Friday, December 07, 2007

If you can't explain it with penguins

you're probably onto a loser.

When I first graduated and was having all kinds of fun working as a bookseller in Hatchards of Piccadilly Cardinal Basil Hume wrote a book entitled "To be a Pilgrim"
Since I was the person responsible for the religious books department, this was very much one of my babies and as it climbed its way up The Sunday Times bestseller list I got very used to fielding enquiries about it. So it was that one evening, just before closing time, I found myself embroiled in this conversation
Customer "I wanted to buy Cardinal Hume's new book...I can't remember what it's called"
Kathryn "You mean "To be a Penguin...."
(Well, it was a paperback - albeit not from that particular publisher)
I then went on to confuse the unfortunate customer still futher by assuring him
"You'll find it in the peppermint department in the basement"
No. I don't know what was going on in my poor fried brain either - but ever since, none of my family has been able to sing "He who would valiant be..." without finishing each verse with, at the very least, a brief and surreptitious mime of a penguin's waddle.

So it was a great joy to me when I first arrived here to discover that Marcella, who has long been the motive power behind my beloved Little Fishes, tends to present most of her theology in terms of penguins. Yesterday, for example, she gave us the parable of the wise and foolish penguins...with the added bonus opportunity to cuddle one of the penguin bridesmaids as the story continued. It was, as it always is, just lovely and I reflected that most things in life are improved by the addition of a few amiable birds. After all, the really important truths are on the whole encouragingly simple...and most of the more joyous insights of the past 3 years have come to me via Little Fishes. I think there's a Kingdom saying there somewhere....

However ever now and then a situation comes up which just doesn't lend itself to penguin theology at all...I had one last night, when a ferociously intelligent humanist came round to discuss life, faith and associated matters. I felt so deeply, deeply stupid. We had virtually no language in common as we tried to explore each other's world view.
F.I.H. was charming and the conversation was good - but I became horribly aware of how much I define faith in terms of felt experience....with occasional recourse to penguins.
All in all, not my finest hour.


marcella said...

I have to say that the Penguins are no help at all when speaking to my new boss who is a proud, pompous, aggressive and extremely likeable atheist. In my continued campaign to Keep Thursdays Special I'll just have to save them for Little Fishes

Sophia said...

Kind of off topic, but you might be amused to know that my seminary's mascot is a penguin. In fact there are a number of penguins of different sizes in the front window of the deanery, and a "penguin crossing" sign in the sacristy. Many of us have small stuffed penguins or socks with penguins on them, etc. This is our way of poking fun at our much-loved and much-maligned traditional (many would say painfully outdated) Evensong. It's held nightly with faculty processing in cassock, surplice, tippet, and hood. Hence the penguins!

more cows than people said...

ooh... i like this post.

i hate those moments when words fail me.

sometimes though, it is not so much that our conversation partners are smart and we are not, it is that they don't want to understand (or we don't).

i'm glad you liked each other at least. we're called to love one another not necessarily to convince one another.