Wednesday, 31 March 2004

Well, while I'm here...

Mike, one of the people who's coming into the Church with me at the Easter vigil, said today, at the last RCIA meeting before the Saturday (10th April 20:00), that he thought that it was somehow easier for Christians whose faith was under attack, whether through persecution, or from difficulty of life in general, to feel close to God. The documentary that James, Rob and I watched a while ago certainly seems to support the verdict. What the World thinks of God I believe it was called. In any case, the affluent nations were the ones who thought that the existence of suffering and evil disproved the existence of God, whereas the more war-torn and famine-stricken among the nations surveyed didn't have so much of an issue with the fact.


Now it may be objected against faith in God that it eases the suffering of the believer or it may be objected that suffering disproves the existence of God, but someone thinking rationally can't have it both ways, at least as a an explanation of a general trend of belief. This, I think, is worth considering. G.K. Chesterton had a lot to say about this type of self-negating two-pronged attack on Christian belief. C.S. Lewis also said (The Problem of Pain):
If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that.
Well, I think he's got a point.

Well, back to Mike's idea about the relative ease of nations being conducive to belief or not - frankly I disagree. I once heard, Word Alive I think it was, when I went with Will, an idea about a passage in Revelation 13 that I think has legs, to coin a phrase:
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea*[. ... I]t was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. [...] Then I saw another beast which rose out of the earth. [...] It excercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast[.]
The first thing to say is that though I myself assumed for ages that Revelation, as a book of prophecy, clearly dealt with the future, i.e. the end of the world, it's a self-confessed vision of "what must take place after this.", "this" being whenever it was that St. John received the vision. Basically, it can, and has, been read as a vision of the current state of things, rather than 'merely' the end of the world. What was I saying? Oh yes - that the first beast, the first great symbol of the enemy of Christianity is overtly warlike, and deals physical damage, the second is of the same nature as the first, but makes the earth worship the beast that attacks the righteous. That is to say that it's attack is an attack on the belief of men rather than on their bodies.

Am I stretching are point, are are you way ahead of me? Anyway, all that I mean is that the Apocalypse presents us with a model for understanding how Satan may attack us physically, with persecution and violence, or he may attack us spiritually and mentally, with anti-Christian culture and suchlike.

I think I'll stop.

* Sea can be read as a methaphor for chaos. I am given to understand that, as a nation without ports, Israel wasn't the biggest fan of the sea, it being large, wild and dangerous.
This, from Justin's Martyr's First Apology, reckoned as one of his genuine works, corresponds to what I've experienced at mass to a frankly ridiculous degree:
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion. And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone.
Just a heads up.

Sunday, 28 March 2004

Mmm. Hello. I was just trying to write a review of The Passion of the Christ. I gave up. But here I am starting again, because it's not as though I don't have an opinion - it just happens to be very nebulous. Plus, this'll mean that I can give Karen (at work) the link to this blog entry and hopefully make up for apparently ignoring her e-mail on Friday.

This is a hard review to write. In fact, it seems nigh on impossible. All I'm really happy to say about it was that it didn't make as much of an impression on me as I'd hoped it would. I rather expect that years of harrowing films and literature have helped me to become somewhat calloused, which is a pretty horrible thought. For me it was a study in loss of innocence as much as anything. I did cry at certain points, but I wouldn't attribute that purely to the film so much as to the faith I have already received and brought to bear on it.

James just called it "no-nonsense" in a text message, which is true. It is a brutal film, which is, I think, commendable - an ugly film for an ugly deed in an ugly world. It removes the possiblity of some of the grosser platitudes generally attributed to Christianity.

Sunday, 21 March 2004

I'm trying to pick a confirmation name. It's dead difficult. I thought I was probably going to be given one, but no, I have to think about it.

The thing is, as I get to choose it, I feel it should be something helpful to me rather than just something which sounds cool. I think it would be great if it was the name of a saint who I could aspire to emulate in some way. I like the idea of a saint renowned for courage, perseverance, loyalty, apologetics, devotion and such-like.

On the other hand, although it seems like a bad idea to pick a name just because I like the sound of it, I'm very much in favour of the idea of having a name that sounds a little out of the ordinary, because it'd probably help me to remember it and pay attention to it. Also, given that I'm all of a sudden adrift in a sea of extra-protestant tradition which I don't know so very much about, I'd like it to be something markedly Catholic, to mark it out as belonging to a new stage in my life.

So there you are. I don't know that much about saints really, but I know that I admire Justin and Polycarp. There's two things that worry me about them though. Firstly, they're both martyrs. As such they embody the kind of conviction that I can try to emulate, which is great, but there would seem to be a danger of romanticising martyrdom, and it also seems pretty pretentious. The second thing is how they sound. Justin sounds fairly ordinary and easy for me to forget, but Polycarp sounds absolutely crazy.

I like the idea of Raphael and Cyprian too, but I think it's mostly because I like the sound of them.

Well, it's not like me to decide on something in the space of an afternoon anyway. I shall pray about it.

Friday, 19 March 2004

All quiet on the southwestern front for me, the only event of note was me sitting on my glasses on Monday, cracking the hinge. So I decided to get an eye test and a new pair of specs, which should be completed on the 29th. Managed to get Frontier working on my PC and have been indulging in retro-gaming all this week.

I'm still making mistakes at David's shop, so he suggested that I ask him to make such momentous decisions as the position of the Job no. sticky label, especially with my handwriting. Well as long as I learn from my mistakes no real harm should be done.

Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Hello. Today I felt conspicuously better and so went down to the cafeteria for a 5 item cooked breakfast, which was okay.

I'd said to someone at work that I'd try to select some meditative readings for a lenten thingy at County Hall, and, owing to my incapacity, I hadn't done any of it, so I was fairly well occupied until 12 trying to find some things which I thought might be suitable, loosely grouped around the beginning of Luke 4. This was while Nicholas was at some seminars, after which we regrouped for a 10" margherita pizza and then met up with some Jitsukas in the pub. Stayed on the coke this time.

Nicholas deigned it fit to take the afternoon off, so we played a bit of pool at Mary Williams, which is his hall. Strictly speaking I beat him two out of three times, but it was only because he potted the black, whereas when he beat me it was because I was outclassed. Bit of table tennis after that. I really like table tennis, but the game got gradually more and more silly, as we couldn't hire any balls from the porter's lodge, and the one we did find had a crack in it which created many silly situations. There was also a coin-op (recently restored I gather) which had Dynablaster on it, so we had 10p's worth each.

Met back at JCs again for some pre-Jitsu action. Unfortunately I couldn't really join in, as everyone was trying to get their acts together for a grading on Sunday. I just sat and watched. I daresay that if I hadn't felt really conspicuously out-of-place, I would have enjoyed watching it more. They kicked off with some warm-up excercises that seemed to be pretty much what I used to do at Judo. Judo, I am told, is the 'soft' form of Jujitsu. Lots of deliberate falling after that. Then after a while they were countering punches in various ways so as to result with the ostensible agressor lying prone on the floor. Some disarming of wooden coshes and and bottles also followed. The best bit was right at the end where some guy was in the middle of a circle and had to counter attacks from wherever they were coming from... kinda like French cricket I guess.

Back to JCs again. Toyed with the idea of going to a funk night, but I changed my mind at the last minute 'cos I could tell I wasn't going to be in the mood for dancing, and if you're not dancing, then what is a club but an inadequate pub? So we bundled into someone's car and drove out into Swansea proper, to the house where Nicholas is apparently going to live next year. Seems okay. Met Ely, Nicholas' sparring partner, who he seems to get on alright with - tall, cheerful, French girl, who doesn't much like France. Watched a bit of Labyrinth, which is a good film, in it's way, but you do have to be far too careful about where you look when Bowie's on the screen. A double bill of Izzard - dodgy version of Definite Article followed by legit version of Circles, which I thought I had seen little of, but seem to have seen most of actually. Nicholas and Ely fell asleep near the end (Nick insists he was resting his eyes - uh, my eye - so to speak). We got a cab back (this I never do) because apparently it's really too far for Ely to walk.

Tuesday, 9 March 2004

Even less to say about this day. I did nothing except have a terrible hangover. Lay around occasionally groaning and feeling sorry for myself. Ugh. That'll teach me to... um... drink beer in the absence of anything more entertaining.

Monday, 8 March 2004

Not much to say about this day really. Got up, said goodbye to John, and then hung around the house waiting for the rail-fares to become off peak. When they did, I headed in the approximate direction of Wimbledon train station, then to Victoria, then to the coach station, and then to Swansea. There are some spectacularly ugly places in Wales, Port Talbot being one of them. It's not all bad though.

Got to Swansea bus station, by a shopping centre called The Quadrant, and waited for Nicholas to show up. When he did, we headed bak to campus and had tea. I was massively over-charged for a small portion of some acceptable vegetable balti with rice that was apparently worth one pound. My arse. Met his friends Matt and Mark, who seem nice enough. Talked to them a bit more in the evening when we went to the pub.

Sunday, 7 March 2004

Hello. Internet isn't quite as readily available in Swansea, which is one reason I haven't blogged, the other being a massive hangover, which is, of course, all my own fault. More on that later I guess. Let's imagine it's Sunday.

Didn't exactly leap out of bed this morning, as the only thing on my agenda was going to church. The nearest Catholic one was St. Winifride's, so John and I strolled along for 1000, only to find that the service was at 11. Bum. I'd suggested playing badminton in the afternoon, so we ambled to the sportscentre to try and book a court. However, gyms are apparently more profitable than fun things like badminton. They haven't had courts for two years.

So we went to Wimbledon village up a hill, which John seemed to think was quite steep. There were some posh shops at the top, and a little park where kids were riding ponies/horses round (they love horses best of all the animals, I expect). There was a pond with ducks in as well. We might have stayed a bit longer, but I have both a watch and a keen perception of the passage of time which exceeds John's, and I thought we ought to get moving.

This time we actually did go to St. Winifride's. It was okay - I always find going to an unknown church makes worshipping seem more difficult, but that's hardly their fault. James has said that he's not sure about the amount of solo singing that goes on at mass, but I think I'm all in favour. Here, they had a choir upstairs, and they sung the Psalm. I'm not sure whether it was the sound system or the actual balance between choir and organ, but it was by and large unintelligible. I very much like the idea of hearing a sung Psalm, but if you can't hear it, scrap it. The less voices, the easier it is to achieve clarity I think. Now seems like an ideal time to say that if, at any time, my shoddy playing inhibits the word of God being proclaimed, please tell me - I'll be as unhappy about it as you are. After that we filed straight out, as their didn't seem to be anywhere to congregate. A good while later, John told me there was a church hall. Doh.

After that we went along to a market and wandered round it. Didn't buy anything really, as I only had 50p on me, but John and I combined forces to purchase, for one pound of the realm, seven cinnamon donuts, with which to spoil our appetites. Or John's appetite anyway. Found a cheap bookstall, promising books for 50p, but none of them were any good, and, what with the amount of unread books on my shelves, I don't feel very happy about buying anything which doesn't directly pertain to the end of helping me to be a better person in some way.

I think it was then that we had dinner. In any case, when we did, we went to John's house by yet another route. I'm not sure if I mentioned this already, but John was very much into the idea of never approaching his house by a route which I would recognise, thus rendering me confused and disorientated. Never mind. In any case, we had dinner, which was very nice. Had some mustard made from powder, which coursed enthusiastically along the path of my sinuses. I was amazed at how quiet it was - I felt positively extroverted.

Went for another wander. These are some shops in which we bought nothing; PC World, Curry's, Comet, Carpetworld (I only went in to confirm that I didn't much like the smell of new carpets) and Sainsbury's Savacentre. This last had a travelator, which is a strange idea - feels a bit odd to stand still on a moving slope. Wandering round we found the kids section and were arrested by a lift the flap book in which you attempt to identify cartoon animals by looking at their cartoon arses. Surreal. I tried to eat the leftover cinnamon from my doughnuts while John looked round the sweets section for some "Tangfastic" Haribo, but only succeeded in covering my coat with it. I made as dignified an exit as was possible I think.

The sign said that there was a Hobby Crafts around. This I was keen to find, as the last time I was in one I found a print of the 'anecdote free angel' by Fiorentino Rosso. A little frustratingly, not even the shop itself was to be found.

We went to a petting zoo next. There were huge chickens, normal sized chickens, ducks, ducks which walked funny, ducks with daft hair, goats, budgies, pigs, chicks, sheep, cows and ostriches. Oh, and a peacock. They were all rather good in their various ways. There were also more kids riding ponies/horses.

Mostly TV in the evening. We saw a smidgen of Crufts, enough to be persuaded that dog-lovers are funny/sinister. Also a programme about volcanic eruptions, some of Fit Club and SAS: Are you tough enough? It killed the time. Actually, there was a documentary about Michaelangelo, which was quite good, despite having a cheesy actor to stand for Michaelangelo.
Ruth, who just phoned me, was told that I was in Swansea, but I'm not; I'm still in London. I leave John's house tomorrow at 1000. Won't get to Cardiff 'til 1630 or thereabouts.

Saturday, 6 March 2004

Hello. Today was a long day, but we were very vague and got little done I think. John might be a working man these days, but we still have different apprehensions of how time works on weekends.

Went into Wimbledon for a quick look at CD Warehouse, and I came out with two early Fall albums, Live at the Witch Trials and Dragnet. John ran into a girl he knew from church and afterwards said how unlikely it was that that should happen.

We went to the Tate Britain and looked at the pre-Raphaelite exhibition and looked at the pictures. "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." Actually, I'm not even sure what I like. John likes Turner, dislikes Constable. On the way out I ran into the man who used to run the AV department of Exeter University library. I know it was him because I asked him, and when he said he was I said I hoped he was having fun.

We ate at a Wetherspoons at Canary Wharf, where I paid too much for a five-bean chilli which, to be fair, was very nice. It had tortilla chips and rice. And I did some lunchtime drinking while John clung to his sobriety. I had a pint of Dob's something or other, brewed in Devon, which was somehow reassuring. Reminded of how John doesn't find children very easy to deal with, and would rather get some distance between himself and them. I'm the same with animals, though I do appreciate them in the abstract. On some bizarre little train back from da wharf we ended up quite close to a very loud child who kept moaning for no readily apparent reason. Poor John.

We thought we might go to the Science Museum, but neither of us knew where it was. South Kensington apparently, so there we went. Either I'm to morbid, or John is too squeamish, but we went to a special exhibition about pain, compassion and religion, and followed that up with a trip to the top floor which is about medicine through time and different cultures. Both of these things were gruesome, but interesting. Saw some shrunken heads too. Strange idea. Apparently the were meant to pass on the virtues of whoever's head it was.

We came back and John used the internet to talk to Paul and browse the internet. After a fairly long time John put some pizza in the oven. When it came out of the oven, I determined the existence of cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes squirt a little way if you're not careful.

Went to a loud pub in the evening, forget what it was called, but it's right by the site of a little market which we went to today (Sunday). We sat in the non-smoking area and talked religion and families, to a soundtrack of mostly Alanis (Uh-LAN-is) Morisette (Mo-ri-SET). I had some Essex-brewed bitter to drink which was 5% but not very nice, and then opted for coke.
Good morning. I'm in John's house. It's quite good.

I thought I should blog because I can, but I'm not sure there's very much to say as yet. Went to work as usual yesterday, bearing a huge bag with a sleeping bag that no-one commented on. I'm not sure too many people knew I was going on holiday. Kinda like when someone doesn't know it's your birthday - either you just explicitly bang on about it, or let things be. Speaking of which, this is a busy time for birthdays. Neil's, my cousin Charlotte's, Dad's and Nicholas's.

So after work I got a coach from Exeter Bus and Coach Station. It seemed to be about ten minutes late, but I arrived at Victoria on time nonetheless, after sleeping for a little bit of the journey, and staring out of the window most of the rest of the time. I had my bible on me in case I got bored, but I can't read very well in automated vehicles. I did read whatever chapter of Leviticus relates to the varying uncleanness of "discharges", ejaculation, and periods. I don't have any exciting observations to make about it. Something to do with incarnation, and the (derivative) dignity of humanity becoming explicit perhaps. [The sentence you have typed is a fragment. No suggestions.]

John was waiting for me in a pub, so we both got a pint in before heading back to Wimbledon. I was a bit tired though, so we haven't done much yet. More excitment to follow today I should hope.

Have fun all you peoples.