Thursday, July 31, 2008

more Edwards quotes

The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.

A man's having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion: but if he has no affection it proves that he has no true religion.

If it be so, that true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may infer, that such means are to be desired, as have much of a tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the word, and administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshipping God in prayer, and singing praises, is much to be desired, as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means.

Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections

Edwards - some quotes

True virtue never appears so lovely, as when it is most oppressed; and the divine excellency of real Christianity, is never exhibited with such advantage, as when under the greatest trials: then it is that true faith appears much more precious than gold! (ref to 1 Peter 1:8)

there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conversation of any person, by anything of a religious nature, that ever he read, heard or saw, that had not his affections moved.

And the impressing divine things on the hearts and affections of men, is evidently one great and main end for which God has ordained that his word delivered in the holy Scriptures, should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And therefore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and expositions on the Scripture, and other good books of divinity; because, although these may tend as well as preaching to give men a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the things of the word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men's hearts and affections.

Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections


One at least one level, I really don't get computers.

  • Why should taking my laptop apart, removing a small amount of dust, then putting it back together again solve not just the suspected hardware problem, but also a long-running problem with software consuming all the system resources?
  • Why, when I was very careful to keep all the screws and to use long screws only when needed when putting it back together, do I have three missing?
  • And why do I have four smaller screws left over, when they won't work in the holes for the longer screws and vice versa?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brazil 9 - Football / Futebol / Idolatry

My host (and some of his family) very kindly took me to see a football game the other day. It was Santa Cruz v Campinese in the Brazillian 3rd division. Tickets, by the way, cost about £10 for a good seat, or about £2 for a standing place.

Santa Cruz seem to be a lot like Manchester United, except without the money and Sir Alec. In other words, they used to be successful, but have dropped two divisions in the last two years and are most notable for having the largest stadium in this bit of Brazil (though some of it is being refurbished, and other bits are closed due to having been trashed) and for being very nasty to opponents, often using Hell-type imagery.

This is the so-called "Inferno Coral", where the hardest-core fans stand. Note that in Portuguese, "Inferno" means "Hell". Lots of songs about doing nasty things to their opponents... Lots of drums, jumping, and waving big flags too. At times the whole area looked like a living organism, because everyone was jumping to the beat of the drums.

This is the top worn by many in the Inferno Coral. Note the loving attitude it displays to his fellow man. The snake, by the way, is the emblem of the club, but it doesnt't usually carry guns. Note how incongruous the state flag (at the top, with the cross and the rainbow) looks, just like Christians wearing a Man Utd shirt...

Lots of food and drink was available, some of the more conventional kind (crisps, popcorn, etc.) and some of the less conventional kind. This, for example, is raw sugar cane, which is meant to be sucked on, then spat out. Given the local industries, maybe eating so much sugar is simply a patriotic thing...

At half time, the score being 0-0, the players and officials went off. Please note the following security features:

  • There are very few (if any) stewards in the crowd
  • There is a deep moat between the crowd and the pitch
  • On the other side of the moat, there are policemen with big dogs
  • The referree has police with riot shields guarding him while he goes down his tunnel

After the break, Campinese scored with a free-kick.

But shortly afterwards, Santa Cruz were awarded a penalty. Full marks to the penalty taker for being cheeky. He stopped most of the way into his run-up, pointed something out to the goalie, then kicked the ball into the net while the goalie was distracted. The crowd went wild.

One of the good things about being in a different culture is that it gives me a good opportunity to reflect on my own. This was a regular Brazillian third division match, and they treated it like a cup final. Here, football often seems so clearly to be a matter of worship. And that got me thinking about England...

Is the reason that there are so many more women than men in church in England (and in Brazil) linked to the fact that so many men worship sports?

What does it mean to support a football team? If Liverpool and Man Utd swapped 60% of their players over a period of a few years, why would I still support Liverpool? Is it because what is actually happening is worship (however half-hearted) for something underlying what actually goes on on the pitch?

Has sport provided us with a new pantheon of gods to worship, except where there is continually more information to process so that people don't get bored?

I can see that it can be right and good to enjoy watching people use the skills God has given them. But if supporting a football team is fundamentally about worshipping a non-physical entity, can a Christian consistently do it?

I know there's various reasons why people support the teams they do - attachment to roots, glory seeking, and so on. But they all seem like bad reasons to me.

So often we wrongly interpret the first commandment to say "You shall have no other gods before me" - i.e. "Make God number 1". But that isn't what it actually says. It actually says "You shall have no other gods before my face." It's commanding a complete absence of other gods, not just them being taken down to numbers 2, 3 and 4.

Why do people not see (a la Isaiah 44) that football is something people invented, and therefore it cannot be worthy of our devotion?

Why is it that the people at the top of the game (players, managers, etc) don't seem to show anywhere near the level of support or loyalty that the fans do? Answer - because they know it isn't worth it. For them it's a business - a way of making money.

Hopefully, it's kind of obvious I'm still wrestling with this question. Just to show how inconsistent I am, here's a photo of me with the European Champions' League Trophy...

And here's a good cartoon from Dave Walker on the subject.

Brazil 8 - Some Things I Like

I've been asked to say some things I like about Brazil. Here goes...


There is lots of fruit, and it's readily available. Quarter of a watermelon, for example, costs about 20p. The bananas taste very different to in the UK (much better here) and don't bruise anywhere near as easily. And there's a good few fruits which don't seem to have an equivalent in England.

There's one called Acerola (or something like that), for example, which has wonderful juice when sweetened. Caju is great as well - both the juice and as an additive to chocolate...


By and large, the hospitality I have received has been excellent. My host, for example, has really gone out of his way to help me feel as much at home as is possble.

Male Apathy

Men here aren't afraid to appear excited or show affection (in the UK, this seems to be restricted to sports, of which more later). A handshake on greeting and bidding farewell to someone is considered the minimum, even a little cold.

Random tangent - in the UK the reason this doesn't happen is, I think, often down to a kind of teenage homophobia - people don't want to be thought of as gay. There might be various reasons underlying that; personally I suspect it's a twisting of the conscience into something nastier. That exists here too, of course - it was amazing seeing how reluctant teenage lads were to sit on each other's knees during a silly game we played at English camp (far more so than they would have been in the UK) - but it takes a diffeent form.

So Brazil just doesn't seem to be anywhere near as afflicted by the culture of male apathy for everything except sex and sport as the UK is.


Linked to this is the fact that Brazillians seem to be much more innately relational than British men. I hardly ever see people saying they are too busy to talk. Far more normal to just stop for 30 mins or so and chat to people. I rather imagine this is linked to the Brazillian concept of time...


Of course. I think the temperature has occasionally dropped below 20C here, but it is the middle of winter. The rain also reminds me far more of Manchester than Oxford, except that it's much quicker to dry off here...

Getting on with it

Brazillians really don't seem to stop and get annoyed about how inadequate whatever facilities are or anything. Or maybe they just don't show it. What they do seem to do is try to get on with life, whatever the conditions.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Randy Pausch - Last Lecture

This video is really interesting...

Randy Pausch, a popular lecturer and expert in virtual reality, gives a lecture about what he wants to pass on, knowing he had only a few months to live.

As wordly wisdom goes, it's pretty good and interesting stuff. It's also over an hour long.

Brazil 7 - Eating Out No Brasil

These are things they don't say in any of the stuff I'd read on Brazil...

In Brazil, the portions specified on the menu usually serve far more than one person (but the menus don't tell you this or indeed how many they serve), and it is quite normal for a table to receive only one or two dishes of main course, and for the plates to already be on the table when the diners sit down.

They say in Italy that it is very hard to be a vegetarian and eat out. In Brazil, it is very hard to get vegetables at all when you eat out. I was at an upmarket Italian restaurant yesterday, and of 100 or so dishes on the menu, only one that I noticed came with vegetables. And because of the contraints hinted at above, none of the four main courses that were delivered to our table of 9 or so had vegetables. Potatoes of various varieties and rice are common, and some dishes contain beans and/or olives. But I mentioned to a Brazillian that in England we are supposed to eat 5 helpings of fruit or veg per day. He laughed and guessed that he ate 1. And that seems to be the expected norm.

Because of that (and because it is easy to order), I tend to drink fruit juice when eating out. Now fruit juice comes in two major varieties. Normal fruit juice is sweetened, but occasionally you find somewhere that does very very nice unsweetened fruit juice, at which point it seems normal in Brazil to request extra sweetener.

And that brings me neatly onto puddings. I'm normally a big fan of puddings, and I often like them quite sweet, so one might think I'd be on to a winner here. What I wasn't prepared for was the sheer quantity of sugar...

For example, in a fairly upmarket restaurant, I ordered apple pie and ice cream. was glad that I had when I tried a friend's chocolate mousse, which seemed to consist almost entirely of sugar. But then this came...

Points to note:

  • The "apple pie" consists mostly of confectioners' custard (sweeter than in the UK), with a small quantity of apple on top, matched by a roughly equal quantity of brown sugar on top of that
  • The ice cream appears to be coloured by some bizarre synthetic chemical, and does not actually display evidence of having made contact with strawberries
  • The glace cherry fragment was only added for aesthetic reasons - the whole ice cream was roughly as sweet as glace cherries usually are
  • I did not manage to finish this pudding - the ice cream was too sweet
  • There is a bottle of artificial sweetner liquid in the background.

It's also worth another comment on the phenomenon of sweet pizzas...

  • Brigadeiro is roughly what was pictured in the previous discussion of this, except with condensed milk as well
  • The bottom entry on that menu is caramelised apple and confectioners' custard pizza. Now, I know I'm a big fan of custard, but no. Just no.

If I had to make a choice now between being vegetarian for life and eating normal Brazillian food for life, I'd pick vegetarianism at the drop of a hat. It doesn't surprise me at all that there is an epidemic of diabetes among the middle classes here. It only surprises me that no-one seems to be trying to do anything about it except the manufacturers of artificial sweetener.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Brazil 6 - Competitiveness and Excellence

Brazillians are of course very competitive, especially when it comes to sports such as football and volleyball. Even teenage girls often seem to be keen and good players, though there are still a fair number of adults of both genders who aren't especially interested. I'd guess a higher proportion of Brazillian men aren't into football than of Mancunain men!

This competitiveness extends to all sorts of things - silly games, English competitions, etc, and doesn't seem to give up easily. For example, on English camp, one of the main afternoon activities was a kind of team competition at English, with spelling, anagrams, etc. The teams were all keen, even the ones with no realistic chance of winning three days in, which I don't think would happen in England.

In church, there seems to be competition for size of churches - it's one of the most common questions, and large churches are generally better regarded than small ones. (I'm reporting this, not agreeing with it.)

There's a lot of that sort of thing going on with status and money too (of which more later).

But there are some areas it doesn't seem to affect - food, for example (more on experiences of eating out in Brazil later), or cleanliness (or maybe that's just the people who were meant to be doing the cleaning on the English camp - we'd not have taken them as leaders on the camp I do in the UK...) I guess what I'm trying to say is that there doesn't really seem to be a conception of excellence apart from a conception of competition. People aren't driven to excel for the sake of excelling. Or that is how it seems to me, anyway.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Luther - Entrusting to God

I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess.
Martin Luther

Hat tip to CQOD.

Dale Ralph Davis - The Word Became Fresh

Someone apparently said to Vaughan Roberts that the BST commentaries had "gold dust on every page", an assessment with which he seemed to agree. Vaughan's a very good preacher, and a great bloke, but I don't quite agree with him - there are some in that series which seem weak. But his quote is one I would certainly want to appropriate for this book.

Davis sets out to try to explain how to preach Old Testament narrative. It's not quite what the book ends up doing, but this is sill the best book I've read on preaching the Old Testament. I don't especially want to read Richard Pratt's He Gave Us Stories (which is usually heavily recommended for that), for the simple reason that when I heard Pratt preach, he seemed to spend most of his time arguing that the passage taught a spurious form of post-milleniallism which he made no effort whatsoever to reconcile with the many passages of Scripture which don't fit that interpretation. He seemed to be theologising too much from one passage without taking into account the whole counsel of Scripture. But Davis doesn't do that.

What Davis actually does, and does very well, is give lots of examples of different priniciples and techniques for the exegesis and application of Old Testament narrative. He typically spends half a page explaining the technique, then two or three pages giving a pithy and challenging summary of a sermon on a section of OT narrative which uses that technique. And it becomes not so much a textbook as a devotional guide, with the learning being learning by example.

I have one, and only one, major gripe with this book. There is no index of Scriptures used. I might have to spend some time writing one.

Brazil 5 - Recommendations

I've been away from the computer at English camp for a few days. Maybe more on that later. But for the time being, here are a few recommendations.

One of the notable differences about the cities in Brazil from England is the noise levels. Although the legislation about noise pollution in England often doesn't work very well, at least it exists. In Brazil, it doesn't, and you can often find loudspeaker vans going round the streets blaring out advertising messages or music or whatever.

Anyway, the other day one of these was blaring music out only about a block away, so I could hear it clearly, and it seemed to be stationary. So I went to take a photo - the one above in fact, and found that it was part of some kind of political advertising thing - there were people waving big flags in the yellow and green of this candidate by the side of the road, and the above van was soon joined by another, of more modern design, which was basically just a set of loudspeakers on wheels.

Shortly after taking the above photos, I was threatened by a couple of heavies (but this being Brazil, I was quite a bit taller than them) wearing T-shirts of the candidate in question. They seemed very unhappy with me taking photos. Unable to take recourse to the obvious solution of asking them about their candidate's views on whether or not it should be a free country (due to the fact that although I can understand a fair bit of Portuguese, I cannot speak much at all), I pretended to understand even less, said something like "delete, delete", and carried on walking as if I wasn't threatened by them (same principle as works for dogs).

So if perchance any readers of this blog get the chance to vote for someone with the antiseptic-sounding name of Nilton Carneiro, with yellow and green colours, don't, because his campaign seems to consist of impolite thugs, which suggests that he might well be one too. [Edited to add this next bit]. On the other hand, the person who seems to be his main opponent, Andrei Campos, also seems to use all three main methods of campaigning - logos painted on walls, flag wavers and very very loud music. But Campos appears to be a communist and Carneiro at least vaguely Christian. I therefore suspect if I had a vote, I might actually vote for Carneiro, but if I could speak Portuguese, I'd urge him to campaign in a more loving fashion.

On the positive side of recommending, if anyone is travelling to Brazil, I thoroughly recommend the insect repellant known as Off. Some people I was with got bitten a lot - one poor guy got 42 mosquito bites and started getting allergic reactions to them. The person running the camp recommended Off. People who used it didn't get bitten. People who used other insect repellants seemed to. But I don't know if it works on British midges.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Brazil 4 - Brazillian Time

One of the big differences between Brazil and the UK is in the conception of time. I'd been warned about it, but I didn't quite expect this...

In England, there normally seems to be a margin of error of 5 minutes or so for business events and 15 minutes for social activities. In Brazil, 1 hour is closer to the mark. And even then, sometimes it's days.

In my time here, I've been told to meet someone at 8:30. They arrived at 9:15, which was "slightly late". It seems to be taught as well (of course) - in conversation with someone I've seen them look at the clock and say "Ah, it's 10 o'clock". The clock read 10:10. I don't think I've seen that in England.

This also seems to run to matters of organisation - I found out yesterday afternoon that I'm probably going to be away from the internet for a few days, starting today. So apologies for any lack of posts - it isn't for lack of things to say.

On the other hand, Brazillians can be very punctual when they really need to be. There was a long queue for the film last night, which started pretty much on time. It's more just a normally relaxed attitude to time-keeping, which just means that people whose natural inclination is to be more punctual (like me) need to learn to take a book along, or to spend the extra time praying, or something.

The Dark Knight

I don't think I've ever seen a superhero film as dark as this, the sequel to Batman Begins. It is complex, brooding and all the characters are morally ambiguous in a way that is very unusual. But Batman always was the Dark Knight, even if that wasn't how he was portrayed on screen. The exception in terms of moral ambiguity is the Joker, who is a fairly clear mix of evil, insane and very clever.

The special effects are good, but the focus is rather on the large number of moral cans of worms opened in the film, with questions like "Does the difference between what people deserve and what people need legitimate lying?", What is the difference between the "good" people and the "evil" people in the film? How does that work out with reference to e.g. Harvey, the groups of people on the ferries? Is the Joker really that different after all?

I think where it all ends up is remarkably close to GK Chesterton's classic Father Brown stories, though without the strong redemptive theme there. By all means watch the film - it's a good, entertaining, well made, and thought-provoking time. But don't expect it to be happy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lisbon 6 - Innuendo

I'm in a bit of a silly mood, having just bought quarter of a watermelon for about 30p. Apologies for any offence caused...

Because of the big differences in pronunciation between English and Portuguese, some interesting misunderstandings are possible. For example, the lady on the plane who didn't speak English tried explaining, with the help of my phrase book that she was constipated. It turns out she meant that she had a blocked nose.

For some reason, I found this announcement on the plane worth recording. It was part of the safety announcement, and speaking about oxygen masks.

Should there be a lack of pleasure, they will immediately fall out.

The mind boggles.

Still sillier, however, was the Condomiser (TM) - not its real name. TAP (Air Portugal) said that as much security as possible was needed for flying to Brazil, and that they offered a special sealing facility for bags. On seeing this, I thought it too much fun not to use. I was then disappointed, after having my bag so sealed, to find that it cost 5 Euros. So I therefore share some knowledge of the process in order to try to recover some value for money. The bag is wrapped in plastic sheeting, which is sellotaped and then heated for a short time to cause it to melt together. It might have been this that caused some mess on the inside of my bag when my shampoo burst. Or it may not. The final effect is not dissimilar to that which might be produced by enclosing the bag in some kind of giant latex prophylactic device.

Opportunities for innuendo abound. I had to reword what I wrote above to remove some of the more notable examples. Of course, the Brazillian baggage handlers were far more efficient than those in Lisbon (baggage started arriving 40 mins after the advertised time) and probably vastly more efficient than those at Heathrow. They even had the wonderful innovation of a glass window in the baggage collection area so we could see them at work unloading the plane, driving their buggies and putting the bags onto the belt. Imagine if they did that at Heathrow, via CCTV or something. Would it dramatically cut waiting times and baggage loss? Quite possibly.

Quote of the day

From a senior churchman - I'm not going to say who in case they don't want to be publically associated with the sentiment. But they probably wouldn't care...

While commenting on the pictures on his wall:

This is St Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury. And this is Rowan Williams, the last.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Some interesting reading...

Here is St John of Damascus (lived 676-749) on Islam. He doesn't like it much...

And here is Ruth Gledhill (religion correspondant for the Times, noted for trying to be fair-minded) on why she prefers both Gene Robinson and GAFCON to Lambeth.

And just from me briefly on church politics.

Church politics is a Bad Thing. The Church is meant to be about building people up in their knowledge of and love for the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But at the same time, as soon as one side in an argument becomes politicised, the temptation for the other side also to become politicised is almost irresistible.

Brazil 3 - How to Drive Like a Brazilian

Continuing on the banal, painting a picture theme, here are some tips on how to drive like a Brazilian in Brazil:

  1. Most major roads are one-way. This is for a very good reason.
  2. This does not of course apply to cyclists. Weaving in and out of traffic going at 60 km/h in the opposite direction to you at night with a girl on the handlebars and no reflective clothing or lights is perfectly normal.
  3. The reason that the accelerator and brake pedals go all the way down is that they were meant to be used all the way down.
  4. If you haven't hit a pot-hole for a good few minutes, it's because you've broken down.
  5. You see those dotted white lines on the road? Don't worry - they don't mean anything.
  6. If someone phones you, it must be very important. Please answer it, talk, text, etc. while driving. Hands-free sets - what are they?
  7. 20's plenty - cm from the car in front, that is. In the picture above, either of both of the cars slightly ahead could cut in without warning. It's only too close if the cars actually hit each other.
  8. At night, red lights are optional. (Actually, the people who ignore them do it allegedly because they don't want to get carjacked).
  9. If traffic is driving approximately in lanes, don't worry - there isn't a "fast lane" or "slow lane". Just overtake / undertake when you can.
  10. If you're near where you want to go, just stop in the road, on the side vaguely near where you are aiming for, and look for a parking space. Don't worry - traffic will swerve round you.
  11. If you are getting out of your car, watch out for the wide open gutter down the side of most roads.
  12. Do not crash. I am continually surprised by how few crashes and dented cars there are here, especially compared to somewhere like Naples. Some of it might be down to the fact that Brazillian cars seem to be tuned so that 50mph feels like 80mph does in the UK, and that a lot of the other stuff is actually done at 20mph.
  13. It's also worth pointing out that one of the greatest racing drivers of all time was a Brazillian.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brazil 2 - Food and Drink

I'm holding off the weightier matters of the trip for a bit - I want more time to reflect and get experience on some of them before writing much. Instead, I'd like to discuss a subject very close to my heart - food and drink.

An awful lot of the differences between food and drink in the UK and in Brazil are down to climate. For example, I've been here nearly a week, and I don't think the temperature has dropped below 20C, day or night.

So I haven't yet come across anywhere that has two taps for water. There isn't much point having an extra water heater if it's at 25C normally. And water at 25C stays fresh for only a very short time - bacteria breed like crazy. As a result, tap water in Brazil is pretty much undrinkable - in many areas it's dangerous, and in the big towns it's often chlorinated to nearly the level of swimming pools in the UK.

Milk, too, is off. And if it isn't, it goes off very quickly. I haven't yet seen anywhere that sells fresh milk here. Instead, milk comes in three main varieties - UHT, powdered and condensed. Because of that, cereal is unusual for breakfast, and not many people drink tea. It saddens me to think that people think the English drink vast quantities of a beverage which here is generally made with UHT milk.

Missing, too, are lots of standard English / European vegetables, which tend to prefer a somewhat cooler climate. But in their place are large quantities of all sorts of different fruits, some of which I've heard of and some of which I haven't. Passion fruit is popular, as are oranges, bananas, melons, pineapples, lots of sorts of berries, and so on. Some are really nice. Some are absolutely disgusting. I tried some tamarind juice today, and I'd feel guilty pouring something that horrible on my plants, in case it killed them.

The fruit doesn't seem to go off easily - I've had bananas which have looked really bruised, and in the UK would be a kind of mush, but which were absolutely fine on the inside and which taste much better than the usual ones we get in the UK. I dread to think what they do to bananas before they reach British shops...

Another huge difference is the sugar. Sugar is easy to grow in Brazil, and they eat vast quantities of it. Fruit juice, as bought in the supermarket, is usually pre-sweetened. Brazillian coffee is often served with shovelfuls of sugar and a small amount of coffee. It is quite normal to have bottles of artificial sweetener liquid on the table at meals. People look oddly at me for drinking unsweetened juice. Buffets seem to consist largely of fruit and cake, and it's quite normal to eat very sugary things for breakfast, even among adults. I've been brushing my teeth quite a lot...

This has knock-on effects even as far as pizza. Among favourite pizza toppings here (without tomato, of course) are banana & brown sugar, which was ok, and chocolate (yes, chocolate pizza), which was a little OTT even for my liking.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lisbon 5 / Brazil 1 - Portuguese

I'm currently on placement in Brazil, and I think it's worth writing a few comments on Portuguese as a language. Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese Portuguese are slightly different as languages, but they've obviously got a lot in common.

Both are descended largely from Latin (as are French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, some of English, etc.) Both are written using the Latin alphabet, and my French and Latin are still passable, so I find Portuguese fairly easy to read - I can understand a decent proportion of sentences, especially when they don't use more difficult grammatical constructions. It is of course much harder to speak them, and though French helps in understanding written Portuguese, speaking it doesn't help people understand.

The real problem in learning the language is the accent. I fully accept of course that Portugal and Brazil are as entitled to the Latin alphabet as England and the US, but they use it quite differently. It's quite unusual to find a word I can pronounce correctly the first time. Pretty much all of the vowels are different, and consonants such as l and r are used very differently. As far as I can tell, they mix up the English sounds r, l, h and w, together with some gutterals, and then two of the resulting sounds are r and l, but which you hear depends on its place in the word. There also seems to be a phantom pronounced "e" on the end of some words, which comes or goes depending on position in the sentence and emphasis.

Sometimes when I try to speak a foreign language, the person I am speaking to switches to English - this especially happens in countries where English is generally spoken well, like Holland, and is a bit annoying. But what I found in Portugal was that I would say something pretty much correctly according to the phrase book, and people sometimes just wouldn't understand. On the plane from Lisbon to Brazil, I found myself sitting next to a lady who only spoke Spanish and Portuguese. When she read aloud some of the English instructions for what to do in case of emergency, I couldn't even tell she was speaking English!

Lisbon 4 - Belem

Probably the best sight to see in Lisbon is the old buildings at Belem. They have even been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of Lisbon was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, and the surviving old buildings in the centre were rebuilt afterwards. But not a few miles up the river at Belem. Belem was the port from which most of the great Portuguese voyages of discovery and conquest set out. The main sights are the Tower of Belem, which was a fortress built in the middle of the river (and now very near the shore).

There's also a big quasi-fascist monument to the navigators.

But the most spectacular building is the monastery there, which includes the tomb of Vasco da Gama. One of the things that surprised me most was the fact that everywhere gave me a full student discount using only my University of Oxford card.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lisbon 3 - Laws

As far as I know, these aren't actual legal laws, just ones I've observed... And no, I'm not in Portugal any more, but I'll keep blogging about it for a bit.

  1. Department stores and supermarkets larger than SPAR in England are forbidden.
  2. All pharmacists should look like boutiques.
  3. Labelling of prices is strictly optional. In pharmacies, it is discouraged. If you really have to label a price, try to make it insignificant, like in the small print under the bar code.
  4. No pharmacist should sell razor blades or shaving foam. Neither should supermarkets.
  5. One in ten shops to be given over to the selling of loose leaf tobacco. Such shops should always be a few cm below street level, and are allowed to sell men's magazines on the side.
  6. There should be lots of police on the streets, often using slow electric transport like golf buggies or Segways.
  7. Police should always be visible. This is to ensure that tourists feel very safe on the streets - Lisbon has a very low rate of violent crime - while still ensuring that there is a plentiful supply of drugs. I was offered drugs 7 times in two days. Unless "hashish" is Portuguese for "my, that's a nice T-shirt". Or maybe I just looked like I needed them.
  8. Big brand stores are not allowed, with the following three exceptions: McDonalds, Subway, H&M. Actually H&M aren't a big brand - they're only on the border of my consciousness, and I'm not sure what exactly they do, except for sell vastly overpriced clothes.
  9. Sandwich shops are allowed to sell alcohol. It was quite interesting to realise that one of the soft drink options was beer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lisbon 2 - Christo Rei

A couple of thing I didn't know about Lisbon before coming here that weren't exactly prominent in he guide book were the near-replica of the Golden Gate Bridge and the giant statue of Jesus.

To give you an idea of the scale o the statue, look carefully at the next picture. You see that little black thing at the bottom of the base? That's a normal-sized door.

Christo Rei, the statue, was built by the Roman Catholic Church in part to thank God (or, as they put it, Christ of the Sacred Heart) for Portugal not getting drawn into WW2, and partly as a way of saying that Christ would be exalted over Portugal. Some people would doubtless say it was a bit of a waste of money, and that the money could have been given to the poor instead or something.

I suspect Jesus migth reply with something like Matthew 26:10

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me."

I'm not sure whether I ever approve of statues of Jesus theologically. I certainly don't like little ones. But 110m high ones, even if a lot of that is the plinth, certainly have something going for them.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


It seems that I have reasonable internet access, for the time being at least.

This morning, I was thinking about Psalm 81. Here's an extract:

Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
if you would only listen to me, Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me.
I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
Psalm 81:8-11, TNIV

God offers us total satisfation, if only we are willing to look to him for it. He says to us "open wide your mouth and I will fill it". He has shown his ability to do so by rescuing his people from slavry. And yet time and again, even God's own people fail to look to him for satisfaction. We look to money or entertainment or relationships or academic success or beauty or power or whatever. How do we expect those who are not yet Christians to look to God for their satisfaction if we do not?

Lisbon 1 - Words

At the moment, I'm in Lisbon, on my way to my placement. As people who know me realise, I'm a bit of an equal-opportunity mocker. I'll mock just about anyone and everyone when they do something silly, especially myself.

With that in mind, here are some funny photos from Lisbon.

When Jesus said "store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, I'm not sure this is what he meant...

Yes, I'm pretty sure that means "Bank of the Holy Spirit"...

I'm also glad I'm training to be clergy. There seem to be different traffic rules for us here...

And some of the local cuisine is a little suspect...

Lots more sensible stuff about Lisbon to follow at some point, depending on time and internet access.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Prince Caspian and the next few weeks

Last night, I saw Prince Caspian at the cinema. I have to say - I think it was a lot better than the first film, and even better than the book of Prince Caspian. They've expanded the story in several ways, most of which are improvements and which bring out the points more clearly or nuances in the characters. For me, the only thing that didn't work was the whole Susan / Caspian subplot.

Having said that briefly, I'm about to go off on placement until late August. I don't know how much I'll be able to post (if at all). So don't worry if nothing much new appears here.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Sharia Law?

In the news recently, a judge suggested that it would be a good idea if Muslim communities in Britain could regulate themselves using Sharia law on areas like family law and some transactions, while not going beyond the sanctions of the laws of the UK.

This and most other such discussions miss the very simple key problem - who determines which jurisdiction applies? For example, suppose a Muslim woman, married to a Muslim man, with children, becomes a Christian. Sharia law, as far as I remember, would claim that the woman was under its jurisdiction as she did not have the authority to convert without her husband's permission. And if she did convert, depending on the interpretation of Sharia, she would either get killed (prevented in the above suggestion) or treated as if dead - divorced and separated from her children with no right to contact them, regardless of whether her husband was abusive (for example) or not.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

This Intolerant God

This impatience of the Bible that refuses to accept anything less than total fidelity is only a reflection of the intolerant God of the Bible who insists on having all your affections.
Dale Ralph Davis, The Word Became Fresh

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It's odd. My experience of talking to American Christians about Indiana Jones is that they love the films, except for Temple of Doom, which they hate. Temple of Doom was my favourite of the first three, and is still my favourite. Possibly because the peril isn't just Germans with guns.

But in a more profound way, this film is also the odd one out of the four. And yes, Indiana Jones was probably due for an expedition with one of the ancient American civilisations, but there are definitely strong X-files-type sci-fi elements as well. It even starts with the Russians invading Area 51 to try to find something from the UFO crash at Roswell...

The Russians protested about this film. But that's just New Cold War scaremongering. Actually it makes sense if when Indiana Jones was 40 he was up against the Germans to be up against the Russians when he's 60. And they don't come off anywhere near as badly as the Germans (let alone the Thuggi) do in the other three films. Their position makes perfect sense - they want knowledge, especially knowledge that might help militarily. They aren't trying to use weird occult powers or anything.

From an action point of view, it's probably the best of the 4 Indiana Jones films, and the compulsory gross-out animal scenes are great too. From a plot point of view, it's possibly the weakest. But it's still great fun.