Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.

Things Seen - Fletcher

I was in a park in Aberystwyth when I saw two dog owners chatting. They looked quite different (young/old, black/white, etc). It was the dogs (Labradors black and chocolate) that they had in common. I heard the one man ask the name of the other's dog and was told it was Fletcher. He repeated the name several times, rolling it around his tongue. He seemed to be looking for a meaning in it beyond the mere sounds. It was an interesting question as I guess he will have little reason to use it. Nevertheless, there is something in us that wants to name things. If I come into contact with a dog, I want to know its name. It's natural.

i tunes U Mediaeval Theology

Often slow on the uptake I recently noticed iTunes U and in particular a series of lectures by Douglas Kelly given at Reformed Theological Seminary on Mediaeval Theology. There are some 22 lectures (about 20 hours altogether I guess) looking at Boethius, Aquinas, etc, etc. They appear to have been given recently to undergraduates and are well worth checking out (I am on Lecture 19 by now). Kelly combines academic depth (in theology, philosophy and ancient languages) with warm presentation that is sometimes lightly humorous and often applied to today's issues. The stance is thoroughly evangelical but very even handed and seeks to point up the wisdom of our Medieval forefathers. For more info check here. 

Lord's Day December 29 2013

We had about 40 present last week at our Christmas Day service and a similar number this last Lord's Day and about half that came Sunday evening. I preached briefly on the Wednesday morning on He is great and then on the Lord's Day on Romans 13:12 which will be our motto text this year – The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. So set aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Our elder Robert Strivens preached helpfully in the evening from Paul's prayer in Philippians 1. There was a kind invitation back to home of one of our deacons which was nice. No visitors this time but it is nice to have the students around still. One of our members, our oldest, died last Saturday. She has not been able to attend for some time. I'm sure I will say more about that here.

My Christmas Books 2013

One of the joys of Christmas is getting new books. I had six new ones this year. There was a University Challenge Quiz Book and A Little Book of London by David Long from two sons and from another and his wife the whopping new John Frame Systematic Theology. I'm very much looking forward to getting into the last of these. Then the sisters-in-law and their husbands weighed in with a list book (a hardback edition of Russell Ash's Top Ten of Britain) and a book for using with kids (66 Books One Story by Paul Reynolds). The piece de resistance came from my wife, a beautiful edition of Umberto Eco's The Book of legendary Lands. Printed on good weighty glossed paper and oozing with colourful illustrations the book examines a number of lost lands and allied themes. With his  great erudition and vast knowledge the book is a joy. I have started it and have enjoyed what he has to say on the lost ten tribes and the seven wonders of the world. Each chapter is complete with sources though the tone is never heavy.

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas

Come December in our house we get out the Christmas stuff from above the cupboard on the landing. This stuff includes a box of about 20 Christmas books of various sorts, mostly red and some green. Among them is The Atheist's Guide to Christmas a collection of short pieces on the theme that came out a few years ago. There are 43 sections arranged under Stories, Science, How To, Philosophy, Arts, Events. Contributors include Richard Dawkins, Simon Le Bon, Derren Brown, David Baddiel, Brian Cox, etc. I have now read  about half the book. I'll probably read the rest next year. The contributions vary as one would expect. Curiously, much of what they say Evangelical Christians would agree with - Christmas is a pagan festival but suffused with Christian ideas. Can't we just take what we like and leave the rest? One notes a lot of ignorance and there is a genuine sadness that intelligent men and women have made a decision, usually early in life, on the slenderest of evidence, to reject the idea of God. To me it seems that they all do believe in God but find that an assertion of atheism is the best way to deal with their aversion to the idea. It's the case of people doing their best and trying to make the most of the situation. That is the way to disaster. More positively, the book reminds us that atheists are not monsters of some sort but ordinary human beings (very nice ones too some of them) like us trying to make sense of it all. Without God we are all sunk.

10 Grandmother names

1. Grandmother
2. Granny
3. Granmama
4. Grandma (what my kids called my mother)
5. Nana (what I called both my grandmothers, common in South Wales)
6. Nain (North Walian, what my kids call my wife's mother)
7. Mam gu (South Walian)
8. Memaw (I know this from Big Bang Theory, what Texan Sheldon called his grandmother)
9. Yaya (Greek)
10. Mom mom (American)

Another Christmas Present 1967 and 1973

Another more present that has come to mind, which presumably I received in 1967, when it was toy of the year is Spirograph. The gift I remember was as above. I never mastered making patterns with the elongated strips but had some fun with the circles. I remember it came with a piece of cardboard, nice shiny paper, a box of pins with which to fix the paper and coloured ink biros. The coloured pens were the best bit for me and it must have been a year or two later that I received one of those nice box sets with a selection of pens (probably made by Platinum or someone like that).
 
Toy of the year in 1973 was the very simple mastermind in its distinctive box. Presumably that was the year that I got that item. My wife bought a generic version of the game for the boys this Christmas.

A-Z of Christmas icons 26 Zebra


A-Z of Christmas icons 25 Yule log


Seasonal Theology from St Ambrose et al

In Peter Lombard's Sentences Book 1 and Chapter 10 we read words like these mostly from Ambrose

You ask me, how he can be a son if he has not a prior father? I ask of you also, when or how you think the Son is generated? For to me it is impossible to know the secret of generation; the mind fails, the voice is silent; and not mine only, but that of the angels; it is above angels, above powers, above cherubim, above seraphim, and above all understanding, if the peace of Christ is above all understanding (Phil, 4:7), must not such a generation be above all understanding?
Cover then (like the angels) your face with your hands, for it is not given you to look into surpassing mysteries! We are suffered to know that the Son is begotten, not to dispute upon the manner of His begetting. I cannot deny the one; the other I fear to search into, for if Paul says that the words which he heard when caught up into the third heaven might not be uttered, 2 Corinthians 12:2-5 how can we explain the secret of this generation from and of the Father, which we can neither hear nor attain to with our understanding?

A-Z of Christmas icons 24 X


All my Christmases at once

 
 
 
So not to be too tedious about this. I had this curious idea that I'd like to be scientist. This lead to the gifts of a microscope ( 1967) which was good fun. Even a human hair looks interesting under the lens of a microscope. I don't think I ever really learned anything from it. The chemistry set (1968) was as boring as one might expect. Nothing blew up. I did learn to make copper sulphate crystals, however, and was later placed in a competition at school for the best ones. In 1971 it was a telescope, which again wasn't quite the fun you hoped for. I tried looking at the night sky with it and learned very little. I do remember the joy of being able to read the words Lin Pac clearly on the factory across the valley from our house. When I began at the grammar school I joined an astronomy club that met on Friday nights and gave a talk on telescopes once. Beyond knowing a few obvious constellations my knowledge of the night sky is very poor. The electronics kit (1972) was as disappointing as all the rest. I managed to put something together once but it never worked. It was beginning to dawn on me that science was not my metier and I eventually dropped all science subjects at school not pursuing any of them to exam level. I like to read popular science books from time to time but have no aptitude for that area whatsoever.
The bicycle and the cassette recorder break up the sequence. I think the bicycle must have been around 1969. I was quite late learning to ride a bicycle being rather big, having little sense of balance and no bicycle for many years. I must have been able to ride by then as I recall going out on it on Christmas day (nor rain but the road was wet). The receiving of the gift stands out as we would always have our gifts in our bedrooms - a stocking with an apple and orange at the bottom, a comic down the side and various little items (I remember a mini stapler once and putting a staple directly into my thumb. Ouch!) and then a sack of toys. The bicycle was never brought upstairs, of course, and so I thought I had all my presents until I went downstairs and found it in the front room. It was grey and a sort of shopper's bike. I had a lot of fun with it. Once you crossed the main road from us you were in the countryside and I loved cycling out there with friends. The bicycle was a Pegasus.
The cassette recorder seemed quite a revolution at the time and the cassette tape certainly did have its impact. This thing was made by Standard and weighed quite a bit still. At that time Japanese companies were still trying to look English not the other way round. Any way it did the job okay. I remember they had a steel band at the school summer fair, which I taped. I also have a memory of Telegram Sam by T Rex being performed on Top of the Pops for the first time and trying to tape it with a microphone. Great fun.
I have no strong memories after that. I suppose I'd reached that stage where they would buy me clothes. It happens to the best of us.

A Child's Christmas in Wales





Dylan Thomas began his wonderful little book with the above title
 
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.
 
I have been trying to recapture my childhood Christmases. There is some confusion in my mind but as best I can remember each Christmas between 1965 when I was 6 and 1972 when I was 13 I had a main present from my parents and the order was as follows
 
1965 Johnny Seven
1966 Trik-Trak
1967 Microscope
1968 Chemistry set
1969 Bicycle
1970 Telescope
1971 Electronics kit
1972 Cassette recorder
 
The first two need some explanation. The Johnny Seven (and I write the day after the death of Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK47) was a child's gun that had seven components. It shot plastic white bullets, had a rifle action trigger, made a machine gun noise, had a grenade launcher and had a detachable handgun. I can't quite remember the other two (anti-tank rocket and armour piercing shell). It was big thing for a six year old (perhaps I was seven) and I remember that it was useless for lugging round in a game of war. In the end I just used to use the detachable handgun.
As for Trik-Trak see the video above which will show you both how exciting it seemed (especially after the effort involved in setting up Scalextric) and how basic it actually was. I think I was slightly disappointed even on the day I received it. The "scenery" was never used (except, oh yes, a cardboard tunnel - useless). I remember reading on the massive box that it was made in Northern Ireland.
You can see what a sucker I was for advertising. If I was little today I'd be recommending a Wonga loan to my parents.

A-Z of Christmas icons 23 Wreath


Seasonal theology from Anselm

This is from Anselm's  Cur Deus homo? Chapter 8
 
It now remains to inquire whence and how God shall assume human nature. For he will either take it from Adam, or else he will make a new man, as he made Adam originally. But, if he makes a new man, not of Adam’s race, then this man will not belong to the human family, which descended from Adam, and therefore ought not to make atonement for it, because he never belonged to it. For, as it is right for man to make atonement for the sin of man, it is also necessary that he who makes the atonement should be the very being who has sinned, or else one of the same race. Otherwise, neither Adam nor his race would make satisfaction for themselves. Therefore, as through Adam and Eve sin was propagated among all men, so none but themselves, or one born of them, ought to make atonement for the sin of men. And, since they cannot, one born of them must fulfil this work. Moreover, as Adam and his whole race, had he not sinned, would have stood firm without the support of any other being, so, after the fall, the same race must rise and be exalted by means of itself. For, whoever restores the race to its place, it will certainly stand by that being who has made this restoration. Also, when God created human nature in Adam alone, and would only make woman out of man, that by the union of both sexes there might be increase, in this he showed plainly that he wished to produce all that he intended with regard to human 248 nature from man alone. Wherefore, if the race of Adam be reinstated by any being not of the same race, it will not be restored to that dignity which it would have had, had not Adam sinned, and so will not be completely restored; and, besides, God will seem to have failed of his purpose, both which suppositions are incongruous: It is, therefore, necessary that the man by whom Adam’s race shall be restored be taken from Adam. ...
Let us now examine the question, whether the human nature taken by God must be produced from a father and mother, as other men are, or from man alone, or from woman alone. For, in whichever of these three modes it be, it will be produced from Adam and Eve, for from these two is every person of either sex descended. And of these three modes, no one is easier for God than another, that it should be selected on this account.
... It is no great toil to show that that man will be brought into existence in a nobler and purer manner, if produced from man alone, or woman alone, than if springing from the union of both, as do all other men.   
... Therefore must he be taken either from man alone, or woman alone.   
... In four ways can God create man, viz., either of man and woman, in the common way; or neither of man nor woman, as he created Adam; or of man without woman, as he made Eve; or of woman without man, which thus far he has never done. Wherefore, in order to show that this last mode also under his power, and was reserved for this very purpose, what more fitting than that he should take that man whose origin we are seeking from a woman without a man? Now whether it be more worthy that he be born of a virgin, or one not a virgin, we need not discuss, but must affirm, beyond all doubt, that the God-man should be born of a virgin.   
... as man’s sin and the cause of our condemnation sprung from a woman, so the cure of sin and the source of our salvation should also be found in a woman. And that women may not despair of attaining the inheritance of the blessed, because that so dire an evil arose from woman, it is proper that from woman also so great a blessing should arise, that their hopes may be revived. Take also this view. If it was a virgin which brought all evil upon the race, it is much more appropriate that a virgin should be the occasion of all good. And this also. If woman, whom God made from man alone, was made of a virgin (de virgine), it is peculiarly fitting for that man also, who shall spring from a woman, to be born of a woman without man. Of the pictures which can be superadded to this, showing that the God-man ought to be born of a virgin, we will say nothing. These are sufficient.

Things seen (again)

I dashed into a large shopping mall in London today packed to the brim. As I briskly walked along I saw a woman on her mobile phone. As I passed her I saw on her cheek one solitary glistening tear. Her face did not betray too much emotion but she was obviously receiving bad news - not news that made her burst into tears but something that made her weep. I don't know what it was, of course, but it reminded me of the sadness all around us in this world, deep seated sadness that is not easily removed. The jollity and festivity and everyone rushing around simply added to the isolation of the pain.

All the proof you need

We have never taught any of our children to believe in Father Christmas though some have. One of my sons told me this year how he rumbled the whole thing. When he was around eight years old we took him again to see Santa. Santa said "And what's your name?" "Why do you ask?" says my son "I told you it last year". The lame "Oh I forgot"" cut no ice. The impostor had been rumbled.

10 Grandfather names

1. Grandpa
2. Grandpop
3. Grandad (what I called my father's dad)
4. Granfer (West country, what I called my father's mother's father, what my boys called my father)
5. Gransha (South Walian, the way my mother's mother referred to my grandfather)
6. Bampie (South Walian, what I actually called my mother's father)
7. Taid (North Walian, what my boys call their mother's father)
8. Tad-cu (South Walian)
9. Gramps
10. Pops

Lord's Day December 22 2013

We ended up singing 11 Christmas hymns yesterday (long story). I preached in the morning from Matthew 2 on the wise men and Andrew my assistant preached in the evening again from Luke 2 and peace with God. We were unable to attract any new local people but there were a good number at both meetings with the students home from college, etc. One of the London students was 21 and we had three cakes (long story again) and sang happy birthday morning and evening. What a good day it was. I have especially enjoyed singing the Christmas hymns this time round. The best ones are full of good things. Charles Wesley was a genius.

A-Z of Christmas icons 22 Village


A-Z of Christmas icons 21 Unicorn


A-Z of Christmas icons 20 Tinsel


Another present Christmas 1964

I've been thinking about the Christmas of 1964 and I think it must have been that Christmas that I also received an orange plastic Beatles guitar as above. The guitar survived for many years without strings serving as a prop for miming to records. I had forgotten it had only four strings. Not an issue at the time.

A-Z of Christmas icons 19 Star/Snowflake


Puritans get it in the neck again

It's David Aaronovitch this time in today's Times ("If you’re Biggs, you believe that you’re big"). It starts off as a fair point about the way we all, like Biggs, tend to justify ourselves. It then turns to quoting R H Tawney and a rather lame claim that the Puritans were the biggest offenders in this very crime. Aaronovitch doesn't quote any Puritans to back up his point or seem to have much idea abut them in general but they look like a good dog to kick, however, and so he kicks as is the way these days.
In his sermon on The justice of God in the damnation of sinners from Romans 3:9 Jonathan Edwards closes by saying
 
O! what cause is here for praise! What obligations you are under to bless the Lord who hath dealt bountifully with you, and magnify his holy name! What cause for you to praise God in humility, to walk humbly before him. Ezekiel 16:63. "That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God!" You shall never open your mouth in boasting, or self-justification; but lie the lower before God for his mercy to you. You have reason, the more abundantly, to open your mouth in God's praises, that they may be continually in your mouth, both here and to all eternity, for his rich, unspeakable, and sovereign mercy to you, whereby he, and he alone, hath made you to differ from others.

The A-Z of Christmas icons 17 Quail


4:48 Psychosis

Last week I was in Wales collecting two of the boys from University. I made the trip via Aberystwyth where my eldest son was performing solo in the small Arts Centre studio in a Run Amok Theatre production of the harrowing drama 4:48 Psychosis. The drama by the late Sarah Kane (she committed suicide in 1999 before the production of this her final work). I watched the 35 minute presentation with mixed emotions. Rhodri is a fine actor and the enthusiasm some show for his skills is understandable (the mother of the director who I had not met immediately recognised me for who I was just before the show - poor Rhodri, it's that obvious!). For me it is difficult to watch objectively and my familiarity with his persona combined with my impossibly high standards makes it very difficult for me to judge how good it was as a performance (there is a sequence where he has to exercise for some minutes to the point of running up a sweat - not imagining some other of my boys doing it instead was impossible for me). The swearing is not much of an issue as one might expect as it is abundantly clear that he is acting a part not expressing himself as he might in his own name. I suppose what I struggle with is the whole way such a drama is presented - as an entertainment. The play raises massive issues of theology, sociology, mental health and human relationships. I am not really comfortable with it being dealt with in that environment I guess, where the presentation is everything. It was something I struggled with studying English at university. The question was always "what is being said?" rather than "is it right?" and "what is the real answer?" which are my true interests as a preacher. I believe further presentations are due in the new year in Cardiff. See here.

Hilary Mantel Trilogy

I have now read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring up the bodies. I was attracted to the large volumes by their subject matter - Thomas Cromwell (a key figure in Henry VIII's reign) the Tudors being my best loved and known historical period - and their award winning success. They certainly are very well written and I think give an insight into the period not easily gained from ordinary history books. I am not a fan of historical fiction. When doing A level history many years ago Jean Plaidy (Eleanor Hibbert was her real name - she also wrote as Philippa Carr and Victoria Holt). The class was nearly all girls and they would always ask if Plaidy was worth reading. The teacher's cautious answer meant I never bothered. In fact, one of the Philippa Gregory Boleyn novels is the only venture into historical fiction I have made, I believe. Anyway, Mantel is clearly superior to either of those authors but still you have this problem - not knowing what is credible fact and what is patent fiction. I tend to look behind every sentence of a book wondering what prompted it and reading these books I was constantly wondering what prompted it - whim or research. So, given that these are such long books I am not altogether satisfied but I'm glad I've got through them. Given that there is one more book to come (The Mirror and the Light) I am rather tied in I guess but that is not until 2015 they say. Meanwhile, the thought of Mark Rylance and a presentation of the material as Shakespearean drama does appeal. See here.

Christmas 1964

I have been trying to remember my childhood Christmases. In 1964 I must have been five. By this time we had moved into a new house across the road with the birth of my sister in the September. I have a handle on the date (I think) because of a particular car I recall.
 

 
On the bonnet it says Olympics 1964 Winter Sports (the Winter Olympics were in Innsbruck that year). Of course, I could have received it in '63 or '65 I guess but '64 seems right. Anyway, I remember opening it and several other presents in my little room at the front of the house. I also recall going to my parents' room across the landing and finding an already unwrapped space station USA set that was a joy for years to come. I distinctly remember touching the missile trigger not realising that it would shoot out as it did straight at my mother's head. I also remember my dad carefully applying the transfers to the rockets that afternoon using a bowl of hot water. The rocket launcher was hard to load but when the rocket came out it went up with such force it would thud into the ceiling. I'd forgotten about the platform next to the launcher in the picture. That didn't get used much after a while. (For a blog by someone on the rocket base see here).
 
 

R C Sproul Crucial Questions Free

I notice that 17 volumes in the Crucial Questions series by R C Sproul are now available to download free from Amazon. This is the British link.

The A-Z of Christmas icons 16 Poinsettia


Novelists 35 L Frank Baum

L Frank Baum (1856 – 1919) I don't think of as a novelist as this American author of children's books is best known for writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 which was later a very successful film (1939). Even though he wrote 13 novel sequels, nine other fantasy novels and a load of other works (55 novels in total, plus four "lost" novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, an unknown number of scripts, etc), and made numerous attempts to bring his works to the stage and screen he has only this one claim to fame. His works, they say, anticipated such century-later commonplaces as TV, augmented reality, laptop computers (The Master Key), wireless telephones (Tik-Tok of Oz), women in high risk, action-heavy occupations (Mary Louise in the Country) and the ubiquity of advertising on clothing (Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work).

The A-Z of Christmas icons 15 Orange


More on Saving Mr Banks 2 Modern censorship

I came across this fascinating clip on Youtube.

More on Saving Mr Banks 1 Eye for detail

This is from an interview with the director of Saving Mr Banks John Lee Hancock. It shows an eye for detail, which I often lack but on this occasion did notice while watching the film. A eureka moment indeed. This is also a good general point on preparation for anything.
 
I think movies are made in prep. I think a lot of problems that movies have when they’re over budget is because of a lack of prep. Sometimes it’s because an actor’s schedule means that he or she is only available at this time - so we’re going to be shooting in a month. You don’t want to do those movies, because they’re going to fail at some level. Every decision you make in prep, whether it’s the colour of the walls in a character’s bedroom, or what he or she wears, these are all character related, so little by little you’re able to build a character and build a story and support the themes.
I think it’s incredibly important, especially when you’ve got Kelly Marcel, who’s so bright and wrote such a beautiful script. Kelly, she goes "oh god, don’t tell me we’re going through props again," and I go "yes, we’re going through props again!" And then all of a sudden we have something where your props master says "I want you to look at rings for Colin [Farrell]. I have an idea: this is the ring that Mr Banks wore in the actual movie, this pinkie signet ring." And so all of a sudden, we’re going "let’s make this all flow back and forth; let’s make that the ring that Colin wears in the movie." And nobody’s going to ever see it, but maybe you might sense it. And then we said, let’s go one step further, let’s have P L Travers wear it as well - that’s the connection to her father. As though somehow - we’re inventing the story - that this was her father’s ring, and then it became her ring, and in the process of her making the movie, it became Mr Banks’ ring. That’s a little, tiny victory. A Eureka moment.

Lord's Day December 15 2013

We sang another ten mostly Christmas hymns yesterday and continued to explore nativity themes. Andrew took us unusually to John 18 in the morning and spoke on Christ the truth. I carried on with Matthew 1 in the evening, speaking of God's power and grace. It was good to have a few visitors there as well as seeing nearly all our students back. We sat down to communion before the evening meeting to focus on Christ's death rather than his birth. The more one looks at the whole story, the more one sees and the more amazed one is.

The A-Z of Christmas icons 14 Nuts


Six stars for Saving Mr Banks

 
Saw the film Saving Mr Banks this week with Tom Hanks (Walt Disney) and Emma Thompson (P L Travers). I went with Eleri as it was one of those rare moments when we both think we'll like a film and we're able to get round to seeing it. Put simply, it was absolutely stunningly brilliant. This is what films should be like but rarely are - funny, sad, interesting, evocative, nostalgic, simple but compelling, telling a story. It is even worth knowing why it has the title it does.
I do not honestly know whether I have seen a film in the cinema that both made me laugh out loud and quietly cry. It's extremely rare for a film to do even one of those things. When you throw in the fact that it is about a film I know (Mary Poppins) and yet a story that I don't know (the life of P L Travers) then the recipe is a powerful one. I especially loved the moments when the Sherman brothers are writing a song and trying to get it right and because you know how it should go you get a tremendous buzz waiting fro them to work it out.
What was so funny? The hilarious way the Emma Thompson character objects to almost everything that is suggested and treats the co-writers like naughty schoolboys. So sad? Chiefly P L Travers inability to forgive herself but plenty of sadness from Walt and others too.
Seeing this film has convinced me that Gravity was very poor indeed as are most of the films that come out. Almost never do I want to see a film again but this one I would happily see again. I'd also like to watch Mary Poppins again some time.

Christmas 1963

The first Christmas I think I can remember at all was Christmas 1963. I was only four. My dad was 34 and my mother was 29. My sister was not then born. I am fairly sure of the year as I only lived in two houses as a kid and this was in the first of the two. The actual memory is of grey venetian blinds and being in the main living room downstairs with my dad and of visitors calling. I know that my dad got me a Scalextric because he described very vividly having looked through the window and seen Father Christmas from the back with a bike in his sack for Janice Price, the girl next door, having already delivered the Scalextric to us. Although I cannot remember getting the Scalextric it remained for years to come. The figure of eight track came with a blue car (Lotus?) and a yellow car (Ferrari), white plastic crash barriers and green triangles used to bank the track and some other bits to make the fly over. There was also a big heavy transformer to convert the current with hand controls that were red and blue I believe and that would grow warm and smell a little when used for a while. I cannot quite remember the numbers on the cars although I am sure the blue one had a number 1. May be the yellow was number 4. Stirling Moss was the only racing driver I knew of until an older cousin later introduced me to the name of Jim Clark. I remember that my mother said the man next door played on the Scalextric with my dad all day. That would be “Uncle” Graham, who worked with jukeboxes and slot machines. He was married to “Auntie” Gwen, who drove a black taxi cab. A childless couple who once showed us slides of their holiday to Holland in their home they went on to be the first people in the street to get a colour TV. There must have been other presents and other events but it is all gone.

William Brock on his father

I found this charming reminiscence in the Life of William Brock (first minister of Bloomsbury Chapel) in a life by Charles M Birrell.
“Over the bureau in our sitting-room was a shelf, with the very few but very good books which my father used, among them Scott's 'Commentary,' in three quarto volumes, which he had bought in honour of his marriage.  I have seen him take one or other of these down after service on Sunday mornings, and then, leaning his head on his two upraised hands, give himself to the examination of the passage that he had there before him — probably the passage on which Mr. Gibbons had been preaching. Thus all that I can call to mind about my father relates to the religious and the good. How pleasant this is to me, I cannot tell you. Such a parentage as mine was better to me than rubies. I feel it to have been to me beyond price!"

The A-Z of Christmas icons 13 Mistletoe


Evangelical Library In Writing 123

The current edition of In Writing is now available from the Evangelical Library. It contains last summer's annual lecture on Brethrenism. The website is up and running too despite some recent hitches.

Thank you Joan Bakewell and the MLJ Trust

The famous interview between Joan Bakewell and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones from 1970 is now up on Youtube and is well worth a view (over 2000 views already I see). I was surprised to see that it is in colour. So good to see it there.

The A-Z of Christmas icons 10 Jumpers


Westminster Conference 2013 Day 2

Apologies for the delay with this. It was not borne of false modesty, given my own part in the proceedings, rather it was being busy with other things (the Christmas icons were programmed in a while ago). Day 2 began with a  paper on evangelistic preaching by Gary Benfold. This was chiefly on Dr Lloyd-Jones but included several helpful references to C H Spurgeon, which made for some useful comparison and contrast. Gary was faithful to his historical task but his concern shone through to see more evangelistic preaching to the end that people may be saved. A good discussion followed.
Next we looked at Edward Irving with Nick Tucker from Oak Hill. Like many others I first became aware of Edward Irving thanks to Arnold Dallimore's paperback of many years ago. At the time the Charismatic wars were in full swing and it was difficult to ignore the polemic embedded in the book. By this stage one feels more able to take a cool look and see Irving with his many undoubted faults and consider him more dispassionately. Nick Tucker certainly did this well and we had another good discussion. Unusually we ended up discussing briefly whether the subject of the paper was a Christian (we had done this with C S Lewis). This is not the usual pattern at the Westminster Conference.
We began the final session, therefore that Isaac Ambrose was a Christian and a Puritan to boot (uniquely at this conference). I felt I managed to make such a good start that it was difficult to sustain as we filled in some of the detail of the life of this interesting man whose main claim to fame was his commitment to meditating on the Lord. Tradition dictates that the last paper is not discussed and I did not want to complain about that. The papers will be published in due time.
The chairmen were Stephen Clark, Jeremy Walker and Robert Oliver.
Next year it is very much an 18th century and 17th century affair with papers the first day on Calvinistic Methodism, dualism and its remedy and Thomas Charles and the second, Knox, Baxter and Antinomianism (with Mark Jones). It will be at the same place on December 2 and 3, God willing.

Lord's Day December 8 2013

I like to handle Christmas by plunging straight in there fairly early on with sermons on the incarnation and lots of Christmas hymns. We sang 10 yesterday and I preached from Matthew 1:1-17 and Revelation 12:1-5. The morning sermon is really the beginning of a new series on Matthew (I plan to look at the rest of Chapter 1 next week). I got the other text from Roger Ellsworth. It's a rather less obvious Christmas text. We had one or two visitors which was good. We also had tea together before the morning meeting, which was nice.

The A-Z of Christmas icons 09 Icicle