Friday, January 23, 2009

Happy New Year!

Big excitement here!  It is Chinese New Year's Eve on Sunday, which means that for many the holiday begins tonight.  Not for everyone, of course, and obviously not for Vicars!  Nevertheless, there is a definite atmosphere as we approach the Year of the Ox.

Christmas is celebrated here, but Chinese New Year more so. Christmas gets two days of holiday. Chinese New Year three. There is real significance and traditions attached to each of the days of the New Year celebration, which goes on longer than the official holiday itself; much in the way Christmas goes on for many days in the west.

This is one of the best times for me.  As it is not a specifically Christian holiday, I have no special services and so get a bit of a break myself.  One thing I am intending to do is to read a book that has been co-authored by Michael Bird and James Crossley entitled: How did Christianity begin?

Michael is an evangelical Christian and James - well, he is neither, but the two obviously get on. James I don't know, but Michael's blog is one of my favourite's.  The guy is amazing in both the quality, directness and accessibility of his writing and also in its freshness, originality, and, at times, inspiration. 

His blog is called Euangelion 

It is mainly directed at those with an interest in New Testament studies.

Meanwhile, may I wish all the readers of this blog a very Happy Year of the Ox!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Building Jerusalem?

One of the things I do here regularly is to attend school speech days. I always have mixed feelings about them. Don’t misunderstand me. The students deserve their prizes and their moment of glory. The speakers, however, are always the great and the good - and, sadly, also normally the boring. There are obviously exceptions, but School Committees always choose the speakers their members like.  People that they want to impress and that they want to be seen to be friends with.  I just wish we could reach a compromise and get a good person who was also fun, mildly interesting, and inspiring. 

The other day at a school speech day, we began with the hymn by William Blake (if indeed it is a hymn) Jerusalem. This is a hymn often still sung at such events. 

And did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of God
on England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I shall not cease from mental fight,
nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
till we have built Jerusalem
in England’s green and pleasant land.  

It is a bit strange to be singing about a rural idyll in urban Hong Kong, but that’s another matter! And obviously Jesus' feet did not 'walk upon England's mountains green'.  And no, the 'Lamb of God' did not appear in England.  

The real irony, though, lies in singing a work by Blake in schools following a western style of education.  Blake himself had a very negative view of the system of education followed by many both here and in the west in general.  

In the hymn, Blake makes reference to the 'dark Satanic mills'.  Commonly, these are taken to refer to the cotton mills of industrial England.  If you do your dates, this is very unlikely. Much more likely, in fact, is that what Blake was condemning was the sort of education that some of the Schools who sing this hymn promote!  The ‘satanic mills’ were not the factories of the industrial revolution, but the universities of Europe, which, in his day, awarded degrees, but failed to educate.  And who still do. 

If you think this is a fanciful interpretation, and not all would agree with it I know, it is worth remembering that in Blake’s epic poem, Jerusalem (somewhat confusingly the hymn, Jerusalem, occurs in his preface to another poem) Blake writes these lines:  

I turn my eyes to the schools and Universities of Europe
and there behold the loom of Locke, whose woof rages dire,
wash’d by the Water-wheels of Newton: black the cloth
in heavy wreaths folds over every Nation: cruel Works
of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
moving by compulsion each other, not so those in Eden, which,
Wheel within Wheel, in freedom revolve in harmony and peace.

Blake believed that the education system of his day stifled imagination and creativity.  Whether you agree that the 'satanic mills' of the hymn refer to universities or not, Blake would not have been happy that his hymn was being used to celebrate a type of education that he himself deplored.  

A very good friend of mine in university education, here in Hong Kong, just this week said to me that his greatest challenge was simply to get his students to think.  Our education system is the product of the enlightenment and the era of alleged scientific discovery and progress.  It encourages us to think we are superior to those from the past; to those from pre-scientific days.   Even in the Church, we patronize those of previous generations as primitive, ignorant, and superstitious.  

I wonder.  

Are we really more intelligent than they when it comes to the things that really matter?  Perhaps the great thinkers of the past have more to teach us in the present than we care to admit.  When the universities of the west first began people went to them to study theology and to learn about God. Now it is to study subjects such as business or media studies and to get a qualification.  

It makes you think, don’t you think?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Trying to Keep Up!

I wish I was creative. Sadly, I am not. Fortunately, however, the guys at Google are!

So from now on, all you have to do to access the blog is to enter: 

It's a bit easier to remember! The old address continues to work!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Christmas Sermons

It is my intention to write up my sermons from over Christmas and put them here on this blog. This is going to take a little time!  I type slowly, and while I write out my sermons, they are just that: handwritten and in need of polish, if anyone is to be able to read them.

However, we do record our sermons at Christ Church, and so I am going to post the links to them for those of you keen enough to listen!  The written variety will follow.

The first was preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent at the Carol Service.  This is the link:

Happy New Year

I hope that Christmas was good for you, although, strictly speaking, it is not over until tomorrow! I still like the idea of the 12 days of Christmas.  Sources on the Internet, however, don't seem to be able to agree on which are the twelve days.  Some see today as the twelfth day; others tomorrow.  

The Oxford English Dictionary makes tonight twelfth night and tomorrow the twelfth day. In liturgical terms, of course, the day begins the evening before - if you see what I mean. Rather like the Jewish sabbath, which begins on the Friday evening and ends on the Saturday evening! If you count, however, from December 25, you will see that this gives 13 days.  The explanation being that the twelve days of Christmas are the days following Christmas Day itself!

So enjoy what is left of Christmas while you can before it is over for another year!

This year marks the 5ooth anniversary of Calvin's birth.  I expect to be blogging about Calvin during the year so I won't say too much more now. Calvin inspires strong emotions both for and against. People are quick to take sides, less quick to bother to read what Calvin actually says.  Princeton Theological Seminary has come up with a brilliant idea for 2009 and that is to read through the Institutes, Calvin's greatest work, over the course of the year. Through their website, they give a daily reading with resources to support it. 

This is the link: 

Highly recommended!