Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is WWJD too simplistic a mantra? Or has the church had its day?

At the Christmas gathering of the clans the conversation turned, as it invariably does at regular intervals, to things Christian. My wife was musing over the "What would Jesus do?" mantra and was wondering whether that might not be a bit simplistic.

"How about, what would the Jesus I know from the Gospels do?" suggested my Father-in-law (a Canon at the nearby cathedral).

This led on to quite a detailed discussion.

What, Dear Reader, do you think the difference is and why does it matter?

The F-I-L, now in his seventies, regularly despairs of the church but noted:

"You think you know Jesus and then he surprises you. You may give up on the church but you'd be foolish to give up on Jesus."

My wife, following the idea of the church, to stay or to give it up as a bad job, felt that she continues to go to her church because Jesus is an exciting and relevant person there. That is clearly something of an indictment of other churches but I have to say that I tend to think she is right.

Do you agree and if so, what is the answer?

Odds and Ends

I have been marking mock exams this week. It is the closest definition of spiritual death I can imagine. Sadly there have not been too many howlers to lighten the mood. I give you these two:

1) Why did the wise men visit the stable? (1 mark)
Because it was Christmas.

2)Why did Jesus' followers believe he had been raised from the dead? (3 marks)
1) because the stone had been moved.
2) because he wasn't there
3) because he left a note.

In Iran male homosexual acts are punishable by death but lesbians merely get 100 lashes. That's feminism gone too far! Just a thought.

I notice The Priests have done well again for record sales this Christmas. Tired of waiting for the call to make it a quartet, I have formed a rival group with a couple of friends from the Yorkshire Ministry Course (who could usually be found in the bar at the Wakefield Police College at the end of lectures). We are still trying to come up with an appropriate name: perhaps something that sounds like "priests" but which hints at pub-karaoke style. It'll be much the same music but there will be more giggling.

Now for the theologically minded amongst you a little video extract:

I have to say I think Matthew's got a point!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Not Too...

Hectic. This past week had very early starts for me, midday even. This is not what I'm used to. I usually get time to watch the sun set, grab a reasonable dinner & then get into my boots and long coat.
The office christmas lunches that start at midday and roll on 'til only the lonely survive have passed. I've been watching them pass, occasionally letting some in if they looked awake but not too lively.
By the time I got to the nightclubs most folks had run out of stamina. With the mad friday offset by a nearly full week after and not too many folks having a lot to spend it's not been cracking. With boxing day only getting the dregs who really can't tolerate 48hrs in their own or their families company it has been quiet. Time to pull my socks up and keep sharp for all this abstinence from clubbing can only be a portent of a busy new years eve. All the pent up socialising will have to emerge and culminate in not snogging the one they want but getting a sympathy snog 1 minute into the new year before texting the world and crashing the phone networks so we can't use the non-emergency number for the boys in blue. Hopefully we'll have the numbers to handle the expected crowds though with trade having been quiet I can only imagine we'll be running on a skeleton staff and still get bollocked when we can't be everywhere at once.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thought for The Day: BBC Radio 4

This is from Saturday 19th December and I would have posted it earlier but it took the BBC five days to put the text on their website!

I was very impressed by this meditation as it brought me to full consciousness from my little holiday sleep-in.

"...it's worth pondering this as we venture out to the shops this weekend, when it's all over - and we look back at the gifts we have bought and the amount of money many of us will have spent - what will we actually remember?

On the basis that it's the thought that counts - shopping for Christmas gifts has notionally emerged as a way in which a broadly Christian culture acknowledges the greatest gift of all: the presentation by God of Jesus. The gifts offered by the wise men at Epiphany are also frequently mentioned as justification for the choosing of appropriate gifts.

The paradox, of course, is that biblical teaching on all of the clutter that we assemble around us in life, all of our possessions, is that they are of absolutely no spiritual value whatsoever and we should avoid getting over attached to them..."

Read or Listen to the full text here The Rev Rob Marshall

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

About Shoplifting and priests..

I seem to have come a bit late to this story and have been quite intrigued about how it has been covered elsewhere. Mad Priest gave a very thorough report which was sidetracked in the subsequent discussion by a commentator following a different agenda and over at Steve's Place the story is seen as evidence of the church going to Hell in a hand-cart.

My own observation, for what it's worth, relates to the danger of basing a judgement on a sound-bite. Was the Revd. Tim Jones actually promoting the idea of unbridled theft as some commentators - including elements of our own press - seem to suggest or was there more to it?

Certainly amongst the majority of my Christian friends this is a non-story, hardly worthy of much attention, but then I do tend to inhabit the more radical end of Christian thought I know.

The nub of the issue seems to me to be three-fold:
1) If one is homeless, penniless and hungry in a wealthy society where this is not, sadly, uncommon and you have fallen through the safety net of the state's (fairly megre) provision, are you justified in shop-lifting?
2) Was the Revd. Tim Jones right to champion this given that he specified that it was only justified from large chain-stores?
3) Is Christian morality (or are Christian dilemmas) always black and white?

FULL TEXT OF SERMON HERE You really should read it before commenting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thought for the Day. Monday 21st December.

The Faith Communities Are Agents Of Change

They were all there, industrialised nations and developing economies, democracies and dictatorships, superpowers and tiny island states - a world divided in a hundred ways and in some cases for hundreds of years, yet they turned up, thus acknowledging that this is the defining issue of the 21st century, however resistant some are to change.

Who knows? One spin off of Copenhagen may be that more religious believers rediscover the original and larger meaning of 'ecumenical', moth ball their doctrinal squabbles and ecclesiastical preoccupations and weigh in to make common cause with the politicians and scientists in the ultimate crusade of our time.
Says The Rev. Dr Colin Morris


Sunday, December 20, 2009

I stay because I love God: The Guardian 19th December

I came across This article yesterday. It pertains particularly to Anglicanism but has wider resonances for other denominations.

With some leading Anglicans calling for gay people to be killed (and the Archbishop staying quiet), we visited one congregation to see if they're still proud to be CofE

I don't care if they disapprove. I follow my own conscience The Anglican Church is not my moral compass.

It comes to this: under Williams, the church that marries two women who love each other is to be thrown out of the Anglican communion. The church that would jail them both for life and revile and persecute their defenders stays snugly in its bosom. Not even the Archbishop's gift for obfuscationcan can conceal these facts forever.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cynical, Me?

Now I've been accused of being cynical. I am, I don't believe the nonsense bullshit of why I have to let anyone in to see their mother, brother, sister, cousin, mate, wife or husband.
I don't believe the "I'm connected, I'm gonna get you killed" spiel. I don't believe the "I didn't wanna come here anyway, it's shit" approach to rejection. I don't give a seconds credence to the "really, I'm 19, I forgot to bring my ID" appeals. I couldn't give a fig if it "wasn't me, I aint done anything man, you're well tight" when ejected for misdemeanours witnessed and ID'd by sober, reliable staff.
I do trust some people. Generally not punters unless their confessing in the adrenaline comedown. I trust my colleagues, not all of them, not at first but I do trust them. I trust them to back me up unless I'm over the line. To stop naughty people bottling me on the back of the head, to be shoulder to shoulder holding the line against verbal and physical abuse of all kinds.
I don't trust them with women, money or anything fragile but that's to be expected.
I trust a few friends, only within their limits but, I trust them to keep things to themselves, to keep me in mind at certain times, to keep me informed of relevant things.
I trust my boss, his job is to get enough bodies with enough experience in to get the job done well enough to get paid and not loose the contract. I'd trust him to do this, but like me, he'll have no loyalty when it comes to sending me on my way if the wind changes and I don't fit the bill.
I do what I can to be the best doorman for the role required. To do that I don't trust anyone I don't have to and yes I am a cynical bugger. I don't have to be but it suits me well.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Environmental odds and ends (if you can stand any more!) and a grand old debate.

For those not entirely bored to the point of self-immolation by all things Danish and environmental I would draw your attention to two links: E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don't support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.
Looks objectively at e-mail climategate and draws some comforting conclusions about the did-they/didn't-they-tamper-with-the-data debate. Comforting, that is, if you believe that the science is in and supports climate-change. Not so if you believe that there is an international conspiracy to defraud American industry.

Also worth a look is Obama is not saviour of the world. He's still an American President. It includes the section There is a deep strain in American thinking to which everything about Copenhagen looks wrong. It fears all international arrangements smack of "global government", designed to rob Americans of their sovereignty. It believes such plans are hatched by secret conspiracies, into which the climategate e-mail scandal - which has run very big in the U.S. - feeds perfectly. We speak often of European anti-Americanism, but less often of American Anti-Europeanism. To this vein of U.S. political culture, a global deal on carbon emissions signed in Denmark, is something to fear, not pursue.

Monbiot v Plimer

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tinsel & Baubles

The need for festive themed frolicking never ceases to bore me. The usual tedium of repetitive commercial dance music and large pop from the last decade is offset against the 20 pieces of Christmas themed crap. This change from the norm would be welcomed were it not for the fact that the 20 famous Christmas songs have been unchanging for at least the last 10 years. Maybe to qualify they need to have matured, like a bad malt, for a minimum period to concrete their Christmas credentials and in doing so they rule out their play outside of the brief festive season.
This tired mix is the soundtrack to the sad parties of sozzled folks seeking some warm company on the cold nights ahead. Apparently sitting at home watching Christmas specials with a bottle of wine and a lot of cured meat products is enhanced by having someone to do this with.
These jolly souls think the addition of tinsel or white fur trim will overcome their dreary personalities and defective personal habits and allow them to meet the partner of their dreams. This may occasionally happen but for the vast majority, however filled with Christmas cheer they'll be back in again on the hunt by new years eve.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bad Language.

A wise friend and I were talking recently about blogging.

"Does your congregation know you blog?"

"Some do."

"Do they read it?"

"I doubt it."

"What would they say if they did?

"I've no idea. Why?"

"I was reading some of the back incidents about your dealings with pupils. Some of the language is very confronting. I wonder what some of them would think."

I'm always open to accepting advice. Does the use of bad language in the context of real events reflect badly on me as a pastor-in-the-making?"

Over to you

Friday, December 11, 2009

Those dodgy e-mails - again and a very good BBC play to listen to.

About the "dodgy" e-mails: I await with interest the outcome of the various enquiries that have been instituted as a result of this debacle, but I would be surprised if the University of East Anglia, its climate research facilities and its staff were not vindicated.

I'm getting a bit tired of hearing about how these e-mails have blown the climate change argument out of the water: those who claim that seem to be doing that ostrich thing. Here's a sound bite, it suits my position, I don't have the time to research it and anyway if I did I might discover a) that I don't understand what I'm reading or b) I may not be so convinced after I've finished.

What I then mustn't do is be seduced by the repeatedly made point that the scientific content of the UEA e-mails simply falls into the range of conclusions already reached by other climate change researchers around the world.

Unless I decide that there is mileage in concluding that ALL such scientists and their research facilities are in on the scam and have been colluding.

My God! I've uncovered a conspiracy of international proportions aimed at destableising the world's economy and, because it is funded by international SOCIALISM - by which we all really mean STALINISM and MARXISM - it has to aimed at the USA.

Thank God for Fox News and its political wing, the Republican Party.

And then I woke up.

Given that it takes no time at all to make a scientific sounding statement and given that the statement will be around the world in no time and will attract the status of an authoritative statement by virtue of it being so widely disseminated to a largely unscientific audience, it is small wonder that bad science is hard to refute? That takes time and by the time it has been refuted the damage is done.

I really try to avoid buying into conspiracy theories but this piece of George Monbiot in Tuesday’s Guardian “The climate denial industry is out to dupe the public. And it's working: Think environmentalists are stooges? You're the unwitting recruit of a hugely powerful oil lobby – I've got the proof” really struck me.

When I use the term denial industry, I'm referring to those who are paid to say that man-made global warming isn't happening. The great majority of people who believe this have not been paid: they have been duped. Reading Climate Cover-Up BOOK REVIEW HERE, you keep stumbling across familiar phrases and concepts which you can see every day on the comment threads. The book shows that these memes were planted by PR companies and hired experts.

The first case study I've posted reveals how a coalition of US coal companies sought to persuade people that the science is uncertain. It listed the two social groups it was trying to reach – "Target 1: Older, less educated males"; "Target 2: Younger, lower income women" – and the methods by which it would reach them. One of its findings was that "members of the public feel more confident expressing opinions on others' motivations and tactics than they do expressing opinions on scientific issues".

Remember this the next time you hear people claiming that climate scientists are only in it for the money, or that environmentalists are trying to create a communist world government: these ideas were devised and broadcast by energy companies. The people who inform me, apparently without irony, that "your article is an ad hominem attack, you four-eyed, big-nosed, commie sack of shit", or "you scaremongers will destroy the entire world economy and take us back to the Stone Age", are the unwitting recruits of campaigns they have never heard of.

The second case study reveals how Dr Patrick Michaels, one of a handful of climate change deniers with a qualification in climate science, has been lavishly paid by companies seeking to protect their profits from burning coal. As far as I can discover, none of the media outlets who use him as a commentator – including the Guardian – has disclosed this interest at the time of his appearance. Michaels is one of many people commenting on climate change who presents himself as an independent expert while being secretly paid for his services by fossil fuel companies.

The third example shows how a list published by the Heartland Institute (which has been sponsored by oil company Exxon) of 500 scientists "whose research contradicts man-made global warming scares" turns out to be nothing of the kind: as soon as these scientists found out what the institute was saying about them, many angrily demanded that their names be removed. Twenty months later, they are still on the list. The fourth example shows how, during the Bush presidency, White House officials worked with oil companies to remove regulators they didn't like and to doctor official documents about climate change.

In Climate Cover-Up, in Ross Gelbspan's books The Heat is On and Boiling Point, in my book Heat, and on the websites DeSmogBlog.com and exxonsecrets.org, you can find dozens of such examples. Together they expose a systematic, well-funded campaign to con the public. To judge by the comments you can read on this paper's website, it has worked.

But people behind these campaigns know that their claims are untrue. One of the biggest was run by the Global Climate Coalition, which represented ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and several big motor manufacturers. In 1995 the coalition's own scientists reported that "the scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well-established and cannot be denied". The coalition hid this finding from the public, and spent millions of dollars seeking to persuade people that the opposite was true.

These people haven't fooled themselves, but they might have fooled you. Who, among those of you who claim that climate scientists are liars and environmentalists are stooges, has thought it through for yourself?”

I have no reason to believe Monbiot is lying - and the courts in this country are pretty fierce on libel issues, so he would know the risk he was taking if he were to lie - but what I'm interested to know is how this is different to the (as yet unproved) accusations about the UEA e-mails?

How inventive to accuse the other side of using your own tactics.

If you have the time, Dear Reader may I direct you HERE

If you have an hour to spare, a comfy seat and a warm drink, and if you are a fan of good radio plays, may I suggest you LISTEN HERE Are you sitting comfortably?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Greening The Bible

The Guardian
Tuesday 8th December 2009

Efforts are underway to reclaim the Bible for Christians who understand that environmental stewardship is a religious duty says David Horrell

With the Copenhagen summit now underway – an event widely seen as a crucial opportunity for decisive political action to combat global warming – conflicts of interest and conviction are all too apparent. It remains to be seen whether some kind of deal will be struck. But at least there seems to be an increasingly wide consensus about the reality of global warming, its human causes, and the need to act to mitigate its effects. The change of US-president from Bush to Obama has, of course, made a tangible difference.

Also of real importance in this area are changing – but still hotly contested – interpretations of the Bible, interpretations that influence many millions of people, not least in the US. For many centuries, the Bible was widely taken to support the view that humanity had a unique position and role, to "subdue" nature and use it to serve human ends. In some evangelical circles there remains a commitment to the idea that humanity has been placed by God at the pinnacle of creation, with nature there as a resource for human flourishing, to be "tamed" by humans as they turn the cursed "wilderness" into a fertile "garden" – images drawn from the creation stories of the book of Genesis. In such circles there are also those who regard the return of Jesus Christ as both a real and an imminent event, an event in which the faithful elect will be "raptured" away. Times of suffering and woe – famines, earthquakes, even global warming? – are signs of the impending end when the earth will be destroyed. As such they should not be feared, still less prevented. Environmentalism – sometimes lumped together with "new age paganism", or other fearful heresies – runs counter to this "Christian" message, and should therefore be resisted.

It is not hard to see how such beliefs, especially when combined with a belief in minimal government and free-market economics, run directly counter to environmental action or attempts to preserve and sustain the earth. "Drill baby drill". If Jesus might return next week, next month, or even next year, there's little point preserving the Alaskan wilderness, or the tropical rainforests. Religion not only shapes people's "spiritual" beliefs, but their practical, political, and economic behaviour too.

Yet there have also been contrasting voices, within as well as beyond these same evangelical circles. For some time, many have been urging a different reading of the Bible's creation stories, as well as its visions of the end. "Green" evangelicals insist that humans are called to be stewards of creation, not its exploiters, and that God will transform and redeem the earth, not destroy it. A recently published edition of a standard Bible translation, the NRSV Green Bible, epitomises this new interpretation of the Bible, highlighting in green portions that refer to the earth in order to reveal the message that Christians are called to care for the earth. It seems that, in the battle for the Bible, the greens are beginning to win the day – though there remain plenty who are unconvinced.

This "greening" of evangelical fundamentalism is much to be welcomed, at least by those of us who share a sense of the urgency of our environmental problems. But both sides of the debate tend to present their views as what the Bible "says", ignoring the extent to which all such views are interpretations, shaped by the convictions and interests of their proponents. Indeed, the challenge to members of all religions, not just Christians, is to show how their scriptures and traditions can be reinterpreted, reconfigured, to face the challenges of a contemporary crisis. Can the Bible be green? Or, better, can it be read in a "green" way so as to generate a more ecologically engaged Christian theology? For the sake of our children and our planet, we'd better hope so.

David Horrell
University of Exeter Dept. of Theology

Monday, December 7, 2009

Capillary Action

I must have stood on some broken glass. Not this weekend I think but one night over the last couple of weeks I have. A piece of this has clearly stuck in the sole of my boot, buried in the deeper tread left around the side by the ball of my foot. Over time this stubborn little shard has worked it's way deeper until it poked a tiny tip through to the soft absorbent sole.
This little piece of street or nightclub detritus didn't stab me with it's evil filthy point. It just let a tiny amount of water into the soft absorbent sole by the side of my foot. I felt this little chill intrusion into my otherwise cosy warm world of toes. This lead me to investigate. I spotted the angular pyramid of glass and with a clip from my key it departs my company. The flat slice it has made in my boot however continues to pump water into my foot for the remaining hours of the night. I am more than my typical little grumpy self as the night goes on and I'm bizarrely asymmetric in my cold. I had a hot foot, a cold foot and a really shit stomp-squelch-stomp home.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas Parting

The time is upon us for the first of the office parties. The restaurants buzz with large groups ordering off reduced menus with turkey and stuffing all over place.
The bars fill with groups of unseasoned seasonal drinkers who associate together on their nights out because they have the fortune to work in the same office. This wonderful fortune sees the sad and single middle-aged men, the back to work mothers and the young and dynamic executives in waiting party hardened drinkers. This all leads to some very poorly folk being dragged from bar to bar as the self implied party leaders drag the rag tag bunch from one under-performing bar to the next. The flirting and dirty jokes kept under wraps in the drab offices are brought on by drink into a tense mess of hugs, tears and hissy fits.
All the more entertaining when the cock of the drinking walk leads his pissed up merry dance towards the club I've been standing outside of. By this stage its only the foolhardy left, all the others have legged it in favour of partners and warm homes. The group gets refused due to the majority being far too far gone after hours of drink in unfamiliar bellies.
There are some goodbyes, some get losts and some superbly timed vomit getting the bosses best winter boots and tights covered in red-wine, turkey and stuffing repeats.

Sermon: Advent 2

(As delivered to Mrs. D-P's Anglican congregation.)


Malachi 3.1-4
Phil 1.3-11
Luke 3.1-6

He's a Lutheran he is.

Really? So, that’s what a Lutheran looks like. I’ve often wondered.

I suspect most of you have little experience of Lutherans, but you may have come across the American Author Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone stories set in deepest Minnesota, the home State of many Scandinavian immigrants to the United States. Wobegone derives from a Native American word which, depending on the inflection of the voice means either “We’ve arrived” or “We waited here all day in the rain but you never came.” Keillor’s Lutherans were a morose lot who flourished in a cold climate, believing that adversity and suffering were given as moral instruction. Their religion was part Christianity, and part the ancient Nordic precept that the gods were waiting to smack you one if you were having too good a time: better to anticipate disaster. So they believed in the inevitability of suffering: if life was not miserable now it would be eventually, so you might as well get a start on the weeping and gnashing of teeth here and now.

Their big theological debate was over the issue “Will we recognise each other in Heaven or will our spiritual forms not have our earthly features?” One Lutheran might say: “My sainted Grandmother is waiting for me beyond the pearly gates, free from suffering and care, and if you are saying I won’t know her, you are ignorant of scripture and you’re going to Hell you infidel!” Another Lutheran might reply: “It’s not important to me one way or the other but if you think your face is something God will allow in a place of perfect bliss, maybe you ought to take another look.”

They were also divided on the best way to make coleslaw.

Pastor Inqvist was the Lutheran Pastor of Lake Wobgone. His congregation hoped for a sermon with a storming start and a storming finish…and as short a space as possible between the two. So here we go:

Here we are in the second year of the Premiership of Gordon Brown, in the fifty sixth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second, in the first term of President Barak Obama. And in each of those years, as in all years, the message has been the same as one man, Malachi, has prophesied the appearance of a messenger who would herald the arrival of God’s chosen one. In each of those years that messenger, John the Baptiser, is waiting in the wilderness, asking that we change, and that in turn we change the world, and in each of those years another man, Paul, is instructing his flock in love so that the Kingdom of God will be realised.

The world moves on but the message of these three remains constant.

I’m coming to appreciate the Old Testament more these days and I am starting to understand some of its characters better: the Prophet Malachi was probably an uncomfortable person to be around: fantastic to look back on from the safety of our age but if someone like him were to walk in here this morning, it would be a nightmare. He was uncompromising and openly critical of the religious practices and moral standards of his day and he didn’t much care that he upset the rulers and the priests. Malachi was lamenting the fact that God’s people had fallen away.

Now my approach to the lectionary readings is always to see if there is a modern application, otherwise they remain just readings, some interesting, some less so but merely stories. What can we take and apply from Malachi’s words or from his context? He was lamenting that God’s people had fallen away. Sound familiar? Is that in any way true of our society or of us as individuals? If Malachi was here today I wonder how many of us would feel very uncomfortable about the lives we lead and the wider values we collude with.

And yet at the same time he was energised and exited about what was to come, even with the strong note of warning: for all to be well things are going to need to change. When Malachi talks about the need for purification and talks about the refiner’s fire the listener knows that this is going to be a painful experience. We’re talking about the smelting process and heat powerful enough to burn impurities from metal. This is very apocryphal stuff: “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears.” That coming means judgement.

Then we have John's preaching which harmonizes with Malachi’s prophecy. John is, of course, generally taken to be the messenger Malachi was predicting. He came on the scene wearing camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist quoting Isaiah, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

What do Malachi and John the Baptist have in common? They both preached reform. The implication of these passages in this Advent season is clear: Christ is coming again and all is not yet in order. We need reforming and cleansing before Christ appears. And maybe we ought to start with ourselves before we worry about other people.

Yeah. Us. Today. Here. We may not be the original audience or even the implied audience of these texts but I tend to think this is one of those scriptural cases of “If the cap fits, wear it.”

We know the story of John the Baptist. We’ve heard it a hundred times: every Advent we hear the story of the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptiser, but have we truly understood it? It is always a ministry in the real world of his time: a ministry in which he called all people to recognise the sinfulness of their own lives then, and the Baptism of God's forgiveness then. And that call went out to the rulers, the priesthood, the teachers, and everyone else, that they should examine themselves and their lives and acknowledge their sins, their failures, their self-righteousness towards God and be baptized to receive His forgiveness. Not John's forgiveness but God's forgiveness meditated through John and mediated through the act of being baptized, the action of cleansing.

And the application?

Well, every Advent we are called to the same recognition of our sinfulness, our failures, our self - righteousness; not in the abstract but in the concrete daily acts of our lives now. 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. When John uses the words of Isaiah, he challenges us that every valley shall be filled and every mountain brought low. How poetic.

What’s that all about then? Words. Mystical words. Symolism.

I don’t like to generalise but I suppose we could say that those valleys or low places in our lives might stand for worry or grief or doubt: but they can be filled with an awareness of the very presence of the living Christ. The mountains we must deal with in our hearts might include pride, prejudice, fear, and selfishness. When these are brought low, we can see a greater horizon; we can see the way of the Lord John talked of.

And we are told to make the rough ways smooth. In our lives, this may mean we need to forgive those who have hurt us, to refuse to allow what has happened to us in the past to control our lives now. And we need to make sure there is enough time for those that we care about.

The Gospel also calls for us to make the crooked places straight. We are challenged to confront those temptations in our lives that will lure us away, to push back the trivia that fills our minds. We are being challenged to take the steps in our lives to deal with the major issues that we must deal with.

Otherwise John’s story is just a nice story.

Paul picks up on that story in his letter to the Philippians. Paul is referring to Christ coming again when he asks for those in the church to have an overflowing love that will help them determine what is best.

Does that characterise us?

If they do this they will be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, for they will have produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus.

And what does that mean? Religious platitudes: what does it mean for you and I today? What does it mean for God to call us to produce a harvest of righteousness? Of course we produce a harvest simply by living from day to day, by meeting people, by dealing with people in bus queues, or in the shops, in the office, conversations with neighbours and so on. The question for us is what kind of a harvest do we produce? Is it one we show to God as a sign of our love for Him and our neighbours? Or is it a harvest that we wouldn’t want Him to see or know about? Is it a harvest which is shaped and informed by "knowledge and full insight" as Paul would say, or is it a harvest shaped and informed by our personal needs or by the values we see around us?

Every time we act we are showing the harvest of our lives and what kind of a harvest we reap is determined by how we act in relation to others. As Christ himself said, "Inasmuch as you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me."

Christ will come again, this year as in all of our liturgical years. Christ is coming soon. There is work to do and in Paul exhorts us to that work.

Malachi, John and Paul: the world moves on but the message of these three men remains constant. Whose is the voice calling you to prepare? Who is your Malachi lamenting that God’s people have fallen away? Who is your John, crying for repentance in the wilderness? Who is your Paul exhorting you to overflowing love? The great irony of what has inexorably become our secular celebration is that we are less likely to hear those voices in the run up to Christ’s nativity.

Who could they be: those who bring us up short and make us stop and think? Amongst the Christmas lights, the Christmas musak, the Christmas shopping and cooking, card writing and present wrapping; amongst the Christmas stress and anxiety, the Christmas expectations and disappointments and certainly amongst the Christmas hype: is the voice crying in the wilderness the city-centre beggar or Big Issue salesman? Is it the face on the T.V. news – the latest casualty of war, famine or natural disaster? Is it your Muslim neighbour or Sikh colleague? The chance overheard conversation on the bus? A newspaper headline? A Christmas card greeting? Even that dreaded annual round-robin letter?

We all know that welcoming an important guest takes preparation. It’s hard in the clamour of preparation to focus on anything but the preparation itself sometimes. Forewarned by Malachi, John and Paul let’s be sure we make the right sort of preparation.

Just a quick thought to end with. Do we really need to be told to prepare the way of the Lord? Us, here? Probably not, but we may well need to be reminded and that’s what Advent is supposed to do: it is the time of reflection and self examination that we all need to prepare for the Nativity. Malachi, John and Paul should remind us to make that time.

So we’re off the hook then? Not entirely: I wonder how many of us have considered that because we know how the story unfolds we may need to be the voices of Malachi, John and Paul to those who don’t.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I have seen the future and it made me laugh!

Due to various events I have been somewhat distracted of late, depressed and in a bit of a fog.

I went out with my dear friend and colleague John (I'm terribly sorry, he's from Wakefield). We have been mates for twenty six years. You may remember John from the novelty socks birthday present episode. John is half a decade younger than me and yet I caught a glimpse of how we will be in our old age.

John has long spoken his own version of West-Yorkshire English, which I have become adept at translating.

* Giffer: as in "What do you mean you've locked yourself out of your house and in mine, you silly old giffer?" This to his elderly dad who had rung him on his mobile.

* Bint: female form of Giffer as in "The old Bint's coming round for her tea tonight." This refers to his Auntie.

* Numb-nut: as in "That were a right crowd of numb-nuts I taught before break."

* Keks, or possibly kecks: as in "I can barely get my fat-arse in these keks these days. I may need a bigger size."

* Snap: as in "I'm famished. I'm ready for me snap."

In addition - and I realise this has been creeping up on him - his conversation is peppered with words such as "wotsit", "thingumybob" and "watdyacallit?" One part of todays conversation went "You know, I've left the thingumyjig behind and so I can't get the whatsit." I have become the master of the non-commital non-verbal cue: a smile of encouragement, a nod, an "Oh, right" or "Shame" (depending on how I have interpreted the emotion behind the comment). This is a departure from a previous stage of our friendship when I regularly told him that he had thirty seconds to get to the point or I would stop listening. (He is a scientist, say no more!) His language is also peppered with rich Anglo Saxon as in "I'm such a arsewhipe, I've left the b*****d thingumyjig behind so I can't get the f*****g whatsit." This adds little to my understanding but a great deal to the entertainment value of the exchange and it made our discussion in the cafe on the science of climate change something of a challenge. "It would help if those old giffs (pl) would shut the f*****g door." I wasn't entirely sure whether that was in relation to his own comfort levels or a more oblique statement on the unneccessary loss of heat that contributes to the generation of more electricity and therefore the burning of fossil fuels. I have learnt that it doesn't really matter because a request for clarification is likely to lead to more complications or a long pause followed by "What was I saying?"

Today John told me a hot piece of news...only it wasn't so hot as I had told it to him several days earlier. "I knew I'd heard it from somewhere!" unabashed.

In twenty years time John and I will continue to meet. The scenario I have in my head is that I'll turn up on the wrong day but it won't matter because he will have forgotten. When we do meet we will endlessly tell each other the same news, perhaps five times in a day but it won't matter because we will have forgotten what we said. Our conversations will re-enforce the importance of our news because we will both have a sense of having heard it somewhere before only, believing this news to be widely disseminated, we will be the only two who have actually heard it. There is also the possibility that one of us will have made it up. "Those f*****g whatdyacall'ems.......you know....the whatsits. They've started believing in global warming."
"You mean Republicans?"
"Aye, them, b******s"
That's because New York is flooded, but it's only a natural cycle."
"What is?"
"You said York was flooded."
"What, again?"
"F**k me."

We are determined to be very difficult and awkward old men.

We have started practicing.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Relationship between politics and the media

I don't understand American politics.

There. I've said it.

And all these years of blogging with lovely Americans. You'd have thought I'd have got a grip on it by now wouldn't you?

I don't mean that I don't understand it in the sense of Don't bother me with it. I'm not interested. Far from it: I really would like to get a better handle on it, (which is a big step from the sense of resentful frustration I used to have at the amount of media attention American elections get here).

Don't get me wrong. I understand where the two parties stand in terms of right and left, conservative and liberal and therefore, roughly, what a given policy stance would be on either side.

What I don't get is the role of the media and it was partly Pam's comment on the previous thread that got me thinking.

Having been brought up with the BBC and its charter of political neutrality and objectivity I am very conscious of the difference between news reporting and editorialising. Newspapers editorialise: maybe they shouldn't but they do. I know the political flavour of our newspapers and therefore what editorial stance to expect when I pick them up (and I laugh at those publications which call themselves newspapers but don't report news, preferring instead to offer tits, bums, soccer, celebrity gossip and horoscopes). What I could not imagine is a T.V. news outlet which offers opinion and interpretation in the guise of news reporting and which even goes so far as to set political agendas.

So, help me out here please.

Fox News: the media arm of Republicanism?


The Republican Party: the political wing of Fox News?

Discuss. (In no more than 50 words. I have a limited concentration span.)

UPDATE: You may be interested in This Guardian article: "The Sarah Palin Peculiarity" which looks at how the British media is disproportionately influenced by American issues.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Those pesky e-mails

Yet again the truth has been uncovered. We must once more thank those sceptics for uncovering the international plot where all scientists have colluded to tell lies about climate change.

Thanks guys.

Interestingly the revelation of stolen e-mails from East Anglia University has caused a huge fuss in the U.S. yet barely a ripple here.

No surprises there then.

Now I don't know about you but I am bored with the same arguments about the conspiracy of climate change: so bored that I'm not going there again. Instead I offer this piece of satire from the BBC


Start listening at about 4 minutes 30 seconds.

(Any Roman Catholics and Anglicans might also enjoy the song "The Pope wants Vicars" at 25 mins 35 seconds.)

I found the following British newspaper items helpful:




UPDATE I recently found This which I found helpful.

More eavesdropping

......and then she said she was pregnant. Pregnant! I know! I wouldn't knowingly leave her in charge of an uncapped fountain pen let alone a baby.

Oh him. Yes, well he has delusions of adequacy.

Yes, well someone with her I.Q. should have a low voice too.

When they say what you don't know can't hurt you, he should be practically invincible.

He was cast as the back end of the donkey. At least the front end was acting.

...so I told her "Excuse me, but you're confusing me with someone who cares."

I think his only fuction in life is to make other people feel better about themselves.

I don't think he knows the meaning of the word fear, but then again, he doen't know the meaning of many words.

She said she was finding herself. I suspect she'll wish she hadn't bothered.

Well she looked to be lost in thought. I'm sure that was unfamiliar territory.

Oh look out here he comes. Tall, dark and obnoxious.

"He told me he was the man of my dreams."
"What did you say?"
"Only if I eat cheese before I go to bed."

I don't know what makes his mother so stupid but it really works.

His family were clearly paddling in the shallow end of the gene pool.

She whined so much I nearly offered her cheese and biscuits.

I wonder how many angels could dance on the new vicar's head?

That child. Did you see that child? What an advertisement for birth control.

But it's not just the cream that rises to the top is it Dear? So does the scum.

"She finally went to the doctor about that little problem, you know."
"Oh yes? Any diagnosis?"
"Well, like we thought really. Late onset lesbianism."

"We're going to Evita in January."
"Oh really? Will it be warm there then?"

"You're looking very red in the face."
"I've had some cheec alcophol."

Monday, November 23, 2009


Following from last weeks post I'm reminded of an incident that happened somewhere far more public.
I was working in a then busy nightclub. The place had floor to ceiling tinted glass walls that separated the VIP area from the main club. This allowed a much lower volume, options for private parties and a bit of anonymous people watching. The darkened windows however mislead one individual who had filled his bladder with beery evil.
He found a darkened corner in the crowded bar and thinking he was obstructed from every prying eye, undid his jeans and whipped his little fella out to water the corner. I was checking in with the bar-staff in the VIP and spotted the lads efforts out of the corner of my eye.
I checked his outfit and with a quick assistance call on the radio shot off out of the VIP, round the crowded bar and trying to track him down. I imagined he'd have finished his business by the time I'd gotten round the crowd to him. To my surprise and that of a colleague who'd joined me part way round he was still mid business.
I approached him from behind, tapped him on the shoulder and advised him to stop. He spun about, still mid flow and I tracked around keeping just back off his right shoulder. My colleague got his boots wet.
The pissing punter laughed at this and gave a little wiggle to finish the job. With his business concluded we told him to depart swiftly. He thought this most unfair. Now we know what had just been in his hands, some of it was on my friends boots, most of it was soaking into the hard wearing carpet. When he reached out to touch us, we both in sync knocked his hands away. He tried again, this time with fists. Probably cleaner but still not ones we fancied touching us. With some footwork he ended pressed up against the still wet glass with one of us on each shoulder. He really didn't get that it was time to give up so with an upper arm each, we escorted him to the nearest door. This did mean however going past the busy bar. Somewhere in the process he'd not re buttoned his jeans, as he kicked and stumbled in his futile efforts he did achieve the added humiliation of having first his arse, then his entire lower half down to his ankles on show. Strangely he didn't ask us to let him go to recover it, just kept struggling and thrashing out. Having spent his urine our patience he was deposited into the cold of the night where at least his member would appreciate the excuse. We departed before I think he'd even realised he was naked, he did realise he was angry but with only a locked firedoor while he shrank a little more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Not at all bad for 72!

Dame Shirley storms the Royal Albert Hall for the 2009 Children in Need concert.

An object lesson in how to command an audience.

There you go Mimi: you next.

What do we think Gary Barlow said to her that shocked and delighted her?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eyeball bleach

There are some things you just never need to see.
Getting an assist call to the ladies toilets is rarely a winner. Well that is unless it's to interrupt some cramped, dirty, sleazy romantic moment.
The usual is however when a female staff member, door bar or management, has found one unconscious. After announcing my entrance loudly and entering accompanied and slowly I enter and encounter the issue.
Now some ladies wake up, shake off their stupor, straighten themselves up and make their way out without problem. They're not usually the ones I get called to assist with.
I get the deeply unconscious. The ones covered in vomit. The one-shod wobblers. The piss soaked ones. The ones who've shit themselves. The larger ones wedged under the bowl. These all require patience, respect of modesty and a strong stomach.
When the only thing the female doorstaff spots is a pair of shoe soles sticking out from under the door, I get a call. This could be white powder sniffing so my colleague meets me at the door and describes the situation. We enter together, still no change in the situation. She pops the lock with her bolt sliding tool. The door opens inwards so she firmly opens it and bounces it off a buttock. A large naked buttock. This causes to slumpfurther the kneeling, firmly unconscious, knickers 'round knees, arse in the air, loo-roll stuck to thigh, face on the seat, vomit strewn, hair in the bowl partied out lady. My colleague hoicks down her belt/dress to cover most of here bare rear, grabs the back of her hair and tries to rouse her. This has limited effect. She's not enough strength in her arms to lift herself off the bowl and not enough control of her legs to get them under her heft in the restricted space.
Neither I nor my smaller footed workmate could get past her. Neither of us wanted to particularly get our hands, shirts, trousers and shoes dirty trying a clumsy lift. With a lot of shoving, pulling and twisting we got her sitting next to the bowl. From there we could get on either side, lift her with a hand each in her sweaty arm-pits. Once upright she began to recover and after washing her hands, face and cleavage clear of obvious chunks of vom and establishing control again over her shoes she was good to go. Slowly and carefully out the ladies room, out the nearest exit, down a short flight of steps and into the fresh air. We left her under the distant observation of the front door team and went back in to thoroughly scrub with soap, water and as much alcohol rub as we can get out of the staff-room dispenser. I still felt like I stank all the rest of the shift and way home. Put me right off my special burger.
According to the front door team, she sobered up, stole a few slices of pizza from a passer by and then jumped the taxi queue and was gone into the night.
The image as the door opened is however is not something I'll ever be able to get out of my mind without some strong mind bleach.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is. William P. Merrill

Yesterday evening was one of those intensely spiritual moments for me and I was nowhere near a church. It was my privilege to have been participating, as a member of the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, in one of the Leeds International Concert Season's performances - Mozart's Requiem with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in the iconic Victorian Leeds Town Hall.

There is nothing unusual about my participation in a big choral concert but somehow every once in a while it becomes personal and I am transported beyond myself. The atmosphere was electric with anticipation and from the orchestra's very first haunting notes in the opening chorus we knew this was going to be something very special indeed.

God has given me a talent, albeit a modest one, and singing has been part of my life since I was a teenager when a very charismatic music teacher gave me a glimpse of something beyond pop music. I learn music quickly and I have a pleasant enough voice: it is not a soloists voice, at least not since my student days when I was often cast as second or third romantic lead in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, but it is a blending voice and as such it is a good enough choral singer's voice. (Even given that My Own Personal Agnostic and I have been moved up from Baritone to Tenor and are "exploring" the upper limits of our voice range.)

I have long been interested in the link between music and spirituality although I have never made the time to explore it any in detail. Victor de LaPrade once noted It is incontestable that music induces in us a sense of the infinite and the contemplation of the invisible. But I am not at all convinced that the intensely spiritual feelings I sometimes experience with music are necessarily linked to overt religious expressions. I hate hymn singing, for instance, with a deep and deadly loathing (something of a problem, one might note, for a person preparing for ordained ministry) while being deeply moved by Elgar's Cello Concerto and mesmerised by Purcell's closing lament and chorus in Dido and Aeneas. Am I encountering God in those two (and the many other) secular pieces that touch my soul? I would say so if only because I am the recipient of someone else's God given talent.

Of course Mozart is always going to the one who most touches my soul and there must be an element of the very personal in the composers, and indeed performers who, quite literally, strike a chord in our subconscious. And, of course, Mozart wrote music to sacred texts and liturgical settings and his Requiem must be one of the most intense of all with its eschatological vision Dies Irae, Dies Illa (Day of wrath, day of anger will disolve the world in ashes) portrayed in incredibly powerful and urgent music: talk about putting the fear of God into people. A similar effect is created in the declamatory Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis, voca me cum benedictus (When the accused are confounded, and doomed to flames of woe, call me among the blessed.) It was designed to terrify and to challenge the conscience but its not the text that works for me. Although I have sung latin more times than I could hope to remember I have to read the English translation - and I don't always - to understand what I am singing and I discover repeatedly that the written text is flat for me and totally devoid of impact.

No, it is the music and what Mozart, in this case, does with it for the text that creates the vision and the terror and the immense power that makes it a spine tingler: you don't need to know the words to get the message: this is urgent, passionate, confronting music even given its incredible beauty and I would also add, inspired. It has the power to move today as it did then. Of course the liturgy ends with the expected note of hope in the Lux Aeterna (Let eternal light shine on them, Lord, as with Your saints in eternity, because You are merciful. Grant them eternal rest, Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them, as with Your saints in eternity, because You are merciful) but that's no help at all if your Latin is only good enough to buy a coffee and an ice cream!

Then, of course, I have to add the complication of participation: it isn't always just the listening is it? Certainly not passive listening, anyway. There is something extra in the act of participation whether it is the all absorbing enthrallment and awe of active listening or the self-giving of playing, singing or conducting which seems to me to be akin to worship.

So what is it about music which, regardless of its sacred or secular context, can make the soul sing? What does music do to the soul? What does music reveal to us of God?

Cervanes said He who sings scares away his woes and that is certainly true for me and I am sure for many others. So is it purely psychological and if so why? Was Confucious right when he said Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without? Why does music have that power to touch emotions? Beethoven seemed to be on to something when he said Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life and Delius seemed to be on the same track when he said Music is an outburst of the soul but sadly they didn't go on to do the theology.

I'd be delighted if someone else would.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Too Late

I'm always amazed how many folk bow to a faceless invisible authority. The Milgram experiment showed the extent of this but every night I work I can see the effects.
If I refuse someone for being barred, too drunk, inappropriately dressed or even for the club being too full, I can expect grief. When I say they can't come in because it's a student night and they aren't students, they'll often give me grief.
What is surprising is that when I tell a group they can't come in because the licence on the premises says so, they don't give me grief. The licencing laws say I can't admit drunks, that never stops them whining on. It seems the impression of a faceless authority, under which we all apparently toil, is sufficient to suppress the whining and aggravation that usually accompanies a refusal.
This 'too late to let in' reasoning doesn't mention the fact we'll be serving for another 45 minutes or more or the fact we'll be banging out tunes for nearly an hour and a half. More than enough time to find the love of your drunken night and get more than a pair of drinks down your throat.
It doesn't seem to matter, if the authority behind the scenes says no, people accept it. Even drunk and potentially troublesome people accept it. Once in a blue moon the authorities will be on the premises. Even everyday they'd be very unlikely to notice one or two late entering punters but the mere suggestion that this faceless, usually limbless body says no is enough.
Not surprisingly the excuse is used as soon as we're towards the dregs of the night to dispense with unwanteds. Very effective if a little naughty but riding the coat-tails of the all powerful disembodied power sometimes makes up for some of the convoluted, arcane, pointless things in the law that grind with me.


No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. President Barak Obama

Failure to reach broad agreement would be morally inexcuable, economically short-sighted and politically unwise. U.N. Secterary General Ban Ki-moon

China hopes the Copenhagen conference will push for the comprehensive, effective and sustainable implementation of theUN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi

If we act now, if we act together, if we act with vision and resolve, success in Copenhagen is still within our reach. But if we falter, the earth itself will be at risk. Prime Minister Gordon Brown

We need an agreement on one objective -- global warming must not exceed two degrees Celsius. To achieve this, we need the readiness of all countries to accept internationally binding obligations. Chancellor Angela Merkel

The time has passed for diplomatic tinkering, for narrow bargaining. The time has come for courage, mobilisation and collective ambition. President Nicolas Sarkozy

Climate change is a global challenge. It can only be successfully overcome through a global, collaborative and cooperative effort. India is prepared to play its role as a responsible member of the international community and make its own contribution. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

We will support the idea of Mr. Rasmussen to have a politically binding agreement at the end of the Copenhagen meeting, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Copenhagen will be the most important international gathering since the end of the second world war. Economist Lord Nicholas Stern

In the doomsday scenarios we are so often invited to contemplate, the ultimate tragedy is that a material world capable of being a manifestation in human hands of divine love is left to itself, as humanity is gradually choked, drowned or starved by its own stupidity. Archbishop of Canturbury Rowan Williams

Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment. Pope Benedict XVI

The harmful effect on the atmosphere brought about by chemical emissions in industrialized countries is a very dangerous sign. Although this is a new thing for us Tibetans, the world is paying a lot of attention to this problem. It is the responsibility of us, who speak of the welfare of all sentient beings, to contribute towards this. His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Where climate change has occurred in the industrialised world, the effects have so far been relatively benign: the inhabitants of North America and Europe have felt just a gentle caress from the winds of change. I wonder how much more anxious they might be if they depended on the cycle of mother nature to feed their families. How much greater would their concerns be if they lived in slums and townships, in mud houses, or shelters made of plastic bags? In large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, this is a reality. The poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh edge of climate change every day of their lives. Archbishop Desmond Tutu


One wonders how these powerful, influential, multiply advised and highly intelligent people can have been so misled by the "false science" of climate change. Unless........

Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease. It exists in a sphere that cannot be reached by evidence or reasoned argument; any attempt to draw attention to scientific findings is greeted with furious invective. This sphere is expanding with astonishing speed.

A survey last month by the Pew Research Centre suggests that the proportion of Americans who believe there is solid evidence that the world has been warming over the last few decades has fallen from 71% to 57% in just 18 months. Another survey, conducted in January by Rasmussen Reports, suggests that, due to a sharp rise since 2006, US voters who believe global warming has natural causes (44%) outnumber those who believe it is the result of human action (41%).

A study by the website Desmogblog shows that the number of internet pages proposing that man-made global warming is a hoax or a lie more than doubled last year. The Science Museum's Prove it! exhibition asks online readers to endorse or reject a statement that they've seen the evidence and want governments to take action. As of yesterday afternoon, 1,006 people had endorsed it and 6,110 had rejected it. On Amazon.co.uk, books championing climate change denial are currently ranked at 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8 in the global warming category. Never mind that they've been torn to shreds by scientists and reviewers, they are beating the scientific books by miles. What is going on?

It certainly doesn't reflect the state of the science, which has hardened dramatically over the past two years. If you don't believe me, open any recent edition of Science or Nature or any peer-reviewed journal specialising in atmospheric or environmental science. Go on, try it. The debate about global warming that's raging on the internet and in the rightwing press does not reflect any such debate in the scientific journals.

An American scientist I know suggests that these books and websites cater to a new literary market: people with room-temperature IQs. He didn't say whether he meant fahrenheit or centigrade. But this can't be the whole story. Plenty of intelligent people have also declared themselves sceptics.

One such is the critic Clive James. You could accuse him of purveying trite received wisdom, but not of being dumb. On Radio 4 a few days ago he delivered an essay about the importance of scepticism, during which he maintained that "the number of scientists who voice scepticism [about climate change] has lately been increasing". He presented no evidence to support this statement and, as far as I can tell, none exists. But he used this contention to argue that "either side might well be right, but I think that if you have a division on that scale, you can't call it a consensus. Nobody can meaningfully say that the science is in."

Had he bothered to take a look at the quality of the evidence on either side of this media debate, and the nature of the opposing armies – climate scientists on one side, rightwing bloggers on the other – he too might have realised that the science is in. In, at any rate, to the extent that science can ever be, which is to say that the evidence for man-made global warming is as strong as the evidence for Darwinian evolution, or for the link between smoking and lung cancer. I am constantly struck by the way in which people like James, who proclaim themselves sceptics, will believe any old claptrap that suits their views. Their position was perfectly summarised by a supporter of Ian Plimer (author of a marvellous concatenation of gibberish called Heaven and Earth), commenting on a recent article in the Spectator: "Whether Plimer is a charlatan or not, he speaks for many of us." These people aren't sceptics; they're suckers.

Such beliefs seem to be strongly influenced by age. The Pew report found that people over 65 are much more likely than the rest of the population to deny that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming, that it's caused by humans, or that it's a serious problem. This chimes with my own experience. Almost all my fiercest arguments over climate change, both in print and in person, have been with people in their 60s or 70s. Why might this be?

There are some obvious answers: they won't be around to see the results; they were brought up in a period of technological optimism; they feel entitled, having worked all their lives, to fly or cruise to wherever they wish. But there might also be a less intuitive reason, which shines a light into a fascinating corner of human psychology.

In 1973 the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker proposed that the fear of death drives us to protect ourselves with "vital lies" or "the armour of character". We defend ourselves from the ultimate terror by engaging in immortality projects, which boost our self-esteem and grant us meaning that extends beyond death. More than 300 studies conducted in 15 countries appear to confirm Becker's thesis. When people are confronted with images or words or questions that remind them of death they respond by shoring up their worldview, rejecting people and ideas that threaten it, and increasing their striving for self-esteem.

One of the most arresting findings is that immortality projects can bring death closer. In seeking to defend the symbolic, heroic self that we create to suppress thoughts of death, we might expose the physical self to greater danger. For example, researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that people who reported that driving boosted their self-esteem drove faster and took greater risks after they had been exposed to reminders of death.

A recent paper by the biologist Janis L Dickinson, published in the journal Ecology and Society, proposes that constant news and discussion about global warming makes it difficult to repress thoughts of death, and that people might respond to the terrifying prospect of climate breakdown in ways that strengthen their character armour but diminish our chances of survival. There is already experimental evidence that some people respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. Dickinson proposes that growing evidence of climate change might boost this tendency, as well as raising antagonism towards scientists and environmentalists. Our message, after all, presents a lethal threat to the central immortality project of western society: perpetual economic growth, supported by an ideology of entitlement and exceptionalism.

If Dickinson is correct, is it fanciful to suppose that those who are closer to the end of their lives might react more strongly against reminders of death? I haven't been able to find any experiments testing this proposition, but it is surely worth investigating. And could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the last two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how the hell do we confront it?

George Monbiot, Author and Journalist
The Guardian 2nd November 2009


Saturday, November 7, 2009

I may never wash my hand again...

My friend Catherine is Vicar of Huddersfield. We’ve known each other since college days.

“I’m doing something at the College of the Resurrection” she said to me. “They’re having a vocations day and I’ve been asked to do a workshop on communication. I wondered if you’d like to help.”

That sounded like the sort of thing I’d enjoy and it would be good experience.

“We’ll also be managing the press.”

Now I’m very fond of the college but I was finding it difficult to imagine a huge press response to a vocations day.

“Come again?”

“You know. For the Archbishop.”

Sometimes I don’t concentrate as hard as I should in conversations. I replayed the conversation in my head. No Archbishop. I must have looked confused.

“Archbishop Desmond.”


“The very same.”

“Oh go on then.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Archbishop Desmond Tutu. My hero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The one whose birthday I share? I am going to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu!


As it turned out the college’s publicity machine wasn’t firing on all cylinders as only the Dewsbury Reporter turned up. They weren’t hard to manage.

The Archbishop was tasked with dedicating a foundation stone for the new environmentally friendly buildings that the Community of the Resurrection was planning and so a small group of people were gathered in the autumn sunshine waiting for the Archbishop to arrive. Catherine and I had been asked to find a couple of young people to be in a photograph with the Great Man. She was to find the young man – a task she took very seriously indeed – and I was to find the young woman. Actually I found five, all in a group. They had come from a local sixth form.
“Would any of you be willing to be in a photograph with the Archbishop?”

They were all gob-smacked at the prospect.

“No-one?” I said, misinterpreting the silence.

“Er…” One girl ventured.

“Fantastic come with me. What’s your name?”


We were joined by Catherine and her young man Dan, and set off for the ceremony. Now this is the Community of the Resurrection: it was never going to be a simple affair. Archbishop Desmond was accompanied by Stephen, Bishop of Wakefield, the Community Superior, the College Principal, a crucifer, two acolytes, a thurifer, and a phalanx of robed brothers and full time students. They take ritual very seriously here and they do it well: it is like watching dance it is so well choreographed. Archbishop Desmond, a former member of the Community, took it all in his stride as introductions and welcomes were said, splashed the stone with holy water and dedicated it with a prayer.

Catherine and I organized the photos (during which I trod on the newly dedicated foundation stone) and then the Archbishop shook my hand. ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU JUST SHOOK MY HAND. I may never wash it again.

We moved into church to listen to the Archbishop’s address which was, as one might expect, witty and perceptive and full of interesting anecdotes. He had his congregation eating out of his hand. Catherine and I found ourselves in the front row to one side of the altar with a wonderful view of the whole proceedings. It wasn’t the sort of address one could take notes from but one thing stuck with me. He turned and looked at me, which I know was a total coincidence, as he said:

“God has called you for who you are. He wants you as you are for your uniqueness. Do not let others change you.”

Struggling as I do from time to time with the idea that God has called me for who I am and not as someone else’s vision of priesthood, I found that heart-stopping.

When it came to the Eucharist there were to be three points of distribution and it was clear that we weren’t going to receive from the Archbishop. But he’d just shaken my hand – did I mention that? – so I wasn’t bothered but I did notice a certain amount of jostling for position as people lined up. Just at the point when Catherine and I were about to get up to join our nearest line, the college Principal, who was in the Archbishop’s team, came over and asked Catherine to take over from the Archbishop which she did with great calm and aplomb.

When we spoke afterwards on the way to dinner she took my arm.

“Three things went through my mind in quick succession: what a great privilege it was to be asked to take over from Archbishop Tutu; all the people in the queue must have felt short changed when they got me instead of him and when was the last time I brushed my hair?”

“I’ll tell you what went through my mind: If you and I had sat in each other’s seats, it would have been me. Now that would have been interesting.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Earlier every Year

It's happening already. Normally reserved 'til the snowy and frozen months of winter, this autumn, before bonfire night, before the start of November even. Some hilarious drinker has asked if they can borrow/have/steal my hat.
This was the first night I felt I had to wear it. It was cool and one hell of a wind was blowing through town. I've been wearing the big coat, gloves and hats for many years. My head gets cold due to my follicularly challenged male pattern absence of hairdo. I wear a hat, a simple, unbranded, knitted black hat.
Every year I'm asked time and again by punters both drunk and sober if they can take this essential part of my kit. The answer is the same as my answer to drunken ladies who suggest I swap my comfy boots for their painfully impractical tiny, pointy, high heeled hell shoes.
This year it's just too early and I'll be hearing it for four or five months to come. Oh well, at least I'm warm, so far.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

An afternoon in Leeds City Centre with the EDL: 31.10.09

For some time I have been receiving e-mails from an organisation called Hope Not Hate. It is an organisation which aims to defeat the far-right by galvanising into action people of goodwill regardless of faith-stance: the sort of people who might be a bit apathetic about the idea of taking action. "What difference can I make?"

About a month ago HNH started to talk about an organisation called the English Defense League. This is a new kid on the block and has only been going for a couple of months. Their website states:

"The EDL was formed on the 27th of June, 2009 due to frustration at the lack of any significant action by the British Government against extremist Muslim preachers and organisations....Some organisations and media reports have branded the EDL as ‘racist,’ ‘fascist,’ ‘far-right,’ or even ‘Zionist.’ All of these accusations are flat out untrue. We take an actively anti-racist and anti-fascist stance. In addition, the EDL is non-political, taking no position on right-wing vs left-wing. We welcome members from all over the political spectrum, and with varying views on foreign policy, united against Islamic extremism and its influence on British life. Everyone from those whose ancestral roots are in pre-Roman Britain to immigrants just arrived yesterday will be welcomed into the EDL with open arms as long as they are willing to stand up with us for English values and against Islamist hate. Too many English are afraid to stand up and say "Enough!" because of the fear of being branded "racist.” We hope to change this.

So in short, we invite people of all races and faiths to join us in this campaign to awaken our sleeping Government to face up to and deal with the Jihad in our country, which threatens the very foundations of the freedoms won so dearly for us by past generations."

Given that a great deal of EDL material is based on Daily Mail reporting they might as well just go ahead and put up a sponsorship link.

HNH's strategy was to encourage citizens of Leeds to e-mail the City Council and the West Yorkshire Police Authority and demand a ban on EDL's proposed march in Leeds and then to pass on the requst to friends. This strategy had been enough to stop such marches in other cities, particularly following the running battles in Birmingham City Centre, amidst the shopping public, for most of that afternoon.

I was one of the Leeds Citizens who sent such an e-mail and forwarded it to my friends. There were, I am told, 15,000 such e-mails received by the police and the City Council who, in their wisdom, decided to let the march go ahead.....well until the anti-fascist league decided, quite predictably, to hold a counter rally. Now the police have a serious policing and potential public order issue on their hands and belatedly decided that no one could march but both groups could rally but in different parts of the city centre, less than a quarter of a mile apart. The anti-fascist coalition were outside the Town Hall and Art Gallery and the EDL were in City Square. The police presence was absolutely huge.


The Mounted police were out in force, there were at least three helicopters and police from all over the north of England were in attendance. I spoke in passing to a Police Officer from Northumberland.


Outside the Art Gallery the ant-fascist rally was in full swing by mid day. I looked out for a Christian presence but only came across a retired Anglican Bishop, Bishop Derek, not in clericals, which I thought was a missed opportunity for an overt Christian witness. I was amused, though, to see a Father Ted placard which said "Down with that sort of thing". I kept wandering down to City Square to see where the EDL was but there was no sign. They were, it turned out, in the pubs but the police presence around the square was even heavier than outside the Art Gallery.


Several marches had set out from other parts of the city to converge on the Art Gallery and it was as they arrived that the police strategy began to dawn on me. As the contingengt groups arrived they were heavily escorted to the main rally. It became clear that if you were in the main rally you were likely to be cordoned in so that there would be no mingling of the two protests, which would have been catastrophic in fairness to the police. I didn't particularly want to be trapped behind the barriers for the afternoon with the Socialist Workers' Party and the range of grungy interest groups that made up the Anti-Fascist Alliance and I wanted to see the EDL so I got out while the going was good and headed back to City Square...


...only to find that access around the city centre was now seriously restricted. Leeds is Britain's fourth city. It is a significant centre of retail, commerce, finance and culture, but most of the folk on the street had no idea what was going on. They clearly hadn't been listening to BBC Radio Leeds.


Leeds is also a multiracial city and I love it for that.


At the Art Gallery the numbers grew.



It wouldn't have been a good afternoon to travel to or from Leeds by train: the EDL were coralled in the station forecourt and then led the hundred yards or so to City Square under police escort.

Ordinary members of the public stopped to jeer and trade insults. Those of us watching were told that we weren't English any more.


I was reassured by the fact that there appeared to no more than 300 EDL members. Three hundred and fifty tops.


They were overwhelmingly male and fitted the standard far-right stereotype: Mainly young, often shaven headed, visibly tattooed in many cases, often with beer bellies and with a great deal of poor dental work on display. Most were not from Leeds.


For a multicultural non-violent group thay did a good impression of racist football hooligans with their flags and chantings of IN-GER-LAND. (Where is that exactly?)


I was approached by a journalist.

"I saw you up at the other rally. Could I ask you why you are here?"

I had heard that some EDL supporters were claiming to be guardians of our Christian heritage, so I talked about that a little. I wondered when hatered and intolerance had become Christian qualities. I also lamented the hijacking of my flag and the implication that only those now tightly inside City Square, and largely cordoned off from the rest of us, were patriots.


It was still just possible to move in and out of the square and my journalist friend (the Mail on Sunday, I may die of shame) set off into the mele. I declined his invitation to join him on the basis that I wasn't suicidal. That and the fact that the police dogs were now on display together with the riot police. I was, however, determined to stay as close to the centre of activity as the police would allow. My strategy was simple: I would watch and listen and seek to be an overt Christian witness. I would not indulge in name calling or shouting and wherever possible I would attempt to engage in calm discussion.

I was deeply disappointed that there were no other dog collars or Christian banners, though. Where were Leeds's Christians?


Soon enough the entrance to the centre of City Square was cordoned off and there were several attempts to storm the barriers from within but the police presence was too heavy. I got chatting to three young men who had travelled down from Durham and had found themselves trapped outside the barrier. They were in their mid twenties and were all, they told me, ex-army. They were probably a bit confused by my English flag lapel badge and asked me what I though of the event. I told them I was not impressed and pointed out the huge mismatch between what I had read on the website and what I saw in front of me. At that point there was another surge from inside the square as one group tried to storm the police and tear down the barriers.

My phone rang. It was Claire.

"Have you finished protesting? Could you pop into Primark and get me some tights?"

"If I were black or Asian..." I said to the army guys "If I were a woman or a gay man or disabled, what I am seeing in front of me now would not recruit me. I think the organisers of this group have been naive. This group is in the process of being taken over by the far-right"

They were nice guys, respectful and courteous: under other circumstances we could have sloped off to the pub, the four of us, and had a civilised conversation over a few pints and I sensed they weren't entirely convinced by what they were seeing inside City Square. We talked a bit about Christianity and I repeated my feelings about Christian values.

"What about Sharia law then?"

"What about it?"

"Well in our lifetime it will take over."


"Its taking over now."

"No it isn't. Sharia law is active in this country in a very small number of civil not criminal matters, things like the dietry regulations and marriage and family law. Muslims can put themselves voluntarily under the authority of Sharia Law but if they don't like the outcome of a Sharia court they still have redress to English law. Sharia law is secondary and subserviant to English law. We won't have stonings and the chopping off of hands."

"It's what they want."

"No it isn't. Not my Muslim friends anyway. They think Sharia Law's irrelevant in this country. There are what...two million Muslims in Britain? Let's be generous and say that a million are religious although that still doesn't mean that they want Sharia Law. How is that million going to impose Sharia law on the other sixty million or so of us? It's just not going to happen."

We chatted for a bit longer and after another pack mentality surge from the EDL showing their true colours, my three new mates shook my hand and headed off back to Durham.

The atmosphere was now decidedly odd: there were a great many members of the public who had stayed on to see what was happening and there was a bit of a party feeling. The mood in City Square itself was becoming much more confrontational though. Then the police moved in and moved us away from the barricades. The horses and the dogs went between us and the EDL and the riot police arrived. The general public were more bemused than anything else. I was intrigued by the police tactics but never less than impressed.

"Where are your women? You'll never procreate." (A woman's voice from among the shoppers to the amusement of the crowd.) "We're not that daft." came another female voice in reply "Look at the state of them."

A young African-Carribbean man was talking to his friends about the recent lamentable T.V. appearance of Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party. Griffin had foolishly got into the issue of what makes one British. For any member of a Heinz 57 nation like the British, talk of racial purity is a mistake and a joke. The young man used Griffin's own remark about the pre-Roman Neandethal peoples of Britian and noted that most of the Neandethals were, in fact, currently in City Square.

"Their website says you are welcome to join them" I told him "They are multi-cultural."

"You don't believe that do you?"

"No, but the quickest way to subvert them is to take them at their word and for Black and Asian people to join."

"Now that's an idea but a better idea would be for one of those suicide bombers to slip in there just now.....I bet they wouldn't try this on in Bradford."

"I'd shake his hand" said one of the girls with him.

"If you could find it...."

Ah, gallows humour. I love it.


Then it became clear that a group of EDL had never been inside the barricades and had mingled with the crowd in order to be provocative and to stir things up. They started to barrack the crowd nearest to me. I found myself in no-man's land with a group of journalists on a small pedestrian island in the middle of a bus lane, the EDL splinter group on one side and the general public on the other and police horses between me and the side I would have preferred to have been on. I decided to stay put while the police did some more phalanx stuff that moved people on.


I found myself next to a pair of middle-aged white woman, a young Asian woman and two or three EDL blokes.

"What are you for?" ventured one of the middle aged ladies.

"You're just parasites." an EDL guy responded. What? Did I hear that right?

"Excuse me. I've worked all my life.!" She wasn't standing for that.

"And you lot" he continued to the Asian girl "You don't give anything to the community."

She wasn't having it either. "What? And Asian businesses don't pay tax?"

"You all just spread it around amongst yourselves."

"I've just been shopping in Marks and Spencer's."

"Jews. Just as bad."

So much for a multicultural membership.

The blokes moved off. Seen off by three determined women.

I chatted to a young Englishman and a a couple of young Asian men who were clearly overseas students and a bit confused by what was going on.

"This is bad for Britain's reputation" one said. I wasn't so sure.

"Look at how few there are of them in comparison to the ordinary members of the public who are standing by in disapproval. These folk aren't demonstrators. The counter demonstators are coralled in up at the Art Gallery. No. I think this is good old fashioned democracy and free speech at work at its best.

Word came down that the Anti-fascist group had voted unanimously to march on City Square. (Wrongly as it turned out as they were still coralled at the Art Gallery). Taking no chances though, the police swiftly moved us on and escorted the EDL back to the station to much booing and catcalling from the crowd and some charming abuse in return from the "non-violent EDL". As the flower of British manhood passed by they felt able to be really brave behind two cordons of riot police. Some of these guys were by now clearly the worse for alcohol and many were seriously looking for a fight.

There was a break-out from the EDL chased by about thirty police and I found myself "kettled" - surrounded and circled by police in a group of about thiry five members of the public with no escape. As if any of us were going to set off in hot pursuit of the EDL! "My" party included a lady with an obvious learning disability and half a dozen teenaged girls who were trying to get to the H&M sale. We also had a very unpleasant member of the EDL with us who was trying to provoke the men in the group, all of whom refused to play. He kept ignoring me even though I attempted to engage him in conversation.

"You should know better" he said to me in the end.

"I do. That's why I'm here." but before I could follow that up our little group was moved on again, surrounded by our escort, and released into an empty street. Empty that is except for about fifteen police vans with flashing lights and a dozen mounted police.

I wished I'd had an apple.

I never did make it Primark.