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  • Alaric Mark Lewis

On naughty figs

One of the interesting characteristics of praying together separately, as it were, is that it provides for a great deal of individuality. I've been asking some people how they are "using" the broadcasts we prepare, and no two answers have been the same. One person told me she prays very traditionally, singing/saying the psalm with the leader, in an area of her sitting room which is designated for prayer. Another person has told me she puts the prayer on whilst doing household chores. Another has told me that he fast forwards through the psalms and readings (!) but just so that he can use a translation with which he is more comfortable. Then he catches back up with us again at the Benedictus or Magnificat, as those older translations don't "bother" him as much.

I think all of this is fantastic, and it certainly offers us a freedom that perhaps we don't have when we are praying together in church. (Although, as an aside, when our churches are open once again, I seriously want to consider having a monthly service in which wearing pyjamas is acceptable ...) Prayer - even communal prayer - always has characteristics that are going to touch some people differently than others. A positive aspect of our new arrangement is that this diversity is seemingly built into the very medium we are using.

Some of you may have noted that I am using the King James Bible for my readings at morning and evening prayer (although I am using the New Revised Standard Version for Holy Communion). People tend to either love or hate the dear old King James Bible (I refer to it as the Marmite of Biblical translations) and I understand both sides. Although obviously a fan myself, I know that it is not the most scholarly of translations and that many people find the language exclusive or even unapproachable.

But just when I think that maybe I'll switch it up a bit and use another translation, some little gem hops off the page that makes my heart leap. This evening's prophecy from Jeremiah about figs provides just such a gem. In the more modern translations, they introduce the figs by referring to them as good figs and bad figs. But the King James? Good figs and naughty figs.

I probably cannot express just how much I love the image of naughty figs! Besides anthropomorphising figs in my mind and imagining how a naughty one would be dressed (I'm seeing him in a kind of sleek, 1950's shimmery suit with long pointed collars like the gangsters wear in Martin Scorsese films), I think the word gives an incredibly astute nuance to the human condition that is far more accurate to reality. Would I say I'm bad? No, I don't think I would. Can I be naughty? Without a doubt. And so the words of Jeremiah seem more applicable to me, not a bad guy, but certainly on occasion a naughty one.

Maybe that's not enough to get you to love the King James Bible, and that's OK. The differences in us are what make us interesting both as individuals and as a community. And I think one of the responsibilities of a vicar is to cherish the differences, to celebrate the particularities. And know that I've got that in mind when I am praying for and with you all: good figs and bad figs, naughty figs and nice figs.

I thank God for the whole bunch.

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