Saturday, November 01, 2014

It Didn't Really Happen.

Having been converted by conservative evangelicalism I was pretty wedded to the 'All the Bible is history or it wouldn't be true' party. I didn't know any better. Trouble is, I was never very convinced by talking snakes, whale-stomach prayers and a God who kills people on the basis of a bet with the devil. Not really very godlike that.

Nobody helped me. It was skirted round at college. I was even told by one evangelical Christian organisation that people don't get out of bed worrying about historicity in the Bible. As if that clinched it.

But slowly and surely, through study, researching and repeat reading the texts I have become what my conservative evangelical mates would call a liberal and I would call more biblical.

I think it was largely due to my improving as a short story writer and teller. I saw, for the first time, the power of story to influence. So a prototype story of how evil got into the world, such stories told by almost all cultures that have ever developed in some way or other, is more meaningful, more powerful and more influential if you do not insist on its historicity.

I have done this before so read back if you want to know my theology of Genesis 1-11, Jonah and Job.

But, because I was a convert and have no deep Sunday school background full of stories - where they are told as stories and work best - I still come across the great handed-down myths in the Bible which are so clearly fiction it blows my mind that anyone has ever been asked to believe they actually happened. In fact it appals and disappoints me in equal measure.

Here's the latest. In Genesis 19 there is a story about Lot's daughters getting their Dad pissed and taking turns in having sex with him so they can get pregnant. They both succeed, first time, and give birth to children. One of these families becomes the Moabites and the other the Ammonites.

In my, English, western culture we do this from time to time. As a rather crude example, sex using an unusual orifice has been described either as the French way, or the Spanish way. The insult doesn't need cashing out and it is rarely used these days, although I chanced to hear it during a documentary on the sex industry a few months back.

So what is the answer to the question, 'Where do Moabites come from?' It's what happens if you have sex with your Dad, says the Bible. It's a local joke. It also explains why the Bible, which usually redeems itself if you pay attention, later makes much of the goodness of a Moabitess called Ruth, who is listed as one of Jesus' ancestors.

I love that. The Bible is more real and true for me than ever before because it includes a racist insult or two. These are real people we are talking about, not saints. And of course, in case you are really slow, that is not where Moabites came from.

Why can't we admit it? I have just been reading Lesslie Newbigin's excellent commentary on John's Gospel 'The Light Has Come' as preparation for a speaking engagement. In John 17 he says:

The prayer is not a free invention of the evangelist; nor is it a tape recording of the words of Jesus. It is a representation of what Jesus was doing when he prayed in the presence of his disciples during the supper, a re-presentation which rests upon the authority of the beloved disciple guided by the Holy Spirit in and through the continuous experience of the community which gathers week by week to rehearse again the words and action of Jesus on that night when he was betrayed.

It is as if Newbigin can creep up on the words 'Jesus didn't actually say this' but can't quite bring himself to say it so bluntly.

I think we should. People would respect us more. More people should get out of bed worrying about historicity. It is OK.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quote of the Day

1114. When we contemplate the cross of Christ, we are always living with fragments. Not literal splinters of wood, but fragments of understanding, glimpses of heart, mind and experience. As long as we recognise they are only fragments, they can help us.
('Touch Wood', Meeting the Cross in the World Today - David Runcorn)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

1106. Blaise Pascal said, 'Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him?'
(Quoted by Brian McLaren in A New Kind of Christianity)

Thought for the Day

As delivered just now at BBC Radio Bristol:

It's St Jude's day today. Based on one of the final lines of his letter, 'Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire to save them...' he is called the patron saint of lost causes.

Are libraries becoming a lost cause? Not enough of us using them.

I recall the excitement I felt as a child when I discovered books. Matched by the wonder of being able to go and borrow three at a time from Selly Oak library, to read as quickly as I wanted. Jennings the schoolboy. The adventures of Biggles the aviator. Summer holidays' stories Swallows and Amazons or Coot Club.

In those days buying and owning books was not the family habit. The only books on our shelves at home were reference books.

I used to work as a writer. One day a week I would be at the library researching. Not yet was all information in the world available from my mobile phone - in those days the click of a mouse would have sounded like some weird magic spell.

E-readers, tablets and other devices have replaced books. I can't easily buy my wife a book for Christmas. She reads electronically so I don't keep up with what she has read.

Maybe book-libraries are disappearing, relics of a by-gone age along with old-fashioned pubs where you simply drink and the sort of churches that smell of Evensong and pigeon.

But the surviving pubs learned to do food and live sport. Growing churches are more guitar than organ. If libraries are information-exchange centres maybe it's not all about books. My local library is popular for internet access.

We don't quite need St Jude yet. But we have him on stand-by.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

1092. You're worse off relying on misleading information than on not having any information at all. If you give a pilot an altimeter that is sometimes defective he will crash his plane. Give him nothing and he will look out the window. Technology is only safe if it is flawless.
(John Lanchester, Whoops! quoting Nassim Taleb)

General Ignorance

If the three possible ways of going wrong are ignorance, weakness and deliberate fault, I have a marginal personal preference for ignorance. I have indeed found ignorance a much misunderstood skill in ministry.

For instance, I am way smart enough to learn to operate a sound desk, but I have never done so. Likewise the computer projection system in our church. I remain profoundly ignorant. I am never called upon to solve problems with these items, both of which would distract me from the more important work (for me, not in the whole scheme of things) of praying and readying myself to preach or lead a church service.

I can also fall back on the excuse of ignorance when forced to do something which I get wrong. I can either learn to do it right next time or, and this I prefer, the press-ganger can learn never to ask me again.

A few months back I was assisting at a service when our Archdeacon was visiting. Nobody had arrived to set up communion. This is another area where my ignorance is deep.

When people ask me how they should set up communion for me (a question often asked when I am the visiting president at another church) my reply is always 'However you normally do it.' If this is followed up by 'We wouldn't want to do it in a way that would be difficult for you', I quietly explain that that would not be possible, I have no preferences whatsoever about positioning of elements, books and thing. If pushed I often crack and tell the sacristan, or server, or whatever that church calls the setter-upper, to try and upset me and betting that they can't. I cannot say this strongly enough. There is not, for me, a right way to do communion but if there is for you I will try my hardest to do it your way.

So I asked the Archdeacon the question I often get asked. 'Is there any particular way you would like this set up?' He told me what I tell everyone else, to do it as I usually do it.

It may come as a bit of a surprise to many of you ordained readers but apart from my first curacy I have never regularly set-up a communion and I do not have a usual way. I am also unfamiliar with any legalities.

So I put the stuff out in a way with which I would be personally happy and then got this response:

'I think you will find a lot of people will be upset if you do not put everything on a fair, white, linen cloth.'

Really? I could not imagine being upset at this and, although Anglicans have the capacity to become turmoiled rather easily, couldn't think of a single person who might moan. This is probably one of the several hundred reasons why I am not an archdeacon.

I did it again and hope the Archdeacon learned never to ask me again. You can wipe wine stains off the varnished communion table at this particular church, but bio-detergents are necessary to clean a no-longer fair, or white, linen cloth. Ain't that a bit daft?

Ignorance really is bliss. Embrace it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quotes of the Day

Missed yesterday so had to catalogue twenty of my quotes today. Here are two of the best:

1079. For the fathers of the Church, scripture was a 'mystery' ... not just a text but an 'activity'; you did not merely read it - you had to do it.
(Karen Armstrong: The Case for God)

1090. Great art exists in the spaces between the certainties. Economically, culturally and artistically, Music Theatre can't afford spaces, only certainties.
(Stewart Lee, Esquire 10/04 quoted in his book, 'How I Escaped My Certain Death')

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sauce?

If you haven't read volume 1 of an autobiography series that is going to run and run then head off now and get a copy of Danny Baker's Going to Sea in a Sieve. You'll not regret it and, if you don't laugh, I'll consider giving you your money back. Shouldn't cost me that much as only people too stupid to work out how to contact me will fail to laugh.

I am reading Going off Alarming which is volume 2. I was unable to wait for the paperback or Christmas.

If you are unfamiliar with Danny Baker the broadcaster then, seriously dude, what is the matter with you? Radio Five Live on Saturday mornings - make that an appointment.

But if you are that dude you may not know that he offers a segment called 'The Sausage Sandwich Game' in which callers attempt to match the answers of celebrities to various questions, the last of which is about the colour of sauce that person would have in a sausage sandwich.

Now in chapter two of the book Danny Baker (calling him Danny sounds like I know him, calling him Baker sounds too formal, my entire life consists of these minor dilemmas) introduces the idea of a sausage and egg sandwich.

It is funny what catches your attention. Where do our prejudices come from? A bacon and egg sandwich would be good (no sauce at all). A bacon and sausage sandwich would be lovely (brown sauce, although my former colleague Mark insisted, and argued well, that the sauce should be red as it needed to match the bacon, the purer meat product - I can't agree but the logic is compelling). But a sausage and egg sandwich is just wrong. I was so bothered by the idea I had to stop reading for a bit and post this.

If forced to eat a sausage and egg sandwich or die I wouldn't go to the grave, although I would resist firmly any suggestions of sauce with same.

I expect my reader will have stronger opinions on this than any of the recent political or social matters I have attended to.

Volume 3 is promised and I expect the tweets from @prodnose will be entertaining during the wait.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

1064. ...fundamentalism is in fact a defiantly unorthodox form of faith that frequently misinterprets the tradition it is trying to defend.
(Karen Armstrong - The Case for God

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

1051. Atheism must be free to say to Muslims, Christians or Jews: 'Your mind would be much more free if you gave up your ridiculous belief in God.' Believers must be free to argue back, 'You would have a more profound sense of personal freedom if you did believe.' But neither is entitled to demand that of the other as a condition for participating as a citizen in a free society.
(Timothy Garton-Ash, The Guardian 29/11/07)

Albums of the Year

I've often thought about the whole question of album of the year. Around Mercury prize time it comes along. Sometimes I agree with the award; others I get the impression it is either being awarded for longevity (back catalogue taken into account) or some act of great PR on quite ordinary work (I'm looking at you Klaxons).

But looking back over 40 plus years of enthusiasm for popular music, what, I wondered, have been the albums each year that could best be described as game-changers? Genre-busters? Or just completely new? Picking only from the albums I own.

Choosing one album a year has produced an interesting result, a sort of top fifty of my life. And of course they are not my top fifty albums for that would involve two from the same year. 1973 and 1997 were a very tough call.

Aware that all such lists do is generate comment storms, here is my discussion starter for ten:

1959 Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
1964 Sounds Incorporated - Sounds Incorporated
1967 Ten Years After - Ten Years After
1969 Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II
1971 Traffic - The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys
1972 Roxy Music - Roxy Music
1973 Herbie Hancock - Headhunter
1974 Supertramp - Crime of the Century
1975 John Lennon - Rock 'N' Roll
1976 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
1977 Ian Dury and the Blockheads - New Boots and Panties
1978 Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music for Airports
1979 Joe Jackson - Look Sharp
1980 Talking Heads - Remain in Light
1981 The Police - Ghost in the Machine
1982 Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
1983 The Thompson Twins - Quick Step and Side Kick
1984 Howard Jones - Human's Lib
1985 Big Audio Dynamite - This is...
1986 Sting - Bring on the Night
1987 U2 - The Joshua Tree
1988 Dan Reed Network - Dan Reed Network
1989 Neneh Cherry - Raw Like Sushi
1990 The Sundays - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
1991 Massive Attack - Blue Lines
1992 The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprasy - Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury
1993 Crowded House - Together Alone
1994 Blur - Parklife
1995 Black Grape - It's Great When You're Straight... Yeah
1996 Everything but the Girl - Walking Wounded
1997 Alabama 3 - Exile on Coldharbour Lane
1998 Faithless - Sunday 9pm
1999 Moby - Play
2000 Lexis - Branch of Knowledge
2001 Zero 7 - Simple Things
2002 Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head
2003 The Shins - Shutes Too Narrow
2004 Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
2005 Roots Manuva- Awfully Deep
2006 Burial - Burial
2007 Jazz Liberatorz - Clin d'oeil
2008 Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
2009 The xx - The xx
2010 Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
2011 Radiohead - The King of Limbs
2012 Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio
2013 Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
2014 Metronomy - Love Letters

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Disability and the Minimum Wage

A bit like trying to have a sensible discussion about drugs or rape, to name but two, is the problem of daring to suggest, in this day and age, that different people might be treated differently.

I have only heard the rubbish audio version of the, presumably illegally-obtained, comments by Lord Freud. And, as ever, various easily-smelling-a-bandwagon-to-jump-on people are condemning him. Hold those stones while I tell you a story.

Paul used to help out at my last church. He spent his days at a Day Centre for adults with learning difficulties. They tried hard to find work for people such as Paul. We had him in once a week to hoover the church carpet, deliberately asking our cleaners not to do this and to leave it to Paul.

Paul couldn't easily communicate. He knew my name and would say Steve when he saw me, then 'work' and occasionally mention the names of others he knew. I liked the way he called me my name. Yeve. Yeve.

We paid him £3. The Centre implored us not to pay him any more, for large amounts of money worried him. But he could learn to budget his £3. He was lovely and, I believe, often used his money to buy flowers for a grave of a family member.

Hoovering two carpets was a half hour job. Maybe ten years ago £3 was a fair wage for that. But it took Paul all morning. Maybe he wasn't paid per hour, but to do a job.

I wrote about him once in an old post on this blog.

Now could it possibly be people such as Paul to whom Lord Freud's questioners were referring? And if so, let's have a grown up discussion about that.

I understand where he is coming from, if that is what he was talking about.

Quote of the Day

1048. If our lives have meaning it is something with which we manage to invest them, not something with which they come equipped.
(Terry Eagleton - The Meaning of Life)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Quote of the Day

1016. ...without anyone leading them or directing them, people - most of them not especially rational or farsighted - are able to co-ordinate their economic activities.
(James Surowiecki on why supermarkets have orange juice in stock, taken from The Wisdom of Crowds)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Quote of the Day

1005. In settling an island, the first building erected by a Spaniard will be a church; by a Frenchman, a fort; by a Dutchman, a warehouse; and by an Englishman, an alehouse.
(Francis Grose - Provincial Glossary - 1787)

Thought for the Day

As delivered this morning to BBC Radio Bristol. It was my first trip there since the breakfast show became 'Steve and Laura at Breakfast'. Now in a different studio (very cold, all presenters wearing warm clothes) but the two-voice presentation makes for good chemistry and an improved listen. I was asked, as part of their 'question of the day', what I say when I am exasperated or stub my toe. Had to admit that the truth was unbroadcastable.

Fun also to notice how hard it is to remember a single digit change in the contact phone number when you have broadcast the same thing, fifty times a day, for several years. There is now a system of £1 fines for anyone who says 0845 instead of 0345. I think they'll need a collection bucket, not box. Good craic:

A friend once came to work with his arm in a sling. Explained it had happened in a car accident.

After gentle probing he admitted that the injury had occurred not in the crash but in the discussion on blame. Too much talking.

So listen. What can you hear?

When you start deeply listening you get beyond the immediate.

Perhaps you can hear traffic, rain, birdsong or the cat purring. Maybe the fridge is making a noise or the washing machine is rumbling and tumbling. Is there a little static or interference, radio not quite tuned?

Is someone talking to you, unaware that you are trying to listen to me?

Is there road noise because you are driving along, or the sound of the train tracks as you commute to work, headphones blocking out most other sounds.

Listening is a skill. We can practise it and get better at it. We have twice as many ears as mouths after all.

'You haven't listened.' I hear that three or four times on this station every week. Truth is, one of the hardest skills of leadership is to convince people you have listened when you are not going to do what they want.

Disciples Peter, James and John once accompanied Jesus up a mountain. The Bible tells us they heard a voice from heaven saying, 'This is my son. Listen to him.' They must have, or we wouldn't have heard of him.

At the end of political party conference season, who should we believe now we've listened to them all? How should we listen to the speech of someone held hostage declaring his home state evil

Well there are no easy answers, but I'm convinced more listening will help not hinder.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day has been on holiday but is delighted to return to examine quotes 990-1000. Here is the best:

997. Tony Benn's guide to democracy and power:
What power have you got?
Who gave it to you?
To whom are you accountable?
On whose behalf have you exercised it?
How do we get rid of you?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Michaelmas

I was ordained at Michaelmas 1984 in Hucknall Parish Church so today is the 30th anniversary of that occasion. It's been an interesting journey to Nailsea, via Nottingham, Chester-le-Street and Leamington Spa.

The Festival of St Michael and All Angels, 'You have ordained the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order...' is one of the few occasions where the church thinks about heavenly spiritual support rather than opposition or earthly ministry. A good day to be ordained upon then.

I'm not sure what my take is on it all. On the one hand if there is any spiritual support going out there I'll have some of it. On the other there is little evidence of such support that is not explainable by rational means. I guess that leaves it down to the believer. Faith or not?

The unseen world is a great comfort to many. Who am I to muck up their well-held beliefs? The rational world is a great comfort to many. Who am I etc?

I've spent a fair bit of today listening to people whose journeys are so much more demanding than my own. They need the angels. I have been blessed (or am lucky to have) a certain adaptability that just plans/reacts, plans/reacts. I quite like it when things go a bit wrong because work is more interesting and challenging then. Maybe that's why I don't see the angels. They're helping more needy people.

I'd like a visitor in white to come for a chat. It would be good to cut through the border fence with a subtle knife.


Mick's Metaphor of (possibly) the Decade

This blog has, from time to time, posted language into the car-crusher and smoked the remains. Fair enough. None of us is perfect. But this interview with Portsmouth FC's Chief Executive Mark Catlin had me reaching for the calculator to count the metaphors. He is discussing the club's early settling of its debts. See if you can continue to visualise what he is saying, and in particular which direction the club is going:

'Pompey is completely legacy debt free but that is just the start ... It is a fantastic achievement and a weight hanging over the club since coming out of administration 18 months ago has been removed. We are at ground zero now. This club was in a crater and we are out of that now with foundations built. The club has turned itself around and got itself on a level playing field. We are debt free and keep moving forward and progressing, never taking our eye off the ball. It is important we stay under the microscope and cannot allow ourselves to go to that level again.'

(As told to the Portsmouth News and reported by The Guardian, today)

30/9/14

2006 - date

Associate Vicar - Nailsea Local Ministry Group

02 - 06

Associate Minister - St Paul's, Leamington Spa

94 - 02

Head of Church Youth Fellowships' Association

92 - 94

CYFA Trainer/Editor

88 - 92

Curate, Chester-le-Street

84 - 88

Curate, Mapperley

Michaelmas 1984

Ordained deacon at Hucknall Parish Church

There will be no concelebrations. Happy anniversary to me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

An Ideas Person?

I have published, edited or written four volumes of books to help churches with their youth ministry in a practical way. The 'Know Ideas' series was written in response to the regular requests from youth leaders for help. I took the best of some older stuff called 'Mines of Information' and then added some new things.

How did we generate ideas? We responded to the researched truth that only one person in twenty ever has an original idea. So when someone asks the question 'Anyone got any ideas?' if there are fewer than twenty people in the room the odds are stacked against. They should rephrase the question: 'Which of the things we have done before should we do again in this situation?

I am one of the twenty. I have loads of ideas. I need to be surrounded by checks, balances and vetting procedures. That is good and appropriate. But I also put myself in a position where I am able to be creative. I need space. Input. The occasional company of other creatives. The social media will often do. Spending time sitting in bars or coffee shops and calling it work is because it is work. It is what gets the results.

When we reached volume four of Know Ideas I invited a bunch of fellow creatives round to my office for the day. I gave them food and drink and some things to play with. I gave them some headings - ice-breakers, games needing no equipment, discussion starters. Then I watched and recorded the good stuff. Everyone loved taking part and got a writing credit in the book.

Fast forward a few years and a colleague and I wondered if we might be able to run a training tour helping people to tap into their own creativity. We took the 'Know Good Ideas' roadshow out on tour. We did our idea-generating workshop, charging people to attend, and stole the best ideas (which was a bit brazen). We encouraged some people not to need our books any more (not brazen at all).

Last night a woman I live with (chosen career - retail) came home after a twelve hour day preparing to do a few more hours after a quick supper. She was filling in some new forms because changes at her workplace now mean she must do the work of the HR department which has been made redundant. (If I have understood right.)

About 11 p.m. I was going to bed and was asked if I had any ideas to improve sales tomorrow. I said no. Mainly because my ideas involved a lot of people breathing no more.

Today, after a little contemplation, I have offered to reprise my seminar day (at a charity rate of £300 a day) for any people in the company that still feel it appropriate to ask employees doing twice as much as their contacted hours (yes, Mr Farage, European work-time regulations have no effect here so save your breath) to come up with ideas. Late at night request for something BY TOMORROW.

She was rebuked in a conference call this morning for a lack of ideas.

Remember when Michael Caine's character said 'Hang on a minute lads; I've just had an idea.' The film ended there right? We started our training tour evenings by showing the clip and then asking people, working in groups, to tell us what the idea was.

Well maybe saving your life from a teetering, cliff-edge coach crash will give you a bit of adrenalin. But for most people you need to change the stimuli. If you have things to do all day you will not have ideas about those things.

We are on holiday for a week tomorrow. I bet we come up with some good ideas. That's how it works.

No charge for this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hideous

The title of this post is what my predicted text thinks the Gideons should be called. On the basis of a letter my colleagues and I received today I am tempted to agree.

You may recall that the Gideons are the folk who put Bibles in prisons, hotels and hospitals. I suspect their usefulness is coming to an end given that it is possible to get a free Bible app on most modern mobile phones. But they don't give up.

Their Bibles include a very conservative guide to reading them. The text isn't really allowed to speak for itself.

But the main problem my colleagues and I have with their invitation to nominate potential reps to come to a breakfast meeting is that the invitation is to think of men, who may bring their wives if they wish.

Our brief discussion, which ended in fits of laughter, involved pondering upon whether men in civil partnerships would be welcome. And if that isn't biblical enough for Gideons then perhaps I will take eight wives and some concubines. And Abishag the Shunamite - if she's available. Thoroughly biblical, that.

Hideous. In this day and age.

Quote of the Day

979. We live in the age of the victim: everyone can be excused his or her failings by appeal to something nasty that once happened or still happens.
(A.C.Grayling, The Mystery of Things)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

I love the late Frank Zappa. He produced a huge range of styles of music and thus has a back catalogue it is almost impossible to tire of. What is less well known is what an interesting interviewee he was, once he was pinned down to a proper conversation:

966. The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents - because they have a tame child-creature in their home.
(The Guardian, 'Family' 29/7/06)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

960. The ethos of Room 318 was one with which all BBC bosses should be tattooed: 'We're not here to give people what they want but what they didn't know they wanted.'
(Andy Kershaw, The Independent 7/10/05 on John Peel and John Walters' office)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Quote of the Day

942. Science has supplanted religion as the chief source of authority, but at the cost of making human life accidental and insignificant. If our lives are to have any meaning, the power of science must be overthrown and faith re-established.
(John Gray: Straw Dogs, page 18)

Colleagues

Wednesday 10th September - Deanery Chapter (regular meeting of Anglican clergy)
Thursday 11th September - Christians Together in Nailsea and District leaders' lunch (monthly meeting)
Tuesday 16th September - Christians Together in Nailsea and District leaders' away day (annual event)
Thursday 18th September - Anglican Local Ministry Group clergy breakfast (monthly meeting)
Thursday 18th September - Deanery Synod (def: a group of people waiting to go home)

A bit like those cicadas who have prime number breeding cycles leading to occasional plague years. It's been a very co-operative week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Experts

I read this recently on Andy Mort's Sheep Dressed Like Wolves site.

I scoff at the idea of experts. I don’t believe that anyone is even close to being an expert. Absolutely, other people have more experience than us and we can learn from these great teachers, but the idea that anyone has all the answers/the assumption they have finished learning or growing, is laughable.

It reminded me that a few years ago I spent some months collecting some of the definitions of 'expert' which I found being used. Here are some of my favourites:
  • An expert is someone who has the ability to hang on for five seconds after everyone else has fallen off.
  • An ex is a has-been and a spurt is a drip under pressure.
  • An expert is someone from more than fifty miles away with a briefcase.
  • An expert is someone who is also wrong but for more sophisticated reasons.
  • An expert is someone who has made more mistakes than you.

Quote of the Day

940. ...human knowledge is always provisional, and always demands some form of personal commitment. In this respect, at least, the human race is one big faith group.
(Nick Spencer, LICC, 'Consenting with Culture' 26/8/05)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

That's Right

Somewhere along the line I started saying 'absolutely' when I meant an enthusiastic yes. I don't know if I am bored with this constant refrain or if I fear others may be, but it is proving difficult to eradicate. I must have been doing it for quite a while.

A friend of mine plays a game with cold callers. Such people like to ask you questions where the answer is yes. It gets you in the mood for a positive reply, allegedly. So this friend tries never to reply affirmatively twice in the same way in a conversation. He plays telephone Boggle, awarding himself a prize for original words. I do it too now. It's fun. You should try it.

Yes.

Indeed

Quite so.

I agree.

Absolut... I mean you're right.

That's it.

Good.

Excellent.

But I have a colleague who is addicted to another word. It is quite clever. When You are right he says, 'Correct'. Correct is a nice thing to hear. It feels like you have pleased the teacher. We all like pleasing teacher. So we, perhaps inadvertently, try to make statements in his company that are correct. We fear the response, 'Incorrect'.

I don't think he is deviously manipulative. I think he may have the same problem as me with a different word. We all get locked in to programmed responses with junk conversational DNA. Can we cure ourselves? Absolutely. But it may take time and we may need help.

Quote of the Day

928. None of us asked to be born. And I still believe it's up to our parents to make life so attractive to us that eventually, we feel grateful for having been born, and not resentful.
(Virginia Ironside, The Independent Review 28/2/05)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Quote of the Day

How about this on the future of the church?

917. Religion certainly hasn't had its day and spirituality hasn't had its day. The problem with the church is that institutions get calcified, and anything that doesn't bend breaks.
(The World According To... Rex Weyler, The Independent 5/10/04)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Judgement Day

I may have read too much Grisham or watched too much Good Wife, but today I caught a few minutes on Sky News of the live proceedings from the Pistorius trial in South Africa. And my one thought was how desperately slow it all was.

This was not born out of a desire to cut to the chase, nor to read the last few pages of the novel first. It was a sympathy for the defendant. Pistorius knows what he has done. He alone does. For when two people walk into a room and only one walks out there is an inevitable bias in the record of what occurred. But he has been found, at the time I write, guilty of culpable homicide and not guilty of murder.

And now he waits while legal arguments are made about the bail possibilities pending sentencing. During this period his current address was broadcast to the world. Again that seems odd to a Brit.

How can one sit calmly for so long awaiting sentence? An attribute of civilised society is that we are not cruel to offenders. We aim to punish them without undue cruelty. We take away liberty not fingernails.

In the absence of a jury, which is how this case has worked, the judge hears arguments then heads off to ponder and research. But presumably she already has a good idea of what sentence to impose. Yet Pistorius must wait. Until mid-October. It takes forever. And that seems harsh.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bible 3

The very wonderful Brian McLaren is talking of the idea of Bible 3. In fact not so much an idea as a description of the era of Bible-use we are now in.

In Bible 1 culture very few people had access to the scriptures. Only significant spiritual leaders did. They told the people what the Bible said and the people responded. So whole nations became Christian, because you did what the king/emperor said.

In Bible 2 culture local communities had their own spiritual leaders. So churches developed with a particular outlook. It is one of the reasons the Church of England has liberal Catholic churches next to charismatic evangelical ones. The local priest told the people how to behave, what to believe and they followed.

This culture lasted longer than it should. It was one of the reasons Philip Pullman's criticism, that the church was an organisation designed to keep people in order, hit the mark. It was. We didn't let people think for themselves soon enough.

In Bible 3 everyone has access to everything anyone has ever said everywhere about all passages all the time. If I preach something unpopular the congregation can google seven different interpretations of the same passage before Sunday lunch.

Bouncing off this thesis, it seems to me that the job of the preacher is now much less to expound one particular model of certainty but to explain the options. And Christians will need to become much more comfortable living with people of opposing, or complementary, views.

So I may say, of an early Genesis passage, there are Christians who take this historically and those who believe it is fable. You need to decide what you believe, and if that makes a difference to the truth it contains.

Of sexuality I need to say that some people feel the Bible's stance against same sex behaviour is fixed and immutable for all time. Others feel the Bible models a developing understanding of same sex relationships and knows little of exclusive, lifelong same-sex marriage so cannot affirm it. You may need to be welcoming to people who do not agre with you that they are sinning.

It's one of the reasons why I am keen to start a 'Questioning the Unquestionable' group soon. I have a few guinea pigs for a meeting next week and, if it is a goer, will advertise more widely. It may be that some who are not church members, because they feel some things cannot be be questioned, might find it a useful route in.

Quotes of the Day

Missed yesterday so two today, as a punishment (for me, not you).

Anthony Grayling returns, here quoting Lichtenburg:

896. ...a book is like a mirror: if an ass peers in do not expect an apostle to look out.
(The Reason of Things, page xiii)

And the musician Carlos Santana:

910. 99% of life is God's grace and 1% is personal effort. It's stupid to say 'I did it my way'. Can you imagine dying and going to heaven and singing that song? The angels would leave you belly up.
(OM The Observer Magazine, Easter Sunday 11/4/04)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Quote of the Day

There are some lovely lines in the movie 'The Life of David Gale'. Kevin Spacey plays the eponymous lead and at one point he says:

885. You can tell you're in the Bible Belt when there are more prisons than Starbucks.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Quote of the Day

872. There is nothing resembling a uniquely American worldview. America is too vast, and ultimately too unknowable, to give birth to one way of seeing things.
(John Gray. Al Qaeda and What It Means To Be Modern)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

RIP Brenda Tilley

My Aunty Brenda died on Wednesday. She was 94, or maybe 95.

When I was a child she lived with my family. She was my father's sister.

Brenda caught viral meningitis aged twelve. She recovered but mentally she developed no further. I image the diagnostic skills and help available in 1931/2 were not that precise.

My mother tells of the day she first encountered Brenda on being taken back to my Dad's home to meet his family. 'How old is your sister?' she asked, 'Fourteen or fifteen?' She was looking at a girl wearing a pinafore dress and playing in the garden. She was twenty-six.

Thanks to the goodwill of her father's business she was able to work in an office, without qualifications, for many years. She did basic filing and secretarial work, retiring in her late fifties.

The house I grew up in was left jointly to her and my father after their mother died in about 1958 or so. The living arrangements, which had seen me and my parents live on the first floor as a separate flat and Brenda and her Mum live downstairs, were changed. Brenda lived in a two room bedsit on the first floor and we lived in the rest of the house, joined by my sister about the same time.

Having an Aunty Brenda, who popped her head round the door two or three times a day, was normal for me. She usually coincided her little trips to family mealtimes - she liked to see what we were eating.

She was a creature of habit. She visited her sisters on particular days of the week, joined us for meals on family celebrations, ate at the same time each day. When she went to Selly Oak, a Birmingham suburb, she was one of the last people I knew to refer to it as 'Going up the village'. She attended St Stephen's, Selly Park for the evening service each week, sitting in the same pew all the time.

I won't pretend this was an easy arrangement for my folks - there were rows about tidiness and cleanliness. She wasn't very good at cleaning her cooker so upstairs ponged a bit sometimes.

She loved the TV soaps, adored the pianist Russ Conway but beyond that was a person of simple taste and few diversions. For many years she prided herself on not eating chocolate but in later life her willpower flagged.

She was my godmother. I still have, and use, a copy of the Book of Common Prayer she gave me as a baptism gift (aged 4 months).

Don Humphreys persuaded her to come on a CYFA Venture (holiday houseparty for teenagers) at Clevedon as a cook. She did it once only though.

After Dad died my Mum and Brenda sold the house. Brenda lived independently for a year or two but then had a hip operation from which she did not fully recover. She ended her days in Selly Park Nursing Home. Her remaining family gathered for her 90th birthday, which she seemed to enjoy, but since then she has barely communicated or recognised us. My cousin Gordon, many years older than me, has been a great support to his Aunt in her last years.

RIP.

Quote of the Day

863. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should live their lives but none about his or her own.
(Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Quote of the Day

856. ...all the really good ideas were thought up by men idling about at home, sitting in the bath or watching the kettle boil.
(Richard Ingrams, the Observer, 11/5/03)

Comfort

Where do you think one might find the most uncomfortable pews in the land? There are surely many fine contenders for what would be an award if I could be bothered with a prize. I have endured many of them. Great Alne in Warwickshire sticks in my memory. Nearby Christ Church, Nailsea's pews were designed for people with a shorter distance between hip and thigh. But on Monday I attended an induction at St Andrew's, Clevedon and was required to robe and sit in the choir stalls.

The first thing I did, on sitting down and leaning back, was to smash the back of my head on a sticky-out bit of wood. My taller colleague next to me was not so afflicted and therefore chuckled. Scott Smith - you have been warned.

But after a few minutes the short distance between hip and thigh problem occurred coincident with a knobbly protrusion sticking into the base of my spine and doing its work.

I spent the whole service sliding down, yelping, levering up and smacking my head - in turn. It was particularly nasty to have people sing 'Brother sister let me serve you' during some of this.

Any challenges?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Quote of the Day

About the turn of the millennium I began to discover the writings of Anthony Grayling. His little collections of philosophical essays on various subjects were, by and large, wonderful and occasionally a great challenge to think. How dare I feel a doctor of philosophy at the University of London might be wrong and the followers of a once-dead Galilean carpenter and his fishermen friends right.

But some of the sentences are a joy:

839. ...there is more danger to one's hopes, one's mettle, one's pride, in venturing into the battle of ideas, than in murdering a man who disagrees with you - and that doing so therefore takes proportionally more courage.

The Meaning of Things (Phoenix 2001)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Job Opportunity

Sting and Mrs Styler have been advertising for folk to help on their Italian estate with the olive and grape harvest, apparently for €262 a pop. Got me thinking:

Authentic North Somerset autumn garden experience.

Cut back the overgrown shrubbery

Remove bindweed

Regrout patio flagstones (bring own grout and trowel)

Deadhead under the guidance of head gardener

Clean and store summer tools

Tidy shed and garage

You only pay £100 a day to include bed, breakfast and a pint of cider

Lifts to station provided

Cash up front; no time wasters

Daft Sayings

This morning I'd like to nominate 'If it ain't broke don't fix it' as the most unhelpful expression ever tossed about by politicians. I've heard it a few times from the Darling mob (although not from him to be fair) and it is a recipe for disaster. Now I am not saying that devolution is definitely the answer - although it would be for an independent, non-unionist England I would vote if given a chance. Yes I know that would stick the Labour Party in the doldrums short term but we would sort it out eventually.

No, my problem is this. A far better mantra is 'Everything needs fixing'. It is the model of ministry I have worked with for the last twenty years at least. Things that are going well need as much attention as things that are broken.

Successful home groups need to multiply before they become too big for individuals to contribute.

Successful churches need to plant new ones or add congregations before they are too full.

Great youth ministries with a good team of leaders need to recruit more before the existing ones stand down.

Good preachers train, read and practice.

Complex bell-curve diagram drawn by me
And so on, and so on...

So it is pretty clear that, whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, there will be roughly 40-49% of the population who did not get what they wanted. And that will need fixing.

There is a bell-shaped curve to competence.

Starting out
Peaking
Over the hill
Dead

All tasks and ministries and organisations follow it. Just before it peaks is the best time to intervene to improve.

If it ain't broke; fix it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

There were several quotes I came across today from John Armstrong's little book 'Conditions of Love' which I appear to no longer own. Here is one of the best, summarising Aristotle:

830 ...on the whole people who are intelligent, generous, self-controlled, sociable and courageous (who don't give up too easily) are more likely to end up happy than those who lack these qualities. Happiness, therefore, depends to a large extent upon your personal qualities.