Q’s Espionage Festival: 1. Gordon Corera’s The Art of Betrayal

BBC Security Correspondent, Gordon Corera‘s new book, The Art of Betrayal – Life and Death in the British Secret Service covers ground that will be familiar to all students of the Cold War and spy fiction fans. But he does so in a very readable, engaging but authoritative way. The British Secret Service was in some ways one of the last relics of British imperial glory, with an ability to strut across the world stage despite other aspects of British influence declining. (more…)

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Step inside a story: a perfect metaphor

We’re back from a joyous couple of days in Oxford – including a happy return to the Museum of old Ashmole himself, stunningly redesigned and rebuilt. If you’re there before mid-Jan, check out the temporary exhibition of one my all time artistic heroes, Claude Lorrain.

But my purpose in posting today is a rather fun ad campaign around the streets of north Oxford. A pair of footprints… to begin with you’ve no idea what it’s on about. It could lead to a host of things. But like the best teaser campaigns, it works… you want to know more. (more…)

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Friday Fun 13: Beware men with Guns and Megaphones

The US cop show has immersed us all into the clichés of American gun culture. It is one aspect of American life which most of us find hardest to comprehend (especially when it gets defended theologically by the Christian right – though if this is where you are coming from, please help us out here – I do want to understand how it can still be justified other than on purely pragmatic grounds). After all, in contrast to most police forces in the world (including across Europe), the British police do not carry guns while on normal duties. And I would argue that we are all much safer as a result. (more…)

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Jerusalem – the city with its very own book.

I really don’t think this book lives up to its hype, but I did work my way through roughly 3/4 of Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s epic Jerusalem, The Biography. It is a very uneven and, at times, curiously flat read. It is also (perhaps inevitably)  littered with sweeping statements and an over-reliance on just afew partisan scholarly perspectives. This was especially frustrating when it came to plumbing the huge depths and breadths of biblical and archaeological scholarship. But there were clearly some gems and insights. And so thought I’d share just one or two. (more…)

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Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 37 (October 2011)

Sacred Treasure

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Friday Fun 12: An Indignant Letter to an “Impetiginous Acroyli”

It seems that church ministers are fair game and always have been. Rowan Atkinson is certainly not the first to lay into clergy as people “of such extraordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness who are extraordinarily presumptuous about the significance of their position in society”. Ho hum. Much of it is no doubt deserved. (more…)

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Visionary dreamers: how Bonhoeffer warns virtual (and indeed large) churches

OK, I realise that’s somewhat anachronistic, not to say speculative. But I’m in a staff small group that’s started reading an extraordinary book: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. It is dense, blunt but most of all, persuasive. And even though we’ve only been going at it for a week, it has already stimulated all kinds of interesting discussions. But one of the most challenging ideas from chapter one is his analysis of what he calls ‘visionary dreaming’. (more…)

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Some stop-motion silliness in Sicily

Here was a bit of fun from our holiday in Sicily – a stop-motion jolly directed by my son Joshua, involving my parents, me and my children plus my brother! Perhaps a new movie dynasty is born…

Having failed to come up with the goods yet again last Friday, I suppose you could say that this counts as a bit of delayed Friday Fun … on Monday…

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We are not enslaved to our past: Ian Cron’s inspiring memoir

It is a rare gift indeed to be able to evoke the confusions, perceptions and wonder of childhood from the perspectives of adulthood. And it is a gift that Ian Cron clearly possesses. His recent memoir (self-deprecatingly subtitled ‘of sorts’), Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me, is a wonderful, life-affirming account of a deeply troubled and agonised family – but it is wonderful because it demonstrates hope in some very dark places indeed.

And for that reason alone, it is a book I would thoroughly recommend. (more…)

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Scale and Detail: the twin peaks of Jean Francois Rauzier’s “Hyperphotos”

Thanks to a brief profile in Wired last month, I’ve been mesmerised by the ‘hyperphotos’ of French photographic artist Jean-Francois Rauzier. It is definitely worth spending some time exploring his worlds. And they are worlds – each image is deceptively simple but like all great art, draws you in with a summons to contemplate and wonder. (more…)

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God, The Refugees and The Dynasty: An overview of Ruth

The book that has occupied my thoughts for much of the summer is that almost hidden gem of the OT, the Book of Ruth. It was the focus of this year’s All Souls week away, and so my talks are issued as a free podcast. What blew me away is that of all the books in the OT, it is perhaps the most unrelentingly positive and inspiring. This is despite the fact that its dark historical and literary context was the Book of Judges, and that the suffering and vulnerability of 2 of the protagonists, Naomi and Ruth, were very real. (more…)

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The Soviet Utopia and the assimilation of Biblical Imagery

I was very struck by this fascinating article (“Building Blocks” from the latest Royal Academy magazine) about post-revolution architecture and art in the Soviet Union. Never having visited Russia itself (despite having travelled fairly extensively through its former cold war satellites), my presumption was that architecture in that era was full of monolithic, brutalising and depersonalised buildings. But it seems was that this was primarily the result of Stalinist totalitarianism and did not characterise the confidence of the brand new revolutionary state that held (to some extent) its ideals intact. (more…)

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