Fast – Really Fast

I don't think I've ever given up anything for Lent (or 'the Great Lent' if you are Orthodox) before.  This is probably because I've never seen the point, or looked at it as another piece of empty religiousity.  So why now?  Erm, well, I…  just think it's… er, well… a good idea.  Amongst other things, of course.:

Eating sugar and unnecessary sweet things
Watching videos online
Owning luxury yachts

These are the things I will be doing without for the next 40 days (although one of them may be a joke).  I am considering following the Catholic practice of never fasting on a Sunday, since the resurrection is a feast that should always remain festive, but I'll get back to you on that.

Anyway, back to 'why?'  I was in a seminar last week and the guy mentioned that, in a world of surplus and subsequent consumerist greed, fasting wrestles back the initiative, helping us to appreciate what we have, rather than perpetually 'needing' more.  I like that.  The things on my list are not BAD or EVIL, and I don't want to eradicate them from my life, but I would like to reassert that they are options and not necessities – I shall not die without biscuits! – and that is why I'm fasting.

And the other reason I'm doing it is because I never have, and I think I should.

Bonkers Christians etc.

I don't know if you do this too, but I find it very comforting to find out about cool (or just 'coolish') people who have the same views as me.  Maybe it makes me feel safe, or validated, or cool-by-vague-association or something, but it is nice.  And the last couple of days have been good for that, since without trying I've been hit by a mini-avalanche of Christians that I didn't know existed.  These are:

Tamsin Greig (from Black Books, the Archers etc.)
Sally Philips (from Smack the Pony, Bridget Jones etc.)
Delia Smith (from the bookshelf in your kitchen)

[yes, three is effectively an avalanche in the celebrity-starved Christian world, although more recently I have also unearthed Ian Hislop, Ugo Monye, Bear Grylls, John Updike, Emmanuel Adebayor, JK Rowling & Jermaine Defoe]

And, reading about these three, I was struck each time how careful they are not to sound dumb, not to be cliches, and generally be quite self-depracating about the whole subject.  For example, Sally Philips:

“You are so aware of what people assume,” she sighs. “A gay friend of mine said when I started going to church, ‘Gosh, you’ve picked the one thing that’s even worse than being gay!’ So I sometimes feel a bit defensive.”
I’m not here to do a “Sally Phillips is bonkers Christian” story, I tell her.
“No, no. Well, that would be fair enough. I am a bit, that’s the thing. It would be fair enough.  We go to church, we’re very committed, we not only go – which is offensive to most people – we also believe it, which makes us, you know, triply offensive and massively stupid in the eyes of almost everyone.”

My only real observation for now is that I think this is a wider phenomenon – believers being willing to talk about the sort of stuff that SHOULD get them hung, drawn, and whatsitted by the press, and finding a way to do it that leaves them coming across as quirky and charming, rather than as the psychos that Christians actually are (by any empirical measurement).  An interesting development.

Spiritual Puberty etc.

A couple of thoughts I was having this morning:

i.  In life generally, and in Churchianity in particular, we humans are very aware of our need to advance, to better ourselves, to move from milk onto solid food etc.  It is correspondingly very normal to beat ourselves up when this doesn't happen – when we consistently screw things up or whatever - and consequently we live under a cloud of guilt because we aren't 'maturing'.  My thought: from God's perspective, the difference between the most gloriously Godly Christian and the most messy new believer is probably comparable to the difference between a 3 year old and a 1 year old.  One looks so assured, having pretty much mastered walking, but in reality, both still wet their beds.  Conclusion: maybe I can feel like a toddler without being guilty about it.


ii.  Continuing on a 'growing up in God' theme – and with reference to the 'interesting' time that Maria & I have both gone through in the last few years – I started to wonder about comparisons with our normal physical development.  No one likes to admit it, but the (usually atrocious) time we have during puberty is a necessity in order that we can transform into humans adults.  It seems likely to me that, en route to glory, us believers are subject to spiritual periods of puberty, extended times of our whole system rebelling against us, leaving us slightly battered, very confused, and generally moody about stuff.  It's something we go through, and we become different people as a result.  Conclusion: the world has much to learn from teenagers.


I've also been thinking about rugby, but such things are best kept to one's self.

My Friend

Phil rizk

This is my friend Phil.  Had I moved to Gaza in 2006 (as was the plan when I left NZ), he would have been my boss.  On Friday he was arrested by Egyptian police after a protest near the Rafah crossing into Gaza Strip.  He's not been charged and has not been able to see a lawyer or his family or anything – this apparently happens fairly regularly in Egypt, when people are critical of the government.

His blog is, if you are interested.

Things will almost certainly be okay in the end, since he is half-German and the German embassy and Amnesty International are on the case, but in the meantime I'd appreciate your prayers for his wellbeing, especially for physical protection and emotional stability.  He's an awesome guy.


UPDATE – Wednesday 11th

Phil was released last night and is home with his family, apparently alright but needing time to deal with the whole thing, as you might guess.

Thank you for playing your part in that.

FURTHER UPDATE – Saturday 14th

Phil has just posted a message on if you're interested.

The Damned Pulpit

This morning, I made the foolish (and probably wildly ruinous) decision to comment on an article on the Guardian website.

"Ruinous?" I hear you cry.  "But surely it is a good thing to engage in the real world, to intercourse with other humans, to debate the issues that really matter?"

Well maybe, but the thing that scares me is the power of the online pulpit.  How many ludicrous, pompous, boss-eyed, biased views of the world have we read being spouted by some twonk who knows that they are right?  Exactly.  I mean, this morning I also read a snatch of a website where the guy was claiming that to be a true Christian, one must arm oneself ('since God is the defender of widows – how are we to defend anything unless we have weapons?').  For Heavens' fricking sake.

I just don't want to be right (or at least, to believe that I am).  I get so uncomfortable with things like that.

For salvation, I therefore turn to the happy world of GK Chesterton, a pulpit survivor, who set out his stall a hundred years ago to even-handedly laugh at everyone and everything (himself most of all).  This is how to deal with serious issues.


It is the beginning of all true criticism of our time to realise that it has really nothing to say, at the very moment when it has invented so tremendous a trumpet for saying it.

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives.  The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.  Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition.  Thus we have two great types – the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins.  He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine.

But there is another strong objection which I, one of the laziest of all the children of Adam, have against the Leisure State. Those who think it could be done argue that a vast machinery using electricity, water-power, petrol, and so on, might reduce the work imposed on each of us to a minimum. It might, but it would also reduce our control to a minimum. We should ourselves become parts of a machine, even if the machine only used those parts once a week. The machine would be our master, for the machine would produce our food, and most of us could have no notion of how it was really being produced.

That is the one eternal education; to be sure enough that something is true that you dare to tell it to a child.