Monday, June 28, 2010

A pastoral letter from Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson


The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is both heartbreaking and infuriating. It causes deep sorrow, both for the initial loss of human life and for the deep and lasting damage to an ecology that provides life and livelihoods for so many of God's creatures. At the same time we grieve that the natural beauty of this region, a sign of God's marvelous creativity, has been defiled.

Read the rest HERE

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What a place for an ordination


I went to York Minster today for the ordinations of a group of friends from the Yorkshire Ministry Course. It was packed. It is, of course, a wonderful building and I had to explain to my daughter the principle of building to the glory of God.

I wonder if they take bookings.

Partway through the service we had reached the point where the congregation was asked:

"Will you uphold them and encourage them in their ministry?"

"We will."

At this point, and barely pausing in the liturgy, Archbishop Sentamu continued:

"You'd better, or, through the discernment of the Spirit, I will come for you."

Scary!

This is the same Archbishop who, in his last one to one interview with the candidates asked them:

Hello. Come in. Sit down. So what is the difference between the Anglican and the Orthodox position on the Holy Spirit?"

Double scary!

I may offer a prize for correct answers. (Now that I know it.)

A little later, at young Mike's reception, I was engaged in conversation by a personable clerical type.

"So, how do you know Mike?"

"Well," I launched in "We were on the same course and on residentials we used to sit up very late drinking whisky and putting the world to rights. How about you?"

"I'm his new Vicar."

Bugger.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Home time

I work anti-social hours. That's obviously anti-social for me, highly social for just about everyone else.
When I finish a shift, I've been on my feet for between 4 and 17 hours depending upon the day, the venue and the number of venues I've worked. No real sitting down during this time, often a little adrenaline, some physical exertion and a whole load of standing around talking shit.
When I get done I'm often tired, hungry and fairly awake. I don't caffeinate particularly, I don't do the red-bull, energy shots or stay awake drinks, when I do get home from work I don't want anything getting in the way of my beauty sleep.
I often fancy a high calorie, high protein, high flavour, high fat, high salt snack to stave off hunger 'til the morning. I am thus drawn to the late night fast food venues nearest to the venue. I know the really popular one, that'll be full of all the scum I've been battling on and off all shift.
I go to the other one, quieter, still capable and less dickhead filled.
I'm known there by name, if I'm coming late, I've got the man's number to get my order in.
Most of the time, it's very quiet by the time I'm getting there, taxi, drivers, barstaff, dancers and other doorstaff make up most of the custom. I don't get on with all of them but it's friendly, sober and necessary. Most of the drunken few who stumble in don't really pay much notice. They want food and their or others beds. Frankly that's really what I'm after and wrapped and ready to go, I take my heartstopper home to enjoy, out of my boots, feet up in front of some pre-recorded televisual tedium. Arteries won't thank me for it but at least it stops me losing weight.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Now that's what I call law making!


"A U.S. consumer group is suing McDonald's over its happy meals ..... California has passed a law against offering free toys with any meal that doesn't reach a nutritional standard." according to writer Zoe Williams in today's Guardian. She goes on to write "In America there is provision under law for enforcing - or at least demanding - not just a duty of care not to kill anybody but the kind of responsibility you might ask from a reasonable adult. Please don't just profiteer."

A good article: well worth a read.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Was it only a year ago?

With Mike the Younger yesterday.

Yesterday I went to Wakefield for a nostalgic journey. Wakefield? It's hardly a million miles from Leeds. Nostalgic?

Let me explain. Yesterday was the Commendation Service for the Yorkshire Ministry Course - a graduation service, if you like. The friends I studied with for two years and who stayed on for a third year, completed their studies and passed out at a service at St. John's church (next to the Police College where we used to have our residentials), what with the cathedral not being available this year. Within a fortnight they will have been ordained Deacon. The plan was that Dr. Bob, Hilda, Stuart and I would meet up and go together but the best laid plans etc....Dr. Bob had a gaggle of Slovak students to look after, Hilda was drafted in as organist and Stuart had a diocesan synod to attent until late afternoon. I went on my own. On reflection that was a mistake.

My first stop was the coffee shop where we all sat in the sun last year before the service. I followed that with a visit to the cathedral and listened to a choir and orchestra rehearsing Vivaldi's Gloria. I walked up to the police college along the route we had all travelled so many times before as a group. I arrived thoroughly dispirited, like an earthbound ghost forever destined to haunt the significant places of its past when its colleagues had moved on.

And then Stuart arrived and things picked up.

The service was beautifully done and, although there were a couple of difficult moments for me, the desire to affirm and celebrate with my friends was far more important than anything else.

I read back over my thoughts from last year and I repost them here:

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

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

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

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

She is, one feels, a saint.

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

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

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

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

How affirming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The leavers grouped outside the front door.

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

Big cheer.

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

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

"Jack!"

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

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

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

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

Things will never be the same again!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Only the ordinations at York, Wakefield and Sheffield to get through and Dr. Bob's, Hilda's and Stuart's priestings. If I can cope with them I will have the psychological strength of Charles Atlas.

I think I might cry.

"Here I am Lord. Send me."

No Comments please!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A day with the army.


Today was the Knowledge College's annual rewards trip to the Catterick Army base for the third and last of their open days this year. Attentive readers may remember that last year's trip was somewhat wet. This year the sun shone all day. (Yes, even in the north of England.) Our four coachloads of the-best-behaved-all-year set off for a fun packed day. I even decided to wear shorts, although I needed to issue sunglasses for those poor souls who would catch the full glare of reflected sunlight from my very pale and sun-starved legs.

As I walked down the corridor to the meeting point I followed two girls in full school uniform.

"Why are all these kids out of uniform?" Bethany shrieked to her friend. (She only does one volume.)

"It's a reward trip for good behaviour."

"Why wasn't I invited?"

"The clue's in the name."

The North Yorkshire countryside is gorgeous at this time of year and my colleague Rachel and I were very conscious that we were probably going to have the best day of the school year and we were being paid for the privilege. (Following last year's trip Jagtar and I were not allocated to the same coach.) We couldn't help wondering what life was like back at the Titanic without our finest and best (staff, of course) to moderate the behaviour of the rest.

"Sir. Will there be toilets here."

"No Emily, we're in the army now. You have to use a bush."

On arrival we waited in the coach for the formalities to be completed.

"That soldier's cute." (from somewhere behind me).

"Which one?"

"The one with the green beret and camouflage combats."

Jagtar, Tim and I found each other. They got the laughter about my legs over and done with and we set off, having released our charges into the tender care of Her Majesty's forces. Two minutes later Jagtar and I had managed the obstacle course of some orange tape marking the entrance but Tim was nowhere in sight. He caught us up.

"You'll have to keep up Tim. This is the army. We can't afford to hang about for stragglers. You'll compromise our operational efficiency."
We passed the usual band of furtive teenage smokers - none of our kids was there - and then the serried ranks of portaloos where a relieved (in every sense) Emily was emerging.

One of the first tents we passed caught my attention because of the sound of brass band music. As a brass player, I can never pass a brass band and I stood in the entrance of the tent listening to a beautifully rendered piece of music. There were fifty or so seats set out for the audience and exactly none of them was occupied. How dispiriting for them. Teenagers eh? Musical Philistines. (Please don't tell me how cultured the Philistines actually were. It's a turn of phrase. Get over it.) I was approached by an officer with a hopeful look on his face bordering on desperation.

"Are you a musician?"

"Yes, I play the Euphonium." There is a strong chance I was the only person he had spoken to in the whole three days of the event. Five minutes later - "Don't dawdle. You'll compromise our operational efficiency" Thanks Tim. I don't think there's ever any need for sarcasm - I was released with a smart corporate briefcase containing brochures, a C.D. a key ring, various pens and a military band arm band. A result I felt. I bet you haven't got one of these Tim.

When I caught them up Jagtar was reading his meal token: "Real adventure for real appetite."

"It'll be bush tucker." I told Tim.

We availed ourselves of the complimentary tea in the teachers' tent and went outside for the first arena display. It was an artillery display. A lot of men were running around pretending to shoot each other. Several took a dive and lay there in the sun. Call me a cynic but I used to do that when I was seven and I wasn't sure that it was entirely helpful for the baddies to be wearing tea towels on their heads either. An orange flare was set off.

"Orange. That's so last year's colour." noted a passing girl. Call me a cynic again but I don't think she was fully entering into the spirit of the occasion. Tim had a brainwave for future trips.

"Instead of bringing four coachloads of our best, why don't we bring a coachload of our worst and then we can turn this display into a firing squad."

We began to compile a list.

We wandered the displays. Arriving at the Royal Engineers tent we saw a jeep with its bonnet up and engine revealed.

"You could have done with this lot Jagtar when your car broke down.....because you'd run out of petrol."

At every display we were engaged in discussion by army personnel. I say we. I mean me. It was gratifying to feel that of the three of us I was perceived as the grown up. Grey hair clearly adds gravitas. A silly hat on the other hand, Jagtar, adds nothing.

As we toured around, the compare in the main arena was trying to drum up enthusiasm. We could hear it over the loudspeaker system. He was flogging a dead horse.

"Come on now. Let's have a Mexican wave. You start in this corner. Go. Yeah. No. Look, you're supposed to join in next. Let's try again. Go. Oh dear, the fat kid missed it."

We passed a dizzying array of military hardware and some awesome vehicles. We wandered over to a table not swarming with kids pointing things at each other and shouting " BANG!" We were able to look at some high-tech vision equipment. Jagtar examined his view intently before putting his hand down on the table. There was an explosion nearby.

"Look, I'll only tell you this one more time, Jagtar. Don't touch anything that looks like a red button!"

We moseyed on, passing the Intelligence Corps tent. It was empty. It was, one felt, a bad omen.

We climbed into a strange looking humveetype thingy. We were instantly at home. Ah, boys and our toys. Tim and Jagtar looked the part: ("Don't touch ANY red buttons.") I was just pleased to take the weight off my feet for a bit. The squaddie in charge told us that this vehicle was deployed to "... do the analysement ..." of soil and air samples where there had been suspected nuclear, biological or chemical activity. "It was widely used in Iraq." He told us proudly.

Hmmm...yes, now, about that. Should we tell him?

I was aware that there were an increasing number of passing salmon-pink children. Also, I felt, so not this year's colour. I soon spotted one of ours. A lovely girl with sandy coloured hair.

"Have you got any sun screen Alex?"

"I have, Sir."

"Are you wearing it?"

"No."

There's something about the teenage mind there. I just can't put my finger on it.....

"I don't know how you recognise these kids" said Jagtar.

"I know. It must be confusing for you. All us white people look the same."

"I was thinking more of the daubed green and brown war paint they're wearing."

I look again.

"I hope they're applying it themselves." said Tim as several girls sauntered by with their upper chest area liberally covered with large green hand-prints.

We passed a Gatling gun. Is that a verb? To gattle? Suggestions on a postcard.

We headed towards the lunch tent, stopping only to allow me to play to my military strength - the placing of country names on a fuzzy-felt world map. They tried to catch me out with North Korea. Amateurs.

She didn't have a place name for every country.

"Where's Estonia?" I asked innocently.

"There." she said confidently, pointing at Belarus.

I fear for the future.

Lunch was a triumph of field catering. What a feast! I had a chicken korma and a large piece of chocolate gateaux. When I came back from a surprisingly pleasant portaloo, Jagtar was on his fourth piece of gateaux. The poor lad: she clearly doesn't feed him properly.

"Anyone here from Newcastle?" (over the speaker system). A ragged cheer in response. "Ah, well, there aren't so many cars being broken into while your here then."

"Imagine" said Tim "that we were drugged by the meal and woke up to discover we'd taken the King's shilling. What would we do?"

I looked at my friends, both of whom work out - and it shows - and felt suddenly sad. As it happens we all harboured a sneaking wish that we had signed up when we were younger. Tim and Jagtar teach I.T. It's hard to imagine the army couldn't find a role for them in Tim's scenario.

"You could be Padre." Jagtar consoled me. Actually, I couldn't because I'm too old although that is a role I hanker after. All was not lost, however. Later on a Colonel, no less, in the careers tent told me the back way in.

"Join the Territorial Army. They're crying out for chaplains."

Ah, just the small ongoing problem of my not actually having been ordained yet.

We stood around gazing skywards waiting for the parachute drop while the poor compare exhausted his repertoire of time-filling details about altitude, body position, speed and cloud cover.

And then we saw them, smoke flares showing their descent pattern. It was, indeed, an object lesson in how to do it. Every one of the six touched down on the target cross in the centre of the arena. It was just magic. Unfortunately the motorcycle display team that followed was not. I don't doubt that they were skilled, don't get me wrong but, call me a cynic if you must, I couldn't actually work out the practical application to military life in Helmand Province of eight guys hanging off one motorcycle at the same time.

"Sorry Tim?"

Six guys and two girls. I stand corrected.

And then home, with Rachel and I sharing a bowl of strawberries as we sped through the lush countryside in the sunshine. It really doesn't get much better than this. And only three weeks before Tim, Jagtar and I can go to Lightwater Valley on the Year 10 end of year trip.

Teaching? It's a man's job if you're tough enough!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Eye bleach again

The middle of a steady night and a female aged between 30 and 50 approaches the front door with other female company. She's out on a big night, fancy dress, a real head to toe mess.
We'll start with the patent leatherette gladiator heels with shiny shiny goldie looking bits. Moving up we have distressed fishnets straining against flabby calves and thighs to I'm sure leave an orange bag look to the skin underneath. These wobbling nets of flesh are topped with far too short, far too tight shiny shiny PVC hot pants. The effort of the night having ripped the fishnets just at the top of the thigh so a large hole springs up showing without hatching the smudgy tattoo disappearing under her shorts. The feat of engineering holding the taut PVC together is surpassed only by the boned black low cut corset with the shiny shiny goldie sequins.
This leads us to the mass of wobbling breast, pressed up and flattened until abutting the chin. It too wobbly and topped with two over-ripe red stained trout pout lips which appeared like they were both asymmetric in wonderfully different ways.
Fake lashes thrown into relief by shiny shiny metallic eyeliner from lashes to the eyebrows halfway up the forehead.
As we carry on up, we encounter wiry, plastic hair extensions giving a huge volume to the rats nest of hairspray and backcombing. The scalp showing pale at the roots against the swirling mess of random strands going every which way.
The entire tapestry of bad choices was overlaid onto a fake spray tan so dark, she looked like a fully dessicated leathery embalmed mummy. Even down to the clumping of the sepia tones into wrinkles of the compressed and deformed bosom.
She came in and made her way to the reception desk. I made the mistake of looking into the club to see her group pay in. There after the horror of the front I see a fish-net hungry bum , chewing a pair of tiny PVC shorts into her crack and freeing a flash of white sanitary towel to weave itself through the tights.
More eyeball bleach required for all involved.

Tis the time for .... ordinations


Please pray for my friends Cathy, Shan, Danny, Mike, John, Ellie, Ann, Barry, Annie, Vicky, Sue, Karen, Ian, Wayne and Harry who graduate from the Yorkshire Ministry Course this week and who will be ordained Deacon in the coming weeks.

Please also pray for Hilda, Richard (Dr. Bob), Stuart, Daphne and Mike who will be Priested in the coming weeks and for Jack who graduated last year and is waiting on the Lord.

A prayer for Ordination:

May God sustain you in celebrating the Sacraments;
in proclaiming the Gospel and in consecrating your life to God
for the good of the people entrusted to your care.


Amen

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into God's presence with singing!
Know that the Lord is God! It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him, bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalm 100)


A Prayer for those who wait:

As I awoke this morning, I thought about the passing of time and of stepping out in faith. How long do I wait for a breakthrough, during the down times and the quiet times when I feel so alone? As I read, "my grace is sufficient for you," again I find strength in your word to wait on you.

Oh, God, I trust that you, who has begun the good work in me, are faithful to complete it. Today does not look any different than yesterday. My circumstances have not changed. But slowly and surely your Word is taking root in my heart and in it I have confident rest. I know my change will come. I am willing to wait on your perfect timing and your decision which is right.
Thank you for weighing it all out and giving me all and only as much as I can bear. Thank you for the courage to wait and patiently trust that my Father knows what is best for me.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

With you all the way on that one St. Paul.


For all sorts of reasons I've been thinking about equal opportunities a lot of late. Some things have happened in my world - but not to me - which I'm not at all happy about. To act or not to act, given that it isn't my problem, that is the question.

Then I received an invitation to preach at a friend's Anglican Church and in the lectionary I find that the Epistle is Galatians 3. 23-29. I think there is a message here I should ponder. Too many coincidences - if you believe in them, of course.

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus….There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The churches have rarely lived up to the radical insights given expression in St. Paul’s writings here and the meaning of today’s Epistle is not that there can be, or should be no distinctions among us, but that there can be no superiority of one over another or exclusion of one by the other. Paul’s words surely affronted first-century Jews steeped in a religion that fostered exclusion as a way of maintaining purity of faith and protection from outsiders: these are the people who prayed: “Thank you Lord, for not making me a foreigner, a slave, or a woman.” Paul rejected and reversed this view by declaring that these distinctions amounted to nothing in the eyes of God and those who would follow Jesus.

In my secular life I am an R.E. teacher and today’s Epistle is a passage that my students examine when we consider the topic of religion and prejudice. They are often perplexed about the limits that this passage appears to place on God’s grace: this age group has a strong sense of the importance of justice and they are cynical about how organised religion seems to find opt-out clauses for particular categories of people. “It’s a bit like that quote from Animal Farm” one girl concluded recently, “where the animals realise that some are more equal than others.”

“So what does the passage from Galatians teach about Christianity and wholeness through equality in the sight of God?” I ask them. Furrowed brows. “O.K. What does it teach about the Christianity of the first century?” We have the beginnings of understanding: “Well,” one answers, “there were divisions in that society between Jews and Greeks, slaves and non-slaves and between the genders.” “Right. So what’s the application for Christians in 2010?” More furrowed brows. “O.K.” I persevere, “Is it an exclusive list? Is it set in stone for all time?” There is a pause and then tentatively: “Sir? Are you saying that those old categories are just examples and that each generation has to apply the spirit of the teaching to its own time?” “So” I ask, “which from St. Paul’s list can we ditch then, because they don’t apply today?” There is a flurry of hands in the air. “Well, Jews and Greeks and slaves and free.” “We’re not left with much then are we?” someone notes “Just male and female.” So I ask them whether they agree that sexism is still an issue in today’s society, in the church even. They do. “So what would we need to add in now that we’ve taken the other two out?” Now they’ve all got it. Everyone has an idea and there is some animated conversation in the class. “O.K. Conclusions?” And now we have a new list. There is neither:

• Black nor white.
• Old nor young.
• Able bodied nor disabled.
• Middle class nor working class
• Straight nor Gay.
• Tall nor short, fat nor thin. And so on. Even ginger people get a passing mention.

“Are you happy that this list is in the spirit of St. Paul’s teaching?”

They are.

And then someone asks: “Are you allowed to do that with the Bible?”

And that’s my question to you here this morning. If these passages we hear week by week are to mean anything to us, and be more than just mildly interesting ancient religious documents, then they must have an application to how we live our lives and to how we relate to each other and how we do that can’t, surely, be bound by the social and religious mores of an earlier age. Can it?

That to me is the challenge of the gospel: am I living a life that reveals God to others? Am I living a life that is in obedience to how God has revealed his will? Does my understanding of Christianity and the way I live it out day to day, enhance or detract from the Gospel? When I articulate the current religious wisdom on a given topic, to what extent do I listen when the “still small voice” within says, “Hang on a minute. Are you entirely sure about that?” Am I wilfully holding on to human prejudices and exhibiting them in my life? Am I even selectively using scripture to prop up those prejudices? And let’s be honest, we all do that when it suits us, particularly when the church isn’t taking a principled stance and offering us the guidance it should.

That’s a challenge: a church that fails to offer that guidance. Just think for a moment. How many times has the church found itself on the wrong side of both history and morality?

Is the world flat? Does the sun orbit around the earth? The church once tried to assert so and violently suppressed evidence and people that argued against it. There is a historic tendency for the church to be controlling and it can sometimes be wrong. Factions within the church close ranks against new interpretations and understandings. Our two churches are products of the consequences of that.

It isn’t that long ago that Black Christians in the U.S. and South Africa were discriminated against and the Bible was used to support that discrimination: theology was hi-jacked in support of courses of action that were far from Godly in their oppression of individuals and groups. The wrong side of history and the wrong side of morality. This parish, your parish, has a woman priest. Other Anglican parishes won’t even consider the idea. In other provinces of the Anglican Church there are women bishops but not here. Yet. The battle is still on. The wrong side of history and the wrong side of morality? Only time will tell.

Both of these examples are clearly against the spirit of the teaching of St. Paul in today’s passage from Galatians, so let’s have a look at my pupils’ revised list. How is the church doing – how is your church doing - today on disableism? On classism? On sizeism or ageism? Actually, probably not too badly. How are you personally doing on those issues? Have you really felt challenged about your attitudes in the light of St. Paul’s teaching (which you won’t have heard here for the first time)? And where are we on issues of human sexuality?

If it is of any reassurance to you, these battles are not uniquely Anglican: in my denomination, as in others, these issues of gender and sexuality have pretty well been resolved. The battles have already been fought and won within the spirit of St. Paul’s teaching. In the search for wholeness other churches, which stress that they remain in obedience to scripture, have asked searching questions about the theological basis for our attitudes to gender and sexuality and drawn other theological conclusions and we pray for you as you face those same battles.

So, what is the challenge today? Another passage of St. Paul, which always causes me to stop and think: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2.12) If you consider that God’s revelation did not stop at the moment the canon of scripture was decided in 393 A.D. then what is the Spirit telling you here and now, about wholeness in the church? The wrong side of history and the wrong side of morality? The spirit of St. Paul in Galatians? “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The power of God’s love, freely given, when used by us is sufficient to overcome the human tendency to separate as a result of our distinctions and differences and as a result of our fears. Through this love we can have a collective unity – a single identity as children of God. It is the power of God’s love that can give us courage to move beyond fear and separation into integration, cooperation, interdependence, and mutual respect. This truth is rooted in the fact that each individual has been restored to unity with God by the loving, self-giving action of Christ. In so being restored to God, we can be restored to unity with one another.

Can you do that with the Bible?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Starting Out

I've had a few questions about being new to the doors so here are a few gems of distilled wisdom for a new starter.
You can be big and sturdy or small and fast but you must be able to keep your head.
Don't get emotionally involved with the things you come across. Some punters will have traumatic tales, insults will be slung at you, fists will be slung at you. They don't know you, they likely never will. Let it wash past, you react to what you want to react to, don't get wound up. If a punter or a colleague can press your buttons you've given them control of the situation.
Don't be a perfectionist, just get it right and get it to stick.
There are way too many grey areas, too much haze of misinformation and miscommunication to get it perfect. You'll make mistakes, actions will have unintended consequences, situations will change and you won't have control. Accept it, learn the lessons & don't linger on it.
Enjoy the work, it's not glamorous or appealing but if you want to keep at it, enjoy it.
It's a people job, you work in teams, you'll meet a huge number of people. Make an effort to be friendly and you can have really fun nights of it and enjoy coming back. If you're cold and stony, you'll find the reception you get is cold and stony and is that something you're going to enjoy heading back in the next night. There can be all sorts of fun to be had, be a part of it.
It's not for everyone.
It's an odd job, bad hours, no respect, a half arsed management and some shifty characters in every direction. If it doesn't suit you, get out, don't be a bad doorman who doesn't want to be doing it. There's no medal for sticking it out, just accept it and move on.
These 4 should get you through most of it but getting badged and getting started is the beginning of a long steep learning curve.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How to do Summer dressing for men.


My beloved and I were sitting in our favourite cafe on our Saturday morning date. (Yes, I know how to show a girl a good time.) It was my turn to sit facing the window: my beloved sees this as something of a disadvantage because, as a people watcher, I have a tendency to pay more attention to the world passing by than to her.

We are in the middle of a heat wave after an overlong, cold and miserable winter, where spring hardly got a look in. As I looked out of the window I was, in turns, perplexed, shocked and occasionally, frankly, disgusted by what I saw parading by. A collective madness descends on the British public when the sun comes out and we feel that atavistic compulsion to discard our winter layers and show our sun-starved and pale flesh to the world.

That is not of itself a bad thing but, having travelled extensively around Europe, North, South, East and West in the Summer months, I note a tendency in the British, only matched and occasionally beaten by our American cousins: the journey from winter woollies to summer shorts by passes one significant stop-over - the mirror. The French, the Italians, the Finns and the Estonians do summer in style. We, on the other hand, are the sartorially lost and confused.

When I next change jobs I am going to join the fashion police: as a meterosexual male and misanthrope I offer the following observation of the British male in the sunshine.

* British men and shorts: this is not a marriage made in Heaven. Amongst all the ill dressed tides of humanity that swept past the cafe window was an elderly man clearly wearing the shorts he was issued in 1946 on demob. Another man of indeterminate middle age wore the sort of genitalia defining very short shorts beloved of the 1970s soccer player. One overweight youth was wearing acres of baggy, bold, floral print.

* Varicose veins are not a fashion statement.

* Men who wear sandals with socks - black, brown and dark blue generally, tend to be given a wide berth by mothers with small children: it is an unconscious response designed to protect the young from exposure to evil.

* The wearing of sports gear as leisure wear: it's just lazy. Don't do it guys. Are you on your way to play sport? No, I thought not with that physique and a cigarette in your mouth.

* The wearing of combat camouflage: are you in the armed forces? (You wish.) No, I thought not. See previous response.

* Tattoos: why do we think they're called POLYNESIAN STYLE? (The clue's in the name.) Yes, because they look good on dark-skinned, muscular, Polynesian fishermen and not on skinny, ginger accountants from Wakefield. The upper-arm Celtic ring really did look cool in 1986. Its now 2010 (no, honestly) and its beginning to look like a serious lapse in judgement.

* Unless you've got that physique, shirts should always be worn unless you are within 50m of sea, lake, lido or river. If you do have that physique, cover up anyway. No-one likes a show off.

* Wear only one pattern: shirt, T-shirt or shorts/trousers. Do not mix and match. You'll look like a train wreck.

* Have you seen how much hair you have on your torso? I recognised you from Planet of the Apes.

* Allow me to introduce you to the concept of the anti-perpirant deodorant in the summer months. You smell and sweat patches are just not cool.

* That slim fitting shirt/T-shirt may have looked good last year. You've had a beer or two since then, no?

* No-one ever needs to see your navel.

* Crocs: don't even start me on that crime against humanity!

* The baseball cap was never cool.

* Look Youth, that woolly hat looked good in January. You just look ridiculous wearing it with a vest top and shorts, right?

* Taupe, beige and pistachio for the over 50s have been banned by the new Coalition government, as has anything with suede inserts.

This is what you do:

* You are allowed to look critically in the mirror.

* You may throw clothes away - especially ones that make you look like a knob and/or no longer fit. Get over it.

* You must go shopping when the summer clothes hit the shops, not once in a decade under sufferance. Take your girlfriend/wife with you. You don't have one? Why am I not surprised?

Failing that. STAY INDOORS ALL SUMMER.

Friday, June 4, 2010

And for My Anglican Friends - If you've not already seen it.


From Beliefnet: Like most Christians, I don't pay attention to missives from church leaders. This week, however, dueling pastoral letters issued for Pentecost from Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, caught my attention--because one so rarely witnesses a first-class theological smack down between tea-drinking Anglican primates.

Unless you've been sleeping in a cave, you are probably aware that the Episcopal Church (of which I am a member) has been arguing about the role of LGBT persons in the church. Along with the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church has opened itself toward full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians. Here in North America, this has caused some defections (fewer than at first predicted), some legal suits (most have been settled in favor of the Episcopal Church), monetary fallout (hard to separate from general economic downturn), and bad feelings (which, sadly enough, remain). But what is most surprising--and I regularly hear this from bishops, clergy, and congregational lay leaders--is that things are much less tense in the Episcopal Church now than they have been in recent years. Folks are moving ahead in their local parishes doing the sorts of things that Episcopalians are pretty good at doing--creating beautiful worship, praying together, and feeding hungry people.

Despite that fact that the Episcopalians are bumpily journeying into a renewed future, some other Anglicans--mostly in Africa--are pretty mad that we've included our gay and lesbian friends and relatives in our churches. Large communities of Anglicans in places like Uganda (the same Uganda that recently tried to pass a death-penalty law for gay people) and Malawi (the same Malawi that recently sentenced a gay couple who wanted to marry to 14-years hard labor) are seriously unhappy with American Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans.

And this leads us to the Pentecost pastoral letters.

While (somewhat ironically) attending a conference in Washington, DC entitled "Building Bridges," Rowan Williams sent out his Pentecost letter to Anglicans worldwide which, after saying a lot of nice things about missions and diversity, pulls rank and proclaims that he's going to kick people off important committees whose national churches have violated a controversial document called the Anglican Covenant. This includes the Canadians (who let gay Christians get married) and the Americans (who recently ordained a lesbian bishop in Los Angeles) and some Africans (who ordained some Americans who were splitting churches in places like Virginia and Pennsylvania).

In response, Katharine Jefferts Schori essentially, but in a nice sort of Anglican way, accused Williams of being a theological dictator--or, as she says in understated fashion, "Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism." For non-Anglicans, trust me, those are fightin' words.

This is not a conservative/liberal argument (both Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori are theologically liberal). This is a fight between rival versions of Anglicanism--a quarrel extending to the beginning of Anglicanism that has replayed itself periodically through the centuries down to our own time.

Rowan Williams' letter articulates "top-down Anglicanism," a version of the faith that is hierarchical, bishop-centered, concerned with organizational control, and authoritarian. It is an old vision that vests the identity of the church in a chain of authority in the hands of ecclesiastical guardians who agree on "a coherent Anglican identity" and then enforce the boundaries of that identity through legal means. This version of Anglicanism stretches back through the Middle Ages and relates to similar forms of Christianity as found in Roman Catholicism and some forms of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Katharine Jefferts Schori's letter speaks for "bottom-up Anglicanism," a version of the faith that is democratic, parish-based, mission-oriented, and (even) revolutionary. It is also an old vision, one that vests the identity of the church in local communities of Anglicans at prayer, who adapt their way of life and liturgy according to the needs of Christian mission. This version of Anglicanism is rooted in both the ancient Celtic traditions of English Christianity and the missionary work of St. Augustine of Canterbury circa 600.

As history unfolded, different cultures have picked up on one or the other of these two streams--for example, the British church remains primarily hierarchical (even referring to their bishops as "My Lord Bishop"); while the American church is primarily democratic ("God alone is the Lord"). The Ugandan church is authoritarian; while the South African church is revolutionary. The Anglicans in Sydney, Australia are boundary-oriented and communally closed; while most other Anglicans in Australia are liturgically-oriented and open (the Anglicans in Darwin, Australia are so open that their cathedral doesn't even have walls).

At its best, Anglicanism manages the polarities between these tensions--often creating locally innovative expressions of a church that is both hierarchical and democratic, bishop and parish centered, bounded and liturgically open at the same time. Over the centuries, this has been called the Anglican art of comprehension, or the via media (the "middle way").

But once every few hundred years, the tensions explode. This is one of those times.

The argument isn't really about gay and lesbian people nor is it about, as some people claim, the Bible or orthodoxy. Rather, the argument reprises the oldest conflict within Anglicanism--What kind of Anglicans are we to be? How do we relate to the world and culture around us? And very specifically now: What kind of Anglicans are we to be in the 21st century? And how to we relate to the plurality of cultures in which we find ourselves?

Set in this frame, this isn't just an Anglican argument. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants of all sorts, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims are having the same arguments within their varying traditions and cultures. What kind of religious faith are we to practice in the 21st century? And how do we relate to the plurality of cultures in which we each find ourselves?

For what it is worth, the river of history does not seem to be on the side of hierarchical church control; rather, history seems to be moving in a the direction of what Thomas Friedman might call "flat church." The tides are pulling most ecclesiastical boats toward bottom-up versions of faith. Hierarchical church control is, as Harvey Cox argues in his book The Future of Faith, a "rearguard attempt to stem a more sweeping tidal change" toward a new experiential, inclusive, and liberationist view of God and faith.

Despite their smack down, I think that Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori might actually agree on the fundamental questions of identity, mission, and 21st century change. I also suspect that Rowan Williams would secretly find the "sweeping tidal change" more spiritually interesting than trying to keep the Anglican institutional ship afloat in the waters. But he thinks that he's in charge--and he'll be captain of his Titanic until the last.

As for me, I kinda like this American Episcopal river raft. Better for navigating strong currents.

Diana Butler Bass June 3rd.

Is she right?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ah, the parents....


We popped over to the revered elders at the weekend. My mother's always been a bit bonkers - in a nice way - and has the unerring capacity to get the wrong end of the stick. There is an apocryphal story that she once went to a garden centre and asked for a climbing clitoris. Mrs. Malaprop is alive and well and living near Barnsley. As a child I remember an occasion where we were watching "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau." (That ages me I know.) There was a sea anemone on the screen.

"What a nice little orgasm." My mother noted, looking up from her crossword.

Quick as a flash from my Father, beside her on the sofa: "Look, no hands."

I was mortified.

But I digress.

After a quick analysis of the tennis and my claim to have been emotionally scarred by Wimbledon as a child when I returned from school and found these two, wild haired and square eyed, surrounded by dirty crockery on a daily basis, we were talking about Britain's Got talent and such shows. My beloved was opining that as the warm up man is believed to call it Britain's Got Special Needs there was a degree of corporate cynicism that was going to end in tears when some poor soul topped themselves because of the unaccustomed public attention and the cruelty of the crowd.

"What?" piped up my mother, "At Wimbledon?"

There had been an earlier conversation about hearing-aids. My Dad has some hearing loss and has an NHS hearing-aid.

"Why aren't you wearing it, then?"

"Pardon?"

What a card.

"Well the salesman said a customised hearing aid would cost £6,000" My mother was clearly scandalised.

"No he didn't." (Oh oh, a bit of companionable bickering looms. The daughters roll their eyes.)

"Yes he did."

"No he didn't."

"Well I must have been in another conversation then."

"Look, I'm the one with the hearing problem and I heard him clearly."

There is a certain irony, I feel, about an argument over a hearing aid involving two people who don't hear very well.

At some point, and for no particular reason, the conversation turned to the increase in traffic in our area. My beloved noted that the arrival of speed cameras on the main road would be an advantage as we crossed the road in the rush hour.

"Why" my mother enquired "would you be crossing the road in Russia?"

Watching T.V. with them is a bit of a nightmare and the daughters beg to go home if there is something on they really want to watch. My mother you see, can multi-task: she can read the paper, make tea, nod off, do a crossword and completely lose the plot of a T.V. programme all at the same time.

"So what happened to the blond girl?" (This is going to be tortuous.)

"What blond girl?" (You should know better by now than to ask.)

"The one with the little boy."

The younger daughter is staring daggers as we are talking over Dr. Who - which didn't have a blond woman with or without a little boy.

"He had a dirty football kit."

"Oh God. It's that advert for the pink detergent. She died."

"Oh. Shame. Pretty girl. Is that Frank Sinatra?"

The parents-in-law are no better.

There is a story which has passed into the annals of family history.

The P-I-L were at a party.

"We're going to Evita in January." said the hostess.

"Will it be warm there then? enquired my Mother-in Law.

The Father-in-Law has cataracts. He has cataracts and he is in a bad mood. He doesn't do age well. He doesn't like to drive for obvious reasons. He also doesn't like the way my M-I-L drives so they don't go anywhere.

"What about public transport?" I ask my beloved.

"No, mum had that virus before Christmas and since then she throws up on buses. She said she was going for an outpoint appatientment."

Is this the future?

I can not help but wonder what examples of parental madness my brood is storing up for future humiliation.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The U.K's approach to the Eurovision Song Contest owes everything to Father Ted.



Considering that we virtually pay for it, one can't help wondering who at the BBC is in charge of the annual national humiliation known as the Eurovision Song Contest.

Well now: where to start? My beloved says there is an anti-British Bias. That may be true to an extent but if people are still prepared to vote for Serbia and Israel I'm not entirely convinced.

I have heard others say that it is harder for Western European countries to win these days but Norway and Germany in succession seem to dispel that idea too.

In the end we didn't deserve to win but neither did we deserve to come last but it seems wings, dancers, pyrotechnics, acrobats and jugglers help.

The sooner we stop treating our selection as amateur night the better. The German song has been in the charts all over Europe for weeks. I didn't hear ours between selection and the big night. The BBC won't even champion it by giving it airtime.

Alternatively we could do an Italy and not bother at all.