OK, it’s a tacky title from a tacky song. But, I was reminded of it during a fascinating cross-cultural session at the College of Bishops meeting in Oxford today.
Bishop Wolfgang Huber had made some great observations about the need for the church in an ‘aesthetic post-modern culture’ to find new ways of engaging people with Christian faith. In Peru all those being confirmed are required to memorise passages of the Bible, creeds and other texts. The Bishop’s point was that memorising might not be exactly trendy, but it is very effective.
It is the memorising that grabbed my attention.
Charles Wesley (or his brother…) once said that we learn our theology not from what we hear from the pulpit, but from what we sing. His point was that if you put a good tune to something, it is easier to remember. Then he got on and wrote hundreds of hymns to memorable and easily singable tunes.
(This once led me to observe in a different context that if you sing rubbish, you believe rubbish. It caused me endless grief when taken out of context.)
Wolfgang Huber suggested that we ought to agree on a selection of texts that all Christians should be required to remember – to commit to memory. I agree with him.
We no longer require children to learn poetry or songs. After all, anything can be looked up immediately on the phone; so, why go to the effort of memorising songs or poetry?
Well, I am useless at it. The only poetry I can remember in full is from the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band (Neil Innes) and it helpfully reads:
“I am such a pedant,
I’ve got the brain of a dead ant,
All the imagination of a caravan site…
But I still love you…”
Not exactly Shakespeare, but it stuck.
I need to think further about the power of memorising texts that become part of you. Many people have experienced the power of repeated liturgy: prayer that eventually becomes so much part of you that it prays you.
Requiring candidates for Confirmation to memorise a creed or the Decalogue or the Beatitudes might seem demanding. But, the question is whether we are demanding enough of young Christians and whether or not the memorising of texts would be helpful in maturing them in the faith.
This is not the same thing as indoctrination. It is about creating the space in which people can reflect on what has become part of their ‘vocabulary’ – their mental and spiritual language.
I will take this to the Meissen Commission at the end of this week – of which more anon.
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