From a Resident Alien

Ink-bottle-and-penLetter 1

Well, it's been a quiet week in Mt Pleasant, SC, my new home town.

This morning we were wakened – those of us who aren't insomniacs and had therefore not spent a rather boring night listening to the ceiling fan, anyway – we were wakened by the rain lashing down.  It is seldom that rain merely falls here, so near to the warm tropical seas; it nearly always lashes down in torrents.  I had been in the shower when it started, and so nearly missed the opportunity to rush downstairs and get my feet wet, splashing around in the standing water on our back porch.

I first sat on that back porch, newly arrived on my first visit, six years ago.  I was in transit, physically and spiritually, having left my life 'doing missions' in New Zealand (a life that I absolutely loved) because I'd felt God say to.  I didn't know what was next.  It was Easter Sunday, and Maria & I had followed church by going to a big fat Lebanese party, where I met about sixty of her family.  One boy there, aged about eight and correspondingly blunt, cornered me to ask, "Are you going to marry her?"  He knew.

We married in 2009, and on Monday last week my passport arrived with a new US visa in it.  I flew on Tuesday, and now I'm here; free to sit on my in-laws' back porch any time I like, to look over the marsh to the barrier islands beyond it, and beyond them the great Atlantic, and beyond that the land of my birth.


So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress

The Library of the New Covenant

I've changed the order of the Bible.  Now let me explain.

All Christians have issues with the Bible.  For some, the issue is simply that we don't read it, but more often it's more to do with the fact that we do.  One of the main issues I have with the Bible is that we think it's a book.  It's not a book, people!  The Bible is a library – that is what 'bible' means – a library compiled over centuries, containing multiple examples of multiple genres.

In my oh-so-humble-that-it-hurts opinion, the books in this Library have been arranged in a really poor order – illogical, unaesthetic, unhelpful.  To take an obvious example, the Gospel of John, which would clearly make the best beginning to the New Testament (since it starts, 'In the beginning…') is stuck between Luke & Acts, destroying the flow between those two books, which should clearly be read as two halves of the same whole.  Who decided that was a good idea?  Apparently no one: it just happened, around the time of the printing press, and was then mass-produced.  Before that, the Library had no official order, and was arranged in a variety of orders.

Well I think it's time to make my contribution.  I'm not a good enough OT scholar to work out rearrangement there, but I've had a go at the New Testament.  Click on it for a bigger version, footnotes are below.

Library of the New Covenant

1 Inclusion of Revelation within the Johannine bloc is not intended to imply common authorship.
2 Revelation is divided in two parts: The Letters to the Churches (Ch 1-3) and The Vision (Ch 4-22).
3 The Hebraic Books (Hebrews, Matthew, James) are addended by Jude, due to filial relationship with James.
4 Mark was an affiliate of Peter, hence his Gospel grouped with the Petrine epistles.
5 Galatians follows Acts due to its referencing of the Jew-to-Gentile narrative.
6 The Prison Letters were all supposedly written from Rome during Paul's imprisonment.

Two Faces

My magical friend Dan introduced me to a very interesting concept: that our faces contain both a conscious projection, and an unconscious one.

According to this theory, the right side of my face is controlled by the active decision of my brain, and therefore on that side you are seeing what I want you to see.  But the left side of the face isn't consciously controlled: it therefore displays the deeper, truer me.  And sometimes the contrast, between what we portray and what we actually are, can be pretty striking.

When this was being explained to me, it was illustrated with this famous portrait:


Straightforward picture of a bad man, right?  But when you split it up into right and left [click on the images for bigger versions] an interesting perspective develops:



Right: Authoritative, steely, determined, tough.

These are Adolf Hitler's consciously-displayed characteristics.






But on the unconscious side, there is softness, possibly even sadness.

The eye almost looks fearful, and the general impression is of insecurity.  The inner-man underlying the monster, perhaps.




Fascinating, isn't it?  Well I think so.  So I've tried it out on some more people:



Graham nortonGraham norton right   striking & confident vs weary & angry  Graham norton left



Peter-Sellersright smiling, at-ease vs sad, introverted PeterSellersleft





BrynPalmerright boyish, easy-going vs macho, scheming Brynpalmerleft


Try it for yourself – it's great for psychoanalysing famous people (and no one can prove you wrong!).  Sometimes really interesting contrasts present themselves, sometimes not.

But the thing that I notice is that the right-side (the consciously-projected side) is the one that is, in nearly all cases, most recognisable – most like we expect.  It's as if, because we read from left to right, we naturally look at that side first, giving it precedence, and missing the 'hidden' side.  I wonder if Arabic/Hebrew readers do the same?

Anyway, one more to finish: me.  This was taken when out for dinner with my American family, at a Jordanian restaurant that we like.



It appears that I was perhaps happier
and more relaxed on the inside
than I was able to make myself show!
Which I'm sure Maria (who was next to me)
and her family will be happy to know 🙂




But the Dark Ages weren’t Dark!

When people can't be bothered to think through a decent argument against something they dislike, it has become routine to describe whatever-it-is as 'old fashioned' or 'mediaeval', or to make disparaging comparisons to 'the Dark Ages'.

Nothing displays the stuck-up self-centredness of modernity more than these dismissals of the past.

We treat the story of our species as if, until you and I turned up, it was some deathly desert, entirely inhabited by savages.  How, we say, can we possibly learn from these pre-modern dumbasses, when they didn't even have toilet paper?

But of course humans now are almost exactly the same as humans three thousand years ago (except that we are more technologically advanced, and they were happier).  The Dark Ages were often difficult and dangerous – Viking swords were sharp – but they weren't dark; they just failed to have the delusions of grandeur with which we presently burden ourselves.  People knew how to grow things, make things, work together, fight, and feast – all alien skills to me.

Book of hours
I love to read old books, and to hear the tone of voice of another human, magically passed on down the ages.  I want to get on to Ancient Greece – to Virgil, Horace, and Homer – but for now I will stick to England.  When I read these quotations (c. AD 885) they don't sound decrepit and out-of-date, but utterly true and real:

In prosperity a man is often puffed up with pride, whereas tribulations chasten and humble him through suffering and sorrow. In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated, and in prosperity a man forgets himself; in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, even though he be unwilling.


He seems to me a very foolish man, and very wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear.

Alfred the Great [849 – 899]

Alfred the great