Wednesday, December 22, 2010

R.I.P. Doorman-Priest

Doorman-Priest is no more. He has served his purpose. (No sexual or financial impropriety.) Do feel free to e-mail me: e-mail details on "My Profile"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monbiot on snow and Global Warming

Here we are in the depths of the big freeze - what would we Brits do if we couldn't moan about the weather? - and some of my American friends are still confusing weather with climate. In today's Guardian I came across  That snow outside is what global warming looks like

"Unusually cold winters may make you think scientists have got it all wrong. But the data reveals a chilling truth."

Thought provoking .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Once a year wankers

This time of year, any day of the week, you get people out drinking and socialising who don't usually do this. They don't regularly come into town and work their way around the bars and clubs of town. They don't regularly start drinking at lunchtime and try to keep playing 'til 4am.
They don't interact with other drunk people, bar staff or doorstaff. These folk can end up getting into rows in taxi queues, not thinking that the shivering line of folks is trying to do exactly what they want to do. They fall in the street and knock their teeth out and wonder why they get advice on getting a taxi to A&E and not an ambulance.
They ask barstaff, busy and tired, for things they don't stock and then get abusive when they can't comprehend that not every bar is the same. They can be arrogant and disrespectful when dealing with all the many working folk they meet. For taxi-drivers and takeaway workers, they annoy and irritate, for me and my colleagues they present an entertaining challenge. These folk aren't regulars, their once a year money will not make or break the venues we work for. They often won't remember anything in detail and they don't have a clue what level of behaviour is expected of them. This allows us to have all sorts of fun and games. There will be some wives and husbands getting confused, befuddled, inebriated and part frozen other halves coming home in the wee small hours. I hope I can be the cause of as many of these as possible, after all it is christmas, and I've got to spread the cheer.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Marlene's Nativity

Last night was the Lord Mayor's Carol Concerts in Leeds Town Hall. This is an annual two-shift gig for the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and it sort of marks the start of Christmas for me (although this year that siginificant event was last Saturday's Messiah concert - my first as a Tenor).

In the run up to the Carol Concert our Chorus Master told me that the Committee had been approached to see if anyone would be willing to do a reading - ideally witty and seasonal but not too overtly religious. Our Chorus Master told me that he had nominated me. Do you see what they did there?

Anyway twice last night to a combined audience of about 2,000 people I  read the following - a little something from my own penmanship:

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

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

So, the committee gathered in her large kitchen, all shaker style furniture and IKEA fittings - very Chapel Allerton. Oh, and she had an agenda. “To bring this story alive it has to be brought into the present. We must make it relevant!” And so she set about her task with relish - carrying the rest of us, I have to say, rather in the slipstream of her enthusiasm.

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

“But she's ethnic. Don't you see she's perfect for the part: so 21st century marginalized.” and that was that. Marlene brooked no contradiction.

Marlene used her contacts at the University to cast the Wise Men who turned out to be Justin, Trevor ... and Brenda … and you probably remember that Marlene and Brenda have not been on civil terms since the unfortunate incident at the Turkish bath.

Well it won't matter' said Marlene, all hurt pride and a large gin. “No one will notice the difference: all they'll see is three moustaches – and that’s before the costumes are on.

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

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

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

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

Sigourney's boyfriend Cameron was drafted in as the innkeeper. A night-club doorman by trade he had little difficulty with the lines- “You can't come in here, we're full' although he did tend to keep fooling around at rehearsals and ad-libbing: 'You can't come in mate, but you can, love, we're letting in girls for half price”.

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

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

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

Rehearsals came and went as rehearsals do.

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

"Go away Trevor. You’re a palm tree.”

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

"Marlene, if I hear another religious person say: 'and Wise Men seek him still . . . .' I may run screaming from the building"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

It was really well received and I note from my stats a number of INTERNET searchs for it which amazed me. I'm doing a slightly more risque version of it Sunday evening at my Beloved's church on request. It seems to be an annual ritual.

Monday, December 13, 2010


When at work, I don't feel the need to give out my name to everyone I encounter. Quite often this is just to retain a little distance, sometimes it is to pretend to be more amiable than you actually want to be when dealing with horrors. Sometimes it's just to get a serious wind up going. I'm typically Bob, sometimes Max, or Frank. There's little need for consistency as the typical customer doesn't remember daft details like the doorman at their 5th venue of the night's name.
It's also advisable to let the others on your team know your fake name and handy to know if they're using one. You can always pretend, that when Daz at the front door, going by the name James, has sent a punter looking for Frank, being me, that he's not working tonight, James must have gotten confused, I'm Bob, short for Robert but everyone calls me Bob. Yeah, I'm not the full shilling but it does alleviate some of the boredom.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Present

It’s Saturday morning, which means I have to shoot off to the school Christmas bazaar: how better to give something back to the school than to exchange all your unwanted rubbish in that relaxed period in the run-up to Christmas when no one has anything very pressing to do? This is good, because in addition to my two daughters I have my two teenage nephews to entertain.

Business is slow, though it is not long before the takings start rocketing, as a result of the children’s ingenious sales technique of buying everything themselves with my money.

Certainly by the time we have hung around for hours and assiduously avoided the blandishments of a marauding Santa, the little scamps are loaded down with more than enough 91-piece jigsaws and single-mother packs of Happy Families to start practising getting bored ahead of the official gift disenchantment date of 27th December, and at only a fraction of the cost. Why, I hardly have enough money left to try my luck at the ‘Bring a Bottle’ tombola, with its array of beers, wines, Advocaat, east European turnip liqueurs and (as it turns out, when my ticket finally comes up trumps) Radox Herbal Bath, with its essential aromatic ingredients, none of them, sadly, being alcohol.

‘It could have been worse,’ says another parent, as we head for the cars.

‘You could have won the nail varnish remover.’

That afternoon, we decide to go shopping . . . in the city centre . . . . all five of us.

I can’t believe we have decided to wait until five minutes before Christmas to go off and spend all my money in search of a handy organiser for the cutlery drawer for my mother, which will apparently halve the time it takes to find a teaspoon, or double the time it takes to put the washing-up away, depending on whether you’re the sort of person who thinks a glass is half-full or half-empty – a term which incidently always reminds me of my auntie Doreen in Barnsley. “Glass half-full, glass half-empty? Pass it over here, I’ll drink the bloody thing.”

And then on the bus, my elder nephew makes the slightly alarming announcement that there might be time to visit SegaWorld in The Corn Exchange and use up the virtual-ride vouchers he won in the Leeds Metro phone-in as a chance result of knowing what the capital of France was, though only on condition, I stipulate, that the children bring to a speedy conclusion their vigorous public debate over a) who was the last person to vomit on public transport and b) what happened to the bag of sick afterwards. By the time we surface at the Town Hall we are straight into the shopping scene from Ben Hur and are fully horde-acclimatised, though I am a firm advocate of tides of humanity being where they belong – i.e. on page 1,875 of the Old Testament – and not on the stretch of pavement separating us from the entrance to Primark.

In that oxymoron – “Christmas Hell” which is Marks and Spencer food hall, I notice a hand dip into my basket and remove a pack of mince-pies. “Well?” the culprit challenged. “There aren’t any left on the shelves.” It occurs to me at this point that “Mary’s Boy Child” has been on a continuous loop in the background. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Harry Belafonte is a lovely man and is probably on the verge of a UK comeback tour but enough already.

“But it’s Christmas” the vacuous sales assistant beams. Her name badge proclaims her as PAGAN (Happy to Help) which seems oddly appropriate.

“No, Pagan it isn’t Christmas: it’s Advent.” The smile doesn’t flicker but the eyes show real fear. A result!

At last we emerge at SegaWorld clutching our free vouchers, and although the whims of my younger daughter could be met simply by staying on the escalator, it’s a blow to find that, due to circumstances beyond the passing interest of whoever owns this place, an astonishing four out of the five virtual rides are out of action, with the remaining one in the incapable hands of someone with all the communication skills of a person who spent his childhood locked in a cupboard.

Understandably, this ride is very popular and we spend the rest of the week queuing for it, which then means having to leg it back down the Headrow, assisted by the younger nephew with the slightly irritating habit of elbowing his way to the front and then causing a pile-up by stopping to complete an important move on his handheld entertainment facility. We miss the bus by the skin of our teeth. Excellent.

It’s already getting dark. But we’ve barely got back home when the children take a sudden interest in my driving them back into Leeds to see a mystery celebrity turn the Christmas lights on. Off we go again, and 15 minutes later we are in town, following the unmistakable noise of people pretending to enjoy themselves. And sure enough we find ourselves in front of a big stage being expected to clap along to Shakin’ Stevens and Bob the Builder, while a troupe of alarmingly energetic dancers in Santa Claus hats audition to an imagined throng of TV talent scouts. Still, it’s all part of the fun, and the DJs are soon tossing fantastic prizes into the crowd to get us into the festive spirit of untamed consumer frenzy. We miss the Aire FM baseball hats, but my elder daughter does surface from the brawling mass clutching a fragment of a family ticket to the Vue cinema.

‘DO YOU WANNA DO THE YMCA?’ the DJ is shouting.

‘Er . . . do you want to do the YMCA?’ I ask my nephews.

No way,’ mutters the eldest. ‘It’s a gay song.’ He clamps his arms firmly to his sides, as if any sudden movement might transform him into a priapic leather-trousered construction worker sporting a large moustache. I offer him a short lecture in low hissing tones on how a civilised society is judged by its celebration of sexual diversity, though obviously an ability to run the railways comes into it, too.

“Anyway,” I say, “listen to the words. It’s not about being gay, it’s about young men having a good meal, and doing whatever they feel.”

At last it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for as the DJ asks us to give a big Leeds welcome to: Robbie Williams. Oh, hang on - make that a Robbie Williams tribute act! "Robbie" gives us a few songs and could easily pass for the real thing, from a distance, with the light behind him, if you didn’t have your hearing aid turned up. Eventually he switches the lights on. Mmm. It’s not exactly Las Vegas. On the upside, at least we didn’t get stuck behind the family who decided what riotous fun it would be to wear red flashing antlers on their heads for the duration of the event.

And the real meaning of Christmas in all this? Well, the Vicar of Dibley Special repeat, Christmas Day, 8.15, BBC1, of course.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Put it away

Now doormen have a very bad reputation when it comes to their monogamy and their morality. The phrase 'round these parts being door whores, which is also how their dance partners are known. For some ladies a musclebound gent with a modicum of self control, a wage and little free time is a winner. For a large number of doormen, this is enough of a reason to practice the most essential bodily function. For a few of them it can become habitual.
There are a few classic colleagues who have had to make themselves scarce when their Tuesday girl makes an appearance on their Thursday night and mrs Thursday is not in the picture but is in the club. Doorman ducks out and only does flybys on the respective parties before being fortunately called away to finish the night at another venue. Another married colleague of mine juggled several others to his wife by the simple ruse of saying the venue finished two hours later than it did giving him time to indulge himself before being missed. These are but a few of the shenanigans the emotionally simplistic gents of my profession get up to.
Not a good trend in my colleagues and not a universal one it has to be said.
On a whole utility calculus I'm not entirely sure a good door whore doesn't provide more happiness than a monogamous one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Two: John the Baptist

Jim and Tammy: Prophets of our time?

Our Gospel this morning presents the raw, rustic personality of John the Baptist, the striking forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. John serves as the principal preparer for the coming of a new age where God’s will reigns in the lives of those who are his followers.

I quite fancy being John the Baptist. Well, not the lack of hygiene, the diet of locusts or the camel dung obviously: we’re talking prophetic-lite here for me. In my darker moments the idea of having a rant – you know, taking people on one side and spelling one or two things out to them very clearly - really appeals to me. For John to have done that in the conviction that he did so with the authority of God must have made him a formidable force and a troubling character if you happened to be at the receiving end of his righteous indignation.

How easy to abuse that position: how easy it would be for a latter day prophet to rage against the world the flesh and the devil … and to get it wrong, which is probably why I’m not called to the role of prophet. Recent history gives us many examples of those who called themselves prophets having been brought low by scandal. Do the names Morris Cerullo, Jim & Tammy Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart ring any bells? The job description of prophet doesn’t include any clauses whereby the individual makes vast amounts of money or privately indulges in the sort of sexual gratification he rails against in public or undertakes meanspirited acts of vengance. No: the prophet speaks the word of God to his or her generation regardless of personal cost. John’s life was entirely dedicated to God out there in the desert. There are few of us who can claim the same.

Oh yes: proclaiming judgement can come a little too easily to some of us which is why we shouldn’t do it – at least not unless we are absolutely sure we have God’s mandate. How many times have you listened to someone calling down Hell and damnation on some topic or other and then thought “No. Not in my name?” The next time you’re in the city centre, instead of scuttling by the street evangelists, just stop and listen for a while to their “prophetic ministry”. Is this the God you worship? Do you recognise him in what they say?

We Lutherans talk a lot about the distinction between Law and Gospel in preaching, but we talk about it in the context of balance. Too often I hear the Law preached and not the Gospel there outside Harvey Nicholls and Marks and Spencers in the city centre. Oh yes, John the Baptist is most definately the template for such preachers but he could only proclaim the law: the Gospel was not yet come but he knew he had to prepare the way for it. To hear some of our street preachers you’d be forgiven for wondering if the Gospel ever had come. Old Testament Christians, Leviticites. I'm often worried that Christianity has perfected the art of judgment but hasn't properly pointed to the One who really does the judging. That One who is, of course, the same One who does the saving.

This season more than any other points out the gap between our inner lives and our external behavior. John the Baptist points to the gap between our rhetoric and our behaviour. His is the voice of the Law, showing us our sin and calling us to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Repentance is, of course, part of the Christian journey, and it's part of getting ready for Christmas. God is coming and all of us probably need a little light shed on our darkness. But if we're going to be really honest this Advent season, we probably need to recognise our tendency to judge rather than repent; our willingness to play the role of John the Baptist pointing out the sin of the world; and our propensity to enjoy that role. After all what's Christmas without a little complaining about all those Christians who only come to church on Christmas Eve? What's Christmas for the lazy preacher if not moaning on about the materialism and the commercialism of the season?

Back to John for a moment. The people started to come, first in dribs and drabs and then in their hundreds and then in their thousands. All these people came to hear him preach. Walking miles out from their cities, out into the wilderness to listen to this desert prophet: that’s a long way to walk for a sermon.

These people came out into the desert to him preach. They came from all walks of life and included amongst them some of their religious leaders – who he manages to insult for their insincerity - and even Herod, their King or his spies. They came not because his sermons were witty or clever; not because of the wonderful music group or old favourite hymns; not because they had some desire to see old friends that they hadn’t seen all week; not because of some childhood habit of being at worship, a habit that they couldn’t kick. No.

The vast majority left their cities and walked miles out into the desert because they wanted to see a rare phenomenon. They wanted to see a man who had been totally immersed in God, whose soul had not been corrupted by life in the cities, whose personality had not been fouled by the compromises of life. They didn’t want to be tantalized; they didn’t come to be entertained; they didn’t come to hear some fashionable religious wisdom. They wanted to hear an authentic Word from God for their lives. The message of this desert prophet was essentially one word. Prepare. In the wilderness, prepare for the coming of the Christ. John’s message is based upon the nearness of the “kingdom of heaven”. His call to repent or to turn from wickedness prepares the way for that kingdom. It urges a fatally flawed people now as then to wrestle their attention away from the concerns of this life and to direct it instead toward the approaching age of God’s Righteousness. This is what qualifies John as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” who prepares the way for the Lord.

Of course we have the benefit of hindsight: we know how the story unfolds and this influences our responses to the story. John was a disturber: just look at the way he speaks to the religious leaders. We’ve not walked miles to hear the voice of a challenging preacher but to what extent do we recognise the deeply disturbing nature of John’s teaching? We know we are preparing for the nativity. We know we are about to celebrate the coming of the infant Jesus, our saviour, but to what extent do we really view ourselves as being those in need of repentance? To what extent do we recognise our sinfulness? To what extent do we really want to be disturbed by such an uncompromising message? Come on folks, we’re in the run up to Christmas. Let’s not spoil things by getting heavy.

Matthew’s presentation of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Christ of God concludes with the announcement that one more powerful, more worthy, more Spirit-filled, more fiery is on his way. This One will come as judge of the world, to be sure, but also as saviour. This portion of the preparation, therefore, is both warning and hope, fear and faith, condemnation and redemption, law and gospel.

Has it occurred to you what our responsibility is here at this time? Yes, I’m afraid we’re back to my desire to be John the Baptist. Except we’re all called to be John the Baptist preparing the Way of the Lord. Perhaps our role is not on this occasion to do the ranting and the judgement – after all we’re not outside Marks and Spencer’s – but instead to do the preparing: to talk to those we know and care for about the meaning and the implications of the coming nativity. It may come as a surprise to some we know to discover that the true meaning of Christmas is not the Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special repeat on Christmas Day, BBC 1 at 8.00pm.

When I talk to people who aren't interested in the church, it's almost always because they believe that the church is more interested in judgment than it is in salvation. We've communicated really clearly about sin but not so clearly about the love of Jesus. What an indictment of churches down the generations. We've given the impression that our sinfulness is more powerful than Jesus, who is the heart of God beating in the world. The one who is coming is more powerful than I, even more powerful than my ability to keep him away. It is only the relentless and ongoing announcement of love's coming that will inspire anyone to change and to live from its power. Preaching judgment is the easy part but the Gospel is primarily about saving the world. What John points to is the God who is not willing to stand by and wag the finger of judgment, tossing the unrighteous into unquenchable fire. It's a God who is willing to enter the burning chaos of human life and save it. Jesus is the one who enters into the heart of human life, takes into himself all those things that separate us from God. He steps into the gap between our inner life and our external behavior. His work ends, not in self-righteous satisfaction at letting those sinners have what they deserve but on the cross when the power of sin and separation and self-righteousness is overcome. This is what John is telling us to prepare for but he is also telling us that we should, in our turn, help others to prepare.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Snow

(The M62 on Wednesday)

Autumn lasted about twenty minutes. We are in the depths of an early Winter. When I set off for school on Monday I was convinced this was a foolhardy thing to do as I made my way through a blizzard: surely the place would be shut? Not so. The area around the Knowledge College only had a light dusting of snow but the phones were ringing off their hooks as the hopeful rang in. "Is the school shut?"

A few colleagues arrived a little late. A significant number of kids arrived very late, too tempted by the infinite possibilities of snow play to take academic punctuality seriously. I couldn't blame them but it was interesting to note that the top sets were pretty largely full and the less able groups were decimated until mid morning. There's probably a study in there somewhere. (Akin to the study on the correlation between a pupil bringing their photograph money to school in the first week and the number of GCSEs that same student achieves five years later. I have a theory tested by time but alas, no funding.)

"Sir? Will he shut the school? Will we be sent home?"

Who? The Head? I doubt it.

"He's dead selfish!"

How do you make that out?

"Well it's not fair is it?"


"Because it's snowing."

Except it's not though is it? It was, but it's not any more and it's unlikely to before home time.

"He's dead selfish he is."

Sensing a circular argument and no meeting of minds, I try an alternative tack.

It's a difficult responsibility after all. It's a Health and Safety issue: he's got the safety of over a hundred staff and nearly thirteen hundred kids to balance against educational concerns. He's not going to close unless it's absolutely necessary. He's certainly not going to take you being a bit put out into consideration. Snow days aren't an entitlement. There's a lot of careful thought and a lot of advice-taking going into those decisions.

"When would he shut then?"

If the place was knee deep in snow; if the bus company couldn't get up the hill; if the motorways were shut; if the roads weren't gritted; if there was black ice; if the Education Authority said so; if most of the other schools shut. There are too many variables and you throwing snow at each other isn't one of them.

"He's dead selfish he is!"

Oh get real!

Overnight most of the above happened.

I threw back the curtains at 6.20 when the alarm went and, rather like a vampire shriveling before sunlight, I was blinded by a whiteout. (O.K. It was really my Beloved who opened the curtains as I hunkered down for an extra five minutes: poetic license - but you get the idea.) It was a winter wonderland indeed: the snow was several inches deep, there were no tracks in the road and everything looked sort of snuggled comfortably into the snow which was only marked by a criss-cross of fox prints.

I calculated the degree of difficulty in getting the car off the drive and down our quiet little road. Would the main roads have been cleared? What was the motorway like? More to the point, given that the Knowledge College is in a field on a hill in the middle of nowhere, would those local roads have been treated? Going on previous history that area is not a priority. Only last week the Boss had given us the Snow Day routine in the staff meeting: there would be a text to all staff and parents saying whether the school was open or not.  That wasn't entirely satisfactory as I'd got my text saying school was open ten minutes after I'd arrived yesterday. I certainly didn't fancy setting off in this weather only to get there - or worse, find myself stuck on the motorway with no escape - before the text arrived, which it did just as I was putting on my coat.

An unexpected day off. A little bit of light housework, a meal prepared, an Advent sermon written and the monitoring of Facebook as my colleagues shared slightly guilty congratulations on our good fortune, and no year 8 for me. What's not to like? And people say there's no God. Daughter Two went to protest with loads of students in the city centre about the proposed huge hike in University tuition fees and announced herself well pleased with the outcome. "Can I sleep at the University? They've occupied a building"

Wednesday was no better. Again I decided to wait for the text. Will rang me. "What's happening?"

No idea.

June rang. "Have you heard?"

Not a thing.

Nearly ten minutes later than normal I set off. I'd gone - slid -  less than half a mile when June rang back. "I've just rung school. The decision has been made not to open." Fifteen minutes later the text arrived. Had I set off at the normal time I'd have been on the motorway at that point and, as the day's news unfolded, very probably stuck there for the rest of the day. Not impressed.

Having stopped to take June's call I tried to take the most straightforward route home. It wasn't straight forward at all. The streets were clogged with snow. Cars were careering all over the place, getting stuck on hills, slithering back, failing to break. It took me almost as long to retrace my steps that half mile as a standard journey to school would have taken on a normal day. Daughter Two, whose school is just on the other side of the city was not amused to discover hers was open. Daughter One and my Beloved were both able to walk to work, which they did after some slightly resentful chuntering. Daughter Two came home mid morning. "We shut." Lots of Facebook chatter.

It snowed heavily on and off for most of the day.

I put together an Advent liturgy for Sunday, started a new book and flopped on the sofa to spend a disproportionate amount of time watching News 24 and local BBC stations. This was unprecedented for November: when we get weather like this it's usually January or February. The annual national soul-searching debate about our levels are preparedness for snow were dusted off and practiced all day - except this time most of North and Central Europe were in the same position. What no one can tell me - and I ask whoever will listen: what exactly does it mean when the BBC weathermen, the Police and the AA all tell us that we should only consider travelling if the journey is absolutely essential?  It just occurs to me that employee and employer might have very different understandings of that advice. What constitutes absolutely essential?

I receive a text from Daughter 2's school. They are closed tomorrow. How far sighted to know a day before. She won't have to get up at the crack of dawn and worry about buses or juggle the decion about whether to leave or wait for advice. Almost immediately afterwards I receive a call from the Head Teacher of our local primary school where my Beloved is a governor. They too, "And I stress how unprecidented this is" she said, had decided to close tomorrow.

That's a communication trend I'd like to encourage.

My Beloved returned with hood up and red nose, boots caked in snow.  "The University closed at three" she announced "Staff were told that for our safety we should assemble in the library to sleep overnight. Most people's cars are snowed in. Students are building snow barricades in the streets and there was this car with a six foot snow phallus on its roof." Ah, the benefits of a University education.

Just after seven Daughter One rang. Not at all confident in her balance in knee deep snow over ice she asked for a lift. When I'd stopped laughing I told her that I'd walk to meet her. Daughter Two and I, dressed like Starship Stormtroopers against the chill, set out on what is normally a twenty minute walk to Headingley. Our road was as I suspected: knee deep in unspoilt snow but the shock came at the main road. It was the same. No vehicles on the move which is possibly the first time I have ever seen it so. In the street lights it was an eerie sight. For a moment we could have been the only two people on the planet. Just up at the bus stop an abandoned bus's hazard lights blinked on and off. The driver, presumable, having had second thoughts about attempting the descent of the hill.

On our journey to meet Daughter One we passed no more than a dozen ghostly figures and no more than half a dozen moving vehicles. The snow was crisp underfoot and still falling. Daughter Two decided to pull tree branches as we walked under. She's such a card.

"Knob-head alert!" D. Two announced, as a student in shorts and trainers overtook us. (I don't know where she hears such language.) At this point D. One appeared in red beret and overcoat holding a pink umbrella. She looked rather sweet I felt: that unwaveringly English faith in the value of the umbrella under all circumstances. D. Two was less impressed. "Put it away. You're embarrassing."

As I went to bed I didn't even bother to set my alarm for Thursday morning.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A message from George Carey

In spite of having contributed so much to our civilization and providing its foundation, the Christian Faith is in danger of being stealthily and subtly brushed aside. The evidence has been mounting in recent years. Teachers and council employees are suspended for offering to ‘say a prayer’. A devoted nurse is banned from wearing a cross, a British Airways worker told to remove hers. Roman Catholic adoption agencies are closed down under new laws. Christian marriage registrars who cannot, in good conscience, preside over civil partnership ceremonies are summarily dismissed.
Dr. Carey: We've heard all this before and it is Tabloid rubbish. You keep forgetting that you are a FORMER Archbishop of Canturbury. You are RETIRED. It really is time to be quiet. 
This excellent website makes it all clear - again!

It's not about being retired as such though is it? A comment from a new reader took me to task about the inconsistency of criticising Archbishop Carey while lauding Archbishop Tutu. Fair point to an extent but I think there's a big difference between the two. Why is Desmond a universally loved and influential figure in his retirement while George is already pretty much marginalised in his? Could it be that in what they say in retirement one inspires and builds up the church while the other just whinges and brings it into disrepute? One is a positive force for good. The other is George Carey.

Monday, November 29, 2010


This'll be my lot in the Town Hall on Dec 11th: Christmas begins then and not before!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Northern Man: an endangered species!

We are knee deep in snow and ice but we are in the North of England where Real Men roam - in T-shirts or vests. As a refugee from the South it has often struck me - as I wear my overcoat, gloves, scarf and hat - that men are made from a different mold here: or so they would have us believe.

For a while I believed it was a simple reaction to less frequent sunlight. "I need more vitamin D. I know, I'll get my kit off." I don't think that now.

I went out last night -wrapped up to the nines - and encountered a number of men in various stages of hypothermia.

"No, no. These aren't goose bumps. It's a manifestation of my testosterone."

Ah, righty-ho then.

In addition to the usual northern male are the wannabes: a city with two universities and numerous colleges, is the natural habitat of the male student. With the locals a hard act of alpha-manliness to follow, (you know sleeveless vest, cigarette in mouth, multiple tattoos and a can of beer), are those who have to lay down a gauntlet, a challenge. Having A Levels is, it seems, no guarantee of common sense. I have long wondered at what stage during the undergraduate three years students are taught to walk on the pavement on a Friday or Saturday night - but I digress. Headingley is a perpetual fancy dress party at weekends. Last night I encountered a number of shivering young men in vests and tutus.

"Don't confuse this as shivering. This is the effect of my male pheromones."

Fair enough.

One absolute big girl's blouse was actually wearing a thin hoody but in the way of these things the pack had turned on him and he was an outcast, reduced to wandering in the wake of the rest and vulnerable to being picked off by circling packs of Romans in togas.

Those blue tights are fetching ... O sorry, that's your current skin tone.

"Cold? What cold? I can handle it."

And then, of course, we add alcohol to the heady mixture and the lads pass out in the snow.

"It's O.K. nurse. This is what a real man looks like."

Frostbite is the new black.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I See

Yes, it's cold.
No you can't have my coat, my hat, my gloves, my boots.

Yes, it's cold out.
No, I had noticed, I've been standing in it for two, three maybe four hours.

Yes, it's icy.
No, they haven't gritted it, they might be gritting bus routes and thoroughfares.

Yes, it's slippy.
I've been watching folk fall over all night.

Yes, it's cold.
It's bloody winter, you'd be stunned if it wasn't at 3 in the morning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


So, allegedly we are due an OFSTED inspection in the near future. You can tell by the clues: Senior Managers suddenly demanding the update of policies; panicky requests that you update your departmental profile on the website. "Have you done your departmental marking audit yet?" and so on.

No I'm too busy actually teaching.

And now we have Pupil Voice. There's a strong chance I may not be on message here.

I have been given a folder to keep documentation in. OFSTED can tell a good school by how well its folders are kept I understand. In my folder is a questionnaire which asks pupils about their lessons in my subject. There are a number of words pupils are to circle to best reflect their sense of how they experience their learning. "Boring" is one of them. So with a certain degree of cynicism I trial this with one of my classes. They pretty largely respond that they like my lessons but almost all also select "boring" as one of their key words without, it seems, recognising the innate contradiction inherent in that juxtaposition.

I take the questionnaire and have it retyped, substituting the word "enjoying" for "boring". I trial it with a second class of similar ability and disposition. Almost every child circles "enjoying". They are, it seems, only bored when they see that option written down.

"I am a teenager. School is boring. Ergo I am bored. Simple as. If I am not given the option of being bored I have to confess that I am enjoying my learning"

Ah, the complexity of the teenage mind.

They are also asked to suggest something the teacher could do more of. Apparently they'd like me to play more games.

Then they are asked to suggest something I should do less of. Apparently I make them write. They don't like writing. (In a lesson last week Georgina (AKA Vicky Pollard) was incensed because I had the temerity to expect her to do some reading and some writing). No they don't like writing.

"All we ever do is write."

Well apart from the DVD watching  ...

"But all we ever do is write."

... and the discussion work.....

"Yeah, but all we ever do is write" (Or occasionally wright).

... and the PowerPoint presentations ...

"It's all writing."

... and the computer work ...

"Writing, writing, writing. It's not fair."

... and the role play. But apart from that all we ever do is write.

"My hand hurts."

Look guys. Newsflash - writing is one of the things we do in school. If I could guarantee that you could leave this room every lesson having absorbed everything we have discussed for all time, we wouldn't need to write. But guess what? You can't remember what we did yesterday and you wrote that down. Well not you Georgina, obviously.

Exam results Headteacher? I'm sorry. We were so busy having fun in the classroom and playing games, I never actually got around to teaching them anything. Still I ENGAGED them. And my folder is lovely.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Teenagers, Sex Ed. and Chlamydia

"Ryan! Stop waving your wee in my face" isn't an admonishment a teacher hears too often in his career and so I zoned in fairly swiftly from my autopilot reverie.


Sir. Tell him!

Tell him what?

He's waving his wee in my face.

Ryan. Apparently you're waving your wee in her face. Will that do Shona?

No. Tell him to stop. It's not nice.

To cut a long story short I explored the situation further. Doorman-Poirot gets his man. Well his boy.

There had been a special Enterprise Event in school today - no don't ask, my blood pressure, don't you know - where some outside agency had offered chlamydia testing to our students. Don't get me wrong: STIs are a serious issue and anything that improves the situation has to be good, but somewhere along the line something seems to have gone wrong. Take Ryan. Anyone less likely to have contracted an STI would be hard to imagine. Weedy, buck-toothed and with very thick lensed glasses Ryan isn't your immediate best-guess for a teenaged lothario.

But sir, they were giving out free boxer-shorts to anyone who had a test so I had a go.

They were rather classy. Might pop over myself after break, assuming I can wade through the litter of blown up condoms.

Ah, teenagers: so much fun.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fronting Up

Some encounters you have, you know fairly bloody quickly you've not got the firepower.
When you've got a lad with you who's pulled his back, another inside, working straight through after a 12 hour static site shift and 3 hours sleep preceding and a new lad, keeping the smoking area tidy at about the extreme of his capability and skill keeping the smokers outside and the drinks in.
When a large group of lively gentlemen who clearly enjoy some extra-dietary supplements and are thoroughly in drink decide a visit to the venue you're at will make their night complete. 7 big ones, 1 older one and 2 young ones make up the group. In a line-up by body weight or bicep I'd have weighed in seventh or eighth out of the lot of us.
"Sorry gents, not tonight" goes the initial approach aimed at the first pair to make it within easy hearing range of the door.
This doesn't slow them and they end up well inside my personal space before they clock that the words were meant for them and I'm not shifting myself out of the way.
The rest of the group stumble to a stop and I continue with a slightly more padded explanation.
"Alright gents, we don't do large groups, we don't do only lads and a few of you have had one to many to get in. Try somewhere else tonight gents."
"You're fucking joking mate. We're of in after some totty."
"No Gents, you're not coming in, we're not the place for you tonight"
First bit of real confrontation, a very assertive negative statement with a dissuading tone after.
The trick is then to gauge the response, without the numbers or the bulk, it's time to get clever. Give them time to hang themselves. There strength in numbers and confidence is also their weakness. They all think it's worth their effort to have a verbal go.
"You're a dickhead." "Get real" "Are you going to stop us?" "Fuck off you knobhead"
By this point you've identified the three or four gobby ones, the three who could be persuaded and the three who will want to keep out of it right until their blood's up.
Just hold the position, keep silent, keep watching, ready to spring if needed. Don't rise and respond, don't manoeuvre to get a better place. If you move to take an upper hand, they'll see it and if they want to just blast past. If you do nothing, they have to get angry or physical against a passive enemy. Not an overt fists up, screaming, red faced opponent, but a mute, immobile, passive obstacle. Most gents don't get it, can't manage to get angry without some escalation. Give it a ridiculous amount of time and they'll fail to find a way in.
Not always going to work, very low effort solution when it does.
Takes some serious patience but better than dancing back to back with your colleague as you keep your guard up and wait for the boys in blue.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to Vicar School

(This isn't us at the Police College: God forbid!)

Back to the Wakefield Police College for another session on Mission with Dr. Matthew Guest of Durham University. The seats on the back row of the lecture theatre have more leg room so Hilda, Monica and I staked our claim while Stuart and Dr. Bob ("I'm suffering from a dreadful cold. I'm as deaf as a post") opted for the cheap seats further forward. As it happened everyone was well miked up so it didn't matter where we sat.

I was quite looking forward to this session as it was to focus on the congregation and mission and I was hoping for some insights into congregational dynamics. As it happened the first session was directed towards research methodology in preparation for in-house surveys. Not at all my scene, so aided on this occasion by St. Ipod and Bach played by Suha and Guher Pekinel on the piano, I settled into something of a private revery telling Monica to nudge me if I snored.

Nevertheless I picked up some gems: it is quite clear that the congregation is recognised as the local collective gathering and it has become the dominant form of the expression of religion and spirituality alongside and sometimes in competition with (often) fragmented systems of central hierarchy. One of the key questions seemed to be whether the local congregation knows its boundaries. It would be interesting - and challenging - to ask where the local congregation sees itself in relation to the wider institution. There has certainly been much discussion about the pronouncements of church leaders not being backed up by the masses in the pews. Is it even possible to offer a fair representation of a congregational community when internal expressions of value or belief are diverse or in disagreement with the mother institution?

I couldn't help at this point wondering, as an example, how Evangelicals deal with contemporary culture and where that leaves that congregation in the context of a more progressive religious environment. Is the church a beleagured enclave guarding orthodoxy or is it a thorn in the side of the wider church? It is in this context that we hear of whole congregations defecting to another church or witholding their parish contribution to the central coffers on a point of religious doctrine and principle.

The cultural shift of the late 1970s put the individual and his subjective experience as the new norm which doesn't sufficiently take into consideration the mediating structures the individual functions in, i.e. the local congregation or the wider central authority. Does this mean that we are more than usually likely to search for the congregation that most closely fits our worldview rather than sticking with the old denominational allegances? Is our sense of misiology linked to that? Does the congregation we attend reflect one of the standard models of mission and is that at odds with what the central authority sees as its mission model? How is this resolved?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Muslims, Tabloids (again) and Remembrance

The day after our wonderful Remembrance Day assembly one of my pupils asked:

Sir. Did you hear about what Muslims did?

Now primed by having listened to the Today programme I already knew what she was referring to. A small group of Muslims had burned a large poppy in a demonstration about the British military presence in Afghanistan and chanted slogans like "British soldiers burn in Hell." Well, yes, incredibly insensitive but hardly worth a banner headline or a front page photo given the isolated nature of the incident and the small number of people involved. My newspaper gave it no column inches. The Daily Mail on the other hand, that bastion of right-thinking did both.

TEXT HERE (It's worth having a look at the comment thread, particularly the "best rated" to get a sense of just who this paper is aimed at.)

Note the juxtaposition of white patriotic boy and brown unpatriotic boys. Oh! Let me think. What is the message here I wonder?

My pupil is a lovely girl. She was not being awkward but merely expressing confusion and a need for clarification. On Remembrance day she was on study leave and so not present in our special assembly. It was worth stopping the class (Buddhism, suffering and evil) to discuss the issue and hopefully nipping in the bud the sort of response the oh-so-respectable Daily Mail would wish to whip up while claiming to abhor racism.

I talked about the assembly and about how moving it was. I also talked about how every member of staff came into the Sports Hall including our Muslim colleagues and student teachers, each of whom was wearing a poppy and each of whom stood with bowed heads during the two minute silence.

I'd like the Daily Mail to have featured that picture. Or this one:


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Iraqi Christians - the plight

There doesn't seem to be as much in the media about this as I would have expected. In today's Guardian, however, there are a couple of excellent articles.

"The irony of Bush's Iraq invasion is that it may have wiped out his faith where other conquests have failed"


"I am terrified to live in this society. We are being slaughtered like sheep. Yet this is our country."


"They called me from the church. I heard it all live, the bombs, the screaming"


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day at the Knowledge College

It was a significant day at school today: Yrs 10 & 11 had an important science exam and were on study leave this morning and today is Remembrance Day. That left the 600+ youngsters in Lower School to have their own Remembrance Assembly.

"Bring them down to the Sports Hall at 10.45" we were told.

I had a lovely Yr 9 class and we were making good headway with Religious Myth as a bone fide literary genre when the time came. To what extent these kids had any real awareness of the significance of the day is open to question but they entered the hall in appropriately sombre mood and sat in silent rows while First World War images were projected to the background reading of  war poems.

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

Rupert Brooke

You could have heard a pin drop. Every child wore a poppy and every member of staff was present - teachers, admin staff, technicians and Site Services.

A member of the Music Dept played the Last Post on her trumpet and the two minute silence was absolute. It was incredibly moving and I felt inordinately proud.

Children came forward to light candles and each child named aloud a former pupil who had fallen in combat.

They left in silence to video extracts of soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

We learnt later that traffic on the motorway had spontaneously stopped and that the city centres had ground to a silent halt.

How fitting!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Giles Fraser on Gene Robinson

Despite the conservatives, churchgoers are inspired by Gene Robinson. Though the gay bishop is retiring early, some day the Anglican church hierarchy will see homophobia as an evil.

Read Text Here

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


There are some people who always bring a drama with them. They've normally got an overactive gob and are always blameless for any of the activity. There will have been insults, slights, historic misbehaviour, outfit choices, venue choices and of course potential partner choices all joining the list of affronts. Never in the wrong, always in my ear. Not going to win me round by the more you talk, the more you achieve approach to arguing, I tend to lean the other way. The more you gab on, ranting shite, the less I'm willing to do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Joke of the Day: Obama is a Socialist...Hahahahahaha

The Democrats are to the Right of our Right wing Party, the Conservatives. Our Left Wing party, the Labour Party, is Socialist. To any American readers please be aware that European Socialism is not the same as Stalin's Gulags or Kim Il Jong's worker's paradise. Some of you would get along just fine here: democracy, free and pretty objective press, a fairly civilised political landscape ... oh no, not that last one: you wouldn't recognise that. And we tend to lock up dangerous people rather than giving them talk shows to host. Just saying.

I become mildly offended when some folk insist on discussing Socialism as if it's symbol is 666. Really people, think before you speak!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sir v The Teenagers

One of the Pastoral Staff collared me today:

Ah I'm glad to see you. Melissa's asked if she can be moved out of your R.S. group.


She says you're always on her case and you make her sit on her own.

That's teenspeak for "He moved me because I'm always talking to people around me and distracting them and not getting on with my work."

Unreasonable man. She also said you picked on her.

That's teenspeak for "Now that I'm sitting under his nose he can see how little work I do and I'm not used to having to complete work to a reasonable standard and be held accountable.

So not moving groups then?



Jaimie. I've told you three times now to get on with your work. Show me what you've done so far. Oh, a blank page. That's very impressive in your GCSE year. You may have noticed that at no stage did I say "If you can be bothered." It's not an option. I expect you to do the same work as everyone else.

For God's sake!


My work fell on the floor.

There's nothing on the page. Are you trying to tell me that the words dribbled off the page and landed on the floor?

This is pathetic.

I agree.

It's rubbish this. I hate it.

I'm sorry to put you out so much. What's liking something got to do with doing your best?

I'm not doing it. I don't see why I should.

That'll work well as a strategy in later life. Good luck with that conversation with your first employer.
This is really impressive two days before a parents' consultation evening. Have you got a death wish?

My mum say's she doesn't want to see you any more.

We'll see.


Ring Ring: Hello, is that Jamie's Mum. I'm just ringing about the parents' evening. Jamie says you no longer want to see me.

Oh. What subject is this?

Religious Studies.

I don't have Religious Studies on my appointments list.

I gave him 5.25.

Strange that I don't have that.

Particularly as he said you no longer wanted to see me.

Can you do 5.55?

Perfect. See you then.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Sunday

Dear God, on this festival day we thank you especially for your servant Martin Luther. We praise you for your mercy which raised him up as a zealous reformer. You brought again to light through him the gospel which declares salvation by grace through faith and we thank you for preserving your word in all its truth for us today. You reached out to us and sent your Holy Spirit into our hearts and drew us in faith to Christ and now we are your children, rescued from the slavery of sin. Do not let us loose this gospel and our faith, or set truth aside for error. Do not let us trust in our own works to merit heaven. You have directed our faith away from the commandments of men and rest our hope only and solely on the great and precious promises of your Gospel.

Help us to cherish the blessings of your Word as our fathers in faith delivered it to us. May we be thankful for the gift of bishops, pastors and teachers. Give them courage, wisdom and zeal to proclaim the gospel faithfully. Give us the desire to support them in the work of your kingdom with the talents and means you have provided. Fill us with zeal for your Word so that we may eagerly proclaim it. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, that we may boldly proclaim you to be our mighty Fortress. We ask this for Jesus' sake, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, throughout all eternity.


Saturday, October 30, 2010


Not in a politically correct Jeremy Clarkson apology way, there really are a lot of very special people out there. Some are made special by consuming alcohol, others by consuming drugs. Some however are just normally missing a few cards in their pack. They all provide the business with custom, their money is the same as everyone else's, their problems also seem to be everyone else's.
As doorstaff we have to communicate with the punters, sometimes in a hurry, sometimes with all the time and patience in the world. More often than you would credit it takes all the time and patience we have. The concept that access to a venue is not a right. Simple premise, it's not yours, you don't own it, it's not a public institution, there is no "rights" issue with being rejected.
The simple ones seem to struggle with this concept. The idea should be common to just about anybody whose lived in the world. The special folk don't get it, even when explained in words of one syllable, very slowly. This can infuriate some staff, my response is generally to laugh, whether it's with the other doorstaff on by myself. I care about humanity, if I let the mentally deficient get me down I'd really struggle to keep meeting them every night.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

For my American readers

Following on from Tuesday's post I give you John Bell of the Iona Community delivering Thought for The Day on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday. Follow the link and read or listen. If you are a sucker for a Scots accent, I'd listen first.

It looks now as if politics is following the same promotional path... at least in the USA where the Democrat and Republican causes are being championed by media personalities, notably Jon Stewart and Glen Beck. In this country we too have had television personalities allying themselves with one party or another, but never with such force or profile as is presently evident across the pond.  And just as we may be inclined to question the merits of particular merchandise if its advertising relies too heavily on celebrities, so we might question whether any party which relies heavily on popular media names has run out of steam as regards the verity of its cause.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Boo Hoo

Are you upset at me?
I've been sworn at, swung at, spat at, lied about and threatened. I get paid to stand on a door to a place that advertises itself as luxurious, sexual, laden with promise and a state to be desired. I get to tell people that this is not for them, by dint of life's many varied journeys, their personal journey doesn't include the inside of the venue. I get to see the disappointment and the many alternative reactions to this. Most reactions are negative, some of them get directed at me. Some of it fairly so.
I don't play fair, I don't give folk a fair chance. I don't treat each individual on their potential. I make broad judgements, I discriminate. I get to define a select set of excluded folk, I don't care that it's not fair. I get paid by the management, I get paid to make decisions good for the business. That's why I make the decisions I do, at least that's what I like to think.
I don't dislike people in general, just the specific ones in front of me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Politics: Sanity or Honour? The view from over here.

An excellent article: well worth a read

Alongside Stewart will be his Comedy Central colleague, Stephen Colbert, whose own nightly show parodies the the fear-mongering FOX news and its presenters, who perpetuate the myth that much of America is still frontier country whose people only need a gun and Barak Obama's Socialist government off their backs.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Sermon: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

(As preached to the London Eritrean Lutheran Congregation)

Jeremiah 14. 7-10 &; 19-21

Psalm 84.1-7

2 Timothy 4.6-8 & 16-18

Luke 18. 9-14

Jesus told them a story: "Two men went up to the temple to pray. One of them was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector."  Beyond that what do we know about the two men? The original audience would have identified them both immediately and understood their background. But what do we know about Pharisees and Tax Collectors? Possibly less than we think.

Centuries of Christian interpretation have led us to think of Pharisees as the bad guys, but this isn’t entirely fair. They are often presented as Jesus’ opponents in the gospels certainly, but we need to remember that they were society’s good people. We know that the Pharisee was a religious leader; a pious man who took his religion very seriously indeed. He stood in the correct posture for prayer in the temple, arms raised and head lifted. Jesus’ disciples would not necessarily have been critical of this man.

And the tax collector? Now, again, because we know how Tax Collectors were looked down on and how Jesus dealt with them generously, we usually see them as the good guys but actaully tax collectors were crooks: this man was a Jew who earned his living by working for a foreign government, collecting taxes from his own people. For years he had collected high taxes from his Jewish neighbours to give to the Roman government. He gave the Romans their flat rate on every head, and made his money by charging over the odds and keeping the difference for himself. Basically, he is a con-man, a traitor, and a lowlife. He is hated, he is guilty and he knows it.

So, we have on the one hand the Pharisee who was one of the most respectable people in the Judaism of the time and on the other hand we have a tax collector who is a fraud and a turncoat, despised by his own people.

Surely there’s no competition here in terms of God’s favour: it’s obvious isn’t it? The man of God verses the crook.

Are we missing something  here?

Jesus told them a story.


Jesus told who a story?

We need to go back to the middle of the last chapter to discover that Jesus was talking to his disciples. This isn’t one of those situations where the crowds of followers and bystanders were dogging their steps and demanding wise words and signs and wonders. No. This was quite intimate: just Jesus and his friends. Now Luke, our Gospel writer, often tends to show us the Disciples as weak and confused and, while it doesn’t do to over-speculate we can imagine the scene: the disciples are gathered around Jesus and he is telling this story. Perhaps they are at rest after a long day; perhaps sharing a meal; perhaps gathered around a fire. "And he told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt."

But are they hearing the same story that Jesus is telling? Is there a gap between their hearing and understanding?

Are they hearing the same story that Jesus is telling? Is there a gap between their hearing and understanding?

Which of the two men in the story would a group of Jewish men be most likely to think of as having God’s favour – the pious and religious Pharisee or the thieving tax collector?

The clues are in the prayers each man prays:

In the Pharisee’s prayer, he has nothing to ask of God. He’s basically giving God a progress report. As far as he can tell, he’s got it all under control, and he’s happy about it: “God I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, unrighteous folks, adulterers, or even like that tax collector over there.”

The Tax Collector, on the other hand , keeps his head lowered as he comes into the temple and stands some distance away . We don’t know why his guilt has got the better of him today, but there he is in the temple, full of remorse, beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He doesn’t even promise to reform. All he does is ask for God’s mercy.

Remember as you are considering this, that we already know the story and its outcome. We know what they didn’t. We’re familiar with the story: so familiar that maybe we don’t consider that the message may not have been quite so obvious to the disciples.

Did you consider that Jesus was setting them up when he told them this story? Did you consider that Jesus’ summing up of the story would have shocked and perhaps even offended them?

What if Jesus had started the story differently? Two men went to the temple to pray. One was insufferably arrogant, assuming himself to be superior to ordinary people. The other stood afar off and humbly acknowledged his sinfulness before God." That’s the contrast. One makes a claim to righteousness based on his own accomplishments, while the other relies entirely upon God's grace. It's clearer now which of these two models Jesus was calling them to adopt.

The surprise ending of the story is that the Pharisee, who gave a wonderful performance in the temple, went home empty. He came asking nothing of God and he went home getting nothing from God. The tax collector, dodgy character that he was, showed up empty handed asking for God’s mercy, and went home justified and in the right relationship with God.

So what? O.K. It’s an interesting story, but so what? What has this to do with us? And this is always the issue for me: I have to make the stories of Jesus real to me; I must find an application otherwise the parable remains just a story Jesus told but without the power to touch or challenge me.

Luke presents the disciples as weak and confused and likely to misunderstand his teaching.

That surely couldn’t be us too, could it?

Well actually it could. After all, we’re Disciples and we tend to think we understand the story. But are we hearing the same story that Jesus is telling? Is there a gap between our hearing and understanding? "Jesus told this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt."

So, baring that in mind, how do we understand the story? We may hear this parable as a lesson on humility: don’t be proud like the Pharisee; go home and be humble like the tax collector. Doesn’t that sound like good advice?

But isn’t that a trap? If that's the moral we take from the parable we may have missed the point: we take a parable about God’s amazing, unconditional grace and acceptance, and turn it into a story about how we can earn or merit God’s love by being better people. We’ve got the answer now. If we can just be humble like the tax collector and not be puffed up with pride like the Pharisee, then God will accept us and love us. We may even find ourselves praying, “God, I thank thee that I am not like the Pharisee.” The tragedy and the irony of trying to make ourselves worthy of love through our supposed virtues, even the virtue of humility, is that we end up casting a sideward glance at others and measuring ourselves against them. If I need to earn God’s love, then I will have to be better than the others.

The contrast is not between tax collectors and Pharisees, but between those who trust in themselves and despise others and those who know that they are sinners, the proud and the humble. Other Pharisees may well have prayed for God’s mercy just as this tax collector did, and other tax collectors could have thought quite highly of themselves and despised Pharisees. Even some Christians have been known to think so highly of themselves that they despise others.

No, the Pharisee and the tax collector are the same. They both need God’s love. The difference is that the Pharisee doesn’t know it and the tax collector does. The tax collector went up to the temple with nothing to show for himself. His hands and his heart are empty and he knows it, and so he has room to experience the good news that there is nothing we need to do, nothing we can do, to earn the grace and love of God.

Ours isn't so very different from the world Jesus was born in to. It was to both worlds, theirs and ours - the worlds of those who trust in ourselves that we are righteous and regard others with contempt - that he told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. This parable serves now as then as a word of judgment on all those times when we would compare ourselves with others and declare ourselves righteous or those others somehow unworthy. Anytime we try to draw a line between who's "in" and who's "out," this parable tells us that we’ll will find God on the other side, for as soon as we fall prey to the temptation to divide humanity into any kind of groups, we have aligned ourselves squarely with the Pharisee, on the other side from God.

In our New Testament reading this morning we see some of these ideas developed by St. Paul. The passage from the Second Letter to Timothy shows that in some ways Paul resembles both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Like the Pharisee, he boasts of his accomplishments. He has competed well; he has finished the race; he has kept the faith; he has earned a crown of righteousness. Paul never denies the character of his commitment or the extent of his success. But like the tax collector, he knows the source of his ability to accomplish these things: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” According to Paul, all the glory belongs to God.
St. Paul shows us the way: this parable is about God: God who alone can judge the human heart; God who determines to justify the ungodly.

If we can hear God's judgment in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, then beating our breasts and saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner," is surely not a bad response.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If New York Governor candidate Carl Paladino can't sort our homophobic principles, how can he sort the traffic on Second Avenue?

To be fair to Paladino, he doesn't hate gays. He loves 'em! The lady gays anyway, judging from the emails he forwarded to colleagues over the last few years featuring lesbian porn. An inspired piece of writing by British Based American Hadley Freeman. Read full Article Here

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


My beloved and I were in the kitchen bickering companionably about my perceived shortcomings in the culinary area. She was preparing a sweet. There are some fabulous Autumn fruits about and I have been poaching pears and plums in mulled wine and honey. Today it was to be plums with cinnamon: I watched my beloved liberally sprinkling the cinnamon.

First course over it is time for the plums. I am chatting to the daughters when another little voice says:

I think I may have put cumin in the plums instead of cinnamon.

I try the plums. She is right.

It was an easy mistake. Cinnamon and cumin are the same colour.

I look doubtful.

My beloved goes into the kitchen and returns with two jars, their labels turned away from me. I correctly identify cumin from its colour immediately.

Well, they're Indian plums. she continues, unabashed. They're quite sweet and not unpleasant.

I can't tell, having covered mine in cherry yoghurt. There is a certain je ne sais quoi. No actually, there is a definite Je sais.

Your friends can contact me for the recipe via Facebook.

Go on. I dare you.

Update: My beloved wishes it to be known that in nearly 30 yrs of marriage there have been very few recorded culinary mistakes on her part and that if the tables were to be turned I would be seriously embarrassed. Fair point.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ah.... 11 year olds

A dull Monday afternoon and I have Yr 7. Year 7b. We are looking at Christian art and symbolism.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We have done Chi-Rho and Alpha and Omega with a little lesson about the Greek alphabet on the side. We have done YHWH and discussed Hebrew writing. We have had fun with Ichthus and now we have got to the Dove.

Sir, Sir, Why did God send lightning on Jesus?

Sorry Connor?

Why did he?


Strike Jesus with lightning.

He didn't.

But it says it there. On your powerpoint.

Read it to me.

The Spirit of God descended in the form of a Dove and a lightning on Jesus.

(There is a sort of snorting caugh from Carol, my support assistant. She seems to be having trouble holding it together.)

Read it to me again.

The Spirit of God descended in the form of a Dove and a lightning on Jesus.

And again.

The Spirit of God descended like a dove and  ...oh.....


The Spirit of God descended like a dove and alighted on Jesus.

Well done.

You mean God set him alight?

No Bethany.

How long till the bell?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lacking in inspiration ....

.... or just plain tired but seem not to have the words right now. Too much going on.

So here's a picture I like.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

SIA goodbye

It seems the doormans bane the SIA, the Security Industry Authority, is on the big list of QUANGO's listed for a "phased transition into a new regulatory regime".
Will this mean higher efficiency?
Will this mean higher data security, not un-vetted un-documented migrants doing data entry and handling ID, credit card & bank details?
Will it mean higher quality of service, not process times so long cheques sent have expired and applications drift for months once they have been made 'priority'?
Will it mean better value for money, not £200+ for a shiny card, a partial CRB check and a poorly maintained database entry?
Will it mean accountable assessments of cases affecting livelihoods and families, or will it be summary judgements made by anonymous individuals with no visibility of evidence or opportunity for rebuttal?
Will it mean membership relates to repr?
esentation in a positive meaningful way, or will it just be us paying in to keep annonymous unelected committees sitting and their tea trays full
All I can say is I wait and see. I can only say doing a noticeably worse job would surely have to be an act of deliberate collective failure.