Saturday, 31 August 2013

Church - like being family

Today I had one of the nicest compliments anyone could pay with regard to what being part of a church is all about. As they talked about the pressures and politics that sometimes occur when people get together (clubs, interest groups and church all fit here) they said those wonderful words, 'Not like your church which is more like a family!'

These words were a joy to hear for they offered an endorsement from someone who is outside of the membership but close enough to know us, our engagements with the community and the relationships between us. Not that this means we don't have our characters and struggles - for they exist in our little family just like every other family. The good thing is that even when those who might test and try us perform at their worst, they are still loved, tolerated and supported - because that's what families do.

So I move towards Sunday in the joyful knowledge that I exist with a bunch of people who are family because of the blood if Christ and we travel together on the same road, bearing each others trials and seeking to support one another when the bumps appear and the going is tough. Some are close family, some are more distant and others are rarely seen (or have removed themselves for a multitude of reasons) but the reality is that when hardship, trial or tragedy comes knocking - we are still there for one another.

Because we are family.

May tomorrow bring you blessing, joy and God's peace and may you never forget that being family means you are never forgotten or alone - the door (and the welcome) is always there.

So if you've left and wish you hadn't

If you've moved away and feel the pain of separation

If troubles are surrounding you and the pressures are mounting

Remember that Church is a place where you are, and always will be, welcomed.


Clever Campaigning using technology

Whilst I rarely find myself warming to the many campaign groups who are out there, generally because they have no consideration for others when they seek to make their case, here's a clever techie based protest that spoiled no one's day (other than oil executives, their investors and the organisers of Formula One perhaps) and gained a tacit piece of advertising at the end of a race.

I found the efforts of the chap trying to remove the banner more distracting than the banner, especially as the german National Anthem was playing. It might have been better to have waited or perhaps folded the thing over - but no, he decided to wave it instead (which was probably just what the protesters wanted).

So here we are, my (extremely rare) nod to campaigning types:

I have to say that having had a quick look at the save the site I do find myself in agreement with their aims - protecting one of the last few places on earth that man has, thus far, managed to leave unspoiled is no wrong aim - is it?

Daily Office - Aug 31

Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Missionary, 651
Psalm 147
How good it is to make music for our God,
how joyful to honour him with praise.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem and gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up all their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars and calls them all by their names.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his wisdom is beyond all telling.
The Lord lifts up the poor,
but casts down the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make music to our God upon the lyre;
Who covers the heavens with clouds and prepares rain for the earth;
Who makes grass to grow upon the mountains and green plants to serve our needs.
He gives the beasts their food and the young ravens when they cry.
He takes no pleasure in the power of a horse,
no delight in human strength;
But the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their trust in his steadfast love.
Sing praise to the Lord, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion;
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates and has blest your children within you.
He has established peace in your borders and satisfies you with the finest wheat.
He sends forth his command to the earth and his word runs very swiftly.
He gives snow like wool and scatters the hoarfrost like ashes.
He casts down his hailstones like morsels of bread;
who can endure his frost?
He sends forth his word and melts them;
he blows with his wind and the waters flow.
He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and judgements to Israel.
He has not dealt so with any other nation;
they do not know his laws.

Proverbs 31.10-end
A capable wife who can find?
 She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
   and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
   all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
   and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
   she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
   and provides food for her household
   and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
   with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
   and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
   Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
   and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
   and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
   for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings;
   her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
   taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
   she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
   and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
   and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
   and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
   her husband too, and he praises her:
‘Many women have done excellently,
   but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
   but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
   and let her works praise her in the city gates.

Mark 9.30-37
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

The Collect
Everlasting God,
you sent the gentle bishop Aidan
to proclaim the gospel in this land:
grant us to live as he taught
in simplicity, humility and love for the poor;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Spend, spend, spend: Arsene buys at last!

It's not often that I get the chance to have a first with the news but I can at last reveal to the football supporting world that Arsene Wenger has at last got out there and put his hands in his pockets and 'splashed the cash'.

I know the Emirates have been trying to keep this image and the corresponding news out of the media but working on the assumption that where there's a will there's also a lawyer making money somewhere very close behind, here is the image all of the White Hart lane crowd have been hoping to see:

Forget AVB - Wenger shows he clearly knows how to spend!
Having been exposed as having just enjoyed one of the biggest buying sprees Arsene Wenger is reported to have said, 'It's been really successful as I've managed to find some really big spuds like those I bought at the end of the transfer season last year!' He went on to add that he'd also managed to get three sorts of paté and some rather nice goat's cheese too - so things will be looking up when AVB gets invited back to his office for a post-match snack and tipple.

When asked about the transfer market, Wenger said he'd got a really cool skull and crossbones on his left arm and had some others he hadn't used yet so he wouldn't need to pop back up to Camden Market for a few weeks yet!

On the pitch Wenger's still not being pressurised into buying players, he knows if he's good and waits until the December transfer window Santa will bring him some for Christmas!

I have a sneaky feeling that AVB is looking forward to bringing his team with all their new players to the Emirates this Sunday - Prozac anyone?

First they came ... (with apologies to Martin Niemöller)

First they came for the Jews, the Gypsy and the Gay and I did not speak out--
Because I was none of those.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists and the political activists, and I did not speak out-- 
Because I was none of those either.

Then the Communists came for the 'dissidents' and, still, I did not speak out-- 
Because I was comfortable in the West!

Then Bosnian took Serb and Serb took Bosnia, and saddened, I watched--
Safe in the knowledge that I was a long way away!

Then they took away the Tutsi, but 'Never Again' meant that where I was--
So I watched the TV news and was glad it was happening far from home!

Then it happened again, this time in Darfur--
But where's that I asked myself, changing channels.

Now it's happening in Syria, but lessons are learned--
Our government decided to be sensible at last and look the other way:
After all, they'll never come for me - will they?

What? They will?
That's OK, I'm sure they will be someone to speak out and make a stand for me ...

Won't there?

Apologies to Martin Niemöller

'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.'

Edmund Burke

Daily office - Aug 30

John Bunyan, Spiritual Writer, 1688

Psalm 142
I cry aloud to the Lord;
to the Lord I make my supplication.
I pour out my complaint before him and tell him of my trouble.

When my spirit faints within me, you know my path;
in the way wherein I walk have they laid a snare for me.
I look to my right hand, and find no one who knows me;
I have no place to flee to, and no one cares for my soul.
I cry out to you, O Lord, and say:
‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.
‘Listen to my cry, for I am brought very low;
 save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me.
‘Bring my soul out of prison,
 that I may give thanks to your name;
 when you have dealt bountifully with me,
 then shall the righteous gather around me.’

Psalm 144
Blessed be the Lord my rock,
who teaches my hands for war and my fingers for battle;
My steadfast help and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield in whom I trust,
who subdues the peoples under me.

O Lord, what are mortals that you should consider them;
mere human beings, that you should take thought for them?
They are like a breath of wind;
their days pass away like a shadow.
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down;
touch the mountains and they shall smoke.
Cast down your lightnings and scatter them;
shoot out your arrows and let thunder roar.
Reach down your hand from on high;
deliver me and take me out of the great waters,
from the hand of foreign enemies,
Whose mouth speaks wickedness and their right hand is the hand of falsehood.

O God, I will sing to you a new song;
I will play to you on a ten-stringed harp,
You that give salvation to kings and have delivered David your servant.
Save me from the peril of the sword and deliver me from the hand of foreign enemies,
Whose mouth speaks wickedness and whose right hand is the hand of falsehood;
So that our sons in their youth may be like well-nurtured plants,
and our daughters like pillars carved for the corners of the temple;
Our barns be filled with all manner of store;
our flocks bearing thousands, and ten thousands in our fields;
Our cattle be heavy with young:
may there be no miscarriage or untimely birth,
no cry of distress in our streets.
Happy are the people whose blessing this is.
Happy are the people who have the Lord for their God.

Proverbs 30.1-9, 24-31
The words of Agur son of Jakeh. An oracle.

Thus says the man: I am weary, O God,
   I am weary, O God. How can I prevail?
Surely I am too stupid to be human;
   I do not have human understanding.
I have not learned wisdom,
   nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
   Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
   Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is the person’s name?
   And what is the name of the person’s child?
   Surely you know!

Every word of God proves true;
   he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
   or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.

Two things I ask of you;
   do not deny them to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
   give me neither poverty nor riches;
   feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you,
   and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
or I shall be poor, and steal,
   and profane the name of my God.

Four things on earth are small,
   yet they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people without strength,
   yet they provide their food in the summer;
the badgers are a people without power,
   yet they make their homes in the rocks;
the locusts have no king,
   yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard can be grasped in the hand,
   yet it is found in kings’ palaces.

Three things are stately in their stride;
   four are stately in their gait:
the lion, which is mightiest among wild animals
   and does not turn back before any;
the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
   and a king striding before his people.

Mark 9.14-29
When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ Someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.’ He answered them, ‘You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’ And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’

The Collect
God of peace,
who called your servant John Bunyan
to be valiant for truth:
grant that as strangers and pilgrims
we may at the last rejoice with all Christian people
      in your heavenly city;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Syria: That motion

So here we are - it's now tomorrow (30th August) and whilst some are celebrating Cameron's defeat in the House of Commons and others bemoaning the lack of influence that he has, elsewhere the people of Syria are dealing with another atrocity, this time involving incendiary devices.

And I'm confused because what we had before us was an opportunity to go round to the place where the naughty person lives and have a chat to his Dad - not go round and shoot the naughty person! I'm hearing how the result was a triumph for democracy and sound thinking and yet, looking at the motion I have printed below, I have to ask the question: WHAT?

Let us consider the motion step-by-step:

 That this House:
  • Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
Can any sane or rational person disagree with this?
  • Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;
Or this?
    • Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;
    Everything that R2P,  the Geneva (and other) Conventions, Law of Armed Conflict and International law demand is enshrined in this clause - this is not Iraq, neither it is warmongering or misplaced!
        • Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;
        • Any they're telling the truth - the UNSC has been weak, toothless and because of that, complicit in the journey that has led us to chemical (and latterly, incendiary) attacks.
        • Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;
        • Too true - for whether they have signed up to agreements, conventions or anything else, what we have is indiscriminate use of WMDs against the nations own people and therefore they stand accused and open to the international communities response (diplomacy, sanctions, green lines and when all else has failed - military action too).
        • Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;
        And yet we can ignore this for our own comfort and peace of mind (we can sleep easy knowing we've ignored this call can we?).
        • Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
        Not a 'go it alone - gung ho motion this is it? This is something that seeks to set a tone that will be taken back and democratically within the UNSC setting be foundational.
        • Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and, whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;
        • Not a jerking knee in sight here (is there?) - get the investigations done and bring the facts to the table so that those who have done wrong may be dealt with within the fullest measure of the law. No reliance upon US intelligence but a call to have the fullest facts, rightly gained and delivered to those who need them most - the UNSC!
        • Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and
        • So even if the UNSC voted for something direct - there would be a return and another debate held in the Commons to respond to that - this is a fail safe rather than a call to irresponsible action - it is democracy and being part of a wider, democratic, body in all its fulness.
        • Notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.
        No regime change, long-term occupation or prolonged engagement - this is about humanitarian response and the protection of those who have thus far been left unprotected by those who can go home to their beds and sleep safely in the knowledge they, and their children, will not be subject to chemical (or other) attack.

        If you read this and agree that within the motion you find nothing that causes you concern - perhaps you should ask your MP why they did if the voted against it?

        And then perhaps you should ask how the relatives and loved ones of these people feel (and how you'd be feeling if the roles were reversed)?

            Made me laugh: WCs - A new twist

            I've always enjoyed the 'male, female and clergy' toilet signs and so the variant of WCs sign shown below was most definitely destined to make me smile, especially as I recalled another 'Dalek' poster from some time back:

            I hope you find both of them able to help raise a smile on a day when they are in short supply across the world.

            Thursday, 29 August 2013

            Education: Living as a struggling observer

            I've been working with, in and around secondary education for a few years now and hear various accounts of what (apparently) occurs behind the walls of our educational institutions and manifests itself as education. I have to say 'apparently' because I struggle to believe that there really are teachers out there who encourage their pupils to call them by their first names or regale them with accounts of their social life and the like.

            Mind you, I can remember being taken to task when, as a schoolboy, I invited my form master to call me 'Vic', the reason given was that since we were going to be working together there was little point in being formal about the relationship. I also remember including the teacher's name (Jim) and it was that that saw me heading off the the deputy head's office for a bit of corporal punishment!

            Yes indeed folks, A.S. Neil and Summerhill School had a lot to answer for with this (as I realise now) precocious teenager. Neil's stated aims of making the school fit the child rather than vv really resonated with me and yet I now, as a wrinkly, find myself longing that education would be more like Neil's vision with a bit of oomph thrown in.

            Things get worse when I hear of bright pupils who are failing because of circumstances outside of their won control and whilst I am a living example of then 'could do better' example of scholar I am also aware that some schools are apparently happy with producing low-quality products. Not only that but some are happy to manipulate their outcomes by farming out the lower end of the population to technical and vocational establishments (something I think is disgraceful as it stigmatises the more practical or mechanically-minded as second class from an earlier age than was before)!

            Looking at the grades where I live today, and discussing them with one whose children travel away from our schools, I have come to realise that we are perhaps not serving our children well when it comes to education. I hear of children who are passing with Es (rather than ease) and have heard of more lower grade results this year than perhaps before (which might conveniently be blamed on Gove and the fiddling of the figures). I have found more young people packing their schoolbooks in their old kitbag and moving away from the place that appears to have failed them last year in the hope that the new place might redress the situation.

            Nigel Molesworth - my hero and role model

            Of course if the kids aren't digging in and doing the work then they deserve all that they don't get (so I'm told) but if they aren't chivied, nudged and challenged to do better then the finger returns to those who are paid to educate, and where is the redress then? I'm struggling as I sit and watch what is (apparently) occurring with the children on my community because they deserve more that that which they apparently get in secondary education.

            So I write this as a struggling observer. Education is about maximising and achieving a child's full potential. It is about enabling them to have the widest choice of opportunities before them and to be fulfilled and content - it is not about maximising earnings or rising up the class system (we can leave this to the people who pay for the privilege of private education to perhaps do this)!

            I seek to open the eyes of the children around me as to what they can do. To encourage them to dream dreams and to make them become reality and yet this is missing from their accounts of what appears to be happening in their school life. The teachers who encouraged, imparted passion and excited with their subject just don't appear to be there (please tell me this isn't true) and instead we have teachers who are unable to control their classes and who resort to ranting, raving and screaming as their normal mode of work.

            I'm struggling and whilst I try to maintain a balanced view feel reason and belief in the system slowly disappearing only to be replaced by something I'd rather not be feeling. For if I, outside of the system feel like this, how on earth do the teachers and pupils feel?


            Aren't you Vicars supposed to just do religion?

            That was yesterday's challenging question!

            As we discussed the issue of Syria and the options open to this government as part of a proper response this little gem appeared. Dialogue continued and another question appeared, this one asking, 'Why we had to do anything at all?' And that question, for me at least, answered the first question rather nicely.

            You see the reality is that we are not supposed to just 'do' religion but are called to live out our faith and turn it into something that not only changes us but those around us and beyond. In my big black book I find many passages that inform and enable; many bits that challenge me to change who or what I am and to get down and not only make a difference but 'be' the difference!

            In chapter two of the book of James (vv.14-17) we find this:
            'What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?
            Can such faith save them?
            Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
            In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.'

            The idea that we Vicars are just 'supposed to do religion' is as ludicrous as having the view that a chef's calling is 'just cooking' or an artist's role is 'daubing'! There's no point creating culinary delights if no one eats them, and in the eating engages with others and builds relationships and is changed. Art done and locked away is dead art - for it is in the seeing and being touched by it, the being moved and changed by it, that the real value of the art is made real.

            Religion is a sterile, limited and dreadful thing: It serves only to condemn sinners for breaking regulations, rules and restrictions that no one could keep on their own, or in their own strength. It puts on services and nods at God but goes no further. It offers much as a philosophy or set of beliefs but like culinary delights uneaten or or art unseen, the potential only becomes realised when it is taken into ourselves and allowed to change us.

            My role is to open the eyes and hearts of others to the possibilities that God makes available and to help those who can see it make that real. This is part of what we are seeing in fine detail at the moment with Syria but it was there in the needs of the mentally ill, the long-term sick, the jobless, the homeless, the (far too many) NEETs*, the addicted and many other categories of concern that exist in our communities and outside our own doors.

            The needs are great and yet in a society which sets the standards that enable the police to police by consent we have the opportunity to define and maintain what is to be considered 'right'. In a society that was once the envy of the world with its National Health Service, welfare system and Legal Aid, we have to realise that we get what we permit the governments (National, County and local) to give us.

            But where there are needs, religion that is faith acts to meet them.

            Where there are wrongs, religion that is faith seeks to right them.

             Where there is sorrow, pain and death, religion seeks to bring love, comfort and healing.

            Just do religion? How very dare they suggest that - I deal in change not decay (what about you?)

            *Not in Education, Employment or Training - the 16-18 year olds who are merely 'lost'!

            Daily Office - Aug 29

            The Beheading of John the Baptist

            Psalm 143

            Hear my prayer, O Lord,
            and in your faithfulness give ear to my supplications;
            answer me in your righteousness.
            Enter not into judgement with your servant,
            for in your sight shall no one living be justified.
            For the enemy has pursued me,
            crushing my life to the ground,
            making me sit in darkness like those long dead.
            My spirit faints within me;
            my heart within me is desolate.
            I remember the time past; I muse upon all your deeds;
            I consider the works of your hands.
            I stretch out my hands to you;
            my soul gasps for you like a thirsty land.
            O Lord, make haste to answer me; my spirit fails me;
            hide not your face from me
            lest I be like those who go down to the Pit.
            Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,
            for in you I put my trust;
            show me the way I should walk in,
            for I lift up my soul to you.
            Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies,
            for I flee to you for refuge.
            Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God;
            let your kindly spirit lead me on a level path.
            Revive me, O Lord, for your name’s sake;
            for your righteousness’ sake, bring me out of trouble.
            In your faithfulness, slay my enemies,
            and destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
            for truly I am your servant.

            Psalm 146
            Praise the Lord, O my soul:
            while I live will I praise the Lord;
            as long as I have any being,
            I will sing praises to my God.

            Put not your trust in princes,
            nor in any human power,
            for there is no help in them.
            When their breath goes forth, they return to the earth;
            on that day all their thoughts perish.
            Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help,
            whose hope is in the Lord their God;
            Who made heaven and earth,
            the sea and all that is in them;
            who keeps his promise for ever;
            Who gives justice to those that suffer wrong
            and bread to those who hunger.
            The Lord looses those that are bound;
            the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
            The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
            the Lord loves the righteous;
            The Lord watches over the stranger in the land;
            he upholds the orphan and widow;
            but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
            The Lord shall reign for ever,
            your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

            Proverbs 27.1-22
            Do not boast about tomorrow,
               for you do not know what a day may bring.
            Let another praise you, and not your own mouth—
               a stranger, and not your own lips.
            A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty,
               but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.
            Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming,
               but who is able to stand before jealousy?
            Better is open rebuke
               than hidden love.
            Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
               but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
            The sated appetite spurns honey,
               but to a ravenous appetite even the bitter is sweet.
            Like a bird that strays from its nest
               is one who strays from home.
            Perfume and incense make the heart glad,
               but the soul is torn by trouble.
            Do not forsake your friend or the friend of your parent;
               do not go to the house of your kindred on the day of your calamity.
            Better is a neighbour who is nearby
               than kindred who are far away.
            Be wise, my child, and make my heart glad,
               so that I may answer whoever reproaches me.
            The clever see danger and hide;
               but the simple go on, and suffer for it.
            Take the garment of one who has given surety for a stranger;
               seize the pledge given as surety for foreigners.
            Whoever blesses a neighbour with a loud voice,
               rising early in the morning,
               will be counted as cursing.
            A continual dripping on a rainy day
               and a contentious wife are alike;
            to restrain her is to restrain the wind
               or to grasp oil in the right hand.
            Iron sharpens iron,
               and one person sharpens the wits of another.
            Anyone who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
               and anyone who takes care of a master will be honoured.
            Just as water reflects the face,
               so one human heart reflects another.
            Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,
               and human eyes are never satisfied.
            The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
               so a person is tested by being praised.
            Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle
               along with crushed grain,
               but the folly will not be driven out.

            Mark 9.2-13
            Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
            As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’

            The Collect
            Almighty God,
            who called your servant John the Baptist
            to be the forerunner of your Son in birth and death:
            strengthen us by your grace
            that, as he suffered for the truth,
            so we may boldly resist corruption and vice
            and receive with him the unfading crown of glory;
            through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
            who is alive and reigns with you,
            in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
            one God, now and for ever. Amen.

            Wednesday, 28 August 2013

            A small and insignificant island ...

            Or a proud nation willing to stand as part of the international community to save lives and protect the weak?

            This is what I'm being faced with today as I find that everyone has a view on Syria and as the government of our sceptred (or perhaps that should be septic) isle comes back early to discuss what measures they should take.

            Having written on the responsibility to protect yesterday I have to say that people are just a little confused at the moment and for a number of reasons:

            It's Not our Problem
            I will deal with this more at the end of this scribble - but I have to say that (in my opinion) those who are content to see the images on their screens and consider what they see as nothing to do with them are in need of some social and moral education. How can anyone be unmoved by what they have seen and how anyone can shrug and dismiss it as that most invisible of all things, the 'someone else's problem' field is beyond me.

            Regime Change
            Can I point out that any nation, or confederation of nations, that enters another country's sovereign territory with the intention of removing its democratically elected leader (and/or government) is guilty of breaking international law. This is proscribed against in the Geneva and other conventions and is also found within international law as well - it is illegal.

            When any conflict is enacted, it is the duty of both sides to do the very minimum in terms of taking life and reigning destruction down upon the enemy. The current attitude (as espoused this very morning by one of those passing me in the street) of 'slotting the B***s' and 'bombing the place to hell' is great on the big screen but it is neither legal, moral or effective.

            Vote Winning
            Here we are with a pretty much financially bankrupt country and we want to add to that label the term 'morally bankrupt' too? Nah - surely not even the weakest brained politician (and there's so many to choose from) can really believe that conflict is a vote-winner.

            Right response
            That's easy - the right response is to wait and see what the UN inspectors come up with following their assessment of the sites and warheads found in Syria. It would be wrong to believe the US intelligence (isn't that an oxymoron?) reports because to be honest that was what caused some of the issues surrounding Iraq - and whilst there were WMDs at some stage, what we have subsequently found in the reports was conjecture rather than fact - and that's not intelligent intelligence is it?

            Back to Basics
            The process is clear and obvious regarding Syria:

            Political means which include dialogue and confrontation, sanction, embargo, trade, travel and other restrictions. When these measures have been attempted and exhausted then there is the final, military, response - peace-keeping forces.

            Those who are calling for the rebels to be armed and supported are wrong (have the Americans and their 'arm our friends' follies taught us nothing) for, as the Bible tells us, there are two sides to every conflict and it's rarely a black and white affair.

            Those who are saying that 'It's none of our business,' are also wrong because it is - morally and spiritually! Looking back at the Shoah (AKA the Nazi holocaust against the Jews), Rwanda, Kosovo, Darfur, Cambodia and many other places it is obvious that wicked people exist and act wickedly against those in the nations - and we must make 'never again' a reality, not some trite cliché.

            Conflict has to be the last resort but the reality lies in the words of the old Latin motto:

            'Si vis pacem, para bellum'*

            Boots on the ground are the very final response - but we do need our government, and all the governments of the world (are you listening Russia?) to discuss at local level and bring that discussion to a global setting so that a consensus is reached and a balanced response made.

            So are you praying - I know I am :-)


            *'If you want peace, prepare for war'

            Daily Office - Aug 28

            Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Teacher of the Faith, 430

            Psalm 119.153-end

            O consider my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget your law.
            Plead my cause and redeem me; according to your promise, give me life.
            Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes.
            Great is your compassion, O Lord;
            give me life, according to your judgements.
            Many there are that persecute and oppress me,
            yet do I not swerve from your testimonies.
            It grieves me when I see the treacherous, for they do not keep your word.

            Consider, O Lord, how I love your commandments;
            give me life according to your loving-kindness.
            The sum of your word is truth, and all your righteous judgements endure for evermore. R
            Princes have persecuted me without a cause, but my heart stands in awe of your word.
            I am as glad of your word as one who finds great spoils.
            As for lies, I hate and abhor them, but your law do I love.
            Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgements.
            Great peace have they who love your law;
            nothing shall make them stumble.

            Lord, I have looked for your salvation and I have fulfilled your commandments.
            My soul has kept your testimonies and greatly have I loved them.
            I have kept your commandments and testimonies,
            for all my ways are before you.
            Let my cry come before you, O Lord; 
            give me understanding, according to your word.
            Let my supplication come before you;
            deliver me, according to your promise.
            My lips shall pour forth your praise, when you have taught me your statutes.
            My tongue shall sing of your word, for all your commandments are righteous.
            Let your hand reach out to help me, for I have chosen your commandments.
            I have longed for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.
            Let my soul live and it shall praise you, and let your judgements be my help.
             I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost;
            O seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

            Proverbs 26.12-end
            Do you see persons wise in their own eyes?
               There is more hope for fools than for them.
            The lazy person says, ‘There is a lion in the road!
               There is a lion in the streets!’
            As a door turns on its hinges,
               so does a lazy person in bed.
            The lazy person buries a hand in the dish,
               and is too tired to bring it back to the mouth.
            The lazy person is wiser in self-esteem
               than seven who can answer discreetly.
            Like somebody who takes a passing dog by the ears
               is one who meddles in the quarrel of another.
            Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows,
            so is one who deceives a neighbour
               and says, ‘I am only joking!’
            For lack of wood the fire goes out,
               and where there is no whisperer, quarrelling ceases.
            As charcoal is to hot embers and wood to fire,
               so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.
            The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
               they go down into the inner parts of the body.
            Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
               are smooth lips with an evil heart.
            An enemy dissembles in speaking
               while harbouring deceit within;
            when an enemy speaks graciously, do not believe it,
               for there are seven abominations concealed within;
            though hatred is covered with guile,
               the enemy’s wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
            Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,
               and a stone will come back on the one who starts it rolling.
            A lying tongue hates its victims,
               and a flattering mouth works ruin.

            Mark 8.27-9.1
            Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
            Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

            He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

            And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’

            The Collect
            Merciful Lord,
            who turned Augustine from his sins to be a faithful bishop and teacher:
            grant that we may follow him in penitence and discipline
            till our restless hearts find their rest in you;
            through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
            who is alive and reigns with you,
            in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
            one God, now and for ever. Amen.

            Tuesday, 27 August 2013

            Responsibility to protect

            I have to say that I am struggling on so many levels with the situation in Syria and on even more with those around me who are accusing our nation of 'war-mongering' and bemoaning the fact that we're merely 'looking for a fight' and here's why:

            I can remember the travesty of international justice and the frustrations of UN Forces' commanders when they were rendered impotent in the humanitarian role of protecting civilians in Both Rwanda and Bosnia (take a look at 'Hotel Rwanda' and think back to the Balkan conflict to see what I mean).

            I struggle to come to terms with a world where Saddam Hussein managed to deal so effectively with the Shia population that was the Marsh Arabs through draining of their homelands and the use of chemical weapons (and that means that 'yes' he did have weapons of mass destruction at some stage) against those of Kurdish descent (how many people even know of Halabja which remembers the twenty-fifth anniversary of it's bombing with chemical weapons this year?).

            In Psalm 82 (v.3-4) we find this:

            'Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
             Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.'

            What we have before us is something that today we call the 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) and it is something that supports the intent of the passage above and, existing closely in tune with the heartbeat of God, resonates with all descent people (theist and non-theist).

            It is not rabble-rousing, nor jingoistic or vote-catching. What it brings into focus is three elements that need to be considered and these are presented to us in the images of those dead or dying we see broadcast onto our television screens from Syria.

            There are three considerations:

            It is the duty of each and every state to protect their people from genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity; and the duty of the international community to assist in the prevention of these acts.

            Where evidence exists that such atrocities are occurring because the state is unable, or unwilling, to act to stop them then once all peaceful means have been exhausted other, more militarily robust means, are all that remain.

            In a nutshell, this is the bottom line:

            If a nation cannot, or will not, protect it's own people then the international community must act to ensure that this protection is afforded and when all else fails it is acceptable for them to do so by use of military force.

            This is the situation before us with regard to Syria and should the UN Security Council decide that this is the place that has been reached by the current crisis (and it is a crisis) then there are many steps before we find ourselves with a 'boots on the ground' scenario, but this is the ultimate destination should more peaceful ways fail.

            It would help the situation greatly to have the Russians become a little more obviously engaged in what is right rather than the protection of their ally (and sales market) in defending Syria. The steps open would be trade embargos (which would hit Russia), sanctions (such as those which have stopped North Korea getting ski lifts - now that's a thought to savour isn't it?) and other restrictions and political strategies.

            It's not a swift route, and it never should be, because military action is a last resort rather than a kneejerk (after all whilst politicians start wars it's the armed forces who stop them and pay dearly for treaties written in their blood).

            So we need to stop responding with our own kneejerk responses and stop the 'warmongering' cries - because R2P is a balanced, measured and slow process which has nothing to do with regime changes (a mistake that we saw perhaps with Iraq) or dogma, doctrine or national interest (and I mean other nations, not the nation where the problems are occurring). What R2P demands is a strong constitution and a desire to make real the words, 'NEVER AGAIN' true for every nation across the globe - for genocide and the use of weapons of mass destruction must be opposed globally, always and everywhere without let, hindrance, bias or favour.

            So tomorrow when the British government discuss the option regarding Syria, use your heads and think; your knees and pray and remember that those who would have peace must train armies and be willing to use them - as the last resort.

            Sadly civil wars see ruling powers act against civilian populations using the might of the government machinery (and military might) and the danger is that in supporting the citizens we might just be supporting the self-same terrorists who will turn on us later (remember Russian and Mujahedin and who armed them only to have the same arms turned on our troops by the same people now?).

            We need to read, test the news reports and understand the situations and, when what we see on our televisions occurs, act in a right and proper way as nations and as the members of those nations who are part of the international community.

            Pray for peace -work for peace- be ready to engage the wicked if (or perhaps when) this is seen to have failed.

            Simples or what?


            What if Church did its Customer Services like ...


            Last week we took delivery of a new phone only to discover that it wasn't working and so I rang and having been put through to a techie I explained that it had a problem (appeared to be a NAND gate issue apparently). The result was that I was told that a new device would be dispatched at some rate of knots to resolve this issue.

            We waited a couple of days and I rang Customer Services who assured me that it had left and was with the delivery people, so I smiled and waited - and it never came. But the weekend did and so we waited until today (when a silver 'returns bag' arrived - so I dispatched the duff handset as per instructions) and rang again.

            'The order has been cancelled,' was the response I received when I contacted someone to find out what was going on, 'Because you sent it back in the seven day 'cooling off' period!'

            So I explained that I hadn't sent it off because I'd rejected it (shh, it's alright phone, we does love you really) but because it was broken. 'Well you can't have another one until you return it,' they said.

            So I pleaded miserably (and I can be a really miserable pleader) that we needed one and were just a little upset at this fourth account (and assessment) of the situation I was in. I told them I wanted someone from Customer Services to call me back - they (of course) never did - to resolve this issue.

            A little later I contacted Vodafone using their chat system and received pleas of impotence, a complete runaround and when asked to have the issue escalated was told that that took two to three days! Now who runs customer services like that? I told them that this was unacceptable in today's current culture and was passed up to someone who portrayed themselves as a line manager. He was a total waste of space and was stealing oxygen from people who could have made better use of it.

            His Customer-facing approach was this: 'There is no negotiation - there are no options, you have to do it our way!' I demanded that he escalate the issue but all I got were his protestations of impotency and limited options (I have the whole chat message saved and will have to publish it one day - it's a gleaming example of everything that really shouldn't be found in a customer support environment).

            Eventually I wished him Namaste and left feeling that my future with Vodafone was indeed dim and limited. Four scenarios with no service, little feeling of being cared for and a sense of diminished worth (was the customer really king once?) - not a great advert' for the company at all.

            The automated telephone system was even less help and yet amazingly, dialling the wrong option, I chanced across a Scottish voice that was warm, friendly and helpful. They went off and looked and called me back and explained the problems that had resulted in my problems and it's Tony rather than the bunch of impotency that exists somewhere at the end of the wire some five hours East of me that will probably keep me with them!

            And it struck me that this was a great parallel with some of the encounters that people have had with the Church. There are those encounters where we meet the 'I have no options' people who are limited and limiting - who bring about such niggardly and sterile encounters that make the Church look so bad.

            The people who, like those who produced the four differing scenarios (plus a really dodgy attempt and portraying the same option three different ways in a hope I would think I had been cared for or listened to and accept one of them) in the hope that it would make me go away! You know them I'm sure. They're the people who mirror those often found in a Church setting; those people who are happy to agree to differ as long as they can have it their own way.

            The people who are skilled at making issues disappear by pretending that they have and rejoice in the ability to be absent when the situations they've helped cause need to be addressed. This is a real problem in any customer-facing environment this is, for you move the issue on to someone else and whilst you're living in peace with all, they have to fight the issue and the reaction to having been duped!

            What I needed was someone to own the problem and give me the information I needed regarding it and its resolution.

            Someone who would tell me the truth (even if I didn't want to hear it) and would lead me along the path to resolution.

            Someone who would listen and dialogue rather than stick their fingers in their ears and pretend they were offering something along the lines of support.

            You know what?

            If Vodafone, or the Church, did that it would have so many people wanting to be in relationship with it - and that's the lesson to be learned from this engagement today for me:

            It's no good telling people you care when you patently don't.

            It's no good having people to talk to if they don't actually listen.

            It's no good listening if you're not prepared to escalate the issue up the chain (w in Church it's called 'prayer' in Vodafone it appears to be called 'wishful  thinking')

            How's the Customer Services where you worship?

            (If you answer 'poor' then I think you might need to look in the mirror and have a word with that member of the team before you engage with the others ;-))


            Daily Office - Aug 27

            Psalm 132
            Lord, remember for David all the hardships he endured;
            How he swore an oath to the Lord and vowed a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
            ‘I will not come within the shelter of my house, nor climb up into my bed;
            ‘I will not allow my eyes to sleep, nor let my eyelids slumber,
            'Until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.’
            Now, we heard of the ark in Ephrathah and found it in the fields of Ja-ar.
            Let us enter his dwelling place and fall low before his footstool.
            Arise, O Lord, into your resting place,
            you and the ark of your strength.
            Let your priests be clothed with righteousness and your faithful ones sing with joy.
            For your servant David’s sake, turn not away the face of your anointed.
            The Lord has sworn an oath to David, a promise from which he will not shrink:
            ‘Of the fruit of your body shall I set upon your throne.
            ‘If your children keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
            their children also shall sit upon your throne for evermore.’
            For the Lord has chosen Zion for himself;
            he has desired her for his habitation:
            ‘This shall be my resting place for ever;
            here will I dwell, for I have longed for her.
            ‘I will abundantly bless her provision;
            her poor will I satisfy with bread.
            ‘I will clothe her priests with salvation,
            and her faithful ones shall rejoice and sing.
            ‘There will I make a horn to spring up for David;
            I will keep a lantern burning for my anointed.
            ‘As for his enemies, I will clothe them with shame;
            but on him shall his crown be bright.’

            Psalm 133
            Behold how good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity.
            It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard,
            Even on Aaron’s beard, running down upon the collar of his clothing.
            It is like the dew of Hermon running down upon the hills of Zion.
            For there the Lord has promised his blessing:
            even life for evermore.

            Proverbs 25.15-end
            With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
               and a soft tongue can break bones.
            If you have found honey, eat only enough for you,
               or else, having too much, you will vomit it.
            Let your foot be seldom in your neighbour’s house,
               otherwise the neighbour will become weary of you and hate you.
            Like a war club, a sword, or a sharp arrow
               is one who bears false witness against a neighbour.
            Like a bad tooth or a lame foot
               is trust in a faithless person in time of trouble.
            Like vinegar on a wound
               is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
            Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood,
               sorrow gnaws at the human heart.
            If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
               and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
            for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
               and the Lord will reward you.
            The north wind produces rain,
               and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
            It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
               than in a house shared with a contentious wife.
            Like cold water to a thirsty soul,
               so is good news from a far country.
            Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain
               are the righteous who give way before the wicked.
            It is not good to eat much honey,
               or to seek honour on top of honour.
            Like a city breached, without walls,
               is one who lacks self-control.

            Mark 8.22-26
            They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’

            The Collect
            Almighty God,
            who called your Church to bear witness
            that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
            help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
            that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
            through him who was lifted up on the cross,
            and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
            one God, now and for ever. Amen.

            Monday, 26 August 2013

            Daily Office - 26 Aug

            Psalm 123
            To you I lift up my eyes, to you that are enthroned in the heavens.
            As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
            or the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
            So our eyes wait upon the Lord our God,
            until he have mercy upon us.
            Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
            for we have had more than enough of contempt.
            Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of the arrogant,
            and of the contempt of the proud.

            Psalm 124
            If the Lord himself had not been on our side, now may Israel say;
            If the Lord had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us;
            Then would they have swallowed us alive when their anger burned against us;
            Then would the waters have overwhelmed us and the torrent gone over our soul;
            over our soul would have swept the raging waters.
            But blessed be the Lord who has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
            Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowler;
            the snare is broken and we are delivered.
            Our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth.

            Psalm 125
            Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
            which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.
            As the hills stand about Jerusalem,
            so the Lord stands round about his people,
            from this time forth for evermore.
            The sceptre of wickedness shall not hold sway over the land allotted to the righteous,
            lest the righteous turn their hands to evil.
            Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
            and to those who are true of heart.
            Those who turn aside to crooked ways the Lord shall take away with the evildoers;
            but let there be peace upon Israel.

            Psalm 126
            When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
            then were we like those who dream.
            Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with songs of joy.
            Then said they among the nations,
            ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
             The Lord has indeed done great things for us, and therefore we rejoiced.

            Restore again our fortunes, O Lord, as the river beds of the desert.
            Those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.
            Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed,
            will come back with shouts of joy, bearing their sheaves with them.

            Proverbs 25.1-14
            These are other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied.

            It is the glory of God to conceal things,
               but the glory of kings is to search things out.
            Like the heavens for height, like the earth for depth,
               so the mind of kings is unsearchable.
            Take away the dross from the silver,
               and the smith has material for a vessel;
            take away the wicked from the presence of the king,
               and his throne will be established in righteousness.
            Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
               or stand in the place of the great;
            for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here’,
               than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

            What your eyes have seen
               do not hastily bring into court;
            for what will you do in the end,
               when your neighbour puts you to shame?
            Argue your case with your neighbour directly,
               and do not disclose another’s secret;
            or else someone who hears you will bring shame upon you,
               and your ill repute will have no end.

            A word fitly spoken
               is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
            Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
               is a wise rebuke to a listening ear.
            Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest
               are faithful messengers to those who send them;
               they refresh the spirit of their masters.
            Like clouds and wind without rain
               is one who boasts of a gift never given.

            Mark 8.11-21
            The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
            Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ They said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’

            The Collect
            Almighty God,
            who called your Church to bear witness
            that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
            help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
            that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
            through him who was lifted up on the cross,
            and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
            one God, now and for ever. Amen.

            Sunday, 25 August 2013

            Pride, Sorrow and Prayer

            As this morning we set off as a family to see off our eldest daughter as she embarks upon a TWAM (Youth With A Mission) 'Year For God' (YFG). The surprise when she came back from New Wine last year and told us she was thinking of taking a year out and doing 'something' was  increased when she decided that this was what it was going to be. But here we are, she's raised money towards it (about half) and been inoculated against most of the diseases I've heard of and has packed, re-packed and then packed again to get everything into her bergen and we are ready for the off.

            Yesterday, as I looked at photographs of her steering the boat as a really tiny thing through to the latest images of a grown woman I couldn't help but feel a pang of sorrow that our first born was to fly the nest. I know it had to happen some day, but surely fifty is a good age for that :-)

            So here I sit thinking about the journey to Heathrow with the words of Psalm 121 banging in my head and resounding in my heart as the prayer I will be praying for her and those she works with:

            I lift up my eyes to the mountains-where does my help come from?
            My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
            He will not let your foot slip he who watches over you will not slumber;
            indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
            The Lord watches over you-the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 
            the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
            The Lord will keep you from all harm-he will watch over your life;
            the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

            Saturday, 24 August 2013

            Daily Offfice - Aug 24

            Bartholomew the Apostle

            Psalm 86

            Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery.
            Preserve my soul, for I am faithful;
            save your servant, for I put my trust in you.
            Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God;
            I call upon you all the day long.
            Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
            For you, Lord, are good and forgiving,
            abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

            Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer and listen to the voice of my supplication.
            In the day of my distress I will call upon you,
            for you will answer me.
            Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord,
            nor any works like yours.
            All nations you have made shall come and worship you, O Lord,
            and shall glorify your name.
            For you are great and do wonderful things;
            you alone are God.
            Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;
            knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name.
            I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
            and glorify your name for evermore;
            For great is your steadfast love towards me,
            for you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.
            O God, the proud rise up against me me and a ruthless horde seek after my life;
            they have not set you before their eyes.
            But you, Lord, are gracious and full of compassion,
            slow to anger and full of kindness and truth.
            Turn to me and have mercy upon me;
            give your strength to your servant
            and save the child of your handmaid.
            Show me a token of your favour,
            that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed;
            because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

            Psalm 117
            O praise the Lord, all you nations;
            praise him, all you peoples.
            For great is his steadfast love towards us,
            and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.

            Genesis 28.10-17
            Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

            John 1.43-51
            The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

            The Collect
            Almighty and everlasting God,
            who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your word:
            grant that your Church
            may love that word which he believed
            and may faithfully preach and receive the same;
            through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
            who is alive and reigns with you,
            in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
            one God, now and for ever. Amen.

            Friday, 23 August 2013

            Daily Office - Aug 23

            Psalm 139
            O Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
            you know my sitting down and my rising up;
            you discern my thoughts from afar.
            You mark out my journeys and my resting place and are acquainted with all my ways.

            For there is not a word on my tongue, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
            You encompass me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.
            Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, so high that I cannot attain it.

            Where can I go then from your spirit?
            Or where can I flee from your presence?
            If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
            if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
            If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
            Even there your hand shall lead me, your right hand hold me fast.

            If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night,’
            Even darkness is no darkness with you;
            the night is as clear as the day;
            darkness and light to you are both alike.
            For you yourself created my inmost parts;
            you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
            I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
            marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.

            My frame was not hidden from you,
            when I was made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.
            Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished;
            already in your book were all my members written,
            As day by day they were fashioned when as yet there was none of them.

            How deep are your counsels to me, O God!
            How great is the sum of them!
            If I count them, they are more in number than the sand,
            and at the end, I am still in your presence.

            O that you would slay the wicked, O God,
            that the bloodthirsty might depart from me!
            They speak against you with wicked intent;
            your enemies take up your name for evil.

            Do I not oppose those, O Lord, who oppose you?
            Do I not abhor those who rise up against you?
            I hate them with a perfect hatred;
            they have become my own enemies also.

            Search me out, O God, and know my heart;
            try me and examine my thoughts.
            See if there is any way of wickedness in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

            Proverbs 22.1-16
            A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
               and favour is better than silver or gold.
            The rich and the poor have this in common:
               the Lord is the maker of them all.
            The clever see danger and hide;
               but the simple go on, and suffer for it.
            The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
               is riches and honour and life.
            Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse;
               the cautious will keep far from them.
            Train children in the right way,
               and when old, they will not stray.
            The rich rules over the poor,
               and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
            Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
               and the rod of anger will fail.
            Those who are generous are blessed,
               for they share their bread with the poor.
            Drive out a scoffer, and strife goes out;
               quarrelling and abuse will cease.
            Those who love a pure heart and are gracious in speech
               will have the king as a friend.
            The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
               but he overthrows the words of the faithless.
            The lazy person says, ‘There is a lion outside!
               I shall be killed in the streets!’
            The mouth of a loose woman is a deep pit;
               he with whom the Lord is angry falls into it.
            Folly is bound up in the heart of a boy,
               but the rod of discipline drives it far away.
            Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself,
               and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss.

            Mark 7.31-end
            Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

            The Collect
            Almighty and everlasting God,
            you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
            and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
            pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
            forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
            and giving us those good things
                  which we are not worthy to ask
            but through the merits and mediation
            of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
            who is alive and reigns with you,
            in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
            one God, now and for ever. Amen.

            Thursday, 22 August 2013

            How to communicate effectively

            I've just seen this (Thank You Mark) and have to say that this is one of the most effective and entertaining ways I have ever seen to get across an extremely important and serious message.

            I won't say who produced it but will let those who watch it find out at the end!

            But it deserves applause and thanks - I will be using this in the schools I visit this coming academic year.

            This has to be a superlative in its field.

            Daily Office - Aug 22

            Psalm 113
            Give praise, you servants of the Lord, O praise the name of the Lord.
            Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore.
            From the rising of the sun to its setting let the name of the Lord be praised.
            The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens.
            Who is like the Lord our God, that has his throne so high,
            yet humbles himself to behold the things of heaven and earth?
            He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ashes,
            To set them with princes, with the princes of his people.
            He gives the barren woman a place in the house
            and makes her a joyful mother of children.

            Psalm 115
            Not to us, Lord, not to us,
            but to your name give the glory,
            for the sake of your loving mercy and truth.
            Why should the nations say,
            ‘Where is now their God?’

            As for our God, he is in heaven;
            he does whatever he pleases.
            Their idols are silver and gold,
            the work of human hands.
            They have mouths, but cannot speak;
            eyes have they, but cannot see;
            They have ears, but cannot hear;
            noses have they, but cannot smell;
            They have hands, but cannot feel;
            feet have they, but cannot walk;
            not a whisper do they make from their throats.
            Those who make them shall become like them
            and so will all who put their trust in them.
            But you, Israel, put your trust in the Lord;
            he is their help and their shield.
            House of Aaron, trust in the Lord;
            he is their help and their shield.
            You that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord;
            he is their help and their shield.
            The Lord has been mindful of us and he will bless us;
            may he bless the house of Israel;
            may he bless the house of Aaron;
            May he bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great together.
            May the Lord increase you more and more, you and your children after you.
            May you be blest by the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

            The heavens are the heavens of the Lord,
            but the earth he has entrusted to his children.
            The dead do not praise the Lord,
            nor those gone down into silence;
            But we will bless the Lord,
            from this time forth for evermore.

            Proverbs 20.1-22
            Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
               and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
            The dread anger of a king is like the growling of a lion;
               anyone who provokes him to anger forfeits life itself.
            It is honourable to refrain from strife,
               but every fool is quick to quarrel.
            The lazy person does not plough in season;
               harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found.
            The purposes in the human mind are like deep water,
               but the intelligent will draw them out.
            Many proclaim themselves loyal,
               but who can find one worthy of trust?
            The righteous walk in integrity—
               happy are the children who follow them!
            A king who sits on the throne of judgement
               winnows all evil with his eyes.
            Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean;
               I am pure from my sin’?
            Diverse weights and diverse measures
               are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
            Even children make themselves known by their acts,
               by whether what they do is pure and right.
            The hearing ear and the seeing eye—
               the Lord has made them both.
            Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty;
               open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.
            ‘Bad, bad’, says the buyer,
               then goes away and boasts.
            There is gold, and abundance of costly stones;
               but the lips informed by knowledge are a precious jewel.
            Take the garment of one who has given surety for a stranger;
               seize the pledge given as surety for foreigners.
            Bread gained by deceit is sweet,
               but afterwards the mouth will be full of gravel.
            Plans are established by taking advice;
               wage war by following wise guidance.
            A gossip reveals secrets;
               therefore do not associate with a babbler.
            If you curse father or mother,
               your lamp will go out in utter darkness.
            An estate quickly acquired in the beginning
               will not be blessed in the end.
            Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’;
               wait for the Lord, and he will help you.

            Mark 7.24-30
            From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

            The Collect
            Almighty and everlasting God,
            you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
            and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
            pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
            forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
            and giving us those good things
                  which we are not worthy to ask
            but through the merits and mediation
            of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
            who is alive and reigns with you,
            in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
            one God, now and for ever. Amen.

            Wednesday, 21 August 2013

            I get a telephone call from a friend ...

            It's always nice to receive a call from a friend and so when I got one this morning from someone asking for 'Mr Bergh' I have to say that I was just a little bemused but this soon turned to concern when having asked who it was calling I received the reply, 'It's a friend!'

            So I passed him over to 'Mr Bergh' who was then told that they'd rung to help him with the £3,000 he was owed over his car loan PPI. So I asked what his name was (apparently it was 'Richard' which struck me as odd as I didn't think that was a common name in Mumbai call centres!) and having discovered his name asked him how we'd met as I could quite place him as one of the people I counted as a friend.

            Richard sidestepped this by telling me he was ringing to help me get back the £3,000 I was owed because of my car loan and so I asked him which car the loan was for and with which company. Oddly he didn't appear to be able to tell me about the car or the company concerned and went back to the 'recent changes in law means you are owed £3,000' tack. So I told him I'd be ecstatic to have that money returned to me and asked him which company had so naughtily taken this money - the response to this was that he needed me to tell him and so I agreed and said I would indeed tell him the name of the company if he could tell me the dates of the presumed loan (which he widened into 'some time in the past') or the make and model of the vehicle to which the loan related (which he couldn't). I asked him if he'd post the money to me as I didn't have a bank account at the moment but was expecting to be released from the secure unit I was currently held in shortly as the parole board was to meet in early September and I was certain that this time I'd be successful.

            And then Richard hang up!

            So if you're out there Richard, call me back, I need the money and you can never have too many friends (can you?).

            Of course the other issue is that why, when we have taken the steps to make sure the cold call ambulance chasers and PPI refunders don't call us, do we still get these blinking nuisance calls? If you recognise the tale of woe above and wish to try and stop them then contact the Telephone Preference Service  - we did and to be honest it's not been that much help in stopping the autodialler and cold call calls.

            Still - you can try.

            ps. If you make a complaint they want you to know the name of the company, which is harder to come by than a cluster of brain cells at a UKIP conference, so little joy there methinks :-)

            That's Education?

            Or is it?

            I am increasingly finding myself less and less enthralled by the deconstruction of the state education system that is Academies. In fact I wonder what on earth it's all about for it appears to be a system which, in the main, benefits those who provide the things rather than those who attend them!

            When we started off with Lord Adonis and the snake oil product that is the Academy I was ambivalent for it merely represented yet another meddle with the education system. As things progressed I found that where at first those who were seeking to run such things were expected to bring money, expertise and the like, it soon descended into a situation whereby companies (sorry trusts) were given land, property and more besides with nothing more than notional commitments. This has to be questionable at so many levels.

            Then we had a marvellous happening whereby at a meeting about our new Academy a senior member of the County education structure informed us that an Academy was a good move for a failing school. 'But we're not a failing school,' we cried. 'But you've failed your OFSTED,' came the response (which pantomime like was met by a, 'Oh no we haven't!'). A few weeks later OFSTED arrived and it became a failing school (hmmm!).

            It then transpired that, becoming an Academy, removed from the school any need to have 'qualified teachers' (and this has shown in the case of some I've met!) and standardised pay scales, freedom of information requirements and so much more. The schools have been removed from the state system and the main beneficiaries are, it would seem to me, be those who run them (did I mention that one high ranking education official left to join the board of one of these trusts?) not the pupils.

            Now as much as I like conspiracy theories, and I can see that this is a great way of funding the Croney culture of the previous Labour government (as continued by the current bunch) and feathering nests of supporters and perhaps even engaging with some form of social engineering in that the proletariat and resettled back into their proper place. After all we need people to make stuff, load the vans and deliver it now don't we?

            I read recently that the 7% of school population who go to fee-paying schools make up some 25% of the university population (and I mean Russell group, not some of the newly mown entities that are appearing).

            One of the pupils I have heard of recently (living on the Autistic Scale) came out with a crop of E grades - and yet that's not what their potential suggests. I'd say 'that's life' but then another I've come across has equally poor grades, and another, and another and ... One of the parents on Twitter wrote that their child had collected grades a few weeks back and been told that they shouldn't bother to come back!

            I'm confused as to what I'm looking at and at a loss what to do about it.

            Ask questions and you're fobbed off, or ignored, such that the result is even deeper concern.

            Ask for statistics, statements and the like and you're told that what you are seeking is 'proprietary information' and not available in the public domain - for this is market forces and education is now an industry which is competitive - each provider in competition with the other and seeking to harness the market forces to their own benefit.

            I hear of 'hostile takeovers' of schools and see Gove and his ilk fiddling whilst our children's futures burn before them on a pyre dedicated to political dogma and social-engineering.

            Education is not, as so many seem to think, about 'maximising potential income' but about maximising and realising the potential within each and every child to be the best they can in the areas in which they are gifted and have a desire to be engaged in. It is about finding out how to motivate and educate our children to be the best people they can be at every level (and I don't see how calling teachers by their first names and having them discuss their love life, woes and whatever aids this in any way either).

            My role as a minister in the place where I am is to stand up for the weak, oppressed, marginalised and under-resourced and to be honest, one of the biggest groups I am find that fits this bill is our children. So I hear the stories and offer sympathy to parents and children who are not apparently being well-served by the system - but I know I need to do more than pay the lip service that this all too often represents.

            So here I am, concerned and confused, but not going away.

            The children in my patch deserve more than that - Jesus demands more than that!

            Watch this space

            And whilst you do - please pray for:

            The teachers who are increasingly under pressure

            Our children and their families as they seek to develop and grow, that their aspirations a might be met and those who are weaker find them themselves supported by the system

            The education system in this land of ours that it would work with open-handed equity and benefit pupils and not those who operate the schools.