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I was talking to the Archivist at work at the start of the week.  I felt something tickle at my throat.  I reached to brush it away.  As I took my hand away I felt something painful in my finger, a very sharp pain.  There was something embedded in my finger.  I brushed it off quickly to get rid of the pain.  It was lost in the dark red carpet.  I think it looked like a sting.  Neither the archivist nor myself saw an insect fall off me from my neck.  Perhaps it could have been a spider bite.  Was it a sting or a thorn from something  that attached itself to my body as I walked to work?  I do not know.

The tip of my finger swelled up immediately.  After ten or twenty minutes the second knuckle in my finger began to swell as well.  I worried about calling a doctor.  We raced down the hill to the Gardens Chemist and I bought some anti-histamines.  It stopped the swelling in the second knuckle.  There may have been some material still under my skin.  Every so often on the first day it pained me so I winced.  By the end of the day the finger felt comfortable that I could use it in my typing.

It’s now Maundy Thursday.  The tip of the finger is still enflamed and swollen.  Sometimes it’s uncomfortable under the skin.  The stiffness sometimes swells the pad of the second finger and sometimes recedes.  A session at the gym may have helped regain some softness and flexibility, if only momentarily, as I worked it a bit.  I will keep an eye on it during the long weekend.  If the swelling goes down the finger then I may go into the emergency clinic to have it examined.

The research archivist noted that it was fortunate the sting did not go into my neck.  If my throat had swollen up then there could have been some serious consequences.


Hordur Torfason: Doing Democracy in the 21st Century

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The Centre for Theology and Public Issues hosted this guest, Hordur Torfason from Iceland, at a conversation at St Paul’s Cathedral.  He was an unusual guest for the conversation.  When prompted that they were in a cathedral before Easter he would not be drawn in.  The Church in Iceland was not a participant in its peaceful revolution.  The Church has its own unhappy problems and he is a free man.  Perhaps this answer could have been directed to explore the spirituality of a free man.  It was not pursued.

The acoustics from the floor made this a difficult event for its audience.  It did not carry well.

Hordur Torfason  is an artist who has taken up the power to criticise, especially in his own country where he advocates for an inclusive society.  He was the first man to come out as gay in Icelandic society and it drive him out to its margins.  He has come back from those margins.

When Iceland went into its financial crisis he began to ask questions:

What has happened to our country?

What can we do about it?

And then,

What is it that we want?

There is a choice to use violence, or to use intelligence peacefully.  His questions made a people’s movement.  He crystallised the demands that the people wanted.  It brought down a government.  It got some people sent to jail.  It created a new constitution.  The gray people came back.  The money men and the politicians are still in power.  It’s business as usual.  They serve their own interests and need a dishonest society to support them.

So how do we do unusual business when powerful people control the media?  We keep talking together, with respect.  Use social media.  Talk about the situation.  Create awareness.  We still need information on our situation.  The peaceful revolution continues.  It is committed to creating a sharing society rather than a lying society.

“If you want to move a graveyard—don’t expect the residents to help you!”

Useful Words and Phrases

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I have a pile of Teach Yourself language books to work through as a project.  One of them is TY Welsh, the 1992 edition.  The first chapter included the following list of Useful Words and Phrases.  Such a simple introduction to the language!  Since this is the language on which Brithenig is based I should give a translation as an introduction.

How to

1. Express Greetings.

Bon fathin. Good morning.

Bon ddiwrn. Good afternoon, good day.

Bon suir. Good evening.

Bon noeth. Good night.

Bon salyd! Good health!

2. Ask Permission.

Pod-eo sidderci? May I sit here?

Pod-eo aydar? May I help?

3. Say thank you.

Greid. Thanks.

Greid mulltisaf.  Thanks very much.

4. Ask someone’s name and say your own name.

Ke gos aphella’gw? What’s your name? What are you called?

Gareth eo aphell. I am called Gareth.

Lisa eo aphell. I am called Lisa.

5. Ask someone if they speak Brithenig.

Parola’gw Frithenig?

6. Ask what someone’s occupation is and say what you do.

Ke gos es gwstr llafur? What is your occupation?

Yn ifferfeir eo su. I’m a nurse.

Yn meddig eo su. I’m a doctor.

7. State your nationality.

American eo su. I’m American.

Comro eo su. I’m Welsh.

8. Say No…

Rhen greid.

Rhen sucar.

Rhen problem.

I needed to find a new word to add to my dictionary, ifferfeir nurse (m, f).  There will be more to come when I reach the next chapter.

Marriage Equality

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I note that the Marriage Equality Bill passed its second reading in the New Zealand Parliament recently.  This doesn’t mean that it has become law.  It has to pass a third reading.  However the third reading is usually regarded as perfunctory.  This is no reason not to be vigilant in advocating its passage into law.

I was interested in an observation made by one of the law’s opponents.  One of our conservative Christian M.P.s observed that opponents of the bill had been so intemperate in their letters against the law to Members of Parliament that a number determined to support the bill.  In short exposure to intolerance determined conservative M.P.s to support a bill that they could have chosen in good conscience to vote against.

I find it interesting to note how a secular society can dictate what religious people may believe.  When this debate arose my fellow conservative Presbyterians argued that marriage between a man and a woman was an ‘fundamental Christian doctrine’.  However on enquiry the Presbyterian Church has not given it this status.  When the Statements of Fundamental Doctrines was produced it included The Apostles’ Creed, the Bible, God and Nature, the Person of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Judgement and the Christian Hope.  It was a statement that arose out the Resurrection Controversies of the late 1960s.  The statements shore up a commitment to a traditional understanding of the Godhead and salvation.  It is a later cultural struggle that has added marriage to this list.

The Church remains contra mundum, opposed to compromise with the world.  In the debate over marriage equality it is clear that the world has set up the stakes.  The Church has accepted the gamble.  Perhaps that has always been the case.

If the opponents of marriage equality make it a fundamental doctrine of the Church then I wonder if that would be the same thing as stating that marriage is sacramental, returning us to pre-Reformation Church and falling from the Standards of the Reformation to which we have given nominal service.

If I read our accounts of the creation correctly then marriage was a gift from god to the first ancestors of humanity.  It is not a Christian institution; it is older than the laws of Judaism.  It is a gift to be practiced by all humanity.  The state registers marriage.  If the government wishes to broaden the criteria by which anyone can be covered under this registration then I, for one, do not oppose the decision.  Together we celebrate our humanity.

The Problem of Susan

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I was reading a discussion list a couple of weeks ago when this topic was referenced.  It is the problem that many readers face in C. S. Lewis’s closing book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle that he deliberately shuts one of his protagonists, Susan Pevensey, outside of the Real Narnia.  The reason why? She has become a modern young woman!

Oh Susan! she’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up!

Grown-up, indeed.  I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.

Well, who can blame her, since the book was first printed in 1956, only a couple of years after rationing had finished in Britain.  She has stopped sharing in memories of Narnia and put them behind her as a childhood game.  Putting away childish things, indeed?

Critics are unhappy with these lines.  It seems to them that Lewis was uncomfortable with the idea of sex, and the independent woman.  There are examples to pick on elsewhere in his stories.  The idea was picked up and named by the writer Neil Gaiman with the above title.

Other writers and critics have picked up on it.  It might explain a scene in The Amber Spyglass where Lyra and Will spend the night alone.  Pullman averts our eyes in his narrative and apparently they pass the night holding hands.  Written in Miltonic language I don’t think Milton himself was this prudish.

It doesn’t seem to me directly to be about maturing into sexual beings.  Instead it is about putting on the trappings of adulthood.  Childhood fantasies and creativity are put off as the young person enters a cargo cult of bright lights and encounters.  It’s a world that Lewis doesn’t want to celebrate, or encourage his readers into.  It’s a dangerous world to enter.  Walk down the main street on a Friday night.

What kind of person did Susan grow to be when she lived in Narnia.  In The Horse and Her Boy it is observed about her that The Queen’s grace will do as she pleases”.  Maybe there is a secret history to be written about Susan in Narnia.  Did she pursue her own course, and her own company, during that golden age?  It hasn’t been discovered.

There are other characters that Lewis doesn’t let off lightly.  I would raise the stakes on the Problem of Susan and throw into the pot the Problem of Alberta.  Read the opening lines to The Voyage of the Dawntreader.  Harold and Alberta Scrubb are very modern, progressive parents.  They have raised their son Eustace in the same way.  A summer with his cousins the Pevenseys ruins him.  He becomes “tiresome and commonplace” according to his mother.  He is killed in the same accident that wiped out nearly the whole Pevensey family, leaving the Scrubbs childless.

Lewis doesn’t seem to allow for modern rational people in a fantasy world and treats them unfairly.  Maybe that’s a bad move.  They could easily turn around and say, “Okay, we’ve stepped into another world and the laws of physics have been broken here.  Let’s see how we can work it to our advantage.”  No one seems to have written that idea.  There are many ideas that would be interesting to seen introduced into a fantasy scenario.  How about democracy for a start.

Maybe Susan is the lucky one.  She gets to walk out of the story intact and on with her life.  The rest of her family are still there, trapped in the last page, in the Great Story, which goes on forever, and know, it is forever.

Christian Practices: legalistic, or an attempt to control god?

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An open lecture by Lynne Baab, this was attended by a small audience of supporters and interested people.  It is a response to an essay by Bishop William Willimon of the United Methodist Church.    At one point I wondered if Bishop Willimon is an activist Methodist who has become an Augustinian or Calvinist with emphasis on the sovereignty of god.

I felt it was a lecture addressed towards realists rather than non-realists.  I waver between the two schools of thought.  I wonder what the non-realist response would have been.

Lynne placed the modern discovery of spiritual practice, at least among Protestant Christians beginning with Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  This book has gone into four editions.  She gave three definitions of spiritual practice or discipline:

  1. training in faithfulness
  2. keeping company with Jesus
  3. creating space

Anything can be a spiritual practice if it is done intentionally.  The practice can be done alone or with others.  It is a repeated activity, not a once in a lifetime event.  She used the image of receiving water in cupped hands as the attitude in spiritual practice.  It is a focused activity, not an activity in the midst of being busy.

Bishop Willimon’s criticism of spiritual practice is the latest phase in functional atheism, trying to fill the absence of god.  I wondered how the new Christian atheism would respond to this.  If the cry on the cross is the death of god, a final Is that it!? then we live in an age where the absence of god cannot be filled, a truly broken people.  I wonder what is the response of spiritual practitioners to such a position?

Lynne then gave a list of responses to advocate for spiritual practice.  Some of these are paired together.

  1. People who engage in spiritual practice meet the wild and untamable god.  This is Bishop Willimon’s first criticism: Aslan is not a tame lion!
  2. We spend time with those we love.  The whole relationship thingy with Thou.
  3. Jesus engaged in spiritual practice.  He prayed and fasted.
  4. After we have received grace spiritual practice lets grace shape us.
  5. It is a gift.  Lynne observed it is unusual to stop one day out of seven—put away the tools, even though the work is not finished.
  6. It helps us experience a glimpse of heaven, sometimes.  If I do practice as recreational, then it becomes re-creating.
  7. It helps us to listen and be receptive to god’s will and the spirit’s teaching.  Just turning up on a Sunday morning is a spiritual practice.
  8. It helps us to follow and serve the triune god.  The world is overwhelming, resist burnout.

We are living in two-four time in response to god.  God is on the downbeat, we are on the upbeat.

  • Focus on god’s wild and untamable nature.

Our practice must be commensurate to our worship and service to our god:

Let praise be heard.

Let prayer be spoken.

Let silence fall.

Let god be god.

Top Ten: In Caelum Fero by Karl Jenkins

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I was playing the CD Adiemus a couple of weeks ago and this piece kept drawing my attention when it played.  One of my favourite day dreams is imagining a fleet of space ships plunging into atmosphere of a planet, the air burning around them as they fall at great speeds.  So every so often I hear a piece of music that has the energy and movement to be incidental music for such an imaginary vision.  This title is suitable for a such a piece.  It has energy, movement and drama to it.  It catches my ear when I listen to it, and it doesn’t let go!

I’ve looked on YouTube but I haven’t seen anyone use it for this vision.  There are several videos that use this piece of music.  This one has the scale and majesty that reflects its music.  Not bad for a piece that translates as ‘I lift up to heaven’!

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