On Blogs To Read

I now sit in the pleasant position of pretty much only blogging when people ask me to write about things. I have a friend here in Aberdeen called Wilson who is a pastor from Singapore. He is doing his PhD on Slavoj Zizek and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, because everyone here seems happy to spend years throwing fascinating and apparently clashing ideas together. Wilson asked me and two other guys to share some of the blogs that we read regularly.

I might take this as an opportunity to do three things. I subscribe to hundreds of blogs and journals and have a very efficient way of filtering the noise out to find the good stuff. So out of those sources, I am going to share ten blogs I think everyone can benefit from reading. But over the next few days I’l also briefly outline my philosophy of data, if I can refer to my ignorant hunch about all the news on offer to us by such a glorified title. I am also going to write tomorrow about why I think it is pastorally important that we are thoughtful about the way blogs are shaping Christian discourse.

But before that, some blogs (or websites more generally) I think everyone could enjoy:

  1. Bogwitch: The largest folder by far in my feedly account is friends. I could link to any of them (many of them are linked on the right hand side of the blog’s homepage), but as a representative, I link to this one. Laura, who writes this blog, is my internet-friend. She consistently throws up stuff that is delightful. Especially stuff about inter-species friendship, naturally occurring crystals and webcomics. I think you’ll like it.
  2. Everyday I’m Pastorin’: This is one for my readers in Christian ministry. Animated gifs posted by someone in the American mainline Protestant church, beautifully detailing the absurd and inane work that pastoring sometimes involves.
  3. Twitter: The Comic: I could easily make a list of 100 Twitter people you should follow, but maybe this will suffice. The genius behind this blog takes some of the funniest tweets and depicts them graphically. Pure gold. Everytime.
  4. Space Avalanche: Even more comic genius here, from a Dublin-born artist. The punchlines sometimes arrive deliciously late. It is rarely updated, but worth keeping track of.
  5. Hark! A Vagrant!: I presume you are familiar with this blog. If you are not, welcome to the 3-panel historical cartoons you have been waiting for. Beautiful.
  6. Vinoth Ramachandra: Vinoth works for IFES in Sri Lanka. He is an atomic physicist and one of the great Christian ethicists of our age. He writes things for free and publishes them on this innocuous little website every few weeks. He is a wise and compassionate man, who isn’t afraid to say hard things. It is a true promise to declare that if you tune into the quiet voices of practitioners like Vinoth, you will be better off than paying heed to the constant flamewars that happen in the fancier parts of the internet.
  7. Kottke: Old skool lovers of blogs will of course know about Jason Kottke’s daily dedication to excellence. But the chap who asked me to write this might not be aware that there is a full-time blogger in New York “curating” the best of the internet for you.
  8. The Medium and the Message: Adam Curtis is an acclaimed BBC documentary film maker. Every few months he spews the results of his research on this blog, which means he throws together an analysis made of clear thinking and grainy archival footage that makes sense of a single stream out of the gulf of rolling news data we are immersed in.
  9. The Soccer sub-reddit: Reddit is obviously a mixed-bag, a sort of synecdoche for the entire Internet. It is gloriously rambunctiously libertarian in its rhetoric and could be purely draconian in practice. It is home to glee-inducing creativity and heart-sinking depravity. I limit myself to a pretty tight leash in those parts of the interweb and the soccer thread is my favourite. Quirky gifs and insanely passionate disputes about silly football theories means that it never fails to deliver. A royal waste of time, to mis-use a Marva Dawn phrase.
  10. The Last Psychiatrist: Finally, the greatest blog on the internet. It is headed up with a quote from Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”. For long periods of time, the Last Psychiatrist will be silent. Then all of a sudden s/he will break out in into a torrent of verbosity. The rambling, digressing, meandering posts sometimes read as long as a novella and they rarely hold together coherently. Sometimes they exhibit a wanton disregard for all that is decent in this world so that you fear they bear a kind of philosophical virus that will infect the reader with a Clockwork Orange style nihilism. But when the author hits the target, s/he destroys it. S/he is a prophet of culture. If I could get everyone to read it, I would. So go subscribe.

What did I miss?

Your Correspondent, Agrees that the internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of call waiting.

When The Tree Pear Tree Topples Over We Are Far From Normal

My wife lamented this evening that I haven’t been blogging. It is good to have a wife who isn’t bored by me.

I responded I had nothing to write about. After all, I spend my days hived away on top secret work I can’t publish in case one you fools rob it and get a PhD from it before me. That might seem outlandish to you but someone at a seminar organised by the university told me that I needed to protect my ideas. Ideas are intellectual property, dontchyaknow?

I will share someone else’s ideas here. This opening paragraph from Zadie Smith’s latest essay is the best paragraph I have ever read about climate change. It seems to me to describe where we need to start our talk about what is happening, in its sheer odd hellishness:

There is the scientific and ideological language for what is happening to the weather, but there are hardly any intimate words. Is that surprising? People in mourning tend to use euphemism; likewise the guilty and ashamed. The most melancholy of all the euphemisms: “The new normal.” “It’s the new normal,” I think, as a beloved pear tree, half-drowned, loses its grip on the earth and falls over. The train line to Cornwall washes away—the new normal. We can’t even say the word “abnormal” to each other out loud: it reminds us of what came before. Better to forget what once was normal, the way season followed season, with a temperate charm only the poets appreciated.

People in mourning, people who are guilty and ashamed. This ought to describe who we are. That it doesn’t yet, will only heighten our grief, our guilt and our shame when the realisation does hit.

The crappiest kind of blogging is the glorified tweet that directs your attention to a link. I know, I know. I’m sorry.

Your Correspondent, The crappiest kind of blogger

A Thought Experiment About What We Want

Having spent a few months reading about Irish banks, it is always funny to me (genuinely amusing, thankfully, instead of being infuriating) how banking regulation operates on different levels. If I was about to invest millions in a shady casino, my bank manager would meet me for lunch in the best restaurant in town and make sure everything runs smoothly for me. When I want to lodge a cheque made out in Euros, I have to manually fill in a six page form detailing everything short of my favourite Radiohead album and then in two or three weeks I can access the money.

I was enjoying this simple form filling exercise a few days ago. It was a welcome respite from reading Schleiermacher. The bank official was engaging me in unusually friendly levels of Aberdonian small-talk and I found out she had a PhD in the hard sciences. I asked her, with the tact of a man trained in pastoral care, why the hell would she be working in this den of thieves and moral imbeciles? She said that long-term, she’d make much more money here. Then she went and found more forms, stamped them in triplicate, tapped a few commands on her keyboard and was able to move on to the next customer’s inane financial needs.

***

If we wound the clock back and found ourselves in the 1850s, we would have to convince the citizens of Aberdeen or Dublin or Portland that the world of the future contains such tremendous excess.

“We can travel pretty much wherever we want in an hour. You can get across the city and out into the farms in fifteen minutes. And by the way, the cities are MUCH bigger now. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.”

“All of us can communicate with all our loved ones any time of day or night. It costs practically nothing and there are a myriad of ways to do it. The postal service still flourishes of course, but now it brings us groceries and toys as well as letters and invoices. The messages fly through the air invisibly or run along cables in the ground that we effortlessly laid and barely even consider.”

“We have medicines to cure everything. Well, an irritable bowel is still untreatable but we can even sometimes cure cancer. We can anticipate diseases before they happen. And in most parts of the western world, this care tends to be universally available.”

“We eat meat everyday if we want.”

***

Here’s the thing. Having painted a picture of cars and bikes and segways, phones and laptops and Amazon, paracetemol, chemotherapy and teeth whitening, having described our wealth so accurately that they are salivating at the prospect of blueberries all year round and fruits they have never heard of, they might come to believe that your account is true.

But how hard would it be for them to then imagine that in this world where food and medicine and transport and communication are all readily available, the bright young things of such a society would want to work more, to earn more, to get more?

Somewhere along the way we lost the sense of Enough. That thought is so commonplace it is becoming cliché. I don’t mean to get all moralistic, like an unfunny version of Louis C.K., I just want to point out that there was a time before the time we now live, where self-interest has become a monetary concern. My father cannot imagine a life he could have lived where he would do what his youngest sons are doing – move to dark cities far away to spend years doing nothing except read books and think ideas through to their end. This bank teller lives in an amazing time to be human and has benefited by having an amazing grasp of what scientifically makes us human, but she’s wearing a uniform, stamping paper and doing the things my dad feared he might have to do in the 1960s. But its ok because they’ll eventually give her enough money to buy a Mercedes instead of a Kia.

Your Correspondent, The money isn’t even resting in my account

Dissing Like Martin Luther

Martin Luther was fond of a seriously harsh insult every now and again. I would like to imagine I would be Luther’s buddy, but the reality is that my ongoing effort to be as winsome as possible would have enraged a man who was impatient with one of the great idols of our age: balance. In the course of his polemical career, Luther faced up to one of the great heresy hunters of the 16th Century Catholic church, Jacobus Latomus. Latomus was a vicious opponent, but courteous in all his engagements. Hence, Luther had this to say:

You moderate enforcer and eulogizer of moderation. You are one of those bloody and deceitful people who affect modesty in words and appearance, but who meanwhile breathe out threats and blood.

– From Against Latomus, pg. 142 of Luther’s Works, Vol. 32, found here.

It’s a great bit of Luther writing, but it struck close to the bone. I seek to cultivate gentleness but all too often, I find myself doing nothing but affecting modesty.

Your Correspondent, He pretty much just does whatever Oprah tells him to

The Ten Series: 2 Songs

Almost finished now.

My final project for my computer science degree set out to develop a genetic algorithm that would generate ringtones for mobile phones. I think the less said about the outcome of that project the better. But the most entertaining part of the project was reading a bit of music theory.

As a teenager I remember many interminable disputes about which music was better. I used to argue with great high-mindedness that Radiohead and R.E.M. were the best bands. I often would argue this point from some idiotic notion of “musicality”. I, a man with less musical ability than a flatulent dog, would lecture others on why Blur, Oasis or I don’t know, East 17, weren’t as good as Radiohead.

Of course, that is bullshit. Music is music. While we can talk of one piece being better than another, we are always firmly in the realm of relative subjectivity. I don’t know what art is, but I know what I like. I like The Hold Steady and Blackalicious, I like Shakira’s pop songs and Oscar Peterson’s piano. Here are two songs I like especially and now you know it would be dreadfully churlish to comment meanly on it. Right?

1. Country Feedback by R.E.M. is my favourite song of all time. Who knows why. This is a dark song! I don’t. It competes with You Can Call Me Al and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. But it always wins. There is a bass line in the song that just sort of connects with me, everytime I hear it.

I have seen R.E.M. a good few times live. They never played this song, even though it is, by many accounts, their favourite song too. Along with the fact that I never got to see The Beastie Boys and Aimee Mann never played “I Know There’s A Word For This” in any of the gigs I have gotten to attend is my big live music regret.

Among the many lovely gifts I have received through my life, one of the loveliest was the recording of Country Feedback made by Wife-unit and my friend Nelly for my 30th birthday. It is even better than late-era R.E.M.’s live performance.

Whatever else you think, you will think it quite lovely.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/113106320″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

2. C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that the songs we sing in church was sixth rate poetry set to seventh rate music. I think he was being too charitable.

It is a funny thing that in the churches most likely to deny evolution, the very process of natural selection is on display every Sunday as one song gets added to the mix and another is tossed away without regard on a regular basis. The songs adapt in each successive generation, iteratively changing to compete in their eco-system, or more accurately, their market. Praise music is big business and it sickens me.

It is salt in the wounds the business produces such dross. For a long time in my current church, I think people assumed I was that most common of tropes: Husband dragged along by faithful wife. I look so like a thunder storm gathering over the hills during worship. I despise the way the songs are all about us. I hate the way that they involve declarative statements that weren’t true for Theresa of Avila or Mother Theresa and definitely aren’t true for me. I don’t “offer up my life” to God. God offers up his life to me. All the heresies of the church can be found if you are especially unlucky on a Sunday morning. Sometimes in the same freaking song.

But natural selection of hymns isn’t a new thing. It has been going on for millennia. There are some songs written in our generation that have content and don’t grate on the ears. In Christ Alone comes to mind, with its terrific line: “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.” But I long most Sundays for some songs with substance. So, as lame as this is, my second song is a song of praise.

My second song is a song of praise penned over 250 years ago in America. It is a song that expounds on an obscure but lovely scene in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is a song about the grace of God and the pilgrimage of following Jesus that takes a lifetime. It features many artful metaphors, especially the idea that we are instruments of God’s love. Here it is, sung by one of our great hymn writers of our age:

Your Correspondent, This flower is scorched, this film is on.

The Ten Series: 3 Films

In a normal year, I watch about 150 movies. I don’t really enjoy television. But stretch that crap out four times as long and I will not only suffer through it but find that I loved it at the end. I will watch anything, from snoozefests full of sex and philosophising that are only made because the EU subsidised it to something full of explosions and terrorists and an American with nothing but a gun and a desire to protect liberties.

So finding some kind of metric that allows me to select just three movies is hard. I’d do the last three movies I watched but at the time of writing, that includes Diana. The less written about that emotional enema of a film the better.

One of the things I love about movies is that it is a way I can spend time with my friends without activating the introversion exhaustion that lurks within every interaction I enjoy/endure. So I spent some of the happiest Friday nights of my teenaged years with my two best friends at a shopping mall cineplex in west Dublin. And I spent some of the happiest post-lecture afternoons of my undergrad days watching movies with A., who now selfishly lives in England and only watches about one movie a year with me. And of course, the person I most enjoy going to the cinema with is my wife.

So here are three films (out of at least 800) I have watched with her.

1. Psycho. The re-make. The scene for scene, shot for shot re-make. Why did we go see this? I had just turned 17. She was just turning 16. We had kissed for the first time about 2 weeks previously. We had a Saturday afternoon free and wanted to do something. We went to see Psycho.

Now this was not the first time I had taken a girl to the cinema. Oh no. I often took girls to the cinema. The cinema employees would have thought me a lothario of the suburbs. But all those girls were just friends. Even if I fancied them, I never did anything about it to find out if they fancied me. Wife-unit however, that was a girl I fancied. And she seemed to not be repelled by that fact.

So Psycho. Can’t remember much about it. But I really enjoyed going to see it.

2. A few weeks later, we went to see Very Bad Things. Although we had already strongly disagreed about Cameron Diaz comedies (she hated There’s Something About Mary and I still think it is deadly), we both have a big patience for any dark comedy.

We settled into our seats. Then she noticed two little girls sitting in the row behind us. That was curious, we thought. This is a profane movie about the murder of a prostitute. It is not cool that there are kids here. We checked a few times. No adults.

So my wife got up out of her chair and went back to them. I remember that she kneeled low, and approached them with a poise and ease that put them at their comfort. She explained who she was and what she was here to see (a very adult film) and asked them what they were hoping to watch. It was a cartoon. She took them by the hands and led them to the screening they were meant to be in. She made sure they were ok. Then she came back to me.

My wife is a gentle woman who will put herself in discomfort to help others. This is something I learned while watching Jeremy Piven perfect the character he would later unveil in Entourage.

3. Earlier in this series I described a holiday we had in Malta as honeymoon-esque. I saw that speculatively because our honeymoon was an unmitigated disaster. We were exhausted and skint and bruised by the drama surrounding getting married in Ireland in 2004 when you are 22 and your bride is 21. We did not have a good time.

But we did go see a movie. It was The Terminal, which is one of those Steven Spielberg films that you are surprised were made by Spielberg. “Spielberg? Really?” What I remember most about the film was the cinema. It was a UGC and it was beautiful. Dublin has the most beautiful cinema I have ever seen, the ultra modern Lighthouse. But this UGC screening room was like a set from a very perfectly appointed not-too-distant future utopian sci-fi movie. Sitting in the cinema watching Tom Hanks pretend to be a refugee (!) meant at least that we weren’t traipsing around Paris pretending to be intrepid go-getters when what we should have been doing was lying on a sofa somewhere watching Spaced on DVD and eating ice-cream.

There have been many great afternoons spent at the cinema. This summer we managed a three in a row, surviving a lunchtime showing of that robots in the sea film, the new Simon Pegg comedy and the surprisingly hilarious Heat. We have seen some damn fine films together (Mud is by far and away the best yet) and some not so damn fine. Movies are weaker now than when I first feel in love with the cinema. I have other and greater loves now. It is a good thing that I get to share them.

Your Correspondent, The most beautiful fraud in the world

The Ten Series: 4 Books

At this point in my series I come to books. Now is the time to be egotistical. Instead of choosing books from my library (I have many leather-bound books), I thought I might be so bold as to describe four books I would quite like to write.

1. I am slightly more emboldened to elaborate in this fashion because I suppose I currently am writing a book. That is what a good PhD thesis gets turned into. So the first book I hope to write is a theology of wealth. My goal is to discomfort the shared imagination that Christians in the West have about wealth, not because I like to annoy people but because I think that we are making a dreadful mistake in the way we construct our lives and cultivate our desires. My great ally in this project is a homeless Jewish man who told stories about farmers and sons and judges. With the help of the parables of Jesus, I think I might be able to write something interesting.

And edifying, to use that great old piece of Christian jargon.

2. Answer me this: why is there not a definitive account of the relationship between the Irish State and the churches? I’d like to write this book from a theological perspective.

3. I’ve never written fiction, but I have read it. That qualifies me to write it, right?

Aside from my efforts being shit, the thing that deters me from exploring it is the fear that I would produce that most pitiful of genres: speculative fiction.

Big Brain
The kind of crap I might end up writing

4. Liberation Theology After The End Of History. Of course I cannot write this book, because the American theologian Daniel Bell already wrote it. Only a few modern theology texts have mimicked page-turners. Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace, Cavanaugh’s Torture and the Eucharist and Aidan Mathews’ In The Poorer Quarters are in that pile. Let me not suggest that these works are easy-reading. They are devastating. And Liberation Theology After The End Of History is one such text. It ought to be difficult to read but it is as close to a perfect book as I can think of.

Your Correspondent, The more truth he has to work with, the richer he becomes.

The Ten Series: 5 Foods

The second week of this experiment begins with five foods that reveal something about me.

1. It was the end of August. The Premiership had begun. Before I went back to work in the church, we popped over to the middle of England to see our dear friends A and G. A goes to sleep about half an hour before the sun sets and so G and I were left to watch Spurs on Match of the Day. Before the football began he offered in his typical charming Welsh style, “a cheeky wee Scotch.”

What he poured me was Ardbeg, arguably the finest of the Islay malts. To me, it tasted like a primeval fire. I loved it. I have neither the finances nor the inclination to become a scotch aficionado but I am an eager enthusiast.

Yet more one damn fine reason to be in Scotland. This is my current tipple, a Berrys’:

Scotch

2. Some of my best friends are Presbyterian ministers and some of the people my wife and I most admire are addressed “Rev.” One of the most unusual and fascinating ministers we have the honour to know is a South African woman with a knack for making the Old Testament come alive, zero tolerance for bullshit and a frankly bemusing love of bird-watching. She and her cricketeering husband had us over for dinner and served us a spicy flavoursome rice dish called Biryani.

It was delicious. We re-created it at home, tinkered with it, dare I say, improved it. Of course, I say we, but in this instance (as in most instances) it was all Wife-unit. It is by some considerable distance my favourite thing to eat. It is a damn pity that she doesn’t like it. Maybe I’ll divorce her some day soon. Not before I get her to write the recipe down.

3. I used to have to work in Ukraine every year. There were many things about this that I found difficult. The phenomenon of Secret Food is just one of them. What is Secret Food? It is what happens when you buy one food and find that there is an entirely different food hidden inside, like a piece of bread purchased from a street vendor for breakfast with strands of cold, wet cabbage stored in the middle or potato dumplings that look like crude gnocchi, or mayble gnocchi after a lifetime of steroid abuse, but have a sickly sweet milk chocolate filling. There are many examples, but it was the second worst thing about eating in Ukraine.

4. The worst thing about eating in Ukraine was the flavour puddle. What is the flavour puddle? It is the greasy pool of inexplicable liquid that pools all too often at the bottom of the bowl. To be fair, I have encountered the flavour puddle all across the ex-Soviet States. Ukraine is not alone in this culinary execration. Typically it comes in a bright orange with pools of congealed grease floating, unpuncturable on the surface.

5. My final food is brownies. I love chocolate. I love purple snack bars especially. But I select brownies because they are the first food I really learned how to cook quite well. My friend Nelly gave me his recipe for Really Quite Good Brownies. I now deploy them given half an excuse; whenever my wife needs to cheer up a prisoner, whenever the church is hosting a lunch or whenever there is some dire need for small chocolate cakes.

Here’s how you make it:

200g dark chocolate
200g butter
300g sugar (granulated is fine)
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
100g white choc chopped
100g chopped nuts

oven 190 degrees
20x30cm tin lined with greaseproof paper and greased

– melt butter and dark choc together
– whisk eggs and sugar and vanilla together
– mix in melted choc and butter with the eggs
– mix in flour, hazlenuts, cranberries, white choc
– pour into tin and cook for 28 mins
– allow to cool well before cutting

Your Correspondent, Cuts his pizza into four slices because he could never eat six.

The Ten Series: 6 Places

I am compiling these lists of ten increasingly short posts in a series. Today you get to learn about six places that mean a lot to me. Lucky you!

1. I am an extreme introvert. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that one is bound to be shy or anxious about meeting new people (although to varying degrees, both of those things apply to me). Rather, it means that I get exhausted by spending time with other people. This is surely one of the reasons I have always found the cinema so attractive. When I went with friends to the movies, I was socialising while also being on my own.

I love everything about the cinema really. I love the old fashioned places with their long queues and folding chairs. I love the new cineplexi with their touchscreens crowding the lobby and their huge cockpit seats. When the lights go down I settle in to home, regardless of where I am. There is profound theology in the flickering image projected on the screen, but my love of cinema pre-dates my love of God. It pre-dates my love of soccer. It competes with my love of reading. It is probably my favourite place to be.

2. My second place I love that I must write about is certainly bed. There’s a great scene in the early Simpsons where Marge plans to host a dinner party. Lisa complains because she wants to stay up with the grown-ups. Bart complains, “You can’t have any fun in bed.” To this, Homer chuckles, “When you’re older, you’ll know better”. We get to see inside his mind, where he’s thinking of eating a big sandwich in a hammock.

There are many reasons why I have grown to love going to bed but the fundamental reason is really boring and prosaic. As I get older, I find myself ever more exhausted at the end of the day. I love lying down. I fall asleep easily and always have. But that deep ease that comes from having every square centimetre of my body supported by the mattress… bliss.

3. I went inter-railing with my two best friends when I was in college. We saw many places and had many good times. By far and away the place that lingered with me was Berlin. I went back five years ago and my love for the place had stood the test of time. It is the most fascinating city I have ever been in. At various points and times it has been the centre of the world, like at the turn of the 20th Century when it was the seedbed of much of the engineering that would define the late industrial age. Of course it gained a certain dark centrality later through that century but it turned into this millennium as a place still able to look forward with hope in spite of so much dragging behind it from the past. It is a vibrant and beautiful and spacious place. I have only good memories of it.

4. There is a small shop near the top of the street in a small village in the small county of Leitrim in the west of Ireland that was called “Paul’s” when I was a boy. The village was Mohill and Paul’s was the shop I would sometimes be taken to after mass for an ice-cream cone. Mohill is the village closest to where my dad grew up, where my dad’s family home still resides in a quiet perpetuity. Paul’s was weird because the shop owner was Paul and he knew my dad when my dad was a boy. In my mind, Paul reminds me of the guy Ray, from Everybody Loves Raymond. Mohill was a puzzle to me as a kid. There was a pub that was also a butcher but also an undertaker. And there was an undertaker which was also a florist. And there was a tractor on the roof of the petrol station. And the supermarket was just a big shed with a front stuck on it. And there seemed to be no children. And I spent my time in the yard of the farmhouse pretending to be two teams of footballers in my head with the gate to the cow field as my goal. Mohill smelled like wet conifer cones. The out-houses were dark and full of unsettling shadows. The farm was so quiet, you could race to the end of the tree lined driveway to wave at cars as they drove by, having heard them long before they came over the hill towards our property.

5. My wife has a friend (who is also my friend) that she treasures dearly. When this friend decided to get married, she invited Wife-unit to be one of her bridesmaids. This was a great honour that my wife felt blessed by. We saved up our paltry euros and booked flights and hotels on the other side of the world to attend this happy day.

Then I broke both my arms, separately, in a most stupid fashion and my wife spent six weeks caring for me in a most intimate way. People with full casts on both arms can’t even wipe their own bottoms. Literally.

We didn’t get to go to the wedding.

Instead, when the casts were removed, we went to Malta. It is a little island in the Mediterranean that I knew mostly for the fact that when Ireland first qualified for the World Cup, in the autumn of 1989, we beat Malta 2-Nil in the process. That was the sum of my Malta-data.

Malta quickly became a special place in both of our hearts. It was a wonderful week together and it is a wonderful country full of tiny little bays and lovely rolling hills. Valetta, the capital city, is a wonder of walls and alleys. The hotel that we stayed in was easily the finest place we have ever been able to stay in and the entire experience was magical.

From this webpage: http://www.fayeandsteve.com/Malta/Valetta-corner.jpg

6. The final place I have to speak of is the one I least expected. It is the place that most strongly defines my life, contrary to the notions I had nurtured about what my life should be about. The place is of course the pulpit.

The first time I preached was in Kells, the village made famous by the book. At the end of the sermon, given to a handful of people on Easter Sunday, I pulled my notes from the lectern and dragged the church Bible with it. It made a resounding echo as the spine broke and pages of Holy Writ wafted into the air, without a care in the Paschal sunshine.

Things have gotten better since then. The pulpit is a place I am terrified of and drawn towards. It is, when properly occupied, one of the few rare places left in the world where enchantment can spread. God speaks. And the God who speaks is a strangely funny God who chooses to speak through the mouths of men and women as they read ancient words penned in long extinct languages and seek to reveal their beauty today. I am a preacher, the pulpit is my place. I have fallen out of one, I pulled a calf muscle climbing into another and I have spent most of my preaching career in a church that meets in a school room so my pulpit was a projection of body language, an authority invested in me by the very community gathered around me, seeking to understand and enact the very things I had struggled with in the days and weeks before.

Of all the things I look forward to in the work that I have ahead of me, nothing is quite as exciting as the prospect of a pulpit-place being my site of effort every week.

Your Correspondent, Has heard rumours that every every pulpit is a pillory, in which stands a hired culprit, defending the justice of his own imprisonment

The Ten Series: 7 Wants

Over the course of ten days I am writing lists of decreasing length that reveal certain things about my life and the way I live it. Don’t ask me why, that will make me stop. Today I have to describe seven “wants”. I presume one is meant to describe seven existential hungers, not immediate desires. I want to finish this bagel. I want to be showered without the hassle of getting in the shower (since everyone wants the benefits of grooming while finding actual grooming, in the large part, immensely boring) and so on.

1. I would like calves. Not baby cows, although I have nothing against our bovine friends. We meet weekly for dinner. I mean I would like a new calf for each of my legs.

The details are sketchy because by the time I, the fifth kid, came along, my parents were only half paying attention to the doctors, but I had some kind of operation on my ankles to straighten out of my feet. For a period, as a toddler, I had big massive plaster cast boots to wear. I imagine the cuteness was dizzying. The procedure may have involved snipping a bit of my calf short which is very inconvenient for me now, as I age, and I want to run.

Calf strains are the injuries of monks, because they barely hurt at all. But they paralyse your running routine. As such, they are most vexacious to the spirit and overcoming them requires resilience, fortitude and perspective that I sadly do not have. So calf operation: sort it out for me!

2. I would like one day to have kids. Maybe not tomorrow or in nine months but the hour is coming closer and closer. And of course, if a kid did arrive in nine months, I would be cool with that. We’d call him Athanasius and raise him to be a ferocious defender of orthodoxy, reading to brawl for the glory of the Lord. Or we’d call her Shaniatwain and train her up to be a pretty little thing with a few impressive but non-threatening skills (piano playing perhaps) who will make a real person, I mean, a man, happy one day.

3. Right now, I would like an office. One of the good things about studying at Aberdeen is that doctoral students get offices. Such luxury cannot be taken for granted in the Humanities in Ireland. I want a place to spread out my books and get all serious and zoned-in. Instead, at the moment, as I wait for the bureacratic cogs to turn, I’m ceaselessly distracted in the lovely zebra library.

Duncan Rice Library

4. Lots of children. Showering. So far, so predictably middle-class, right? Sheesh, Kevin, bring the subversion. Well guess what guys? This “want” is going to blow you away.

I want to build my own house.

I know! You’ve never heard that before! It’s a good idea right? Think about it for a while. A touch of similar desire might rise up in you.

The likelihood is that my family will grow up in a manse, a house provided by the church. But that won’t be our house. We need somewhere to go when the ageism of our day forces me to “retire”. Instead of buying a villa on the south of France or a little flat in Kensington or Monaco, like all the other Presbyterian ministers, Wife-unit and I intend to build something small and smart and very tidy somewhere near the sea between Dublin and Belfast. Y’all can come round for the house-warming.*

*If you are still alive in the decades hence when we’ll accomplish this dream.

5. I would love to be able to remember passwords. I actually can’t use my credit card right now because for the sixth time, I have forgotten the codes to go with it. I am eager for any wisdom that will help me to overcome this modern day tragedy. In the meantime, before I sleep every night I will continue to pray that God will keep Fair City on the television (for my wife would be undone without it), that leprechauns don’t attack us and that nobody finds a way to hack LastPass because if they do, I am screwed.

6. Continuing in the vein of predictable nonsense I have served you thus far, I would like a Steam Box. A Steam Box is a thing that I believe doesn’t yet exist. But when it does exist it will be a mini computer, running a rigged form of Linux optimised for computer games. It will be designed to plug into your television, sync with your wireless network and allow you (meaning me) to play the newest releases where we explode bombs near zombies to win books for children or some other gimmick and to play an emulator of the SuperNintendo, so that I can spent blocks of hours reliving the childhood glory of the original Sim City.

If you cast your mind back to the turn of the millennium. We wanted a device that combined the new mp3 player that we loved so much, with the new digital camera that we loved so much and the new mobile phone that at that time we all pretended to resent but had to use because we needed it for X, Y or Z inconvenient reason. Then the iPhone and Android devices came along and we rolled down hills and pranced in meadows with glee.

That’s similar to how I feel about computer games. So I admit it. I want a Steam Box. Whatever the hell that turns out to be.

7. My parents loved me well as a child and I was raised with pretty much everything I wanted, up to and including a disgusting purple soccer jersey from the Brussels based team Anderlecht:

Anderlecht away, 1992-1993

But they never managed to get me into swimming lessons until I was 14. I went to a class literally full of 4 year olds. Imagine how excruciatingly embarrassing that was. And of course, there were 14 year old girls in the advanced class that took place right beside us.

One little boy, having defeated me with his superior aquatic abilities, turned to me once getting out of the pool and asked sincerely, “Are you Santa Claus?…. Are you in disguise to see if I am being good?”

That re-assured me that my presence in this pool of tiny children was going unnoticed by everyone else. This embarrassment was all in my head.

I still am pretty poor in a pool. I empathise with the old Demetri Martin joke: “Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I’m swimming, sometimes I’m not sure which one it is.”

So there you have it, I want to learn to swim.

Your Correspondent, Would settle with being able to write a swimming pool