Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Albania Update 2 and Home



Hello World,

It seems that my plans to update my blog several times during my trip to Albania didn't happen! It seems I got busy. I am currently back in Bangor having arrived last night. I'm feeling a bit tired but we'll come back to that later on.

So what did I do in the second week?

Let's see!

Saturday:

James and I went up to Tepelene to perform a concert which became known as 'The Magical Mr. Steve tour. It was fun. There was a nice little group of us, many from the camps. It was great to see everyone. We sang some camp songs and I sang some of my own songs. It was a lovely time!
It was good see the likes of Tea (bottom left), Sindi (bottom right), Alex (middle top), and
Klajdi (Top right). I met Tajana that day. The other four have been coming to the camps for several years now. Tea and Sindi will be going off to uni next year. When I am living in Albania I hope to visit them there

.

On the way back from Tepelene, we stopped off in Asim Zeneli which is a village opposite Gjirokaster. We got there at lunch time and everything was closed so we went further up the road to the next one. We did find a little cafe... but we might have got the old-lady out of bed. Opps! It was a lovely day.

On Fridays and Saturdays, local boys get together and play some table-football or do something together. The Tuesday before was Shrove Tuesday so James and I did a pancake night. We expected 10-12 (16 at the most). We had over 20! It was great. We had to get more eggs and milk. We managed to teach Lenci and Vasili to make the pancakes and left them to it.

Sunday:

Went to Church in the morning. Good stuff. Good turn out. Shaun spoke from 1 Samuel 19-22. Looking at Saul's character. Very interesting.

After the service, we had another concert in Gjirokaster. There was quite a small turn out. But those who turned up were the cream of the crop. Metty, Albina, Albion etc etc. It was great, but there was only about 7 of us. It felt slightly weird with such a small group.

Monday:

Shaun, Jen, Summer and myself got into the car and went on a trip into Northern Greece to the town of Iaonnina. We were going to Ikea and several other places but when we got there it was all closed! On the Sunday they had a carnival and everyone was having a holiday. We stopped off at the evangelical church on the way back. The church in Iaonnina has been there for over 100 years! A lovely little building. While we were there we met a group of young American missionaries who are working with the local students. In the past Iaonnina has been a much neglected place and much prayer has gone into it. Praise the Lord that work has begun there.

Tuesday:

In the morning, I went for a walk around the old town. It's a great place! With old cobbled streets and old houses. Very beautiful. Gjirokaster is build on the side of a mountain. And there is a massive street! It's a steep one. People in Bangor complain about Glanrafon Hill, but that's nothing compared to this one. The great thing about wondering round someone you don't is that you can't get lost... I'll explain! If you're not trying to get somewhere specific you can't not get there. 'Where am I?' I am in Gjirokaster. You can turn around and look down the mountain and see which side you're on. Just aim for the main road and hope for the best. It was great.


After my walk, I met Kristi, Albina, Juxhin and Ina for a drink. It was a good chance to catch up. Juxhin became a Christian about 18 months ago (WAHHoOOOOO), Albina became a Christian a week after camp (WAHOOOOOOOO) and Kristi became a Christian about 3 weeks ago (WAAHHOOOOOO). Great stuff.

That afternoon we went up to Tepelene and then to Memeliaj were Juxhin, Kristi and I stayed over at Geni's house. Saimir came over and we watch LOTR: The Return of the King.

Wednesday:

What did I do on Wednesday? I woke up at Geni's house and spent most of the morning with Geni. Then I found a car that was heading towards Gjirokaster. Got back to Gjirokaster at 11-ish. I spent the afternoon with James and Lori. James was preparing for the Bible study in the evening. It was very interesting. He was talking about the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16.

After Bible study, James and I went to Petrit's house for a meal. WOW! What a meal. We had rice, pasta, bread, cheese, olives, meat, sausages, raki etc etc. Loads of food. It was great. I was stuffed by the end of it all!

Thursday:

On Thursday, we went up to Ballsh. Ballsh is a place where there has been Church activity in the passed, but in the last few years the church has dispanded. The team are hoping to plant a Church there. One of my weekly activities will be to help out with various clubs happening every week. Ballsh is about 2 hours away from Gjirokaster, it seems like a long way but it'll be worth it. It's a great place.

We went to Ballsh to look into several things. We needed to find a venue to have the service. We found a good lead and I will be asking how that went. We were also looking for a warehouse to store thousands of Operation Christmas Child boxes, and Shaun was hoping to get permission from the Director of Education so that we could give out the shoe boxes. But sadly the director wasn't in.

Ballsh is a very nice town. I really enjoyed the visit. Just before you enter the valley
you pass by several oil pumps which give out the smell of sulphur, which isn't so nice. While we were there Petrit, Geni and myself went for a wander to see if we could find any venues up for rent.
We saw a few. We stopped for some lunch and bought some 'Byrek'. These are triangular pastry things, as you can see in the picture. Petrit asked how many I wanted. I was still full from the night before so I said one. Petrit ordered 6 accordingly, two each. They are massive and I asked Geni how much they were. He said, '180 lek'. 'For one?' I said. 'No, for all of them.' The Byrek were 30 lek each. That's about 18p!?!?! We had spinach ones.... yum yum yum.

In the evening, I played piano and sang some songs with the Boys from the church. That was fun.

Friday:

By Friday, I was pretty tired! Lots of travelling and what not. Didn't do too much on Friday morning, but in the afternoon we went up to the kids clubs in Tepelene. We sang some songs with the kids in English. All good stuff.

In the evening I had a meal with Geoff and Shirley. They made a really nice curry. Hopefully, we can start a curry night when I'm back.

Saturday:

A big day! We took 25 young people for a walk in the hills behind Lebahova, in a town called
Labova e Kryqit. The town has a really old Byzantian church. The foundations are from a 9th building and the current church is from the 13th century. There used to be a totally legit relic. A real part of the real cross which the real Jesus was really crucified on. The town's name, in English, means Labova of the Cross. In the unrest of '97, the relic was nicked! Cheeky, eh? Oh well, it's only a piece of wood and in my opinion the few idols the better. Who's with me? YEAH!!!!


We started off at the church and started to walk up the hill towards the upper village were we had a break at a spring. Then onward over to a pre-Roman Illyrian castle. Not much was left only a wall remains. but it was pretty cool being there with all the people I've known over the years. It was a good chance for people to catch up and to get to know each other better. It was a beautiful day.


I quite enjoy the activity known as Geocaching. Basically, all over the world are hidden little caches. Some are tiny and some are huge. They often contain a log-book and some little trophies that people add to or take. You use your map or GPS device to locate the cache. There aren't that many in Albania, but now there is one more. James and I hid a small tub inside a hole in the wall. I will check up on it sometime next year to see if anyone has found it.

After we got back from the walk I said goodbye to a lot of my friends. The first set of goodbyes of many.

In the evening I cooked for James and Lori. I made a lasagna. I enjoy making lasanga and this one was probably the best one I've ever made. My goodness, it was delicious!!!

Sunday:

Church in the morning. I slept over at James' house. And I rocked up to the church on time and Shaun greeted me with the question, 'Which guitar would you like to play?' I choose my favourite and played for the service. I quite enjoyed the last minute role. I felt like I'd been accepted into the team. James commented that it feels natural me being there and that I fit in really well. To which I replied 'Yeeesssh!' (If you can imagine Sam Ball saying it then that what I did). I love the guys there and I can't wait till I serve with them again.

I spent Sunday afternoon making some hymn-sheets for that evening. At 5pm we had a good ol' sing-song. I led the evening and people picked songs from the sheets. Afterwards we watched the Sound of Music.

Monday:

I packed up my bags and said my goodbyes to everyone that I had to. I ate a Pace Koka with James (Sheeps brain stew, yum yum yum), bought some necessary things from the shop (Raki, Salep, Chocreme etc). And got on a minibus to Fier where I was to stay the night.

Tuesday:

Another very long day. I got into a forgon at 8 (GMT +1) and arrived at Tirane at half 9. Got to the airport and hung around for a bit. Looked at different shops. I bought a Albania-English-Albanian dictionary, which will come in very useful.
When I got through the check-in I sat down at a cafe and ordered some hot chocolate. What came was a delicious, thick liquid.
video

Got the plane at 2:30. Arrived in UK 4:40 (GMT). Got to the train station and got back to Bangor around 10:30. Last night I stayed at Sam's house and I'll go back to Brian and Isobel's tonight.

So yeah! I'm back. I've had a great to weeks and my love for the country of Albania and it's people have grown hugely. I love it there. To me life makes more sense there.

I have several months now to prepare, pray, raise money and complete more work here. There is a lot to do and even though I miss Albania a lot at the moment, I know that God has things to teach me which I am still here.

When the plane landed in Gatwick I felt awful. I felt like I'd been pulled away from the one that I love. But it is in times like this that we are driven to prayer and driving to depend on the Lord for strength. Being in Albania (and indeed any mission field) is emotionally draining, and by the time I'd said goodbye to the people and places I was tired. But the words 'Sepse ai jeton kam fuqi per neser, sepse ai jeton s'kam frike me' came to mind. Which are the Albanian words for the chorus, 'Because he lives, I can face tomorrow, because he lives all fear is gone.' The literal translation is 'Because he lives I have strength for tomorrow, because he lives I have no fear.' This gives me great encouragement.

In the coming months, I hope to progress with my Albanian language study and with making preparations. I will also be continuing my work for Hope Church here in Bangor, and I count it an honour to be working for them. They have been so great to me and I'm sure I don't even realise how much I am benefitting from being among them.

I think that is all from me for now. I don't know when I will be blogging next, but let's hope it is soon. I might start putting my sermons up. I am preaching on 'Christ' on the 1st April looking at Colossians chapter 1. I'm looking forward to that.

Mirupafshim!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Albania Update 1

Hello World!

I hope I find you all well. I'm in Albania and I'm loving every second of it (Except for waking up, I'm still a bit tired from my over-night stay at the airport).

I'll give you a little brief of my days so far. I have been making a video diary as well, but that will appear sometime when I get back.

Monday:

Flight from Gatwick was delayed but otherwise I had no problems. I arrived in Albania at 2pm and Geoff and Shirley Townsend and I set off on our journey down the country to Gjirokaster. We stopped for some food just outside Tirana and we stopped in Fier to see Will Niven, a missionary working for AEM. We arrived in Gjirokaster at 8:30pm. I sat and chatted with Shaun and Jen Thompson. Shaun took the opportunity to destroy me in chess. I put it down to my half-existent state.

Tuesday:

Every Tuesday morning there is a group seminar for people who are preaching in the coming week. It was great! I saw my good friends Reni, Geni and James for the first time since I've been back. There were some people that I've met before but don't know so well. This was really interesting. As a group they are working through Ezekiel for their own edification. James is preaching on the conversion of Lydia next week so we discussed that and we also discussed Philip and the Ethiopian. James translated for me.

The blokes often go out for some food after the meeting. We went to a little eatery called 'Florida' where we have some pita breads with meat and fries. It was gooooooood. It was like a kebab meat but you could see what it was! I think it was lamb? I'm not 100% but it was less of a mystery than British kebabs.

During the meal, my friend Reni asked if I would like to come to his town Delvine. I thought about it for a few minutes as he doesn't speak a lot of English and my Albanian is pretty shocking at the moment. But we always seem to get by. So I said yes. Second night of my trip to Albania and I was experience the famous hospitality already! It was a great night. Reni's wife Blerta had her brother and sister-in-law to stay. Her brother's wife is English and they both live on Corfu. So they provided translation when descriptive gestures weren't enough. (I prayed for the gift of tongues but received the gift of gestures).

In Delvine, I saw my friend Edi and we all caught up and it was a great time.

Wednesday:

I got on the bus back to Gjirokaster at 8am (having finally changed my Euros to Lek). The roads a pretty good now and no unexpected sickness came about. When I got home I started preparing my sermon for Thursday's talk. I am speaking on Jesus washing the Disciples feet in John 13. The student group are looking at Characteristics of Jesus from the Bible. So I will talk about Jesus the servant King. Lori, James' wife, will translate.

I ate with Shaun's family and I was given Albania's biggest potato!

After lunch I continued working on my talk. Then went for a walk around the town with James. He showed me the old town and pointed out the highlights. Such as 'This is where the communist HQ was.' As we were walking James started to talk about a drink called 'Milky Salep'. It's quite hard to describe. We went back to James' house to drink some. He describes it as having the texture of Wall Paper paste... this is quite an accurate description!

After milky salep and some good company we went to the mid-week meeting at the church in Gjirokaster. We sang some songs, prayed some prayers and Shaun gave a talk on Romans 2. Very good!

Following the service, Vini and Mandi took James and me out for a drink and to watch some football. We chatted I got confused as there was a lot of joking. But we had a nice time.

Thurs:

Went on a few errands with Shaun and while we were walking down the main road we bumped into a lot of people and I knew a fair few of them. We saw Vasil in the street who we haven't seen for two years. We went for a drink and caught up. We hope to see him again before I leave. I've been praying for Vasil after he didn't come to camp this year. A real answer to prayer, thank you Lord!

I've finished my talk now and am preparing to deliver it tonight.

Coming up:

Bible Study on Saturday
Walking up the wide mountain!
Going to the castle in Vasil's village


The magical Mr. Stevie tour:



On Saturday, James and I (with a few people from Gjirokaster) are going to Tepelene to see the 'Albion' club which is mainly made up of campers! I have been asked to do a concert (HAHA!). We will sing some camp classics and some of Mr. Stevie hits such as the muffin song. I am looking forward to this, it should be a lot of fun. James and I are thinking about learning the 'Magical Mystery Tour' song by the Beatles and changing the words slightly. It's going to be great.

I think that's all for now! I'll keep you posted on what I'm doing as much as I can!

Monday, 6 February 2012

The New Year so far......

This year has shown promise of great and exciting things!

  • February: At the end of February I am going to Albania for a few weeks to see friends and to see what the work is like when it's not in the summer and on a camp site.
  • Alpha Courses: As one Alpha course ends we have seen some fruit from the work as one of the guests has become a Christian and another has grown in her understanding of God and of Christ. This is fantastic as we only had these two guest. 100% success, I'd say. We have started another Alpha course which is for students. This Alpha is 7 weeks long and covers everything found on the Alpha course but is condensed into a much shorter time-frame. On the first week we had 18 people! On the second week we had 18 people (some of them were different) and we shall see how it goes next week. Some of the people from the first week couldn't make it but want to continue. Others might have dropped out. Even if they have dropped out they heard the gospel and seeds were planted. And I'm sure God will use them according to His perfect will. I am giving the talk this week which is entitled, 'How can I have faith?'
  • Church life: Church is going great. There is a lot going on. I have mentioned the Alpha courses (above) and we are continuing with our monthly music night at Costa. Hope @ Costa has been really fun and relaxed over the months. Basically, we turn up, play music, drink coffee, listen to a short testimony, munch some cake while listening to more music and then go home. We're happy, Costa's happy, everyone's happy! I am preaching once a month in church and I am really enjoying preparing and delivering my sermons. I preached on 'Scripture' yesterday. All the Hope church sermons are available at www.hopechurchbangor.org. There is a lot of good stuff on there. Over the months there will be more stuff happening, DV.
  • Albania: Just as the year turned, I made a major decision. I have decided to go to Albania to join the Albanian Evangelical Mission (AEM) for a longer period of time. I have worked with the AEM on their summer camps for several years and I love the people, the work and the culture. There is a great need for workers there and I feel that God has been calling me there for some time. Now is the time!!!! My brother is getting married in August and my good friend Alice is getting married in September. Because I wish to attend both ceremonies the earliest I will be able to leave will be mid-Sept. This leaves plenty of time to plan, prepare and fund-raise.
  • Fundraising: I have been thinking about different ways that I could raise funds for Albania. Over the years I have written several songs, most of them are humourous, light-hearted and surreal. I have a few more serious ones and the odd Christian song. I have already digitised a few of them and intend to record the rest. I will sell this album to raise money. Who wouldn't want to listen to my songs knowing that the money they spent on them is helping advance the Kindgom. If you have any ideas of how I could raise money then please tell me! It has never been my strong point. I have learnt over the years that asking for money is never a bad thing. It is a hard thing! But it isn't a thing to be embarrased about. Many Christians are very generous and have a heart for mission. This is God because God has a heart for it as well. I confidently believe that God will provide all that I need. I don't mean that God will make me a rich man because I am doing work, I believe that he'll give me enough money so that I can survive. Biblically, we never see NT missionaries being wealthy and I don't expect to be either. Sorry, I managed to find my self on a rant. That was fun!
  • Motorbike: I have been riding around on my motorbike for the last few months and it's great! I really enjoy riding it. It is now winter and it is wet and cold which is suprisingly tedious! I look forward to the days where I will be riding between mountains in the glorious sun with the wind rushing through my helmet's air-vents. Zoooooooooom!
  • Students: I reglarly meet up with various students from Church. This is great. Many of them are struggling with things which I have struggled with in the past (and sometimes still struggle with). Some students come to ask about what the Bible says. These are the students I love the most! My advice is rubbish but the Bible's advice is perfect! Brilliant stuff is the Scriptures. Some students might not understand a passage of Scripture and ask me to explain it. I enjoy this too! Who wouldn't?! One theology student has asked me to help with his exegesis on John 12:20-26. This is for his essay. Some say that this might be cheating! But others (like myself) would say that this is research. It also means that I can get my Greek on and translate it giving me a good understanding of the passage. Fun fun fun.
Not much else to say at the moment. In a few days time I will post my sermon on Scripture for people to read. It is pretty straight forward teaching and there is a lot of stuff in it. I fear I may have lost people during the sermon as there are 3 main points to the sermon and each point had 3-4 sub-points. Opps!

Speak to you all soon!

Monday, 10 October 2011

It's been too long, blogger friends!

Hello World!

I say, it's been a long time hasn't it! It seems that I haven't posted since May, and that wasn't even a real post that was just me bragging about my, frankly, amazing essay! From that success, I start writing an essay called, '10 easy steps to becoming as humble as Stephen Neal', but I thought it was too obvious a think to write about so I stopped.....

Since we last met, I have graduated with a Divinity degree from the University of Wales, don't worry I worked for mine (get me with my current affairs), and have been away to Albania. I am now safely back in Bangor working in Costa Coffee and working for Hope Church Bangor. I shall chat about that in a bit, but for now let's talk about Albania!

Albania 2011

For those of you who don't know, I have been going out to Albania over the last few years to teach and help out on Church run English camps. The camps are run by the members of the Albanian Evangelical Mission (AEM) and this was my 4th time going out spread over 5 years.

This year has been the best yet. As soon as I got there I felt settled, I knew what I was doing and what had to be done and how to do it! This meant that I could focus on other things, like making friends and hopefully extending the Kingdom of God.

I was there for two full weeks of camp. The first we had younger campers (12-15ish) and it went very well. We had some great lessons which we used 3 years ago. We looked at Great British heroes. We looked at:

Alfred the Great
Florence Nightingale
William Tyndale
Michael Faraday
George Muller (Not strictly british, but he did his magic here)
Eric Lidl
And one other person who I can't quite remember, maybe someone will remind me....

These went well. I had a middle group and their English was pretty fantastic. They remember the memory verses, known as keywords, and I pray that the seeds that were planted will continue to grow over the months and years.

On the second week, we had the older ones (15-17ish). These guys were great! Really great! Many had been before and knew the ropes already, so it was an easier week in many ways. There was a much higher level of English on this week and the lessons were less vocabulary based and more discussion based. We look at the concepts of:

Friendship
Superstition
Worship
Ethics and Morality
The end of the World
And one more, but I can't remember what again.....

There were some great kids in this group and we saw some spiritual seeds growing. I won't mention names as I haven't asked for their permission about talking about them.... Over the years there have been some teenagers come to faith and it has been fantastic! One girl became a Christian this year a week after camp. Before camp she was not aware of Jesus' love and Salvation..... NOW SHE DOES!!! It is really great to see fruit coming out of the work that we do, and it encourages us to do more!

In your prayers please pray for the new Christians as there are different situations and some are awkward. Pray for all the seeds planted in the hearts of all the teenagers, that they would grow and become fruitful too.

Working life

I am now back in Bangorland! I work in Costa still which is constantly busy now! We have had a refit and it looks really good. We have a brown marble counter. I am always very tempted to slide over it, instead of walking around the counter through the entrance... One day.... maybe when we are closing!

The more exciting part of my life happens in Hope Church Bangor. I do not have an offical job title but I like to think of myself as a 'Ministry Apprentice'. I am involved in several different areas of the church, I have been organizing events such as:
  • Engage: A community outreach program. We usually do this in the summer (June time) but it didn't happen this summer so we are doing it now before the weather gets even worse. It is a two week thing, and we have just finished the first. We have been out litter picking and have done a bit of weeding around the roads. We are offering to do odd-jobs for people (free of charge) as we would like to get to know people in the local community. The aim of the outreach isn't directly for evangelism, but to remind them that we are part of the community and that Hope is their church as well! Pray for the rest of the week, that we would make contacts and potentially change someone's life.
  • Alpha Course: Alpha is a 10 week program that introduces people to Christianity and to Jesus. It is good for non-Christians and for Christians. It is such a great course, I am thoroughly convinced that God is using it around the world for the furtherance of His glory and kingdom. We are starting this on the 26th October at 7 at Fat Cat in Bangor. If you are around you are very welcome to come along and to spend the evening with us. There will be food etc.
  • Sunday Night Music at Costa: We haven't thought of a snappy name for this yet. Some are already taken like 'Sunday Night Live' which is a great one. Someone has suggested 'Live Wire @ Costa'. I am not 'hip' enough to think of a better one. This will be a social music night for the public with a hint of faith. This will happen on the 30th Oct. Again it is not a way to ram the Bible down people's throats while they're trying to sip their latte. We are there to make people aware of Hope Church and to show people that we're normal people and good to know. Emily Bacon is going to pull together a jazz band for the evening. They are known as 'Bacon and the Butcher Boys'. I look forward to playing the bass for that.
In church, I also do admin stuff like notice-sheets, even though this sounds mundane I really enjoy it. I get a strange sense of satisfaction in doing anything with Church at the moment.

I will also be preaching once a month-ish. I preached last week on the Adam and the Image of God. There is a recording at this url:


That is enough blogging for now. Things happening in the future are:

  • Working for Costa at 8:30am tomorrow: I need to get to bed.
  • Buying a Motorbike for easier travel: At the moment I live slightly outside Bangor (about 3 miles) and buses can be frustrating. The Bike will give an extra slice of independance. I bought my helmet, gloves and jacket today. Safety first and what not. My next step will be to complete the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) which will allow me to ride on the road with 'L' plates. Then I shall buy a bike and ride around. I can see several reasons why you don't want to fall off your bike. 1) Because it'll hurt! 2)Because it'll ruin your beautiful jacket. It's such an awesome jacket!
That's all folks!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Essay feedback from the God in Film module.

Hello all!

Written and submitting essays on time is one thing but receiving feedback is another thing. My usual protocol is to assume the worst and hope that they have given me above 50% (2.2/C- threshold). Often enough it works out well and I receive a nice 2.1/B grade which is perfectly acceptable in my eyes.

I have been taking a module looking at the portrayal of God and Religion in Film. The essay deadline clashed with various other things going on and I had no idea what to expect from the quality of the essay. Nevertheless, I enjoyed written the essay and if you want a copy you can have it to read.

Yesterday, it was time for essay feedback on this essay. I set up my usual defenses and expect a low mark. When I got in to Dr. Tollerton's office he hand me a piece of paper and on the bottom it has a little A-! This is excellent. This is a 1st class essay this grade tells me. The A- band stretched form 70%-77% which is quite a broad spectrum.

I was very excited about this and many of you who read this are family and are often interested in my academic progress. Also, I want to immortalize this feedback incase I lose the piece of paper.

I'll write the comments given [Square brackets are my own contextual fillers]:

Content:

"This is a well-argued, interesting and original exploration of the ideas of liminality and adherence to gospel text."

- [I discussed the ideas of the Gospel texts being good for films. The pattern is that those films that stick close to the texts are not as successful as those that add bits in. I also discuss the religious theme of 'liminality'. See essay for more information.]

Structure:

"This discussion is well introduced and soundly concluded. The essay's progression is clear throughout"

Sources:

"The essay is based on a good level of research and the focus on a few key commentators in details helps the discussion."

- [I was told that I really engaged with the commentators and argued well.]

Style:

"Despite the occasional typrographical error, the essay is clearly written. The footnotes and bibliography are well-produced."


This is not the usual feedback I get. Often my essays are very mediocre and standard but I am very pleased with this one.

Thanks for Reading

Steve


Monday, 11 April 2011

Productivity central!

Hello World!

I hope I find you all well. I am feeling very productive at the moment, and I shall tell you about what has been going on in my life and studies recently.

The Mark Drama
Last week we had our 'Mark Drama'. Over the last few months were have been charged with the task of learning the events found in Mark's Gospel. The person who invented the system, Andrew Page, split the Gospel into 6 sections. We had to memories them as the drama was a representation of the whole of the Gospel. I shall reproduce section 5 for you from memory.

Section 5:

  • Jesus enters Jerusalem.
  • Jesus curses a fig tree.
  • Jesus clears the temple.
  • Jesus teaches a lesson about prayer from the cursed fig tree
  • The Pharisees question Jesus on his authority,
  • The Parable of the tenants,
  • Questions about paying taxes to Ceaser.
  • Marriage at the Resurrection.
  • The Greatest Commandment.
  • A question about the Messiah,
  • Beware the teachers of the Law,
  • The widow's offering.
  • Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple and the signs of the end times.
Imagine that another 5 times. I can remember pretty much all off it still at the moment, but I am sure over the weeks I will start to forget which is a great shame. Fortunately as I remember acting it out I can remember the order of events.

I played the part of the disciple Peter. This involved a lot of 'rowing', 'high kneeling' and 'improvising' lines to fill in the gaps in dialogue. It was a great experience. I have never experienced the gospel in such a way as this. Seeing the flow of the Gospel and the huge contrast between the great welcome reception of Jesus in to Jerusalem and the crowd mocking and shouting at Jesus only a few days later. It is incredible.

God in Film

A part from the drama side of my life, I have had an essay to write for my 'God in Film' module which I handed in last Thursday. It was an interesting essay to write, all about how successfully religious themes are handled in films (using two or three films as examples). I wrote about the Gospels as the basis for good films stories as one of my themes. It is an interesting discussion. Many scholars think that they make terrible movies as so much has to be added that you lose the original essence and purpose of the Gospel. There are examples of films which have stuck to just the text but these have proved to be pretty unsuccessful in a financial way, yet successful in their fidelity to the text. Other films which have been highly successfully in the box office, such as The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson are unsuccessful in the realms of scriptural accuracy.

Greek Texts

Over the Greek Texts module we have been translating Philippians which is a 4 chapter long letter found in the middle of the New Testament. If you get a chance this is a great letter and well worth studying. In our lectures we come and discuss what we have translated in the week. Our translation workload has ranged between 10 verses to a chapter depending on our progress through the module. It has been fascinating translating the words which Paul wrote; and examining the language used and the meaning of the passages has been mind-blowing at times.

My assignment for this module is still incomplete as it is not due for a while and my dissertation is more of a threat at the moment. The assignment is to write an exegetical paper on a small passage from Philippians. The word exegetical is quite a large one, but it is fairly simple to explain. Exegesis is finding the original meaning of something. I must find the original meaning the passage given to me. I can see this being great, the hardest part will be come at the passage with out my own beliefs influencing my discoveries. Since I have been translating the passages I have not had to change my beliefs so far and in fact I feel that my own doctrines have been reinforced by what I have studied.

I can see this being a great assignment to do.

Dissertation

At the moment I am taking a break from my work to write this blog. I am studying for my third (and final) chapter of my dissertation. This is very encouraging. I completed the draft of my second chapter on Saturday. I am currently sat on 6000 words with only 4000 words to go. The plan is to have 3000 for chapter 3, which leaves 1000 for the introduction and conclusion.

My third chapter is looking at the hymns of William Williams, Pantecelyn (1717-1791), and my goodness! some of them are amazing! I have been looking at Charles Wesley's hymns for a long time and many of them are great, but Williams has such a freshness about his hymns.

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones said in a conference, 'The hymns of William Williams are packed with theology and experience... You get greatness, and bigness, and largeness in Isaac Watts; you get the experimental side wonderfully in Charles Wesley. But in William Williams you get both at the same time, and that is why I put him in a category entirely on his own. He taught the people theology in his hymns...'1

I am very passionate about some of his hymns. They capture and refresh things that I have either taken for granted or not understood properly. I shall display an example of his poetic hymns here:

'Unseen, yet loved, my God, my friend,

I sing the wonders of your grace,

that in this stubborn heart of stone

has won a quiet-resting place.


Sweetly from the earth's beguiling charms

you drew my restless soul away;

in one bright moment heaped on me

ten thousand blessings more than they.'2

I really love these verses. Such lovely words of such amazing truth. Williams' hymns are so personal and heartfelt that it easy for all people to empathise with them. You can put your names in the verse.

'in Steve's stubborn heart of stone,

has won a quiet-resting place'

And here is just one more:


'Invisible One, I love you,

wonderful is the power of your grace,

pulling my soul so sweetly

away from its choicest pleasures;

you did more in one brief minute

than the whole world ever did,

winning for yourself a quiet seat

in this heart of stone.3

Praise the Lord that He, does indeed ever so regularly, pull my soul away from my 'choicest pleasures'. My choicest pleasures lead to destruction and shame, but as this hymn displays my God did more in one minute than the whole world ever did, has won a seat in my heart of stone.

I am sure that this third chapter will be a beautiful one to write. I value all your prayers concerning my studying and my extra-University activities and I hope to see you all soon.


Much love!

Stephen Neal

Footnotes:

1. D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans, Their Origins and Successors, (Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1987)

2. Faith Cook, Our Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, (Evangelical Press, Darlington, 2005) page 133

3. Cook, Our Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, page 133

Monday, 28 March 2011

What a load of Skubalon!

Hello world,

It has indeed been a long time since I last blogged. This is largely due to one of the following reasons:
  • Nothing interesting to write about. (I'm sure you may be thinking that this didn't stop me writing my previous posts.)
  • A non-justifiable use of my time. I have a lot of other work to do, and should probably be doing that instead of writing a non-essential secondary piece.
  • Plain laziness.
Anyway, I am writing one now. I shall explain the history and occasion for writing this particular post. This semester I have been studying in a Greek Texts module. This has involved translating sections of the New Testament from the original language into a modern day English version that captures the original meaning but is a easy to comprehend.
We started by translating John 9, as John's style of writing is much simpler than that of other writers such as Luke (Author of Acts and Luke's gospel) who was a physician or Paul (author of many NT epistles), who was a highly educated Jewish convert to Christianity; who originally led the persecution against the early Church before his miraculous conversion which turned him into one of the most influential people in the Christian faith.
After we had warmed up our translating skills we moved onto translating Philippians. We have been working on this for the last four weeks. Each week we have been set a chunk to translate at home with questions to answer on different verses. Some questions covering issues in the grammar others covering inconsistencies found in various Greek manuscripts. This variations can come down to innocent mistakes made by the scribes who have been copying the manuscript out and misread a line, or if being dictated to mishearing a word. Other times there can be a more sinister reason for the variants such as people not agreeing with the doctrine portrayed in the earlier manuscript.
This week we have been translating the whole of chapter 3. I suggest you read it as it really is fantastic stuff. While translating the chapter I came across a word in verse 8. The Greek word is 'skubalon'. The various nuances that this word has has produced several translations. This post will hopefully look at the different possible ways of translating it and attempt to suggest a suitable version in the context of the passage.

Here are a few current mainstream versions of Philippians 3:8b :
  • King James Version (AV): I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them dung, that I may win Christ.
  • English Standard Version (ESV): For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.
  • New International Version (NIV): I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.
  • The Message: Everything I thought I once had going for me is insignificant - Dog Dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ.
  • Steve's Almost Literal Translation (SALT): Thereby everything is loss and counted as waste in order to win Christ.
As you can see there are several different words used for skubalon. I am not adept in kakalogology (the study of bad words, kakos meaning bad, logos meaning word and ology being the study of).

A dictionary definition of Skubalon is:
  1. any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs.
  2. of things worthless and detestable
It is obvious that translating such a word is not as simple as looking at the dictionary and copying it. This word had caused people to justify their bad language. 'Paul swears in the Bible swearing must be okay.' Did Paul swear? Was skubalon used in a vulgar way?
Let's see what Paul is talking about. If you have a Bible turn to Philippians 3, in the verses preceding v. 8 Paul has just explained that if any has any reason to be confident in their own flesh and works to secure their salvation he has more! Then he lists a load of qualifications that by the Law of Moses make him pretty much excellent. He tells us that he counts all of this as loss through Jesus Christ. Knowing Christ is worth so much more than being faultless according to the Jewish custom of the day. He tells us that he has suffered the loss of all things and counts it as 'skubalon' for the sake of gaining Christ.

Some scholars (I can't use footnotes to reference here sadly) such as Moises Silva, (Lexicologist) suggest that a more vulgar term was a likelihood. Silva goes on to say that the word“crap” would certainly communicate worthlessness, but is probably not strong enough to communicate revulsion. She thinks that Paul was trying to
shock his readers to show them how important Christ is.

The article on this word written for Bible.org says that the word was probably somewhere between 'crap' and 'S***', but personally I don't feel that this is a suitable use of the word. I know that I am going against the grain of some high rollers in the lexilogical world but I feel that other translations work just as well, such as rubbish. Here are some reasons why I think that it could be this.

  • If Paul wanted to cause shock and or refer to excrement without a doubt he could have used the word kopron, which literally means excrement. Instead he used a word which can range from table scraps to offal to dung and to refuse.
  • Things being counted as loss also works as long the lines of throwing it away. Paul left behind his previous life of being a brilliant Pharisee by responding to Christ's call. It is possible to interpret it as he threw away his old life, like yesterday's rubbish, in order to take up the Cross of Christ.
  • If Paul used a vulgar word (aka a swear word) then it would not only contradict other scriptures but he would also contradict himself. Colossians 3:8 (a verse from another Pauline epistle) says, 'But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and flithy language.' As a believer of infallible scripture I don't think that Paul would have gone against himself let alone the rest of scripture.
  • The term skubalon is used in other Greek classic scripts. But not in a vulgar way. Places where it would be expected for a vulgar term to be used such as Greek comedies it is not. In the hellenistic era it seems to not be present as a vulgar term.
  • If it does refer to excrement it is used in reference to animal feces. The AV translates skubalon as dung.
These are just a few reasons that I feel justify a less vulgar reading of the verse. I am not a fan or a promoter of foul language and looking at the history of the Church and the Bible feel that it is out of place and out of context to be found in the Holy Scriptures.

You may disagree, but I feel that an interpretation of rubbish is more appropriate for the context as he has just described what he has thrown away and also because I don't think a vulgar term is in keeping with Paul's own teaching.

In my translation I translated the word as 'waste'. This is to cover many bases at once mainly, but I feel that it still captures the original meaning.

I hope that you have found this blog post interesting. I know that it may not interest many of you, but I found this interesting and though I'd share my thoughts with you all.

In the next few weeks, I will be writing a lot of words for my dissertation which is just over half complete and writing two essays and translating the remainder of Philippians. I'll speak to you soon.