Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Brian Mclaren: a generous orthdoxy
Lesslie Newbiggin: The open secret
Lesslie Newbiggin: The gospel in a pluralist society
Evangelicalism can easily decay into Phariseeism: all about personal conversion, nothing about the world at large and as a whole. These books are the remedy.
That would be the Librivox recording of
William Makepeace Thackery: Vanity Fair
which I listened to by a swimming pool in Nice, during rainstorms in the Soul Survivor Christian festival (which was mostly rainstorms) and through many long insomniac nights.
Friday, December 05, 2008
It looked as vulnerable on the open road as it ever did in the 1980s. But it also looked absolutely perfect for a cycle path. I think the last 20 years in the UK has seen a huge expansion of cycle paths, and I couldn't help thinking of the parallel with the Internet.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee (whom I heard speak two days ago, incidentally), built a wonderful open infrastructure and a whole exotic ecosystem of products developed to run on it -- google and amazon and ebay and all the rest. Surely if we really systematically built a network of cycle paths in this country, that linked everything up, a similar exotic ecosystem would also arise: electric bikes and Segways and those wierd things Honda are making. And maybe some veteran C5s, rescued from garages, chugging along with their lead-acid batteries to the railway station, just as Sir Clive originally dreamt.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The guy's Amazon sales rank is 2 million and something, even below that of Gordon's Brown's latest book, so rally round.
Not that I read him, of course: he was quoted in Lesslie Newbiggin
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Really a work of theology, not fiction (though the same could be said for Pilgrim's Progress)
'Like the sort of Christian leaflet I get shoved through my letterbox', said one shocked and unimpressed member of our book club. (None of the self-professed non-Christians in our group liked it at all. They hated it. One looked at the Amazon reviews and couldn't believe them.)
Worst, a cloying schlockiness that keeps trying to suck you in and swallow you forever.
This book is as easy to criticise as George W Bush.
But then you get to this artful picture of God and redemption, and the way sets off all kinds of chords in your heart. You note its nice pace, its filmic quality. You feel its freshness. You find yourself thinking about what it said long after you put the book down. You love the way the sheer volume of its sales has forced it into Borders and onto the bestseller lists. And it deserved to, not by being a literary masterpiece but by that insight and power that makes people choose it above better-written books and spend time with it. And you conclude ... OK, I liked it too. Eventually and partially.
Friday, November 14, 2008
I've been reading that theological polymath Leslie Newbiggin who reads so widely himself that you get an instant, distilled education into all sorts of hard books that you aren't brainy enough to pick up yourself.
He talks about two ways of knowing: 'I-it' and 'I-thou'. I-it is about knowing things; I-thou is about knowing persons.
You learn I-it stuff by reading, research, analyzing.
You learn I-thou stuff by humbling yourself, listening, being vulnerable.
What a deep principle this is, running right through the world and the heavenlies.
So (for example) in Pride and Prejudice Mr Darcy is a master of I-it. Rich, educated, powerful. He knows everything. But none of it works with Lizzie. She's only interested in I-thou. And of course, so, deep down, is Darcy. She meets a deep need of his heart, a need that no amount of I-it can satisfy. And so the story is about how he has to humble himself, listen, be vulnerable, and get launched into the exotic, tender world of I-thou knowing.
Here (to take a second example) is where the materialist comes unstuck. I have not read all of Richard Dawkins but I have read enough to know that his whole approach is I-it. Brilliantly argued, wonderfully convincing, construe it how you like, it's still I-it. But the God of the Christians is I-thou. All I-it pathways will bypass him.
Look (to take a third example) at how it splits up the world's religions:
Mainstream Islam? It's the straight path, the rules: I-it
Sufism? That's I-thou, but it's a counter-trend in Islam.
Christianity: where it's I-thou it lives, even if it's very deficient. Where it's I-it, 'even what you have will be taken from you'
Thursday, October 16, 2008
A pity. Here's the world according to the very quotable Neils Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics.
You will note (this is an aside) how many of these quotes are actually statements of faith -- you need a lot of faith to get anywhere in quantum physics.
'Prediction is very difficult, especially concerning the future.'
'How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress. '
'The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth. '
'You are not thinking. You are merely being logical. '
I borrowed these quotes from here.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
There are no copies in creation, no cheap imitations. And this is not because God micromanages the world, but because God apparently loves freedom. God loves watching things grow. Is it any wonder that God enjoys cooperating with you and me to do his moral and spiritual work? Our choices, good and bad, constantly spin the Kingdom of Heaven in new and unforeseen directions. We are creative coworkers with the Almighty.
Friday, October 03, 2008
- 202,000 people had therapy for drug use in England last year from 150,000 tax-payer-funded employers in 'drug action teams'
- 7,300 people were discharged drug-free.
- This is a policy with a 96% failure rate.
- We have 20 full-time members of a drug action team for every one person freed from drugs each year.
Betel, the drug charity associated with the mission I work for, uses abstinence therapy rather than Methodone. In the UK, the tax payer only contributes Housing Benefit (which we are paying anyway). Betel currently has 0ver 1900 recovering addicts in communities in 75 cities across the world.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
The head of sport in the same school is Mr Ball
Now I just heard that a senior manager at the supermarket Waitrose, the one they always interview when they want to do a piece on the rising cost of living, is Mark Price.
It's silly and it should be stopped.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
You can dripfeed your ipod with them chapter by chapter (not unlike how many of them were first written, in installments) or download the whole book at once. It's amateur and it's great. What a fantastic project.
What's not to like?
Well, American accents mostly. I'm listening to Vanity Fair at the moment and in the hands of the readers it suddenly transforms into an early American novel. Chiswick Mall is pronounced Chis-wick. I know, I know. But perhaps since the whole project is likely sustained by American generosity at many levels it's churlish to complain.
It's free, you don't have to use your eyes, and in the insomniac small hours it doesn't even bear comparison with Up All Night or the perpetually miserable Farming Today.
Pilgrim's Progress is even better, and the reader's accent smooth and soothing.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Yet in the midst of it I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasures of this sinful life. They are despised and persecuted but they care not. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians ... and I am one of them.
(St Cyprian to Donatus, 3rd Century AD).
Sunday, June 22, 2008
They're seeing a huge stride, from the days when Fairtrade coffee didn't even taste like coffee, to Sainsbury's fresh fruit buyer saying recently, 'I see Fairtrade as the gold standard for global sourcing from developing countries -- our preferred option wherever possible.' (p155)
Here's Bruce Crowther, Quaker, Oxfam campaigner, and the person who got his local town, Garstang, to become the world's first 'Fairtrade town', one of thousands of little actions that has moved the world, on why he campaigns:
'I don't think you can give up. Our children will look back and ask us how we can live in prosperity while over a billion children live in abject poverty -- including many who produce things we use every day. How could we know this and not do what we could to stop it?' (p44)
Harriet Lamb has some great stories -- a little kid discarding his football shirt because the people who grew the cotton didn't get a fair price. And the time they tried to sell the first-ever fair-trade branded chocolate -- Green & Black's Maya Gold -- to Tesco's. The Tesco buyer had sent the Green & Black's founder, the unlikely-named Jo Fairley, away, saying that he wasn't going to 'list a product just because it's backed by a bunch of Christians'!
'But it wasn't long before he changed his tune and was back on the phone saying, "You'd better get over here, we're being bombarded by telephone calls. From vicars!"' (p61)
Monday, May 26, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
Ely Cathedral is ten miles or so up the road from our home. When it was built in the 14th century, towering among the hovels around it, it stood as a kind of metaphor of the medieval consensus.
In the Church were all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Here was where you found the best art, architecture, technology, music, thought, learning, creativity and skill.
The call on the Church today is not to increase its market share a bit but to have the ambition to build more cathedrals. How about, for starters:
- art that isn't ugly and nihilistic
- economics that is fair and compassionate as well as efficient
- science and technology tamed and embraced as the gifts of a good God.
- families rebuilt
- justice flowing
- fun that is innocent
... and all centred around worshipping communities.
Just conceivably, that's slightly too ambitious. Unless you read the Hebrew prophets, that is, who would tell you you aren't going nearly far enough ...
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
It seems to me this is:
* Mostly due to Zion Baptist Church, who opened Jimmy's Night Shelter in their basement
* Partly due to the (Liberal Democrat) council who helped join together different bits of homeless provision. (The person who takes the lead on this, interestingly, is a colleague of mine and a churchgoer.)
* Somewhat due to the Labour government, providing money for rough sleeper initiatives.
Politics is enjoyable at the moment. In scenes reminiscent of 65 million years ago, New Labour mastodons bellow to each other across the cooling swamps saying, 'We must listen and learn from that giant meteorite.'
Gordon Brown, like some giant wounded herbivore, topples over, mouth fixed in a last, glassy smile, pursued through the TV studios by raptors eager for his corpse. One raptor wants to go back to good old New Labour; the other wants a New Old Labour. Such is the quality of debate in his party as they all head for their future life as a peat bog.
I do believe, though, that (laying aside the 10p tax thing for a moment) no currently working UK politician has done more for the poor than Gordon Brown. Some of the money he provided, thanks to the churches, took every single one of the rough sleepers from Cambridge's streets. Some more bought bed-nets and forgave debts and upped the UK's international aid to about the best in the world. As he crashes into the swamp, never to rise, there are worse legacies.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I think God likes hanging round the fringes. I certainly do. I remember feeling similar when, years ago, I went to interview the leaders of Viva Network, which is an agency that tries to network together the different Christian groups working among children in crisis. They, too, were young, few, new, on the fringes of things, with a large vision.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
OK, it is a bit geekish and perhaps even a little sad to combine 'theology' and 'so good we can hardly speak' in one heading.
It's even more worrying that this blog recently has been all about stuff I've read, ie things going on in my head. Should I not get out more, meet people, do things?
Anyway. I've just finished reading
- A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren (modish theologian in the emerging church movement) and rereading
- The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin (whom I saw once, as a very old man, here in Cambridge).
Along with E Stanley Jones' book mentioned earlier, I can't imagine a better popular theological introduction to what the church should be doing in the world and how it should be doing it. These guys--I may say in a desperate attempt to show that I did get out more once, about a decade ago--rock.
The last few weeks I have heard the grind and creak of heavy furniture being moved around in my head.
The best thing I've learnt is that, through Christ, everything matters. Bednets in Africa matter. Fun and play matters. Adoring Jesus in a quiet room on your own matters. Dinner with my kids matters. Everything matters. Body and soul and community and creation all matter. I need to discard the Phariseeism that I have been schooled in (which says only spiritual stuff really matters). Body, soul, community, creation all die -- and are all raised, so they all matter, and they are indispensable parts of a whole.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
My singapore experience
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Then Arthur C Clarke, aged 90, finally gives up his struggle with gravity and decay and leaves the planet by the conventional route. I read everything of his I could lay my hands on when I was a teenager. Like P G Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, and (to a lesser extent because I read him later in life) Terry Pratchett, his ghostly presence shapes what I do and how I think about how writing should be.
If not from him, where else did I get this:
- Studied physics at King's College London and then became a writer
- Was passionate about good, hard, accurate science and maths
- Was fundamentally optimistic about human beings and the future and the galaxy
- Saw technology as a navigable route to magic and wonder and aspiration
Clarke has left instructions for a strictly secular funeral. As a younger man he had a correspondence with CS Lewis which resulted eventually in a meeting in a pub. Each brought along a companion (Lewis brought J R R Tolkien). Lewis was the better theologian; Clarke the better scientist. Each adorned the worlds of fiction and popular apologetic. Each is so close to my heart. I am so privileged and enriched to have been able to drink deeply of them.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Are missionaries 'international meddlers, creed mongers to the East, feverish ecclesiastics compassing land and sea to gain another proselyte?' Or are we satisfying some 'racial superiority complex' (as many democracy and environment activists surely are today)? Is there 'spiritual impertinence to come to a nation that can produce a Gandhi or a [Rabindrath] Tagore?'
Jones replies that both East and West need three things: 'an adequate goal for character'; 'a free, full life'; 'God'. Christlikeness is the supreme goal for every character. Christ is life realized, not theorized. And Jesus is what God is like. Hence we speak.
Here are some of his juicier quotes:
'Jesus appeals to the soul as light appeals to the eye, as truth fits the conscience, as beauty speaks to the aesthetic nature. For Christ and the soul are made for one another, and when they are brought together deep speaks to deep and wounds answer wounds.'
'Religion is the life of God in the soul issuing in the kingdom of God on earth.'
The quotes are from THE CHRIST OF INDIAN ROAD
Monday, February 11, 2008
“While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight, I'll fight to the very end!”
“To get a man soundly saved it is not enough to put on him a pair of new breeches, to give him regular work, or even to give him a University education. These things are all outside a man, and if the inside remains unchanged you have wasted your labour. You must in some way or other graft upon the man's nature a new nature, which has in it the element of the Divine.”
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Am struck by two other things:
1) If the character Levin really is a portrait of Leo himself, he can't have been an easy bloke to live with.
2) I rather like the Russian habit of referring to people by Christian name and patronymic. It seems to add a certain old-fashioned dignity to conversation. Suggested it to my wife as a way of boosting her domestic performance:
'Could you put the samovar on, Cordelia Paulova?'
But alas I feel I would get the reply
'Do it yourself, Glenn Michaelovich.'
Anna Karenina (Wordsworth Classics)
Monday, February 04, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
1.When Emmaus was being set up, apparently a junior planner was handling the application and made a long list of every planning reason why it should be turned down: they proposed to handle scrap metal on the site. It was on the flight path of Cambridge airport. A senior planner, however, apparently took the case over and was determined to use planning law positively and find every reason why it could be allowed. The plans were passed by a single vote.
2. Emmaus Cambridge cost £2m to set up but careful research has suggested it saves the government £600,000 a year.
3. Government is extremely weak at letting social entrepreneurs experiment with government cash. Only Northern Rock directors get to do that, and they took it all. Otherwise, perhaps, there could be an Emmaus in every town.
2. Yesterday got a phone call on a satellite-delayed line from Singapore. I entered a competition before Christmas organized by the Singapore Govt and they were telling me I'd won: one A4 piece of paper with marks on it translates into two business-class roundtrip tickets to Singapore plus a stay in a five-star hotel. It's all here
It partially makes up for being roughed up by publishers. I still want to get them back, though, by publishing a best-seller.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
'And more than 30m insecticide-treated bed nets have been distributed to protect families from malaria. The number of people saved from early death through these interventions is already 2m, and this increases by 100,000 ever month.
Michel Kazatchkine, executive director, Global Fund to fight AIDS, HIV and Malaria in The Economist publication The World in 2008. My italics.