Friday, October 23, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
One thing you can be sure of when you read Maugham is that his books are very readable and never dull. His stories, for he was essentially a story-teller, translate easily and effectively to the big screen. The latest adaptation, the Painted Veil, is of special interest to me being set as it is in China! My recent shoulder injury required me to hang around the physiotherapist's for quite a while each week. To pass the time, I read a volume of Maugham's short stories. I came to look forward to those sessions of enforced idleness! Our Lord himself was, of course, known for his gifts as a story-teller.
What has struck me most so far in the biography, however, is how much the world changed during his lifetime. Maugham was born in 1874 and died in 1965. He lived through a period of incredible social, political and industrial change. Maugham himself wrote of this when 'looking back' on his life:
'In my long life I have seen many changes in our habits and customs.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
It's Sunday afternoon and I am trying to catch up on the backlog from the week. Taking a break I came across this report about the Hadron Collider in Switzerland, which broke down not long after being switched on:
'In an article worthy of the mantle of truth being far stranger than fiction (science fiction or otherwise), the New York Times writes of two prominent physicists who propose the setbacks at Hadron — and the failures of other physics facilities intent to seek out the same physics holy grail, the Higgs boson — may not be accidental at all (just a bit strange for us lay folk to wrap our minds around).
It goes like this:
The Higgs boson, a proposed but not yet documented elementary particle, is theorized to be that which gives matter its properties of mass. But physicists Holger Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya speculate that the particle is, to put in vernacular terms, not a toy.
As the Times’ Dennis Overbye writes:
"A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists has suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."
The pair fully understands how batty it all sounds, and that neither the recent Hadron failure, nor the U.S. pulling the plug on its large collider project in the 1990s, provides proof of anything. That’s why they did the math, showing all their work, indicating the theoretical viability of their strange sounding notion.'
Friday, October 16, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Talk Two: Calvin’s Big Idea
This year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of the French born theologian and reformer, John Calvin. I expect some of you, at least, will have read Marilynne Robinson. She is a prize-winning American author. Her latest book, Home, has won the 2009
There is on the
Certainly on my shortlist of books to have on a desert island would be Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is Calvin’s most influential piece of writing. It underwent several revisions before reaching its final form. Calvin intended it for pastors to teach them about the Christian faith and to be used by them as a resource for teaching their congregations. It begins with what one Calvin scholar has described recently as Calvin’s big idea. Let me read it:
‘Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.’
What Calvin is saying and what he continues to elaborate on is that we can only know the truth about ourselves and find our place in the world when we know the truth about God. And we will only seek to know the truth about God when we know our own inadequacy and need of God. This is important. For Calvin, knowing ourselves, does not mean what it means in self-help books where we are encouraged to tell ourselves each day how great we are. Rather it is about knowing how great our need of God is.
For Calvin, it is the greatness of God that is the focus of his writing, theology, and worship. For some people, this is something that he takes too far, but even if we don’t want to go all the way with him, this is surely a message that we need to hear today more than ever. God in too much that passes for Christianity is no more than a genii in the lamp: there to serve us and to grant us what we wish for. Someone to make us feel good about ourselves and wanted. For Calvin, the truth is the other way round. Calvin believed that everything begins and ends with God and that we will only understand ourselves and the world in which we live when we come to know God.
Calvin was an admirer of another of my own favourite theologians,
We were created by God for God and can have no peace without God.
We desperately need to rediscover this truth today if our lives are to have meaning and our existence is to have purpose. Too many of us are drifting, not knowing where we came from, why we are here, or where we are going. We sense that there must be more to life than frequent visits to the mall and greater goals in life than owning the latest designer handbag or the newest gadget, but how to find what it is alludes us.
Calvin encourages us to get back to basics. To come to know the One who created us and loves us and wants us to know Him. Strangely, it is when we lose ourselves to find God that we come to know our true selves and find real meaning and purpose in life.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
John Calvin was a 16th century French theologian who alongside such people as Zwingli and Luther worked for the reform of the Church in
Calvin’s influence was to be far more lasting than that of the other reformers. For Calvin was the theologian par excellence of the reformation. He is a theologian whose thought and writings continue to be of influence even today. Calvin wrote profusely. He lectured. He preached. He wrote a commentary on almost every book of the Bible. He preached at one time 5 sermons a week, many of which are still in print. His letters fill many volumes.
Calvin himself was a deeply humble man and insisted that upon his death he be buried in an unmarked grave so that the place of his burial could not become a shrine. After his death, though, his writings and theology were to have a profound effect on the Church throughout the world and not just in
Why should anyone be embarrassed to be connected with such a theological giant and genius? Well, even in his own day Calvin was a controversial figure as well as an influential one. After his death, he attracted many critics as well as many admirers. And it has to be said that he has not always been well served by his followers. Calvinism has acquired the image of a hard, austere, demanding and often joyless form of Christianity. And it has to be said, there is some truth in the accusation.
Despite this, I confess to being one of Calvin’s admirers. I may not always be drawn to Calvinism and those who claim to be following Calvin, but Calvin himself is one of my theological heroes. This is not to say that I agree with everything Calvin said and did. I am not even sure had I met Calvin I would have particularly have liked him. I am almost certain he would not have liked or approved of me. But there is in Calvin and his writings a profound theology that transcends such considerations of personality and celebrity.
Christians are called to follow Christ. Knowing how to do so, can at times be difficult and challenging. The New Testament tells us that one of the gifts of God to his Church is that of a teacher. All human teachers have their faults and weaknesses. No-one is infallible – a sentiment that Calvin would certainly have agreed with. But we do well to value the gifts of God and hear what he is saying to us through his servants. The wisdom of people like Calvin is something we can still learn from today.