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...

Monday, 9 June 2008


Being ill is no fun, especially if you're a man and therefore feel it so much more keenly (on account of being more fragile). When I'm not ill I think, how great it would be to have an excuse to get into bed and take it easy for a few days.When I am ill I think, now I'm letting everyone down and missing out on considerably more than half the fun of everything that's going on. Not to mention what being self-employed does to the worry-nodes of an ill person...

By conserving my strength mid-heavy-cold (which I should not call 'flu' as that would be alarmist) with long daytime naps I have managed to enjoy a concert given by many of my students (Saturday afternoon) a BBQ in the sun hosted by a friend from church (Sunday lunch) and a Filipino-focussed evening at Hope Community Church. Lovely to meet some more friendly people from that part of the world and enjoy some noodles and hear the gospel again! Going home early was annoying, but hopefully I shall be bug-free again soon, as I have been for ages.

Growing up and at university I remember (or have fabricated) frequent minor illnesses and semi-permanent colds for most of the year, but for the last 24 months or so I have done extremely well at avoiding them, thank God. I hope that characterizes the next few years as I'm beginning to bore myself with moaning about aching limbs and blowing my nose all the time.

Short and sweet

The title of this piece by Massimo Pigliucci (distinguished scientist and secularist) is not short and sweet, but the piece itself is. Evolutionary psychology provided most of the theoretical underpinning (if you can dignify it with that name) for the 'nature' explanations of gender difference that I was investigating last year. Nice to see it getting a poke in its palaelithic eye. And for Pigliucci to manage to cover chess and Freud as well is pretty good going.

Got to this thanks to the ever-diverting, which I really must stop reading.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Zionism - the gloves are off

Now some might say that picking on a teenage girl because of her beliefs (specifically the belief that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah) is in some roundabout way, I don't know, discriminatory...

From Forward, the Jewish Daily newspaper. If it weren't so nasty, what these rabbis are saying would be funny. The remarkable inconsistency in how they define who is a Jew is bursting out from between almost every line of their texts. Buddhists with a Jewish mother - fine. Atheists with a Jewish mother - fine. Someone who dares to interpret the Torah in a different way from the rabbis, even if they have two Jewish parents and were born in Israel - sorry. You're not a 'Jew', certainly not for the purposes of participating in public life and supposedly shared cultural activities. How patriotic an Israeli citizen are you? - who cares?

How these people are not deeply ashamed of themselves is beyond me. Were the followers of Bar-Kochba considered not-Jewish because of their erroneous belief that he was the Messiah? Oh, they're all dead. How convenient. What about the followers of Sabbati Zevi? Were they 'Jews', or what?

Here are some of my embryonic thoughts on the religious definition of Jewishness.

It seems that the Zionist rabbis are very happy to play with a 'blood' definition of Jewishness, a 'cultural' definition and a 'religious' definition and are quite happy to play them off against each other when a young girl offends them by knowing a lot about the Bible and daring to appear in public.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Zionism and obscurity

This is why literary critics aren't politicians. They make almost no sense, even when you read them quite carefully, and then they throw in some lines of perfect clarity (and perfect liberal sentimentality) just to frustrate.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Back to tradition - clericalism

Torn as I am between two stimulating branches of Protestantism (‘high’ Postmillennial Presbyterianism and ‘low’ evangelical Anabaptism) I have been circling around the question of clergy-laity for the last few months. Ordination has never been theologically explained to me: yes, I can see precedent for setting someone apart in some way, even in the ‘low’ house churches of the apostolic age but why load this with quite so much thelogical freight?

Trying out various strands of argument, the other month I presented a weak [?] argument for the priesthood, kingship and prophethood of all believers in an evangelical Anabaptist house (at NTI) but pot shots were fired at me. It’s possible that that line of thinking has gone down in flames. But I was surprised to appear more ‘left’ than Tim Chester!

That simmered away for a few weeks until two essays by James Jordan rekindled the ‘brain’ (as I like to call it):


Jordan places theological considerations (more properly ‘liturgical’ considerations, as ‘theological’ is just too vague and noncommittal) above biological/psychological considerations in determining church practice. Having done a lot of research for the Jubilee Centre last year on gender (to put it simplistically, the nature-nurture debate regarding sex/gender differences) I am convinced that the biological/psychological considerations are not so clear cut as conservatives might wish for. That’s a BIG fat topic for another day, btw.

Remarkably, however, for a conservative chap, Jordan’s approach cuts across the evangelical complemantarian-egalitarian debate by suggesting that a woman may teach men ‘publically’ from the Bible (occasionally) in Christian gatherings so long as she does not lead or preside over the sacramental worship. So, Adult Sunday schools or sermons (in the evening, apparently!) are OK, women just shouldn’t be the voice from the front in the ‘covenant renewal’ meeting (which has to be in the morning, I take it). Sacramentalism and clericalism [should that be sacramentism and clericism?!] are bound up here big time. Jordan wishes to dethrone the sermon (fair enough, says the Anabaptist Tim Chester, an evangelical complementarian and thus more ‘conservative’ than Jordan here – oh, go on then, I agree with Tim so I shan’t hide behind him!) but wishes to enthrone the liturgy of covenant renewal, and for that he thinks he needs a man.

Jordan’s arguments sound to me like some Orthodox and Roman Catholic discussions about church offices. But ever since R.Paul Stevens’ The Abolition of the Laity I have not been too chuffed with the distinctions traditionally made, as indicated at the start of this post. Teasing these things out will be a major concern of mine over the next few weeks as I have to go north to the Anabaptists to discuss church leadership in the NT. Of course ‘leadership’ is not a precisely ‘liturgical’ category, just to muddy it all the more.

And it’s no armchair debate in comfortable America and the UK. James Dretke (in A Christian Approach to the Muslim: Reflections from West Africa, pp.199-201, and esp. 234) pointed out a long time ago (1979) the urgency of empowering the ‘laity’ for mission, especially in a context in which Islam has spread as a ‘lay’ phenomenon


Many political and cultural commentators are making noises at the moment about the population explosion of European Muslims, partly through immigration but mostly through the higher birthrate.

An essay by Vincensio Poggi, SJ, a professor of Near Eastern History at the Pontifical Insititute gives the ironic counterpart to this from the middle-late Ottoman period. Praising the Ottoman millet system for its success in holding together such a diverse empire and in ensuring some supression of ethnic and religious violence, Poggi notes that the Christians and Jews of Anatolia reproduced faster than the Muslims.

1520-35 / 358,000 Christians in Anatolia

1570-80 / 571,000 Christians in Anatolia [there must have been some importations?]

Growth rate of 9.8% as opposed to a Muslim growth rate of 9.3% [per what, Poggi doesn’t say, unfortunately for this tidy mind]

1831 – dhimmis constituted 11.3% of the population of Ottoman territories

1881 – this rose to 20.6%

1906 – 25%

‘Christians in the Second Ottoman Era’, in Habib Badr, ed., Christianity: A History in the Middle East (Beirut: World Council of Churches: 2005 [Arabic original edition, 2001), pp.655-673. This is a mammoth book.

Cynics among us might notice that the Muslims dealt with this by several significant culls. Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks did not do too well out of the final years of the Ottoman Empire or during the chaos surrounding the founding of the Turkish Republic. Indigenous Christians in the Middle East today are also not exactly being allowed to thrive…


Well, this was going to be an interesting slant on an interesting blog I stumbled upon the other week. A Calvinist pastor (former army chaplain) who has recently converted to Orthodoxy (was it Greek, Russian, Estonian, Bulgarian, Rumanian, Ukrainian... or is that a cheeky question!?) has made a couple of blogs that are delightfully meandering and yet quite astute in their criticisms of Protestantism.

But now I can't find the blog!

Never one to be deterred by trifling considerations, and since I can remember some of what he said, here goes...

One of his major criticisms of Protestants relates to the ecclesiological mess, and to our rejection (ed. through fear?) of tradition. Some fair points there, but what is interesting is that he has his golden age. The church fathers are the golden age - and 'they' are apparently preserved in the Orthodox faith of today. Whatever one might want to say about the fathers, there seems to be some historical blindness, and some contemporary blindness there. Has he not spotted the differences between the national orthodox churches? [Here's an unfortunate example of Orthodox 'unity' today. Forgive me for pointing out this speck in my brother's eye, but I simply speak as a Protestant who is slightly annoyed by the attempt by the Orthodox to claim the unity high ground and the continuity high ground without looking at their own glass house...]

And whose unity is he on about – a few clergy and monks are ‘united’, but what of the laity!? And who are the laity anyway. Isn't it all of us?

Thinking of the golden age, of course, Protestants have one, too - it's just a lot shorter. Finished somewhere around AD100, I think!

So, there's innovation and acculturation, and often appropriately so. As Andrew Walls perceptively points out, that's how the Christian faith started, and ever since then it has to cope with the tension of forces that pull in new directions while other forces are all about imposing your circumcision on someone new.

Recent concerts (2)

Jane and me at the URC a couple of weeks ago. A risky affair (the pieces are hard but not that showy - d'oh) that came out well in the end, praise the Lord!

LEOŠ JANÁČEK (1854-1928)


The mature Janáček was ahead of his time, writing raw, angular music in a modern style. The Dumka, however, comes from the period during which Janáček was still under the influence of Dvořák and other Romantic composers. It was written around 1880 in Leipzig where he was studying and follows a simple ABA form. Many of these early works have been lost, fortunately not this velvety Dumka (a Slavic word for a melancholy ballad).

Historical note: to be precise, Janáček was not from Bohemia, but from neighbouring Moravia, the eastern part of present-day Czech Republic. Other famous Moravians include Sigmund Freud (psychoanalyst), Edmund Husserl (philosopher), Kurt Godel (mathematician) and Tom Stoppard (playwright).

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Sonata in F major, Op. 57
1. Allegro, ma non troppo
2. Poco sostenuto
3. Allegro molto

The son of a butcher, Dvořák began his professional musical life as a viola player (in the orchestra conducted by Smetana) before finding success within Bohemia with the cantata Hymnus (1873) and across Europe with his “Moravian Duets” (1876). He devoted himself to composition and musical education and achieved tremendous popularity in England and the United States (where he wrote his famous New World Symphony). The Violin Sonata of 1880 is a conventional work with an unassuming opening movement in sonata form, punctuated by unusual accents and phrases that show Dvořák’s love of folk music. The second movement is compact, and similarly unpretentious, made up of graceful falling phrases combined with rising arpeggios. In the middle section Dvořák uses a device called “hemiola”, weaving the rhythms of 2-in-a-bar together with 3-in-a-bar, a very common feature of his nationalistic works like the Slavonic Dances. The finale is based on a simple dance-like melody, and Dvořák crams in a lot of notes!

Romantic Pieces, Op. 75

1. Allegro moderato

2. Allegro maestoso

3. Allegro appassionato

4. Larghetto

Dvořák’s gift for melody is particularly evident in the first and third of these charming pieces, which remind me of a cradle song and of a brisk walk through the countryside. The brutal second has the flavour of the furiant (a Slavonic Dance), while the mysterious fourth provides a surprising conclusion to the set.


Aus der Heimat
1. Moderato
2. Andantino – Moderato – Allegro vivo – Presto

For centuries the Hussites and Protestants of Bohemia and Moravia had been oppressed by the Pope and the Catholic Habsburgs. In the nineteenth century there was a rise in nationalist sentiment and increased interest in politics on the part of ordinary people. As a young man Smetana took part in the failed 1848 rebellion against the Habsburg Empire. After touring Europe as a pianist and teaching at a conservatiore in Sweden he returned home and won popular acclaim for his operas. His musical gifts caught the mood of the people and he inspired generations of composers, becoming known as the father of Czech music. The title of this work means “From My Homeland” and is full of local colour and drama. The first piece is predominantly calm and lyrical, the second is full of passion, almost operatic in conception, and is a real violin showpiece (with some ‘pub piano’ accompaniment).

Recent concerts (1)

At last the brothers have got back together on stage. 18 months after our last forray, we went to Ely Cathedral in April to perform 22 ditties and repeated the programme at the Round Church (where the sostenuto pedal squeaked so much that WD40 was sprayed on it after the first few items had amused rather than pleased the pianist and audience). It was a two-part affair with a mini piano recital balancing the composers of the singing bit. The Ravel Menuet was my favourite solo work [it’s a truly graceful delight] and I thought that Luke’s singing of the Dichterliebe was superb! We made up the Venables in Ely but had polished it well for Cambridge and when Luke did the same programme in his final recital at the RCM the following week it all came out very well. Hurrah.

“Masters of the Human Voice in Miniature”

Robert Schumann, Kinderscenen, Op.15
1. Von fremden Ländern und Menchen 2. Curiose Geschichte
5. Glükes genug 6. Wichtige Begenheit
7. Träumerei 9. Ritter von Steckenpferd
13. Der Dichter spricht

Maurice Ravel, Menuet sur le nom de Haydn

Herbert Howells, Howells’ Clavicord
12. Finzi’s Rest


Robert Schumann, Dichterliebe, Op.48
1. Im wunderschönen Monat Mai 2. Aus meinen Tränen spriessen
3. Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube 4. Wenn ich in deine Augen seh
5. Ich will meine Seele tauchen 6. Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome
7. Ich grolle nicht

Maurice Ravel, Don Quichotte a Dulcinée
1. Chanson romanesque
2. Chanson épique
3. Chanson à boire

Ian Venables, Easter Song, Op.16

Gerald Finzi, Earth and Air and Rain, Op.15
7. Lizbie Brown
8. The Clock of the Years