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