Friday, 30 October 2009


A beautiful, heart warming story that really does deliver at every level. Rarely does a film have our whole family wiping away the tears, but Up managed it in the first ten minutes. The story follows the developing friendship between an old man called Carl, and Russell a young adventure scout, set against the background of surreal and yet captivating action. Among the themes explored are: bereavement, old age, family breakdown, childlessness, disillusionment, unfulfilled dreams and environmental exploitation. It is so refreshing to watch a film devoid of cynicism and free from contrived sentimentality.

Up_Ellie_and_Carl Occasionally animators manage to capture in a few short scenes the joys and sorrows of life with a sensitivity missing from most other films. One family favourite is the story of the cowgirl Jesse in Toy Story 2 set to the song When Somebody Loved Me; it is heartbreaking. The opening montage in Up, unfolding the relationship between Carl and Ellie Fredricksen is perfectly judged, full of humour and heartache and almost a complete film on its own, though it lasts about five minutes.

Up_Carl_house_takeoff The main story is an adventure in which Carl ties thousands of balloons to his house to float away from impending eviction and life in an old people’s home. Russell accidentally ends up coming along for the ride and the two find themselves landing near Paradise Falls, somewhere in South America, the place Carl and Ellie had always dreamed of visiting. There they meet Muntz the long lost adventurer that Carl had looked up to as a child, only to discover he is not quite the hero he appeared in the old cinema newsreels. There’s plenty of straight forward action and laughter to balance the more subtle emotional moments in the film.

Up_Russell_Carl_2 It’s refreshing to see a film in which the central characters are so ordinary; a curmudgeonly old man and a rather overweight and seemingly unexceptional child who nevertheless proves to be courageous, loyal and compassionate - so different from the classic Disney heroes and princesses.

The only concern I’ve read raised about Up centres on the use of 3D. I certainly think you could watch the film in 2D and the film wouldn’t be diminished in any way, but it was great fun for us as a family putting on the 3D glasses and it made the cinema trip feel like more of an event. Having said that the trailer for A Christmas Carol really showed off the 3D technology to great effect and meant that the 3D impact of the feature film was somewhat flattened.

Up is a superb example of the high quality animated films being produced today. It’s a great family film with plenty to hold everyone’s attention and we floated out of the cinema uplifted by the whole experience.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


We spent a very enjoyable evening with friends at the 18th birthday party for a lovely young lady at the weekend, she is the sister of my God-daughter. I remember her birth and the privilege of being one of the first to see her and her adoring parents in the hospital. I also remember the following weeks as the baby was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and the determination of her parents over the years to ensure only the best for her in care and education. The birthday party gave the young woman the party she has dreamed of having and the joy on her face as she and her friends partied and danced was a delight to see.

Over the years in ministry I have had the privilege of getting to know several children, men and women with Down’s Syndrome. In one parish I prepared a young man called Alan for confirmation and I still remember vividly the reverence on his face as he knelt before the bishop. Alan used to come to church with a scarf draped as a stole around his neck, a piece of paper in his collar like a priest and he would always bring some bread for the communion. I suspected that Alan never thought we were a proper church; he preferred a more catholic service to our church plant services as we met in a school hall on the urban overspill housing estate. Alan had worshipped at another church in the town for a time, but some of the congregation found his attire and actions irreverent and he was discouraged from attending. Their loss was our gain because Alan and the others from the supervised accommodation on the estate were an integral part of our church life and ministry and I couldn’t imagine the church family without them. Alan died a few years ago.

Today the British Medical Journal has published a report suggesting a steep rise in the number of Down’s Syndrome diagnoses. Various factors have been identified to explain this increase, including a growth in the number of women deciding to start a family later in life and the wider availability of diagnostic tests. About 92% of those receiving a diagnosis as a result of screening choose to terminate the pregnancy. Yet, this is only part of the story.

On Saturday The Times ran a story stating that between 2000 and 2006 the number of children born with Down’s Syndrome had increased by some 15%. The explanation given is that more parents are willing to consider bringing up a Down’s child. Various factors have been suggested for this decision including; those with religious/moral objections to abortion, awareness of an increased quality of life and life expectancy for those with Down’s Syndrome, changes in social attitudes and integration into mainstream education.

Another reason given for the willingness of some to bring up a child with Down’s Syndrome is that they know people with Down’s or other disabilities. This seems to me to be key to our attitude to disability; when we know the person and not just about the condition then our perspective changes. This is in no way to diminish the challenges and sacrifices that many parents make in nurturing a disabled child; I am only too aware of all that my friends have given over the last eighteen years in caring for their daughter. However, I also know how much she has enriched the lives of her parents, brothers, sister, the wider family and her friends; it was clear for anyone to see at her birthday party on Sunday evening.

Monday, 26 October 2009

drink Fairtrade

Excellent recommendations for some Fairtrade wines in The Observer by Tim Atkin. Here’s a way to enjoy a glass or three of wine and feel good about it. Tim writes:

The quickest way to make a difference as an ordinary wine drinker is to buy from a Fairtrade producer. This is not the gamble it once was. There are now 51 of these, in South Africa (29), Argentina (12) and Chile (10) and quality is much better than it was even two years ago. I was a judge at the 2009 Fairtrade Awards (the results will be announced on 19 November) and I was impressed by the best wines.

fairtrade_logo The Co-operative has by far the best range of Fairtrade wines, with 16 different labels, but all of the other supermarkets are now supporting the brand. My current favourites, three of which did well in the 2009 awards, are the juicy, raspberryish 2008 Sainsbury's Fairtrade Pinotage, Citrusdal, Olifant's River (£4.99, 14%); the peachy, honeyed 2009 Fairhills Fairtrade Chenin/Chardonnay, Western Cape (£5.48, 12.5%, Asda), both from South Africa; the grassy 2008 Los Unidos Fairtrade Carmenère/Cabernet Franc, Chile (£5.49, 13%, Waitrose); the vibrant, slightly sweet 2009 Co-operative Fairtrade Chilean Merlot Rosé (£4.99, 14%) and from Argentina, the floral, citrus-scented 2009 Fairtrade Tilimuqui Single Vineyard Torrontés, Famatina Valley, La Riojana (£6.29, 12.5%, Waitrose). These are wines you can drink with pleasure…

In contrast, this week has been designated International Nestlé-Free Week and thanks to David Keen over at St nestleAidan to Abbey Manor for drawing this to my attention. As a family we have sought to avoid Nestlé products because of their disastrous baby milk policy. has a helpful list of Nestlé linked products; I did a quick check in the kitchen this morning and was pleased to discover that at the moment we appear to be Nestlé free. Using Fairtrade products and avoiding the products of ethically dubious companies may seem a rather small gesture in the global scheme of things, but it sets down a marker and helps us as a family to reflect upon our priorities.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

celebrating Reader ministry

A full Cathedral in Chelmsford on Saturday for the annual Readers Service. It’s always a great occasion, celebrating the ministry of over 380 Readers in the diocese. During the service 11 new Readers were admitted and licensed and, having journeyed with them through their training, I felt a real sense of joy as they were sent out to serve their churches, parishes and communities. The service was also an opportunity to thank Canon Pat Nappin, the retiring Warden of Readers, and to license Revd Dr Martin Kitchen who takes over from Pat as Warden.

David Lowman, the Archdeacon of Southend, preached a cracking sermon based on Romans 8:1, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The address began with testimony as David shared a personal experience leading to a renewed passion for preaching the gospel. David went on to challenge those present that the ministry and mission of the church is the responsibility of all of us, lay and ordained. With so much focus on clergy in the news following the Pope's announcement, it's good to be reminded that God's work doesn't depend on one small band of workers in the vineyard.

readers 09On the Reader licensing retreat a couple of weeks ago at Pleshey. Canon Philip Ritchie, Jill Poole, Susan Riches, Sue Howlett, Chris Thomas, David Bates, Olive Thursby, Pam Kirby, Canon Michael Fox (retreat leader) (front) Diana Lowry, Liz Paxton, Rosemary Elden, Tina Rollings.

readers 09bAfter the service on Saturday. It was rather wet so I was pleased to get at least one shot of the new Readers and their clergy before a dash back into the cathedral.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

planet narnia - lecture

In 2003 Michael Ward made a discovery. Many critics believe he has finally unlocked the secret meaning of C.S. Lewis’s famous Narnia stories. This became a book, Planet Narnia, which was profiled in a BBC 1 documentary at Easter 2009, called ‘The Narnia Code’. I blogged about the programme here.

The St Paul's Theological Centre Annual Lecture: Of interest to all who have read the Narnia books or watched the films, Dr Ward explains his discovery in a fascinating lecture he has given all over the world, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Dr Michael Ward is Chaplain of St Peter’s College Oxford, and one of the world’s leading experts on C.S. Lewis.

Venue: Holy Trinity Brompton
Time: 7.00 pm, Monday November 16 2009

Trivia: Did you know that Dr Ward's other claim to fame is that he handed a pair of X-ray spectacles to James Bond in the movie The World Is Not Enough.

Update: There is an excellent review of Planet Narnia by Bishop Tom Wright in the TLS here.

Monday, 19 October 2009

the balloon goes up

It’s been a weekend for balloons. First the story of a young boy feared to have been carried away by his father’s home-made helium filled balloon. Then footballer Darren Bent scores for Sunderland against Liverpool on Saturday, the ball being deflected into the goal by a stray balloon/beach ball on the pitch.

balloon Falcon Heene is the six year old who prompted a panic search in Colorado after his brother reported that he had taken off in a balloon. The events were covered live on U.S. television as police tracked the balloon during its two hour flight. When the balloon landed Falcon was nowhere to be found and a search ensued tracing the balloons trajectory. However, young Falcon was at home the whole time and over the coming hours suspicion began to mount that the whole incident was a not so elaborate stunt set up by his parents to court publicity. It is likely that the parents will face police charges and also a large bill for the cost of the chase across the state. There is much speculation as to the parents’ motives for setting up the scenario and the most popular explanation is that they were seeking publicity in order to attract a lucrative reality T.V. contract.

I guess the question most people will ask is why parents would make up a story about their child being in jeopardy? It seems that some people will do whatever it takes to court publicity, fame and wealth. This is a rather extreme example but there are many others, not least the pushy parents who ‘hot house’ their talented children on the sports field or stage. There is a fine line between wanting to encourage a gifted child and exploiting them in the quest for fame and fortune. We are all too familiar with the tennis prodigy burnt out before her twenties, or the young film star found dead from an overdose before their potential has been fulfilled.

It’s not just the gifted who are encouraged to expose themselves to the glare of publicity in the hunt for success. The plethora of reality T.V. shows demands an ever increasing supply of ‘talent’ desperate to become the next big thing. There is something pathetic about the young lad dismissed by the celebrity panel because he can’t dance or hold a note, only to be filmed being consoled by his mother who maintains the delusion that he is the next Michael Jackson.

When will the balloon go up about the perils of the desperate quest for fame?

As for the other balloon incident, I guess Nena’s 99 Red Balloons won’t be the most popular request at the Liverpool Football Club Christmas party this year.

Darren Bent goal

Thursday, 15 October 2009

blog action day ‘09 – climate change

Wanted to put something up for Blog Action Day ‘09 which this year focuses on Climate Change. The song that keeps coming to mind is Satchmo’s What A Wonderful World. There are loads of homemade Youtube videos of this song and most of the ones I’ve viewed are full of beautiful pictures of the world; stunning landscapes, cute and cuddly animals and happy smiley faces. Well if you want that video go to Youtube because when I think of Armstrong’s song the images that come to mind are far from beautiful; they are images of the mess we are making of the world that God entrusted us to steward. So here’s the version from Good Morning Vietnam.

bishops - what they do and what it costs

Here it is then, the statement of the Church of England House of Bishops' office and working costs for the year ending 2008. The document starts with a summary of the role and responsibilities of the bishops, before giving a breakdown of the costs for each diocese and the individual expenses for each bishop.

Don't hold your breath if you are looking for details of moat cleaning, duck houses or house flipping, though heating, lighting and cleaning costs are included. Not easy to glance through and compare costs unless one is prepared to research which posts had a vacancy during the period.

Anyway, looking at the figures I'm not expecting any Telegraph front page splashes, though you can never tell with the press. MPs will be sad to learn that attention is unlikely to be deflected from their ongoing travails over this issue.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

le Carre – a most wanted man

There are a few fiction writers who have the gift for giving global issues a human face; Graham Greene was one such author and John le Carre is another. Le Carre’s brilliant explorations of the Cold War through the eyes of George Smiley are peerless and I recently watched again the T.V. series based on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Alec Guiness is masterful as Smiley and the cast are a roll call of British theatre’s finest, but it is the author’s labyrinthine plot and understated characterisation that make it a work of genius.

I read le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl in the early 1980s and remember finding myself mirroring the sympathies of the young English actress Charlie, as first she is swayed one way by the arguments of her Israeli intelligence controller Kurtz and then the other by her Palestinian terrorist lover Khalil. Sadly, the film starring Diane Keaton hardly did the Israeli Palestinian conflict or the book justice.

a most wanted man I’ve just finished le Carre’s latest book A Most Wanted Man and was pleased to discover that the master of political intrigue is on his usual great form. The story teases out the ambiguities and contradictions of the ‘war on terror’ through the eyes of a British banker with dubious accounts, a human rights lawyer and her client, a Chechen illegal immigrant. Based in Germany, the plot is beautifully paced, redolent with treachery and a damning indictment of the moral bankruptcy of terrorism and extraordinary rendition. I’m reluctant to give anything away, but the denouement is heartrending and left me seething at the injustice of what may well turn out to be one of the United States most shameful and counterproductive criminal acts of this century.

I’ll be interested to see if the book makes it onto the big screen, but my suspicion is that it will be some time before any film maker will be able to attract the sort of financial backing the story merits. With A Most Wanted Man le Carre has again proved that the subtlety of his pen is more powerful than raging polemic.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

guitar praise

I thought this had to be a wind up but it looks like there really is a Christian version of Guitar Hero being marketed called Guitar Praise. Check out the video and then check out Peter Banks’s superb devastating critique of the product entitled ‘The Devil Inside…’ You may also be interested in David Keen’s observations on these 'Christian' products entitled Markets need Morals 2.

Every time I think Christian sub culture marketing gurus can’t get any worse they prove me wrong.

h/t Memorybanks

celebrating Fairtrade

The Fairtrade Foundation celebrates its 15th birthday and to mark the occasion the UK Government has announced it will be investing £12 million in the enterprise. Fairtrade has come a long way since those early days when drinking their endorsed range of tea and coffee was a triumph of hope over experience for the taste buds. The UK is the biggest market for Fairtrade and this is something we should be proud of in the midst of all the talk about ‘broken Britain’; their range of products, while still limited, are nevertheless fairtrade_logovery good quality. There is still a very long way to go and Fairtrade is not without its critics, but we should celebrate the great strides Fairtrade has already made and remember the people whose lives have been transformed by their endeavours.

At the Chelmsford Diocesan Office we try and use only Fairtrade products where possible, though at times it has been something of a struggle. I remember sitting in a Diocesan Pastoral Committee meeting when someone complained that we were using Nestle coffee rather than Fairtrade. On further enquiry it turned out that because the Fairtrade coffee came in large tins someone was transferring the coffee to smaller empty jars for convenience; the smaller jars were labelled Nescafe!

By the way, were you aware that Nestle have been sourcing their milk from farms owned by Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace; farms that have been confiscated from their owners under his odious regime.

Update: In an earlier earlier version of this post I wrongly implied that Spring Harvest don't supply Fairtrade coffee; they do and I apologise for any misunderstanding.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

is faith a sign of dementia?

I’m lecturing on Theology and Experience in a couple of weeks time and so a recent article in the New York Times caught my attention. The piece is about Dr Francis Collins the new Director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States. Collins is no mug; he was in charge of the Human Genome Project, but his appointment seems to have caused some concern because as well as being a prominent scientist he is also a committed Christian. This has led to some questioning in the scientific community as to whether Collins is an appropriate choice for director. Gardiner Harris writing in the NYT comments:

First, there is the God issue. Dr. Collins believes in him. Passionately. And he preaches about his belief in churches and a best-selling book. For some presidential appointees, that might not be a problem, but many scientists view such outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia.

francis_collins Collins describes his journey to faith in his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. In the book Collins relates how he was challenged by a patient who asked what he believed and he found himself flushed and stammering in response to the question. This incident caused Collins to explore the possible existence of God and he concluded that He does exist. Some critics have dismissed the experience as an easily explained medical condition, a hormonal rush, suggesting that Collins’s failure to recognise this and willingness to give it a higher significance was cause for concern. Others have been worried that there might be a conflict between Collins’s faith and, for example, developments in therapeutic cloning which will fall under his remit. Collins has assured colleagues that he is committed to therapeutic cloning and sees no conflict with his religious beliefs.

michael reiss The story is reminiscent of Michael Reiss who was forced to resign as director of science education at the Royal Society earlier this year. Dr Reiss is a priest and some Fellows of the Royal Society claimed his faith was incompatible with his role. One notable critic was Richard Dawkins who described Reiss’s appointment as a Monty Python sketch. The accusation against Reiss was that he was a Creationist and, even though he denied this, there were some in the scientific community who just couldn’t understand how his faith was not in conflict with his commitment to evolutionary biology.

When I hear of these incidents I find myself asking a question; who are the real fundamentalists? Who are the people so locked into their world view, their belief system, that they can’t allow for any experience or understanding of that experience outside their framework? On the evidence of these stories the real fundamentalists are not the Christians.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

it’s Rio

Rio de Janeiro has been chosen to host the Olympic games in 2016; cue lots of gratuitous close up shots of bikini clad women sambaing to Santana’s greatest hits. Not that I’m complaining and to get you in the mood here’s some classic Santana – you’ll have to wait for the other bit.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

sign of the times (6) - st francis

This lovely bird bath sculpture of St. Francis resides in the Diocesan Office garden. I walk past it nearly every day and occasionally stop for a moment to contemplate. One thing struck me recently; I can't remember the last time I saw any water in the bowl or any birds bathing or drinking from it. Although the weather wasn't great this summer, the autumn has been warm and sunny and there has been hardly any rain for ages. On the up side it means I haven't had to worry about cutting the grass and on the down side, well that's obvious. So St Francis stands as another Sign of the Times.

The sculpture is by Catharni Stern and was originally displayed as part of a Cathedral Festival.

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:26