Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Year 8

I don't have a lot to do with the younger kids in school. I just have this one Year 8 class once a fortnight. They crease me up and I get a glimpse of what it must be like to teach in primary education.

They are at the bottom end of the mixed ability spectrum and if they are all in school - rare - there are about fifteen of them.

Today we started the life of Gautama the Buddha. It was a bit like carpet-time: I read them the story and then they had to sequence slips of card with the story on in the right order. The mistake I made was in giving all the pairs green card rather than a different colour per pair.

"Tim, why have you got 27 slips? You should have 10."

"Casey: don't put them in your ear, O.K? ...... No, it's not nice."

We then set out to draw the story in eight pictures.

"Right Ashton, too much noise from you. I'm putting the three minute timer on for your silence. We need respite and I don't want to go home having killed another pupil."

"Sir, can I draw sponge-Bob Square-Pants?"

"No. Why?"

"You said Gautama met a Holy man."

"No...still not getting it."

"Well, Sponge-Bob is full of holes."

"O God."

"Ashton: well done. A whole three minutes. Why didn't you do any work during that time? What....? What do you mean you can't multi-task? No. Being quiet and not working is not multi-tasking."

"Jonny: why have you drawn Shrek?"

"I haven't. You said Gautama met a sick man. I've drawn him green because he was sick."

"Sir, Sir, I didn't understand that bit. I've drawn someone being sick."

"Oh yes. So you have Zoe."

"I have too. I used that lady off Little Britain as my model."

"Yes, O.K. Perhaps when I said sick I should have said ill."

"Vikki why have you drawn a stick man?"

"It says so on the board."

"Read it to me."

"Gautama met a stick man."

"And again."

"Gautama met a sick man. Oh."

"Got it."

A year 11 boy called Dean arrives in my doorway in disgrace from another colleague.

"Got some work to do? Good. Sit there and get on with it."

"Jessica: Why have you drawn Gautama as pregnant in every picture? No don't tell me. Let me guess. Because you can only draw stick men and then you got to the bit where he wasted away from fasting and you couldn't tell the difference between that picture and the others so you put a belly on him. Am I right? Thought so."

"Sam: Why is that lady carrying a skateboard? Oh...Right. That's the baby Gautama. O.K."

"Tim. Don't do that."

"Sir: this crayon box has got blood on it."

"Ah, Jess, you found me out. I used that tupperware box to kill the last pupil who got on my nerves."


"No. I think you'll find it's ink."

"No Dean. You can't come back next lesson. I don't care if it's more fun in here. Turn round Casey. He's too old for you."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Slow Working

I've had a very slow weekend. One lass with an ID that really wasn't hers. One lass lost her handbag and then we found it again. One lad rejected for being far too stoned. One lass emptying her stomach contents on the front step and again just along the street. Smelly but tedious.
I tend not to grumble too much when its non stop, when its non start I'm just gonna stay a grumbling grumpy man with too much time to dwell upon the unachieved, the unattempted and the unattainable.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Soul Survivor

Hi! It's Claire yet again! In this invasion of my Dad's blog I'm gonna be talking about my time at Soul Survivor, which is a 5 day camping experience attended by around 10 thousand teenagers and youth leaders (so it could be a long blog!). There are 3 separate weeks held a year in various locations (so that as many teenagers and churches can attend as possible). I went on Week B, which was held at Bath and West Somerset Showground. The main services were held in the 'Big Top', a MASSIVE circus like tent. It was HUGE! There is a basic schedule that stays the same throughout the 5 days:
9:30 Various seminars
10:30 The morning service (I'm not sure when it officially ends 'cos it always runs over)
2:30 Various seminars
4:00 Various seminars
5:45 Evening service
10:45 All the cafe's and discos open
And 12:30 is around the time you gotta get heading back to your camps

I went to 6 seminars in the 4 days that they were being run. The first was run by Tre Shepard called 'Engaging with Culture'. His seminar was about how we can influence our culture (or society might have been a better word) rather than reacting to it. If you ever get the chance to hear Tre Shepard speak, please do! He was the funniest speaker and really got his point across. He spoke about being different and learnign to trust God and offer every decision we make to him.
On the same day I went to a seminar by Rachel Gardner called Soul Sista: Being Good. It was all about relationships and sex, which is a definately a big thing for teenage girls. It was a very girly seminar! But at the end, we were invited to the front for forgivness for mistakes that we had made (relating to sex and relationships) which was very emotional.

To cut down on the amount I'm writing (and trying to remember, which is hard 'cos Soul Survivor was over a month ago!) I'll tell you about the last seminar I went to. It was by Patrick Regan and was called 'How to See in the Dark'. It was about learning to love people that society tells us are failures and scroungers. He works for an organisation called XLP who work in some of Londons roughest areas with teenagers, focusing expecially on gang members and leaders. Because some of these gangs are very terratorial they can't have a fixed meeting place for these teenagers, so they use a double decker bus which they park in the terratories. They create a safe place for people to just hang out without the fear of being shot at or knifed. They aim to change the attitudes and behaviours of teenagers and raise their self esteem and self worth. They are a Christian based organisation, but rarely ever mention God to the teenagers, as the mention of religion can be a turn off for most teenagers (I should know, I got to a church school and hardly anyone is religious).
I learnt alot from that seminar and it helped me see 'society's failures' differently. I'll go on to mention All Hallows Community Cafe and their work later.

The evening services were very emotional too. Every evening the leaders, Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft invited the Holy Spirit to touch everyones lives. This nightly resulted in people laughing, crying, screaming, shaking and collapsing. The screams especially were very unnerving. The sermons were given by a different people every night, ranging from talks on talking to God about life changing choices, to learning to love everyone. The latter was a very emotional sermon, given by a man called Antony Watts from New Zealand. He told us about him friend who came to live with him and his family, a drug addict who turned his life around. In his next sermon he told us about how his friend died. He disappeared one night when Antz was away and went looking for a fix. He got lost and spent his last hours feeling deserted by Antz, feeling lost and ashamed in himself. It took Antz a long time to forgive himself for his friends death.


I loved my time at Soul Survivor, talking to God and learning about him and what he can do in my life. The second best thing about Soul Survivor was spending time in my camp. I went with around 23 teenagers from my church and we called ourselves Camp George :D. I loved the laid back feeling we had. The guys played Ultimate Frisbee and tried (and failed) to teach me and some of the other girls! We played cards, dares, pass the parcel and sang loudly into the night. The leaders were amazing too! We managed to create some Soul Survivor Legends, stories that cause hysterics everytime they're mentioned (they included the insect spray drugs and the shower incident!).


The last service was amazing! These two videos should show you why (sorry, they're abit bad quality):

None were filmed by me, so any random teenagers features aren't people I know!

If you're reading this, Well Done! You made it through all my ramblings! Thank you for reading :) x


Corinne and Annie

Friday, September 25, 2009

So I did as the lady suggested.......

Yesterday was Jonny and Karl day again.

You may remember that one of our senior staff suggested that I should try to be nice to them and make them welcome in my lessons. I greeted them in the doorway as they arrived (late) with great warmth and a beatific smile (although every instinct in my body was shouting "Kill!".)

"Morning Guys. Good to see you."

"Is he taking the piss?"

"Now then Karl," (My big smile is now giving me a headache.) "I've arranged for you to work in the ACCESS unit today on that piece of English coursework you were so concerned about but accidently left in here last lesson."

"Fuck that."

"Nevertheless, if you'd like to take yourself off the Access...No Jonny , not you. You're staying here. Sorry? I didn't quite catch that....? Nothing? Are you sure? O.K."

Jonny slummocked about for a bit and then flopped on to a chair and kicked the desk.

"Careful Jonny. I don't want you to hurt yourself."

Jonny continued in his usual way, turning round and taking the pen of the girl on the row behind and sticking it up his nose.

"Jonny, please don't do that. Turn round and start the work I've set you."


"...and I still need you to get on with your work. Thank you." My demeanour began to take on the nature of Mary Poppins.

Jonny's phone then went off and he got up to leave the room to take the call.

There was stunned silence in the room and then uproar from the others.

"I'm really sorry Jonny but that means that I have to confiscate your phone and you have to go into departmental exclusion. That will be with Mr. Martin."

"Fuck that. I'm off home."

"Bye now. Have a safe journey."

Than on the way home from choir (Mozart's Requiem) I was forced to do an emergency stop by two men rolling about in the road fighting while another looked on and threw beer at them to encourage them.

I got out. "Get out of the road you idiots before someone runs you over. What's the matter with you?"

I was immediately surrounded by the three of them as other cars slewed all over the road.

"Shut the fuck up and get off the road yourself."

"Oh right, that's logical. I'm in a car on the road and you want me to get off the road. I know. Should I drive on the pavement while you three pedestrains prat about in the road?"

"Shut the fuck up."

Is it me? Am I an idiot magnate?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There's a bug going round - and a rumour

On Tuesday there were 3 members of staff away and 153 students either rang in sick or went home ill. That night the kids' Facebook pages were alive with the message that if 5 more pupils were away the school would shut.

On Wednesday there were 6 staff and 174 students absent or sent home ill. The reception area looked like accident and emergency. On Tuesday I had a very nice Yr 11 class. When I took the register I asked them to tell me how they felt as they answered their names. Of the 29 in the class only 5 said that they were on top form. The rest had sore throats, general lethargy, headaches, aching joints or gastric symptoms. One claimed to feel debilitated. I had the same class again on Wednesday and there were more absent than present. What is odd is that the younger the age group the more are in school but as you move up through the years the attendance declines.

This morning there were 38 phone messages before 8.30.

Not feeling too hot myself, now that I come to think about it....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Back to college

Not only has the new school year started but the academic year for the Yorkshire Ministry Course has begun with their first residential of the year: an induction weekend too for the new starters. I knew it was this weekend and had not given it a great deal of thought until Saturday morning brought me a text from Young Mike. “It’s not the same without you. Missing you. Can you sneak over here for a beer?” I can’t begin to explain how that text cheered me, so I did. I arrived at the police college at 8.30, was recognized by the officer on reception and allowed in and went straight to the bar. It didn’t feel at all odd to be back. I met Revd. Steven, Revd. Tim and Revd. Barbara who were the only ones in the bar (those tutors eh? What are they like?) and chatted happily until the students began to arrive from their prayer groups. I spent two hours with the remnants of my old year group and a very happy time was had by all. It was a really enjoyable social event: I got hugged a lot, I got to tease Mike mercilessly and Barry regaled us with his flow of consciousness joke stream.

So, a vicar’s son was asking his dad: “Why do you kneel down before you give your sermon in church?” The dad replied: “Well I am asking for God’s help.” “So why doesn’t he help you then?” That sounds like a good sermon starter. I must try it sometime.

“A new Pope is consecrated and he surprises his senior Cardinals by demanding time in the Vatican archives to reacquaint himself with some of the church’s oldest doctrines. He demands privacy. Twenty four hours later he has not emerged and, mindful of the instruction to be left alone, the Cardinals reluctantly agree to investigate. They find the Pontiff weeping over an ancient scroll, inconsolable. Eventually they manage to calm him and are able to question what is wrong. “The scroll,” he sobs. “The scroll.” It says celebrate.”

No? I got it and then had to spell it out to some of the others. This is why I have already graduated and they have not. Dr. Bob would have got it, what with him being a fan of the Catholic Channel.

As I drove home I felt unaccountably sad and berated myself for not understanding why. Was I never going to see these folk again? Of course I would. They’re all in Yorkshire and I can pop in to social time at residentials again any time. Was I missing the student experience? No. While I always enjoyed the residentials I have no desire to be back and plan never to write another essay in my entire life. I think I have closure over graduating. So what was it? In the end I concluded that it is because I still have unfinished business with the church over what happens after graduation and a lot of uncertainty about whether it will be resolved.

NB: When I googled "Wakefield Police College" for the photo at the top of this post, the first photo on offer was a picture of Dr. Bob and I in the bar above the caption "Wakefield Police..."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

Jeremiah 11.18-20
Psalm 54
James 3.13-4 and 7-8a
Mark 9.30-37

A couple of good friends from work and I regularly eat together at lunch and on one occasion, as we were sitting down to eat, one of them announced that it was his custom to say a prayer before the meal. Would we mind? Now he knows that I am a Christian so this was no big deal to me but he was concerned that we didn’t feel obliged to join in. We sat with our heads bowed appropriately as he intoned Bismillahi wa 'ala baraka-tillah. “With Allah's name and upon the blessings granted by Allah do we eat.”

Our Sikh friend shuffled uncomfortably at this point but only because he realized that he could not think of an appropriate prayer of blessing the food from his own tradition.

We chat a lot, the three of us, about religion and faith and about the mad things some religious people do. We can laugh at the foibles of each others faiths and our own. What we have never done is to get competitive or start weighing up the merits of the various claims each of our faith positions asserts about the nature of God’s grace and issues of salvation. This I think is the mistake many people make in religious dialogue. You can probably imagine the conversation: “O.K. guys we’ve reached the point where I need to tell you that you’ve both got it wrong. My way is right. You need to know Jesus.” Now I know there are many who would take that line and not just with my Muslim and Sikh friends but with other Christians. The INTERNET is full of examples of one Christian calling another “False Christian” for not assenting to the exact detail of the first one’s religious worldview whether this be on the authority of scripture, the role of women in holy orders, issues of human sexuality, climate change or whatever. I have actually seen written down “You are banned from this blog. You are not a Christian because a true Christian would not accuse another of not being a Christian.” I have been told that I can not possibly understand the truth (that would be the truth as someone else saw it) because of my “sin-darkened mind.” (Ah, that-sin darkened mind of mine. I knew it would catch up with me in the end.)

Actually we all do it to a greater or lesser extent: I remember feeling irrationally annoyed at the Jehovah’s Witness who didn’t have to come into assembly on the off chance the Head of Year might say a prayer. I used to feel superior to the Evangelicals who wouldn’t let their kids read Harry Potter because it encouraged witchcraft and I exchanged knowing smiles with likeminded people when the Anglo Catholic at college decided to start community prayers with a Hail Mary.

Last Easter at the college residential we were studying “Communicating the Gospel”. We visited a Mosque and a Gurdwara (where in the tradition of Sikh hospitality we were very well fed). We attended a Synagogue for the Jewish Passover, Anglican Choral Evensong, Catholic Mass and an Orthodox Easter Morning service.

When my head had stopped hurting and I had processed it all what I realized was that I’d been given glimpses into ways of faith which were different to mine. Competitiveness was pointless and such “who’s the greatest” discussions equally so. On my better days I simply strive to become more like Jesus as I follow the path of Christian discipleship in Obedience to God and in the strength of the Spirit. I regularly fail but, in the context of my own failures, questions of who is better than someone else seem infantile.

How wrong those disciples had got it! What a fundamental and basic mistake! To be demonstrating their individual jealousies and selfish ambitions as they argue about which of them is the greatest, at the same time as Jesus was predicting the true nature of his Messiahship is a breathtaking juxtaposition of ideas. Add to that the hint that because they didn’t much like the message thus far, they were unwilling to ask him more and we begin to see another side to Jesus’ followers.

Jesus had just shared his intuition of the inevitability of his own death and they are bickering about who is the natural successor.

I told you last week that Mark often presents the disciples as dull-witted and slow to catch on. Well here they are at their worst. Their proximity to Jesus doesn’t bring them understanding and the Gospels parade a stream of other characters before them and us who reveal wonderful insights into Jesus’ mission that leave the disciples far behind in their understanding. That is deliberate on Mark’s part. There is a warning here that we should not be modeling our discipleship so much on their example as the examples of the other insightful characters Jesus deals with.

But before we get too self-congratulatory we might want to question to what extent we are guilty of doing the same as the disciples. Who knows? Perhaps it is a necessary stage we each have to go through as disciples before we can truly appreciate the depth of what Jesus is trying to teach us. Perhaps we would all do well to consider the levels of competitiveness we exhibit in the workplace, in our hobbies, in our relationships with “the other” in society, at home even, as we vie for position in these little hierarchies and fail to hear the wider teaching of Jesus. Add to that the times when the message is just a little too threatening or demanding for us to want to take it any further and we may, worryingly, discover that we are not so different to the original twelve.

This should be quite a disturbing passage to all of us if we remember not to distinguish between the disciples of then and today. What exactly does it mean to be “servant” then? In quite what sense do you mean “last”? These are not ideas we naturally associate with our lives. This teaching is really counter-cultural.

We already know from last week’s Gospel that while they understood the concept of Messiahship they did not at all like Jesus’ interpretation of it. He has to repeatedly push home the message of rejection, suffering and death and until they take this on board they will not understand the implications of what follows as a consequence: that God’s love is real and triumphs over death. Let’s be clear: Jesus is battling on two fronts here. Not only is he experiencing resistance from the religious authorities and the civil authorities but he is struggling with his own followers. Time and time again Jesus must re-emphasize the difference between the values of the Kingdom of God and the values of this world, values that include status, position, power and influence. That’s some contrast with the ideas of servanthood and being last.

Once again we have the benefit of hindsight as Jesus, of course, goes on to show them and us what servanthood and putting everyone else first – and that’s everyone in a cosmic sense – really means. Jesus’ choices in this section of the Gospel simultaneously confirm his violent fate and his identity as God incarnate who, through death and resurrection, offers each of us everlasting life. The Disciples would not understand this until Mary Magdalene, a mere woman just to underline the point, spells out to them the reality of the resurrection.

This is the point where the words of the Epistle should doubly rebuke us. James, using the style of traditional Jewish Wisdom literature, exhorts his readers to recognize the "wisdom from above." Such wisdom is "pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy" (James 3:17). On the other hand, "bitter envy and selfish ambition" does not come from above, "but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish". What a shame Jesus’ followers didn’t have access to this wisdom then, but we do and we should learn from their mistakes.

That is easy to say of course. How easy it is for us to lack the self-awareness needed to recognize the personal agendas each of us is motivated by and how difficult, once we do recognize them, to truly put them aside. We are modern day disciples. Are we like the original twelve, too close to the trees to see the wood? Have we built up in our own minds a sense of privilege that gets in the way of our true servanthood? In the same way that the first disciples had to learn from the Centurion and the Syrophoenician woman, foreigners both and thus perceived to be outside the boundaries of God’s grace and not in the privileged position of standing side by side daily with Jesus, maybe I have something to learn about the nature of God and discipleship from Shakir and Jagtar when we have our lunchtime discussions.

Perhaps we all need to analyze ourselves to see whether we too are exhibiting that same flawed disciple reasoning and behaviour and maybe, too, to see who else is around us who has the startling insights that we don’t expect or which we dismiss too easily because of who they come from.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is it just me?

Most of the pupils I teach, in most of the classes, are nice kids: they do their best to cooperate; they behave well and they generally work to a good standard, if not always with great enthusiasm.

In one of my Yr 11 classes (age 15/16) I have two likely lads in Jonny and Karl who are both disaffected and totally lacking in any social graces, let alone any concept of the importance of education.

They don't enjoy Religious Studies.

Karl is also number one on the Yr 11 list of behaviour concerns and already has a restricted timetable, only coming to school on Wednesdays and Thursdays and attending a special college placement for the other three days.

Karl has his R.S lessons on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

As a Buddhist might opine: "You must have done something very bad in a previous life to have these two on your timetable."

Over the last two years I have battled with these two, invoking all the tools learnt in my 27 year experience as a teacher and using all the strategies and sanctions available to me in the school's (rather limited) repertoire.

This week a support assistant was deployed in my class and she took Jonny and Karl into another classroom to do some concentrated one to one work with them, freeing me up to work with the other 22. The first half hour was a dream and then these two arrived back in the room without their support assistant who was taking her lunch. (Who thought up that creative piece of timetabling?)

They burst into the class, already invoved some sort of personal contact sport, and I lost track of the number of "Fucks" and "Cunts" that I heard. It seems that while they were in the neighbouring classroom they had managed to be offensive to the teacher who normally teaches in there and he had, understandably, sent them back to me when their support assistant went to lunch.

The next half hour was a nightmare, both for me and the rest of the class, punctuated by whining about having to do the work, offensive comments about other pupils, dreadful language and completely off-the-topic, loud and totally inappropriate conversations. My interventions were met with argument, defiance and self justification: it is my fault for "picking on" them.

Imagine my surprise when a senior member of staff walked into the class looking for another pupil. I took the opportunity to outline the situation and she questioned them about their behaviour. They were argumentative, self justifying and defiant to her.

This pleased me, purely on the basis that Senior Mangament are perceived not to inhabit the real world of the classroom teacher and this regular experience of mine was now hers.

I reasoned that into my second year of this behaviour from these two I had reached the end of the road. I filled in the appropriate negative information slip and stated that I would not accept Karl, as the catayist, back into the class.

Later in the day my colleague collared me on the corridor. She had called both boys to her office and discussed the situation with them. Their feedback on my lessons (she asked for their feedback on my lessons?) was that I "start on them" as soon as they come through the door and I do not make them feel "welcome or valued." The answer, she felt, was that I should be more friendly to them. I should go out of my way to be nice to them.

Problem solved then.

Or as my colleague William said "F****** Hell."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The madness at the heart of the climate change debate: missing the point.

There are over 20,000,000 internet articles supporting the science of climate change. There are over 25,000,000 internet sites denying the science of climate change (2009 figures). In the United States, white Evangelical Protestants are the least likely to accept the science of climate change. White Evangelical Protestants also make up a significant proportion of the Republican Party’s demographic. I should hardly be surprised by what I read on some American sites, but I am. Constantly.

Religious groups should surely use their influence to motivate believers on green issues to combat climate change. The theology of Stewardship seems to have got lost along the way here and in that context we need to live our lives differently. Climate change seems to be a symptom of a deeper problem of society’s increased distance from the environment in all its fragility. The Buddhists have a term, silathaam, which roughly translated means the balance or harmony between the natural world and human activity and surely we all recognise that such harmony and balance has long been lost. Faiths take a long time to change but once they do they have a huge impact on the attitudes and behaviours of their followers. We are all waiting for a more overt lead from our faith communities.

Let’s hope the Religious Right gets on board with this. It seems to me that accepting the science of climate change and running the risk of getting it wrong is a better option than denying it and running the risk of getting that wrong. Instead, what we seem to get is a reliance on some really tendentious web-sites and fringe scientists. But then I would say that because according to the climate change deniers the whole climate change thing is trumped up and unscientific. When Kofi Annan says that 300,000 people a year die as a direct result of global warming it is a "bare-faced lie". The green agenda is an “insane agenda” when compared to the needs of (American) industry and competitiveness - and crime fighting.

It is truly depressing. A scientist writes a study that puts one side of the climate change debate in a compelling way. That re-enforces the viewpoint of those who are already in that camp and disturbs those in the other camp. Maybe a few folk change positions.

A month or so later another scientist writes a study that puts the other side of the climate change debate equally compellingly. That re-enforces the viewpoint of those who are already in that camp and disturbs those in the other camp. Maybe a few folk change positions.

Google shows just how well matched in number and content the articles from newspapers and journals are even if we discard the ramblings and rantings of the uninformed.

Of course, what we generally aren’t able to do is discern the funding bodies and therefore the political bias of the research papers and findings or know to what extent what appears to be a compelling paper is being economical with the truth, inflating the significance of its findings or being downright disingenuous. What we do not generally know, because we aren’t scientists is how credible, academic and well researched any of the statements are but we often seize on them nevertheless. What we also don’t know is the credentials of those who write. I know a blogger who regularly flaunts lists of “eminent” scientists who are arguing against the science of climate change. I ought to be impressed I assume: about as impressed as I ought to be by the flaunting of lists of “eminent” Christian writers (I won’t call them theologians) who are regularly paraded before me in an attempt to assert the credibility of some religious point or other that I have at some stage had the temerity to argue against.

Most of us aren’t scientists: what are we to do?

The Guardian writer, George Monbiot, comments: HERE“Most prominent climate change deniers who aren’t employed solely by the fossil fuel industry have a similar profile: men whose professional careers are about to end or have already ended. Attacking climate change looks like a guaranteed formula for achieving the public recognition they have either lost or never posessed. Such people will keep emerging so long as the media are credulous enough to take them seriously.”

Now I have to say this resonates with me. The media has a responsibility to be … well, responsible and it isn’t very good at it. In the U.S it especially isn’t very good at it, particularly when organisations such as Fox News shed all pretence at objectivity and feed a compliant audience with an editorial stance that is supposed to pass as news fact but is, in effect, akin to propaganda.

Monbiot goes on to argue: “Creationists and climate change deniers have this in common: they don’t answer their critics. They make what they say are difinitive refutations of the science. When these refutations are shown to be nonsense, they do not seek to defend them. They simply switch to another line of attack. They never retract, never apologise, never explain, just raise the volume, keep moving and hope that people won’t notice the trail of broken claims in their wake.” (Come down off the fence George and tell us what you really think.) He relates the situation where he had been challenged by the Australian geologist Prof. Ian Plimer to a public debate as a result of his criticisms of Plimer’s book. He had discribed the book, “Heaven and Earth”, which rubbishes climate change and which has become akin to the climate change denier’s Bible, as containing “page after page of schoolboy errors and pseudoscientific gobble-degook.” As the professor of astrophysics Michael Ashley wrote: “It is not merely atmospheric scientists that would have to be wrong for Plimer to be right. It would require a rewriting of of biology, geology, physics, oceanography, astronomy and statistics.”

Monbiot agreed to take part in the debate on condition that Plimer would respond in clear specifics to a list of 11 questions Monbiot would submit. There have been no answers, so there has been no debate.

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

Then Jonathan Freedland, also writing in the Guardian, joined the fray:
HERE “Now that early confidence (in Obama) is fading. Those same diplomats and negotiators (who had heaved a sigh of relief on his election) have seen the president struggle to make what, to outsiders, look like pretty reasonable changes to US healthcare. They have seen a summer campaign demonise him as an amalgam of Stalin, Hitler and Big Brother, bent on sending America’s frail grannies to their deaths in the name of a new socialism. If that’s the response he gets when he gets when he suggests Americans should be covered even when they change jobs or get sick, imagine the monstering coming his way if he tells his compatriots they have to start cutting back on the 19 tonnes of CO2 each one of them emits each year (more than twice the amount belched out by the average Brit.)” Freedland quotes one unnamed European diplomat as dispairing at the “Republican headbangers who can not resist a chance to damage Obama, believe global warming is based on junk science and regard action on climate change as ungodly because it will delay the second coming.”

My contention is that, given the above, we are approaching this from the wrong direction. Most of us are not wearing our environmental heads but our political heads. In general how many Democrats in the U.S. support Gore and how many Republicans dismiss him?

From this side of the Atlantic the answer is stark and obvious but I wonder if some Americans can’t see the truth of this wood for the trees. How much of what we believe about environmental degradation is informed by our political allegences? We traditionally vote for one party and that party tells us such and such about global warming so that is what we believe about global warming.

That really isn’t good enough. The issue demands more engagement and as Christians we have an additional perspective to promote.

As we are given responsibility to be good stewards of the planet – one of the earliest instunctions recorded in the Bible, surely – is it good enough to play politics with this issue?

The planet is warming or it is going through a natural cycle. EITHER WAY we have a responsibility to do something about our impact on the planet. This is our only home and it is fragile and finely balanced. Are we being good stewards if we argue that we need to do nothing and can selfishly carry on in the ways which we know have caused damage and degredation?

Am I being a good steward of the planet if I argue that a government measure which will significantly improve air quality is going to hit me in the pocket as a tax payer? Am I being a good steward of the planet if I complain that big government is being too interventionist while accepting that smaller local initiatives will be less effective? Am I being a good steward of the planet if I argue that alleged job losses are a good enough reason not to act to improve the quality of life for people in developing countries who are counting the cost of the mess that the developed world has made? Am I being a good steward of the planet if I deny that what we do has little or no impact on this planet?

Is there global warming? I think so and others don’t. But I think we should act as if there is. As I have said here before it is a little like Pascal’s wager on whether or not God exists: you might as well bet that he does because if you are wrong you have lost nothing and if you are right you have gained all. To me that is the point with global warming and that is the point many of us are missing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

smelly buggers

After reading this from an amusing cabbie I can only sympathise. I get to play with a lot of sweaty hot punters and it is sometimes horrific. A little niff every now and then is expected but some folk could populate an entire nightclub with the stench demons lingering about their bodies. Being stuck in a closed cab with them is not something I fancy at all.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Please sir, can I come in?

Every other night we get a punter coming back tail between legs asking if they can come in yet. Usually after they've been kicked out the night or week previously. They ask if they are barred and what can they do to get let back in? If they turn up soberish, if they talk to us and don't try to sneak in, if they admit they were at fault, all these things help. If they think they can argue, swear and threaten us into letting them in they may find even a small infringement means a long time not getting in.
The kind of things that get help folks get back in is if they walked out without difficulty the previous time and didn't linger at front door. If what they were doing was out of character in terms of their drunkenness, a rare domestic or getting caught up in the side of a scuffle.
All these things will help a customer get back in earlier.
Longer periods out of the towns 'best' club get allocated to habitual fools. Those too drunk, falling asleep, having domestics time and again.
If the punter was very aggressive with the doorsatff we'll remember their face for a very long time. Similarly if they've stolen or damaged something or threatened or assaulted one of the other staff. If its smacking another punter then we'll see if they walk off and don't be dick. Some folks are pushed into a bad situation and welcome the doorstaff hauling them out. We're not too harsh unless they're going on and not coming off the boil when the situation is over. Staying on the boil is usually a sign of problems best left outside a crowded nightclub for a few years.
When a punter takes the chance to talk to the manager and explain himself he's usually going to get a shorter barring. That's not because the manager is soft, it's because he doesn't have to deal with them when they're a dick again.
What you really don't want to do is stagger down the street in a worse state than when you were kicked out, get talking to the manager who's outside, get into an argument with him and headbutt him in the face. This leads to getting folded up and detained 'til the police turn up, the cctv leads you to a quick caution and a rather obvious life ban. Turning up meek and sober next week is not going to help on that one.

Sermon: "But you - who do you say that I am?"

Isaiah 50.4-9
Psalm 116.1-9
James 3.1-12
Mark 8.27-38

So, our Gospel today begins with Jesus’ question to his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” and as I was reading it struck me how like being in the classroom today this ancient conversation was: I often ask questions of my pupils and get this scatter-gun approach to answering. “I’ll just say the first random selection of things that come into my head and hope that I strike lucky with one of them.” And this is what the disciples do here: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets come in close and fairly desperate succession. (One of the interesting things about Mark is that he never misses an opportunity to paint the disciples as slow-witted.)

“Oh for goodness sake you guys get a grip.”…. isn’t what Jesus responds. (Maybe too much about my classroom management style there.)

No. Instead he poses another question: “Who do you say that I am?” Not satisfied with John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and various other prophets, Jesus prompts them further. Now they know that Jesus is referring to himself and you can’t help but wonder at this point how foolish the disciple who offered “John the Baptist” as an initial answer is now feeling. Perhaps there is some friendly teasing at this point as they laugh at the daft answers they came up with …… but out of the midst of the laughter and banter Simon-Peter’s voice is heard clear and confident: “You are the Messiah.” (Pause) We can imagine at this point the hush descending on the group as the others realise the implication of what Simon-Peter has said and begin to consider it themselves.

Perhaps there is a similar mental back-tracking taking place here as we also realise the implication of both the question and Simon Peter’s response: after all, every time this passage is read we’re forced to consider the question ourselves as if it had just been asked of us. So, yes, in a way Jesus is still asking the question of you and I today.

If Peter was indeed the first to have fully understood the nature of the man he had been travelling with and sleeping cheek by jowl with, what had he thought before? How had the others understood this Jesus who had called them from their ordinary routines to this life on the road as religious itinerants? Which of the disciples’ answers best represents ours? Are we at that stage of spiritual awareness where we are still seeing Jesus as a “good man”? A prophet, perhaps? Or a preacher? A religious hothead cut down before his time?

Or like Simon Peter, have we recognised something beyond that? Have we had that moment of dawning realisation where we recognise that Jesus is …. not was …. is indeed the Messiah?

Now I think I know most of you here well enough to be confident that your answer, albeit two thousand years after the question was posed, would be the same as Peter’s. I think I would be surprised if anyone here came up with something other than Peter’s “You are the Messiah.”

So, there you go then: the shortest sermon on record at St. Small's. Thank you very much, you’ve been a wonderful congregation. I’ll see you next week.

Well, if only it were that simple.

It isn’t though, is it?

How we answer that question has a lot to do with whether we see a dead Jesus or a live Jesus in worship. The answer is of the utmost significance. It goes to the heart of our relationship with God; it goes to the heart of our understanding of ourselves; it goes to the heart of how we lead our lives; to the heart of the relationships we have amongst ourselves and to the heart of the very motives which drive our lives and our decisions.

Do you see Jesus? Not just the form of His crucified body on the crucifix but the Risen Lord with the marks of the nails in His hands and feet and side standing before you alive today as the Lord of your death and life?

Of course we can assent to the intellectual proposition that Jesus is Messiah without it impacting in the slightest on our lives. In many ways this is what the role of the church is, to bring people into a living relationship with that same Jesus, not as an abstract intellectual concept but in terms of discipleship and commitment.

Maybe we need to backtrack.

What does the term Messiah mean to you? Anybody?

The dictionary definitions variously offer us: “The promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people.” “God’s anointed one.” “God’s chosen one” and then helpfully offer the rider “Jesus Christ is regarded by Christians as fulfilling this promise.”
With the benefit of hindsight we know that at least one of the disciples misunderstood the idea of Messiahship when applied to Jesus: perhaps at this stage more of them did. How easy to get carried away by the image of the “expected deliverer of the Jewish people” and think of violence and insurrection and a political overthrowing of the Roman occupation.

So maybe Messiah isn’t a particularly helpful image for us …. but it wasn’t used for us. Although Mark wasn’t particularly written for a Jewish audience, many of his readers would have been Jewish, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he uses such a loaded term in his attempts to bring more Jews into the ark of the church.

I don’t know where Judas had gone at this point, or whether he simply wasn’t listening, but Jesus makes it very clear that his Messiahship would not fit the common expectation. Quite the opposite: Jesus would “undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly” even though Peter, who also clearly hadn’t been listening, then blots his copy book by arguing with Jesus.

You see, Judas and Peter – and probably most of the others - wanted the traditional Messiah; the Messiah who would lead them to military victory against the Romans and establish an independent Theocratic Israel. To them Jesus needed to be so much more than a mere prophet.

From top to bottom of the class in one easy step.

Interestingly, Matthew’s version of the story has Peter responding to Jesus with “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God” which I think may make more sense to us.

“The son of the Living God.”

What are we going to do with this Jesus then?

Interestingly, to us in a denomination which uses the word Evangelical as part of its title, we see that Jesus cautions the disciples not to tell anyone. That injunction does not apply to us. Whatever reason Jesus had for demanding silence from the disciples – and the theme of Messianic secrecy continues throughout Mark – he does not require it of us. Quite the opposite as we witness in word and deed.

What he does require though, is an understanding of the cost of our discipleship.

Is this Jesus then as disappointing to us as he seemed at that moment to the disciples?

He shouldn’t be, of course, because unlike the disciples we have the benefit of hindsight: we know what they didn’t. But is there somehow something that we feel is missing in the path of discipleship that Jesus offers us?

I speculate that if there is, it is the sense that we are missing something. What does Jesus go on to tell Peter and the others? He tells them that the road to discipleship is hard. He spells it out to them as such: “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

That doesn’t reflect my pilgrimage of discipleship thus far and if I’m honest I’d very much like it to stay that way.

Maybe it reflects yours, but I’m guessing probably not.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it…”

It’s a bleak picture. Who wants suffering?

Yes it was told in a far away place in another time; a troubled and uncertain time to be precise and yes, we don’t face the same problems and anxieties, but this is a call to stand up and be counted. It is a call to show the world, who may not always appreciate the honesty, that we stand with Jesus and that his values are our values.

When I was on my parish placement in Tallinn last summer, I arrived the day before Russia invaded Georgia. The shock waves reverberated around the former Soviet states, particularly the Baltic States. What was I to do? What could I do? Was it any of my business? Was it in any way my problem?

I decided it was and I joined a pro-Georgian rally in the Old Town Square which then moved to outside the Russian Embassy. I could have sat in a cafĂ© but I felt the need to stand up and be counted and to show that his values are my values even though those rallies became increasingly volatile and even though my presence would not have been missed at all. But before I set out I wondered to myself “How many others this afternoon are mulling it over and concluding that their absence wouldn’t be noticed? If we all think like that and act accordingly…….”

I mention that particular example deliberately today because there is a situation brewing here in Leeds that needs concerted action: on 31st October the self-styled English Defence League is intending to come to Leeds for an Islamophobic March of Hate. A similar march in Birmingham last weekend ended in rampant violence and untold pain and conflict with running battles in the street sending terrified shoppers running for cover.

Do we share the values of the haters or do we share the values of Jesus?

Don’t worry. I’m not going to suggest that we go into the city centre and join in the fray. Quite the opposite. We should probably* stay well clear but we can stop this march like a similar march in Luton was stopped by the intervention of the Home Secretary following a public outcry, by contacting the city council and the West Yorkshire Police and saying “Not In My Name.” See me at Coffee and I will give you the details. HERE

The Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke’s statement "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Is from the same stable as “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” So is Pastor Niemoller’s equally famous "First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me."

In today’s passage Jesus makes it quite clear that God is concerned about our priorities, and God cares more that we share and express his values than he does about our comfortable lives.

That we share and express those values when we have the opportunity – and particularly when to do so is hard – is an indication that Like Peter, we can answer Jesus' question “But you: who do you say that I am?” with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

* If they come, I'll be there.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Moving on

I've been doing this job for a while. From my student days in 1999 to date. I've had 5 different licenses to do exactly the same job. I've worked on so many premises I can only remember the names of the good ones and the truly terrible ones.
I can only think of a few venues that have kept the original name and none that have kept the original licensee or manager. There are a few doorstaff and barstaff who've been doing this as long as I have, I know them from drinking with them, working with them or throwing them out.
Every now and then I encounter a friend from the early days. They may have moved onto other things, settled down with a wife and kids, gotten a real day job.
If I see them socially we catch up and chat shit about old times until we run out of shit we're both interested in and realise that was the reason we didn't stay friends.
If I see these folks while I'm at work they usually look sheepish and nod a hello but don't hang around for a catch up. To be fair I usually do the same, I say hi and wait for the penny to drop but I'm not expecting much more, I'm there working and usually have my head in a very different place to them. I don't but they think I've gone nowhere and am likely going nowhere. This doesn't bother me, I've made my choices and learnt my lessons, I know my limits and where I thrive.
Am I quitting the door? Not just yet.
Am I moving on to different things on the side as well? I always have been, I always will.
Will I write about them? Not just yet.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Found out again

Following on from the last post:

"....so, if you lie about farting in bed, why should I believe you about the resurrection?"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Found out

As my wife asked me: "What's the point of knowing about the atonement if you can't answer any questions about insect bites?"

One feels she may have a point.

Any suggestions welcome.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sunday Sermon: The Syrophoenician woman.

Isaiah 35.4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2.1-10 and 14-17
Mark 7.24-37

This morning is one of those mornings when the readings really seem to come together and express a powerful message. The readings focus on what the religious professionals might call the eschatological: the future times or indeed the end times. “This is how it will be when the Kingdom of God is realised on earth” is the message but the key thing is that this future fulfilment of God’s Kingdom isn’t something that will happen to us in a passive sense: we don’t sit back and then wake up one morning and there it is.

There is a wonderful WW2 poster which has re-emerged recently. It was kept back by the government to be used in the event of a successful German invasion.

“Keep Calm and Carry on.”

I can’t decide whether that’s good advice for ushering in the kingdom of God or not.

I think it depends what you are currently doing and I think James gives us the clue.

Both Isaiah and Mark allude to the end times as being times of healing, wholeness and fulfilment and then along comes James and illustrates how all that can be mere head-knowledge if we aren’t careful, and he does this by posing the absolutely credible scenario of a congregation being impressed by the new people in church because of their fashionable clothes and general air of success. “These are people of substance” they thought. “We like these sort of people in church.” while at the same time, and presumably without really appreciating the irony, ignoring the other new, but much more shabbily dressed, person in the congregation. Assumptions were made about their relative spirituality on the basis of their appearance.

Or as Karen from Will and Grace put it so succinctly as she abandoned Will in mid sentence “Oh look, more interesting people.”

James is right. That won’t usher in God’s Kingdom.

“Keep calm and carry on” might work as a strategy, on the other hand, if we are consistently living lives of obedient discipleship. The reign of God comes closer incrementally, in tiny stages as each one of us decides to model more the pattern and example of Jesus. If we are doing that, “Keep calm and carry on” works just fine.

And this is where the Psalmist makes his contribution as he points us in the right direction. God’s kingdom will come when the oppressed receive justice and the hungry are fed, when the widows are protected and strangers are respected, and when the downtrodden are lifted up.

Now all that sounds rather lovely doesn’t it? But where to begin? The aspiration is there but beyond that this is no detailed instruction manual. So, back to the Gospel to see how Jesus accomplished things as we see him at work on what we might assume is a typical day for the Son of Man dealing with those very same downtrodden. First a foreign woman, then a deaf man approach him for healing, and we need to recognise that there are no coincidences in the gospel stories. That the woman was foreign and that the man was deaf are deliberately placed details because they reveal something deeper in the story than simple divine healing.

The deaf man is easy theologically. He was a Jew. He was a man. There was no problem in his approaching Jesus. It is the deafness which is the real issue here and generations of commentators have used the analogy of spiritual deafness, deafness to the message of salvation that Jesus brings. It is this that needs curing and the story becomes timeless because we all suffer from spiritual deafness which needs the healing touch of Jesus.

It is the Syrophoenician woman who is the theological conundrum in this story and what happens to her is so much more significant than we might assume on a first reading.

As Lutherans we know a lot about God’s grace: we know that it is through that grace that we are saved but what we may be less clear about is whether there are limits to that grace and that is a question that echoes through time and through Scripture itself.

There was always an awareness that God’s grace could reach far and wide. Psalm 67, for instance, is clear that God can be identified by the way he relates to “the nations of the earth.” The Psalmist says, “May God be merciful to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”

Though the Gospels stress that the primary mission of Jesus was to the “house of Israel,” in today’s Gospel a non-Jewish supplicant draws him to a wider vision. This supplicant, as the pronoun makes clear, is a woman – one who is not to speak to a man in public. Not only does she approach Jesus, though, she makes a bit of a public scene around him.

This story of courageous faith and boundary-crossing challenges the church today and is most certainly about ushering in the kingdom of God and the part we play in that.

The woman is a foreigner to the kingdom of God, an intrusion into the tidy boundaries with which the disciples were comfortable and within which Jesus focuses his basic arena of activity. In Matthew’s version of the event this woman comes alone to Jesus, crying, “Have pity (“mercy”) on me Lord, Son of David.” a term which would hardly have meant much to anyone other than the Jews. Yet she has such an address on her lips from the beginning suggesting a degree of knowledge and understanding of Jesus that he and the Disciples should have taken more notice of from the outset. In addition we see her bowing down before Jesus. Matthew is very clear about this: it is worship and this is something even the disciples have yet to do.

Since illness was thought to arise from demonic attack, she begs release and healing for her daughter. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” In no other miracle story has a petitioner been treated so harshly. He claims to have a clear goal, a fixation – an all-consuming passion, in fact – on where he is to direct his attention and his energies and that is on the children – the children of Israel that is. The woman is not in that vision, for she is a foreigner, a dog.

But the woman seizes on this immediately and she will not let the opportunity pass by. Rather than the rebuff it was surely meant to be his words provide a new opportunity for her to press her case. We need to recognise now that her actions would have been breathtaking at that time, indeed quite scandalous: that she should be so bold, so brave and so challenging to press her case with such force. She has been reduced to desperation, to be sure, but she will not give up now. She hangs on for all she is worth.

The narrative changes now: this woman, disadvantaged, an outsider because she is a Gentile and a woman who is alone in public, challenges this rebuff by being lippy! She started with the plea, she was begging as she knelt before him in worship and supplication: “Lord, help me. You are my only hope. You can’t turn me down, for you are the only One to whom I can look.” This is what we can read into Mark’s typically terse writing. Now she has moved on: “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

You can almost imagine the frisson of shock rippling through the crowd. But after a pause that must have seemed like a lifetime to the crowd, in a startling turn of events, Jesus replies: “For saying that, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” Her daughter is healed at that moment. He who has fed five thousand from Israel only a short time before and who will feed another four thousand only a short time later grants to this woman the “crumbs that fall from the children’s table.” Do not the feeding of the five and four thousand serve as a great pair of bookends around this story? He who feeds Israel, to whom he is sent, has given an “appetizer,” as it were, to a Gentile woman in the “crumbs from the children’s table.”

She comes with no appeal for justice, no claim based on her rights or merit: only a plea for mercy, an undeserved help. She has nothing to bring with which to barter for her daughter’s wellbeing. She simply brings the faith and confidence that in Jesus alone she finds hope for herself and her daughter. In this way she broke through the barriers that could have hindered her. In this way she signalled the way to the future as Gentiles flooded into the church, being carried on waves of faith that in Jesus salvation had come.

Two interpretations have accompanied this narrative through history. Building on the first reading, which foresees that the Gentiles will come to Israel’s God to form a house of prayer for all nations, this foreign woman is a symbol of those nations that will hear the message of the Gospel. The courageous faith of the woman is a second major theme. But neither of these captures the shock and surprise of the exchange between the woman and Jesus. The woman’s brash courage actually seems to convert Jesus and develop his understanding of his mission. In Mark’s Gospel we have so far seen a Jesus who has limited his mission to the sons and daughters of Israel, yet here he crosses this self-imposed boundary to bring merciful healing to a Gentile.

The woman brings to him the full implications of his mission.

Out of this long tradition of boundaries to God’s grace established within Judaism came this man Jesus. He knew that his task was to take up this long history of Israel, making it his own, filtering it through his life and body, filling it full of new meaning that could, at least initially, only be understood from within that story of God’s people, from within Israel. He would eventually broaden those “boundaries” in ways unimaginable to the disciples around him – and unthinkable in general to those out of whose midst he was arising. It took an immense struggle to expand the horizon of thinking about these boundaries on the part of his disciples and those who followed them.

Nor has this struggle been overcome to this day. Over and over the people of God have had to recognize anew how old limits are pushed out by the grace of God to include still others. Sometimes the struggle has been obvious: racial divisions, gender differences, issues of sexuality, national and cultural differences have had to be overcome time after time in order to recognize the far-reaching nature of God’s grace. At other times they have been much more subtle. But we keep wanting to establish limits on God’s grace and God keeps pushing on them. We like neat, cosy, clear-cut boundaries to our lives, and God’s grace challenges them at every turn.

Today the deepest meaning of the Gospel is often disclosed by the courage of the “outsider,” who is driven by loving concern for innocent victims of disease or injustice: Bonheoffer, Luther-King, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu and others. Often they have been met by stony silence or rude rebuff by Jesus’ followers.

The great faith of this mother who breaks all boundaries out of love is a model and challenge for our time. The Canaanite women would not accept the idea that Jesus was only sent for certain people. Her faith melted that barrier. It calls all of us to receive what Jesus has to offer and to push the limits and boundaries ourselves as we present that same Jesus and what he offers to others. We need to make the church a place to which a modern Canaanite woman, disadvantaged, despised and marginalised within society can come with her plea for mercy and grace and we need to make that church a place from which the word goes out, as from the Lord himself, “You have great faith. Your request is granted!”

We can’t afford to be triumphalist in relation to God’s grace. I regularly meet Christians who are so certain that they know the mind of God that they are incredibly confident about the fate of others come the final judgement. People they have never met, including a fair few Christians, are all consigned to eternal damnation in their view because those people don’t accept to the letter their understanding of Christianity and the conditions they demand as evidence of “true discipleship”. But in the end the eternal fate of others is down to God’s grace and not our judgement. God may well choose to act towards others in ways which surprise us and it is not for us to set limits on God’s grace.

Just to conclude then. Did you notice what didn’t happen in the story? Nobody performed an act of contrition. No offering was made nor any sacrifice. There was no promise of leading a new life, no agreement to change one’s ways, no pledge of future faithfulness. This is a clear and powerful reminder that God’s grace is showered on all of us, whether we have earned it or not. And let’s face it: most of us do not deserve it.

So, as we keep calm and carry on, making our contribution towards the establishment of the Kingdom of God in our obedient discipleship, let us do so in the knowledge that we have done nothing to earn God’s grace. Let's be careful how we are seen to apply that same grace to others.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Back to school.

"O.K. guys, after the refurbishment your toilets are on the P corridor"

"Oh, that really good Sir. Ha ha. No really. It is. Ha Ha Ha.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


There is a certain type of bloke who is very keen on looking a certain way. An excessive amount of gym time. An excessive monitoring of dietary fat, protein and carb levels. An idiotic amount of time under the sunbeds. The careful choice of slim fitting small waisted jeans and the baffling choice of skinny fitting bright tops. The short cropped hair held in place with excessive amounts of product. The select use of large tribal tattoos across the major muscle groups.
This combined with a chemically enhanced metabolism and low alcohol tolerance leads to some very entertaining nights on the town. The customary other halves are by routine, small, young, curvy, dressed to attract attention and play the submissive role superbly. They totter around in the wake of their alpha males and bask in their matching tans.
I had myself a laugh when I encountered a prime example in another walk of life. In a more conventional meeting during the day at some firms offices who should I encounter but a complete with dyed hair 'roider trying to do his day job. I had to laugh when he did that alpha male assessment thing and pulled his poise straight in challenge. He quickly gave up when he realised his boss and my boss were both there too and his position in the food chain was very far from alpha male in that context.