Wednesday, 17 December 2008

You see, sometimes I even do some work

A paper I wrote for an NTI seminar last academic year has just been tarted up and published on their website.

It is a rather wordy look at the sovereignty of God and 'pastoral care', in which I attempt to clarify those bits of churchy jargon and explain how they relate to each other.

An earlier essay of mine, on the amazing worldwide spread of Pentecostalism, can be found here, too.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Love in Music

Cheesy title - springs from tired brain! But hopefully the fingers will be awake tomorrow at Emmanuel URC and Thursday at the Round Church accompanying the noisy brother!

Love in Music

Federico Mompou (1893-1987)
Impressiones Intimas
I: Lento cantabile espressivo – II: Larguetto – III: Gracioso – IV: Agitato
Pajaro Triste

Our survey of varieties of love opens with a lyrical yet mournful collection from a Catalan master of the keyboard. In these simple miniatures are great depths and hints of Mediterranean colour and passion.

George Butterworth (1885-1916)
A Shropshire Lad
Loveliest of trees
When I was one-and-twenty
Look not in my eyes
Think no more, lad
The lads in their hundreds
Is my team ploughing?

An ambiguous collection, on the simple pleasures of country life, the pains of young love, the beauty of nature and nobility, and the presence of death. The final two songs are truly chilling as the poet (Housman) almost seems to celebrate the death of the young, and then turns to a surprising conversation between friends that reminds us of the transience of our attachments.

Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896)
Recitative and aria from Hamlet

The beautiful music only increases the poignancy of the words, reminding us of the rest that the Prince of Denmark will never enjoy. We overhear him singing to himself, resolving revenge on his murderous uncle even though he knows it will lose him his love, the fair Ophelia.

Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
L’invitation au Voyage

Massive, sumptuous, decadent songs on love, the first celebrating the intimate end to a perfect day spent outdoors; the second, darker, comparing the lover to wonderful landscapes and capricious skies and ships, gradually forgetting her fickleness as he is carried away.

Pytor Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Aria from Evgeny Onyegin, Op.24

The hero of the opera declares his love for Tatyana – but not in the way she wanted… Having received a rather forward letter from her, he fears that his life and character are unsuited to marriage, so he promises always to love her as a brother.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Forced or induced?

For all the criticisms levelled today by the victim-mentality apologists of Hinduism and Islam in India and Turkey (to name just a couple of places) – you know, the old ‘Western missionaries just exploit the poor, buying converts, indicing conversion with bribes, etc’ claims – it is remarkable to find this practice institutionalised in early Turkish Islam. Just one example among many…

One-fifth of the income from an eighteen-room khan at Yenibağche (outside Konya) was set aside to defray the yearly expenses for converts to Islam. I was to provide for the teaching of the Koran and prayers, the performance of circumcision, provision of shoes, clothes, and food to Christians, Jews, and pagans who apostasized to Islam. The wakf’s revenues came from three villages (two of which, Saradjik and Arkĭthanĭ-Arkĭt, were Christian), a number of shops, and a khan.

[Speros Vryonis, Jr, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century (Berkley: University of California Press, 1971), p.353.]

Notice the particularly cheeky method of getting Christians to directly subsidize (as well as indirectly through ongoing punitive taxes and confiscations by the authorities who would then endow the Islamic institutions across Anatolia) conversions from their faith.

digestive system

Meat is not usually a major part of our diet these days. We are normally vegetarian (though in the last year the exceptions to that rule have increased compared to the previous couple of years). All this sausage has done something funny to the digestion, shall we say!

Generosity of friends

The little things are important. Some Polish friends of ours nipped back home to see family and on their return to Cambridge brought us back a duce of local sausages. A small, dark one made from wild boar, and a longer, folded one (you know, in the fun way continental sausages are, but British sausages never seem to be!) of more domesticated meat. Absolutely delicious – on toast, on bread, on pizza, in lentil stew, neat as a midnight snack – in three meals a day for the last five days.

Bill Bailey's restraint

Absurdist comics like BB actually seem more serious when they find real real world targets than more typical stand-ups. Jack Dee and Jo Brand might be rude about Bush, but, strangely, without the deep distaste that the absurdists seem to have for their targets. So, for Tinselworm, the bugbears were the Swiss Banks – there wasn’t much absurdity or gentle mockery here, there was outright denunciation of UBS’ complicity in the Nazi war effort. Since the old Bill’s voice and persona is quite funny, and associated in all our minds with the genial observations and absurdity that constitutes the bulk of the shows, so that portion of the show was funny. But you could tell he was cross – and not just putting it on for the sake of a laugh.

There was more restraint in his treatment of creationists. A couple of times on Monday night BB seemed to be about to launch an attack on creationism/creationists, but he never got past a few leading rude comments. I wonder whether this was because the audience seemed slightly less disposed to laugh at these lines of patter and he had to change his tack on the hoof [Mixed Metaphoropolis here we come!]. Ironically, part of his approach involved pointing out how the number of creationists in the UK had risen recently, 10%, 20%, 30%...Were they all at the Gielgud, I wonder?

Back in Part Troll there was plenty of humour about religion, but the tone was quite respectful. (I still laugh a lot at his insurance against acts of God, and comparison of theism and pantheism.) At Tinselworm there was a whiff more derision. Still, last Monday, for whatever reason, we didn't get the full force of whatever was grumbling around in him...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Comic genius

Yes, of course it's Bill Bailey. And yes, now that you sk, he did go to the same school as me. Lucky him, eh?

We celebrated PG's birthday in raucous, absurdist style at the Gielgud Theatre. Tinselworm is not quite as fresh as Part Troll, or quite at 'new' as Cosmic Jam (a very old one) and this Times Review is fair, if a little muted. However, there's nothing like good comedy in the flesh, and I've not seen any since the Edinburgh Fringe in 2000, so I was very happy to catch the old Bill.

'Have you ever stuffed so many chocolate Brazils into your mouth at once that you blacked out?' I thought, "Chocolate Brazils? What are they?" And last night I discovered (in large quantities) as Mrs L's students came round for a social evening, bringing sweet white wine (something else to disgust the purists but delight my insensitive tastes) and the aforementioned nut and cacao-based treats. Well done to them.

Friday, 28 November 2008

more interesting blogs

D'oh. A bit too much time spent reading blogs tonight after a fabulous and engaging day at NTI arguing about paedobaptism and trying to revitalize our celebrations of the Lord's Supper. Tim Chester was number one, of course.

Just been reading from this one, though I have no idea how he has the time to write so much interesting stuff and respond to people's comments while also being a NT scholar and author.

Ben Witherington

And then while looking at Witherington's reviews of Pagan Christianity, I saw this critique of the critique. It was very powerful.

John Zens.

And back to Witherington, I am clearly going to have to look at this post and the video in more depth, in case I ever finish my writing of an expanded piece on humour and comedy in the Bible and the Christian life. I am a total amateur, but maybe will make a contribution that some will find useful.

That sounded rather mournful and self-pitying, didn't it? I guess I'm suffering from blog envy right now. As I have indigestion and am exhausted, I think it would be best to go to bed now.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Music for children

Today at Emmanuel URC in Cambridge and tomorrow in Ely Cathedral I play(ed) a collection of such music. At the recital today I wore jeans, big muddy trainers, a baseball cap and a hoodie. Trying to be like a child of today, or something. Probably the only classical recital where the soloist looked quite so silly in quite that way...


Erik Satie, Gymnopédie No. 2 is one that never gets taught to kids, who always have to put up with no. 1, but it was written for Conrad Satie, who I hope was Erik’s little son. I haven’t done the research on that one, though!

Yvonne Adair, The Golden Isle. There is a lot of delightful music out there that is not too hard, such as this suite from 1928 that my teacher gave me when I was nine. It begins with a Prelude (The Gulls) that sets the scene from on high. The musical highlight is The Cave, richly evocative and mysterious. The Little Donkeys with Red Saddles are immediately recognisable before we dip into the limpid Venus Pool. With the Wind in the South West comes some scary stuff before calm descends on The Cradle Rock at Dusk with more than just hints of ‘Away in Manger’.

Robert Schumann, Scenes from Childhood, Op.15. This is the classic work about children and for children. Imagine a typical day spent observing or looking after some kids in the holidays… In Von fremden Ländern und Menchen and Curiose Geschichte the parent tells unusual stories to the children before rushing around the house in a game of ‘catch’ (Hasche-mann). One child puts on a pathetic voice to ask for something that is probably out of the question in Bittendes Kind – but, surprise, surprise, whatever it was is forthcoming and they are all quite happy (Glükes genug). A generous and rather grand aunt comes to visit in Wichtige Begenheit, but adult conversation proves too much and the child eventually starts daydreaming (Träumerei). My favourite is Ritter von Steckenpferd – presumably having been released from needing to entertain the aunt, you can now hear the kid rocking furiously backward and forwards in heroic adventures in the playroom, but, being on a rocking horse he gets nowhere fast! As the day wears on some stories and games prove almost too serious (Fast zu ernst) and even a bit scary (Fürchtenmachen) and the childrens’ energy levels drop. So, off to bed for Kind in einschlummern, and the composer has the last word (Der Dichter spricht).

Dimitri Kabalevsky, Sonatina No. 1, Op.13. Much of Kabelevsky’s music sounds as if it was written for children – it has a wonderful circus-like quality and is always entertaining. This mini sonata is almost easy enough for small hands. It has a punchy opening movement, Allegro assai e lusingando, a dark slow movement, Andantino, and a brisk and slightly skinny finale, Presto.

Debussy, Children’s Corner. The children of Debussy’s acquaintance, including the ‘petite Chouchou’ he wrote it for, must have been pretty good pianists. Also quite generous in their musical tastes, in my opinion. I have ommitted the boring, wierd ones from the set (a couple of which are also really hard to play!) and will leave you with the advice that doing your exercises at the keyboard will enable you to reach truly great things (Dr Gradus ad parnassum). Should you get lost when out in the fields, The little Shepherd will give you assistance, and then you can round off the day with a show featuring the inevitable Golliwogg’s cake-walk.

early national consciousness

A phrase which, of course, brings to mind the Armenians.

In a fascinating study of early medieval historical writing, chronicles and antiquarian collections (‘The concept of “history” in medieval Armenian historians’, in Antony Eastmond, ed., Eastern Approaches to Byzantium [Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001], pp.89-99) Robert W. Thompson describes a balancing act undertaken by historians before the coming of Islam. Armenia was a Christian nation, but politically it was aligned with the Shah of Persia, whose invasion and persecution of the Armenians had not shaken their devotion en masse to their faith and their church, despite many individuals who abandoned Christianity. One such writer, recording the revolt against the Shah in 450,

describes in detail the heroic feats of the leaders in battle and the martyrdom of important prisoners taken to Iran. But for Elishe virtuous conduct is not seen in terms of an early Christian martyrdom, where the salvation of an individual soul is at stake. Armenian moral virtue is linked to the survival of the nation. The Armenians are not fighting for Christendom, but for the survival of specifically Armenian traditions. They had an intense awareness of the dangers of apostasy – which was indeed frequent and often politically motivated, as in Georgia. (p.91)

Interestingly, at the point when Mongols from the east and crusaders from the West had damaged both the Muslim rulers of the Middle East and the weakened Byzantines (now largely restricted to the West of Asia Minor), Armenian royal iconography of the court at Cilicia demonstrates some pretty sizeable ambitions.

While Cilicia was in the end overcome by the Islamic powers on her eastern borders, the richly decorated manuscripts of the second half of the thirteenth century were an exuberant claim to be a new Byzantium. The treaties and marriage alliances between Cilicia and both the west and the Mongols must have made it seem possible, if not probable to the Armenians of Cilicia thatthey would balance east and west, link the Mongl dragon and the French fleur-de-lis and finally replace the Byzantine court as the great power in the east. Like Sargis Pidsak, we know that the end was very different but that does not negate the moment of the dream. (Helen C. Evans, ‘Imperial aspirations: Armenian Cilicia and Byzantium in the thirteenth century’, in Eastmond, ed. Eastern Approaches, pp.243-53 [p.253]).

Nationality et al

It’s a messy sort of thing, working this out, especially in post-imperial contexts like the Balkans…

In a fascinating survey of travel writing and proto-nationalist writing in 19th-century Bulgaria Stoyan Raichevsky buils a case that the Pomaks, the name given to the roughly 300,000 Muslims living in Bulgaria, descendants of converts to Islam in the 17th and 18th centuries, were truly Bulgarian and knew it. They often lived side-by-side with Christian Bulgarians, repudiated the learning of Turkish, sang anti-Turkish songs, desperately tried to avoid serving in the Turkish army (p.75), sometimes supported resistance fighters, and, perhaps less importantly for the question of nationality, practised a local, syncretistic form of Islam.

‘The Muslims of the plains do not belong to the Turkish people. They are Christians who adopted Islam during the period of the oppression. It is true that they go to the mosque but in mixed areas they share with the Christians the same superstitions, almost the same azimas, and use the same amulets. Most of them speak Bulgarian and would return to their original religion with the same ease with which they deserted it. They don’t understand much of both the Koran and the Holy Scriptures’ (Albert Dumont in 1873, quoted on p.54).

Many ethnographers of the time called them Bulgarians, and it was the question of language that was most weighty in their mind: ‘Nationality is a community of people who are related by language, by origin, by tradition, by some common moral qualities, common sympathy, common aspirations… no matter whether they have political independence or not.’ (Petko Slaveikov writing in Mecedonia newspaper in 1867, quoted by Raichevsky on p.50)

But why were the Bulgarian Muslims treated so badly by the newly-independent Bulgarian state before the communist takeover? (It is perhaps easier to explain the brutalities of the communists – after all, they were communists!) Perhaps because these Bulgarian Muslims did not convert to Orthodoxy in great numbers after independence as many commentators had predicted.

For example, Austrian ethnographer and historian Felix Kanitz: ‘All religious hatred is alien to the Mohammedan Bulgarians, everywhere these Muslim Pomaks live in perfect harmony with their brothers by blood, the Christians. In the regions where they live together I never heard any complaint of animosity on both parts… [When the more numerous Christians establish their own rule over these regions] these crypto-Muslim Bulgarians will again return to the religion of their ancestors, the religion which they still practise secretly.’ (comment from 1877, quoted on pp.57-8)

Of course, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 had a massive negative impact on the population and sparked off mass migrations of the Pomaks to Turkey. This was compounded by Christians’ greed for their property, Turkish imams propaganda at religious schools, fear of anti-Muslim recrimination (even though they were personally innocent of siding with the Turks – even the pro-Turkish British military leader St Clair couldn’t get Muslim Bulgarians to oppose the Russian occupation, pp.78-79) and bad administration by the new rulers (pp.65-72). Furthermore, when some Pomaks wanted to return, having not been treated well in Turkey and without the language, the new Bulgarian administration was not especially helpful (1909 order of the ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religion offered no special help to Bulgarian Muslims wanting to return home, p.86, a real missed opportunity).

Amusingly, Polish political intrigue of the time sought to convince the Pomaks that they were of Polish origin, and, presumably, should therefore be loyal to Poland rather than to their present Ottoman masters or to the nascent Bulgarian state or the Russian Imperial patron (p.52).

Monday, 3 November 2008

commas in quotation

Why do they do it? I mean you, why do you do it? Put terminal commas and other pieces of punctuation inside the quotation marks? Like this, for example...

As Williams points out, Albania has 'a very odd-looking language to a Western European,' not to mention a large number of concrete pill boxes dotted about its countryside.

Or (less offensively) like this...

World Chess Champion, V. Anand, who just defeated V. Kramnik for the coveted title, told us what it was like playing the gruelling match in Bonn: 'It took a lot of effort and energy.'

This practice is very widespread - even in academic writing. But it looks ugly, and it robs the framing sentence of its own opportunity to send signals. In fact, when it comes to full stops, the frame sentence then doesn’t HAVE a full stop to bring it to a close. It it left hanging into the abyss of nothingness. Aaaaaargh!

(un)Seasonal sonatas

At the superb concert venue that is Emmanuel URC, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, Jane and I recently offered up this tasty morsel...

Sonata in F major, Op.24
1. Allegro
2. Adagio molto espressivo
3. Scherzo & Trio (Allegro molto)
4. Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo)

It is easy to see (hear) why this sonata is known as the “Spring Sonata”. Birdsong and gentle breezes fill the first movement’s opening theme and the whole work is full of energy and surprises. There are stormy passages and passionate outbursts throughout the first movement but the mood is almost relentlessly optimistic. The slow movement is lean and simple and sounds far away, yet is strangely beautiful. The scherzo is a true joke, with a clumsy trio that rushes hot on its heels. It leads straight into the finale, a rondo (the first tune returns again and again, ABACADA…) on an almost childish theme. All sorts of sliding around and inventiveness in the presentation of the themes leads to the uproarious conclusion. This is definitely the work of a young(ish) man. It comes from 1801 and is the fifth of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas, nine of which he wrote by his mid-thirties.

Sonata No.2 in A major, Op. 100
1. Allegro amabile
2. Andante tranquillo – Vivace
3. Allegro molto moderato

Why did Brahms wait so long before composing any violin sonatas? The shadow of Beethoven stretched a long way into 19th century Germany and Brahms was a very cautious person, always feeling the pressure of coming after such a ground-breaking composer. He was 40 when he wrote his first published sonata for the instrument and fifty when a lakeside holiday in Switzerland inspired this – his sunniest and “summeriest” work. The bonus for us of Brahms’ tremendous caution is that all of his published works display an incredible craftsmanship. This sonata is no exception; its lyrical and flowing mood is held together by ingenious counterpoint and reworking of material (see if you can hear the first movement’s main theme as it tries to accompany the finale’s first theme). The central movement is both a slow movement and a scherzo, getting progressively faster and more manic each time it appears, making full use of pizzicato (plucking) as the violin imitates a banjo. The serene finale, like the first movement, quotes from songs by Brahms, songs about gardens, flowers and lovers. Not even the mysterious piano flourishes and dark arpeggios can dispel the summer and its radiant coda.


I lost, I lost!

Last weekend there was something of a Downing College reunion in Huddersfield – a surprisingly attractive place. A large number of games were played at the home of a certain small businessman and “UK writer”. These games were played by said writer, his former room-mate and my best man, me and in some cases by firstwriter’s long-suffering wife. I came out loser in almost every scenario…

Aka “Bridge for Idiots”. A great game. Poor firstwriter was dealt duff hands in every round but still managed to win, in conjunction with our card sharp (NJB). We stayed up rather late on the first evening playing this.

Never having played proper world domination Risk before I approached this (on the second night) with a certain amount of excess adrenalin. Even being the only player to be eliminated from the game after 5 hours of play could not dampen my enthusiasm. This was partly because I saw the writing on the wall a few turns before the end and decided to do a Mao, concentrating my forces in a single province in Asia (initially China) and then marching around to victory. Or so I hoped… I was actually cornered in Siam and wiped out in a pincer attack from Indonesia and India (imagine if that had happened in 1949!) Still, it cost my attacker considerably more armies than I lost. Something of a pyrrhic victory for him, as the other two players were then poised to carve him up, but an honourable three-way draw was then (propsed and brokered by me) and agreed. I awarded myself the carnage prize for the most enemy armies destroyed, a decent consolation. Interestingly the decisive province in the game turned out to be Yakutsk - no battles were fought on or from it, but after a few turns its owner kept reinforcing it heavily preventing anyone (especially me) from expanding throughout Asia until it was too late.

Wii Sports (tennis)
Wrist strain and collision were the hallmarks, along with constant defeat. The married team were too coordinated for N and I.

Wii Mariokart
I managed not to be 12th in every race I played, but that’s about the extent of my achievement. A 5-year-old could have beat me – and, in fact, did on several occasions.

Triple Crown
Mancala, Abalone and Reversi (Othello). One of the triumvirate played two games at once, the simultaneous handicap passing to the next player as soon as someone was defeated. The games swapped in and out after two matches had been played of each one. There were three games of Reversi (no wins for me), five games of Mancala (one win for me) and three games of Abalone (a shock double victory and no defeats for me!), which revealed that I was generally the loser – the other two won four matches each.

Never before have I lost so many games and enjoyed myself quite so much!

Heywood (Lancs) was the next stop on the grand northern tour for a long-overdue reunion with a chemical engineer who is also a Scrabble King. We tried Banangrams, which is like Take Two, a game played with Scrabble tiles which need to be arranged and rearranged at top speed into a little crossword formation. I managed to distinguish myself here, too. I blame it on lack of sleep through 500 and Risk earlier in the weekend!

Monday, 13 October 2008


I won, I won, I won!

Hanging around the Arts Picturehouse a few months ago I entered a noddy competition ("how many letters are there in the word 'Jar'?", that sort of thing) to win the books behind the film Jar City. Which was quite a decent film - certainly the best film I've seen featuring sheep's heads being eaten by people as fast food.

On Saturday, without fanfare, a large parcel arrived, much to my delight - all the whodunnits of Icelandic penman, Arnaldur Indridason. Hurrah. I am a true winner.

As a massive crime fiction fan in my earlier years I shall relish the chance to get back to that battle between tarnished good and grey or enigmatic evil, the social complexity, the compromised yet heroic cops, the various fascinating lives and milieus...

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Watching this film left me feeling a bit funny.

On the plus side tension, decent performances, an intriguing concept, value-for-money special effects, critique of the overweening state, realism about the darkness in man's heart, Bob Hoskins and Alexander Siddig in minor roles...

On the minus side gratuitous nudity, gruesome violence, a silly ending and an even sillier cannibal feast sequence.

I also thought it was surprising that no other film has been called Doomsday, though, in the century of cinema that we've had.

the 'state' majority versus the 'ethnic' minority?

It doesn't bring me any pleasure to note this ongoing tragedy in Turkey, the suppression of Kurdishness, but Aykol's blog is always interesting, and he is a wonderfully honest writer.

It's amazing how conspiracy theories, ethnic politics, innuendo and the like continue to swirl around each other.

King of the Hill

This is an Emperor Tamarin. I think you know who I have in mind...

The Economist

Thanks to Mrs L, the old folk and her old folk I am enjoying a year’s subscription to this august publication. There is a high volume of adverts (the average seems to be around 30% of page space per issue) but they are often classy adverts, and the news material and comment is fascinating and considerably more international than your average paper.

So, I now know everything. Which is nice.

I know, for example, that in America, expectations about transport are different to what they are here (among the class I belong to anyway), and that The Economist’s anonymous writers can be quite witty…

Speaking of the aftermath of the under-reported hurricane September that hit the South with a one-two, p.60 of Oct 4-10, 2008 reads [tricolon with bathetic climax?]

Most of the Gulf of Mexico’s crude oil production halted before Gustav, and after the hurricans hit the refineries were slow to recover. As of September 29th, according to the Department of Energy, more than half of production was still shut down. Two pipelines serve most of the south-east, and severe shortages resulted. [one…] People started to fill up whenever they could, sometimes queuing for hours. [two…] Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, said that in Atlanta and Charlotte and Chattanooga the situation was “like a third-world country.” [three!] People contemplated public transport and telecommuting.

Oh, the hardship, the hardship.

before a fall?

Had a bit of a shocker with the trusty steed on Monday… The left pedal came off as I was cycling along – fortunately passing the very bike shop on the High Street that had fitted them before the weekend. Turns out that the heat-gun-extraction of the old left pedal had ruined the thread and the whole bike might have to be junked as it is worth less than the cost of replacing its various ailing parts. I left it with them for a day, with the hope that an interim solution might be found.


Sentiment triumphed over economics, and they fitted me a new pedal block (to house the shiny new white pedals, about which I am still chuffed) at a heavily discounted price, which was nice of them.

They are The Kurser, 47 High Street, Cherry Hinton, Cambridge, should you be interested – and very friendly. I don’t normally do product placement on the blog, but I’m in a good mood what with the brilliant sunshine, a great morning studying Isaiah, chatting to a baker friend, teaching one of my best students, having 5 caffeinated drinks before midday, the shiny white pedals, and…

Saturday, 4 October 2008

shiny white ones

I have some new pedals on my bike! They are quite chunky, and very white. For some reason, Essex is coming to mind... They actually match the bike itself, a quarter-century old Raleigh Marauder that seems to be made of cast iron and has retained its murky whiteness despite serious peeling, rust and grime.

The old pedals made a noise like putting cats through a mincer. Pedestrians twenty metres ahead would jump and look around in fear, unaware that it was just the gentle pressure of my right ankle that was causing the noise. The right pedal in particular was so jammed up (no bearings, and rusty metal was grinding on plastic, I guess) that sometimes it would stick, and eject my foot at the top of its circuit, leading me to practise my kicking moves rather against my will as I sauntered down the High Street, or, more worryingly, battled along a major road with little margin for error.

It took the bike repair man all afternoon to get the pedals off. Spanners, levers and the weight of two men couldn't do it. A mysterious "heat gun" was employed, though I never got to see it.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

even the greats

lose quickly on occasion. [here, Najdorf, one of the greatest chess players never to have become world champion goes down in under 20 moves...] Which gives me some hope, as I lose quickly rather often, particularly in drawish positions against Charles. Here's the latest loss...

Wouldn't it be nice if I was clever enough to put this in .pgn and have a little board on the blog?

Charles v. Me (corr. Aug-Sept 08)
1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 c5

[I meant to play ...e5, so quite early we see the lack of grey matter taking its toll]

3. d5 b5
4. cxb5 e6
5. Nc3 Bb7
6. e4 Qa5
7. Bd2 Qc7

[Black's Queen dance makes it harder for White to hold onto the pawn, but it does cost time]

8. Be2 exd5
9. exd5 Nxd5
10. Nf3 Be7
11. 0-0 Nf6

[at this point I originally tried to play ...axb5, forgetting that the pawn was on a7 not a6. D'uh]

12. Re1 d5
13. Rc1 0-0
14. Bg5 Nbd7
15. b4 Rfe8

[White's pressure means that Black is unable to keep his passed pawn connected. More care might have averted that...]

16. bxc5 Qxc5
17. Nd4 Rac8
18. Na4 Qa3
19. Rxc8 Rxc8
20. Bg4 Bb4
21. Re3

[at this point I resigned until Charles pointed out that my rook could get to e1 after a few moves... Poor J, his brain is really not happy at the moment!]

21. ... Qc1
22. Re8+ Rxe8
23. Bxc1 Re1+
24. Qxe1 Bxe1
25. Bxd7 Nxd7
26. Be3 a6?!

[the endgame goes downhill from here with increasing speed...]

27. b6 Bb4
28. Nb3 Kf8??
29. Bc5+ 1-0

White ends up with a knight on c5 and thus wins a piece for the passed b-pawn. What a shambles!


Sent via a maternal Scrabble network. Really rather good. I wonder which other languages can manage the same sorts of anagram fun...

> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > THE EYES: !
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > When you rearrange the letters:


The former inhabitants of I3, Downing College (1999-2001) and I are getting together in the north at the end of this month. After those heady student days we have now all grown up and got married. One of us even has children! Punctuated by clunky prose blocks from me, this is how the I3-ites have arranged things...

Good evening, gents, if gents you be!
Oh won't you come and dance with me?
By "dance" I mean to come; to stay;
A winter's night to while away.
Around the time of Yule, perhaps?
Before another year hath lapsed;
Before another year is seen
Since we three dined on mush so green;
Since we three played our silly games
That overwrought our feeble brains.
My folks can lend accommodation,
Or at our house you may be stationed,
So if agreed that meet we should,
Let us discuss when would be good,
And when your fem'nine selves you'll yield
To seasonal joys of Huddersfield!

This invitation is so kind
It wakens memories in my mind
Of games we played and mush we ate
And evenings when we stayed up late.
At Christmas we may surely gather,
Or earlier, if James, you would rather:
October offers up a chance
For me to join this so-called "dance".
A week's leave I have yet to take
And could go north, for old time's sake,
Provided that this suits us all
Especially our host, dear Paul.
Tell me, you gents, if gents you be
If you concur or disagree.

[will the sourthern wives be joining us?]

It will be I, and I alone,
To sojourn at the Dyson home,
When to that hallowed hall I wend:
Roll on October's last weekend!

Okay, gents -- the time is fast;
the date is set; the die is cast.
So when you're here, where wouldst thou stay?
Knowing that you're nearly gay
Perhaps you'd share a sofa bed?
(there is another couch instead
if either of you feel alarmed
at lying in each other's arms)
but if you want more privacy
my parents' is the place to be.
Please, feel free, to quick-confer,
then tell me which you would prefer.

[I could get to Halifax for 7pm...]

Halifax station could be done,
but Huddersfield's the closer one.
As regards suggested time
the hour of seven will be fine.
May I assume that on arrival
you'll need be fed for your survival?

In the presence of such wit, I am practically mute. I expect I'll have something to say at the end of October, though.

and again

Teaching music can bring so much quality intellectual and emotional effort and reward. Even though I have a few students who mysteriously refuse to do any practice I enjoy teaching almost all of them, most of the time! But why have I not blogged about it before? Considering that most of my income comes from teaching the piano, that is rather odd. It's not as if there is no mental challenge, and anything that involves other people so closely is worth thinking and writing about... Anyway, here it is, a few random thoughts.

Sometimes my students inspire me to learn new pieces. That's a particularly good feeling.

The best student should surpass his teacher. I have yet to nurture somone past me, but perhaps that will come when I have been teaching a bit longer. The whole range of abilities from complete beginner to post-Grade 8 present their own challenges.

Occasionally I get asked to help people prepare for the aural tests, to sharpen their listening and singing and music-discussing skills. That's quite fun - though it often involves helping people do things that I can barely do myself. Yesterday I played through some Bach-Riemenschneider chorales with a couple from chuch who are auditioning for a high quality choir in Cambridge. Incredible music - incredibly challenging! The last time I really thought about Bach chorales was when I had to harmonise them for A-level. I would never attempt to teach anyone how to do that properly, i.e. idiomatically (though the principles of 4-part harmony I can pass on). Bach never does what you expect - he was too great a genius for that.

Wit and banter form a serious part of my lessons (on a good day). I'm more of a carrot teacher than a stick teacher, though looking at me one might be tempted to say I was both ;-)

Monday, 29 September 2008

praise the LORD for music

Once again I was reminded of God's amazing generosity in giving us humans the capacity for music, giving me some talent and a passion for it, and giving me the time to use those gifts. Let me never take that for granted, and never may I be permitted to moan and grumble (tempted though I often am).

This morning Jane and I rehearsed Brahms' A major sonata for a concert on October 15th. We then had a whale (wail) of a time sightreading Ireland's D minor sonata (SO many notes) and attempting Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata (before giving up half way through the first movement in exhaustion and defeat!)! Retreating to his G major sonata (Op. 30, No.3) we found part of our next concert programme in very early 2009. Now all we need to find is a warmer venue than a church building...

chess and politics

Nothing quite so serious as Garry Kasparov standing up to Dictator... I mean Prime Minister... I mean President... 
I mean, you know, that guy who's in charge in Russia...
Putin. In this case it's the secret records of chess matches between Bush and Kerry in 2004 and now McCain and Obama in 2008.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Inclusivism of the Roman variety

I didn’t really know about this until I saw it in black and white the other day.

According to Vatican II, salvation is available for all, ‘not just to schismatics, heretics and Jews, but to non-Christians too and even to atheists if they are in good faith’ (Hans Küng, The Church [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Image Books, 1976], p.406). Of course the fullness of salvation is only found in the RC church.

Wow – that seems quite new to me. Though as Stamoolis points out, ‘nice’ though it may be, it still retains the smack of Western individualism so deplored by the Orthodox and their ecclesiology. I.e. it's still just about you and God in the final analysis, not about God and the church.

Interesting... I wonder what counts as an atheist in bad faith. (Isn't atheism the very definition of a 'bad faith'?!)

happy blogday!

This is the 366th post at noearthlycity. The 'leap year' blogday!

knickers and twists

The change in the date of Easter is contrary to the resolutions taken at the First Ecumenical Council and believers may lose their faith as a result of this change. The difference between the Jewish passover and Christian Easter must be maintained.

(Anon., ‘The Georgian Patriarchate’, in Bria, ed., Martyria/Mission: the Witness of the Orthodox Churches (WCC, 1980), pp.126-131 [p.130])

"Believers may lose their faith as a result of the change."

Just think about that for a moment...

I try to be sympathetic to different theologies and to understand where people are coming from, but this one ...? Didn't they and don’t they have more important things to worry about in Georgia? 

Clearly they did, because the writer of that chapter preferred to be anonymous!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

defining your terms

It's quite easy to for evangelical Christians to think and talk about 'real Christians'. We usually know who is one and who isnt', right? Obviously, anyone who doesn’t agree with my type of evangelicalism isn’t a real Christian. Which is good, because other people (not me, obviously) do silly and unChristian things and I don't want to be tainted by association with ‘Christians’ who do those bad things. They’re not actually, really Christians.

Even if this manouevre is not strictly honest it does have a noble purpose, from time to time, that goes beyond me. It is a defensive mechanism for maintaining God’s honour in the world. But evangelicals (despite being some of the most sensitive and uptight believers in their soteric exclusivism) are not the only ones who do it…

‘A historical critique of the Oriental Church does not mean anything for us, because the Oriental Church does not conceive itself to be a gathering of men but as an Orthodoxy. This means that that which lies outside the truth of Christ or doxology does not belong to the Body of Christ’.

(Metropolitan George Khodre of Mount Lebanon, ‘The Church as the Privileged Witness of God’, in Ion Bria, ed., Martyria/Mission: The Witness of the Orthodox Churches Today (Genva: WCC, 1980), pp.30-37 [p.31]).

Which is a neat way of getting round the problem!


…of the Pentecostal-Charismatic variety…

“The Lord has given me a picture of three flowerbeds, with different colours of flowers. And I took one of each and planted them in the same pot. We’re all here today from different churches, but God is saying to us that we should make the effort to mix and have good fellowship: we’re all His flowers, whatever the colour of our petals.”

To those schooled in broadly cessationist theology and praxis, these pictures can sound a bit weird or even a threat to a high view of Scripture. And maybe on occasion they are. Whatever. I am more interested right now in being the nth observer to note that the cessationist and the charismatic may both be able to accommodate the same phenomena with a step or two towards each other.

So long as all are agreed on the priority of Christ and Scripture as God’s communication to his people, in terms of ‘ontological’ ranking and in terms of authority and purchase upon us, then let me offer a cessationist reading of the phenomena (with help from AMGD).

The ‘picture’ could be read simply as an illustration of a teaching point. But that could be to read it the wrong way round, as a typical (charitable) cessationist might do. Instead, the ‘point’, as it were, only emerges from the ‘picture’, which is normally a moving picture of some sort. The form – a short narrative – is important, and is an imaginative way of sharing truth. Not that we have to imagine that the ‘truth’ bit was thought up first, and then the ‘picture’ arrived. Why not see it as a teaching (mini-)gift that enables the speaker to do more than point+illustration. Jesus’ parables are more than point+illustration, after all, and our conservative homiletics (usually weak on relevant and punchy ‘application’) could learn a lot about the power of story.

Just a picture I had, anyway

Isaiah 9-10

After the incredible prophecy of the child to be born, the everlasting Prince of Peace (vv.1-8), there is a more sober message. This message comes with greater immediacy – it’s not just in the future (1) but is already rooted, it has already begun: The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel (8).

(9:8-12) whatever the talk of proud rebuilding, Ephraim and Samaria [Northern Kingdom] will be destroyed by Aramean and Philistine.
(13-17) the people have not sought the LORD; the leaders mislead, and even the ‘victims’ [fatherless and widow] are guilty
(18-21) wickedness burns, and so the LORD’s anger burns; the people will turn against each other
(10:1-4) those who make unjust laws will soon have no one to turn to
(10:5-19) Assyria, agent of God’s wrath, is too proud, and so he too will be judged with fire. [Note that this is prmarily a judgement on the Northern Kingdom, but it will spill over against the South, Judah, too (10:10-12). There seems to be some hope for Judah in all this – the judgement is not so devastating against her… yet. It will have the effect of purging wickedness, as we will discover in 10:20ff.]

This judgement will not be a simple or clean affair, either. Four times the refrain is heard, Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised (12b, 17b, 21b, 10:4b).

This talk of divine wrath should make us uncomfortable, but lest we try to wriggle away by claiming there are moral problems for God (‘how can God be a God of wrath?’ many ask; ‘surely he should be on trial’…) we need to look at how humans are implicated in the exectution of God’s wrath. The obvious example is Assyria, like a club (10:5) or axe (15) in the LORD’s hand, and yet still with its own intentions and ideas of grandeur (7-11) without regard for the Almighty who rules over history. [Some version of compatibilism best explains the way the Bible always speaks of the interweaving of divine and human purpose and interaction.]

Secondly, back in chapter 9, more shockingly, we read of Israelite devouring Israelite: part of the judgement is that the people will be given over to their most selfish and brutish instincts (9:19b-21). Experiencing the wrath of God in history is not pleasant – but don’t blame God, for it is often humans who devour each other. Being given over to unrestrained human wickedness may sound fun initially (‘wahey! Lots of indulgence, please’) but very quickly it is not fun at all. Second half of Romans 1.

In history and in Jewish telling of it the Northern Kingdom and its inhabitants did not fare well. Read 2 Kings 17 for the condescending write-up of their destruction. The fall of Samaria does not even feature in the Chronicler's account of the divided monarchy period - the Northern Kingdom simply slips off the pages around chapter 28 of 2 Chronicles.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

reader feedback

A kindly old man recently pointed out that the label to this sad post was somewhat missplet (since corrected), and sent me some background info on it.

Your recent blogs:
"Labels: chuch, death, life"
"Showing posts with label chuch. Show all posts"
Now THIS is what I used to delight to do to your sister and her dimples.

chuch: verb trans & intrans; to externally manipulate facial cheek tissue in
an irreverent but affectionate manner.
Noun abstr; the act of/opportunity for chuching.
chuchable: adj. having facial cheek tissue suitable for such action.
orig: "chuchyface": familiar term of address used by entertainer/compere in
60's(?); now commonly used in social networks

Which was rather nice.


Deep thinking has been looking a bit thinner on the ground of noearthlycity lately. Perhaps taking my foot off the labouring pedal over the summer has resulted in brain contraction!? A certain loss of intellectual confidence (in my case in the face of challenging writing projects) leads me to comment on a set of increasingly ‘lowbrow’ cultural artefects. Something I have observed in longwave in friends and family, and now see in myself [pride always comes before a fall]. Talking about the Simpsons is safer than talking about the meaty stuff of life. Ditto on the blog: ‘safer’ to put up one’s personal thoughts on a film or TV series than on anything really serious.

Theoretically, I don’t want to supprt a falsely watertight dichotomy between, e.g. ‘film’ and ‘theology’, but there it is in practice unless you work at it. You can theoretically believe that, e.g., art is crucially important, that God is interested in everything we do and all that cultural-mandate-Schaeffer-apologetics stuff, and then still consume a film (of any sort, though certain sorts lend themselves to popcorn consumption rather more readily) uncritically, unreflectively and without any intention of change. Once in while that might be OK, but habitually and it becomes dangerous and the effect on personality can be a contraction…

Saturday, 6 September 2008

the shack and the boosh

Yes folks, a unique experience is offered to you this morning: nowhere else in the blogosphere are these two cultural artifacts linked.

The Shack – wordy and slightly hammy from the literary perspective, risky in terms of its theological presentations, but compelling so far (I’m up to page 89).

The Boosh – wordy and hammy, though not, perhaps, by sitcom standards; alas very hit and miss in terms of quality (‘when she was good she was…’)

The link: funk, of course. God the Father listens to funk in the log cabin while cooking, and Julian Barratt's character, Howard Moon, waxes lyrical about the genre and its relationship to jazz in the two best episodes of the series, 'Electro' and 'Hitcher'. Laugh-out-loud best, playing (ho ho) on everyman’s hesitations about jazz and its afficionados (which I share, despite wanting to get into “the most significant art form of the twentieth century” [Howard Moon]).

They might be giants

My naivete concerning DIY is matched only by my child-like ignorance of pop music. One of the four popular CDs I own is the album Flood by They Might Be Giants. (The others are Sounds of the Sixties, Status Quo’s Rockin all over the years and Carry on up the charts from The Beautiful South.) Someone at church introduced me to it at a bring-your-favourite-track evening for the 20s & 30s group four years ago. Thank you, Nat.

I love its wackiness, its ‘folly’ in the medieval sense, and the amusing electronic instrumentation. ‘Particle Man’ and ‘Whistling in the Dark’ are very fine indeed, but they stand on the shoulders of what might be giants. Even their cover of Kennedy and Simon’s ‘Istanbul’ (from 1953) is great fun.

However, rather than find out anything more about the band and their work, which might lead to disappointment, information overload, or becoming an earnest groupie, I shall continue to feed off this fun slice, unrepresentative or not. After all, everybody just wants a rock to wind a piece of string around, or, failing that, prosthetic foreheads on their real heads.

electrical bother

My naivete in the area of DIY is legendary. On Wednesday morning (which was the end of the third week of sleeping unusually badly and briefly, even for me) I was rather sluggish, but when the lights in the kitchen exploded at 6.35am it brought me to my peak of action-readiness. Having rather ill-advisedly unscrewed the three-bulb fitting from the ceiling I was forced to use an intricate martial arts move ("crazy stork", I think) to keep it from pulling the ceiling down while I reached for a chair, the screw cap and a mini tool kit. Shame there was no one there to see it.

After 30 minutes of struggling nobly, I was forced to retreat, leaving the fitting, now fitting poorly into the ceiling, still inactive. As winter well and truly approaches, I may look into replacing the other two bulbs (bits of bulb #3 are stuck in their socket) or at least calling our nice landlord and -lady to sort it out.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

At last! Having seen CTHD 8 years ago in a tiny, peeling cinema on the edge of Hong Kong, in Mandarin with complex character subtitles, the mystery is over. Well, as much as it will ever be.

Last night we watched it on the widescreen laptop (still feeling virtuous without TV?) and rather enjoyed ourselves. Watching it without any language aids, I had managed to get the plot's outline... sort of! But it was helpful to have a little more understanding second time round. I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was, the humour took the edge off the po faces, and we both found ourselves moved by the yearning and tragedy of the middle-aged people's plot.

The young people were a bit more annoying ;-)

Hmm... the dialogue was not always wonderful, it has to be said. Possibly because of the translation, possibly because of the conventions of the genre, possibly because of the different dramatic expectations of Chin ese dramatic culture. Anyhow, I'm sad to say that sometimes it reminded me of the dialogue in another recent film, Until Death (2007), a Van Damme attempt at 'drama-with-action', rather than 'action film'. Despite his reasonable efforts, the script was awful and the turning points of the plot entirely implausible, and even the action scenes were disastrous. I can't understand how it got a 6.1 average on IMDB! ...enough griping.

CTHD also raised some interesting themes. Western Ch ina, where the noble family of Zhang Ziyi moved when she was a young child is portrayed as beautiful, but no one lives there but noble criminals just begging to be sinified, if only they knew it. Hmm. Meanwhile, the Han-Manchurian difference, which I only properly learned about (exciteable child that I am, I'm still full of the discovery and more to be discovered) a month ago watching The Last Emperor (1987) [I get all my knowledge from films, like everyone else], reading Patricia Buckley Ebrey's Cambridge History of the place and a visit to the Lama Temples (with its 18th century four-language signs) in the capital at Easter. It pops up as Lo persistently mistakes Jen for a Han in the extended Gobi flashback, until she proudly disabuses him of that; not to mention in the slap foreheads and fake pigtails  ;-)

On the DVD extras, Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat come across very well indeed - extremely likeable. And as I type this I'm listening to the director and producer's commentary on the first few minutes of the film. Very witty.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

concert fun in Cambridge and Ely last week


Roger Quilter (1877-1953)

Three Shakespeare Songs, Op.6

Come away Death

O Mistress Mine

Blow, blow, thou Winter Wind

Quilter was born in Brighton and trained in Frankfurt during those years when British music began to emerge from the obscurity in which it had languished since the days of Henry Purcell. Vocal music was his forte so he wrote little apart from songs. These Shakespeare texts, extracted from his plays, have been set by many composers, but rarely so felicitiously. The first is a melodramtic lament over a broken heart, the second carries a familiar carpe diem message and the third is about a greater pain than anything the physical world can boast – friends who desert you.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Billy Budd, Op.50

Billy Budd’s death row aria

Many critics consider Britten to be the best of British, though his unusual harmonies and unique musical language mean that he is less well-loved than Elgar or Vaughan Williams who were both Romantics at heart. Both his serious and his silly sides are on display today. Having been press-ganged into joining the crew of the Indomitable, Billy, now popular amongst the crew, awaits execution for striking a superior officer – the sadistic Master-at-Arms, who died as a result of the blow. Set against the backdrop of the French/English naval conflicts in 1797, the opera is a tragic but thrilling tale of the rise and fall of Billy Budd, in whom is such goodness and potential, who falls foul of the justice that the sympathetic but somewhat weak Capt. Vere must uphold aboard his ship. As it is entirely set aboard the ship, Billy Budd is one of very few operas with an exclusively mono-gender cast, in this case, of male parts. Here, Billy’s sincerity and simplicity is demonstrated as he broods over his execution as dawn approaches on his last day…

Albert Herring, Op.39

Sid’s arietta

Albert Herring is still living a very sheltered life looking after his Mum’s grocery shop in the village, where unbeknown to him or anyone else outside the village council, a major social catastrophe has taken place. In the run up to the May Day celebrations, it has been discovered that there are no chaste, virtuous young maidens left to nominate for the prestigious position of ‘May Queen’. And so they are forced to re-establish the title as ‘May King’ since Albert, at least at this stage in the opera, is still virtuous and unblemished… In this aria Albert’s friend Sid, the butcher’s shophand, amiably goads him to enjoy more of the ‘finer things in life’, particularly the delights that girls bring. This aria stands just after the above decision has been made, early on in the opera, before Sid and his girl Nancy plot to sabotage Albert’s May Day coronation. Little do they know what’s in store for everyone concerned as chaos later runs riot in this comic romp!

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Songs of Travel

The Vagabond

Let Beauty awake

The Roadside Fire

Youth and Love

In Dreams

The infinite shining heavens

Whither must I wander?

Bright is the ring of words

I have trod the upward and the downward slope

Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection, Songs of Travel, compiled in 1893, was the inspiration for Vaughan Williams’ early song-cycle (1904). The later songs build on the musical material of the first few, bringing a unity that goes beyond common subject matter. The Vagabond is the most resolute of the travellers, and the poems move through morning and evening, a surreal domestic paradise, the transience of youth, unhappy sleep, endless night, the passing of warmth and friends, and the power of words to outlive their makers. The final, exhausted song, which was not discovered until after the compser’s death, sums up in the manner of a recitative the metaphysical and musical wanderings that have preceded it. Then it, too, fades away, transported and transfigured.

Needless to say, the baritone was none other than LDW himself

Friday, 29 August 2008

What happens these days when I cook

"This marrow doesn't taste of anything - it tastes of air".

Yesterday's dinner inspired some deep wisdom from PG, in his last week with us :-(

Monday, 18 August 2008

Sad Sunday

Our church plant has been going for less than a year and we have now experienced our first death. An elderly lady from Teversham, a real character, a real asset to our community, had been eagerly attending all our Sunday meetings and 'Classic Cafe' since she heard us carol-singing on the coldest night of 2007. From almost no Christian background at all. On Thursday she died suddenly. Her hunger for reading God's word and joining HCC for worship give us reason for hope, but we are still grieving. This Sunday, wonderful though it was, was clearly poorer without her.

Her family (not Christians, but clearly touched by how much she loved coming along to church) are eager for us to play a big part in her funeral - a great honour, and a great opportunity to serve. What a responsibility, though. Pray for us.

I see that Lou's new church in Brighton has also just gone through a similar loss. But what a hope we have!


Sorry, but there was another one when I sneaked a look...

Wonderful Sunday

Many people think that church is rather like this :-(

Of course nothing should be further from the truth. Of course I exaggerate. But as we remember that "church" is not the meeting you attend on a Sunday morning, but the new humanity being drawn together and built up into Christ (flowery thoughts on that from Peter Leithart: meditate on the text that lies behind it, though) we realise that this new polis is a full time activity. And there's plenty of space for fun and all the more substantial forms of enjoyment and rejoicing together with brothers and sisters of all ages and races, nationalities and backgrounds.

Yesterday morning we were at the mothership, where I was preaching on 2 Corinthians 11:1-12:10, one of the more convoluted and tricky passages on the New Testament (if the phrase "baptism of fire" weren't such a cliche I'd be wheeling it out around... now). I found the "Family Focus" section, on how to deal with suffering and fatigue in the Christian life, really helpful - and the whole service was well-designed to support that point. It was so great to catch up with various people over coffee (now we're off planting a church we don't get to Rock every week), so great in fact that we were still burbling away in the carpark with a couple of new friends long after the doors of the school had been locked and everyone else had gone.

On the way home we stopped off at another friend's house to give her a letter of complaint that K had written for her (her English is not so great) concerning some shabby treatment from a GP. Beautiful weather, more good chat, comfortable ride home down leafy paths. Then home for a multi-course lunch, some bashing away at sets of Brahms Variations on the piano, and a long tea-fuelled farewell to a CIO Team Leader who had been staying with us for the last two weeks. Great guy, great fun. PG also returned mid-afternoon so a great time of chilling was had by all.

A slight rush to set up Hope Community Church's meeting in the neighbouring school.

Summer building work means that our usual facilities are somewhat reduced.

But another great time of fellowship, and a clear message from John 12:20-35 by Dr PJ (of Greek fame) kindly visiting from Eden Baptist. Who is this Jesus, what did he do and what does that mean for you and me?

Sang a great anti-Zionist song to close the worship time, but that's a story for another day! ;-)

Lots of visitors, including people not yet Christians. They all came back to our place for a large shared meal. And stayed chatting for hours - general chat, gospel chat, laughter, catching up, all wonderful.

Praise the Lord for his work in building community. Even though 7 of our 12 "regulars" were away we still had a full house and learned from God and were the church - flawed, occasionally amateurish, eccentric in many places... but eager to love others for the sake of Christ and delighted in all the contributions (culinary and conversational, not to mention on the washing up) made by our various visitors.

Managed to get to bed not too late, did some reading, catch up with Mrs L and ready for the Monday morning...


I really am in pain now. Several minutes on is enough to cause a hernia, or, in my case, a pneumothorax.

These in particular stood out. But they stood on the shoulders of giants.
funny one
funny two
funny three
funny four
funny more

Friday, 15 August 2008

the blog cycle

Is there one? Am I in the classic 2-year dip, or in a regular downturn as part of the long-run blogonomic cycle. Perhaps someone should do a Gaussian thing or a Poisson whatsit on the blogometrics.

I feel quite unlike blogging at the moment (in case you hadn't noticed).

Have I run out of things to say, even in my own opinion? Am I depressed? Does it matter?

The very fact of sticking something up now or at any point suggests some kind of commitment to or interest in communication posterity. Hmm. Back to the sermon on 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10. Paul had to deal with problems slightly greater than a sense of vagueness about a blog. In fact, even I do.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

a big smile

and another, and another, and then a smirk, and then a chuckle and then some rocking, shaking, shrieking and nearly falling on the floor. And then a desire to share the experience with others.

No, it's not a seventeenth century ecstatic cult, nor is it the Toronto Blessing, it's me laughing.

And the the latest prompts have been:


emergent see posters satirising the emerging church

the journalistic scrapings of Charlie Brooker, TV pundit (and now general columnist) for the Guardian. He is SO cutting and SO witty about the rubbish spewed out by the box that I should keep a copy of his writings nearby for whenever I feel tempted to watch some or feel slightly sad that we don't own one.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Chess is not monochrome

...contrary to popular rumour.

Just look at how they rip and tear at each other. The last paragraph is almost enough to evoke pity for the thoroughly deserving victim. And this is just the chess historian reviewing the chess impressario.

All-in-all, a pretty effective demolition - which makes one wonder how Keene keeps his column at the Times. Even I have noticed just how dull it's got of late. Yet another of his interminable "vote for your favourite world champions" series of thoughts, interspersed by yet more games played by R. Keene when he was a student. [I know what you're thinking, but this is a blog, my blog, so I can post my chess games, so ner, and I'm not chargin' anyone for the writing or the reading of it!]

Whatever next!?

Another exceedingly good joke at my expense, that's what.

The kid is good. Very good. (And several months older and funnier than me)

Alas, until just now I wasn't fully aware of quite how little hair I have from the back!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Shatranj and Chess

What a great film, Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977), 'The Chess Players'. In the colourful heat of Awadh, the last 'independent' Indian kingdom, two noblemen play chess obsessively while the British plot and execute the takeover of their land. There is plenty of political tension, clash of cultures and nicely-observed life. And lots of humour - the two men are so devoted to their game that they sacrifice good marital relations, any responsibility for living in a mature way, and almost their own friendship.

That kind of obsession is pretty true to life. If I get a head of steam up on the chessboard then it's hard for anyone to drag me away! But metred out carefully, it's fine - so when Charles came over last week before he vamooses to Yorkshire we had about 20 speedy games (some of which I actually won) which were great fun. Long live skittles shatranj!

Zionist interlude again

The magazine of ICEJ (International Christian Embassy Jerusalem). Advocating that Christians should not try to convert Jews. Nice. Good work, boys. You read about these sorts of ‘Christian’ organisations in works that survey the range of Christian interactions with Judaism, or which look at the competing theologies of the synagogue and church or in survey of Christian Zionism (such as Stephen Sizer’s useful, if diffuse work, Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? [IVP, 2004]) but when you actually read this stuff with your own eyes then you really know about it.

Three publications by the ICEJ full of codswallop is enough for me. Great – charitable work aimed at Jewish people across the world and in Israel. Love, service and generosity are not bad things. We might argue that there is greater need elsewhere, such as on the doorstep of those Jewish people in the Arab ghettos, but whatever… However, trying to make a theological and sociological case that Jews don’t need the gospel of Christ is just horrible. Sharing the gospel with Jews is not antisemitism (as the Jewish Chronicle of June 20 reports an inflammatory Rabbi as saying in response to recent Jews for Jesus outreach in London) – not sharing the gospel with someone because they’re Jewish is antisemitism!

Provoking those who observe the church

Theodore Abu Qurra (750-825AD) was an Orthodox bishop of Harran, living under Muslim rule of the Middle East as the Abbasid dynasty approached its cultural zenith under the tutelage of Christian scholars, translators, doctors and administrators. He composed several apologetic works (defending the Christian faith by comparison with Islam and occasionally Judaism). A brave and highly intelligent man. But very much of his time. For example, in his discussion of icons at the close of one of his treatises, he says

If someone says “The ‘outsiders’ may mock us because of the cross of Christ without seeing these icons” let that person know concerning those [‘outsiders’] who enter our churches, that if they do not see these icons in our churches, it would not occur to most of them to react in the way we have mentioned. As for the icons, they are what arouses their desire to mock us.

How sad that it was not the words or the lives of the Christians in those churches that would provoke a response from the ‘outsiders’. I do not intend to deny the effect of icons in provoking discussion, maybe even profitable evangelistic discussion – huge proportions of the Arab Christian controversial literature is taken up with their defence and their pointing to Christ – but where was the concern for everyday gospel living and gospel talking? Why does it not occur to the outsiders to mock the Christians (or take an interest) on account of their radical lifestyles, sacrificial love, and bold proclamation? Sure, the Christians were often ghettoised and suffered under serious discriminatory social constraints, but Theodore is envisaging visitors to the churches so he is not living in a situation of total community or individual ostracism.

Of course the Christians under Islam then and now walk a tightrope as regards their conversations and what they read and write. If anything in their behaviour is construed as trying to convert a Muslim then it provided (and still provides) a pretext for violence. Not always, but the threat is always there, and with local variations in how the law is applied, local tensions, international politics and the greed of people in the street all thrown into the mix, is it any wonder that icons-as-gospel-proclamation was defended so strongly? Not that it did much good, for there were plenty of pogroms, confiscations and vandalism carried out by Muslims on the grounds of iconoclasm. That particular retreat from the gospel, well intentioned though it may have been, turned out tragically to be no refuge .

Text from Mark N. Swanson, ‘The Cross of Christ in Arabic Melkite Apologies’, in Samir Khalil Samir & Jorgen S. Nielsen, eds, Christian Arabic Apologetics During the Abbasid Period (750-1258) (Leiden: Brill, 1994), pp.115-145 (p.139)

Sunday, 29 June 2008

new kid on the Blog

some buffoon is trying to undermine my total supremacy in all things. Look at what he's started now!

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but this is too much ;-)

Writing (Christian) history again

The “consciousness of place” element that flows from old Christendom ideas of South America as a Catholic domain, and modern American ideas of Latin America as its hegemonic backyard are subtexts that remain in the English world’s conceptualization of history.

(from the multi-authored final chapter, ‘The Ongoing Task: Agenda for a Work in Progress’ in W. Shenk, ed. Enlarging the Story: Perspectives on Writing World Christian History [Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002], p.123)

Well, this particular resident of the English world is quite happy to upset the consciousness of place when it conflicts with the freedom to share the gospel of Christ. Labelling certain nations or regions as one religion or another seems rather defeatist to me! Such ideas of place may be there in the academy and in the minds of politicians and journalists, but hopefully not in the minds of those who are concerned with the Great Commission.

And do those subtexts remain only in the English world’s conceptualization of history? Consciousness of place (mixed with ‘race’) looms pretty large in the Islamic conceptualization of history.

(That was an English understatement, btw.)

Writing Christian history

Also not easy. You get to wear your biases on your sleeves, depending on your audience. (So, is this history for Christians or is is history about Christians for the academy?) But commenting theologically on particular history is pretty tough. It tends either towards the banal (the quasi-baptismal sprinkling of pieties on top of broad brush-strokes) or to the apocalyptic-demagogic (myopic tub-thumping from the vantage point of the hobby horse). An example of my failure to stay atop the two stools, or to find another good launching point, can be found amid the NTI papers.

However, when the historian in question can write really well, and I mean really well, then it can be pulled off. Think of accessible scholarly works… Stephen Neill, The History of Christian Missions (Penguin, 1964) is a great example of this, as is Henry Chadwick’s The Early Church. Back in them days they know how to write. Polite but determined swashbuckling. Due to my deplorable ignorance of the field I hesitate to generalize and there could be a hundred fabulous examples out there that I’ve never heard of, but recently only one book has really grabbed me. Jonathan Fuller’s Cross Currents: the Story of the Muslim and Christian Encounter in the Philippines (OMF, 2005) has much smaller ambitions than either of those classic works but is a delight. Passionate, scrupulous and vivid. [Sadly, it doesn't look available except in the Philippines at the moment :-( ]

Writing history

Not an easy job to write any sort of history, the more you start to think about it. The academy plays with its inherited aura of impartiality while, these days at least, pointing out how such a thing is impossible. Perhaps so long as it’s only the ‘private’ biases of scholars that are served that doesn’t really matter. But what about when other interests are served by the partiality of scholars? There are so many contested historical sites and sites of contested history around these days – and disentangling the voices can seem impossible.

Certain large mountainous areas in the south west of a certain large Asian nation, for example. Certain ex-Soviet republics, both in an out of contemporary Russia, for example. Certain Mediterranean islands and highly-charged Mediterranean coastal strips, for instance.

Illness and work

At least a couple of my friends are seriously dedicated to their work. In a good way, not just in a bad way. This is illustrated by what happens when they get ill. They soldier in anyway. One friend works for builders merchants and wholesalers, one is a teacher. Even though they get paid for being ill once in a while they almost never miss a day of work.


Me, I was quite happy to get a day off when ill, and I wasn’t complaining about the generous sick leave legislation we have in the UK. But now I’m self-employed it’s slightly more annoying to be ill. Which is probably just my greed and lack of contentment in Christ talking. Which temporarily blinds me to the fact that, actually, it’s never really fun being ill, it’s just that certain types of job aren’t so fun or satisfying that missing a day of work once in a while isn’t a small relief in itself quite independent of the reason for being off.

All that twaddle was prompted by the first strike (2 weeks ago) of the man-flu for around 18 months. I have now fully recovered, so you can breathe a sigh of relief that no more extraneous sympathy will be required.

Monday, 16 June 2008

up the Nursing Home

Yesterday was another trip to the care home to sing and pray with those residents who can make it down to the lounge, which is almost none of them, and those who the staff will bring down there, which is all those who'd like to come.

I went in earlier in the afternoon as we have a Rock Church picnic at lunchtime so I was in the vicinity and thought that the intervening time could be well spent there. Reading a couple of Psalms and chatting for an hour with the lady I've mentioned before (Down the nursing home) was tiring, but encouraging. She now not only recognises me and is pleased to see me, but she also seems to have recovered some of the conversational pleasantries that we take for granted when younger and she seems less depressed. Only once yesterday did she say she wanted to die. It could be the summer sun that's giving her a bit more life, but I hope it's also the effect of actually talking to someone who is interested in her. If only God would open her heart to receive Christ - she as yet does not believe, though she hears and partially understands, I think.

Then I had a chat to a younger (74!), frailer lady who I think is a believer (certainly very churched) who asked me to pray with her (what a privilege) and told me of her struggles with Parkinson's since her 20s. She was so candid - and what could I say? The energy and confidence of [relative] youth are not worth anything in those sorts of conversations, nor are any number of degrees from Cambridge University. But God is more than up to the task.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

an Anatolian ramble

This evening, while Mrs L is away in Wales, PG and I watched The Count of Monte Cristo, a only- slightly dreary swashbuckler in the spirit of the 30s, rather passe to this 21st century viewer, but still quite fun.

Then I wandered over to for some Turkey news. Having spent a bit more time on the book project recently (not to mention discussions regarding Israel) I have been pondering 'missionary' and 'anti-missionary' activities in the Middle East in history and today. As an evangelical, to me 'missionary' is a neutral or even positive word - I don't even shudder when someone says "Buddhist missionary" or "Muslim missionary" to me. But the word has troubling connotations for many people. Westerners probably can't imagine what Turkish commentators, whether rabidly secularist or openly Islamist, intend by the word "missionary".

Well, what did I find on Zaman but this intriguing article about a former missionary associate turned Muslim scaremonger. Respect to Zaman, they just about avoid spitting while saying "missionary", and even appear to be rather more suspicious of this chap (who, it turns out, is on the government payroll, or on the deep state payroll) than they are of Turkish protestants. This list of accusations, for example, is intriguing. Zaman tells us a little about an infamous book by this multi-tasking man...

Çınar had claimed in 2005 that international missionary institutions had allocated $73 billion for Turkey and that the missionaries in Turkey produced 15 million Bibles and distributed them for free. He also said there were 40,000 church-homes in Turkey, while claiming that foreigners were engaging in illegal missionary activities in Turkey, that they supported Kurdish and Alevi separatism and that they were involved in smuggling of some historical artifacts.

The members of the list are not exactly equivalent. Even allowing for my Westernised, Christianised bias, the distribution of free Bibles seems less than sinister. The presence of 'church-homes' (delightfully ambiguous, and unintentionally wonderfully encouraging for the cause of the gospel I'd say - when the nations start raging you know there must be a reason) in a country is also rather less than criminal. I would LOVE to know what the illegal activities were - are all 'missionary' activities illegal? What is a missionary activity? Does breathing on the part of a missionary count? Who counts as a missionary!? Support for separatism could be criminal, especially if it involved conspiracy to commit criminal activities - then again, someone who thought that a Kurdish state was a good idea might be accused of "supporting Kurdish separatism" even if all they did was mention their opinion to someone [working for the government?] down the pub. Smuggling, of course, sounds like something you can accuse people of - fair enough - don't think I condone crime as I mock Mr Çınar. Of course all these are potentially evil actions if you think that "missionary" is a swearword. Which just goes to show the power of language and of 'what everybody knows'.

All this sent me off on an interesting search - for Alevi separatism, of all things, not something I knew much about.

This dense academic piece reminds me once again just how complex everything is and how teeny my understanding will ever be. [Spot the Islamic missionaries on page 7 in amongst the cultural imperialism of the Sultanate in the late 19th century. Will Zaman raise its arms against that, one wonders. Will anyone sneak into the offices of zealous Sunnis and slit their throats for anything as terrible as being keen to see people convert to their way of writing the world...? Oh no, it's OK, it happened before Attaturk so it's all fine.]

Any number of online encyclopedia articles will give you a flavour of who they are and what their religious slant is. Religious differences and communal tensions with Sunni Turk and Sunni Kurd and who calls who a what and what the Kemalists tried to do about 'national' identity and all manner of interesting things will pop up at you.

There was a gruesome massacre of Alevis in 1993 which the police did nothing about. Seems to have been carried out by a Sunni 'Islamist' mob. Needless to say the Alevi diaspora is none too pleased with that.

Meanwhile, Alevi and Kurd and violence and terrorism seem to be words that get linked by many Turks - and not surprising, since lots of Alevis are Kurdish and lots of Kurds openly or tacitly cheer (or worse) for the PKK et al. As Mustapha Aykol points out on his White Path blog from January the reputation of Alevis for 'liberalism' is only partly deserved. [Watch out for the great and very revealing quote from respondent number two, All I can say is I disapprove of any separatist or self-segregating behavior by any community. All I can say is, separating from whom or what? Who gets to choose where the lines are drawn or how thick a line counts as anything in particular. And if the majority segregates (persecutes) the minority do they simultaneously 'segregate' themselves, thereby incurring Kerim's disapproval? Actually, that's not all I can say ;-)]

Beyond that I shall clearly have my work cut out to understand what is going on...