Road.