Sunday, 31 December 2006

Christmas wafer packaging

From our friends Mike and Sarah, who just returned from honeymoon in Prague, came a fine gingerbread and a box of sweet wafers. The packaging may have been put together with the help of babelfish rather than anyone who had ever learned English, however...

Carlsbad spa wafers have been indissoluble tied up with the unique atmosphere delicious taste and sweet smell remind for a long time after the return homewards to the spa guests and other visitors of Karlovy Vary of the pleasant time spent in this charming town.
Among those who fell for its smell and enjoyed he fresh warm wafers belonged J. Brahms, P.I. Tchaikovskij, writers N.V. Gogl, A. Tolstoy...
You will please for sure not only close friends with this present. As well as many years ago, today you can choose from the wide offer of traditional Karlsbad wafers produced by TH BODAM.

Kate tells me that they did a lot better with the German.

Monday, 25 December 2006

Christmas literature

Baking begins in earnest weeks ahead. Waves of cookies, enough to feed an army, enough to render an army defenceless, including powerful rumballs and fruitcakes soaked in spirits (if the alcohol burns off in the baking, as they say, then why does Arlene hide them from her mother?). And tubs of lutefisk appear at Ralph's meat counter, the dried cod soaked in lye solution for weeks to make a pale gelatinous substance beloved by all Norwegians, who nonethless eat it only once a year. The soaking is done in a shed behing the store, and Ralph has a separate set of lutefisk clothes he keeps in the trunk of his Ford Galaxie. No dogs chase his car, and if he forgets to cahnge his lutefisk socks his wife barks at him. Ralph feels that the dish is a great delicacy and he doesn't find lutefisk jokes funny. "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it," he says. Nevertheless he doesn't offer it to carolers who come by his house because he knows it could kill them. You have to be ready for lutefisk.

Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days (Faber, 1986) 344-5.

A winsome portrait of small town America, alternately hilarious and poignant - populated by Norwegian Lutherans, German Catholics (who attend Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility) and a handful of strange strict Brethren, narrated by a boy from a Brethren family who grew up in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota (in the middle of the state but omitted from maps owing to 19th century surveying errors) in the 50s and 60s. Absolute genius, and Keillor's radio broadcasts of the material that makes up his several books are priceless. I can still hear his wonderful drawl as I turn the pages...

Christmas inconsequence

Opening and then turning on an exceedingly generous present from Kate's parents at 8.57am this morning - a digital radio - we were treated to some beeps and whistles, heralding the announcement of the launch of a new radio station, theJazz, at 9am. So we treated ourselves to that before heading off to church, courtesy of a lift from my brother (and new sister-in-law), who, by the way, hates jazz.

After our lunch guests departed we listened to 'The More the Merrier' by Anne Fine on BBC7 (courtesy of the wonderful new digital radio!) If you thought that comedies about dysfunctional modern family Christmases were a bit passe or even constituted gilding the lily, you were wrong. This one is strongly recommended :-)

Friday, 15 December 2006

First Post

Do I have the poise to write a blog?
Do I need poise?
Do I need a band of disciples?
Maybe some books to advertise?
Should I post poems?
Do I need to be exceedingly witty or observant?
Do I need to have strong political opinions?
Must I be cool?
How can I be honest without being excruciatingly gauche?
Especially in relation to 'bad' things, on which the veneer of presentation may weigh heavily...
But what about the 'good' stuff where self-depreciation may intervene?
How much is too much?
Why do I still chew my fingers and fingernails when a significant amount of my earnings comes from playing the piano?
Do I need some business cards?
The feeling of getting somewhere, doing something...
I still can't put pictures on my blog - how pants is that!?

cycling and the philospohy of right

In these days of everybody (of a certain class) rushing round being terribly busy and self-important, it's little wonder that most cyclists occasionally/frequently (delete as appropriate) decide to ignore traffic lights or cycle on pavements. Not a good thing. It wouldn't hurt if we all relaxed a little on our journeys - whether we're behind a wheel or handlebars. I need to take some of my own advice on that one.

But what was interesting was a programme on Radio 4 the other day in which cyclists were interviewed about their participation in such dodgy practices (women are much more law-abiding than men). And when asked why don't you break the law?, the answer was 'pedestrians have the right to cross the road safely.' Not that I disagree with that statement, but it was interesting to note that the law itself did not feature in the answer. Does that reveal a seismic shift in general attitudes to behaviour? Or am I whipping up a blog post on the back of nothing?

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Too good to be true

If this doesn't make you smile, then something is seriously wrong.
"World's Tallest Man Saves Dolphin". A dream story for the global local journalist...

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

more biblical humour!?

As is the way with these things, no sooner had we finished writing our thoughts on Christian humour than we came across lots more of it...

A superb (and funny) little book by Doug Wilson, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking.

It would probably have been useful and amusing to go to this conference, but Texas isn't exactly down the road...

Here are a few sites, some of which we knew about and some of which we didn't. Some are more 'Christian' than others (both in terms of content and origination); some are better than others (both in terms of laughability and good taste)...

The Brick Testament
Ship of Fools
The Wittenburg Door

And if you remember a certain row caused by certain cartoons from a certain Scandinavian country, you might enjoy this. Oh yes.

washing up

Call me sad, if you will, but I love washing up. Too much time in front of computers, and a lot of time talking to people mean that standing quietly in front of a sink playing with soapy water is wonderfully relaxing. It's not too difficult and it gets done, which brings plenty of 'job satisfaction'. Other, more important jobs might tax the grey cells or remain unfinished for days and weeks, but the washing up gets done - to a high standard, I might add. Rinsing in very hot water is a must (and my Dad also insists on pre-washing...)

It's also the kind of job that is particularly attractive when more urgent things need doing. For some hilarious and sage comment on procrastination, see this Stanford philosopher. (Thanks to David Field's blog for this one!)

Monday, 4 December 2006

Cambridge too (and Islam too)

Another great thing about Cambridge is the University Library - to which all Cambridge MAs have access and exceedingly generous borrowing rights! This is not so good for the poor undergraduates: I remember trying to get hold of several books only to be told by the catalogue that they were out and due back in about 8 weeks time. Probably on the desk of some Lecturer, unread - or on the desk of some graduate of the University, unread.

Well, now I'm one of those troublemakers. And despite best intentions some books do remain unread on the dresser for several weeks. At the moment I am taking advantage of the UL's vast collection to do some research into the origins of Islam. Currently half-way through Patricia Crone's Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (Princeton, 1987). Crone is a serious scholar (she has facility in more than 10 languages, and her bibliographies alone are usually longer than my entire MPhil thesis!) and her work has significant implications for Islamic/Muslim history, historiography and theology.

Therefore it also has significance for Muslim-Christian dialogue and for a robust Christian apologetic in that context. Not in the sense of simplistic debunking (though, as a Christian, I do believe that Islam is 'false'), but in the sense of properly engaging with scholarship. A challenge that Christians have faced for some time - both publicly and privately - and one to which the Muslim world has not yet fully woken up. This is how researchers who question traditional Islamic thought have been treated.

Sunday, 3 December 2006


One of the great things about living in Cambridge is that I often feel very small. Almost everybody I meet is cleverer or more dilligent than me. Just the other week I had lunch in the Materials Science Dept. of the University with Dr Kawasaki, a Japanese friend who comes to our church. He is studying/developing carbon nano-chip technology and new tpes of computer memory, using, among other things, a big furnace that employs infra-red waves to heat substances to 1000 degrees inside 10 seconds (how cool is that!?)

When I work out how to stick pictures on this blog I will show you the diagrams he drew for me on a scrap paper as he graciously tried to explain to me what he was up to. The wow factor is big here. And my wonder increases every week at the God who gave us such tools (as the organisation and transmission of knowledge and technology) in order that we might understand, fill and subdue this fabulous earth he has made for us.

And how exciting it is for us at Rock that so many from overseas, particularly Japan, come to be part of our community as we seek to worship God and witness to them of His love. I pray that God would graciously extend his mercy to all those who visit the church who are not yet believers in Jesus, so that we might rejoice all the more at His great salvation.

David Field

came down from Oak Hill College, London, to preach at our church today. It was a great blessing to hear him - very energetic and passionate, and great at communicating the big story of God's word.

He spoke on Mark 3:20-35, 'Redefining the Family: Repossesing the House'. Very exciting to have God's plans for family (one of the great idols of today, notwithstanding the collapse of 'traditional family values' in our culture) reaffirmed to us. He gets hold one of his good gifts to us (which we have ruined by sin or perverted into idols) and 'takes it to the next level'. The family of God, the church, is God in the process of transforming our close relationships to make them better - and to draw us into the communion of the Holy Trinity. Wow!

And 'reposessing the house' explained the parable of the strong man - Jesus binds Satan and plunders his house, i.e. rescues men, women and children from the grip of sin and death. Thereby bringing them into the transformed family of God.

I also had a chat to him after the service (thoroughly great Christian bloke, willing to chat familiarly with a random person from a church he's visited only a couple of times!) about some things on his blog. Well worth a read. I may muse on them some more another day...

lowering the tone

My brother, who is living with us until he gets married next week, proudly reported a three-tone fart to me the other night. The three tones were apparently just like the opening of Aaron Copland's 'Fanfare for the Common Man', conveniently enough, which led us into a duet rendition of that great work, for the human voice in imitation of other wind instruments...

Ahem. Scatology. Boys will be boys.

Friday, 1 December 2006


Type and antitype. Israel and the church. The ark and the cross. The Holy of Holies and the very presence of God. Moses, Melchizedek and Jesus. Everything must be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Does that have anything to do with the nature of typology, a way of reading the Bible that rejoices in the links between its various parts, seeing earlier persons, events and activities as foreshadowing later ones? (and, more importantly and excitingly, seeing what comes after - some of which is still to come! - as fulfilling, clarifying and glorifying what comes before.)

Are the typological sinews, the very depth and richness of God's written revelation to us, establishing particular/given truths for us through the use of many witnesses?

While I was studying English Literature at Cambridge I was accosted by a lot of hermeneutical theories. Many writers were reacting against the approach that seeks the univocal authorial intention in a text (and against various associated straw men). I am very suspicious of ultra-critical methods of reading, but they have hit on something. Simply narrowing things down to the mind of the author can be rather flattening. And when it comes to the Bible, a lot is missed by mining texts for propositions, and by ignoring not just the historical context of the author but also the text's theological and canonical context.

Support for this kind of reading comes from teachers otherwise quite far apart on many theological spectra. My first witness is Peter Leithart, a postmillennial Presbyterian minister with an unusually 'high' ecclesiology and plenty of sympathy for public theology, the New Perspective on Paul and for non-evangelical Christian traditions. Very conservative, but no-one could accuse him of being 'fundamentalist'. Such is the breadth of his interests, it is quite tricky for a free-church evangelical such as myself to pin a label on him! But he is a big fan of typology. Just do a search on his website. Thoughts about typology in general can be found on his blog and in a short article in First Things. A couple of interesting posts are on typological relationships between David and the Omride dynasty in the Northern Kingdom, and on Christ-as-new-Moses in Matthew's Gospel. He is concerned to point out how rejecting typology is essentially the same as embracing Marcion, an early Christian who tried to excise the Old Testament from the faith of the church.

Matthew's famous 'Jewishness' (one feels that ought to be rather obvious, but anyway...) leads into my next witness for typology - James Jacob Prasch. Prasch is a Messianic Jew, a Charismatic, a staunch advocate of premillennialism, and a Baptist. He probably could be accused of being a 'fundamentalist'. His Moriel Ministries has a particular focus on exposing cults and false teachers on the fringes of evangelicalism - and there is much in his writings about the prophetic significance of Israel. I read his Grain for the Famine (St Matthew, 2000) last week, having been lent it by a friend. It's a collection of short essays derived from sermons. I don't agree with his understanding of church history (though I used to believe something similar), and aspects of his theology, but the book was thought-provoking and I could envisage contexts in which it could be very helpful. But, anyway, the first essay, 'Midrash' contains plenty that could have been taken out of Leithart's blog...

By reading the bible as literature and history, as the humanists did, you only see part of it. (11)

The apostles did not handle the scriptures according to protestant grammatical-historical methods. (12)

Midrash is like a quadratic equation or a very complex second order differential equation, a thirteen or fourteen step equation. Some people take the first step of grammatical-historical exegesis and think the question is solved. There is nothing wrong with what they do, but there is plenty wrong with what they don't do. (14)

To the ancient Jewish mind, it was not a question of something being predicted, then being fulfilled. That is a wrong view of biblical prophecy. Rather, prophecy was a pattern which is recapitulated; a prophecy having multiple fulfilments. And each cycle teaches something about the ultimate fulfilment. (12)

Prash's brief descriptions of 'Midrash' and 'prophecy' pretty much equate to what Leithart calls 'typology'. A rich insight into biblical intertextuality, I might say, with my literary-critical hat on. And if those two or three witnesses are in agreement who am I to differ!?

It's no coincidence that my love of the letter to the Hebrews has grown as I have begun to nibble at the edge of typology.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006


is the name of the company that supplies my employer with its toilet products (towel holders, soap dispensers, that sort of thing), and also the Latin for 'things to be hated' (a gerund derived from invideo, I hate/envy).

Actually that's too convenient, and I suspect that I just made that up. But invidia (as an abstract noun) certainly means 'hatred' or 'envy'. One of which is fairly apt, and one of which is not.

This kind of musing demonstrates why children should not be taught Latin. Look at what happens...

Monday, 27 November 2006

gloom and finitude

There is no doubt that melancholy has tremendous power to affect me. But, before I rush to have myself diagnosed as suffering from depression, I need to remind myself that things beyond my control in the created order have the effect of lifting my spirits as well as dampening them. A short walk with Kate in the grey late morning, ending with a swing in the local park as the sun came out and all the gold of Autumn revealed itself, was enough to correct the emotional low that hit me earlier (probably some sort of winding down from a busy and satisfying weekend).

Finitude is one of these double-edged swords. What a cause of frustration and sorrow that I cannot know everything (even though I thirst after knowledge, foolishly, given that the more knowledge, the more grief), cannot rely on myself to act justly and generously in all situations (even though I am a New Creation), cannot play Chopin's Cello Sonata perfectly (which would be nice), fail in my responsibilities, slack off at work... (So I hated life, because the work that was done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind...)

But what a relief that I am finite - that I can know the joy of relating to others who are not under my control (not that I am under my own control), who can surprise me and enrich me. Most of all, of course, I am liberated from the burden of having to be God. Those who acknowledge no higher authority and being than themselves must surely struggle with that. Instead, I can rightly enjoy what He has given me, in the context of His loving care and His narration of the great story of history - the salvation of sinners who cannot save themselves.

One message of Ecclesiastes, from which I quoted above, is surely to be found on the face of the text. This book is part of the 'Wisdom Literature' of the Old Testament, and has long puzzled Jewish and Christian commentators. After a long introduction testing different approaches to life (pursuit of wisdom, pleasure, power), the Teacher says...

So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him? (3:22)

'SO' is the key. Because of our finitude, we are thrown onto God (I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him, 3:14) and we are freed to enjoy the creation around us, and to take pleasure in relationships and the natural world. But this can only happen when we live our lives under God, rather than under the sun (a repeated phrase in Ecclesiastes that sums up the attitude that denies God). It is only then that we see that finitude is not a curse, though we experience much weariness and sorrow now, but something that constitutes us as persons - in relationship to our Creator and in relationship to people around us.

New Pearl Harbour?

David Ray Griffin, recently retired from a chair (in the Philosophy of Religion) he held for 30 years at Claremont College, California, has written several books about the events surrounding 9/11.

Back in August I read the second edition of The New Pearl Harbour: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11, and it was one of the most thrilling books I have ever opened. Please nip down to your local library and get a copy. Once you start, you won't be able to put it down.

The debates about 9/11, what actually happened, government complicity and cover-ups have raged ever since the murders took place. But they have not raged in the mainstream media in the US - and there has been remarkably little public interest in the UK, despite the reception Griffin received in the summer when he visited London. It's on the internet that much of the debate has been taking place. There are many websites devoted to 9/11, many feature a lot of shouting, and many seem rather silly.

But Griffin's book is different, and his credibility as a leading academic, should cause those of us who might sneer at 'conspiracy theories' to pause before dismissing those who doubt the official version of events (which is itself a conspiracy theory!) The tone of his writing commends itself: look at how he responds here to criticisms of The New Pearl Harbour. You might say, 'Of course, you're the type of person who is going to be impressed by a professor - and that's no different to people without much education or exposure to critical reflection who might be taken in by this or that sensationalist DVD about 9/11'. To which I would reply, read the book. Try some critical reflection.

It should come as no surprise to Christians to hear that governments are complicit in major acts of violence and in obstructing justice. It doesn't take long to think of some pretty bad governments from the 20th century. Why should we trust the US government as our default position? Speaking theologically, the nations rage against the Lord and against his annointed one: human governments are far from perfect, far from what people really need. The modern nation state, no less than the Roman Empire, is fundamentally idolatrous insofar as it claims to be able to look after its citizens, fully meet their needs, represent them, and provide the conditions for their flourishing.

Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

Which is by no means a manifesto for escapism, but for building the only community that really will last - the body of Christ, the church.

Friday, 24 November 2006


What a gift taste buds are! Yesterday, Kate knocked up one of the yummiest meals in recent memory. Dead simple, and dirt cheap.

Tinned salmon on the side, wholewheat penne pasta underneath, an easy creamy sauce with onion and crunchy marrow chunks, all liberally splashed with freshly squeezed lemon juice and black pepper.

Words cannot express my delight at that blend/clash of flavours. (I'm serious about the tinned salmon - 'proper' salmon would have been too much, not to mention too expensive.)

Surely you jest!?

Humour in the Bible? You cannot be serious!

Well, remember that the Bible is a compilation of around 60 different pieces of literature from a period spanning roughly 1600 years. If you were to take 60 written works at random from any 1600-year period I think you'd find some that were humorous. And given that the overall narrative of the Bible is a deeply comic one (God graciously and progressively restores order to a damaged and rebellious creation; the leitmotif of life-death-resurrection-glory is fairly prominent, shall we say), we shouldn't be surprised to find some humour colouring that comedy.

If you don't believe me, then read this. And read the Bible itself!

If you are a believer in Jesus, then I hope that considering humour and comedy in Scripture opens your eyes a little wider and deepens your love for God and His Word. If you're not, then I hope it opens your eyes a little wider and shows you more of the deep authenticity and richness of God's revelation - in the Bible, and in His Son, Jesus Christ. The shape of history is comic and hopeful for all who belong to God. And he has spoken to us in many different ways, which correspond to the range of human experiences (including humour!) and expand those experiences.

The Christian faith does not lead to an impoversishment of humanity or culture: on the contrary, as Jesus said, I have come that they may have life, and life to the full.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Game of Generals

is the rough translation of "shogi", the Japanese cousin of chess. I am fairly addicted to shogi at the moment. The mysterious characters on the pieces are very appealing to my ignorant Western eye, and the deep strategies fascinate and baffle me. There seems to be more of an ebb and flow than there is in chess, perhaps because there are fewer long range pieces and the opportunity to reinforce your army at any time with pieces captured from your opponent.

This Friday I am hosting my third Shogi Evening in as many months. Many Japanese (and a few English) friends converge on our little terrace, are subjected to my cooking (or Kate's if they are lucky), and then to lots of games of shogi. A post-doctoral geneticist from Toyama was the clear champion in September, and there was no clear winner last time (although an Associate Professor of English Literature from Tokyo was undefeated that evening, he and I did not play each other and I had defeated him in September) so the top games will be hard fought! Can't wait...

Next week I'm off to London to a shogi event at Asia House featuring 4 top Japanese players. It will be particularly nice to meet up with my friends the Brashes while I'm down there...

In case anyone out there can understand this, here's a sample game I played against the computer (strength 4-kyu) this afternoon. It illustrates the principle of the king-hunt, a central motif in shogi. After chasing my king across the board, the computer ran out of pieces at just the right moment for me to turn the tables. Needless to say, it doesn't usually work out this well!

1. P7f P3d
2. P2f S6b
3. P2e G3b
4. P2d Px2d
5. Rx2d Bx8h+
6. Rx2a+ +Bx8i
7. N*2c B*2b
8. Nx1a+ B7g+
9. S6h +B7x9i
10. +N1b N*7g
11. G7i +Bx7i
12. Sx7i L*2c
13. L*3c N6i+
14. Kx6i +Bx3c
15. P*2h P*2g
16. N*4e +B4b
17. Px2g P4d
18. +Nx1c G*2d
19. P4f Px4e
20. Px4e N*6e
21. S6h L*4f
22. G5i L4g+
23. P4d +B3c
24. B*2b K4b
25. Bx3c+ Kx3c
26. P6f Nx5g+
27. Sx5g +Lx5g
28. N*4e Kx4d
29. B*1a Kx4e
30. P*5f B*4g
31. K7h S*6g
32. K7g N*8e
33. K8d Bx2i+
34. B5e+ K3c
35. S4h +Lx4h
36. Gx4h S*8d
37. P3f Kx3f
38. G3g K2e
39. P2f K1e
40. L*1f checkmate

Meek(s) and Milder

Having children seems to work a civilising influence on men of my acquaintance. I'm thinking particularly of a good friend, Michael, whose wife and three tiny daughters have smoothed from mere genius engineer into family man and genius engineer. The Meeks family have generously fed us on many occasions since they started up!

As an undergraduate, I didn't quite realise what a great influence Michael was having on the Christians in college. He was in his third year when I arrived at Downing. His beard, his eccentricities and his uncompromising faith - never afraid to ask hard questions or stand up for Christ - really bolstered my walk with God, and I'm sure that was true for many of my peers. I've only come to realise what I owe to older Christians like him as I've grown up a little and got married to an older Christian myself (older by 2 months!)

Although hearty, Michael is extremely humble, and so until recently I didn't realise quite how famous, yea distinguished he is. The world of (opensource) software is a pretty closed book to me, but even a dusty artist can see that its social and technological significance is pretty vast. Praise God for men like him. The words of Paul to the church in Philippi are apt...

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.


Although I have given up competitive chess, the game still fascinates me with its blend of art and science. When I play I see an ever-shifting beauty and potentiality. I also make lots of mistakes, and let youthful enthusiam for showy sacrifices get the better of me.

My current chess nemesis is a friend from church, Glenford. He hails originally from the wonderfully named St Augustine in Trinidad (and Tobago) and lectures in computer science, while designing the next generation of wireless networks. This man has a seriously big brain. So, he almost always beats me over the board. Currently we are in our second correspondence game (a small board is 'live' on the front room windowsill for the odd moment of reflection and experimentation, and moves are exchanged every few days) and though it's tempting defeat to say it, I think I might have the edge...

James/Glenford (July-November 2006)
1. e4 g6
2. d4 d6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. f3 c6
5. Bb3 Bg7
6. Be3 0-0
7. Qd2 Nbd7
8. Nc3 b5
9. g4 Rb8
10. Nge2 c5
11. a3 c4
12. Ba2 e6
13. Ng3 a5
14. b4 axb4
15. axb4 Rb7
16. h4 Nb8
17. h5 Nc6
18. Nce2 Ne8
19. c3 Ra7
20. f4! Qe7
21. Rd1 Ra3
22. Bb1 Nc7
23. Qc1 Ra1
24. Qb2 Ra6
25. Kf2 e5?!!
26. dxe5 and I await his response...

But, to give a fair reflection of what usually happens - see this excellent creative attacking play from Dr G in our last game.

Glenford/James (March-July 2006)
1. e4 e6
2. Nf3 d5
3. e5 c5
4. Bb5+ Bd7
5. Bxd7+ Nxd7
6. 0-0 Ne7
7. Re1 Nc6
8. d3 Qc7
9. Qe2 h6
10. h4 Be7
11. h5 g5
12. hxg6 fxg6
13. c4 d4
14. Qe4 Kf7
15. Na3 g5
16. Nb5 Qb8
17. Bf4!? gxf4
18. Qxf4+ Ke8
19. Qg3 Nf8
20. Rab1 Rh7!
21. b4 Nxb4
22. Nd2 b6
23. Ne4 Kf7?!
24. Nbd6+ Bxd6
25. Nxd6+ Ke7
26. Rxb4! cxb4
27. Qh4+ Kd7
28. Qxd4 Ng6
29. f4 Ke7
30. Qe4 Rg7
31. f5 exf5
32. Nxf5+ Kf8
33. d4 Qb7?!
34. d5 Nxe5
35. Qxe5 Qc7?
36. Qf6+ 1-0

baroque and divine goodness

The following evening, our church, Rock Baptist, hosted an evening musical event at the Round Church (second oldest building in Cambridge). David Rowland, an elder at the church, Professor of Music at the Open University, Director of Music at Christ's College, Cambridge, and thoroughly decent bloke gave a short concert on his haprsichord and was interviewed about music and faith.

The music was almost enough to get me to like the harpsichord, and his answers were thought-provoking, and I hope, valuable to the many visitors who came. He spoke of music as a tremendous gift from God, and also talked about our use of that gift in the context of God's greatest gift, his Son, Jesus Christ. Soli deo gloria!

african goodness

A few days later we went to Churchill College, on the frontier of the city. It was a trek to get there under leg power as an undergraduate, and its still a trek today, even when a mate is giving you a lift! 'Composition in Africa and the Diaspora' was a collection of songs and piano pieces by composers I'm ashamed to say I had never heard of. The works were all written in the last fifty years, and their idiom was recognisably a blend of elements from traditional African music and twentieth century classical music. Much of it was beautiful, and all of it was interesting.

Dawn Padmore (soprano) had a cold, so her voice was not as pure as I have heard it before, but her outfit rocked, and she won us over with her entertaining introductions to everything she sung. Glen Inanga (piano) lacked a little polish in one or two places, but overall was superb. I would give a lot for his deft touch and impeccable tonal control. The two solo pieces he presented really stood out: very impressive, and full of soul. Ayo Bankole's Fugal Dance and Rhapsody on a Theme from Egun (according to this article, Bankole is a key figure in Nigerian art music despite a tragically early death). After the recital Inanga was both vivacious and gracious in conversation with members of the audience who hung around to congratulate him and Padmore, and he agreed to send me copies of the unpublished scores. Hurrah!

stringy goodness

Having a very musical time at the moment. A couple of weeks ago we heard the Britten Sinfonia at West Road, directed by Nicholas Daniel. He's always entertaining to watch - more a contemporary dancer than a conductor. He is also very tall and wears such remarkable shirts with Mandarin collars. The first half was Mozart and Tchaikovsky Serenades. Mozart very entertaining, with little cameo moments for the front desks, playing as soloists and as a string quartet. The final solo violin entry was stolen from the Sinfonia's leader by someone further back in the ranks, which was a nice touch. Tchaikovsky fittingly passionate. I noticed for the first time how the fast theme of the finale is a speeded up version of those bold, yearning chords that are the signature of the work and the heart of the opening movement. (Don't know how I'd manage to miss it before, since Pyotr Ilyich flags up just how clever he's been by giving us the opening chords again at the climax of the finale, and then gradually building the tempo until the music has been transformed into the fast theme again for the rush to the finish line.)

The second half left a little to be desired... John Taverner's Kalaidescopes was a nice idea - lots of contrasting bits presented by strings sitting in a circle round a solo oboe - but it went on far too long (the umpteenth recurrence of even the 'nice' bits grated somewhat). Watching Nicholas Daniel kept me from getting bored - he managed to get through three handkerchiefs in the course of his seriously virtuosic aerobics - but Kate was less impressed. Based on the conversations of those flowing past us as we unlocked our bikes outside, I would say that we weren't alone in that!

Bare-faced Watch

Flicking through the advertisement section of the Guardian (otherwise known as Saturday’s Magazine) late last night, Kate and I found some good meaty articles amid the overpriced holidays, overpriced houses and ludicrous clothes. But best of all was the full-page Seiko advert, with, as is customary for such things, a black and white Ben Affleck lookalike with a big watch. Underneath we read

‘It’s your watch that says most about who you are’

The mask is off. The astounding claims of our secular milieu are laid bare. Someone was paid large amounts of money to come up with that line – and some other people agreed that it was the best one to go with in a left-wing broadsheet. They think that they have a lasting city here, so they’re trying everything they can to bolster it – Seiko by selling more watches, and the buyers by telling everyone how rich and important they are.

It's your adverts that say most about who you are.

Sunday, 19 November 2006


Just eaten our garden’s last cherry tomatoes of the year. They came off the plant a month ago, very green, so we left them in a bowl on the windowsill. The bowl got dusty, but last week, almost overnight, they turned deep red. The November sun clearly hasn’t lost it yet!

Saturday, 18 November 2006

eke and mild

What a strange November this is. Are there any other cyclists out there who are getting as sticky now as you were in August!?

And what a sky there was to the east of Cambridge last night. Kate, who tends to notice her surroundings a little more than I do (lost as I often am in frowning and looking at puddles), drew my gaze upwards. The heavens well and truly declared the glory of God. And the more we looked into the deep blue, the more the stars rushed to the surface.

And what is man, that you are mindful of him, the son of man, that you care for him? (Psalm 8) That we can appreciate such beauty as there is in nature (let alone in culture), drink it in, revel in it, and feel the need to communicate the joy and the experience to the person next to us, is one of the strongest arguments in favour of beneficent theism. We are so utterly dependent on what is outside us, so fragile, and yet so able to enjoy it all, to shape it and value it... How can we not recognise that man is not the measure of all things, that instead God has put eternity in our hearts, so that we might seek after Him, the source of all these good gifts.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Deep Comedy

Peter Leithart's latest book, Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy and Hope in Western Literature (Canon Press, 2006) is as thought-provoking as the title promises.

In a nutshell...

Paganism is necessarily tragic: pagan myths of decline from a golden age reveal this, and pagan philosophy (monist or dualist) treats reality necessarily as a disappointment. Ancient Greek writers and their modernist and postmodernist heirs have only that to work with - some hide from it, some embrace it, some wallow in despair.

Against this, Christian Biblical thought alone gives grounds for hope, because only Christians have a throughgoing (and true) eschatology, which is itself fully grounded in the life of our Trinitarian God. Real theology, the Fall notwithstanding, moves from glory to greater glory. This has allowed Christian cultures to produce literature and philosophy that expresses deep comedy.

A few juicy quotes...

Scratching the sociology and metaphysics behind tragedy brings us right up to theological questions, questions that are insoluble outside a trinitarian framework. (59)

As Derrida shows, it is axiomatic for Plato that supplementarity is degenerative; that is, anything added to an original, anything flowing from a source, is "worse" than the source itself, preceisely because it has moved away from the source. This metaphysical assumption is parallel to mythical views of history for which temporal supplementation necessarily means degeneration. For Plato and Neoplatonic metaphysics, the lower is always lesser; for Hesiod, Ovid and other myth-historians the later is always lesser. Such a metaphysics cannot support a comic view of history, much less deep comedy...

An orthodox trinitarian theology avoids the problematics of Platonic supplementarity in two ways. First, orthodox trinitarian theology asserts that there is always a "supplement" (Son and Spirit) to the "origin" (Father), and, second, insists that the Son and Spirit, though "supplemental" to the Father, are "equal in power and glory". There is no degeneration or leakage of glory or divinity as the Father begets the Son, or, together with the Son, spirates the Spirit... (xiii-xiv)

A trinitarian account of language can accept nearly all that Derrida says about originary "contamination" except the label "contamination". Here Derrida is truly Augistine's heir, for he has discovered a trace of trinitarian life at the heart of the Western philosophical tradition. (84)

[On King Lear] This is not an absurd world, but exactly the opposite. It is a world where actions have consequences that are often far greater than the actors could have foreseen. But it is a world where the consequences flow from actions. this is simply a different world from that of Attic tragedy. and the "lesson" that it promotes is not a lesson of "tragic wisdom", or emotional exhaustion. it is the "lesson" that this world is ordered and will not brook assault on its order. (136)

And plenty of the normal virtuosity and breadth you expect from Leithart.

But, Deep Comedy does feel like the weakest thing to have come from the great man's pen. His disclaimer about its sketchiness is not quite enough to offset the disappointment that much of his tour of recent philosophy was second-hand, and only in outline. And plenty of questions were raised throughout that could have been tentatively explored alongside the sweep of the main thesis, even in a book that was only trying to be an outline, an impressionistic essay (xv).

I'll publish a more detailed critique later, but I don't want to end on a sour note. Leithart is one of the most stimulating writers around, and it's all worth reading and mulling.

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Hebrews 13

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God...

For a while now I've wanted to have the time and diligence to learn the letter to the Hebrews off by heart. This 58th book of the Bible is one of the most intriguing bits of literature around. Jewish, jam-packed with grand claims, colourful imagery, reinterpretations of ancient rituals, a philosophy of history, insight into the whirlwind of divine love that is the Trinity and neat domestic touches, it always sets me a-tingling to hear it. (It can be viewed in many translations and other languages here.)

And what better motto for a Christian? No earthly city can make final claims upon us disciples of Christ Jesus, so let us seek the city that is to come.

Unpacking that and running with it will, I pray, be what my life is all about. And I hope to explore this city with foundations - mostly thinking great men's thoughts after them, I expect - as this blog trundles on...