Sunday, 27 June 2010

Having a punt

Last year a colleague of mine cancelled his Sky Sports subscription. This was no easy move for a committed football supporter and it didn’t go down well with his football loving son. He took the decision because he was fed up with the constant stream of betting adverts shown by Sky at every possible opportunity and this was his way of registering a protest.

Unfortunately the curse of the betting adverts has now spread to ITV and no World Cup match is complete without adverts for William Hill, Ladbrokes and the other gambling companies. winstone During the breaks we are invited to take a bet on the next scorer, the number of corners and just about every other statistic from the game being screened. To entice us we have top diamond geezer Ray Winstone intoning the odds with his exaggerated cockney blather; like he really needs the money.

So when did this start? I can’t remember seeing so many betting adverts before. Have the advertising regulations changed or has ITV changed its policy? Has some conscious decision been taken to target the World Cup as a way of launching this change?

I’m not against a person having the occasional punt on the Grand National for a bit of fun; I’ve done it myself, but this sustained exposure to gambling adverts on a major broadcasting channel is quite insidious. I really don’t want my children confronted with these adverts in the middle of the afternoon while watching a football match.

lottery And then I remember that gambling has been institutionalised in our society and this is just the logical next step. The National Lottery is treated as a revered institution, with a prime time BBC programme watched by millions who have been told ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it.’ The funds from the Lottery are used to finance the upkeep of our heritage, arts and to underwrite a large chunk of our sport. The staging of the London Olympics will be in significant measure funded by the Lottery. The church is not exempt as it is dependant on English Heritage grants to help maintain historic church buildings via the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Where’s the harm? One of my most depressing repeated experiences as a parish priest in Dagenham was to visit the local post office and watch young single mums drawing their benefits and child allowance and then immediately spending a significant proportion on the scratch cards and lottery tickets. In one sense I couldn’t blame them; what other way were they offered a chance to escape from a life time on benefit? How else were they going to realise the dream of the sort of life style idealised by OK and Hello magazine? Why shouldn’t they believe the siren voices saying ‘It could be you’.

So gambling has become a cornerstone of public policy, an easy source of revenue for the government, a respected and desirable leisure time activity, an escape route for those feeling trapped and the panacea for all our problems. Gambling has been made so accessible that anyone can participate; on the high street, in the news agents, in the privacy of one’s home either on line or on the telephone.

What makes me most uncomfortable about our society’s increasing obsession with gambling is that it encourages us, and particularly the most vulnerable amongst us, to place our hope in chance and the promise of unearned riches to meet our needs and desires. The challenge to the church is how we share with people in a tangible way a different hope, in which life is not a gamble but a promise secured in the love and purposes of God for each one of us.

Monday, 21 June 2010


Those hoping that the General Election would herald a change in the political culture after the long drawn out saga of MPs expenses have been sadly mistaken. No sooner had the ballot boxes been stored, the new ConDem coalition sealed in blood, the Browns moved out of No. 10 and the Camerons in, than we were treated to our first full blown scandal. David Laws, appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was forced out of office before he’d even had his headed note paper printed, by revelations about his expenses and private life.

This weekend the self appointed guardians of the nation’s morality have revealed that Chris Huhne, another Liberal Democrat member of the government, has been having an affair and he has announced that he is leaving his wife. Cue the predictable discussions about whether Huhne should be required to resign. I had the misfortune to catch part of a conversation between Lembit Opik and Edwina Currie on BBC Radio 5 Live late Saturday night as they considered the matter; informed comment it was not.

One of the charges levelled against both men is that they have acted hypocritically. Laws made great play of his financial probity over the expenses issue in the run up to the election. The MP has now had to pay back a considerable sum claimed on expenses that he may not have been entitled to. Huhne during the election portrayed himself as a family man and the revelations about his family life suggest that he has been engaged in an affair for some time.

It may be that Laws and Huhne are hypocrites. I don’t know, but here’s the thing; I’m pretty certain that many of those who spend their time exposing the hypocrisy of others are themselves hypocrites. I was very impressed with a recent interview given by David Yelland, editor of The Sun from 1998 to 2003, on Radio 4 at the end of May. Yelland was speaking about his alcoholism during that period and commented that the hypocrisy involved in running front page stories exposing the lives of others was a key factor in his addiction. He wrote in The Observer: ‘The Sun was a dangerous place for me to be, because my addictive traits were big box office. I was actually paid to rush to judgement, paid to lash out and attack - it was perfect territory for the drunk.’

As I said, I don’t know if Laws and Huhne are hypocrites, however, I do know that I am. It’s one of the truths I’ve had to face up to as a Christian; I claim to be a follower of Christ and yet again and again I fail to live up to that calling. Every time I say the Lord’s Prayer I am reminded of the times I fail to forgive others and fail to trust God for my needs. The only thing that helps me to face up to the truth of my hypocrisy and to strive to overcome it is the knowledge that God knows me and loves me as I am; hypocrite that I am.

One of the big criticisms levelled against the church is that it is full of hypocrites and you don’t have to spend long reading the church press or in church to know that it is true. It’s not something to be proud of, but we do need to be honest about it. This means we need to be slow to criticise the hypocrisy of others. That is not to ignore when others have done wrong, though we do need to avoid being quick to judge and to condemn. It also means we need to reach out to those who our society has branded as hypocrites; sharing with them the generous welcome, forgiveness and love that God has shown to us.

Whenever someone says to me that the church is full of hypocrites I have a simple reply: You’re quite right, the church is full of hypocrites and there is always room for one more so why not join us?

If only: World Cup 2010 (7)

It’s alright everyone, it was only a nightmare. As this video clearly shows, Robert Green didn’t make a massive error for England against the USA and we actually won the game 1-0!

Now if only someone could take the whole 90 minutes against Algeria and edit it to show that we really played like Brazil then the mood of the nation will be completely transformed; until Wednesday afternoon.
h/t Off the post

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Shadenfreude: World Cup 2010 (6)

One of the joys of the World Cup is being able to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. The Germans have a great word for this, Schadenfreude (no, he isn’t a one of their midfielders) and the last couple of days have provided plenty of opportunities to indulge in it.

First up the Spanish, one of the favoured sides in the competition and current European champions, who were humbled by Switzerland. The 1-0 victory to the Swiss was the first real shock of the tournament. There is some suggestion that the Spanish failure to score was down to their star striker Fernando Torres having had a short haircut, thus depriving him of his prowess just like Samson.

Then the French were humiliated by the Mexicans and are on the verge of an early trip home after garnering only one point from their first two games. Not so surprising given that France is managed by Raymond Domenech, who won’t pick players born under the Scorpio star sign because they are distrustful! The French are getting all they deserve having robbed the Irish of a place in the Finals through a blatant act of cheating; Thierry Henry’s clear handball leading to a goal during extra time in the playoff. (see previous blog)

Yesterday afternoon afforded the pleasure of seeing Germany beaten by Serbia. The Germans started the Finals with a clinical destruction of Australia and many pundits were flagging them up as genuine contenders. That was before the referee stepped in and sent off Germany’s striker early in the match against Serbia. The Serbian victory over Germany  was good news for England who could potentially meet Germany in the next round of the competition.

The trouble with Shadenfreude is that it is a game that everyone can play and at the moment there will be football fans across the globe rubbing their hands with glee at the disaster that is England’s World Cup campaign. The first match against the USA began so well, with an early strike from England’s captain Gerrard giving them the lead. Unfortunately, the curse of the England goalkeeper then struck, Robert Green making a terrible error to concede from a weak long range shot. From then on England offered little to threaten the draw and the game ended in disappointment.

Never mind, the USA were seen as England’s toughest opponents in the group stage, so plenty of time to put things right against Algeria, one of the tournament’s weakest sides. Last night was to be the moment when England set the competition alight with a dazzling display, dismissing the Algerians and building momentum towards the knockout rounds.

Eng Alg The problem is that no one told the Algerians that they weren’t supposed to be able to kick a football and they gave a good demonstration of a solid, competent, well organised team; even if they did lack a decent forward capable of scoring. If only I could say that about England. I’d have settled for solid, competent and well organised because as the game unfolded it became clear that England’s finest had forgotten how to move, pass, control, tackle, shoot or head the ball. There was not one aspect of the game in which England demonstrated a measure of competence. The body language between the players spoke of a team shorn of confidence in their own abilities and the tactics of their manager.

The England squad is packed full of some of the best paid players in the tournament; multi millionaires earning more in a week than many of their opponents would earn in a year. Yet, some of the richest and supposedly most skilful players produced some of the worst performances of the World Cup so far. There is one game left against Slovenia to resurrect the England campaign and on the evidence so far I am not optimistic.

The title of this post is the German word Shadenfreude, but perhaps a better word to sum up England’s build up and participation in the World Cup would be that little Greek word Hubris: an excess of ambition, pride and arrogance, ultimately leading to the transgressor's ruin.

Update: For those who feel that prayer is now the only hope for England, you might want to consider Nick Baines' blog here and here.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Haha: World Cup 2010 (5)

My mature reflection on France’s humiliation against Mexico in the World Cup last night.

The reason for my joy at France’s defeat is the disgraceful handball by Thierry Henry for France against Ireland in the World Cup qualifier, resulting in denying the boys in green their rightful place in the Finals.

h/t Barry Glendenning at The Guardian.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Being Biblical

Enjoyed an interesting morning listening to Richard Burridge at the Bradwell area clergy study day. Professor Burridge, Deaburridgen of King’s College London, was speaking on the theme What does it mean to be Biblical? The first part of the presentation was a summary of Richard’s doctoral work on What are the Gospels? and his book Four Gospels, One Jesus. I’m very familiar with this material as we use Four Gospels on our Course in Christian Studies but it was helpful to have it summarised as a basis for what Richard went on to say.

The second part of the morning focused on Richard’s book Imitating Jesus and looked at the issue of being Biblical in exploring ethical dilemas. Much of this material was used extensively at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and it was good to hear some of his insights and reflections on that experience.

Richard began by looking at two websites Anglican Mainstream and InclusiveChurch.Net to show how both, taking very different positions on ethical issues, nevertheless claimed to be Biblical in their approach. He then went on to consider two historical examples, slavery and apartheid, to show how opposing sides claimed positions grounded in the scriptures. The apartheid example was particularly interesting as both the Dutch Reform Church and those opposing apartheid used the same scriptures, the Exodus narrative, as a basis for their theological positions.

Unfortunately our speaker began to run out of time so the final part of the study was rather rushed. In this section Richard shared the basic thesis of Imitating Jesus. I’ll blog on the book at another time, but the key point is that though Jesus’ ethical teaching was rigorous his practice was an open acceptance  and inclusiveness of those considered morally questionable by society.
Some key thoughts from the session:
  • Being Biblical is to hold words and deeds together.
  • Opposing views can be genuinely seeking to be Biblical.
  • We are called to be imitators of Jesus’ words and deeds.
  • We need an open and inclusive community of interpretation.
  • We must give attention to those who are most affected by our interpretation.
My one gripe about the morning, which finished with an excellent lunch, was the lack of time for discussion and Q & A. This was one time when I felt I would have been happy to go on into an afternoon session.

I’ve still to read Tom Wright’s Virtue Reborn and I understand he takes quite a different position to Richard Burridge; I look forward to comparing the two.

Update: a version of Richard's second presentation can be downloaded and is titled: Being Biblical: slavery, sexuality and the inclusive community.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

the strawbs: World Cup 2010 (4)

Now this is what I like our secretaries bringing me at work in the afternoon. People tend to associate strawberries and cream with Wimbledon but I think they go very well with the World Cup. Sadly there was no champers to go with them; you just can’t get the staff these days! Time to update the wall chart.

The card in the picture refers to the World Cup screenings at one of the local churches in Chelmsford, with more details here.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Touchdown Jesus

ohio Jesus Sad news from Ohio in the United States that a 62 foot tall statue of Jesus has been struck by lightning and burnt to the ground on Monday night. The statue King of Kings was set at the head of the baptismal pool of the Solid Rock Church near Monroe, Ohio. Solid Rock is a 4000+ strong ‘mega-church’ and the statue had, not surprisingly, become a well known land mark along Interstate 75.

Depicting Jesus from the chest up with his arms and head raised to the sky, the statue had become known as ‘Touchdown Jesus’ because it looked like Jesus was trying to catch a football. It was  designed by Brad Coriel, sculpted by James Lynch, and assembled by Mark Mitten. Constructed on a metal frame using styrofoam covered by a thin skin of fibreglass, it was completed in September 2004 at a cost of $250,000, which was financed from earmarked donations and not from the general funds of the church.

Solid Rock Church was founded by Lawrence Bishop and the six story high statue was the idea of his wife Darlene. Bishop explained that the statue was intended not to impress but to be a sign of hope and salvation. Whatever you think of the statue it does seem a shame to have lost such a striking landmark; though I can’t help thinking that with hindsight styrofoam and fibreglass may not have been the wisest choices of construction material.

jesus 2

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Screening: World Cup 2010 (3)

My mate and colleague Charlie Kosla has organised the screening of England’s World Cup matches in the Church of Our Saviour Chelmsford where he serves as an assistant minister. The first event took place last night with the showing of England v USA and the event seems to have gone better than the match. Charlie comments on his Facebook page:
Whilst going to sleep watching Algeria v Slovenia, thought I would tell you about the world cup viewing in my church last night. A good turn out for England V USA after around 1500 invitations were sent all over the place including the local schools. The big screen worked well thankfully not HD so we did see Gerrard's goal. Looking forward to showing Eng v Algeria and a better result!
This is just one example of many churches taking the opportunity to engage with their local communities during the World Cup. Charlie is also helping to head up our diocese’s preparations for the Olympic Games 2012 which are based in Stratford in the Olympic Diocese of Chelmsford.
Last night’s match started well with an early goal for England, before the goalkeeper Robert Green made a dreadful mistake to let the USA back into the match. No surprise there; England’s World Cup sojourns have a habit of starting in mediocrity and goalkeeping errors are a part of the package (who can forget David Seaman’s faux pas against Brazil in 2002). Here’s hoping Capello gets a grip and works out what his best team is before Friday.

Things are looking up on the Cartoon Church Sweepstake front as my team Slovenia have beaten Algeria in their first match this afternoon and now top their group with England in second place.

Friday, 11 June 2010

I’m dreaming: World Cup 2010 (2)

Tutu Last night Desmond Tutu stood on stage at the Kick Off celebration concert in the Orlando stadium Soweto to launch the World Cup. As he looked out at the huge crowd the former Archbishop couldn’t contain his excitement as he cried: ‘Just fantastic... Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's unbelievable. I'm dreaming, man... Wake me up. What a lovely dream...’.

Desmond’s exuberant expression summed up the excitement and joy of his people at staging the World Cup in South Africa. Who could have believed twenty years ago that this would be possible? Asked in interview whether the money for the tournament could have been better spent Tutu answered ‘man does not live by bread alone’.

The World Cup begins tonight with the hosts playing Mevuvuzelaxico. Be warned this tournament is going to be loud as the vuvuzelas favoured by the fans make a heck of a din. If Desmond’s outfit last night is anything to go by then it’s also going to be a riot of colour as well as a fantastic celebration.

On a sadder note, the great-granddaughter of Nelson Mandela was killed in a car crash on the way home from the concert. As we remember him and his family in their grief let’s pray for safety and security throughout this festival of football.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

He’s on His way

I’m impressed by the latest poster from ChurchAds.Nebabyscan Jesust for Christmas 2010: Baby Scan Jesus. The agency describes the idea behind the poster campaign as follows:

In the 21st century, proud parents-to-be announce the coming birth by showing friends and family the scan of the baby. Our new Baby-Scan Jesus poster (pictured right) uses this convention to place the birth of Christ in an ultra-contemporary context.
It is highly impactful. It has a sense of immediacy. It creates anticipation. And theologically it speaks of both the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Needless to say the usual suspects have already begun to moan, led by Terry Sanderson and the National Secular Society. Nick Baines has posted an excellent rebuttal of the complaints on his blog Christmas is coming.

This is the latest in ChurchAds.Net’s Christmas starts with Christ campaign series; I blogged about last year’s Bus Stop Nativity poster here. What I like most about the campaign, and what I suspect most worries its critics, is that it reminds us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is grounded in the real world and everyday life and is for ordinary people.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Perspective: World Cup 2010 (1)

Heard a great interview with Rio Ferdinand on BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday which put his injury and the World Cup in some perspective. RioFerdinand

Rio, England’s captain for the World Cup in South Africa, was injured in a training session last week and has been ruled out of the tournament. He described how he knew straight away that the injury was bad but that he had to go to hospital for a scan to confirm what he suspected. While waiting for the diagnosis in the hospital, Rio saw another young man being wheeled in who was very seriously injured following a car accident. England’s captain said that he knew he would be back playing football in a couple of months but that this other patient was fighting for his life. He went on to say of his injury: ‘It’s not all doom and gloom even though it is disappointing’. It was really refreshing to hear a professional footballer refusing to wallow in self pity despite loosing out on what could have been some of the greatest moments of his career. A sure sign that Fabio Capello made the right choice in making Ferdinand England’s captain. You can hear the full interview here.

Let’s hope players,fans and the media can keep a bit of perspective over the coming month; though my wife would say ‘physician heal thyself!’.

An early test of perspective keeping came this morning when I discovered I have drawn Slovenia in Dave Walker’s Cartoon Church Sweepstake.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Boston Tea Party

I was in Honiton last week with the family and we had a very enjoyable lunch and coffee in The Boston Tea Party. The cafe is one of a West Country chain named after the C18th revolt by a group of colonists who emptied three shiploads of tea into the Boston harbour as a protest against British taxation.

Apparently there are a group of self described patriots in the U.S. who have formed the Tea Party movement. Their aim seems to be to protest against all the eminently sensible laws that President Obama has introduced including the Health Care Reform Bills. There was an attempt to launch a British Tea Party movement along similar lines back in February during the Conservative Spring Conference in Brighton. The event was supported by Daniel Hannan MEP. This is the same Hannan who has made a career out of travelling around U.S. television studios trashing the NHS. I haven’t heard much about the British version since and I guess it has been made redundant by the General Election outcome.

As I was sitting munching my lunch I found myself humming a song that I hadn’t heard for decades The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s Boston Tea Party. So here it is.

Monday, 7 June 2010

oil stained window

There is a lovely rose window in Waltham Abbey church. I spent many a choral evensong in the early 1990s gazing at it while I daydreamed; though I preferred to call it prayerful preparation before preaching. The window was designed by Edward Burne-Jones in the 19th century and depicts the creation story. One of the scenes in the window is of sea creatures including a whale, fish and various birds playing in the ocean. There is something simple, innocent, unspoiled and beautiful about the scene.

As I have been following the unfolding horror of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the rose window keeps coming to mind and I wonder how such a sea scene would be depicted today? The sea birds would be covered in oil and floundering in the surf. The fish would be floating lifeless on the water’s surface, poisoned by the oil dispersal chemicals. The whale would be lying on the deck of a Japanese whaler, her flesh ripped off in the name of ‘scientific research’ if she had managed to avoid the spill.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the oil spill is the apparent recklessness of those involved in the deep water drilling enterprise. There seems to have been no plans to cope with the potential problems of oil extraction in these conditions. Each attempt to stem the steady flow of massive volumes of oil appears to have been a desperate improvised response with little hope of success. Finally BP seem to have hit upon something that might just bring the disaster under control, but not before a terrible toll has been paid by the surrounding environment. How is it that the oil industry can develop the technology to extract oil in such extreme conditions and yet have given hardly any thought to what to do if things went wrong?

What strikes me about this tragedy is the sheer lack of humility shown by some of those involved in the oil industry; the misplaced confidence in technology and the arrogance which views creation as something to be exploited at all costs. The statements of the chairman of BP have been breathtaking in their insensitivity to the families of those whose loved ones were killed by the initial oil rig explosion and to the many whose livelihoods have been wrecked by the oil slicks.

Back to the rose window. At its centre is not Adam and Eve but God. It is God’s creation and as human beings we are part of the created order, dependent on God for all we are and all we have. This is the proper orientation of our understanding of our place in creation. We are reminded that this world and all its resources belong to God and that we have a high calling not to exploit but to steward what God has entrusted to us. If we put God in the centre of our world view rather than ourselves then perhaps we might see the glory of God’s creation with fresh humility and sense of wonder; treasuring and tending rather than exploiting and destroying.