Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wedding bells

Not mine obviously.

Today I assisted at my first wedding. Well, my first in English. The three on placement don't count as two were in Estonian and one was in Finnish and I didn't understand much. Today's couple are from Tanzania: Winna and Elizabeth. I realise now that I have no picture of the Groom so we will have to make do with Bride and Bride's Maid.

It was all a bit on African time as in late, but for such a joyful occasion one can forgive all. Folk in Daressalam will be watching via the miracle of video even as we speak. It was very moving.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The solution

When on a quiet night on a quiet door I often find myself consulting my colleagues about various problems. Some personal, some political and most often social problems.
I believe I have found the solution to criminality.
How to stop criminal behaviour impacting upon the non-criminal.
I know rational members of the bar attempt to get it right, judging each case on its merits and obeying the sentencing guidelines.
The basic problem is the vast majority of crimes being committed by a small criminal minority who see crime and offending as a way of life. The law tries to be blind. Each cheap suited defendant could be up for the sole excursion beyond legality in their life or the umpteenth time they've been caught amongst the innumerable times they've acted criminally. When they've pushed a drunk over or nicked a few cheap clothes its only a minor offence. The maximum sentence will be puny, the reductions for guilty pleas, however late in the days play, takes that down further. The serve a third, probation a third for the inevitable not notably bad behaviour means they're back out bright and early.
For most folks who get a criminal record, it's a one off or part of a short period of poor behaviour, reality kicks in, rationality kicks in and reasoning about future prospects kick in. The system works, the sanction proves effective.
For the minority who don't kick in, the offending continues. They collect hundreds/thousands of offences. They are performing the vast majority of crimes committed. The public is suffering this directly and indirectly in too many ways to list. Insurance, retail prices, taxation, and deprivation of property are to name but a few.

The solution.

Cumulative sentencing. Clump offences into broad categories. Clock up an offence in any category. Serve all previous offences' sentences in that category after the latest one given by the courts.
Those who persist in drunken low level assaults, those who shoplift for a living, those commit fraud repeatedly, will in their own category get snowballed sentences.
Those who learn and quit, learn and quit. Those who don't could be facing longer and longer times away from the public unable to further offend.
It would also incentivise the police to pursue minor offences if they felt the offender would be away for a while instead of back out by lunch.

Your thoughts?

Slaps Forehead!!

Some months ago, or so it seems, I sat through a module on church history. Some regulars here will remember that I did not enjoy the experience one bit!

Nevertheless, I chose my essay title and worked very hard on it. I was pleased.

Yesterday I received it back marked. The feedback was very positive and I was pleased but the mark was only 55%. I was perplexed, so I read on.

However, the essay is too short at 3,326 words: it should have been between 5,000 and 6,000 words.

How did that happen?

I had started out with a much longer essay and edited it down and down in an attempt to reach what I believed was a 3,000 word limit and gave up at 3,326, expecting to be penalised for exceeding the limit.

Young Mike (No 1 son substitute) pointed out that it was my worst mark by far and on an essay about Luther!

Don't you just love glass half empty folk?

Then he said: "But you got 55% for doing half the essay. If you had done it all you'd have got 110%."

Don't you just love glass half full folk?

I fessed up to the tutor concerned - who was indeed very concerned.

"You can always resubmit it." Which I thought was very kind.

That was the point at which I realised how much I cared. 55% is a pass. It'll do just fine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Exegesis of Mark 8.14-21

Sorry Folks- a piece of college work for those of you who can be bothered: It was my choice from a selection of passages. It is supposed to be 1500 words long so I will have to do some editing.

We are looking at different ways of reading scripture and I have concentrated on Form Criticism and Redaction Criticism.

14 “Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.15 And he cautioned them, saying “Watch out – beware the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16 They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread” 17 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him “Twelve.” 20 And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect? And they said to him “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them “Do you not yet understand?” (NSRV)

This passage takes place towards the end of the first section of Mark’s Gospel – that section which deals with Jesus’ Galilean ministry and prior to his departure for Jerusalem. More specifically it follows the second feeding of a multitude and an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees who demand a sign from Jesus. Both events are significant to this passage.

This is the third detailed account of a sea crossing by Jesus and the disciples1 where the disciples fail to show themselves well: they are fearful and faithless in the face of the storm and Jesus’ subsequent presence at night on the sea; ignorant in response to Jesus’ power and now, blind, deaf, without understanding and hard of heart.

One of the more startling phenomena in Mark is the negative portrait of the disciples. They seem to move through a negative progression from lack of perception of Jesus through rejection of the way of suffering that he predicts to flight and outright denial of him. Donahue and Harrington, p32.

From a source criticism viewpoint the fact that Mark and Matthew both
relate two feeding miracles and both record this exchange would suggest access to a common source. If we were examining Luke’s Gospel here it would be valid to question his motivation for not including this sequence of related stories.

Both earlier events are significant to this short and somewhat exasperated exchange: the disciples had just seen Jesus perform a feeding miracle, and another before that, and their own laxness at having forgotten sufficient food themselves seems to have blinded them to their master’s capacity to provide. What is also clear is that the disciples have been further influenced by the doubts of the Pharisees. In an analogy that takes the theme of bread, Jesus chides them (v17-21 above).

The leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees is their corrupting power and the disciples show themselves to be infected. The leaven of Herod is Herod’s evaluation of Jesus as John risen from the dead which underestimated the significance of Jesus just as the disciples did now. Painter J, p116/7.

Painter goes on to argue that from a narrative point of view the disciples have been set up. In the context of a shortage of bread a symbolic use of “leaven” will inevitably be misunderstood but makes sense of Jesus’ question to them about why they were discussing bread. His subsequent condemnation of them is a heavy critique of their lack of perception and understanding and reflects Jesus’ earlier disappointment: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4.40). This is a technique of ironic misunderstanding, also found in John2 where seemingly superficial comments lead to deeper insights: this would suggest an established literary technique.

It does seem odd that Jesus should persevere with such unpromising characters but we need to remember Mark’s theme of Messianic secrecy. Jesus awaits the time when the disciples will join up the dots as Peter subsequently does in chapter 8.29 with the first glimmers of understanding. “You are the Messiah.” But that point has not yet come and Jesus laments with clear frustration their collective dimness. Determined, seemingly, not to spell it out to them Jesus waits with growing impatience for the penny to drop.

However, is it simply that the disciples are shocking failures or is there another explanation? Theodore Weeden argues cogently

I conclude that Mark is involved in a vendetta against the disciples. He is intent on discrediting them. He paints them as obtuse, obdurate and recalcitrant men who at first are unreceptive of Jesus’ Messiahship, then oppose its style and character and finally totally reject it. Weeden T, p50/1.

The reason for this vendetta on the part of the author, Weeden suggests, is to undermine the disciples. Either way, the hardened hearts Jesus refers to reflect the idea of a wilful resistance to the works of God3 and some translations such as The King James stay with the singular heart to reflect the unified misunderstanding of the disciples. There is serious irony here in Jesus exasperated Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? This rebuke comes at the end of a long passage dealing with Jesus public ministry where everything he accomplished led to acclamation and amazement. The addition of òuπω (not yet) adds extra poignancy. “Do you not yet see after all that?” Yet the disciples seem to have forgotten.

Perhaps there is an attempt to make the disciples appear slow-witted as a literary device: perhaps Weeden is right about a plot or perhaps their slow-wittedness is juxtaposed with Peter’s later confession of faith to make it the more astounding. Of course Mark could also be using these words of Jesus as a wider challenge to the reader. “What do you understand – you who come later?” This would certainly be an approach of the form critic: the reader sympathises with the disciples and learns from their experiences. Mark leads the reader to consider what he or she would do differently to become better disciples. Donahue and Daniel develop this idea in a Christological point:

Due to its location at the end of the first major section of the gospel, the question ranges beyond the misunderstanding over the bread and confronts readers with the question whether a true grasp of Jesus can exist simply on the basis of his powerful teaching and powerful deeds. They must still confront the mystery of the cross. P 35

It is easy to imagine that the two feedings are versions of the same story that had got mangled in the telling and accidentally ended up as a two events. Through Jesus’ questioning of the disciples Mark illustrates that this is not so. Certainly the questioning about the specifics of the leftovers seems laboured and pedantic but, as Canon Jeffrey John points out:
Clearly the numbers are symbolic, intended to point us towards interpreting the first miracle as a feeding for Jews and the second as a feeding for Gentiles. J John, p63.

What had seemed previously to be an insight into the relationship between Jesus and his disciples now takes on the mantle of theological symbolism with overtones of linguistic detective work. Of course historically there might have only been one feeding but what we have here is a theological agenda.

In order to fully understand this passage in Mark we also need to consider the feeding stories that led to this discussion: Jeffrey John argues that the double feeding theory is evidenced by the fact that the first miracle takes place in a Jewish area while the second takes place in a largely Gentile area. In the accounts words of Jewish usage occur and in the other Gentile words are used.

These two stories must have been understood by Matthew and Mark as a prefiguring of the two-stage preaching of the Gospel: “to the Jew first and then to the Gentile” as St. Paul later observed. In Luke’s Gospel, however, the gentile mission is taken for granted and only one feeding is recorded. The bread symbolizes the word of God: a standard association in Jewish thinking linked to the warning in Deuteronomy “You shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

But there is more according to Jeffrey John: perhaps the most obvious theological emphasis of the feeding miracles is to tell us that Jesus is the new Moses. Like Moses Jesus crosses the water into the desert, sits the people down in companies and feeds them with miraculous bread in such abundance that there are basketfuls left over. Less obviously, because the relevant story is less well known, Jesus’ actions also recall Elisha. Some of the details of the feeding stories reflect an incident in 2 Kings when Elisha takes an army into the desert and feeds them miraculously with a few loaves.

Taking Moses and Elisha together, the story seems to be telling us in an allusive way that in recapitulating what Moses did, Jesus is fulfilling the Law and in recapitulating what Elisha did, Jesus is fulfilling the Prophets. This feeding miracle is intended to teach us that Jesus is truly the one whom the Law and the Prophets foretold. Ibid. p62.

It is this that the obdurate disciples are being reminded of in this passage. There is also some understanding amongst commentators that these feedings create an obvious link to the Eucharist. The actions of Jesus over the bread in the feeding stories as described by Mark are exactly those of Jesus that he reports at the institution of the Eucharist (14.22)

To the early Christians the whole story would have been strongly reminiscent of their Eucharistic worship, at which they too sat in orderly fashion while deacons brought round to them loaves blessed and broken by the celebrant. D E Nineham, p179.

If this passage is indeed a passage that reveals the blindness of the disciples it is also helpful to see what follows this passage: the story of the healing of the blind man (8.22-26), led into by Peter’s confession of faith, is unlikely to have been placed at this point in the narrative by accident in a random ordering of remembrances. The redaction critic might well argue that Mark intends this passage to be a bookend to the incident with the disciples as the healing miracle is a fulfilment in Jesus of Isaiah’s promise “the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” Like the prophecy this miracle is about the healing of people’s spiritual senses as much as of their physical senses: ears and eyes again as in v 18 above. The disciples are indeed deaf and blind spiritually at this point. It is important in terms of redaction criticism to see that Matthew’s version of this exchange (Mat 16.4-12) is not followed by the same sequence of events. Matthew has his own agenda.

In following the journey of the disciples in Mark the reader seems to be invited to enter personally into the spiritual challenges that Jesus’ words pose to his followers.

Most modern readers of the Gospels have focused on the story level of the narrative – the characters, events and settings …Consequently they have failed to reckon adequately with the discourse level or the rhetoric of the narrative – the ways in which the language of the narrative attempts to weave its spell over the reader. The shift from meaning-as-content to meaning-as-event leads us to understand the workings of the language of the Gospels in new ways. Robert Fowler p2/3.

1 Mark 4.35-41; 6.45-52 and 8.14-21
2 John 3.3-4; 4.10-12; 7.35, 41-42; 11.50
3 Exodus 10-1/20-27, 11.10, 14.8, Ezek 3.7, 11.19, Jer 5.21 (Hear this O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.)

John Donahue and Daniel Harrington: The Gospel of Mark, Liturgical Press, 2002.

John Painter: Mark’s Gospel, Routledge, 1997.

Theodore Weeden: Mark: Traditions in Conflict, Fortress Press, 1971.

Jeffrey John: The Meaning in The Miracles, Canterbury Press, 2001.

D.E. Nineham: Saint Mark, Penguin, 1963.

Robert M Fowler: Let The Reader Understand, Continuum, 2001.

Richard A Horsey: Hearing the whole story, Westminster John Knox Press 2001

William L Lane: The Gospel according to Mark, Eardmans, 1974.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Face to Faith

Following on from my last post:

It is worth having a healthy debate on the interaction between faith and violence.

Sunny Hundal The Guardian, Saturday 21 February 2009

It is a common refrain among atheists and agnostics that religion is a source of violence and that eradicating it would go some way in easing the world's conflicts. Among the more faithful it's commonly said that their beliefs are a source of peace, or that they would engage in violence only as a last resort.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately we rarely see in-depth discussions on the link between faith and violence, since people usually take extreme positions. But given that the major religions grew during periods of great upheaval, separating the two is not so easy. But what's ignored nowadays is the historical context. Sikhism, for example, first took shape from 1499 under the auspices of the first guru, Nanak Dev. While he said little on the issue of violence, by the death of the fifth guru a century later it was generally accepted that Sikhs had to arm themselves and fight if they were to survive the onslaught of the ruling Mughal dynasties. The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, even made it compulsory for baptised Sikhs (khalsa) to adopt a knife or sword as part of their daily wear.

In the most popular Hindu scripture - the Bhagavad Gita - Prince Arjuna, before a ferocious battle, is filled with doubt about whether he is doing the right thing by fighting his family. Krishna, his charioteer and a reincarnation of God, says it is his duty to fight a righteous war for the purpose of justice.

But the tricky question is: how do you define a righteous battle? While Buddhists and Jains eschewed violence, the Sikh gurus did not. Gobind Singh said his devotees were to be soldier-saints, keeping their conduct to high moral standards while defending the poor and oppressed. "When all other means have failed," he said, "only then is it righteous to take up the sword."

But there are also contradictions: both Sikhism and Hinduism have strong traditions of non-violent protest in the face of adversity. Two of the Sikh gurus preferred to die rather than fight. Mahatma Gandhi too drew on a rich trove of Hindu philosophy to justify his non-violent actions against the British Raj. These traditions are similar to the Buddhist idea of karma, that positive or negative actions have reactions of the same nature.

But since most religions were designed as entire systems of morality and conduct, it's no surprise that they have pronouncements on violence, ranging from an absolute ban to the cautious "last resort" directive. Sometimes, as illustrated above, the philosophy can be contradictory. The website has a whole section on Islam, Muslims and Violence, arguing that the prophet Muhammad only allowed war for defensive purposes in unavoidable situations. But this is contradicted by the fatwa issued by 500 British Muslims clerics against the terrorist attacks of London: "Islam's position is clear and unequivocal: murder of one soul is the murder of the whole of humanity."

It is easily arguable by Muslims, as well as Hindus and Sikhs, that their faith permits them to use violence in defence if they are being attacked. The problem is more that when people are told to use political violence only as a last resort, some inevitably use it as the first resort.

Since there have been terrorists of all religious stripes, another theological question arises: when does defence from oppression turn into blind hatred and immoral conduct?

Conflict has always been part of human nature; what we have are codes of conduct that make sense and sound good in theory but always end up being fitted around people's own political or personal agendas. So, attributing violence or peace to religious belief misses the target. It makes more sense to separate them to illustrate how religion is often used as a cover to disguise political agendas.

This is why a healthy debate on the interaction between faith and violence is worth having - it might even go some way towards dispelling the notion that religion is simply a source of conflict.

Sunny Hundal is a writer on race, faith and identity politics and blogs at

Saturday, February 21, 2009

From Nicaea to Dalston

Furious religious argument isn't restricted to the internet. It happens at shopping centres too

Judith Evans

About 20 people are shouting simultaneously by the time I stop by and get talking to the Muslim who is, rather weakly, still offering passers-by the leaflets from his stall. The leaflets tackle head-on a series of contentious topics: "Muslim women's dress", "Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed." But they're not enough for the assembled group, who want to fight it out in person.

"We've been doing this for four years. But the Christians tend to come along, and, well, things get rather heated," says the Muslim, looking over at the baying crowd. His colleague is engaged in a shouting match with a tall Christian. "You are being saved out of his mercy!" yells the Christian. "You shouldn't be doing what you are doing! You are supposed to be humble!"

"Do you know how long we've been coming here?" retorts the Muslim, prompting brief thoughts of a longevity contest between the Prophet and Jesus.

This is merely Dalston Cross shopping centre on a nondescript weekend, but the discussion quickly starts to reverberate down the centuries. I ask the first Muslim – a 38-year-old civil servant reluctant to give his name – his view on Christianity. Before long, he is engaged in a scholarly explanation of the First Council of Nicaea. In his view, the defeat of the non-trinitarians saw the early Church go astray. "Jesus was not God. He was one of the prophets," he adds. "All the prophets were sent by Allah." "How many prophets?" I ask, a little out of my depth. "How many prophets man?" he shouts to his companion, who breaks off gesticulating to say, "140,000 across the ages."

But our measured chat is interrupted by a skinny, furious, Welsh woman. "What do you people have to offer women? Nothing!" she yells. "Don't listen to him, dear! Don't be taken in!" The police have meanwhile arrived to check out the main argument (I wonder whether they offer an interfaith counselling service). Reassured the Muslims and Christians will not resort to fisticuffs, they move on, as amid the yelling a young woman declares, "I think I should act as a mediator!"

It's the Welsh lady who brings the whole discussion to a head. She halts everyone mid-flow to say that I have a question to ask. (I think she's already used up her quota of shouting time and wants some of mine.) Then she tells me what my question is: Why haven't the Muslims brought any women to make their case?

As the second Muslim draws breath, a young Christian woman takes the opportunity to start stating her creed. There's something moving, but also terrifying about how she completely ignores the topic in question to declare steadily:

Jesus is the son of God, our saviour. He was sent to atone for our sins. Adam and Eve messed up the original plan of God. For Jesus to understand why he had to die, he had to be made flesh.

The mediator shuts her up and says it's time for the second Muslim to respond to me. But the very quantity of his answers betrays his vulnerability on the topic. "There are certain criteria for Muslims which are different," he begins. "This is men's work." The mediator, the Welsh lady and I exchange a communal gasp of horror and (I have to admit) satisfaction. The Muslim changes tack. " … because of the environment we're in. The climate we're in at the moment, it's difficult for the message to get out anyway. Then there's the abuse a Muslim woman gets because of the way she dresses." More acceptable ground: the battle against prejudice. Mediator and I shrug: OK. But then the second Muslim adds: "Anyway it's not in their nature – they're shy by nature. It's an Islamic cultural thing … Here is a difficult place, being exposed to this …"

The mediator abandons neutrality. "But if we have equal rights with men, shouldn't we have the right to be exposed to this? To choose to be exposed to this?" The Christian women turn to agree. "There's no violence here! Anyway there are hundreds of women walking around this street!"

The Muslim man has been antsy for a few minutes, and despite his obviously urgent desire to fight back, he has to go: it's prayer time. This would have been an out-and-out victory for the Christians, if their tall leader hadn't chosen that moment to start monopolising the discussion again. "Everyone's talking all at once," he complains loudly. The mediator chortles. The tall Christian somehow feels it appropriate to launch straight into a discussion of Islamism and Jihad. "You kill the enemies of Islam!" he accuses someone.

It reminds me of nothing so much as an internet forum – the most passionate, polarised, partisan views fighting it out, with moderates vainly trying to introduce some rationality – but it's so much better in person, and no one can delete the inflammatory bits. "Jesus's enemies are spiritual enemies," bellows the tall Christian as I realise my feet have frozen into lumps of solid ice, and escape to Poundland to buy shower gel.

Comment: I've been on those blogsites too but face to face is far more fun. I just love this sort of thing. Life in modern Britain eh? Free speech and democracy at work.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Give Up

Thinking back about stuff as I near a decade of being paid to watch drunken muppets I realise how much stuff I've given up because of it.
There are a few ladies who didn't appreciate me always being sober and heading out the door at 9.30 every night. There are a few more who didn't appreciate me never having a weekend off so we could go and do something fun on a weekend. I've not had a good holiday in a very long time. I've been rude to more postmen than I really thought would cover one round.
I've gotten to know who works night shift at my 24hour tesco's from popping by at 4am to get my breakfast far too often. When I'm out on my rare nights off I still drift to the part of the room where I get the best view and tend to stand crossed arms tutting at the drunken young ones and keeping an eye on the tension building in that domestic or the rowdy buggers at the bar.
I miss watching a tv film that doesn't come from the world cinema selection with subtitles and a bemusing and harrowing plot.
I've missed a fair bit of stuff but every road taken excludes others. I've seen and done things others will never do. I've learnt more about myself and others than many will ever know or want to.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A little History lesson and a brief flash of national pride

I was listening to the radio this morning and reading the paper, it being a half-term holiday and Claire wandered by at the point when the announcer posed the phone-in prize question:

"What piece of Music did Torvill and Dean skate to in the Winter Olympics of 1984?"

"Bolero" I reply quick as a flash.

"That's sad" Claire announces, equally quick as a flash.

"No, no. You're too young. You don't understand." and I go on to explain how Torvill and Dean took the world by storm by winning British, European, World and Olympic titles in the same year and how the nation sat in front of the T.V. holding its collective breath.

"Is it on youtube?" she asks.

And so having sat mesmerised for six minutes, Claire proudly introduces to her generation, courtesy of Dad's blog, the amazing Bolero sequence.

And also because we can, their set dance from another competition, the rhumba:

What effortless artistry. I quite filled up watching it again.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Let's hear it for BBC Radio 4 (again): Religion and Darwin

Thought for the Day, 12 February 2009
Revd Dr David Wilkinson

Listen here or read on:

Good morning. The 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin has led not only to celebration of his life but also extensive discussion concerning the religious consequences of his work. Atheism and six day creationism have given the impression that the legacy of Darwin is that God is a delusion, fulfilling George Bernard Shaw's comment that 'Darwin had the luck to please everybody who had an axe to grind' . Meanwhile, other religious commentators have been queuing up to say that Darwin and the Bible can walk hand in hand in celebrating the grandeur of this world.

As a physicist, a theologian and an evangelical Christian, I'm not in the camp of either atheism or six day creationism. I am immensely grateful for Darwin. I take seriously the weight of evidence for evolution and am filled with wonder at the world it so successfully describes. He doesn't undermine my belief in a Creator God, but I do find he asks difficult questions for faith.

In that I'm not alone. The response to Darwin in the 19th century was complex and varied, contrary to the popular myth that evolution undermined the church which believed that the Universe was 6000 years old. From the earliest Jewish and Christian thinkers through to church leaders in the 1860s, few were biblical literalists and most didn't see Genesis 1 as a scientific textbook. Indeed, some of the early supporters of evolution were evangelical Christians, 'Darwin's Forgotten Defenders' as they have been called.

Darwin did however undermine two popular religious arguments. Natural selection gave a powerful alternative to the attempt of proving God from intelligent design. It also questioned the assertion that human beings were unique by virtue of being created separately from other species. In fact, I find neither argument at the core of my Christian faith. For Christians, the evidence for the existence and nature of God isn't seen primarily in the natural world, but in the claim that God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Further, human beings, even though we are made out of the same stuff as the rest of creation, are special because of the divine gift of intimate relationship with God

Yet one serious question remains. Darwin shows me a God creating a world which is dynamic and awe-inspiring in its complexity. But I don't fully understand why this creativity involves such violence and waste. Perhaps it's because it is the only way that such a world can be created. Would God work like that? If I see God redeeming through the violence and waste of a man dying on a cross, I can accept that he can work through evolution too.

ALSO: Listen here
Charles Darwin
Sunday 15 February 2009, Morning Service

Marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, Simon Conway-Morris, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at Cambridge University, reflects on the compatibility of faith and science. From St John's College Chapel, Cambridge.

With The Revd Duncan Dormor and the choir of St John's College. Director of Music: Andrew Nethsingha.

Comment: It's worth a reflective half hour's of anyone's time. If you are one of those people who don't understand why other Christians have no problem with evolution, my challenge to you is to give it a listen.


After the lovely romantic event of valentines night I am once again amazed by the number of people who feel the need to share their domestic stresses in public. Like a certain type of person who feels the need to fight with their children in supermarkets there seem to be plenty who argue their personal issues in pubs and clubs and on the streets.
With the increasing honesty and emotional openness that comes with drink and the application of gentle stresses of decision making and social interactions that come from nights out and its time to stand back and watch the fireworks. Well it's seldom physical fireworks but the screaming and threatening do provide quite a bit of street theatre. It keeps from getting to bored as the large gaggles of drunken boys and girls tend to have a night off on valentines. I didn't have the night off but spent most of it telling rowing couples to quieten down or take it outside. They generally did and I didn't have to put on my marriage counsellor hat once. I did direct quite a few stroppy singletons to the station and the taxi ranks.
Got back to a poorly missus whose idea of romance is a warm body and box of soft tissues. Suits me just fine.

Friday, February 13, 2009

For Grandmere Mimi

(And indeed any of my non-British friends.)

This is what you'll have to cope with when you come. They talk a bit like that around here.

Two nations divided by a common language.

I do hope you're up for it!

Whatever happened to sex ed?

Well, if my experience as a sex-educator is anything to go by he was probably away that week.

Read about it here

Comment: My 15 yr old daughter wouldn't piss on a 12 yr old boy if he was on fire!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Smile

I'm not feeling very profound right now, just a bit tired and run down, so when I found this it really made me smile. It says something to me about the enduring power of the human spirit.

What does it say to you?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Face to Faith

Christianity should be a voice in the public arena for the common good, says John Packer

The Guardian, Sat 7th Feb.

The General Synod, the Church of England's parliament, is often at its best when it debates the contribution of Christian thinking to issues that affect us all. Next week's meeting in London gives us the unprecedented chance to tackle a significant number of those questions.

We shall have debates on the BNP, asylum and human trafficking. At their heart will be the Christian duty to express and fight for the recognition of God's loving care for all his creation, and especially his human creation. Whenever we address such questions I am impressed at the amount of expertise there is within the Synod. When, for example, the issues concern the right to life, doctors speak from their experience. Headteachers bring personal understanding of the school curriculum.

Next week we shall test the principles of God's supreme love, and the good news of Jesus's death and resurrection in defeating evil, in a range of debates. The answers are not simple, and Christians will disagree about ways forward. Is it right, we shall ask, to ban clergy from membership of the BNP, as is the case with police officers? I do not believe that any Christian should join an organisation which fails to promote racial equality, but I would prefer to use persuasion than a banning order.

We shall draw attention to the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in our country, discussing both the right to work for all asylum seekers and the intolerable situation of destitute "refused" asylum seekers. I shall be reminded again of the comment of a local headteacher in Leeds: "It seems that 'every child matters' in our education system unless he or she happens to be the child of an asylum seeker." Again we confront the loving care of God for all his human creation and test our policies against that criterion.

The issue of human trafficking may seem comparatively straightforward. There can be no justification in Christian thinking for the trafficking of people for sex. Yet we shall hear of the numbers of people trafficked into Germany to meet the "needs" of football supporters at the time of the 2006 World Cup. We shall challenge the government to ensure that this is not repeated here for the 2012 Olympics. More than that we shall ask whether our culture, in practice, simply condones such treatment of women. We would rather not notice, and continue our comfortable lives. We would rather not believe that all our social action should be developed within the Kingdom of God and his loving care for all.

That is why Christianity needs to be welcomed as a voice in the public arena, and a major contribution to the common good. None of the issues tested next week will see Christians massing against those of other faiths or none. They will see the need for moral thinking by us all in defence of the value of individuals, whether because we believe they are made in the image of God, or because of our unity as a human race. That is why it is important that we have one more general debate, on "the voice of the church in public life". There is a need to listen to spiritual and ethical thinking in our society and in the choices we all face. I welcome the fact that amid the excitement of Leeds' Christmas lights there were representations of the manger - reminding us all of the place of Jesus in our celebrations. I affirm the rights of Christians to mark themselves by the wearing of crosses at school or at work. I regret that Roman Catholic adoption agencies cannot act on their ethical conviction (whatever I personally think of it) not to place children with gay couples. Always we need to be challenged by Christian thinking as we make our personal and political choices. We need to hear the moral perceptions of those with whom we disagree. Christians need to assert that God's love for all his human creation should permeate our decisions, our policies and our culture.

The Rt Rev John Packer is the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds

Comment: I was so nearly with him there.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Slip Sliding Away

It's been cold and icy and a little bit snowy 'round these parts of late. I know I've been standing out in it a fair bit. I've got a hat, big coat and heavy warm boots. I'm not trying to totter past in high heels after a few pints wearing a belt and best wishes to keep the cold out.
It's such fun to watch punters shivering and shuffling in with bright red frozen legs. Even more fun to watch them shuffle out, a little less steady on their feet, hitting the cold air and the now even harder iced streets. Then they slip, stumble and slide their way kebabward, then slip slide and stumble their way back taxiward all the while getting colder and in just about every case more bedraggled and bruised.
Ho hum, salt does really take the polish of my nice warm boots.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Snow Day

Claire took this from her loft-study window. This is what we got up to yesterday morning. I turned on Radio Leeds to hear about school closures and we weren't mentioned. Every other school in the region was. With sinking heart I dressed and then thought to check the school's website. At 6.32 it came up. Closed. That's Claire and I at home due to closures and Anna on a day off. Rachel set off to walk to Leeds Met Unversity looking like an eskimo - Oh and rather pissed off I felt.

I wrote an essay and did some housework. Anna hibernated in front of the T.V and Claire went round to Natalie's whose school was also shut.

One in five didn't get to work today nationally.


Today I got up at the usual time and with a sinking heart because the promised snow had not fallen, turned on the website. Open as normal.

I set off and the journey was better than usual apart from the first two hundred yards from my door to the main road and the last mile and a half from the motorway to the school. My employing authority has a habit of building its High Schools in a field on a hill, miles from civilization.

As I arrived in the car park I was surprised by how few cars there were and realised I had passed no pupils on the way. Four disconsolate looking teachers and a caretaker were standing in reception and the phones were ringing off their cradles.

"Is the school open?"

"There are no school buses. They are refusing to drive on these roads. My daughter's been waiting for half an hour and has just come in frozen. I shan't be sending her."

"None of the other schools are open and I've to go to work. Emma will be staying at home to babysit"

"The pavements are too treacherous. I'm keeping the kids off today."

"I can't believe you're open"

By half past eight we have twenty five staff, not all teaching, and about sixty Kids.

We should have nearly one hundred staff and thirteen hundred kids.

"I can't make it to work. There's black ice on my road."

"I've just had a bump in the car and now I'm in a snow drift. I can't come in."

"I'm not setting off until you guarantee that you won't be closing. I'm not wasting all that time stuck in iced up traffic jams only to go home again."

The Head gathers us in the staff room and the kids in the dining hall. He is closing the school. Ellie comes in at that point looking like a polar explorer, turns round and without a word leaves. Halima's dad has just dropped her off and has set off home.

"What do I do now?"

There is an indignant mother in reception.

"I have just risked life and limb on these roads to get these four to school because you said you were open and now you're closing. It's just not good enough."

As I drive home with librarian Joe for company we pass a school bus. It has exactly five pupils on it.

We leave the Headteacher with the theatre in education company who had been booked for today and the people from the study skills seminar who were due to do a session for Yr 11.

I write another essay. Rachel and Anna are at work and Claire has gone to Natalie's.

It is icing up again nicely now. All our gritters seem to have gone to London.

The website says open as normal tomorrow.

What are the chances?

Monday, February 2, 2009

The big bus debate

These are popping up all over the blogging world. Here's my contribution.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Face to Faith

The theology of enough might help us reach a more financially stable, greener future, says John Madeley

The Guardian, Saturday 31 January 2009

It's all doom and gloom. The headlines tell it all. "British economy in recession". "No growth expected for 12 months". "Recession to get worse". "Deep in the mire of recession". So opinion shakers and movers from politicians to stockmarket traders take fright, share prices plunge, pensions plunge, spending dips, our charity giving may come under pressure, recession gets worse. But does the way recession is defined mean that we talk ourselves into something because of unrealistic expectations?

Recession, as decreed by the authorities, is defined as negative growth in a country's national income (gross domestic product) for two consecutive quarters of the year, six months in all. In other words, a country produces less in these months than it did in the months before. No matter that an economy may have been growing by say 3%; if it registers a fall in growth of 0.1% it is in recession. Doom and gloom all around.

But what right have we to expect economic growth to just keep on going up? There is a lot of talk about sustainability. Sustainable growth, sustainable output, sustainable development - these are the buzz terms. If we are to take sustainability seriously then in a world of finite resources we surely need to live within the limits of our resources, not to expect that economic growth will rise all the time. That's just greedy.

Time to revisit John Taylor's classic work Enough is Enough, and to look at recession from a wider perspective. In this book Taylor develops the theology of enough. The dream of the Biblical Hebrew people, he points out, is summed up in the word shalom, "something much broader than peace, the harmony of a caring community, informed at every point by its awareness of God".

"At every point" is a key phrase. It speaks of a "wholeness that is complete because every aspect of life is included", says Taylor. Economically and socially, the dream of shalom finds expression in the theology of enough, he adds: "There are many reference in the Old Testament to covetousness and greed ... ordinary covetousness is simply a persistent longing for something that isn't yours."

In the New Testament, a word that is commonly translated as covetousness, pleonexia, means excess or wanting more and more, says Bishop Taylor. Mark's gospel speaks of greed as an evil which makes a person unclean. In Colossians, Paul urges that greed be "put to death". He warns in Ephesians that no greedy person "has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God".

Other writers and theologians have taken up the theology of enough. For example, Michael Schut, the author of Simpler Living, Compassionate Life, says it "allows us to move away from worshipping the gods of consumption and material need. In living out a theology of enough we will no longer expend our physical resources in consumption and our emotional resources in worrying over status."

The theology of enough has implications for jobs. Employment in industries that make goods that go well beyond "enough" may fall. But encouragement from government could stimulate more jobs in industries that make socially useful products - green technologies, for example. It is surely time to embrace a way of life which elevates socially useful products rather than one based on the expectation of more and more across-the-board economic growth.

In such a world we would take it in our stride when the economy grows by 1% this quarter and falls by 1% in the next. Politicians and the public would stop giving ourselves such a hard time about it. We would see sustainability as meaning a steady but changing economy.

The stockmarket might learn to accept that as normal, instead of having a nervous breakdown. It might even stop reacting in a way that makes things worse. We all stand to gain from a change in the way that we view recession. And accepting that enough is enough might, into the bargain, allow us to reduce our carbon emissions.

John Madeley is an economic journalist and former lay member of the General Synod of the Church of England.