Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Magician (Raymond Feist)


Enjoyable - the classic 'good yarn' - but not in the same league as Tolkien or Donaldson.

The Soloist


Superb.

As well as excellent acting from leads and support I was particularly pleased by two things: the treatment of "mental illness", and the way in which the individual story was used to exemplify the much broader issue of homelessness. 5/5

TBTE20090929


A weather forecast, for bls.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bioshock


I bought a copy of this from ebay a couple of months ago, and have now managed to finish it (twice). I've been really impressed with it, principally the way that the narrative functions within the game, the moral complexity that is possible, and the way in which it functions as a commentary on Ayn Rand and the implications of her philosophy. My imagination now has thoughts of Splicers and plasmids flitting through it unbidden....

I hadn't played a proper PC game for many years, so this - even though it is now two years old - really raised my eyebrows. Highly recommended, if you like this sort of thing.

TBTM20090929


Today's link: Neil Gaiman and the power of story-telling. I still think that the Sandman sequence says all that needs to be said about answering post-modernity.

Word count: 7,700 which is half way through chapter 2 (each chapter will end up being around 5,000 words each).

TBTE20090928


Word count: around 5,600, which is the preface and the first draft of chapter one. I don't expect other chapters to progress this rapidly!

Monday, September 28, 2009

On wanting to preserve the BBC


You might have noticed that I'm a bit right-wing (there's a clue beneath the blog-title). The nature of my right-wingness is, at core, two-fold: i) I detest and distrust the state, indeed any over-mighty Leviathan (including big businesses), and I think that a diverse ecology of power is essential for a healthy society (Burke's small platoons), and ii) I think the present form of over-mighty states have progressively dismantled the social virtues that are essential to human interaction and we've been ruing the consequences for at least two generations (principally, on this latter, I have in mind the undermining of any notion of personal responsibility).

Now the BBC, in terms of its reporting style, is resolutely of the left-wing Guardian reading establishment, and tends to support causes that run against those principles. So why might I think it worth preserving?

Well, in one sense, it simply IS one of Burke's small platoons. It is part of our body politic, by now well established and ensconced in British society (and world society come to that). Furthermore, in an environment where there is always pressure to race to the bottom, the founding principles of the BBC (Reithianism) are more and more conservative. Of course, the BBC doesn't always, or perhaps even often, live up to those principles, but they are there in the DNA, so there is always hope. There is much in the BBC that I would like to see reformed, especially to do with the news coverage but then I ponder the alternatives...

It would be totally the wrong time to try and radically change the BBC's pattern of life. It is poised to become even more important worldwide in that it has a degree of depth in its news coverage, in the UK and worldwide, which commercial organisations simply cannot compete with (ha ha Mr Murdoch jr). And as newspapers decline in influence I think the BBC has quite a rosy future.

The thing is, I use the BBC in all sorts of ways - it is my home page when I turn on the internet; I am inducting my eldest into the joys of Doctor Who (we've just met the cybermen for the first time); and I'd still much rather watch sport on the BBC than any other channel (though the actual football coverage on Sky is pretty good). So: I'd like to see it preserved and I don't feel too bad about paying the license fee, even though it's basically a tax.

For all the ways in which it frequently infuriates me, I'm glad we've got the BBC and I think it is something that we can be proud of. May it live long and prosper!

PS This is yet another example of why I hate the state.
PPS and this is what I think we have to avoid!!

TBTM20090928


Word count: 0

Actually, that's not the whole truth. Transcripts currently amount to a word count of 79,542, and the draft that I'm presently working on has a count of 7643.

But I'm really now starting from scratch. I expect to end up - God willing - by mid-December with a polished word count of about 65,000.

A summary of the book can be found here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Accidental Husband


By far the best rom-com I've seen in several years. Well, either that or I've finally begun to relax. 4.5/5

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bangkok Dangerous


A bizarre film; the plot only works if you have sympathy for the lead character, yet Cage plays him in an incredibly flat and emotionless way, so that the times you are clearly intended to identify with his humanity just seem incredibly incongruous. 3/5

TBTM20090924


Ten days into the sabbatical and today is the first day that I woke up NOT thinking about work problems. Of course, as soon as I realised, I started to think about them once again. Progress, nonetheless.

Today's link: Violence, Tarantino and the Basterds, a Christian perspective. I'm wondering if I was too harsh in my initial thoughts; should probably have given it at least a 4. I'll have to see it again, now that I've read lots of reviews.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gamer


Same story as Death Race but much more effectively done. Likely to be a B-movie classic for the next 20 years. 4/5

The Golden Compass


Good bits, but a bit of a mess overall. 3/5

Stardust


A good family film, but the book is better (and not for children). 3.5/5

A sermon (last one for a few months!)

Texts: Mark 8.27-end, James 3.1-12

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me... will save it.”

What does it mean for us to take up our cross and follow Christ? Let's explore the context for the teaching: Peter has just confessed Jesus as the Messiah. One might think that this was a commendable action – indeed, in the parallel passage to this in Matthew's gospel, this is where Jesus says 'on this rock' he will build his church.

Yet instantly, Jesus begins to teach the disciples what being the Messiah means, and Peter takes him to one side and says 'surely this must not happen to you' – this is what leads to Jesus' strong words. What has happened is that Peter has confused his understanding of the Messiah with God's understanding of the Messiah. Specifically, he has confused the things of men with the things of God.

What are these things of men being referred to? Well, think about what the cross represents. We have become more accustomed to it, and so the sense of shock associated with a crucifixion has been lost. The cross was not simply the death penalty, not just an execution. That would be bad enough, and it would express the condemnation of the community. No, the point about crucifixion was that it was intended to be thoroughly humiliating as well as excruciating painful, it was meant to represent the absolute stripping away of any honour or self-respect. We still find this difficult to address completely – for example, Jesus was almost certainly entirely naked on the cross, as that would have completed the process of humiliation – and yet, as with our cross here, Jesus' still has some modesty preserved. Crucifixion is the absolute repudiation of a person by society. It was the way in which society chose to obliterate a person, to leave nothing left.

This is what is meant by 'the things of men' – for the things of men are the realm of social approval. Peter wants Jesus to be popular, to be welcomed and accepted. Jesus knows that this is not his path, that he must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed. In order for the way of God to be established, the difference between God's way and the human way must be made absolutely explicit – Jesus will have to be lifted up and turned into an object of scorn and derision. Only in this way will it become possible for people to be set free from that social realm.

For the social realm is a trap. Our reading from the Epistle of James is highly relevant to this. Beginning with the rather frightening teaching – for me that is – that 'we who teach will be judged more strictly', James goes on to talk about the evil of gossip, of the immense harm that an unbridled tongue can do to both an individual and to a community at large. 'Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.' One might say that the realm of the tongue is precisely that social realm which Jesus is trying to get us to move away from. By this I mean anything to do with social approval; anything to do with social currency, The Biblical teaching about gossip is not that the problem with gossip is that it is untrue. Gossip can be perfectly true and still be evil. Gossip is any conversation that has as its main purpose an evaluation of social status, a sharing of scandal or celebrity, any conversation about who is up and who is down, who is in and who is out – these are the things which the world is concerned with, and these are the things which we are not to be concerned with.

So, given this, what does it mean for us to take up our cross? I am very fond of this pithy summary of the gospel: “if you don't love, you die, if you do love they'll kill you.” The cross is different for each and every one of us, but whatever form the cross takes for each of us, it will have one thing in common. Our cross will be whatever form social pressure takes when we embark upon the way of love. If we seek to follow Jesus, the one who was despised and rejected by the great and the good then we can expect that in our turn, whatever our particular context is, we too will be despised and rejected by the great and the good. It is unlikely in this country that people will actually try to kill us for being a Christian, but the level of social hostility is now quite strong and likely to get stronger for quite some time.

So that is our cross. How then can we respond to this social pressure? What are we to do when we are faced, as Jesus was, with people who are sincere and well-intentioned and who, for the good of the community, see that it is right for one man to die for the people?

We are, of course, to do as Jesus did. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. It is forgiveness that overcomes the things of men, and how is this? Well, let us go back to consider what the things of men are. It is everything to do with social approval, social respectability. In particular – and this was absolutely true in the culture of Jesus' time – what we have here is the whole concept of 'face', as in 'saving face'. In this context, think what the way of forgiveness means – it is an abandonment of any desire to save face. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all sorts of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

In other words, we must abandon any sense that we need to defend a position of social respectability. Just abandon it, give it up. It means nothing to God, let it mean nothing to us. And so any damage to that social position can and must be forgiven. For forgiveness is the way of God over and against, in opposition to, the things of men. Forgiveness says that there are more important things in human relationships than social respectability, and the church as a community is to be marked out against the wider society by being the community that models forgiveness as the way to relate to each other. This is why it is so essential to hold on tight to the teaching that we are all sinners. If we are all sinners then none of us have any face to save. We are each and every one a mess, deserving to be scorned. We have no rights in the situation.

All we have is the one thing that I haven't mentioned so far. Jesus says that he must be despised and rejected and killed – but he also says that he must, after three days, rise again. The only grounds that we have for walking in the path of forgiveness, the only resource and strength that can sustain us and enable us to carry our cross, is the knowledge that we have been forgiven first. That whilst we were still sinners, Christ died for us, to set us free from this process. It is the resurrection, and it is only the resurrection, that feeds us with the Holy Spirit, our counsellor and defender, the one who meets and overcomes all the accusations levelled against us.

May we each be given the grace and confidence to walk in the light of the resurrection, abandoning the snares of social respectability, finding instead the way of forgiveness, which leads us into eternal life – the life for which our Lord Jesus Christ took up his cross, and suffered and died... that we might live. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

TBTE20090920


Been away from home for a break which was very good; first at a conference (which I'll blog about another time) then with friends in London.

I have rediscovered the art of the lie-in!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TBTM20090915


Christians in China number over 50 million on the most conservative of assumptions. The true figure is probably at least twice that much. It is quite possible that more people attend church in China on a given Sunday than in all of so-called “Christian Europe.
Find this and lots of other fascinating facts over at John's place.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Two excellent links...

Both from Maggi:

Some fascinating photographic interpretations of Jesus and his teaching; and

This talk from +Kenneth Stevenson, which I found helpful, especially this:
"A bishop is a Prime Minister – because he is there to initiate and articulate policy, and to respond to what is going on; and that means listening carefully to colleagues and others, as he tries to engender an atmosphere of trust where creative things can happen, as well as challenge the system – and people – when necessary. A bishop, too, is a Monarch – someone who has to handle the symbolism and the language of public liturgy and occasion, a sign and embodiment of catholicity, and therefore at times a little distant from the particularities of the Church. Then, a bishop has to act as Speaker – this is about ensuring fair play, like the other roles, not always easy or straightforward, especially in a culture where some are rather more ready than others to cast themselves in the role of oppressed minorities! And a bishop also has to be a scapegoat – someone who is the butt of frustration and sometimes aggression, and who gets blamed when things go wrong, sometimes with every justification. I knew all these roles as a parish priest, and I took them with me when I became a bishop, all too aware that one never gets them right."

Random beliefs

Doug tagged me with this; I'm supposed to "Post a collection of 10 things you believe, ethical, philosophical or theological."

1. I believe that God is a very great deal less concerned about sexual preference (and even behaviour) than we are.

2. I believe that God is a very great deal less concerned about styles of worship than we are.

3. I believe that there are services of "Christian worship" which qualify under neither heading.

4. I believe that love makes the world go round in a very literal (ie law of physics) sense.

5. I believe that governments consistently cause more problems than they solve, and I especially appreciate the prayer in the BCP that we might be 'godly and quietly governed'.

6. I believe that the seriousness of climate change is significantly overstated.

7. I believe that all abortions are in every case sinful, but I also believe that on some rare occasions it can be a lesser sin than the alternative.

8. I believe that the church has lost something essential with a shift away from "supernatural" understandings of the faith (eg angels and demons); I also believe that there are problems with such traditional language of the "supernatural". Should I ever get a chance to scratch the academic itch then I will research the nature of these forms of theological language and try to answer the question 'what is actually going on during an exorcism?' I believe that something very real and important takes place, but neither the supernatural nor the secular approaches capture it.

9. I believe that Wittgenstein is not well understood by many (most?) mainstream philosophers, most especially with regard to his understanding of religious language. (He'll be my principal converation partner if I end up doing that PhD - but I doubt it will be in a Philosophy faculty.)

10. I believe that atheism in the humourless sense is a passing fad and that within perhaps as little as twenty years the likes of Richard Dawkins will be viewed in the same way as, eg, Ron Atkinson was for his language. That does not mean that all atheists will become believers (to think that is to persist in missing the point) - it is to say that at the philosophical level positivism has been comprehensively debunked, and all that's left are the cultural echoes amongst the half-educated, which will slowly die out.

~~

I'm going to tag: Banksy, Sally, bls and Graham.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

TBTE20090912


I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue
but Hallelujah

Friday, September 11, 2009

TBTM20090911


"Get a move on you 'orrible lot! You've got another three miles of sand to run in, now watch your step! Move it, move it, move it!"

Not quite the exact words I heard, but close enough.

Is it wrong to occasionally wish that churches could be led like an army? More could be achieved in some ways, but doubtless that means that the mistakes would be huger alongside the successes, and I suspect a muddling through, soul by soul, is more what the Lord has in mind for us. In his patience is our salvation.

(NB Ollie was most excited to see them, thought it was great fun. I don't plan to run along with a pack on my back any time soon though.)


Saturday, September 05, 2009

My Top 10 U2 Songs

(I can do this post now they've sorted out the copyright issues!)

I've followed U2 for some 25 years now, since watching 'Live at Red Rocks' at boarding school, and buying Under a Blood Red Sky. They've gone through a few changes of style since then... It would be fair to say that I like just about everything they've ever done; that is, if I had to make a list of 'U2 songs I don't like' I probably wouldn't need more than one hand to list them on.

#10 Who's gonna ride your wild horses?


#9 October


#8 Bad


#7 All I want is you


#6 A sort of homecoming


#5 I still haven't found what I'm looking for


#4 Sometimes you can't make it on your own


#3 Miss Sarajevo


#2 Magnificent


#1 Grace


As for albums, I would just about choose Achtung Baby as my favourite, with either the first two or Zooropa being the ones I listen to least. I think the last three albums are all excellent.

BTW whilst researching for this post I came across this, which was useful.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

TBTM20090903


The ethics of being a theologian.

Why bother saving the planet?

I've been pondering that conversation that I linked to a while back. I just want to throw out a line of thought and see what people make of it.

If we accept that Peak Oil and the related limits to growth are real, then our present industrial system is unsustainable - ergo [as the Architect says] it WILL come to an end. I expect that to be quite soon, certainly in my hoped/expected lifetime (I've just turned 39).

There's not a lot that we can do to stop that happening. The processes and mechanisms involved are vast, beyond (probably) everyone's comprehension, and tie in just about every aspect of our existence.

In response to this predicament we might:
- become a survivalist, with the mentality that "I" (or: my family, tribe, nation) will SURVIVE!!!!! I'm sure you're all familiar with that approach;
- adopt a devil-may-care, laissez-faire, apres-moi-la-deluge form of not caring about it (or ignoring it, which is the same thing) - again, I'm sure people are familiar with forms of that;
- adopt a 'we must save the planet' approach and do all that we can to alleviate and minimise the inevitable human suffering.

What I'm exploring is a distinction _within_ the third of these options - although it might look more like the second from some points of view.

Let me bring in some philosophy to take this a bit further, the distinction in ethics between 'consequentialism', 'deontological ethics' and 'virtue ethics'.

A consequentialist understanding of ethics says that an action is right or wrong according to what the consequence of the action is. The worth of adopting a low-carbon lifestyle is that it will minimise the problems of climate change.

In contrast to this, the deontological approach says that there is something inherent in the act itself which constitutes its character as good or bad: the worth of adopting a low-carbon lifestyle is something intrinsic to itself.

The virtue ethics approach says that an action is right or wrong according to how it will affect the character of the person making the choice: the worth of adopting a low-carbon lifestyle is assessed by what sort of person you become when you choose that lifestyle.

What I'm getting at is that arguments that take the form 'we must do X because it will (help to) save the planet' leave me cold - in part because I don't like consequentialism as an ethical theory (I'm much more of a virtue ethicist myself, basically an Aristotelean as mediated by Alasdair MacIntyre).

There are various practical reasons why it leaves me cold. I'm very much of the view that we have to be honest about where we stand - that, to a very great extent it is too late to preserve a very great deal of our culture and habits. I also suspect that, even if per impossibile we succeeded(!) in saving the planet, we'd end up realising that we had missed some rather important things; that is, I'm not inspired to make the world safe for modern industrialism! (I should say, I tend to the view that our environmental problems are ultimately symptoms of a more fundamental social justice problem - and that it is the latter that we most need to address).

What motivates me are arguments that say 'we must do X because it is the right thing to do' (the deontological approach) or, even better, 'we must do X (or even a contagiously enthusiastic "Let's do X!!") because it allows us to be the people that God has created us to be'. In other words, the inner logic of choosing, eg, a low-carbon lifestyle is completely different in the one case than the other. Wittgenstein once used the comparison of two puppets - one being handled by string from above, one being directly manipulated by a hand inside - the actions might look the same but the forces involved are completely different.

There is a spiritual path through our present predicament which involves, I would say, a trust in a greater providence - the counterpart to abandoning our own pride - and walking in the Way of Life. We can never know all the eventual consequences of our actions; we can't know - I would say - whether it is possible to 'save the planet' or not. Yet we can know that choosing a simpler life, more strongly rooted in our particular local contexts and ecologies, more concerned to nurture social justice, more connected to all that makes for meaningful human relationships and vocations - all these things are the right things to do and help us to become the right sort of people. I think we can let God look after the consequences, for what does he require of us, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before him?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Greenbelt 2009 (The Long Now)

Got back from Greenbelt last night, having shared the journey there and back with a friend which made time fly much more quickly than if I had gone on my own (especially since some thieves stole the car stereo!)

Overall impression: second time there, still love the festival, and will definitely go back next year, but am now more aware of things that can be improved, especially the worship. These are some of the things I got up to:

Friday night, a talk from Dave Tomlinson about how to believe, whereby he basically channelled Lindbeck's understanding of religious belief. That was fine, but nothing especially new to me. Pity Dave had to go away for a long holiday straight after that night as I would have enjoyed catching up with him.

Saturday morning - tried to get in to Rob Bell but failed miserably (as did Jon, who I bumped into very briefly), as I hadn't started to queue up an hour in advance, so wandered about before going to a talk on what to show children on TV, called "Dr Who behind the sofa", with various luminaries from the comics industry.

This was unsatisfying, principally because it was a rambling discussion that didn't have a particular focus - fine, but left me wanting a lot more.

I had bumped into Justin on the Friday, which was great, and we had arranged to catch up with each other in the Beer Tent prior to the Beer'n'Hymns, which was really good - and the Beer'n'Hymns was something I'd always wanted to experience, so now I can say 'done that'. Much to reflect on from it; not sure how far it's entirely a model for worship though :)

I caught a bit of Alister McGrath, but I was too familiar with his material, so I went straight back to the beer tent (where I spent most of the middle of the Saturday! very expensive - nearly £4 a pint) for a brief but good chat with several people involved in the SPCK campaign, including fellow priestly blogger Dave Keen.

Stayed on after that to catch up with some other friends and succumbed to a nice massage from one of the lovely ladies offering them around.

(Which reminds me - a very nice blog-reader gave me the t-shirt that you see me wearing there and, in a severly crap fashion, I never properly thanked them (and have now completely lost their contact details) - so if you're reading this, a) sorry, and b) thank you very much!!!)

Main activity of the evening was watching 'The Age of Stupid' which I thought was a stupid film - crass, heavy handed and counter-productive, barely 3/5. Went back past the main stage, where Royksopp were performing. Didn't stay long, but could hear the entire set quite well from my tent! (Same with Duke Special the next day)

Sunday morning was dominated by the main communal act of worship, this year geared around the struggle of the Palestinians against Zionist oppression. Evidence of my hardness of heart can be found in that I wasn't greatly moved by this - not that I doubt that the Zionist state does horrible things, I just wonder why Western middle classes get so exercised by this example of injustice, and not so much by the (arguably greater) injustices in, eg, Zimbabwe, Darfur, Burma etc. Anyhow, the worship itself was middling-to-incompetent with all effort to generate atmosphere destroyed by an incredibly crass and insensitive distorting of some traditional hymn-tunes. It's not good when people who are supposed to be singing a hymn end up laughing instead. This worship was redeemed by a subversive act of Holy Communion shared with good friends at the end.


After some time catching up with some more friends I went to the second Marvel Comics session, which repeated the experience of the first, and then caught Gareth Davies-Jones at the Performance Cafe. He was good, and things were starting to look up.

Then came one of the highlights of the weekend for me, with Vic Thiessen giving a talk on the book of Ecclesiastes with reference to several modern films, including my favourite Magnolia. I'm now going to subscribe to his blog on films; he was great, and my mood brightened. The mood continued to get better by catching Rob Bell at last, in a Q and A session.

I'm quite familiar with his work, so nothing ground-breaking, but it was good to get a sense of him in the flesh. After this I went to hear Mark Vernon on the ills of self-help ideologies which I thought was excellent (and hopefully he'll release a book on this before too long), and then stayed in place for a panel discussion with, inter alia Mark, Maggi and Peter Rollins which was good, but, as a friend, said, was a bit like a trailer for a film that looked really good. Maybe one day we'll get to see it.

Monday was brief, as I was heading home at lunchtime, but I managed to get to the Taize service in the morning, which did good things, and then I caught Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Sarcastic Lutheran, giving a great talk on the compatibility between being emergent and denominational.

Amongst many things which got me thinking, she said that we should 'pastor our own tribe' and 'go where you don't feel fractured, where you can be completely yourself in your ministry'. Hmmm.....