Monday, December 28, 2009


These T-shirt sellers definitely make the world a better place. Among their slogans:

Dyslexics are Teople Poo

Olaf Stapledon: The Star Maker

This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read.

Philosophy is supposed to be a series of footnotes to Plato. In the same way, the science fiction I have read might be said to be footnotes to this work by Stapledon.

Arthur C Clarke called it 'the most powerful work of imagination ever written.' Doris Lessing (nobel laureate) and Virginia Woolf (uber establishment literata and name-check dream-chick) heaped praise on it.

It isn't really a novel. It's essentially an overview of a person's experience becoming more and more aware of all the life in the universe, and of the Star Maker himself. As such, it works like Russian dolls in reverse: each succeeding vision is larger than the rest. You wonder where the inventiveness comes from. You wonder if he's ever going to stop. You wonder what he was on when he wrote this.

Finally there is an encounter with the Star Maker himself, which, amazingly, doesn't disappoint.
Truly a classic.

Five faces of poverty

Rather intense blogging at the moment because I have time and health to try to think about the stuff I've been reading and thinking about when ill.

What is poverty? Pastor and writer Malcolm Duncan defines five faces of poverty:

1. Material poverty -- the face most obvious: low income, few possessions.
2. Spiritual poverty -- this is the one the evangelical missions and churches have focussed on: the lack of the knowledge of Jesus and his Kingdom. Of course spiritual poverty is in a sense the condition of all of us.
3. Civic poverty -- 'the lack of opportunity for the excluded and poor to shape their own future'. For example, I once knew someone whose life-savings had been snatched by the Marcos regime in the Philippines. 'The poor man buys a field; injustice sweeps it away'. Dealing with civic poverty has tradionally been the domain of politics, perhaps especially communism.
4. Identity poverty: the voices in the head that say we are worthless, won't amount to much.
5. Aspirational poverty: closely related to civic poverty and identity poverty, it is the crushing of hope.

This is from Micah's Challenge: The Church's Responsibility to the Global Poor, pp 151 - 163.


Be steady and well-ordered in your life so you can be fierce and original in your work.

--Gustave Flaubert, quoted in Wired UK, Jan 10, p 84.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Children in 'care'

In Denmark (so I read) 6 out 0f 10 children in care go to university

In the UK, only 6 out of 100 do. Far more go to prison or become teenage mums.

Anyone who sits in Magistrates' courts will note what a high percentage of offenders come from 'care' backgrounds.

Let's save money by investing in social justice.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blessed are the pacemakers

The main reason I haven't blogged much this autumn is I've been hospital, getting treatment for irregular (both slow and very fast) heartbeats. Part of the treatment was a pacemaker. I can't tell you the pleasure I get from listening to my heart-beat in bed, a steady 70 beats per minute, set by this machine embedded above my left nipple.

So much better than the horrible swooping feeling earlier when your heart appears to stop. Blessed are the pacemakers. A pulse is one of those things you never miss, until you haven't got it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The poor: the missing jewel of the evangelical church

Have enjoyed working through Micah's challenge which talks about the church's obligations to the poor, and boasts a preface by Gordon Brown. Cunningly the publishers then presumably persuaded David Cameron and the atheist Nick Clegg to also write commendations to keep up. So it's a well-accredited book.

It's also very good, if demanding, reading. Some themes:

1. Working among the poor is integral to the kingdom of God. Preachers shouldn't say, ' read your Bible, pray, invite people to church'. They should say 'read your Bible, pray, invite people to church, and be good news to the poor.'

2. It shows how God hates structural sin (unjust trade, for example) as much as personal sin.

3. It shows how the kingdom of God advances -- in N T Wright's arresting phrase, 'The call of the gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world through suffering love.'

Somebody needs to write a popular version. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

At last a 'Christian novel' that I wanted to read

I'm not at all sure about the idea of 'Christian fiction' as a genre. Much better usually to think just of 'fiction'. What Jesus did with parables, novelists who are Christians can do with novels: attack people's hearts, invite people to explore further. And so on.

My Name is Russell Fink by Michael Snyder is perhaps an exception to this rule. It is funny, agreeably dysfunctional, and peopled with entertaining characters. To those who would avoid 'Christian fiction' because (a) it's a peculiar idea to start with and (b) it conjures up books for homemakers in the American Midwest that mention the word 'prairie' a lot, this is a mould-breaker.

You could give it to your non-Christian friends with no embarrassment. Book clubs could read and appreciate it. It is a happy, light novel of a hapless photocopier salesman finding God (and a girl), and solving the puzzle of his poisoned dog. In other words, it is completely unlike, thank goodness, The Shack. I liked it a lot. I see Amazon resellers have it for as little as £1.35; got to be worth a punt.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Reasons to read novels #433

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read." Groucho Marx.