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)