What I’m Reading—March 2020

What’s on my desk/bedside table, book-wise
  1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (Translated by Constance Garnett; Heinemann, 1914)
  2. Flannery O’Connor, Complete Stories (Faber and Faber, 2009)
  3. Andrew Byers, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint (IVP, 2011)
  4. James Mumford, Vexed: Ethics Beyond Political Tribes (Bloomsbury, 2020)
  5. Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Little, Brown: 2019).

I’m still working my way through most of the books from December’s list (this includes Dominion which I recently had signed by the author at the Cambridge Union, where he was delivering a speech in favour of Sparta over Athens. He apologised for signing the book in red pen, but what could be more appropriate for a book on the cross-shaped mind of the West?). I did manage to finish a couple of books though. Among these was JKA Smith’s On the Road With Augustine which, among many things, serves as a thought-provoking, moving and inspiring primer to the Christian life for the interested, cynical and sceptical.

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Lenten Reflections Through Literature, Music, Art and Film

The season of Lent is the season of the realist.

Lent marks the forty days that lead of up to Easter in which Christians remember the brokenness and mortality of the human condition and the miracle of Christ who knows our weakness and lovingly offered himself for all.

The term Christians use to describe the human brokenness we reflect on with intensity at Lent is “sin”. Now, I realise that sin isn’t a terribly fashionable word. It can seem morbid, introspective and negative. But if sin simply refers to what Francis Spufford calls “our human propensity to f*ck things up“, then what could be more realistic than recognising and owning up to one’s shortcomings?

After all, the season of Lent is the season of the realist.

For it recognises our brokenness but it does not leave us without hope. If confession is where we begin on the Christian journey, it is not where we end up. Like woebegone Isaiah, we are not completely left to the devices and desires of our own hearts. If we commit ourselves to God, we can receive the cleansing we need and that only he can provide.

The confronting realism of Lent can be seen and heard in the following pieces, taken from literature, art, music and film.

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Who is My Neighbour? A Foreign Policy Plea for Post-Brexit Britain

As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, we would do well to consider our alliances, especially as other more malignant Empires loom on the horizon.

We need to talk about empires.

As today we begin the complex process of untangling ourselves from the European Union, this is more important than ever.

Integral to the movement for leaving the EU has been the strong desire for national sovereignty and the rejection of a perceived European empire. Britain’s laws and borders remain, in the final analysis, under the control of the British people.

At the same time, I think we might be losing sight of the foreign-policy implications of Brexit. An important part of striking out on this new path is the relationships we will have with other nations. And I’m not sure we’re talking about this nearly enough as much as we should.

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The Church: Where Somewheres and Anywheres Find a Home

Epiphany, the great Universalist feast of the church, is as good a point as any to to re-consider the defining cultural issue of our day: the relationship between national and international identity.

Late January finds us racing through the season of Epiphany, the great “universalist” feast of the church.

For those unfamiliar with it, Epiphany is the point in the liturgical calendar at which the Western Church celebrates the coming of the magi to the baby Jesus. Those unacquainted with the ins and outs of the story will know the moment immortalised as it is in the carol, We Three Kings Of Orient Are.

At Epiphany, learned astrologers “from the east” enter the Christmas story, breaking into what has up until now been a parochial and particular narrative, taking place in backwater Bethlehem of Roman Judea. The magi have come to represent the brightest and best minds of their day. These great scholars of the Gentile world make the long trek before offering the fruits of their learning at the feet of the King of Israel. At Epiphany, the universal and the particular collide.

Epiphany is therefore an appropriate juncture at which to re-consider the local and international scope of the Christian faith.

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A Year of Protest and Trial: The Saeculum Review of 2019

(L-R Clockwise) Trump’s Impeachment; Maya Forstater’s Trial; Hong Kong Protests; An Extinction Rebellion Sticker; UK Government’s Get Ready for Brexit Notice; Polling Station for the 2019 General Election

What follows is my review of four of the most important cultural and political events that happened in 2019.

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Three Podcasts to Listen to in 2020

My previous job involved a long commute. I didn’t always have the energy to read books or the newspaper. Inevitably, podcasts became a way to explore fresh ideas. Here are 3 of my favourite podcasts from 2019. Consider it a list of recommended sources for all things Christianity and/or politics in the year ahead. (You can read my list of the ten best podcast episodes of 2019 here).

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The Ten Best Podcast Episodes of 2019

Here is my list of the ten best podcast episodes from 2019. You can also read my list of the three podcasts you should listen to in 2020 here.

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Gifts, Then and Now

Reciprocal gift-giving, for all of its potential pitfalls, can build stronger relationships.  

In his 2018 Ecumenical Christmas Letter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, appropriately chose to address a practice that is virtually ubiquitous at Christmas time—gift-giving. Describing the celebration of Christmas, Welby writes that “a gift given with the expectation of something in return is not a gift”. In other words, the divine gift of Christ is non-reciprocal, or offered without the intention of the receiver giving something back. While Welby’s statement about non-reciprocal gift-giving might well describe the divine gift to humans, it is worth pausing to ask—does non-reciprocity set the tone for human gift-giving?

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2019 General Election Results Review: The Big Picture and Four Take Aways

The party leaders for the 2019 General Election (Image Credit: Bloomberg)

The 2019 General Election has come and gone and my oh my was it a seismic one!

In the months leading up to the vote, most polls were steadily forecasting a Conservative Majority. But then a day or so before the vote, YouGov published its MPR poll showing that while a Conservative majority was likely, a hung parliament was within the margin of error.

The exit poll swiftly put paid to that. As the clock struck 10, an 80 seat majority was forecasted with Conservatives taking 364 seats.

Then the results came in, thick and fast, with traditional Labour seats one by one turning blue. It was staggering to watch. Labour heartlands in the north east England yielded Conservative seats, many for the first time in 50, 60 even 70 years…and some for the first time ever. An emotional Ian Levy, the new Conservative MP for the former mining community of Blythe Valley, scarcely seemed to believe that he had won as he delivered his victory speech.

By dawn the results were there for all to see: Conservatives with 365 seats, Labour with 203.

The scale of the victory is breath-taking. The largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. The worst Labour performance in terms of haul of seats since the Second World War (oustripping Michael Foot’s 209 seats in 1983). Lewis Baston has rightly referred to it as a landslide.

But what are we to make of all this?

Here are my four big take-aways from the 2019 UK General Election.

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