Thursday, 29 September 2011

EU Transaction Tax

Revenue-generation or revenge?

I was most interested by an early morning news item regarding the proposed transaction tax. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, urged a 'yes' in the vote today in the German parliament regarding the bailout of Greece. Where Merkel sees the opportunity for German to accentuate its control and supremacy within Europe (a growing trend perhaps, I understand that conquest by finance is the preferred means of conquest these days?) others merely see more of Germany's being thrown down the drain trying to support 'waster nations' like Greece.

Barroso accentuated the need for the transaction tax (and Eurobonds) as a means of generating something in excess of fifty billion Euros, money that could be used to bail out faltering economies. Of course, those EU members who do not subscribe to the Euro are less inclined to see themselves paying out money when when they know there's nothing in it for them (prudent thinking or a lack of generosity? Then again we'd only probably be expecting generosity in Christian circles.).

One financial expert calculated that the money raised by a transaction tax would be nearer ten billion Euros and estimated the cost of collecting the money to be around twelve! When this was pointed out, the response was that it was more about 'making a statement' and 'making the bankers pay' than just bringing in money! The revenge issue is something the mindless moronic readership of some of the British rags will applaud when they read it this morning, after all it's revenge and that has to be good, doesn't it?

So we have Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal all swaying in the breeze and whilst we read about powerplays and posturing across the board there are people in Greece who have to choose whether they eat or buy essential medicines. There are blind and otherwise disadvantaged people who have lost benefits and now struggle to exist and we are looking more like the third world in the West.

We have truly lost our way and have let our possessions, the culture of self and the desire for revenge rule us and in return have seen any sense of equity, justice and mercy depart.


Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Drink - Drive Road Sign

What an excellent piece of drink-drive awareness.

Amnesia - a political necessity

Listening to the other Milliband yesterday I found myself wondering just how fast John Smith, Kier Hardie and William Beveridge were spinning in their graves. I also had a fleeting question over whether Ed was merely acting as warm-up man for David, an apparently better choice for leader than him (wonder if the unions are thinking that too. Always a problem when the block vote brings in the man you later realise you didn't want.)

I was amazed to discover that Labour are the panacea to all our financial ills, especially as it was the same Labour government that Mr Milliband was part of, whose financial mismanagement brought us to the place where many BaE employees lost their jobs as he was preparing to speak.

I was stunned to hear that we were going to reward the 'right people'. I really enjoyed the bit about, "An economy and a society too often rewarding not the right people with the right values, but the wrong people with the wrong values." and wondered where all those, excessively expensive PFI projects and the many Quangos and the like that came into being under Labour fitted in this assessment.

Mind you, those who wish to emulate Peter Rachman (for those of you who aren't familiar with the name, he was the king of the slum landlord with menaces business in the fifties and early sixties) will be taking heart as the threat of social housing only being given to 'approved' people. Always good when we can marginalise and people group, helps when we want to dehumanise them and later take them off to places from whence they never return (Holocaust Memorial Day 27th January).

I did agree that we are in the midst of a crisis that results from the promises made over the past thirty years and see the problems as a combination of greed, self coupled with the decline of the religious moral codes that previously shaped our nation.

Still, if we ignore everything about Labour's last go at governing and if Billy and Johnny (AKA David and Nick) can do enough wrong things, Labour might just get in next time around.

Now that's as frightening a thought as either of the present incumbents in government winning, isn't it?

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Off the boots of babes and sucklings

One of the most rewarding (and exhausting) things that I get to do as a dogcollar is that of being involved in our Kid's Club. Pretty much every Monday and Friday finds us engaged in a variety of activities ranging from console games through to craft, cooking, snooker (extremely popular!) and football. It is in the football that we get to see society's values most clearly demonstrated. Here are three of the most common:

1. The culture of self.
Give a kid a football and he will set off for goal. There's no passing or awareness of anyone else on their side, it's them and the goal and no one else matters. They can have people in open spaces (kid's football is great you can fit everyone (apart from the keepers) into a five foot square) but they continue through the melee to consistently lose the ball! It is all about them.

2. The end justifies the means.
Watching the kids play, I am amazed at the blatant fouling, the use of the hand to control the ball and just about anything else that contravenes the laws of the game. When asked about the infringement, their responses can be summed up by this, "Anything goes as long as it brings about the desired result." Yes indeedy - the end justifies the means, one of the key mantras of our society today.

3. Always get even!
The tackles (often off the ball) almost always result in the acted against player seeking to 'settle accounts' and this usually means that there will be at least one full-on punch-up during the game. There's nothing about turning the other cheek in today's society, we live on a rich diet of revenge, retribution and a skewed form of rough 'natural justice'. What we see in the adults, we see sown at an early age in their children and the shoots of the same escalations that so beset our adult society are on display in the very youngest among us.

Want to see where our society is having problems? Take a look at kids playing football.

Hey Ho!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Milliband says, "Go for broke."

Labour leader, Ed Milliband (or is it David?) urges the government to 'Go for broke'.

Amazing advice, after all, isn't that what Lanour did when they were in power and isn't this what contributed to draw us into the current austerity measures?

But at least Labour are consistent. What we need (apparently) is some advice from their finance chap, Yes indeedy - next on the agenda? It's Balls ;-)

Happy Sunday (unless you're Scottish and like Rugger).


Friday, 23 September 2011

The Beauty of nature

One of the things that amazes me is the number of people who talk to me about nature and how they love sunrises and sunsets. I'm often moved to remark that the only people who truly see such wonders of nature are farmers and soldiers. One of the best times to see a sunset or sunrise is when stuck somewhere on sentry duty. Not only do you see those wonders of God's handiwork but you see various animals and other bits of beauty in ways that others just don't.

As a 'for instance' here's a rainbow as presented to the privileged few on Salisbury Plain last week) I'll let you have a dawn when I can get the camera downloaded!):


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Self - I, me, another?

Here are some scribblings from the shallows of the Vicar brain regarding my dealings with someone struggling with who they are. Our conversations are bringing me into a place where I am challenged to think about those two age old questions, "Who am I and why am I here?" Do I define myself by my otherness or by my sameness ("I'm a . . . " or "I'm not a . . ")? Do I reduce it to the Cartesian statement, "I think therefore I am," and be happy at that?

Who I am appears to be made firm through the reflection of self in something or someone else. I cannot be me in isolation and yet all too often the 'me' I am is defined by others and it is here we find the big problem. In the situation before my friend there is the overarching question, "Who am I?" screaming from the rooftops.

I may be who I am, but that I is shaped by my familial situation, my schooling, the cultures that have embraced, and been embraced by, me. The expectation of following in the family traditions in terms of schooling, career, lifestyles are as marked and potent regardless of where you find yourself. Many will think of public school, a career in the Army, Medicine, Church or City and the like and a 'good' marriage bringing the continuance of the pattern in the genrations to come. But, the patterns are as strong and well defined in every stratum of our society. State school, minimal qualifications, blue-collar job, social housing and all the trappings are as much a tradition and shape many people into thinking they know who they are.

What shapes us and helps define who we are is a knowledge of what we really believe, what moves us, the places where we are passionate and the places where we can find peace and an internal stillness. Belief is a big part, not just in a creator or someone to ask for things or seek forgiveness from but in self and others too.

As I have discussed I have come to the opinion that being oneself is very much an issue of sameness rather than individuality. That said, as we compile a photofit made up of those who have moved us or been admired by us because we wish to find the same in us. So it is that 'I', as an individual, become a person made up of the attributes and characteristics of others. Our otherness is the result of our sameness and herein lies the rub!

If we base 'I' on just one person or people group there is the problem that we might become a parody or imitator of our focus and this results in the faux characters and their pastiche, almost parody, lives that we encounter. This, taken to it's extremes ends up with those people who live like their heroes, dressing, speaking and acting like them such that they become absurd.

If we base 'I' on many people we find ourselves faced with the danger of appearing to be a grasshopper, self-contradictory and rather haphazard person. If the things that we take upon ourselves or seek to emulate are coherent then we too will be coherent.

Now one of the problems is that as people are developing the 'I' that they are going to be there are people feeding in information, images, attitudes and views that lead the embryonic 'I' becoming malformed and confused. This can be clearly demonstrated in areas of morality, gender, politics, societal and social values and in the area of belief.

Not being the same as others does not always confer individuality any more than sameness does because we are one of many (and yet still different!) for we are dealing with more than a mere numerical consideration (although many still try to place such value on numbers on the basis that they confer a rightness. "Look how many people do . . . "). The problem comes from the fact that we have led our young people into a world of complementary states (black, white and grey?). Being 'us', taking upon ourselves an understand of who we are is the realisation that even when within a clearly defined group we are individuals. Who we are is us and no one else. We may be the same as others and yet will still be different and thus, I find, we may be different from others and yet find within that state, that we are also the same!

Sameness and difference are held in tension and who we are is, for all of us, a continuously evolving state. What we do and how we do it is underpinned by our ability, and obligation, to do it and this is where opportunity and the demands of society and a God come in. the person with whom I am engaged find themselves able to engage in something and yet prohibited from doing it because of their beliefs. Society is screaming 'Whatever floats your boat, get on and do it!" whilst God is apparently looking over His glasses and, Dumbledore like, calling upon them to, "do what is right rather than what is easy!" This bring us into the area of prescription and description (see, did listen to the lectures and even read the books!).

As a Christian we create an 'I' which is made in the image of God (F,S & HS) and of heroes of the faith and in our lives we might describe what we have before us, but prescription designs what we take up and act upon and we do this by living 'rightly' (we'll call this, 'ethically') with an eye on the 'rightness and desires' of our society (which we'll call 'morality'). The problem is that increasingly we find our society's morality becoming looser and more vague. Pleasure, self and 'rights' come to the fore and service, sacrifice, 'being right' fall into the background and neglect. The call of the faith group, of a God who seeks justice, mercy, humility, respect for others and self contrasts and collides greatly with this and the issue of self and individuality versus sameness is a battlefield.

Responsibility is diminished, for it is NEVER 'my' fault, it is how I am made, how my parents brought me up, what I learned at school and so on. But this is of course wrong. For instance a starving man may steal to feed himself (makes a good musical too!) but the fact is that he chose to steal. The argument that he was hungry does not change the fact that at some stage the man decided to engage in the act of stealing. That he was hungry does not cause the stealing to become something else, does it?

Every day we find ourselves faced with choices, even when we don't choose to recognise them as such. The alarm goes off and we make the choice - roll over or get up? Later at the train station we look at the crowded train and decide to push our way on but we could decide to wait for an emptier train or merely pop over the café and throw a sicky! (now some will say that we have no choice because we have to go to work, but although that pressure is upon us, we still have a coice before us). Throughout the day we are faced with choices (we sometimes call this prioritising) and then it all begins again within other frames of reference - lunch, after work, home, evenings, weekends, etc.

Where we find our conversation coming to rest is that, in the task of constructing self, whilst we garner material from our life thus far, we also add material from many other places and the requirement to live as we believe we are called to live in secular or religious ways (or more accurately for many - both) and the sameness that we possess is actually a very different 'same' from the next person.

Everything we do is the result of choice and to plead that we have no choice is merely to embark along, and embrace, another choice.

We need to love the 'I' that we live with and where we can't we need to address that. We need to live with respect, justice, mercy and humility and this means living with, for and because of God. We need to accept that we are never prisoners of other forces or our own desires, ambitions and the like. If they influence us, challenge our thinking and call us to act in ways that stand opposed to the call of God or act against the good of our society, then we need to realise that we have another choice to make - and this, busy crossroads, is where the guilt, the striving for self and the demands of God meet.

What's your choice today?


ps. Sorry this is so long, found this to be a helpful scratchpad for me, let's hope it doesn't damage too many heads out there!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Sporting Integrity

Living in a world where we see foul language, diving and many other forms of cheating form a big part of our national sport, football (which Americans weirdly call 'soccer' leaving 'football to be used with an flawed form of rugger) it is so refreshing to see an example of sporting behaviour on any playing field.

The example here is that of softball and the scenario is that of a player in their last year hitting their first, and destined to be last, home run. Take a look:

The team that acted so nobly went on to lose the game 4-2 and the home run hitter bowed out with a home run and as part of a very special event. The act cost them the game but their selfless commitment won them much more.

Let's hope we make the difference to whatever and wherever we are today.


A 'Whoops Eucharist' moment

Recently, whilst presiding at a communion I had to communicate someone in a motorised wheelchair (AKA scooter). Having reached the person I proceeded to communicate them and having done so stepped back to allow the person with the wine access. As they leant forward to take the wine the control that makes the scooter move was somehow caught and the server was left sr=tanding, mouth wide open, as (beeping) the would-be communicant left the service!

Oh how we laughed and having caught and returned the lost sheep to the fold we finished the service with just a little excitement remaining.

So another lesson and a modified announcement at the beginning, "Please turn off your mobiles and put your scooters in neutral!'

I guess we could go a step (wheelbase) further and modify the sending out:
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
In the name of Christ. Amen.
Start your engines.


ps. Talking among ourselves recently, one of the dogcollars asked what sort of churches we were in. One remarked that they had a young congregation and had a worship band. The next said they had a band and sang modern songs. The last said that they were organ and choir and an ageing congregation. More hip-op than hip hop apparently :-)

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Conker in a microwave

Whilst I was recovering from my injuries (no sympathy offered or given I might add0 we began to discuss the way that water and other things present in stuff get a bit excited when microwaves play with them. I explained how the moving about generates heat and how this makes for interesting things.

So my companion looks earnestly at me and asks, "Like what?

So take a look for yourself:

Enjoy (my audience certainly did)


ps. Cautioned them about putting stuff, especially metal stuff, into microwaves and gave them some wonderfully frightening tales too!

pps. The mother of the audience was present too!

Health and Safety - Conkers

Armed with a large bag of conkers and some string we decided that last Monday night would see a conkers contest just like those we used to have when I was a child back in the dark ages. Of course the first thing to do was check out any Health and Safety (H&S) issues that might be present.

After reading of the escalation of banning conkers and other places who institutes rules regarding goggles, gloves and other protective equipment we were dreading what lay before us, but we were pleasantly surprised when it appeared that the H&S wallahs were quite up for such sport. In fact it seemed that those who had embraced draconian measures (I love Bram Stoker!) had caused the H&S people quite a lot of problems and branded them as excessive killjoys, something it appears they certainly aren't.

So off we went and go the kids to play against each other in a knockout competition. The result was that some asked us where they could 'buy' conkers and how we made them (really!! What have we done to our children?). So perhaps we have, in our own small way, contributed to a little bit of childhood being reclaimed. The best bit is that the game is played in full colour and 3D without any need for special polarised glasses or two different coloured lenses.


And as for the injuries? It appears that I was the only one to bear any scars at the end of the day:

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Samuel Parkes VC

Yesterday I was in the most privileged position of dedicating a memorial in honour of a man, Samuel Parkes, who won the Victoria Cross during the battle of the Light Brigade during the Crimea War and sixteen other men from the village who gave their lives in the two World Wars and the Malayan Conflict.

Complete with standards from the RAFA and the Legion, a guard of honour from the RMLY (a local regiment with connections to Parke's regiment) and the icing on the cake in the shape of HRH, the Countess of wessex who spent time talking with the assembled crowd and put herself out.

With the Baha Mousa inquiry fresh in the minds of many it was good to see some national pride and some recognition of the things that our forces do, and have done, that demands our pride. From children waving Union flags to the honouring of all those who gave their lives for the freedom of this nation and for many in other land this was an event to take pleasure in.

You can hear something about the memorial and the man from a relative here .


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Truth Detecting Camera

Technology and the way that it is reported is a great source of entertainment and always has been I guess since the days of that superb, and much lamented, BBC programme 'Tomorrow's World'. The problem is that much of what is reported and the way that it is done often leaves me rolling in the aisles and the news item on the 'truth camera' yesterday was a real rib-tickler.

Apparently scientists have perfected a camera which can detect whether or not the subject is lying. This technological breakthrough is based upon the heat image of the subject, but let's let the BBC tell us more in their own words:

"A sophisticated new camera system can detect lies just by watching our faces as we talk, experts say. The computerized system uses a simple video camera, a high-resolution thermal imaging sensor and a suite of algorithms. ... It successfully discriminates between truth and lies in about two-thirds of cases, said lead researcher Professor Hassan Ugail from Bradford University. ... We give our emotions away in our eye movements, dilated pupils, biting or pressing together our lips, wrinkling our noses, breathing heavily, swallowing, blinking and facial asymmetry. And these are just the visible signs seen by the camera. Even swelling blood vessels around our eyes betray us, and the thermal sensor spots them too."

So effective is this new camera that it is expected to be installed in airports and other places where would be terrorists gather. Let's hope they've factored in for consumate blushers, PMT 'hot flushers' (a very interesting 'woman's hour' on that a few years back) and make-up wearers. The reporter waxed lyrical about the advances and how the days of being able to lie were numbered - that's surely a worry for many in politics, the press and the Church!

Hopefully this will also herald more investigation into phrenology (or better still, physiognomy - I know a few people with eyes too close together and suspiciously large noses!).

So better start practising or else you'll be found out - science, and big brother, are watching:


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Funerals - things I never knew

The average cost of a funeral is now £7,250 and this is due, apparently to two factors:

1. The number of deaths going down, and

2. The rising cost of fuel.

The average rate of inflation is 4.4% whilst the average rate of inflation for funerals is 6.4%

You can cut the cost of an interment by burying your loved one in your own garden!


This will reduce the value of your home by around 25%

So says research commissioned by Sun Life who are undoubtedly seeking to get us to buy their insurance to cover the funeral fees.

So now you have something you can slip into your office, home or other place conversations today!

It was comforting to know Nan and Grandad were still in their garden!


Monday, 12 September 2011

Being the difference - Clergy & Police

In an interesting discussion today which made me realise that maintaining the difference and 'being the role' is essential for those who wear a dogcollar or carry a warrant card.

In both roles there is an 'ontological' reality whereby we don't merely 'do a job' but become different because of it. In becoming a priest we are changed such that our being is also changed and the difference is essential and real. The same is true for those who maintain the law.

There is, within some at least, a mindset that says a copper is never off duty! Of course not, because the role is ontological (albeit only for the time they are in their force) - they are what they are 7*24*365! The same is true of Priests (without the temporary bit)

Both work for a higher authority and seek to maintain laws which define how we live and what our society is and does. Those laws are usually found to be, or are derived from, Judeo-Christian lass and requirements.

Neither are ever 'off duty', something which makes both potentially dangerous people to have as friends if we tend towards lawbreaking (God's or man's).

Someone recently, speaking of an operational situation where a police officer was deployed with them, made the comment was made that 'they' were always looking at what they did in case they could nick them. Amazingly though, when the need arose, 'they' tagged, cuffed and took into custody the naughty people and when there was a question over what had gone on, it was the copper and the law that showed those who acted to have done so correctly and so offered support and protection. The police were actually present to ensure that others were protected - for this is what law does, it offers protection in that it works at prevention and when this fails deals with the miscreants. It keeps the community safe and ensures that things function as they are required to do.

The priest does exactly the same and by prevention and engagement with those who cross the line, seek to bring about a society that lives to higher moral codes and begets a better community that would otherwise be the case.

Neither police or priest can afford to cross the line or permit others to do this. Neither can 'turn a blind eye' without become guilty themselves (Ezekiel and the watchman knowingly nod). Neither can encourage people to cross the line in an effort to bring about natural law, for even if the miscreant deserves their comeuppance, the retribution takes all outside of the law and renders them equally guilty regardless of whether we are looking at God or society as the source of the law!

For both police and priest the entreaty that we should deal with those who break the law (sin) in a balanced manner, not giving in to excess lest we break the laws ourselves (sin).

Both police and priest engages with society by consent. In one it is society who sets the conditions that the police seek to maintain but in both, generally, the laws are God's and so the duty to maintain them is, for both, a higher calling.

Pray for those who police that they may act justly, maintain and live by the law, bring justice where others seek revenge, restore those who seek to do wrong and act against those who will not be restored - but gently and with integrity so that they teach and keep the laws.

Pray for those who take upon themselves the role of priest for in many ways the duties, role, demands and pressures are the same.


Sunday, 11 September 2011

Forgiveness and the believer

The theme of today's lectionary readings is that of ‘forgiveness’, something quite fitting when we bring to mind:

+ September the eleventh and the twin towers of the World Trade Centre,

+ Baha Mousa and the findings of the inquiry into his death,

+ Israel and Pakistan – Turkey and Egypt’s response to Israel’s acts against humanitarian aid ships and the killing of border guards,

+ Libya and the conflict that continues there,

+ Syria and the death of innocents

Plus a great many other issues and places. public and private, besides.

Look at the Genesis reading and realise how much time has passed since Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Jacob, his father has died, time has passed, but is the act forgotten? Is there healing, for after all the lyrics of many songs tell us that ’time is a healer’.
The truth is that people can be filled with the same rancour and bitterness that was present the day an incident occurred as they are many years later. For forgiveness is something that we choose to engage in, it doesn’t just happen! It is an act of will.

Joseph chooses to engage in that healing in our Genesis reading.

But what makes it the right time to forgive? Our Matthew reading last week talked about reconciliation and this week’s continuation asks how many times we should be reconciled and forgive one another. Seventy times seven?

Forgiveness needs discipline and an enduring faith, as the story of the debtor, who needed his debts to be forgiven demonstrates all too well. We seek to have our trifling debts forgiven by our Father in heaven but cannot forgive those who have indebtedness towards us. We love because God first loved us – we forgive because ‘he who has been forgiven much forgives and loves much!’

Forgiveness sets the focus of that forgiveness free and sets us free too! Free from the bitterness that eats away our bones (as David the king tells us) and free to enjoy life without continually being wracked in anger and life-sapping bitterness.

Listening to the radio over the past couple of days I heard people on both sides of the World Trade Centre episode - some were radicalised, some grieved, others were conciliatory and others were eaten up with hatred. I couldn't see their faces but I knew from their voices that they were twisted and bitter and that something died within them as people died in another place.

I pray that God will bring them the healing that forgiveness brings.


Genesis 50.15-21; Psalm 103.[1-7]8-13*; Romans 14.1-12; Matthew 18.21-35

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Awareness Test

Seen it before but still funny:

Happy Saturday

Lacoste - Image is all

A news snippet on the radio this morning stated that the French clothing brand, Lacoste, has asked the Norwegian police to make sure Anders Brevik doesn't wear anything bearing their logo when he appears in court!

Seems that not all publicity is good publicity after all!

Happy Saturday

Friday, 9 September 2011

In Lotto we trust!

Walking back in to the Vicar's Palace this morning I said 'good morning' to a young lady who was approaching. As I did I noticed she was busy scratching away at one of the Lotto products and so I asked if she did it often.

The response was, "Every morning!"

Turned out she did that every morning when she purchased her newspaper and cigarettes on the way to work in the hope that one morning she'd win the prize and could turn round and go home.

Sad on so many levels :(

The role of education - Obama

Delivering a speech on the state of the US of A, the President delivered a couple of interesting thought, the first (speaking of putting teachers back into work) seemed to sum up the role of education as the process that delivers earning potential. I quote the (perhaps less) esteemed gentleman:

"Let's put teachers back into work so our kids can get good grades, go to college, graduate and get good jobs."

Back in the dim and distant past an English teacher (Colin Chapman - but not the Lotus chappie) told our class that as the number of people going to university rose and as access to higher education became easier the day would come when, "You'd need a degree to become a dustman!"

Labour Day 2011 saw the President in Detroit and one of the reports on the day consisted of interviews with people in that place, the majority of whom were unemployed, regarding their situation. One young man had been unemployed for four years and spoke of the ways that he and his wife struggled to make ends meet. He, like a few others interviewed were graduates and in fact he'd completed postgraduate studies but was unable to find work. He spoke of how McDonald's had opened a new restaurant and that he'd have killed to get a job there but the queues were too long. Another man interviewed had a doctoral qualification and yet was working as a scrap man to pay rent and eat. Eloquent and educated his words brought me back to that lesson in the late sixties and the teacher's words.

Seems my English teacher might just have been a visionary!

We need to pray and work with those who are marginalised by the recession(s) and the financial instability caused by the greed of others. Oh yeah, and get our attitudes to education sorted - we need more vocations and less pushing our children into areas that are merely 'earners'.


Thursday, 8 September 2011

If it isn't literal . .

Then you isn't Christian (apparently!!!)

Engaged in a conversation this afternoon with an intense young man over the issue of evolution and creation the conversation turned to whether or not I was a literalist. When I asked what this meant I was met with a bit of a withering gaze and my rather excitable young interviewer challenged me with the words, "Do you believe that creation took seven days?"

With a smile I responded with, "No, I think creation took only six days and God rested on the seventh!" for I can be a bit clever at times. Sensing his frustration I added, "But of course how long the days were is something I'm not sure of, but there were certainly six epochs, ages which were called days and obviously might not have been."

The young man muttered something about praying for me to become a 'true believer' and left me to perish in ignorance I guess! Perhaps he hadn't heard about being a watchman or ever read Galatians chapter six on how to engage with those 'caught in error' (for surely from his response I was he!).

Returning home and leafing (electronically) through the blogs I find eChurch blog making mention of Ken Ham and his comments. Having met a few Hammerites (I assume that's what they're called) I read the comments with interest and have to make a few comments (I did tell my interviewer this afternoon that I'd mention him) about 'young earth' and what appears to be a totally scientifically flawed attempt by some to make science fit a naive and unscientific mindset that demands a literal interpretation to creation and other elements.

Can anyone please tell me why I am headed for hell because I don't believe in literal days?

Can anyone explain why evolution, Intelligent Design and the like define our faith because I don't really give a tinker's cuss about this in relation to the Cross and salvation and as I understand it neither did anyone else on the New Testament Church (or if they did they forgot to mention it in canon!).


ps. If you can understand what Ham says and prove some veracity exists (scientifically) I'm waiting and hoping.

Baha Mousa - As I see it

I am already tired of the number of people who assume that being part of the British Armed forces is synonymous with being brutal, engaging in torture and engaging in what are, to be frank, 'war crimes'.

Within the British Army there is a culture that promotes compliance with the legal and moral requirements of conflict. Rules of Engagement (RoE) and the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) draw heavily upon the values and standards of the British Army.

The report which is to be published today apparently exonerates the British forces of 'systematic torture' but it is obvious that there were breaches of military law and that some failed to meet the standards required. It is also obvious that some will have sought to cover up their, and their comrades, misdeeds. This, sadly is human nature, and is something which is addressed time and time again.

For those of you who don't understand the role of the British soldier and his (or her) training, it focusses strongly on doing the right things when things aren't going right and seeks to develop within each and every person in uniform (from recruit to General):

Selfless Commitment - putting others and the the task before ourselves. Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend - a reality for far too many in uniform as footage of vehicles passing through Wootton Bassett clearly showed!

Respect for others, respect for self - This is one of the transformational elements of being part of the british Army. It is the basis for its dealing with others (as seen in the 'winning of hearts and minds - more common than the wrong treatment of detainees) and for the way they regard themselves.

Loyalty - Loyalty to the Army, the cap badge (Gunners, Signals, Infantry, etc.), the Regiment, Unit and to comrades. Loyalty to our nation that means we don't disgrace it (and ourselves). Loyalty doesn't mean we lie to cover the misdeeds of others, but stand in integrity with courage (wait for it, it's coming).

Integrity - Coming from the word for wholeness (Integritas - hence Integer: 'whole number') the soldier is required to live a life that is WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get, being both transparent and obviously honest. They should know who they are and what they are required to do and do this on and off duty.

Discipline - Not just doing what you're told but living with self-discipline. Living the way that is expected, and desirable, by the military, society, family and self.

Courage - Not just the courage that engages the enemy and fights for those who can not (or perhaps will not. Amazing how many pacifists live out their beliefs because others have gone to war for them isn't it?) but the moral courage which speaks up when things go wrong. It is this that has perhaps been highlighted by the closing of ranks and the attempts to cover misdeeds. When something wrong is seen the Army demands courage not collusion!

So please - when you read of the reports and the skewed comments of those who will undoubtedly seek to make capital of the this sad affair remember that we take ordinary men and women and train them, impart into their lives, values and standards which to be frank are rarely seen in the majority of those outside the forces and take them where no one should be asked to go, to see what no one should be asked to see and do what no one should be asked to do.

And sometimes the products of our secular society and human nature shows through.

Don't curse our forces but pray for them and applaud the number of times when things like the Baha Mousa scenario didn't occur and pray that they all serve as they are both trained and called to serve - and thank God that they do.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

On being watchmen

Last Sunday's readings from the Lectionary brought into focus three key points:

1. The time to Jesus' return is getting nearer,
2. We need to be alert and discharge our duty as Watchmen, and
3. Being Christlike is to be reconciling not standing on our own exclusive moral high ground.

Being a Watchman is an important role upon which lives depend. Consider the situation in Libya, the sentry in their high vantage point sees a cloud of dust approaching and sounds the alarm. It is obvious when faced with what we call 'conventional war' (two enemies facing each other, no man's land in-between them) who the enemy is and where battle is to be engaged. In today's conflicts the enemy is all around us and there are many pockets of conflict about us. The enemy is all around us rather than 'over there'!

In a conflict situation, if the lookout falls asleep or fails to raise the alarm then people perish. Living as a Christian is a conflict situation - our enemy prowls looking for whom he might destroy.

Are we alert and raising the alarm over the presence of the enemy?

Looking at many in our society, I have assume the answer is 'No'!


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Wrong Worship

If we are what we eat perhaps we might also be what we sing too?


C-Section - Customer's Right to Choose?

In what has to be one of the more bizarre stories I have come across lately I understand that the NHS watchdog is looking at giving women the option to have a Caesarean regardless of whether or not medical need exists. At last all women will have the opportunity to undergo major surgery so that they might keep their nether regions tight and their diaries managed!

This will apparently appear in new guidelines to be published by NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence - the same people who refuse drugs to terminally and seriously ill people on the grounds of cost). This is what I find to be the cherry (if you'll excuse the expression in this context) on the cake when you consider that a 'normal' birth costs around £1,500 and an elective C-section costs around £2.500 - so how comes terminally ill patients can be denied drugs that would extend life and money can be wasted on consumer baby deliveries?

One of the reasons appears to be because it will legitimise (sorry, they use the word 'formalise') those hospitals that offer C-Section on demand and this is, as I understand it, consumerism gone mad!

Listening to a radio programme for women (essential listening to and from the Crem') a couple of year's back I found myself railing at the radio as some high-powered executive woman explained that she had decided on a C-section to enable her to fit the birth in between meetings and social events. The baby's birth date (and time) was set to fit her work and social calendar with the added benefits that she'd still be 'like a teenager' (as long as she didn't look in the mirror at her face I guess) down below and could return to work within a 'matter of days'.

The fact is that all surgery is dangerous (even the 'safe' stuff) and a C-section is (unless things have changed recently) regarded as major surgery which therefore ramps up the risk. Not just that but when we take into account the fact that the current C-section rate is about 25% of all births in the UK (the World Health Organisation's recommendation is that it should be less than 15%) this is a totally off the wall move.

I understand that for some people there is a medical (physical or psychological) reason and necessity for such a procedure but this doesn't seem to be the situation generally with regard to this issue when it is billed as a matter of choice. It is just another part of the consumer 'our right to choose' culture (just like the social engineering that is abortion perhaps - the other side of the marketplace?). Oddly, I've not met many women who wanted an emergency C-section (but were truly grateful for it) - what a strange world but; Hey Ho - the world takes another step towards madness I guess.


Crime and effective punishment

Working on the theory that Rowan probably won't be racing to respond to Ken Clarke's comments regarding the recent riots as a 'legacy of broken penal system' I thought I'd have a go. Undoubtedly my words will be less erudite and, hopefully, more accessible than Rowan's) but here goes anyway!

Apparently, were we to examine the backgrounds of those who have been collared for their part in the recent riots, we would find that the majority were known criminals who had come into contact with, and been processed by, the judiciary with little or no effect. This should come as no real surprise for the circus that is British criminal law finds itself engaging in ASBOs which are, in my experience, generally to be regarded as ineffective badges of pride for many who receive them. Coppers and PCSOs I talk with often complain that someone will be taken to the nick, charged, appear before the bench, receive their ASBO and be back in the same place from which they were barred within days (and sometimes hours!).

Those who find themselves given community service or bound to appear in a certain place at certain times find the experience anything but punitive. A couple of examples I've heard of (by various means):

A man who'd been convicted of football related incidents was ordered to report to the local nick on match days. When the radio reporter asked him about his punishment mentioned the fact that the spent theSaturday afternoon in the custody suite, where the custody office left a radio playing with the football - so he didn't miss much of the happenings! Now you might say that the punishment was being removed from the actual 'being there' bit, but the bloke didn't think he'd been that punished and found it all a bit funny!

Someone who'd been put away for three months for theft stole a car on his way home from the prison because he didn't want to have to wait for public transport! Funny and depressing in one episode.

A senior officer spoke last night in the BBC discussion on the riots saying, "There was 'no intelligence' on the part of the Police before the riots." How very true. But it doesn't take much intelligence (hence I can understand it) to see that those who engaged in the rioting were the 'hard core' criminal types who live outside of society's rules and codes of conduct. These are the people who live for themselves and merely see prison and the legal system as a niggling nuisance rather than effective deterrent. These are the people who laugh as community sentences, ignore fines and come out of prison largely unaffected and totally unabated in their acts and attitudes. These are indeed the feral underclass which needs to be dealt with be4cause they draw the next group of people into the pool with them.

Then we have the 'followers', those who look at the hard core and see them get away with whatever they appear to choose to with little obvious effect. They see them act as they want and see this underpinned and supported by the welfare state in terms of benefits and the like. These are the people who filled the spaces behind the real criminals and emulated their heroes and in doing so filled the gaps and made detaining the ringleaders more difficult. They are the 'noise' that interferes with the process. The problem is that the two groups together make for something exciting and this causes others, who would otherwise be regarded as honest and law-abiding, to be caught up.

Sadly it is these people 'caught up' who are affected by the process of law and it is these who are seeing quite punitive sentencing now which is devastating for them and fatal for their future careers and expectations. The hard core are, as a generalisation, academically limited and having few career choices see no loss in their being acted against by the system. The followers are a mixed bag and for some the only hope they have is to be promoted into the hard core whilst others, coming to their senses and realising their potential slip back into being part of a stable and productive society.

It appears that 70% of those arrested had a criminal history whilst the other 30% were merely 'good' people who were caught up and who have, by being so, have damaged their community and their own lives. The problem is of course that we all have the potential to make the wrong choices (I still call that sin) and within even the best of us is that small voice that urges us on when rational thinking cries out to us to 'Stop!'.

So I have to agree with Ken Clarke in that the way we deal with criminal acts not only appears ineffective but obviously is. Whilst Labour (and didn't they they do such a good job in so many areas when they held power?) point to Clarke's comments being merely financially motivated I think the man has a point. The point of a penal system is to convict and work towards the person not reoffending (that's why some like capital punishment I guess). We need to change the way the person acts and this isn't done by rewarding bad behaviour - hence the call by many that those who are convicted should lose benefits and be ejected from social housing.

If we take the marginalised and marginalise them further how can we hope to see them inculturated?

If we take the 'have nots' and make them such that they have less how do you expect them to respond?

But if we take the ignorant and educate them, the excluded and include them, the one dimensional lives and set them free surely we will see the people, their families, their homes, their communities also change.

The problem is that there is a fine line between doing those things and being seen to reward those who live outside of our society. The problem is that to do so is costly in terms of energy, effort, societal will and (as always) financially.

But the cost to our society is surely greater if we don't do this?

This is surely the Christian basis of our dealings with wrongdoers - we take them and convict them of their wrongdoing and educate them such that they become transformed by the renewing of their mind. And for for those who won't be - then we have the full force of law and the security of removing them from the society that they so corrupt and damage.


Monday, 5 September 2011

Parenting - it's about responsibilities

I was pleasantly unsurprised by the social worker who appeared on Radio Four this morning over the potential removal into care of four of their children from their parents because they were 'too fat'! The four children (aged 1, 3, 7 & 11)  face the situation where they will be 'fostered without contact' or 'adopted'.

Now I have to be honest and say that I do think that letting our kids become obese is an issue and that steps need to be taken (and I understand many have been) but the frightening bit in all of this (for me at least) is the comment from a supposedly aware and competent social worker that. "Parents have no rights only responsibilities!" This professional went on to add that publishing stories like this only caused people to doubt and regard social workers.

Is it any blinking wonder?

I know a goodly number of social workers who are overworked and try to ensure that the right outcome is brought into being and then I know many others who appear to be inept, out of touch and to be honest, totally incompetent (just like dogcollars) and their decisions and outcomes fill the newspapers, promote the popularity of public enquiries and keep coroners busy.

In this case it appears that the parents have worked to meet the demands of the social workers, pity the same can't be said of the professionals with regard to the family.


Back home - time for a cup of tea and then chapter (Yeeha!)

Communication - then and now

I thought this was an amazing astute (and funny) cartoon:

Removing imagination from reading

I was watching an interesting news item last week regarding electronic books and the addition of soundtracks and sound effects to them. What made the news piece more interesting was the cry, in unison, from our four children that such a feature would remove the need to have imagination when reading.

As we discussed this we found that we all regarded the 'mind's eye' images and sounds to be focus and means by which books were special. It was this that made a book great and often made the film of the book weak when the silver screen's interpretation fell short of the book we had read.

This led to the fact that one of the local schools had decided to show the video of Jane Eyre on the grounds that it:

a. saved the cost of n books, and

b. made the story accessible to those who might have struggled a bit with the reading!

Of course the whole point of English at school is surely to teach the language in both written and read forms and so point the second left me wondering if this was one of the reasons we have such poor reading standards displayed by many young people (gosh, don't sound like a young, trendy Vicar this morning, do I?). Secondly the film was an interpretation brought about by editing and modifying the story and so the story as it left the pen was not the same story as that which hit the screen. It might have been an approximation, but often with films there are omissions and quite major changes made to keep running time, cast and cost under control.

The issue of saving the cost of the books is another quite frightening issue as far as I am concerned because as Academies and Free schools and other 'out of the State system' educational bodies become the norm', surely this 'cost-cutting' will become the order of the day in oh so many ways?

Recently the family has seen 'Much ado About Nothing' in a variety of formats ranging from unexpurgated and modernised versions on film to a stage play of the same in a London theatre (more later) and modernised version and play excluded different elements. It was the same story but the journey was different in each. The main points were present but something was lost in each and whilst all three were enjoyable - it was for me - the reading in association with the other media that completed the whole.

One of the people on a London radio station who discussed this suggested that perhaps abridged talking books were a better way of helping our children do English - heaven forbid!

Still, grumble done, let the day begin.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

Alert, Loving and Reconciling Watchmen

All too often we find the Matthew passage used as an almost legalistic procedure for bringing a member of the community that is Church to book and yet it is not condemnation and expulsion (as we also find in 1 Corinthians 5) but reconciliation that is the focus. Why? The Ezekiel passage demonstrates the results of sin on person, community and nation. The call to repentance and the call to act as watchmen for one another, lest we all perish, is clear.

If we were to examine the Ezekiel we see it sandwiched between judgment (1) and restoration (34) calling us to look at our response rather than God’s, as is this whole book and these are to be watchmen for the whole and repentance in the individual 9and also of course, corporately, the whole).

So we are first to be WATCHMEN – a sentry or lookout to warn of approaching danger. For a watchman to miss the enemy was for people to perish – it might be one, it might be all – but their blood were on the sentry’s hands. So to is it if we permit others to act in such ways as they lose their lives through enemy action, and we know who the enemy is and what his weapons are, don’t we?

Of course, when we see it and we warn them, how do we convince them of the danger? Living in Libya and seeing a column of dust approaching makes it easy to warn people of approaching danger. But the app on your phone that calls you to gamble, the magazines on the top shelf that cause your eyes to wander, the many possessions calling out to possess you. Not such an easy task.

But God takes great pleasure in repentance and reconciliation, He’s not about punishing, but will if there is a need for this is justice. So we need to be ALERT – Romans calls us to wake from our slumbers and be alert to the fact that the day of judgement is nearer now than when you got out of bed and put our houses in order. To put aside those things that bring us to destruction and live our lives openly in the light – for it is only those things that are wrong that we choose to do under cover of darkness. But time is ever growing shorter and so the need surely becomes ever greater?

So we must work hard to RECONCILE ourselves to one another, for this is one of the ways that we demonstrate God’s love – see how these Christians LOVE one another – and must cry out our warnings to those who are under threat from the enemy.

We do this by the process in Mathew. Interestingly (well I think so) the passage is stuck between the shepherd who leaves his sheep to recover the lost member of the flock (parallels with Ezekiel and the shepherd prophecy perhaps) and the ‘unforgiving debtor’ (you know, the 70*70 forgiveness bit). Reconciliation is about dialogue, awareness, forgiveness and concern and some comments lead people to think it is OK to condemn ‘sinners’ and exclude them, for Jesus uses the examples ‘Tax Gatherers’ and ‘Gentiles’ but I have to ask how He treated these people? Is this not an example that we need to follow rather than stick with the crowd?

It is too easy to leave the lost ‘lost’ and remain in our holy huddles (in empty buildings). It is too easy to engage in righteous anger and conflict. We seek to bring a peace that is more than an absence of conflict – it is the Shalom of God.

May we, and those with whom we live with, worship with and proclaim Christ as Lord together always experience this shalomyness through the Grace of God and our humble desires to live the life that Christ has won for us through the Cross and lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Ezekiel 33: 7 - 11
“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.
“Son of man, give the people of Israel this message: You are saying, ‘Our sins are heavy upon us; we are wasting away! How can we survive?’ As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?

Romans 13: 8 - 14
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 18: 15 – 20
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again I say to you:
If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”