on waiting for the fifth day

As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.
The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it. —
Matt 27:57-66

There’s a scene from the the second Lord of the Rings film, The Two Towers: the heroes are trapped inside a castle, surrounded by the bad guys. The bad guys, called the Uruk Hai, are these big, monstrous warriors, there’s an army of them, and they’re all six feet tall. They bellow and roar like wild animals, oh and they eat people. The good guys are three heroes: a man, an elf, and a dwarf, and they’re trying to help a bunch of farmers defend their castle. You gotta feel sorry for the farmers too, because they’re clearly no match for their enemies, and we the audience have spent, oh I don’t know, the past 10 hours watching the Uruk Hai slaughter and butcher them like pigs. And you know, if the bad guys break into the castle, not only will the heroes die, all the farmers’ wives and kids will also die. Continue reading “on waiting for the fifth day”

on love

There is a cryptic line in the film Alexander, where the Persian warrior Pharnakes says to Alexander on his wedding night, “In the ways of my country, those who love too much lose everything. Those who love with irony last.”

I’m not sure why that line has stuck in my head even after so many years – it’s not particularly helpful, and as far as I know it’s mostly a load of orientalist crap; there is no provenance beyond a possible garbling of a sermon by Ali, brother of the Prophet Muhammad.

But by happy coincidence I think this line speaks more truth than it seems to. Continue reading “on love”

on honouring the dead

I was watching City of Life and Death recently, a rather grim movie about the Nanjing Massacre. It’s a powerful piece, shot entirely in black and white, like an old set of photos come to life. One particularly disturbing scene has one of the protagonists, a Japanese soldier, march a group of Chinese POWs to their deaths, and as they trudge along the man watches in increasingly numbed horror as his comrades unleash absolute evil on civilians in the streets: firing squads, severed heads hanging from trees, young girls tied up and frogmarched by rough soldiers, a dead young woman sprawled on the ground, naked and bruised, with a noose around her neck. Continue reading “on honouring the dead”

on acts of kindness

I’ve been in a melancholic mood lately. Mostly boredom I figure, but also this particular thought that I have been shown such kindness in my life, and yet I have done very poorly in repaying it, both to my benefactors but also my neighbours.

Then it hit me – many of these acts of kindness are slipping from my memory. And there will be a day when I’m old and grey when I will have forgotten most of them. Or just grumpy, jaded and apathetic enough to not care. Continue reading “on acts of kindness”

on us and them

When I was about 12 an older relative of mine said something to me I’ll never forget. We were watching the news, and the story switched to a high-profile couple undergoing a divorce, because the husband had cheated.

My relative said: ‘Don’t judge people who do that. The only thing that separates us from them is grace.’

In other words, self righteousness makes us forget who we are. Continue reading “on us and them”

on subliminal gospel preaching

So I’ve been reading W.B. Barcley’s The Secret of Contentment recently and thinking about Philippians 4:11-13.

It’s one of my favourite parts of the Bible to feel smug and sanctimonious about – you know how it is, verse 13 is one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible; people use it to give every one of their actions divine backing and therefore diving legitimacy, because they can do all things in Christ. But in fact all the ‘things’ of verse 13 are precisely the unglamorous things Paul had listed just a sentence ago: being in want, having almost nothing, being hungry. So every time I read that verse I like to smugly give myself a self-five. Nice one, you’re not like the muggles. Continue reading “on subliminal gospel preaching”

on ancient superweapons, pt 2

Last time we looked at some of the more well-known ‘superweapons’ of the ancient classical world: war elephants and scythed chariots. This time we finish our look at ancient superweapons with some of the more inconspicuous and obscure (though still spectacular):

Cataphracts
Used by Heavily-armoured (or ‘fully covered’ in the original Greek), lance-armed cavalry riding large, sometimes armoured, chargers were used by many different armies of the ancient world: most notably the Parthians and Sassanid Persians; the Palmyrenes in the 3rd century; also used occasionally by the Romans (mostly in their later imperial period, as at the Battle of Strasbourg). Used extensively by ancient steppe cultures (Alans, Sarmatians, etc), as well as by the Hellenistic kingdoms of the east (most notably the Seleukids at the Battle of Magnesia).
Continue reading “on ancient superweapons, pt 2”

on ancient superweapons, pt 1

Hollywood and TV like to portray ancient warfare as an orgy of oiled muscles, whirling blades and decapitations. While it sometimes was like that, it was usually much more mundane. Prof. P Sabin likened the mechanics of the average ancient battle to a modern riot – opposing sides often stood at a distance hurling war cries (and missiles) at each other, and only closed distance when one side was sufficiently psyched to advance. Fear was often your greatest weapon. Ideally one side would stand down and retreat without even having to come to blows (though this rarely happened in large battles involving hundreds of thousands of men). Continue reading “on ancient superweapons, pt 1”

on Lieutenant Dan

I share a name with Lieutenant Dan, a character from the film Forrest Gump. My mother has always teased me that we share a few more things than that: a soldier’s spirit, a love of glory, and a dangerous stubbornness. Lieutenant Dan is a soldier from a long line of soldiers. It makes him do his job well, but as events in the film unfold, you see that it haunts and crushes him. Now I’ve always thought that one of the best qualities of Forrest Gump is the way you see something new each time you watch; when I was younger I never quite saw anything of myself in Lieutenant Dan; he was a tragic but comical man who ain’t got no legs, but in the end makes his peace with God and moves on.

But watching the film again recently, I was haunted too by something he said after confronting Forrest Gump about his new disability: “What am I gonna do now?” Continue reading “on Lieutenant Dan”

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