Saturday, March 23, 2019

In Christ Alone - Article 11/39

XI. OF THE JUSTIFICATION OF MAN
WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

There does come a time in a piece of theological exploration such as this when one is tempted to ask 'What is all the fuss about?' Why are there now eight articles about salvation. If this stuff could be explained to an uneducated Galilean labourer such that they would drop everything and follow Jesus, then why are Articles of faith now necessary? It's a fair question. It does have an answer.

Justification by faith alone is the pinnacle of the Protestant Reformation. It does us good to remember that Christian behaviour in the area of forgiveness, with a suggestion that souls could be released from purgatory by making a financial offering, was behind all this. Pondering on the letter to the Romans, Martin Luther came to the conclusion that the church had erred in its teaching and he returned to a theology of the grace of God as starting point and salvation as a gift.

You can't, says orthodox Christian teaching, do any more for the dead. Indulgences (paying for their forgiveness) are abhorrent. It leads us to our lovely prayer in the Common Worship funeral service to which I refer in most of my funeral addresses, that our job now is to use aright the time left to us here on earth. We've done all we can for the deceased except to commend them to God. In the light of their life and influence we go away and live better lives, hopefully as followers of Jesus.

O'Donovan reminds us that this Article's agreed wording wasn't quite as new as we might think. Medieval theology had struggled with this too. 'The achievement of the Reformers was not to raise the question of justification for the first time, but to handle it in a new way, and so to give new answers.' 'In Christ alone' is both wholesome and comforting.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Freely, Freely - Article 10/39

X. OF FREE-WILL
THE condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

Interesting to note the change of use of the word prevent. It used to mean going before. Now it usually means stopping. And, of course, the generic use of 'man' on which we now turn our backs.

We remind ourselves that these historic formularies bear witness to the same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who contemporary Christians worship, as best we can.

This article is headed 'Of Free Will'. O'Donovan reminds us that the reformers meant, very specifically, the free will to turn to and please God by our own natural strength. It was not saying that we cannot make decisions for ourselves, that we are somehow stuck in a rut of predestination (more on that later, probably).

The story the Articles tell is of a creator God, far beyond the grasp of human understanding, based in a time when human understanding was half a millennium less developed than our own. And of that remote (in the 'graspable' sense) God revealing himself in Jesus Christ, uniquely. And on that, surprisingly orthodox, note, I'm going for a lie down.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Is there not a better word than sin? - Article 9/39

IX. OF ORIGINAL OR BIRTH-SIN
ORIGINAL Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, "Phronema Sarkos", which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

In the story of Noah, God's decision to wipe out humankind is predicated on this assessment of behaviour, 'Every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time.' 'Nothing but evil' would have sufficed but who doesn't like a bit of rhetoric?

O'Donovan stops short of original sin as a thing per se but points to '...a generalised bias towards evil.'

The Bible knows this. It doesn't sugar coat it. Even the great Old Testament King David announced his arrival on the world stage in the story of Goliath with the words 'What's in it for me?' He doesn't have any lines in the other two introductory myths.

St Paul simply reached for 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' to make things easy to understand.

In the little booklet Journey Into Life, which has accompanied many spiritual seekers on their journey into the faith community, Norman Warren spoke of 49/100 and 1/100 both being a fail if the pass mark is 50/100.

Francis Spufford, in his lovely book Unapologetic avoided the word 'sin' and opted for THCTFTU (The Human Capacity To Fuck Things Up).

Martin Percy suggests, helpfully, that 'A culture formed mainly out of desire and achievement may find itself in the grip of a subtle temptation, namely to confuse sin with imperfection, with what we lack as people.' Maybe he was reaching for Jessica Rabbit's 'I'm not bad; I'm just drawn that way.'

And me? What am I reaching for? Well maybe it is OK to be a sinner, to share the human condition, but not to let that be the end of the story. It is not a sin to say things others don't want to hear. It is not a sin to listen and disagree. It is not a sin to dress differently, have piercings, wear a hat indoors or have a day at the races. Culture defines sin far more than we think. Some strict churches in the 1950s were so anti the dance halls that had sprung up that one wag commented 'We're not allowed to have sex standing up in case it might lead to dancing.' 

I am also, clearly, suggesting, that in order to understand the human condition you should be widely read. Or if you can't manage that, go to better movies. They don't tell you, they show you what people are like. They're not better; they're just drawn that way.


Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

One of the great biblical metaphors for the human condition is that we need rescuing. We are unable to help ourselves and need someone to do the job for us. In this picture Jesus is the one who takes responsibility for the human capacity to mess things up. He puts us right with God.

We have contrasting stories of things needing fixing today. Birnbeck Pier falls into greater and greater levels of dereliction. Nobody seems able to agree how to mend it or who should pay. To think that Birnbeck was originally a lifeboat station - a place of rescue.

Meanwhile the wonderful DIY SOS team have come to the rescue of a Weston family who have multiple mobility problems to overcome.

One of the great unstated questions of our time is this; who or what gets rescued? How do we decide?

We have limited resources of actual money and also of generosity. How should we use our time and talents for the benefit of others? People? Buildings? Vistas? Piers?

I suspect that the various owners of Birnbeck Pier down the ages have seen their ownership as an investment. How can we make money out of this thing that sticks out into the sea? As the possibilities of economic development are exhausted, the pier itself has more and more bits that fall off. I know how it feels.

The Victorian Society declares it needs rescuing. But someone needs to do it.

The DIY SOS team declare that a family need rescuing and many volunteers step up, sacrificially.

The Bible declares that we, more important than a pier, all need rescuing or we die? I wonder if you agree?

Credibility Gap - Article 8/39


VIII. OF THE THREE CREEDS
THE Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius's Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.

Credo. I believe, in Latin. The first word(s) of most creeds. It is interesting that a corporate statement of faith used to be made by many people all saying 'I believe' at the same time. Now that many versions seem to start with 'We believe' the mood is changed somewhat. For I cannot be certain that everyone in the room with me believes the same thing.

In fact, a few years back, I attended a very conservative evangelical church having moved from Durham. I had expressed some limited support for Bishop David Jenkins. I discovered that when I said the Creed some people were looking across at me to check I said every word. This is not a joke, folks. It happened.

Yet what are words but a deep metaphor for truth? How many Christians could say 'I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth...' and be sure that every co-professor meant the same?

So our Article points us back to Scripture. There you will find the God about whom we have been making affirmations to whom we try and listen.

Friday, March 08, 2019

If you would prefer a milder god please ask - Article 7/39

VII. OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
THE Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

I've recently enjoyed the company of a small group of people who make up what we call the Bible Book Club. We have a set book, or a clear narrative section from a longer book, which we read in advance. Then, over a drink for an hour, we discuss questions from Book Club world. Did you enjoy the book? Did you follow the plot? If you were making a film who would you cast in the various roles? If it were a separate book what artwork would you put on the cover?

The stories from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) have been a wonderful resource to us. We do not come away with the feeling that 'milder gods are available' but that the great tales represent a striving for meaning which finds completeness in the Gospels. The Bible is the story of what O'Donovan calls 'an emerging theological idea'. The Articles are proof that the written word of God is complete but the ideas continue to emerge – or I wouldn't be writing this.

At BBC (yeah, great initials) we read each story separately and treat it on its merits. If you are local to Nailsea you'd be more than welcome to join us; faith experience not necessary. Contact me for joining details or visit the church web-site.

It has been reformed Christian teaching, ever since the Articles clarified it, that post-Jesus' time on earth we are freed from the burden of the ceremonial and festival law but not the ethical. The commandments (not just the ten) are still a good limitation on human weakness, but we can eat what we want and the pigeons live.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Thoroughly Biblical? - Article 6/39

6. OF THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES FOR SALVATION

HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books:


Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
The First Book of Samuel
The Second Book of Samuel
The First Book of Kings
The Second Book of Kings
The First Book of Chronicles
The Second Book of Chronicles
The First Book of Esdras
The Second Book of Esdras
The Book of Esther
The Book of Job
The Psalms
The Proverbs
Ecclesiastes or Preacher
Cantica, or Songs of Solomon
Four Prophets the greater
Twelve Prophets the less

And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:

The Third Book of Esdras
The Fourth Book of Esdras
The Book of Tobias
The Book of Judith
The rest of the Book of Esther
The Book of Wisdom
Jesus the Son of Sirach
Baruch the Prophet
The Song of the Three Children
The Story of Susanna
Of Bel and the Dragon
The Prayer of Manasses
The First Book of Maccabees
The Second Book of Maccabees

All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.

There are dangers with a blind approach to Scripture as 'inerrant'. That is a higher standard than Scripture has for itself. Vast chunks of the Book of Job are dismissed at its end as bad advice. As my regular readers will know the great danger for the uneducated scripture reader is mistaking passages for history which are not. It doesn't make the Book of Job lack truth to say it wasn't history. That book of black comedy is full of insight, truth and beauty. But it didn't happen. To begin with, if God and Satan had a wager, how would we know?

The purpose of this Article is to establish that nothing 'necessary for salvation' will be found outside the Scriptures, duly listed.

But there is space for discussion of the text and a divergence of spiritual exercises in response. So? The possibility of aborting a foetus? The acceptability of taking a life-partner of the same gender? The advisability of owning a nuclear deterrent? The rightness or wrongness of various stimulants and suppressants? Feel free to ponder. Your answer is not anti-Article 6 nor a threat to your salvation. That has been made certain for you already. But you may reference Scripture in your answer.

Furthermore, the church can play around all it likes with times and seasons, people and places, ways and means of public worship. But Article 20 will tell us the church can do no thing contrary to Scripture. O'Donovan tells us, '...the books of Scripture are not authoritative because the Church views them in a certain way; the Church views them in a certain way because they are authoritative.'

Allow Martin Percy a word. 'The Bible is not one message spoken by one voice. It is, rather, symphonic in character – a restless and inspiring chorus of testaments, whose authority rests in its very plurality.'

Oh, and in case you wondered. Hierome is St Jerome.


Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Little Fall-outs - Article 5/39

5. OF THE HOLY GHOST
THE Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

The eastern Christian church would take comfort from the word 'orthodox' – believing the right things. The west from 'catholic' – being everywhere. It is amusing to think that these two statements are not contradictory. This door is white; no it's not, it's rectangular.

But little Article 5 is the point of contention. It is fascinating that some of the great divisions in the way the world now is show a change of language – from Before Christ to Anno Domini, English to Latin. No wonder academic communities are gradually educating us to the better model of BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (take a wild guess).

So the two issues over the wording of the creeds behind this Article are expressed in different languages. The first in Greek – the homoousios (of one substance) problem. What is the commonality between the persons of the Trinity? Is there a hierarchy? What sort of equal are they? O'Donovan points to the priority of the Father as the one who loves; the one who sends the Son.

The second dispute is expressed this time in Latin – filioque (and the son). Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father ('he will send another comforter') or from the Father 'and the Son' as the Article states?

On such matters do churches separate and indeed, divide. Suffice it to say that theologians care but at grass roots Christians around the country are trying to work out what we can do together before we worry about what separates us. Indeed we have found so many things we can do together here in this little corner of the south-west, that our minds are distracted from that which separates us. Perhaps that's how things are meant to be. Father Tom may not be able to administer bread and wine to me but to the extent that it means something, we cannot doubt that the two of us are in some sort of communion which makes us content.

What the Article is trying to do, and I hope we still try to do, is to make the highest possible acclamation of the divinity of the Spirit of God (sometimes even called the 'Spirit of Jesus' in Acts). If somehow, mysteriously, the Spirit can be sent to dwell in humankind, and that spirit is the Spirit of God, how could it be any less divine than God? Separate, yet one. It is expressing that which causes all the trouble. Better to try and live it.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Going Up - Article 4/39

4. OF THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
CHRIST did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.

There are, as Percy says, no obvious answers to life's questions at Christmas. We have to put time into the relationship with the baby and let him grow, if we are to hear him speak. If we are to believe the hymn that suggests the little Lord Jesus makes no crying even, then it will be a while before we get to hear parables.

The set question in the Gospels, perhaps most clearly put in Mark is 'Who is this man?' Hiding behind the theological complexity of Articles 2-4 the question still has legs and still brings life to those who would pursue the relationship.

Back in the day when I was churning out Bible study books for teenage groups at the rate of two a year we always had interesting discussions about titles. We had no debate about the title of our book on Jesus' resurrection. It came to me and it was the only one ever considered. Didn't he used to be dead? I'm still proud of it.

The Article wishes us to affirm a bodily resurrection – I love the idea of flesh, bones and all things... He even took his unmentionable bits with him. Bless.

O'Donovan says '...a human body is something more than its material constituents, and what became of those constituents in the resurrection of Jesus's body is a question on which some reticence might be appropriate.'

And on that ascension he adds, 'The verb 'ascended', like the verb 'came down' in the Creed, can refer to no form of spatial movement known to man.'

For Paul the resurrection was key. It was the resurrection which affirmed that the death of Christ dealt with the human relationship with God once and for all. Not everyone who is a useless preacher is a useless preacher because of lack of faith in the resurrection. But for Paul if there is no resurrection our preaching is useless. Literally without use. A waste of time.

So, has our understanding of what actually happened that first Easter morning moved on since the resurrection. Yes, I think it has. But it has moved in the direction of mystery not certainty. I used to think that it was evidence that demanded a verdict, influenced by books such as Frank Morrison's 'Who Moved the Stone?'

I now read a paragraph such as the one which follows from Martin Percy and feel much more comfortable:

'In the oldest account of the resurrection (by Mark), and in the earliest Greek manuscripts, the Gospel ends mid-sentence, with the innocuous Greek word gar (meaning 'for': “they were afraid for...”).

'Thus, a proper conclusion to the story is withheld, and it is up to the reader to say what happens next. The followers of Jesus are invited to write a resurrection conclusion with their own lives.'

It is also true that it makes Mark's Gospel a better piece of literature. Throughout Jesus' life he warns people not to tell about him, but they do. Post-resurrection, witnesses are invited to share the news. But they don't. Will you?

Monday, March 04, 2019

Going Down - Article 3/39

3. OF THE GOING DOWN OF CHRIST INTO HELL
AS Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell.

We're not good at death. Our feelings are not having a good time and our language tries to clutch at straws of hope. And conversations never continue well after one party has said 'Go to hell.'

No, we're certainly in a deathmess. I have been required to overhear so many final eulogies about, let's call her Violet, 'looking down on us and smiling'. No amount of accurate preaching of the gospel and the resurrection that is to come will shake Violet's family and friends from the comfort they take from that 'looking down'.

Christ really, actually died. He didn't swoon and resuscitate. That is what Article 3 wants us to know. Whatever it means to be dead between Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning – that is what Jesus was.

Oliver O'Donovan again: 'We think, quite properly, that the liberation of the dead is something which has been accomplished. And we think of the blessedness of the dead as present. We remember Paul's conviction that to die was to gain more of Christ, and Jesus's promise to the thief on the cross, 'Today you will be with me in Paradise', and we cannot believe that the dead are kept hanging around. The three tenses, the past present and future, are all points at which a reality beyond our time touches our time. They are all correct tenses to use. But we are mistaken if we try to systematize them into a series of temporal events which befall the dead, as though in our time, with hypotheses of intermediate status, purgatories and so on.'

And furthermore Belinda Carlisle was wrong. Heaven is not a place on earth. Although there are some gripping glimpses and thin places.

We need to embrace the welcome of death. After six hours on a cross death comes as a merciful blessing. We would all prefer to say goodbye to our family and friends whilst gripped by superior palliative medicine. Better than mind that car, what car, splat any day (I think I stole that from Red Dwarf – respect).

In The Amber Spyglass Philip Pullman invented a species of a humanlike race which lived with their own death as if a personalised accomplice. So when that creature whispered in your ear 'It is time', there was no fear. You went off hand in hand to another place.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

God man - Article 2/39

2. OF THE WORD OR SON OF GOD, WHICH WAS MADE VERY MAN
THE Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.

In the Bible, as in much ancient literature, the more important the character the more outrageous the stories associated with their beginnings. Consider the greatest Old Testament king – David. There are three tales of his start on the journey. There is the choosing of the young son of Jesse; the playing of the harp to soothe the soul of Saul and the slaying of a giant. None of these stories speaks of the existence of the others or is referred to later on in the more historical text. But they speak of a man who will be shepherd, psalmist and warrior.

Andrew Lincoln says 'Matthew's and Luke's birth stories … provide the features that would be expected of an ancient biography's depiction of the beginnings of the life of a great figure' ('Born of a Virgin?' SPCK 2013).

Article 2 uses the virginal conception of Jesus to clarify what John's Gospel says is 'the word made flesh'. It needn't over-bother us. It is who the baby grew into that is important.

Brian McLaren offers this, 'Jesus says … that the invisible God has been made visible in his life' (A New Kind of Christianity). And so we move rapidly from Christmas to Easter.

O'Donovan links Articles 2-4. The statements about Jesus' incarnation, death and resurrection should not, for him, be separated. Down the years other theologians have disagreed, seeing Jesus' 'It is finished' as the moment God and humankind are reconciled and making the resurrection more about the Father's verdict on the Son than about the act of reconciliation. O'Donovan is a joined-up theologian.

Article 2 wants us, above all, to value the uniqueness of Jesus. Our faith, in the extent to which it is a visible thing, is about one person and us as witness to that person who has done for us, once and for all, everything that is necessary.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Stupid Man

I hope you can see how I've tried to join up my lingusitic thinking here, whilst keeping it all brief and tight. The first few paragraphs are four separate examples.

In the 1990s I saw Chelsea play Liverpool at the Bridge. The bloke behind me called every member of the Liverpool team a bastard whenever they had the ball. Saunders was a Welsh bastard. Molby a fat bastard. Fowler a Scouse bastard. You get the picture. When John Barnes got the ball TBBM stopped himself. He was going to say it. But there was a pause and he said f***ing instead. I was so impressed at this evidence of evolution in South London I wrote to When Saturday Comes.

In my early days in the Communications Group here in Bath and Wells we discussed a slogan being used. It was 'Thinking Different'. Some people went ape. It should say 'differently' they almost shouted. After several rounds of verbal dexterity I emerged from my silent pondering (which I do in meetings, it makes me poor at them but I find thinking doesn't happen when I am speaking) and asked what the missing words were. It took a while for people to realise I was asking a genuine question which they didn't understand so I repeated it slowly.

What are the missing words? 'Thinking' can be a noun and a verb. So if the missing words are 'Are you...' then indeed we should make different into an adverb and add ly.

Are you thinking differently?

Exactly, said the grammar police. Our point. Move on.

I did not move on but continued. I do that.

... if the missing words are 'Is your...' then all is well.

Is your thinking different?

Basically it gave another small group of people a reason to hate me for daring to talk about missing subject clauses without any qualifications save a 1971 English O Level grade 3. I dangled my modifier deliberately there.

When TCMT is being grateful to me she sometimes calls me a lovely man. Don't ask. I don't believe she is saying I am lovely because I am a man. I am a man and I have my moments.

We have occasionally sat in front of a programme such as Question Time and called a male of the species a 'stupid man'. We do not believe we are saying he is stupid because he is a man. We are saying he is a man and he is stupid. An exemplar of male stupidity which is neither ubiquitous nor missing.

I have thought long and hard before posting this and I do so as a question only. I am a sexist but not the worst example and I try to repent and change.

So, when Mr Corbyn called Mrs May (if he did) a 'stupid woman' was that so bad? Was it sexist? Maybe? Mayhem? Dismay?


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Just the Three of Us - Article 1/39

1. OF FAITH IN THE HOLY TRINITY
THERE is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.


Possibly the first thing we will note, and which will annoy us throughout, is the seemingly random use of capitals. But there is a method. Here we find capitalisation for God, members of the Godhead, pronouns for Him and active attributes of Him – Maker, Preserver in this case. It is a type of respect from which we have moved.

They start with God. They could have started with method – this is how we will do this and these are our working assumptions. But no. They start with God.

They remind us that today we need to recapture the otherness of God. Over fifty years on from the publication of John Robinson's 'Honest to God' our culture's professional atheists still argue against a God that is too small. A god of the gaps shrinks as science explains. The Articles say more than that our God is a great big God and he holds us in his hands. That song, fun as it is, suggests the existence of other, smaller gods. Article 1 says no. It's all metaphor though. God is real and language is metaphor. Creeds, Articles and other proclamations are inadequate. And God is certainly not what is left after science has finished explaining.

This Article is a not entirely unexpected Trinitarian formula, the test case for classic Christianity. We believe in one God, Father, Son and (we now say) Holy Spirit.

O'Donovan describes the gospel as the proper tension between the transcendence and the incarnate nearness of God. So if you want to know what God is like, says Paul to the Colossians, look at Jesus. We will. Tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

39 Articles - Intro


Forty days of Lent (Sundays don't count) seems like a good opportunity to post daily on a theme. This year's theme is The Articles of Religion. During days of occasional requirement to be present at a Book of Common Prayer service, and being graced ever so occasionally with a less-than-imposing preacher, I found myself reading the Articles in the back of the Prayer Book. They are not for the faint-hearted. That said they are interesting, mainly because, for me, they are assented to each time I take up a new post.

A word, first of all, about that 'assented to'. It is less stringent than that. I declared, at my last licensing, my '...belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness...'. There is no sense in which I am tied to those 'historic formularies' which is what the Articles are. I am tied to the faith to which they bore witness. It is the Christian faith that is unchanging; witnesses, formularies, biblical and creedal interpretations and expressions of worship change a lot.

Yet the Articles seem obsolete in parts, often disregarded and tough to follow. They have a sixteenth century context when we had different issues and, as we will discover, different enemies. Simple evidence of this is provided to the reader who attempts to read the Articles in the English of their time, nearer to Chaucer than to today, and who encounters the 'Father, the Sonne and the holie Ghost'. Then it gets harder.

I shall be accompanied on my journey by two fine writers. Oliver O'Donovan and Martyn Percy. O'Donovan interviewed Tudor Christianity in an imaginative work. Percy, more recently, surveyed the landscape of Anglican faith and produced thirty nine new articles.

I am not an academic theologian but, if anything, a populist one. My attempt will be to unravel some of the mysteries of each Article for the ordinary reader and church-goer. I will link each post to Twitter and Facebook so any comments or questions are welcome here or in those two places.

The length of time over which I will post may not correspond precisely to Lent as I will start early (I have a week's holiday booked) but by Good Friday there will be 40 posts to read.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Breaking News - Book Review

Alan Rusbridger was the editor of the Guardian from 1995-2015. This book is a careful analysis of what happened to journalism through those years as his newspaper team realised that print journalism was no longer marketable.

The journey of the Guardian in that time, from broadsheet to tabloid via Berliner, to one of the largest online news portals in the world, is brilliantly chronicled.

Towards the end there is a wonderful assessment of what journalism is today:

'...there is no one thing called 'journalism'; no single entity called 'news'; no single recognisable identity for a 'journalist'. (page 360)

He then goes on to compare Useless 'Proper' News - the scandal-driven red tops - with 'Proper' Other Stuff - a new generation of experts who have learned to use Twitter threads to make their points with links, sources and references: people such as Steve Analyst (@EmperorsNewC) and The Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret).

Journalists may be able to write slightly better but good journalists always knew that the readers were the real experts.

This was a great read. It isn't a bleeding-heart liberal tome. It is a recent-history text book, fair to enemies, generous to friends. Slightly annoying number of typos but I may have got an early edition hardback (reduced from £20 to £7).

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Thought for the Day

As delivered on a cold morning at BBC Radio Bristol just now:

How well prepared should you be for something that happens once in a lifetime?

It is easy to be prepared for terrible weather if you live in a place where the weather is consistently the same sort of terrible every year for four months. Would you be so concerned to invest in the latest snow-removing technology if the machine is likely to become obsolete before you need it?

Jesus posed a couple of questions to his followers. In one he suggested that no-one builds a tower without first working out if they can afford to finish it. Otherwise the half-built structure stands as a memorial to their incompetence.

On the other hand, he said, no-one goes into a battle they cannot possibly win. They negotiate terms.

With some things you figure out if you can afford to. Others, if you can afford not to.

Of course Jesus wasn't talking about towers, battles - or snow for that matter. He was talking about the ultimate statistic. One out of one people die.

Sit down and work out whether you can risk not being a Christian. If you're wrong and head into life's battle unaccompanied you may lose big time.

Likewise sit down and work out if you are in a position to make a commitment to a life's service. Otherwise your half-built life will bear witness to your poor discipleship.

Fancy being a Christian? You can't hack it. You're not tough enough.

Not sure that advertising campaign would get many responders. Or would it? I bet there'd be people up for a challenge.

Come and join my church. It's hard work, there's no salary and if you tell people what we believe they'll mainly think you're bonkers. That's the truth. But maybe you couldn't handle the truth.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Brexit in Ten Quotes

I collect quotes. I find the best way to have interesting ways to liven up your talks and articles is to have your own quotebook. I read left-leaning papers and find the Brexit case unconvincing and unmade in any way apart from democratically. So the sound you can hear is that of an axe being ground to dust. I just followed back the string of quotes with #Brexit or #EU and it was interesting.

3/2/10
Headline in Daily Express after survey found that 70% of cafe milk jugs are unhygienic

Now EU meddlers want to take our milk jugs

2011
Yuval Noah Harari - Sapiens

In 1784 ... each British city and town had its own local time, which could differ from London by up to half an hour.

27/5/16
Richard Osman on Twitter

In most debates we have to listen to people who shout the loudest or are the most certain of their views. That doesn't represent most of us.

5/11/16
Decca Aikenhead, the Guardian

Every time I interview a Brexiteer, I come away more confused than I arrived.

20/1/17
Roger Cohen, New York Times

The vote for Brexit was in fact the moment Britain turned its back on the world, succumbing to pettiness, anti-immigrant bigotry, lying politicians, self-delusion and vapid promises of restored glory.

1/4/17
Natalie Nougayrede - The Guardian 'Opinion'

It's because the EU strives to act on the world stage as a block, however imperfect that exercise, that it can have a say in how globalisation will be shaped.

11/17
Roger Scruton The Times

You can be a loyal subject of the British Crown and also English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh when it comes to other aspects of belonging. You can be a British Nigerian or a British Pakistani, and the future of our country depends upon the process of integration that will persuade new arrivals that this is not only possible but also necessary if they are to make a home here. You can be a British Muslim, Jew, Christian or atheist, since nationality, defined by land and sovereignty, does not extinguish religious attachment.

13/11/17
Ian Birrell - theipaper

...Brexit has left our nation horribly divided, undermining the Union and fuelling nationalism while opening up fissures between young and old, rich and poor, north and south.

22/5/18
Heather Brooke - Journalism in a Post-Truth World, Bath Festival

People have not had the journalistic training to assess the truths on the internet. But you could do a one day course in how to spot bullshit.

29/7/18
Pete Conrad's review of Michiko Kakutani's 'The Death of Truth', The Observer

Brexiteers are nostalgic fantasists, in retreat from a large world; Trumptards seek to uphold America's swaggering dominance in the world, if necessary by destabillising their alliances. Brexit is an isolated act of suicide, at worst pathetic and pitiable, whereas Trumpism fondly contemplates genocide.

Politics Made Simple

Outrageous assertion. If we do Brexit more poor people will die than if we don't.

Our philosophy primer asks us, would we divert a train about to kill 6 people by switching the points so it only kills 1?

We are in the midst of a time of great political turmoil in the UK. I have no idea how things will turn out but it is clear that cans have been opened that contain far worse than worms. And someone threw away the can.

So my title is a bit of an annoying tease. I offer no great wisdom on how to move forward. But I want to clarify the question we are asking every time we do politics. Here are some scenarios. I invented all the stats:
  • A new drug is on the market. For a million pounds per person its targeted application has a 50/50 chance of eliminating a particularly nasty cancer which five people a year get. You paying?
  • It is clear that seat belts save lives. But 3 in 10,000 very unlucky participants in serious accidents lose their lives because they are wearing one. If they hadn't clunk-clicked they'd have survived. You overturning the legislation?
  • Cannabis is, statistically, safer than alcohol. You decriminalising one and stopping the other?
  • Every now and then a boxer dies from a blow to the head, a batsman from a ball to the head and a biker from a road to the head. What you banning?
  • A vaccine has been invented which stops people getting measles, an illness which kills several people a year and, if unchecked, can reach epidemic proportions and take many more lives. The vaccine has slight risks of complications? You making it compulsory?
I could go on. You knew that. Today's set question or thought for the epoch is this.

We can fiddle with as many details as we like and make petty adjustments to trivial matters as much as we like but this distracts us from the big question. Politics is about this. Who dies?

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Thought for the Day

You might wish to check today's script against delivery because the story developed during the show so that even the corrections I scribbled on my script at 8.42 a.m. were rendered out of date by an interview immediately before delivery, leaving me ad-libbing to get more accuracy. BBC Radio Bristol keeps me on my toes from time to time:

A small, low carbon home, for one person is being built in Hillfields. They're called 'snug' homes. You can fit 190 of them onto a football pitch, yet they meet the UK's minimum housing standards.

Lizzie, a friend of mine, is an architect. She has developed a design for quickly manufactured shelters for victims of natural disasters. Over the years the quality of such emergency shelter has become surprisingly good. They are hardly luxurious, but the choice between a flat-pack home and living in the packaging is not a difficult one.

Lizzie is a Christian. It is her Christian conscience that pushed her in this direction.

Yet a glance at the teaching of the founder of Christianity is arresting.

Jesus was notoriously depressing about housing, saying, 'Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.' He was downbeat about possessions, pointing to heaven as a place of treasure. He sent his disciples out two by two with no spare clothes or cash and told them to beg accommodation and food.

Whether the decision to live in a small home is a lifestyle choice or a necessity, for Jesus the mission is more important. To walk with him there was no time to be looking back. He likened the journey of the disciple to 'taking up your cross'. In those days, if you took up a cross, you weren't coming back.

I have a nice home; a place of security and comfort, a safe base from which to do my work. It does me good to remember those who sleep in packaging, whose homes can blow away. Take a moment to give thanks for the roof under which you sit and, perhaps, to pray for those who wish they had one.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

New Skills for 2019

There is a lot of waiting in the Bible. How long O Lord, how long? is often a refrain of a suffering people.  'In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions' (1 Samuel 3:1). There are 400 years or so between Malachi and Matthew.

A social media post over Christmas wished all the best to families who might fall out over Brexit Christmas lunch discussions. It was posted by someone who is at the heart of their community and has a huge range of followers.

One comment, from someone I don't know, was along the lines of  'We're all no deal leavers round this table so no falling out here.'

So here's the problem. Although different party political voting intentions seem to be able to exist round the table, we don't tend to sit down for meals with people from the opposite side of the leave/remain vote to us.

And when we do, how can I put this nicely, all my carefully-honed debating skills are irrelevant. This debate never was, and still isn't, about logic. It's about emotion.

How do you change someone's emotional mind?

Hold that thought for a while because something quite odd happened to me last year. The Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers FC) are the sworn enemies of the Baggies (West Bromwich Albion FC) and I have been rude about them and their fans most of my life. Earlier this season the black and gold was awarded the accolade 'best kit in the Premiership' by a decent newspaper and strangely, for all my hatred of the old gold scum (I also support Leamington FC but will only buy an away shirt because the home kit is gold), I found myself agreeing. Their white change strip is pretty decent too. What's more they have been playing entertaining footie and I have enjoyed watching them. I hope they stay up.

You need to understand that this has not been a logical change of mind. Hatred of the Wolves was never about logic. This is about something emotional clicking. That which I hated I now appreciate.

So it is possible, although I may need to give myself a harsh word or two. And I may change back.

I believe our country will come round to a common sense and logical point of view where the division over Brexit is a thing of the past. But we will have to wait for that click moment. We probably don't know what will cause it. We may need to wait for a fair while. I don't believe we have taken a great step forward for sovereignty and independence but I respect those who do. I will contribute to trying to value the alien and the stranger, sharing the wealth and being part of whatever European and global community develops.

Don't get me wrong. I am still sad and angry about Brexit. But that won't move anyone forward.

After an Advent of posting a daily musing on the theme of waiting I feel a big wait is coming along. Maybe a biblical wait.

The social media discussions about Brexit/Remain have not, largely, been edifying. It has felt like being in a zoo and watching neighbouring animals throw excrement at each other. This is not a fault of social media. It has allowed many more people than usual to see life as it actually is. It has reminded us that a fair bit of demarcation in society is not a bad thing. And, as on all occasions when I have found myself caught up in heated exchanges on the edge of violence, the only way through is to take the emotion out of it and step back. Shouting at shouters has never worked, and never will. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed Christmas round a table where everyone else was proudly a no-deal leaver. Not because I hate disagreement - I have regularly over my life been in a minority of one over some issues - but because I would have been robbed of companions who listened to reason.

Hugo Rifkind in The Times this week wrote, 'I remain a Remainer and I probably always will, but I cannot pretend not to notice that a streak of Remainersim has developed, particularly online, which is as stupid, paranoid and exclusionary as any other populism. Its adherents ... wanting little more than to scream "get over it, you lost!" at those who have had so much fun  shrieking it at them.'

He went on to suggest that the future will have to involve getting on with those we consider to be stupid or liars.

(The Times , Tuesday January 1st 2019)

New Labour found power by finding a Third Way. They were Conservative Lite and slightly left in appearance. They embraced wealth vociferously and publicly. They kept quieter about the bravest attempt since 1947 to move masses of people out of poverty.

In 2016 someone took the political cake which had been sliced in roughly the same way for years and cut it across the middle. If nothing else the maths of a new third way is now complex.

Next time I am asked to vote, assuming the candidates are the likely suspects I will have to take a deep breath and place a cross next to the name that I least hate. I do understand how people felt about Trump/Clinton now.

We now use democratic process rather than asking the prophets to anoint or announce God's chosen leader. Which usually happened after a long wait. But the responses to the opening questions I posed were Moses, Samuel and Jesus. I may not see them in my lifetime, but I pray for the leaders who are to come.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Garden Birds 2018

Not a very exciting year for garden birds. The wood pigeons had three broods, I think, and were seen several times with immatures in tow. Blackbirds and collared doves both had two broods. Two wrens were spotted in the garden at the same time. House sparrows continue to do healthily well round these parts. Saw more swifts than ever before. House martins had a poor season and left early (mid August). The single sparrowhawk tends to keep everything else on its toes.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Football Quiz of the Year 2018

Slightly different format to the quiz this year. Goal-line technology has left studio guests unable to demonstrate their lack of grasp of parallax, leaving them only failure to understand the laws about the tackle from behind as a subject in which to announce their ignorance. But, up until the point that Curtis Davies appeared and started getting order in the right words, the punditry on televised football left the English language utterly manglamated (as a former secretary of mine once put it). So, can you match the mixed metaphor with the manager; the aberration to the expert? And yes, Stephen Warnock does appear twice. I could have used more.

1. 'The wheels fell off last year and they're kicking on.'

2. 'He scores goals and that's why he's a top goalscorer.'

3. 'He couldn't miss from there; he made it look easy.'

4. 'A great goal; he never fails to disappoint.'

5. 'That's the passion which transpires, I mean transcends, into the players.'

6. 'Clean sheet away to Brentford; it doesn't get better than that.'

7. '...behind the scenes he's steadied the ship.'

8. 'In this war of nutrition of the Championship.'

9. 'You can't underestimate how important...'

10. 'It's come to him quick; he's got a lot of time to think.' 

A. Lee Johnson
B. Chris Iwolumo
C. Dean Ashton
D. Stephen Warnock
E. Clinton Morrison
F. Stephen Warnock
G. Martin Keown
H. Mark Noble
I. Lee Dixon
J. Ian Holloway

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Laibach - The Sound of Music

This is not a review of an album I expect any of you to like. But I would encourage you to sample a little, for it contains an important lesson.

Our story begins in the beautiful country of North Korea where western culture is frowned upon and only certain set texts are allowed to be used by the nation's musicians. One such text is The Sound of Music.

This is a lesson about creativity. If you tell a musician that they must only use the lyrics of the Sound of Music but are othewise unclear as to the limitations you are imposing, something like Laibach's version is almost inevitable. Click on the link to open in Spotify.

When these guys sing 'Climb every mountain...' it holds such a weight of threat that you seriously consider leaving the house at once. This is The Sound of Music that nobody will ever singalong to and many listeners will want to employ professional protection by the time track 3 is reached. How do you solve a problem like Maria? Laibach know people. I'd call them. They may play tunes from Carousel to drown the screams. So long. Farewell.

They have, I'd bet, managed to smuggle some Velvet Undrground tunes into their country. They have a Nick Cave album. Laurie Anderson would be proud.

A delight in so many ways.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Advent Thought 23

It gives me a lot of pleasure to finish my Advent thoughts on number 23 because that is the length of Advent this year starting, as it did, on  December 2nd. And so it finishes with a surprise. Chatting to my local undertakers a few weeks back they let slip that they would be dropping off complementary bottles of wine for Christmas as ever. I think they could tell that my face, twelve years into its stay in Nailsea, said, 'What wine?'

Turns out it had been delivered to the offices of the various churches I work with but had never actually reached me. This year I got my own, labelled bottle. Tonight I drink the health of those professions who will be on duty over Christmas. Thanks undertakers especially. You do a fine job. Cheers for the wine.

Happy Christmas everybody.

Advent Thought 22

There comes a time when, despite careful thought and preparation, the arrangements for one day take over the whole house. The normally pristine dining room table has two extension pieces in and is covered in lists. When did 'peel potatoes' ever have to go on a list before?

The thing is, and this takes most of us by surprise most years, the carefully thought-through plans for Christmas usually crash into real life - a relative taken ill, a complexity about travel arrangements, a missing ingredient.

Let's face it, coming home from church and cooking lunch for nine does not normally cause me to break sweat. Why this one?

Advent thought. Leave some space in your planning for the thing that hasn't happened that you are not expecting.

Angels might not literally pitch up with news, but it is as well to be prepared.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Advent Thought 21

Niger seeds, peanuts, sunflower hearts and fat balls. I spend a lot on my pets. I look out for them, scare away predators and keep them fed in the winter. I provide nesting sites and water. I record the different species that visit each day (nine today).

None of us has the reach to fix the whole world. Yet for me nine house sparrows, three wood pigeons, two collared doves, two blackbirds, a robin, a blackcap, a magpie, a blue tit and a dunnock were a little bit of the world I could look after.

My twelve year garden survey submitted to the RSPB every January adds to the data about bird population growth and decline. It also makes my looking out of the window slightly more useful than it might otherwise have been.

How are you making your bit of the world better?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Advent Thought 20

I swear we only really get to grips with the fridges and the freezer at Christmas. Today, answering the question 'Do we need to get some more butter?' rather than simply putting 'butter' on the shopping list, because you can always use butter, we actually bothered to check.

Well it turns out we don't. We have enough.

In trying to survive whatever version of the apocalypse comes our way next March I feel sure that there will be enough in already opened jars and packets in the corner of the fridge to keep us going.

We've become quite good at not wasting food, but clearly not good enough. We are so wealthy there is food we forgot we had.

What do you have too much of?


Advent Thought 19

A few years ago we realised that normal people tended to play Christmas music in their houses at Christmas and we had never done that. So we set off down to the local music emporium and purchased some weird and wonderful bits of unpopular Christmas music. None of your Mariah Carey or Michael BublĂ©  but some less well known stuff. Completely on spec I bought this album and loved it, mainly because it included some jazz piano shapes I have been able to copy.

It was never part of our Christmas tradition as our boys grew up. It first hit the home at around the turn of the millennium. Yet it is still asked for when visitors come, even family.

But it is now compulsory listening around this time and we have just had a first run through with a couple of drinks post #Mumwatch. Very relaxing.

So, what do you do at Christmas that everyone else thinks is daft? And is it 

By the way you needn't buy it to check it out. Stream it on Spotify.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent Thought 18

Sooner or later during Advent, Christmas carnage sets in. The tidy lounge becomes a present-wrapping hub.

It reminds me of a  passage by the late David Watson. He said that often on a summer's day he might long for a fresh breeze through the study window. But then, if he chose to open the window, it would blow all his papers all over the place. (You remember paper, surely?)

He related that to those people who said they desired God to be at work in their lives, but then when they allowed it to happen, their lives were turned upside down and they longed for the breezeless neat paper again.

I like giving gifts but the piles of gift-wrap, cards, tape and ribbon, not to mention the array of presents themselves, creates some temporary chaos.

Towards the end of the Advent waiting comes Christmas preparation. Still not the moment, but we need to sacrifice a little sovereignty over our tidiness in order to share a neater experience later. And that works on many levels.

Gifts are now wrapped and waiting in tidy piles. But the deeper spiritual untidiness has been part of my life for years.

Thought for the Day

I was on TFTD duty at BBC Radio Bristol this morning. Asked to make it amusing I think I crow-barred a funny middle section into a news item to which it had no relevance. That said it went down well and thanks to Producer Nicki for finding an instrumental version of the song I was ruining as backing music:

Travelling is a Christmas tradition. Today stories about Bristol airport, community transport and returning to hospital with thank-you gifts. We even hear of someone walking home for Christmas. Take a hint Chris Rea.

Barring tragedy, most journeys have a known outcome. We like our traditions to be er, traditional. That said there's some updating needed:

The partridge was run down as I swerved to avoid a pear tree felled by the wind.

Turtle doves have been humanely destroyed in view of their many diseases.

Due to Brexit only British hens are available.

Calling birds have been vocally modified to avoid upsetting country dwellers of a non-rural background.

Gold rings can be bought off that Dave who pops into the pub every now and again with interesting stuff know what I mean.

Orders for live and fertile geese could not be fulfilled at this time. One frozen goose, giblets included.

Swans belong to the Crown. Anyone in possession of seven should be reported.

Non-gender specific milking persons please. Do not threaten the human rights of male milkers.

Vote now to save your favourite dancers and their partners.

Lords are mainly too old to be a-leaping.

Sequenced piping samples playing dub lang syne on heavy rotation and Hammerhead 1.0 rhythm programmes can be downloaded via Windows media player to conclude your 12 days.

Well it's amazing how things move on isn't it? What was once a cool list of gifts from a true love now becomes either controversial or out-of-date. The knack for those of us with faith, if I may call it that, is to talk about Jesus in an updated and interesting way whilst remembering that the old message is not old-fashioned. I trust your Christmas journey contains many deity-specific tidings and wish you a happy one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Advent Thought 17

I don't spend much time on cards but I do spend a ridiculous amount of time on our Christmas letter.

A lovely friend here was spied out of the bedroom window a few years back. He was in the road opposite with a sketch pad, although at the time I didn't know if he had responsibilities as a surveyor or recorder of social information.

A few days later all became clear as a personalised, hand-drawn Christmas card arrived. This has been happening for ten years and we display the set, trying desperately to arrange the story in chronological order.

One of the cards even includes an exact depiction of my dressing gown, which is worrying. But we love the investment of time, in us, that the cards represent.

Advent is a funny time for remembering people. Having just worked my way down our Christmas card list I have had several moments of wondering if we have been sending a card to the wrong address for a number of years in some cases. How do people tell you of their change of address these days? So many possible ways.

So, practical Advent thought; if you get an update on family details, note the info down now in your Christmas card file (tell me you have one, please).

And spiritual one. Spare a payer for all those you send cards to, and all you receive them from.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas 2018

Make yourself a coffee
Put your feet up
Don't expect to understand
And embrace the
Christmas News you have been waiting for.

It's been a good year for black comedy.

Advent Thought 16

In one of his rarer moments of lucidity prompted by the Christian tradition, Bob Dylan once said that no-one does what is right; they just do what they want and then repent. If he was channelling his inner St Paul - all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God - then the boy done well.

As an insight it has followed me around over the years. I have been fortunate enough to lead a number of Christian communities and I have seen at first hand the many occasions on which the whole community has spoken as one to agree on a course of action and then stepped back from the job of making that thing happen.

Which links nicely to another quote I rediscovered yesterday:

In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us to overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.
(David Foster Wallace)

So the hurtful thing (which I have never allowed to hurt me because that is my choice) is when I see things that need to be done, and take people with me to a place where they agree they should be done, yet find it almost impossible to get people to join a team to do the thing, let alone lead it. It is potentially hurtful because, as the quote makes clear, it is always my fault. Vision casting needs to take people beyond nodding in agreement to rolled up sleeves.

There was an old story about a vicar who went to the railway track every Sunday morning and waited for the early train to pass under the bridge. At this point he gave a litle dance of joy and walked home. Questioned about it he acknowledged that since it was the only thing in the parish that moved without him pushing it he got pretty excited.

Don't worry. This is not a Christmas rebuke to my lovely church. It is an observation applicable as much to a country and Brexit as a church and its vision. It is one thing to agree on a vision. It is another to agree to contribute to the necessary work to make it happen.

20% of the people do 80% of the work. The somebody, anybody, nobody, everybody story also springs to mind which, if you know it, will not be as good as my version which contains mildly poor language.

A thought. A thought? Ah yes. If you think it is a good idea, get involved. If you don't think it is a good idea, say so.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Advent Thought 15

Very few products advertised as life-changing are truly that. But this tablet and I have been company for each other a few years now. This is my diary, my notebook, my social media accounts, my email and more.

The previous post, written largely on the tablet during a church service would previously have had to be transcribed from a notebook.

The knack, I believe, is to use labour saving devices to improve your quality of life; not simply to get more done.

If you get things done quicker you have more time to rest, hope, wait and pray. Which is what Advent is all about. Gaudete.

Jesus Growing Up - A Wondering

It was a privilege to be a vicar in church with no duties today. Unexpectedly I found myself wondering as I heard a service themed on the obedience of Jesus' mother. If, as I believe, these accounts are not exactly history as we know it, how did it all work. Well maybe like this...

Aged 9
Maybe it was because from time to time he looked at me strangely. Perhaps it was because carpentry didn't exactly capture my imagination. Or even that when we heard the stories from Moses and the prophets I found a depth of curiosity which people said nine year old kids shouldn't have. Not sure when precisely, but that was when I began to wonder. Mum acted as if she knew more than she told me, but she let me be.

Aged 12
I asked a lot of questions. It was just curiosity. The teachers tell all these stories and tell us to learn them but they really like it when they are asked to explain what they mean. I asked so many questions, sometimes getting distracted from what I ought to do or where I ought to be, that people called me wise. Maybe a wise person is one who want to be less stupid.

Aged 20
From time to time I wandered out into the wilderness, when I wasn't making disappointing table legs and getting awkward looks from an increasingly frail Dad. My brothers seemed to master it. I never got the knack. Day-dreamer they called me, but I was trying to pray and listen to a deeper voice. In the wilderness there were no distractions. But there were competing voices in the wind and in my head. They told me I could be amazing if only I grasped the power I had. I was hungry and wondered if I could turn stones to bread. I tried a few times. Never worked.

My cousin John liked the wilderness too but he was a hunter-gatherer. Could make insects taste nice. Make clothes out of stuff lying around.

Aged 30
John had started getting attention. He was shouting at people. Really shouting. He called them broods of vipers. He hated cheats - Jew or Gentile. He pushed people under the water as a way of being forgiven. I knew he must push me too. But when I saw him his face changed. It didn't seem quite right. He said I should dunk him. We had a bit of a stand-off until something got through to him and he knew what he had to do. And when he did it I knew. My job was to save people not fix their furniture and carts. It hit me like a giant life goal. Save these people from their sins. Whilst I was still taking all this in some say they heard a voice in the clouds.

I went back to the wilderness, trying to sort the voices. That's when I knew. The one I needed to hear was going to take me where I needed to go, one step at a time. Listen, trust and wait. No trying to fly, no turning from the God I'd been raised with and any bread should be baked not conjured. I think I may have stretched this one a bit a few months later but the crowd looked hungry.

So I downed tools. My brothers were happy to see the back of me.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Advent Thought 14

Long-standing readers of this blog will have bumped into my observations about Christmas trappings before. Suffice it to say that decorating trees is a bit modern, we all do it too soon and yet it is a nice custom.

I grew up in a big old house with a mother who knew how things should be. They should be the way she did them.

Mum took a relative back-seat most of the time but at Christmas she became very much in charge.

One tradition slightly awry and my Mum would announce that Christmas was ruined. It was always ruined, but in a slightly different way each year. Pick from:

  • We always had a large tree with dodgy lights
  • Two dogs who tried to eat any gift-wrapped food.
  • Grandma crushing the Wolverhamptom Wanderers Subbuteo team underfooot
  • Missing the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show
  • Lunch not starting until 2 because it wouldn't all fit in the oven
  • 12 days sweeping up pine needles.

The cul-de-sac opposite our house (pictured) is going a bit stir-crazy with the outdoor lights and is fast becoming a visitor attraction. We like to think our tree in the window is a tasteful counter to all this garishness.

We try not to peak too soon so this weekend is as early as we ever put up a tree.

Where is the Advent thought? I guess it is this. Don't get so swept up in the having to do Christmas things just so that you forget to look forward to it and then enjoy it. And remind yourself afresh that memories are more easily recalled of those things that didn't go quite according to plan.


Friday, December 14, 2018

Advent Thought 13

This is an agroove by Kreafunk. Great names for a great piece of kit and fine firm. It is a bluetooth speaker and has given me an inordinate amount of pleasure. From its sleek design you might guess it is Scandinavian, Danish to be precise, although assembled in China.

I remember the days when, if I read a review of a piece of music that sounded interesting, I had to either listen out for it, find someone who owned it or buy it on spec.

Now I use Spotify on my phone and can sample reviewed music from the comfort of my own bed whilst avoiding cutting myself off from the world with headphones.

All mortal flesh may be currently charged with keeping silence but this merry gentleman is agrooving.

And this is one way the world is getting better. What has come along to help you enjoy life while you wait? Consider all the words in this piece that would have been meaningless 10, 100 and 1000 years ago.

Posts on ways life is getting worse are available but not the current point.

Advent Thought 12

Two fine looking younger people. What's going on? A kiss? A conspiratorial whisper? I think we can tell who is in charge, for sure.

We tend not to be the sort of household where portraits of the family are displayed. So this picture is not available in the public rooms at Tilley mansions. It is a detail from a larger collection which we invested stupid money in around the time of our silver wedding anniversary. We keep it on our bedroom wall.

What happened to those two? They moved house, changed jobs, saw their children leave home, gradually became the older generation and yet also, nothing changed.

We all need a bit of stability in order to find our way though turbulence. Blessed? Fortunate? You decide. We'll take either description.

In so far as a picture can be true it was true once and has been true ever since. Freeze frame now. Is it true? Is it universally true or just true for the moment?

Journalistic pictures, like advent hopes and longings, are always telling a deeper truth. What do you see? What does it say?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Advent Thought 11

It's taken me a while to come to terms with being a glasses wearer. The first signs of deterioration came when, aged about 45, it was commented that if I held the newspaper any further away it would be in the next room.

Off I went to Specsavers, returning with a prescription for reading glasses. From then on, every couple of years, I had to remember that if I was finding it hard to concentrate on reading it was probably because I needed an eye test. Cheaper than an arm extension.

Wind forward to about 2007 and I had become the sort of person who put their glasses on and off a lot, or kept them on the end of my nose and looked over them. My Dad wore his glasses on a chain round his neck. Never liked that look.

And so it was back to Specsavers again to embrace varifocals. It was, as many have said, weird at first. My peripheral vision was full of kaleidoscopic fault-lines for a couple of days. It takes longer for others but your brain soon works out how to interpret the images.

I became a permanent glasses wearer and now I can't do without them. That said, many years of being comfortable walking around the house in the dark have meant I don't need to put them on to pop downstairs in the night for whatever you need to pop downstairs in the night for. But otherwise I wear them all the time.

I have a terrific advantage over many generations of ancestors for whom the end of eyesight would have meant the end of close-quarters work.

Advent. A time for seeing things as they really are. What do you take for granted? Devote a moment or two to gratitude.

Advent Thought 10

This little alarm cost me £5 about 20 years ago. Many of the function buttons now demonstrate age - for instance I can only scroll through numbers in one direction. If I wake before it is due to go off and want to disable it then removing and replacing the battery is the quickest way.

It has one major attribute which I like in an alarm. If it does reach the designated time it can be silenced with a smart blow to the top. Being capable of being hit and surviving is an essential feature, in my opinion, not just for an alarm clock but for all humans.

It has a second redeeming quality. It is part of the furniture. I know how to deal with it in the dark.

Recently the Mike Tyson boxing strategy was revisited in the light of the rebirth of Tyson Fury. Tyson (M) said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Well, now is the time to wake out of sleep, preferably without being punched in the face or hit over the head. My alarm clock has survived the relentless onslaught of TCMT's visual merchandising of my entire life.

Today's pondering. Style or function? Which cuts the mustard for you?