Monday, October 29, 2007

A time for review

I have been in theological training now for half a term of the two years. I have enjoyed the company of my fellow trainees immensely and am sure I have made long term friendships; I have enjoyed our teaching sessions and residentials; I have valued the worship sessions; I have read some challenging and interesting theology and I have written two essays.

At church I am becoming more involved in the activities and leadership of the congregation. As both Lay Minister and Candidate Pastor I am given plenty of responsibilities and opportunities to develop my gifts and skills. I am a bit hazy about the process. Is this par for the course?

What happens elsewhere? I'd like to know what processes Anglicans/Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists and others go through once, or before, training is completed.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Law

Not about the bright coloured things that emerge from warm vans on cold nights every now and then to take the pains in our arses away to become pains in their arses. This is about a question I was asked in the comments here.

non-chav nightclub attendee asked,

"...If you could pass one law, or repeal an existing one, or even just enforce an existing one properly, to make your life easier and the night out for good punters more enjoyable, what would it be?"

I've had a good think about this one and even had a chat with some of the lads about it.

The one I'd pick out to change is off on a tangent a bit but a lot of folk would probably agree given a think on it.
In the child protection legislation I'd like to see either a change of wording or interpretation to include neglecting psychological development as child abuse. If a child is underweight or beaten the child can be protected and most parents see they have responsibility to prevent this abuse. If a person cannot take reasoned moral actions, has no sense of guilt or pride, personal or collective responsibility they will not function in society. If parents felt a need to instill these things, or just the possibility of losing the benny checks if the kids get taken away it would hopefully improve the situation.

We blame schools, parents, gangs, no sunday school, no youth clubs and no scouts/guides for these moral failures in the young. Place the blame/responsibility at one door and keep it there. If help is needed by parents, supply it under social services, just get morals and responsibility into children.

These are skills needed by all people in society and without them social mobility, or even social stability are hard to obtain. The only other way they learn is by drunken incident after drunken incident which leaves them nicked, kicked or up the duff to pass on their moral void to another generation of chavs.

Tag: you're it, Mimi, Reverend boy and Steven

Much to my surprise I seem to have been unwittingly involved in a game of cyber-tag. Christopher D. Hall of "This Side of the Pulpit" fame has tagged me to reveal seven truthful facts about myself not included in my profile. I have decided to add in one false titbit to make it more interesting.

1: I was born on the island of Malta where my father was serving with H.M. Royal Marine Commandos.

2: My spiritual home is the city of Prague. I can't spend enough time there and my conversational Czech is improving.

3: I am a former member of the British National Youth Theatre with my crowning moment In Henry IV pt II as the prologue, Rumour, supplemented by walk ons as Prince Humphrey, 2nd royal soldier and 1st Tavern man.

4: I have sung pretty well every Baritone lead in Gilbert and Sullivan.

5: Music is obviously genetic as my son Leo, a recent vocal graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music is now performing with Glynbourne Opera.

6: I do not have a criminal record, but I have been arrested.

7: I have a beautiful celtic design tattooed on my back.

8: My favourite operas are Mozart's Magic flute and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. It is my ambition to sing Monastotos in the Magic Flute.

O.K I tag Mimi, Rb and Steven.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The beardless one and the role of religious leaders in public debate

Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed that my nemesis, Steven Craig Miller, believes all my support group have been created in my image in that they have little goatee beards. Just to prove this is not so, here is my lovely wife, known on these pages as Hannah in the hope of protecting our true identities. She is my best friend, soul-mate and unstinting supporter of my late vocation. A lifelong Anglican and clergy daughter, she has not been fazed by my Reformation zeal. She is a university careers advisor. Enough clues.

There is a new mood of defensiveness within faith communities, the symptom of a fear about where religious and social trends are leading. It has not always been like this. Skilful religious leaders have engaged in debate and argued persuasively for positive change. Wilberforce, Gandhi and Martin Luther King took unpopular stances, but pointed to a better way for all, inspired by faith. Each of the major religions has hope at the heart of its message - an optimism that seeks to draw the best out of individuals and encourages them to build a better society. This hope, and a positive and constructive outlook, rather than defensiveness and trepidation, ought to be the hallmarks of faith leaders' contributions to public debate. Today's increasingly aggressive attacks on the role of religion in public life - whether against faith schools, grants to religious organisations or politicians who articulate belief - will only be countered by reasoned argument that offers solutions to the dilemmas that decision-makers face.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Mentor without a dog-collar

Allow me to introduce My Own Personal Agnostic, Gerard (AKA Jez on these pages). Gerard, father of two and University administrator, is a fellow chorister (and will be singing a solo in The Bronte Mass - I can arrange autographs for a small fee now that I am his manager.) He has been with me since the start of this journey into ministry and I have appreciated his calm sanity and affirmation. His background in the Catholic Church together with his own Agnostic faith stance has made him an invaluable listening ear. He also has a very highly developed sense of humour. When the Philharmonic goes on tour, Gerard and I are room-mates. (Photo taken in Budapest.) That he is happy to continue with this is a source of much amazement to me with my snoring and over-excited "teenager on holiday" behaviour! We have also been known to share the occasional beer.
Ah, the deep mystery of male friendship!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


There are many things people do which are ultimately futile, the stated objective is never realised, but there may be some satisfaction from the pursuit or the hope of completion. For most sports fans this is the case, following a team for any length of time will do this, they will never take over the world and reign for eternity.

In the nightclubbing world almost all the punters efforts are ultimately futile. The money will only keep you in bright coloured alco-pops for so long, the music will only play 'til the end of the night, the beautiful people will only be interested while you keep buying them drinks, the smiling bar staff will stop smiling when the tips dry up.

You may get massively lucky and have a brilliant night, meet a pretty partner and dance like a god/goddess til the music goes off. But you'll be back again next week and the next week, and the next week, and none of them will be as good a night.

I get to deal with a lot of the folks whose desires for the night have fallen far in excess of reality. Some just get over it and either go home or stay and have an OK night. Others take out their shattered hopes on others, staff, punters or their friends and relatives. If you're having a bad night, don't share it, it won't make it better, it'll often just make it shorter. If I have to wander over and sort out your mess of a night, most likely it's already over and it's just you that's waiting to hear the news.

Another Mentor and a bit about my church

Let me introduce you to Pastor Mark: Lutheran; father of three about to leave the nest; a former Doorman who looks like a biker, shaven head, goatee beard and a real humanity and warmth. You want him at your back in a crisis; a mature faith that’s been seriously tested. He radiates his Love of God. In his secular job he works in security management. He is a founder member of the God and Curry club.

I have been preparing a study for college on my congregation. Before I was even aware that I would need to submit this study I had counted up the different nationalities represented in the congregation: these include two Poles, one Latvian, three Tanzanians, two Hungarians, one Estonian, three Germans, six Americans, one Icelander, one Cypriot, two Finns, one Namibian and one New Zealander. As far as I could tell there are possibly ten to a dozen “native” British converts.

A mini-united nations.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In praise of Mentors

Following yesterday's mention of my support group, I'd like to start to introduce them, saving their embarrassment. Each is a very special person and today's mention (and request for prayer to support him in his ministry) is given to Lutheran Pastor William Weedon of Hamel Illinois whose wisdom and guidance of late I have much appreciated.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sex, curry, support groups, essays and more on Missio Dei

At college we have been advised to gather a support group around us. This was easy for me as I am lucky enough to have a group of good friends, mainly Christians, to call on although I have no intention of formalising that into a meeting.

Last week Pastor Mark came round for a meal, which I cooked (and Hannah told him was my only recipe - grrrr!) - Greek lamb with lemon, olives and feta. Last night Revd. Jim and I hit the curry house. The nice thing about a support group when you don't need support is that it is a very nice social time. We caught up with news, talked about college and I learnt more about Jim's journey and what's happening in his ministry.

We talked a great deal about sex. No, Dear Reader, shame on you, go and repent: this was not a salacious conversation. There was no gossip or macho posturing, no leering competative comparison of sexual history. Please! We are grown ups! No this was a long conversation about sexual ethics and the theology of human sexuality together with the problems of pastoring in this minefield of an area.

Jim still persists in self-identification as a Conservative Evangelical. Well, if he's a Conservative Evangelical then I'm a Buddhist. He can't be a Conservative Evangelical because he is:

a) Warm

b) Kind

c) Compassionate

d) Witty,

e) Perceptive

f) Theologically literate

These are not terms I associate with Conservative Evangelicalism. Come out of the closet Jim. You are a Radical Evangelical and I've a very strong sense that St. Angst's may be calling you.

We talked a bit about an essay I am completing for college on patterns of mission and I have chosen to concentrate on mission in a post modern setting. This links to the idea of Missio Dei which I have touched on here before, ie mission is about being sent out in the way God sent the Son and the Spirit, so is a theological idea rooted in the Trinity.

This Post Modern application of missio dei has been something of an encouragement to me as one who for many years struggled with the concept of mission as principally evangelism and who, consequently, as someone who was uncomfortable with evangelism, felt inadequate and guilty. Against the prevailing attitudes of other Christians I began to dare to develop a sense of my own mission as simply being who I am, where I happen to be and with whom I happen to be. This sounds very much to me as missio dei in its post modern sense.

Even if Luther argues that, because of the self-giving of God we will have a spontaneous impulse to gladly do God’s will, Christians still do not find it an easy task to love neighbours purely and unselfishly. God’s love mediated through us is always imperfect.

I work in an environment where I am in regular contact with a number of the unchurched, Agnostics, Atheists, Sikhs and Muslims. There I have been described as being that which oils the wheels of social interaction, which is very affirming. Pretty well everyone knows that I am a Christian and also that I am in training for ministry. I do not initiate conversations about personal faith, but I am involved in many such conversations initiated by others partly, I guess, because I do not do glib answers and partly, I am now realising, because this is where God is at work and I am joining in with as much integrity and congruence as I can muster. It is about inviting someone to walk with you relationally and it takes a while to demonstrate this Gospel.
On another topic completely, I have not heard from Grandmere Mimi or Reverend boy for a couple of days since they went to New York for the inaugural meeting of the North American branch of the Mad Priest Appreciation Society. I can't wait to hear how that went. I want great detail and photos. As for me: today involves lunch with Ugly Mick. My cup runneth over!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Not walking

Now I get to ask a lot of people to leave. About half take the verbal invite and start walking.

The other half don't. When a punter is on a private licensed premises and they are asked to leave they really should get themselves together and go. The arm indicating which way to walk and the other behind ensuring they don't disappear in the wrong direction entirely usually works.

For a small minority something more is needed. I'm not small, though I'm finding my centre of gravity is a little too high nowadays. That's for another post though. When I apply myself to move someone, they move. It may not be pretty but with an arm in my grasp, I can usually twist, turn or pull it enough to make someone leave at an accelerated speed if needed.

If someone pulls both arms tight in, plants their feet and sets themselves rigid, I might have to pull out the dirty tricks. The funniest one of which is to push one way 'til they shift their feet, then get out the way as they slam themselves to the floor struggling to get their arms out in time. This works well to humiliate as well as surprise them. It also leaves them prone, with big me standing above them. Most can then just be picked up and carried down the nearest fire exit.

Most give up the fight and walk before we get to the top step. I could only imagine why, it's as if they don't trust us not to drop them headfirst on the hard concrete stairs.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Words of Comfort

We have been working in the Philharmonic Chorus on a new commission by Philip Wilby entitled "The Bronte Mass" due for its world premier in the Town Hall on 24th Nov with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

One of the passages is a musical setting of a prayer by Anne Bronte, which really struck a chord with me at rehearsal last night. I do not have a copy of the poem to hand so I am reconstructing the text from the score:

My God, O let me call thee mine, weak wretched sinner though I be.
My trembling soul would fain be thine, my feeble faith still clings to thee.
Not only for the past I grieve, the future fills me with dismay.
Unless thou hasten to relieve, I know my heart will fall away.
I cannot say, I dare not hope: my faith is strong, my love is great
but strength and love to thee belong.
Oh do not leave me desolate, I know I owe my all to thee.
Oh take the heart I cannot give, do thou my strength, my saviour be
and make me to thy glory live.

Says it all really.

And a lovely musical setting too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Calamity Joe

There are some people who always seem to get it wrong, no matter how hard and concientious they are.

This is not a good trait for a doorman, I work with one of these Joes and it can be bloody hilarious. Imagine the gent who they patiently escort one staggering step at a time to the front door ensuring their safe arrival on the street only to turn to head back inside to hear a loud thump as one drunk hits the hard floor and splits his head open requiring first aid, ambulances and a report writing on it.

Then there's the flying response to an inside fight call in which they accidentally level a drunken lass in their hurry to get there. Only to hear it cancelled one pace later leaving them to apologise and make amends to the drunken lady. Unfortunately it's the area manager's sister who happens to be out celebrating her birthday on freebie drinks in VIP. Could only happen to Joe.

It's not limited to others getting hurt, Joe's the one who finds the bottle that's rolling across the dancefloor and tips himself arse over tit in the busy crowd and has to limp away. He has however been seen taking the pratfall by everyone on the dancefloor and even gets a call out from the DJ as he shuffles off red-faced.

Everyone has one of these moments every now and then but this would be a typical night for calamity Joe

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dog-collars are a dangerous provocation.......

There has been a fair bit in the British press about the dangers of being a clergyperson off duty but still in clerical shirt and collar. There have been a number of violent assaults and some murders which is obviously deeply shocking and very sad. The implication is that had these clergy been in plain clothes they wouldn't have been victims. I have never really understood this idea of never being out of uniform since I saw a priest mowing his lawn in clerical garb with added sweat stains.

However, this Sunday I didn't need the car and St. Smalls being a pleasant and gentle 25 mins walk away, I decided to take the exercise. Now I am still pretty new to this clerical uniform business but I was surprised by people's reactions to me. I am very good at people watching and I do make eye contact with passers by, sometimes nod or smile and occasionally share a greeting. Not this Sunday. No-one engaged eye contact, smiled, nodded or said hello until I actually got to church.

I walked with my usual self confident semi-swagger, head up and shoulders back. O.K. no-one tried to stab me, for which I am grateful, but other than that I might have been invisible. And they say that Yorkshire folk are warm hearted.

What an odd experience.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Happy Eid... Asim, Halima, Shazia, Fiz, Aashiya and all Muslim men and women of good faith.

Don't eat too much! (Asim, that means you particularly.)

Following a religion whose own fasting period, Lent, must once have been very similar to Ramadan, but has now degenerated into the miserable excuse of a fast, where we give up chocolate or crisps in order to emulate the experience of Christ in the wilderness, I am in awe of my Muslim friends' achievent today. I sat in the staffroom with Aashiya daily feeling deeply insensitive as I ate my lunch and she didn't, but not so insensitive that I was prepared to take up Asim's offer to ring me at 4.00am so that I could join him in the experience.
Nevertheless when it comes to an understanding of the hunger which goes with poverty, who in the West, Chritian or Muslim is best placed to understand and walk in the shoes of the countless millions in the third world for whom hunger is a way of life?
I am betting that on Monday I will have some Indian sweets as a gift. Bring it on!

About jokes...

Isn't humour an odd thing?

I've noticed a strange desire for everyone and their dog to tell me religious "jokes" since it became known that I am in training. This is usually accompanied by a hope that I won't be offended, although they inevitably persevere.

Anyway here is a selection:

  • Two vicars were bemoaning the national decline in moral standards. "I never slept with my wife before I was married. How about you?" "I don't know. What was her maiden name?"

  • A motorist ran over a rabbit and stopped to see if the poor creature could be saved. A gentleman in a dog collar drew up behind, examined the animal and seeing that it was, indeed, dead went back to his car and returned with a small bottle of liquid which he poured on to the corpse. It immediately jumped up and ran off. "My goodness" said the motorist. "Was that Holy Water?" "No" replied the vicar. "It was hare restorer."

  • God decided to set Jesus and the Devil a task because he was fed up with their constant bickering. He decided in his omnipotent wisdom to give them a test based on their I.T. skills but ensured that they had loads of viruses and that their internet access kept uninstalling. In the end Satan got no marks and Jesus got an A*. Why? Because Jesus saves.
Now given that I am a mature adult who believed that his friends knew his more risque taste in jokes, I find these terribly infantile and a bit sad. (All the more because it seems that since I have "got holy" I am perceived to have had a sense of humour bypass.) My failure to crack a smile, let alone burst into hysterical laughter has caused some consternation and then I feel mean-spirited because I have taken the shine off their bit of fun.

What is a guy to do?

In the pub after choir last night, with Jez and Dave and all the usual choir suspects, I told this joke. If you are of a sensitive nature look away now.

There was a woman in hospital in a deep coma and her family had all but given up hope of her recovery. One morning she was being given a flannel wash and as the nurse ventured south there was a distinct respone. A case conference was hastily called and it was decided to call the husband in. After explaining the situation to him he was told of the doctor's reccommendation: "I know this may sound odd, but we think oral sex may help." After his initial misgiving the husband decided he would give it a go. The staff retired to the nurse's station to give them privacy and watched in horror as the monitor gave three beeps and then flatlined. "Whatever happened?" asked the nurse. "I'm not really sure," said the husband " but I think she may have choked."

I hope I haven't offended anyone.
UPDATE: Following Mimi's comment I have to ask: Where do we draw the line as Christians in humour? Is there a line? Is everything up for grabs or are there no-go areas? Does a good joke, well told, transcend issues of taste?
Tell me. I need to know.

Integrity over the Armenian genocide

A little reported event here in the U.K. has been the House Committee vote in Washington to condemn the genocide of about 1.5 m Christian Armenians in Turkey during World War One, despite dire warnings of strained relations between the two countries and thinly veiled threats on the part of the Turks to withdraw support for the American led intervention in Iraq.

When he was considering his own programme of Jewish ethnic cleansing, Hitler remarked "Who today remembers the Armenians?" Certainly few of my students had ever heard of this genocide.

What is so astounding about this has been the determination of some American politicians to take a public stance of integrity and refuse to allow short term political and economic advantage to be used as an excuse to collude with those who are in denial about their own nation's complicity in significant war atrocities.

Turkey will always seek to browbeat those who wish to speak out about the Armenian genocide and it seems to have been a very sucessful policy as it has taken nearly 100 years for anyone to make it a serious issue.

This is most heartening.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

About spirituality.

So, back to college last night for one of an ongoing but occasional series on spirituality. In the strange synchronicity of these things my A Level group, who are supposed to be discussing Science and Religion, ended up today on the same topic.

We have been looking at whether or not we can talk of having a spirituality gene. It is clear that some 70,000 years ago with, presumably, the dawning of a sense of self-consciousness in humankind, there was a huge explosion of human creativity. Cave paintings from that period show a mythical world. While we have lost the exact meaning of that mythology we can still see ritual and belief in those primitive paintings.

Was asking questions about the meaning of life a necessary stage on route from animal to human? Similarly was that moment of spiritual awareness an evolutionary step or a gift from God? Either way it was a turning point and one which in miniature each of faces in our own lives. What we were left wondering as teacher and taught was how, through evolution, (which we were all happy with), does the random banging about of molecules make us beings which are more than the sum of our evolutionary parts?


Show that you have thought about more than one point of view.

Refer to religious teaching in your answer.

Unasked questions

Your chance to ask those curious things that have been bugging you about your nights out or the doorstaff you meet. I'll keep an extra eye on this post for comments and get back to you either directly or with a post on the topic.

Meanwhile I'm struck by the large number of questions I never get to ask of people, it's sometimes simply not polite to ask them about the thing that's just struck you as highly intriguing.

For example, questions you're unlikely to hear but slowly eat away at me are,
How did you lose that arm?
Do you only own that 1 top? and how often do you wash it?
What do you do to earn your drinking money when you're in here 6 nights a week spending that much just on booze? And how do you still get paid when you must turn up pissed so many days a week?
Where is your accent from when you're ID says you're from 10 miles away?
Do you have a mirror in your house?
Are you partially sighted?
No, then really why on earth are you wearing that out in public?
Do you really expect me to believe that?
Did you know you're skirt is tucked in your knickers?
How long have you had you're nipple hanging out?
Don't you have a bra that isn't grey? Or can you wear a top that doesn't show most of it?
Have you ever heard of hairdressers?
Are you a haemophiliac or just too lazy to shave?
Really why? No really stop for a bit and why?

These and a thousand other questions crop up in my night but it's just not good professional customer service to ask. If you have any answers to any of these answers on a postcard.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who needs a new covenant?

There seems to be a disturbing desire on the part of some Lutherans following Chicago and some Anglicans following New Orleans to demand a new covenant which sets out our common view. This, of course, in response to the handbagging various interest groups are giving each other, general flouncing, taking home of balls and teddies out of prams over issues of human sexuality.

Leaving aside for the moment that the creeds say nothing about human sexuality, from the earliest days of Christianity we have had a very good covenant.

It is called baptism.

Through it each of us has already bought into the creedal faith and a wider relationship with those who share these beliefs, to say nothing of our relationship with God.

Surely this is the foundation of our common identity. As St. Paul says in Galatians "For you are all children of god through faith in Christ Jesus."

Lets not have more divisive games. We must resist any calls for a new covenant.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Typical night on the door - not!

We had a baptism on Sunday. I am in training and was very much in attendance. It put me in mind of perhaps the most bizarre event of my life as a Doorman: I worked with a lad called Greg, a stylish and witty Afro-Carribbean. As with the other bouncers he knew I was a Christian and I was regularly known to them as Vic (as in Vicar). Some seemed unwilling to accept that I was a Lay Minister rather than a Priest and I consistently failed to explain the difference satisfactorily. "Sounds like a Vicar to me." Anyway, on this particular evening..........

“You know I was never baptised…”

This is a conversation I had been trying to avoid for some time. When Greg had broached it before I’d tended to side step by saying something like, “Go to church, talk to your local vicar, get the family together and get it done properly. Make it an occasion.”

“No-one goes to church.”

“I do.”

“But you don’t need to go to feel it here.” (Touches heart)

On this occasion, tired, I say, “Don’t go there Greg, just don’t”

“No but…. It needn’t be any big deal. Maybe a sink in the Gents when we’re closed. You must know the words. I really want to do this and I want you to do it. You’re my vicar. I feel it here. I do.”

“Greg, I’m not properly qualified.”

“I don’t care. Will you baptise me?”

Now I do know you don’t have to be in holy orders to baptise and I wasn't even in training at that stage. But I did it. Actually it was very moving. It was a very odd congregation crowded into the upper bar after closing: Pete and Raj - the other bouncers, Antonio the club manager, bar staff, cleaners and a couple of punters we hadn’t quite managed to get rid of. The subdued lighting of the bar and the remains of the smoky atmosphere added to the sense of occasion. An acoustic guitar track, speedily retrieved from Antonio’s car, played quietly in the background and we used a huge glass punch-bowl previously on display above the optics – once we’d dusted it off. Everyone took it seriously, both out of respect for Greg and for me, and my very faithful but slightly adapted liturgy captured the mood of a man on the brink of a personal spiritual insight. Antonio even cracked a couple of bottles of bubbly.

“Donna and I are thinking of getting married as soon as she has the baby.”

“One thing at a time Greg. One thing at a time.

Happy Days!
(For more Doorman stories, and to see this one in context, go to View My Complete Profile, scroll down to the blog list and click on "A Doorman's Journal".)

Sunday, October 7, 2007


In this work you've got to keep your mind on the job. Not on the pretty young things dancing about you or the bloke who you're sure you've seen 'from the telly' or that lad you had to kick out last week when he'd had more than a few too many. You need to walk into every situation with your eyes wide open and your ears pricked.

Or you'll either be out of a job or have your arse kicked or if you're unlucky about it both. It's not an easy job standing around in a nightclub, doing not a lot for a long time. It's harder when you don't get yourself distracted in inane chat with regulars or other staff. You've got to do it though or boots will hit backsides literally or figuratively.

I find getting bored is usually a good sign I'm working well. If there's nothing happening to worry about, it's best if there's nothing filling my mind. It leaves space for more folk to worry about, more things to evaluate as and when they emerge. It does make me a grumpy bugger when we have a quiet night but I get the job done and it can't be too bad a thing when you get paid for doing very little and getting very bored.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Counting my blessings but wondering......

Yesterday was my birthday.

My actual age is a state secret.

It was a blast.

Jez sent me this card with the comment: "Who else could I send this to?"

I started the day at the training college working with the post-graduate trainee teacher cohort- all 110 of them. It couldn't have gone better: my powerpoint presentation worked well, the funny DVD clip of David Tennant and Catherine Tate went down a storm, they all laughed at my presentation in the right places, joined in the work with enthusiasm and gave me wonderfully affirming feedback. I then joined my subject specialism group of a dozen for work on delivering controversial issues and that was very rewarding. Back at school my GCSE R.E. group, aged 15/16 were their usuall feisty and funny selves but were absolutely focussed and on task as we began the difficult topic of religious attitudes to abortion.

Home in the bosom of the family and out for a celebratory meal at Viva Cuba! Lots of laughter, banter and very good food.

Since blogging I have made new friends. William Weedon sent me a piece of his own writing to support me in an assignment; I seem, as an only child, to have found an American younger brother in Reverend boy, who writes with real eloquence; Grandmere Mimi, the grand dame of blogging has been in regular contact and holds the fort on my blog when she judges I am not saying enough and when I need a laugh I can log on to Mad Priest, howl with laughter and banter with his other acolytes. (How does that man find the time?) I have discovered from Learner Priest that it is my ministry to be "a Blessing to others".

Things are going well at church, my sermons are well received, I am loving the course and making new friends, I have been selected for the semi-chorus at choir for a fiendishly hard new work and feel that all in all my life is going along very well indeed, thank you very much.

So why am I on anti-depressants and why can't I sleep at night?

Dear Dr. Laura........

I know I said that I would move on from this topic, but as I was preparing for a lesson that I deliver as part of a module on Religion and Prejudice, I dug this out. It has been circulating on the internet since forever, but it so neatly makes the point Grandmere Mimi, Reverend boy and I have been arguing this past week. It is, of course, tongue in cheek, but to what degree you must judge for yourselves. If you are one of those Old Testament Christians who are confident that the Old Covenant remains unchangably the word of God, look away now. A former colleague - a creationist - found it so threatening that she tried to have it banned from my classroom where many sharp youngsters have got its message instantly. She failed.

Dear Dr. Laura,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

  • When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

  • I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

  • I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

  • Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

  • I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

  • A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

  • Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

  • Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

  • I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

  • My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.
Your devoted disciple and adoring fan,

J. Kent Ashcraft
Dont you just love it?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Issues of Human Sexuality

Following my last post there has been a degree of discussion and debate about issues of human sexuality which I welcome because of the gracious and civilised nature of that discussion. Anyone is welcome to comment here providing they are committed to respectful and real listening-dialogue. Don't bother to leave a comment if you are not, because I will delete all offensive rants.

This is not a one topic blog and after this post I intend to move on but I felt my response deserved a new post rather than a comment at the end of a string.

That I am theologically liberal will come as little surprise to anyone who has read this blog, but I wanted to explain how I have arrived at this position. As a straight man, fifteen years ago, I held the "orthodox" view on human sexuality. Then I found myself in the position of hearing the voices of gay and lesbian Christians and I felt I needed to find out for myself both what scripture said and what it meant.

That personal exercise changed my view and may have contributed in its way to the road I am now on.

I do not ask people to agree with my theology, but I do expect people to recognise that I am both theological and Biblical and that it is possible to use scripture properly and draw a different conclusion to received wisdom. Here are my conclusions, already posted in odds and ends elsewhere on this and other blogs.

  • First of all there are the stories of Sodom and Gibeah in Genesis 19:1-25 and Judges 19:13-28. The actions described here so graphically are homosexual and heterosexual rape. Both stories are more about violent attempts to undermine ancient traditions of hospitality through guest rape than they are about same-sex relations. Except for the lone voice of Jude 7, the rest of the Bible comments on the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as the sin of greed. Ezekiel 16:49 says, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
  • Secondly, there are the references in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, regarded as key texts in this matter by conservative evangelicals. Leviticus is a book about what constitutes holiness. In Leviticus, holiness is not a private thing; the text makes clear that we can only be holy in a community that intends hospitality to God. The challenge in reading Leviticus (or any biblical book) is in its application to our own lives in a different context. For the writers of Leviticus, the issue was about boundary crossing. The sexual prohibitions, like those against cross-breeding cattle, sowing hybrids or sowing different crops in the same field, eating amphibians or wearing clothes made out of wool blended with other materials, are meant to observe the distinctions that God was believed to have established at creation. Holiness is then defined as staying in one’s class, and not mixing or confusing classes of things. One of the major difficulties of applying a text like Leviticus is that although our goals are the same—holiness, offering hospitality to God, living in such a way that God would feel comfortable in our midst— our categories are not the same as those of the biblical authors. For example, unlike Leviticus, we do not see mildew as a problem for a priest to treat with a ritual.
    But even if the text itself makes no distinction, no interpretive community—including orthodox Jews—treat all the commandments with the same weight. The interpretive tradition is a living and growing conversation with the text about where “the density of holiness” lies. Interestingly, Judaism and Christianity have agreed about this: the commandments that help us sift out and interpret the others are those to love God above all else (Deuteronomy 6:4ff) and to love the neighbour as oneself (Leviticus 19:18). As the scribe says to Jesus in Mark 12, these are far more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.These Leviticus passages relate primarily to idolatry, as 18:21 suggests. The Hebrew here rendered in English as ‘commit an abomination’, an offence which carries the death penalty, is a term often employed in the Old Testament of idolatrous practices. We must consider that in order for the law to be carried out there must be: a) at least two eyewitnesses to the crime; b) testimony of somebody knowing of the planned crime, who warned the defendant in advance not to commit the crime and informed him of the possible death sentence; c) a witness to confirm the warning and finally d) a non-unanimous vote by the court to execute, because a unanimous vote suggested a mob mentality and was not accepted. Most people have sex in private, so this is a condemnation of some kind of public (i.e., cult prostitute) sexual act.
  • Thirdly, there are the accounts in 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12, and 22:46 of male prostitution at idolatrous shrines.
  • Fourthly, there are quite explicit references in Romans 1: 18 - 27 to homosexuality. (Many significant Biblical scholars see v 26-27 as a later, non-Pauline gloss.) These verses, too, are central to the conservative evangelical case. Again the context is pagan idolatry. Paul argues that male and female homosexual orgies are the consequence of idolatry, the nature of which he describes in some detail. Men and women, having known God’s clear revelation, ‘have refused to honour him as God, or to render thanks’. Therefore, Paul says. God has ‘given them up to their own vile desires, and the consequent degradation of their bodies’. To be abandoned to orgiastic homosexual passion is, Paul argues, God’s punishment for rejecting him for man-made idols. We find the same ideas in Wisdom 14 and 15 on which Romans l:18ff is virtually a commentary. In either case the chapter break - not Paul’s construct - does not help. 1.27 should be read immediately followed by 2.1: "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on others you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things." Paul goes on to insist that we are not "saved" by our actions, etc.

When we read in Leviticus or Romans that a specific behaviour is proscribed, we need to decide straight away whether or not the biblical writer’s words are clear or relevant. St. Paul, as a first century Jewish male was steeped in the tradition that encompassed Leviticus and was, therefore, strongly opposed to same-sex relations even though he had reversed his position with respect to the issue of Gentile holiness. If we had Paul here, we might legitimately press him about the logic that crosses one boundary but not another. Since Paul wrote his letters expecting to have to defend his arguments, that approach is neither far-fetched nor unfaithful.Paul himself invites his readers to “discern for yourselves” (1 Corinthians 11) what is natural or unnatural, the very issue which is at stake in Romans 1. Paul also seems to have thought that long hair for men is “unnatural” while it is “natural” for women. While Paul’s letters had the status of advice from a trusted apostle, the members of his churches who received them probably felt free to argue with him about what was natural and what was unnatural. But now, as a result of the canonization of his letters, they have become Scripture for us and we honour them appropriately.

In doing so, however, we are in danger of closing the discussion. Does this mean we can no longer engage Paul as if he were a living conversation partner? I don’t think so. As Jesus himself argued against the Sadducees in Mark 12, God is the God of the living. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Paul is alive in the Lord and very present in the current debates of the Church. It is useful to speculate about where Paul might be on these issues today, given his unusual and brave commitments to Gentiles, women, and slaves in his own day. The logic of Paul’s letters as a whole stands in some tension with the specific words he is credited – very possibly wrongly - as writing in Romans 1. I don’t think it is fair to blame Paul for what his ghost-writers have made him say.

To use any of the above to justify homophobic polemic is outrageous.

Just as a footnote in the discussion about doctrine and orthodoxy I leave you with a quote from a 1979 Methodist report:

"For homosexual men and women, permanent relationships characterised by love can be appropriate and the Christian way of expressing their sexuality."

Are we going as far as to say that a significant Christian denomination has committed blasphemy?

Swear down

What the hell is going on with 'swearing down'? Where did this useless phrase of alleging honesty come from? It seriously raises my hackles every time some half drunk chav says this to me.

Just the mention of this phrase turns a cynical but potentially persuadable doorman into one extremely obstinate git. I've found that anyone who uses it invariably is blatantly lying or missing so much from the story that they might as well be.

I'm not easy to talk your way round and that is a very useful trait in this work. I will listen and will assess what you've said to see if there's anything I should be doing. Not could be doing, but should be doing to protect the revenue in the club. If someone starts swearing down, I just throw up the wall and wait for the moment to ask them to leave. Why mark yourself out as a chav by saying it and pray that no-one upstairs is counting the lies you've told sworn against your babies life?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

As the dust settles in New Orleans.......

We could pontificate endlessly - and people are, sadly - about whether calling an openly gay man as a Bishop was the right thing to do. We should think twice, though before we resort to the language of exclusion and ultimatum.
We seem to live in a culture where winning is more important than peacemaking and that is reflected in the current destructive environment of war, made worse when those same wars are based on inauthentic religion and falsehood.

What happened in New Orleans? In the context of that city's recent history isn't all this fuss about sexuality shown to be the wrong priority?

Absolutely not.

Quite the opposite. The fight for full inclusion of gay men and women in the church is the frontline in the fight against global religious fascism. We hear from Mugabe, Akinola and Ahmedinajad, all discussing homosexuals in the most disgusting terms. Homosexuality hasn't split the church as some claim. It has united it in homophobia.

Giles Fraser, writing in the Guardian newspaper, talks of the New Orleans deal thus: "The biblical text that hovers around this whole shoddy deal is John 11.50. As Jesus stands before the court, the High Priest Caiaphas persuades the others that for practical reasons he must be got rid of. "You do not understand that it is better to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed." and so the deal is done.

There is no doubt that Jesus was the outsider, despised and rejected. He was also the victim of official religious persecution, which is why the other passage that today's Christians ought to give some thought to is one from St. Matthew's Gospel which goes: "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

The Anglicans have discovered in New Orleans exactly what the Lutherans discovered in Chicago. The unity of the church is more important than justice and it is a unity bought through exclusion.
And Jesus wept.

Reasons to believe in God 2

"Sir, Sir" On the corridor between lessons. "I've thought of another one."

Pentecostalist's Argument:

  • You see that person rolling about on the floor and babbling like a lunatic?

  • That is how infinite wisdom manifests itself.

  • Therefore God exists.

And then on the way to lunch: "Can I offer one my Dad thought of?"

The Argument from Logic:

  • God is Omnipresent

  • We haven't been everywhere to prove he isn't

  • Therefore God exists

And one from my own experience at St. Atrophy's.

Argument from Youth Leader:

  • Look Guys, God is totally awesome and stuff and, like, he's good to hang out wiv.

  • Our youth leader, like, once mended a broken microwave by laying hands on it . Totally cool!

  • Therefore God exists and stuff

Enough already. I have lost sight of the Ontological Argument and will never be able to teach it again with a straight face.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Reasons to believe in God

My sister-in-law complains if I am too negative about my pupils, so here's one for you Kate.

I was with my fantastic eight today, the eight bright young seventeen year olds who are studying A Level Religious Studies under my care. We were looking at the Ontological Argument which goes something like:

  • I can conceive of a perfect God

  • One of the qualities of perfection is existence

  • Therefore God exists

This led into a variety of alternatives which got madder and madder as the lesson progressed. Here are a selection of my favourites:

The Argument from Personal Experience:

  • My Aunt had a brain tumour

  • She had a lot of medical interventions

  • We prayed

  • She got better

  • Therefore God exists

The Argument from Christian Superiority:

  • I'm not wasting my time on you Athiests. God exists whether you believe it or not

  • Therefore God exists

The Argument with the Doctor:

  • I am not taking my medication

  • I AM God

  • Therefore God exists

Benny Hinn's Argument:

  • Telling people about God has made me a millionaire

  • Therefore God exists

The Argument from miracles:

  • In a train crash 400 people were killed

  • A small girl survived, but lost both her legs

  • Therefore God exists (Praise the Lord)

The Evangelical's Argument (1):

  • Most people do not believe in God

  • This is what the Devil wants

  • Therefore God exists

The Evangelical's Argument (2):

  • God loves you (John 3.16)

  • How could you ignore that?

  • Therefore God exists

The Evangelical's Argument (3):

  • God exists

  • No he doesn't

  • Yes he does

  • No he doesn't

  • Yes he does

  • No he doesn't


  • Athiest goes home in a huff

  • Therefore God exists

And my own personal contribution, the Argument from Piss off and Die

  • God exists

  • No he doesn't

  • You know, that offends me but I am praying for you

  • No he doesn't


  • Therefore God exists

I hope this topic comes up in the exam.

Can anyone offer any more?

Shoes (pt II)

In this work you have to make very quick decisions about people. You base this on many things but one of the best guides is shoes.

For the ladies, do they match the outfit, do they fit, can they walk in them, are they brand spanking new or have they seen some love over the years? The details of heel size, strappy, pointy, are all irrelevant against the big question. Are they spattered in vomit?

For the Gents, shoes seem a more permanent, less variable item of their wardrobe. Those around town on a Friday or Saturday night in scruffy trainers risk a very cold sober evening. Fashion trainers are fine in the right venue but unless dressing up in a downwards direction is called for could leave you on the street. Kickers, caterpillars and timberlands will likely see you staying on the street as big chav brands are very poorly thought of. A brand new pair of dress or 'dancin' shoes will stand you out in the crowd but a worn but polished pair will get you places. Again, vomit on the toes is still a no.