Blogroll: God Gold and Generals

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Book reviews and comments by Jeremy Marshall on Christian, historical and business themesJeremy Marshallnoreply@blogger.comBlogger162125
Updated: 5 min 11 sec ago

"Why Series" by OCCA/Zacharias Trust 25/3/17 Review

Sun, 26/03/2017 - 13:14

I am a huge huge fan of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) and their parent Zacharias Trust. I cannot recommend their events and approach highly enough
"Apologetics" (defending the rational basis of the Christian faith) is a close relation but distinct from evangelism (telling people the good news about Jesus)
Yesterday I and some friends and families along with hundreds of others spent the day in London at their “Why? series".
Here are my notes of what was said. Any comments by me are headed (JM)
All the speakers were good, John Lennox I could listen to all day, he is both wise and warm an unusual combination.  But Sam Allberry is simply amazing. To speak as he does takes great courage and integrity. See below
Is religion inherently bad and violent? 
Simon Edwards argued that most people believe religion is bad. Linda Woodhead who writes on religion and whom I quote from often states “Religion is a toxic brand”. One of the 7/7 bombers left a 'martyrdom' video saying "For I and thousands like me...this is how our ethical stances are our religion ". Not abstract question in light of Wednesday's events at the House of Parliament. Christopher Hitchens argued that religion poisons everything while Richard Dawkins said religion is like a smallpox virus — even more dangerous but but more difficult to eradicate. Get rid of violence get rid of religion? 
Is it true historically? 
If yes is it inherent in religion? 
Philips and Axelrod studied 1760 major wars in history, of which less than 7% religious and these caused "only" 2% of casualties. In C20th, three atheists vowed to  eradicate religion -  Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin murdered 100 m plus in atheistic cause, vs inquisition murdered 6000 3 1/2 centuries 
Is Northern Ireland only or even mainly about religion? Joke: American goes into bar in Belfast asked “Are you Protestant or Catholic". Answers "Actually, I am an atheist". "Yes, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?"
Religious violence vastly overstated. 
No intellectual distinction made between different types of religion. Osama bin Laden vs Mother Theresa. Dawkins etc would say same for Stalin not all atheists are like that — can discriminate between different types of atheists. Fair enough so why not different types of religion? 
Keith Ward a Prof at Oxford suggestions key question is not “is religion dangerous?” but “Is this particular religion at this time dangerous? " 
"Christendom" has a lot to answer for even today we see many times unchrist like behaviour. 
Jesus never sought to enforce his teaching on others  but came riding on a donkey to die. Told off Peter in the garden who chopped off the high priest servants ear, then he healed the man — who had come to arrest and execute him. Corrie ten boom Dutch Christian in WW2 who sheltered Jews and was sent to a concentration camp, met and forgave one cruel camp guard after the war. 
"If God is dead all is permitted" Dostoevsky 
Why is anything wrong? Modern 'enemies' like racism slavery sexism (which I agree are all wrong ) - if no moral absolute who says they are wrong? 
Nietzsche influence on Hitler 
"Opium of modernity is there is no God so we can do what we like".  
People whose lives have been transformed by Christian faith e.g. Terrorists 

Parable about two men going to pray Jesus taught "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Is the bible racist and sexist?
Laura Buchanan a South African lady spoke about her own painful experience at the end of apartheid as a teenager — even though her church thought apartheid was wrong, there were still numerous things they had to overcome and repent about. 
Study of history is the study of oppression. Dawkins sees the God of the bible as unforgiving, misogynistic, racist and bloodthirsty 
In Genesis men and women are image bearers of God - when people look at us they see something about God. Men and women both image bearers together — very different to other ancient religions
Racism tough to support from bible because everyone shares a common ancestor. God said "Go and multiply" diversity increases. Babel is judged by God for imposing uniformity. Olympic opening ceremony good metaphor for heaven. 
God’s ideal is diversity but what about the details of the bible ? Canaanites who were killed by Israelites were very ethnically similar while God uses ethnically very different Babylonians and  Assyrians to judge Israel
Abraham chosen to be a blessing to all nations. 
Jonah sent to his enemies. God is trying to teach Jonah who is a racist (JM: not sure he's racist, maybe nationalist?) God teaches him a lesson last verse of Jonah 
Jesus has destroyed the dividing wall. Women - Mary and Martha, women are are not in kitchen. Mary makes better choice. Raised up the low . Three most important moments incarnation crucifixion and resurrection dominated by women, who were  "first at the cradle last at the cross first at the tomb." What is God like? Like Jesus 
Hagar and Abraham - God sees and cares about oppression. 
Women teaching in church? When something jolts go to God. Laura argued that while there are different view the context of NT teaching is culturally specific. (JM: OCCA contains Christians with a wide range of views on this issue. Fine, but every time I have heard a specific view expressed it has been only this one, it would be helpful to have other views expressed as well in the interests of balance)
Order of creation in Genesis is of increasing intelligence! 

Predominantly white black Asian churches? South African 11 year old Laura found it painful to integrate feelings of guilt
Are Christians anti gay?
Sam Allberry
Sam felt attracted to the same sex from teenage years, he developed in a different way. Sport and girls were only topics at his boys school and he was interested in neither. Aged 17 he thought "I think I am gay." Was made that way, lives celibately and founded "Living out". which is an excellent organisation to help Christians who are same sex attracted. 
Christian faith is not about God rewarding good people but God forgiving as people 
Issue is not sexuality but unbelief. Jesus is more committed to my ultimate happiness than I am
Myth that Jesus is neutral in sexual ethics. Out of the heart come things that separate us from God - we all have the same disease but different symptoms. Jesus says any sexual experience outside heterosexual marriage is sinful. Divorce Jesus is asked about in Matthew 19 he replies "Have you not read?" then quotes (ironically given his hearers prided themselves on their bible knowledge) the first chapter of the bible. Asked about marriage Jesus has to talk about gender. Jesus’s teaching on this we must reckon with and it’s been unpopular ever since, including with the disciples — they say “This is tough - I might give it (marriage) a miss!" Then Jesus talks about eunuchs — skips marriage and highlights celibacy. Godly alternative to heterosexual marriage is celibacy says Jesus. Choice we face: ditch Jesus or make him agree with me or I can trust him. I (Sam) decided to trust him. Someone said to him "Celibate people are like unicorns I heard of them never thought I would meet him"
All of us have a problem of orientation we are ALL out of sync we are all broken all of our desires are disordered, including our sexual desires nobody is "straight" we are all skewed. (JM how true! Read this excellent book if you want to think about this further
The Bible treats us all the same whatever our sexual orientation —  all of us need to be made straight all of us have to deny ourselves. Cost for all of us
People say to Sam "Isn't the gospel harder for you it denies who you are? ". Sam replies " if it's easy for you it's not the real gospel." Is the cost to high? Is it worth it? 

Truly Jesus say to us in Mark 10 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
'With persecutions' — even in this life it's worth it, following Jesus is always "a good deal". There are relationships we may have to give up but we will be in family of God. More intimacy not less (do our churches provide that?). Our culture has mashed intimacy and sex together and assume that deep same sex friendship in previous  generations must have been gay . We can have lots of intimacy and no sex and vice versa — sex is not the ultimate. Jesus provides it "I am the bread of life". Need to understand context - I like bread. Today we think of a waiter “Would sir like a bit of religion for the table”. Not in C1 it was life or death. Jesus says "I am to your soul what bread is to a starving stomach." 

Nobody chooses their sexual orientation — agreed. We have all feelings and not all feelings are good. Road rage. Natural and unchosen? My desires must be how God made me? We are a mixture of good and bad feelings, none of us are "straight". 

What if I am same sex attracted and become a Christian ? However we come to Christ, come we must. “Here are the controls of my life" Lord we must say. For all of us there are painful decisions — we lose our lives so that we will gain them. Sometimes Jesus will say you must trust this issue to me even if we dont understand it (JM - e.g., health for me) not that we very everything pinned down but we decide "I will follow him." Are you willing to follow  him? Aspects of following him that feel you are losing life — looks like loss but actually it's a gain! We become more the person we are meant to be by God . 
Is faith in God anti reason and anti science?
The wonderful John Lennox started by pointing out that if faith in God is irrational why have so many Nobel prize winners been Christian?
Worldview conflict 
Major views are theism and naturalism - where does science and rationality fit in? "Religion is a fairy story for those afraid of the dark" Hawking - but it is not a scientific statement. It is a statement of belief going far beyond science. 
Statements by scientists are not necessarily scientific
 John Lennox “Atheism is a fairy story for those afraid of the light " 
Fides root source of word "faith" = trust. Dawkins tries to (re) define as religious belief in denial of the evidence 
Research into science laws began because men believed in a law giver. You can read more about this in an excellent new book co-authored by my friend Andrew Briggs of Oxford University
Greek world is not original source of science it's early modern Christian thinkers.
Major scientists who founded modern science were Christians Newton Kepler Galileo all and many more   
Why have we ended up with this false dichotomy between science and faith? 
False logic
False ideas about God
False ideas about science 
Hawking wrote "Because there is a law of gravity the universe can create itself from something " Complete confusion about what is means to be a law —  a law describes  not causes 
X creates x is logical nonsense Einstein said "scientists are poor philosophers"
Attempts to get rid of idea of creator as irrational but the statements are themselves irrational. 
Atheism is irrational 
What kind of God are you talking about ? 
The “straw man God" is a "God of gaps" not the God of bible.  Many false ideas of God. The biblical God is a God of the whole not the gaps he creates the bits we understand and the bits we do not.
Why is the water boiling? Principal is scientific (heat dynamics) and agency/personal (I am boiling it) and the latter is more important 
God's revelation in the bible is true and is personal the scientific laws he created too, are also true. 
Explain a car - Law of internal combustion or Henry Ford? Doesn’t make sense answering only one or the other. Need both.
God explains why science explains 
"God Delusion" by Dawkins says God is too complex to be explanation
Absurd argument  
Menu in restaurant where does it come from? Mind behind menu is far too complex to understand
Question about age of human race and evolution. DNA. Word "evolution" has confused and different meanings 
Dawkins says evolution and natural selection  accounts for everything but it doesn't account for origins of life with which it has nothing to do. Lennox is a mathematician not a biologist. Natural selection will not support all the weight that is placed in it and biologists are feeling somewhat more sceptical that it explains everything. 
No evidence that natural selection leads to life and increasing complexity 
Singularity at the start of the universe Big Bang
Jesus rose from the dead 
Becoming a Christian is supernatural 
"And then God said"  — this was God creating how do we detect that work? 
God dignified humans with characteristic of making moral decisions 
One day I will be judged and the criteria is whether or not I trusted in Jesus Christ and if that's what I will be judged by then i must have the capacity  to do that
Does the bible contain scientific errors? Errors of fact? Flood story in every ancient near east mythology — every one has a flood story. Daniel "Belshazzar" was dismissed then cuneiform tablet turns up which confirms he did exist
In the beginning the very idea of an origin (“Big bang”) in 1960s faced fierce resistance because it gave comfort to Christians. Aristotle was the source for eternal universe theory. “In the beginning was the word” Creation packed with information. 
How to encounter non material God? How does our mind interact with the body? Fundamental matter is spirit - but what is spirit? Information moves e.g. call out "fire " moves everyone.
Consciousness and energy both immaterial  we believe in them because they have explanatory power as does God 

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Bible offers me forgiveness and the knowledge and relationship with a personal God. People reject it but they don't know what it claims we have all messed up our lives it does work, how we don't fully know, but work it does it's testable p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: justify; font: 16.0px Arial; color: #ff2500; -webkit-text-stroke: #ff2500} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: justify; text-indent: 25.0px; font: 16.0px Arial; color: #ff2500; -webkit-text-stroke: #ff2500} span.s1 {font-kerning: none; color: #001220; -webkit-text-stroke: 0px #001220} span.s2 {font: 11.0px Arial; font-kerning: none; color: #0092f2; -webkit-text-stroke: 0px #0092f2} span.s3 {font-kerning: none}
Categories: Friends

Book Review: A Better Story - God, Sex and Human Flourishing by Glynn Harrison (IVP, Jan 2017)

Fri, 17/03/2017 - 16:27

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 16.0px} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 14.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} How did sexual morality change so quickly over the last 50 years? And why did the conservative moral consensus of the 1950s vanish almost without trace? What should Christians think about the sexual revolution of the 1960s and is the debate over it finished beyond any hope of retrieval? All these questions and more are addressed in Glynn Harrison's fine new book " A Better Story". 
The defeat has been near total.  At best Christians look like rabbits frozen in the headlights while at worse they are afraid even to admit their convictions, let alone advocate for them. Harrison argues that this is because we have failed to tell a better story, in the way that advocates of sexual permissiveness have done, but have rather fallen back on arguments couched in terms that have little or no appeal to the average person, especially those who are younger. Using Haidt's six intuitive foundations of moral reasoning, Harrison argues that we tend to appeal to universal moral principles but most people don't think like that (anymore) , they tend to think (now) in terms of individual needs and concerns. We haven't touched people's imagination by using narrative, stories, in the way that the "other side" have. Most notably in Hollywood but not only there, telling emotional stories about all kinds of moral issues has been a very effective tactic. Harrison tells the story of how he shows as the first part of his talk a church a set of videos from the LGBT side which are powerfully made. The pastor confesses at the break, before Harrison sets out his stall, "thats really what i think". So we have appealed if you like only to one side of the brain, while the other side has drawn on both sides. Additionally, we Christians have also been against all sorts of things but have failed to explain what we are in favour of. All if this is summed up by Harrison as a failure to think, a failure to address what the Bible actually says about sex and human relationships. 
The roots of the sexual relationship are found in what Harrison calls " the radical individualism " of the 1960s. The culture moved from "we to me" is a snappy way of putting it. This in sexual terms  meant not just freedom but freedom for the sake of being yourself. In fact, "just be yourself" was the watchword. As Harrison points out this had disastrous consequences on the society in which these individuals acted without regard to the effect on others, most of all in terms of the impact on families. Rather than conforming to the real world - that my behaviour is negatively impacting others-  truth and reality must be conformed to my feelings regardless of impact on others. Finally, argues Harrison the moral consensus dissolved so quickly because on the whole societies' attitudes towards sex and especially towards homosexuality were based on prejudices and biases and not any empirical standard of good and bad (whether Christian or other). When they were challenged they collapsed like a souffle. 
While all this was going on evangelicals were asleep argues Harrison and were failing to engage with the serious theological thinking needed. They failed to make a positive biblical case that actually sex is good if practiced as God demands. Key biblical passages on sex and marriage were not sufficiently studied and preached - especially to young people, he argues. We became defined because of what we were against, as noted. They also identified, suggests the author, too uncritically and closely with the cultural prejudices of the society they felt comfortable with - for example homosexuals did face discrimination in the workforce. Harrison argues that not all of the sexual revelation was bad "It is forcing us to acknowledge the poverty of our body-denying pastoral theology." Additionally, some of the demands for gay rights (such as equal employment rights) were in fact fair. But it was in general he contends harmful, again especially for the destructive effect it had on families. So in summary we Christians tended to rely on society's bigotry, which collapsed as the moral reasoning moved from principle to individual rights. "We need to be grounded in a much more serious engagement with the Bible". 

Harrison then looks at various biblical passages and draws out some of the outlines of where we can go from here. Having compassion and using our feelings are in no way incompatible with arguing from biblical principles. To be clear, he is not arguing we abandon moral and biblical principles but rather adopt a full range of arguing styles - left and right brain. Justice and compassion are not in any way mutually incompatible after all - look at for example how Jesus deals with the woman taken in adultery, for example. He starts on the left of the Haidt spectrum "let him who is without sin cast the first stone" and ends in the right "Go your way and sin no more". Its also worth noting how often Jesus uses stories to convey truth. This is also true in other parts of the bible - Nathan's approach to David after he has sinned with Bathsheba is first to engage his emotions and then hit him with moral absolutes. 
My only caveat on the book is that at the end I feel it runs a little out of steam. Up until the last quarter of the book all is well. Harrison's analysis of "how the war was lost" is penetrating and makes uncomfortable reading. His suggestion of greater theological seriousness in what the Bible actually teaches rather than complacently relying on what society thinks must be right. And perhaps most importantly of all he is surely right that we do need to tell a better story, we need to cover all the points of Haidts 6 foundations, not just broadcast detached moral principles from the far right of the spectrum. Emotions are also important. However, I wasn't wholly convinced when Harrison tries to sketch out at the end what that better story actually looks like. He attempts for example a counter narrative to the gay rights one he uses in the beginning, it is hard to follow, a little meandering and surely far far too long. Harrison himself hints as much. Also some of the other points he makes at the end are either hard to follow or possibly even a little dangerous - I couldn't follow his arguments on polygamy in particular.

But, this is a very important book which makes some really penetrating points. We need to both think more and feel more. Without lessening the need for moral absolutes, imagination, emotion and stories have an important part to play. Thank heaven for the many excellent Christian film makers for example - I just spent a few days with some and it was very impressive. Even drones have a vital role to play, I found out! To stress, Harrison is not arguing that we abandon moral principles in the search for emotional connection - something some Christians have done - but that we use both "right and left" sides of the brain not just one side.
In summary, we must be compassionate and helpful to people, modelling in our lives the Lord's model of both justice and compassion. 
Categories: Friends

Personal reflections on Psalm 13

Mon, 13/03/2017 - 22:39

The bible I really think has the answer for every conceivable human condition. This is not an accident. God like a great doctor, has filled his medicine cabinet with every conceivable treatment to deal with all the sad human conditions to which we are exposed.
Here is a great psalm for anyone feeling God is far away, or even that God is non existent. Of course, the former is something I have felt occasionally over the last couple of years since I got such a seemingly terminal cancer diagnosis. 
This feeling of being forgotten by God was something that David was also going through — it may have been written when David was hiding in a cave from Saul who was trying to kill him. Its Psalm 13. Here it is:-
How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever?    How long will you hide your face from me?How long must I wrestle with my thoughts    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?    How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God.    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.But I trust in your unfailing love;    my heart rejoices in your salvation.I will sing the Lord’s praise,    for he has been good to me
To anyone feeling abandoned and forgotten by God, we can note:-
David is very honest. He feels abandoned and he says what he feels. No false cheeriness here, just truth. JM Boice notes "Many people feel abandoned by others but also by God..they feel that no-one cares about them and since no-one cares, God must not care either. "
The "how long" is repeated four times. Abandonment can last a long time. Even the strongest Christian can feel this.
The tuning point is when David speaks to God. He addresses him personally as “ my” God. God invites each of us to come to him as “ his”, through his son Jesus. David asks for three things - look at me, answer me and “ give light to my eyes”. The last is based on a Hebrew expression "eyes growing dark" for approaching death. So he asks for rescue from death. Maybe you are wondering if you are even his child if he seems far away. When we feel God is far away we should like David turn to God and ask him to show himself to us or simply say “help”. Like a small child asking for help from a parent. We must seek God at all times but especially when he seems far away. Hebrews says “ without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” 
God has not forgotten you! Note Isaiah 49:14‑15: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.’“ You may suffer for years, but God never forgets you if you are His child. “... He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’“ (Heb. 13:5). 
Psalm 34 ( a favourite of mine) says “The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” and my namesake Jeremiah promises "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes.”
Our basis for hope is Gods character. Can God change and become unloving or uncaring? Never! Never! Of all his qualities it's his love thats particularly unfailing and that we can especially rely on. 
A famous C19th preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was walking through the English countryside with a friend. He noticed a barn with a weather vane. At the top of the vane were the words, “God is love.” Spurgeon remarked that this was an inappropriate place for such a message, because weather vanes are changeable, but God’s love is constant. But Spurgeon’s friend disagreed. “You misunderstood the meaning,” he said. “That weather vane is stating the truth that no matter which way the wind blows, God is love.”
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JM Boice writes "If you are suffering from a sense of abandonment by God...I cannot tell you when the oppression will lift. But it will lift. The curtain of your despair will lift and behind it you will see the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who has been with you and has loved you all the time."
with thanks to CH Spurgeon and JM Boice and an article in the Gospel Coalition blog. 
Categories: Friends

Book review: Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Hariri (Vintage April 2015)

Fri, 10/03/2017 - 17:20
Rather rudely, Cambridge used to call the Oxford history syllabus a " cavalry charge through English literature". This is the equivalent for the entire human species. Highly original, huge in scope and ambition, but also extremely provocative due to its sweeping and bold judgements, this book by an Israeli Oxford historian has been a runaway best seller. The book is a history of the human species, hence the name, which according to Harari began to emerge as a distinct species 150000 years ago. After that in a series of ever accelerating revolutions humanity has leapt forward but left a trail of destruction its wake. Harari is particularly good on our effect on the millions of other species impacted by our one species effectively taking over the planet. In places like Australia and the Americas it seems that the arrivals of humans led to a catastrophe where thousands of animal species almost overnight were wiped out. It is sad to think we will never see marsupial lions and giant kangaroos. Even worse is the impact of modern agricultural practices, this book is (almost) enough to make this reader a vegetarian. The Agricultural Revolution, argues the author, was a trap which impoverished the vast majority, made our diet much worse, and led to the 1% exploiting the 99% ( sounds familiar, perhaps!) 
We then go on a wild ride through the next few thousand years covering history of ideas, religion, imperialism, states, the industrial revolution, capitalism and consumerism. While some of his conclusions are questionable and a number of his historical arguments sketchy to put it politely and plain wrong to put it more bluntly (see for example as others have pointed out the conlusions drawn from the Battle of Navarino)  he is always entertaining and bold. I was not convinced by some of the conclusions — the statement that religion and nationalism are disappearing seems hard to support in particular, unless perhaps from  the unique perspective of an Oxford common room. 
Hariri is a Buddhist but as a Christian I found many of his arguments grist to my theological mill. He points out many of the contradictions inherent in the humanist and capitalist ideology on which most of western culture is based.  Capitalism itself is a sort of religion, founded on the belief, argues Hariri, that "economic growth is the supreme good, because justice freedom and even happiness depend on economic growth". Or "(capitalism) promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and the masses give free rein to their cravings and buy more and though do we know that we'll really get paradise? We've seen it on television." 
I found some of his logic powerful. For example, on what basis do we argue that all humans are created equal? The American constitution borrowed this idea from Christianity but if we don't believe in God or souls made in the image of God, then there is no basis for equality. If I can exploit my fellow humans in the way that humans exploit say calves in factory farming, why shouldn't I? Evolution as Harari points out is based on difference, not equality. There is evolutionary speaking argues Hariri no such thing as "human rights". Having dynamited the Judaeo- Christian foundations we risk being left with a pile of ruins as a basis for society. This is even more important when we consider what Hariri writes about is already here and likely to be coming even more strongly as the new foundation stone - the worship of the subjective feelings of individuals. Rousseau stated this view most classically - " What I feel to be good - is good. What I feel to be bad - is bad." Such a creed will no more make us happy than it did Rousseau's miserable family. All Hariri can offer us is the rather sad statement " happiness is the synchronising of ones personal delusions of meaning with the prevailing collective delusion".  Fortunately, the Christian faith offers something a lot better than that! In fact, I suggest that even if you don't think it's true, it's quite reasonable to wish it was true. Hariri is quite penetrating on happiness - which as he points out is not about pleasurable feelings outnumbering unpleasant ones. Rather its about, argues Hariri, seeing ones life as meaningful and worthwhile. To quote (approvingly for once) Nietzsche "if you have a why to live you can bear almost any how". Hariri argues this is why dystopian visions like Huxley's 'Brave New World' where everyone is drugged happy (sort of compulsory Prozac) are actually more disturbing (and maybe more threatening) if you think about them than Orwell's '1984'.  
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Ultimately the question we are left with is by what standards we should judge this at times to put it politely dysfunctional individualistic behaviour that our species shows and the book exposes. And let's be frank its something we all exhibit. Perhaps though not as extremely as the Ache tribe of Paraguay who only emerged into the rest of the world in the 1960s. Hariri explains that the Ache as a matter of course kill old women who have no longer any purpose  by sneaking up behind them and hitting them with an axe from behind. Or a child is buried alive because " it was funny looking and the other children laughed at it".  Hariri is reluctant to pass judgement. In fact the very next sentence he writes after the above one is " we should be careful not to judge the Ache too quickly". In the "Brave new world" we are entering in, where bio- engineering makes all things increasingly possible, where there are no moral absolutes, we may find ourselves in a very dark place. If we will not judge what is morally right ourselves, we may end up with the original  " writing on the wall" of our luxuriously designed cultural construct -" Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin ". (Daniel 5) 

So, I shall certainly read his next book "Homo Deus" to find out what he sees coming next.  I gather from reading reviews it's a pretty bleak view. He is in a way a prophet for our time and even though I found lots that I didn't agree with, it's a book that certainly makes you think. Special thanks to my friend Will for giving it to me. 
Categories: Friends

Book Review: Preaching in the New Testament by Jonathan Griffiths (IVP Academic March 2017)

Sat, 04/03/2017 - 08:56

Firstly, this series New Studies in Biblical Theology is really excellent. I certainly haven't read them all but the ones I have read are well worth it. "The Temple and the Church’s Mission" by G.K. Beale was particularly useful.
Secondly, this new volume in the series, by Jonathan Griffiths (previously with the Proclamation Trust and now pastor of a church in Canada), is well worth reading. This is emphatically not another "how to preach" book; it is rather a "what is preaching" book. Strangely we have many of the former but few, if any, of the latter.
There is, Griffiths argues, an unspoken assumption among Christians (especially evangelicals) that "preaching is a good thing". But according to the Bible is there even such a thing as "preaching" that is mandated in the post apostolic age, and if so what are its characteristics? This is particularly important because there has recently been - in my view - a highly welcome reaction against what has been called "one man ministry" through a rediscovery of the importance of all Christians having a word-based ministry. Is there then even such a thing as "preaching", distinct from every Christian’s duty and privilege to share the good word? Are we all called to be preachers?
Griffiths argues that there is a distinct, biblically-defined activity of preaching and he looks in detail at some prominent New Testament passages that address this, as well as the three main Greek words used to describe and define preaching - evangelizomai, katangello and kerysso. These three verbs are ‘used especially by Paul to denote the didactic activity of preaching the gospel’. Griffiths notes that encounters with God in the Bible are often encounters with him through his word. Even in a striking physical manifestation of God such as Moses and the burning bush, the essence of the meeting is what God has to say to Moses.
The book then very helpfully and thoroughly goes through various of Paul's letters and the Letter to the Hebrews, and analyses what the usage means where it is being used before drawing conclusions.  These conclusions include his view, which I found persuasive, that there is such a thing as "preaching" which is a public proclamation in an official capacity of the good news about Jesus. Furthermore, that this activity in the New Testament stands in continuity with the Old Testament, that there is a sense in which preachers are commissioned, and that God has determined to bless this means of transmitting his truth (though not to the exclusion of other means).
Griffiths makes the important point that the bulk of the usage of the three “semi-technical terms” detailed above are in the context of the public proclamation of the good news to non-Christians - though he also goes on to show that a significant minority of the usages are to assemblies of Christians. Finally, he concludes the whole book by stressing the centrality of preaching in the life of the local church. In fact, almost the last words in the book are ‘the primary feeding and teaching of God’s people should come from the preaching that takes place week by week...’
The book is relatively short - not a bad thing in theology - and the author explicitly states that he is not trying to produce a comprehensive guide or to cover everything. Nevertheless, I would have been interested in learning more about this issue of preaching to believers and non-believers, and a number of other loose ends that are mentioned. For reasons of space these are not really developed. For example, Griffiths argues, again persuasively in my view, that there is a continuity between Old Testament prophecy and New Testament preaching. He draws on the quote from Joel used on the Day of Pentecost that says: ‘in the last days...I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters will prophesy’. For a complementarian like Jonathan Griffiths there is an obvious issue in that verse, and despite pointing out in his introduction the link between a clear separation of preaching from other word activities and a view on different roles for men and women in church, the theme is not re-examined.
I also would have welcomed a longer concluding chapter with more application. What does all the excellent theological spadework done actually mean for preaching in the church today? If this is the biblical template, to what extent are we - especially we evangelicals (because it's always easier to identify others’ weaknesses than our own) - actually following the theological template laid down? Various questions were raised in my mind. What is "public proclamation” in an internet age? If someone sets up a course or a YouTube video, is that preaching? What is the distinction between verbal and written "preaching"? Where does evangelism fit in? What about one to one bible study? Griffiths majors (though not exclusively) on the importance of preaching in building up Christians, but how do we proclaim to our non-Christian friends when, unlike in previous ages, they perhaps won't be willing to come to hear "preaching" in a church context? What does evangelistic preaching therefore look like? Where does "apologetics" fit in?
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But it might be well observed that the answers to these questions, which others better qualified than I can answer, would form a different and much longer book. It is also perhaps a good thing, in a book on preaching, to be made to think for yourself rather than being spoon fed every answer. What is very good about the book is that it is utterly biblical, thought-provoking, addresses directly a massive assumption, and is very clearly and logically structured. Almost Pauline, one might say, in its flow of argument! Any preacher, whether occasional in an obscure corner or five times a week in a mega church, can benefit from reading it - and it will certainly make them think. I encourage preachers to buy it and read it, and pray that it will prove useful, as I think it will, so that preaching in 2017 will be as powerful, effective and biblically grounded as it was nearly 2000 years ago.
Categories: Friends

Book Review: The Brontes by Juliet Barker (Abacus 2010)

Mon, 27/02/2017 - 22:21
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Like many people since their untimely death, I have found the Bronte family absolutely fascinating. A story of a graduate of St Johns Cambridge who was a clergyman who was over 40 years in the same church is an obvious connection - a sort of combination of my father and me! When you add three brilliant and forceful daughters of the clergyman and a ne'er do well son with all four engaged in constant friendly sibling rivalry you can see the appeal! Though I certainly wouldn't want to compare myself apart from jokingly to the doomed and tragic Bramwell.
This magnum opus on the Bronte family is unlikely, barring some new discovery, to ever be surpassed. Based on painstaking research especially in the surprisingly neglected but rich pastures of local newspapers, Juliet Barker unearths all kinds of insights and previously undiscovered background. The only minor caveat I would make is that even for a devourer of books like me who is interested in the Brontes it's a huge read. This is interesting, especially the accounts of both social and religious upheaval in the Yorkshire of the Brontes but it does make it in places a labour of love to read.
Without any doubt, the single greatest achievement of the book is that it puts straight the inaccuracies - verging at times on libel - perpetrated by Mrs Gaskell in her life of Charlotte Bronte published soon after her death . Mrs Gaskell, an almost equally famous novelist ("North and South") was a friend of Charlotte's but had only visited Haworth once while Charlotte was still alive. Unfortunately for posterity this was the only time in many years that charlotte and her father were at loggerheads, over the recently received marriage proposal from her fathers curate. Ironically it was her fathers disapproval and the curates distressed reaction that awoke Charlottes sympathy and eventual love for Arthur Bell Nicholls. Relying heavily on Charlottes's friend Ellen Nussey, no friend of Nicholls, who had her own agenda, Mrs Gaskell performed a number of disservices. She caricatured especially Patrick Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls, who married Charlotte only to see her die tragically 9 months later. Based on painstaking research Barker shows that Patrick was far from a despotic father uninterested in his talented children's literary genius but was intensely proud and supportive of them. Nor was he in any way a misanthropic reactionary let alone a father who half fed his children. He was in fact beloved by not only his children but also his parishioners and very active in numerous good works and caring for the sick and dying. Motivated by deep but compassionate evangelical faith in many ways he emerges as the tragic hero, outliving his wife and all six of his children, cared for after Charlottes death only by his curate by then son in law Arthur Bell Nicholls, who was equally traduced by Mrs Gaskell. Bell in turn then suffered the humiliation of having Charlottes doubts about whether she should marry him written in a private letter written by Charlotte to Ellen Nussey splashed after her death all over the nation and even reprinted in detail by the local Haworth newspaper. Their dignified and Christian reaction to being most unfairly slandered just a few years after Charlottes death, argues the book, speaks volumes for their character.
All these wrongs and errors and many more are put straight by Juliet Barker. What emerges is a much more rounded and human portrait of Charlotte. She was portrayed by Mrs Gaskell as a saint but in fact (like all of us) she had her faults, she could be manipulative and bossy, engaged in frequent sibling rivalry and perfectly willing to get embroiled in bitter quarrels, notably with her one time friend Harriet Martineau. She also had serious infatuations with her married tutor in Brussels and her single ( but eventually married to Charlottes great displeasure) publisher, George Smith. But the Charlotte Bronte that emerges, perhaps for the first time in 150 years a fully rounded real human being.
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The other three Bronte siblings remain and always will I assume remain somewhat enigmatic simply because they died so young. This is especially true of the youngest sister, Anne, who was dismissed to some extent even by her eldest sister Charlotte. Emily the author of in my view the greatest novel from the parsonage at Haworth emerges a little more clearly as a fiercely independent thinker but even here there is frustratingly little to go on. Juliet Barker repeatedly makes the point that the sisters, like all great writers, drew heavily on their own experiences but that emphatically doesn't mean the novels are directly autobiographical. She argues that it was the family dynamic, the four siblings thrown together which made them so unique " they had needed no other companions and in the sometimes heated often intense but always affectionate rivalry between them they each had a place and a voice...without this intense family relationship some of the greatest novels in the English language would never have been written". Ultimately this is why the book works so well, in that it is a wonderfully written and superbly researched account of a family whose works stand as testimony to their closeness - not excluding the deep love of their unfairly treated up to now father and husband/future brother in law.
PS If you like the book you will also like the recent BBC drama "To Walk invisible" which covers much of the same ground
Categories: Friends

Book review "All out war" by Tim Shipman (Collins, Nov 2016)

Tue, 21/02/2017 - 19:19

"All out war" is a blow by blow account of the personalities and clashes that shaped the Brexit vote. It was given to me by my dear but fervently Brexit sister as perhaps salt to rub into my my Remoaning wounds!
The book is not without its weaknesses, in particular it concentrates in my view too much on the personalities, the ins and outs of who said what to whom and what person A had for breakfast and perhaps not enough on the underlying reasons that drove the U.K. to leave the EU. It's in places more along the lines of "history as soap opera" rather than serious analysis. It also - surprisingly in a book this size and cost - lacks an index
Having said all that, it also has a number of strengths. It's highly readable and entertaining, not least due to the "soap opera" approach. Some of it, as someone said of UKIP, is history first of all as farce and then repeated as farce. The infamous "HMS Nigel vs Saint Bob" naval battle in the Thames being a case in point. The focus on personality means that you get a pretty good idea of the dynamics that shaped the campaign,  especially in the last few months. Nobody exactly emerges with credit. Of the dramatis personae David Cameron drifts into a referendum he didn't ( in some people's opinion) need to call and then his focus is on maintaining Tory unity rather than actually winning the referendum. He also failed to push hard enough, argues Shipman, for meaningful concessions for his much vaunted "Reformed EU" package, which when eventually unveiled turned out to have the impact of a damp teabag. George Osborne, who strongly advised Cameron not to call the referendum in the first place at least clearly strongly believed in the Remain cause, to the extent that in a way his catastrophic "budget of doom" was at least an attempt to "go down all guns blazing". On the other side, Boris Johnson's exact convictions on this issue are still to me anyway somewhat opaque and the complete pigs ear he makes of his PM election campaign leaves you wondering whether he can ever have the attention to detail needed to be PM. The episode with the "lost' tweet to Andrea Leadsom is particularly illuminating. If it wasn't in a way tragic it would be hilarious. Michael Gove on the other hand, the second member of the "Dream team" is perhaps the opposite of Johnson, too clever by half and managing to shoot not only Boris but his own campaign. As they knife each other meanwhile, silently, Theresa May, who it has to be said plays her hand very adroitly, takes the prize. And then fires both Gove and Osborne - but strangely enough promotes BoJo. Perhaps as Shipman suggest on the principle of "keep your friends close and your enemies closer". 
The campaign teams are also sketched out and the undoubted hero of the hour  - as per Tim Shipman - is the director of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings. What I didn't realise before reading the book was the extent of the vicious infighting going on between Cummings on the one hand and Nigel Farage and Arron Banks the main UKIP donor on the other. The word  "internecine" doesn't even begin to describe it. It's simply amazing that with such hatred within the Leave campaign they managed to win. Shipman focuses our attention on the skill of Cummings in ensuring the saliency of his key issue - immigration - and clear and consistently getting his "team" (team in the sense that the Borgias were a family!) to keep coming back to a simplistic but effective slogan "Take back control".  There is a clear contrast between the savagely divided  but energetic Leave campaign and the somewhat more unified but ineffective Remainers. The latter relied far too much, argues Shipman, on the presumed pulling power of the Prime Minister who was especially not surprisingly unable to appeal to non Conservative voters in the North and Midlands. 
Which brings us to the person who is in many ways the villain of the book - one Jeremy Corbyn. Although he claimed to have voted to Remain he was in many ways, according to Shipman, the best recruiting sergeant for Leave. He and especially his office systematically sabotaged the Remain campaign, refusing for example even to participate in conference calls on the ground that 0900 was "too early". Unfortunately from my perspective the Leavers, in footballing terms " wanted it more". They were willing to break and twist the rules (and the truth - most famously the £350m a week for the NHS) while the Remainers held back, especially from going after Johnson and Gove with "blue on blue" attacks. Remain thought they would win but they were undermined by inferior polling to that available to Leave.  Cummings, assisted by outside experts from across the pond, correctly saw that a number of people who were essentially blue collar/working class/Labour supporters but did not vote in General elections would turn out. A Tory Leave canvasser venturing onto unfamiliar territory in a council estate in Kent (near where we live) on the day of the vote was told again and again "Don't worry mate I have already voted". While London and Scotland voted heavily to remain the turnout was not as high - and of course in a national referendum unlike a General Election every vote counts. 
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So Leave won because, I think Shipman correctly suggests, firstly despite bitter hatred within their camp they ran a better campaign and secondly because their supporters felt more passionately about it than Remain supporters. So if Remain supporters want to in the long run reverse this (in my view mistaken) decision they need to have and generate the same level of passion over many years that the so called ( by his enemies)  "evil genius" Dominic Cummings managed to unleash. 
Categories: Friends

Cancer Does Not Discriminate (Jeremy’s Story)

Sun, 19/02/2017 - 12:51
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This article was published on an excellent web site, "Chris's cancer community", designed to support people with cancer. You can see the original article here

In my work I get to meet some wonderful people and Jeremy Marshall is one of those. A man who’s life was also brought crashing down with a cancer diagnosis. I was delighted that Jeremy accepted my invitation to share his experiences on the site. His career is one that most of us can only dream about, but of course when it comes to cancer there is no discrimnation.
.“I have had a very happy and blessed life. I was never in hospital for a day, married for nearly 30 years and  have three wonderful children plus a really interesting career. Then about 4 years ago I found a small lump on my ribs. At my wife’s urging I went to the GP who said “it’s probably just a fatty lump but we will check it out.” For the next few months I went from specialist to specialist, each one of whom was puzzled. Finally, the last specialist told me “we have referred you to the Marsden.” Well, the Marsden only does one thing so it was obvious it was cancer.  Even then though the prognosis was not too bad. It was stage 1 and very easy to access for surgery. It was a type of lipo sarcoma, very rare but should be treatable.
Good probability of complete remission. So I had two operations and a course of radiotherapy, everything seemed fine and I got an all clear after about 6 months.  Then, in May 2015, I was at a friends house, having dinner and I went to adjust the collar on my shirt and felt a really large lump on my collarbone. I immediately knew what it was and had to leave the dinner straightaway, I was so devastated and shocked. The next week the Marsden confirmed the worse possible prognosis. In 2 minutes my life was changed for ever, irretrievably. “You have many tumours, they are incurable, you have 18 months”. I could have chemotherapy to try and slow it down but it was not possible to cure me.
 That was the low point. I have had two rounds of chemotherapy which while unpleasant have not been as bad as I feared. After the second round I was in hospital for a while as my immune system was completely disabled. I had blood transfusions and was kept in isolation but fairly quickly began to recover strength. Just to add to the fun, my wife and I decided after the first bout of chemo to have “the holiday of a lifetime”. Which would have been great except I suffered a detached retina on the flight out. But the time we got back to the UK the sight was virtually irrecoverable. Never mind I thought lots of people have only one eye. Then a few months later the other retina detached. For a while I was virtually blind. After numerous ops on both eyes I now have ok sight in the right eye. Both the eye specialist and the oncologist agree that this is completely unconnected to the cancer: it’s along the lines of “it never rains but it pours.” So if you read about hospitals being overwhelmed, I am personally responsible! From never being in hospital it seems like I am never out! 
Add now.. also, the Marsden have now changed the diagnosis as it was not, what they assumed, a metastatic growth from the original but a completely unrelated type of cancer, small cell lung cancer (though thank God it’s in most places but not the lungs). I await the result of the latest scan next week
What lessons would I draw from the last nearly 5 years?
Get the best expert you can find for your type of cancer. Cancer is a catch all label for a huge variety of different disease types, each of which has its own characteristics. It’s vital especially if like me you have had (two) rare types that you try and locate an expert in the field. I am fortunate to live near London and of course it’s more difficult if you live far away but specialist teaching hospitals have a level of care and expertise that is second to none. I totally trust my oncologist who is an expert in the field and this is vital.
Get fit. I am 53 and was not unfit before so this is relatively easy for me but my oncologist said this was the only thing that I should do.The reason that this is important is that the treatment especially chemo is brutal. The hospital can give you endless rounds, the question is can you tolerate it? So to my children’s amusement I go every week to the gym and work out. I don’t go crazy, just a few km of running and some gentle aerobics but I feel great and you can really heal quicker between chemo rounds
Eat healthily. I have been in touch with a friendly nutritionist who espouses but in a sensible way the alkaline diet. I know some extreme proponents of this have been discredited recently but in moderation it’s similar to the get fit advice – it can’t do any harm and it might help. So I take liquid alkali minerals (with my oncologists approval), lots of vitamins and try and avoid gluten, dairy and especially sugar. I am not obsessive about this but I feel healthy. I don’t think this can cure you but it might slow down the growth of the cancer and it certainly can’t do any harm
Be sensitive to the impact of cancer on your loved ones. As I learned from my own children, everybody reacts in a different way and has their own as they say in the trade “coping strategies.” Communication is a big challenge. There is no right answer. Some people blog about it others are very private. It’s up to you and your most loved ones to figure out what’s best for you. Things like FB closed groups can be really useful. 
Finally, the single most important thing for me which has helped me more than anything is my Christian faith. I appreciate some of you reading this will have no faith, or other faiths. What I can say is this: knowing that I have a loving Heavenly Father who cares for me and promises “I will never leave you or forsake you” makes all the difference in the world. I also discovered that God has a sense of humour. Doing radiotherapy is boring – you have to go every day and lie still while the machine does its thing. If you move or twitch you get ticked off. So I decided to memorise Psalm 34 to give me something to do. As I was running through it in my mind I started laughing ( and duly got ticked off by the radiotherapist!) for verse 5 is “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame”
Categories: Friends

Childhood memories - Culture wars VI - music

Thu, 16/02/2017 - 09:36

Of all the many arenas in which my father and I fought our 1970s cultural wars ( in a mainly friendly spirit, or perhaps better put in an increasingly friendly spirit) none was more contested than music. Yet though it was perhaps the main “front” it was not as nearly as fractious as the fronts we engaged in other topics, which I have covered in previous blogs  — except perhaps the particular “battlefield” around music in church. Why music was less contentious than say theatre, cinema or literature is not easy to explain: possibly music is more subjective than books? Also Dad was musical and came from a very musical family. His brother David was an exceptionally gifted musician who when the organist forgot some of the music at my parents wedding played the organ without sheet music from memory. Many of his children and grandchildren are also equally gifted and certainly much more musical than me. Dad wasn't as talented musically as David, in fact being a typically competitive Marshall he used to complain that he objected as a child to all his wider family paying homage to David's outstanding musical talent. Dad preferred the spotlight to be on him, he confessed, and would often achieve that not through being musical but through being naughty! 
To understand my fathers views on music you have to understand that he was in many ways a Victorian: his father was born in 1887 so was 45 when Dad was born in 1932. Certainly when Dad was growing up the music would have been serious - classical music and above all Handel who ticked the bill for both Christian faith ("The Messiah") and patriotism ("Zadok the Priest"). Of course Handel was German - but then until 1914 the dynasty ruling England was the House of Saxe Coburg Gotha. Changing their name during WW1 to the House of Windsor led to the only known joke from Kaiser Wilhelm who wondered if they would be renaming the Shakespeare play "The Merry Wives of Saxe Coburg Gotha"?
Modern music seemed to have simply passed Dad by in a way that would have been very different for someone born 10 years later, who would have been very impacted by pop and above all by the Beatles, a group I adore. Surely not coincidence that the Beatles first number one hit “From me to you" reached Number 1 on May 2 1963, just in time  to be "Top of the Pops" for my birth 6 days later. Dad's attitude towards "light" music was best summed up by his view of Gilbert and Sullivan which my mother and her family loved. "Far too frivolous Holly" ( his term of endearment for Mum ) would have summed it up. Dad's attitude reflected the seminal change that WW2 drew between those like Dad who remembered it all too well (12 when it finished) and someone like say John Lennon or Paul McCartney (respectively 4 and 2). John Lennon was  particularly not flavour of the month with Dad because of his (in) famous quote " we (the Beatles) will be more  famous than Jesus" which was bad enough but even worse was the lyrics to "Imagine"!  ("Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too".) 
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Music was a constant presence in our house from early years. It was particularly important on very long car journeys such as the ones that I have described in my blogs on bible smuggling which you can read about here Picture the scene. A maroon Austin 1800 (later a blue Volvo 144) four children packed in. Soon enough I managed to weasel my way into the front seat on grounds of a) size b) if in the back WW3 would break out between me and one in particular of my dear sisters. The car had no radio and only much later did we persuade Dad to allow us to take a cassette tape recorder with us. Each person in the family would eventually get a cassette side each - normally only stopped when as it did frequently the tape jammed and would have to be painstakingly untangled using a ballpoint pen. So Dad would lead (loudly) the family in a whole series of traditional songs the words of which I can still remember nearly 50 years later. I suspect Dad had learned them at school and in the same way that Winston Churchill ( a great hero of his) loved to sing in later life the school songs of Harrow which brought tears rolling down his cheeks, so Dad harked back nostalgically to his youth. Some were patriotic ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘Hearts of Oak’, ‘The British Grenadiers’ but interestingly not “Land of Hope and Glory” - see below under Elgar E. Some were folk songs such as  ‘ Early one morning’ ‘The Ash Grove’,”This old man” and a surprisingly large number were American “While we were marching through Georgia ‘ ‘ Shenandoah ‘ and ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’ 
But if there were two songs that absolutely typified our sing songs that I think Dad loved more than any they would have to be ‘Clementine ‘ (#2) and top of the charts 'Green grow the rushes oh,'.  They both have tremendous tunes and lyrics which are actually darker than they appear - which certainly appealed to my father! 'Clementine' is on the surface it seems to a child a sad ballad but actually it's a firmly tongue in cheek send up of sentimental ballads — especially the last verse "How I missed her/how I missed her/ how I missed my Clementine/but I kissed her little sister and forgot my Clementine". And as for “Green grow the rushes O” a very old folk song from the West Country of England, goodness knows what on earth the lyrics mean -  “Five for the symbols at your door…two two the lily-white boys clothed all in green oh??”. It seems a completely bonkers mixture of Christian, Jewish, Pagan and Masonic symbolism. Anyway we sang them all heartily whatever the meaning. My sisters think the first pop record we brought was "The Wombles" which may be correct as dad was probably unsuspecting that this was actually...the horror...a pop group. If you want to understand where punk rock came from then bear in mind that in 1974 the Wombles were probably the biggest group in the UK! Featuring the cuddly eco friendly creatures who lived under and tidied up Wimbledon Common they had a string of hits. Of course my tastes were in general MOR - as well as the Wombles other groups or singers I brought and liked were the painful to recall (such as the Wombles) - David Soul and "Mull of Kintyre" — the acceptable MOR - Brian Ferry, ELO and Abba and the even faintly cool like Blondie, The Police, The Jam and Kate Bush. Later on I was big time into the wonderfully named Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and in fact I would say my all time favourite single was their marvellous "Enola Gay" which reached number 8 in the charts in 1980. I also loved and continue to love The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel both of whom had broken up before I even was aware that they had been together! Finally there is the incomparable Bruce Springsteen. Sarah tells a story on "the Boss" which shows Dads devotion and care for his children. He had driven all the way to Durham to pick her up from uni and then back to Hemel Hempstead - over 500 miles of driving round trip. Sarah had a new Bruce cassette album which she played non stop. As they neared Hemel Dad asked very politely "Do you mind if we change it as I have a headache!"I guess the lesson i would draw was that my father was strict but fair and absolutely willing to debate anything and everything about what was allowed and not allowed. He also distinguished in music between a few things that were morally dangerous and in his view wrong from a Christian viewpoint and many things that were to him taste wise objectionable but morally neutral, or at least not pernicious. Its easy to combine the two categories, parents, which can create exasperation in your children. Above all, although he could drive you to distraction by his unwillingness to budge an inch (the word "immoveable" doesn't even begin to describe it)  we never doubted that he loved us. 
The "3rd of September 1939" on the musical front was that when I was I think about 10 Dad brought a record player. I can still picture it now, a fake wood trim and a black plastic lid with two very small speakers. Even by the standards of the time it was basic (remember Dad had not much money) but it worked. Dads musical repertoire was heavily influenced by his father - Handel at the top then Bach (especially the Passions, the B minor mass being noticeable by its absence, no doubt showing that the Lutherans hadn't really Reformed properly !) then Beethoven and finally Mozart (especially the horn concertos which Dad loved as do I). I don't recall any other composers, surprisingly given Dads patriotism  no Elgar - but then he was Catholic :). What there was in abundance was military music. The Band of the Royal Marines and the Coldstream Guards, bagpipes galore, patriotic songs such as 'Rule Britannia' and so on. These my father loved to play very loudly, a habit that I have inherited but does tend to annoy long suffering members of my family! On his day off (Monday) he used to turn the record player up very loudly and march around the sitting room, recreating his Army days, only ceasing and desisting when the solicitors who worked downstairs - the Old Manse had been divided into two, something i shall return to in a later blog - objected. Strangely, bagpipes were particularly prominent at Christmas, in fact we had more bagpipes than carols. The final category was church music, something we shall also return to in due course in another blog.
Now, the record player was not exactly high tech, even by its era. The really cool thing to have was a "music centre" which incorporated not only a record player but also the cutting edge technology of the era - a cassette player plus a modern radio. We had a very old "steam valve" radio which you had to wait to "warm up". The dil had exotic stations with places like "Hilversum". If you had a music centre on the other hand, you could even record on the cassette your LPs (long playing records or albums which rotated at 33rpm) and your singles (45 rpm) plus if like us you had   old records at 78rpm. Endless hours of innocent amusement could also be had playing records at the wrong speed — and that's before we get on to playing records backwards to try and get the hidden messages (if any). 

But of course having a record player opened the door to us children buying our own music. In fairness to Dad although he objected to much of the music on grounds of bad taste he didn't that I recall ban anything, except one B side of a single by ( of all groups) Hot Chocolate. This was their magnum opus  "I'll put you together again" which reached the dizzy heights of Number 13 in the hit parade in 1978.  For those of you of tender years you bought the single "hit" which was the A side and on the back of the single was another song the B side. Occasionally you had a double A side, the one that springs to mind was the classic Boney M double side "By the Rivers of Babylon" and "Brown Girl in the Ring." Debs my sister comments "Culturally music was an absolutely key social thing in the 70's eg music shops; singles/12 inch/picture disc. Saturday would be spent looking through records in the shops. The "Number 1" (single) was MASSIVE news when announced; social times with fellow teens would involve listening to new records, looking at the album, reading lyrics, passing the sleeve round. We'd take our new records to the Thompson's for example." (The Thompson's was a church  youth group at the Thompson's house - except it wasnt a youth group. I shall return to this!)

Anyway, Dad agreed that there was no way I could have known what was on the Hot Chocolate 45 B side so kindly reimbursed it. But otherwise Dad wasn't too prescriptive, although he did like to check the lyrics which were sometimes on the sleeve. I quickly I am afraid and deceitfully figured out that the easiest way to deal with this was to take the lyric sleeve out before reaching home and replace it with a blank LP sleeve. Borrowing church officers LPs though could also be dangerous as Colin Thompson and I discovered with Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits which featured a song called “Cecelia"! 
But on the whole Dad was pretty relaxed and although he made rude comments about our taste he made them with a smile. Sometimes the study door would open and he would yell “Turn it down”. But, in fact, he secretly I know quite liked Abba, and he felt their tunes sounded like hymn tunes (try “The Way old friends do” to see what he meant.) Once he even — a great compliment — quoted from Abba's lyrics in a sermon at the Banner of Truth conference. High praise indeed! 
Now, after a period of relative calm on the music front in 1983 a Christian book was published called "Pop goes the gospel" by John Blanchard and others, which led to a long running and interesting set of discussions with Dad. Even here though he was fuelled by arguments from the book he was pretty reasonable, which confirms my thesis that between 1973 and 1983 he became much more relaxed and irenic. 

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To be continued....
Categories: Friends

Guest Blog by Patrick Macdonald: Review of ‘D-Day, The Battle for Normandy’ by Antony Beevor (Penguin, 2014)

Fri, 10/02/2017 - 20:51

This is a huge, sprawling monster of a book, 523 pages in paperback and a solid holiday read at that. Antony Beevor picks apart the myths and stories that have grown up around what is arguably the most important military campaign of the 20th century. The invasion of Normandy and the subsequent battle to break out to Paris defined World War II.The first part of the book travels over territory well-covered by previous authors, most notably Cornelius Ryan in The Longest Day. Where Ryan could interview actual veterans of the battle to bring his work to life, Beevor uses written fragments of letters, diaries and memoirs. These provide a searing insight into the realities of war, rather than the heroic gloss we often pour over them, with grim tales of war crimes, corpse mutilation, summary executions and worse. Arguably, he gets closer to the unvarnished truth – or at least, articulates it more openly – than Ryan ever did.

Beevor also punctures some of our comfortable myths about the moral righteousness of the Allied side and the supposed superiority of the experienced British troops when compared with their green American allies. Time and again, the British units perform poorly even against the exhausted German forces, failing to achieve the decisive breakthrough they sought. As one British officer says: “The famous Desert Rats landed in Normandy with an outstanding reputation – which it found difficult to retain.” This weakness extends from the frontline to the very top, with Montgomery coming across as self-regarding and narcissistic, claiming credit for victories that weren’t his and reacting to any criticism of over-caution and indecision (and there was plenty) with a prickly arrogance.

The Americans are presented as far more aggressive and ambitious than the Brits. Whether this is because they were fresher, better-trained, better-fed or better-led is not really made clear. It helped that the Yanks were generally ranged against the weaker collections of German forces. And, fortunately for the Allies, those German forces – sapped by years of war, the need to fight against Russia at the same time, a desperate lack of supplies and a complicated command structure – suffered from extreme micromanagement by Adolf Hitler himself, located hundreds of miles away and no great military strategist to start with. His short-lived generals were frustrated by interference at both strategic and tactical levels, resulting in the loss of not one but two Armies at the Falaise Gap. It was only the indecision of Monty (and, to be fair, Patton), who failed to close the Gap early and cleanly enough, that allowed thousands of German troops to escape to fight another day. Even this great Allied victory wasn’t as decisive as it should have been.

Indeed, the tendency to blunder was by no means confined to the Axis. On several occasions the Allies ended up bombing their own side, resulting in heavy losses including the death of a US general. Inexcusably, repeated confusion over basic communications between ground and air made things worse. And all too often, important pieces of intelligence were not passed on, orders were misunderstood and attacks poorly coordinated.

It’s a long book with a broad view. Beevor ranges seamlessly from the misery of life on the front line – graphic descriptions of life in a foxhole in the rain – to the grand sweep of World War II geopolitics, picking apart the egos and doubts at the heart of both Allied and Axis political and military leaderships. One minute he’s tackling the plot to assassinate Hitler and its repercussions, reverberating through the German military hierarchy. The next he is laying bare de Gaulle’s ridiculous ego and vanity, ludicrous in the telling. The pacing of the book is excellent, breathless and measured at turns.

Overall, then, this impressive, well-written book lays bare the successes, failures and often grim realities of what was arguably the pivotal battle of World War II and, indeed, the 20th Century. Had the Allies failed to land successfully in Normandy and then break out to Paris, who knows how the course of history would have run? Thanks to Beevor, we do know how it actually did turn out, in great and often sickening detail.
© Patrick Macdonald 2017
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Patrick Macdonald is a Partner at the School for CEOs. The School provides senior leadership development and training programmes. Jeremy Marshall is a Faculty member.
Categories: Friends

Personal update for those not on FB

Mon, 06/02/2017 - 12:40

So glad to say that my latest scan results this morning were good. The various tumours, to my excellent oncologists surprise, haven't really grown in the last couple of months. More chemotherapy will occur at some point, he said, but every extra week is a gift from God and gives me more time to recover. Psalm 16 which was the 'verse of the day' on my app this morning says "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."As John Wayne has been retired and Yul Brunner is not needed again (yet) the picture encapsulates the above - go on I am sure you can work it out (at least those of you familiar with the BBC can). Prize for the first person to get it right!Thank you so much for your prayers (which clearly worked) and the many kind messages Jeremy
Categories: Friends

The story of Henry "Box" Brown, with thanks to Gary Brady

Sun, 05/02/2017 - 10:30

The story below is from Henry "Box" Brown's autobiography. He was a slave in Virginia USA who posted himself in 1849 in a box to the North to escape. We join the story as he is in "midshipment" hidden inside the box 
Many thanks to Gary Brady for bringing this to my attention.
Brown writes:
"The next place we arrived at was Potomac Creek, where the baggage had to be removed from the cars, to be put on board the steamer; where I was again placed with my head down, and in this dreadful position had to remain nearly an hour and a half, which, from the sufferings I had thus to endure, seemed like an age to me, but I was forgetting the battle of liberty, and I was resolved to conquer or die. I felt my eyes swelling as if they would burst from their sockets; and the veins on my temples were dreadfully distended with pressure of blood upon my head. In this position I attempted to lift my hand to my face but I had no power to move it; I felt a cold sweat coming over me which seemed to be a warning that death was about to terminate my earthly miseries, but as I feared even that, less than slavery, I resolved to submit to the will of God, and under the influence of that impression, I lifted up my soul in prayer to God, who alone, was able to deliver me. My cry was soon heard, for I could hear a man saying to another, that he had travelled a long way and had been standing there two hours, and he would like to get somewhat to sit down; so perceiving my box, standing on end, he threw it down and then two sat upon it. I was thus relieved from a state of agony which may be more easily imagined than described[.] I couldnow listen to the men talking, and heard one of them asking the other what he supposed the box contained; his companion replied he guessed it was "THE MAIL." I too thought it was a mail but not such a mail as he supposed it to be.        The next place at which we arrived was the city of Washington, where I was taken from the steam-boat, and again placed upon a waggon and carried to the depôt right side up with care; but when the driver arrived at the depôt I heard him call for some person to help to take the box off the waggon, and some one answered him to the effect that he might throw it off; but, says the driver, it is marked "this side up with care;" so if I throw it off I might break something, the other answered him that it did not matter if he broke all that was in it, the railway company were able enough to pay for it. No sooner were these words spoken than I began to tumble from the waggon, and falling on the end where my head was, I could bear my neck give a crack, as if it had been snapped asunder and I was knocked completely insensible. The first thing I heard after that, was some person saying, "there is no room for the box, it will have to remain and be sent through to-morrow with the luggage train; but the Lord had not quite forsaken me, for in answer to my earnest prayer He so ordered affairs that I should not be left behind; and I now heard a man say that the box had come with the express, and it must be sent on. I was then tumbled into the car with my head downwards again, but the car had not proceeded far before, more luggage having to be taken in, my box got shifted about and so happened to turn upon its right side; and in this position I remained till I got to Philadelphia, of our arrival in which place I was informed by hearing some person say, "We are in port and at Philadelphia." My heart then leaped for joy, and I wondered if any person knew that such a box was there.        I was now placed in the depôt amongst the other luggage, where I lay till seven o'clock, P.M., at which time a waggon drove up, and I heard a person inquire for such a box as that in which I was. I was then placed on a waggon and conveyed to the house where my friend in Richmond had arranged I should be received. A number of persons soon collected round the box after it was taken in to the house, but as I did not know what was going on I kept myself quiet. I heard a man say, "let us rap upon the box and see if he is alive;" and immediately a rap ensued and a voice said, tremblingly, "Is all right within?" to which I replied--"all right." The joy of the friends was very great; when they heard that I was alive they soon managed to break open the box, and then came my resurrection from the grave of slavery. I rose a freeman, but I was too weak, by reason of long confinement in that box, to be able to stand, so I immediately swooned away. After my recovery from the swoon the first thing, which arrested my attention, was the presence of a number of friends, every one seeming more anxious than another, to have an opportunity of rendering me their assistance, and of bidding me a hearty welcome to the possession of my natural rights, I had risen as it were from the dead; I felt much more than I could readily express; but as the kindness of Almighty God had been so conspicuously shown in my delivcrance, I burst forth into the following him of thanksgiving,
                         I waited patiently, I waited patiently for the Lord, for the Lord;
                         And he inclined unto me, and heard my calling:
                         I waited patiently, I waited patiently for the Lord,
                         And he inclined unto me, and heard my calling:
                         And he hath put a new song in my mouth,
                         Even a thanksgiving, even a thanksgiving, even a thanksgiving unto our God.
                         Blessed, Blessed, Blessed, Blessed is the man, Blessed is the man,
                         Blessed is the man that hath set his hope, his hope in the Lord"
This was an extract from the story of Henry "Box" Brown (c.1816–June 15, 1897) who was a 19th-century Virginia slave who escaped to freedom at the age of 33 by arranging to have himself mailed in a wooden crate in 1849 to abolitionists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For a short time he became a noted abolitionist speaker in the northeast US. As a public figure and fugitive slave, he felt endangered by passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which increased pressure to capture escaped slaves. He moved to England and lived there for 25 years, touring with an anti-slavery panorama, becoming a magician and showman. He married and started a family with an English woman, Jane Floyd. She was his second wife; his first wife, Nancy, had been sold by their master. Brown returned to the US with his English family in 1875, where he continued to earn a living as an entertainer. He toured and performed as a magician, speaker, and mesmerist until at least 1889. The last decade of his life (1886–1897) was spent in Toronto, where he died in 1897.
Wikipedia describes how he was born into slavery in 1815 or 1816 on a plantation called Hermitage in Louisa County, Virginia. Aged 15 he was sent to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond.
In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself, he describes his owner: "Our master was uncommonly kind, (for even a slaveholder may be kind) and as he moved about in his dignity he seemed like a god to us, but notwithstanding his kindness although he knew very well what superstitious notions we formed him, he never made the least attempt to correct our erroneous impression, but rather seemed pleased with the reverential feelings which we entertained towards him."Brown was married to another slave named Nancy, but their marriage was not recognised legally. They had three children born into slavery under the partus sequitur ventrem principle. Brown was hired out by his master in Richmond, Virginia, and worked in a tobacco factory, renting a house where he and his wife lived with their children. Brown had also been paying his wife's master not to sell his family, but the man betrayed Brown, selling pregnant Nancy and their three children to a different slave owner.With the help of James C. A. Smith, a free black man and a sympathetic white shoemaker (and likely gambler) named Samuel A. Smith (no relation), Brown devised a plan to have himself shipped in a box to a free state by the Adams Express Company, known for its confidentiality and efficiency. Brown paid $86 (out of his savings of $166) to Samuel Smith. Smith went to Philadelphia to consult with members of Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society on how to accomplish the escape, meeting with minister James Miller McKim, William Still, and Cyrus Burleigh. He corresponded with them to work out the details after returning to Richmond. They advised him to mail the box to the office of Quaker merchant Passmore Williamson, who was active with the Vigilance Committee.To get out of work the day he was to escape, Brown burned his hand to the bone with oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid). The box that Brown was shipped in was 3 feet long by 2 feet 8 inches deep by 2 feet wide and displayed the words "dry goods" on it. It was lined with baize, a coarse woollen cloth, and he carried only a small portion of water and a few biscuits. There was a single hole cut for air and it was nailed and tied with straps.Brown later wrote that his uncertain method of travel was worth the risk: "if you have never been deprived of your liberty, as I was, you cannot realise the power of that hope of freedom, which was to me indeed, an anchor to the soul both sure and steadfast."During the trip, which began on March 29, 1849, Brown's box was transported by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and finally delivery wagon, being completed in 27 hours. Despite the instructions on the box of "handle with care" and "this side up," several times carriers placed the box upside-down or handled it roughly. Brown remained still and avoided detection. The box was received by Williamson, McKim, William Still, and other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee on March 30, 1849, attesting to the improvements in express delivery services.. When Brown was released, one of the men remembered his first words as "How do you do, gentlemen?" He sang a psalm from the Bible, which he had earlier chosen to celebrate his release into freedom. In addition to celebrating Brown's inventiveness, as noted by Hollis Robbins, "the role of government and private express mail delivery is central to the story and the contemporary record suggests that Brown’s audience celebrated his delivery as a modern postal miracle." The government postal service had dramatically increased communication and, despite southern efforts to control abolitionist literature, mailed pamphlets, letters and other materials reached the South."Cheap postage," Frederick Douglass observed in The North Star, had an "immense moral bearing". As long as federal and state governments respected the privacy of the mails, everyone and anyone could mail letters and packages; almost anything could be inside. In short, the power of prepaid postage delighted the increasingly middle-class and commercial-minded North and increasingly worried the slave-holding South."Brown's escape highlighted the power of the mail system, which used a variety of modes of transportation to connect the East Coast. The Adams Express Company, a private mail service founded in 1840, marketed its confidentiality and efficiency. It was favoured by abolitionist organisations and "promised never to look inside the boxes it carried."
Categories: Friends