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Columnists

Loose change

James Cary

My day job isn't writing columns for magazines or newspapers but sitcom-writing. It turns out that writing columns and sitcoms aren't all that different. They're both short and bite-sized. They don't need to be enjoyed in sequence. You can dip in and out. This can be a great strength. But it does make rounding things off very difficult. Final episodes of sitcoms are notoriously tricky and frequently disappointing. I'm a huge fan of Seinfeld and own every episode on DVD. But the last episode infuriates me. Most final episodes are blether and nonsense. Likewise, how does one write a 'final column'?

Sitcoms aren't real. But they are a compressed version of reality in which people tend not to change or learn lessons but repeat the same mistakes week after week. That's why I love writing sitcom. To me, it's the most honest form entertainment. But people do change. A bit. Very slowly. We just don't notice.

I was raised on a dairy farm in Somerset. It sounds very peaceful and idyllic, which it was. Mostly. Except every day at 7am and again 4pm the milking machine would be switched on. It seemed loud at first, but before you knew it, you were used to the sound and forgot it was there. After a couple of hours, the machine would be switched off, and it was only then you noticed it, because the silence was astonishing. You'd forgotten how quiet it can be in the countryside.

It feels a little bit like that now, as Third Way is being unplugged. Something we'd rather taken for granted and got used to is going to fall silent and it's going to seem pretty quiet. Too quiet.

It's a pity we only notice dramatic change and find it hard to appreciate the subtle ones. But undoubtedly, unlike a sitcom character, I have changed since I wrote my first column for the magazine back in the summer of 2002. I daren't look at it now. The man who wrote that was in his mid-20s. Since then, I have become a husband, a father of two girls, turned 40 and become a member of the General Synod of the Church of England. How did that happen? I have changed.

My main theological convictions have barely budged, however, which is probably surprising to some. Lots of people grow up in the evangelical tradition and then either 'move on' or 'drift off' depending on how you look at it. I've always thought that phenomenon has been a failure of the Evangelical tradition to explain itself, rather than inherent theological flaws, but that's a topic for another column (in another publication, sadly).

But through this column, I have managed to formulate my thinking and work out how to express my theology, and how it impacts on the world and culture. I'm very grateful to the editor of this magazine, and the longsuffering readers who have watched me do this. I feel I've been thinking aloud among friends - or at least neighbours and family members who have been prepared to tolerate my jokes, flippancies and overuse of brackets (which are very useful in my opinion (and quite funny for a reason I can't quite explain (if you stack them up, that is (like this - and then end them all in one go)))).

A couple of years ago, I published a book called Death by Civilisation, which is a 'best of' of columns over the years. As I read them back to myself, I realised that the over-riding lesson I've learned in my time with Third Way has been a growing suspicion of two things; the State and the Markets. Neither deliver what their champions hope they will. I end the book with this:

'The state can give you money or a house, but this is not an act of generosity. You are entitled to these things by dint of your birth in this country - or subsequent settlement in it. Likewise, if you fall on hard times, the market does not care. The market is sociable, but selfish. It has very cold hands… This is why… The Church, the odd, overlooked, out-of-touch Church is the most important of all, with its dusty old Bible that is, somehow, the bestselling book in human history - so maybe there's something in it. And as the Church teaches society from this Bible, we will find the origins of that unconditional love that we need more than anything else.'

Jesus loves you. This I know. Cos the Bible tells me so. Thanks, everyone. Carry on.