Friday, March 31, 2006

Music, Play, Exploring Reality

On Weds we did a Messiah from Scratch at our daughter's school. We had a 2-hr rehearsal on Mon and then the performance. There were about 100 sops, 80 contraltos, 30 basses and 12 tenors (incl me). Only one re-start - Basses missed their entry in the Hallelullia Chorus. Great fun - we should sing more!

Then on Thurs to a play callled Larkin with Women with my Mother, uncle, aunt, brother, niece, wife & daughter - I thought it was dreadful but the others enjoyed it.

Today - the sad news that the wife of a friend has died, after a long illness with her husband & sons with her. I played the Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue no 1 - sounds v right.

Lesson tomorrow from brilliand Siu Li to prepare for beyond-brilliant Ruth Palmer coming round next week to play. I had been practicing Brahms but Ruth hasn't played this and is doing Mozart K304 in a concery so we'll play that. The notes are much easier...

John Polkinghorne's Exploring Reality continues to dazzle - even though I know his thought reasonably well I continue to be struck by so many novel ideas and expressions.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Telling the truth about Islam & Iraq

"The Prophet Muhammad has said several times that those who convert from Islam should be killed if they refuse to come back," says Ansarullah Mawlafizada, the trial judge. "Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, kindness and integrity. That is why we have told him if he regrets what he did, then we will forgive him," he told the BBC News website.

What he means by that is if he doesn't renouce Christianity - he should be killed.

But interestingly, in Iraq, although the media all say it is going "from bad to worse" the number of coalition troops killed so far is the lowest since Feb 2004, and only 55% of the levels of last month.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Gems from Wright, Polkinghorne, Beethoven and life!

Finished Scripture and the Authority of God which is every bit as good as I thought. Pretty well a must-read. His concluding Ch How to get back on track argues
  • for an integrated view of Scripture's authority, as the Church goes to work in the world on behalf of the gospel;
  • that Tradition is about living in dialogue with previous readings;
  • that Reason should be attentive to context, to sense and to wider knowledge of all sorts;
  • for a Multi-layered view, recognising the differences between the OT and the NT;
  • for a Totally Contextual reading of Scripture, that is also Liturgically Grounded
  • for a reading refreshed by appropriate scholarship - and the need to "re-establish a hermeneutic of trust (itself a sign of the Gospel) in the place of a hemeneutic of suspicion"
  • and for a reading of scripture Taught by the Church's Accredited Leaders
Now starting on John Polkinghorne's latest book which is also a treasure-trove.

Went to a v old friend's 50th last night and played a movement of Beethoven Cello Sonata in A with her. Today - Mothers day with all C's Parents' descendants, including of course all of ours! Lovely!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

'Human rights' and freedom of expression

The Law Lords have spoken much needed sense on the human rights bandwagon. The disgraceful case of the Moslem girl who demanded to wear the Jiliab should never have come to court and never been taken on by Mrs Blair. It's worth reading the judgement in full - blasting the Court of Appeal and making it clear that the girl was being manipulated.

"The young men said they were not prepared to compromise over this issue."

"Until after the failure of her application for judicial review before Bennett J on 15 June 2004 she did not seriously try because she and her family were intent upon enforcing her "rights"."

There is meant to be a march for freedom of expression on Sat in London. Even though it is organised by the appalling National Secular Society I am tempted to go to show Christian support. But I will have done (DV) a 22 mile run that morning so might find walking a bit hard!

PS Unfortunately I developed a nasty muscle problem, so could only run 3 miles :-(.

Bp Nazir-Ail is v good on the Muslim 'blasphemy' evil in the Telegraph.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Corrupt societies and the glory of God

Appalling story of an Afghan Muslim who converted to Christianity and now faces the death penalty for doing so. The 'judge' is quoted in The Times as saying "The Attorney General is emphasising he should be hung...In this country we have the perfect constitution, it is Islamic law and it is illegal to be a Christian and it should be punished." At least The Times is taking up the case. And now so is the BBC - amazingly - on the World at One.

Equally appalling article in Vogue about contraception where the journalist says that "two thirds of my set have had abortions" and one of her friends has had five!

Good article by John Barrow on Astronomy illuminates the glory of God. - he's just won the Templeton Prize.

Finally, interesting article in the Wall St Journal about a Dutch girl who fell for a Moroccan, became a Muslim and now wears the Hibjab. She says "They don't have the right to treat me different" when people stare at her and express disapproval - yet she sings with approval The Veil and says "This Hijab, this mark of piety, is an act of faith, a symbol for all the world to see"

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Old and New - Friends & Scripture

Found a delightful new running partner yesterday - a naval officer now doing an important shore job who is often in London at the weekends. We ran 7.2mi together yesterday and it was my best run at that distance for a while - we're running 15mi today.

Later we have a lunch party with a great diversity of people: my cousin whom I've known for 40 yrs, his wife, their young daughter, a neighbour and her 2 daughters (we've known them all their lives!) and my new R.P. - whom I've known for a few weeks. Should be a lovely mix of old and new, friends and family.

Scripture & the Authority of God continues to dazzle. I cannot recommend it too strongly. He covers an amazing amount in 107pp. He argues that "Scripture is there to be a means of God's action in and through us". Even his section headings tell a fascinating story. Here they are for Ch 6: Word of God and Scripture in the Apostolic Church. with a juicy quote from each.
  • Apostolic preaching of 'The Word': the Jesus-story fulfils the (OT) scripture-story. "When Paul says ... in accordance with the scriptures, he does not mean that he and his friends can find one or two proof-texts ... but rather that these events have come as the climax to the long and winding narrative of Israel's scriptures."
  • The Word carried the Spirit's power to change lives, calling the Church into being and shaping its mission and life. "The 'word' did not 'offer itself' in a take-it-or-leave-it fashin, any more than Caesar's heralds would have said, 'If you'd like a new kind of imperial experience, you might like to try giving your allegiance to a new emperor'"
  • The writers of the NT intented to energise, shape and direct the Church; their writings were intended to be vehicles of the Spirit's authority, and were perceived to be that in fact. "It used to be said that the NT writers ' didn't think they were writing scripture'. This is hard to sustain historically today."
  • The rich diversity in the Canon appears as 'contradictory' only when seen through the lens of later, distorting, worldviews and theologies. "just because some western theologians cannot see how [some supposed contradictions in the NT] fit coherently together, that does not mean they did not in the first century."
  • The early Christians worked out a multi-layered reading of the OT: not arbitrarily but reflecting their understanding of the Church as God's new Covenant People and their place in the ongoing story. "This new way resulted in their recognising that some parts of the scriptures were no longer relevant for their ongoing life .. because they belonged with earlier parts of the story which had now reached its climax."
  • Continuity and discontinuity in the early Church's use of Scripture. "'The law' [John] writes, ' was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ'. Should we understand ... but ... or and. The rest of the Gospel suggests that John deliberately left it ambiguous"
  • The NT stands in a dialogical relation with all human culture. "one can never assume that any part of a culture, ancient or modern, is automatically to be endorsed or rejected"

Friday, March 17, 2006

Love and Music

Back from wonderful performance of Sir John In Love at the ENO. Our friend Sally Burgess, who is in it, drove me back home - it's on her way but a great chance to catch up and get back to our spouses. Some of the music is ravishing, and it's hard to believe that there will ever be, or has ever been, a better cast doing it. Piano was tuned today and I have booked a lesson from brilliant Siu before I play with Ruth. Brahms is wonderful but not easy, and there are many corners that need polishing.

The relationships between music, love and worship are very deep and inadequately explored philosophically. Tolkein was right to place his creation myth in the context of song, and of course the doctrine of the Trinity is very natural in musical terms. The Psalms are not really to be said, but to be sung. And the characteristic collective noun of Angels is a Choir. Indeed if certain physicists are right, the whole of the universe is vibrations of strings or indeed surfaces.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Scripture, in prose and rhyme

Tom Wright's book gets better & better. His Ch 2 on Scripture within Contemporary Culture is masterly, and so is Ch 3 so far. His reference to "too much of the debate about scriptural authority has had the form of people hitting each other over the head with locked suitcases" - brilliant!

Meanwhile, reading Luke 13 and Hebrews 7. Lk 13:23-29 is a big problem for the "Hell is shut from the inside" doctrine, and I need to think about this (and maybe ask John Polkinghorne). Interesting also that 35 ends:
legw humin ou mee ideete
me ews eexei hote eipeete
ho erchomenos
en onomati

I'd love to know more about the role of folk-poetry in the Bible, and whether this is, as it would seem, an attempt to render into Greek an equally pithy rhyme in Aramaic.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lovely new granddaughter!

Well our lovely new granddaughter was born on Monday evening - sadly just too late for us to get there in visiting hours - so we saw her last night, a lovely celebration!!

Extraordinary political events, and a really interesting Lent Talk of which I only caught the end on Radio 4. But mind is elsewhere.

Just started Tom Wright's little book Scripture and the Authority of God. He begins by saying that writing a book about the Bible is like making a sandcastle in front of the matterhorn!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Geese, Porposes and Universities

Posted some comments from John Polkinghorne on the Q&A site. He has a wonderful turn of phrase. My favourite comment "what is sauce for the scientific goose , should be sauce for the religious gander" I've also got a google search tool on the Q&A.

Dr Johnson also never fails to delight. From the Dictionary "po'rpoise, po'rpus. The sea-hog.
Parch's with unextinguished thirst
Small beer I guzzle till I burst
ANd then I drag a bloated corpus
Swell'd with a dropsy like a porpus. Swift"

Interesting report on IT Outsourcing from the ACM. They point out the importance of education and note that "There are, however, problems with both the Indian and Chinese educational systems. India provides poor quality higher education outside its top tier of universities, the quality of the faculty is uneven, research opportunities are not generally available to either students or faculty, and there is a tension between providing a good education to a limited number of people and providing access for all. The Chinese system is burdened with an emphasis on rote learning, a reward system for faculty that has not yet been transformed fully to reward research by faculty and their students, and problems moving from a central planning to a competitive funding system that rewards merit and entrepreneurship."

Unfortunately there are problems with the US and UK education systems as well!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Rules for cooperation - and relationships

Finally read the chapter by Nowak and Sigmund that Bob May sent me. It is fascinating, and not at all difficult. They discuss various game-theoretic approaches to the evolution of altruism, based on the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. It turns out that, in the presence of random errors, the evolutionary dynamics run in cycles: from ALLD (Allways Defect) to TFT (Tit for Tat) to GTFT (Generous Tit for Tat) to ALLC (Always Cooperate) and back to ALLD. Of course in a world without errors it is ALLC, as Jesus recommends, that wins out.

They conclude with 5 rules for cooperation:

1. Kin selection leads to cooperation if b/c > 1/r, where r is the coefficient of genetic relatedness between donor and recipient.
2. Direct reciprocity leads to cooperation if b/c > 1/w, where w is the probability of playing another round in the repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma.
3. Indirect reciprocity leads to cooperation if b/c > 1/q, where q is the probability to know the reputation of a recipient.
4. Graph selection (or ‘network reciprocity’) leads to cooperation if b/c > k, where k is the degree of the graph, that is the average number of neighbors.
5. Group selection leads to cooperation if b/c > 1 + z + n/m, where z is the number of migrants accepted by a group durings its life-time, n is the group size and m is the number of groups.
In all five theories, b is the benefit for the recipient and c the cost for the donor of an
altruistic act.

Then at church today, a wonderful sermon from Gordon Fee - poining out that Eph 6 is fundamentally about relationships, not rules, and that (with employee/employer subsitutted for slave/master) it is as relevant today as it has always been. Met him and he autographed his How to read the Bible for All its Worth. Suprisingly I was one of the few employers in the congregation.

Friday, March 10, 2006

IT, Health, Iraq - and what is significant

Brilliant talk last night from Criag Barrett, Chairman of Intel, organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering. He thinks Moores Law will continue for another 15 years or so. Very alive to the social implications of this esp interested in the potential of IT to improve healthcare. He points out that the US expenditure on healthcare is unsustainable and is driving companies like GM into bankrupcy. The best chances of using IT to improve healthcare are in keeping people out of hospital and treating them at home (80% of healthcare costs goes on 15-20% of the population: the old and the chronically ill). But of course this will only really save money if hospitals are closed which is really tough in a politically-run health system like the NHS.

The FT was brilliantly caustic about Patricia Hewitt, pointing out the similarities between her approach to Rover Group and the NHS (Pour in money, appoint managers of dubious competence, allow them to pay themselves inflated salaries, and wait for the inevitable crash).

The Iraq situation sounds very depressing but coalition casualties have been decreasing every month since October and so far this month are under 1/day - the 2nd lowest monthly rate ever. Might not last (not yet statistically significant) but makes an interesting contrast to the news.

Dr Barrett made the point that it was essential to educate people on the basics of statistics, because if you relied on the Media for what was statistically significant ....

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Hard, costly and real

V sympathetic lead editorial in The Times about Rev Julie Nicholson who has resigned as a vicar (but not as a priest) because she cannot (yet) forgive the murderers of her daughter - also criticising the 'furore' about Blair's remarks about God "Britain is ill-served by the resulting hysterical and militant secularism." True forgiveness, like true faith, is hard, costly and real.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Media worries about Christianity

It's interesting how rattled the Liberal Media are by Christianity. Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times objects that Choice is Ruining Education but his real objection is to schools with an evnagelical Christian ethos, and he has a Channel 4 rant against evangelicals tonight.
This goes with the very hostile reception to Blair's perfectly reasonable remarks on prayer. John Lloyd in his FT Magazine profile of David Cameron begins with a visit to a Christian charity 'Open Doors' and seems surprised that when he asks Cameron about his faith he gets a very straight answer: "Yes, I'm a little more than an Easter and Christmas Christian. I go to church about once a month - so I'm a typcial Church of England, slightly laid-back Christian."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Jowell, Blair, Cafe Theology and Altruism

Lots happening. The Jowell affair is all rather depressing - Matthew Parris in The Times is about right. The idea that "a gift doesn't have to be declared if you pay tax on it" is ludicrous.

Appalling media furore about Blair saying he'd prayed before going to war. Of course any Christian would. Christina Odone on Sky indignantly saying "my God had nothing to do with the Gulf War" is miles off. God is no-ones possession - she can not know whether God thought it the lesser of two evils but as Christian we do know that God was there, with the soldiers and civillians, with those who killed and those who were killed. Just because the media is stuffed with unbelievers (for whom Christian values are anathema due to their lifestyles) doesn't mean that the rest of the country isn't mainly Christian.

I'm finding Cafe Theology rather good - the author draws on Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox traditions in an exciting confluence which I have long beleived is vital. Bob May has also kindly sent me the chapter of his new book - written by Nowack - on the evolution of autruism which I must read. But there is lots of work on at the moment, a momentous happy event expected in our family, and I have a Half-Marathon tomorrow.