Sunday, February 28, 2010

This is me

Well, obviously not but it got you looking. What a wonderful recruitment poster! (Without the last frame, of course).

(Thanks to AnneDroid)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Face to Faith: St. Paul the radical.

St Paul is often dismissed as a finger-wagging bigot. This could not be further from the truth.

Tom Holland The Guardian, Saturday 27 February 2010

Saint Paul remains topical today in a way that no one else in the Bible (with the admitted exception of God) can rival. Whenever tensions rise between the rival claims of Christian and secular morality, it is a fair bet that there will be a Pauline maxim lurking somewhere in the background.

Conservatives in the Church of England who fret about women bishops, and vicars who instruct their female parishioners to submit to their husbands, are consciously echoing Paul's first letter to Timothy: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."

Read article here

Comment: To me the thing about St. Paul is that he stands in the tradition of rabbis who would debate and develop doctrine on the hoof. Sadly the death of any rabbi stops that process and in Paul's case further development of that thought is doubly stopped with the setting of the canon of scripture.

Had he lived longer - or were he alive today - I think he would continue to engage in theological debate, and be prepared to move his position in the light of that debate. As Tom points out what we know of Paul is that his writings represented his thinking at the time. Is there evidence in his writings that his position on certain issues was moving? Yes there is.

That being said who is to say that it would not have moved further had he lived longer, or that he expected his collected writings, each being a snapshot of his current religious thinking, to be gathered together and viewed as the difinitive word on what he discussed?

Tantalisingly what we might also consider are what might have been in Paul's lost epistles.

UPDATE: Anyone in the U.K can watch Tom Holland develop these ideas On C4, Sunday evening 28th Feb, in "The Bible: A History" at 7.00 pm.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

About cooking...

What would we Brits do without Delia Smith, long time doyenne of British cookery?

"Could you make dinner?" my beloved asked. "There's good quality mince from the farmer's market."

Hmm,...chilli, or shepherd's pie?

I take our dog-eared Delia from the shelf and browse.

Cottage pie it is.

And look, we have all the ingredients - apart from parsley and really who cares?

I particularly liked the use of cinnamon and a whole tablespoonful of tomato paste. I also thought Delia was creative in suggesting mixing the leeks into the mashed potato topping.

My beloved returned to a lovely thick sauce and a variety of vegetables steaming in the pan.

I dished up with a certain amount of pride.

As I was serving myself I heard my beloved gasp from the dining room and my elder daughter rushed into the kitchen and began drinking copious amounts of cold water.

I tasted mine.

How easy to confuse tomato paste and chilli paste.

We ate out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Off colour

We had a little problem with a semi-regular gentlemen customer at a popular destination in the town centre. We see him in passing most weekends, see him in most months and see him like this very rarely.
He seems to have some inherent communication issues, though not severe enough to stop him having a small group of consistent friends. He has socialised with this group for several years and he appears a core member of it through the numerable cast changes. He does however have some issues and these are exacerbated by drink.
He doesn't seem to read group dynamics, he can't seem to see who's associated with whom and where the lines of familiarity are drawn.
He will interrupt conversations to put his unrelated interjection over the top of it. He will be overtly friendly with groups of strangers who just happen to be unlucky enough to be walking down the street at the same time he is. These might line him up for some abuse and intimidation but these are all strangers and generally used to dealing politely with the socially inept you encounter on a night. What his most troubling issue is when he is angered or confronted by one person he can transfer this anger onto another group or person who haven't been involved.
He often gets into arguments, on the street and inside venues but is normally sober enough, or more accurately not too drunk, to let these accelerate. He backs down, his friends wade in or we guide him away. He's not particularly aggressive, he's not large or intimidating, he just gets baffled by group dynamics and boundaries.
When he's had a skinful however, he doesn't know when to back down, he doesn't know when he's in danger, he doesn't seem to clock when his mates are not around.
All of this adds up to us finding ourselves dragging him out and landing him on the street. We don't bar him as this only happens once a year, he and his group are normally a fun, big spending group which reflect the target audience of the venue well. Some folk just shouldn't celebrate their birthdays it seems.

Sunday Sermon: Lent 1 - Luke 4.1-13

Many years ago I had the opportunity to study in Israel, at the Bar-Ilan University in the suburbs of Tel-Aviv. The whole time was absolutely fascinating: Israel isn’t a big country and during my time there I was able to visit most of the significant places associated with Jesus’ ministry and when I was thinking about this morning my mind was drawn back to a particular event, a particular view, on a journey from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea.

Israel’s wilderness is an arresting and challenging sight: endless arid mountains, stunningly beautiful in their honey-coloured way but harsh and pretty well lifeless, suffocatingly hot in the day and freezing at night, seemingly endless and relentless. It is hard to imagine a less hospitable environment

I went there by air conditioned coach. Jesus went on foot in the power of the Holy Spirit. I had a packed lunch, plenty of bottled water and lashings of sun-screen. We’re led to assume that Jesus had little or nothing and was left to his own devices. A day was enough for me. Jesus endured forty. And yet that one day allowed me to connect and to get a sense, however inadequate, of what Jesus went through.

Of course, it also helped that I had the benefit of hindsight and knew why Jesus had chosen this lonely vigil of prayer and contemplation at the start of his formal ministry: in the sort of term beloved of modern psychoanalysts Jesus was “finding himself”.

So what are the common threads that link Jesus’ wilderness experiences to the whole church at this time as we begin Lent? Of course it is a time of self-examination and a time of self-sacrifice. It may be a time of “finding ourselves” too, in the sense of a new self-awareness. If it was good enough for Jesus, then some way of formalising that for us, both as individuals and as a community, is clearly an appropriate thing to do, hence the development of the Lenten period that leads Jesus inexorably to Jerusalem and death.

Except that along the way we’ve rather lost the plot haven’t we? Today’s Old Testament passage sets the scene with its talk of making a sacrifice to God. Consider Orthodox Christians: an Orthodox fast consists of foregoing eggs, dairy produce, meat, fish, wine and oil. Just imagine the impact on your recipe options for the next forty days.

But I make assumptions: perhaps you’re one of those who manage to rise above the watered down version of a fast that has become the modern expression of Lent. Even so the remarks of one of my pupils on this topic stay with me. “So people give up crisps and chocolate during Lent. It’s a diet thing then is it?” That’s pretty damning.

We often think of Lent as a time to perform acts of sacrifice that will please God in some way, perhaps to earn his favour. Such sacrifices are pointless because we will never be able to please God. The readings all through the season, leading inexorably to the crucifixion and atonement, show us that the salvation that comes with Jesus’ death is a gift from God, not a reward earned. It is only our genuine faith in that event that justifies us.

If our feeling is that we should give something up, it needs to be from a sense of obedient discipleship, truly convicted by the promptings of The Spirit that this is God’s way forward for us at this time, not the habitual observance of an empty ritual. Nevertheless, however well we manage to enter into Jesus’ wilderness sacrifice; I think we’ve missed the greater point of the story.

What happened to Jesus while he was there? Let’s not forget the temptations.

Luke gives us the fullest account of the testing of Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus’ subsequent recounting of this experience to his disciples clearly moved and inspired Luke and today we hear the intricate dialogue between Jesus and his tempter as Luke understood it: a wonderful fencing match – the thrust and parry of scriptural interpretation. Satan uses scripture to test Jesus and Jesus counters with more scripture: once, twice, three times.

Let’s take a look at the temptations: Just glance again at the Gospel reading, v6-12. If you are hungry, change stones into bread. If you are the son of God, leap from a tower and rely on angels to rescue you. If you bow down before me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours. If the process for Jesus was about finding himself, out in the wilderness with Satan, Jesus risked losing himself not just geographically but spiritually.

Perhaps to make this more personal and more relevant to ourselves we may need to work out what the temptation wilderness is for us. It isn’t likely to be a desert: not around here anyway but there are temptation environments. One American writer I was looking at talked of the retail environment and the temptation to consumerism. Been to the White Rose Centre recently? Or Meadowhall? Now there’s a wilderness if ever I saw one. It will be different from person to person: for some it’s the wilderness of addiction – alcohol, drugs, sex or whatever; for others the wilderness of relationships or self-defeating behaviour; for others it’s the wilderness of the idolatry that comes with our society’s obsession with the cult of celebrity; for still others the wilderness of time management; ambition; ignorance of significant current issues; you name it, it’ll be someone’s stumbling block.

Maybe one practical thing we can ask God to help us explore this Lent is what the wildernesses environments of our own temptations are.

In the past when I have read or heard this Gospel passage I’ve often struggled to make sense of Jesus’ temptations in terms of how I am supposed to respond. While I do identify with being tempted, I don’t particularly identify with these temptations.

Now there are clearly a number of ways of interpreting them.

As a teenager this passage was very much the basis and justification for learning Biblical verses: like an evangelical boy scout I needed to be prepared and the ability to use the Bible to stave off temptation in the way that Jesus did was something to be emulated and was very much built into the fabric of the youth group I attended in those days. It’s a strategy and I’m not knocking it: just look at today’s Psalm for reassurance of God’s care. How reassuring to commit that to memory …… and yet this psalm contains some of the words the Tempter seeks to subvert in his dialogue with Jesus.

In the past I also remember finding it helpful when I was told that the temptation to turn the stones into bread has a wider interpretation that relates to the general temptation to acquisitiveness and avarice. It’s all about my greed. Equally helpful was the understanding that the temptation for Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple has a wider application today in the idea of attention-seeking or arrogance. “Look at me!” And who hasn’t fantasised about having real power? We can certainly apply to ourselves ideas of the over-riding desire for success and influence.

However accurate those interpretations might be, general as they are - but none the worse for that, I think they miss something important.

Many commentators maintain that these temptations represent some of the prominent messianic expectations of Jesus’ day: the people believed that the Messiah would feed the hungry, or release the nation from the domination of others, or call on the extraordinary power of God to perform miracles. These were all admirable deeds in themselves; they still are today. Who would not want to see that the hungry are well fed, or that people are granted self-determination? Who would not want to demonstrate the marvellous power of God at work in the world? But why are these good works presented here as temptations? Simple: Jesus is challenged to perform them for the wrong reasons. The temptations Jesus faced are temptations tailored specifically for him, not for anyone else. His temptations are not mine and my temptations will not be yours. We must each face our own. All of Satan’s questions to Jesus have the same core challenge: they go to the heart of who Jesus is and question that, seeking to undermine it. No matter that in the preceding chapter Luke has had Jesus baptized and identified by a voice from heaven as the Son, the Beloved. The tempter fed his ego. Yes, Jesus was finding himself and his purpose, and these temptations firmed-up both his self-awareness and his resolve.

It is the same for us: temptations go to the heart of who we are and question that, seeking to undermine it. No matter that in the earlier chapters of our lives we too are called to be God’s sons and daughters through baptism and are His beloved. These temptations usually feed our egos too but for the wary they can be used to firm up our self-awareness and resolve.

It seems that real temptation is often subtle, not obvious: and we too are frequently tempted to do good things, but for the wrong reasons or in inappropriate ways. In the face of each temptation, Jesus reminds the tempter that the heart of righteousness is commitment to God, not the performance of marvellous deeds. Jesus will indeed eventually feed the hungry, deliver the people from bondage and demonstrate the marvellous power of God but he will accomplish these feats in God’s good time and in a manner that will please God, not the crowds.

One more key element in this section: because the temptations were tailored to Jesus they were temptations to bypass the cross; to bypass the path through suffering to resurrection. Note Satan’s insinuations “If you are the son of God.” If. Yet Jesus has just come from his baptism where he has heard the affirming voice of his Father. “You are my son, my beloved.” Both Jesus and Satan know that Jesus is to rule over all the earth eventually. Much of the temptation lies in the potential for sidestepping the cross. In Satan’s temptation Jesus would be able to enjoy ruling the kingdoms of the world without ever having to remove their sin and suffer for their souls. Jesus in the end performs a greater miracle than transforming stones to bread; greater than jumping from the temple; greater than possessing the kingdoms of the world (not that they were Satan's to give anyway!). He walks the lonely path of commitment to the Father even when that path takes Him to the cross. The ultimate question behind every temptation is can we trust in the Father to rescue us from death, to bring meaning out of our suffering? Jesus is the proof that we can; the vindication of that belief is in His resurrection and this is St. Paul’s teaching to the Christians of Rome in today’s Epistle.

But what if we give in to our temptations? And let’s be honest, we will from time to time. We’ll fail because we’re human and that means we are fallen. The Holy Spirit is the resource that God has given us to battle the twin forces of temptation and free will but we still have that free will and the Holy Spirit doesn’t over-ride it. Maybe the thing to remember is that in the same way that temptation conquered can lead to spiritual growth so too can temptation succumbed to.

There is a caveat and it comes in the final words of the gospel for today. When Satan had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. He left him alone for the time being. There’s a reminder not to let our guard down. We are always vulnerable.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Working on the Augsburg Confession Articles VII & VIII: The Church

The church is those people “Scattered throughout the world who agree on the Gospel and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit and the same sacraments, whether they have the same human traditions or not.”

The ungodly are associated with the outward practices of the church but only God can truly know the righteousness of a man’s heart. When we talk about distinguishing between the wheat and the weeds The Apology refers to Jesus' story in Mat 13 where we are warned against trying to distinguish wheat from the weeds. This is on the basis that the final judgement is God’s alone and we should not be left to make judgements on others on the basis of our own prejudices and our own sense of who is saved and not saved.

You don’t have to look far to see how this principle has not been followed. In the Anglican Communion at the moment and on a variety of right-wing blogs there are divisions which lead others to make those very same judgements: “Your worldview on women’s ministry or on human sexuality isn’t the same as mine so you are a false Christian.”

This is clearly a lesson that individuals have not learnt.

The Apology uses the Pharisees as an example of the sorts of people who are more concerned with outward ritual than with true spirituality and we can all recognise the Pharisee tendency within the church but that isn’t enough for you or I to make a judgement that such people are not the “true Kingdom of Christ and members of Christ”.

What is a source of encouragement to Christians is the assertion that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend on the spiritual good standing of the person administering them and that even clergy can be numbered amongst those who are hypocrites and open sinners. “They do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ.”

The Apology notes “Just as the Church has the promise that it will always have the Holy Spirit, so it also has the warning that there will be ungodly teachers and wolves.” While I might have grave misgivings about the current Anglican leadership in Nigeria and Uganda and while I might even share those misgivings with others, it is still not for me to question the spiritual credentials of those men in the eyes of God.

It has been personally challenging to me to recognise that I could, seemingly with good conscience, receive the Lord’s Supper from such men and, indeed, to show that I was not making that judgement, perhaps I should if I was given the opportunity. Now that would be a moral dilemma because if I didn’t what would I be saying? I think I’d be saying “It’s not for me to judge you but I’m not receiving Communion from you out of solidarity for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lost n' Found

The list of things found in the deepest darkest corners of the nightclubs as you're clearing out the place is only bettered by the list of things found out in the unconcealed open.
The little triangular blue pills to help gentlemen turn up on the bar. The spent hamster mattress has shown up in a previous post. The bags/lines/wraps of coke that accumulate on the seats, tables and corners of the dancefloor are an all too common sight under a bright torch light. The bizarre however is by its very nature rare. The purse, lost on the main dancefloor, reported to us hours before, turns up at kicking out time, still full of cash, phone and keys. That was a massively unexpected event.
We do give folks the occasional surprise when we find their bank cards, digital cameras or the bits of the phones that disappear into the poorly lit gloom every time a handset is dropped. I carry a torch for that very reason. Well that reason and the fact that naughty stuff glows very white under a blue end of spectrum LED.
The lady who asked us to find her lost handbag was a little shocked that when we found a black faux leather clutch bag and decided to check for her ID, phone or some unique identifier before handing it over. Even more shocked were we when next to her ID, a very good photo, was a little clear bag half full of white powder. That customer doorman relationship turned on a sixpence at that point.

So, Climate Change....................?

According to the newspapers public belief in climate change has fallen, particularly since the recent e-mail "scandal" at the University of East Anglia, and aided, no doubt, by an incredibly cold winter. (N.B. weather is not climate.) The statistics vary slightly from month to month and no doubt by location, gender, political affiliation and socio-economic grouping. A BBC poll this month - presumably of Brits alone - found that 25% of the 1,000 people polled (only 1,000?) didn't believe in climate change at all, up 8% since November, and 1 in 3 felt the matter had been exaggerated. Only 26% felt that climate change was "established as largely man-made". The government's Chief Scientific Adviser for the Dept. of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, commented that the findings were "very disappointing".

Interestingly in the same article (The Guardian, Feb 8th) it is noted that most Conservative M.P.s are sceptical about their party's focus on climate change policy and are concerned about the economic consequences of a low-carbon policy. I had a strong sense of deja-vu as I read this: most of the Republican Party comments I have read and almost all on American Right-Wing blogs focus on the economic argument. The concern appears to be that in following low-carbon policies we shoot ourselves in the foot economically and allow our competitors to gain an advantage.

Now that is clearly a valid fear but two things strike me about it:
1) Wasn't Copenhagen at least partly about trying to get an international agreement on the implementation of low carbon policies, in which case the playingfield would, presumably, be much as it already is ie: with the First World advantaged to the Third World disadvantage.
2) Shouldn't the economic argument be a much lower priority than the scientific argument? I had this conversation with a friend recently and he said that it was a blinding flash of personal clarity which helped him to understand what is actually at the heart of much of the climate-change science scepticism: financial self-interest - not so much national self-interest as corporate and multinational self interest.

So where are we with the science then? The infamous "e-mailgate" hasn't thrown up any evidence that the science has been tampered with, although there is clear evidence that the UEA scientists were trying to frustrate freedom of information requests and attempting to keep some authors from having their work published in peer-review journals. I don't know to what extent either of these is a criminal offence or deserving of professional disciplinary action but I do know that the matter has been used to question the science, when actually the issues are quite separate. Banner headlines such as the Daily Telegraph's "Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of 'Anthropogenic Global Warming'?" or CNN's "The Climatic Research Unit e-mails show that the science behind climate change has been pretty well debunked." have turned out to be initially rather premature and ultimately inaccurate. The damage, however has been done: the media influences public opinion.

Then we have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their carelessness over their assertions about the rate of glacial melt. They got it wrong: they were wrong about the rate of melting but not about the fact that the glaciers are melting.

What does any of this teach us?

Well, I think it teaches us that scientists need to be more professional. I don't think that it teaches us that the accumulated data from all over the world of the last 200 years is flawed.

What was that quote about Nero and Rome? Now juxtapose it with the Biblical teaching on Stewardship and what have you got? An economic argument for questioning the science? I don't think so.

I'll leave the last word to Andymg2, commenting on a Guardian blogsite:
Britain's worst Prime Minister of all time is grandstanding again; and writing cheques with our tax pounds that he can't and won't be around to cash.

The great global warming swindle is already dying on its arse thanks to the UEA crooks getting their hands caught in the till.

There is going to be no deal because the sensible countrys US, Canada and Australia China know a scam when they see it. The EU doesnt count for shit in the real world.

The quality of the debate is breathtaking.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Give Thanks....

Those of you who remember this tragic story: Read it and Weep: it should make you angry will be happy to learn that Enid has been granted indefinate leave to remain in Britain.


This is very largely because of the wonderful work of All Hallows Church, Leeds.

Thanks be to God.

UPDATE Enid would like to express her thanks to all who supported her in prayer.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Bug-Man came to school.

No we don't have a pest problem. Well, yes, the teenagers obviously.

When I arrived at the Knowledge College there was a van in the carpark with "Bug Man" graphics. He was being greeted by a science teacher. Now what with me being perceptive I was able to work out that this would be some sort of demonstration and I was very intrigued by the large red boxes they were carrying into school. They were parked temporarily in the main office and the five ladies who work there were not entirely happy about the arrangement.

I had a full teaching day so put it out of my head until William came with a sticker in his planner saying that he was expected to visit the Bug Man during that period (when he should have been with me). William is a nice boy and I know he will catch up, so I gave permission.

This went on all day - just two or three kids per lesson and always the best behaved, so it was clearly a reward. At the end of the day I decided to go and take a look, failing to encourage Sophie, the daughter of a colleague, to come with me.
"Oh no. I don't do insects."

Mrs. B's science room is nice and welcoming and the fist thing I noticed was a colleague wearing a rather nice and very big lizard, complete with ruff - the lizard not the colleague. It was perfectly content and seemed to be enjoying the attention. I was drawn to the tarantula. I have never been close to one before and always assumed I would have the eebie-jeebies if I did. No. It was love at first sight on both sides. She was beautiful and she was very happy to be handled. I was smitten. I was quite taken with the big black scorpions too: not things of beauty by any means, but again docile and content to be handled. Apparently the big black ones are not aggressive - unless you happen to be an insect. I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined lifting one out of the box and holding it in my hand but I did. They sort of felt like vulcanised rubber.

"No. It's the little sand coloured ones you need to watch out for. They do sting." said the Bug Man pointing at a couple in a box. South - East Asian milipedes are a strange species. Absolutely huge and looking like a thick piece of licorice, their legs tickle. I was quite charmed.

"The praying mantis lives on the lampshade in our kitchen" he said. It never moves from there and it eats all the insects that flutter around the light." Must give guests a nasty turn.

The two-foot stick insect was, frankly, a disappointment. I don't think they have much in the way of brain matter.

Then came the snake. Don't ask me its species. It wasn't poisonous and was very long. It likes people - not in a dietry way. My friend Dave the caretaker decided to face his fears and wear it as a necklace - suited him. I had the idea that he should nonchalently walk down the corridor wearing it to gauge the reaction of passers by but as he had broken into a sweat by that point we decided not.

After he'd had a little sit down he went about his caretakerly duties.

We had a parents' evening later. William came to see me. There was no conversation about Religious Studies but a lot of chat about spiders.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ruff and tumble

The student masses have descended again and after a few pointless exchanges of words with closed ears, well spoken idiots I was put in mind of a incident a long while ago. In a multilevel venue with a kind of balcony overlooking the stairs I encountered a considerably inebriated young scholar in his sporting outfit. Separated from the rest of his herd he had clearly been left too long at the watering hole where he was singing loudly and making the king of sounds only half a silver drawer in your mouth from an early age can produce. He was swaying gently in the still air and I was afraid that in the interval it would take me to reach him across the very busy floor of the club he would have swayed too far and broken the slight string of sobriety pinning him upright.
I was right to be worried. As I was just beyond arm's reach and closing fast he went down. Well he nearly went down, he had one hand holding strong to the balcony rail while his other 3 limbs rubberised and then appeared to be electrified as his drink stalled reflex nerves tried to right him.
Luckily his one good hand held 'til I got within grasping distance and then I did just that. I grasped at his shoulders to find I was holding only jacket. I grasped at his middle and got only a handful of shirt. With a more assertive pinning of the lad to the rail I got control of his torso. The four distributed limbs were by now firing wildly, half to try and regain balance, half trying to fend me and my control off. This went ok 'til the lower two started resisting me and the upper two started resisting gravity. I got massively unbalanced, tangled and entwined in this whirling ball of limbs. Down we both went. I struggled free and hauled myself up. He was fairly well just thrashing about. Lively, energetic but massively unfocused. As I wasn't heading back to the mat with this one just yet I grabbed an arm, lifted it high and began dragging him back to his feet. This time, they came back under him in a more positive fashion. The one restrained wrist became two and he was successfully frog-marched out, his legs still retaining the amphibian limbed bounce of his earlier efforts. Not a glorious episode but for all those watching and at least one of those involved quite a funny one. Even when sitting across the road, about to be arrested for D & D he still managed to get beautifully plummy "far" and "can't" sound into his final "fuck off you filth cunt" line.

For Susan S: Marcella sings Queen of the Night