Work on my book on suspicion, spies, conspiracies and the like continues apace (hence minimal blog posting) – but I’m wondering if some of you can help me a little bit. I’m currently working on some of the conspiracy theories that float around Christianity and the church. Perhaps the most notorious is the one popularised by Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code. It’s been a while since reading it, but I wonder if any Dan Brown aficionados might check that I’ve done justice to the conspiracy that his heroes Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu expose. I’ve tried to summarise it as succinctly as possible, but if you can think of any aspects that I’ve overlooked, I would be hugely grateful if you could suggest them in the comments. Read more
I have stood at the very spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot by Gavrilo Princip 100 years ago. And the impossible “What If” question occurred to me even then. So when I noticed that eminent historian Ned Lebow had published an examination of the issue, I leapt at it. The assassination was such a fluke, so preventable, so absurd that the yearning for a different outcome of that moment is great. As he says at the start (having summarised some of the counterfactual options),
None of these what-ifs strains our understanding of the world because most royal processions do not stray from their intended routes, and most security details would have rushed the archduke and his wife to safety at the first signs of violence. In this instance, the so-called factual, not the counterfactual, is what strikes us as unrealistic and incredible. (p16) Read more
I was in Cambridge for a few days speaking for some events that took place far too late at night for me (carol services at 10pm!!). So naturally, my mind wandered from time to time while the shepherds were watching. And my gaze settled on this memorial which was just above my head. It looks like any other, and is quite wordy. But those words definitely bear close reading. For this particular plaque testified to something far greater than the usual pieties of such things. Read more
Last summer, I wrote a series of posts on the highly pretentious sounding ‘dehumanising metrics of modernist ministry’. Don’t be put off (although in fairness, I have to say I was quietly pleased by the alliteration there) because the more I’ve thought about it, and the more I’ve chatted with folks, the more I think there are some crucial things to discuss. This is certainly not the perfect analysis nor last word. But I hope it will at least present something of what troubles me these days. Read more
You may not have heard of Frances Whitehead – but if you have read any of John Stott’s books, you will have witnessed her extraordinary handiwork: transforming his handwritten scrawl into immaculate typescript ready for the publishers. For more than 50 years, she worked very closely with him and her perspective on his life and work is unique and valuable.
So it was a total joy for me to spend the best part of a day with her at home in Bourne End, on the Thames, to the west of London, during which our conversation ranged over all kinds of things. Read more
I believe in words. I believe in the importance of words. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I believe in the primacy of words. But words can never be exclusive media of truth, understanding and communication. Please note: they are the primary (i.e. supreme) means, not the only means. I’ve touched on this issue before. Words are still essential.
As I mentioned then, the great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov attacked the myth of the image by saying:
For the time being, this is our final dip into the murky waters of Sellar & Yeatman’s classic 1066 and All That. After all, overindulgence is always wrong. Wouldn’t you agree?
Having digested the reign of Henry VIII, and then gobbled up his heirs & successors Edward and Mary, we come at last to Gloriana herself, Good Queen Bess, the Virgin Queen, the one who was to be obeyed (on pain of decapitation etc etc). These Tudors weren’t exactly a straightforward bunch. No doubt, there were post-natal attachment issues which can explain all the shenanigans.
Boys and girls, last week’s lesson was only the beginning, the tip of the iceberg. How could you possibly imagine that we had plumbed the depths of the English Restoration? There is more work to be done – not least because Bluff King Hal left quite a legacy, much of which was left much to be unravelled amongst his 3 children and successors.
mess web he weaved.
A day late, but hey. It’ll be worth it. But whatever you do, don’t use this for your GCSE history revision. [If you have done your revision, you'll see why]. Having read this, how will you ever be able to confuse the Reformation and the Restoration again? What’s more, whoever thought we’d need Hilary Mantel to bring this era to life?
Anyway, thought I would dedicate one or two Friday Funs to the sublime brilliance that its 1066 and All That. So let’s dive in straightaway, with Henry 6th and his 8 wives. Or was that the other way round? Read more
Nearly 10 years ago, a dear friend of mine was addressing a gathering of Ugandan MPs in the Parliament building in Kampala (around the 40th anniversary of independence). It included those from all shades on the political spectrum, including not a few post-colonial firebrands. My friend is certainly no great apologist for imperialism, but he posed two simple questions.
- “Which Ugandan regions (of those that the British failed to develop) have we since developed?”
- “What aspects of public life, government and rule of law have we improved on or done better in than the colonial regime?”
It seems that everyone’s joined in the cross-over craze. Rock stars are writing ballets and operas, chick-lit writers are getting elected to Parliament, and now a NT scholar has turned novelist. The point about Witherington’s very enjoyable new book, A Week In The Life Of Corinth, though, is it that it is entirely in keeping with his primary profession of opening modern eyes to an ancient and alien past. This explains the narrative’s regular interruption by text boxes providing historical background (covering topics such as slavery, the client/patron relationship, gladiators, the Roman legal system and a potted history of Roman as opposed to Greek Corinth). Read more
I had one day to sightsee in Turkey last week which was fabulous. I even came back a bit sunburnt (much to the chagrin of every rain-drenched colleague on my return). Quite fun to be able to say that I got a tan at Laodicea. So here are a few photographic highlights. For the full Flickr set, click here. Having been based in Antalya (ancient Attalia) had a chance to visit Perga and Aspendos (along the coast to the east), and then travelled inland to the north west to the Lycus Valley (where Hierapolis, Laodicea and Colossae are).
First a general map and few panoramas from the trip… Click on each image for a closer view. Read more
It is a privilege to spend time with friends in Antalya – right on the south Mediterranean coast of Turkey. (Incidentally, and quite interestingly, in Turkish, the Med is called ‘Akdeniz’ which means ‘the white sea’ in symmetry to ‘Karadeniz’ (The Black Sea) at the other end of the Bosphorus). And Antalya was of course the ancient port city of Attalia in the apostle Paul’s day. Read more
In follow up to yesterday’s Graham Greene depiction of the callousness of the religious to the irreligious, it is perhaps good to note where mutual confession can work well and be a real blessing. Bonhoeffer in his seminal Life Together, and which I’ve drawn from a few times before, offers profound wisdom on the matter. He sees it as a means to honest and humble community, where there are no illusions or hypocrisies. It can be a wonderful means to the full assurance of faith. However, he is all too aware of its pitfalls and problems.
It’s not every day that you find a newspaper column quoting Calvin, C S Lewis and G K Chesterton without odium or censure. But that is exactly what happened in a New York Times Op. Ed. on Monday. It’s even more surprising when you realise that its writer is a Jewish American social commentator, David Brooks. He is a thoughtful writer who seems genuinely concerned to understand what makes people tick, without prejudice or name-calling. Some will only know him for the fact that he was the one who wrote the piece on John Stott back in 2004 (which was arguably the principle catalyst for him becoming one of the 2005 Time 100). Read more
We’ve carried on wending our merry way though Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (from which I’ve posted before) where there have been gems and provocations aplenty. This week, we followed his unpacking of the problems of competitiveness and one-upmanship, as part of his reflections on Luke 9:46. He is entirely realistic. He warns that every single community will always be infected by concerns about ‘who is the greatest’ – even if the criteria by which we judge greatness differ widely. And this has got me thinking yet again about the problems of power and weakness, control and care in church (issues to which I find myself returning repeatedly on Q). Read more
So… you want to write a runaway bestseller in 2012? Hoping to fill the cabin luggage of air-travellers the world over? Well, here is just thing… it’s guaranteed to hit the headlines at the same time and thus rake in the cash. An ecclesiastical conspiracy theory novel, ‘based’ on matters of ‘historical’ record and archaeological ‘certainties’. It offers the lot: corruption, scheming, sexual deviancy, hypocrisy, ancient history, power, scandals, and above all, the unveiling of secrets.
You hooked yet? I was. And it seems that the book-buying travelling public never tire of a new conspiracy thriller. So… you’ve got it made. Read more
Last week saw the final instalment of the little 1 Cor 1 series in the undercroft chapel in Westminster. Unfortunately, we had the slight inconvenience of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement happening on the same day, and as this had been brought forward to 12.30, there were few who were able to come. No worries though. We happy few had a happy time.
And how nice it was to have a Christmas tree in the centre of Westminster Hall. No thought of winterval here… yet. But give it time I suppose. Now, was it my imagination or does this tree look as though it is leaning to the right…? I’m sure that can’t be significant, can it?
I really don’t think this book lives up to its hype, but I did work my way through roughly 3/4 of Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s epic Jerusalem, The Biography. It is a very uneven and, at times, curiously flat read. It is also (perhaps inevitably) littered with sweeping statements and an over-reliance on just a few partisan scholarly perspectives. This was especially frustrating when it came to plumbing the huge depths and breadths of biblical and archaeological scholarship. But there were clearly some gems and insights. And so thought I’d share just one or two. Read more
OK, I realise that’s somewhat anachronistic, not to say speculative. But I’m in a staff small group that’s started reading an extraordinary book: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. It is dense, blunt but most of all, persuasive. And even though we’ve only been going at it for a week, it has already stimulated all kinds of interesting discussions. But one of the most challenging ideas from chapter one is his analysis of what he calls ‘visionary dreaming’. Read more