Archive for May, 2004

I Wake Up. Nobody’s There.

Friday, May 28th, 2004

Of course, this is a lie. I have been included in blogs4God, which may well be the nerdiest thing that has ever happened to me. I mean, having a blog characterises you as nerd in the first place, but a Christian blog and a Christian blog that is listed on a Christian blog directory! The nerdiness has slipped down my spine, out through my shoes and is now in a taxi on the way to the airport to infect the world.

When I first met my fiancé I was definitely a nerd. But I was a nerd with prospects. I had the potential to pull together a small start-up and make a fortune and then pay someone to love me. I could meet a barista girl in one of those fashionable coffee shops that e-commerce gurus hang out in, pay her €10,000 and bring her to Las Vegas for a weekend. I would be rich enough to pay someone to love me.

Before all this happened I met my future wife, lost all passion for financial fortunes and C++ and found Jesus. Also, the e-commerce bubble popped.

Fiancé isn’t the type to be wooed by €10,000 and a trip to Las Vegas.

Still, untested virtue and all that--.

The point of all this is that I am not alone in this blog because people are passing through all the time, joining the six or seven real people I know were reading. Welcome to you all. And here is a quote from Chesterton,
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

What is the first thing you can remember seeing on TV? Vaguely in the back of my mind I can recall the alien invasion antics of V and the Mexican World Cup, which were both in 1986. I would have been 4. A-Team is in there. The opening shot of Murdock in a lizard suit is iconic for me. It is burned in there. Still, the clearest memories come in 1988. That was the year Ray Houghton headed us to a millennium-justifying win over England in the European Championships. Remember that looping header? I do. Oh the joy and justice of it all. They occupy us for 800 years and in one fell swoop a little guy from Glasgow evens the score.

The other great memory of TV for me was also in 1988 and also had something to do with national identity. My nanny was a fierce woman, shorter even than Ray Houghton but fervent and adoring to both her family and her God. She was a turbo-Catholic in the classic sense. In her last years she rejected the “heresies” of Vatican II and descended into Tridentine legalism and nostalgia. It looked like a cult to my family and they may have had a point.

Imagine the scene then. I was sitting watching the news with her at 6pm. This wasn’t uncommon because a trip into “Nanny’s” meant guaranteed loot in the form of sweets and Lilt. The fireplace would be home to some warm licking flames, as it was every evening of everyday of every year. The headlines showed a big man in a parliament getting beaten up.

One of the seminal moments of my childhood was seeing Iain Paisley harangue and verbally assault Pope John Paul II. He called him Antichrist. What the hell was Antichrist?!? Why would you call the Pope Antichrist? The Pope whose benevolent face smiled out of a gold-effect framed portrait hanging above the very chair I was sitting in was a Polish man who was very good and played soccer and was the King of priests. Why would anyone be angry at him?

Whatever was happening was deeply wrong. I knew that because it troubled my nanny into silence. I now know that this was the European Parliament. I now know that it was an Italian MEP who clambered up over two rows of seats to be the first person to land a punch on the Rev Dr Paisley’s hard head. I now know why a dozen more politicians were incensed enough to join him in the ensuing meleé trying to shut this prophet of hate up and I know why they were so happy to drag him out of that chamber of democratic debate that day.

So all this is to lead into a mini book review. I have just finished “Evangelicalism and National Identity in Ulster, 1921-1998” by Dr. Patrick Mitchel. Its brilliant. Go to a library and take it out. You won’t be able to afford it because the Oxford University Press hates you and set the price so high to keep you in ignorance.

Mitchel assesses four movements within Northern Irish evangelicalism. The first two, the Orange Order and Paisleyism are described as “hard” evangelicalism and the second two, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and ECONI are characterised as “porous” evangelicalism. I really like these terms. The general point that the book makes is that evangelicalism isn’t a useful label to succinctly describe a Christian in their totality, as it is too wide in its possible meanings. Rather, it is a sub-spectrum within Christianity and it contains people who are poles apart politically and theologically.

The “hard” school amplify the distance that is needed from the “world” and isolate themselves on a hill of moral purity. The “porous” school are willing to run the risk of “diluting” their message (an inevitably hard school fear) in their openness to non-Christians and Christians of different persuasions.

In terms of Northern Ireland, evangelicalism in the hard school has taken a nationalistic tone. Paisley, it is argued, has appropriated the Gospel for his political intentions. Mitchel rubbishes the slogan of Paisleyism, “For God and For Ulster”. God no longer has a chosen people because God has chosen all people. God’s will can never be mocked by being squashed into a box constrained by the destiny of so small a majority in so small a part of so small a country.

Mitchel spends half the book analysing ECONI and PCI. PCI are too slow in acting on their theology of equality and ECONI are too slow in putting a coherent theology behind their action. Still, I am far happier to be in their camp.

So I close with a quote from the Rev Dr (the doctorate was courtesy of Bob Jones University) in an interview soon after attacking the Pope.

”I have read in the Book of Revelation, the power of the word of testimony, but I have never realized what power was in a martyr’s testimony-- that vast assembly erupted, and the books started to fly and the punches started to be thrown, and the kicking started, but I held my ground and maintained my testimony. There is no difference between Europe today and Europe in Reformation times. This afternoon I read again the story of Luther at the Diet of Worms. Who presided over the Diet of Worms? The Emperor Charles, head of the Holy Roman Empire. Who was he? He was a Hapsburg. It is interesting to note that one of the men who attacked me is the last of the Hapsburgs- Otto Hapsburg-- I said to myself, “The Hapsburgs are still lusting after Protestant blood. They are still the same as they were in the days of Luther”.”

My response is that the cross of Christ covers every sin, even doctrinal error. So I look forward to playing chess with Iain in heaven because Christ will save him. But he is preaching a nationalism of Protestants. He finds his identity in Ulster and not in God. And in so doing he damages the testimony of the thousands of Catholics and Protestants trying to evangelise in Ulster.

While it may not be so scholarly a put-down as Mitchel (who wrote, “At its core, Paisleyism is fundamentally opposed to the radical, boundary-breaking Good News of the Gospel”) but I think it appropriate to quote the remix of the praise song Our God Is An Awesome God that Fiancé wrote. She was inspired by Christian students and their utilitarian view of God when she wrote it (God gets me through my exams. That is all) but it applies equally well to the Sinn Féin Evangelicalism of Paisleyism. (Sinn Féin are the Republican party linked to the IRA in Ireland and it means “Ourselves Alone” in Irish)
Our god is a plastic god
Who lives in a cardboard box
With newspapers, t-shirts and socks
Our god is a plastic god.

Your Correspondent, Porously soaking up the hate.

Linkage for you

Thursday, May 20th, 2004

This may prompt some electoral postings, seeing as six bajillion Europeans are going to the polls on June 11th. But, click here to see what Neuro thinks of it all.

Your Correspondent, Voting To Ban Evil

The Way Your Mind Works

Saturday, May 15th, 2004

I grew up with the Internet. Me, my sisters and brothers and the Internet. We shared a house and made do with what we had. Sometimes we failed and made people pregnant outside of marriage and sometimes we succeeded and wooed the head of the music school at a violin recital and so won that scholarship that set us on the course to fame, in a classical musical sense. Sometimes we were alcoholic. Then we weren’t. Wait, that is some weird version of Party of Five. Remember Party of Five? How quickly we forget.

Actually, I was thinking about the web this morning and how ubiquitous it is in our lives but how this time ten years ago it was all a mystery we never knew existed. How quickly we forget and how quickly things change because today it’s still a mystery to most people but at least they know about it. Party of Five was a pre-web program. Bailey never had an I-pod and the little annoying violin dunceface never got embroiled in a paedo chat-room dilemma.

I wasn’t an early adopter to Napster but I feel like I was an early adopter to Napster. We all do. Ooh the thrill of downloading a Skunk Anansie album without having to pay for it, then sneaking a zip drive into college and booting off one of the few Windows 95 computers that would allow you to use that prehistoric floppy disk on steroids to take your ill-gotten gains home. Its going to be hard to explain how exhilarating it all was to our kids.

These less than productive and original thoughts were stopped in their tracks when Bis and Amos, the local Jehovah Witnesses came round to talk to me. I have missed them the last five times they have called, much to the chagrin of the Housemates who have to shoo them away because they are all stocked up on crazy. I however am not. I wanted to take a brief tour through the crazy world where Jesus died on a stake, not a cross and this is somehow important, Christmas is for Satan and the Trinity doesn’t exist.

I began on an ecumenicist tack, trying to get them to consider the sinfulness of faulty doctrine. If we take the things we argue about out of the arena where we are playing with ideas and into some system where we acknowledge that the ideas have consequences and therefore can be sinful, the whole issue of theological disagreement seems to be simplified. If we sin when we are wrong about God by mis-interpreting the Bible through our own prejudices or our own honest brokenness, then we see how simultaneously it is very important and very much already dealt with.

In this scenario, getting God wrong is very bad. But the sin is already forgiven in Jesus’ sacrifice and so we are already redeemed, as long as we hold fast to and believe in the primary truth of Easter. I like this idea which may not be mine but which I came up with on my own. It is summed up in the line:
The Cross covers all sin, even doctrinal error.

Yet the Jehovah’s were having none of it. They still thought there was only one aspect to God, known as God the Father in Christian land and Jehovah in Heresy Land (capital city Jehovah Witness-ville).
I finally got them to be quiet a bit when I explained how I could be separated from my actions. Amos granted to me that the Holy Spirit was in the Bible and that She* was an active force of God’s in the world. I said, “Well, Amos, old buddy. I am a pleasant fellow, winsome and agreeable at all times. Except for the times when I am horrid and cruel, especially to cats and the French. Now I can act like a scoundrel and you will still count me as a gent, not a knave. This is because I am flawed and fallen and my behaviour and my actual “identity” can be broken in two. However, the big fella upstairs (here I may have clarified that I was talking about God and not Michael Collins. Although he was African he may have read much of that titan of our past in history books and I though best be safe) claims perfection and flawlessness. In that case, if His claim is true, then his actions and His self, or substance, or identity, or whatever you may call this property, cannot be separated because there is no separation in thought or action, feeling or doing, motive or deed in the perfect.”

Amos’ eyes went wide for a moment and then he moved back to why Christmas was satanic. However, go to my Fiancé if you want a more literal, less Zoomtard-as-hero account. Why would you want that though?

At this point, the old Chesterton chestnut is appropriate. Men love fairy tales and fantasies not because they tell them that monsters and dragons exist, but that they can be beaten. Why diverge from my fantasy fairy tale version of truth?

Now I am sitting out the back garden listening to birds sing, being stalked by the most ineffective cat ever (if I could send it back to the wild, it couldn’t hunt a hedgehog with Downs) and anticipating a small party of cool friends tonight because the summer has definitely arrived. I can tell by the large number of lawn mowers at work in the area and the alarming incidences of men without tops sitting outside pubs drinking beer down in the village. Oh Ireland, my heart sings for your summers.

Some of the party attendees will include a baby who is barely six months old, a bearded man who may be moving to Vancouver and a graphic designer from Memphis who sings beautifully and who is fixin’ to have a good time. As is the wont of men from that region. Pretty great selection for a square Christian gab-fest. You would be invited but you simply aren’t made of four equi-distant right angles.

Your Correspondent, Faster Than a Ray of Light

*Sorry.

I Look Good In My Attitude, Latitude 1974

Saturday, May 8th, 2004

Darn it, this has been one of the best weeks of my life. I sit here in a slovenly slum that passes as my fiancé’s kitchen. But that doesn’t matter since we splashed out on a new laptop and associated hardware this week so the table is covered in the kind of tech that gives my good friend Phil a hard on.

Ben Folds has announced that he is going to be playing in Dublin in November and in Vicar St no less. Forget my wedding, that is going to be the best night of my life. I will need to wear a nappy, the excitement is such.

My girlfriend has also become quite the obsessive amateur photographer. This turns me on the way an overclocked Pentium centrino processor turns Phil on. I don’t know why, but the idea of my girlfriend crouching in the corner of a shopping centre in Dublin trying to get a time-delay shot of all the people buying and a baby girl sitting still in her pushchair is very attractive. At this stage, I am embarrassed to even consider putting this online.

I also got paid this week which was a pleasant surprise. As a result, I have new shoes, saw Station Agent and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I may just have enough left over to pay back some debt and buy lunch on Monday.

But the final King reason for the supremacy of this week over other weeks has been the news that I have a new job. I am leaving my Foreign Affairs job and all hopes of a diplomatic placement to go work for a charity as of September 1st. The fantasy of the diplomatic position was always going to stay fantasy of course, since Diplomat’s Wife is my fiancé’s ultimate nightmare and as we all know, the spouses of diplomats are not allowed engage in their own careers.

The job is the job that I have always wanted but didn’t always know I wanted. Since last year, I have known. The selection of moi over the other candidates was a surprise and somewhat risky choice. I have a lisp after all. But come September I imagine this blog will take a new direction, need a re-design and you will all know what the job is. You all being the handful of people who read this. I hope you like Christian blogs though.

The job comes with a perk. Well, with many perks, but the best one is that I can buy books from a very prominent Christian publication house at cost price. If you know me, then you know that I will have to place a large order for Ben Folds concert nappies because the prospect of books that good and cheap will make me socially anathema due to uncontrolled excitement.

The only drawback to the job is that I will have to leave the Socialist Party and Sinn Féin. You’ll no longer be able to call to me from across the street when you see me loading TVs into the back of a stolen ambulance because I can’t load TVs into the backs of stolen ambulances anymore. No need though. I have a salary! I can just buy the TVs. Or the ambulances. Or you. So watch it.

-Your Correspondent, Snug and Smug

You Were Laughing At My Helmet Head

Monday, May 3rd, 2004

I had a fantasy come through over the weekend. Not a hot sexual one, mind. I am a born again virgin thanks to the nefarious intervention of Jesus. No, my bookshop fantasy was fulfilled.

Everyone dreams about winning the lottery and ending all their financial concerns forever or at least until they buy up all the Faberge eggs they can afford. My windfall fantasy was that I would go to bookshops, Hodges and Figgis, Chapters and Waterstones on Dawson St. in Dublin and onto amazon and just buy everything I ever wanted. Enough books to stock a whole library that fills a circular room mostly made of glass on the 1st floor of the beautiful house I would build with the rest of my lottery money. (Montaigne had a round library and that was back in the day so I think my dream could reasonably be fulfilled).

Anyway, last Thursday I got to go North and Across The Border to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, which is a different Jurisdiction, to a bookshop in Church House (Centre of Irish Presbyterianism) where I just pointed out books and the helpful shop manager put them into boxes for me. UK£5,000 later I was finished. I had accomplices in this task by the way and even though we walked into a shop, pointed, gesticulated, talked loudly at the shop manager and each other and then walked out with many hundreds of books and drove them south of the border, we did nothing illegal.

Its all for a bookshop my church is opening. Many people dream of owning a little bookshop that serves coffee and doesn’t put Beckham biographies in prominent shelf space. I have compromised somewhat by becoming the manager of a Christian bookshop that serves coffee and will only stock Left Behind titles under Humour. It opens next week. If you live around Maynooth you are welcome to come to the gala opening. I am still confirming the Pope and Bill Hybels (Evangelical Pope) but all should come good.

I spent a large amount of my time over the weekend with my nephew, S. At three months I can decisively say that he doesn’t have the family nose, which is a relief. We have large Shylock noses, in the sense of the racially suspect Jewish stereotype nose. Not in some modernist Merchant of Venice where all the characters are played by trained dogs and chimps. Comparing my nose to a Shylock played by a chimp might be anatomically valid but it wouldn’t carry much meaning. Then again, Shylock is hardly the most well known character ever created and so the whole comparison is shaky. Even if humans are playing Shylock.

He is a very mobile and expressive baby. I harbour hopes that he will play right back for Ireland at the World Cup. The number two shirt would look good on him. I don’t want to jump the gun on him but if he isn’t capped at international level, then he is out of the family.

In other good weekend news, Man City avoided relegation, Ben Folds is playing here in November and today is a Bank Holiday. Whoo!

Your Correspondent, He Wishes He Was More Like You