Caught Live: Peatbog Faeries

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There are some people who don’t like Scottish folk music, I know that is hard to believe, but it is true. Even more strange, there are some who don’t like the idea of Scottish folk music coupled to a driving bass section and amazing electronic keyboards. Such people are just wrong!

Last night was the third time we’ve seen the Peatbog Faeries live and they just keep on getting better.

Peter Morisson is an amazing pipes and whistle player and Ross Couper is as good a fiddle player as I’ve ever heard in my life. Together they play some of the fastest and most blistering dance music you will ever hear. When you back them with a band who can move from trance, via reggae to South African rhythms, you get a musical fusion which is absolutely superb. A word also needs to be said about Tom Salter, who is a truly remarkable guitarist; most of the time he plays rhythm, but when he gets a chance to shine (such as on the amazing Room 215) he is absolutely stunning (though a truly terrible dancer).

By the sound of the new tracks they played, the next Peatbog’s album will be more rock-orientated than the last couple, but that’s not bad thing. I can hardly wait to hear it. My only slight complaint was that the band played very little of their slower stuff. They are a brilliant group to dance to – none better – but they can also produce slow music which conjours up their native Hebrides in a remarkable fashion. I’d love to have heard Fishing at Orbost, for example.

Still, this is a small complaint. It was a great night and any gig which ends with Folk Police can’t be all bad!

This post and last night’s gig were sponsored by Dave and Lina! Thanks for the Christmas present. 

From Times Square to Timbuktu

I really wanted to like this book; I even quoted a couple of passages from it in blog posts a few days back. However, I found it really difficult to maintain my initial enthusiasm. From Times Square to Timbuktu, starts well but, like so much of the ecumenical conversation that it promotes, it descends into multiple journey and pilgrimage metaphors which don’t seem to lead anywhere.

While I applaud the author’s concern about the fractured nature of Christianity both in the west and the wider world, I am not sure that he brings anything concrete by way of solutions. Indeed, it seems to me that he avoids the hard questions of theology and practice which lie at the heart of the major divisions between the historic churches.

To make things worse, the prose is rather turgid and what could and should be a fascinating subject turns into a rather difficult read. Thankfully it is a rather short book, because if it had been fifty pages longer, I’d never have finished it.

As you will have gathered, I’m not going to recommend that you buy this book. If you want to know about the growth of the Church worldwide, there are more informative and more interesting books out there. If you have read Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global ChristianityWhose Religion Is Christianity?: The Gospel beyond the West and The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Future of Christianity Trilogy) then you might give Times Square to Timbuktu a go. Even then, you might want to read my essay on Reading the Bible with the Global Church with responses by scholars from around the world which has the great advantage of being free as well as informative!

Books I Have Read: Recovering the Full Mission of God

I came across a new (for me) acronym today: “tldr” which means “too long, didn’t read”. This is not going to be a long post and you should read it, but if you can only cope with highlights; this is a brilliant book and you should buy it.

I have already given severe quotes from Recovering the Full Mission of God by Dean Flemming, so if you are a regular reader of Kouyanet, you have had an insight it. Subtitled A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing and Telling this book looks again at the perennial thorny question of the relationship between proclamation and action in Christian mission.

Flemming takes us on a tour through Scripture; the first two chapters look briefly at the Old Testament, these are followed with overviews of each of the Gospels, Acts, the Pauline letters, 1 Peter and Revelation. This builds up into a very clear picture of mission through Scripture; a picture in which proclamation and social action simply can’t be separated. The overall argument of the book is caught in a longish quote from the last chapter:

If this pilgrimage through the Bible teaches us anything, it is that being, doing and telling related seamlessly in the mission of God’s people. Granted, to make the point clear, I have amplified distinctions between these various aspects of the church’s mission. But in the end we cannot separate them, because Scripture doesn’t. Consistently, the biblical texts introduce us to a word-and-deed witness. And both proclamation and practice are always anchored in who we are.

This does not mean, however that speaking, practicing and embodying the gospel always function in equal balance. At times, due to the needs of the context, one takes a leading, and another a supporting role. For example, 1 Peter spotlights the church’s identity as a distinctive and holy people. Acts especially brings out the church’s witness to the word to all kinds of people. And Mark’s Gospel gives particular weight to Jesus’ actions as an expression of his kingdom mission. yet none of the special emphases ignores the whole picture of mission.

The conclusions that Flemming reaches are not particularly new or original; anyone who has looked seriously at the Bible’s teaching on mission will be familiar with them. The great advantage of this book is not its novelty, but the thorough way in which it deals with one simple, but controversial, question.

If you teach, write about or promote Christian mission then this book should be on your shelves and it should be well thumbed.

Books I Have Read: The Hunger Games Trilogy

You may already have read The Hunger Games (Hunger Games Trilogy), or perhaps seen the first film in the series (the second one is just out) and so you know what the story is all about.

For those who are not aware of it, the story is set in a dystopian future with a repressive government using a gladiatorial contest during which children fight to the death as a way of keeping a lid on social tension. Katniss Everdeen is a contestant in the games who goes on to become a figurehead for a rebellion against the government.

Viewed simply as a story; it is hard to complain about The Hunger Games, you keep turning the pages and you want to know what happens next. There are a few plot twists that take you by surprise and the whole thing bowls along at a pleasing pace. If you want good light reading, this fits the bill. It’s excellent, read-a-chapter-before-sleep or while-away-a-bus-journey reading. Currently, the whole series is availably cheaply for Kindle (those are the links I’ve given) and makes a very good buy (or would be, if my Kindle screen hadn’t just been broken).

However, there is a but…

While the storytelling is good, there are other aspects of the books which are less convincing. The future society is poorly painted and barely believable, the central dilemma of is it OK to kill rather than be killed is thinly and inadequately explored and the emotional triangle at the heart of the story is pretty naff. To be honest, I don’t think this matters very much – it’s only a story. But some people have invested more significance in these books than they can carry and at that level, they do disappoint.

Books I Have Read: The King In His Beauty

Without doubt, Schreiner’s King in His Beauty, The: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments is a contender for the best book I have read this year.

Essentially, it is a trip through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, showing how the theme of the Kingdom of God links the different books into a coherent whole.

The different chapters are given over to introductions to books or series of books of the Bible. To be honest, it would be worth paying the purchase price for that alone – this is one of the best introductions to the Bible I’ve ever come across. However, it is in reading the book as a whole and seeing the way in which the chapters demonstrate the coherence of the Bible as a single narrative that it really comes into its own.

This isn’t the first book to give an overview of the Biblical narrative, but it is the most thorough.

Even though I think it’s an excellent book, I would be a little reluctant to suggest that you pay the full hardback price for it; it’s not cheap. However, it is available for Kindle at what is a very reasonable price for such a large and thorough book. If you can bear not being able to write in the margins nor underline the good passages, this would be a great ebook purchase (the links I have given are to the Kindle version.)

I will be turning back to King in His Beauty for years to come, it’s that good.

Books I Have Read: The Ministry of a Messy House

I’m not sure how to describe this book. At one level it is easy to describe it; it’s an excellent book, well written and genuinely easy to read. I don’t have the slightest hesitation in recommending that you read it.

My difficulty, is that I’m not sure how to classify it. It is part guide to modern Christian life (with some good practical hints) and part extended practical theology. This is partly reflected in the title and subtitle. In the Ministry of a Messy House, vicar’s wife Amanda Robbie gives us glimpses into her hectic life with its struggles and triumphs. Those who follow her blog will recognise many of the characters and some of the stories, but the book is none the worse for that. The picture emerges of a family who are very busy, not always organised (buttered bread for Holy Communion), but who are constantly seeking to share their lives and faith with others – sometimes at significant cost. Each chapter closes with a few practical suggestions: things that the Robbie’s have found work for their family and which might help others. If this was all the book did, it would be a good book – though not very relevant to a late middle aged bloke with grown up kids, like me.

However, the subtitle is Grace Instead of Guilt; and this is what sets the book apart from the plethora of family and housekeeping advice out there.  Running through the book is an extended reflection on the way in which we need to live our lives in the light of Scripture and its calling on us, rather than on the expectations created by the world. Essentially, this is a book of missional theology; exploring how to live out the Christian life in that most difficult of workplaces – the home!

As I read it, I found myself thinking back to Chris Wright’s The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (review here). Amanda Robbie’s book is less ambitious than Chris Wright’s work, but the balance of solid theology and practical advice is very similar. Those who know me, will recognise this as praise indeed!

One last comment; it would be sad if this were to become thought of as a woman’s book; men need to read it too.

I should mention that the publishers, IVP, provided me with a review copy of this book. However, this has not affected what I have said. If it was a stinker, I’d have said so – but it isn’t!

Books I Have Read: Spillover

I don’t think I’ve ever met a virus I didn’t like. Let me clarify that; I don’t actually like being infected by viruses and I’m very aware of the devastation they can wreak, but they are absolutely fascinating. If you don’t think viruses are extraordinary; you haven’t studied them!

If you would like to know more about viruses (and some bacteria and fungi) then Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic would be a great place to start. As the title indicates, it is a book about diseases which have carried over from animals to humans. Some of these diseases are well known; malaria, AIDS, others such as hendra are hardly known by the general public.

Spillover takes us on a journey through the world of zoonotic infections (ones acquired from animals); telling the stories of the scientists who worked on these diseases and the ordinary people who suffered from them. The book gets into hard science and statistics at points, but these ‘difficult bits’ are interspersed with very accessible story telling. For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed the sections which were set in parts of the world I know. There is an excellent tableau about travel in SE Cameroon, which will have many of my colleagues smiling with recognition. Linked to this, the recreation of the early spread of the HIV virus is as fascinating and well told as it is speculative.

For the most part, the book concentrates on known zoonotic diseases and little space is given to as yet undiscovered (or evolved) pathogens. If you want an introduction to ‘the next big one’; I wouldn’t start here.

We are forever being told that we need to read Shakespeare and Dickens if we are to consider ourselves educated. I would argue that we also need to have more than a nodding understanding of science. You can’t be an educated person if you have no idea of what causes diseases and how they can be treated.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book, but at a little over 500 pages, it isn’t for the faint hearted. If nothing else it will develop the strength of your forearms!

Books I Have Read: Boy Racer

This is one of those rather difficult book reviews; if you follow road cycling, you will probably have read (or are planning to read) Boy Racer by Mark Cavendish – the greatest spring cyclist of our generation.

OK, I’m biased, I like cycling, and ‘Cav’ is the nearest thing to a sporting hero that I have. But this is still a good book. The basic framework of the book is based around the various stages of the 2008 Tour De France, during which Cavendish won four stages. Each chapter gives a behind the scenes of the Tour. Some of these are quite brief, but others, where Cavendish does particularly well or badly, are long and full of fascinating detail. Stories of Cav’s early life and career are woven into the narrative of the Tour and give a great insight into what it takes to be a top sportsman – especially a road cyclist.

All in all, it was a great read and I would recommend it to anyone – even if they don’t like cycling.

And if you don’t know what all the fuss is about; here is Cav in action

Books I’ve Read: Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit

I’ve spent a good deal of my life around the fringes of the relief and aid ‘industries’ and I continue to be fascinated with the way in which development organisations go about their business. Many of the issues they deal with such as sustainability, dependency and donor expectations are ones that I come across in Bible translation and language development work.

For most people, the complications or aid work (or mission work) are rather tedious. They don’t want to ask difficult questions they just want to give some money and change a life. They don’t want to have to wrestle with complex concepts or to be challenged about whether their money is being used wisely. There are plenty of good books on the subject as well as a plethora of good aid blogs, but the average punter can’t be bothered with them. This is where Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit comes in. It isn’t a theory book; it’s a story. Set in Ethiopia it revolves around the lives of group of aid workers working among refugees.

As a story, it works. It’s a pleasing read. Pretty early on, I thought I had the main points of the story sussed out, but I was wrong – which kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen. However, this is a book which can be read on more than one level. It’s an entertaining novel; but it also explores some of the more complex and difficult areas of relief and development work.

It raises delicate issues; from the chaos that an aid worker’s nomadic life brings to personal relationships, through West Wing level politicking as different agencies compete to run their programmes,  to the pressures placed on the field by home offices demanding some high profile stories to tell. It doesn’t always make comfortable reading. At times the narrative gets a little preachy as the author struggles to make a point, but generally, it does a good job of teaching complex issues by the simple expedient of telling a story.

Not only that, but the narrative has a definite ring of truth about it. Indeed, some of the issues it raises ring uncomfortably true in the Christian mission world too.

Who should read this book? I would say that anyone who has a leading role in an organisation which sends funds overseas for any sort of relief or development work should read it. For some, it won’t say anything new, but for others it might open their eyes to issues they have been ignoring for a while. I would also recommend it to anyone who takes a keen passing interest in development issues; for example those who run Tear Fund stalls in churches would benefit from it – though they may be a little shocked!

In the interests of transparency, I should say that I received a free pdf of the book in return for writing this review. However, this has not influenced the content of the review: Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit is an excellent book and deserves a wide readership.

Books I’ve Read: Varia

Over the past few weeks, during a dose of shingles, I’ve been raiding the Kindle store for cheap or free books to give me something easy to read. Here are my brief thoughts on a few of them.

Death of a Snob (Hamish Macbeth): the pick of the bunch. A pleasing Agatha Christie like mystery story set on an isolated island in the Scottish Highlands. Agatha Christie with more likeable characters.

A Reason To Kill (DI Matt Barnes): this book is currently available for free and may be slightly over priced. The plot was thin and the characters unsympathetic. However, I did quite enjoy some of the bits that slipped past the editor. One character was born at least two years after his father died; a gestation period which would impress a blue whale. I was fascinated by a glass of wine which changed from white to red while the heroine drank from it. To be fair, this book has lots of five star reviews on Amazon, so it must please some people.

Master Of War: The Blooding; a thrilling and engaging story of an English archer during the Black Prince’s rampage across northern France which builds up to a thrilling depiction of the battle of Crecy. Unfortunately, this occupies only the first third of the book and the rest was dull.

Road Closed (DI Geraldine Steel); not a bad book at all. A pleasing police procedural with a believable and sympathetic heroine. Get it while it’s cheap.

Moon Over Soho (PC Peter Grant); there are only so many possible variations on the theme of a murder mystery. I’m not sure that adding a supernatural overlay to the gritty streets of London adds anything to the genre.

The One You Love (Emma Holden suspense mystery trilogy); this book gets lots of good reviews on Amazon, but I found it excruciating and gave up about a third of the way in. Perhaps the second two-thirds are fantastic and I am doing it an injustice.

I’m now starting to feel a little better and I hope to finish off some of the serious books that have been mocking me from my desk for the last month.

Books I’ve Read: Children of the Revolution

I’ve mentioned previously that I’m a huge fan of Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels. In fact, after I read the last one in the series (Watching the Dark), I went back and read all 20 of them in chronological order. Having previously read the books in a rather haphazard fashion – depending on what I could find in the library or in second-hand book shops – I found that reading them in order really added some depth to the characters and provided links that I had missed earlier. If you like crime fiction, I really recommend this exercise.

Even better, when I finished reading through all of the previous books, the nice Mr. Robinson produced a brand new one. As soon as it was available on Kindle, I downloaded Children of the Revolution and got stuck in. I could hardly wait.

It’s a shame, then, that I found this to be the least satisfactory of all of the Bank’s books. The characters seem to all have become testy and bad-tempered and the plot seemed to be recycling things I’d read earlier in the series. I

If you’ve read all of the other Bank’s novels you will want to read this one to complete the set, but I wouldn’t recommend that you read it as a stand-alone. The other books in the series all stand on their own merits; Im not so sure this one does.

t’s not a bad book; I’ve read far worse this year, but it isn’t a great book.

If after reading the title of this post, you found a tune stuck in your head; this might help (or maybe not). 

Books I Have Read: Cloud Atlas

I think this is a first for me; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie and then decided that I really wanted to read the book it was based on. I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed by Cloud Atlas; I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and thoroughly enjoyed the novel, even though I only read it a few days after seeing the film.

Then again, there are so many subtle details, plot twists and leaps across time in both the book and the film that you could never exhaust them all in one viewing or reading.

Cloud Atlas consists of six separate stories all told in different genres:

  • The diary of a 19 century lawyer travelling in the Pacific.
  • Letters from a wayward young composer in Europe between the wars.
  • The adventures of a Californian layer in the 1970s – which is told as fact, but may be fiction (within the book, that is).
  • A black farce about a publisher in contemporary London.
  • A philosophical sci-fi story set in a dystopian city in the future (which turns out to be in Korea).
  • The story of a man living in Hawaii after the complete fall and ruin of civilisation. This is mainly told in an argot which reminded me of Riddley Walker - though it wasn’t quite as obtuse.

The book works through each of these stories in turn; stopping apparently at random half way through each, until the last story is reached which is told in full. The rest of the stories are then finished in reverse order; each providing insights into the others and explaining why they stopped where they did. It sounds complicated; because it is.

Don’t be put off, it’s a superb book and well worth reading even if you have seen the film. I didn’t particularly enjoy the philosophising about reincarnation and the way that souls are all linked through time; but this isn’t overbearing and really doesn’t spoil the story(ies).

Each of the six sub-plots would make a good novella on their own, but woven together, they are outstanding.

If you’ve not seen the movie, here is the trailer:

Now that the summer is over, it could be that you aren’t planning on reading any more fiction till next year’s holidays come around. In that case, you could always watch Cloud Atlas on DVD!