Sunday, 28 February 2010

Living Faith

This is about encouraging and enabling clergy and lay people to deepen their enjoyment of God, and to recognize God's presence in everyday life.
John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford
Our diocese has a new vision, Living Faith, (well, relatively new) and this year St Michael's will be focussing on "Sustaining the Sacred Centre".  There are three priorities that we are looking at - one is the use of clergy time - where should it best be put to use whilst still giving us time to sustain our own sacred centres.  A small group have already suggested that this should be focussed more on looking to the future and work is in progress to look at what the implications of this are.
We are also looking to interview some of the congregation so that we get to know each other better, and to ask what sustains their sacred centre as a way of showing the many different ways that people do this.  Finally we have gathered a list of resources for private prayer and are making the Diocesan Prayer Leaflet available and encouraging people to try something new.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

England is too narrow for Christianity!

Churchgoing in the US has recently been reported by Gallup (h/t  After considerable statistical analysis (cor - look at those low numbers on the West and North East coasts) I have come to the conclusion that Christians are averse to the sea - at least on East and West coasts - so with England being such a narrow country in that respect it is perhaps no surprise that churchgoing is so low here!

Just compare - 15% of the English got to church monthly - 22% in London (pages 5 & 6 whereas in America Vermont, with fewest (mostly) weekly attendees has 23%.

[We are ignoring the fact that only 5% of French people are estimated to attend church on the grounds that it doesn't fit our thesis!  Much as ACNA supporters claimed General Synod support which was not in fact there]

Count Your Blessings - 27 Feb

Get ready for Mothering Sunday! Flowers are a lifeline for the women at Las Hortencias carnation nursery in Honduras. In 2007 a gale destroyed the nursery’s plastic roofing, threatening all they’d worked for. But Christian Aid funded a new storm-proof roof reinforced with wire mesh. £11 could buy 10 metres of mesh. Visit today to find out how you or your church could buy life-changing gifts like this for Mothering Sunday.
Well, I think I am going to pass on this one - they are getting my money at the end of Lent for "Counting my Blessings" and it is not possible to give every time someone asks.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Would you preach differently if there were an abuser or victim in the congregation?

My unit estimated that 70-80% of people on the sex-offenders' register attend church. Most sex offenders are never even reported, so those on the register are only the number reported and convicted. It would be nice to think they were seeking redemption, but that simply is not the case.  Third Way Magazine
The above caught my eye on the Church Times Blog.  I shook me up a little.  As part of my training I had been on the appropriate Diocesan courses, and we had talked about how to deal with a sex offenders in the congregation, but I had assumed that this was the exception.  Our diocese has 969 registered sex offenders (source here p2), which is not the same as paedophiles, which means that potentially 775 are church attenders - with  just over 800 churches that means that, on average, there is 1 registered offender in each.  Of course, there are likely to be many churches that would not attract an offender for the wrong reasons - so those churches with large children's ministries may well have more than one registered offender attending.

The article also included:
The NSPCC figure is 1 in 6 children suffer from abuse - that is all abuse, not just sexual - but those are just the reported cases.
This didn't surprise me as a while ago I read this excellent report on Childhood Sexual Abuse:
Current estimates of prevalence, from random surveys in communities, suggest that, when CSA is defined as sexual contact, ranging from fondling to intercourse by someone at least five years older than them, between one-fifth and one-third of all women, have been sexually abused either as a child or as an adolescent.
So, in this diocese it is quite likely that there will be an abuser in the congregation - and an almost racing certainty that there will be someone who has been abused.

If you preach will that change what you say on these topics?  It certainly gave me pause for thought.

Count Your Blessings - 26 Feb

Poor people in developing countries spend 50-80% of their income on food. Give 5p for every £1 you have spent in a supermarket in the last week.
Mmm - I don't go every week and haven't visited one in the last week - though my daughter did for me - so that will be 20p.  Lucky for me it wasn't the week before - that could have been a fiver.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

How long does it take to get to know you?

Vicar "plans to visit all 9000 homes in his new parish during Lent to get to know his new flock."  Church Times
 This is a tricky post to write as I am fully supportive of the concept of getting to know parishioners (note - not congregation - though I don't mind getting to know them too).  But, and I am afraid it is a but, I don't think this is the way to do it.  After all, with 9,000 homes it averages 6 minutes per home, and that assumes working 24 hour days for the 40 days of lent (I figure he needs to take services on Sunday).  If we get a bit more realistic and assume he can spend 8 hours a day for the 40 days then simple maths says that it becomes 2 minutes each - and that is ignoring time between houses - lets hope he doesn't have any of those large houses where it would take 2 minutes to walk down the drive!

If we get a little more realistic then not everyone will want to talk to him!  (I was talking to a priest one day about wearing a clerical collar - I assumed that wearing one on the train might lead to more space around me.  Not at all - she described it as a "nutter magnet").  And in the hours available, assuming that he gets away in 30 seconds from those who are out or not interested, it gives 250 hour long conversations.

When I started writing this post my assumption was that it was an impossible thing to do, and having read "If you meet...", which among other things suggested to me that the days of mass clergy visiting were over because of other priorities, I wasn't sure it was realistic.  Having crunched the numbers it now seems a better idea, but one which would realistically take a little longer than lent to carry out properly.  One for my kit bag when I move on methinks.  It feels like the kind of thing that you can do when you are new, before the congregation realise the interregnum is over!

Just found that it might be 10,000 parishioners, not 9,000 homes!  Makes it more conceivable still.

Count Your Blessings - 25 Feb

A survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union found that agricultural yields almost halved in farming households affected by HIV. Give 5p for every year of your life you took more holiday leave from school or work than sick leave.
OK - so I think that would be all of them - 2.35 (not letting how old I was when I started counting - though it puts a lower limit on my age!).

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Our Sound is Our Wound - Part 1

"their sound itself becomes a wound - a sacrifice that they willingly make, fashioning a beauty that needs neither explanation or excuse." p2 (talking about a string quartet)
I don't get it!  At least, not yet.  I am reading this as part of my lenten study (see here).  This post will record my thoughts on the introduction and there will no doubt be others.

Lucy Winkett is using sound as a metaphor and as a tone deaf non musician I am not finding this easy.  That said, in the introduction she also writes a lot of things that I do understand and which do resonate, and for which the sound metaphor adds not one jot (for me).
There is no normative experience against which everything everything should be measured, and, when we recognise this, our relationship with God and our understanding of human beings will be only expanded and enriched. (Sparked by the idea of the deaf musician - especially Evelyn Glennie) p5
Emotional or psychological wounds are harder to see and therefore easier to hide.  But part of maturing as people, whatever our circumstances, is that we learn to live with the wounds from our past.  It can be precisely from contemplating and accepting those wounds that we begin to mend, and that we learn that it is never to late to start again.  p6
Christians offer modern society the conviction that wounds, which are a part of the human condition, are given meaning by meditating on them in the light of the wounds of God, seen in Jesus. p7
All language that we use about God is metaphor... p8 
I found all of these quote immensely powerful, but so far I am finding the attempt to force them into a "sound" straitjacket unhelpful.  That said I am looking forwards to the rest of the book!

Count Your Blessings - 24 Feb

‘Happiness comes by chance. Today I am happy because I made £1.50 carrying stones.’ Jimmy, street child, Democratic Republic of Congo. What has lifted your day today? Give £1.50 in thanks.
 Well, £1.50 is easy!  What has lifted my day?  The day I wrote this I had a fun filled meeting which achieved a lot and left me uplifted!

It was suggested that for those who don't wish to follow my progress posting it in a second post would simplify the process!

And the chocolate has failed  L Went to see my mum and she offered me a sweet from the tin, and without thinking I took my favourite.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

What is it about taking photos?

I recently found this story about a man being arrested for 8 hours for taking photos in a town centre.  I was horrified that someone could be arrested in those circumstances, but slightly suspicious that he appeared to know his legal rights very well.  I consider myself reasonably well informed, but had no idea of the things he knew inside out.  However, I then found this link to a very similar story about a student who was also arrested for apparently taking photos.  Both stories are supported by video of the events and to me it appears that the police were getting wound up because the people would not give them a straight answer - when they had no requirement to do so.

What is happening?  It is possible that the police had reasons to suspect something suspicious - but from the videos that I saw it seemed more likely that the most suspicious behaviour was refusing to supply a name and address.  This has all left me angry - but also feeling impotent to do anything.

Having written that I have just written to my MP - something that I have done before as part of organised campaigns, but this is the first time that I have done so unprompted.

Christian Aid Update:
One in six children worldwide is involved in child labour, which harms their mental, physical or emotional development. Give 10p for every year of your childhood you were free to play in your spare time.
 Well, although I had the odd Saturday job I didn't have to have it.  And I wasn't made (or even asked) to do chores around the house, so I reckon that is 1.80.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Who are we?

"Am I my brain tumour" - or words to that effect struck me as I finally got around to watching Mo recently.  Her consultant had told Mo that the side effects of her brain tumour might be an uninhibitedness (and when he first told her I though crikey!) and later in the program she asked how long she might have had the tumour, and on being told that it could have been there a long time wondered what was her and what was the brain tumour.

EnneagramThis set me reflecting on what makes us us - or perhaps what makes me me!  As I have gone through my training I have changed - or have I?  I certainly do not behave now in the same ways that I used to, but after much thought I believe that most of the change has been a stripping away of masks - of behaviours which I adopted as some form of protection against the actions of those around me.  I have written before about how during my training my MBTI has changed and when I did an Enneagram course I found it very difficult to determine my type - at present I think that I am a 3 but recognise many of the unhealthy traits of a 9 - to the extent that that initially I thought that was what I was.  It was only after wrestling with the descriptions in Personality Types that I finally realised what had been happening.

But if you have had a brain tumour for a long time - what is you and what is the tumour?

Christian Aid Update:
The International Labour Organisation estimates that 200 million more workers will fall into extreme poverty as a result of the global recession.  Almost half live in south Asia.  Give 10p for every £1,000 you earned last year.
Mmm - complicated to work out because of a house let and tax/calendar year effects.  And I'm shy!  Although as a curate my stipend is common knowledge (Not as common as I thought - couldn't readily find it on the web - my search skills must be getting worse).

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Am I becoming a Grumpy old man?

Or am I just using my blog to vent the inner grumpiness that has been there all along?

Recently I have noticed that some of my blogs have been a bit opinionated: complaining about journalists, people who comment without information and those who want to change the CofE.  What I am trying to figure out is whether this is a change in me, or a change in what I am prepared to express?

I saw a comment on a blog post which suggested that the author was a mild mannered Clark Kent in real life, but was a Superman complainer in the blogosphere.  That perhaps doesn't apply to me as I blog under my own name and, as a priest, am a sort of public figure locally (this post on blogging by another priest also discusses this).  So I am left with the question am I changing or is it an unleashing of something that has been suppressed?  And my answer is that it is probably a bit of both!  Certainly blogging is changing me, and stopping suppressing things is a change - though it wasn't what I meant.  In the blogosphere you are addressing everyone at once and cannot adjust your message to fit the circumstances - something that has tempted me in the past - so you are left with either being honestly yourself, or creating an alter ego - but that way lies madness.

No Christian Aid update today - there is only one for the weekend and that is on yesterdays.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Shorter Working Week

This article suggests that the working week should be shortened to 21 hours.  I have blogged before (here and here) about work and working hours as a vicar, and wonder about the practicality of this.  It is all very well suggesting that people cut their hours and earn less, but there are some people who cannot live on less - are we going to double the minimum wage?  Might not be a bad idea - but then of course there will be battles to maintain differentials.

And when it comes to a lot of professional work, do we really believe that people work long hours for the extra money?  I believe that most of our professionals and senior managers work the hours they do because of their will to win - their ability to do whatever it takes to get the outcome they desire.  I have blogged before about control, and of course it might be good if that could be taken away, but while people believe that they control their own destiny then it will be hard to get them to act in a way that contradicts this.

And vicars?  I know people think that we only work on Sundays, but depending on your answer to what is work for a vicar then 21 hours might not give any time to do anything other than pray and lead services - or might that be a good thing? J

Christian Aid update:
‘We had 13 children, but four of them died.’  What Leandro wants more than anything is to keep his children healthy. 80% of his family’s diet is potato. Chronic malnutrition and infant mortality are huge problems in Bolivia. Christian Aid is helping to fund seeds, tools and training so families there can build greenhouses and grow vegetables to eat and sell. Could you hold a Super Soup Lunch on 26 March? Visit
Mmm - I am on a residential on 26th and will be travelling at lunchtime, so no I can't.  But is this a convenient excuse?

Friday, 19 February 2010

Which bits of the Bible to Believe?

So how do I get to be so exact about the non God inspired bits like you then? I read the Bible and wonder how come people are able to spot the bits that don't mean anything. Is it a simple case of choosing the bits that make you feel comfortable?
I have been following a discussion on this blog, and was challenged by the question above.

Before I post my answer I will give a quick insight into where I am coming from.  In a few days time I am going on a course to help me find my next post.  As part of the preparation we have been asked to prepare a CV and the "standard" CofE one includes the following question:
What theological traditions have shaped your ministry? With which do you feel most at ease today?
to which I have answered:
I started my training as a radical liberal, influenced heavily by Bishops Robinson, Spong and Holloway. During my training on the Oxford Ministry Course, which has students from all traditions, I gained a greater understanding of the other traditions and found myself drawn towards a post modern and more mystical faith - discovering that much of my liberal attitude came from a belief that evangelicalism was "wrong", so liberalism "must be" the answer. I now believe that there does not have to be an explanation for everything and that all traditions have a contribution to make.

Today I feel most at ease with post modernism and mysticism, whilst being comfortable with a wide variety of theological traditions, although I find the wilder excesses of all traditions frustrating because of their certainty and exclusivity.
 So now you know where I am coming from...

I don't believe that we can know, or be exact.  On another blog it was suggested that we are all guilty of false teaching - the problem is that, a bit like advertising, we don't know which bits are false.  I recently read that all reputable scholars agree that we cannot read the Bible literally as it is self contradictory - just compare the two creation stories in Genesis, or the accounts of who was first to the tomb.

Bishop Yvette Flunder talks about this:

So the question is how to live a life of faith in the light of this uncertainty.  I have blogged in this area before on being prepared to change my views.

I believe that a lot of the problems come between people who read the Bible at a macro and micro level.  At the macro level there are grand themes running through it and I would pick Love as the greatest of these.  I then read the Bible verse by verse in the light of this - and if a particular verse appears to contradict a grand theme then I will give it less priority.

Just after I finished writing this I read my Bishop's blog which for me also speaks into this space.

Rob Bell, in Dust, one of the Nooma videos (and from memory in Velvet Elvis), explains that a rabbis teaching was referred to as his yoke.  So when Jesus says "my yoke is light" he is saying that his teaching is less burdensome than the Pharisees.  Why do we seem to make it harder?

Part 1: explanation starts at about 5:10.
Part 2:

Christian Aid update:
In 2008 the price of basic foods such as rice, oil and sugar increased by 50%, placing even greater pressure on poor families.  Give 20p for every packet or bottle of rice, oil or sugar you own.
Rice 1, oil 1, sugar 1, pasta 3, oats 1, flour 1.  That's 1.60.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Its Capitalism - Stupid!

Shock, horror, capitalists put price up when we want to buy things!  The Guardian reported that Tesco and ASDA had put prices up in the week before Christmas.  They seemed to think that this was odd behaviour - after all, we all wanted to buy things at the cheaper price.  But what is capitalism other than a belief that if I do what is best for me then the "market" will ensure that it is best for everyone.

And if you know the law of supply and demand then why would they not put the prices up.  There might even be an interesting twist here in that the supply and demand in tension are time - do I buy everything in Tescos or shop around - the week before Christmas the answer to that is a no brainer!

Did they do anything illegal?  No (unless the two were in cahoots which is illegal).  Anything immoral?  Only if you consider capitalism immoral (for which there may be an argument, but not one that many want to pursue).  Was it not "right"?  This perhaps is where there is some debate, but unless we think that they have a duty to do what is right by us rather than by themselves then No again.

There can perhaps be some debate about whether the action they have taken is best for them, but I haven't heard any complaints or suggestions that we should boycott them because of their behaviour - which suggests that they made the "right" call from their point of view.  Of course this kind of decision can go wrong.  The case of the Ford Pinto where Ford allegedly decided it was cheaper to pay compensation than fix a problem, but were then hit with punitive damages when this decision came to light shows the dangers.

Christian Aid update:
Wasted food costs the average family £420 a year.  Give 42p for each type of food you binned this week.
Mmm - well there were some old tomatoes, some stale bread and some sour milk - lets try 1.26.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Lent starts here!

No, I'm not going to give up blogging for lent (shame I hear you cry!).  Instead I am going to continue, but with added Christian Aid!  As for the past few years Christian Aid are running "Count Your Blessings" which is a scheme to help you reflect on other parts of the world and raise money at the same time.  Today's challenge:
883 million people worldwide often don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  Give 10p for each hour between your last meal and your next.
Well, lets say that is 5 hours, as I am writing in the afternoon and had a late lunch, so that's 50p.

I read a good blog on lenten discipline, so using the Vernacular Curate's pattern ...

There goes the chocolate until after Easter - which might also have beneficial effect on the waistline.  Lets just hope I don't forget like I did one year and have a choccy biscuit without even realising L.  Still I remember reading someone somewhere saying that it is good to fail at your lenten discipline because it reminds you that you can achieve nothing alone!

I too will be blogging and I have bought the Archbishops Lent book by Lucy Winkett - so that can join my pile of unread books (hope not).

As I am in the same Archdeaconry as my Vernacular mate I too have been offered an extra day off a week during lent.  There has been much talk among the clergy about how this isn't helpful, life is even busier in lent - so please can we have the time off at another  time.  With little experience of a clerical lent I think that our Area Bishop had it spot on - if it is not possible to find an extra day off in lent then we are doing too much and need to stop doing some things - if you do what you've always done you'll get what you've always got.  I have put these days in my diary, but to do so meant having to take some other things out - perhaps easier as a curate than an incumbent, but the principle holds.  As for taking on something new... not sure about that one for me, though I am planning to attend the Churches Together for Chesham Lent lectures which has an excellent set of speakers.

And finally... time - that old chestnut - well, not looking good on this front - but with the extra time off I think I will be less stressed and am planning to make time to read a new book!

And with people out there watching in there might just be the odd extra incentive to keep things going.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Anglicans are better organised!

Despite the reputation of clergy being unable to organise a 5 star party in a beer factory the above quote was heard when one cleric was asked why they were Anglican, and it isn't the only time that I have heard similar sentiments expressed.  (To be fair there are those with whom I might not agree who have very good reasons for being Anglican - for example Vic).

I sometimes wonder why organisations who think that the CofE needs a Covenant, when we have managed very well for a few hundred years without one, are so keen to be Anglicans.  Sometimes it almost feels as though as a church we are going through similar troubles to those the Labour Party had with Militant Tendency in the 70s and 80s.  And the effect seems to be the same.  How many people are put off the church by the hard line approach of some members of the CofE?  I don't mind them having those hard line views, but I do mind them describing them as Anglican.

So why don't they set themselves up independently?  I suppose it might be the money; once appointed to the freehold of a parish the central church will pay you until you resign or retire - regardless of whether your parish pay any money into the centre.  Then of course there is the access that the CofE has as the Established Church.  Of course the requirement to marry, baptize or bury all who present themselves tends not to be so popular with the reformers, but there seem to be ways around it.

The CofE was created as both 'catholic and reformed', if people want a fully reformed church (there are lots - I lost the will to live when counting them) then they should set one up or join one of the many that already exist rather than trying to change the CofE into something that it was never intended to be.

Leave us alone with our "woolly" theology and tolerance of difference and lack of clarity about who is in and out.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Waiting for Godot

What do you make of the play?  If you don't know it and want a short summary try here or here for a longer one with lots of speculation on meaning!  My eldest daughter and her husband took me to see the one shown above as a present - for which I would like to thank them again!  I first saw it 30 years ago at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, and if memory serves me correctly (cos in this case Google doesn't!) Vladimir and Estragon were played by Max Wall and Bryan Pringle.

A number of different things came to mind about this - one was the different impact that the two versions had on me.   My recollection is that I found the older one better.  However, I am aware of revisiting a film I thought was brilliant at the same time and finding it less so second time around (and of course in that case the second opinion was right!).  I think that it had something to do with the fact that when I went to see the film it was because a group of us decided to go to the pics, and had no expectation of it, whereas the second time I had my memory of it being a good film.  With Godot first time around I was warned that it was awful (by someone who had studied it at A level) so again I went with lowered expectations, whereas on revisiting it I went with much higher expectations.  Funny how expectations can affect the experience!

In this version I was disappointed with Roger Rees, but was interested to discover that one of the reviews of the earlier version with Patrick Stewart made similar comments to those I would have made about Roger Rees - so perhaps it was a conscious decision by the director.

The wiki link earlier contains a mass of interpretation, but in the spirit of Post Modernism and "there is nothing outside the text" - subject of a previous post - what did we make of it?  We wondered whether the two halves were two consecutive days, one day replayed twice, or two days some time apart - without reaching a conclusion - but all of which give different interpretations to the meaning.  Then there was the despair of the waiting - Vladimir and Estragon could do nothing because they were waiting for Godot - what is it that I am waiting for that stops me doing things?  I found that for me it painted a bleak picture of humanity, one of meaninglessness.  Or perhaps I should say a bleak picture of meaninglessness, for although Vladimir and Estragon found their meaning in waiting for Godot it seemed a very negative purpose.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Man Flu!

I have just been recovering from a bout of something or other.  No idea what it was, but it left me feeling distinctly dodgy for a few days.

It reminded me of this video - I wish!!!
It also led onto and argument with a friend of mine (female as you might well guess when you read it).  I speculated that for evolutionary reasons it is better for men to have very bad health for a short period of time, rather than something less bad for longer - if you are out hunting dangerous animals you don't want to be below par at all - so you just take a few days off.  Whereas women can gather berries whilst under the weather.  

This was not well received and it was suggested that if men had to get up and get the children breakfast they wouldn't succumb either (it really didn't help when I pointed out that my 17 year old had been shopping and cooking for me).

The funny thing is that although I was sympathetic to the idea as I have written this I have discovered the following article which suggests that there may be something to it - and just as I was getting excited this one which probably debunked the first (well, I'm not well enough to read all that text)!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Sack the Choir

Before I really get into trouble because people think I am advising my vicar to do this, fear not - it comes from this article which caught my eye.  And it was the comments as much as the main article.  A number of them suggested that the vicar was wrong to sack the choir because the impact was a reduction in numbers and, they assumed, giving.  Interestingly a churchwarden then posted that numbers are up as is giving!  Does that mean that those people who thought this was a bad thing now think that it is a good one?

And do we think that numbers are the only measure of success in a church?  Of course numbers count (groan J), but surely whether people are on a journey counts for something too?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Thoughts on Blogging

I blog for me, not for anyone else!  That is the main thing that I have learnt after blogging daily for a couple of months.

Plenty of other people have given their thoughts on blogging ( Lesley's Blog 1, Lesley's Blog 2, Naked Pastor), so I thought I would join the party.
  1. Who is it for?  I go through a regular round of is it worth it - the time spent blogging - and yet when I dig really deep I find that it helps me.  There were a few posts (here and here) on working practices which changed the way that I see things - for the better, and that has not been a unique experience.
  2. Frequency - I started the blog over a year ago posting about weekly, but life got busy and the frequency drifted and then almost dried up.  For the past two months I have been blogging daily and suspect that if I reduced the frequency I would find it drying up again (that is more a comment about me than necessarily about blogging!)
  3. Stress - I don't like tight deadlines.  When I started blogging I was writing each post and posting it.  That put a big strain on me to find the time and the ideas each day.  I have now settled into a routine of preparing blogs ahead of time, and having some generic ones up my sleeve for emergencies.  If something topical crops up I can post there and then and use one of the others later.
  4. Holidays - Or more correctly time away.  I have a residential coming up - should I write a load of blogs ahead of time and post them automatically each day, or should I shut up shop as my bishop does when he is away?  I have yet to work this one out, so any thoughts from those with more experience would be welcome.  Given points 1 and 3 I am leaning towards shutting up shop!
  5. Statistics - Having said that I blog for me I do look at the statistics, although I am contemplating stopping that!  What is obvious is that if someone well read references or tweets me then I get more hits - but it doesn't seem to convert into more readers on a regular basis.  However, if I am writing for myself why do I care about the stats (anyone out there convinced? J).
  6. Why do people always have 10 thoughts?  When I worked with Management Consultants they told me that they always started a presentation saying that there were three points - even if they didn't know what they were at the time.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Does Prayer work without belief?

What if there was no God? is a blog post which set me thinking.  I agree with the tenor of the post - that my religious practice is of such practical use to me that I would continue with it even if I were to lose my faith.  So how does that work?

I have long wondered about this and the conclusion that I have reached is that when God tells us to do things it is because they are good for us!  So for example apparent threats of punishment are instead warnings of danger.  For example when we told my children that if they put their fingers in the electricity  they would be electrocuted, I was not threatening to do it as punishment, rather warning them that actions have consequences.

Of course this is a "God centred" view of things, but there do appear to be secular practices, such as meditation and NLP*, which appear to resonate with religious practices.  It can be argued that this works in the other direction - that things which work have long been appropriated by religion.  However, as a pragmatist I am more drawn to the impact that things have, rather than the theoretical reasons why people do them.  If only more people did them, without arguing about why,  the world would be a better place.  Peter Rollins talks about this in this video - the good bits start about 7 minutes in!

* The idea in NLP that you can change things by visualising them is very close to the idea of prayer being something that changes you, rather than something that changes the situation.  Similarly the idea of Anchoring might explain why Spiritual Directors will suggest praying in the same place in the same posture each time, and  choosing these so that they are different from other activities.  Perhaps there was a point to the "hands together, eyes closed" of my youth.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Is this helpful?

What this argument comes down to is this: The Church has been run for a couple of centuries by men. It’s now full of women. So what we need is more men to run it.  George Pitcher's Blog
I just love this kind of debunking J - unfortunately it isn't L.  The article starts with a true statement:
Yesterday it was claimed that there was a “testosterone deficit” in Church congregations.
and further down includes the quote that I started with, but in between the two is included:
Now, I suppose an argument could be constructed that, because women are in the majority in church attendance, greater efforts have to be made to attract men back to worship. So we need more male clergy, some of whom will be put off ordination to priesthood by the prospect of women bishops.
So there we have it, a perfectly true article, but one which if given a cursory reading allows one to think that someone - other than the author - has proposed this preposterous notion, which the author can then bat away.

The problem is that most of us read things cursorily these days - it was only when I went looking for the source, and couldn't find it, that I realised that the source of the argument being debunked was the author himself - and he generated 41 comments about it the last time that I looked!

Now, this might all be considered very good fun, but it hardly seems to be in the spirit of the Archbishop's presidential address (which, Mad Priest, I haven't read either) to make up ridiculous arguments for those who disagree with you.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Who has the "right" to choose clergy and bishops?

It has been reported that some churches are considering paying to train their own clergy outside of the Church of England.  This leads me to question who has the right to choose who should be clergy in a particular place, or bishops.  I am thinking particularly of the Church of England which is not a congregational church.  There is also of course the question of who has the"right" to choose who should be clergy.

Of course God chooses, but in the CofE this is mediated by varying mechanisms, but the overwhelming gist is that people are chosen by the whole church, not just the local congregation.  Those churches which want to train "their" clergy elsewhere appear to be departing from that tradition (unless they are referring only to locally deployable clergy - those returning to their sending parish - I know this is a simplification).

The problem that I want to look at, and to which the video has one solution, is that of preventing us getting in God's way.  We all "know" exactly what kind of priest or bishop we want - what if God wants us to have a someone different?

The value of outside "interference" is that it brings the value of a Non Executive Director, someone who can bring an independent view to the matter - something which for example an atheist Prime Minister is more likely to be able to do than people with axes to grind!

However, if we want to do away with "outside interference" then which method would we prefer?  Secular employment now recognises that recruiting "people like us" is not best practice, perhaps the best approach would be to draw lots - after all there is Biblical precedent (Acts 1:21-26).  The problem with all other methods is that we are all so certain that we know God's will that we forget to let him get involved in the process.

Monday, 8 February 2010

MBA Oath - Faith for the 21st Century?

Have you heard about the MBA Oath?  Among other things it includes:
I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term
There has been some debate about this in BusinessWeek with an INSEAD Professor arguing that it would violate directors fiduciary duties in some situations.

The question is what is for the good of a business?  Is profit today always better than profit tomorrow?  Increasingly business is being driven by quarterly results, but I know of a business where, not that long ago, the MD and FD didn't let the other directors know what the financial results were.

Is the drive for measurability for good or bad?

Certainly directors can argue that the government sets the context within which they work, and if the government wants businesses to have a social conscience then they will have to legislate for it.  And yet some businesses are working in this way.  I heard of a large solicitors where the staff do voluntary work, reading with children in school and offering free legal advice in legal centres, and where promotion depends upon having spent some time doing this!  Why?  Call me cynical, but I believe that they must see some benefit to themselves from this activity, there is no compulsion to do it, and it may cost them money.

Is it perhaps about what these activities do for the person doing them?  Does it make them a different kind of person - and does it make them the kind of person that businesses would rather employ?

Compare this to faith.  As well as having the doctrines to be believed, faith has encouraged people to care for the weaker in society, and I think that it is that caring which transforms people more than any belief that they have.

So, have we discovered faith for the 21st Century?  And what have those of us who hang onto an older one done wrong?  Is it perhaps the clinging so tightly to doctrine that has stopped people discovering the change of life that comes from loving others?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

What is it about sport?

I have just finished watching England beat Wales at Rugby, and my reactions during that time have been interesting.  Why did I get worried when the Welsh looked like they were going to score, why did I get excited when England looked like they were going to?  And why was I relieved when the final whistle blew?  After all, it is "only a game", and it isn't as though I was playing.  Why do our emotions get so aroused by sport?

Perhaps, more pertinently, why don't they get aroused by other things? Why does the alleviation of poverty and the cancellation of debt not stir similar feelings to the scoring of a try?  (Perhaps it does in some, but I have to confess, not in me).  Why does the progress made towards the Millennium Goals not stir our hearts?

I wonder if at least in part it is because the bar is set so high.  In sport knowing who wins is easy, and you don't have to be good - just less bad than the other team.  With things like poverty and the MDGs the bar has to be set high, but then in our culture failing to reach that bar is seen as failure.  I recall a briefing that I did to my team at work - I cascaded down the doom and gloom, because we were behind budget, that I had received - only for the FD to join us later and in questioning say that although we weren't making budget we were still a profitable company - which many in our industry weren't.

But there is the rub, because if the MDGs were set lower would we still fail to reach them?  One of my managers said "if you aim for the stars you might hit the moon" justifying an approach of setting unrealistic targets to achieve what he really wanted - and there are times when that is right - it is just that it leaves people always feeling like failures.

Just like the Welsh (sorry - couldn't resist J)

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Hope and Heaven - or Heaven as Hope

Christianity cannot exist!  Or so suggests John Caputo in "What would Jesus Deconstruct", a book I have recently reviewed here.  One of the ideas in the book is that some things are never realised under the existing conditions.  Caputo explains that in some rabbinic traditions the Messiah never turns up, but instead is a name for hope and expectation.  He goes on to point out that, having received a Messiah, Christianity is now awaiting the Second Coming.

This set me thinking about the need for hope, not just religious hope, but hope in life generally.  Victor Frankl wrote about "Mans Search for Meaning" and suggested that all manner of persecution can be endured if there is an understanding of meaning.
I think that I want to see that as an expression of hope, so...  Heaven could be seen as an expression of future hope, and what more natural  way of expressing that in the culture and time in which it was first expressed.  Now that we are not sure where Heaven is (having travelled above the sky) I find this a helpful way to think about it.  Of course as a post modern, I don't think that you have to!

And finally...  This post reminded me John Cleese in Clockwise, couldn't find the clip, but the quote is:
"It's not the despair, Laura. I can stand the despair. It's the hope"
Even though it completely contradicts the post J

Friday, 5 February 2010

Religion's Responsibility

I read this story with a heavy heart.  At times like this I can almost side with Richard Dawkins when he talks about how religion can be evil.  My faith is one of life in all its fullness (John 10:10), one of forgiveness.  And yet I have to recognise that there is this punitive side to religion, that there are strands in most religions (I want to write all, but...) that "know" what is right and think that God wants them to punish those who disagree - for their own good you realise - and there is an internal logic to this.  If you believe that by misbehaving people are putting their immortal soul at risk then logically it makes sense to "save" them (funny how it always seems to be other people who end up suffering).

I want to use this tragic event to look at Christian behaviour - how do we treat people who behave differently from the way that we think that our faith demands?  Lets face it we all do it - our boundaries of what is acceptable may differ, but somewhere we will have a boundary that some people are over.  Do we condemn them, or do we love them, and leave them to God?

I know that some will argue that the loving thing to do is to persuade them to change their mind - unfortunately, more often than not the methods used aren't likely to be terribly helpful - people tend not to react to abuse and threats by agreeing with those threatening them.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Challenges to Faith

I was challenged on Facebook with what happens if you answer Brian McLaren with B:
When I am presented with a new idea or proposal, my first question is more likely to be ...
___A. Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?
___B. Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?
 This was as a result of my previous blog.

The short answer is that life carries on as normal!  I suspect that behind it is the question of how you can have faith if you are prepared to evaluate ideas which are contrary to it.  I would argue that if you are not willing to do so then you have certainty, not faith (I know that sounds a little trite).  When training we were talking about dialogue with Muslims, and one of the criteria for a good dialogue is that you are prepared to change your mind, even if you are confident that you won't!

My faith is open to new insight - I believe in faith as a journey, so how could it not be - and it is conceivable that something will come along that will change it - perhaps even to the extent of moving me outside the church.  But then Jesus didn't come to found a church, he came to bring in the Kingdom of God.

As my faith is founded on the two great commandments, rather than a large number of rules, then I believe that it is perhaps more resilient to challenge from outside.  And I think that Jesus had some things to say about those overly concerned with rules!

Finally, I believe that God helps us find God.  Joan Chittister, in her commentary on the Rule of Benedict writes:
It is the goodness of God, not any virtue that we have developed on our own, that brings us to the heart of God. And it is with God's help we seek to go there.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Benedictine Humility

The third step of humility is that we submit to the prioress or abbot in all obedience for the love of God, imitating Jesus Christ of whom the apostle says: "Christ became obedient even to death (Phil 2:8)."
Benedict argues that the third rung on the ladder of humility is the ability to submit ourselves to the wisdom of another.
Rung three brings us face to face with our struggle for power. It makes us face an authority outside of ourselves. But once I am able to do that, then there is no end to how high I might rise, how deep I might grow.   Insights for the Ages - Joan Chittister (Changes daily).
How true - it is the people who will not let me get away with the simple explanation, who challenge me to go behind my mask and rip it off (and the next, and the next...), who love me enough to not mind the real me that emerges (which of course isn't as bad as I fear - though one day...).

I have been lucky enough to find a number of such people who have done this for me in my life, and all of them have been priests - though I am not saying that all priests would be one of them!  I do not think that that is an accident (good you might say - that is what I want from my priest), I think that the training I received encouraged me to go down that route, but I recognise that not everyone took it.  It wasn't easy, and it meant facing up to lots of "stuff" that had been buried for more years than I care to remember - but it was worth it!

So often the reason for the masks is a wish to control what is going on around us (which I blogged recently) - when in fact we can't anyway - letting go means becoming vulnerable - we need a safe place to learn this.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Cynicism - The Covenant & Women Bishops

Is the Covenant falling apart?  The resignation of Mouneer Anis from the Anglican Communion Standing Committee (ACSC) (story here) because "there is no desire... to sort out the problems which face the Anglican Communion" (resignation letter) comes as a short introduction to a 5 page letter (anyone else ever written a 5 page resignation letter?) in which he makes a lot of personal points.  In addition the Anglican Communion Institute have started suggesting that the existing ACSC isn't the body to carry out the work that the Covenant allocates to them.  Episcopal Cafe aren't impressed!

Am I alone in seeing a connection between the response to the idea of a Covenant and the Women Bishops issue?  The Drafting Committee decided to look at something that Synod had not charged them to look at - yippee say those wanting legal protection - but then comes the rub - nothing can be agreed, so the legal protection falls (Church Times report here) whilst those in charge can wash their hands and say not our fault.  Now look at the Covenant - no synods voted to set it up, but those who want one have been happily engaged for months/years writing it, and of course those writing it are writing something that will prove unacceptable to several provinces.  So what will happen?  They will bring forward a Covenant and it will fail to get adopted (ever the optimist me J) whilst those in charge can wash their hands and say not our fault.

It reminds me of government, or business - when something unpleasant and difficult is suggested they set up a committee - even better they rig it so that the committee cannot succeed on the contentious issues.  Ring any bells?

Monday, 1 February 2010


The Pope has spoken and suggested that:
Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. (I got this off the Mad Priest)
Which I interpret as "telling people what they can and cannot do does not restrict their freedom, because it is good for them" - or am I being unduly argumentative?

He goes on (talking about Roman Catholic laity):
it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.
I read this on the same day that I read Brian McLaren's blog on fundamentalism:
When I am presented with a new idea or proposal, my first question is more likely to be ...
___A. Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?
___B. Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?
Guess which answer Brian defines as fundamentalist J, and guess who seems to be encouraging people to give answer A?

Children's Society Research and Tory Marriage Policy

The difference between a young person's family getting along - and not - explained 20% of the variation in overall happiness with life, whereas differences in family structure only explained 2%
There have been a number of comments about the proposed Conservative tax breaks for married couples, and I had held back from commenting as I thought that others had done a better job than me at demolishing them:
I find it staggering that David Cameron thinks that he can keep couples together by a tax break and that this is a universally good thing, what about toxic and violent relationships?  Lesley's Blog
The standard argument for a marriage tax break goes like this. Children of married parents have better and more stable lives, therefore marriage is good, therefore the tax system should support marriage. While the correlation is true, there is no evidence that proves the causality runs in this direction. Only the most bone-headed reject the possibility that stable, well-meaning couples are likely both to marry and to raise children well.  Chris Giles, FT
However, I recently discovered this report from the Children's Society, which proves what most sensible people (no prejudice there then!) think - that what children need is good parenting, which can come from married or unmarried couples.
Taken with the comments on the requirements for teachers (which I blogged/ranted earlier) I have to question what planet Cameron is on - I can only assume that these issues play well with focus groups, because there is no logic involved in them.


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