Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas on planet pope

I was working on an essay and came across this - which I shall most certainly use. Regulars here will know how highly I regard Giles Fraser: in fact I am thinking of changing my name by deed poll and undergoing cosmetic surgery...

The Holy Father has got the spirit of the season all wrong with his message of fear and exclusion

The Christmas angel tells us: "Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people." The pope, on the other hand, has been using this Christmas season to spread entirely the opposite message, a message of fear and exclusion that seems more bad news than good. For, apparently, gay people threaten the existence of the planet in a way that is comparable to the destruction of the rainforest. I guess the idea is that if we all were gay, then we wouldn't be making any babies. Yes, it's a bit like saying that if we all were to become celibate priests we wouldn't be making any babies either. Except that would mean the Catholic church has itself become a threat to the planet. OK, that's a cheap shot. But the Holy Father has the ability to put even a vicar like me in touch with their inner Polly Toynbee.

So where does this religious obsession with making babies come from? I had a moment of epiphany some years ago in a refugee camp in southern Gaza. So many families had so many children, often a dozen or more. It was explained to me that the Palestinians' secret weapon against the Israelis was "the Palestinian womb". That women were regarded as part of a wider demographic struggle, and that having babies was vital to the war effort.

The writers of the early Hebrew scriptures were similarly caught up in a struggle for survival that made having babies a part of one's moral duty. Right at the beginning of the Bible, Noah is told by God to "be fruitful and multiply". Later Abraham complains that "I continue childless", to which God replies: "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever."

This is the great obsession of much of the early history of the people of Israel. From this perspective, fertile women are politically valuable, and infertile women, homosexuals and eunuchs considered almost traitorous. Thus, for instance, the rather bizarre stuff you get in Deuteronomy that "no one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord".

But there's a twist here. For when it comes to the book of Isaiah, Jesus's favourite book of the Hebrew scriptures, this more enlightened biblical author realises that the obsession with children has warped the moral values of his culture. In direct opposition to the theology of Deuteronomy, Isaiah writes that "to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name that is better than sons and daughters". Note: better than sons and daughters. And what is true for eunuchs is true, by direct analogy, for people who are gay. Inclusion is not a piece of trendy modern theory. It is a biblical imperative.

Those who take the Bible as if it were a reference book cannot mentally accommodate the idea that the story being told is about the developing consciousness of the people of Israel, of how they got it wrong and how they are led to a new understanding by God. For Christians especially this new understanding is that God is there for all; that, as St Paul is very keen to insist, you don't even need to be a Jew for God to be there for you. Which returns us to the message of the angel: that Christ is good news to all. This is the ultimate communication of religious inclusion.

The broader theme of the pope's address concerns gender theory. His idea is that trendy philosophy has obscured the distinctiveness of male and female, which ought to be regarded as rooted in the order of creation. As it happens, evangelical Christians are often incredibly suspicious of this sort of line. They are afraid that it endorses the argument that, because homosexuality is actually prevalent in nature, and because people seem to be "born gay", natural law ethics could be won round to regard homosexuality as natural and thus good.

In light of this, conservative evangelicals have begun to take an interest in precisely the sort of gender theory that the pope excoriates. It seems bizarre to me that evangelicals have started to read postmodern philosophers such as Michel Foucault with approval, but what they argue is that because our sexual inclinations are not stubbornly rooted in nature, they are more plastic and thus they are capable of being changed. In this way they can argue that gay people are not gay because of intransigent nature but because of wilful disobedience. Foucault would turn in his grave.

And one last thing. Why on earth did the pope think Christmas a good time to ignite this sort of row? For while we are all spitting tacks, those worryingly androgynous angels are trying to get their own message across: peace on earth and goodwill to all. And all means all.

• Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Disrupted

Over the Christmas and new year period the weeks are disrupted. Some folks have the full fortnight off. Others ended up with their Friday night on the Wednesday. Then we get a Friday and Saturday with no preamble and football playing on the Friday and Sunday. Then we get another mad Wednesday night. Taking us through to silly o'clock in the morning on Thursday. For some its back to work on Friday, other are off 'til Monday so is it a big weekend or has the January slump set in already?
With my reading of the credit crunch, Mytown's house prices and home ownership rate and one of the bigger employers looking skittish for the new year I think the last big party will be new years eve.
It's always in interesting night to work. Obviously there will be loads more drunken fun. We get to see all of our regulars out and about in full fine fettle. And we get to see a club full to the rafters with all the egos of the drunken male groups, the bitchy dynamics of the female groups and the unfathomable working of the domestics. I'm sure it'll keep me busy for the last night in a while.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ho Ho Bloody Ho

Yes I'm full of the Bah-Humbug spirit. Too many drunken fools with too much spirit in them. The gentlemen seem just seem to be too drunk too early to even enter the venue. The ladies are worse.
Pretty as the lady might have looked in the poster in the window. Most of our female customers do not look good in cheap red sateen with white polyester fluff. Especially when a drink's been spilt down it and the fake tan has turned the white to dun. Similarly stockings may be festive but fishnets looking like chicken wire and muffin tops on the top of each thigh make me lose my appettite.
I'll be thankful for the time and a half. Apart from that I'll be thankful when it's over. Only tonight, boxing day, the saturday and then the new ears eve and new years day to get through 'til the students return and a sense of normality can return. And a full working week.

A Modern Nativity....

I thought I'd bring out one I wrote earlier: "Marlene's Nativity"

I hope you enjoy reading it. It is a favourite of mine.

Now, take my friend Marlene: she's a very artistic type. You probably know the sort -dangly Trade Craft earrings, pencils and paint brushes pushed into her hair geisha - style: half-moon glasses precariously perched an the and of her nose and a pair of Doc Martens - one red and one green. ('I've another pair like this you know.')

She's a leading light in regional amateur dramatics with a name for her radical re-workings. Her trans-gender 'Phantom of the Opera' is still talked about in hushed tones…… in Dewsbury. Marlene is also a bit of a committee junkie, an inveterate organiser and with a reputation for not tolerating fools: (i.e. most other people she knows). So I wasn't particularly surprised when she agreed to the Church Councils' request to stage last year's Nativity. Picture it, the committee gathered in her large kitchen, all shaker style furniture and IKEA fittings - very Chapel Allerton. Oh, and she had an agenda.

“To bring this story alive it has to be brought into the present. We must make it relevant!” And so she set about her task with relish - carrying the rest of us, I have to say, rather in the slipstream of her enthusiasm.

Her neighbour's daughter, Sigourney, was cast as Mary, notwithstanding the fact that at 14, she was pushing the boundaries of virginity somewhat.

“But she's ethnic. Don't you see she's perfect for the part: so 21st century marginalized.” and that was that.

Marlene had intended to use her contacts on the Pink Housing Co-operative to cast The Three Wise Men, but in the event she didn't get things all her own way: internal politics in the Housing Co-Operative being what they are, and with negotiations turning unpleasant, the Wise Men turned out to be Justin, Trevor ... and Brenda….and you probably remember that Marlene and Brenda have not been on civil terms since the unfortunate incident at the Turkish bath.

Well it won't matter' said Marlene, all hurt pride and a large gin. “No one will notice the difference- All they'll see is three moustaches. And they'll be Wise Men in this production. After all, we couldn't possible call them Kings; could we?" she said looking at Justin and Trevor and laughing like a drain. Blank looks from the rest of the committee. “Completely over their heads.” she said to me.

The rest of the casting fell into place: the local Imam graciously declined the role of the Angel Gabriel. "Well you can take multiculturalism to the point of political correctness and then where would we all be? Answer me that?" Observed Brenda. Terry, the local postman took his place in a stunning piece of symbolism that no one got, even when Marlene, to considerable consternation insisted that he performed in his uniform.

“Philistines.” she said, as she explained with elaborate patience for the third time the symbolism of postman as messenger of God.

“Actually, Marlene, point of order. The Philistines were a very cultured people”

“Actually, Trevor, any more points of order and you’ll be the back end of the donkey."

Sigourney's boyfriend Cammeron - that's with two m’s - was drafted in as the innkeeper. A night-club doorman by trade he had little difficulty with the lines- “You can't come in here, we're full' although he did tend to keep fooling around at rehearsals and ad-libbing: 'You can't come in mate, but you can, love, we're letting in girls for half price”.
Now Brenda likes to think of herself as worldly-wise, but she flummoxed us all with her references to Cammeron’s musical animal impersonations. Eventually she explained: “Cammeron’s hung like a stallion, Sigourney told me. So, what does that sound like then? How does one sing like a stallion?”

Joseph was to be played by Len, the church caretaker.

"But he's about 1000 years old Marlene."

"Joseph was older than Mary you know. Anyway, it says a lot about the exploitation of women in a patriarchal society."

Rehearsals came and went as rehearsals do.

"Marlene, I'm sorry to interrupt but I'm having trouble with my character. What's my motivation here?"

"Piss off Trevor. Any more of that Luvvy crap and you’ll be the both ends of the donkey.”

"Len, please! How often have 1 told you? Don't smoke during the birth scene - the baby Jesus is inflammable."

"Marlene, if I hear another Christian say: 'and Wise Men seek him still . . . .' I may just throw up"

"Brenda, they're not Christians, they're Church of England."

"But I've heard they're a very inclusive congregation."

"Oh is that right Justin? Inclusive are they? Well you try being heterosexual in this congregation and see where it gets you."

"Sigourney, no more piercings please - at least not before Christmas. I'm sorry Cammeron ... you've had what pierced? I see .... well, we shan't need to see that on stage thank you very much"

“Point of order, Marlene, technically, its not Christmas, its Advent, which means….”


"Terry. Drop the line about 'Special Delivery', it's not working-"

"Do I look 1st century enough in this?"

"It's Armani, Justin, you took fine ... Do up your flies."

And so the evening arrived --- and Marlene was proved right. It was a triumph- dramatic, moving and powerful. The stable became an old garage, back-lit in moody tones, the manger: the boot of a jacked-up wreck. Drug paraphernalia littered the floor. Three local characters shared a bottle around a brazier and stray dogs sniffed around the set. Everyone delivered their lines perfectly, and on cue it snowed. Even the arrival of Justin's nieces on set dressed as Frodo and Gandalf didn't raise an eyebrow.

It's hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago now, and here we are again getting ready for this year. It's going to be different this year though. After Marlene's triumph the church council members met in emergency session. Words like uncomfortable, inappropriate, trendy and travesty were bandied about.

So we're back to the traditional again - shepherds in tea towels carrying cuddly sheep and angels with tinsel halos. The relevant and the up-to date, it seems, have no place in the Christmas story.

A happy and blessed Christmas to all from D.P. and family.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seasonal Stuff

1) What is the true story of the Nativity?

John Bell (The Iona Community): Radio 4's Thought For The Day - 22ND Dec

Listen HERE Especially if you love a Scottish accent!!

2) Face to Faith: The Guardian

Hanukah's hope for a victory of 'light' over 'darkness' has a universal resonance, says Howard Cooper

The annual lighting of the eight-branch Hanukiah is about to commence in Jewish homes around the world. Each night an additional flame is lit, as the mythic celebration of the triumph of light over the forces of darkness is again enacted. The symbolism is universal. Every culture has its cyclical rituals of renewal and regeneration, often embracing the motifs of fire and light. Christmas is upon us, and Diwali has passed. And this year the first night of the festival of Hanukah - tomorrow - coincides with the winter solstice. Even our secular calendars mark the event: the hours of daylight will slowly increase, and with the increase of light, the earth renews itself, offering us the hope of the springtime to come.

This need for a renewal of hopefulness is especially true at a time of financial instability, ecological collapse and escalating concern about the precariousness of our existence on a planet whose resources we are rapidly exhausting. When Barack Obama, following his election as US president, spoke of "those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright", he was drawing on imagery derived from biblical prophecy about the hoped-for survival of the community of Israel (Isaiah 30:17).

And the sense of renewed hopefulness around the world that has accompanied Obama's election emerges from his articulation of where he believes the "true strength" of America comes from: "not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals". This is a secularised version of the biblical vision put into the mouth of the prophet Zechariah (4:7), who declares in the name of God that the nation will succeed "not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit".

It is this sentiment that underlies - and is quoted on - the festival of Hanukah: that although the eight-day holiday originates in a historic memory of a military victory in a guerrilla campaign two millennia ago against foreign (Graeco-Syrian) occupiers, a nation's true success is to be measured in non-material ways; that there are other values - values of the spirit, the soul, the heart - that count for more than money, arms, possessions, material wellbeing.

Yet this lesson took centuries to emerge. Against all odds, a group of Jewish religious nationalists had taken back the temple in Jerusalem and re-dedicated it to their God - Hanukah means "Dedication" - but what started as a sort of old soldiers' holiday transmuted into an annual opportunity to reflect on the ways in which each generation has to battle against oppressive cultural and material forces to retain its grasp on certain transcendent spiritual values and ideals.

Thus a legend arose, in relation to Hanukah, that when the temple's cultic candelabrum (the menorah) came to be re-dedicated, there was but a single flask of undefiled oil to be found, enough for one day only. And yet - a miracle! - it lasted for eight days, till fresh supplies arrived. The Talmudic rabbis used this mythic narrative to justify the continued celebration of the "festival of lights", suppressing its militaristic origins in favour of its symbolic resonances: the faith required to persevere against the odds; the belief that sparks of enlightenment can outshine and outwit the darkness grafted to our souls; the audacity to hope that integrity and truthfulness can illuminate - and thus win out over - falsehood and destructiveness.

This vision became the spiritual core of Hanukah. The hope for the victory of "light" over "darkness" has a universal resonance. In his acceptance speech in November, Obama highlighted the "challenges that tomorrow will bring" - including "a planet in peril". This Hanukah I wonder what new "miracle" we now need? Is it the realisation that one may suffice when we imagine we need eight? That less is going to have to mean more? That our material resources are finite - including our oil - but our inner resources are beyond measure? That faith means depending on each other more than ever before?

Howard Cooper is a rabbi, psychotherapist and author

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I must have missed the audition

Take a look at The Priests here

(Youtube won't let me imbed this one so you'll have to go them)

This is my favourite carol

I think the second one to sing is the best. I wonder why?

I think it might be my calling to join them. I could do that!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Landmark ruling strengthens gay rights in the workplace

The Guardian 20th December:

Discrimination against gay people in the workplace will be treated more harshly by the courts after two landmark judgments yesterday.

Lillian Ladele, the registrar who refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies "as a matter of religious conscience", lost her case against Islington council in north London. And Stephen English, a married man who was driven out of his job after being repeatedly called a "faggot" by colleagues had an employment tribunal ruling that he had not been the victim of sexual harassment overturned by the court of appeal.

The employment appeal tribunal ruled that Islington council had been entitled to discipline Ladele and threaten her with dismissal, even though her conduct was the result of "her strong and genuinely held Christian beliefs".

The council had been entitled to the view that "it was unacceptable discrimination for the claimant to refuse to participate in civil partnership ceremonies. It offended some gay employees and involved discriminating against third parties making use of the services of the council." Although the tribunal acknowledged that changes in social attitudes towards gay people could be "genuinely perplexing" for some religious groups, it ruled that it was proportionate for the council to require its registrars to conduct civil partnerships. Ladele, whose case was financed by the Christian Institute's Legal Defence Fund, said she would appeal.

"The issues involved are iconic of a situation where there are clearly clashes," said Mike Judge, a spokesman for the Christian Institute. "Many Christians will feel that religious rights always play second fiddle to sexual orientation rights and we feel a more balanced approach is needed."

Islington councillor John Gilbert said the judgment "provides clarity for employers across the country in requiring their employees to act in a non-discriminatory manner when discharging their public service duties".

In the second case, the appeal court heard that English, married with three children, had been told by an employment tribunal that he could not be the victim of harassment based on sexual orientation because he was not gay. He had been subject to "homophobic banter" because he attended a boarding school and lived in Brighton, the court of appeal heard.

The court said: "The incessant mockery created a degrading and hostile working environment, and it did so on grounds of sexual orientation."

"Until now, victims of this type of abuse had little or no legal protection," said John Wadham, legal director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which backed the case. "The fact that Stephen English's colleagues knew he wasn't gay does not excuse their behaviour, nor should it prevent him from enjoying the same rights to dignity and respect at work."

Afua Hirsch, Legal Affairs Correspondent

Comment: "Many Christians will feel that religious rights always play second fiddle to sexual orientation rights and we feel a more balanced approach is needed." Really? None that I know. A more balanced approach? Now what would that be, I wonder? Ah yes, allowing outdated understandings of human sexuality to take precedence. Very balanced.

The quality of British society will be immesurably improved by this ruling. Another step towards justice and fairness and another nail in the coffin of religiously inspired bigotry.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The things Kristyuns say:

"You are banned. You are not a Christian for Christians don't accuse brothers and sisters in Christ of being non-Christian."

Comment: Now there's just something about that. If I could just put my finger on it...

(Sorry, I did originally post a link, but it is out of date. It was called Bibliocity)

And just because it made me laugh:

I so wanted to slip this into the Yr 9 Christmas assembly to see if anyone would notice, but good taste (and the desire to keep my job in financially hard times) won over.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No really

When a tiny drunken, mentally special chav meets a cold, bored, tired me.
After a while too long standing in the freezing sleety drizzle I can loose some of my legendary patience. I normally don't let this mood creep past my professionalism. When faced with diminutive, socially bankrupt, intoxicated and aggressive chav what more can I do but have some fun and alleviate my mood.
'Good evening' as he approaches. He's thinking he's gonna walk straight on in.
'No sir, not tonight.'
'You what?'
'Not tonight, try somewhere else.' He's still kinda lodged half in the door beside me so I took myself a handful of horizontally striped sweater and returned him fully to the pavement.
'Walk away now sir, we're done'
'Who the fuck are you?'
My normal patient silence
'You fucking dare touch me'
More patient silence and he takes this as fear and steps right into my chest. It would be getting in my face but really he's not that tall.
I wheel out my last chance gambit with a 'Go away now. Just Piss off!'
A little bit of swearing just lets a muppet know you're ready to shift up gears and it could be getting personal.
A little stunned step back and a moment to shake some booze out of his undersized brain then he looks me directly in the eyes and I begin to chuckle. His adrenaline is making him shake. In a moment I'm shaking trying to hold my laughter in. He then does the most offensive thing I've ever encountered and flips me the bird. One whole raised finger.
I am still keeping eye contact and swat his hand down. He tries with the other hand and I think about bending the finger back. Before I get the chance his adrenaline loses the battle with his fear and he steps back to blow some more hot air.
'You don't know any real men in Mytown, do you?'
Not gonna rise to this one
'Who the fuck do you know?'
Probably more real men than you will ever in Mytown and beyond its apparently rather stagnant gene-pool.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Exam Marking and tears

Well, here at the Yorkshire College for the Under Parented, it is exam time again. This is also known amongst the staff as the period which will destroy Christmas if you don't get those papers marked before 14.45 this Friday!

I hate marking at the best of times, but mock-exam marking is the worst. Given that our Yr 11s will be sitting their final exams in a little over five months, the results are usually quite disturbing: on top of the culture which sees revision as a sign of effeminacy I have the added problem of:

"But it's only R.S. Sir. Who needs an R.S. qualification?"

I have set them last year's GCSE paper as their mock. Ignoring the many who are unable to understand the meaning of IN SECTION A ONLY ANSWER 1 QUESTION and the choice indicators: EITHER Q3 OR Q4 and who go on to answer every question on the paper (badly), we still have the joys of specific answers. Here is an example:

Q10: Explain the rights of those involved when abortion is being considered. (6 marks)

I am expecting something which includes:
a) Under the law a woman has the right to choose providing she meets certain specific criterea as set out in the 1967 Abortion Act.
b) The father has no legal rights.
c) Some analysise of U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Unborn Child.
d) Evidence of an understanding that medical staff have a right of opt-out through conscience.
e) Perhaps some understanding of the conflict between a legal right and a moral conviction.

Here is the answer from the first paper I mark:

Their are serten rights of law for abortion of the way of it been considered for people because some people in the world have laws of it not allowed for it to be took place.

Well, I'm glad we've cleared that up then.

Comment: It's going to be a long week.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jauchzet, frohlocket!

I am still floating ten feet from the ground after our performance in Leeds Town Hall on Saturday night of Bach's masterpiece, the Christmas Oratorio. You can keep Handel's Messiah!

I was well outside my comfort zone with this as I had missed three rehearsals due to that virus (I was in danger of not being allowed to take part) and the German is very hard.

But, Oh Wow!

We (The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus HERE) were joined by the Manchester Camerata HERE, probably the best exponents of Baroque music in England and the outcome was pure magic. Such energy.

So, Jesus was a man of the Reformation: I never seem to get Church History right.

Yes, that is a great company. I bought one of their large print version (old eyes... what can I say?).

The only thing I don't like about them is they sell foreign language versions of the KJB. I don't think that's right. We know the only true translation is the 1600's version in English.

It's too risky for anybody to translate that into other languages. Mistakes can creep in... and that can lead to heresy. True Christians should only read English.


Comment: But some of my Estonian friends don't speak English. What should they do?

Friday, December 12, 2008

This is not about abortion or capital punishment.........

.......................but fat chance anyone will listen!

I am 100% pro-life, unless we're talking about capital punishment, in which case I am 100% pro-death.

See Here

If anyone wants to continue the discussion Steve, LPC and I were having two posts down, it continues at Steve's place HERE

Not for the faint hearted!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thank-you note

Only once, and I'm not sure just how sane the writer was. In the doorstaff closet, next to the rota's and the incredibly poorly written notes to doorstaff not to use their phones, was a thank-you letter.
It was from a thankful a punter, after having an asthma attack in the venue she had been swiftly and carefully treated by the doorstaff and her handbag found and returned to her. Not a massive thing in doorwork, just the kind of thing a professional team does on a nightly basis.
Very nice for someone to write in. Probably the only one who's bothered out of the thousands who we help. Some folks we go really out of the way for and barely get a nod good-night.
It was a nice little reminder every time we went out into the venue that at least one punter, once, even drunkenly, thought we did a good job.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Some people just don't do humour/irony. But I persevere..

"I am a bit troubled. I believe my son has a girlfriend, because she left a dirty magazine with men in it under his bed. My son is only 16 and I really don't think he's ready to date yet. What's worse is that he's sneaking some girl to his room behind my back. I need help, God! I want my son to stop being so secretive!"

The link has now gone but this came from something called The Good News Prayer room.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

O.K: Let's try something less subtle

The previous post failed miserably largely because folk didn't read what it said but went off on one about what they thought it said. So here goes again:

Me and like-minded Christian students are trying to organize a mock stoning of openly gay students at our campus. We will be using crumpled up gray/brown construction paper to represent rocks, and will recite bible verses in opposition to their sinful nature. We will throw a volley or two of these "rocks" at every Gay person we happen to encounter that day. Here

Comment: Just in case you still haven't twigged these posts, this is not a post about homosexuality; it is a post about Christians.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Same old Tunes

Even through the ear defender and radio earpiece I get far more volume than I require. In the 10 years of working in clubs almost all of the music has changed. Is it any better? Is it any worse?
I couldn't really tell.
What the music in clubs does is attract folks in to dance. They dance to enjoy themselves, they dance to pull. That's the theory. Club managers decide to pay DJs an awful lot of money for a few hours performing on the decks. Some clubs like a pop and prattle style, others like non-stop banging tunes. The tricks to getting them to the bar, filling the dance floor or keeping them in towards the end of the night are all fairly standard gimmicks. Not rocket science and not foolproof but enough to fool most of the people most of the time.
Is it getting better? I couldn't really say, I don't listen to it. It's just a background, a simple distraction, it helps pass the time on a quiet shift but can drag if its missing the audience and only the drunks haven't noticed it yet.
I do have tunes I think are well produced, well crafted and so on.
I know what music I like but you won't hear it in clubs, it doesn't suit being played at screaming volume, it's not what you'd call readily accessible.

More things people say

I can sum it all up in three words: Evolution is a lie.

Comment: Who said education is wasted?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

(Sometimes) I just love the English education system

And this was someone's school science project!

Read it here

(Apologies to all right thinking people for using the Daily Mail)

Friday, December 5, 2008

For your edification: other people's views.

No, everyone is born Christian. Only later in life do people choose to stray from Jesus and worship satan instead. Atheists have the greatest "cover" of all, they insist they believe in no god yet most polls done and the latest research indicates that they are actually a different sect of Muslims.

More Here

Comment: OMG!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Luther, love and Gloria Gaynor

So, I was writing this essay for college and I came upon this which I had saved for a rainy day:

Face to faith

Giles Fraser guardian.co.uk, Saturday May 15 2004

"I did not love God and was indignant towards him, if not in wicked revolt, at least in silent blasphemy." Martin Luther's admission that he had come to hate God sparked a theological revolution that transformed the political geography of Europe.
For Luther, service to a God who demanded human beings earn his love had become service to a heartless despot, impossible to please. The confessional had become a private hell of never being good enough, of never earning enough merit to satisfy the unattainable demands required for salvation.

Luther's deep sense of human inadequacy meant that a God who dealt with human beings strictly on the basis of merit was always going to be a God of punishment. He thus came to see his former understanding of Christianity as inherently abusive, as a destructive cycle in which the abused child constantly returns to the abusive heavenly father for comfort.

Parallels with arguments that are now transforming the political geography of Anglicanism are remarkable. For the debate about homosexuality is about a great deal more than sex. It is about the nature of God's love for human beings, and has much in common with debates that drove the Reformation.

The message the church has given to gay Christians is the message Luther came to see as inherently abusive: God does not love you as you are - you need to be completely different before he will love you.

Take the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster's advice that gay Christians should seek to "reorientate themselves". "I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject, that's in the area of psychiatric health," he said. But gay Christians who have tried to become acceptable to God by subjecting themselves to electric shock therapy, or by being bombarded with pornography, have been forced into precisely the sort of private hell Luther experienced in the confessional.

Luther's theological breakthrough was to describe a wholly non-abusive God, who loves his children gratuitously - not on the basis of merit. God's love is experienced as grace, freely given, not as a demand that, in order to be loved, human beings must become something impossibly different to what they already are. It was a conception that released Christians from bondage to a theological construction that made their lives seem as desperate as a hamster on a wheel.

Against those who would conscript this desperation into financial gain through the system of indulgences, Luther spoke of Christian freedom and the Babylonian captivity of the church; against those who would make sexuality part of a package of guilt and self-disgust, he would renounce his monasticism by marrying a nun. Ecclesiastical authorities can no more insist on celibacy than "forbid eating, drinking, the natural movement of the bowels or growing fat," he declared.

Following Luther, generations of evangelicals described the joy of being released from the burden of impossible expectations. Remember Charles Wesley's hymn: "I woke, the dungeon flamed with light/My chains fell off, my heart was free/I rose, went forth, and followed thee." The next verse begins: "No condemnation now I dread."

Being saved is evangelical language for describing the new life beyond the censure of an abusive God - the sense of facing the truth, of admitting it to others, of being accepted as one is, of being released from the burden of impossible condemnation. Being saved is an experience emotionally identical to coming out of the closet.

This is not political correctness. It is about the nature of God. For the one thing all Christians believe about God is that he seeks to call us out of darkness into light, out of pain into joy, out of deceit into truth, out of oppression into freedom. Amazingly, Gloria Gaynor's gay anthem - "I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses" - turns out to be the contemporary voice of Luther's own protest: "Here I am, I can do no other."

· The Rev Dr Giles Fraser is vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.

Comment:I'd like to be Giles Fraser!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A new blog.

Can I draw everyone's attention to: Suffer the Arrows which I have just started reading. I am very impressed. Please leave a message of encouragement.

Monday, December 1, 2008


It's very easy when you work for an agency to be replaced. If the manager doesn't like the look of your face, if they're trying to cut back, if they want to piss off the area manager, if they'd rather keep a good bar-staff or any of a dozen reasons, good or not. None have anything to do with the quality of your work.
All you can do to keep yourself settled is simple. Be polite and friendly to the boss, ask how they're doing, keep an ear to the ground, don't whine to them unless you really have to, don't show them up to their minions, friends or peers. Be friendly with the other staff, even the new glass collector who you don't give a week. Make yourself part of the team, when they have staff nights off, go if you can, enjoy yourself in context. Don't vanish like there's wolves chasing you at the end of the night, it's that bloody late you might as well spend five or ten minutes seeing how it went for everyone else. Don't be unprofessional, even on your nights off, you can do that in a whole number of places, not where you work.
And don't above all of these sleep with the staff, from area manager to bar-back. Someone will always find out, someone will always tell everyone and unless you get married and live happily ever after it will come back and bite you in the arse, hard, with teeth.

World AIDS day

Monday, 1 December 2008
Alison Elliot
Prayer for the Day. BBC Radio 4.

One of my favourite photographs is of a bright four-year-old girl from South Africa, with big red ribbons in her hair, giving a side-ways smile for the camera. Earlier in the day, we'd met her and her friends from nursery, listened to them singing the South African national anthem, with their arms folded against their hearts, and we'd played with them on the kinds of trundle toys loved by toddlers everywhere.

The nursery was run by a remarkable woman, who was living in a caravan so that the children could be looked after. They were special children because they were living with HIV. They were lucky. Many of them were already taking anti-retroviral drugs. But in their young lives they were already victims of the myth and stigma that perpetuate this illness. One soulful three-year-old had been through the unbelievable trauma of the trial of the man who had infected her, in the belief that having sex with a virgin would protect him from the virus.

Respect and Protect is the theme of World Aids Day, marked again today, twenty years on from its start. Striking the right balance between these two ideas is important. We often feel most protective when we see images of helplessness and victimhood. Yet people who are living with HIV increasingly want to be portrayed differently. They're open about their condition and making a good contribution to the lives of others. Some might play on the fact that they are HIV positive, like the photograph "Positive Faces" in the National Portrait Gallery - an array of sixteen cheerful people, grinning, winking, laughing - nurses, children, old men, all of them living positively with the virus.

Lord of abundant living, cast your protective arm round the people we stigmatise that their contribution to a wholesome society may be openly acknowledged by everyone. Amen

For a moving first hand account read here

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Still Poorly

You can print this off and colour it in

Went to work on Monday and Tuesday. Got up on Wednesday and thought:

"What on earth do you think you are doing?" rang work and returned to bed where I have been pretty well since. The doctor has signed me off for a week.

Fed up now!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I am


A Wanker,
A Cunt,
A Jobsworth,
A Bully,
A Pervert,
A Twat,
A Fuck,
A Fucker,
A Fuckhead,
A Dickhead,
A Tosser,
A Prick,

Please feel free to add any I've missed. Folks will be coming out drinking for about their only time each year. Dragged away from children and partners to get drunk with their colleages. They don't meet doorstaff often, they don't know how to handle their drinks or themselves in public.
I'll get most of these hurled at me in the next few weeks. I may even make a bingo game out of it.
Prizes for avoiding any of them and still actually dealing with the public.
Prizes for hearing a new one.

Silent Retreat: The Final Episode

I have deliberately slept in as late as possible, missing both the early church service and silent prayer. (I feel I did enough of that in the night.) I don't usually opt out where something is optional but feel that health-giving sleep is what I needed most.

I join the others for Matins. Some of the full time students are there too, in their long robes. Again the service is uplifting and atmospheric and again I don't sing. It pains me. I watch how the full time students are integrated into the worshipping life of the community and feel slightly resentful. Us part-timers stand out in our civvies, muffled up in our performance outerwear and scarves against the cold, not always fully on the ball with the liturgy. The full-timers belong. We don't.

At breakfast the brothers are in silence because we are in silence. It strikes me how noisy the sound of forty or so sets of cutlery on crockery are and I conduct an experiment to see whether it is possible to eat without clattering. It is and I conclude that this may be a passive-aggressive act on the part of the brothers, who must now be close to formulating their break-out strategy. I resolve not to catch Annie's eye. Annie is a giggler.

Annie, however, is having her own issues. With great synchrenicity, or possibly the Grace of God, Annie, who works in mental health chaplaincy, has found herself seated next to the brother who suffers from dementia.

"Are you Amy?"

"No, my name's Annie."

"Ah! The mother of our Lord. And are you a nun?"

"No, I just had my hood up because it was cold in church."

"Are we in silence today?"

"Yes, I'm afraid we are."

"And what's your name dear?"


"Are you a nun?"

I have two bowls of porridge. A cereal killer.

The other Mike has his arm in a sling and has a broken elbow. Something about wet leaves in the dark. He looks to be in pain. He is clearly a much better person than me because he has made no fuss whereas I, with a cold - possibly man-flu, don't feel I have had anything like enough sympathy.

We have four guided sessions over the day. Our tutor is using the Gospel of Matthew and is looking at signs of the servant. Each session has a fifteen minute input and then we are encouraged to walk in the grounds in prayer and contemplation, or use the library, find a quiet space or go back to bed. I opt for the grounds. I am the only one. The others aren't stupid. It is a wonderful Autumn day but so cold. Even in my Estonian jacket - and they know about cold there - I am soon freezing. I hear the sounds of children and follow the path down to a field where four teams of lads aged about 8/9 are playing soccer. These are real matches and very much part of a traditional British Saturday morning. The lads all have proper kit and there are plenty of parents standing on the touchline, their breath steaming around them. I watch for a while at the same time as trying to empty my mind. It is not a good combination so devoid of any spiritual insights other than the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside I head back to the guest house and take the final meditative option, bed.

I do not sleep. I lay quietly and empty my mind. This is not something I am very good at, but I do manage to lay there, wide awake and receptive. I have no deep experiences but I do have a strong sense of peace.

We begin to emerge from our places of contemplation. I am surprised that so many of us had gone for the bed option. No I'm not really. Danny makes me a cup of tea and I am amused again at how funny we all are when we try to communicate in sign langauge. This is silly.

"No sugar." I say.
"You'll go to Hell." he replies.
"What, for not having sugar or for speaking?"
"For having a tattooed penis. Neil said so."
Ah, Neil. I do feel bad that I have not been able to make my peace with him before his sudden and flouncy exit from my blog.

We return to silence.

During the second session I am very much taken by what our tutor has to say. She is talking about Jesus and the temptations in the wilderness from Mat. 3. These temptations are the temptations of ministry. We need to know our own areas of temptation so that our ministries do no founder. The temptations of Jesus were the issues which could have been the backdrop for his own self-agrandisement: he needed to know what his areas of weakness were as he began his ministry. We need to know ours.

Very thought provoking and not an approach I had taken before.

Lunch is the most wonderful comfort food. Huge sausages in a casserole of thick gravy and winter veg, with mashed potatos followed by banana custard. I think I have died and gone to Heaven.

"Are you Amy?

"No, my name's Annie."

"Are you a nun?"

"No, sorry."


Session three. Well, I must confess that I went to bed and missed it. I told Dr. Bob first. I knocked on his door. He mimed "come in". Strangely I didn't see that from the other side of the door. When he opened his door I noticed that he had a spacious twin room. How did that happen? He must be very important!

"I could have a party." he whispered "If we weren't in silence."

"Going to bed. Not well." I croak.

He smiles sympathetically.

Session four has us looking at Mat. 4 where Jesus goes through Galilee preaching and healing. Such is our gifting we are told. To be reconcilers we have first to be reconciled and healed ourselves. As we allow the grace of God into our lives we ask for healing from our own jaggednesses so that we may more effectively share that grace with others. We do a breathing exercise. We imagine taking in God's grace at every inhalation.

What am I exhaling?

I am slipping into the rhythm of the weekend now: Evensong and a eucharist and, obsessed by the fear of infecting everyone else, I intincture. I notice Mike, standing next to me, does the same. Probably too late now Mate. There is an elderly African monk. I don't know his name and this is the first time I have seen him all weekend. His arrival is announced well before he appears by the shuffling of his carpet slippers. On every occasion I have seen him he is always fifteen minutes late to the service. Is it beyond anyone's wit to suggest he sets off fiteen minutes before the others? Then it is the evening meal. I have never before eaten a meal wearing a coat and scarf.

"Are you Amy?"


"Are you a nun?"


I go to bed at 8.00pm and listen to Classic F.M. I engineer one personalised sunset. I am gone.

I have not reset my alarm and my own personalised sunrise sees me having missed silent prayers again.


I am wooly headed with the uninterrupted sleep.

The Community Eucharist is a site to behold: all the Brothers, all the full time students, robed and acting as acolytes and all us part timers. We have incense, candles and chanting. We also have a fabulous sermon from Fr. Oswin. (If I become a monk I might choose Oswin. Isn't it a great name?)

I remember something Fr. George said on the first night. The community has an honourable history of resisting apartheid in the old South Africa and one of the brothers was imprisoned by the authorities. When he contacted the community he was at pains to reassure them that he was well:

"Its just like being at home but the food is better."

Hows that for British phlegm?

I am freezing cold and I notice how many of the brothers are wearing sandles. I'm clearly not cut out for the monastic life. Can I still call myself Oswin? I suddenly realise I have not coughed or sneezed so far today.

At the end of the service the silence is suspended and yet no-one rushes to speak. Over lunch before departure in the college refectory with the full timers and our first years who have been on a teaching weekend and kept apart from us lest we communicate, conversations begin. I comment to Dr. Bob that one of the advantages of the silence has been not listening to Barry's flow-of-consciousness lame jokes. Quick as a flash Barry replies:

"You wait all year for Jack to lose his voice and he goes and does it on a silent weekend. Where's the justice?"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Silent Retreat 3

If you are going to be ill, a silent retreat is the place to do it. We are not in the college but in the religious community: this is the community which brought the world Trevor Huddleston and Desmond Tutu, and I have a strong admiration for the work of these men. Daphne arrives next and she gets 10 out of 10 as a trainee vicar for supplying tea and sympathy and the suggestion that I should go to bed until formal procedings start. My cell is eight feet by seven and contains a bed, a chair, a chest, a washbasin, a desk and a window. My bed is seductive with smooth, soft sheets and a yeilding mattress and I succumb to its charms. (Steady on!) It is a quick nap and I soon find myself in the common room with Stuart, both plugged into our i-pods and sitting in comfy chairs. We look, Hilda subsequently tells us as she sets out a succulent chocolate cake, like two old men in an old people's home with our hearing aids in.

The others arrive in dribs and drabs and our little birthday party is a success with Karen and Dr. Bob pleased with the convivialities. I am now feeling dreadful again and have taken to carrying my own box of tissues around. I am now borderline obsessive/compulsive over the use of tissues and hand washing.

"Stick with Shan, she's a nurse" Sue advises.

"Yes but when I was asked to sit with an old lady in church who looked ill," Shan confides, "I thought she had dozed off (it was the vicar, after all) only she had actually collapsed. Still, I got her to hospital in time."

Evensong is one of those amazingly spiritual occasions: religion through theatre. The church is vast and airy and, as dusk falls, incredibly atmospheric with its subdued candle-lit shimmer. Our hosts, the brothers - an ecclectic mix of lay and ordained Anglican men, mainly on the old side of completely indeterminate in term of age - conduct their worship in plainsong and the liturgy is chanted with the beauty that only a lifetime's commitment and confidence can bring to its rhythms and choreography. I am, as ever, moved only saddened that I have no voice to join in with the chanting and feel somehow cheated of this contribution to worship which I always enjoy.

My joints now all ache, particularly my lower back.

Dinner is with the brothers. We are in informal silence (apart from my caughing and sneezing)as we listen to Fr. John read to us from the life of St. Bernard. I catch a glimpse of the continuity of the monastic order's practice down the ages.

However the reading is unutterably dull. Fr. John is my personal tutor and his Belfast lilt goes someway towards making the life of St. Bernard marginally more interesting.

"When does the poor chap get his meal?" I wonder. I sidle up to him later and thank him for his reading which I claim to have enjoyed.

"Did you really? I didn't. I much preferred the biography of Kate Adie which we read last week." Kate Adie is a national treasure

We have one taught session this evening: Fr. George on Benedictine spirituality. In and amongst he told us a little of the history of The Community of the Resurrection and he talked about the joys and challenges of living in community.

Compline is optional. Mike and I opt out. We have forty minutes before formal silence to catch up as we are taught at different sites. No siting up until two in the morning putting the world to rights on this weekend for us then.

At 10.00 I go to bed. By 10.02 I am asleep. At 11.05 I am wide awake. My teeth now ache and I am shivering. I have a lamp which can be set to mimic sunset and sunrise as an aid to natural sleep. I set it again to do the sunset thing. And Again. And again until I am worried that so many sunsets in such a short period will cause a rupture in the fabric of the universe and then where should we be?

I dream of the BVM only I know it isn't her, but a woman in a cunning disguise. There are two clues to this. 1) she wears blue, everyone knows that, not a pink sari and 2) she doesn't usually travel on a zebra. I don't normally have religious dreams and I know this is linked to my strong objection to the nasty Victorian plaster cast of the BVM on the common-room mantlepiece which I always make a point of turning to the wall. I have nothing against the BVM as such (well not much. Actually, how long have you got?) But I do object to mawkish Victorian iconography. The community is, you will have realised, a tad Anglo-Catholic.

On the way to the shower in the morning, Cathy, wearing a nice line in bedsocks I feel - not every woman could carry them off as well as that, slips me a long strip of paracetamol. A fistful of dullars.

"There you go, Chuck." (She is from Liverpool. You can take the girl out of Liverpool but you can't take Liverpool......) Anyway. I have now had so many paracetamol that the brothers have me down on suicide watch.

Things can only get better.

I text my beloved to tell her I have a very heavy cold and awful symptoms. She replies "Don't come home."

Maybe not then.

Silent Retreat 2

When I got up on Friday morning I was worried I might die. When I went to bed on Friday evening I was worried I might not. This is the day I attend the silent retreat after work: I have to get through the school day first and I know I am not well. Men and colds eh? Still, I have a light timetable today and I can hang around the staffroom catching up on administrative tasks. Later that morning I am forcibly ejected from the staffroom by my compassionate colleagues for "sneezing with menaces".

"You've got to be nice to me today." I say to my Yr 9 class. "I'm not well."
"Hahahaha. As if." trills Hayley.
However they are a lovely class and we have a good time and get plenty of work done.

My Yr 11s were just as accommodating but we are disadvantaged by my classroom's proximity to the school's bus lane. From 2.20 to 2.40 we live on the edge and the strange accoustics don't give us any warning.
Woosh! Out of nowhere a cream coloured tornado flies past the window.
"BUS" shouts Matthew.
Two minutes later the bus has turned round and wooshes past again.
"BUS" shouts Matthew.

When I was a student-teacher we learnt about the development of cognitive thinking in children via the writings of a Frenchman called Piaget. His three year old daughter was having trouble distinguishing between "slug", "same slug" and "different slug" in the garden. I have managed to apply this principle to Matthew. He now shouts "BUS." and two minutes later "SAME BUS." Matthew is 15.
One feels tax-payers money isn't being entirely wasted on the education of children in the catchment area.

We are studying teaching on Love and Forgiveness as found in the New Testament.
"Give me one of the four Greek words for Love".
"Two things, Katie. One, put your hand up and two, I think you mean Eros."
"Which one's that then?"
"Erotic love."
"That's what I meant."
"Oh, that'll work then. Every time you answer a question at GCSE, just put an asterisk and then a footnote that says: I meant to put the right answer."
"There's no need to be sarcastic."
"Oh, I think there is. Anyway, you're supposed to be being nice to me today 'coz I'm ill. I only came in today because I'm committed to you lot."

Stunned silence

Nathan: "Really?"
Chris: "Did you?"
Belinda: "Ah, Sir. Bless."
Matthew: "BUS"
Me: "Somebody hit him."

As I climb into the car for my short hop to the college, I feel upbeat and very, very ill.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Silent Retreat 1

Dr. Bob and I have left our student cohort and have been fast-tracked this term and moved from Yr.1 into Yr.3. This is because we are on a two year course as I am a Theology graduate and Dr. Bob is a Doctor of.....something or other scientific. Dr. Bob is the cleverest person I have ever met and yet he is also one of the most self-effacing: "I am a worm and no man". I have no idea why he hangs out with me because I tease him mercilessly which he now believes is his sole function in life. Mind you, anyone who watches the Catholic Channel when unable to sleep and then gets hooked... I think he said something about "hot nun totty", but as that would be so out of character I may have misheard him.

We are currently studying Church History. I hated church history all those years ago and time has not improved my mood. It is deathly. Dr. Bob has been known to snore but he is too generous of spirit to actually voice criticism: "Well, he obviosly knows his stuff...." Whereas I want to say something acerbic about his failure to carry the rest of us in the slipstream of his enthusiasm. (Actually, there are several hes. Some are better than others.) However, Yr. 2 are not having a lot of fun on a module on pastoral care either. Listening skills have been reduced to the level of party games. Hilda was very scathing and I don't think I can repeat what Cathy said. (And she works in a Christian bookshop! Shame on you girl!)

Still, I have a cunning plan, as Baldrick would say. I worship at the shrine of St. Ipod. This is a strategy I learnt from some of my pupils - and boy are they in trouble now that I am wise to it!. You have to sit sideways on to the lecturer and at the far end of the row. You feed the earplug wires up the back of your shirt and through the loop at the top and feed the obscured ear's earpiece wire behind the ear and over the top. You can then appear to rest your head studiously on that hand and no one knows.

Aren't teenagers inventive?

I survive church history with the help of Elgar, Vaughan-Williams, Holst and Butterworth (what with me being patriotic). My pupils have been known to attempt to survive my lessons with help from Satan's Tattoo or Up Yours Mother-f***er (asterisks just in case Neil still drops by).

Tommorow the original team are on a silent retreat for the weekend. Yes, THE (whole) WEEKEND!!!. There is a lot of discussion about whether any of us can sustain silence for a weekend. Still, we can text. I have a heavy cold. My intention is to spend the whole weekend in bed with a good novel and Classic F.M. Radio. Maintain silence? You just try me. It is just possible, though, that this may not be within the spirit of the weekend. We are also told we may not bring alcohol. This is something of a blow as it is both Karen and Dr. Bob's birthdays and I have ten bottles of wine in the boot of the car even as we speak. Get thee behind me Satan - about Sunday lunchtime ideally.

This priestly business is fraught.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jacket Fillers

In certain teams you get settled staff. 6 of the same 8 people, week in week out. Someone doesn't work sundays and someone only does the Fridays and Saturdays. You get settled into a routine and you know how each other works. Everyone on the team may not be the best at everything but you work around that and use each ones' skills to the best advantage in the team.
In some places with an unsettled team or just a bigger team you get to rely on jacket fillers more and more. When one of the team has a stag do and all but 3 of the team go away for the full weekend, you're left with a very ropey looking gaggle of muppets and a full venue of the usual scrotes to keep in drink and out of trouble.

You phone the company bosses and beg for a couple more than you really need. This gets you on paper one more than you really need. In reality it leaves you about 3 short. Some folks you may have worked with before and you'll know what they're up to. Not all good, not all bad but it gives you some idea of where you're going to put them and how close you have to keep them. Then you'll get the randoms. You have to size them up in 30 seconds, give them the walk 'round before doors open and stick them somewhere and hope they stick. You never know. I've had randoms turn up and be top flight drunk spotters and trouble solvers. The kind you'd want back if you can get hold of them.

Then you get those with no clue. Sleeping in the staff room toilets, texting a good four fifths of the shift or just chatting with new ladies in a new town who don't know to avoid the filth ridden loins of the doorwhore from out of town.

I have places to put folks who I don't trust. We've a wonderful well lit, tedious smoking area to monitor, usually taken in turns by the regular team but perfect for a new muppet. We also have front of house watching the punters pay their way in and stamp them out. Well covered by camera, nowhere to wander off to and within shouting distance of my cold front doorstep.

It's not fool-proof, especially when you get some serious fools. Some are better off being told "to wander 'round, look busy and not stop walking". They may be chocolate fireguards but the punters need never know.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Sermon: The Parable of the Talents - a parable about time.

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and my mother said to me: “How old are you now?” “What? Am I adopted? Were you not there?” You’d have thought that she of all people would have remembered, wouldn’t you? But then sometimes I have to stop and think too: “How old am I now?” The passing of time is a big mystery to me. “Haven’t you grown?” I hear myself saying to kids I last saw when they were three - fifteen years ago.

Where does it go? Why does time pass so slowly when we are young and so rapidly when we are old? And above all—when loved ones leave us, when they die, where are they, if they are not in time? Is it just me?

Centuries ago the psalmist uttered with poignant accuracy,
“. . . our years come to an end like a sigh.”

Or as my mother said equally poignantly: “It’s all right for you; We're in the departure lounge.”

But even though we may identify with the words of the Psalmist - or, indeed, my mother, the question of how the ancients viewed time remains. Their perception must have been different from ours, surely? When the prophets say that the day of the Lord “is at hand,” do they mean that the end is immanent? Since we know that the end of time has not yet arrived, we assume that their religious zeal led them in the wrong direction, or that they were speaking more apocryphally or they must have understood time more loosely.

The prophet Zephaniah warns those who think that God is indifferent to their idolatrous practices, that the day of the Lord for them will be full of darkness, not of light, and that time will have no mercy on their plans:

Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine
from them.

There is no promise here is there? Only a warning. For this prophet, the day of the Lord is at hand and the retribution of those who move away from God is “near and hastening fast.” Are there any applications for us here I wonder?

When St. Paul writes to the young church in Thessalonica, he seems to have a similar conviction: that the day of the Lord is at hand; but for him this is a prospect filled with promise.

“For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep (as in alive or dead) we may live with him.” He says.

Early in his preaching mission, Paul was convinced that the return of Christ was very near, that it would happen within his lifetime. The people of the church in Thessalonica, believing that the day of the Lord was approaching, were falling into doubt and despair because some from that small community were dying before the promised return of the Lord had occurred. So Paul is trying here to encourage them by reminding them that they are “children of light,” and for those who live in the light, even death is not to be feared. It is as if time does not matter.

Because apocalyptic literature is not easily understood by people who live comfortable lives in Britain, talk of the last days has more or less disappeared from our thinking. There is a tendency among fundamentalist Christians to dwell on a violent end for the faithless, and for some kind of apocalyptic rapture for the faithful. But what comes through with clarity in Paul’s writings is a reminder that no one knows the end of time, that it comes like a thief in the night, and that what we need is to be prepared: by living with awareness, with faith, with compassion and with love.

It is this quality of preparedness that we can also gather from the difficult parable of the talents: Jesus was good at telling difficult stories. No doubt they were as hard to hear standing in a group in Palestine as they are from our seats today. I have always felt a certain sympathy for the battered one-talent man who hides his unexpected gift in this strange parable and who was deprived of the gift once it had been given, just because he was shy, or reserved, or cautious.

So, before leaving on a journey, a rich man gives incredible sums to three servants: to the first, five talents, to the second two and to the third one talent (which alone equalled the wages of an ordinary worker for 20 years). Without further instructions he departs and the first two servants doubled their gifts, while the one-talent man dug a hole and hid his. Upon returning the master asks what happened to his money and after identical recitations about doubling the gift, each of the first two is called “a good and faithful servant,” placed in charge of even more possessions and welcomed into the joy of the master.

The one-talent man must be despondent, and he begins immediately with his excuse, “Master, I knew you were a hard man harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not sow, so out of fear I went and buried my talent.” He invokes fear as his defence. This man is a victim of his own fear and cautiousness.

After the predictions of the end time in Ch. 24 and the threats of severe judgments awaiting the unfaithful at Jesus’ return, Matthew is urging his community not to be timid and fearful, but to take risks. The paradox of biblical revelation is that the merciful, gracious and compassionate God who liberates us from slavery is also the God who will judge us on the use of our gifts. Let’s be clear too: we aren’t talking about good works here, we are talking about obedient discipleship.

Unless we belong to a parish facing extinction or financial ruin, or unless we take seriously the statistics about declining membership and revenue, the cost of being a Christian and a Lutheran may seem minimal. If we happen to be among the talented, the question of importance to consider is what we do with these gifts? Do we spend them for the good of others? Do we try to correct systemic wrongs by putting these gifts to work so that they multiply and double in value? Or do we hide our talents, resentful towards the Creator who blessed others more than ourselves, and offer nothing to those who surround us?

Certainly in Jesus' day a “talent” was a significantly valued coin. Nevertheless, we need to forget that. Nowadays, of course, a “talent” is an ability or skill, but despite what I just said, we need to forget that too. Jesus isn't talking about wealth in terms of cash or natural ability. What then? Well, perhaps we should be thinking about it more in terms of our Christian calling and the use of time.

Those early Christians often gave their lives for God: during turbulent times they faced arrest and execution. That’s confusing for us, because the chance of our being martyred and landing up in the Church Calendar or depicted in a stained-glass window is pretty slim. But we are, nevertheless, called by Jesus to give ourselves up in selfless love for God and in selfless service of others.

The fault of the person who did not use the gift he was given was that he was entirely passive. That person was so frightened that he would lose what he had been given that he was paralyzed by an awful fear.

There is a type of fear that is tranquil. There's safety in inertia but when we risk stepping out in obedient discipleship into the misery of our neighbour, we step into danger, if only the danger of doing something for others and thus exposing ourselves to rejection or loss.

Christians often seem paralyzed by the idea of “evangelism" for instance. We are prepared to inflict our politics, our views as to what constitutes good music or T.V. and even our recipes on others, but not our faith. We come up with all sorts of excuses to justify our apathy or take cover under the cloak of not being a fundamentalist. We act as if it's unfortunate that Jesus commanded us to go into the world and proclaim the Good News. We don't want to admit that our own Christian faith rests on generations of people who have passed on the Gospel.

Of course we are not to force our faith on others. Of course we are not to say that we are going to heaven and they are going to hell. That is God's business.

Yet we have been given the grace to witness the faith within us to others, and that may be in showing kindness, providing hospitality or standing out against the prevailing culture or attitudes of the day and hopefully, by telling and showing the love of Jesus at one and the same time.

As we embrace the world in obedient discipleship we commit ourselves to witness in word and deed in our daily life and work, at home, at school, in our hobbies and with our friends and neighbours.

When this passage in the 25th chapter of Matthew is read in conjunction with the parable that follows it, that of the great judgment, we realize that doing good to those who are neglected by our society is what the wise use and multiplication of the talents means. So in this reading of the parable, and in the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle, we may be permitted to look at the gift of time as a talent, and when we say with the psalmist that our years come to end like a sigh, let it be the sigh of satisfaction for a job well done.

Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Lord. AMEN

Friday, November 14, 2008

Donovan: Goodbye to a lovely lad.

Donovan with Tasha and Amy at the prom.

Today’s assembly is an opportunity for us to say goodbye to Donovan. Because as a school we are a community, the death of one person touches us all and the grief and suffering of Donovan's younger brothers and sisters and his cousins should also touch us. Many of you knew Donovan well and had come through your schooling with him from the earliest days. I am taking the assembly today because I was Donovan's form tutor and taught him for three years for his GCSE RE course. I found him to be a warm and friendly student and it is gratifying for a teacher to be greeted with a smile and a quip on the corridors, to be engaged in friendly banter or to have a student stay back for a quick chat after registration or a lesson.

It is possible that some of you were not aware until he died that Donovan suffered from Diabetes and on your chairs this morning is a simple information sheet highlighting the current campaign of Diabetes U.K. under the heading “The Silent Assassin”. Please do read it carefully. Two Million Britons live with Diabetes and many more remain undiagnosed. The Silent Assassin campaign aims to increase awareness of diabetes with the message ‘diabetes is serious’ – highlighting that diabetes can cause heart disease, stroke, amputation, kidney failure and blindness.

I spent some time on Tuesday talking to the priest who is conducting Donovan’s funeral. I don’t know how many of you have been to a funeral before but It will be a very emotional occasion and possibly quite a distressing one and I would only say to those of you who were planning on going that I’d like you to think very seriously before you decide. I am hoping that this morning will be the opportunity for many of you to feel that you have said an appropriate goodbye.

On Monday in form time you were asked if anyone felt that they wanted to say anything about Donovan this morning, and I recognise that this is a difficult time and some of you may feel too upset to do that. But this isn’t a funeral and I wanted this to be a celebration of Donovan’s life and I wanted to create a safe space for you to express your thoughts and feelings if you wanted to. If you have things written down about Donovan that you don’t feel able to say out loud, as you leave this morning there will be a basket for you to put those thoughts in. There will also be a collection for Diabetes U.K.

Let’s just have a moment’s silence to gather our thoughts.

A poem: Remember Me

To the living, I am gone.
To the sorrowful, I will never return.
To the angry, I was cheated.
But to the happy, I am at peace.
And to the faithful, I have never left.
I cannot speak, but I can listen.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon the shore
gazing at the beautiful sea, remember me.
As you look in awe at a mighty forest
and in its grand majesty, remember me.
Remember me in your hearts and
in your thoughts, remember the memories of the
times we laughed, the times we cried.
For if you always think of me
I will never have gone.

Now is the time when those of you who wish can share those memories or just sit quietly. I am going to ask Kayleigh to add a flower to the vase for every memory that is shared.

We’re going to listen to one of Donovan’s favourite tracks now.

Amy has a poem to read: Death is nothing at all

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped away into the next room.

I am I, and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me
In the easy way that you always used.

Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
That it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect,
Without the trace of shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was;
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you, for an interval,
Somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.

All is well.

We’re going to move off now: to Period 1, the common room or if you’re free and wish to stay on here for a while, that’s fine. Before we do Danny, Kayleigh and I are going to read a poem that invites you to light a candle in remembrance of Donovan as you leave:


D: The first candle represents our grief.
The pain of losing you is intense
It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

K: The second candle represents our courage.
To confront our sorrow,
To comfort each other,
To change our lives.

J: This third candle and those that follow, we light in your memory as we say goodbye.
For the times we laughed,
The times we cried,
The times we were angry with each other,
The silly things you did,
The caring and joy you gave us.


I delivered that assembly on Wednesday, and others to different year groups on Thursday and this morning. Many students stayed back for a while to light candles, to talk or to sit quietly. Many were visibly upset.

Today was Donovan's funeral. He was 16. Over thirty pupils from school joined family and other friends for the service at the crematorium. They were a credit to their families and to the school and acted with incredible maturity and sensitivity.

Please pray for Donovan's family, particularly his younger brother Brandon who is also a pupil of mine.

It is strange, but it is only now that I feel emotional.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Don't look now

After the unusually hectic halloween this post is not about that. It's not about the things you find in the toilets when checking, it's not the over-amorous couples whose hands keep disappearing.
It is instead the affect of alcohol on certain ladies at a certain point in the night. Usually after most of the customers have headed home for the night there will be some strange characters left. These ladies will have come in with friends, gotten merry and then by misadventure or desertion have ended up on their own. These ladies then decide it's time to find male company and will resort to any measures. That even includes draping them over all the internal doorstaff, one after another as they deflect the undesired attentions by swapping posts inside. They attempt to seduce the male punters left in the building. All the nice-ones and 'catches' have been caught leaving the intoxicated and defective filling in time 'til the music goes off.
This leaves these ladies, to dance on and on. Rubbing themselves, rubbing their clothes, rubbing up against people, rubbing against pillars. If you're working inside you'll clock them, avoid them and breathe a sigh of relief when they shuffle off.
Before this happens, when a colleague radios in or taps you on the shoulder and says "don't look now..." you know they'll be doing something so horrific that you'll actually have to eject them. I don't want to see some one 'getting their rat out' or fumbling a hand job on the dancefloor or draping themselves over one of the bars looking like a promo-girl from the 80's and scaring what custom is left out of the building.
When told not to look now, you just have to and then bleach your mind later.

Face to Faith

Thinking about Adam and Eve's sex life in the Garden of Eden can be spiritually enriching, says Theo Hobson

I am very interested in the sex life of Adam and Eve - on strictly theological grounds, you understand! There is a unique form of eroticism here, in the image of the original couple innocently enjoying all the sensual delights of the Garden of Eden. Is it impious to ponder this? Is there a risk of introducing a pornographic element into the opening chapters of the Judaeo-Christian story? Or is the idea of prelapsarian (before-the-Fall) sex actually an important evangelical tool?

My interest in this question was aroused by Paradise Lost, the best known work of John Milton, who was born 400 years ago. For some strange reason, Milton is seen as a "puritan", in nervous denial about carnal matters. Anyone who has actually read Paradise Lost will laugh at this - I know of no sexier text in English literature. I don't understand why it wasn't banned.

The poem is about Adam and Eve in paradise, and Satan's dastardly plot to get them thrown out. There are extensive descriptions of their happy life before the fall - including their love life. Yes, they do it. We're not talking about coy, Jane Austen-type hinting: two sex scenes are clearly narrated, in a manner designed to excite the reader's sensual faculties.

I advise new readers to go straight to Book Four, where the core action starts. Satan spies on the happy pair as they relax after another blissful day of gardening. As they sit together, Eve, "half embracing leaned / On our first father, half her swelling breast / Naked met his under the flowing gold / Of her loose tresses hid ... " They kiss, and Satan is filled with such envious rage at the sight of "these two / Imparadised in one another's arms" that he flies off, unable to watch. But we keep watching, as they retire to their "blissful bower", say a prayer of thanks to God, and then ... well, read it for yourself. There's another sex scene in Book Eight, by the way: Adam excitedly recounts his first thrilling encounter with Eve.

Milton was not being particularly original in supposing that Adam and Eve had sex in Eden - the daring thing was to depict it so vividly. St Augustine had long ago admitted the likelihood of their innocent sex life. But he warned us against trying to imagine it. For, as fallen beings, we cannot grasp the purity of Edenic sex - we turn it dirty. "How can it be presented to human fantasy except in the likeness of the turbid lust we have tried and not of the tranquil volition we conjecture?"

CS Lewis was inclined to agree with Augustine; he thought that Milton had crossed over into dubious territory: "the poet seems to hope that when he writes 'half her swelling breast / Naked met his' we shall be able, without further assistance, to supply for Adam an experience both very like and totally unlike anything that a fallen man could possibly enjoy!"

But surely this is exactly the point, that the reader will be ambiguously excited by the pure sex. She will (if sufficiently pious) yearn for the innocence, and she also will (if sufficiently human) turn it into soft porn.

In a sense this is sacrilegious: Milton allows Adam and Eve to become sex objects. Yet it is in a good cause: the reader's acknowledgment of the gulf between them and us, which is to say our fallenness. Milton wants us to try to imagine the impossible innocence of Eden, and to admit our inability. For us, sexuality cannot be fully innocent: it is tied up with hedonistic desire, dangerous fantasy. So there is something simultaneously frustrating and exciting about imagining prelapsarian sex. And this tension is spiritually enriching.

Satan, by the way, is incapable of sex; he can only desire. He can't get no satisfaction. He is the ultimate masturbator. Humanity, in its pristine state, is therefore defined by successful, pleasurable sex. Indeed Adam and Eve's sex is better than we can entirely imagine. Milton's genius in this poem is to dare to foreground sex, to make it so theologically loaded.

Taken from The Guardian

• Theo Hobson's book Milton's Vision is published by Continuum