Ray Bradbury R.I.P.

I first encountered Ray Bradbury when I was fifteen, in a copy of The Illustrated Man which I bought, I think, through some kind of book club arrangement at school. It was nothing like anything I had ever read before. There were two things that stood out.

First was the sheer breadth of imagination. The stories in that collection were so finely crafted and yet so wild, spun out of sheer inventiveness.

There was the children’s playroom where the virtual reality comes terrifyingly alive; the trudge through the incessant rains of Venus for the sanctuary of the sun-domes; the man who builds his children a rocket in the backyard. And as I discovered more stories, there are other images which stay with me even now: how one false step off a path changes the course of history; authors spirits dying out as their books are burnt; a weird little tale about a miner who sees goblins passing through rock as if it were water; and all those stories of the colonisation of Mars which were filled with an aching sense of loneliness and loss.

But the second was the voice. He didn’t write like anyone I’d ever encountered. There was poetry in his voice. He wasn’t just an ideas man, anyone can be an ideas man. He was A Writer. This comes through most forcibly, of course, in his novels, Farenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes:

First of all it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July’s really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June’s best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September’s a billion years away.

There’s that voice at full blast. Nostalgia and a sense of something lost, for sure. But also magic, the thrill of being alive. In Dandelion Wine he writes of the joy of a new pair of tennis shoes, of how a boy who wears those could run like the wind. For me, the first time I read it, young as I was, I remembered what it was like to be ten, a time when you ran everywhere.

So Bradbury taught me what it was to imagine. But he also taught me that imagination is not enough. There was a something in his writing which showed me that you had to work at this thing. Looking back I think he showed me that it was a good thing – an important thing – to be a writer. (One of his least known books is Green Shadows, White Whale, a thinly-disguised autobiographical account of his time working as a writer on John Huston’s film of Moby Dick). There was nothing accidental about his writing. It was the product of years mastering his craft:

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

A great writer. A great man.

Kingdom of Fools Discussion Guide

Just added a whole heap of pages (well 4) containing all the resources to accompany Kingdom of Fools.

Chief among these is a free, downloadable discussion guide to accompany all the videos.

The guide is perfect for homegroups, Bible study groups, or small, clandestine meetings of subversive organisations. or all three. Oh, and churches as well. And heck, even youthgroups. And schools.

Oh, just go here and download the thing.

 

There are also some extra links and resources, which I’ll be adding to over time. You can find all the links on the section of this site I am calling, with stunning originality, Kingdom of Fools.

Soldier: Kingdom of Fools Video 4

In Acts 10 Peter converts the centurion Cornelius. But would he have been allowed to keep his job? What did the early church think of warfare?

The final installment in a series of four videos to accompany the book Kingdom of Fools. See more at the Kingdom of Fools Vimeo Channel.

 

 

This is possibly the most contentious video of the series – it explores the attitude of the early church to violence and warfare. The members of the early church were adamant that it was impossible for a Christian to take revenge or to inflict violence on another person. In the words of Tertullian, they believed that ‘Christ, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.’ Their emphasis on love, peace and forgiveness was one of their most distinctive characteristics.

According to Walter Wink, the New Testament passage quoted more than any other during the church’s first four centuries was

‘But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’ (Matt 5.44–46)

So this video looks at whether we’ve forgotten this a bit. At whether we are so accustomed to the idea of power, so habituated to being in charge that we no longer as Christians question the use of violence as the way to solve problems.

This is something I’ll be blogging more on in the coming weeks if I get time. In the meantime, enjoy the video.

Purple: Kingdom of Fools Video 3

When Paul went to Philippi he converted a woman called Lydia, who was involved in the luxury clothing business. But what did the early church think of such things? Why was purple so expensive? And what does this have to do with people who call their daughters ‘Chelsea’?

The third in a series of four videos to accompany the book Kingdom of Fools. See more at the Kingdom of Fools Vimeo Channel.

 

This video looks at Paul’s arrival in Philippi and the conversion of Lydia. She was a ‘porphuropolis’ – a buyer, or dealer, or dyer of purple cloth. Purple was a luxury product. Its wearing was restricted by law to certain high-status groups of people. ‘Wearing the purple’ was a sign of prestige and power.

So it’s interesting to explore the attitude of the first followers of Jesus to wealth and power and the status-symbols that went with it. Through looking at the example of Lydia, and a third-century Christian called Cyprian of Carthage, we can see that when it came to purple, they may have been slightly colour blind…

The birthday of the church

Today is Whitsunday, or Pentecost, to give it its biblical name. It commemorates that moment when the Holy Spirit descended on the first followers of Jesus, turning them from a group of somewhat bewildered disciples into the movement that was to change the world.

This, then, is the birthday of ‘the church’. So here’s a little birthday present for you: an excerpt on Pentecost from Kingdom of Fools, which looks at when it took place, where it took place, what kinds of people were there, and why the authorities in the Temple might have got annoyed about it.

Kingdom of Fools: Pentecost

 

Tentmaker: Kingdom of Fools Video 2

Paul was a tentmaker. But what did his job actually involve? And how did the occupations and status of the first followers of Jesus affect the way in which they did ‘church’? WARNING: video contains scenes of a DIY nature.

The second in a series of four videos to accompany the book Kingdom of Fools. See more at the Kingdom of Fools Vimeo Channel.

 

 

This video looks at the working, living and worshipping conditions of the early church.

Nowadays when we think of church, we think of big buildings with pointy towers attached. But for the early church there were no dedicated church buildings. The earliest ‘church’ comes from the town of Dura-Europos and dates from 235 AD. And that was still really a house-church .

In Corinth, the first meeting place of Christians was probably in the workshop of Priscilla and Aquila, who had moved there from Rome and who were in Corinth when Paul arrived sometime in 50/51 AD.
Paul went to the synagogue to debate with the Jews, but the Christians must have had their own meeting elsewhere. We know that when Paul was ‘evicted’ from the synagogue, he moved to the house of Titius Justus. But before then the likeliest place, the first place, is the workshop of Priscilla and Aquila.

This was typical of the first churches. Christians met in homes, warehouses, shops, rented rooms. And this lasted for a long time. When Justin Martyr was interrogated in 165 AD he said that his group met in a room above the bath of Myrtinus.

A couple of churches in Rome also provide evidence. The church of San Clemente dates from 1108 AD, but below it there is a fifth century church. And then below that there is a Roman alley and two buildings, one was a warehouse, the other was a mithraeum – a meeting place for the followers of Mithras. The church may have started in the warehouse, or in the house which replaced it.

Below the church of Santa Prisca in Rome they found another mithraeum which was a room in a house. But they also found that another part of the house – an extension – was an early Christian house church. Presumably the Christians rented this room out. But they were close to their neighbours and in an ordinary building.

You can read more about how they worshipped and where the Christians lived in the book.

Donkey: Kingdom of Fools video 1

Why were the first Christians thought of as fools? Who drew the first picture of Jesus on a cross? And what does donkey worship have to do with any of this?

Donkey is the first in a series of videos I’ve produced to accompany the book Kingdom of Fools. It looks at the Roman attitudes towards Christianity and why they were thought of as fools.

 

Here’s a bit from the book:

To outsiders these first Christians were dubious characters. They were definitely antisocial and probably criminal. Not to mention stupid. Fools. That was the main thing. Celsus, the first pagan author we know to have written against Christianity, claimed that Christianity deliberately set out to attract ‘the foolish, dishonourable and stupid, and only slaves, women and little children’. Celsus claimed that the Christians did not welcome anyone who had been educated, ‘or who is wise, or prudent … but if there are any ignorant, or unintelligent, or uneducated, or foolish persons, let them come with confidence’.

You can visit my vimeo channel here, where all four videos will appear via the power of the interweb. Over the next few days I’ll also be adding pictures and other resources to accompany the book.

Enjoy!

Kingdom of Fools

The new book by… er… me.

Kingdom of Fools is a biography of the Early Church.

Here’s some blurb.

To the rest of the world they were fools. Rebels. Ignorant peasants. People who shunned wealth and power and welcomed the poor and uneducated. These first followers were persecuted and their leaders killed, yet this ragged collection of lowly tradesmen, women, and slaves created a movement that changed the world. How did this happen? How did the kingdom of fools conquer the mighty empire that was Rome?

In this fascinating new biography of the early church, Nick Page sets the biblical accounts alongside the latest historical and archaeological research, exploring how the early Christians lived and worshipped – and just why the Romans found this new branch of the Jewish faith so difficult to comprehend. KINGDOM OF FOOLS is a fresh, challenging, accessible portrait of a movement so radical, so dangerous, so thrillingly different that it outlasted the empire that tried to destroy it and went on to become the driving force of our cultural development – and claims more followers today than ever before in history.

And here’s some alternative blurb that I got John Chrysostom, the fourth century Bishop of Constantinople to write for the book:

I wish that it were possible to meet with one who could deliver to us the history of the Apostles, not only all they wrote and spoke of, but of the rest of their conversation, even what they ate, and when they ate, when they walked, and where they sat, what they did every day, in what parts they were, into what house they entered, and where they lodged – to relate everything with minute exactness, so replete with advantage is all that was done by them.

Thanks John. Appreciate it. Maybe catch up for a beer sometime.

All right, that actually comes from a commentary he wrote on Philemon in around 400 AD but it more or less sums up what I was trying to do in the book – to paint a picture of the early church: who they were, why they joined, what their life was like – and why it helps us today to learn about them.

It’s the fruit of a lot of reading and research over the past five or six years. In the next few weeks I’ll be putting up videos and extra material and homegroup resources and that sort of thing.

But first, here’s the book. Hope you enjoy it.

Get it here:

  1. At your local bookshop.
  2. Using Hive, which can deliver to a bookshop near you, or by post.
  3. Using Amazon, which is cheapest. (Amazon says it’s a paperback. But it’s a shiny new hardback, folks.)
  4. As an ePub from Hodder.
  5. On your kindle.
  6. Via the iBooks store.

P.S. The electronic versions aren’t available until the 10th May.

The Death Zone

 

This is a remarkable, powerful video. While I was watching it, I kept thinking of Paul’s strange statement that he was:

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2Cor. 4:10–12)

As is the case with lots of Paul’s writing, I’m not sure I entirely understand what he was getting at, but I think it may be something like this video: the immense power and wonder of a man who has come to terms with death – good death. What Philip Gould calls ‘the death zone’ is, in fact, the place where he feels more alive than at any time in his life. In the interview with his daughter, she says

"Dad had been going on about the death zone and how for him time had stood still; how since he had accepted the terminal diagnosis he wasn’t thinking about anything but the moment, the power of his relationships.

That is a profound thing. The power of our relationships is what really matters in life. Relationships with our family, with our spouses, with God, and, with ourselves.

“He was always spiritual, throughout his life,” she says. “My mum and my sister and me are all Jewish. His sister is a church of England priest. But it wasn’t the fundamental thing for him. He had this strong belief that it was not God who judges you at the end of your life but that you judge yourself. Have you lived well?”

As he was a political figure, whether he lived well is a matter of debate. and some of the comments below the Observer article are emotionally charged and very sad, not only for their bitterness but also for their sense of loss and of experiencing deaths which were not so privileged.

But I think that misses the point. ‘The power of his relationships…’ At the end of his life he wasn’t Philip Gould the politician, but Philip Gould the father, the husband, the man. Maybe that was a lesson he had to learn, I don’t know.

But if it was, he learned it well.

 

(Im)patience After Sebald

I’ve just received a copy of Patience (After Sebald), a documentary about the famously melancholy German writer W.G. Sebald and the walk through Sufolk which became his book The Rings of Saturn.

Rather inappropriately, given the subject matter, I am very excited.

I love Sebald. I love the sense of humour which lurks beneath the melancholy. I love the obscure details, the invetnted facts and connections. I love the quirky, strange photos which crowd the narrative. the fact that you just can’t categorise his books. Are they novels? Travelogues? Fact or fiction? It all seems to blur.

There is a compelling fascination to his slow-moving prose, with its meticulous observation. I think what I love is that he is almost perpetually sudetracked – or you think that he is. So what starts off as a record of a journey through Suffolk – Southwold, Orford, and the world’s most depressing B&B at Lowetoft – takes you through an entirely unexpected landscape of subjects: Thomas Browne, Joseph Conrad, the origins of the first world war, Roger Casement, the Dowager Empress Tz’u-hsi, Edward Fitzgerald and the holocaust.

He is, to put it mildly, an acquired taste. (His novel Austerlitz is over 400 pages long and contains only one paragraph). but there is no-one like him.

I can’t wait to watch it. So while the rest of the family watch The Voice, I shall be watching Patience After Sebald – and reminding myself of a truly unique voice in literature.