We’re back from a joyous couple of days in Oxford – including a happy return to the Museum of old Ashmole himself, stunningly redesigned and rebuilt. If you’re there before mid-Jan, check out the temporary exhibition of one my all time artistic heroes, Claude Lorrain.
But my purpose in posting today is a rather fun ad campaign around the streets of north Oxford. A pair of footprints… to begin with you’ve no idea what it’s on about. It could lead to a host of things. But like the best teaser campaigns, it works… you want to know more.
What I particularly loved, though, was the strapline. ‘Step inside a story’. Fabulous.
As someone who is getting increasingly convinced (if not obsessive) about the power of narrative to shape and change, this struck me as a perfect metaphor for what outreach should be. It is an invitation, not coercion; it is about a story to inhabit, not simply propositions to assent to (though never forget that we can’t ignore the propositions – no babies out with bath water here); it is about being part of something far bigger than ourselves, rather than a me-and-my-God private affair.
That this is desperately needed, could hardly be in doubt.
The world has lost its story. How that happened is quite a story as well, one we haven’t time for here. But the latest chapter of that story had to do with the modern era and how mankind looked to science to solve the riddle of our lives. As Neil Postman said about the scientific view:
In the end, science does not provide the answers most of us require. Its story of our origins and our end is, to say the least, unsatisfactory. To the question, ‘How did it all begin?’, science answers, ‘Probably by an accident.’ To the question, ‘How will it all end?’, science answers, ‘Probably by accident.’ And to many people, the accidental life is not worth living. (John Eldredge, Epic, p9)
Here is another, oft-quoted excerpt, this time from Frederick Buechner and his wonderful book, Telling the Truth. As well look out into our world, there is much to amaze and perplex. But we’ll only be able to handle both if we can grasp something of the larger narrative to which it all belongs.
It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name… That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is a true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still. (Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth)
Anyway, as you head north into Summertown, you find that these fun footprints all lead to a trendy new kids’ bookshop at the top of the town, called Barefoot Books (right). It just so happened that this was its opening weekend. Now, it’s positioned slap-bang opposite a wonderful old independent bookshop (called, simply, The Book House) that has been around since the 70s. It was a place of magic and mystery when I was a child. So I deeply hope it ups the business of both, rather than threatens that of the old one. It should be fine, since this is focused on children. We need MORE independent bookshops not less. But that’s another story.
I couldn’t help thinking, though. How wonderful if these footprints led not to a bookshop, but to a community of believers in that GREAT story…