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R. S. Stanier "Robert Stanier" (London)

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Taking the Long View: Three and a Half Decades of General Synod (Time to Listen S.)
Taking the Long View: Three and a Half Decades of General Synod (Time to Listen S.)
by Colin Buchanan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, entertaining, also frustrating, 30 Oct. 2006
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There is probably no one alive who has a better knowledge of what the General Synod has decided upon in the last 35 years (i.e. since its inception) than Colin Buchanan, former Bishop of Aston and of Woolwich and founder of Grove Booklets. This book is an attempt to transmit some of that knowledge to current and future C of E members so that we can make better-informed decisions in the future. All the major topics are covered: women priests, eucharistic prayers, baptism and confirmation, the Anglican communion, homosexuality etc.etc. Moreover, the issues are divided into short, focussed chapters, so on that level it's an easy read.

His account is gloriously biassed, but in an endearing way. While Buchanan is a solid evangelical, he is open about it and acknowledges strong arguments that run counter to his own thinking when he finds them. Where he (feels he) doesn't, he lets rip, as with, for example, the oil used in baptism being justified by the practice of ancient athletes oiling up for competition. You don't have to disdain the oil to be made to think about why on earth we do baptise with oil, and consider what a right justification is.

A word of warning: this is an insider's book and if such matters don't interest you (and for 99.9% of the population, why should they?), then stay away. As someone who has only recently been ordained, however, it's been a revelation on so many levels.
For example, he details how "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" entered into the eucharistic liturgy, having been initially drafted as "Christ has died, Christ is risen, in Christ shall all be made alive." (p73) Buchanan's point is that the first version sounds so much better, it's worth the change. My point would be that I find the earlier version more theologically accurate. But what's also amazing is that a certain generation of Anglicans actually got to just decide the key wording of the heart of our liturgy like that. I had no idea.

Yet while there are consistent moments of illumination it is ultimately too much of an insider's book to be fully comprehensible to all but the most phenomenally well informed. For example, in the section on eucharistic prayer, on p70, how is one to know Arthur Couratin's half-concealed agenda? (well, it's detailed in a footnote higher up the page, that he wanted a return to a wording of Hippolytus of the 2nd century, but you have to struggle to find it), or (on p72) why is Ratliff's death significant? Indeed, who on earth is Ratliff? What did he stand for and why does he matter? Or again, "Memorial" seems to be something the Anglo Catholics wanted (p73), yet I would have thought "memorial" would be fine for evangelicals. What's going on?

Time and again, you come up against issues which would have been clear with 10% more background information or tighter editing. That's very frustrating.
I am sure HE knows what he means, but he hasn't managed to communicate it to any but the most informed reader. Okay, I haven't been ordained long and I am not particularly liturgy-literate but I would have thought I am exactly his target market. Someone eager to learn what went on. All too often, you just can't work out the drift of how debates went because he's skipped a crucial bit of information.

Against that, there are hundreds of fascinating points. Like the fact that Lambeth 1988 was such an organisational farce: the output from his bishops' group on worship was utterly dependent on the fact that he happened to have driven down with a word processor in the back of his car. Or that Josephine Butler only squeezed in to the Anglican group of worthies by a 22-21 vote among the bishops (against their own original advice) following a vote from an amendment by a certain Mrs Adcock in 1978.

These anecdotes and incidents collectively paint a fascinating picture of a somewhat chaotic place where the laity are always more evangelical than either the clergy or the bishops and where motions frequently reach 60% approval in all three houses but can never quite carry the two thirds majority required. It makes for phenomenally slow governance.

So, yes, Buchanan's done us a great service. He's enlivened a potentially deadly subject in an entertaining way, and brought home brilliantly the sincerity and yet the vagaries of how General Synod works. Yet with a sharper editing process, unfolding the unwritten assumptions, this could have been so much better.

Reformation : Europe's House Divided 1490-1700
Reformation : Europe's House Divided 1490-1700
by Diarmaid MacCulloch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.88

80 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly articulate, both historically and theologically, 2 Oct. 2006
Historians are always torn between writing chronologically or thematically. Here, MacCulloch offers his readers the chance to have their cake and eat it: first, a grand narrative of the Reformation through the 16th and 17th centuries; then, a thematic section treating subjects as varied as witchcraft, idolatry and homosexuality.

It both serves as an introduction to the Reformation, introducing and explaining the key figures and their roles (e.g. Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Borromeo and St Ignatius...), and as a critique on established ways of thinking.

For MacCulloch, it is the ideas behind the Reformation that are most significant and that must take priority over an interpretation of the Reformation that primarily views it as a contest for power e.g. between the Pope and nascent nation states or as a battle for Europe among key elite families.

Thus, he unashamedly has a chapter on St Augustine's theology since he views interpreting Augustine as so central to the issues. In this, overall, he is very convincing. More than that, he is brilliantly lucid. For example, his explanation of the distinction between Calvin's eucharistic theology as opposed to Luther's or Zwingli's (or the Pope's, of course)(p248ff) is both clear and also sympathetic. (Those five pages have allowed me to think through my own eucharistic theology more than any other article I have ever read, theological or historical.) That said, his intellectualism occasionally leads him to make some odd points: e.g. paraphrased from p83, "If there is one explanation of why the Latin west experienced as reformation and the east did not, it lies in listening to the New Testament in the new voice of Greek (not Latin)." Really? That sounds like the bias of an academic to me.

Furthermore, while this is definitely a balanced account, he nevertheless has his heroes. Reginald Pole, perhaps surprisingly, is one of them and it's a pleasure to have MacCulloch rehabilitate him from his reputation as a historical failure: generally, MacCulloch likes people who do their best to promote inclusivity in the Church, even if they failed to achieve their aims. Similarly, from the Protestant wing, he champions people like Philip of Hesse, sponsor of the Colloquy of Marburgh, who resisted a particular confessionalisation in his territories, but wanted a more open scene.

His other, related bias is to those who championed faith on the margins: such as Juan de Valdes, and the others in the Spirituali movement. Thus, MacCulloch may not have an established bias (as with Eamon Duffy and Catholicism) but that doesn't mean he lacks bias per se.

What he does have, however, is a great ability to empathise with religiosity from both sides of the spectrum. His chapter on "The Spirit of Protestantism?" (p528-33), seeing the potency of the locus on the spirit within the togetherness of the congregation, is a marvellous evocation of how a Reformed spirituality really does exist: it's not just a limping beast, as Duffy for example might imply. Yet he's also able, say, to empathise with the discipline and spirituality of the Jesuit movement (p219ff).

Moreover, he pointedly gives credit where it is due as well as highlighting times of shame: for example, he doesn't exonerate the Spanish Inquisition in any way, but he does credit the way it worked tirelessly to prevent burnings for witchcraft (that raged in northern Europe) because it was so sceptical about the phenomenon.

The chapter on sexuality is perhaps more idiosyncratic: do we really know enough to say that homosexuality "formed a common part of the family lifecycle" (p625) sating sexual needs between adolescence and marriage in one's mid-twenties?

But to pick up on and query such examples is really to pick up on how lively and full of vitality this book is. It fully justifies great praise.

It's very readable (though I found it a bit of a slog in the middle, as he explains the seemingly endless French wars of religion. But that's the nature of the subject, I guess) and full of choice anecdotes.

If you want a first introduction to the Reformation, you might be advised to go to Owen Chadwick's book, because that is half the length, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't miss out on MacCulloch.

"Reformation" is a magnificant work of history, but it's more than that. It's an exploration of human spirituality, of how that is shaped by theology, and then what the consequences are when theological convictions are given real political power and influence.

It's a classic.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 18, 2012 8:59 AM GMT

The Old Curiosity Shop (Radio Collection)
The Old Curiosity Shop (Radio Collection)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Audio Cassette

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous dramatisation of one of Dickens' less known works, 1 Aug. 2006
The book may be a bit of a mess, written on the cuff as Dickens tried to salvage a misguided attempt at a magazine, but it's richly full of his brilliance, and this dramatisation is sensationally good.

Some outstanding scenes linger long after one's first listen, such as when Little Nell's father grapples with his gambling addiction (and how depressingly relevant that is these days) and when Dick Swivveler's discusses with an inanimate Punch doll whether or not he should start acting responsibly.

I bought the book afterwards to read them in full, but I discovered they weren't actually in the book: they are just part of the adaptation, but an adaptation that captures Dickens so well it weaves the created scenes seamlessly in with the Dickens own narrative and often these scenes are highlights of their own.

It's far from a perfect novel. Quilp is devilishly evil but of limited motivation, the narrator's role is unclear, as is the age of Little Nell, and there are several ludicrously contrived plot devices. But then, Dickens was writing it on the hoof.

Apparently, the novel's of interest to scholars for Dickens' attitude to pop culture (Punch and Judy shows, mime shows etc.): for me, it was a wonderful way to pass some long car journeys. At times, it got me so wound up as I listened that I found myself literally pleading aloud with Nell's father not to gamble the money... But Dickens is so brilliant that he captivates you and this production, uniformly well acted, delivers all that brilliance.

Languedoc-Roussillon: The Wines and Winemakers
Languedoc-Roussillon: The Wines and Winemakers
by Paul Strang
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informed, fun, but hard to use, 9 Jan. 2006
My parents-in-law have bought a place near Beziers and I now visit the area about once a year, and buy wine at some point during the visit, so Strang's book is invaluable.
It is also addictive to read, and beautifully illustrated with photographs. He knows the area unbelievably well and his views are invariably based not just on tastings, but on visits and long discussions with the vignerons.
These lead to great vignettes: there's the Communist grower whose family has been insisting on organic techniques long before 'organic' entered the vocabulary, the glamorous middle-aged woman (with whom Strang falls slightly in love) who gave up her bigshot career in the city to follow the dream of growing wine on some family land...
Yet whilst Strang writes fluently and his taste buds are faultless, it's quite a hard book to use. Actually tracking down a vineyard he has recommended is far from intuitive and there's no index of vineyards either. This would come into its own for when you driving around the various country roads and pass a vineyard: then, you could see whether it's listed and, if so, how Strang rated it. As it is, you end up thumbing around trying to remember where you saw a vineyard listed.
Of course, it is still possible to find vineyards he has recommended, but it's not always easy, and there are, inevitably, quite a few great places that he doesn't list.
Still, great fun.

Don't Look Now [DVD] [1973]
Don't Look Now [DVD] [1973]
Dvd ~ Julie Christie
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £7.36

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing portrayal of a husband and wife, 8 Dec. 2005
This review is from: Don't Look Now [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
This is an arty film that still tells a good story, albeit one that isn't a laugh. Don't watch it if you need to unwind: it makes you feel uneasy at the end.
The directing is rightly celebrated: every angle is interesting, lots of clever motifs, amazing atmosphere etc..
What I think are so fabulous, though, are the central performances by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie (who otherwise aren't actors I am particular fan of). I think they are the most believable couple I have ever seen on film: they are so natural around each other, and they manage to portray how they carry the shared sorrow of the death of the child with them.
Even the sex scene is utterly believable.
There's a good little documentary with the DVD in which Roeg makes the point that most sex scenes on film are seductions: it's the first time that the people are making love together. Here, you watch a couple who are familiar with each other, this is part of an ongoing sex life together, and it's brilliantly done.
I thought it was quite erotic, but my fiancee reckoned it was spoiled because it's intercut with Sutherland putting on a ridiculously Seventies suit and tie: Christie's clothes are still classic, she noted, but Sutherland's look ludicrous today.
That's as may be.
The whole thing is really, really good.
A minor criticism: the ending only partly makes sense of it. Maybe that doesn't matter.

by Clive Woodward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still worth reading, despite the Lions debacle, 31 Aug. 2005
This review is from: Winning! (Paperback)
Since the Lions tour, Woodward's stock has plummeted, so is this guide to elite management still worth reading?
I would say, Yes, and you can actually begin to see why his approach worked with England and not with the Lions.
The basic thesis is that English rugby for decades could not think 'outside the box' and, with his business background, Woodward helped them to do this. That, combined with a relentlesss commitment to innovation, means that England were given every chance of winning the 2003 World Cup.
It's written for the cross-over business/ sports market, but is pretty accessible even if you have little interest in the other of these two areas. As a result, there's less player assessment than a rugby fan might hope for (though, reading between the lines, there are a few titbits: Woodward feels Phil de Glanville and maybe even Jeremy Guscott (hard to be sure on this), for example, held back the team.)
What's impressive about Woodward is his drive to try any route (eye coaching, training with the marines, redecorating the changing rooms) to give England the edge and his commitment to innovating, rather than just simply copying what the All Blacks were doing. A good example is changing shirts at half-time. It's still, let's face it, a pretty wacky idea, but it not only worked, but has been copied across the world.
He is also prepared to rethink the whole sport: instead of 'backs' and 'forwards', the game should be divided into 'attack' and 'defence'. And why not get a specialist kicking coach?
It's obvious now, but it wasn't before Woodward. And I would be very interested to see how he gets on in football (which he reveals is his first and true love). I feel certain he would get a specialist 'heading' coach, a 'taking penalties' coach, a 'corners' coach etc. And, frankly, I bet football teams would benefit as a result. Football's got all this money: why on earth aren't they doing this kind of coaching?
The key thing is, his approach takes time, so it will work in a football club, but not with an international team, unless they change the structure of the game.
It's noteworthy how much England cricket has learnt from the way Woodward structured the rugby team, and we seem to be getting the benefits of that now.
Woodward is far from perfect. He's a bit zealous in proclaiming the usefulness of some of his odder innovations, but at least he tries things out. And he was a crucial part in getting England to win the World Cup in 2003.
A very good book, that has made me think about what I could do consistently to improve my own performance at work, as well as leaving me with the warm glow of reliving the World Cup triumph.

Shooting History: A Personal Journey
Shooting History: A Personal Journey
by Jon Snow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent: informs, educates and entertains, 30 Aug. 2005
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This is a terrific memoir: it is hard to classify, though: he mixes an account of his professional life with his views on world events, while the first part is essentially an autobiography of his life up to the age of 21. Here, his account of being brought up by an authoritarian pillar of the establishment and failing to please him is an excellent evocation of being a child in England in the early Sixties.
Yet the real heart of the book is Snow's years as a foreign correspondent for ITN. He tells his tales with flair, passion and insight.
Thus, on one page, you are wondering about Britain's failure to accept its responsibilities to Uganda in the 1970s; on the next, you are wondering about the fall-out from a whirlwind relationship he falls into, while covering events there: it's a beautifully written little vignette. For me, this made it a wonderfully entertaining read, though I imagine it would be frustrating for some.
That it is self-consciously subjective means that he can afford to be opinionated as he can't on Channel Four News. A good example of where this works well is in his chapters on America. As he covers the wars in Central America in which the States played an ugly hand in the 1970s, you sense his anger. Thus, it is all the more compelling when he becomes Washington correspondent in the 80s and is instantly seduced by America's can-do culture and sympathy for freedom of information and values he holds dear.
It's inevitably less interesting once his career takes him behind the News desk in the 1990s, but he still has a coherent and interesting take on world affairs which is worth reading.
Ironically, given his antipathy to the BBC, Snow has achieved the Reithian triumvirate: he informs, he educates and he entertains.
This would make a great Christmas or birthday present for anyone with a reasonable interest in world politics but wouldn't enjoy having to wade through a dry history. I am already planning it to give it to several friends.

Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom: Scripture and Theology
Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom: Scripture and Theology
by David F. Ford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.00

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent collection of essays linking scripture to theology, 18 May 2005
There is a general thesis behind this collection of essays, which is the attempt to try to rectify the division between doctrinal theologians and biblical scholars.
Scripture asks to be treated theologically, not picked apart by dry historical criticism, so why not do so? Reading theology out of scripture need not be the preserve of biblical conservatives: serious academics can (and should) do it too.
The essays are the result of a symposium at Cambridge University (UK) in 2003, so that's where the bulk of the academics are coming from. Essays that stand out include Rowan Williams on viewing the Bible as a sacred text (which has to be of interest to anyone considering how he is handling the Anglican Church with the Windsor report et al) and Diana Lipton, a Jewish academic, considering what to do with "unacceptable" Biblical texts, looking at the text in Deuteronomy that calls for the exterminatation of Amalek: how does this read in the light of the Holocaust?
This is a great collection: it's lively, yet penetrating and none of the essays outstays their welcome by being too long.

Documents of the English Reformation (Library of Ecclesiastical History)
Documents of the English Reformation (Library of Ecclesiastical History)
by Gerald Bray
Edition: Paperback
Price: £34.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful compilation of Reformation documents, 18 May 2005
This is very useful if you are studying the Reformation and want to get easy access to documents in their original wording.
It is excellent in its coverage of all the major official documents e.g. Injunctions, Articles, Acts and Prefaces to Bibles.
If you are looking for the softer stuff with more colour, like churchwarden's accounts, pamphlets or accounts of trials and visitations, you won't find it here. For that sort of thing, try "Religion and Society in Early Modern England: a sourcebook" (Ed. Cressy and Ferrell) for a starter.

Playing With Fire
Playing With Fire
by Nasser Hussain
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Constantly insightful and utterly honest, 24 Jan. 2005
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This review is from: Playing With Fire (Hardcover)
As Hussain himself says, sometimes the greatest cricketers aren't the best observers of the game: they have never had to try at it and so often don't understand what they are doing.
Hussain wasn't among the great batsmen of his time, but his observations are correspondingly all the better for that. He turned it to his advantage as an insightful captain, both in terms of tactics and man management, and now he describes his career brilliantly. Hearing about how he got the best out of someone like Andrew Caddick is fascinating and he shows his debt to Brearley in this.
Yet beyond the tactics, you get an extraordinary picture of a bundle of neuroses. Hussain dreaded going into bat throughout his entire career (rarely sleeping properly the previous night) and knows that he got too worked up about it: his best innings, he recognises, were when the top order collapsed and he was in before he had time to realise it.
Many other cricketers in their autobiographies don't think about why they are the way they are but Hussain goes beyond this: he knows just how much the drive from his father made him the cricketer he became, mainly for good but also slightly for ill. He was almost too competitive, too afraid of failure. He contrasts himself with the more "natural" cricketers, like Gough and Flintoff, half envying them, half knowing that it just didn't fit with his personality.
When someone is genuinely honest with the reader, as Hussain is, you can't help but warm to him, however much he points up his weaknesses.
Atherton and Thorpe come out particularly well from this book as people he really cherished as companions and colleagues. Less favourably written up are Steve Waugh and Mike Gatting. But it's all balanced.
A terrific book. Up there with Atherton's.

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