Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Photographic Memory

Both son M. and I have what is called a photographic memory. Recently, for instance, I needed to know where I had read that scientific hypotheses are described as value judgements. I pictured it on the page, among piles of books, and found it instantly. It matters little if I saw something upside down, or in cursive script. Son M. does the same, but he is, I think, much better at it than I am. OBSERVATION: But it doesn't strictly work like a photograph, and it works only in special ways -- so that some say one cannot truly speak of a "photographic memory". In my case, it works best where the subject matter was of interest to me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

City Bowl

Pictured is Cape Town's City Bowl, at sunset. One sees here why it is called the City Bowl. On the left is Table Mountain, in the centre Lion's Head -- said to be one of the most spectacular climbs in the world -- and on the right in the distance is Signal Hill. My own home is marked with a yellow dot.

Maintaining A Relationship With God

A Church group called on me out of the blue to help them answer a question. How should one build a healthy Church, and not just “straw”? I said the first ingredient is to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ, or people tend to get fixated with themselves and various other things. I said next to that is Scripture -- to know who God is and how He acts. A young woman said: “But it’s about a personal relationship with God -- and maintaining it!” I sensed some anxiety in the second part of that. I said yes, absolutely, a personal relationship with God is the essence of Christianity -- if you bear in mind that it's not all about what you put in, but also what God does regardless of the (palpable) relationship. OBSERVATION: I see it again and again in counselling: people agonising over the status of their relationship with God, as if the whole universe depended on it and on all that it involves: prayer, humility, obedience, and so on. But God is greater than that. He works beyond that.

Afrikaans Chronolects

Not that long ago, I blogged about a great vowel shift in Afrikaans, which we would seem to be witnessing in our own lifetimes (in English, there was the Great Vowel Shift of 1350-1700). Another interesting thing in this regard is Afrikaans chronolects, which means that different generations of Afrikaners speak different varieties of Afrikaans. It's a very obvious feature of Afrikaans today. But why should these varieties be separated by age? Many linguists call it an "ideological activity", which means that Afrikaans speakers are signalling different ideas and ideals through their varieties of language. OBSERVATION: I don't know much about these things, so these are just some musings.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Steepest Street

A one-time hobby of mine was to discover Cape Town's steepest street. It turned out to be Longmarket Street (pictured). This is the view from the cab of my Mahindra three-wheeler. Longmarket Street has a sustained slope of 17°. There are some streets which have sections that are steeper. The best is Clifford Road with a section 19° steep. That matches the world record for a sustained slope.

Philosophy And Theology

Something few churchgoers understand is the close relationship (for better or worse) between philosophy and theology -- and the power of it. Look at that Church over there -- this probably applies to that Church. Usually theology trails philosophy -- I would estimate by about a generation. That is, if philosophers think it, it will be driving theology one generation later. The evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer spent much of his life trying to awaken Christians to this fact. OBSERVATION: Some influential philosophers in the field of theology today, to give some examples, were Whitehead (creation as process), Wittgenstein (religion as culture), or Derrida (be aware of constructions). I think culture probably has a stronger influence than philosophy does, but that is harder to define.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chicken Without A Head

This one's not for sensitive souls. One often speaks of someone running about like a chicken without a head. This week I was reminded of an incident in my youth, in the mission. My guardian, a local man named Temeeti, asked me to hold a chicken while he cut off its head. I let the chicken go. Without a head, it flew right over the tops of the coconut trees -- which were tall. We searched for it, but never found it.

Copernicus

I noted recently that Fuller Theological Seminary taught us: "Examine how this person did it." One of my favourites -- to examine how he did it -- is Copernicus, who demonstrated that the earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the earth. Copernicus describes this with such clarity and grace, to a potentially hostile audience, and the way that he glorifies God throughout is beautiful -- it gives one a whole new appreciation of the world. I am thinking in particular of On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Uncle Arthur

My English family is very small. The Scarborough line has survived through only one son for several generations, although there have been a few more in-laws through marriage. Recently my sister amazingly tracked down photos of my great-uncle Arthur (pictured with his wife Grace). I met Uncle Arthur only once, but curiously, his influence on my life was disproportionately large. He gave me (indirectly) a diamond ring. With that ring, I visited four south-east Asian nations -- as it happened, at a time of huge political turmoil which left a deep impression on me.

Controversial Post

One of my most controversial blog posts was: How I Did It. This described my long journey to my most significant writing. Even more controversial, however, were my comments on the controversy, which I re-post here today -- after I deleted them (back then) in a storm. A simple reason for the How I Did It post was that I was happy with my accomplishment -- and most people were happy with me. A second, more important reason was to show others how I did it -- namely, to be helpful to those who might aspire to something similar. A good thing about my alma mater Fuller Theological Seminary was that they often asked us: "Examine how this person did it." My purpose, also, was to show how God was in it -- without whom it would not have happened. Many people seemed to miss that point, that we can put our trust in God's providence. I would add that it is good for Christians to have a presence in -- and to be attentive to -- (almost) all fields, not least one (namely philosophy) which is so hugely influential in the Church. OBSERVATION: So why was the original post so controversial? It wasn't for academic reasons. Rather it was said that I was making myself equal with ancient Greek philosophers, I was quoting ancient Greeks rather than Scripture, I was spending ministry time on philosophy, and if I was that good at philosophy, why was I in ministry. At the same time, it was said that my writing was simplistic and anyone could have done that. Some people found such comments very funny -- a good joke -- but I was nettled. Looking back today, my writing back then did not slip into obscurity as so often happens, but went on to be noticed -- and so did I. Thanks to God.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Arum Lillies

Lillies are appearing on our plot in Tesselaarsdal (pictured), the first real growth since a devastating flood nine months ago. Until these began to appear this month, it was only clover and mushrooms. The growth of the lillies is fast, and there seem to be many. Soon the plot may be covered with lillies. OBSERVATION: I think one calls these arum lillies or calla lillies -- or in Afrikaans, varkoor (pig's ear).

Professional vs. Personal

Ministers in South Africa are said to have a tendency to be task-driven rather than people-driven. Recently a Church staff member described to me her disappointment at being neglected as soon as it was "mission accomplished". Seeking to provide some perspective, I wrote to her: "Your minister is the professional who has a task to do. The good side of that is that such ministers are not too much ensnared by the personal dynamics and politics that sometimes go on in Churches, and so may be very effective. The downside is that they do this at the expense of deeper relationships or sensitivity to individuals. He's a man on a mission, and what's important to him is what's important to the mission." OBSERVATION: Ideally, I think, one should find a balance between the task and thoughtful consideration of people -- although it's a balance that easily tips too far to one side or the other.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Forward On Promise

I did my first serious work as a Member of the Board (The Philosopher) today. A geophysicist and author submitted a paper which had thought-provoking content -- basically as to whether we may know the mindset of ancient writers, or are reading into them our own modern thoughts. However, the piece needed major work. The editor decided to go forward on the basis of its substance -- perhaps one might say its promise -- which I think was good.  He put in hard work two days ago, and I put in hard work today.

Who's Whos

I was offered a place this week in a Who's Who -- yet while I was courteous about it, I was ambivalent. There are Who's Whos today which benefit from the reputation of the real Who's Whos. Twenty years ago, one might have thought that a Who's Who was augmenting its prestigious list. Today one wonders how they are seeking to put one's "elite" membership to work for themselves. I would describe my impressions of this one as a nominally selective, members-only LinkedIn, with a fairly high profile ... yet would I want to be a member? I don't see that I'd be proud to be one.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Apology To God

The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convict a person of sin. I was called upon to see a woman who was terminally ill. The first time I went to see her, I asked her whether she had confessed her sins. She said: “I haven't sinned.” I said: “I can't convince you that you have sinned. Pray that the Holy Spirit will show you.” The next time I went to see her, she said: “I have apologised to God.” I told the story at her funeral service. I said that when someone does that, God is delighted. The angels rejoice.