Sunday, 25 April 2010

Spring in Cottenham

Spring, though very late, has finally arrived in southern England.  I took these photos at my daughter's house just north of Cambridge.

This is an example of the Imperial Fritillary,  probably the most glorious of spring bulbs.

I was in my daughter's kitchen and I noticed this delightful orchid sitting on the window sill.  I looked around and saw another nearby, this time a mauve orchid.

It is so easy to take reasonable close-ups with even simple digital camera these days.

The shot below is of the popular magnolia soulangena, a hybrid bred by a French cavalry officer in 1820.  This glorious tree is very popular in the south of England.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Psalms and Bible translation

When you look into church history you begin to realise just how central a role the reading and singing of the psalms were in traditional Christianity.  The monks went through the whole collection each week: this makes it about twelve psalms a day.  The Anglican Book of Common Prayer aims at reading the collection in about thirty days.
Things are very different today.  In the spontaneous atmosphere of the average charismatic or evangelical service it would be rare to have  just one read.  This is a pity because the psalms speak to the heart.  They don't contain eschatologhy or prophecy or doctrine.  They are mainly concerned with the trials that beset every believer and the duty and privilege of worshipping and trusting God whatever the circumstances.

I have been reading Psalm 6 today, reading it in the RV ( a revision of the AV), probably the most literal version that has ever been produced.  Although the wording may seem quaint to modern ears yet  I feel its strong imagery speaks directly to the heart.

The psalmist here is in dire straits.  He feels that the judgement of God is upon him because of his misdeeds.  Added to this he feels the bitter hatred of his enemies, whether they be spiritual or natural.

As in common in the Psalms there is a lament followed by a resolution.

I am withered away....for my bones are vexed,
My soul is also sore vexed.
I am weary with my groaning;
Every night I make my bed swim;
I water my couch with my tears;
Mine eye wasteth away because of my grief.

But there us hope:

Save me for thy lovingkindness' sake.....
For the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
For the Lord hath heard my supplication;
The Lord will receive my prayer.

The key word in the psalm is the Hebrew word  hesed, translated here by lovingkindness.  It refers to the Lord's kindness and loyalty based on His covenant promises.  Nothing can be firmer or more comforting.

Maybe a comment on translations of the Bible might be of interest.  There are two approaches to translation of any ancient text:  formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.  Formal equivalence sticks closely to the original  in sentence structure, grammar and imagery.  The supreme example of this is the version that dominated protestant church life for 350 years, the AV.  The AV reigned supreme during this period.  When I became a Christian in 1953 it was virtually the only Bible in use.  The only other available was Moffatt's translation.   This was generally frowned upon as being too liberal, though I found it helpful when reading the book of Job and other difficult books.
The most  prominent example of dynamic equivalence is the Good News Bible.  This version uses completely up to date English and avoids all strange idioms and modes of expression.
The popular NIV, which seems to be the equivalent of the AV in the British church today, lies midway between the two extremes.

But across the Atlantic things can be different.  American Christians tend to be more conservative.
Some ultra conservative Christians in the States are suspicious even of the NIV.  They feel that it has lost much of truth and power of the old version.  They find what they feel are heretical alterations in its text, for example in Isaiah 14, where Lucifer is altered to the morning star. 
I saw an amusing Utube clip the other day of some young men hurling the book around in a church and then burning it.  It finished off when one guy pulled out a gun and shot it! 
Most of the criticisms they made can be simply explained by advances in our knowledge of Hebrew since 1611 and the much more ancient and reliable texts available today.  

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Freedom of speech

It seems that  there is a growing trend, especially in the UK, that is trying to hinder vigorous intellectual debate in certain sensitive areas.  We are becoming as a nations increasingly mealy-mouthed.  The idea of Hate Crime has  been  put on the statute book.  This would ban nearly all serious critical debate on cultures and religion.  Our country. which  has always prided itself on its insistence that there should be freedom of expression, is lurching in a strange direction. 
Today, for example, a conservative, who  gets into a fierce debate with a revolutionary Marxist and the latter takes an offence to the remarks made, can be prosecuted.  Recently two hoteliers were taken to court in Liverpool as a result of an argument they had with a Muslim guest.  Fortunately the case was thrown out by the judge.  If this law was stringently applied to the letter then Prime Minister's Question Time would undoubtedly be banned! 
George Orwell in his book Nineteen Eighty Four was uncannily prescient.  The only thing he got wrong was the timing. He was about 25 years too early.  He mentions Thought Crime and an artificial language called Newspeak.  In the dictatorship he described, the ability to think and to speak unacceptable thoughts was thoroughly crushed.  He makes the remark that Newspeak, the artificial language created by the tyrant, was the only language in the world that has a shrinking vocabulary.  All dangerous words would be excised from the dictionary.  
I have been surprised  by the freedom that Americans seem to enjoy in this area. Recently I watched a series of videos, originally given in public, made  by a rabbi concerning the chaotic situation in the Middle East.  As I sat there I thought, this guy would never get away with giving these lectures in a public arena in the UK  Then I saw a very funny spoof debate about Islamic terrorism that would be totally banned over here.

In Holland a fascinating event took place recently.  The controversial politician Gert Wilders, who has been a thorn in the side of the liberal establishment for his anti-Islam stance,  has been taken to court, charged with inciting religious hatred.  But the whole thing has misfired.  Such is the public interest in the case that the trial has been given lots of time on TV.  His defence was very powerfully and eloquently put.  He said that for years now the Christian religion has been mocked and traduced and blasphemed in the media.  Jesus has been portrayed as a homosexual, a pop-star, as the lover of Mary Magdalene and even as a baby in nappies.  Yet no hue and cry has been made and, even more significantly, no one has been taken to court.  Wilders went on to say that he had made a short video on the inherent violence of the quran and he finds  himself in court. 
Such was the public interest and sympathy in the case, the authorities seemed to have panicked and made the surprising move of stopping it.  It will be resumed after the election, they say.

The following quotation was written by Winston Churchill in one of his earlier books.  No newspaper or magazine or publisher would touch it today.

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property - either as a child, a wife, or a concubine - must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.”

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


I have just spent a couple of days in Canterbury. As well as having the most important cathedral in England it can boast of an amazingly  long history.  As a result of German bombing in 1942 many archaeologists were able to search through the rubble. They found a lot of evidence of a large and sophisticated Roman town. It had rich villas, temples, baths, a theatre and fine examples of Roman mosaic pavements. But the town declined considerably after the legions left in about 415 AD.
From 1185 it became the main place of Christian pilgrimage in Great Britain as a result of the martyrdom of St. Thomas a Becket.  Hundreds of thousands visited the town, bringing fame and prosperity.  Chaucer set his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, in the Tabard Inn, among a group of pilgrims waiting to start their journey from London to Canterbury.  Chaucer made a very bold and important move to use the new language of English and not the usual Norman French of educated classes.  
The pilgrimages lasted till 1538, when Henry the Eighth closed all the nearby monasteries and gave orders that the shrine of a Becket should be destroyed and his bones scattered.  His zeal was motived less by protestant piety than by greed to plunder the rich monastic lands.

A typical late medieval part of the nave

As you can see, the choire was built during the Norman period, with its emphasis on the rounded arches.

There aren't many stained-glass windows in the Cathedral.  During the time of Cromwell the Puritans smashed most of them and even used the nave as stabling for their horses.  This is a fine example of modern stained glass.

In the sixteenth century thousands of  devout Huguenots fled from the religious persecution of all things protestant in France and many settled down in Canterbury.  The town benefited immensely.  The were skilled cloth workers and skilled in other trades.  The town prospered and at one time a third of the population spoke French.  Even to this day there is a regular service in the Cathedral in French every Sunday.  The picture above shows a white riverside building called the Weavers.  It is now a restaurant but its site commemorates the central place of weaving in the past.
This spring scene was taken near the famous West Tower of the town.  An extensive and attractive garden lies along the river Stour at this spot.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


The historic university town of Cambridge is one of my favourites.  When I was a youth I would cycle there for the day from my home near the Thames in Essex.  The journey there and back was over 100 miles, but to a fit teenager they were as nothing.  I loved to wander round those late medieval colleges and then go to the Backs where you could view the River Cam and try, mainly unsuccessfully, to punt along that beautiful waterway.
Today I go there to visit my daughter and her family by car and I usually wonder how I managed to get there and back on a bike.
There is no doubt that Cambridge is one of the intellectual capitals of the western world.  It was here in 1687  that Newton wrote his Principia, one of the most important scientific books ever written. It was here in 1911 that Rutherford made his fundamental discoveries concerning the nature of the atom. It was here that a group of scientists unlocked the genetic structure of humans , leading to the discovery of the famous double helix and later of human DNA.
The town has always had a strong Christian tradition. It was in the Anglican Church of Holy Trinity that Charles Simeon (1759-1836) preached to generations of undergraduates about the truths of the Gospel. He encouraged many to take the Gospel to the furthest corners of the earth. He had his problems at first; but he was a most persistent man.  Early in his long ministry his churchwardens locked him out of the church.  They were offended by his strong evangelical style of ministry.  His sermons were interrupted by boisterous students and he was often insulted in the streets.  A lesser man would have been worn down by the opposition, but he persevered and gradually won the respect and then the affection of both town and gown .His most famous son was Henry Martyn (1781-1812)   He took the gospel firstly to India and the to Iran, using his amazing linguistic gifts to translate the Scriptures into several oriental tongues, including Arabic  He died of fever at the early age of 31 on his way home to England.  His biography makes a fascinating read.
In 1882 the American evangelist D L Moody and his vocalist, Ira Sankey, came to Cambridge to speak to the students.Moody was anxious from the first about his lack of education when facing the intellectual sophistication of his audience. At first the meetings were chaotic.  When Ira Sankey sang there would be hoots and jeers and when Moody got up to speak they would laugh at his uneducated style and mimic his pronunciation. But Moody persisted and sought the backing in prayer of a group of mothers.  At the final meeting there was a solemn hush over the meeting as he challenged the students to give up their selfish worldly lives and to surrender to Christ. The result was remarkable.  Many of the students were converted and out of this campaign was formed a group of seven students who decided to give up careers and titles and go to China as missionaries. They are known today as the   
Cambridge Seven

Here are some shots that i took recently of the town.

Punting along the Cam, nearing the famous Mathematical Bridge.

The central market, well worth a visit

The two above show the glorious interior of King's College Chapel, one of the most admired examples of late-Medieval Perpendicular Gothic.  

Simeon's church today.  Sorry for the Hot Dog stand!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The late Spring

I took this image in my local park two years ago in mid February. It is the blossom of the cherry plum (prunus cerasifera), one of the first trees to flower in the spring.  I looked at the same tree this week and found that the blossoms were not fully out.  That suggests that the season is over a month behind.  Is this the case in Europe and America?  I have got a small allotment and I am looking forward to planting my first-early potatoes, but I think I'll give it a week or two.  Also, I am looking forward to planting out tender vegetables like snap beans and tomatoes in my mini greenhouse, but that must wait too.
This is very different from last spring when I took a  lot of photos in Cambridge.  My daughter and her husband have moved to this picturesque and historic university city.  I took some in their garden and some along the glorious River Cam at the back of the university

Monday, 5 April 2010

Christianity in the UK and in the USA compared

There have been many surveys concerning the religious beliefs of the British public.  It is obvious that we are now a much more secular nation than we were even twenty years ago. Belief in God has steadily declined over the years, especially among the young.  In some parts of Britain only 22% of this group believe in God.  Less than 7% of the public goes to a place of worship each weekend.  This state of affairs contrasts strongly with the figures coming out of America, where there is an opposite trend.  This can be seen in the figures given below.
Another worrying fact is the obvious ignorance displayed by even university educated adults.  Recently we went on a tour of the Cambridge colleges.  We started at the magnificent Kings College Chapel, a jewel late medieval perpendicular Gothic.  The guide, obviously an educated man, pointed to the windows facing east and said, "This window sees the sun rising and as you know Christians worship the sun."  I think he got confused with the other homophone!
Last evening there was a programme on the BBC asking the question  Are Christians in Britain being persecuted?  Many Christians in the UK feel that perfection is too strong a word, but they feel that Christianity is steadily being marginalised and that petty restrictions are being placed on believers in the workplace.  Nurses and social workers have been threatened with dismissal if the don't stop wearing a cross etc,  while Muslims seem to be free to wear veils and even hijabs. They feel that there is not a level playing field.

The UK and the USA compared

Many large-scale polls indicate that less than half the British public believe in God:
DateDetailsBelief in God
20081000 people were polled both in the UK and the USA and asked "Do you believe there is a God?". Less than 40% in the UK said yes, compared with 80% in the USA.14<40%
200612507 people were polled, finding that only 35% in Great Britain believe in any kind of God or supreme being, compared to 27% in France, 62% in Italy, 48% in Spain, 41% in Germany and 73% in the USA.1535%
2006Poll of 4000 older teenagers in Cornwall found that only 22% could affirm that they believed in God, and 49% said they didn't.1622%
20031001 British adults surveyed4.60%
200355% of the British public do not believe in a higher being17.