mark 15

#markMark 15:1-20

In Summary
Everyone’s guilty: the ‘whole’ Sanhedrin, the ‘whole’ company of Roman soldiers, the whole multitude calling for Jesus to be crucified — the whole of humanity. All except Jesus: ‘what crime has he committed?’ And this of course is the answer to the question of why Jesus should be crucified — not that he deserves it, but that humanity needed a sinless substitute in order to escape the punishment we deserve for our sins. We are like Barabbas: murderous, sinful, clearly guilty. But because Jesus takes our place we are released. This is the King of the Jews whom the prophets foretold! That’s my King! Do you know him?

Eating: Honeydew Melon; Fisherman’s Pie; Strudel and Sorbet; Crackers and Cheese; Coffee and Chocolate.
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Abigail, Sophie; Doug; Hannah.
Passage: Mark 15:1-20

As usual we spent some time scribbling on Scripture to work out what’s going on in the passage:

Then eventually we come to the
Questions & Comments

___________________

On that subject…
— On the subject of the pain which Jesus suffered, someone mentioned the film the Passion of the Christ, which (too?) vividly portrays that suffering. The clip showing this particular scene can be watched here, but be warned, it is brutal.

— More edifying as you meditate on the character of ‘the King of the Jews’ is this clip:

one-heart-equation

1≤3 : A Meditation

Download this essay as a PDF

One is less than or equal to Three — taking theological truth from mathematical mundanity.
“Count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” (Genesis 15:5)

This post is a little exercise in hearing God’s voice — using a simple mathematical equation as a springboard for spiritual contemplation.

I realise that there may not be many others who find this as inspiring as I have — and when I recently tried to share this profoundly meaningful triad of mathematical symbols with a few friends we quickly ran aground in a cross-cultural debate about the proper way to write the less-than-or-equal-to symbol. So I share my thoughts here in an attempt to help whoever’s interested to squeeze some theological revelation out of this self-evident piece of mathematics. (Perhaps this sort of thing was the point of my having studied Mathematics and Theology at Cambridge.)

Before starting though, it is necessary to address the comment occasionally voiced that one is not ‘less-than-or-equal-to‘ three it is simply ‘less-than’ three. For this comment is merely mistaken. And while I admit that it is peculiar to actually write 1≤3, the fact is that it is a perfectly legitimate mathematical sentence, for if we were to consider the set {x≤3}, then 1 would certainly be a possible value of x. Alternatively, we could put it like this: one may not be equal to three, but since it is certainly less than three, it is consequently logically true to say that it is less-than-or-equal-to three.

Okay — trivialities completed, we press on in hope of theological profundities.

One is less than Three — obvious truths point to ultimate Truth.
What can be known about God is plain to them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:19)
“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

The first nugget of theological gold that we can mine from this equation (and indeed, from any equation) is that for equations to function at all depends on the existence of Truth. Obvious truths like this point us towards the existence of ultimate Truth. And in a world beset by relativism and all manner of postmodern pandering to insufferable nonsense, it is encouraging to step back from the fray and take solace in the fact that mathematics at least can provide us with sound, reliable, unquestionable Truth.

And a mathematical mind could even easily construct a little proof to refute the pernicious doctrine of absolute relativism: ‘Suppose there are no absolute truths; then it would follow that There are no absolute truths would be an absolute truth. Contradiction! QED.’

But we can go further than arguing the mere existence of mathematical truth — we can follow this trail of revelation by noting that mathematical truths consistently and inexplicably describe with impeccable precision the behaviour of the universe in which we live. As the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Richard Feynman once commented, “The fact that there are rules at all to be checked is a kind of miracle; that it is possible to find a rule, like the inverse square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is not understood at all, but it leads to the possibility of prediction”.

I have elsewhere referred to this inexplicability as ‘The Orderliness Argument’ for the existence of a consistent God who enables and sustains the natural laws of the universe. And in a similar vein, one could use the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments to argue for (but not ‘prove’ — note my epistemological caution!) the existence of a spiritual and eternal Creator and Designer; the Moral Argument then shows that even evil points towards the existence of absolute moral Goodness; finally, the Historical Argument confirms our faith in the God of the Bible and leads us to identify the biblical God with these other philosophical accounts of Deity.

One is equal to Three — the mystery of the Trinity, and the dignity of ‘The Person’.
…he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

Thus far we have simply contented ourselves with the trivial observation that if one is less than three, then it is necessarily also true that one is less-than-or-equal-to three. But now that we have mentioned the God of the Bible, whom we believe to be One Holy Undivided Trinity, the One and the Three now grow in significance, causing our philosophical courage to rise and our analytical boldness to grow.

For the biblical God reveals himself through the Scriptural narrative as uniquely One — the God who alone is worthy of worship, and also as Three — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now to be one God and yet three Persons implies no necessary contradiction: Trinitarian dogma does not state that God is one God and three Gods, or one Person and three Persons, but rather merely one God and three Persons.

But the fact that each of these Persons is fully God means that it seems somewhat meaningful to suggest that ‘1=3’ in the context of the Trinity. Properly, what we mean is perhaps something more like V(1P)=V(3P), where V(x) is the function assessing the Value of x, and xP is the number of divine Persons. And since the infinite value of the divine Persons follows from their divine nature, it is independent of their number.

Yet although our argument thus far has minimised the significance of the personal, one cannot meditate on the very fact of the existence of these divine Trinitarian persons, without also coming to a weighty sense of the dignity of ‘the Person’ in general, even and perhaps especially as that applies to non-divine Persons. Persons like you and me, ordinary everyday human persons, with idiosynchratic mannerisms and annoying habits. You do now have to have read Emmanuel Mounier to appreciate the potential significance of this. And the fact that the second Trinitarian person actually became an incarnate, embodied human person only strengthens and confirms our intuited sens of the awesome value of each and every individual person.

One is less than the Triune God — wonder, consolation, and other theological implications.
…what is man that you are mindful of him? (Psalm 8:4)
…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart… (1 John 3:20)

But to say such things without qualification is dangerous in a world so full of commercialized self-help coaches and glib feel-good gurus. So no sooner have we asserted the worth of the human person, than we must immediately proclaim again the matchless glory of the invisible God and lift our eyes away from our poor and broken selves, up towards the heavens.

As we begin to do so, we realize that even our entire planet is but a mote of dust suspended in a sun beam. But rather than overwhelming us with existential dread in the face of our apparent insignificance, the immensity of the universe should rather fill us with an unspeakable wonder that releases a wordless joy. It is perhaps the joy of being reminded that we are not God, while simultaneously knowing prior to all analysis that the heavens demonstrate that nevertheless Someone is! And that Someone is glorious.

And in this revelation there is supreme consolation, for it means that for all the dignity and responsibility that comes with being a person made in God’s image, still we can be justified in (and by!) confessing that our sins are manifold and our problems are beyond our abilities to solve.

One Heart — no Love without the Trinity.
God is love. (1 John 4:8)
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

This is a good point for me to freely admit that we are now springing rather creatively from our simple equation into the realms of revelation. For I now want to draw your attention to the fact that the ‘<3' looks remarkably like a heart (indeed, it is a standard emoticon).

So we note next that God does not call us just to reverently tremble before him. Rather, He invites us to love Him with all our hearts, minds, souls, strength. And, as all the pop songs on all the radio stations in all the world testify, it is Love that the human heart longs for. This is what we were made for!

And here we make the controversial claim that unless the Trinity is acknowledged to be actual reality, then in fact Love is deprived of its ontological foundation and necessary rationale, and becomes nothing “but a second-hand emotion”. For only if we can affirm the existence of a plurality of eternal Persons can we conceive of and invoke the reality of eternal necessarily-interpersonal Love. Without God, love might be a fleeting feeling or a chemical contingency, but love cannot be the capital-L Love that the inspires the poets, commissions the prophets, and promises to heal the world’s wounds and solve the planet’s problems.

The Heart on its side — Love laid down is the greatest Love.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)
Greater love has no one than this, that to lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

That established, we look again at our mathematical muse, and note that in our equation’s emoticon the heart lies fallen on its side. What, we ask, might this signify?

And in answering we remember that it is a truth universally acknowledged that there can be no greater demonstration of love than to lay one’s life down for one’s beloved. Thus a lover irreversibly gives up his everything for the sake of her whom he loves; thus the story of Romeo & Juliet captivates our imaginations with its two lovers each confirming their supreme love for the other by willingly embracing Death.

Without being distracted by the tragedies of Shakespearean romance, we press on to identify the true and final fulfilment of this ‘love laid down’ — and, in Jesus Christ crucified, we find it. As the apostle John sums it up in his First Epistle: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”.

‘One’ opens his mouth — Love will not be silent.
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died….We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God! (2 Corinthians 5:14,20)

And so the contemplation
of this simple equation
has led us to the revelation
that Jesus died for our salvation.

But permit me one final observation before we conclude: that the less-than symbol’s triangle somewhat resembles a mouth, or perhaps the stem of a speech-bubble. Which leads us to conclude with the comment that Love cannot be silent, but necessarily must result in vocalized praise and declarative adoration, in joyful summons and unrelenting invitation.

And on that I will end, with a summons for you to consider the claims of Christ, and what it might look like for the shape of your life to be conformed to the cruciform love of Jesus. And if you’re ever around in Cambridge on a Sunday afternoon, then there’s always an invitation for you to join us for lunch amidst a community of people imperfectly attempting to work out the implications of a Love that surpasses understanding.

butch-annie

Review: Butch Annie’s Burgers

On Valentine’s Day of this year, I fell in love with a burger bar.

It was a Saturday morning, and I was out strolling through town looking for people with whom I could discuss the meaning of life, when I saw an enormous queue extending down Market Street, as people waited outside the door of a restaurant that closer inspection revealed was no longer Cafe Carringtons. This inspired a moment’s sadness, for I had enjoyed many a reliable English breakfast in that eatery. But losing oneself in sorrow never being a good idea, I recovered myself and enquired as to why the world was queueing in this particular location.

The wit with whom I had struck up conversation started telling me a story about three pranksters who had once, for the larks, started queueing for no reason at all, until — this being England — a sizeable queue of people had begun to form behind them. Upon which they started selling them over-priced glasses of orange juice — because once people have queued up for something, they’d rather pay above-the-odds for something, than go away with nothing but the forced realization that their queueing was a waste of time.

butch-annies-queue

The story complete, my new friend let me in on a secret: the reason that so many were waiting at the door of this new restaurant, was that they’d announced on Twitter the day before that they would be giving away a free burger to all who arrived within an hour of them opening their doors for the first time. And that first opening was about to happen in less than half an hour! All you had to do to qualify was retweet the Twitter message advertising the restaurant and its offer. Fortunately I had my trusty Samsung Galaxy in my pocket, so I promptly RT-ed the relevant message and joined the line, determined to make the most of this serendipitous moment. Others were now queueing behind me, and myself and Carlos (my witty new friend) were joined in conversation by Clare, a blue-haired music student from Anglia Ruskin.

By the time the doors had opened and our turn had come to step inside this new establishment, we were chatting like old pals. We showed the doorman our qualifying Tweet, each took a Butch Annie’s sticker to validate our request for a free burger, and since we had all come individually, we decided to share a table.

We descended down the stairs into the subterranean gloom of the new burger joint. Since I had been here last during the restaurant’s previous incarnation, the place had been transformed by the addition of jaunty graffiti and swing-doors, like some cross between a skate park and a Western saloon. It didn’t take much browsing of the menu to decide what we wanted — Butch Annie’s is all about the burgers (there’s not a single alternative main course on offer), and when you’re offered a free burger, the natural response is to go for the most expensive one on the menu. Carlos and Clare both went for the ‘Lewd Lizzie’ (beefburger with cheese and bacon); for the sake of variety, I chose the Wild-Eyed Coyote (beefburger with fresh chilli and black beans).

Now I have never really been tempted by the thought of a gourmet burger. Certainly as a child I clamoured for our family’s weekly visit to McDonalds, and enjoyed a good Big Mac as much as anyone — but now I remember, it’s the Chicken McSpicy that was the real treat — but when I grew up, I put away childish things. And although I have in general in my adulthood begun to come to terms with the prices of Cambridge restaurants, to spend seven, eight, almost nine pounds on a single burger was not something I could quite come to terms with. But this was a free gift–so I had nothing to lose.

Except Butch Annie’s didn’t just give me a taste of a gourmet burger, but a taste for gourmet burgers, stealing my heart and smashing my cynicism toward upmarket fast-food. For when the burger arrived, and I opened it out from its turquoise wrapping and took a bite, it didn’t just exceed my expectations — it blew them to smithereens, and the shards tinkled across the wide expanse of my imagination’s enlarged sense of what a burger could be. The bun alone was a treat — for we live in a world where burger buns are either stale, crumbly or taste like cardboard. It was soft and melted in your mouth, and yet managed to rise to the task of containing the burger within. And what a burger! Pink on the inside, browned round the edges, and so generously marinaded that it was leaking juices from the moment you picked it up.

I left Butch Annie’s with my heart still pounding and my mouth still watering. I had fallen in love.

butch-kiss

0035

“…the day Isaac was weaned.” (Gen.21:8)

The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned. (Genesis 21:9)

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We had a great time celebrating birthdays (not just Isaac’s but my dad’s as well) with my parents in Petworth, and then when we got back to Cambridge it was almost immediately (bang-smack in the middle of DTS debrief week) Taryn’s birthday, which we celebrated with croquet and a barbeque at Mike & Jane’s lovely Royston house. But I also wanted to throw our own party, and invite some of our Cambridge friends who hadn’t been part of these other celebrations.

The continuing busyness of YWAM Cambridge life and our own admittedly imperfect organizational powers meant that this took some desire to actually became reality–but last night we finally managed to rally a small group of much-loved friends to join us for a proper party complete with musical chairs, pass-the-parcel and a feast of chocolate brownies, ice-cream sorbet, forest berries, and (a-)political cheeses.

Coincidentally the day of the party so happened to be the precise same day that Isaac first went without his mother’s milk–“the day Isaac was weaned”.

There have previously been various strange parallels between my ministry and family life — Taryn having her visa denied and me realizing the longing of Jesus the Bridegroom for His Bride; the thousand pound gift ‘for the baby/project-you’re-starting’, which baby’s nine-month gestation turned out to precisely coincide with our first-ever nine-month Revival & Reformation DTS.

And this also felt like it was some sort of ministry milestone, as that morning our YWAM Cambridge meeting had had our final leadership meeting before we scatter in different directions over the summer. And during that meeting we had agreed that the School of Biblical Studies which we had hoped would be running this September, will have to be delayed a year until September 2016. What this means is that this coming year (2015-16) will be the first year since we started running schools two years ago that YWAM Cambridge won’t be pioneering any new schools. Instead we will focus on improving our systems, deepening our roots, and strengthening our foundations, even as we continue to run our three ongoing programmes: the 9-month September R&R DTS, the 5-month April Revival DTS, and the Year For God.

It’s as if YWAM Cambridge as a ministry is moving on from its infancy and being weaned into a more established mode of being.

On that note, Hannah gave me a word of encouragement a few days about how the mustard seed that I had begun sowing all those years ago had now grown into something to which the birds of the air could come and take refuge under its shade. And it so happens that on this same day that Isaac was weaned, our friend Norman finished making a (hand-crafted!) bird-table for us — which is now sitting in the corner of our back garden, offering refuge to red-breasted robins and chirping house-sparrows. And on the roof of the bird-table, as if it were some miniature chapel, Norman has carved two crosses. “I thought you’d like those, given that you’re so into all of that,” was his wry comment.

So–here’s to entering a new season of maturity!

The Politics of Cheese

cheese-board(Photo of cheese-board from Aldi)

At our recent DTS Graduation Meal, my good friend Ryan began to sully the innocent activity of cheese connoiseurship with political controversy by suggesting that various cheeses have an inherent bias towards certain parties. He has his own opinions on what these biases might be, but I thought I would set out my own views on the subject by considering a classic supermarket cheeseboard selection.

Red Leicester
Red Leicester seems an easy one to start with — its colour clearly demonstrates its socialist sympathies, and further investigation reveals that its geographical namesake also reliably elects Labour MPs to its three seats. In terms of the cheese’s flavour it is creamy, mellow, inoffensive.

Verdict: Labour

Blue Stilton
Again, its distinctive colour makes the affiliation of this cheese easily identifiable on the British political spectrum–blue is, for some reason, the Conservative colour.

What’s more, in the incredibly conservative world of cheese-naming legalities (in which EU regulations permit only cheeses made within a particular clearly-defined geographical area to use certain prestigious titles), it turns out that Stilton exemplifies this spirit of preservationist politicking in a peculiar way. For Stilton the Cambridgeshire village is in the midst of a passionate campaign to demonstrate that although Stilton the cheese has been produced in the Midlands for the last two hundred years, actually historical evidence shows that it was the eponymous village who were the cheese’s original manufacturers. (This essay on the historical evidence for such a claim is an informative and amusing read.)

Verdict: Conservative

Wensleydale
A distinctively British cheese (apparently in the opinion of George Orwell it was second only to Stilton in the cheese championships), often combined with cranberries or apricots. Some — I’m again looking again in the direction of the esteemed Mister Ryan Macmahon — consider this fruitiness ‘controversial’, but on the whole Wensleydale is surprisingly popular.

Translating this into the political sphere, I think the most natural affiliation would be with a party which is proudly British, which has also courted controversy with its ‘fruitiness’, and which appeals to the sort of small business owner who finds EU legislation a tiring and troublesome obstacle.

Verdict: UKIP

Brie
Soft and creamy, yet with that hard white mouldy rind that no-one is quite sure what to do with, this is a cheese that defies simplistic left/right classification. A vital part of a British cheeseboard, and yet with undisguised internationalist sympathies. Not quite as popular as maybe it should be.

Verdict: Liberal Democrat

Cheddar
Cheddar is everyman’s cheese, the choice of the person who is perhaps only dimly aware that there are other cheeses. Come Christmas and the celebratory cheeseboard that makes its obligatory annual appearance, this person might step out of the boat and try a taste of the Blue Stilton or the Red Leicester, but for most of the year cheese is something to be grated onto spaghetti or sliced into a sandwich, not self-consciously smudged onto a post-dinner cracker — and ‘cheese’ can reliably be taken to mean ‘Cheddar’.

Thus cheddar must represent the largely disengaged apolitical majority of the British electorate–occasionally there may come an election, or a referendum, and they may be persuaded to enter the political fray and remember to trudge to the polling booth and cast their lot in with the left or the right or the alternative protest party, but on a day-in/day-out basis they find politics distant and disinteresting.

Verdict: The Apolitical Majority

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So it’s over to you now to discuss and debate my political opinions. And there’s plenty more analysis that the world of political cheese could still use: would Parmesan, a hard Italian cheese, be hard-line Fascist? would Feta inevitably crumble like the Greek economy? what cheese best represents the Scottish Nationalist Party? I look forward to hearing your comments.

20150615_154741

#markMark 14:27-72

In Summary
…Just as he had foretold, Jesus is betrayed, arrested, forsaken. Even as he wrestles in prayer with God the Father to establish whether there is any other possible way for salvation to be accomplished (there’s not), he stands assured in his identity: still referring to God as ‘Abba’, still speaking of what is to happen ‘after I am raised up’. And when he is at last asked straightforwardly who he is, Jesus confesses the truth: that he is ‘the Christ, the son of the Blessed [God]’. Then we have the disciples. They’re confused, they’re bewildered, they’re tired. They can’t even stay awake an extra hour to pray with Jesus in his moment of need. One of them finds himself unexpectedly naked. Peter’s very determination to be the one who doesn’t leave Jesus, leads to him denying him three times.

Eating: Roasted Chicken and Peppers, Mashed Potato & Gravy, Roasted Vegetables, Cornetto Ice-creams.
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Abigail, Sophie, Lucy & Theo; Linda + Adam; Doug; Bethany.
Passage: Mark 14:27-72

As usual we spent some time scribbling on Scripture to work out what’s going on in the passage:

Then eventually we come to the
Questions & Comments

___________________

On that subject…
— Here’s an essay I wrote as a student, arguing that “that there was no other way for sinners to be saved from judgement” than for Jesus to go to the cross.

— Our DTS was impacted powerfully recently by Dr Sandy Kirk from Behold Ministries who was teaching on the cup of the Father’s wrath. Here’s a clip of her speaking about it:

— And here is the classic sermon by Jonathan Edwards on the subject of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

20150615_164519

#markMark 14:12-26

In Summary
On the day the Passover lamb was sacrificed, Jesus — ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ — takes the Passover bread and wine, and creates a new ceremony for a new covenant. Too often we who have been invited to eat with Jesus have betrayed him with our divisive debates over the method and the meaning of celebrating this sacrament. But it will not do to ignore it for fear of causing offense, for we have been commanded to Do This in remembrance of Jesus’ death for us, to Do This as a sign and means of our communion with Christ, to Do This as a proclamation of the coming kingdom of God, to Do This as a demonstration of and petition for Christian unity.

Eating: Cottage Pie, Leafy Salad with Feta Cheese, Ice Cream with Strawberries, Cheese & Crackers, Coffee and Chocolate Truffles (ie. Graduation Meal Leftovers).
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Abigail, Sophie, Lucy, Ryan; Linda + Adam; Mrittunjoy; Hannah, Bethalee; Doug.
Passage: Mark 14:12-26

As usual we spent some time scribbling on Scripture to work out what’s going on in the passage:

Then eventually we come to the
Questions & Comments

___________________

On that subject…
— Jews For Jesus explains the significance of some of the Passover meal here.

— I’ll add here that personally, this was a significant Sunday for me. At our DTS Graduation the night before, I had baptised someone for the first time, and we had planned to close with Communion, but we were running late and so decided to end without. So it happened that we arrived at this passage with wine and unleavened matzot providentially provided! And as if the Holy Spirit were going the extra mile to assure me that my spiritual status as a born-again child of God does give me sacramental authority, that morning at my local Anglican church, the sermon had been preached on the Great Commission, and had repeated the point that the Great Commission is for all of us; discipling, teaching, baptising — it’s for all of us!

Mark 14:1-11

#markMark 14:1-11

In Summary
You who think of the poor in the abstract as a political problem to be solved (whether by hard work and austerity or by democratic restructuring and financial redistribution) will find that you always have them among you. But while Jesus knows of human need (Simon the leper was an untouchable social outcast until Jesus healed him; Mary a demon-possessed prostitute until Jesus delivered her), he knows that the root of poverty is not being disconnected merely from financial resources, but from loving relationship. And only God the Father, through Jesus the sole Mediator, can provide the abundant unfailing love that we not only want but ultimately need. Therefore extravagant love for Jesus not only qualifies as responsible stewardship, but is a necessary and vital part of the gospel message.

Eating: Roast Chicken, Mashed Potato, Roasted Vegetables, & Gravy
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Sophie + Ryan; Linda + Adam; Danny + Sarah, Matthijs; Simon, Becca; Doug.
Passage: Mark 14:1-11

As usual we spent some time scribbling on Scripture to work out what’s going on in the passage:

Then eventually we come to the
Questions & Comments

___________________

On that subject…
— You can read here the text of a sermon that I preached reflecting on this incident in the context of the First Commandment.

— Here’s a song from IHOP on the alabaster jar theme:

uppark house

Uppark House

Half an hour’s drive away from Petworth is Uppark House, which we thought worth a visit in our quest to make the most of our year’s National Trust membership. Like Petworth House, Uppark is a seventeenth-century stately home — although it certainly does not compare to Petworth in size or grandeur. But there’s still more than enough to see to spend a worthwhile afternoon — including a more manageable (than Petworth) collection of paintings, informatively arranged servants’ quarters, and in particular a minutely detailed eighteenth-century doll-house.