Friday, June 26, 2009

Dr. Bob and I in 20 yrs time.

Uncanny, isn't it?

(The Vicar and Mr Yeatman from Dad's Army: a much loved comedy classic series)

Sorry: I can't find part 1

Thursday, June 25, 2009

With Jane

Its hard to develop a friendship when you only meet four times a year. We did pretty well!

With Hilda, Bob and Stuart

The Four Musketeers.

With Bishop Walter

A word from our sponsor.

With Dr. Bob

A great friendship.


With Rachel

At lunch (this is the last lunch I shall ever eat here) I opted for salad. It has only taken me two years. We leavers had free time after lunch: time to sit and chat and drink more tea before changing and taking our robes on the ten minute walk through town down to the cathedral. As Stuart, Dr. Bob and I set off, scrubbed up nicely and wearing our best suits, it seemed slightly strange that we were moving off to a significant event while the rest of the course was still in classes. As we passed the classroom where year one was working we got some waves and wolf-whistles but as we passed the now much depleted year two room they stood up and came to the windows and clapped us by.

How affirming.

A verger showed us where to leave our robes and we had a wander around the cathedral taking in the atmosphere. Wakefield Cathedral is a nice building. It seems warm and welcoming and intimate for such a big building and it does exude a calm and peace: there are those who say that such ancient buildings have soaked up spirituality, worship and prayer through the ages like blotting paper and that it hangs in the air for those who come after to be touched by. That sounds a touch too new-agey for me but there is no denying that the cathedral carries its own special feeling.

We bumped into some of the other leavers coming and going and then headed off for a coffee in one of the many cafes in the pedestrianised area outside the cathedral. Quite by chance we met up with Hilda, Daphne and Mike: all the year two leavers together. That seemed fitting.

The sun was glorious and it was nice to be chilling-out, sitting, talking and people watching. Members of the music group began to drift by on their way to rehearse for the Commendation Service and that half an hour or so felt like a real oasis of calm. I sensed no anxiety in my friends now and I wasn’t feeling any either. How far I’d come from first thing this morning! Not anxious, not excited, not over-emotional: instead I simply had a sense of relaxed anticipation. Bring it on.

Four p.m. heralded the rehearsal run through. Down in the crypt area we robed, apart from surpluses and hoods. Dr. Bob amazed me by putting a belt over his cassock. Hang on: I’d seen that look before.

“Quick. Someone give him a flat cap. It’s Mr Yeatman from Dad’s Army.”

Stephen led us to the front pews and, working through the list, sat us in our places. I was next to Jane, one of the leading characters of the Manchester leavers which meant that she and I would process in at the front behind the crucifer and process out again at the back in front of the Bishop’s party. The practice had us lined up behind the choir stalls and processing out through a side door ("Too fast. Slow down.") around to the front of the cathedral, much to the interest of passing shoppers, and back to the front door through which we would process in stately glory at the start of the service. It was at this point that I saw Rachel standing to one side of the door, camera in hand having arrived by train from Leeds. A quick wave of greeting and we were off again through the main doors and back to our seats in slow procession ready for the real thing in a little over half an hour.

Back in the robing room there was frantic hair brushing and the smoothing of surpluses. Photos were taken and academic hoods adjusted. Jane produced an expensive looking box of chocolates and the crowd descended like vultures with the flapping of clerical robes. Twenty nine Anglicans in choral dress and one Lutheran.

“You look very smart” I was told more than once. “I much prefer your clerical dress.”

My clerical dress consisted of a clerical shirt and collar which it had been my practice to wear since Bishop Walter told me I should at the end of my first term on the course. In addition I was wearing my preaching gown (my academic gown from my graduation half a lifetime ago) and the Yorkshire Ministry Course hood. My only disappointment was that I could not wear the preaching bands Bishop Walter had given me because the collar-gap in the clerical shirt I had brought with me was too narrow. But yes. I had to agree I did look the part. For the last couple of months people had been asking me what I would be wearing. The truth was now plain for all to see. It was not a little something in a nice leopard skin print after all.

The cathedral was filling up and several first and second years were acting as stewards. As we stood in rows patiently behind the crucifer waiting for the starter's gun, I saw Pastor Mark walking down the side aisle. He gave me a wave. "There's your pal from Whitby" said Jane. And then we were off.

A slow procession through the side door and quite a wait at the front door while a few late comers scurried in. We were given the nod by one of the canons and our elegant procession began to a rousing rendition of "Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord."

Principal Dr. Christine is, of course, used to public speaking and her welcome and M.C. role were measured and authoritative. The Revd. Kenneth had worked with an over-large and somewhat demanding group of leavers to put this service together and it was a triumph and testament to his wisdom and experience. A student from Year one read from Isaiah: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said: "Here am I. Send me." A second year student read from Ephesians I pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. Stephen read from John's Gospel: Jesus said to them again: Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. followed by a little Taize chant: Nada te turbe. "Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten: those who seek God can never go wanting. Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. God alone fills us."

The music group, led by Anne performed an incredibly beautiful piece in four parts with her taking a solo. I think I held my breath for the whole of it. Magic!

The sermon was delivered by the Bishop of Doncaster, The Right Revd Cyril Ashton, who talked to us about the challenge of speaking out. He began with a very Yorkshire joke: "There was a lad from Barnsley who was given a part in the school play. Thrilled, he went home and told his mother who asked what part he would be taking. On being told that he would be playing the husband she was less than pleased. "Go back to that teacher and tell him you want a speaking part!"

My favourite chorus followed: "King of Kings, Majesty, God of Heaven, Living in me." and before we knew it we were being called out one by one. We each knelt and Stephen anointed our open hands before we passed on to Christine to receive our certificates. (Shoulders back, stomach in, don't trip up or fall over getting up from kneeling.) It was on the way back that I saw Bishop Walter and his wife Jennifer who were sitting only a few rows behind me. I received an episcopal wink. I took my seat again. I have graduated. I sneaked a look at my certificate.

This is to certify that Doorman-Priest during the years 2007 - 2009 has completed a programme of theological education, training and formation with the Yorkshire Ministry Course and has achieved the necessary learning outcomes required by the Church of England for candidates at the point of ordination.

I showed this to Jane and we both laugh. I am, it seems, an Anglican after all.

Before I could register the passing of time the recessional hymn (All my hope in God is founded) was in full swing and Jane and I took our places at the rear of the column. The timing was good and we were just approaching the main doors as the last verse began: "Still from man to God eternal, sacrifice of praise be done. High above all praises praising for the gift of Christ his son. Christ doth call one and all: (Jane stumbled up a step and there was some flailing of arms as I grabbed her.) ye who follow shall not fall.

Ours was a slightly less than elegant exit and we certainly could not trust ourselves to sing the final few words.

The leavers grouped outside the front door.

"Look I've achieved the necessary learning outcomes required by the church of England."

Big cheer.

"That can be arranged" said the Bishop of Doncaster, who I had forgotten was just behind me in the procession. "Come and see me in my office on Monday morning."

There was much photographing and general milling about accompanied by a lot of random hugging and then we made our way back to the college for a reception. I chatted to Walter and Mark and to Fr. John, my tutor and then Rachel and I decided it was time to make a discreet exit. It was not to be.


Cathy, Karen and Shan were waving from across the room and there was more hugging.

I tried again only to be intercepted by Ian with some lovely words and a card.

We finally made it only to encounter Barry in the foyer. More handshaking and hugs.

"Just before you go, a word of wisdom. I had a friend who was a Kleptomaniac. When it got really bad he had to take something for it. Gotcha!"

Things will never be the same again!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No More Vicar School 2

I was going to eat sensibly today. This is always my resolution when I come here and I always manage to find a way to rationalise not keeping it. Today's rationale was that it was the last breakfast I would ever eat in the Wakefield Police College. This was justification enough today to go for the full English breakfast, or possibly the full English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh what with there being about nineteen separate foods on the plate served in industrial quantities. After breakfast we staggered outside for the course photo in lovely June sunlight. There was a real sense of energy and a palpable sense of anticipation. Not that having a photo taken was of itself particularly significant, but it was another milestone on the timetable of that last day. And it wasn't just the leavers: many of the others commented on the atmosphere.

I don't think it would be unfair to characterise the atmosphere as largely de-mob happy. I certainly was: for some weeks now I had been distracted on Wednesday evenings, impatient for the process to reach this point - and I wasn't by any means alone.

I whipped up to my room to pack and dumped my stuff in the car. This is the last time I shall ever sleep at the Wakefield Police College I thought to myself. O.K. - enough of all the "this is the last time" business now.

Talk about "unwillingly to school" as Shakespeare put it. We wandered into the lecture theatre after a break like teenagers to French last lesson on Friday; in dribs and drabs, reluctant and wishing just to be sitting together in the sunshine, laughing and joking. Nevertheless Tim gave us another good session on Jesus' attitude to salvation based on a number of his encounters as recorded in the Gospels. I was looking at Zaccheus and we draw some conclusions about including the outcast.

I couldn't help, though, but notice slight signs of surpressed agitation around the room: the slightly too loud laugh; the fidgeting and restlessness of people in their seats; the far away and preoccupied looks and the uncharacteristic shadow of irritation crossing Dr. Bob's face as someone filed her nails a little too enthusiastically - and for far too long - behind him. Yes, it was a good teaching session but I was restless for something more or, perhaps more accurately, something else. The day was moving on and I wondered when it would change gear. I needed something about closure: something symbolic.

And that followed with our community Eucharist. Revd. Stephen was presiding with Vicky, John and Karen robed as acolytes. Hilda and I were touched to be asked to assist in administering the elements.

A couple of weeks before the leavers had each been given a plain tile with the instructions to take them away and decorate them for today with something personal to reflect the journey thus far. I had decorated mine with a Lutheran rose. Most people's were more enigmatic than that. Before the Eucharist began these tiles were laid out in a cross bordered with tea-lights and on the front row of the seats all the ordination stoles were displayed: twenty nine white/gold and one red. These too were highly personalised in their design and showed incredible creativity.


We should never really describe one eucharist as being of any more significance than any other but in our heightened emotional states this eucharist took on a special importance, not as a theological event but as a community right of passage. The exchange of the peace was a noisy, lingering affair and tearful for some: that same cathartic experience which I had been through at early morning prayer - and it wasn't just the leavers who were visibly moved.

Monday, June 22, 2009

No More Vicar School 1

Hot foot from Army Day I went to my LAST EVER Wednesday evening at college. Social time over soup was very pleasant and I wondered if I was being fanciful in sensing that the conversations were slightly more animated than usual.

The session was not too taxing and was a pleasant interactive session between the Mirfield-based leavers on clergy roles, responsibilities and expectations. I didn't give much thought about it being the last night until I was driving away when it sort of crept up and hit me. I may never come back here again. (O.K. I probably will, but I might not.) I got a bit moist around the eyes, which is not good for night driving on the M62. If I feel like this now, how am I going to cope with the last residential and the Commendation Service?

I arrived at the Wakefield Police College in good time on Friday and, it being a special weekend, the York contingent were there too and the Manchester leavers: in short the whole course gathered together for the last time in that combination.

I got an en-suite as ever but poor Dr. Bob missed out again. He must be a dreadful sinner.

When we walked into the lecture theatre for evening worship, I realised that my prayer group was leading: only it wasn't my prayer group any more. Hilda and I had moved on and in our wake came John, another two-year student recently moved into our year. It was, briefly and very oddly, like an out of body experience with me relegated to the status of observer. How odd it was to see someone else behind the lectern with Vicky and Karen, but how nice, too, for Hilda and I not to have to worry about preparing and delivering worship on our last weekend.

I was very impressed by Revd Tim's evening session for all the leavers - all thirty of us - as we looked at the story of Jesus' healing of the paralysed man in groups: a Jesus group; a Disciples group; a Paralysed Man group; a Pharisees group and a Mark the Evangelists group and so on. There was a certain amount of visiting one another's groups and a final showdown as one representative from each group challenged the others. Instructive and very funny as the reps tended to be the natural extroverts and actors: brilliant exchanges between the Paralysed man's friend and the Paralysed man and between the disciples and the Paralysed man's friend. Jesus and the scribes hardly got a look in.

Then we had a party and this is where it began to get a bit emotional. Somehow - I realise now engineered - my original year group managed to sit together: suddenly for each of the six leavers there materialised a beautifully wrapped package. The others who were going on to do another year had bought us each a book of pastoral prayers - and signed the flyleaf: "To our dear friend Jack ....." (and I feel a little tearful just writing it down now). This was accompanied by a card. It was the only photograph in existance of the whole year group together taken at Easter School and it had been made into a greetings card inscribed with the legend "Things Will Never Be The Same Again." It just happens to be a lovely and joyful photo of a group of good and trusted friends enjoying each other's company.

The rest of the evening was spent in the knowledge that time was precious: a conversation with Danny, a conversation with young Mike and to bed, a little tipsy on red wine.

Saturday, Commendation Day, dawned bright and fair, and early for me due to the flimsy nature of the curtains. The first thing I saw on waking was the card and I knew I was going to have trouble holding it together that day. I went to Silent prayer at 7.30. There were no more than half a dozen of us and I plugged into Howard Goodall's beautiful and reflective "Enchanted Voices" on my I-Pod to help focus my thoughts. I remember Dr. Bob sitting beside me. A couple of minutes in I started to weep and the floodgates opened (silently of course - it being silent prayer, no racking sobs or suchlike) snot, tears the whole works. (And, typical man, I did not have a handkerchief.) It was not just the enormity of what was to come both in the short and long terms. It was also the sense of loss in the breaking up of that close knit group of lovely, supportive, Kind and very funny people. I think cathartic is probably the best description, although I am sure others would say self-indulgent.

When I related this afterwards Alex said she hadn't noticed a thing.

She is, one feels, a saint.

Dr. Bob asked me over breakfast how I was. "You seemed a little emotional earlier."

A LITTLE EMOTIONAL! He is a master of the understatement.

Still, I had got it out of my system and I was raring to go.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rewards Day

It was “Army Day” today: four coach-loads of youngsters from the Knowledge College headed for Catterick army base in North Yorkshire - together with four coach-loads from every other school in Yorkshire.

This was a rewards trip: only the best behaved youngsters in school were able to go.

It rained heavily all day.

“And this” my wife said as I left home “is a rewards trip for good behaviour? A day with the army in the pouring rain!”

It was an inauspicious start. The date coincided with a national science exam for Yr9 so my coach couldn’t leave until 10.30.

“You’ll just have enough time to get there and It’ll be time to come home.” Quipped our driver unhelpfully.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

Actually it took 70 minutes which was quite good. Most of the girls on my coach spent the entire journey applying make-up and doing their hair, seemingly oblivious to the true nature of the destination’s activities.

“It’s raining.” says the soldier who greets us, rather unnecessarily. (One wondered if he might be from the Intelligence Corps.) “Because of the rain the following activities are cancelled: zip wire, assault course, parachute display, motorcycle display etc. etc. Have a good day”

“Oh good.” I think “Not just wet teenagers but bored, disappointed wet teenagers.”

As we disembark from the coach in our wet-weather gear we are met by a stream of bedraggled youth in vest-tops and cut-off shorts heading through the marsh - laughingly referred to as the coach-park - towards their coaches. (Who in their right mind comes for a day out with the army in the rain in designer beachwear?)

That bodes well. Smile and keep saying “I am having a wonderful time.”

We enter the grounds negotiating groups of sullen hooded smokers. We agree the meeting point and time and the kids are off, scattered to the four winds. The teachers, on the other hand, are ushered into a large marquee where we are treated to the best of army field catering. Jagtar and I join the queue in some anticipation: a Christian and a Sikh on a day trip. He has the lasagne and I have the curry, which tickles my sense of the absurd.

Regular readers may remember that Jagtar and I are something of a school trip double-act: See Here

We sit there warm and dry and eat royally.

Every once in a while, like something out of a Victorian novel, a forlorn face appears at the marquee’s window, rain dripping from hair and nose into a soggy bag of chips, shivering and blue.

“It’s payback time” said a teacher from another school, a tad harshly, I thought.

“I know” said his colleague. “I feel guilty…. but if I concentrate it passes.”

“If you were a character from Dickens,” I ponder, “which one would you be?”

Our staff, on the other hand, are up and off as soon as we have finished eating. No hanging around in the warm dry like those wimps for us. No, we are going out in the rain to show solidarity with our kids.

“Are there any teachers here from Wakefield High School?” booms a policeman who has materialised in our midst. Not, it seems, that anyone is prepared to admit but we are all very keen to hear that back story.

Jagtar and I set off on a tour of the displays stopping every once in a while to take photos: Jagtar and a tank, me and a helicopter; Jagtar with a gun, me with a bigger gun.

(I was thinking I might put the photo of Jagtar on the staff noticeboard with the caption “Mr Lally at his first meeting of the behaviour working party.”)

Every once in a while we encounter one of our pupils. This isn’t hard as every one else seems to have given up and gone home. Our kids are made of sterner stuff. One boy in a vibrant pink hoodie done up tightly under the chin and his hands hidden up his sleeves points at some kids from another school.

“He called me a poof.” He jumps up and down indignantly, waving the pink flaps at the end of his arms. “He called me a poof.”

I notice it is raining slightly less.

Most of the army personnel look dejected. I engage one young squaddie in conversation. He jumps up and stands to attention to speak to me. Much impressed I look around. There is not one pupil in sight to witness the way a teacher should be addressed. They are, I later learn, too busy paintballing.

Jagtar and I wander into a careers guidance tent.

“Go on.” Says Jagtar “Ask someone.”

He is referring to the conversation about Army Chaplaincy we had been having where I was bemoaning the fact that I was too old for such a career change.

“There is no age limit.” The senior looking soldier I speak to says authoritatively. (I had been told it was 45) “It depends on fitness and qualifications…oh and…er…whether you are…er…religious and …er…..”

“Ordained?” I suggest

“That’s the one. You know I’ve never been asked that before.”

I feel strangely satisfied by that. Glad to be of help.

“Handing in your notice?” asks Jagtar.

“Don’t tempt me. One more set of reports to write and I might just.”

The journey home is uneventful. The kids have been great all day: no moans, excellent behaviour and lots of animated chat about what they did.

The coach steams up and there is a strong smell – rather like wet dog but with added hormones. I can’t help but note that the girls who had spent so much time doing their makeup and hair on the way up are liberally daubed with camouflage paint, have straw in their hair and that their trousers have soaked up water to the knee. They are all giddy with excitement.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ticking over

One of the places I have the joy of working has seen a serious decline in numbers. Really over the past 12 months this has been going on. Part credit crunch, part decline in the number of people in the venue's target market, in this case the top end of the socially immobile.
We've not been getting the crazy nights when it's just a continuous conveyor belt of drunks to the door. The student nights packed to the gills still take place but once a term rather than once a week. The result of our diminished door and related bar spend is a serious pressure to reduce fixed costs. This pressure translates into being open fewer nights, this obviously means less nights when I can work there. The pressure to save also means less glass collectors and bar staff, this means when things get busy, the bars can't cope, the floor gets messy, broken glass and spilled drinks accumulate.
The worst consequence of this short sighted thrift however is the reduction in doorstaff levels on any given night. The punters are fewer, they're not miraculously better behaved. We're professional, we don't have jacket fillers, we can all do the job well, each in our own way but we can do it all well. When the door numbers are cut down and we get away with two or three weeks and no bother the change is cemented. Give it a few more weeks and maybe we drop another one. Our workload increases and we push harder but nothing goes wrong. So we go from a light mid-week team to two down on that. The money is saved, a few lads are out a few shifts but the businesses wage bill drops and all is good in the nightclub.
What we don't have is any spare capacity. We don't make widgets, we can't stock some up. We only work person to person and if two lads go at it we need a minimum of 4 staff to break it safely and get them out of separate exits at different times. The observant will note that we also require at least one on the front door and most likely one on the cash desk to stop the revenue walking away with a punter.
This kind of situation is common, we handle it as well as we can. We don't make it look pretty and we take risks but the job gets done and it costs less than doing it right.
What it will take for the business case to change? Until one of us or a punter gets it in their mind to sue for a lot of money they will not see a good business case for spending some money to save more money in the long run. Until they wake up to that we'll just keep ticking over, doing what we do, waiting for the sky to fall in.

Of Poppies and Men

I wonder whether any of you saw the recent coverage of the 65th anniversary of the D Day landings. I was, as ever, very taken with the quiet dignity of these old men from Britain, Canada and the U.S. and I was particularly taken with the interviews that included not just the veterans but their sons and grandsons who, it was clear, had caught a living glimpse of history as they expressed in wide-eyed excitement their pride in their grandfathers.

When history comes alive like this it is very exciting and I remember what has become a very precious video tape of a BBC docudrama on the D Day landings watched regularly and with awe by my younger daughter.

I am not of the war generation, nor am I a war-baby and yet I never fail to be moved by the rain of poppy petals at the annual Rememberance Day ceremony from the Royal Albert Hall: every poppy representing one of the valiant fallen. What an incredible sight - the poppies fall on to the bowed heads of the gathered audience, vetrans, serving miltary personnel and cadets: all generations represented together.

The poppy: a powerful symbol of pride and remembrance whose sale to the public in the days leading up to Remembrance Day goes towards supporting those same vetrans through the Royal British Legion - an organisation characterised by its standing in British society and its own quiet dignity.

The Royal British Legion: not an organisation which courts controversy and yet this week it has spoken out against the misuse of the poppy by recently elected Euro M.P. Nick Griffin of the right-wing British National Party.

See here

It seems that his attempts to take on the mantles of institutional respectability and patriotism to boost his case are destined to failure. This is the same Nick Griffin recently chided by the Archbishop of Canturbury for adopting Christian language in his electionering.

Hate is not a Christian value.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Theres is not

to question why, there's is just to wheeze and die.
A very good blogger who's dealt with more of these than I will ever do has written more than a few posts on asthma. Maybe because I know about these and maybe because I've seen things go wrong really very quickly I get stressed with asthmatics.
When doing pat-down searches and handbag checks I get the feeling one in ten to one in twenty go out with an inhaler. Probably the same again don't bother to bring one when they maybe should. We have smoke machines, we have energetic dancing, we have high humidity all of which when taken in moderation shouldn't cause too many people too many breathing problems.
What we also have in most nightclub environments is emotionally stressful boyfriends, girlfriends, siblings and friends. We have legal and illegal drugs. We have alcohol and plenty of it, consumed over ever extended periods of time. This combination is enough to get us looking down at gasping punters, more worried and calling ambulances as three, four, ten puffs later they're still not slowing down and getting closer to passing out.
Other times its the kick out of adrenaline as they're boyfriends, girlfriends, siblings or friends fight with us or each other and they go from partying to wheezing in the time it takes to walk back from the nearest exit.
The speed at which they turn white and drop is scary considering how many they're could be in on even a quiet night. Thankfully they've had the decency not to turn pale and pass out inside for a while, they do that in the fresh air by front door where we can both keep an eye on them and not have to carry them far to the ambulance. The wheezing punter may not appreciate this but its a load easier than lugging a floppy punter out of a cubicle and down two flights from the top floor toilets on a busy night. That we try and save for the passed out drunks.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

And the winner is....Monica!

Regular readers may remember some weeks ago when I was on my Easter School residential, I had been really excited about a task we had been set.

We were doing some work on the media and we were asked to pen, as if for broadcast a two minute reflection on Jesus and the foot washing. The target audience would be early starters - those on the roads at 6.30 am.

I was really energised by this task: this is my sort of thing and I was quite excited about doing it because the winner would be given the chance to broadcast at some stage.

Weeks passed and we heard nothing. Then e-mails began to be exchanged and we heard that the BBC had only received four scripts. Well I knew who seven of them belonged to for a start, so a few more e-mails passed backwards and forwards and then yesterday we heard that Monica had won.

Congratulations Mon!

Here is Monica's reflection.

Have a look....what are you wearing on your feet? Shoes and socks give the game away. Working in the NHS, from time to time I go to conferences and hob nob with some of the cleverest doctors in the nation. When the subject gets a bit too clever for me... after all I am a simple soul...I play a game of spot the funkiest socks. It amazing what you find...Dracula, Dr who, Father Christmas (in May!), Superman. It’s as if all a person’s funkiest thoughts and deepest desires sink down past their pin striped power dressed suites and hairy legs and leak out in their socks.

In my job I see a lot of feet and what people wear on them. I like to think I can tell quite a bit about their owners.....their health, their self esteem, their wealth. I am one of the few who love them as I think they are a wonderful feat (forgive the quip) of engineering, courtesy of our Creator God. I once looked after a lady of 100 and couldn’t help but wonder what her feet had been through...2 world wars, the black bottom, jive, big band and winkle pickers.

However it’s a different story when you ask most people to take off their shoes and socks. There is something very challenging about letting others see your feet..Especially if they are dirty and you have run out of odour eaters. Its silly really.... why are we so embarrassed about our feet? Maybe its because our feet and our footwear are very much part of an expression of who we really are.

There’s a story in the Bible about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. You could write a book about the possible meaning of this.....and people have....but maybe Jesus is trying to tell us that if we want to get to know him, He sees through the designer trainers to the corns, calluses and bunions of our life experiences and deepest hurts. Even Peter, the most gobby, straight talking and toughest disciple had to learn this lesson of humility.

Jesus saw right through him as He does all of us. Despite his loudest protests He showed Peter that he needed to bring his naked feet bearing the scars of life to Him so that he could be lovingly healed and washed . Now there’s a thought....Jesus the great chiropodist..who takes away our pain and washes us clean, but only if we allow Him first to see our bare feet.

And here's mine for those who have not already seen it

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What is it with some people?

I removed a blog from my blogroll the other day. It is not something I do often.

I have been doing some work with my Yr10 students on prejudice and discrimination and the role and response of religion recently. I was explaining to them how stereotyping works in the whole process of discriminatory behaviour.

"So: If I start a sentence with....
...All blonds are.....
...How would the sentence end?"

"Dumb!" They chorus gleefully.

"Now, this is how it works: Is it true that there are blonds who are dumb?"


"Is it accurate for me to say, therefore, that all blonds are dumb?"


"Good: lets try another. All Americans are .......?"


We are really entering into the spirit of things now. "Is it true that there are Americans who are fat?"


"Is it accurate to say, therefore, that all Americans are fat?"


"O.K. Last one: All Muslims are.....?"

"Terrorists" they shout with one voice.

"Are there Muslims who are terrorists?"


"Is it accurate to say, therefore, that all Muslims are terrorists?"

Well... yes it is, seemingly. Not in that class: they understood what I was saying perfectly. No: I am talking about the blog world where I have become so frustrated at the thoughtless stereotyping of Muslims that I won't visit some sites any more. It isn't so much that Muslims are being stereotyped as terrorists as such. No: it is more subtle. It is a steady drip, drip, drip of negative comments about Muslims and all things Islamic.

The blog I am thinking of, run by a Christian man, posts every once in a while about Muslims. There has never been, during my time of reading anyway, one positive comment or celebratory post. This man is an Islamophobe in the true sense - he is frightened of Muslims and sees them through a lens of that fear and hostility. Some of his statements represent an understandable concern about terrorism but are couched in the sort of terms we last heard in Berlin in 1939 in reference to Jews: there is misinformation and there are comments which are akin to that old blood-liable of an international plot. Muslims are taking over Europe, Sharia law is set to be imposed, teachers can't teach the holocaust for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities and so on.

Muslims are not seen in the same way that other groups are. Islam doesn't have individuals who are good and bad in pretty much the same proportions as other groups. Instead Muslims are an amorphous mass. They are all the same and are to be feared because of the outrageous statements and behaviours of some on the fringes who really do speak for the whole group. A bit like the IRA did for Christians one might assume.

In the past I have always responded. I point out that where I live gives me a pretty accurate understanding of Muslim concerns, hopes and aspirations. I point out that I have good Muslim friends. I challenge the misinformation that passes for informed comment and it all goes quiet. A week or so later along comes another post. More of the same. More of the same fear driven rubbish.

Toujorsdan did a wonderful series of responses on one such occasion where he used statistics most effectively to rubbish the ideas of the conspiracy theorists. He calmly and logically demolished all their points but they wouldn't have it because they already had their prejudices too ingrained. Why let a little thing like factual inaccuracy get in the way of a good bit of steroetyping?

What is the outcome of all this? In the same way that Dr. Tiller was killed, some poor South Asian will be murdered and then, as with the abortion doctor the haters will club together and say that it wasn't their fault for creating a climate of fear which led to hate and, as with Nazi Germany, to scapegoating and demonising and dehumanising and all that went with it then and will go with it again.

Finding that on a Christian's blog leaves a sour taste and it disturbs me more than I can say.

No. I don't visit any more.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Face to Faith

Inter-faith dialogues sound good, but they ultimately fail to make any progress, writes Sunny Hundal

Sunny Hundal The Guardian, Saturday 6 June 2009
Barack Obama's speech in Cairo this week to Muslims across the world was a great piece of political positioning. The American president is good at illustrating that he understands and respects conflicting views, while assuaging the concerns of different sides in a conflict.

Of course it had foreign policy objectives, but it was ultimately a good example of what we call "inter-faith dialogue". The speech was littered with Arabic words, quotes from the Qu'ran and began with the Muslim greeting, as-salam Alaykum. From a Muslim perspective, what was not to like? Perhaps, the action that follows from here.

And this is where most inter-faith dialogue fails. I was recently asked my thoughts about two separate initiatives: one trying to resolve problems between British Sikhs and Muslims (mostly gang violence), and other between British Muslims and Jews (foreign policy).

Over the years I've attended quite a few events hoping to create better relations between the adherents of two or more religions. Most of the time they utterly fail. They end up satisfying the parties involved but rarely lead to resolving wider issues. Why?

First, inter-faith dialogue is rarely tied to real-world issues and flashpoints that increased tension in the past. For British Jews and Muslims, the Israeli invasion of Gaza was the latest flashpoint: with parallel demonstrations in support of Israel and Gaza, and a vitriolic war of words played out over the media. This has an impact because tension between Jewish and Muslim organisations increase and they find it difficult to work together.

Between Hindus and Sikhs the problems are longer-standing and go back to the early 90s when trouble-makers on both sides spread rumours of Sikh and Hindu girls being forcibly converted to Islam, or Muslim women being drugged at university by non-Muslim men. Of course the problem is that the people engaged in inter-faith dialogue rarely sit around the table, bring up these issues and create a strategy to deal with them.

The second problem is that such attempts to smooth things over rarely involve a wide range of opinion. These days, most inter-faith dialogue is an Abrahamic love-in. Get a bishop, rabbi and imam to sit around a table and the world will soon become a better place. After all, Christianity, Judaism and Islam have much in common.

But what about the Hindus and Sikhs? And what do the secularists and atheists have to say? Including a wider range of groups would force this sort of dialogue to go back to asking why there is tension among religions, and between believers and atheists. And it would also force them to concentrate on particular contexts and devise a strategy to deal with that.

It may be an obvious point to make but most tension between religious groups is borne out of events and history rather than ideology itself. So there's actually very little point in getting well-meaning religious people to sit around and discuss what they have in common.

But main reason why inter-faith dialogue doesn't get anywhere is because the loudest voice on each side is unwilling to acknowledge the other side has legitimate concerns, or empathise with them. Addressing that is the first step and Obama did exactly that in his speech.

He talked of issues such as Holocaust-denial, anti-semitism, rights of women in the Middle East, illegal Israeli settlements, the plight of Palestinians and the attacks of 9/11.

If only people here did the same. The first step in dealing with rising tensions among groups of people belonging to different religions would be to persuade authoritative figures to openly recognise the other side has a point. When was the last time we saw that?

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Terror in the name of Jesus

Dr George Tiller's murder underlines there is no common ground with anti-abortion zealots
Sara Paretsky, Monday 1 June 2009

As of 30 May, ­abortion providers in America had experienced 15,124 acts of ­violence. On 31 May, the number rose to 15,125. Dr George Tiller was murdered at church in Wichita, Kansas. His wife, who was singing in the choir, was a witness. Tiller had been shot in 1993. His clinic has often been the target of violence and vandalism as one of only three places in the US where women could get late-term ­abortions, and he refused to turn his back on his patients.

The National Council of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life Committee, Operation Rescue, and other groups opposed to women's reproductive health and privacy are almost all headed by men. In the 36 years since the supreme court decided Roe, followers of these and other groups have performed acts ranging from murder and attempted murder (26), acid attacks (108), bombings (41) and arson (175). Relatives are threatened and support staff attacked.

The head of Operation Rescue issued a statement after Tiller's murder. "He was one of the most evil men on the planet … He deserved … a legal execution." The organisation also compared Tiller to the Nazis.

In Barack Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame – preceded by protests from Roman Catholic bishops because he is pro-choice – the president urged pro-choicers to find common ground with anti-abortion zealots. I do not know how you find common ground with someone who says you deserve to die. For such people, women are not as deserving of rights as the foetuses they may carry. Supreme court Justice Anthony Kennedy made that clear: he ruled that one recent law did not need to provide an exception to protect the health of the pregnant woman. This law also allows the partners or parents of a woman who terminates a pregnancy to sue the doctor for emotional damage to themselves. It says, in essence, that a pregnant woman is the property of her parents or male partner.

The 14th amendment of the US constitution says "No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." A series of laws passed over the last decade have expanded foetal rights and diminished women's. Among these are providing federal healthcare dollars to foetuses but none to pregnant women; allowing states to block poor women from receiving public aid to terminate pregnancies; preventing insurance plans for women on the federal payroll covering abortion; allowing states to criminalise an adult who drives a teen across a state line to receive an abortion – since the campaign of violence has terrorised abortion providers it is often necessary to travel across several states to find a clinic.

To President Obama's credit, he has overturned the pernicious, so-called global gag rule, which prohibited health clinics overseas from receiving US aid if they even mentioned abortion – a policy causing millions of women to die or suffer devastating health impairment. But Obama has not tried to address the myriad other laws that block access to reproductive care at home.

I hope George Tiller's death begins a real search for common ground. I hope his murder galvanises people into thinking that women deserve equal protection under the law as that accorded to their unborn children. This didn't happen in the wake of Dr David Gunn's murder in Pensacola, nor Dr Barnett Slepian's murder in Buffalo. It didn't happen when protesters at a Cleveland clinic poured petrol on a nurse and set fire to her. It is time we stopped pandering to terrorists just because they claim to be speaking in the name of Jesus. I'm not optimistic, but change in this respect is way overdue in America.

Monday, June 1, 2009


There's one lad I work with who's destined to bring chaos and confusion to a venue. The drunken muppets walking through exit only signs. Bar-staff muppets pressing the panic alarm when they run out of ice. The noisy dark understaffed sweaty, smoke filled pit of a nightclub is bad enough as it is. Getting enough people to the right location at the right time is hard enough.
When you've gotten a walking catastrophe working with you it only gets more difficult. When he's not sailing down a flight of stairs with half an armful of punter helping him to loose the battle with gravity, he's called the fight in the wrong room and wonders why we're all running away from him only to charge back on mass thirty seconds later. This benny-hill like effort does not go unnoticed and by the time we've cleared up the inevitably bigger mess than we should have if we'd have gotten there earlier.
The lad isn't comically stupid, impaired in any significant way or otherwise handicapped. He's just prone to disaster. He'll be the one who's shirt gets ripped, bloodied or vomit covered while everyone else just gets their boots thrown up on. He's the one who catches the punch with his face when it was aimed by a drunken fool at the bloke next to him's nuts. He'll be helping the 25 stone drunken hen night girl outside when she blacks out and pins him against the front desk with her bulk. He means no malice and provides an awful lot of humour for the rest of us as we hear his trousers rip as he bends to pick up a coin or as he slides his way out from under the large lady and gets his radio piece tangled around her bra strap and end up looking like a late snack on a leash.

Some people just have no sense of humour!!

Couldn't have happened to a more deserving case.