Friday, October 31, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I look up at the old clock, situated in what is now primarily a car-park for railway employees in order to note the time. Even as I do so I am reminded of the thousands of people who have stood here before me, doing exactly this. Last moments between mothers and their sons departing for wars have been counted here, engine-drivers have looked nervously at its face as it revealed how much time they would have to make up as they assaulted the hard road North. This grand old clock has counted away the lives of Monarchs, Prime-Ministers, Empires, ticket-clerks, passengers, railway-companies, Ministers of Transport and eras of history.
Glimpses of the station, as she was in her youthful vigour, or as she expanded into her late-Victorian adulthood, and on into 20th Century active middle age, frequently interrupt the fallen present. Twice-a-day The London Train creates a stir, the platforms fill with people, the train that comes in is big, noisy, snorting and imposes its presence. The doors don't slide shut at the touch of a button, with cold efficiency but are slammed shut with an honest nostalgic thud. Cases, rucksacks and boxes are manhandled on and off the coaches, and it still has windows that can be opened for waves, tears, smiles, or Brief Encounter farewells. The night sleeper's ghostly appearances conjour up a similar mood in their few moments rest at Perth, before the silence returns. In such moments, the grand old lady stretches herself and remembers what she once was. For all too short a moment, the pomp of the past invades the tawdriness of the present. When it happens, the litter, the grime, the rusty unused tracks, the empty offices, the broken guttering all seem to fade, and instead all manner of beauties come to the fore; the gorgeous yellow sandstone of William Tite's original station frontage, the sun glinting on the tangle of lines and points facing south, the guard's whistle that echoes back over a century and a half, the Victorian latticework cast-iron footbridge, the roar of exhaust and the red tail-light of the departing train disappearing beneath the Edinburgh Road. For those few moments, the platform of Perth Station, spread out before its clock, resembles George Earl's painting of it from 1895, called, "Going South".
As the London-train pulls out of the station, the clatter of feet on steps and the gentle rumble of modern wheelie-suitcases mingle with the voices of passengers hurrying for exits, calling cabs, dialling mobiles, summoning lifts. Then with a disorientating abruptness, the silence returns, the emptiness reasserts itself. The grand old lady who has stirred herself to reminisce, tires so soon these days. George Earl's Perth station is snuffed out in an instant, and the Perth station of today appears. In that moment it is almost as if Beeching's proverbial axe has fallen again. Tite's sandstone retreats, the moss and algae reappear, and an empty can of John Smith's Extra Smooth, rolls noisily across the vacant concrete.
But wait a minute. Isn't there more likely to be another side to this?
Why is it that Elton John can walk through an airport terminal completely calmly, without having a tantrum at journalists - except when he has a new album out? Simply because it propels him and his new product onto the front pages.
Brand, for his part has built his career on being ousted from jobs for being too outrageous, only to be offered bigger jobs once the furore has died down. Quietly putting out a weekly show on Radio 2 for a few years was never going to be his next career move, in fact it would have destroyed the volatile image he is trying to project. As for Jonathan Ross, I don't think I am being too cynical to suggest that this was merely a shocking piece of marketing. The day before this piece was recorded, Ross released a new book entitled "Why do I say these things?" the cover of which features a monkey putting its hand over his mouth to prevent him getting into trouble. I don't think I am being too cynical to suggest that the timing of this little scandal and the release of his scandal-book are entirely unrelated. The fact that the offending sections were pre-recorded, passed by editors and spliced into a live programme, demonstrates the extent of the planning involved in the whole thing. The fact that it has escalated to being mentioned in parliament, and is on the front page of every Tabloid, must be making Ross chuckle - as Tesco's heavily market his £25/hardback in shiny display packaging at the entrances to all their stores.
So if you thought Brand and Ross' stunts were rather pathetic. Don't start by writing to the BBC, don't complain to your MP, just avoid buying the wretched tie-in book.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The visionary approaches the subject like this. Beginning with an ideal, they explore that ideal, hold it up - and then try to work back from that ideal to where we are. As follows:
There are of course limitations to both approaches. The visionary is usually criticised in the following ways. His vision is so bold, so inspiring and so wonderful that it is quite beyond our reach. The pattern of church life he recommends is unattainable, merely creates guilt, disillusionment with outworking things in daily reality, and can just create a crowd of people skilled in criticising their fellow-believers, and the church itself. It looks like this:
On the other hand, the navigator is not always well-received either! When he speaks directly into the muddy and complicated realities of our situation, it can seem like duty, piled upon duty, lacking a vision to motivate and invigorate the daily effort. Without the imagination fired by a 'bigger-picture', the practical, down-to-earth wisdom of the navigator can fall flat. Like this:
Monday, October 27, 2008
A few minutes later the china object was removed, and I was lovingly bandaged up, with suitable sterile gauze and stuff - another happy customer of the NHS! Who could ever say I wasn't well looked after??
Now - my next dilemma. Does anyone know how to get blood stains out of woollen carpets?
Friday, October 24, 2008
Once again Mrs Hideous & I are reviewing what we have learnt on previous courses - a process which continues to inspire and encourage us in terms of the effectiveness of the approach taken on the course. One thing that amazes me in the deceptively simple talks on the DVD is that I am still learning useful things from them, despite having seen them several times. Even though the talks are not complex, or intellectually stretching, their profundity is demonstrated by the value that can be gained watching them even for the... 6th time! The depths of these talks is only really revealed, I think, when you try and put them into practice!
Our hope and prayer is that the couples doing the course this time will benefit from it as much as we have. In fact - if they only gain a fraction of what we have, it will be time well spent. Yesterday was on the 'foundations' of marriage, an introduction to the meaning and purpose of marriage, the idea of 'marriage-time' (the danger of a time-starved marriage, crowded out by busyness), as well as a very incisive exercise in which we identify our spouses key emotional needs in order to seek to meet them.
One thing I hadn't noticed in the talks before, was the statistics which showed a huge rise in the number of marriages going through crises or even disintegration amongst 50+ year-olds, whose children are (typically) leaving home. The research has shown that a failure to invest in the marriage during the crazily frantic years of child-rearing, often yields a bitter fruit once the children leave. I know that since Mrs Hideous and I started following the 'marriage-time' pattern recommended on the Marriage Course, it has been good for us in the present. I hadn't though previously thought about it also as an investment in the future wellbeing of our marriage.
I'm looking forward to week two already!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Very sensibly the young man has asked if he can go out with us for a curry to celebrate being nine! Splendid - it will be only another twnety minutes or so until he's a teenager and won't want to be seen out in public with us at all!
Monday, October 20, 2008
The important thing is to make sure that this particularly vivid educational tool is hidden from the sight of Boris, Norris and Doris - who would not only find it absolutely hilarious, but would insist on an undue level of clinical reporting over the coming months. This is something I can probably do without. One thing is clear however - the kids telling us that they are off for a 'number two' is no longer going to be considered scientifically accurate, after all, it might be a three, four, five, six or seven!
(For this entire post, I ask your apologies.)
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Was climbing the greasy pole of African American politics simply not possible without membership of a mainstream faith community which Obama used in order to unite people around his political vision and aspirations? Or did the young man experience a spiritual awakening, and 'come home to God' (his words) that night under Wright's influence?
Stephen Mansfield has written an excellent book which in 149 straightforward pages, assesses the sincerity and content of the faith of Barack Obama. This book does not seem to be written with any direct agenda, except that of accurately describing and informing. Unlike most of the stuff knocking around in this US election season, this book neither sets out to assure white-evangelicals that Obama is OK; nor is it seeking to demonise him. As such it provides a helpful assessment of the sincerity of the religious vision that Obama brings to his politics, which will enlighten readers who both share the content of that vision, and those who reject it.
One of the most helpful aspects of this book is the way in which it sets Obama's spiritual experiences and religious outlook (along with a fascinating assessment of the colourful Jeremiah Wright) firmly within the context of African American history and culture. In fact, the chapter on Trinity church reads as a very good little introduction to 'Black Theology', from Cone to Wright - a theological trajectory of which the author is not uncritical.
Readers in a British church context will be fascinated to read of the way in which theological liberalism is strangely wedded to spiritual experiences typical of evangelicalism, in the Black Churches of the States. Liberation theology and altar-calls do not sit together in UK churches, as they do in Jeremiah Wright's church! Also, the author's charting of the rise of the 'religious-left' in America is the documentation of the passing of a fascinating milestone in the political landscape of the USA. This is deftly and helpfully achieved.
Remarkably fair-minded, this book is short, easy to read and insightful. Whilst the conclusion might be in favour of Obama's religio-political vision; for the most part this book enables the reader to make an assessment themselves, aside from the shrill pro or anti propaganda that dominates the airwaves.
(a good present, thanks Mum!)
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Billed as an 'Autobiographical Collage', Palm Sunday, is an anthology of Vonnegut's shorter writings, articles, papers and speeches, gathered together under various headings and bound. Vonnegut writes with verve, wit, humour, and sarcasm as bitter as bitter. He writes of family history, America, of obscenity and censorship, of family, mental illness, of divorce and his lifelong love-hate (but mostly hate) relationship with religion. "I have six children", writes Vonnegut, "which is far too many for an atheist!" yet in the final chapter he contortedly describes himself as a "Christ-worshipping agnostic." His discussions of all things Christian are uniformly ill-informed, and deliberately and provocatively so, as he later all but admits many of his barbed comments are aimed at his Christian ex-wife! Yet despite my disagreements with his conclusions, the cunning way in which he sets up the propositions of his opponents, extends them ad absurdum only to sarcastically give them an approving nod, does hugely entertain. I don' t imagine that if I had ever met him I would have agreed with him, but I think I might have liked him.
In one strange passage, Vonnegut conducts an interview with himself. It begins like this:
In this anthology, Vonnegut demonstrates that he can be in equal measures, witty and appalling, brilliant and crass, insightful and vulgar; as he explores his warped take on life (and death). If any reader of this post is as
Friday, October 17, 2008
Or a river... can you build a causeway to divert it? (Admittedly the boys attempt to divert the whole of the Tay round Moncrieffe island was always going to be a heroic failure).
A flow of traffic.... you could always count it!
Or find a view.... just look at it! (The Slivery Tay, from Kinnouill Hill)
Total expenditure, less that £5 as two of the three books were presents!
How strange then to read Ian Carr's biography of Miles Davis, which casts the Black American jazz trumpeter, as an isolated genius; such an innovator that his life reads as detached from background or context. Carr's biography is billed as 'definitive', but it would be better to have labelled it a 'musical biography', because it is very heavy on musical theory, and very weak on social history. In one sense this is refreshing, a book about a musician that seriously and knowledgeably seeks to grapple with the music! My knowledge of music theory is extremely scant - but yet the parts I was able to understand were fascinating and have added a huge amount to appreciating different parts of Davis' music, especially the styles of the various players he collaborated with - and their various contributions to his ever-evolving sound. Too many musicians' biographies dwell on the social or the scandalous (plenty there) aspects of the subject and do not analyse the music, but Carr swings to the other extreme and so despite his musical expertise, his biography of Davis reads like a Victorian biography of a twentieth century figure.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Some people like to walk back to Elgol from Loch Coruisk, but with Boris, Norris and Doris in tow this was never going to be possible, not just because of the distance, but also because of the notorious 'bad step' a short rocky traverse overhanging the sea which one has to negotiate. The crew of the boat took great delight in informing walkers planning on heading back that way that they have frequently seen sharks in the water under the bad-step, waiting for a stumbler!
Our hour and half at Loch Coruisk was not enough to satisy our hunger to soak up the splendour of the scenery, it was breathtaking - but the disappointment at having to leave was more than compensated for by the promise of hot drinks in the boat, the wonderful journey back to Elgol and a special treat for Boris and Norris. The treat was offered by the boat crew who said that if the boys behaved well, they would each be allowed a turn 'driving' the boat. So under skipper Seamus' watchful eye, each of them had a turn, guiding the little ship across the waves towards the harbour and home.
The cost for the trip was £40, (£15 for each adult, £5 for the boys and under 5s free.) The boat was the Misty Isle and they have a website here - on which they are planning to put a webcam to stream pictures of the magnificent view from Elgol, all year round!
Why then a new book on 'worldliness'? The answer given by C.J. Mahaney and his co-writers is that the church has rightly moved too far in the other direction, and in running as far as it can from the sin of legalism has instead embraced the error of lack of discernment. This book then asks Christians to think through what they buy, wear, listen to and what media they consume (etc) to asses its value, embracing what is good, but rejecting what proves to be spiritually unhelpful. This is challenging stuff.
Thankfully the writers avoid most of the dangerous pitfalls which lurk at every side of a balanced discussion of such topics. The first is that they manage to hold onto a vision of the Christian life which depends on grace, not works, but grace that inspires discipleship. They avoid the glaring error that Yancey's otherwise Amazingly Gracious book does, where he rightly rejects legalism as a basis for relating to God - but then assumes that a saved-by-grace believer should not go the bible to discern right from wrong! They also avoid the pitfall of advocating a complete 'other-wordly' withdrawal from life, commenting positively on art, music, and creativity from many cultures as being valid (a mistake made into a book called 'Pop Goes the Gospel' that some of you may have had the misfortune to read). Furthermore they also recognise that we are not in the business of drawing up absolute lists of approved or banned music, films etc (to hide smugly behind our legal lists!) but each believer can in their own cultural context, make responsible decisions about what they consume.
The clarion call of this book is for discernment not legalism - as the titles of the chapters such as "God, my Heart and Media", "God, My Heart and Music" etc indicate. It's about cultivating a heart and lifestyle that is spiritually helpful as we as fallen people follow Christ in a fallen world. Each author stakes out a bold thesis in his chapter, some of which I instinctively enjoyed, others of which I disagreed; but all of which made me stop, think and assess.
There are a few things which didn't work though - and most of these I think are because they have been worked out in the American context and contain ideas or applications that uneasily travel. Piper's introduction is dreadful and almost put me off the book - but I am glad I persevered past it. Mahaney's wife and daughter's contribution at the end of the book in the appendix undoes some of the good work of the book by crossing the line between principles of heart in cultural context and rule-lists, which is perhaps unfortunate. This -to be fair - is an appendix which has been lifted from another publication and might be seen as ways in which one family has sought to outwork the principles discussed.
One reviewer says that this book is "so specific it will be controversial". How true! But sometimes I reckon when someone has the brass-neck to write a really provocative thesis, it is just what we need to make us really stop in our tracks and think our own position through more carefully - even if we don't agree with every element of their conclusion. So while it's true that this book is too American, too dogmatic at times, too prescriptive on occasions, it is also timely, helpful, relevant, biblical, up-to-date and just the provocation I needed!
The title of this posting refers to 'the world', and the conclusion that believers should be in it, but not of it - and that element of the book is maybe its most helpful contribution.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
He described his anatomy thus:
"When I put food in my mouth it goes down past my throat, but then the pipe splits into two and things like beans and broccoli and carrots go one side, but things like cakes and sweets and chocolate mousse goes the other side. So when one side is full up and I can't eat any more vegetables, I am still hungry for cake, because that side is really empty!"
An X-ray of Norris' body revealed the following findings, demonstrating his point.