Thursday, February 18, 2016

prw cricket rankings II

Six years ago I published my first 'prw cricket rankings'. With six of the eight nations playing each other at the moment and the Twenty20 World Cup around the corner, it seems a good time for an update.

These are rankings with a difference. Highly and intentionally subjective. As a cricket fan, it doesn't matter too much who is playing, I enjoy watching. But as I stand outside myself, I do find myself favouring one team over the other. As in 2010, what follows is the ranking of my favourite teams. When any one of these teams is playing, I find myself cheering for it when it plays any team below it in these rankings.

1. [NO CHANGE]  New Zealand
While I am a Kiwi, I am not one that is given to boorish nationalistic fervour. Nevertheless there is a heartbeat inside that keeps New Zealand atop my rankings. With the brand of cricket being played under Brendon McCullum, a small multitude have NZ moving up their rankings as well. Pulsating cricket. McCullum's leadership has revolutionised the 50-over format of the global game. Even England's resurgence after the World Cup is due, in large part, to McCullum. For me, however, I tend to be a fan that keeps the handbrake on! He has been too reckless at crucial times. His dismissal in the World Cup Final was dumb. Even more annoying is the cavalier way in which our lower order has batted in Test matches under his leadership [NB: it is the reason for Ross Taylor missing out on a triple century]. So I feel no great grief with McCullum's imminent retirement, because longtime favourites like Boult and Williamson are well able to deliver the enjoyment that will keep New Zealand #1 for me.

2. [UP FOUR]  Pakistan
So much has happened in these past six years, none more significant than getting to know Pakistan through books (a history and a history of cricket) and through the people I've met on visits there. I feel an uncommon empathy for the people. Because of the terrorist threat that has destroyed peoples' perceptions of their country, the Pakistani cricket team never gets to play in front of their own friends and family anymore. How would you like that to be the case, as a fan? At partition, India kept all the cricket infrastructure and Pakistan had to start from scratch - and then, within a handful of years, against incredible odds, but with this seemingly endless source of mercurial talent, they proceeded to beat India, Australia, West Indies, and England. Incredible.

3. [UP ONE]  Sri Lanka
Once again, I am affected by having made visits to this country. A special people. Never, ever will I forget waking up in Colombo one morning to three TV channels covering the Christchurch earthquake - and then hearing Sri Lankans each day at our seminar pouring out their hearts in prayer for my people (against the backdrop of their own tsunami that caused far, far more death and destruction). And then there is ... Sangakkara. I like sportspeople who are skilled, gracious, smart and articulate. 'Sanga' has all four in abundance. Sri Lanka is a bit like NZ in that it is a smaller country that produces such talent. Shame on the media for not making more of Chandimal's astonishing innings. It was Botham-esque. And when the young Chameera carved up NZ the other week, I did taste some joy. I confess it.

4. [UP ONE]   England
While I am not a great fan of Cook or Anderson (an over-rated player - of the 21 highest wicket-takers among fast bowlers in history, 18 of them have lower averages than Anderson and the only two with a higher average played on lifeless South Asian wickets: Kapil Dev and Vaas) - when I turn on the TV and see a Root or a Buttler or a Stokes, it is seduction time. It really is. Root is something else. Throw in Broad's uncanny capacity to turn a match in half an hour ... yeah, I like this team. Got a good manager and their administration dealt decisively and finally with Kevin Pieterson.

5. [NEW]   Bangladesh
Decided to add them in this time. I don't know the players well, but I gain such enjoyment when this unsung team does well.

6. [DOWN THREE]   West Indies
Oh dear. What a mess. I LOVED this team as a kid, but the local administrators can't seem to hold it all together - and with so little money in the Caribbean, their stars forsake playing for the inter-nation West Indies team, for whom they must feel less loyalty than for their own nations, as they disperse around the world in pursuit of the highest bidder. Meanwhile the game back home deconstructs. It is pretty sad. I find it hard it to blame the players, but it is also hard to see the West Indies ever being strong again.

7. [SAME]   South Africa
It is odd. This team doesn't quicken my pulse at all. It leaves me neutral, even kinda disinterested. Maybe I need to go live there for a season. Sure, de Villiers may be a talent. Amla may be one of the most impressive Muslims on earth ... but the guy who is going to be such fun to watch over the next decade is Rabada.

8. [DOWN SIX]   India
Big drop here. All sorts of reasons. The Fab Four are missed. It is a long, long time since this post was written. Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag are all gone. Skilled players each one of them ... but such classy people and their replacements just don't seem to be in the same league, with skill or character. Then there is that IPL, chewing-gum cricket around which the cricketing world now spins, as it works covertly to dismantle the world of cricket in countries that cannot afford to pay its players handsomely. At the moment, my favourite Indian cricketer is Shashank Manohar, an administrator. He has risen to power amidst the ashes of the most shameful corruption and among the first things he did was call into question the greedy, short-sighted hijack of global cricket by the Big Three (India, Australia, England). He is da man.

My favourite Indian cricketer
9. [DOWN ONE]   Australia
I don't really buy into the cross-Tasman rivalry. The Aussies are the greatest sporting nation in the world. I admire their mental strength, in particular. In the two most recent Tests, NZ gets the rough end of the most appalling, game-changing, umpiring decisions and we just disintegrate as a team. The Aussies would have come back all the harder. That is the difference between the two countries. But until Australia gets a Sangakkara-type person at the helm and the culture of their cricket changes, they will not rise far in my rankings. They love to speak of playing 'aggressive' cricket - when, in fact, all too often it is just a bit of graceless, ugly and arrogant cricket. Throw in those infuriating commentators who work more as adoring fans, than objective critics ... and the bottom of my rankings ain't gonna change in a hurry.

nice chatting


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

simeon and stott

A couple of weeks ago I shared my admiration for the person and ministry of Charles Simeon, reawakened by a book that I had read. This renewed a conversation with Mark Meynell, the leader of our ministry in Europe & the Caribbean - and in the recent past, a member of the pastoral team at All Souls in London and so a friend and colleague of John Stott.

Mark was in the final stages of bringing this comparison together which he has posted now, with commentary, on his blog. But I just love this infographic and so I decided to post it as well. Thanks so much, Mark. Many years ago, this was going to be the exact topic of my thesis...

nice chatting


Sunday, February 14, 2016

being christian, being evangelical

Denzel (Washington) made me do it. The other night he pushed me over the edge. Here I sit, still recovering from the Fast & Furious family saying grace around the table at the end of a movie of excessive violence, destruction and abuse, and now ... there sits Denzel. Struggling with alcoholism, there is this touching scene where Denzel puts back the bottle and reaches for the Bible in which he finds the strength to resist. He does resist and he does find strength ... so that he can go out and assassinate numerous people that he doesn't like.

The rest of the world is watching this stuff. Multiple channels are given over to it in some pretty remote places. More people than we'd care to admit work with a simple equation: Christianity = America = Hollywood. It hardly seems fair, or reasonable - but it is still true, especially among those who are viewed as an enemy of some kind. Indirectly, Hollywood shapes how people view Christianity. So it is a faith that gets attached easily to extremist violence, repetitive profanity, and illicit sex. Is it that hard to understand people willing to sacrifice their lives to stem the tide of this junk flowing into the lives of their own kin? When the decibels become shrill about protecting freedom and the American way of life - multitudes simply assume that it is the Hollywood way of life that is to be protected because it is the only slice of America that they know.

I wince. As I do so, my heart goes out to authentic Christians in America who must be weary of wincing.

But it gets worse, much worse. On the news last night the focus was South Carolina as the next stop in the American election process. The counties of Carolina were being coloured in various ways as the chances of candidates in the various (apparently) mutually exclusive demographics were analyzed with a tap of the finger on that fancy board of theirs - like the 'African-American' one and then the 'evangelical' one.

"Excuse me? Are you inferring that there are no African-Americans in the evangelical constituency? Yes, you are. Let me tell you something that is kinda obvious, even from here in Bangalore. There are probably more evangelicals in that African-American constituency than there are in your so-called evangelical one. Since when did 'evangelical' become the exclusive domain of the ultra-conservative? On behalf of the global evangelical community, how dare you take our word, our identity, and drag it through such mud. Most of your so-called evangelicals are fundamentalists and some among them are people you tend to name, in other faiths, as extremists. Please realise the damage you are doing to the mission of God around the world, even as you think you are advancing His cause around your own country. You aren't."

Here is the sad irony. These so-called evangelicals place their hope in a nation with wealth and power and might. They are scrapping over who among them will do this the most effectively. Haven't we walked this way before? Remember the Old Testament? See - genuine evangelicals base their life in the total Biblical story and focus their life totally on Christ. When this is done, even the most juvenile evangelical knows that hope does not lie in a nation targeting wealth and power and might. Hope lies with intriguing communities of faith subverting the hope placed in this wealth and power and might - and doing so with such grace and wisdom and courage and love and godliness and simplicity and humility that they experience the power of the Spirit transforming themselves and the worlds in which they live.

I wince. Nah. That is not true. I don't wince. I get angry. I confess it. I have an anger problem. As I do so, my heart goes out to authentic evangelicals in America who must be weary of being angry.

nice chatting


PS: A little later... As the the Republican candidates scrap over who is the best evangelical, maybe they should be silent and listen to this - because here is what an evangelical Christian sounds like - and he is an African-American as well (!), the very point I am making above.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

charles simeon

Charles Simeon was a big part of my life through my twenties.

Like many before me, I was introduced to him in the writings of John Stott, a man who lived his life with a similar symmetry more than a century later. As a young pastor I read the biographies, capturing numerous illustrations on my little 3x5 cards and using them often in sermons. When I finished life as a pastor, a group of friends within the church got together and gave me the 20+ volumes of all Simeon's sermons - if 'you read one a day, it will take you seven years'. Mid way through life as a parent having children, we gave the names 'Charles Simeon' to our middle son, Martin. Then as I started my masters, and then doctoral work, I was all set to do a little thesis on Simeon until my research became distracted, for more than twenty years, by the parables and postmodernism ...

But now, in my fifties, a new book on Simeon has been written and with it, the opportunity to be reminded of many old things. This is what Derek Prime's Charles Simeon: An ordinary pastor of extraordinary influence (Day One, 2011) has done for me. It has reminded me, more than it has instructed me - and sometimes that is a very good thing indeed. The stories came flooding back, bringing their encouragement with them.

There is Simeon's testimony about coming to faith in Christ through being forced to attend the Lord's Supper as a young student at university in Cambridge.  'From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord's Table in our chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour' (24).

There is the story about two girls giggling over Simeon's 'look and manner' as the young man spoke. Daddy told them to go outside and pick a peach (in early summer). The peach was green, unripe and inedible. 'Well, my dears, it is green now, and we must wait; but a little more sun and a few more showers, and the peach will be ripe and sweet. So it is with Mr Simeon.' (43).

There is the testimony about how for the first ten years of his ministry at Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge (out of 54 years in total!), such was the hostility in the congregation that people locked their pews and Simeon preached to a congregation gathered in the aisles. Ten years! 'He was learning to wait' (Prime, 52).

There is the illustration in his management of false teachers and leaders who disappoint from within his own congregation. 'If they chose to let off fire-works, they were at liberty to do so, only I desired they would not put them under my thatch, to burn down my house' (59).

There is the commitment to training young preachers and mentoring young leaders in a series of sermon classes and tea parties. Such was the care in which he broke down the steps on the journey from the biblical text to the finished sermon and such was the energy he gave to helping others do this ... 'it is not surprising that he has been called the father of homiletics' (Prime, 70). 'Three things (are) indispensably necessary in every discourse; unity in the design, perspicuity in the arrangement, and simplicity in the diction' (172). The final thing he did before his death was to finish his Horae Homileticae ('it took thirty two men sixteen months to achieve its printing', 177). As for sermon evaluation:
Does (your preaching) uniformly tend TO HUMBLE THE SINNER? TO EXALT THE SAVIOUR? TO PROMOTE HOLINESS? If in one single instance it lose sight of any of these points, let it be condemned without mercy. (as quoted in Prime, 243)
Two much-loved Charles Simeons, 250 years apart from each other
There are the stories of how he hung out with William Wilberforce, getting involved in mission at home and abroad. From Wilberforce's diary: 'Simeon with us - his heart is glowing with love for Christ ... How full he is of love, and of desire to promote the spiritual benefit of others' (128). The great missionary to India, Henry Martyn (dead at 31) was first Simeon's curate and after his death his portrait adorned Simeon's room: 'There, see the blessed man! What an expression of countenance! No one looks at me as he does; he never takes his eyes off me and seems always to be saying, "Be serious. Be in earnest. Don't trifle. Don't trifle. Then, smiling at the portrait and gently bowing, Simeon would add, "And I won't trifle. I won't trifle' (131).

There is his testimony about making simplicity a priority. 'The person who understands truth the most clearly gains the ability to express it most simply' (Prime, 69).  'We should not try to be clever but rather simple' (Prime, 86). 'The distinguishing mark of the religion of Christ is its simplicity, and its suitableness to the condition of all men, whether rich or poor, wise of unlearned' (75).

There is his testimony about making balance a priority. He was caught up in the Calvinism:Arminian debate: 'although more of a Calvinist than an Arminian, Simeon was not a fierce enemy of the latter' (Prime, 181). With this debate and others like it. 'the truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes' (241). 'Rather than setting the truths in opposition he wanted to dwell upon both 'with equal pleasure' (Prime, 187). On reading all this again, I realise how much this has influenced me. ['Speak all that the Scripture speaks, and as the Scripture speaks it: and leave all nice distinctions alone' (235).] This must be the source of my mild suspicion of systematic theology, particularly when it enamours young students into taking sides long before they've fully absorbed the breadth and balance and beauty of the Scriptures.
The difference between young and old ministers, in general, consists of this; that the statements of the former are crude and unqualified, whilst those of the latter have such limitations and distinctions, as the Scriptures authorize and the subjects require. The doctrines of salvation by faith alone, predestination etc are often, it is well know, so stated, as to become a stumbling block to thousands; whilst, when Scripturally stated, they approve themselves to those who have been most prejudiced against them. (quoted in Prime, 197).
There is the quotation for which I was waiting but which does not appear until the very final paragraphs of the book. Simeon struggled all his life with feelings of 'self-importance' (201). He once wrote in large letters, on two consecutive pages in his notebook, the words: 'Talk not about myself, Speak evil of no man' (250) ... and then the quotation for which I had waited:
Alas, alas! how apt are young ministers (I speak feelingly) to be talking of the great letter I. It would be easier to erase that letter from all the books in the kingdom, than to hide it for one hour from the eyes of the vain person. Another observation has not escaped my remembrance - the three lessons which a minister has to learn, 1. Humility - 2. Humility - 3. Humility. (quoted in Prime, 251).

Of course, there were a few new things...

Remember Pride & Prejudice? The way Mr Collins is owned by Lady Catherine de Burgh? It was a practice called advowsons, or 'livings', and was a primary cause for the weakness of the church at the time. Simeon was so smart. He bought into the system, setting up a Trust and raising money to acquire these advowsons and then filling them with good people - like John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace, at St Mary Woolnoth ... and eventually subverting the very system itself.

As death approached, Simeon gave thanks for his church ... 'so beautiful to be the ornament instead of the disgrace of the town' (223). And when a friend expressed to him that many were praying for him, Simeon responded, 'In prayer? aye, and I trust in praise too - praise for countless, endless mercies' (225).

I'll be in Cambridge  in April. I will need to take some time out to see a bit more of Simeon...

nice chatting


PS (1): Charles Simeon is exactly four days - and two centuries - older than me. Cool, eh?!
PS (2): As I read, the resonance with John Stott and Langham Partnership, including the Langham Scholars, Langham Literature and Langham Preaching programmes really is uncanny. Maybe it will be the subject of another post one day.