Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Boreham's Call to Connect with Ordinary Life

Relate to Real Life
Recent posts on this blog site have examined a major theme of F W Boreham’s writings in which he maintained that the ordinary is a vital sphere through which people might encounter the rich dimension of life, variously described as the ‘spiritual’ or ‘sacred’. In many editorials, Boreham cited a person’s relationship with the prosaic and the everyday. He was not alone in sounding this theme as we have looked at Dickens’ novels, Turner’s canvas, Blake’s various media and Christ’s verbal pictures to illustrate the treasures that come in dealing in ordinary things. Overwhelmingly F W Boreham made a call to leaders, scholars and artists to relate their discipline to real or ordinary life.

Taking a Leaf from Dillard’s Books
In her Pulitzer Prize winning book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, author Annie Dillard devoted an entire chapter to the subject of ‘seeing’. Explaining her convictions and literary intentions, she writes:

"Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise …. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames."[1]

Dillard’s commitment to ‘really see’ life and describe it as it is, is reminiscent of Boreham’s dedication to a new way of looking. The popularity of both writers may well be attributable to making life their subject and wonder their style.

Reflection by Ordinary Believers
F W Boreham’s encouragement to cultivate a vision for the ordinary was made to his readers in the hope that theological reflection might be an activity of ordinary people. Boreham suggests how theology might be approached by ordinary people including seeing through one’s own spectacles, acknowledging personal and national blindness, uncluttering vision through simplification and looking not only at life but through life. Boreham’s emphasized the rich possibilities of discovering the hidden ‘romance’ in ordinary things and ordinary times and considering how readers individually and collectively might experience the sacred and the sacramental.

Exegeting Everyday Life
The importance which Boreham gave to this theme was revealed not only in his lectures on preaching, in which he highlighted ‘the art of seeing clearly’, but also in his large number of editorials, in which he praised writers and painters for their vision in studying the texture of everyday life. The significance of this theme has been advanced in the light of comments made by contemporary Australian writers such as David Tacey on the need for developing a sacral imagination.

Firing The Imagination
The role of imagination is noted by Boreham as a necessary step in perceiving the sacred. A theology of the ordinary is a rich and surprising field for theologians and all people interested in life. Such a theological pursuit is accessible, free from religious monopolies and defiant of traditional categories and language.

Gospel Imperatives
In pondering the theological dimensions of this theme, it is clear that the role of the gospel story was vital in leading F W Boreham to praise the theology of little people and small things. His choice of topics on this theme was influenced by Biblical values, popular demand, communication convictions and his whimsical humor. His vast employment of visual imagery, his use of the parabolic method and techniques from the court illustrate his belief that developing and expressing a vision for ordinary things is about style as well as subject.

Unsystematic Punches
F W Boreham’s essays and sermons represented an unsystematic theology of the ordinary. His writing about events like Easter illustrated Boreham’s determination to find the ordinary in matters mentally labeled ‘religion’ or ‘theology’. His essays encouraged readers not only to think and see theologically but also to experience their theology as they engaged in all the matter of life. Boreham’s work in taking readers on a picturesque journey, leading from the familiar to the unknown, was gentle, memorable and often contained revelatory surprises and a prophetic punch.

Geoff Pound

Image: “the whole world sparks and flames.”

[1] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 11.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Boreham: Prophet of the Prosaic

Prophetic Bite
F W Boreham’s depiction of Hobart cinemagoers being transfixed by the flickery scene, yet yawning at nature’s screening of the real thing, typifies how often with a story, sometimes with a cartoon drawn in words, his editorials had an everyday ring combined with a prophetic bite. This word picture is curiously like a drawing by Michael Leunig, the contemporary Australian cartoonist, that reveals a father and child watching the sunrise on a small television, while behind them, framed by a large window, the real thing is happening.[1]

Philosophy of Ridicule
F W Boreham’s editorials on ‘the value of comedy’ and ‘the philosophy of ridicule’ demonstrated his awareness of the power of caricature and revealed his motivation for employing this technique. Expressing the view that humor is not merely about entertainment, Boreham said, “The humorist is often the most effective reformer. He does not scold or preach; he simply exposes the silly side of the thing that he wishes to alter”.[2]

Geoff Pound

Image: Cartoon by Michael Leunig in which he proposes a new Aussie flag.

[1] Michael Leunig, The Penguin Leunig (Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1974), 26.
[2] F W Boreham, Mercury, 10 July 1926.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Boreham on Easter

Easter in all of Life
Deserving special note are the Easter editorials of F W Boreham and the ordinariness with which he addressed this annual event. His editorial approach to this Christian festival was characteristic of the public theology tradition that has sought to avoid theology or religious events such as Easter falling captive to the church. In contrast to those described by Nicholas Lash, who “bind the mystery of God into the It-world, [who] set up a ‘God-district’ alongside the other districts in their life and, by so doing ... obscure the signs of God’s address and presence both in that district and elsewhere”,[1] Boreham wrote about Easter in its interrelatedness to all of life.

Easter in Nature
Approaching Easter in a down-to-earth manner, Dr. Boreham often commenced with the Easter principle in nature, in which the “crocus peeping bravely and promisingly through the snow” (in the northern hemisphere) and “the flaming splendor of the chrysanthemum” (in the southern hemisphere) both expressed the Easter message of “life’s unconquerability ... [and] forward-looking hopefulness”.[2] While recognizing that Easter was one of many “episodes and emotions too sublime and too sacred to be analyzed”,[3] Boreham adopted images from nature (“the living kernel enclosed within the dead husk”) and history (the resurrection of Old St Paul’s) to illustrate the infusion of hope into human life and to show that “humanity has a latent genius for resurrection”.[4]

Experiencing Easter
Boreham’s purpose in his editorials was not to analyse or prove the miracle of the first Easter but to encourage readers in their present ordinariness to experience Easter for themselves or, as Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed ‘easter’ as a verb, to “let him easter in us”.[5]

Supreme Festival
Boreham saw Easter as “the supreme festival of life”, explaining the thrill with which people greet Easter each year as “but another phase of the arresting phenomenon. It is life answering to life”.[6] Promoting the way Easter must be allowed to permeate the ordinariness of life every day of the year, Boreham said at Easter 1954: “Easter may represent the essence of religion; it is also the irradiation of reality. It touches actual life in every aspect and at every point. It assures us that, however prosaic our lot may be, we may, nevertheless, make life, death and the vast forever one grand, sweet song”.[7]

Geoff Pound

Image: “the living kernel enclosed within the dead husk.”

[1] Nicholas Lash, Easter in ordinary: Reflections on human experience and the knowledge of God, 286-287.
[2] F W Boreham, Mercury, 5 April 1958; Age, 20 April 1946.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 27 March 1948.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 11 April 1941.
[5] Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘The wreck of the Deutschland’ Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins ed. W H Gardner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948), 67.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 5 April 1947.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 17 April 1954.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Boreham and the God of Small Things

Source of Values
F W Boreham’s themes represented an appreciation of small things, a vision of beauty in the unexpected and the discovery of good in what appeared to be the worst. In a late-in-life editorial in which Boreham appealed for a new kind of looking, he revealed the source of these values:

The New Testament represents the record of One who excelled in the sublime art of seeing the best shining through the worst. In a craven coward who had thrice denied Him, he saw a martyr who would dauntlessly die for his faith. In a woman of the street, he saw a saint of intimate sweetness and charm. In a ruthless and relentless persecutor, he saw a singularly winsome and persuasive evangelist. When he passed by, every berry bush stood beflagged with poems and every thoroughfare was brave with pageantry and masquerade.[1]

Countercultural Values
Dr. Boreham’s portrayal of a new kind of seeing involved a practical and holistic theology expressing counter-cultural values. His articles on the contribution of ordinary people, unsung heroes, the anonymous and the imperfect are expressions of grace and point to what contemporary author, Arundhati Roy, has described as ‘the God of small things’.[2]

Too Small for Public Interest?
F W Boreham was aware of the charge that a discussion of ordinary things could be viewed as too small, trivial and therefore beyond the scope of the public interest. While his titles often appeared to be quirky, Boreham believed that the domain of the ordinary and the everyday had a widespread appeal and a timeless quality. His discussions about work, leisure, play, simplicity and quietness suggested by nature’s rhythms, were clearly addressing matters of public concern.

F W Boreham

Image: “every thoroughfare was brave with pageantry and masquerade.”

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 25 February 1956.
[2] Arundhati Roy, The God of small things (London: Flamingo, 1997).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Boreham on Waiting for the Tide

Here is one of the stories that will appear in the forthcoming book, The Best Stories of F W Boreham.

The Melbourne Art Gallery possesses, among its treasures, a painting by Arthur Boyd entitled ‘Waiting for the Tide’. It represents a sheltered and tranquil cove in which a couple of boats are lying. The boat in the foreground is occupied by two men. It leans heavily over, showing that it is hard and fast upon the muddy bed of the little inlet.

Until the tide comes welling in, lifting and liberating it, its occupants are helpless. But their presence in the boat sufficiently indicates their determination to ply their oars and leave the bay the moment the waters rise.

Viewed superficially, the attitude of the two men seems to resemble the attitude of Mr. Micawber [in Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield]. In the daytime Mr. Micawber mingles with the throng upon the city streets, hoping for something to turn up among the faces that he finds there. In the evening he throws himself into his chair, adjusts his spectacles and seizes his newspaper, just to see if anything turns up among the advertisements. All life is a lottery to him.

But between Mr. Micawber on the one hand, and the two boatmen on the other, there is, in reality, no ground for comparison. Mr. Micawber represents the wretchedness of wishful thinking; the boatmen represent the satisfaction of a well-based hope.

The tide stands for the stately dependabilities by which we are encompassed and surrounded. The masterly mechanism of the universe—the rising and the setting of the sun, the phases of the moon, the persistence in their orbits of the stars, the revolution of the earth, the cycle of the seasons, the round of the year—all this, like the ebbing and flowing of the tide, is amazingly reliable. It is this element of constancy that, in our friends, means infinitely more than good looks, agreeable behavior or outstanding ability.

In common with all the best things, the tide is leisurely. Like its kinsman, Old Father Thames, ‘it never seems to hurry’. Like the men in Boyd's picture, we must wait its time. It soothes the brain and steadies the nerves and sweetens the soul to fasten one's eyes for awhile on these leisurely things. An oak tree takes just as long to grow in my garden as it took in the Garden of Eden. The tide ebbs and flows today exactly as it ebbed and flowed in the days of the Pharaohs.

Yet, although the tide does its work in a restful and leisurely way, it does it, and does it well. The world's best workers are those who never know the fret and fever of haste, yet who achieve their goals with meticulous certainty and exactitude. They always get there.

There is, according to Brutus, a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. As Shakespeare implies, and as Boyd's picture makes clear, the tide offers every person, sooner or later, the chance of escaping from the tiny cove of the here into the broad bosom of the everywhere; from the microscopic bay of Self to the infinite sea of Service. God suddenly confronts a person. The Savior, in infinite grace, presents Himself. Opportunity appears in some other form; and they are life's most enviable voyagers who, when the sublime moment actually arrives, are all alive and all alert, waiting, with oars in rowlocks, to greet the hour of destiny.

A person can no more hurry time along than these boatmen in the picture can hurry the tide. Life must be harmonized with, and harnessed to, the mighty forces operating around us. He alone is certain of happy days who, with open eyes and eager hands, stands ready to embrace the golden opportunities that every hour will offer.

F W Boreham, The Tide Comes In (London: The Epworth Press, 1958), 103-104.

Image: Waiting for the tide.

F W Boreham: One of the Greatest?

Readers of this Boreham blog site might like to check out a new article on F W Boreham which is the first in a series of articles on The Center for Baptist Studies web site.

The article is entitled F W Boreham: Australia's Greatest Baptist Preacher Ever.

Geoff Pound

Boreham on Boots and Shoes

Teaching Through Things
F W Boreham’s use of metaphors and parables is worthy of detailed study as it illustrated George Drummond’s statement, “Truth can be borne into the soul only through the medium of things”.[1] The movement from ‘things’ to ‘truth’ was evident in Boreham’s editorial entitled, ‘Boots and shoes’[2] which deserves a more detailed study.

Frank Boreham commenced this essay by establishing a connection with his readers as he highlighted both the prosaic nature and the essential importance of one’s footwear. He also noted that Thomas Carlyle, whose Sartor resartus exhaustively probed the inner meaning of garments and hats, had ignored Boreham’s theme. In rapid succession, Boreham told stories from history (footwear in the Napoleonic army), human nature (the perils of bare-footedness) and literature (Bunyan), each illustrating the significance of his subject. His climactic paragraph presented the biblical image of armory and, after establishing the stupidity of a soldier going into battle without wearing boots, Boreham encouraged his readers to put on the shoes of peace.

Boreham the Barrister
It has been noted that F W Boreham modeled his historical writing on Edward Gibbon’s example of arguing a case like a skilful lawyer. However, Boreham’s parabolic method also appeared to be shaped by what he had learned in the law courts. Offering a helpful link between philosophy and jurisprudence, Friedrich Waismann said, “An effective philosopher first makes you see all the weaknesses, disadvantages, shortcomings of a position; he brings to light inconsistencies in it or points out how unnatural some of the ideas underlying the whole theory are by pushing them to their farthest consequences .… On the other hand, he offers you a new way of looking at things, like a barrister, all the facts of his case, and you are in the position of the judge”.[3]

Commenting further on Waismann’s analogy, Nicholas Lash pictured a barrister resting his case, “only when he has reason to believe that he has adduced sufficient evidence, and patterned that evidence into a sufficiently compelling narrative, to persuade the jury to reach the same conclusion”.[4]

Readers in the Witness Box
Many of Boreham’s editorials adopted this legal reasoning, as he led readers through his picturesque case, calling people into the witness box and identifying evidence from everyday life, nature, history, literature and religion and compelling his readership, like Lash’s description, “not by terrorizing, or ... by manipulating the emotions ... not by steamrolling, but by eliciting responsible free acts of judgment, evaluation, and decision”.[5]

Geoff Pound

Image: Truth in Boots

[1] George Drummond, The ideal life and other unpublished addresses, 131.
[2] F W Boreham, Mercury, 10 July 1954.
[3] Friedrich Waismann, 'How I see philosophy', Contemporary British philosophy, (London: H D Lewis, 1956), 480-481.
[4] Nicholas Lash, Easter in ordinary: Reflections on human experience and the knowledge of God (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1988), 286-287.
[5] Lash, Easter in ordinary, 286-287.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Boreham on the Ordinary Becoming Sacramental

Ordinary Becoming Sacramental
The overflowing of the human soul into ordinary things was to F W Boreham, one of the ways an ordinary object became sacramental. This could be achieved at a personal level, as Boreham “invested his chairs with spiritual significance and voices”,[1] but many of his editorials were intended to cultivate a corporate sense of the sacramental.

Hallowed by Heroic Memories
Boreham recognized the power of shared experiences and memories in achieving this purpose, when writing, “Life becomes wonderfully sacramental when it is hallowed by such beautiful heroic memories”.[2] Examples of editorials written in this vein were those composed for national and international anniversaries. Boreham saw in Anzac Day[3] and Armistice Day[4] “a sacrament of memories”, in which the shared act of remembering touched life “with finer issues”.

Sanctity of the Road
Similarly, Boreham hailed Australia Day as an opportunity to rediscover deep significance. In an editorial commemorating nationhood, Boreham wrote of the sanctity that might be attributed to an ordinary Australian road.[5] Recognizing the ‘sanctifying’ role of memory, he wrote, “On every day of the year, but especially on Australia Day, we hear the voices of the pioneers calling to us from the very dust of the road”. This awareness dawns, said Boreham, when people realize that roads are “invested with a sacramental solemnity by the deaths of men like Burke and Wills, and Gray and Poole, and Baxter and Leichhardt, and a hundred others no less brave”. Pointing beyond the pioneers, Boreham openly declared the supreme source and influence upon matters prosaic, when he stated:

"But whence originated the sanctity of the road? It derives from the fountain-head of all real sanctities. In the beginning, when God created the heaven and the earth ... the word “scatter!” became the mandate and the manifesto of the road. The slogan of all civilisation, it imparted a divine significance to all our tracks and paths and thoroughfares. The call of the Road is mightier than the call of the Rooftree simply because the Voice of the Highway is essentially the call of the Highest."

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘The Call of the Road’

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 13 June 1942.
[2] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 133.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 21 April 1956.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 9 November 1946.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 30 January 1954.