Thursday, 31 December 2009

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

It's just begun

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
— Howard Thurman

Thurman had a great influence on Martin Luther King and this short reflection was read out close to the end of a midnight mass service which we attended this year. The extract below is from Thinking Anglicans,taken from a series of daily reflections which I hope will continue until Epiphany, and reminds us that Christmas is just a beginning, not an ending and in no way a sentimental story to be packed away with the nativity scene.

Within three days of the good news, comes the bad news. Yes, the Word has become flesh and is dwelling among us; but there seems to be a catch: the process of full redemption and recovery is to be accomplished within human beings, resistant materials that they are, step by step. As Robert Frost once observed ‘the best way out is always through’. Indeed the whole logic of incarnation is that God’s reaction to our evil is to meet it head on, not to steer round it. If this is the nature of the operation, the fullness of any redemption brought us in this holy child is bound to be a process that works from the inside out, needing to take flesh in real people through the seemingly random and cruel processes of the world, not a magic wand job.

Picture above is Breugel "The Census in Bethlehem" which I love for its sense of all the effort and chaos of human life and endeavour.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Reason for the Season

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He's making a list and checking it twice...

Isn't the internet wonderful, you can do all sorts of amazing things! This NORADsanta website allows you to track Santa in his journey around the globe tonight and keep tabs on exactly where he is and which landmarks he is passing.

Last time I checked he was in Russia, hope he doesn't drink all that vodka they've left for him!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!"

Longfellow wrote this poem in response to tragedy in his personal life. He had been filled with sorrow at the death of his wife in a fire in 1861. Two years later he heard that one of his sons had been seriously wounded in the Battle of the Potomac, where many young men tragically died, and on Christmas day he wrote this reflection on the Christmas message

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Blessed are the light-fingered, they shall have spaghetti

Sometimes we all open our mouths and say the wrong thing , don’t we? I do have some sympathy with Father Tim Jones who says that some people shoplift out of desperation, undoubtedly he is a compassionate man and it may well be true that,
"Burglary causes untold harm and damage to people in a way that taking a can of spaghetti rings from a supermarket doesn't. “
However, as a general principle, it is probably best not to dig an even deeper hole by continuing,
My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift”, nor to go on and tell your congregation that it is preferable if it is a national business and that, “ I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses” because it just starts to sound too much like advice and encouragement!

I wonder if the collection plate did the rounds and came back rather empty?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Seeker Of Truth by E. E. Cummings

seeker of truth

follow no path
all paths lead where

truth is here

Advent is about waiting but also about journeying and therefore about seeking, searching and wondering. Cumming’s poem, Seeker of Truth, is well suited to Advent because it raises so many questions. The first question the reader asks is, “Is this poem addressed to me - am I really a seeker of truth? Is every human being a seeker of truth? What is truth? How come I must “follow no path” when “all paths “ lead to truth? How can we lead to something that is already “here”? Do we limit truth by following defined “paths” anyhow? Why is the poem so short? Why does the grammar seem to break down at the end? Why is there no punctuation? Why is “truth here” and not somewhere else? Why does the poet tell us “truth is here” when he has told us no real “truth”?

I hope you don’t think I know the answers? That's not the point of this poem!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

O Sapientia

A short section from Rosemary Hannah's reflections on Wisdom in "Thought for the Day." You can find the rest on Thinking Anglicans if you missed it. I heard it this morning on the way to work and found it moving and thought provoking:

Wisdom does not lie in dodging conflict, or trying to escape it. It lies in just how you confront it. Jesus does not confront conflict by blaming others. It is striking how rarely in the Gospels he ever blamed individuals. He blamed that which creates false barriers between people: the mix of closed minds, impossible purity standards and bumptious self satisfaction which has people hiding behind masks which disguise their inner failings, and their inner selves. Faced with individuals, typically he asked for hospitality, or offered forgiveness, without ever seeking an admission of guilt. So Jesus accepted Simon’s hospitality (Luke 7.36ff.). Simon failed to offer Jesus the usual courtesies, and Jesus made no accusation then. Later, he took an opportunity to comment on what actually happened.

Jesus’s very reaction to others sparked more anger and more controversy. In my experience, it still does. When we are hurt, or despised, we very naturally want to hit back, to prove our worth, and to point out the failings in our attacker. To be pulled up short in the enjoyable pursuit of seeing all the failings in the other is painful. Naturally we want to aggrandise our own virtues by contrasting them with their failings. To forgive, and to advocate forgiveness, is generally misunderstood. People think one is condoning the failing, or admitting one’s own guilt.

Naming sins, wrongs done to self or others, is healthy. It always needs to be balanced by an awareness of the humanity of the other and a lively sense of one’s own weaknesses. Otherwise one gets dragged into a spiral of accusation and counter accusation. You don’t even need to believe that Jesus is the wisdom of God to see how pointless that soon becomes.

Jesus avoided tit for tat, dodging it by wit, or evasive answers or silence. He did not do much spelling out of what is and is not the right moral code, and gave his followers few chances of scoring against others. He did not give simple, clear and easy to follow moral codes. He would not make his people into ‘the good guys’ and he would not turn any of the expected figures of hate into the bad guys. On the other hand, he was impossible to turn from what he believed to be true. He would not keep silent and he did not take a path which lead to appeasement. He kept right on speaking the truth. He had no discernable interest in keeping others on board, and less in keeping any faction of the Jewish faith together.

He saw the need of the people, and also their desire for him to be a leader and a ruler of a kind he had no intention of being, and he refused to fulfil it. He took his own chosen and principled path. That is how one acts out the Wisdom of God.

He sparked a huge anger, and a mix of disappointed hopes and unreal expectations. Mere common sense suggested his death, which was facilitated by one of his own followers whom he had failed to keep on board. O Wisdom. He died in agony.

Christian leaders would do well to bear all this in mind. Easy moral codes are not wisdom. Wisdom lies in taking a principled path, which does not blame others, but holds to what is true.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Pure poetry

Mary's Song
by Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigour hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves' voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

This poem by Luci Shaw imagines Mary’s wonderings. I particularly like the way this poem explores the paradox of might choosing vulnerability. As the poem progresses, the use of words such as “nailed”, “caught”, “brought to this” and “torn” hint at the suffering and pain of the crucifixion.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Festive warning for all vicars

Yes, it may be nearly Christmas, the season of goodwill and all that, but the vicar pictured here has simply gone too far. It is bad enough to have to help assemble countless Christingles and bore yourself rigid with the talk about what the orange and sweets represent while the little blighters stuff themselves. There is no need, repeat, NO NEED WHATSOEVER to actually dress up as a giant Christingle yourself.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Do dogs have souls ( part five)

The Supreme Being is not called TAC now, is he?

Dogs are definitely made in God's image. A small hint is that "God" is "dog" spelt backwards ( it is no crazier than those people who do the bible and number/ verse co-incidences - sorry God incidences.)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I can give this one a miss...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

California dreaming

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For any of you who are feeling that the Church of England is increasingly becoming a wintry place, buffeted by the cold winds of conservatism - well - I couldn't resist this. Enjoy!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Child Abuse Scandals in Ireland

I received this information via two emails from James, a dear friend in Ireland, who writes about how the Roman Catholic Church is reeling from the recent report into the sex abuse scandals and has given me permission to post this contribution:

I hope I don't start a new 100 years war by giving the Roman Catholic point of view on the different issues - and just when you were thinking that the Anglican Church was in need of some reforming! Church wise we are having an extraordinary time in Ireland after the publication of a report on the behaviour of the RC church and the authorities in dealing with claims of child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese. The RC archbishop of Dublin has said this week that he doesn't want to go in to a meeting with fellow bishops this week until they have answered for their behaviour in dealing with priests who were accused of abusing children. There are calls that at least one bishop should resign ... the Bishop of Limerick for "inexcusable behaviour" in not following up on claims of abuse in a thorough manner. The church in Ireland really has reached a turning point where the old ways will not be tolerated any more but the future remains unclear. It could be a catalyst for genuine reform or it may also result in many giving up on religion completely. The single point of hope is that the current Dublin archbishop has for the most part dealt in an honest fashion with what he has inherited, even to the point of standing up to the previous holder of the office, a cardinal and getting him to drop a legal action to maintain the secrecy of official documents. This archbishop says that there are now only two other bishops in the country who are on speaking terms with him!
I think it would be fair to say that the continued existence of the Catholic Church in Ireland rests in the hands of the archbishop of Dublin, without him the institution would have lost all credibility and the jury is still out on whether the institution can regain any credibility in the future.
Many of the abuse victims ... who are now in their fifties and sixties ... were incredibly brave people who have fought in some cases for a quarter of a century for their story to be heard. Apart from anything else, some were people of incredible faith and some have said the response of the bishops has been so poor that it has hurt them more than the original abuse (which in many cases was horrific.) The link to the latest official report is: 04 or
a google for "catholic archdiocese Dublin report" will bring it up.

It’s over 700 pages long dealing with 46 sample cases in Dublin (how a sample of 46 accused priests were dealt with), in particular it shows how the authorities dealt with accusations of child abuse, previous reports dealt with the activities of the abusers, this one investigated into how a sample of them were dealt with.

A summary in paragraph 1.15 in part 1 states ...

"The Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State."

It goes without saying that the behaviour of the church in the Dublin diocese was typical of the behaviour in dioceses countrywide. A TV current affairs program dealt with a case in Donegal where a priest was transferred to a new parish within the diocese every time accusations were made about him and there were about 10 transfers made over the course or 20 or 30 years leaving that individual free to repeatedly abuse over that period. We can't begin to grasp the evil inflicted on so many children’s lives by that one person. The Dublin report notes that one priest admitted to abusing over 100 children and another to abusing on a fortnightly basis during his 25 year ministry. But again not to lose sight of the fact that the scandal this time was the churches response and how it facilitated that abuse by the way it dealt with complaints and that the church was aware of what was happening but that its almost sole priority was protection of the institution and its assets, which meant that those who were abused were seen as the enemy and were treated as such rather than reaching out to try to heal their pain.

Finally it wasn't just the church, in many cases the authorities in the police ( the 'garda' ) and in the Dept of Justice were just as anxious to protect the church. Previous reports dealt with abuse by religious orders and the Dept of Education came out badly as well. The situation now is much better (it could hardly be worse) but there are many bishops still in office who were in positions of authority when these bad decisions were made. This report states that the current bishop of Limerick made bad decisions and on one occasion his behaviour was inexcusable. But he hasn't resigned ... presumably because he knows that just about every bishop in Ireland behaved the same way ... and thought they were right in so doing.

So where does that leave us, the people in the dock this time aren't the usual suspects but being Irish and living in Ireland I have to admit that the bishops response wasn't untypical. In Irish society in the past, those who made allegations of sexual abuse were regarded with deep suspicion and perhaps even hatred. It's uncomfortable to note too that in many other respects these bishops were 'good' people. In other areas they were kind, humane, affable, intelligent, educated people, some were regarded as capable theologians or were professors of sociology, they took great pains over moral issues and yet when confronted with the "worst crime" as it is described in Church law their behaviour directly allowed the sexual abuse of more and more children. Abuse is a mild term for the rape and horror those children went through ... in some cases over a period of many years.
So please God this may mark the beginning of the end of a bad era for the RC church in Ireland and the beginnings of a more humble church. The reform won't happen unless there is a large number of bishops resigning over the coming months otherwise the RC church in Ireland will be destroyed.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Riverside, California

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected the first female bishop in its 114-year history yesterday but ended voting for the day with one of two openly gay candidates still vying for the second bishop's position.
Rev. Diane M. Jardine Bruce, rector of St. Clement's-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente, was elected yesterday at the diocese's annual convention, but there is still a second post to fill and balloting will continue today.
This election is significant because two of the six candidates vying for the vacant positions are openly gay and, if you scroll down, you can read the thoughts of one of those involved in the selection process a few posts down.
Of the two gay candidates, one, the Rev. John L. Kirkley of San Francisco, withdrew late Friday. The other, the Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, of Baltimore, was one of the top two vote-getters in the first two rounds of balloting for the second position and is considered a favourite.
Last July, the Episcopal General Convention, the church's top policy-making body, voted to make the ordination process more “open” (resolution D025) and many saw this as paving the way for the election of another openly gay bishop in “defiance” of the moratorium following the election of Gene Robinson. Watch this space!

Do dogs have souls ( part four)

...and they give generously to the Church...
(OK, I made that up, but it is a lovely dog)

Do dogs have souls ( part three)

Many dogs have been known to have a counselling role..

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Do dogs have souls ( part two)

On the other hand, it is just possible that dogs have convinced us that they have souls by the simple expedient of treating us humans like deities ( usually in the pursuit of food or walkies.)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Would you vote them off?

The signature Jedward hairstyle really doesn't do anything for Brown and Cameron, does it? At the same time I am not convinced that any doctoring of their image could make them any lower in my esteem than they already are. It won't be the X factor , but there will be a showdown and grand vote before June 2010 - now, where is that red button?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

X Factor

Much ado in our household as Jedward are now in the sing off and may be ejected from the X factor ( or so I am reliably informed.) These admittedly rather annoying twins have become hate figures in our household and my younger son has announced that he "can't bear it" if they get through. Their hair is apparently "too sad for words", they "can't sing" and they "dance like girls". Although I am not sure I approve of the gender stereotypes and strongly feel that the fate of Jedward is hardly a seminal issue, I now feel sucked into the drama and am awaiting cries of joy or horror from downstairs...

Churches may still be guilty of illegal discrimination under the new Equality Laws

The EU has apparently ruled that the exemptions allowed to religious institutions over refusing to employ people on the grounds of their sexual orientation or practices may be too generous and contravene European law.

I recently blogged on the Lord's ruling that upheld the religious exemption clause introduced by Lord Waddington (12th November) which gave an indication of the controversy that the Equality legislation has generated. I am not going to comment here, but it will be interesting to see the various reaction of interested parties both outside and within the Church.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Do dogs have souls? ( part one)

Martin Luther believed dogs have souls and he had some spot on ideas, didn't he? One thing is definite, dogs are capable of prayer. Look at the look of supplication in this Westie’s eyes and tell me that this is not true ...see, you can’t, can you?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Are you an ASBO Christian?

I've been talking to a number of people over the last few weeks about how they, or I, have little faith in institutionalised religion and feel that the attitudes and actions of the established Church often seem far removed from, or even contrary to, the teaching of the gospel. So, this cartoon from ASBO Jesus may strike a chord:

Fortunately for anyone currently feeling bitter, marginalised or beleagured, ASBO Jesus also had this message for us:

Which leads to the faint possibility that we can sometimes feel like this:
Even if it is, at times, a remarkably well kept secret...

The Sound of Silence

The Archbishop of York, who is himself Ugandan,has been called upon to condemn the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill introducing the death penalty for certain acts. According to the think tank Ekklesia the Archbishop of York's office has said he will not be making any statement.
I actually feel too stunned to comment on this, except to say that it looks a lot like walking by on the other side of the road.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Revision Committee

There has been an announcement today that members of the revision committee have reversed their earlier ruling in favour of statutory transfer. The reason given for this about turn was that "members of the Committee were unable to identify a basis for specifying particular functions" and that " as a result all of the proposals for vesting particular functions by statute were defeated."
This is obviously good news for those campaigning for the full recognition of women's ministry and the right for women to exercise that ministry without compromise or discrimination. I believe it is the only truly workable solution as statutory transfer would have led to a a two-tier episcopate and left us with a bitter legacy and divisions which would continue for decades.

The decision is not such good news for those in the Church opposed to the ordination of women and many are already bitterly complaining on blogs and websites that they feel unchurched and undervalued. I suspect that many Anglo Catholics, even those who have applauded the Pope's offer as generous, will draw back from taking advantage of that generosity given the theological constraints - the need to accept Papal infallibility being one - and also the practical difficulties of such a transfer of allegiance. For evangelicals opposed to women's ordination, jumping ship to Rome was never an option.
So, given that the decision of the Committee holds and is carried through Synod, and I fervently hope and believe that it will, what solace is there for the groups who perceive themselves as "losing out"? Well, many are writing as if they have forgotten that there will still be delegated transer, most likely governed by a code of conduct to which all parties must have regard and must not ignore, that hopefully there will be a spirit of co-operation and grace and also that their feeling of being "unchurched" and marginalised is common and has been common to many groups in the Church, including countless women whose ministries have already been sacrificed or curtailed and for whom this decision has come too late or at least not one moment too soon.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Free to speak or firmly silenced?

The Lords, last night, voted by 179 to 135 to retain a defence on the grounds of “free speech”, introduced by Lord Waddington, in the law against inciting homophobic hatred in the Equality legislation passing through parliament. The government opposed this “free speech” defence and the legislation has been returned to the Commons four times.
Now, I have blogged on this subject at length (Offend or please, 18th September) and do not intend to reiterate my points. It is clearly insupportable that anyone should be breaking the law by simply expressing a view that homosexual practice is wrong. It is also insupportable that they should cause distress or harassment to others by expressing those views in a way that is intrusive, unsolicited or liable to incite hatred or acts of discrimination by others. I have not looked at the wording of the clause, if it focuses on concepts such as “reasonableness” and “context”, I would probably support it; if it is simply a blanket exemption, I would not. It is also worth noting though that the legislation, as supported by the Commons, would have been extremely unlikely to have led to action against anyone on the grounds that they expressed a simple opinion,
A spokeswoman said the government was “very disappointed” at the vote as the threshold for prosecution was “high”, the defence was not needed . She said “The offence only covers words or behaviour that are threatening and intended to stir up hatred.”
There is no doubt that there is genuine concern around the equality legislation and that that concern comes from groups as diverse as Churches and comedians. What does worry me is that a small number of those who support the “free speech” clause do so because it allows them to offer “reparative therapies” ; therapies which have been shown to be deeply damaging to the psychological well being of the individuals involved. There are ex gay industries in the UK and I would like to see such “ministries” answerable to outside bodies in terms of their ethical frameworks and open to litigation if they operate in ways that could be deemed detrimental to the individuals involved.
Meanwhile, as some sectors of the Church celebrate their freedom of speech, a climate of fear and an inability to speak out still remains for so many LGBT Christians. Clergy whose love literally “dare not speak its name” , a “don’t ask” but also a “don’t you dare tell” policy and laypeople who are silent or invisible in the face of a Church which claims to be committed to a listening process but is in the process of firmly stopping its ears.

Photo above : Conservative christians at this year's Manchester Gay Pride

Adjournment debate on sex discrimation

Link here to the Hansard record of the adjournment debate in the House of Commons on "the application of the sex discrimination legislation to religious organisations" :

I've only had a brief scan of it this morning and may say more later , both on this and on the Lord's rejection of the homophobia clause relating to freedom of speech.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Poem for Remembrance Day.

Great Men
The great ones of the earth,
Approve, with smiles and bland salutes, the rage
And monstrous tyranny they have brought to birth.
The great ones of the earth
Are much concerned about the wars they wage,
And quite aware of what those wars are worth.
* * *
You Marshals, gilt and red,
You Ministers and Princes, and Great Men,
Why can’t you keep your mouthings for the dead?
Go round the simple Cemeteries; and then
Talk of our noble sacrifice and losses
To the wooden crosses.

Siegfried Sassoon, WW1 Officer and Poet

Sassoon's bitter but moving poem, "Great Men", sums up so much of what I feel at this time of year. I have mixed feeling about Remembrance Sunday, perhaps because of memories of the day having such a high profile when I was growing up ( my dad was a British Forces Padre stationed in a military garrison in Germany.) I am far from being a pacifist but I have deep reservations about so many recent conflicts, in particular the war with Iraq and the current conflict in Afghanistan.
Sassoon has little time in this poem for posturing or war mongering and knew from his own experiences that those in power can be willing to sacrifice lives for political expediency. You can hear his bitter contempt for the "Marshalls, gilt and red", a reference to the uniforms but also the literal "guilt" and red of the blood on their hands. Yet this poem moves from anger to pity, profound respect and his sense of solidarity with the common soldier. His tribute to the true "great men", the unacknowledged soldiers who lie in "simple" cemeteries with only "wooden crosses", is very moving and, to me, is what any act of remembrance should be about.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A lorra lorries

I don't know if you have seen these Klein lorries. I love them but think I would find them a distraction while overtaking!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Setting aside our differences?

There has been little or no response from conservative groups to an appeal by Changing Attitude and Inclusive Church to speak out against the new Ugandan bill introducing draconian legislation against LGBT people.
CA and IC have approached Fulcrum, Anglican Mainstream and other groups or parties to ask them to “set aside our differences” in sending a joint letter condemning such violence and discrimination. The silence so far has been deafening and the only stated basis I can find for their refusal is that Colin Coward is apparently “selectively quoting” Lambeth 1998 resolutions.

It does seem that, despite the claims to deplore violence and hatred, certain factions are unwilling to put aside petty dislikes. I find our inability to work together dispiriting, but equally depressing is the resounding silence of Canterbury and York. The silence here is likely to arise from other causes than animosity to “sinfulness” – fear perhaps? caution? weariness? indifference?
Savi Henderson wrote eloquently recently about how the Church of sixty years ago was a force for justice in our world,
"Sixty years ago the Anglican Communion was at the forefront of human rights. Though commitment to rights for all has been repeatedly endorsed, it now tends to be referred to in vague terms by top leaders. They will have to decide how to respond to this legislation... What they do or fail to do, will affect their ability to witness to a God who does not abandon the abused and exploited. These are testing times.”
Regardless of our differences - what price courage, integrity, sacrifice, optimism, love - in the place of expediency and vested interests? As Henderson implies, we might as well go back to flower arranging.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Conishead Priory and the Manjushri Meditation Centre

Every half term we tend to head off to the Lakes to relax. We travelled up this morning and stopped off on our way at Conishead Priory, which houses a meditation centre and the Kadampa Buddhist temple in its grounds. The temple was built in 1997 and is really a very beautiful and tranquil place. We have attempted to visit before and always managed to find it closed but this time we struck lucky and enjoyed walking around the temple in the suggested clockwise direction. It was interesting to read about the "Dharma", these are the teachings of Buddha concerning the realisation of inner peace, which apparently help us to abandon those states of mind that cause suffering ( can't argue with that now, can you?)The centre piece of the temple was this dharma wheel in the ceiling, which was meant to symbolise the eight teachings, united in harmony, yet all diverse and spreading out through life and the world.
We walked around the temple and read about the various adornments, plaques and their meanings. The main shrine houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha ever made in the West and I managed to talk a little to a young monk, who was refilling some bowls of water and some glasses with various substances. He explained that this was to do with offering substances that we find beautiful or welcoming, such as water, flowers, light, perfume or food. At the back of the guide book was a step by step beginner's guide to a a simple breathing meditation, which Matthew wanted me to follow as he read me the instructions in a whisper, to the evident amusement of the said monk.
We then headed up to the Whitewater Hotel in Newby Bridge. You can see from the pictures that it is aptly named, because the river at the back forms quite a torrent as it courses over the rocks under the bridge.

All in all , a very calming day which was finished off nicely with a sauna and swim and a much needed meal in our favourite local pub.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Rowan's role

It has been fascinating over the last few days to read the reactions from various quarters to the Pope’s offer of a safe haven for disaffected Anglican clergy. Rather like in a bad marriage, all the past resentments and grievances bubble to the surface, everyone points out each other’s faults, all the different factions jockey to get what is rightfully theirs out of the whole shenanigan.
John Hind, Bishop of Chishester, has announced that he might be walking out. Meanwhile, Forward in Faith, at its meeting in London, introduced some domestic comedy by stating that their grounds for possible separation as not only the introduction of women bishops but also the Church’s, “attitudes to sexuality.” This statement, coming from Forward in Faith, a group notorious for Anglo Catholic high camp, is rich to say the least. Colin Coward, on the Changing Attitude blogspot, is NOT amused, in a scathing article entitled, “Let’s Pretend”, he points out that,
“ Both John Broadhurst and John Hind and the flying bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough know that they pastor many gay male Anglican-Catholic priests.”
Quite a lot of naming and shaming in Coward’s article, I get the feeling that someone who knows most of what there is to know about various people in the C of E is itching to name more than a few home truths...
Meanwhile, some have suggested that Rome has not exactly been above board in wooing those ready to jump ship. Lord Carey has been reported by Ruth Gledhill as “appalled” by the apparent contempt shown by Rome in failing to consult the Archbishop of Canterbury and notifying him only a few weeks in advance.
My personal view, and many may disagree with me, is that Rowan Williams has been treated appallingly by many within and outside Anglicanism. Kendal Harmon (Titus online, courtesy of Anglican Mainstream) has displayed his contempt for what he sees as William’s laxity and lack of authority by describing Rome’s offer as,
“ a huge indictment of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
Many conservative commentators have used the Vatican’s announcement to put the knife in, describing Williams as, “taken by surprise”, “ignored” and “completely unaware” and many web sites have clearly selected the most unflattering photos, such as the ones featured here. There are also clear signs that many liberal commentators are not so sweet on Williams. The MCPU’s recent response to his actions over Anaheim was tantamount to an accusation that he lacks the integrity to be true to his convictions or to make clear to others the limits of what he is and is not willing - or indeed able -to do.
While I do not believe Williams is, or should be, above all criticism, I think the level of carping in some quarters lacks generosity. He is not someone who sees his role as to police the various squabbles in Anglicanism but primarily as a spiritual leader. Grace and forbearance with each other are the Christian virtues that he has offered as a means to unity, but his recent comments about a “two track” Communion do show that he is realistic enough to know that, for the time being at least, we may need to live separate lives.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Freedom of Speech or a Platform for racists?

Like many of us, I've spent a bit of time this week mulling over the thorny issue of whether Nick Griffin should have been offered a platform on the BBCs Question Time. On one hand, I do value freedom of speech and expression, on the other, I am conscious that this freedom needs to be balanced against the possible consequences for the vulnerable within society, especially if the sentiments expressed are likely to encourage violence and hatred. A part of me felt Griffin would be sure to condemn himself out of his own mouth, another part worried about the fillip given to racist attitudes, insidious or overt, that seem to be growing in British society. I decided to wait and see.

Within minutes of watching Griffin perform, I felt a lot easier. It didn't take long to recognise that this was not going to be a slick performance as he blundered his way through the programme alternating from arrogant buffoonery to self pitying ingratiation. It was, as they say, not a pretty sight - but at least he created some near comedy (if it hadn't been so offensive) with his non violent Ku Klux Klan and the assertion that he only associated with fascists to moderate their views.

And yet ... on Radio 4 on Thursday morning they discussed the turning point in the political career of Jean -Marie Le Pen, when in 1984 a similar exposure in the media dramatically increased his foothold in French society. Over the last few decades we have seen a sea change in attitudes towards people based on gender and sexual orientation; racial prejudice has not decreased in the same way - and anti Islamic feeling has burgeoned. I just hope and pray that, when it comes to the BNP, history won't repeat itself.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Pareidolia is the perception that an object is in some way significant, often supernaturally or spiritually ( according to Wikipedia that is.) Apparently, thousands of people gathered at Knock Shrine, Co Mayo, on Monday, hoping to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary outlined in the Sun.
There were ripples of applause from a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 as some people believed they could see the sun shimmering, changing colour and dancing in the sky. Some people were rapturous afterwards.

However you can actually find God ( or his mother) literally anywhere ! A Dutch chocolate fan has recently taken the biscuit after finding an image of Jesus after biting into a Kit-Kat, allegedly on Good Friday.
"I was amazed. I just took a bite and then I saw the face of Christ in it," the finder enthused. Instances of pareidolia connected with seeing Christ or the Virgin Mary in food are surprisingly common.

Here are some searching pareidolia questions for you, gentle reader:

1. Can you see Jesus in this kit kat?
2. Would you have eaten it anyway?
3. Or preserved it in some sort of shrine?
4. Or sold it on e-bay?
5. Or used it as an excuse to consume kit kats in large quantities ?

Answers on a post card?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Women Bishops on a bus!

I have a feeling quite a lot of people have already found this brilliant link which allows you to make your own version of the “atheist bus” with its well known slogan, “ There probably isn’t a God, so relax and enjoy your life.” It can be great fun making up your own version - especially if there is an issue over which you feel exercised !

Friday, 9 October 2009

Latest on Women Bishops

I am sure I will not be the only one to feel frustration and disbelief at the news today that the committee responsible for overseeing the legislation on women bishops through Synod is seeking to reverse the decision duly made and voted on in July 08. Those who cannot accept the authority of women bishops have argued that their position should be protected by statute and it seems that they may have their way. The committee, headed by the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, states that it ,
“ voted to amend the draft to provide for certain functions to be vested in bishops by statute rather than a statutory code of practice.”
In short, the revision committee has voted to change the rules to remove certain powers from female bishops when they face opposition from traditionalists. In such areas specially appointed male bishops would assume these powers – which would be enshrined in law.
Now my dismay and anger at this news is not primarily based on a reluctance to pander to the attitudes of those who are in conscience opposed to the ministry of women. I am quite happy to state unequivocally that I personally believe such objections to be based almost wholly upon deep rooted misogyny and a lack of humility in those opposed to the ministry of women with respect to their own ministry as men and servants of Christ. I also believe the “objections” to women’s ministry to have no real scriptural basis and see them as offensive, morally bankrupt and demeaning to the common humanity of all of us. These are strongly held convictions – but nevertheless I can recognise that I may be unfairly judging those who “cannot in conscience accept women’s ministry.” What really concerns me though is the sheer unworkable nature of a “two tier” church with such potential for division, discord, no-go areas for women and a real curtailing of the scope of women’s ministry. In all sincerity, I hope that WATCH delivers a resounding, “Thanks but no thanks” to these proposals ; at the same time I know how bitter it will be to so many women to see their prospects for ministry and opportunity dwindle and fade.
I also ask what message we give to those outside the Church, the young within the church and women, whether lay or ordained. Forward in Faith members have complained that the matter has been reported as though they were bigots or,
“ as though we just care about what hangs between the legs” ( Rev. Fr. Tomlinson.)
But how can we expect the majority to see it in any other light than a church that is prejudiced, out of touch and, despite a message of love, places little weight on valuing all people as precious and acceptable in God’s eyes.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Poem for Autumn

Spring and Fall: To a young child

MARGARET, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

A young girl crying, as she watches the leaves fall, forms the inspiration for this poem. Hopkins feels that the child with her “fresh thoughts” can hardly understand what she is grieving over. The adult understands, what the child cannot yet grasp, that our sadness at the ending of the year and the death of nature is rooted in our knowledge of our own mortality; man was born for the “blight” of death, and, as Hopkins brilliantly concludes “It is Margaret you mourn for.”

No-one masters sound quite like Hopkins, all the w and l sounds in that “worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie” create such a sense of the weariness and sadness. At the same time this is a beautiful poem, the linking of youth and the ending of a cycle, the voice of the poet and the dawning awareness of a child, even the name “Goldengrove” which suggests all the richness of human life and experience as well as the gold of the autumn leaves.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Chief cook and dog washer

I returned home late today and, not only had Mr. M done the laundry and hoovered the living room , he had also bathed the dog. It was a bit of a saga ; Bessie had repaid her owner for a long walk by joyfully rolling in something very unsavoury. Kev had discovered that getting her clean, following this heinous act, involves a lot of water ending up on the one administering the ablutions.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Offend or please

The equality legislation currently progressing through parliament has caused some concern because of its possible implications for freedom of speech and conscience. A quick trawl of blogs and sites reveals the level of concern amongst conservative Christians. John Richardson ( the Ugley Vicar) sees the expansion in the rights of various minority groups as a nail in the coffin of religious freedom and an ushering in of an age of religious persecution ,
I have no doubt that if not for me, then for other Christians soon, the knock will come on the door, and I will need to make sure I've got my toothbrush and some sugar cubes in my pocket. (The last was a hint I remember reading about for people living behind the Iron Curtain who faced arrest.)Other Christians have welcomed the legislation, pointing out the irony of people complaining about oppression when what they arguably want is the right to oppress others (especially gay people) in the name of their faith.
However, all of us, whatever our views, should consider carefully the issue of preserving a level of freedom of speech and conscience, even when this has the potential to offend (and some would say any level of freedom of expression allows the potential to offend.) It is clear that we cannot have complete freedom of speech. People must not be free to incite hatred or violence, but to bring in laws that aim to eradicate offence seems to me a slippery slope.
One of the things I detest about our obsession with health and safety regulations is that we act as though we can eradicate risk completely. Now, not only is this impossible because life involves risk, it would also be bad for us as some level of risk helps us learn. In the same way, I do not think we can eliminate offence either and to do so would leave us the poorer. Healthy debate involves hearing opposing points of view and forming our own opinions. The privilege of being able to do this hones our intellect, shapes our ability to reason and discern and validates us as fully human and able to exercise this freedom. I, for one, do not wish to live in a thought police state where with the best intentions I am cotton- wooled from all offence and my brain, heart and soul turns to mush.
I believe that some have called for a strong clause of reasonableness to be applied to the equality legislation to prevent its misuse. I support this, and also think there should be a strong regard for context.
One of the examples given is of an atheist, working in a Catholic care home, being offended by a crucifix on the wall. Because “offence” is a subjective thing it is not implausible to imagine that someone might be offended. They might see it as a depicting a violent act of torture, one that offends their sensibilities and causes distress. As an atheist they may see it as part of an antiquated and offensive set of beliefs, it intimidates them, they’d like it removed.
Now, the person above may be genuinely offended, but is their offence reasonable? I’d guess not as the majority of sensible people would point out that they chose to take a job in the context of a Catholic care home, what did they expect?
Several street preachers have been arrested for preaching that homosexuality is sinful. With a strong clause of reasonableness the police would have to look carefully at the language used, how intrusive and intimidating the preaching had been. Some might argue that context is also important. For example, a particular Church may have a strong view on issues of divorce or sexuality but members of a congregation can leave and join a different church if they don’t like the ethos and approach, avoiding a street preacher is harder.
As always, the issue is sometimes more complex; not all members of a congregation are voluntarily present. Could a gay teenager brought up attending a church which condemned same sex relationships reasonably claim they caused him harassment and distress? I suspect so and such churches may have to rightly be mindful of their duty to act within strict ethical guidelines and prove that they have done so, especially when dealing with the young and vulnerable.
A strong focus on the importance of reasonableness and context would not eradicate all the problems caused by (and to be solved by) the equality bill -and we should not forget that it aims to solve problems by protecting people and addressing existing injustices. But in an atmosphere of anxiety (paranoia?) from some conservatives and some disquiet amongst liberals committed to freedom of speech, it might create a workable middle ground.

The Equality Bill has been left relatively intact following scrutiny by the Commons Public Bill Committee. The Committee stage ended on 7 July 2009. From the numerous amendments that were proposed, only a handful have made it into to the Bill. The Bill now progresses to Report stage before heading to the House of Lords. The Bill is still on track to receive Royal Assent in Spring 2010 and become law in October 2010.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Protecting children?

Few people will have missed the current furore over the new child protection vetting regulations. There has been a lot of inaccuracy in the coverage, for example, as far as I am aware, private arrangements such as taking a friend’s child to football will be exempt, unless the service is provided under the auspices of the club or organisation involved.
What doesn’t seem to have been pointed out is that these regulations are, and always have been, as much, if not more, about protecting organisations and institutions from liability than genuinely protecting children. If they carry out checks then organisations can show they took the proper steps if a child is abused. CRB checks only protect children from known sex offenders, not from those unknown to the authorities. Meanwhile the new regulations do nothing to help the countless children abused in the home – not that this abuse can be regulated or legislated for.
I am all for a sensible level of checking but we have to recognise that we cannot legislate away danger to children. It angers me that, in the midst of all this cost and bureaucracy, services such as Childline constantly struggle financially, relying on donations and fundraising to continue. A key way to protect children is to empower them to speak out and to put help in place when they do so. While the legislation is debated and many needless forms are filled out, thousands of children who actually are being abused phone Childline every day. One in three of those children will not get through, their cry for help will not be heard – and that really is criminal.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Wizards of Edge

On Sunday afternoons we often drive to a local beauty spot, Alderley Edge, to walk the dog. Some of you may know that the Edge is rich in legends and history and inspired Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a story about two children protecting a magical stone from the evil Morrigan and her followers. There are many unusual sites nestled amongst the ancient trees from the Druid’s Circle , the Holy well and Wishing well, the mines and the sandstone caves and rocks.
This blend of mystical, pagan and Arthurian captures many visitors’ imaginations and this afternoon we met this group of - er – elvish warriors who had dressed up for the occasion and were keen to tell us all about it while brandishing their very own Excalibur ( albeit plastic). I thought the blokes looked rather wizard like, I love the flaming red beard, and the women made charming pixies ( the ears are fake, honest...) They were on a quest but let me take this great photo all the same - I don’t know about you, but I adore eccentricity and a capacity for imagination.
The picture above is one I took of the view over the Edge this afternoon. It was a beautiful, sunny September day and the area was full of couples, families with children and dog walkers - as well as elvish questors!

These photos of the sandstone caves and of castle rock _ the name of the rocky outcrop to the right - show the layers in the stone and the colours created by the mineralisation.
The Edge is full of fascinating nooks and cranies ; the boys in particular loved exploring the area when they were younger and would dare each other to go further into the cave above.

I wish I had a picture of the various wells, there is a wishing well and a holy well . There is a legend of some iron gates that remain to be found and I believe that a hermit lived somewhere in the Edge during the nineteenth century. Alderley Edge is well worth a visit if you come to Cheshire, a trip there will always yield treasure of one sort or another.