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  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
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Sunday
Oct212007

Poetry and mathematics. The world of the serpent or the Cross?

This morning I was invited to attend a service at a local Methodist Church just up the road from a University where I teach, in Brooklyn.

The minister of this Church is truly one of my favourite preachers. His preaching is so good, for me, since it is so different from mine. His preaching is poetic. He is precise in his turn of phrase, his choice of words, symbols and images. Each is crafted with care to communicate the message.

He does not follow points, that's my approach. My approach is mathematical and reasoned. I craft an argument of reason out of points, texts, and common sense. He, however, draws upon the affective. His preaching is beautiful, but not the kind of softening beauty that dulls the senses (like a fine red wine), rather it is the kind of beauty that jars and arrests one's attention; like being drawn by the image of a beautiful person - one cannot help but to look.

He preached on ministry, it was poetic. He asked which world we though ministry took place in - was it the world of the cross that he and I inhabit, or was it the world of the serpent, that his parishioners retreat from on a Sunday?

The answer is NEITHER. Since neither of these worlds exist. Christ is in all, and all of the world is in Christ.

And, the truth is that there is also no difference between poetry and mathematics - they are the same thing. One, however, uses words, the other uses numbers. To different people they have the same wonderful, or off-putting, effects. Some people love numbers and are put to sleep by words. Others love words, but cannot understand numbers.

In one of my favourite movies "The good shepherd", a story of the CIA, there is a wonderful quote. It is:

... fine poetry is the music of mathematics - numbers, singing. You have to look behind the words to understand their meaning

If this doesn't make sense, don't worry, it's not meant to...

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