The news from Norway has defied words. Senseless, mindless, pointless; it is cruel, irrational evil. And supposedly in the name of Christ. Sickening.
I always resist to tweet or post about every event or topical twist and turn. I’m just not that kind of blogger, I guess. Read more
On 27th April, John Stott will celebrate his 90th birthday. In the coming years, there will be a great multitude claiming to be inheritors of the Stott legacy. Just has happened with a towering figure like Bonhoeffer, so will it happen to Uncle John. And it is not as outlandish to put them in the same bracket as some may think. For both, albeit in very different ways and as the result of radically different experiences, made a profound impact on twentieth century (and therefore, twenty-first century) Christianity. Of course, some will pick and choose, some will appropriate its mantle without its substance, while others will wonder what all the fuss is about and doubt whether it matters at all.
Well, I think it probably does matter – not least because not to understand the legacy properly is to open the door to a dishonest, partisan or manipulative abuse of history. It is, in large part, a matter of historical, and indeed Christian, integrity. Therefore, this new book, edited by my Langham boss, Chris Wright, and subtitled A Portrait By His Friends, will play something of crucial role in coming years. This is not a chronological account nor deep historical and theological analysis. Those will certainly come in time (and no doubt draw heavily on Timothy Dudley-Smith’s excellent two-volume biography). This is a collection of sketches by some of those who have been closest to him over the years. Thus it will provide essential insights into grasping his personal (though perhaps not his theological) legacy. It really gives a sense of the man (rather better than the image on the cover!). Read more
Strange Maps has done it again. This is great – maps full of prejudices, stereotypes and cross-cultural offence. But could there not be some truth to some of them!? No smoke without fire etc. Although some are definitely weird…
Check out the others and the fuller explanations.
Below are maps of Europe from: Read more
Yesterday, I left Hungary having had a great time at the ELF in Eger. So encouraging – and quite apart from the excitements of seeing folk on our network again and being involved in teaching, I was able to have some very encouraging conversations with folks from Austria, Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria in particular. Things are really developing fast in some of those places for our work.
But am now in the Czech Republic for a few days, to do a weekend for the International Church of Prague. Had a couple of hours this morning to wander around with Simon, one of my hosts. So good to be back here. Prague is one of my favourite places on earth. Simon has been here for 18 months or so and had not yet had the chance to visit the Museum of Communism and so off we went this morning. It’s quite small – essentially a converted flat in the centre of town – but as well as tracing the history of the country during the 20th century, it manages to convey something of the atmosphere of fear and oppression. Unusually, one is allowed to take photos, so I took a few.
In one room was a looped video narrating the story of communism and in particular the protests against it. Both of us were blown away by a song that accompanied footage of police beating up peaceful protesters in Wenceslas Square in 1989 (during the months leading up to the regime’s fall). When we got home, Simon discovered that it was written by one Karel Kryl, who had lived in exile for much of the time, but wrote string of folk songs about his homeland. Very sadly, he died only a few years after the Velvet Revolution.
The song is simply called THANKS – and is full of profoundly Christian imagery – and speaks of the extraordinary ability of people standing up for truth and justice to endure suffering and even to find redemption through it.
Karel Kryl – Thanks
Lyrics – translation taken from this fan site
God created, created a branch
So as I could make wreaths
Thanks, Thanks for the pain
That teaches me to question
Thanks, Thanks for the failure
That teaches me to work harder
So that I could bring a gift
Despite my weakness
Thanks, thanks, thanks Thanks
Thanks for the weakness
That teaches me to be humble
To be humble with joy
To be humble without any bondage
Thanks, Thanks for tears
That teach me to be sensitive
To be sensitive for those who suffer
Who suffer and cry out for mercy
Thanks, thanks, thanks
Thanks for the desire for beauty
That gives me something to long for
Thanks for the fact
That love combats spite
For the sweetness
Sweetness of falling asleep
Thanks for the feeling of tiredness
For blazing of fire
For rushing of rivers
Thanks for the thirst
That was revealed by my weakness
Thanks for the torment
That inspires good deeds.
For the fact
That I love
Although my heart is constricted by anxiety
Lamb, Thank you
You did not die in vain.
Thanks, thanks, thanks
Very powerful – not least because of the images juxtaposed with it in the museum.
Still, I couldn’t help wondering, as we left the museum, what would have happened had the Cold War ended very differently? What if it had been the West that collapsed? What would a Museum of Capitalism then have looked like?
While I definitely prefer to live in a democratic and capitalist society (no surprises there), and think there are certain aspects of it that are clearly better than communism, it is by no stretch of the imagination perfect – not least because it is equally constructed on the flimsy, flawed foundations of modernity. I fear there would easily be enough material to prove capitalist complicity in iniquity…
I knew nothing previously about Antal Szerb (a Hungarian who was a brilliant literature professor, but who tragically ended up beaten to death in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945) nor the book and only picked it up on the off-chance during a random bookshop browse – and what a find! It was a great holiday read – and if you’re after something light but not vacuous, refreshingly escapist but in a far from irrelevant way – this is it.
Having been unknown to English readers until as recently as 2007 (first published in Hungarian in 1942), Oliver VII is a beautifully written and perfectly paced novel, wonderfully capturing the atmosphere of middle europe with its interwar ancien regimes now dimly and distantly lost.
Much of the story is told from the point of view of Sandoval, a painter, as he takes the role of bit-part player and fixer in the political chaos of his country. The focus of his (and our) attention is the young, eponymous king of a fictitious central European country (Alturia). He feels constrained by the unreality and sycophancy of his world, as well as the obvious fact his country is facing such a major economic crisis (whose only solution appears to come in the form of a foreign venture capitalist who wants to buy the country! all very contemporary…) – so plots a coup d’etat against himself and disappears to Venice where he ends up with a bunch of conmen. The farce culminates in his impersonating himself in a con followed by his restoration to his throne. It’s all absurd – but that’s really half the point and all of the fun.
It’s a great antidote to the more aggressive and cynical writing around these days – a charming but very unexpected cocktail of:
- the world of old European monarchies on whose behalf Tintin might have gone in search for missing jewels or investigated coups d’etat
- the ‘long-con’ world of Micky Stone’s Hustle gang – Count St Germain is a perhaps a prototype for Albert (Robert Vaughn) Stroller!?
- a gentle political satire – nothing like as biting as Orwell or Private Eye of course – but not completely divorced from their work either.
There is some seriousness to it all (though never in a heavy-handed way) – running themes like the nature of reality and how we know who we are, behind the masks we wear and the roles we carry. But its delight is derived from its gentle whimsy. It would make a wonderful play… now there’s a thought. Perhaps one a rainy afternoon when I’ve nothing else to do, I might just have a stab at a script…
A final note about Len Rix’s translation – it wonderful evokes Oliver’s world and while of course I’ve no idea what it was like in the original Hungarian, it flowed and felt thoroughly authentic. The joy of a good translation is that it’s invisible – you never for a moment consider it is one. And that was certainly the case here.