Monday, May 31, 2010

The World Cup is coming...

So here's a timely reminder from Piper.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Home again - naturally

And so on Monday 24th May, we flew home.  British Airways didn't co-operate; in spite of the fact that a strike by cabin crew began that day, our own flight left Zurich on time and arrived at Heathrow on time; we were given no excuse at all to say 'We'll just have to stay another week'.  And here we are.

Now, more is coming on dissing dispies - I hope to get to it this week.  Similarly, the photos - they're coming, too.  God willing.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jungfrau - Wow!

OK; the risk paid off.  the morning dawned bright and fair and we were at Grindelwald station a little after nine.  This time, the train we took went not to Interlaken, but to Kleine Scheidegge; in itself, quite a journey.
The first stop was 'Grund', only a couple of minutes from Grindlewald; it's here the train begins its astonishingly steep journey up the cogged track (pictures will follow, honest) that we can see from the chalet.

There are a couple of request stops before KS, but there were no requests, no stops.  At KS we change trains - there's a good restaurant there so (no surprises) we stayed for a coffee and let the first train go.  Then, up through a tunnel carved in the Eiger ('the train-ride... leads through the Eiger North Face'); there are a couple of 5-minute stops just to get out and admire the scenery from the viewing platforms ('fascinating views of Grindelwald and the Eismeer' - pictures to come) and then, suddenly, there we are on 'top of the world, looking down (echo: 'down') on creation and' - cue the Carpenters.

Well, it's not actually the top of the world - but they bill it as the 'Top of Europe' - the highest railway station (3454 metres above sea-level) in Europe. 

We'd been told what to expect: the reality took our breath away.  What do you think we did first, O gentle reader?  Right - coffee at the coffee bar.  Surely the most amazing coffee bar in Switzerland.  Panoramic views of snow and mountains and snow and mountains and... wow.

Next, the viewing platform, and out into the cold and snow.  Lots of people here today (it was Saturday, after all), most of them Orientals, it seemed.  A small group asked if I'd use their camera to take their pictures together - of course I would.  Then, as we walked away, they called us back - now they wanted photos of us.  (Of course they did.)  So a pretty Korean (I think) girl linked arms with us, we smiled, cameras clicked, and we parted.

But what views!  And only ropes to prevent us taking the ultimate slide.  There were very clear notices - in English, oddly - 'DO NOT GO BEYOND THE ROPES'.  But one small group had ignored it and were about 100 metres away (see how continental I'm getting?  That's about 108 yards...) and were obviously planning to throw themselves off the edge.  We didn't see them do it, but (since they'd gone a few minutes later) they plainly did.  I half-wished I could have gone with them.  (Did I mention they were paragliders?  Fear not, good friends.)

Well, we thought that must be the climax, but we spotted signs to another viewing platform called 'The Sphinx', one that needed us to take a lift.  (Elevator, if you're reading in America.  In the UK, elevators are shoes for very small people.)  In we went; up we went.  Never have we been in a lift that moved so quick. (Fortunately, we came back down in the same lift to find my stomach was still there waiting for me.)  This viewing platform was so far above the earlier one that the people there looked like insects.  On a clear day, apparently, you can see France and Germany - but who'd want to?  We didn't look.  Well, not for those lands, anyway.  But - wow, what views. 

I didn't mention, did I, our breathlessness?  It's the altitude, of course.  No wonder the footballers need to train to acclimatise themselves. 

And I could go on.  And on.  Eventually, though, it was time to come back, so we want to the station ('bahn' - a multi-use word, it seems: station, train, road...) where we joined the queue.  The train was going to be late, we were told.  What, in Switzerland?  Yes.  Perhaps it was because of the nearness of France and Germany?  But no - there were 'technical problems'.  Oh good, that's what you want to know when you're about to descend several miles down an ice-covered mountain.  We decided not to wait in the queue - let a couple of trains go first, just to prove everything's safe.  What shall we do while we're waiting?  Elaine suggested coffee...

Eventually, back to the bahn.  A train was due in five minutes.  It came in about 20.  This was the one place in Switzerland where the workers didn't seem to know what they were doing.  One man opened a gate to let people onto the platform; another ran towards it yelling and waving, and closed it again.  One man in particular made me think of Corporal Jones - not in age, nor in figure, but in a 'don't panic, Mr Mannering' sort of way.  One Indian lady took ill - just standing too long in the thinner atmosphere, I suspect.  Corporal Jones dashed off to get the first aid kit (which was in a rucksack the size of a trunk).  Then he rushed off to the queue - is there a doctor present?  Yes there is.  'Don't panic!'  Take Doctor to lady.  Help him (!) to put the oxygen mask on.  A lady in the crowd shouts 'lift her legs'; Corporal Jones rushes over.  What does she mean?  'I know her; lift her legs, she'll be fine.'  Corporal Jones rushes over: 'Don't panic, Doctor, don't panic.  Lift her legs, Doctor, lift her legs.'

The train was, I think, about 40 minutes late pulling out in the end - nothing to do with the Indian lady.  It was just late.  Oh, Switzerland!  How are the mighty fallen!

Long journey down, very tired, back to chalet.  Not too tired to goout again for a stroll, though.  Where shall we go?  There's a coffeeshop just along the road, isn't there?

And tomorrow - Sunday.  A day of preparation, preparing to leave this gorgeous place early on Monday morning.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A risk in the sunshine...

Today the weather is glorious - the clearest, sunniest, warmest it has been since we arrived.  We were planning to go up the Jungfraujoch.  But, since the weather forecast has been promising all week that today would be sunny, and that tomorrow would be even better, we decided to take a risk and wait until tomorrow.  We'll feel pretty silly if it clouds over tomorrow; I'll let you know how that goes!

So we decided to stroll in the sunshine here in Grindelwald.  We strolled for a coffee at the coffeeshop Elaine calls 'ours'; sure enough, the waitress recognised us, and knew what our order would be before we spoke.  Elaine Benfold - known in coffeeshops throughout England and Switzerland...

The waitress who recognised us seems to be a human dynamo; we've noticed she never stops moving, whether the coffeeshop is busy or not.  She speaks several languages, too - her English is very good, though accented, and her voice is a high little squeak.  Anyway, after Elaine had had the customoray two coffees I decided to order lunch, and went for the veal sausage John T had spoken of.  A pleasant meal, though I preferred the spiced pork sausage at Pfingstegg.

While we were in the sun grew in strength, and we watched it glisten from the snow that remains atop the mountains.  What were we to do next?  Well, the ideal thing seemed to be to cross the road and take another coffee in a shop with an outside terrace, so we did that, too.  From here we could see the Pfingstegg cable car, gaze in amazement at the Eiger and peaks peeking out around it which had been cloud-covered all week, and watch with envy as a series of hang-gliders took off from Pfingstegg.

We'd already seen hang-gliding from atop Harder Kuhn in Interlaken, and noticed too that it could be done here.  Tandem hang-gliding - you pay your fee, hold on (firmly!) to an experienced hang-glider, run when he tells you, and then float like a bird.  All that remains is to pray, and then to bend the knees when you land.  I'd love to have a go, (CHF 150), but not here, not this time.

Next, time for a stroll to the railway station.  We had flown out from Heathrow without seeing our cases again until we picked them up at the station here; we're making the same arrangements going back.  So we wanted to check that we could leave them on Sunday evening.  The guy I asked was the first unpleasant encounter I've had here.  I suspect he's German, not Swiss - there was a gutteral quality to his speech.
'Wot time is your airplane?'

'Monday afternoon; but I just want to be sure you'll be open Sunday evening?'


I don't like rudeness, especially from mere functionaries, so at this point I was sorely tempted to tell him where to stuff it, but remembered just in time that a) I'm a Christian, b) I'm a pastor, and c) Germans have a tendency to declare war on Europe when they're offended.

So, I smiled politely, told him the time of my flight, and received the assurance that I could drop off my cases on Sunday at 5.30.

'But not before.  Ve do not vant your cases for more zan twenty-four hours.  Yah?'

Yah.  Auf widersein.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I know, I know - two posts in a day.  It's a bit much.  but then, I'm trying to keep a diary while we're here.  this is just a brief post: we didn't do much.  Weather was fine, we were tired - mooched around Grindelwald a bit, had a few coffees, worked out how to dispose of recycling.  Not much at all.  enjoyed it.
Dissing Dispies? #1: Preliminaries

I’m sitting at the moment in a beautifully-placed little mezzanine study in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Six feet to my right is a French window through which the Eiger – North Face, I think – can be clearly seen only a short distance away. Evening is falling; the day is almost over – and it’s been a good day. And because I’m on holiday, there’s really nothing pressing to do – a wonderful feeling. But – well, you’ve got to do something, and I’ve been thinking for a while about Dan Phillips’ blog post ‘Twenty-five stupid reasons for dissing dispensationalism.’ I’ve wanted to respond to this for a while, hoping to use it to sort out my own thinking. But time’s always short; except now. So I thought I’d get started. Before I begin to interact with Dan, here a couple of preliminaries – even pre-preliminaries.

#1. I like Dan Phillips.
Actually, I’ve never met him.  People are a lot easier to like before you meet them, aren't they?  But we’ve emailed a few times and I follow his Biblical Christianity blog and his contributions to Pyromaniacs. He has a wicked sense of humour, a swashbuckling approach to debate (which is fun when he’s attacking others, but sinful of course when he’s attacking a position I agree with) and a humanity in his writing that’s appealing.  I like him.

#2. I respect Dan Phillips.
His posts give real evidence of a heart that loves the Bible, a mind that’s studied the Bible, a sensitive conscience and an intellect that has no need to be ashamed. Of course, he’s wackily wrong about dispensationalism (he even admits he’s not sure about some parts of it that – surely – ought to be settled? ‘...five points, seven dispensations (+/-)’ – come on Dan, you should know that if you’re a dispensationalist! I mean ‘two testaments, four gospels (+/-)’ wouldn’t really impress, would it?).  But I respect him; he thinks, he debates, and he does it well.

#3. I agree with Dan Phillips – on most things. 
His swashbuckling defences of Calvinism are spot on.  His perception of the problems of the charismatic movement, likewise. I agree with Dan Phillips – on most things except dispensationalism. And cats.

So, given those things - if I appear to be dissing Dan, I'm not.  I MAY be dissing his argument (or trying to); I MAY be dissing dispensationalism (ditto).  Chances are, though, I'm just teasing, or trying to swashbuckle a little myself.

Oh, and one more thing.  In the blog I've mentioned, Dan doesn't actually defend or explain dispensationalism much; that's not his point.  He does that a bit in What dispensationalism isn't.  Consequently, you may note that this series of blogs is not really a critique of dispensationalism, either.  That may come later - or it may not.  But this series is really no more than a reflection on Dan's twenty-five stupid reasons - and an attempt to show i) there aren't 25 and ii) they're not all as stupid as Dan suggests.

OK - got that?  Then I can begin.  Note first the way

He softens you up to believe
It's called an ad hominem argument ('against the man') and it's bad form, as well as having no value in logic. His first paragraph suggests - nay, states - that non-dispensationalists were filled with envy in the seventies, that their literature isn't real literature, and their attitude is sourpuss.  (Apart from that we're OK, right Dan?)

Where my non-d friends have succeeded in winning people to their views, it is 'more... through image than substance'; that is, they haven't won the argument, merely convinced people that 'it isn't cool to be a dispensationalist'.

Then, he turns his guns on one particular non-dispensationalist, William Hendriksen.  Now, WH has been dead for around a quarter of a century, so he's not in a position to defend himself when Dan says 'he slapped me down something fierce'.  Maybe he did; maybe he didn't. 

Maybe from WH's point of view the encounter looked very different.  At any rate, Dan's words '[h]e told me to read this and that book, and not to write him again until I was 100%' COULD mean he said 'My dear Dan, I find it impossible to answer your question on the problem of evil starting from your own dispensational base.  But you may find this book helpful, and that book.  If you read them and still have problems, get back to me by all means.'  Or it COULD mean he said 'You great ignorant upstart - of course you have difficulty with the problem of evil!  Idiot!  Anybody who holds your view would.  Now, I'm really too busy to bother with idiots - but if you read this book, and that book, and grovel a bit - I might be prepared to give you a bit more time.  Get back to me then and we'll see.'

Either response from WH would be covered by Dan's actual words.  But Dan's tone ('slapped me down something fierce' and 'he even suggested...') suggest it's on a spectrum nearer the latter.  So, plainly, non-d's have no real argument, but resort to fierce behaviour - even the greatest of them.

And so, dear reader, we're softened up to believe that what non-d's say against dispensationalism is going to be stupid, and maybe even reflect their sinful, sourpuss, envious, resentful hearts...

Next time, we'll come to 'the hermeneutic God used to save me (Dan)'.  Till then, don't go talking to any amillenialists, now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lake Brienz

Today was very different. The cloud didn’t seem too low, so we ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ a bit before deciding what to do, and then decided on a trip round the lake on the motor boat.

What lake? Lake Brienz, one of the laken that Interlaken is inter. So yes, it was another trip to Interlaken. This time I managed to misplace my tickets – minutes after leaving the ticket office I’d been distracted, then couldn’t remember where I’d put the tickets. I searched every pocket and my derriere portiere (I’m a pastor and can’t possibly say bum bag). Went back to the young man that had sold them to me (very good English): had I left them there? No. I’d still got the receipt – was there anything he could do? No. Well, yes – sell me more tickets. Bit drastic for that – search again. And I found them. I’d put them away safe.

What had distracted me? Well, I’d bought a newspaper. English language, and yesterday's.  As I walked away from the kiosk I realized how much I’d paid for it – five francs 50; that’s almost four pounds. That distracted me. Mind you, it was the Daily Mail so at least I know the news I paid so much for is 100% accurate…

Thirty-five minutes to Interlaken, and then we bought tickets for the ship ‘Jungfrau’, for a three-hour trip around the lake. There was, we were told, a party of 60+ (numbers, not age) and so the boat was a little full. Would we like first class tickets? We would – they only cost us a few francs extra.

So up on to the upper deck, sitting in the restaurant at the prow of the boat, almost alone, with an amazing panoramic view of the lake and the mountains around. There are several ‘stops’ on the lake itself, one at Giessback-something, with the oldest funicular railway in Europe.

(Funicular? A funicular railway is one that takes carriages up a steep slope by pulling them by cable, which is attached to both carriages so that as one goes up the other comes down. You should know that. Thanks to Pete Eaton – who did!) Anyway, it looked impressive – but we didn’t get off.

In fact, we had lunch on the boat, served by a very good waiter with ‘a little’ English. He apologized for the weather, ‘It shouldn’t be like this in May. It’s English weather!’ (He’s right.) The menu was good; Elaine had soup again (Goulash soup – delicious, she said) and I had chicken schnitzel – which certainly was delicious. Lots of coffee, naturally.

Brienze is the name of the lake; it’s also the last stop on the lake. If we’d been able to do the rundfahrt (round trip) which we’ve been recommended, we’d have done the lake anyway, one way, Brienze to Interlaken. But there’s doubt about whether every part of the rundfahrt is open yet – the Tourist Information office doesn’t seem able to tell us, except that the Grindelwald Bus which does the first part is only running on a reduced schedule. So we’ve not tried that yet, and probably won’t get chance now. But we didn’t want to miss the lake, and are glad we didn’t.

Felt a bit of a fool about the tickets, though. Second time this holiday, both to do with trains. The first time was when we were getting ready to get off the train from Zurich. We were upstairs – unsettling on a train, that. And where we were sitting was a long way from where we’d climbed the stairs. We’d noticed that the trains only stopped very briefly in each station and didn’t want to miss our stop, so I asked the guard where to get off. ‘Berne’ he said. Yes, but where did we get off the train? Berne, he said. Yes, but where are the stairs? His English wasn’t good (better than my German – I’m not criticizing) so he fetched another guard whose English was excellent. ‘How can I help you, sir?’ ‘I just want to know where the stairs are…’ He said ‘You’re kidding, right?’ ‘No.’ So he showed me: two yards from where we were sitting. Ok.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

80% of the time

Weather forecasts, we're told, are right 80% of the time.  It must be the 80% of the time that I'm not looking.

The weather forecast for today was the best it's been all week: light cloud, some sunshine, no rain.  I awoke this morning to discover that the Eiger (quite literally) couldn't be seen, the cloud was so low.  It was pouring with rain.  And the sun didn't seem to exist.

It's odd about the sun, by the way.  We're already quite high here; you'd think that, this much nearer to the sun, it would be hotter - but it doesn't seem to be. 

Anyway, given a couple of hours the clouds had begun to lift and by lunch-time (ish) were only just kissing the top of the Eiger.  But it was too late, and too cold, to do much; and since the two things we're keen to do (Jungfrau and the Sheidegge Platte) are either quite high (Jungfrau) or not open until Saturday (SP) we opted for another casual day.

So, first - up Pfinstegg again for another look at the view, another travel in a cable car (Elaine's obsessed) and another coffee (two, it turned out) in the mountain restaurant.  Today we went inside - too cold and wet to sit on the viewing platform.  Inside was delightfully warm, thanks to a large roaring fire in the centre of the room.

There was only one other couple there, and they'd travelled up in the same cable car.  English, loud, and friends of the proprietors.  So the lady of the house - slim, forties, very good English and very loud - came to sit with them and regale them (and us, and the whole of the region) with tales of her operation.  We could see the scar on her neck from where we were; we could also see the x-ray that she'd brought into the restaurant with her.  It seems that six months ago she'd been skiing - and oh! my dears! SUCH a fall.  But she didn't see the doctor - one doesn't like to trouble them, you know - but after some months the pain got unbearable.  Her own doctor was at a loss - aren't they always?  I really do wonder what we pay them for? - but a (how do you say it in English) - chiropractor?  yes, chiropractor took one look at her and said 'there's something very seriously wrong'.  And oh, my dear - she almost died.  It was a mystery to her surgeon; the paramedics were used to rescuing people from helicopters but had never known anyone in such pain - still on morphine, you know! - but came home immediately after the operation.  Nearly died, but - well, her friends need her and would miss her, so back she came.  Naturally, we're glad for her - though the coffee would have been quieter...

Then, back down the cable car.  And to 'our own' coffeeshop where I indulged in apple struddle mit kahm ('with cream', you understand?).  The sun had begun to shine a little by this time, and glistened from the summits around us.  So, a good day, a reminder never to go skiing, and a reminder to eat plenty.  And so to bed, Mr Pepys.

Monday, May 17, 2010


This morning (Monday) the cloud was higher, the weather forecast better, and we decided to set off for Interlaken to go up (or is it up to?) Harder Kulm.

It's a 35-minute train journey from Grindelwald to Interlaken.  Let me explain the train journey.  Our train was due to set off at 10.39.  The station clock has a second hand; every time it reaches the 12 position it pauses for a moment, then the minute hand clicks on an extra minute and the second hand moves again.  So, at 10.39 precisely three things happened: the second hand paused, the minute hand flicked on a minute, and the train began to move.  (Coming back from Interlaken it wasn't quite as impressive - the train didn't move until four seconds - yes, four whole seconds - after the stated time on the station clock.  We're wondering who to complain to.)

The trains themselves are attractive green and yellow carriages that seem to have been designed to look good as they wind through the Alps, and they do.  They're clean, there's plenty of room and they're quite cheap; we have a Swiss rail-card which allows us half fare on all trains (and some other transport) for a month.

Oh, wow...
Interlaken itself is a pretty little town (it calls itself a city) between two lakes (inter - lakes, get it?) that are connected by a narrow river - or at least, a channel of water.  The main street follows the line of the river.  It is, I'm told, the big tourist town in the area, and virtually every other shop sells Swiss watches.  Many of them are beautiful, most of them are really, really expensive.  Scattered between these shops are the inevitable chocolate shops and some of the most magnificent hotels I've ever seen.

But none of these things were our destination today.  We'd kept reading about Harder Kulm and the funicular railway their (what is 'funicular' - anybody know?) and Elaine's been keen on riding the railway and eating in the restaurant at the top.  Five minutes' walk from the station brings you to the bottom of the rail track.  Elaine refused to believe it - it looks almost vertical.  But we'd found the right place, took the ten minute ride up and - oh, wow.  A beautiful restaurant, panoramic views of spectacular scenery, an astonishing view of two lakes and Interlaken stretched out beneath.  Until I get photos up here, google 'Harder Kulm' and see if you can find any to show what I mean.  (Look here - that's the restaurant we ate in)

So - lunch for me was rosti, bacon, cheese and a fried egg; for Elaine, carrot and cream soup which, she assured me, was delicious.  My own lunch certainly was.

Oh, and the coffee.  Every time we have a cup of coffee we say it's the best we've ever tasted.  Oh, wow.

Now, the weather forecast for the next few days is getting better and better, so we've got one or two things planned.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Strict Sabbatarians

It's Sunday; we'd forgotten to stock up for the day.  Still, the Co-op's 100 yards away, right?  Right.  But it's closed on Sunday.  Interesting - everything closes for a 'Catholic' holiday (Ascension Day), and also for the Christian Sabbath (for just about everything in the town, including the restaurant where we were planning to eat, is closed).  Fear not, gentle reader: for we've found somewhere we can eat.  We will not starve.

Weather today much the same as yesterday - but we wouldn't plan to go anywhere anyway.  And if we did, who knows if it would be open?  But the good news is - the weather looks better for tomorrow, and the forecast itself keeps improving.  Interlaken again, we think - Elaine's really keen to go up the Harder Kulm.

Though there's an English-speaking church at Interlaken, we decided to stay in the chalet with Alastair Begg on Colossians 1.17

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Coming with clouds?

The Bible says that when Jesus comes again, he will come with clouds (Matthew 24:30).  Looking out this morning on where the Eiger used to be (!), today would be a good day for that...

Afternoon update
Just after noon today, though, the clouds began to lift.  They've thinned out a lot, we can almost see the top of the Eiger again, and the lower parts of the hill are clearly visible.  The weather forecast suggests it'll be better tomorrow, and better still on Monday.

Today's been very much a lazy day.  We've been down to the station to plan a couple of outings; the two we've keenest to do are the Jungfrau and the Hardy Kulm - which sounds like a church member.  Oh, and the Grosse Scheidegg Rundfahrt ('roundtrip') - don't know now whether we'll be able to fit it all in; depends on the weather more than anything.

We've also wandered along the high street, done some shopping, had some coffee, had some more coffee, wandered back... More idyllic scenery for just wandering couldn't be imagined.  It's now 6.30 - and it's the first evening that we've not had any rain.  (Odd; no sooner had I finished typing that than it began to pour with rain!)

As I said yesterday, it's become clear that there are literally hundreds of things/trips to do among the most beautiful scenery imaginable.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Between the Lakes
OK - Interlaken today.  We got the train around 11.30 for a 35 minute ride through gorgeous scenery.  There are two railway stations - west and east, each on the bank of a different lake. The train from Grindelwald goes to Interlaken East.

It's very much a tourist centre, as everywhere is here.  One main street, thousands (it seems) of souvenir shops (watches, cuckoo clocks - we saw one at over a thousand pounds - Swiss army knives, cowbells) and chocolate shops.  There's also place to book paragliding...

One frustrating thing about Switzerland is that there's a 'quiet time' between 12 noon and 2 pm - apparently a Reformation hangover when people were given time to pray!  But today, for us, it meant that the Tourist Information office was closed when we wanted it.  But still: lunch at Macdonalds, a steady walk, lots of time looking at the shops - then the TIO was open and they gave us the guidance we wanted.  We took a walk by the river leading to the Eastern lake, though we didn't get as far as the lake itself.

Rain today, again - intermittent and light in Interlaken, but when we arrived back at G it seemed that it had rained heavily.  The forecast for the next few days is a little better - some sunshine creeping from behind the clouds.

Even in the rain, this place is beautiful almost beyond words.  We're amazed at God's kindness in allowing us to visit the area.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Early morning rain

This morning, woke a little later than before - just before 8.  I could hear the rain coming down on the roof so stayed where I was a few minutes.  By the time I rose, the rain had stopped.  Clouds are as low as yesterday, though, and so the day doesn't look that promising.  We'll see.  Elaine had such a bad night the night before (as in, sleepless night) that I've left her to sleep in this morning.

We had been planning to go to Interlaken today, but decided against it - just making sure really that whatever had caused Elaine's stomach upset had cleared.  Turns out, it's good that we delayed - but not because of Elaine.  Wandering around Grindelwald we noticed that a lot of the shops were closed.  We went into one of the few coffee shops open, one advertising itself as 'Latino' and asked the girl why things were closed.  'Some Catholic thing I think,' she said - though obviously Spanish/Latin herself, and presumably Catholic, she didn't know and spoke with disinterest bordering on contempt. 

It turns out it's Ascension day - of course it is!  It's still a surprise that so many shops should close (including, incidentally, the Co-op, which could have left things awkward for us).  I can't imagine shops closing for a religious festival in England - we even need legislation to force them to shut on Christmas Day!  And certainly, tourist shops wouldn't close.

So we settled for a day of pottering, which is a favourite pastime anyway.  The clouds have been low again all day, and it's rained intermittently, sometimes heavily.  (Once again, the evening brought rain - see yesterday.)

We decided to treat ourselves to dinner out - not that easy, since a lot of the restuarants were closed too.  But we found one called 'Memory', fancied a burger, and went in.  The burgers were delicious - the best I've ever tasted.  BUT two burgers (one large, one small), one chips,  four diet cokes and two coffees came to.... thirty-eight pounds.  Come back MacDonalds, all is forgiven.

Absolutely nothing on TV tonight, too wet to go out, so we expect an evening of reading, snoozing, and wathcing DVDs.

More fascinating contributions tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Today we went up the cable car to Pfingstegg, as predicted yesterday; once again, I hope photos will follow.  You take the cablecar from the Eastern end of the village, up to 1391 metres, and then climb out onto the sun terrace of a restaurant.  From there various walks begin; some of them were closed today (minor avalanches we were told by a fellow tourist) but we weren't planning on doing any anyway.  Elaine had had a disturbed night: something she ate, apparently (cheese!)  Anyway, she was in no mood for long walks.  The weather was not too good either - it was raining slightly when we set off and we didn't know whether it would improve or worsen.  (It improved).

The view from the platform was breath-taking.  What a place.  Naturally, it's de rigeur to eat when you're that high, so I did.  Resisting horse-steak and chips (!) I settled for 'pork sausage and hash browns' (that was the translation on the menu).  But the hash browns, Elaine said, looked more like rosti - which is interesting because a) I'd never heard of it and b) it's what the German part of the menu said; Elaine hadn't seen it.  Pork sausage was 'schweinebrattewurst' - can't quite vouch for the spelling, but that's what it looked like.

Elaine had two coffees, said 'wow' a lot, drank two bottles of fizzy water.  I had one coffee and one water - you want to know all these fascinating details, don't you?  We'd been warned that everything's expensive, so the bill was no surprise at all. (About twenty eight pounds).

We've heard what we guessed were 'minor avalanches' - I guess 'slippages of snow' would be less dramatic.  It's the weather for it, of course; still plenty of snow on the mountain tops but very warm, very sunny weather making it all unstable.  When the noise starts, it sounds like thunder - but it doesn't end with a clap, more with a loud, deep slither.

The clouds have never left the top of the mountains today; in fact, this morning they were quite low.  So it wasn't the day for Jungrau-ing, even if we'd wanted.  Jungfrau is billed as 'the top of Europe' and apparently you can see into France and Germany - we want a clear day from there.

Then back to the chalet.  Still recovering from whatever upset her stomach, Elaine's happily dozing.  There can be few more beautiful places in the world to doze (the only comparable views I've ever seen were at Cape Point - and there was no room to doze there.  Oh - and of course, the whole of Yorkshire.)

TV in the chalet has numerous English channels, including BBC1 and 2, and ITV and channel 4.  But we have to remember that Swiss time is one hour ahead of UK time (in spite of what my guide book said) - so the nine o'clock news is on at 10 o'clock, and so on.  We're not watching a lot (I think we've only seen the reports on the post-election wranglings so far) but it's there if we want it.

Evening Postscript
Went for a walk down to the station.  Interestingly, it started to rain - this is our third evening (Monday arrival, Tuesday, now) and each evening it's rained.  Rain in the evening is fine!

Tomorrow, we plan a train ride to Interlaken.  Not sure what we'll do when we get there...
Cameron's Folly

This is not a political blog and I'm not a political animal.  But the news that Cameron has  invited Clegg to be Deputy Prime Minister dismays me.  Why, when Clegg deceived Cameron during the negotiations (by authorising simultaneous negotiations with Labour) does Cameron think he's got any reason to trust him?

I've just watched the joint press conference which Nick Robinson perceptively described as a 'love-in'.  They seemed to get on well.  But Cameron will, I think, rue this day.

And I do wish they'd stop saying 'the people voted for a hung parliament.'  NOBODY voted for a hung parliament - it wasn't an option on the ballot paper. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reporting from Grindelwald

This place is truly fabulous; I'll include pictures when I have some.  We've had a very lazy day; though I woke at 6 and couldn't wait to get up and see the Eiger again, so I had an early morning cuppa - and then another when it was warm enough to sit on the balcony.

We went down for our cases and, as John (our host) had predicted, they were waiting for us. What a system; though our journey was easy enough yesterday it was better for not having to carry luggage.

We then had a wander up to FIRSTbahn, a cable car place that we'd been recommended; and found it's closed until the 29th. But the Pfen*** (impossible spelling; another cable car place) is open and we hope to go up there tomorrow. The tourist information office is really helpful, and we plan to do Jungfrau later in the week - God willing.

I start every attempt to relate to folks with 'Do you speak English?'; most of them do (better than me). Only one said 'just a little' and her 'little' was more than enough to buy what we wanted. Mind you, we nearly had an interesting experience: we were ordering coffees and all of them said 'mit' something or another; it was only when I saw one was 'mit vodka' that I realised we might be better steering clear!

The weather has been ideal - shirt sleeve weather, lots of sunshine, nice cool breeze. Mum's still sat on the balcony - though I've retreated indoors as the temperature's dropped a bit. Now for a really 'busy' evening!
Around 6 o'clock it began to rain; we'd just wandered down to the village again, so we wandered back a bit quicker.  Now a mist has fallen and the Eiger is barely visible.  Don't get the idea that it's in the distance - it is so very, very close.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Is Calvinism Dour?

Gary Brady reported this year on the Banner of Truth conference in Leicester. Describing his journey home, he said

We had a student with us and it was interesting that he had picked up some negativity among men, especially the older ones. I guess we fall into that a bit too easily. I do think generally that Calvinism can tend to put a dour and solemn edge on things. I don't think the Bible itself does that.

In his comments column, I responded

As for Calvinism putting a dour and solemn edge on things; no, I don't think so. I think that edge is there at Banner; but I don't think it's Calvinism that's done it

…and he quite reasonably asks

Hadn't realised how easy it was to be controversial. If Gary Be doesn't blame the Calvinism for Banner dourness (and let's be clear here Banner is also great fun) what is it? Perhaps its methodism (sic)?

It’s a good question. But note that the agreement is in Gary Br’s original comment, ‘Calvinism can tend to put a dour and solemn edge on things. I don’t think the Bible itself does that.’ Now if Calvinism is Biblical-ism in its purest form (and I believe it is) it’s inconsistent to say ‘Calvinism does one thing, the Bible does another.’

And, indeed, Spurgeon’s jollity in a past age, together with the exuberant joy of American Calvinists like Piper and Mahaney, and the joyous nature of the Calvinistic Resurgence documented in ‘Young, Restless and Reformed’ would seem to make the point: Calvinism per se is not dour.

Why then is there a dourness in British Calvinism – a thing I’ve reflected on before? (Oddly enough, I can't find the reflection; if I do, I'll link to it.)  I don’t know the reason – I only suspect. And I suspect it’s the influence of Banner, and that Banner reflects a particular sort of Calvinism.

For one thing, Banner tends to be strongly influenced by Scottish Presbyterians and their Dutch counterparts. I don’t want to make racist slurs, but does either group have a reputation for joy being a national characteristic? Some, at least, of these men go to conference meetings in black suits and dark ties – funeral attire! While I really don’t care what people wear to Christian meetings, if clothes reflect the inner man then no wonder the conference seems dour. Awe and reverence in God’s presence is plainly right – but if ‘awe and reverence’ is equated with staid formality – well, that’s a good synonym for ‘dour’ isn’t it?  And it will show in more than their funeral attire, and it does.

Secondly, it’s very old-fashioned. Until recently, only unaccompanied Psalms were sung. This doesn’t reflect the conviction of Iain Murray, the conference supremo, but was presumably done to keep happy the Presbyterians. Sorry – did I say ‘to keep them happy?’ Well – to keep them coming, anyway. Now the Psalms are brilliant songs of worship; the Scottish Metrical version… well, isn’t. (Or should I say: ‘metrical version the Scottish brilliant isn’t’?) Now, the conference has a piano – and a pianist – and uses them. It even has a song book with some modern songs in (Townend, for example). But at the conferences I’ve been to, these weren’t sung and for the most part at least we stuck to metrical psalms with piano accompaniment. And they’re dour; frankly, they’d be dour even with a rock band and cheerleaders! (Though the experiment would be interesting.)

Thirdly, and I genuinely hesitate to say this, I suspect it reflects the ‘presenting face’ of Lloyd-Jones. I never knew the Doctor; I do believe those who say he had a terrific sense of humour. But the photos show a man who appears to be dour, if not miserable. (I’m sure he wasn’t miserable; I’m only saying you wouldn’t know it from the photos.) He believed in hyper-formality in worship: rebuking a deacon for saying ‘thank you’ when the communion bread and wine was passed to him, refusing to say ‘Good morning’ to his congregation, rejecting the use of modern translations of the Bible and so on. Even if I understand the reasoning behind such things – and I think I do – yet the impression given by them is dour. And if they’re equated with faithfulness to Reformed theology, then the Reformed movement is going to be dour, too.  It isn't necessary to be formal to be faithful; other men take preaching and the salvation of souls every bit as seriously as Lloyd-Jones did.

The resurgence of Calvinistic theology all over the world owes an enormous debt to the Banner of Truth. But in some respects at least, Banner and its conference has tied Reformed theology to ‘traditional ways of doing things’ in a manner which has not been helpful. I do wonder how the Charismatic movement has benefited from the fact that many, many people just do not buy the tie. When I first became eligible to go, and went, to Banner I was genuinely surprised by the men who were not there. And I’ve been disappointed at the relatively low turn-out of younger Reformed men. But I’m afraid some – at least – of the reasons may be reflected in this post. In that respect, I think Banner is failing a generation.

Two things before I close. First, I know that the folks in the Banner office sometimes pick up on blogs that mention them. Brethren, if you pick this up, please take it as observations from a friend. I love you guys – in a dour, reformed kind of way of course.

Second – can’t something be done? Can’t we have a conference of happy Calvinists in Britain that isn’t (exclusively) charismatic?