Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Clothes and Happiness

I saw two contrasting things today - the first was an advert for a conference on happiness This contained the information that "the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago".
Then a little later it was contrasted by an article saying that a significant proportion of clothes bought are never worn - around 50% if my quick scan of the numbers is accurate - and that in Cardiff 2/3 of respondents had thrown catalogue clothes away unworn.

The question that this prompts in me is what contribution this makes towards happiness. Is it the act of shopping that generates the happiness - regardless of the outcome, or are the people unhappy about this, but for some reason don't return the goods? Given that we seem to be coming more like America in our attitude towards our rights I suspect that it is the former, and that people are seeking happiness in shopping - Tesco ergo sum as I have heard it described.

However it doesn't work - or is there someone out there who can tell me otherwise? As soon as happiness depends on acquisition there is always one more thing to buy, one more thing to make your life better - and yet it never does. True happiness is found not by looking for it, but by serving others - For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Bullfighting and Boxing

What do you make of bullfighting and boxing? Instinctively I am against them, and the video above, showing an 11 year old fighting bull calves, would be an easy thing to avoid on principle. And yet when they are done well there is something compelling about them. I watched the video expecting to be repelled, and yet found myself drawn into the artistry and skill that the boy showed - this is not to ignore the cruelty to the bulls - and for me the same is true of boxing - not that I watch an awful lot - but I remember when I was younger watching Muhammad Ali (OK, much younger) and thinking that he had taken the sport to another level.

If we ban the sports the artistry goes with them - and yet there is so much wrong with both sports.

The artistry of bull fighting does not (surely) require the kiling of the bull, and yet in searching the web I wasn't able to find any information on bull fights where the bull isn't killed. Similarly with boxing it would be possible to display the artistry while protecting the boxers more - wearing helmets like the amateurs would remove a lot of the risk - but it doesn't happen.

So what is the draw of the two? Is it the artistry, or is it the blood lust? I fear it is the latter and on those grounds would support a banning of both - after all, there would be other opportunities for the individuals artistry to shine through.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Who wants to be a millionaire?

The above article talks about the creation of a Z$100 trillion note - worth about £22 on the black market - so you can be a Zimbabwean dollar millionaire for about 2p. Somehow not quite what I suspect most people have in mind if they want to be a millionaire. And yet things aren't so far removed in this country - when I was younger my parents bought a house for £4,000 it is now worth somewhere close to 100 times that - so on that basis a millionaire has 100 times less money than 40 years ago. And yet is money all it is cracked up to be?

Most people seem to assume that more money spent on themselves leads to happiness - and yet the research shows otherwise.

And it is hardly as if this is news, 2000 years ago someone said both:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”


Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

This latter quote speaks to me in the same terms as the research - that the secret to happiness is not to seek it, but instead to seek for the happiness of others - and in doing so we will find our own happiness.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

What is church?

There is an organisation called Spirited Exchanges which is for those who ... perhaps it is best if you look it up on their web site - I will struggle to summarise it. However, they have a newsletter which is not currently available on the web (work in progress) and the following article was in the last edition and I thought that it was worth sharing more widely and commenting on. Although perhaps the only comment that I can add is that for me this enacts more of God and Jesus than much I see in church. The willing powerlessness of the protestors, the acceptance that they are going to be beaten, the sharing together.


It was about 5.30 in the morning when the shout awoke me, and the moment we were waiting for announced its arrival. My sleep-weakened hands struggled to pull on my boots – we had all been sleeping fully clothed for days, in readiness – so by the time I struggled from my tent in to the grey light of morning, just a few seconds later, my partner and many others were by then disappearing across the field. The summer sun was already high, but obscured behind the mist that rose off the tidal river at the bottom of the grassy hill and still hung damp in the air. At that moment, everything seemed hazy. It would have been beautiful, had I had time to stop and gaze, but my heart was beating fast and my feet were running faster to join the crowd that was growing along with the day.

As I emerged from the village of recently-emptied tents and started up the far side of the valley, I could see that the sun had managed to struggle through the fading mist. Its light was bouncing off the helmets and shields of the ranks of men ahead of me, armed with sticks and gas, and off the windscreens of the speeding vehicles rushing in reinforcements behind them. I saw my partner a field ahead of me as he disappeared into the crowd that was forming in front of them – the next time I would see him would be 30 hours later, injured, behind a screen in a court room. A few seconds later, I was in the midst of it all - the shouting, cheering, laughing, chanting, struggling, spinning mass, trying simply to keep my feet on the floor. "Stay at the back" I said to myself. "Observe what goes on, help those who need it, add your support" I intone. But then, placing my feet firmly on the ground, I looked up, as the sun shone its early light on what was to be a very unusual Sunday morning, and found myself at the very front, face to face with the riot police.

This was Climate Camp 2008. Not, as it may have seemed at that moment, a frontier in a police state, at least, allegedly not. Nor, as certain authorities were trying to convince the media, was this a full scale terrorist attack that threatened the underlying fabric of our society, flawed and threadbare as that fabric may be. Rather, this was maybe 1500 eco-types – community workers, ecologists, scientists, activists, journalists, concerned citizens – come together for a week of courses, contacts, conversation, compost loos and couc-cous in Kent. At the end of which was planned a peaceful march to the gates of Kingsnorth Power Station, the proposed site for the first of the "New Generation" of coal fired power stations, for a bit of family flag waving, banner hanging, bad drumming, and admittedly, perhaps the odd touch of fence snipping. Our intention was to highlight the catastrophe that such "progress" could cause: How can we continue to base our energy systems on carbon and "capture" technology that simply doesn't exist in the face of the imperative to reduce our emissions by at least 80% (if not 95), and our economy on fossil fuels which are all but exhausted? Our aim was humanitarian and environmental, our commitment non-violent.

Bizarre as this scene was, in the face of the weeks events, it was nothing less than I had expected. Over the previous four days of set-up, I had been searched by police maybe a dozen or more times. Everyone had been subject to this blatant intimidation - on two occasions I witnessed police search inside babies’ nappies for weapons. A black man was arrested because he was unable to produce his passport and so accused of being here illegally. Items "intended for criminal damage" and therefore confiscated included water piping, felt tip pens, board games, playing cards, wood for building compost loos, food, clothes pegs, spoons, parts of marquees, string, even an elderly lady's crutches. A few tools had been seized - clearly intended for the site build - but very few. Throughout the whole camp stories and eye-witness accounts were rife. For further details there is ample footage available on Indymedia and the Climate Camp website.

Whilst the land owner had not known in advance that we were coming, once we arrived and stated our aims he gave his full and happy permission, provided we obeyed a few rules regarding the welfare of his sheep, which of course we were happy to do.

On this Sunday morning, however, the Police response was no friendly walkabout. These were troops of riot police, up to 100 at a time, armed with shields, bullet proof vests, CS gas and batons, vans of dogs and horses. Facing them were a few hundred committed though slightly unwashed people armed with herbal tea and chocolate, guitars and an endless litany of protest songs of questionable musicality.... who says the spirit of ‘69’ is dead???! And neither side were afraid to use their weapons. By the time I left eight hours later, of our small group of ten who I had been with at the gate, one had been arrested, two had been hospitalised, six had been first-aided (including myself - my left arm was out of use for two days and my right leg badly bruised and swollen after baton blows) and only one remained un-injured. However we had also sung ourselves hoarse, made new friends, and defended the entrance from police vehicles by setting up a yurt and throwing a party. During that time, despite much debate as to the purpose of all this, the police had not gained an inch. We had not so much as raised an angry hand against the police, even insults or swearing was shouted down by the group.

Two moments in these hours warrant further description:

The first was early on after half an hour of pushing and shoving, when in a moment of stillness I found myself at the front. I was face to face with the row of riot police, all of whom were standing with their batons raised, gas in hand, waiting the order to attack. Everything seemed to freeze as I realised that things had come to the crunch. This was the moment I had somehow known would come ever since I joined my first protest a few years ago. I had seen others get hit, some injured badly. I had been insulted and jostled. But this was the moment when for the first time in my adult life I was about to get hit. It was no big deal. It had been on the cards all along and all we were talking about was a bit of a battering. But that hypothetical question we all ask now became a reality.... was I prepared to suffer violence for what I believed?

I looked at the armed woman in front of me, younger than me, no longer able to meet my eye and clearly scared, and the older man next to her clearly spoiling for a fight. I knew why they were here. They had been telling us all week. They were getting paid £35 an hour. And I knew why I was here - because I believed wholeheartedly in the purposes of this camp, that it was a small part of a process to prevent the degradation of this planet and the lives of all generations to come. I looked at the young woman, smiled, and quietly said, "Don't be scared, it's ok". And then the order was given, and tentatively at first and then more strongly, she and the man with her, started to hit me.

The second moment came later, after the initial onslaught had died down. Again an order went out, apparently this time to stop hitting people, and the police re-formed themselves into a line. I formed part of another line, sitting on the ground with our backs to their legs. An hour or two passed. Songs were sung, food and jokes shared. And then one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced occurred. Someone suggested that we share with one another our reasons for being there. Maybe 30 or 40 people took a few minutes each to share their personal motivation, why they believed what they believed, and why they were willing to put themselves on the line for it. I shared about how, when travelling in Asia, I had met poor people, who became my most valued friends. People, whose lives were already devastated by the effects of climate change. The depth of insight and emotion from the whole group was profound to say the least. Many people were moved to tears - including, remarkably, two of the riot police. These were not tears of despair, they were tears of deep solace at being with like-minded people who understood and who together were committed to finding a solution.

As I sat there, in some ways still only half awake, in others more awake than I had ever been, people started passing refreshments around. A kind of late breakfast, as it must now have been ten or eleven o'clock. People camping near by had brought porridge and a few cups of hot coffee. I took a sip of black tea from a dirty mug and passed it to my neighbour. A few moments later a bar of vegan chocolate was passed from hand to hand for people to take a piece and pass it on. And as I took my piece of chocolate I realised, that like thousands of others around the country that Sunday morning sitting in their pews, here in this field in Kent, sitting in front of a line of riot police, I had just shared communion. As the sudden shiver of recognition thrilled through me, chilling me on what was now a roasting hot summers day, in absolute silence yet clearer and more penetrating than the sirens, I heard The Voice say, "Here I am, Miriam, this is where I am”.

Dozens of times, since I left the church six or seven years ago, I've wondered whether I've done the right thing, whether in my attempt to let God be free, I've actually let him go. But equally, several times since I started mixing with activists, slum dwellers, asylum seekers, the homeless and the mentally ill, I have found God in the most unlikely of places (or likely? it all depends where you expect him) , grinning at me toothlessly in the face. And here, yet again, but perhaps even more poignantly than usual, as I sat in the gap between riot police, with all the weight of state and corporation behind them, and a field full of exhausted, stressed, unkempt, colourful, committed and passionate people, with all the lightness of belief behind them, I knew without a shadow of a doubt where God was, and where I wanted to be.
Miriam Hadcocks

Tuesday, 13 January 2009 / Columnists / Luke Johnson - Graft, not genes, brings success

Is there a gene for success in business? As those of you who have read below will know I stumbled on Malcolm Gladwell and in fact it was Outliers that I first read about. It suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything, and that it is no surprise that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs et al are of a similar age as they were the right age to spend 10,000 hours playing with computers at the start of the micro revolution. I agree with Luke Johnson that hard work contributes to success, but would add that certain personal qualities also help - which may come from genes. They are perhaps a necessary but not sufficient condition (forgive my lapse into maths speak). Lets just say that even if all successful business people do have characteristics that are genetic not all people with those characteristics are successful business people.

And what does religion have to say into this space? Perhaps the first thing to say is that God values everybody, not just successful business people. So before someone complains that they don't have the genes to be a business success - so what?
Paul talks about the different parts of the body as an analogy for the body of Christ, and just as all types of people are required, so a world made up only of successful business people would not be a great place.

I also question whether it is healthy for anyone to spend 10,000 hours - at least over a short period of time (about 10 years at 3 hours a day) on anything - what kind of person has that dedication? It would of course explain why tennis champions are getting younger - they can clock up their 10,000 hours quicker than used to be the case when they also had a rounded education.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Atheist Bus Campaign is 'offensive', say complaints to ASA | World news |

Atheist Bus Campaign is 'offensive', say complaints to ASA World news

Where does one start with this story? There are so many things that come to mind. Perhaps the first is the assumption that if there is a God we can't enjoy ourselves - I believe that God wants us to enjoy this life - to have life in all it fulness (John 10:10). There seems to be this assumption that God wants to stop us doing things that we enjoy - but my interpretation is that the rules that God has given us are to tell us what will make us enjoy life. A little like when we tell our children not to put their finger in plugs - it isn't that we are threatening to electrocute them if they do - it is that we are warning them that if they do it they will get electrocuted!

My God can also cope with people thinking that He doesn't exist. In fact if it were incontrovertible that he did exist that would be a denial of our free will - so the complainers appear to be complaining about the exercise of free will - which is one of Gods gifts to us!

And finally - a number of Christian organisations have contributed to the funding on the basis that if people think about the question they might actually come up with a different answer. Have you ever tried not to think about a pink elephant? If I tell you not to the first thing you do is think of one - even if you weren't (!) doing so already.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Church rejects crucifix!

How horrific does a crucifix have to be before it makes sense to take it down?
For me this is another example of the tension between being inwardly focussed and outwardly focussed. I, and I suspect many others in the church, find the hope that the vicar wants people to find in the symbolism of the cross - the willing submission of Jesus to such an horrific death.
And yet to those outside the church that is not an obvious message - at least not until they have crossed the threshhold and had things explained. So at one level I can understand what the vicar is trying to do, but at another I too want to complain about the dumbing down of our faith - without the crucifixion there is no Christianity.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Keith Ward

Just been reading Christianity - A guide for the Perplexed - a number of the congregation have mentioned Keith Ward to me and as I hadn't read anything by him and it was on the church bookshelf... I did wonder about the impact of reading it on the train in a clerical collar, but hey...

It had lots of thought provoking bits, but the piece I found most inspiring was the piece on prayer, and in particular Prayer of Reception where he suggests using the fruits of the Spirit

(the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23 and after giving examples of how this might work goes on:

"In outlining the fruits of the Spirit, I have wholly ignored the complexities that inevitably arise in real life — dilemmas about when we should forgive, when we must exercise compulsion to avoid great harm to others, or when we cannot be kind. The Christian life is not one that ignores the realities of evil and conflict in society. Thus mention on these fruits must always be individual and particular, and cannot be encompassed in any brief and general list like the one I have just provided. It must be a self-examination of a unique life and situation in the presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This is a difficult discipline but it is vital that these ideals are contemplated, that we attempt to conform our lives to them as far as possible, and that we ask for the power of the Spirit to enable us to do so. This is the prayer of reception, of receptivity to the Spirit of God. It could be called 'confession', since it involves self-examination. Yet it does not concentrate on our sins and failures. It rather concentrates on the positive characteristics the Spirit will give to us, and on the possibility that we may become instruments of the Spirit of God, in a real if always imperfect way."

The value of determination and perseverence?

Perseverance is needed to win the prize. At a sales convention the manager said to 2000 of his firm's sales force, "Did the Wright brothers ever quit?" "No!" they responded. "Did Charles Lindburg ever quit?" "No!" they shouted. "Did Lance Armstrong ever quit?" "No!" they bellowed. "Did Thorndike McKester ever quit?" There was a long, confused silence. Then a salesperson shouted, "Who in the world is Thorndike McKester? Nobody's ever heard of him." The sales manager snapped back, "Of course you haven't - that's because he quit!" Quitters never win, and winners never quit. From
This set me thinking - before I was ordained I worked for nearly 30 years in management in the food industry and the importance of determination was something that was often talked about, and all "good" management books quote stories like the one above, including Abraham Lincoln's life story - interestingly this web page debunks the story!

But is it even true? Of course at one level it is unfalsifiable, if you haven't succeeded it is because you haven't tried hard enough. However it is prone to the fallacy demonstrated by Derren Brown The System - you only hear about the winners. It is also falsifiable if you can find someone who has "won" without trying - but as with Lincoln there is always some adversity which can be coopted to prove the point.

In business I also found it harmful at times - people who had the "wrong" idea, but who persevered, making everybody elses life a misery in the meantime.

And what are we to make of the ethos which defines winning as the most important thing? I wonder whether the man from Gallilee would have been seen as a winner?

Alternatively is it a truism? That if we know what we want then we will be determined to achieve it - it is just that most people don't want the kind of success that most of these stories refer to.

I have no answer, but I sometimes wonder whether most of the people who "succeed" in life are in some way psychologically drawn to the life they lead - perhaps we are all psychologically drawn to the life we lead!

It reminds me of this quote which I love "The will of God for us is what remains of a situation after we try without stint and pray without ceasing to change it." from this book Insights for the Ages, which is serialised on this web site


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