Isaiah 35

by James Dunn.

The dating of Isaiah is always a problem (were two or three Isaiahs combined?) and it is quite probable that prophecies of different times were put together.   Chapters 34-35 seem to have been an original prophecy, perhaps from the time of king Hezekiah when Judah was in rebellion against the regional super-power of Assyria at the end of the 8th century BC.   But here the target is particularly Edom, the kingdom to the south of the Dead Sea, founded by Esau, son of Isaac and brother of Jacob.   Later on, in the time of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Edomites helped plunder Jerusalem and slaughter the Judeans.   It was particularly for this reason that the prophets denounced Edom so violently (34.5-9; Jer. 49.7-22;  see also Ps. 60.8 and 108.9).

The striking feature of these two chapters is the sharp contrast between Isa. 34’s emphasis on divine judgment and 35’s bright hope and promise.   34 was all about the Lord’s rage ‘against all the nations’ (34.2), and his ‘day of vengeance’ against Edom in particular (34.9) leaving it a waste land (34.9-15).   The contrast in chapter 35 could hardly be stronger:  the wilderness shall be glad, the desert blossom (35.1);  the weak hands and feeble knees strengthened (35.3);  the assurance of God coming to save them (35.4);  water breaking forth in the wilderness (35.6);  a highway opened up for the Lord’s people to return to Zion with joy (35.8-10).

What is particularly striking for Christians is the fact that Jesus took up 35.5-6 as hopes that had been fulfilled in his own ministry.   Isaiah had prophesied that the eyes of the blind would be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame would leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless would sing for joy.   It is noteworthy that it was on precisely this passage that Jesus drew when he answered the query from the imprisoned Baptist, whether he (Jesus) was the one whose coming the Baptist had predicted.   ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear . . .’ (Matt. 11.5/Luke 7.22).

This tells us something about prophecy:  that it was intended primarily to warn and encourage those to whom it was delivered.   It used language and imagery which could rise above the particular historical circumstances which occasioned it.   That the language, the hopes and warnings, could speak to other, later and different circumstances, was why it was treasured and listened to afresh even though time and circumstances were different.   Some of the language was indeed prophetic, in the common sense of the term – when hopes expressed earlier were fulfilled later, and we can speak quite properly of prophecy being fulfilled.   But some of the prophet’s language was found to be particularly appropriate to refer to or even describe events which happened later.

This seems to be the case with Jesus’ reply to the Baptist.   The imagery which Isaiah had used to express his hope in God proved to be highly appropriate to describe Jesus’ ministry.   It is true that Isaiah’s hope was exceeded by what was happening through Jesus’ ministry;  Isaiah had said nothing here about lepers being cleansed, the dead raised, and good news being brought to the poor.   But the reality of Jesus’ ministry so closely mirrored the prophet’s hope, who could complain that the reality exceeded Isaiah’s prophetic hope?

So we can say that the role of prophecy in the divine purpose has been to lift eyes from the present, often troublesome times – to look beyond the difficult all too earthly now, to see how God’s purpose is being enacted despite multiple human failures.   And to see now in that beyond a hint or even a pattern indicating how God will act in the future.   In other words, fore-telling prophecy is not a matter of word for word, event for event precision.   Was even Isaiah 53 ‘precisely’ fulfilled by the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion?

No!  If we are to understand and benefit from biblical prophecy it is not by finding a word for word match between earlier hopes and later events.   It is by lifting our eyes beyond the current events, as the prophet did, and finding hope in the divine purpose.   And when prophetic words from the past match events of the present it’s not so much a matter of fulfillment, as a confirmation that God is indeed in control of what happens to his people.

The importance of roots

by Gill Newton.

“O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer:  Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.” Isaiah 11 v 10

“Researching my family tree” is on my “bucket list”.  It has always interested me, but I’ve never quite yet found the time!  In preparation though, I’ve sat down with Mum and encouraged her to tell me all she knows about our family tree.  Thankfully her knowledge is quite detailed and far reaching, so I’ll be off to a good start when I eventually find the time!

Genealogy is increasingly popular as evidenced by online resources to aid our research.  Then, there are the television programmes like “Who Do You Think You Are?” helping celebrities discover their roots, and others to find long lost family members.  Perhaps part of this interest is because families less often live in close-knit communities now. Vital connections have been lost; but people still need to understand where they come from.

Of course, what’s discovered may be a source of great pride and excitement or sometimes of fear or embarrassment as the dreaded “skeletons in the cupboard” are revealed.  Nevertheless, an understanding of where our roots lie remains really important to many of us.

It’s possibly why we have those seemingly boring genealogies in various parts of scripture!  It was important to Matthew, at the start of his gospel, to explain the family tree of which Jesus is a part – “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”[i]

Recently, I attended a District Resourcing Day for Local Preachers and Worship Leaders, wonderfully led by our President of Conference, Revd. Micky Youngson.  We were encouraged to reflect on the Advent antiphons and I was drawn to “O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse).”

Through this antiphon we can sense that the coming of God is anticipated from within.  Jesus will be at the heart of the family line of the house of David.  This is not God parachuting in from an unknown sphere, but God emerging from within the Israelite family.  This is God knowing the limitations of our human frame and understanding our place in the created order.

So, just like us God enters the world as part of a family line – with its own stories of joy and disappointment, with its own skeletons in the cupboard!  We can be confident that God knows just how important it is for our sense of identity and security to know where our roots lie.

Often, those television programmes conclude with joyous stories of reunions and restored relationships, of people having a deeper appreciation of who they are and a better understanding of what makes them that way.  Surely this reminds us of the importance of treating well those in our communities who feel they have no identity, no home and no sense of belonging anywhere.

Every family tree, despite its black sheep and “skeletons in cupboards” can produce unexpected fruit.  Every individual search for information about our ancestors is an opportunity to acknowledge the faithfulness of God to our family over the years.   That’s because our family trees, whatever they reveal, shape us, and God plays a huge part in all of that.  The story of the family of David, is the story of the human race, because “Jesus isn’t just one of the branches of this family tree, he is a continuation of the trunk.”[ii]  Being described as the root of Jesse means that he is both a product of the family line, but also the source of it, the one from whom all life emerges.

So, as we enter this Advent season, in a world so desperately in need of light, this antiphon reminds us of the family dimension to the incarnation.  Christ came as part of a human family, the line of David, a family to which we’re all connected and in which we all have a part to play.

The antiphon reminds us of our family bond to God in Christ and therefore of our call to care for one another, especially those who need it most.  God comes to the help of the whole world but we are the carriers of that aid.  The bringing of Advent hope will happen because of the God who comes from within: within our human family and within our hearts.

 

[i] Matthew 1 v 1

[ii] Quote from “The Art of Advent” by Jane Williams

Contemporary Christian Imaginaries

by Andrew Lunn.

Charles Taylor has used the language of ‘social imaginaries’ to describe the symbolic ideas which give structure to our corporate human lives.  This is what Charles Taylor says:

By social imaginary…I am thinking…of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.

There are important differences between social imaginary and social theory.  I adopt the term imaginary (i) because my focus is on the way ordinary people “imagine” their social surroundings, and this is often not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories, and legends.  It is also the case that (ii) theory is often the possession of a small minority, whereas what is interesting in the social imaginary is that it is shared by large groups of people, if not the whole society.  Which leads to a third difference: (iii) the social imaginary is that common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy.[1]

Such imaginaries are not made-up, fictitious, or untrue.  Rather they are shared means of mediating meaning, and take shape through the practices of social life. Consider the example of remembrance: here we have a set of practices which are carried on across Britain; we learn to participate in its practices from a young age: from parents and teachers, and generally from the expectations we see enacted around us.  It becomes a definite act of will to choose to go against it, by, for example, wearing a white instead of a red poppy.  The acts of remembrance have their force because they are shared: they bring with them expected ways of behaving, and judgments of what is right and proper for British people.  They help to define a sense of nation.

Cohen looks at the way the self-understanding and conception of communities is built up through such symbols.  Truth here becomes slippery, because symbols need to be interpreted, and interpretation works in different ways for different people in different situations. “Sharing of symbol is not necessarily the same as the sharing of meaning” as he says.[2]  Cohen believes that a symbol is multivalent; that is, it can carry a range of meanings.   Even while different people from the same community may understand the symbol in different ways, that does not stop its effectiveness in constructing community—in fact Cohen argues that it is precisely that multivalence which allows symbols to do their work.

Back with remembrance, the red poppy of remembrance is a good example of a multivalent symbol.  It can stand for blood and for death, for pride, for sadness, for waste and pointlessness, for memory, for something good coming from something bad, for redemption, or for freedom even.  But the red poppy does not divide, even though different people may mean different things when wearing it.  Rather it brings together.  So different meanings, different truths, are aggregated though symbols.  For Cohen symbols do not ‘integrate’, they ‘aggregate’; allowing individual difference to subsist within a community; allowing individuality and communal sharing to exist alongside each other.

For Taylor social imaginaries constellate together into systems which hold Western secular culture together.  He identifies the three social imaginaries of the secular world as being : the economy, the public sphere (debate and discussion happening in media of all kinds), and democratic self-rule.

But such imaginaries are integral to Christian, ecclesial communities too; in fact they are vital: the life-blood of communal imagining, and powerful narratives which form our self-understanding, join us together, and shape our shared practices.  Such Christian imaginaries are present whenever we interpret scripture or preach or join in Bible study.  They are present in sacraments and practices of worship.  As we engage with any Biblical passage or shared Christian practice we can ask: what are the imaginaries which are evident here?  What meanings are mediated, and how are they multi-valent?  And how do they connect with our practices as contemporary people of faith?

 

[1] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (London: Duke University Press, 2007), 23.

[2] Anthony P. Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community (London: Routledge, 1985), 16.

 

Can we shrug off sin?

by George Bailey.

“I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7: 18-19)

I find this accurately describes the battleground of my daily spirituality – and everyone I have ever asked about it agrees!

However, is this a situation we should just get used to, or one we should instead hope and even expect God to deliver us from? Romans chapter 7 divides opinion across the Christian tradition. Is Paul writing about an experience from before or after a person is transformed by Christ? What relation does this have to chapter 6, which describes the believer united with Christ as dead to sin and able to “walk in newness of life” (6: 3-4), and to chapter 8 which proclaims that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8: 2)? Is the purpose of this vivid description of internal human struggle with sin and temptation to alert us to the ongoing reality of Christian life, or is it inviting us to go forward to promised freedom from a life of continual failure? Some have a pessimistic attitude to the potential for Christian transformation in this life; the focus for spirituality is the desperate need to rely only upon God, for even if we are open to God’s work we remain prone to sin. Others have an optimistic attitude to transformation; the focus for spirituality is expectation of the remarkable work of the Spirit changing people and freeing them from sin.

The tradition is fairly evenly divided on this. Most Lutheran and Reformed theology takes the pessimistic view – in this life humans remain always sinful, and can be righteous in God’s sight through Christ only in spite of this. Orthodox and Catholic theology tends to take a more optimistic view, within a theology of perfection, deification and sainthood. Wesleyan theology usually combines the two interpretations by seeing a progression through Romans 6, 7 and 8 such that we can be united with Christ, begin a process of sanctification which is characterised by the struggle with sin, and then reach a situation of more fully realised transformation. As Wesley puts it, Romans 7 “interweaves the whole process of a person reasoning, groaning striving and escaping from the legal to the evangelical state.”[i] In other words, there are two ways to be Christian, the first only half way to receiving the gospel, the second a total change of life inside and out.

The problems of interpreting Romans 7 also produces surprising positions within these broad traditions. For example, John Stott, though from a more Reformed background, adopts a position similar to Wesley by identifying Romans 7 with “Old Testament Christian” spirituality and Romans 8 with “New Testament Christian” spirituality.[ii] The hope is that Christians will progress from one to the other. Contemporary biblical scholarship also remains conflicted, though there is a trend towards something akin to a Wesleyan position developing. Richard Longenecker’s recent major study summarizes the range of opinion and itself interprets Romans 7 as about pre-Christian experience. He achieves this by arguing that the first person passage about sin is a rhetorical device Paul used as a ‘dramatic monologue’ to explain and offer the gospel to Gentile audiences.[iii]

What about us then? All these interpretations have merit, but only within careful theological positions and with close attention to the spirituality that flows from them. In Methodism there is a largely Wesleyan root, which some do continue to talk about, and most are happy to sing about. However, if, in the face of psychological reality and rightful acknowledgement of our own human weakness, we accept Romans 7 as the norm for Christian experience, whilst also shying away from the call to live a Romans 8 sanctified life of the Spirit, where does that leave us theologically, and spiritually? We may be taking the reality of sin seriously, but are we willing to entertain the possibility of actual transformation and freedom from it? We risk taking Romans 7 with a shrug and not much else. Whilst we might see problems with both the optimistic and the pessimistic take on Paul’s description of the confused human situation, both positions do have a wealth of deep and fruitful Christian spirituality behind them, and they encompass ways to receive God’s word through the integrity of Scripture; to accept neither may leave us with a shallow spirituality and no way to read Scripture and receive its message in all its fullness. This is a concern for individuals and their relationship with God – but also, as a church facing decline, this spiritual confusion may be closely tied to the challenges we find collectively when we try to engage with the world around us. I think a more robust theology of Romans 7 (and chapters 6 and 8!) is worth re-developing, or newly discovering, for deeper, fuller contemporary discipleship.

 

 

[i] Wesley, John, Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (1755), 1976 reprint ed., London: Epworth Press, Romans 7:14, p.543 (with “man” altered to “person”)

[ii] Stott, John, The Message of Romans, 1994, Leicester: IVP, pp.211-215

[iii] Longenecker, Richard, The Epistle to the Romans (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 2016, Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, p.659. See also Moo, Douglas J., The Epistle to the Romans, 1996, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

 

Christian Remembering

by David Clough.

Remembering is the practice of recalling the past in the present with implications for shaping the future. It’s what I do when deciding on the route I want to take to cycle to work: recalling being passed by cars uncomfortably closely on the most direct route, I tend to opt for a quieter route even at the cost of taking a few extra minutes. I recall an experience from the past in the present and behave differently as a result. You will have performed the same everyday act of remembering in different contexts very many times already today.

As well as being a humdrum and everyday practice, remembering is a practice of profound religious importance. Remembering is a fundamental obligation for the people of Israel, commanded hundreds of times in the Old Testament. Moses institutes the festival of the Passover so that the Israelites will remember that they were slaves in Egypt and liberated by the mighty hand of the Lord their God. In the New Testament, remembering is also a central expression of faith. On the night before he is crucified, Jesus shares bread and wine with his disciples and commands them: ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Through this central practice the church today continues to remember the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The remembering to which we have been called in the run up to the centenary of the end of the First World War is of a very different order. It is a remembering we are called to by national and perhaps familial ties, rather than by our faith. What is remembered on this centenary is not God’s work but human works and human losses. And the reason for this remembering is also different. The remembrance Christianity calls us to is to shape our lives as a response to all that God has done for us and for all creation. The remembrance to which our nation calls us on this Remembrance Sunday is to recall our debt and gratitude to humans who gave their lives or had them taken in a war that advanced British national interests and contributed to the conditions of the lives as citizens we now enjoy.

There is an inescapably political dimension to the project of national remembering. Perhaps it is easier to see this at a distance. The recent mid-term US elections were an obvious case of political opponents telling different narratives about how the past should be recalled in the present in order to win support for their preferred plans for the future. National remembering was literally weaponized in the campaign of pipe bombs against Trump’s opponents, and in the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue. It was much more widely metaphorically weaponized in racist and xenophobic political rhetoric preying on fears of lost white privilege. Some of the debate about immigration echoed rhetoric and imagery widely used in the run-up to the Brexit referendum.

Our task as Christians must be to decide how the religious remembering commanded in the Old and New Testaments relates to national projects of remembering. God’s people can never be wholly impatient, but there is a holy impatience in our daily prayer that God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Lord’s Prayer is not just a prayer for pacifists: for every eager member of the armed forces who hopes for a taste of combat there are veterans who desire nothing more devoutly than that no one else should have to suffer and cause suffering as they did. Thy kingdom come.

Christian pacifists and those who believe war can be justified differ on how far the life of God’s kingdom can be lived here and now, but they must make common cause in recognizing that that because Jesus — the Prince of Peace — announced a blessing on those who make peace, the fundamental Christian vocation in relation to human conflict must be to work for a just order within and between nations that reduces the frequency and intensity of disputes; to be committed, skilled, intelligent, and creative in seeking non-violent resolutions to conflicts that arise; and that any recourse to violence to resolve conflicts must be with the utmost reluctance, restraint, regret, and with full awareness of the devastating impacts of warfare on its combatant and non-combatant victims.

The church of Jesus Christ and nation states must do their remembering in different ways and the church in particular must remember the difference. The church remembers that God is the one who brings liberation to the enslaved, commands us to remember our saviour in the sharing of the good things of the earth, and who is bringing a kingdom where redundant weapons become tools of food production. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

Memory

by Jill Baker.

Over this coming weekend we are called upon, nationally and in churches, to remember – specifically to remember those who sacrificed their lives in war. The idea is that by remembering ‘the fallen’ – by name or as unknown human beings – we somehow give lasting value to their sacrifice – their death is not in vain.  Such an understanding, lodged as it is in the national subconscious, gives huge significance to the act of remembering, to our powers of memory.

Memory is a powerful force – memory can bring us to tears, make us laugh, fill us with anger, or love, or passion.  Memory can significantly affect the way we deal with the here and now – indeed, that is part of its purpose.  Any child who remembers how it felt to touch the cooker will make sure they don’t go so close again.

In the excellent book “Play It Again”, Alan Rusbridger,[i] former editor of the Guardian and a competent amateur pianist, describes the year in which he made it his goal to commit to memory Chopin’s (demanding) Ballade No. 1 and perform it.  The book contains a fascinating chapter on memory which suggests that, whilst it had been thought for many years that musicians were people who naturally had good memories, further research now indicates that it is the other way round; that musicians develop good memories by using that part of their brain more vigorously than many of us. Memory as a muscle to be exercised is a captivating thought.

Memory plays a significant part in faith too.  In church life, memory can work both for and against us – it can be positive, it can be negative.  It is to the institutional Church’s lasting shame that there are many who have experienced discrimination, trauma and even abuse within the life of the Church, and whose memories are consequently tarnished and damaged.  As well as doing all we can to provide a safe future in our churches, there is also work to be done in the realms of the healing of memory.

Others may have very happy memories of earlier days growing in faith as we grew to maturity in the church, but if memory leans too far toward nostalgia, it can also hold us back.  We remember days when pews were packed, Sunday Schools were overflowing and, as Colin Morris put it once in an Advent sermon, “mighty preachers stormed our pulpits.”  Looking back, especially if the looking back is through rose-tinted glasses, can prevent us from finding the path to the future. “Remember Lot’s wife,” as Jesus declares in Luke 17:32.

That particular bible story, from Genesis… is the subject of one chapter of “The Shattering of Loneliness; On Christian Remembrance” by Erik Varden.[ii]  Varden is a native of Norway, now Abbot of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire and a member of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO).  As well as the instruction of Jesus to remember Lot’s wife, the other chapters are explorations of five other Biblical charges to remember; ‘Remember you are dust’ (Genesis 3:19); ‘Remember you were a slave in Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 5:15); ‘Do this in memory of me’ (Matthew 18:22), ‘The counsellor will call everything to mind’ (John 14:26) and ‘Beware lest you forget the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 6:12).  I recommend the book warmly.  As the title perhaps suggests, the basic premise of the book is to describe how, as we regain connection with our individual and faith-community memory – memory of who we are, of where we have come from, of how we have been loved – we will be able to counteract the aching loneliness which, in many guises, pervades the stories he tells and the experiences he shares.

Our developing understanding of dementia, where memory of how to behave and navigate the basic demands of life begins to fail, adds another layer to our gratitude for memory.  Thankfully more churches are recognising the need to improve accessibility for those with memory loss.[iii]

Memory is a gift; a bewitching, sometimes troublesome, always fragile, often ephemeral gift.  Memory can imprison us, but memory can also set us free.  I finish with words from Erik Varden; ‘To remember, really remember, is to slip our moorings and set sail on the open sea, with all that entails of peril and exhilaration.’[iv]

 

 

[i] Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible Alan Rusbridger, published by Jonathan Cape 2013

[ii] The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance Erik Varden, published by Bloomsbury Continuum 2018.

[iii] https://mwib.org.uk/index.php/2016/02/04/dementia-friendly-churches-2/

[iv] The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance Erik Varden, published by Bloomsbury Continuum 2018. p11

 

The Inconvenience of the Truth

by Peter Hancock.

A high-level professional rugby match was in full swing. Passion, commitment, determination to win, no quarter asked, no quarter given. Nothing more important than emerging victorious. The number 8 of the away side, also an England international, powered through to the line and carried the ball over for a try but then immediately turned to the referee and told him that he had done so illegally and that the try should not be awarded. The referee thanked the player and signalled for the game to continue.

In the context of professional sport, this was such an unusual occurrence that it attracted the admiring attention of the national press – “No. 8 steals the show with act of honesty”; “Selflessness by England No. 8 boosts the modern game” (Owen Slot, The Times, Monday 8 October). It has long been accepted that cricketers won’t walk when caught out, footballers will dive for an unmerited penalty and rugby players will pretend an illegal try is legal even though the referee, as he was about to do in this case, consults a video replay (because video technology is not always conclusive and the player may still get away with it). Truth can be inconvenient when you are driven towards a certain goal and this is not only the case in professional sport.

A government may wish to kill dissidents, on its own soil or that of another nation. It hopes that this can be done in the shadows but when the truth begins inconveniently to emerge it may respond with an absurd series of lies and counter-recriminations. Allies of this nation will need to acknowledge an amount of truth sufficient to satisfy right-thinking people but not so much as to disrupt ties of trade, armaments, intelligence etc. The leader of a nation may make statements which purport to be true because he wants them to be true and because the version of events they perpetuate gets him a step or two closer to a goal he is pursuing. Later, however, it may be that, in light of new developments, a new and possibly contradictory version of the truth will need to be pressed, forced, manipulated, crow-barred in to service as this is what achieving the goal now requires.

The Psalmist writes “Surely you desire truth in the inward parts” (Ps. 51v6). It seems, however, that as long as truth can be resisted in the outward parts the game can go on and edifices can be built upon a falsehood accepted as necessary by all concerned.

“What is truth” said Pontius Pilate to Jesus as two kingdoms approached a conclusive showdown. The biblical concept of truth is closely linked to that of reality and two versions of reality were at play.  The Jesus walking among human beings was none other than the living embodiment of reality, the only true version of events and of that which lies behind them, the one through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together. Ultimately, this truth cannot be resisted even by the exercise of the greatest power that any alternative may bring to bear upon it.

With Jesus in her womb, Mary speaks of the reality which has been a done deal from the creation of the world. A reality in which the proud are scattered in their inmost thoughts, rulers are brought down from their thrones, the humble are lifted up, the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty. This does not look much like the world as we know it but it is the ultimate reality which confronts the temporary realities of the world and puts on notice edifices which are built upon anything different.

This may all seem a long way from the instinctive decision of a professional rugby player to go with an honest version of events but in decisions large and small there is the choice to go with the truth which has its roots in the foundation of the world or not. The player himself is quoted as saying that the claiming of an unfair advantage is not just a rugby thing but a life thing and that in doing so you’re only lying to yourself. There is an attractiveness to such expressions of truth. The journalist reporting the incident had predicted at the beginning of the season: “Someone, somewhere being honest in the act of failing to score a try cleanly. Nice idea, won’t happen”. Yet when it does happen a little shoot of fresh hope emerges. Good to see that the player concerned is Billy Vunipola, the son of one of our Methodist ministers.