Wednesday, 17 August 2011

God etc

Well, the 'G' word and the 'C' word and the 'R' word were all mentioned once or twice at our MBE planning meeting yesterday for an international conference to be held in Moffat Sept 14-17 2012. The inspiration for the conference is a man called Alexander Men, a casualty of the failing Soviet system - he was murdered on his way to take an early morning service at his country church one September morning in 1990. Men was no ordinary parish priest. He was a polymath, reading in seven or eight languages, a scientist who took a university course in biology only to be denied the chance to graduate because he had enrolled as a curate equivalent in the Russian Orthodox church, a strictly state-controlled organisation, then and now. There is convincing evidence that he was murdered by two members of the Soviet Special Forces, on orders from a section of the Russian powers that be viscerally opposed to Men's ethnicity (he was born into a Jewish family, and baptised as an infant with his mother) and outward - looking Christian faith, his courage in refusing to be bribed or bullied. In 1994 I co-edited a book of his writing, entitled Christianity for the Twenty-First Century with Ann Shukman, a neighbour here in Dumfries & Galloway. An eBook version will soon be available because the paper version is out of print, and not currently available on general sale (I have a limited number of copies of the US edition which I am happy to make available to anyone who asks). Our steering committee was considerably strengthened yesterday by Donald Smith, who runs the Church of Scotland's John Knox House/Netherbow theatre and Scottish Storytelling Centre on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Donald is a longstanding Men fan, with whom I have worked for many years on one project or another. The idea of the conference is to celebrate Men's genius for engaging with the arts - particularly literature and film (his parishioners included celebrated Soviet artists and intellectuals) - and science, using his own lightly-worn knowledge and personal charisma to persuade everyone he met that Christianity need not be dull, sectarian,mean-minded or obscurantist, but a firm foundation on which to build contemporary communities. Look out for a conference website soon.

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