Wednesday, 30 April 2008


When I say very witty, what I mean is everything from weird and kooky to downright laugh-out loud genius. One of my favourite silly bloggers and well worth a serious exploration. Try not to waste toooo much time on it, though...

Dispensationalism ;-)

...cracks me up. Or it would, if it weren't such a waste of so many people's time and so much of the church's energy over the last couple of centuries.

But we can still have a laugh at this amusing line-up on purgatorio, a very witty blog.

correction - on the radio

Regarding the previous post, I am reliably informed by my mother that the BBC interviewer was Roger Bolton, not John Humphrys.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

on the radio

the other Sunday morning was this very interesting chat between John Humphrys and a certain Dr Christopher Watkin of Magdelene College, Cambridge, on the subject of his recent Cambridge Paper on the name 'evangelical' and one of its cousins 'fundamentalist'.

I don't think I've ever heard such a fair interview on the subject of Christianity. Well done to the BBC on this occasion and well done to Dr W.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Philippines chess and more important things

The Philippines is a surprisingly distinguished chess nation - the world's first Asian Grandmaster (E. Torre) was from the Philippines and the youngest Grandmaster in the world right now is Wesley So, who is shooting up and up at the moment.

A curiosity to note: Filipino IM Tan-Cardoso won this stormingly weird game against David Bronstein, costing the wizard a shot at the world title in 1958.

More importantly, the gospel is advancing in the archipelago despite entrenched nominal and syncretistic Catholicism and despite a terrible history of Muslim-Christian encounter in its southern islands (Jonathan Fuller's recent book on the subject, Cross Currents, published by OMF in 2005, is one of the best historical books I have read [and I have read hundreds!] truly bringing his subject alive in a loving and fully Christian fashion).

And we are getting to know some lovely Filipino believers at Hope Community Church as we make our tiny contribution to the body of Christ here in Cambridge.

Monday, 21 April 2008

I believe in Jesus

We sang this jolly song of Marc Nelson's yesterday morning.

I believe in Jesus
I believe He is the Son of God
I believe He died and rose again
I believe He paid for us all

And I believe He's here now
I believe that He's here
Standing in our midst

Here with the power to heal now
With the power to heal
And the grace to forgive
I believe in You Lord

© 1987 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing

I felt like it needed an extra verse,

I believe in the New Creation
I believe it's coming soon...

but something tells me I'm not the one to write it!

Lord's Supper

Functions like passover and other festivals used to - our reminder of God's faithfulness.
Also a memorial going up to the Lord (to 'remind' him) and our anticipation of the consummation, and more.

Just think about the elements from a life perspective as well as a theological concept perspective...

Bread - food for life
Wine - drink for life, and rest (alcohol more than a mere necessity, it symbolises Sabbath)


Typology for kids

Yesterday morning at Rock we heard a great 'Family Focus' presentation from Auriel. Part of a series on Israel from Egypt to Promised Land, this one focussed on the cloud of the Lord's presence and the frequent changes of camp that the people had to make.

A couple of well-chosen Powerpoint slides pictured the camp itself, and the 40 places the Israelites camped were stuck on the backs of people's chairs round the room. The cloud/fire was mounted on a stick for demonstration purposes, and the stick was then revealed to be a cross after the kids had been led around the hall by the cloud/fire. Informative paraphenalia that supported the main point without being distracting - hurrah.

And talk about class typology! The ongoing protection and guidance of God was stressed - we can have confidence of that now as we are 'wandering' because He was faithful to the people back then, and now we know even more and have the Holy Spirit.

I am quite alert to this application at the moment because I am reading lots of Christian Zionists of various flavours and at various intellectual levels, and one common theme in their writings is that the church can have confidence in God now because of his ongoing protection of Jews now. Theologically, this seems to be looking at the wrong phase of history, and historically I don't see much special protection from which we can take comfort between AD70 and AD1948. The theological argument is rather stronger, since the interpretation of history is more controverted and epistemologically trickier than interpretation of the texts of Scripture (for one thing, the data are less reliable!) but the historical observation still seems a strong anti-Zionist point.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Recent films

Thanks to a 3-month free trial of Lovefilm via Tesco (our “principles” mean that we are happy to get something free from Tesco, we’d just rather not have to pay them anything!) we are enjoying quite a cinematic time at the moment. So far, no duds, thankfully. Here are some highlights…

Inside I’m Dancing (*****)
New man of the moment James McAvoy plays a young man with muscular dystrophy but an overactive mouth who encourages a fellow resident of a home (an outstanding Shetlander, Steven Robertson) for the disabled to make a break for independence. That guy has cerebral palsy and McAvoy is the only character who can properly understand his speech. They gain some real independence in a little flat, make a touching ‘team’ and the film manages to steer clear of sentimentality as it delivers some serious emotional and comic punches. Tremendous performance by Romola Garai (who seems at the moment to be someone to watch, though I have to confess that I found her performances in Amazing Grace and As you like it to be fairly anodyne) and I say that despite my well-publicised hostility to buxom blondes in film. [Minor rant: the use of young females as window-dressing really annoys me, because I think it’s demeaning to them and to women in general, and because it put men (including me, and it annoys me that I am in the way of temptation, bolstering a superficial visual discourse, etc. Why I am so opposed to blondeness is perhaps less justifiable! Maybe blonde hair is the epitome of that whole problem in this culture…]

Bridge to Terabithia (*****)
Again, sentimentality is avoided, and again both Kate and I cried quite a lot. One of the best kids’ films I’ve seen for ages. Childhood imagination and loss brought to life with great skill by writer and actors alike. Even raises the issues of faith in Christ, though in a slightly wet way. Overlooking that, say no more, just watch it.

Hot Fuzz (****)
Crude in places but superb. I saw it for the third time last week and I’m still cackling and speaking in a West Country accent. Films that work as films despite being spoofs and, in this case, being constructed entirely out of cliches are always a delight to me (Tremors being the top dog in that regard, though this one and its partner Shaun of the Dead come pretty close).

Man on Fire (***)
The imagergy of the decayed Americas is everywhere in this revenge drama - Catholic crap in the house of the rich family (pagan shrine to the household gods), main character Creasy walking, dying, in his blue, ill-fitting baseball jacket, big cars offering no protection on the grimy streets of Mexico. Rather vouyeuristic in its celebration of certain types of violence, and very slow at the start (though actually that is in its favour) so even three stars is generous. Nevertheless, a good performance by Denzel W, just a tall, distant North American, unable to connect to the adults in his world and the anticlimax of the film's final self-sacrifice is almost beautiful. Also notable for a rare performance by Christopher Walken on the side of the angels.

down the Nursing Home

It's been recently renamed a 'Care Home'. The metal sign on posts says so, at least, but the original brick wall to the car park incorporates a large stone engraved with 'Nursing Home', which would be rather difficult to change, so there is some dissonance. What's the difference? I prefer 'Nursing Home', as I'm quite cynical about institutional "care". But anyway...

Over the last couple of months I've managed to go to visit some of the residents in between our Sunday services. It's amazing how difficult this is - in a general sense it must be difficult because I've so rarely managed to do that. Do I not care? Am I not organised enough? Am I too attached to the comfort of not getting on my bike? I was partly inspired by coming across Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life by John Chapman, a book designed for elderly people, to confront them with the claims of Christ. It's not bad at all, though possibly a bit wordy for the lady who I'm reading it with in the home. Certainly Chapman had in mind the mentally alert elderly, and this home, being more of a last stop sort of place, does not have so many residents who are as alert as they were.

This lady is great, though - I love chatting to her, tiring though it is. Although she's generally confused and doesn't always seem to take in what is said, and returns to the same old themes that don't really make much sense, we get on really well! And she listens and understands what Chapman (filtered through me!) says about the gospel to know that she doesn't believe it for herself, and she's not slow in saying so. So, my heart really goes out to her, but what a ray of hope and privilege to be there in her moments of lucidity and for those moments to be moments of talking about Christ!

What prompted this one today? One, I'm visiting the home again this afternoon: two, I suddenly realised that this blog belongs to an evangelical and it didn't have a category for 'evangelism'.

Friday, 11 April 2008

romantic chess

A little gem from John Nunn, playing the Advance Variation against the Caro-Kann, which leads to seriously sharp and exciting positions.

Looking at Nunn's old games reminds me of growing up keen(e) on chess in the 80s and early 90s when England were a force to be reckoned with. Although there was no one as strong as Michael Adams is now, the team had real depth (in no order other than my faulty schoolboy memory, King, Short, Speelmann, Nunn, Lane, Watson, Sadler, Hodgson, Miles...) and took silver in at least one Olympiad. Those were the days!

Now of course it's "tiddlers" like Armenia who are the chess giants.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Constitutional fandango

Here in the UK we are endlessly deferring the question of constitutional reform, whether it's of the House of Lords or of the electoral system for the Commons. Clearly it is more important to deal with the mess of the lower house first, though of course MPs, when they bother, are more interested in tinkering with the upper house.

It's enough to make one despair.

In Zimbabwe we have just witnessed a remarkable election, the aftermath of which has seen the courts brought in simply to get the results published! The final paragraph of the Beeb's latest report makes depressing reading - the situation is darkly farcical at best.

Meanwhile in Turkey, the separation of powers has recently contributed to a constitutional crisis, with members of the judiciary voting to begin legal action against the executive (specifically, against the ruling party, recently returned at the polls with a significant majority) for violating certain constitutional principles. Zaman, a paper symathetic to the governing AK Party and its exceedingly moderate Islamism (which is really only an attempt to restrain the extremist secularism that has barricaded itself in certain corners of Turkish public life), is full of stories, which are well worth pursuing. They put the UK's constitutional and political weaknesses into perspective, they highlight the important principle that law is not ideoogically neutral (which Islam, at least, recognises, in contrast to the duplicitious thought-systems of Western liberal humanism and pluralism) and they teach the reader about a fascinating country.

More millennial and hermeneutical thoughts

inspired by Linda Munk's The Devil's Mousetrap, a dense whirlwind of a monograph that is frustrating and illuminating in equal measure.

Puritan poet and pastor Edward Taylor was strongly against celebrating Christmas in December. That was apparently a device of the enemy, introduced to bring heathenism into the church and various other nasty things! From a 21st century perspective such debates about time, calendars, liturgy and so on seem rather antiquated. But perhaps that's because in our bondage to commercial clock time we have lost something important?

Fellow colonial pastor Increase Mather thought that popish idolatry was the stumbling block to Jewish conversions (p.66), which he thought would usher in the last period before Christ's return. Certainly it's a stumbling block to all sorts of things, but as Catholicism is unfortunately still going strong (at least in terms of numbers who self-identify in a nominal sort of way) let's hope that Mather was wrong and that thousands, indeed millions, of Jews will continue to acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and find eternal life in his name. These folk at Jews for Jesus are doing sterling work in that regard.

After all, other candidates for the Messiah tend to look distinctly shaky. Simon Bar Kochba in AD132-5 didn't manage to topple Rome, though he really ticked off Emperor Hadrian who did his best to extirpate Jewishness from the province of Judea (even to the extent of renaming the land and its capital city). Another effort came in the seventeenth century, as noted by Munk (pp.94, 135). In Jan 1668 when Mather preached his sermon "Figure or Types", thousands of Jews were indeed passing through Europe toward Palestine to greet Sabbatai Zevi, the false Messiah, who soon after converted to Islam! Whoops.

And Munk also argues that typology is distinctively Christian, such that Jewish Scriptural exegesis, when it looks superficially similar, is actually a mode of deferral. Deferral, this waiting, the fact that the Messiah has not yet come, this shape of history, is actually a rival to Christian typology (p.100), which derives from the conviction that the Messiah has come (the conviction of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of first century Jews of course) and that his coming provides the interpretive key not just to the Scriptures but to the whole of history.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Mrs L on guitars and organs

Guitars, they're just pointless.
Organs, they're horrible.

Thanks for that.

Actually, I'm half in agreement, if I'm honest!


We are going through our CD collection from A-Z at the moment (partly to spare us from the burden of choice when we want some diferent music than Radio 3 has on offer, and partly to justify having built up such a bloated stash) and arrived at Scriabin last week. The only Scriabin discs I own are the complete piano sonatas (plus miscellaneous piano works) on a double-CD and the complete symphonies (plus piano concerto) in a 3-CD boxed set.

After listening to one or two of the symphonies, I flicked onto the radio to discover that the Beeb were broadcasting Scriabin's symphonies over the same time period that we were listening to them. How odd.

For someone who thinks that there is more to coincidences than meets the eye (though he's not quite sure what) take a look at the blog of author and chess Grandmaster James Plaskett. [First post and most recent post - wonder why he's dried up...] His eccentricity is charmingly English - posting liberally on anti-Darwinism and the defence of Major Charles Ingram (convicted of cheating on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in 2003), both of which causes I have heartily in support of, as well as on mystical codswallop regarding coincidences!

If defence of Charles Ingram seems a little odd to you, I suggest you read the superb essay by Plaskett on the subject. At the very least the jury should not have been able to return a guilty verdict since the evidence in the case, properly examined, cannot take us beyond reasonable doubt. It is also more than possible that the Ingrams were completely innocent.

History site bid for CB1 area scrapped

The headline jumped out at me as I was wrapping up some potato peelings the other day.

Basically, local property firm Ashwells are trying to make a killing out of souping up the moribund area about the railway station (and who can blame them?) and to sweeten friends in high places (is that too cynical?) were working with the County Council on a plan to turn an ugly but distinctive old flour silo and mill into a "Historical Resource and Cultural Centre" that would combine various local history records, archives, archaeological displays and the like. A serious public benefit, had it been carried out...

Never renowned for its speed, the local authority moved slowly on this (preliminary ideas for a heritage centre on various sites around the city have been floating around for about a decade, if not longer, and it would seem unfair to blame this on the heritage functions of the Council, who might well be expected to be a bit dusty, since there is cash sloshing around for project management and bringing across other expertise should the political will be there) and presumably the developer, fustrated by the failure of its initial (and grossly overambitious) planning application to the City Council (last year), realised that time is money and so this loss of time (and the recent deflations in the housing market) have led said developer to try to get more money by turning that spot into more offices it can let out. As the local councillor was quoted as saying (in the Cambridge Crier, March 21st, 2008), "It is very sad that the developer appears to have raised the stakes..." Very sad indeed.

There doesn't seem to be a formal statement about the breakdown of the plans beyond what was reported in the local rags. (The exuberant 2005 press release about the plans now makes for rather dismal reading.) And the Council's website has not yet caught up with this - the library and information service pages are still looking forward to a new Heritage Centre on Station Road. There is a certain irony that this information is found with local history information...

The future

In 2008 the Cambridgeshire Collection back into the Central Library on a temporary basis.

A new heritage resource centre is planned to open in or soon after 2009, combining the Cambridgeshire Collection and the County Record Office, Cambridge, on one site in Station Road, Cambridge. This is an exciting development, which will bring complementary collections together and improve and extend public facilities.

Further information about these plans will be made available in due course

It would be too tempting to paint a picture of a delightful and well-meaning but unsophisticated and un-savvy corner of the local authority relying far too much on the goodwill of developers so I leave that to the readers' imagination.

Full disclosure: I worked for several months on a tiny part of this project about two years ago, and am sad (though not entirely surprised) to see even my meagre contribution wasted.

Slow writing

One of the two hungry souls (recently, if temporarily, replete by the sounds of things) sent this interesting article round. A Call For Slow Writing, by Lindsay Waters.

For a piece railing about bad writing in the academy it's surprisingly badly written.

But who am I to talk!? This blog is quite a feast of infelicity and cliche...

Nevertheless, assuming that the information about the publishing process and the academic ladder in the US is accurate (and since the writer is executive editor at Harvard UP, I think we can assume that for now) the article does confirm many of my worst fears from when I was dabbling in the murky world of academic writing. There are a lot of bad books out there, and being published by a university press is not a seal of quality. This cheers me up when I reflect on choosing a few years ago (not entirely willingly) a different path to the academy!

Waters reserves some of his harshest condemnation for writers in the realm of cultural studies (a field in which most writers disappear up their own backsides shortly after picking up their pens), and names Slavoj Zizek as the leading promulgator (churner?) of poor prose. While there is much to be said in favour of serious study of continental philosophy, and continental philosophers are free to write whatever they like as far as I'm concerned, I have to agree that Zizek is, if not exactly opaque then, certainly unnecessarily unclear. I shall post my review of his The Fragile Absolute soon.

Anyhow, back to Waters. There are of course responses from slightly aggrieved academics, such as this chap from the University of Mississipi, but the advice to slow down in publishing academic works is unlikely to be bad.