Articles for the Month of June 2013

Letters of Travel by Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

Rudyard Kipling by E.O. Hoppé (1912) from Wikimedia

I have just finished corrections to the last chapters of the three books of Letters of Travel by Rudyard Kipling. Here’s How I’m suggesting the books be described:

“Three books of travel writing (between them covering the USA, Canada, Japan and Egypt) by the Nobel Prize winning author of the Just So Stories and the Jungle Book. Rudyard Kipling (an Englishman born and raised in India) offers an interesting outsider’s view of the places he visits, candid and sharp witted, yet with a deep humanity.

Letters of Travel comprises three books: From Tideway to Tideway 1892-95 contains pieces first published in the Times covering voyages across north America (USA and Canada) and in Japan; his Letters to the Family first appeared in the Morning Post, while Nash’s Magazine was the first publisher of the articles (on Egypt and Sudan) in Egypt of the Magicians.

Kipling’s observations are cast in a wry style that permits, as his work often does, different readings. The unsympathetic reader can hear a banal repetition of the patriarchal, racist and imperialist ideas of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century trotted out. (Or even in his characterisation of the Jewish power behind the pedlar in “The Face of the Desert” a suggestion of something worse.) A more nuanced reading will perceive an amused or wry smile in Kipling’s remembering and the human sympathy that infuses all his writing. (US listeners should be warned that in Kipling’s day “the N word” was in common use, and he therefore uses it naturally to describe people of Sub-Saharan African ancestry.)

A paragraph in the “letter” written on Kipling’s arrival in Japan might serve as example. It closes: “The father-fisher has it by the pink hind leg, and this time it is tucked away, all but the top-knot, out of sight among umber nets and sepia cordage. Being an Oriental it makes no protest, and the boat scuds out to join the little fleet in the offing.” With its flippant tone (“all but the top-knot”), impersonal reference (“it” rather than he or she) and use of racial terms (“Oriental”) and stereotypes (“makes no protest”) this can be presented as an example of the worst of Victorian Imperialist prejudice.

And yet… as the fisher family are introduced, not only was “the perfect order and propriety of the housekeeping” noted but mention was made of “a largish Japanese doll, price two shillings and threepence in Bayswater”, which turns out to be a baby. At first glance this is merely another example of Western bigotry. Note however the words Kipling uses to show us that this is not in fact a doll: “The doll wakes, turns into a Japanese baby something more valuable than money could buy”. The “Japanese doll” is a priceless human child and not a commodity to be bought in Bayswater.

Perhaps the prejudice is not so much on the surface of Kipling’s writing as under the surface of the reader’s presuppositions? Time and again wry observation turns the familiar world into something fresh, and reminds the reader of shared humanity with the strange and foreign people being observed. Kipling as a tourist is no mere gawker whether in strange yet familiar Yokohama or in foreign Vermont.”

For my next project I’ll be reading a work still in copyright in the USA, though out of copyright almost everywhere else (the author died almost a century ago in the First World War) so for the European Legamus.

Are convenience and ubiquity killing conversation?

I’ve been posting my podcasts (mainly from to Facebook and YouTube recently, it seems a good way to enlarge the audience. It also seems to have achieved this effectively, with scores of people seeing them via each channel (YouTube seems especially to reach mobile users).


Yet both media are less than my ideal. Facebook by its form encourages short swift responses and You Tube enforces this with a strict and tight character limit on comments. The result in both media is that knees jerk and somewhat trite ping-pong arguments result. (I can’t really call many of them conversations, as few have been productive or really informative.)


As a result of this experience I was saddened by some remarks on Facebook, from a blogger I really respect, explaining that he now blogs less and less, but uses Facebook and G+ more and more. I have little experience with G+, but what I have does not suggest it is a much better way of nurturing conversation than Facebook. And yet “God knows it, I am with them, in some things.”1 Blogging, except for the uber-bloggers has ceased to provoke many comments, the excitement is gone, but the effort required to write a post remains the same. Diminishing returns mean, for many of us, less frequent posting…


So, if you accept that YouTube, Facebook and G+ are not becoming venues for real conversation, and agree that blogs are dying as such venues (except for the few who attract large audiences) please tell me how you think e-mediated serious conversations at a distance will continue…


If, of course you don’t accept my pessimistic diagnosis, then please tell me that too, and ideally explain why :)

  1. Misquoting Oscar Wilde’s “Sonnet to Liberty”. []

Two items on sex, sexuality and Sin

Two items relating to (mainly male, but see below) sexuality have been appearing on my Facebook feed. Together they have prompted this reflection, even if it should confirm Netguardian in their decision to filter this blog.1

The first concerns a man who during,  a “mission” to free children and women from enforced prostitution2 committed the sin of adultery. This is the  article Undercover investigator’s harrowing story. The issue being discussed was whether like Hayden Donnell (the author of the piece) we should see the man as a hero, or as a villain. Basically and crudely do we focus on his sin which (the story implies) wrecked his family, or on the children and women his actions save from degradation and suffering.

  The other was a video,  little discussed, “shared” and sometimes “liked” but not discussed:

Yet does this video not raise more and more practical questions?

It seems to me that the research Jessica Rey cites (which I have not seen and am taking her word for, unless you know differently) describes the male human as sinful (i.e. subject to the power of Sin, in this particular case leading, if not effectively resisted, to sexual sins)3  As many commentators on the “undercover investigator” article noted sex is indeed a besetting sin of (many or most, at least) male humans. The video also implies, however, that there may be a complementary female besetting sin, of seeking to arouse male lust. This notion is of course abhorrent to many/most women: Can’t you men control yourselves?!

The short answer is we can, and some of us (so far) have, but your actions and the general behaviour our society finds acceptable do not make it easy. Cheap, ubiquitous, multimedia communications exacerbate this problem. We have this problem because our society refuses to recognise that humans are sinful, inclined towards wrong. To cling to the, demonstrably false, notion that humans are ‘naturally’ good does us all a disservice. It contributes to the sexual slavery of women and even children, and also to the different (and yes, less severe and self-inflicted) sexual slavery of (many) men. 4

  1. A friend told me yesterday that he was unable to access the posts below as Netguardian perceived it as falling in the category: “Category: Pornography
    Description: Sites that portray sexual acts, activity, nudity, toys, stories/writings, beastiality, fetishes, videos, etc.”

    This has been appealed and hopefully this post will not confirm their view that my blog should be filtered.

    NB: I am not complaining about Netguardian, such filter services are useful for reasons that the post above should make quite clear. []

  2. By gathering evidence to present to the authorities. []
  3. NB. I distinguish here, ‘Sin’ using an initial capital, as the power which Paul says is at work in us undermining our best intentions and releasing our worst, see e.g. Rom 7, and ‘sin’ some particular wrong act which hurts us and/or others. []
  4. This post Generation Porn was also in my feed, yesterday. []

Bible-thumping “Progressive Christian” spoiling for a fight!

Photo “Liz spoiling for a fight” by jaypod

I’m in pass-on-the-great-posts-I’ve-read-recently mode, I’m sorry that this one too is from a blog I’ve recommended before. What can I say? Either I’m a hide-bound creature of habit or these are superb posts, or both ;) 

Unlike the previous recommendation, this one is all hype. In On Warfare and Weakness: Part 1, A Real Fight Richard Beck offers little but promises. But what promises he is making! Nothing short of “a vision of progressive Christianity that … is exciting and might have popular appeal” through bringing two somewhat dissimilar books “into conversation… the books are God at War by Greg Boyd and The Weakness of God by John Caputo.”

If this first post (apart from the 27, to date, comments) is all hype, why am I recommending it? Well I expect more and want you to get in at the start, but also because he offers this quote from William James as a motto:

If this life is not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight.

Now, that’s not only a reason to get out of bed in the morning, it’s a straightforward challenge. I’m with James, where do you stand?

Scriptural claims about the inspiration of Scripture

Chris Heard has been doing a really fine and deeply thoughtful (and perhaps provocative) series on Scriptural claims about the inspiration of Scripture the series is not over, but has arrived at the stage of partial conclusions. You should read it (if you are reading this, then whoever you are you SHOULD read it) if you prepare a carnival (whether in Avignon, Rome, Geneva or someplace else) you MUST include it!

Here are links to the series so far:


eBook readers

[amtap amazon:asin=B008UNSPO2]

OK, so I’m a chronic late adopter of hardware (but within that limitation early adopter of software), but at last Barbara is thinking of getting me an eBook reader.

Anyone with experience of eBook readers care to comment?

The criteria are

  1. must be readable outdoors in full sunshine
  2. must have dictionary and web lookup (e.g. Wikipedia)
  3. must take epub so I can borrow from the libarary
  4. note taking etc. is desirable

At the moment the Sony Ebook Reader PRST2BC looks like the best cheap(ish) option… but I’d value some more experienced input…


Automatic captions and a sermon on making sense of Revelation

As part of my move to deliver the screencast versions of 5 minute Bible via You Tube I’ve been looking closely at the automatic captions the system offers. Basically I go in and tidy them up. Some are atrocious, making out I swear or say the most outlandish things. I’m not sure whether it’s my strange (British, close to “Received Pronunciation”) accent or whether it’s the topics. Certainly You Tube has less problems with Beatrix Potter’s stories than with my 5 minute Bible episodes… though again this could be the difference between a text read and one spoken from notes…

The biggest tasks have been the sermons. I did the one I posted the other day almost straight away,  today I did this one on making sense of Revelation.

The advantage I hope to gain is accessibility. Both for humans with hearing issues, and for the great and powerful Googlebot. If the transcripts actually say what the audio says, then surely Google will direct better traffic my way (as in people who are actually interested in topics like making sense of Revelation, and not what Laurie Guy called the goofy stuff).

Preaching the short ending of Mark

I love the short ending of Mark. To end a gospel with “for they were afraid” is brilliant, to end this gospel like that is nothing short of genius. Add to the pleasure of real richly provocative composition the ending seems to focus on the theme of the “fear of God” – hardly a popular topic today ;)

I really enjoyed myself, but what do you think?

And before ex-Carey students complain, I admit, I broke my own advice and did not offer concrete local real application, but stopped with vague and general “theology” :( Maybe if this was a series on Mark 16 (in the best edition of Mark) then I’d have managed that too ;)