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.