About Elizaphanian

Rector of West Mersea

MC round up 3/24

Can’t believe I’ve left it this long, three weeks! These are the key things that I remember:

Most important film I’ve watched: Silence (Scorcese) – this will probably get a stand-alone review. 5/5 obviously.
Insomnia, rewatch after at least ten, maybe fifteen years. Holds up well as an early Nolan. 4/5
Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher version) – I really like Fincher, and I love these books (the main trilogy) but… don’t know. The long swedish version is better. Still 4/5
Kingsman 1 and 2 (rewatch, great fun, both 4/5)
Hangover 1 (rewatch, one of my favourite comedies, at least a 4/5)
Watched the new series of Reacher. I love the books (have read all of them) but am dissatisfied with the series, not with the main actor who I think is great, but the characterisation seems a little bit off. I wonder if Lee Child brings a bit of UK scepticism to his portrayal, which is lost by a US translation into the different medium. Not sure, will think about that more. Series 2 gets a 3/5 from me, where series 1 got 4/5
Watched the latest series of the Traitors! That was fun. Not sure it qualifies for ratings. I have been tempted to apply (they approached me) but I haven’t got the spare time.

Am watching the Sopranos with my oldest (so Dr Who is in abeyance at the moment) – we are half way through Season 1.

I think that’s it.

Am playing too much Civ…

Russia’s little green men

So – I quite like playing Civilisation. Probably a bit too much. But one of the things that happens in the game, even when I want to play peacefully (win through culture or science or religion… normally the latter 🙂 is that I get attacked by another player. Which is fine, it is a fun part of the game.

But – assuming I win that fight, and as I get better at the game, that’s what happens more often – at the end of that conflict I have an army. Moreover, that army was expensively accrued, has accumulated lots of XP points, and is cheap to run, especially if they raid or pillage, in which case they become net positives on that asset score.

Of course, I could hold to my original intention and disband the army, but that would be quite a waste of resources.

I ponder this because the risk of Putin winning in the Ukraine is non-trivial (by winning I mean being allowed to continue in possession of some area of Ukrainian land). I think it’s non-trivial because the Western governing classes are generally crap, and because Putin can hold on until Trump comes in, and Trump… well, Trump is Trump. Europe needs to think about it’s own defence.

If Putin wins, he will have a large army. How will he play it?

I think Poland has already worked this out, and at least part of the UK defence establishment is fully on board. It feels like 1938 all over again 🙁

This is not a conflict in a far away land of which we know nothing. Putin has to lose, and be seen to lose. The sooner the better.

On needing to be opened by the wonderful

Help comes
When you need it most
I’m cured by laughter
Mood swings – not sure I can cope
My life’s in plaster (In plaster)

May your mind set you free (Be opened by the wonderful)
May your heart lead you on
May your mind let you be through all disasters (Be opened by the wonderful)
May your heart lead you on

These wounds are all self-imposed
Life’s no disaster
All roads lead onto death row
Who knows what’s after

May your mind be wide open
May your heart beat strong
May your minds will be broken
By this heartfelt song

(and this is a very good description of the left-brain’s need for the right-brain…)

Strengthening the centre

I’m more and more convinced that the most urgent political task of our time is to strengthen the centre against extremes. Which means people of good will coming together, not just affirming where they agree but also clarifying where they disagree, and the nature of that disagreement, and the bounds within which that disagreement functions.

In other words, a process to ‘de-demonise the Other’.

An example – I sometimes refer to myself as a ‘deep green climate sceptic’. The latter two words tend to trigger extreme responses, that eclipse the weight of the first two – which is why I’m persuaded that the argument is basically a religious one (recently bought this, but haven’t read it yet). Yet there is so much that might be agreed upon, and worked towards (eg around transport). Same applies to Brexit of course.

It’s as if we need to re-establish good disagreement (a nod towards Psybertron here, who has been saying this for quite some time) and the rules of civilised discourse. It’s OK to disagree. Of course I could be wrong. And so on.

Just today’s thoughts. I’ll do my best to work towards it.

MC roundup 2/24

It has been a busy week, so only two things to share:
The Tourist (season one) which I watched last weekend. Really enjoyed this, especially all the call-outs to other movies like True Romance and Pulp Fiction, and it was interesting to see an area of the world that I do not know very well at all (but very much want to visit – I’ve never been south of the Equator). 4/5 I’ll watch s2 in a couple of weeks.
Padre Pio (Abel Ferrara) – I’ve only watched one other Ferrara film (Bad Lieutenant) and that must have been about thirty years ago and, I must confess, I was watching this with, and at the request of, my eldest, so I went in with a completely open mind, not knowing the director or anything else. It is less of a biographical story, more of a theological argument, with the key theme established right at the beginning, of sharing in the suffering of Christ, culminating in a union of priest and people via stigmata. Some tremendous visuals (which have apparently become memes) and good performances – it is stretching things a bit but I think I’m going to give this 5/5. It has made me think.

MC roundup 1/24

Many years ago I regularly blogged about the media that I consumed, principally films, but also books and video games and so on. There was a point when this occasioned comment in my then parish – and by comment I mean criticism – so I stopped doing it (writing about it, not consuming the media!). However, much water has passed under the bridge since that time, I am different and my situation is different, so I want to get back into the habit of making notes on the media I consume, all as part of the process of living more mindfully. So this is what I have consumed since Christmas…

Books
Following a tip-off at a blog I follow here (and yes I watched that Netflix film just before Christmas) I purchased John Birmingham’s End of Days trilogy. I really liked this, a good story with believable characters that was well paced and laugh-out-loud funny at times. So I’d happily recommend it. The one qualm I have is a qualm that applies to a lot of dystopian fiction, which is that the collapse is presented as sudden and all-encompassing, whereas I tend to see the collapse as proceeding in a more ‘rolling down the staircase’ mode, ie a drop, then stasis, then another drop (the first was 2008, the second was 2020, there will be another along soon).
As part of my research into Islam (for my series on the public-facing blog) I read Jayne Senior’s ‘Broken and Betrayed’. Senior was a youth worker in Rotherham and the principal whistle-blower about the systematic abuse taking place there. This was a really good and easy read (although I skimmed some of the darker details) and you find out much more about her as a person. You also end up despising the bureaucracy that let the abuse continue for so long. There is a lot in common with the Post Office scandal that is receiving attention at the moment; at some point I may write something substantial on that aspect, using McGilchrist’s hemisphere’s to unpack what went wrong (I use the phrase ‘left hemisphere capture’ to describe it). In any case, if you want to understand what happened in Rotherham, this is strongly recommended. I’m delighted that she was honoured for her work.

Film
Saltburn – four out of five (film ratings explained here). This was a highly polished turd; I don’t think I have disliked a film quite so much in a very long time. The thing is, in so many ways it was an extremely good film – visually stunning, excellent acting – but it lacked integrity in two really important senses, a) it was incoherent as a plot and b) it had no moral centre. I think you can get away with one of those, but not with both. I’m glad I’ve seen it – I can take part in the conversation – but I shall not be watching it again. I do love Rosamund Pike though!
Chariots of Fire – watched with my eldest as he hadn’t seen it, and it must have been at least 20 years since I had last seen it. A real palate-cleanser after Saltburn. Just superb. 5/5

Also:
When on my own I am rewatching the new Dr Who, and have reached the end of season 4 (oh Donna!). Midnight was an excellent bottle-episode that could be used to teach Girardian anthropology! And River Song… sigh.

Also: have been slowly replaying the Dragon Age sequence, in preparation for the release of Dreadwolf. I still think the way demons are presented in DA is the most theologically sound that I’ve come across!
Also: I think I’m addicted to Civ 6 – but I won’t mention that much 🙂

So that was 2023


Well now. What a wonderful year. Can I have another one please?

A year of solid progression at work, and with the PhD.
A year in which I started writing properly again – outward facing stuff on the substack, personal musings here.
A year dominated by the sabbatical – and in which I listened to a lot of James!
A year in which I had some proper quality time with each of my children.
A year which finished with my getting engaged
God is good.
I am filled with optimism, excitement and determination for 2024. Avanti cosmos!

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022.

The only mercies in war

In the context of present crises I keep coming back to the thought that there are only two mercies in war: speed and clarity. In other words, a decisive victory for one side or the other. The worst thing in war is a conflict that never resolves, like a wound that never heals, that continues bleeding and suppurating for years.

So – however barbaric and detestable it might be – the removal of Armenians from the Karabakh region due to the swift military victory of Azerbaijan back in September, that was merciful. There are people alive now who would not have remained alive without the swiftness and certainty of that military victory. Life will carry on.

The opposite end of the spectrum is, of course, Israel. I wonder what would have happened if – at various points – the Israeli government had simply said ‘sod it’ and genuinely carried out some ethnic cleansing, in the way that Azerbaijan has. I rather suspect that the overall suffering would have been less in recent decades, for all sides. Instead, in an attempt to be ‘good’ and to win the good graces of all interlocutors, the great un-endable conflict increases and immiserates all involved.

Perhaps Israel needs a bit more of the Old Testament Heart…

Tearing down the hedges

Recently at Morning Prayer I read Isaiah 5, which describes God’s judgement upon faithless Israel, and it gives this description of God’s wrath:

“Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.”

I keep musing on the link between boundaries and holiness. We see, daily, more and more evidence of the collapse of virtue in our society, the moral bankruptcy that causes chaos and disorder. So I think: is the lack of boundaries a result of this collapse, or does the collapse flow from the removal of the boundaries? The hedges around the West have been destroyed and now we are being trampled. We are in the place of After Virtue – and, as the man said, the barbarians have been governing us for quite some time.

How to rebuild the boundaries? How to reclaim virtue? This has been my avatar (or one of them) for a few years now:

Of low moments

So, I have my low moments.

On Saturday night I came across this reel on Instagram which well articulated how I was feeling. I found it comforting, in the same way that I like Leonard Cohen’s songs which many people find miserable! It helps me to understand and gain distance.

That morning I had read my friend Jamie’s discussion of accidie (acedia), that rang many bells with me. It’s good to be reminded of the perennial struggle with our demons, and accidie is certainly one of mine. So perhaps the demon of despair had been roused to attack because Jamie’s post had let some light in past the accreted crust of accidie. There was certainly no reason in what had happened that day for me to feel low, quite the opposite in fact.

Anyhow, on Sunday morning, during the intercessions (read by a colleague) I was reflecting on the struggle, and just at the time when I was doing so the intercessor prayed for those ‘close to despair’, and I laughed (inwardly, of course, I am English). It was as if the Lord was channelling Delboy and saying ‘you plonker Rodney!

I don’t believe in coincidence. Either all is meaningful or nothing is. So the Lord gave me a poke, and blessed be the name of the Lord.

Something quoted in Jamie’s post: Finally, the essential remedy is perseverance, in Greek hypomonē, which is a very active thing. It is an appeal, an increase of fidelity. When you are in a tunnel and you see nothing at all, it is advisable to remain near the handrail; otherwise, without noticing it, you will wander off and get turned around. The handrail is fidelity to one’s rule of life. Perseverance sometimes consists of remaining without doing anything, or else, on the contrary, doing everything that one did not think one had come to do. But ultimately, little matters. What does matter is to endure. As another saying puts it: “If you are hungry, eat; if you want to sleep, sleep; but do not leave your cell!”

The handrail is fidelity to one’s rule of life. Once more unto the breach, dear friends! Once more!