Thursday, 28 January 2010

iPad revealed!

Here's why I won't be buying Apple's latest not so little offering.

h/t @pastorev

And here’s the ever excellent Dave Walker’s take on the iPad.


Wednesday, 27 January 2010

holocaust memorial day 2010

One of my most powerful and moving experiences in recent years was a visit I made in December 2008 to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. I have many pictures taken that day but I don’t really need to look at them as the images from the visit are all too vivid in my mind.

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) is commemorated internationally on 27th January each year. This date was chosen as it is the anniversary of the day in 1945 on which the Soviet Army liberated the largest Nazi concentration camp – Auschwitz-Birkenau. hmd10

Each year, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust urges everyone in the UK to pause and reflect on what can happen when racism, prejudice and exclusionary behaviour are left unchecked. On HMD we take the time to see how the lessons of the past can play a part in our communities today. The theme for HMD 2010 is The Legacy of Hope.

There are various events organised to mark HMD 2010 and one of the most striking is the 6 million + installation at Ripon Cathedral. Local secondary schools, colleges and supporters across the country and Kirklees Museums & Galleries, based in West Yorkshire, collected over 6 million buttons to illustrate the industrial scale of the Holocaust that took place during WWII. The '+' refers to Jewish and non-Jewish individuals who were never counted, as well as people who have died across the world in conflicts and genocides since the Second World War.

ripon holocaust

My post for HMD 2009 along with some of the pictures I took at Yad Vashem can be found here.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's HMD 2010 statement: The Legacy of Hope.

A Prayer said on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Anne Frank:

God, you created us all in your own likeness.
We thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in your world.
Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellow feeling and understanding;
show us your presence in those most different from us, so that in all our relationships,
both by what we have in common and by things in which we differ,
we may come to know you more fully in your creation;
for you are Father, Son and Holy Spirit for ever. Amen.

Monday, 25 January 2010

hope for the dying

My brother-in-law is a G.P. who specialises in palliative care and he has conducted extensive research on the subject both in this country and overseas. One of the frustrations with this area of medicine is the way in which the expertise and resources available to the terminally ill get little publicity, while the news is dominated by stories of demands for assisted suicide from lobby groups including the British Humanist Association and the work of organisations like Dignitas.

Over the weekend the Financial Times carried an excellent article A tradition of excellence in palliative care by journalist Adrian Tempany who spent last September and October with members of the Camden and University College London Hospital palliative care team and some of the 1500 new patients they care for each year. The report includes moving accounts of some of those being supported as they come to terms with a terminal condition and offers a helpful insight into the work of the palliative care team. Tempany writes about one couple:

To read the papers over the past 12 months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Shelagh and Michael faced an agonising dilemma: fly to Switzerland, and bring Shelagh’s suffering to an abrupt end at Dignitas, or leave her helpless, to a painful, bewildering death. Assisted suicide was the biggest health story in Britain last year, after swine flu. But of the estimated 300,000 people who died of a terminal illness in Britain in 2009, only 27 bought a one-way ticket to Zurich. Most were nursed through the end of their lives by loved ones or by care teams. And many of those nursed by palliative care teams would not only die with minimal suffering, they would experience one of the most emotionally intense and even rewarding periods of their lives.

The article draws attention to the easily overlooked record of Britain in the area of palliative care:

Britain leads the world in palliative care, a discipline that owes much to the pioneering work of Dame Cicely Saunders, who founded the modern hospice movement in the 1960s, and the NHS commitment to care from cradle to grave. The hundreds of specialist nurses at work in the home, in care homes, hospices, hospitals and prisons are joined by 100,000 volunteers in hospices alone. They don’t reach everyone (nor are they expected to), but no one is excluded from the caseload. And while many are educated to degree or postgraduate level, what their patients value above all are compassion and understanding.

There are no happy endings to the stories reported by Tempany in the sense that most of the patients featured are now dead and being mourned by their loved ones and friends. What the report does highlight, however, is that these people were able to face their terminal illness with dignity and a sense that their life had real significance and value.

One piece of information mentioned in the report that has received little publicity in the British media is that the Swiss government is considering a significant tightening on the rules regarding assisted suicide and a possible ban on assisted suicide ‘tourism’. At the same time the government has expressed its desire to promote palliative care and suicide prevention.

The debate about assisted suicide has been dominated by the opinions of a few articulate commentators in the media pushing a particular agenda. The FT report is a timely reminder of the dedicated work going on day by day, bringing compassion, care and relief to those who are terminally ill.

Related post: assisted suicide – a relative issue?

the Bible: a history - creation

Howard Jacobson doesn’t believe in the Creation story but he’d quite like to. That seems to be the main conclusion of the first episode of The Bible: A History broadcast last night on Channel 4. The programme is the first of a new series and it follows the pattern of last year’s offering from C4 Christianity: A History. That series also began with Jacobson and his take on Jesus as a Jewish figure whose origins have been denied by Christians. I thought that offering was poor and critiqued it at some length, however, this programme was more accomplished.

Jacobson explored the story of creation as recorded in Genesis; its origins and meaning as Jacobsonconsidered by Jews and Christians and some of the historical and philosophical questions which the Genesis narrative raises. It was an engaging personal journey with the presenter openly sharing his own responses to the story and the issues. At one stage the programme reverted to a presentation of the battle between fundamentalists, with the literalist creationists on one side and the ‘new atheists’ on the other. The new atheists were represented by one of their high priests A C Grayling who didn’t fail to display his usual arrogance on the subject of religious belief. I enjoyed Jacobson’s response to Grayling’s argument when he stated that he found himself wanting to believe in the Creation story and what it represented.

The programme also presented contributions from Jonathan Sacks, John Polkinghorne and the philosopher Mary Midgely. It was Midgely who came out with the most memorable phrase of the episode when in response to Jacobson’s suggestion that the new atheists were presenting another form of belief she answered ‘Oh yes, but not as nutritious’. There were disappointments with the programme including the usual failing of presenting the insights of mainstream scholarship as if they are new discoveries that are being revealed for the first time. It is hardly a new idea that Biblical scholars see the Exile as pivotal in shaping the Genesis account of creation as it appears in the Hebrew canon of scripture.

By the end of the programme Jacobson ends up wanting to embrace the Genesis story, not as a story of relationship between the Creator and creation, but as an inspiring expression of the potential of creation. Doug Chaplin, who was very quick off the mark with his review of the programme, makes the following observation:

Somewhere in that elegant literary thesis, one rather important question got lost – the idea that it might be important to ask whether there actually is any meaning and purpose in the universe other than the ones we inscribe upon it. Are we the only ones capable of art, or is there a Great Artist, whose work of art we yet might be.

There is an illuminating interview with Jacobson on the C4 website in which he explores in more detail his reflections on the Creation story and his approach to the Bible. He concludes that interview with an interesting comment that deserves further consideration:

I like the idea there is this one God, not to be obedient to, although he wishes obedience and insists obedience, but to be in a perpetual argument with. One of the great scenes in Genesis is the wrestling with the angel, and I think that's how you read if you love the Bible. It's a wrestle, and you're wrestling with something that's very, very personal.

It will be interesting to see how the other presenters of the series wrestle with the Bible over the next few weeks.

Friday, 22 January 2010

happy families

Delighted to find that families living in Chelmsford are the happiest according to a new survey that I came across in various newspapers. OK we don’t actually live in Chelmold chelmsfordsford, just outside if truth be told, but I did grow up in Chelmsford, I work there and my daughter’s school is there so I think we count. The survey of 3,000 families, conducted by the family website Uinvue, identified those living in Chelmsford as being most content. Factors contributing to this state of bliss include:

  • having a close circle of friends and relatives living nearby
  • short travel times to work
  • enjoying the company of colleagues
  • manageable workloads
  • a good amount of quality time together (nearly 2 hours a day)

Mark De Netto speaking on behalf of Uinvue commented:

It suggests the happiest are those which have a good balance between work and play. People also need to feel comfortable financially and have people to support them. Additionally, big cities such as London might feel more impersonal and be faster paced.

old chelmsford 2 These are hardly dramatic revelations and exactly the sort of conclusions one would expect.I did try and track down the original survey for a closer look, with little success. The Uinvue site doesn’t have the survey results yet and is little more than a Facebook style social networking site. They do have the results of a survey conducted in November 2009 on Family Feuds; I gave that a miss in case we scored too highly!

The survey revealed that the town with the least happy people is Aberystwyth and this was attributed to feelings of being over-worked and under-paid; again hardly a surprise. De Netto observes:

People living here are actually quite satisfied with home life, feeling close to the people they live with and spending loads of time together. But if work is difficult and money is tight, it can be hard to leave those worries at the front door when returning home for the evening.

Here are the top fives according to the survey.

Happiest FamiliesUnhappiest Families

I have to say Chelmsford is a pleasant place to be around but I've also enjoyed living in Belfast, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Durham, Oxford, Southport, Thurrock, Waltham Abbey and Barking and Dagenham. In my experience it's the people that make all the difference.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

England’s own goal

I am still reeling from the shock news that there will be no official England World Cup song for South Africa 2010. What are Fabio Capello and the Football Association playing at? Don’t they know that the traditional World Cup anthem is a vital part of the team and nation’s build up to these major international tournaments? Do they not appreciate the psychological damage wreaked upon the faithful footy fan, robbed of the opportunity to sing along with the likes of Embrace or the legendary Ant & Dec? This is a catastrophic blunder by England’s management that completely undermines the preparations of our brave boys.england 1970

Who can forget the wonderful rendition of Back Home sung by the 1970 World Cup squad and performed on Top of the Pops by the team resplendent in dinner jackets? Even the B-side Cinnamon Stick sent shivers down the spine. Or what about This Time the 1982 song which promised so much, even if the team did crash out in the second round after a 0-0 draw in Spain. Then of course the all time classic that is World in Motion performed by England and New Order and embellished with a barnstorming rap from MC John Barnes. Think what would have happened if England hadn’t gone into these tournaments having laid down their vocals and conquered the charts.

esso coinNext they’ll be telling us that Esso won’t be issuing a set of England World Cup squad minted coins to collect and that car mountable St. George’s flags are no longer available from Poundland (or 97.5p land as it was before VAT went back up).

‘Cry God for Harry, England and St. George’ this decision must not stand.

I suppose it should be acknowledged that the last time England didn't have a World Cup song was in 1966 and we all know what happened then!

Sunday, 17 January 2010


I've added a widget to my blog which links to the Compassion website in support of their Haiti appeal. The box in the sidebar provides updates on the situation from Compassion and allows you to give online. Bloggers you can click on the 'share' button and grab the code for your blog. You can also put it on your Facebook page or other web pages (h/t The Church Mouse). Another effective way of donating is through the Disasters Emergency Committee which acts as an umbrella organisation for the UK's leading aid charities.

My blog on the disaster and some of theological issues raised is shaking the ground. Other blogs that may be of interest include:
Haiti, hate and God by Nick Baines.
Haiti and suffering by Sam Norton.
Earthquakes and bad theology by Symon Hill.
Haiti: Sorrow + Anger = Resolve? by Alan Wilson.
Not on my watch... please by Peter Banks.
Haiti responses by Alice Smith.
God and the Haiti earthquake by Graham Tomlin.

I do think it is important that as Christians we are able to give an account of our faith in the face of the reality of human suffering and the very legitimate questions that people raise. However, I very much want to identify with the comment made by Nick Baines at the end of his blog:
All our energies need to go into alleviating by all means possible the suffering in Haiti. Concurrently we need to be asking why we don’t put effort into alleviating poverty and suffering before such tragedies happen.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

shaking the ground

No one can have been left unmoved by the harrowing reports coming out of Haiti following the earthquake which has shaken the very foundations of a nation. At least that is what I would have thought until I heard some of the nonsense being spouted by Pat Robertson, a well known and influential figure in the U.S.haitiA., speaking on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Commenting on the devastating tragedy, Robertson claimed that Haiti was suffering the consequences of a ‘pact with the devil’ and went on to state the following:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it… They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal. … ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other… They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God and out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come. But right now we are helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.

I really don’t know where Pat Robertson has dredged this rubbish about Haiti’s pact with the devil up from, but he is spouting a classic piece of theological claptrap which suggests that the people of Haiti are suffering this tragedy because of their sinfulness. On that reckoning there are plenty of other nations that should be quaking in fear.

haiti 2 When a disaster as momentous as the earthquake in Haiti strikes it leads people to ask questions about God and his purposes; the same was true of the Asian tsunami in 2004. We would be inhuman not to find ourselves wrestling with these questions and just as inhuman to dismiss such suffering with the glib suggestion that it is the victims’ fault. There are no neat and tidy answers, which is why Theodicy (how we understand the goodness and love of God in the face of evil and suffering) remains such a challenging topic within Christian theology.

One of the most helpful reflections I’ve read over the last couple of days is a piece by Craig Uffman editor of Covenant titled Where was God in the Earthquake? Uffman draws on the work of David Bentley Hart who wrote The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? and who makes the following statement:

we are to be guided by the full character of what is revealed of God in Christ. For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God.

Uffman goes on to comment:

As we participate vicariously in the tormented tears of young girls, lost and alone in the Haitian darkness, as our hearts pour out tears for the thousands of sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who have died so suddenly and shockingly, and as we turn to our task of being the loving and living hands of Christ in response to this tragedy, let us never forget the urgent truth about God that it is our vocation to proclaim: God does not will our sickness or our death; God does not will that evil be done; God has conquered evil and death through the Cross. This is the meaning of the empty tomb. This is our Easter faith.

Where Robertson is right is in suggesting that we need to help the people of Haiti in their unimaginable suffering now. We can do this by acting on the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury:

In this time of catastrophic loss and destruction, I urge the public to hold the people of Haiti in their prayers, and to give generously and urgently to funding appeals set up for relief work.

The Church Times blog has details about the appeals launched by aid agencies including Christian Aid and Tearfund and information about the Disasters Emergency Committee can be followed at @decappeal/decmembers.

Here’s a prayer I found particularly helpful to use as details about the earthquake emerged Tweeted by Gerard Kelly @twitturgies.

#Haiti For those whose world has imploded: God have mercy. For those who have died and those dying still: have mercy God.

Update: There is a fascinating account of the history of the story behind Pat Robertson's claim that the people of Haiti made a pact with the devil by Heresy Corner. However, I disagree with the article's assertion that Robertson wasn't suggesting that the earthquake was in some way a consequence of this pact and therefore a judgement on Haiti, otherwise why did he bring it up? (via @His_Grace )

Giles Fraser explored the topic of Theodicy and the earthquake on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day on Friday 15th January.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

UK Border Agency – part 3

In the run up to Christmas the UK Border Agency produced an offensive Christmas e-card which rightly drew heavy criticism. The e-card is just one example of how the UKBA operates and the mind set which seems to determine its activities. Yesterday The Independent published a harrowing account of the impact of the UKBA’s actions on the young children of asylum seekers. Written by Paul Vallely under the headline: Detaining children in Britain: No place for the innocent the story of one young family’s experience at the hands of UKBA makes for painful reading and one feels ashamed to be a citizen of the country that operates these policies. The family in the article are Coptic Christians who have fled from persecution in Egypt; ironic given that the family of Jesus fled to Egypt to escape persecution following his birth. David Keen has posted UK Border Agency: Invasion of the Baby-Snatchers a helpful summary of Vallely’s article.

Asylum and Immigration are likely to be key topics in the General Election this year and there are important and difficult issues to be grappled with. As Christians we need to pray that the policies pursued by our elected representatives uphold the values and priorities of the Kingdom of God. As I reflect on Vallely’s article I am reminded of Deuteronomy 10:19.

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Blessed be the mobile.

Today a friend and former colleague Canon David Parrott has hit the headlines after conducting a service of blessing for mobile phones and laptops. The service took place at St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London and it is David’s updated version of the traditional Plough Monday blessing, when farmers would bring their ploughs to the church door to be blessed. David’s argument is that the tools of the trade for many City workers are the mobile phone and laptop PC so why shouldn’t we ask God’s blessing on these pieces of equipment and on those who use them.

david parrott I must admit I was quite surprised when David announced last year that he was leaving his role as a CME adviser in Chelmsford Diocese to become Vicar of St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. A few of us scratched our heads to work out why he had taken this job but David’s simple response was to say that God had told him to. David has always shown great imagination in his ministry, is a gifted communicator and has a very dry sense of humour. The service of blessing for mobile phones combines these gifts and I look forward to seeing what other ideas he comes up with in the future.

phone blessing The words of blessing used in the service included the following and are very appropriate for those of us who use these pieces of equipment:

May our tongues be gentle, our e-mails be simple and our websites be accessible…

By your blessing, may these phones and computers, symbols of all the technology and communication in our daily lives, be a reminder to us that you are a God who communicates with us and who speaks by your Word. Amen.

A couple of years ago I conducted a blessing of ploughs at one of our parish churches. The service was very appropriate given our rural location; the church is surrounded by farmland and several of the congregation are land owners, farm managers and workers. The one drawback with the position of the church is you can’t get a good mobile phone signal so perhaps I might borrow David’s order of service to see if we can improve the reception.

Friday, 8 January 2010

got The Message? (1)

At the beginning of the New Year members of our three village churches started a challenge to read through the Bible in a year using the Everyday with Jesus Bible. During Spring Harvest last year I picked up a copy of The Message, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, and my version is divided into daily readings to be read in a year, so I thought I’d join in. One week in and I’m still on track!

I’ve used The Message on and off over the last coupmessage biblele of years as a complement to other translations. My preferred version and the one I have on my Blackberry is the NRSV, mainly because I grew up with the RSV, though I want to get back to using my Greek New Testament more regularly rather than just for sermon preparation. Our church pew Bibles are the NIV which I have to confess I have never been entirely comfortable with, not least because of some of the theological presuppositions which affect the translation. While I understand what the Good News was trying to do I can’t forgive it for denying the incarnation (all to do with the way it translates flesh as human nature). I also find it useful to check out Tom Wright’s translation of the New Testament as part of his For Everyone series of commentaries.

Anyway, back to The Message. I enjoy it’s pace and imaginative rendering of familiar passages. The narratives have a rhythm and flow which makes for ease of reading and the more poetic passages, the psalms and wisdom material for example, have a resonance that makes me want to speak them out loud. At times the translation is quite startling and I find myself reading a passage several times or turning a phrase over in my mind throughout the day. The downside of The Message is that sometimes I find the paraphrase attractive but unconvincing. I read a phrase that really captures the imagination but when I look more carefully it is difficult to see how the translation relates to the Hebrew or Greek. This raises the age old dilemma for the preacher; do we end up trying to make scripture fit what we want it to say? I would be concerned if this was the only version of the Bible Christians used, but if it gets people engaging with scripture then I’m all for it. These opening verses from Psalm 1 give a flavour of The Message and sum up what it’s all about:

1How well God must like you— you don't hang out at Sin Saloon, you don't slink along Dead-End Road,
you don't go to Smart-Mouth College.
2-3 Instead you thrill to God's Word,
you chew on Scripture day and night.
You're a tree replanted in Eden,
bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf,
always in blossom.

One final comment. I bought my copy of The Message at the Wesley Owen bookshop at Spring Harvest. Wesley Owen has gone into administration, part of the sorry tale of Christian bookshops in recent years, and it will be interesting to see who the bookseller at Spring Harvest is in 2010. Details about the future of Wesley Owen shops can be found at the Church Times blog with some excellent links to other sites.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Epiphany by the Queen of Vampires

One of my Christmas reads was The Road To Cana by Anne Rice, the author best known for her vampire and occult novels. This is the second book in her Christ The Lord series; a fictional novel continuing Rice’s exploration of the life of Jesus and covering the period leading up to his emergence into public ministry at the age of 30, culminating in the miracle of the wedding at Cana. An unusual feature of the series is that it is written in the first person, however, this allows Rice to explore the inner tensions that must have confronted Jesus as he came to terms with his calling and ministry. Jesus wrestles with the possibility of marriage, family tensions, the challenge to take up military opposition to Roman occupation and the other demands of messianic expectation.

The themes of The Road To Cana are not dissimilar to those explored in Nikos The Road to CanaKazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, though this book is more traditional and orthodox in its theology. Incarnation, vocation and revelation are at the heart of the narrative and Rice captures the humanity of Jesus as he confronts the evils of zealotry, bigotry, cruelty and the temptations of Satan in the wilderness following his baptism. The story is an epiphany as Jesus comes to a full realisation of his mission and his true nature, hinted at throughout his life, is revealed to family, friends and the wider community.

From vampires to Christ is my more detailed post about the Christ The Lord series and Anne Rice’s faith and Jonathan Evens has also written an interesting piece about The Road to Cana. I understand that Rice plans two more books in the series and one of the interesting questions Jonathan raises is how Rice will handle the more familiar material from the four gospels. The Road to Cana suggests she will handle the material with sensitivity, imagination and considerable theological insight.

Friday, 1 January 2010


A poem by Gerard Kelly and a great prayer for 2010:

I want to be a grace guerilla,
no longer a chameleon of karma;
the time has come to stand out from the crowd.
I want to give forgiveness a fighting chance of freeing me,
I want to live in love
and live it out loud.

I want to drink deep of the foolishness of wisdom
instead of swallowing the wisdom of fools,
to find a source in the deeper mines of meaning
to search out the unsearchable,
to invoke the invisible,
to choose the truth the TV hypnotists aren't screening.

No camouflage,
no entourage,
no smoothly fitting-in.
I want a faith that goes further than face value
and a beauty that goes deeper than my skin.

I want to be untouched by my possessions
instead of being possessed by what I touch,
to test the taste of having nothing to call mine,
to hold consumption's cravings back,
to be content with luck or lack,
to live as well on water as on wine.

I want to spend myself on those I think might need me,
not spend all I think I need on myself.
I want my heart to be willing to make house calls.
Let those whose rope is at an end find in me a faithful friend.
Let me be known as one who rebuilds broken walls.

No camouflage,
no entourage,
no smoothly fitting-in.
I want a faith that goes further than face value
and a beauty that goes deeper than my skin.

I want to be centred outside the circle,
to be chiselled from a different seam.
I want to be seduced by another story
and drawn into a deeper dream,
I want to be anchored in an undiscovered ocean,
to revolve around an unfamiliar sun,
to be a boom box tuned to an alternate station,
a bullet fired from a different gun.

No camouflage,
no entourage,
no smoothly fitting-in.
I want a faith that goes further than face value
and a beauty that goes deeper than my skin.

Gerard Kelly: Spoken Worship 2007.