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.