Monday, December 31, 2007

Slang names

This may be giving the game away as to where I work but the slang names our scummy club patrons use really do grate on me.
The old favourite of 'big man' is relatively inoffensive, it's not wrong and though familiar isn't demeaning.
'Mate', 'Bro' or 'Brother' is just too familiar and won't get me on my best side.
The ones that really get my goat and raise my heckles are 'Mush' and 'Gadgee'. 'Mush' becoming more popular than 'gadgee' of late. The fashionability of certain terms comes and goes. These two really get me writhing. They're far too familiar, they're far too nonsensical and worst of all they suggest I'm part of a social group that includes their users. This I am not. The mere suggestion that I might be will get you seeing a whole nasty side, not just the little bits I let out every now and then.

Stick to 'Gent', 'Man', 'Fella' and 'Lad' or if you're a little older 'Bouncer'. If you start calling me 'Sir' I'll worry that you're still at school, in the forces or just out of prison. Only reasons to watch your movements with a whole load more caution and be even more sceptical and cynical than usual.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas: these things I know....

* I tire of chocolate easily.
* Christmas is a feminist issue. I know this to be the case as my wife repeats it frequently each year.
* Family expectations are a nightmare as is attempting to keep everyone happy: can't be done!
* We are locked into a cycle of Parents and Parents-in-law which satisfies no one but no one wants to cause offence.
* My mother believes she cannot be hospitable unless we stay for several nights. We live half an hour away.
* My Father-in-law becomes more irascible each year.
* My daughters have learned to say thank you and smile at the trully hideous gift.
* I eat because its there.
* Every year we say we want to, but fail not to buy into the stuff that gets in the way of fully celebrating the incarnation.
* T.V. gets more disappointing year on year.
* My Brother-in-law is a star.
* My younger daughter's vegetarianism is flexible.
* I have the same genes as Scrooge.
* Too many people will get into serious debt again to buy presents that their children do not appreciate.
* At least one child will be savaged to death by a totally inappropriate family pet. Who keeps a rotweiller and a toddler in the same house?
* I love Christmas Carols: proviso - they may only be sung by good choirs.
* The people who increase their electricity bills by £500 by lighting their homes like the Blackpool Illuminations have poor taste and are responsible for the ice-caps melting.
* We should open our gifts on 6th January.
* It is mad to preach on the Epistle on Christmas Day.
* I would like to go abroad - Prague - and miss the whole thing.
* I have reached the age where ties and socks are appreciated gifts.
* Lent should immediately follow Christmas.
* We should all be ashamed of ourselves that we let it get this out of control.

Have I missed anything?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

H.R.H and the Christmas Message

This is our first Christmas in twenty four years without parents or parents-in-law. We decided we would like to initiate some of our own family traditions. I suggested me eating and drinking too much, but everyone said it needed to be something new. Naked Christmas dinner was rejected by the daughters, funnily enough and so we settled on the Queen's Christmas message, at which point both girls voted with their feet and left the room.

Young people today eh?

I am neither a republican nor an ardent monarchist but do secretly tend to think that H.R.H. (if not necessarily the rest of her family) is a bit of a sweetie and I think her broadcast, which started and ended with footage of her first televised broadcast in 1957, was rather good.

"One of the features of growing old is a heightened awareness of change."

"To remember what happened 50 years ago means that it is possible to appreciate what has changed in the meantime. It also makes you aware of what has remained constant.

"In my experience, the positive value of a happy family is one of the factors of human existence that has not changed.

"The immediate family of grandparents, parents and children, together with their extended family, is still the core of a thriving community.

"When Prince Philip and I celebrated our diamond wedding last month, we were much aware of the affection and support of our own family as they gathered round us for the occasion.

"Now today, of course, marks the birth of Jesus Christ. Among other things, it is a reminder that it is the story of a family; but of a family in very distressed circumstances.

"Mary and Joseph found no room at the inn; they had to make do in a stable, and the new-born Jesus had to be laid in a manger. This was a family which had been shut out.

"Perhaps it was because of this early experience that, throughout his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth reached out and made friends with people whom others ignored or despised.

"It was in this way that he proclaimed his belief that, in the end, we are all brothers and sisters in one human family.

"The Christmas story also draws attention to all those people who are on the edge of society - people who feel cut off and disadvantaged; people who, for one reason or another, are not able to enjoy the full benefits of living in a civilised and law-abiding community.

"For these people the modern world can seem a distant and hostile place. "It is all too easy to 'turn a blind eye', 'to pass by on the other side', and leave it to experts and professionals.

"All the great religious teachings of the world press home the message that everyone has a responsibility to care for the vulnerable.

"Fortunately, there are many groups and individuals, often unsung and unrewarded, who are dedicated to ensuring that the 'outsiders' are given a chance to be recognised and respected.

"However, each one of us can also help by offering a little time, a talent or a possession, and taking a share in the responsibility for the well-being of those who feel excluded.

"And also today I want to draw attention to another group of people who deserve our thoughts this Christmas.

"We have all been conscious of those who have given their lives, or who have been severely wounded, while serving with the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The dedication of the National Armed Forces Memorial was also an occasion to remember those who have suffered while serving in these and every other place of unrest since the end of the Second World War.

"For their families, Christmas will bring back sad memories, and I pray that all of you, who are missing those who are dear to you, will find strength and comfort in your families and friends.

"A familiar introduction to an annual Christmas carol service contains the words: 'Because this would most rejoice his heart, let us remember, in his name, the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and the unloved.'

"Wherever these words find you, and in whatever circumstances, I want to wish you all a blessed Christmas."

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Cavalry

Once more the boys in blue have been dropping by.
They've taken the sensible step of being out in big numbers this last week and have taken alot of work off our hands.

When we reject or eject someone sometimes they just don't want to wander on. They just keep coming back and they get more and more unruly as they return to the door. We can't just carry them off, we just have to put them off our premises and get back to work. This can get pointless, tedious, sometimes hilarious and occasionally dangerous.

This is when the boys and girls from blue light taxis come in handy. They usually just pop along and have a chat. Starting nicely, they ask what's up. They don't like swearing, they don't like threats and they don't have a lot of patience. In that way they're a bit like us.

They have what we don't, a big battenberg van that can whisk folks away to be forgotten about 'til morning. Would be cool if we got to play with cs and batons too but I think that could get messy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A salutary tale of Christmas stress courtesy of the church

A friend of mine, a lay Reader, told me this sad tale: Some months ago at a PCC meeting, when Christmas services were being planned, he agreed to assist the curate with a Christmas Eve celebration of readings and carols. He offered to look at the readings and said that it might be nice to have some non-traditional ones amongst the Gospel accounts. The Vicar announced himself pleased.

"I shall sit in the congregation and not be involved in the organisation." he said

Several weeks later my friend put together a draft of the evening including a selection of carols and music to be played on C.D. (It is a small congregation with a good organist but little singing ability). My friend put it on the church noticeboard, gave a copy to the vicar and e-mailed one to the curate who he was working with but who was proving difficult to contact.

Some time went by and on one Sunday my friend asked members of the congregation to sign up for readings, which they began to do with enthusiasm including one lady who expressed keenness to read one of the non-traditional readings, from A Christmas Carol by Dickens, the section which deals with the Cratchit's Christmas dinner. My friend also noticed in the bulletin a comment about the service needing readers and that those interested should contact the Pastor. He felt a little pang of resentment.

A few more days passed and the curate rang. My friend wasn't in so the curate promised to ring back. He didn't and so my friend rang him.

"You can't do the welcome." My friend was told. "I have to do that as I am the curate. Also the programme seems a bit longer than the hour we are used to."
My friend was surprised as no-one had mentioned timings to him, although he didn't believe it would go on much over the hour. "Also, the thing about staying afterwards for mince-pies and mulled wine. People usually go straight home afterwards." My friend was feeling a little put out at this point having done all of the work so far, but bit his tongue and pointed out that the draft had been on the noticeboard for two Sundays and that the vicar had his own copy and there had been no adverse feedback, so things would be fine. The curate accepted this, but didn't sound particularly mollified but agreed that they would meet up to go over things after that fantastic Lord Mayor's Carol concert at the Town Hall which they had agreed to go to.

My friend continued to plan and took the final version to work where he used his employers facilities to print and laminate the readings and print the service sheets in festive red and green.

My friend, you will agree, had put a lot of time and effort into this, and if he did occasionally wonder what the curate had contributed, he pushed those thoughts aside.

The next day my friend had a message on his answer phone. The curate would not now be able to meet with him after the Lord Mayor's carol concert.

The evening he finished work for the Christmas break (and therefore had no further opportunity to change any printed material) and a whole two and a half weeks since the vicar had been given his personal copy, the vicar rang my friend. "I see you have not finished the service with Silent Night. We always finish with Silent Night. Didn't anyone tell you that?" My friend acknowledged that no-one had told him that. Also the Von Trap family always come and sing during this service and I see you have not mentioned them in your running order. Didn't anyone tell you about them?" My friend acknowledged that no-one had mentioned that either. "I'll just sit in the pews and not be involved in the organisation." the vicar told my friend.

On the day before the Christmas Eve service, a Sunday, my friend was at church and told the organist about the changes. He was grateful that the organist didn't mind at all and my friend was also happy to have passed on the final readings, so nicely laminated you remember, and each printed on a different colour paper, (including the copy of the Dickens to the lady who had been so enthusiastic about a non-traditional reading).

That afternoon my friend was surprised to receive a phone call from the vicar who chided him gently about the intercessions my friend had spent a lot of time preparing. They weren't, it seemed. totally appropriate for a Communion service.
"While I'm on, I need to tell you that the lady who was reading from the Dickens doesn't think it is appropriate as it is about stuffing the fowl and she is a vegetarian. It isn't a sacred text, so we'll just leave it out. I didn't think it was appropriate either." My friend thought fondly of his nicely produced running order, now in tatters. "Also, you know that the congregation will want to have just the hour as their tradition is to go home to their Christmas Eve, so no-one will stay for mince pies and mulled wine. The curate has to get away too. Didn't anyone tell you that?" My friend, through gritted teeth said that, no, no-one had told him these things. "Still" the vicar continued "I'll just sit in the pew and not be involved. Did you and the curate not meet up?" My friend said that they had not. "You two need to get your communication together." the vicar said. My friend thought that this was rather unfair as he felt he had done all the communicating so far.

So, a tale of woe. I am so glad it is my friend who has this problem and not me because I would no longer be able to take any pleasure in the occasion.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I am officially in the Christmas spirit

I have spent some time over the last few weeks avoiding the pseudo Krismas spirit.

"But, Sir, its Chrismas." my pupils keep telling me.

"No, actually its Advent."

They hate me. They certainly don't "get" me.

But I digress. It is officially the start of Christmas for me since last night when as every year, The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, of which I am proud and honoured to be a member, took part in the Lord Mayor's Carol Concerts in the Victorian splendour of Leeds Town Hall.

Two performances to packed houses and what an atmosphere! We led the usual selection of Christmas favourites, with organ and the wonderful Fine Arts Brss Ensemble, and performed some lovely Christmas Choral set pieces. If you have never heard Philip Wiby's "The Word Made Flesh" then beg, borrow or steal a copy. (If the latter, then I will absolve you: It is in a higher cause).

Then to be called the Jewel in the crown of the city's civic life: well what more could a singer ask for?

I went home ten feet off the ground.

The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus


I was pleasantly surprised after all my bitching about changing staff, that a couple of good ones have bobbed to the top of the barrel. Some have proved capable so far and I feel they may even have a future in the job.

After some quiet and tedious nights on the unpredictable run up to christmas I'm bracing myself for "mad friday". The one day of the year when you just don't know who's going to be walking in through the door and when. It'll be mad and it'll be friday, contractors, builders, office workers everybody but retail and hospitality will be in causing mayhem as they drink their christmas bonuses and start their holidays with sore heads and possibly a few dealings with the police.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Spirit of Scrooge is alive and well!

I arrive at the Knowledge College today to discover printed notices all over the staff areas saying that normal lessons, containing meaningful subject content, should be taught up until lesson two on Friday when we break up.

The staff is up in arms and I smell rebellion in the air.

I have taught my classes assertively and worked them very hard all year. Even in a High School, could I not treat them to something fun in their last lesson before Christmas?

Guess what I was going to show them today? Actually, guess what I am still going to show them today. (Oh you rebel!)

If you have never seen any Wallace and Gromit - they win an Oscar every year - you have missed a treat and if there is anyone who is stuck for a Christmas gift idea, then Wallace and Gromit films are for you!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Liverpool Nativity

On BBC 3 last night was a delightful promenade performance of the Nativity, filmed in the city of Liverpool, and with pretty well everyone who lives there in the vast crowd of an audience.
The story was updated to the present and Joseph was an asylum seeker and Herod, now Herodia, a Govenmemnt minister on the lookout for a crowd-pleasing policy which would also satisfy the tabloids, so on the intelligence from the Magi, (foreign ambassadors), she goes on a witch hunt of refugees and asylum-seekers, using the threat of terror and regime-change as her tag lines.
This is pretty controversial stuff here given the high public profile of a deeply immoral press campaign against such vulnerable people, characterised by misinformation and a pandering to public ignorance, fear, prejudice and xenophobia. Nevertheless it was spot on and very thought provoking. It was also rather fun as the whole thing was sung to carefully chosen Beatles lyrics. (Well, it is Liverpool, what did you expect?)
I took the video to school today as the end of term treat for my classes. What a waste of time. They didn't understand.
What is this? What's it about? I don't get it?
Well, it has Mary and Joseph, a star, angels, wise men, shepherds... can I give you any more clues?
Its the nativity story.
Why is it in Liverpool?
God give me strength!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Why Bother?

It's reached that point again this year when I wonder why I keep doing this shit. It happens every year, usually when about this time. It's the flood of new faces that only emerge clubbing when the christmas party season and the time off associated brings them out from under their rocks.

Why am I still telling alcoholically retarded people to keep their drinks off the dance-floor? Why am I still advising the drink addled punters that they really shouldn't take their drinks onto the street? Why am I still telling the habitual idiots that they can't come in and then have to tune them out as they rant on and on in a most irritating way? Why do I have vomit, beer and brightly coloured high sugar alco-pop eating the nice polish off my boots each night? Why as a grown up do I still wear a clip-on tie? Why do I relish dirty kebab based foodstuffs when cold, sober and in need of my bed? Why do I do six nights of this shit and can't remember one day to the next?

Well they pays not bad and I really don't like mornings.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The final score: The World 179, America 1

Yes the climate change summit and the very public booing of the American delegate by the 179 other nations there. I don't want to offend any U.S. Citizens, many of whom in the blogosphere make it clear that they have no love for Bush and his policies, but it was an utterly spine tingling moment of humiliation. I hope it played on U.S. T.V. and I am fascinated to know how it went down.

I almost felt sorry for Paula Dobrianskey at that moment and I actually did when she made a humiliating climbdown. I wonder what caused that?

In Memorium

I heard this morning that Michael has died. Michael is a member of my congregation who I had been getting to know recently. He, I was surprised to hear, was a Romanian of German descent. When Romania was invaded during the second World War, Michael, along with others of German descent was reluctantly drafted into the German Military. At the end of the war he was delighted to give himself up to the Allies and eventually found himself in England where he met and married Heidi, who had also found her way here and was working as a domestic.

They always sat together at the back, by the organ: a small, gentle, elderly couple who had chosen the English language congregation over the German language congregation. They always made the tea and coffee and were always very happy to stay and chat, were funny and kind and gave me much encouragement and support.

I was only just getting to know them and I instinctively liked them. Michael's death was unexpected and I feel very sad. Please pray for Heidi and their family. I can't begin to imagine her anguish at losing her life's partner.

Advent and the Hajj

My friend Halima is very excited. She is preparing to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, as is the duty of every Muslim at least once in a lifetime. This is no easy holiday: she will dress in a simple white robe along with the countless thousands of other pilgrims to show that she is one among many souls in the presence of God, where social standing is unimportant. She will go out into the Arabian desert and she will search her own soul and ask for forgiveness to be at peace with her creator. She will throw seven stones at three stone pillars which represent Satan, each of her own stones representing a carefully chosen area of her life where she recognises shortcomings and which she wishes to wipe away.

All of these symbolic actions will impact on the reality of her post Hajj life and she will be a different person, as she returns physically, emotionally and spiritually drained.

Ritual, symbolism and a changed life. These are all common themes for Christians at Advent. I know from experience just this week how easy it is to be distracted by the increasingly frenetic preparations for Christmas which get in the way of what should be a time of contemplation and preparation for the Nativity of Christ.

Halima will be drained and tested to the limit, but she has no doubt she will be spiritually refreshed and exhilarated. I will also be drained and tested to the limit. Whether I end up being spiritually refreshed and exhilarated remains to be seen. I am not holding out too many expectations.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Nativity Angel

All this Christmas preparation has put me in mind of an incident from last year. The four year old daughter of a friend of mine was an Angel in her school nativity. To her mother's great surprise she stood with great presence and a beautific smile all the way through the performance.

When her mother congratulated her, she also asked her how she had managed to keep her smile for so long.

"I had a secret. I didn't have any pants on and no-one else knew."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Preparations 3 (Bah Humbug)

It’s already getting dark. But we’ve barely got back home when the children take a sudden interest in my driving them back into Leeds to see a mystery celebrity turn the Christmas lights on. Off we go again, and 15 minutes later we are in town, following the unmistakable noise of people pretending to enjoy themselves. And sure enough we find ourselves in front of a big stage being expected to clap along to Shakin’ Stevens and Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants, while a troupe of alarmingly energetic dancers in Santa Claus hats audition to an imagined throng of TV talent scouts. Still, it’s all part of the fun, and the DJs are soon tossing fantastic prizes into the crowd to get us into the festive spirit of untamed consumer frenzy. We miss the Aire FM baseball hats, but my elder daughter does surface from the brawling mass clutching a fragment of a family ticket to the Vue cinema.
‘DO YOU WANNA DO THE YMCA?’ the DJ is shouting.‘Er . . . do you want to do the YMCA?’ I ask my nephews.

No way,’ mutters the eldest. ‘It’s a gay song.’ He clamps his arms firmly to his sides, as if any sudden movement might transform him into a priapic leather-trousered construction worker sporting a large moustache. I offer him a short lecture in low hissing tones on how a civilised society is judged by its celebration of sexual diversity, though obviously an ability to run the railways comes into it, too.“Anyway,” I say, “listen to the words. It’s not about being gay, it’s about young men having a good meal, and doing whatever they feel.”

At last it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for as the DJ asks us to give a big Leeds welcome to: a Victoria Beckham lookalike! Victoria gives us a few songs and could easily pass for the real thing, from a distance, with the light behind her, if you didn’t have your hearing aid turned up. Eventually she switches the lights on. Mmm. It’s not exactly Las Vegas. On the upside, at least we didn’t get stuck behind the family who decided what riotous fun it would be to wear red flashing antlers on their heads for the duration of the event.

And the real meaning of Christmas in all this? Well, the Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special repeat, Christmas Day, 8.15, BBC1, of course.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Advent 2: A Time of Waiting and Searching

Isaiah 11 v1-10
Psalm 72 v1-7 and 18-19
Romans 15 v4-13
Matthew 3 v1-10

This is the time of not yet, not yet.
The stable is yet empty of human company,
the star is not yet risen,
shepherds mind their own business,
sages divine nothing unusual in the heavens,
and babies in Bethlehem sleep soundly in their cots.

Soon it will be the time for bated breath,
for a sense of the world beginning to stir from hibernation,
for a tingling down the spine of the soul,
for the feeling of being on the brink again.

Yet now is still the time of not yet.

(Imagining God: Trevor Dennis)

ADVENT: a time of waiting and searching:

In the first year of the Premiership of Gordon Brown, in the fifty fourth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second, in the second term of president George W. Bush, when Walter Jagucki is Bishop of the LCiGB and Rowan Williams is the Archbishop of Canterbury, a man is waiting and prophesying the coming of a King who will usher in God’s Kingdom, another man is waiting quietly in the wilderness, asking that we change, and that in turn we change the world, and yet another man is waiting and instructing his flock in unity and hope so that the Kingdom of God will be realised.

I am going to tell you an Advent joke. I feel compelled to tell you that it is a joke so that if you don't find it funny, like my daughters didn't, you can pretend and laugh in the right place. Work with me here. So, two new ordinands were at theological college and giving the lecturer problems because they didn’t seem to have a very sound grasp of their Lutheranism. (Neither of them were me, by the way.) The lecturer had tried everything to get through to them. Finally the ordinands were sent to see The Bishop. The first went in and sat in a chair across the desk from the Bishop, who asked, "Do you know where God is?" The ordinand just sat there looking perplexed. The Bishop stood up and asked again, "My Son, do you know where God is?" The ordinand trembled a bit but said nothing. The Bishop leaned across the desk and again asked, "Do you know where God is?" The ordinand bolted out of the chair ran past his friend in the waiting room, and legged it back to his room. He got into bed and pulled the covers up over his head. His friend who had followed him back to the student hostel asked, "What happened in there?" The ordinand replied, "God is missing and they think we did it!"

O.K. Maybe "joke" is an overstatement. Anyway, we could say that God isn’t so much missing at this time of year as expected in Jesus. We are in the season of Advent, the season of waiting and searching, waiting and searching for God, waiting and looking to the second coming of Jesus. As much as we are waiting and searching for God, can you imagine how much God, as represented by the Father in the parable of the lost son, is waiting and looking out for each of us, waiting and searching the horizon for our return to him during this season of reflection and preparation, which we call Advent? We have heard so often of God’s love. Do you ever think about God’s love searching for you, longing for you, wanting no hindrance or obstacle between you and him?

As much as we are waiting and searching for God, God is waiting and searching for us far more. Do I wait for the Lord or is the Lord waiting for me? Is the Lord something like the child who hides in an obvious place like behind a branch without leaves and is all excited when found? Am I the one searching? Am I the one being sought? Where would Jesus hide? An inn? A barn? A cave? A crib? I think we need to ask that question about ourselves. Where and how do we hide? At work? Busy, busy, busy? In the church? Busy, busy, busy? At home? Not busy enough if you ask Hannah, but you get the idea. We could focus on any of those. Advent should be a prayerful time of waiting to see who finds whom? Would you not wait so that the Lord might meet you?

Another year winds down; the days grow ever shorter, and this Advent seems especially grey. Despite exhortations and efforts to get on with life as usual, it is difficult to be people of hope as St. Paul exhorts us to be, when our consciousness is flooded with one warning or dire prediction after another: terrorism, runs on banks, tsunamis, earthquakes and so on all marketed for popular consumption by the slick editorials of the media, leading to panic, doomsday fantasies and conspiracy theories. And yet it was in a period just like this that Isaiah forged the beautiful poem of hope in today's first reading, a vision of a messianic age in which the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.

A more recent Jewish "commentator," Woody Allen, has cautioned: "And the lamb and the wolf shall lie down together, but the lamb won't get much sleep." Even Margaret Thatcher used an adaptation of this Isaiah prophecy in an after dinner speech in Germany. She told the story of the Western visitor to a Soviet zoo who was very impressed to find a wolf lying down with a lamb, with a sign above them extolling this example of peaceful coexistence. He asked the keeper how this miracle could be achieved in the Soviet Union. "It’s perfectly simple if you have a fresh lamb every morning" he replied.

Well, cynical comments apart, Isaiah is reminding the people that real peace comes from God: this is an image, a metaphor of the Kingdom to be ushered in by the one who was to come.

So as we begin the church year, we not only have Isaiah's prophecy of the ideal ruler for whom they waited, but we also have St. Paul's letter to the Romans, with its revolutionary promise to include the Gentiles in God’s covenant.

Paul addresses the Roman Christians in the spirit of Advent. He reminds his hearers that the Scriptures were given to invite enduring hope in God. This hope points them to a waiting time in expectation of future promises, while providing assurance that they already experience God’s grace now because God is the God of steadfastness and encouragement. Paul articulates his longing for harmony among believers and that has to be a lesson for the Church today.But Paul’s readers know exactly what he means when he calls them to live in accordance with Jesus Christ. The desired unity among diverse people (at his time Jews and Gentiles particularly) can be found in Jesus Christ, whose faithfulness in accepting crucifixion dramatically revealed God’s love for all people.

How does this speak to us in Advent, then? Few of us face deep disagreements like the Roman Christians over food choices, circumcision, or the proper day on which to worship, so we need to bring this into the present to have relevance. Like the Roman believers we are part of a church with jarring diversity. The lines of division change through the years, and from generation to generation; but there are always divisions: human sexuality, the authority of scripture, women bishops have all grumbled on in various parts of the church in the last year. Yet in the midst of disagreement, the life of the church goes on and we have no choice but to continue to get on with it while others have the big conversations of the day.

Advent calls us as Christians to rest from focusing on our differences, to wait and to search. There is a time to discuss the issues that sometimes invigorate and sometimes threaten the bonds we share. For this season, though, we look instead to the legacy of faith that we all share. The promises of the past and the promises for the future are bound up for us in the coming of Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews, the Christ of the Gentiles, in whom we place our hope. During Advent we anticipate Jesus’ coming, knowing that Christ is already in our midst, yet awaiting also the completion of what God in Christ has begun, and participating, hopefully, in a worshiping and welcoming community of hope! We wait and we search.

And, finally, we have St. Matthew's account of the beginning of the ministry of St. John the Baptist. John the Baptist, another Advent figure of expectation: In all of these passages, signposts of Advent, we are being directed to recognise that something unique has been accomplished and yet we wait, too, for its fulfilment.

Every Advent we hear the story of the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist and it is always a ministry in the real world of his own time. Matthew's words for today set us in a particular time and a particular place. The reader and listener find themselves with John waiting and searching in the wilderness after being told in a very challenging way about the world of their time. And, John is proclaiming that the particular world in which Matthew has just placed us is about to change. To be ready for that world to change, people must themselves transform and be changed. John invites people to do this by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (not John's forgiveness but God's forgiveness), and then, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, he calls out for a change in the natural world, for a modification of the earth, so that all shall see the salvation of God because only when we know the reality of our need for forgiveness, for the action and the grace of God in our own lives, can we be in any way prepared to understand the reality of Jesus’ coming into the real world, into flesh exactly like ours.

This year, like every year, we celebrate that Christ, the salvation of God, is coming. And, in Christmas, we celebrate the reality that Christ really does come. So, we are merely weeks away from celebrating the truth that Christ will indeed come again. Christ will come again, this year as in all of our liturgical years. Christ is coming soon and the conviction of God’s presence in our midst is the basis for the peace of which we speak at Christmas, the peace for which we all so earnestly yearn.

Isaiah's vision, John's prophecy and Paul’s hope were not fulfilled in the way they expected. They lived in hope and died in faith. Despite all the progress on social justice the light of hope for those who suffer throughout the world seems dimmer day by day. There is work to do: Isaiah prophesied the coming of a new kind of king who would be “a signal for the nations.” John points to a mighty one who will baptize and renew people with God's spirit, and in Romans St. Paul exhorts us to that work. Our unity and love for one another and for those around us brings the long awaited return of Christ nearer.

In the first year of the Premiership of Gordon Brown, in the fifty fourth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second, in the second term of president George W. Bush, when Walter Jagucki is Bishop of the LCiGB and Rowan Williams is the Archbishop of Canterbury, a man is waiting and prophesying the coming of a King who will usher in God’s Kingdom, another man is waiting quietly in the wilderness, asking that we change, and that in turn we change the world, and yet another man is waiting and instructing his flock in unity and hope so that the Kingdom of God will be realised.

Let us learn from each of them how to wait and search and how the waiting and searching should move us on.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Water Hazard

No, not golf, the horrors of the toilets in most busy nightclubs.

Imagine one thousand people in a nightclub. Imagine an average of needing at least 3 toilet visits, 10% may go for a long sit down, and somewhere about 1% go to vomit.
In total thats 3110 visits minimum, 1555 for the pink door and 1555 for the blue door.

This means they smell, are usually wet floored and are the home to some of the nastiest parts of the job. We're compelled to check them regularly to see what our punters are up to in places we can't see. Worst for business is flooding, when some retard has dropped their bottle or glass into a bowl or slung a wad of loo-roll into the urinals and flushing does the rest. The whole place gets messy fast. We have to close them off and direct full bladdered folk to the other ones conveniently located at the furthest point in the venue from the closed ones. The bar-staff then get the big gloves on and get to go fishing in the poo-fish bowl for the source of the blockage. That's one job they don't pay me enough for.

The snorting of drugs is attempted on the toilet seats but we WD40 the beasties every night and apparently that spoils all of the fun.
If we find two lads in a cubicle, they both leave the venue, it's either drugs or sleazy romance but we don't want it going on where we can't see it so it's out into the night for them.
I'll often find the student's vomiting or recovering from vomiting in the toilets and depending on the amount of vomit covering them I either guide them to the door or just verbally direct them if I really don't fancy smelling of alco-pop vom for the rest of the night.

Sadly the toilets are also the most likely place for us to get our head caved in. They're an enclosed space where you don't always know who's in there when you walk in. It's off camera and far too easy to get trapped. If you want to keep at this game for long, you keep you eyes and ears wide open when you visit the smallest room.

The most entertaining water hazard are the unconscious. If they've sat down or knelt to hurl, they can find themselves far away in the land of nod. I'll unlock the door if there's no response and try to open it. This is made alot harder if their sheep counting has led them to fall against the door. I'm heavy and can usually provide enough grunt to a cubile door to rouse even the heaviest sleeper. Once awake, and rising, never try and put a hand through the door. It's really easy to break even a thick wrist with a slip or shove to the inside of the door.

The best are those who, having had a quick shut eye on the bowl, are roused by the shouting or the opening of a door onto their head and proceed to get up. They accept your invitation to walk out only forgetting to raise their underwear or trousers from round their ankles. The shuffling naked bottom, with our without loo-roll garnish will emerge from the cubicle and it's really only our high standards of professionalism that forces us to remind them to remember what they've forgotten before they re-enter the busy club bare arsed.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Here I Stand - I can do no other...

....because of the little bastards who interfered with a teacher's chair and I sat on it, having alrady pulled a back muscle!

So I am at home, in pain, drugged up to the eyeballs, unable to bend or sit easily and probably off work for a week at least. All because some teenagers thought they'd play a trick on their technology teacher by removing some of the wheels on his scoot-around computer chair.

Unfortunately that teacher was away and I drew the short straw for the cover lesson. I thought they looked startled when I walked in. "Er... have we got you, Sir?"

Teenage humour eh?

New Blood

There have been some fresh faces joining my bag of spanners at work over the last couple of weeks and it always poses a few problems. With most doorstaff who join the firm I work for, they've picked up experience working elsewhere and moved to us for better pay, longer hours etc. You'll often know about somebody before you get to work with them, you'll have some idea of their credibility. Thankfully my bosses up to now have been capable at at least picking a fair calibre of new recruits.

Now we're getting some very young fresh faces who've not really done this work before. They've got their licenses but still have lettuce ears and I think are seen as cheap staff for the company. They're wheeled out on quiet nights and we don't really get to see what they're capable of. This nags at you. When you expect all the members of your team to be up to certain standards and willing to back you to the hilt if needed.

You don't want to be heading into something not knowing if you're gonna get anyone flying in after you or if you're going to have to pull them off someone before it all ends up out on the street.
Not knowing about the new lads plays on your mind's time. In a job that's 99% boredom there's a lot of time even if there's not much mind.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The strange case of the Sudanese Teddy Bear

So, Gillian Gibson has arrived home safe and sound and seemingly not much the worse for wear for having spent eight days in a Sudanese jail where she was, she maintained, very well and kindly treated.
How does a middle aged English lady find herself in a Sudanese jail in the first place? International terrorism? Espionage? Drugs running?
No, Gillian Gibson was employed as a primary school teacher and in one lesson allowed her young charges to choose the name for a teddy bear. Sudan is a Muslim country and the children overwhelmingly voted for Muhammad. Now it may have been as much her ill-advised introduction of her pupils to the concept of democracy in Muslim Sudan that got her into trouble, but Gillian Gibson was arrested for insulting Islam and imprisoned for sixteen days. The other options included being lashed and possibly being sentenced to execution. At the start of her period of imprisonment there were those who protested at the leniency of her punishment and demanded for her to be shot.
Now, perhaps it is because I am not a Muslim and therefore don't fully appreciate the nuances of these things, but people name their children Muhammed and I, as a teacher, have met some fairly unsavoury children over the years. Could you not argue that that is an insult to Islam? As children generally love their soft toys to bits, isn't calling a teddy Muhammad likely to foster a subconscious love and respect that is carried into adulthood and is therefore deeply appropriate?
Gillian Gibson is at home today because of the good offices of two of Britians Muslim Peers, Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi, who flew to Khartoum to negotiate a pardon and here in lies the issue. Where in all the vile demands for death and retribution that so often characterise the Muslim voice, at least as far as the Western media and public opinion are concerned, are the voices of the reasonable, moderate Muslim majority?
Just as scriptural references to stoning and flogging are cited by countries such as Saudi Arabia as justification for their practices, in these same texts, we find that the Prophet Muhammad reprimanded his followers for stoning a person who attempted to flee. He also condemned those who killed innocent people. By drawing on these lessons, mainstream Muslims must illustrate that compassion, humanity and sense should override scriptural rigidity understood to justify anger and revenge.
Is it because those same moderate, reasonable Muslims also fear the retribution of those who follow a medieval theology of hate and dare not be seen to break ranks?
I often tell my pupils that when dealing with bullies, those who remain silent collude with them. Is this such a hard idea to grasp? But more than that I am amazed that so many Muslims seem perfectly happy that the case of Muhammad the Teddy has turned the world's gaze on them again and condemned them to sniggers and insults as if all believed that to call him after the prophet, peace be upon him, was a blasphemous insult. Do I not live in 2007?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Reflections on a Residential Weekend

This weekend saw another residential: we were busy and active with some challenging theology (and challenging delivery) on the issues of marginalisation and globalisation followed by practical workshops. We had experimental worship, guided meditation, prayer times, a Eucharist and the opportunity to join the Brothers in their wonderfully atmospheric worship - incence and chanting. At the same time there was far too much food, a fair sloshing of alcohol and a quiz night. (We was robbed!)
As usual I was taken by the wonderful group dynamic as the eighteen of us worked together, developed and deepened our friendships and learned more about each other. I have noticed a pattern on these weekends as one particular friend and I stay up far too late after the others retire, talking and drinking and putting the world to rights. This is real male bonding stuff and encompasses quality conversation. I have been really privileged to learn about his journey of faith and self discovery and to share mine as we each come to a closer understanding of who we are and the influences that have shaped us.
I'd also like to introduce you to Barry, above, our elder statesman ordinand. Barry is a Geordie and a kinder, warmer wittier man it would be hard to find. Barry is also quite poorly, having picked up a nasty chest infection some months ago that won't shift. Every time we see him he is, and looks, worse and now he can hardly breath and keeps himself awake at night caughing, and this after medical intervention.
God has called this lovely, gifted man to ordained ministry. Please pray for healing and wholeness for him.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Go away

When somebodies been ejected they can really get on your nerves by just hanging around. Again and again they'll come back to the door. Again and again they'll get refused and told to go away, go home, go crawl under whatever rock they crawled out from under.

They just don't go. Whatever expectations they had of the night it's not happening, but that message seems to be the hardest one for them to understand. It's cold, dark and miserable, why stand around in it futilely when warmth and sleep are available elsewhere.

Go away and we'll both be having a better night. You because you'll not keep feeling rejected, me because I'll not have to write up the fact you've left in blue light taxi's for the night.