Monday, 30 November 2009

lace up save lives

I don't usually do product endorsements but tomorrow is World Aids Day and to mark the event Nike has joined with RED to launch a RED Laces campaign. 100% of the profit from the sale of Nike’s RED laces goes to the Global Fund and Nike’s football based programmes. It’s part of RED’s ongoing work of developing partnerships to fund the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Lace_Up_Save_Lives_2 If you were watching Chelski beating Arsenal in the London derby yesterday you may have noticed Didier Drogba, who scored twice for Chelski, was wearing RED laces. Today Drogba joined Bono (a key player in RED’s work) and other footballers to publicise the campaign at a press conference in London. RED sums up its approach as educate and medicate; aiming to ensure that HIV positive people in Africa have access to the drugs they need to stay alive and supporting education programmes about the illness across the continent.

The RED laces are intended for football boots but anyone can wear them, though I’m not sure how they would go down on a pair of black shoes at a funeral. Anyway, I think it’s a simple way of raising awareness about HIV in Africa and an effective method of fund raising. The laces would make a good Christmas present for sports mad friends and relatives and for those not into sport there are other RED partnership products. Other companies working with RED include: GAP, Starbucks, Dell, Apple, Converse and Hallmark.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

last year in Jerusalem

During my sabbatical last year I spent Advent in Jerusalem and Galilee and it was an experience I will never forget. As a way of letting family and friends know what I was doing I tried to keep a daily blog and I also found it a very helpful way of reflecting on the experience. The blogs from my trip can be found starting here and some of my photos here.

family I continue to think about the people I met and the places I visited and hope one day to return. I realise that during the last year the situation has continued to change: the conflict in Gaza that started just after my return to the UK; the removal of Palestinians from East Jerusalem; the ongoing settlement and infrastructure building programme and the development of the security wall / barrier are just a few of the factors impacting on the land and population. From time to time I also think about my fellow pilgrims and enjoy receiving intermittent emails from them.

A few Sundays ago the set Gospel reading was from Mastonesrk 13; Jesus speaking about the destruction of the Temple and I had a vivid recollection of touching some of the huge stones lying in a pile at the site of the Temple in the Old City. The next day several of my companions on the trip, who minister in the United States, emailed to say that they had preached on the same experience. Just a small example of the way in which the visit has brought the scriptures alive in a fresh way.

hand I brought back some small stones from different sites around the country and my favourite is from the shore of lake Galilee; nothing remarkable but the stone fits comfortably in my closed hand and is a reminder of the place and a helpful aid to prayer.

During my time in the Holy Land I spent some time reflecting on whether I was a tourist or pilgrim. A year later I realise the profound impact the place has had on me and on my faith and continue to be thankful for the opportunity I had to spend this time last year in Jerusalem.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

the future is bright

I’ve been tagged by Banksyboy with another Bible meme and this one looks good fun so here goes:

Summarise the Bible in five statements, the first one word long, the second two, the third three, the fourth four and the last five words long. Or possibly you could do this in descending order. Tag five people.candle

  1. Chaos
  2. and darkness
  3. the Light came
  4. it may seem dark
  5. but the future is bright!

I tag Chrisendom, The Ugley Vicar, Between, Graham and anyone else who fancies having a go.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


This is a wonderful, must watch film. When Once came out a couple of years ago my wife mentioned it and I read some great reviews but then it dropped out of sight and I forgot about it. I came across Once on DVD earlier this week when looking for a birthday present for Kate and we watched it last night. Once is the story of two young songwriters who meet up by chance on the streets of Dublin and develop a relationship around their love of music. The narrative of the film is developed through a series of songs that, according to the credits, were actually penned by the leading actors.Once The two central characters are never named in the film, they are simply Guy (Glen Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova) and as their relationship develops we discover something of their past through their song writing. They are both attractive and sympathetic characters, with genuine warmth and vulnerability, conveying an honesty which is at times painful to observe.

I was familiar with Hansard who featured in The Commitments and was in a band called The Frames, but I had never heard of Irglova who is a revelation. The music is a haunting folk style reminiscent of some early Radiohead and there is a raw immediacy to the lyrics and singing. The actors were chosen for their musicianship, there is a naturalistic feel to their acting and to the whole film, complemented by the backdrop of Dublin and its environs. It is no surprise that the film won an award at the Sundance Film Festival and has been feted by critics; it deserves the plaudits.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

must be Santa

Forget the winner of Xfactor or any of the other musical pap preparing to assault our eardrums over the next few weeks, the must have Christmas album is Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart. Royalties from the sale of the album will go to the charity Feeding America, the UN World Food Programme and Crisis in the UK. However, this is more than just a charity album as Dylan plays it straight with a mixture of traditional carols and other Christmas songs. Critics have been mixed in their verdicts on the latest offering from Dylan but I think it’s great fun. There is an element of The Pogues about some of the renditions and I’m surprised that Fairytale of New York is not on the album. I get the impression Dylan enjoyed making this record and the boisterousness of some of the offerings is summed up in his version of Must Be Santa. Enjoy and then buy!

h/t songs for the journey

paperless Christmas nativity

The Adventures of Mary and Joseph – The Road Movie presents a re-telling of the nativity with a series of nine short videos. Simply go to the Paperless Christmas website and the story should load (I had to use IE to view it). The screen displays an open road with a series of billboards to either side which is a neat alternative to the atheist billboard campaign. Click on the arrow to travel down the road and as you come to each billboard, click on play and a video tells part of the nativity story. It’s a great way to explore aspects of the Christmas story and resources have been produced to make use of the videos by Barnabas in Schools.

Paperless Christmas is produced by Jerusalem Productions and the Bible Reading Fellowship and Richard Fisher chief executive of BRF comments:

We hope it’s something that will cause people – both within and outside the church –to think afresh about the Christmas story. Already, since the beginning of October when the website went live, the videos have been viewed just over 15,000 times by visitors from 61 countries. They’re being enjoyed by all ages, and a growing number of churches and schools are telling us that they plan to show some or all of the video episodes in services and assemblies in the lead up to Christmas.

I particularly liked the humour, choice of actors and the contrast between traditional costumes and modern settings. The videos can be downloaded from the Barnabas in Schools site, so even if your venue doesn’t have internet access you can use the material.

Monday, 23 November 2009

dead tired?

You would be if you had to sleep in a graveyard every night. How about doing it for just one night? Will you choose to sleep rough for one night to help those who have no choice? Chelmsford CHESS is a Chelmsford and Essex homeless project and they have organised a graveyard sleepout for 27/28th November at St. John’s Church graveyard in Chelmsford. All you need to take part is your sleeping bag, cardboard boxes or pgraveyardolythene and get sponsored. There will be musical entertainment in the church between 9:30-11pm before people bed down for the night. Given the way the weather has been over the last couple of weeks it is going to be quite a challenge.

CHESS have been organising these sleepouts for a couple of years and they are a good way of getting across to people the challenges faced by the homeless, as well as an effective way of raising much needed funds. Our parish has been a supporter of CHESS for some time and several members of the congregation take part in the sleepouts.

Chelmsford CHESS seeks to reflect Christ's love by relieving hardship and distress amongst the single homeless in Chelmsford and Essex through:

  • the provision of temporary accommodation for homeless adults
  • Day Centre activities meeting users' essential needs
  • the opportunity of progress towards a more settled way of life
  • active promotion of a sense of security and self-worth
  • respect for the dignity of all

Further information about the work of CHESS can be found here.

Friday, 20 November 2009

memorable musical moments meme

I was tagged by Jonathan Evens for this meme that’s been doing the rounds.

Think of eight memorable musical moments, not necessarily all time favourites, but those when, for example, you felt compelled to wait in the car when listening to this amazing song on the radio because you just had to know who it was by. Or the piece you heard on the tv in a drama that drove you straight onto iTunes to download... (remember once we spent the princely sum of 6s 8d on a vinyl single?!). Optional details for each song give where, why and Spotify or youtube links ...

  1. Dr Who theme. Saturday evenings in my Gran’s house in Belfast where we lived during the mid 60s. I’d had my bath and the football results were in and then the highlight of the week as the theme to Dr Who started up – magical memories.
  2. Get It On – T. Rex from Electric Warrior. My first Christmas present album (1971/2?); the black cover with Bolan in outline posing with a Gibson Les Paul in front of a Marshall stack summed up rock n’ roll.
  3. House of the Rising Sun – The Animals. My sister had this on the Stardust (David Essex & Adam Faith) film soundtrack and it was the first song my band played in school assembly, 1974? I was on guitar, an electric with a tele style body and strat neck – I loved that guitar but can’t remember what happened to it after I switched to drums.
  4. Echoes – Pink Floyd. Saw the film Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii at the Chelmsford Odeon (1974?) and it blew me away. My musical transition from glam rock to prog rock was complete (sorry Banksyboy).
  5. Rock n’ Roll – Led Zeppelin. I was at Earls Court for the first night of Zeppelin’s legendary five nights in 1975 aged 15. When Bonham’s bass drum kicked in and Page struck up his riff and duck walked across the stage, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and stayed like that for two and a half hours. I got home from London at 2:30am and my mum went mad; at church that morning I couldn’t hear a thing as my ears were still ringing, but my fate was sealed and Zeppelin remain my favourite band. I saw them again at Knebworth in ‘79 and both performances are immortalised on DVD.
  6. Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2. So much about this band resonates. They’re Irish, they keep evolving, they sing in the light of Christ and occasionally about Christ (as in this song) and they make great music. For me U2 summed up Live Aid in 1985 and opened their set with this song which has it all; great drums, unique guitar sound, solid bass and a gobby singer who isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself and really does get angry about sin, including his own.
  7. The Island – Iona. I saw Iona at Greenbelt in 1992 standing next to a gorgeous young woman who I was desperate to ask out; we got married the next year. Runrig were headlining but Iona had the class and played a great set. I could even forgive Nick Beggs who is an amazing bass player for the abuse of the senses that was Kajagoogooo.
  8. Old Man – Neil Young. I finally saw Neil Young at the Hop Festival in 2008 and fulfilled a lifetime’s musical ambition. Young is a force of nature capable of incredible sonic assaults and then the most exquisite melodies. As a teenager I used to lie in bed for hours listening to Young’s triple album Decade. It was a difficult choice between Old Man and Don’t Let It Bring You Down but the Old Man just edges it.

Loads more I could have added but I decided to resist the temptation Sam Norton succumbed to. I tag Anna, Alice, +Nick, Tim, David and Elwin.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

let's do theology

I spent an enjoyable lunch quaffing a glass of wine and munching peanuts at the launch of the new edition of Bishop Laurie Green’s Let’s Do Theology. Many theology students will be familiar with the book which was first published in 1990 and is based on the pastoral cycle model of theological reflection. The book had begun to look rather tired, with a dated cover and dense typesetting that put some off reading and using the book. Laurie was asked to consider freshening up the appearance of the book for a new edition but decided that it really needed a complete rewrite. The new edition has a different subtitle, Resources for Contextual Theology, and draws on work published since the first edition. As someone who has found the book a great resource in training people for ministry, I can highly recommend it and would suggest that it also has a great deal to offer for those wanting to encourage theological reflection as part of discipleship in their churches.

Commendations for the new edition include the following from some very big hitters in the theological world:

Leonardo Boff: ‘This is a book of authentic liberation theology set within the English-speaking context: it takes instances of human experience, analyses them, reflects theologically and proposes practical ideas for transformation. I enthusiastically recommend this significant book.’

Rowan Williams: ‘Laurie green’s experience as a teacher, pastor and agent for God’s change informs every page of this accessible and challenging book…. It retains all its freshness, insight and sheer groundedness.’

P. Mohan Larbeer: ‘Bishop Laurie challenges the Western bias of traditional theology by explaining that every theology is contextual theology…. a must read.’

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

no faith schools officer

I had a look at the British Humanist Association website today and was interested to discover that they are appealing for money to fund a dedicated campaign officer against faith schools. Here’s what they say:

Help the BHA in its effort to phase out state funded 'faith' schools by ensuring we can employ a dedicated campaign officer against faith schools for another year. When we raise £30,000 we will be able to continue employing our dedicated campaigner for twelve months. Our campaigner will make sure that the voice of UK citizens who oppose faith schools is represented in the most powerful way. To do this our campaigner helps to stimulate and organise local campaigns against new faith schools and lobby government and parliament to reform the laws that allow state funded schools to discriminate in their employment and admissions on religious grounds, and to teach unbalanced curricula of religious education.

I was wondering whether the position of campaigner against faith schools was open to anyone or only to humanists? In other words does the person have to subscribe to the beliefs of the British Humanist Association as a necessary requirement for the job or can people of other faiths apply?

Update: If you want to see what a positive contribution church schools are making to education then check out +Alan Wilson's blog on Seer Green School.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

cash not credit

The Church of England is producing three short videos with suggestions for an affordable Christmas. The videocasts are made by Dr John Preston the C of E’s Resources and Stewardship Officer and offer money saving tips and advice in the lead up to this year’s festivities. Resources include The Affordable Christmas Planner to help people plan a budget for presents, food, drink, travel and other expenses.

One key tip from the first video is to use cash for purchases rather than credit cards, as a way of consciously recognising how much you are spending. In parishes where I’ve served I knew people who spent all year paying off the credit card bills run up over Christmas at exorbitant interest rates, only to go straight back into debt again for the next Christmas. The only caveat I would suggest is that on larger purchases credit cards can offer added consumer protection and some offer cash back, but it’s only worth it if you can pay off the bill in full. Beware the ‘buy now pay back in six months interest free’ offers from cards and stores because people often fail to pay back in time and then get clobbered with six months interest. Anyway, the videos offer straightforward and practical suggestions and are well worth a viewing.

Monday, 16 November 2009

cyber bullies

No, not the latest episode of Dr Who but an increasing problem for young people. The National Centre for Social Research has just published a summary of a major study into the bullying of secondary school pupils between the age of 14-16. The full report will be available in January 2010 but the headline findings are:

  • Bullying decreased with age: The prevalence of reported bullying decreased over the three years of the study. 47% of young people reported being bullied at age 14, but this had reduced to 29% by age 16.
  • Name calling/cyberbullying was most common: The most common type of bullying was name calling/cyberbullying, followed by being threatened with violence, being socially excluded and being subjected to actual violence. The least common type of bullying was being forced to hand over money or possessions, which was much less common than all the other types of bullying.
  • Vulnerable pupils and girls were more likely to be bullied: The main risk factors for being bullied at ages 14-16 were having a special educational need, having a caring responsibility, having a disability or having spent a period of time in social services care. Girls were also more likely to be bullied at ages 14 and 15, but not at age 16.
  • Parental awareness of bullying helped to reduce it: Young people whose parents had also reported that they were bullied at the age of 14 were almost twice as likely to stop being bullied by age 16 compared to those whose parents did not know they were being bullied. The same was also true for young people whose parents were aware they were being bullied at age 15.
  • Victims of bullying had worse educational outcomes: Young people who had been bullied at the ages of 14 or 15 had an average GCSE score two grades lower than those who had not been bullied. They were also more likely to be Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) than those who had not been bullied, and less likely to still be in full-time education.

Why should we be surprised at the amount and nature of bullying amongst the young when bullying has become so prevalent in wider society? We have bullying as entertainment in reality T.V. programmes like Xfactor, where contestants are ritually humiliated, most notably during the early audition stages, for the enjoyment of the wider public. Even on Strictly Come Dancing there is a spitefulness to some of the judges’ comments that goes beyond the critical to what seems intended to wound. Sir Alan Sugar made his reputation on The Apprentice for what at times could only be described as the denigration of his potential employees and he often rewarded the most Machiavellian contestants while dismissing others as weak. I should of course refer to him as Lord Alan Sugar as he was recently ennobled and made the government’s Enterprise Tsar, presumably because of the charm he exhibits in telling people ‘you’re fired’.

Bullying seems to have become a significant feature of our political discourse; when Ed Balls recently appointed the new Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson despite significant opposition, Barry Sheerman who chairs the Children’s Select Committee commented: ‘Most of us know that Ed Balls is a bit of a bully and he likes his own way’. A great epithet for the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, though it should be noted that Sheerman has his own agenda. The Sun’s recent hounding of Gordon Brown over his letter of condolence to Jacqui Janes is seen by many to be little more than the petty bullying of a man suffering from poor eyesight. The pathetic school ground baiting and name calling across the House of Commons’ chamber during Prime Minister’s Questions suggests a deeper culture of bullying.

Unfortunately the church’s record on bullying has also left a lot to be desired. I have close friends who were driven out of the church where they worshipped by a new incumbent who bullied anyone who refused to go along with his agenda. However, I also know there are clergy colleagues who feel their ministries were made untenable because of the bullying antics of key figures in the congregation and community. Anne Lee writing in the Church Times in 2007 identified some of the damage caused to the ministry and mission of the church by bullying: ‘An organisation that allows bullying behaviour to continue unchecked is compromised in proclaiming good news. Whenever a church or church organisation refuses to answer questions, punishes those who express concerns, abuses confidentiality, covers up, coerces, threatens, or deceives, it is directly undermining gospel values.’

Unless we name bullying for what it is and refuse to tolerate it in the name of effective business practice, the rough and tumble of political culture, entertainment or, in the case of the church, ministerial leadership styles then we cannot expect to address bullying amongst young people effectively. Why should our children take bullying seriously if we will not?

Saturday, 14 November 2009

are the Christmas stamps Christian?

There has been much rejoicing in the Christian press in the last couple of weeks with the news that this year’s Royal Mail Christmas stamps will feature the Nativity story. The stamps take images from stained glass windows by artists associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Dr Christian Baxter greeted the news with the following: ‘a wonderful narration of the Christmas story, through some of the country’s best examples of stained glass’. Well, they may be great examples of stained glass window art, but are they Christian? Do they really reflect the story which is part of the foundation of the Christian faith?

Christmas stamps

I fear these images contribute to the maintenance of a fantasy which is very far from the reality of the story of the birth of Christ and therefore will never really challenge people to engage with what that story is about. The stain glass images reinforce a Christmas sentimentality that makes the story seem like a romantic fairytale. Take for example the portrayal of Mary; Revd Neil Spencer, the vicar of the church from which the image of Mary is taken, comments: ‘What I love about it is that she’s surrounded by angels and cherubim, but she looks like a real person. She reminds everyone that this isn’t just some imaginary, mythical figure, but actually a real woman.’ No she doesn’t. Mary in this image is an idealised Pre-Raphaelite depiction of a white, western European woman not a Semitic young girl from the ancient Near East who has just endured the trauma of a pregnancy outside marriage and child birth. A better image would have been of a young Palestinian mother struggling with a baby in the Bethlehem of today. A Bethlehem surrounded by a wall and barbed wire, patrolled by soldiers and with a population experiencing the tensions and turmoil of occupation. A Bethlehem in which the shepherds would never have got near Mary from their fields because of the barriers that prevent movement between workplace and home. The Bethlehem I experienced when I visited the Holy Land this time last year and wrote about in my blog.

Until we are prepared to depict the Christmas story in ways that connect with the real world and the pain, suffering and mess in the world, we deny the incarnation and reduce the greatest story ever told to a Christmas pantomime. That is why I welcome the bus stop advertising campaign Christmas Starts With Christ organised by ChurchAds.Net. The holy family is portrayed in a traditional nativity scene, but that image is then located in a bus stop surrounded by ordinary people. A thought provoking representation placing the birth of Christ in the everyday world.

nativity 09

Friday, 13 November 2009

xfactor nightmare

I’m reading Ben Elton’s Chart Throb; it is to Xfactor what The Thick Of It is to Government. The book is a vicious satire on the Reality T.V. industry; mapping out the cynical manipulation of contestants and viewing public to powerful effect in Elton’s typicachart throblly over the top pastiche. Best bits so far are the Prince of Wales as a contestant singing Jerusalem as his audition piece and Beryl as one of the judges; a former satanic rocker who has had a sex change and stars in her own T.V. series about her family life. Chart Throb makes watching Xfactor great fun as we spot all the ploys, gimmicks and pre-planned shenanigans of what must be the epitome of debased popular culture. Oh, hang on a minute, I got that last bit wrong, here comes I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.

But could this be the real Xfactor nightmare?

xfactor h/t @JohnPrescott