The Theology of Power – and a Tube map

[An earlier version of this post appeared briefly after my clumsy fingers accidentally published my draft while writing in on the bus home. Ignore it, read this!] 

MA studies continue apace – we’re half way through term two now and have just five official teaching sessions left. [This has literally just dawned on me and is TERRIFYING!! Next term is electives, which are more informal and in small groups.] This term’s main module is “Theology of Power” and it may be the most fun/intellectual stimulation I’ve had in theological college thus far…

Today, our seminar consisted of Show & Tell – that infant school staple. Students with surnames beginning A-H were asked to bring in an object, text or song that they could unpack in the context of ‘power’. The class would then discuss the item and we’d see where it took us. It resulted in 90 minutes of discussion that, quite frankly, were highly entertaining and the epitome of a great grad-school seminar.

There was the Hozier song that contrasts church & sex; a US passport belonging to a child; two syringes; and a couple of tube maps. Yes, I may have been responsible for the final items…

It was fascinating. The discussion from the song was probably fairly predictable from the lyrics (but was really interesting nonetheless, especially as I’d heard the song many times but misheard the words!). The passport prompted debate as to the nature of the USA’s power; the role of passports & citizenship; and whether nationality is a result of fallen humanity. Were the syringes powerful in and of themselves, or only when full of a substance & with a needle attached? How did they have the power to make some of us downright queasy? Vaccination versus drugs & the power of survival. The student who brought them in was a vet pre-theological college and raised the question of euthanasia – she’d used needles like these to end animals’ lives.

1950s Map

And the tube maps? You might think “well, that was predictable!”, but it wasn’t necessarily logical. (For a while I’d contemplated Celine Dion’s version of The Power of Love!) But I’d thought about my 1957 map and how it compared to the current version and how often we Londoners feel powerless in the face of London Transport.

[An example of this is contained in this tweet from late Friday night, post rugby watching.

We were stuck on a dark bus for at least 15mins with a potentially terrifying announcement blaring out across Stratford bus station, all thanks to a moody bus driver and a system that means a person with cash can’t board a bus…]

We have little control over TfL. Our weekend plans are moulded by engineering works. We feel like we can gain power through little victories – like knowing where to stand on a platform so that you alight your train at the exit. The tube map also demonstrates the influence it has had on the city – the Met line resulted in “Metro-Land” and new housing. It also demonstrates the influence on the map that is changes in power bases within the city –  compare 1957 with 2015 and you instantly spot the massive change in the east, with the growth of a financial district in Docklands.

The discussion also went off in tangents that had never even crossed my mind:

  • The merits of walking & cycling and the power they give us by escaping the tube.
  • The way the map demonstrates divisions within society – the power we attribute someone able to afford a zone 1 property.
  • That the tube can demonstrate power dynamics within society, particularly along ethnic lines. How you can see things about the communities above ground based upon the social make-up of the passengers below.

(You might be wondering where the theology comes in. I’m getting there, but it’s important to understand that the theology of power is in part to do with how we, as God created beings, relate to the powers and principalities of earth and heaven.)

The tube discussion took place immediately before lunch and on the stroke of 1pm, I was given the chance to have the final word. This have me the opportunity to share my last thought on the power demonstrated in the tube map – the lasting legacy of religion.

I’ve mentioned it here before, but a significant number of tube station names (and London place names) relate to the church. When we read the map, we get an insight into what has had power in the city throughout history.

Highgate in North London was the “high gate” marking the border of the Bishop of London’s land. The amount of London’s land still owned by the church (I’m guessing) is now significantly less! There are no longer black-cassocked monks praying by the river in Blackfriars. You could argue that, by stealth, the church still has power through its historical legacy on the tube map.

It’s a shame that only four people got chance to share their item this morning – it was a brilliant way to have a discussion that went off on numerous tangents and that everyone got on board with. In a couple of weeks time, the second half of the alphabet get their chance and I have high expectations of another fascinating 90 minutes. In the mean time, I’ll be trying to work out if there’s a way I can write a 5,000 word essay on the theology of the tube…

Friday Fun for lovers of London

Having taken a break from the joys of London and its transport last week, this week’s Friday Fun is a smorgasboard of such delights. This morning we’ll begin in time honoured fashion with something involving the tube map…

What if the tube map told the truth?

True Tube MapI’d say some of these are pretty accurate. I particularly liked Great Portland Street’s ‘Neither Here Nor There’. So true. 

Also in the world of London themed maps are two fascinating pieces of work by Ollie O’Brien. ‘Electric Tube’ is a new take on the classic map:

Electric TubeWhile London North/South only showing properties – north of the river in blue, south in red. The parks are useful geographical pointers, meaning that I can spot my old Bermondsey flat as well as my current location.

london-north-south-705x500

For fans of the history of London, this week has been a bumper one in terms of photographic fun. First up, a simply lovely collection of photos of the underground in the 1950’s and 60’s. Courtesy of Buzzfeed and my friend Becki, we have discovered that people called “fluffers” used to be employed to remove dust from the tunnels – causing Dave Walker to muse as to whether the same effect could be achieved by a vacuuming train. Dave, I repeat Becki’s request to see that in a cartoon one day!

Fluffers on the tube

the Museum of London has an app that uses its archives of images of the capital and superimposes them upon the view in your camera. [Takes a moment to download app…] If you can’t get you and your camera phone to London, here’s a taste of what it looks like:

Palace Theatre; 1958 + 2014The Palace Theatre, 1958 and 2014.

Gloucester Road Station 1868 + 2014My Monday morning destination of Gloucester Road station, 1860’s and 2014.

As if old photography wasn’t enough, some clever person have added famous paintings to the appropriate location as captured by Google Street View. The Guardian has a whole gallery of them – here’s a couple to whet your appetite:

Trafalgar Sq LogsdailSt. Martin in the Fields by William Logsdail (1888)

Westminster Abbey CanalettoWestminster Abbey with a Procession of Knights of the Bath by Canaletto (1749)

Finally, going full-circle and returning to the world of maps and charts, here are 12 helpful charts for everyone Londoner to live their life by. Their chart for the DLR is particularly helpful and, quite frankly, a rule to live by:

Where Should I sit on the DLR

While others are, quite frankly, suitable for anywhere in Britain:

Should I Take An UmbrellaThis is a rule that’s particularly worth living by in Belfast…