King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition by Greg Stafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked up a hardback copy at Dragonmeet 2016, naturally getting Jeff to sign it (hopefully one day I’ll get to add Greg’s autograph too!) having recently fallen in love with Glorantha through both reading around the setting and the fantastic games run there by our GM. For those that don’t know Glorantha it is a mythical world created by Greg Stafford and the setting for a number of roleplaying games over the years.
King of Sartar is a fascinating experiment. It isn’t a novel, rather it is a collection of writings from Glorantha – I say from rather than about, as the writings are presented as source materials about the place by its own people, a bit like the source materials that historians in the ‘real world’ might sift through. There are inconsistencies, gaps, and questions left unanswered. In places its deliberately dry, in others it sparkles. As a piece of creative writing, it’s a remarkable work. As a book to simply read through for fun, it hits a different spot than a standard work of literature, its more of an experience than a story. It’s full of the myths and histories of the peoples of Glorantha from creation to the ‘present day’. Unlike many fantasy works, the conflicts aren’t presented as black and white, good and evil, instead we hear from the viewpoints of different factions, making a much more nuanced and satisfying picture, although of course the tendency is still to regard the Lunars as the enemy with the general bias towards the Orlanthi people.
Personally I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and will certainly return to it for the background it gives to this imaginary world. Hopefully, it will also inform future gaming there too.
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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a child I fell in love with the Norse myths through Roger Lancelyn Garden’s retellings. Many years Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors has released his own retellings. Obviously I was going to read it! I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting them after many years, and what better guide than Neil Gaiman. His love for these myths is clear and the gods come alive in his hands, especially Thor. Was fortunate enough to hear him at the book launch at the Festival Hall in London, and hearing him read Thor’s Wedding was a delight and helped hear this book in his voice as I read it, capturing the humour as I went. I still have questions about the myths that remain unanswered, but Gaiman’s task was not to add to the tales but simply retell them for a new generation following in the footsteps of the great Roger Lancelyn Green whose telling I and he grew up in.
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Judas: The Biography of an Idea by Peter Stanford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fascinating read, sifting through the Biblical references to try and gain a picture of Judas and then tracing through popular thought through the ages to see how this enigmatic figure had been seen in the public imagination. Whilst I have a more evangelical view of scripture than Stanford and so differ a little in my treatment of the Biblical texts, I was drawn into this work; for me too, Judas has long been a figure of intrigue. Stanford’s biography bright to my attention the sorry history of anti-Semitism that although I was aware of it, I hadn’t quite grasped it’s extent and the connection to portrayals of the disciple, Judas. Evil betrayer, innocent part in God’s plan, Satan’s agent or revolutionary whose plans backfire? Stanford’s picture is more nuanced than these simple clichés, and tinged in the epilogue with a surprising touch of grace.
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Just finished listening to Big Finish’s ‘Tom Baker at 80’, an interview conducted by Nick ‘voice of the daleks’ Briggs. Moving from being comic, to revealing as it explores his past and poinant as Baker talks about his experiences of old age. A thoroughly engaging listen (how could it be otherwise with his majestic voice!)
Check out Tom Baker at 80 from Big Finish. https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/tom-baker-at-80-1060
Tom Baker, Romana, K9, submarines, intelligent giant squids and ghosts. What’s not to like!
Over the last few years I’ve developed a love of the fantastic Big Finish audio books, especially their Doctor Who stories. A favourite range has been their Eighth Doctor stories featuring Paul McGann which are absolutely brilliant – despite his short screen time he’s now one of my favorites. I’ve also recently got hold of a couple of Fourth Doctor series. It’s terrific hearing Tim Baker again, just as it was seeing him in the 50th special. I’ve just finished the two parter featuring the Lawn, The Sands of Time (. ) and War Against the Laan.
According to Oxford University’s online dictionaries, the phrase to ‘read someone like a book’ means to be able to ‘understand someone’s thoughts and motives clearly or easily’. This saying took on an interesting twist for me today when I stumbled across the Human Library™ on the internet today. In this unusual library, you withdraw not the latest novels or timeless classics, but a person who will share their life story with you.
So where did this unusual twist on a library come from? It started in Denmark after the stabbing of a youth in 1993. Friends of this teenager, who fortunately survived, started a group called ‘Stop the Violence’. Asked to provide an activity for the Roskilde Festival, they brought together 75 human books, who could be taken out so that ‘readers’ could find out about the person behind the stereotypes and ask awkward questions – and hear possibly honest and challenging responses. Apparently before the first book was withdrawn, the hall was full of conversation between the books themselves as they listened to each other’s stories, the policeman sitting down with the graffiti writer, the politician with the youth activist and the football fan with the feminist. Since this first event, the Human Library has taken off with similar presentations taking place in more than 70 countries around the world. You can even go to their website and get a taste of some of the books you might get to read, the soldier with post-traumatic-stress-disorder, the convert to Islam, the brain-damaged, young single mother, the unemployed, the body mod extreme and the refugee amongst others.
Personally, I think this is a wonderful idea. We’re all too quick to judge others simply by the tags we put on them, failing to think beyond these simple labels to the complex human being beneath them with their mix of emotions, pressures and insights. Perhaps it’s important to remember that to others we are tags as well. Don’t forget, to some we are ‘Christians’. Colossians 1:19-20 describes God’s mission as reconciling the world to himself through Christ. I can’t help but feel that this Library could be part of that process, enabling people to come together and begin to appreciate other’s stories and the people behind them. Got me wondering how we can help others hear our story, but perhaps more importantly, how can we begin to hear the stories of those around us.
I remember as a child entering into a competition held by Radio Four in which people were invited to enter mini-sagas, 50 word stories. Fifty words doesn’t sound like many does it, anyone can come up with fifty words (to give you a sense of scale, the newsletter front page article is usually 4-500 words). It might be easy enough to come up with fifty words, but coming up with a gripping yarn in only fifty words is a totally different matter – I see that Radio Two has taken pity on current children and asks for five hundred word stories instead!
Here’s a challenge for you – can you encapsulate in some way your experiences of God in fifty words? Answers in an email, a couple of texts or a scrap of paper please! You could write about your story of coming to faith, your ongoing questions about him, or a particular experience. It could be a straight account, or a story or even a poem. I’d love to turn next week’s front page into a collection of them.
Of course, the master of the really-short-story was Jesus with his parables. Can you name anyone else who has come up with such enduring, captivating and surprising tales as his? Many of these are fifty words as well, or even less. It’s amazing that even now, some two thousand years after they were first told, that they still have the power to shock and transform, or to make us face up to who we really are. I’ve spent much of the last few years thinking about them and reading about them partly because of various bits of course work and sermons I’ve had the joy of preaching, but mainly because I find that I can’t get away from them, there’s something about them that teases and keeps calling me back to them. What did Jesus mean by that? If he told them today, how would he change them? What is Jesus saying to me through them now? And how about to us, his church?
There is a downside to their popularity. Sometimes we can become deaf to them, we’ve heard it all before. Or we come up with ways to make them comfortable to listen to or to explain away the awkward bits and make them suitable for church consumption. Symon Hill has come up with a great way to listen to them afresh and cut through the traditions we’ve built up around them in his book The Upside-Down Bible. Rather than turn to scholars and commentaries to get answers to these questions, he took a novel approach. If the parable was about crops or sheep or soil, he’d go and tell the story to a group of farmers and see what their reactions were. A story about workers and their treatment? He asked a group of trade unionists for their views. The Good Samaritan? He asked some Jews for their thoughts. He also made a point of asking non-Christians, those who hadn’t really thought about or heard the stories before. Sometimes their answers were what he expected. Often they were not, and jolted him into seeing them in new ways. Got me wondering who to talk to next time I get stuck in sermon prep, or for that matter, who might be interested in hearing these stories if we got them outside the church and into our communities…
So famously sung Bob Dylan back in 1964, those words seem very relevant to today. For starters the mornings are starting to get darker and the evenings are drawing in. An autumnal chill is beginning to bite and soon, if not already, the heating will be back on. Talking about this on Sunday morning after the service, I admitted that I love summer, but I also enjoy the moment when the winter jumpers come out for the first time, and the pleasure of drawing the curtains on a winters evening and shutting out the darkness and enjoying the cosiness of home.
This is not the only change, however, there is another deeper, more significant change, that of culture all around us. The ways in which we relate to each other are shifting with the rise of social media and portable technology. The internet is replacing the TV for younger generations, playground discussion is no longer about the programme everyone saw the night before, but the Youtube clip that was shared. Facetime is replacing face to face time. No doubt there will be disagreement over whether these changes are good or not (I’m happy to confess that I’m a lover of technology), but it is clear that things have shifted.
The way we relate to each other is also changing in our politics. It would seem that there is a move away from the middle ground to the left and to the right. Whatever our views on the Brexit vote, we are now faced with the very real question of how we want to be seen by the rest of Europe and the world, and how we are going to relate to those of other nationalities as we redefine our country in light of this decision.
Why should the church be bothered with these things? There was a time when perhaps we wouldn’t be. The Biblical picture of a new heaven and earth was taken to mean that this world was doomed and all that mattered was getting into heaven and saving as many as possible on the way. Recently, however, there has been a waking up to the importance of the life of Jesus as well as his death, and Paul’s teaching on lifestyle as well as the Cross. We’ve rediscovered Jesus’ message that he wants us as members of the future Kingdom to start living that life now, to begin to relate to each other in the present as we will in the future. In other words, his salvation is not just about life after death but life before death too. Key to this are our relationships with each other. Jesus calls us to model what it means to be people of love, of forgiveness, of encouragement and of grace, because this is the basis of our citizenship of God’s Kingdom both in the future and today – it is how we’re made to be and is the best thing for us, so why wait until another age to enjoy this, why not enjoy and share this life today!