Sunday, 25 December 2011

Cry of a tiny babe

'Redemption rips through the surface of time...'

Bruce Cockburn’s beautiful telling of the birth of the Christ accompanied by Lou Reed and Roseanne Cash.

h/t Andrew Crory

Friday, 23 December 2011

He pitched his tent among us

In the contradiction of the gods of Mammon and the lords of Misrule
In the pavement legalities of occupation and assertion, injunction and counterclaim
At the interface of tourist and worshipper, occupier and passer-by
He pitched his tent among us.

In another place and time, where the Eagle standard spreads its wings
In the tyrant rule of Herod, toying with Magi and butchering children
At the Royal City – subject today to another occupation
He pitched his tent among us.

In a culture where “reality” is pathos and everything has a price
In the lives of poor and privileged, Pharisee and refugee
At the cusp of history, at this time and at all times
He pitched his tent among us.

Come, transforming Christ, manger born and Spirit led
Take hold of what is tawdry and bring your kingdom’s joy
Take lives which ache for vision and instil eternal hope
And pitch your tent among us.

Wonderful poem reflecting on John 1:14 from Pete Broadbent the Bishop of Willesden.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

My player right or wrong

Yesterday I determined not to comment on the Football Association punishment handed out to Liverpool footballer Louis Suarez. An FA statement set out the terms of the player’s charge and punishment:
"An independent regulatory commission has found a charge of misconduct against Luis Suárez proven, and have issued a suspension for a period of eight matches as well as fining him £40,000, pending appeal. The decision is as follows:
• Mr Suárez used insulting words towards Mr Evra during the match contrary to FA Rule E3(1);
• The insulting words used by Mr Suárez included a reference to Mr Evra's colour;
• Mr Suárez shall be warned as to his future conduct, be suspended for eight matches covering all first-team competitive matches and fined the sum of £40,000;”
The full written adjudication is still to be released and so I felt it would be inappropriate to comment until I had read the reasons for the decision.

Later in the day another footballer, Chelsea and England captain John Terry, was informed that he has been charged with the following by the Crown Prosecution Service:
"threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress which was racially aggravated in accordance with section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998".
Again, I do not know the evidence that has led to this decision and until the trial takes place will not know the full facts about the case.

What I will comment on is the reaction of the football clubs in both cases. Liverpool FC issued a statement which defended Suarez and challenged the findings of the commission. The statement can be read here but this section sums up their response:
It seems incredible to us that a player of mixed heritage should be accused and found guilty in the way he has based on the evidence presented. We do not recognise the way in which Luis Suárez has been characterised. Nothing we have heard in the hearing has changed our view that Luis Suárez is innocent and we will provide Luis with whatever support he now needs to clear his name.
The Liverpool manager has also issued statements about the verdict including the following on Twitter:
"Very disappointed with today's verdict. This is the time when [Luis Suarez] needs our full support. Let's not let him walk alone. KD,"
Then yesterday evening before their match the Liverpool team warmed up wearing T-shirts with a picture of Suarez on them, including Suarez himself, and throughout the match the supporters chanted his name.

The reaction of Chelsea FC to the charge against John Terry was more immediate than that of Liverpool, who at least had the grace to wait a couple of hours before issuing their statement. Chelsea responded with the following:
"John has made it clear he denies the charge and is determined to do all he can to prove his innocence. Chelsea FC has always been fully supportive of John in this matter and will continue to be so.”
The Chelsea manager offered his views on the matter:
"For a player with John's experience, it won't be a problem. The only thing I know is that I will be fully supportive of John Terry, whatever the outcome of the situation."
What I find so disappointing in both these cases is that the respective clubs seem determined to support their players whatever the outcome of the cases. This attitude is mirrored in the reactions of the supporters. The airwaves and internet have been awash with attempts to deny, explain, justify and excuse the behaviour of the two footballers. Guilty or innocent their players will be defended by every means at the disposal of the clubs with the full support of their fans.

To be fair Chelsea and Liverpool are not alone in this. Most clubs see their players as extremely valuable assets and will seek to protect their investments at almost any cost and by turning a blind eye to behaviour that would be deemed unacceptable in wider society. Football fans are tribal animals, fed a strong diet of ‘our club against the world’ propaganda by managers and fanzines alike and so are willing to excuse almost anything one of their players indulges in.

The football authorities also carry a burden of responsibility for these attitudes. The English FA appealed against Wayne Rooney’s three match international ban for violent conduct in order to secure his services at Euro 2012 and successfully had the ban reduced. Thus, they sent out a message to the clubs they seek to govern, encouraging them to use whatever means to enable their players to take to the pitch. (I write this as a supporter of Manchester United and Wayne Rooney.)

And don’t look to FIFA, football’s governing body world wide, for leadership on this or any other issue. I have written about the failure of leadership on racism and other matters offered by FIFA in the past and nothing seems to have changed.

Whatever the final outcome in both these cases the message is clear from clubs and fans alike: We support our players right or wrong. Moral relativism eats at the soul of football, fuelled by money and an unthinking devotion to the gods of the beautiful game. I would say it will all end in tears but it already has on too many occasions as Liverpool FC know only too well.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Heart melting

The wonderful Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma perform The Wexford Carol.

h/t Maggi Dawn for reminding me of this gem.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Clearing up the dung

I took this photograph during yesterday morning’s presentation of The Journey in Great Baddow. The production told the story of the Nativity and began in our local shopping centre, before we journeyed to the graveyard for the shepherds and wise men and then entered church for the final part at the stable.

At first I was disappointed that the picture included the young man carrying the brush and shovel to clean up the donkey’s dung; it spoiled the shot. No problem, it wouldn’t have been difficult to crop him out of the picture. Then I decided to leave him in because there is something about clearing up the mess that gets to the heart of the story. How easily we are tempted to Photoshop Christmas.

Bethlehem 0

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Screwtape email

What on earth is going on? How could you be so stupid? Did I not tell you that the best way to defeat the enemy is to stop talking about him and avoid drawing attention to him? Apathy and ignorance are far better weapons than any overt assault.
For a while the enemy’s agents were doing our work for us. Don’t you remember the successes of the last century? We didn’t need to do a thing, just sit back and watch as his supporters did their best to undermine his work. They were tripping over themselves to get into the media to debunk every aspect of belief.
But now, thanks to your incompetence, he’s back in the game. People can’t stop talking about him, even Prime Ministers are saying what a good thing he is. What possessed you? (O.K. I know what possesses you but that’s not the point). Thanks to your recruitment policy there are a few very vociferous people, destroying all our good work. Every time one of your agents opens his/her mouth, or puts fingers to keyboard, a whole new round of discussion and debate opens up. These ‘new atheists’ as they’ve become known, simply do the enemy’s work for him and I seriously suspect they are double agents so effective have they been in raising the enemy’s profile.
The enemy’s supporters have never been so motivated and engaged in the battle: demanding public debates; churning out books putting forward the argument for belief; speaking his name at every opportunity and never out of the media. There are intense discussions going on all over the place and that is not helpful to our ambitions. It’s true some of them overreact and a few make fools of themselves by their aggressive responses and I’d encourage you to play that for all it’s worth. Nevertheless, serious damage to our cause has been done.
As for that bus campaign! What made you think having his name on the side of the Number 23 to Tooting was a publicity coup for our side?
And encouraging our supporters to go to Carol Services to enjoy the singing but ignore the religious stuff, how was that ever going to work? Haven’t you read what’s in those carols? The only saving grace is that the enemy’s supporters are often too stupid to read and act on the words themselves.
I want the whole operation closed down before you wreck our mission for good.
Your seriously hacked off uncle,

Saturday, 17 December 2011

He never said

On a day when there is much debate about the Bible and the values that underpin our society, I’m grateful to Ged Robinson for reminding me about this great song from Martyn Jospeh: He Never Said.

Friday, 16 December 2011

killing me not so softly with her song

My first Christmas back in parish ministry and I’ve made it through the various school and playschool carol services and nativities. We have two crib services on Christmas Eve when the church will be packed with families and many of the children will come dressed as nativity characters. I’m just wondering if things are going to turn out anything like this?

h/t Revd Richard Coles

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Herod – an exclusive

With Wikileaks in the headlines
you could say
the timing was perfect.

Three Iraqi profs in clown-suits
claimed they had intel
on a need-to-know-basis.

No one used the word coup
but it was clear what they meant.

Said they’d scoured satellites
to find me. Someone’s head
will roll for that, I laughed.
Not even a flicker.

I cut them a deal:
new Jeeps, immunity,
a map of the minefields
in return for his name.

We shook, nothing in writing,
everything clean.

How they twigged I honestly
can’t say. They didn’t look
like hackers, then who does?

Special forces, probably.
They were good, not a trace.

If they ever do go public
I will be waiting.

One thing I’ve learned,
if you can’t give the order
it’s time to get out.

Another powerful monologue from Anthony Wilson for Christmas.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Dwell in Possibility

I was struck by the phrase ‘I dwell in Possibility’ from a poem by Emily Dickenson as a reflection on the Gospel reading for Sunday from Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation. I’ll let Pastor Keith explain.

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

h/t Elizabeth Drescher

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas is not uncomplicated.

I came across an interesting comment piece on Christmas from Simon Jenkins in The Guardian titled Christmas is a shot of uncomplicated joy. Jenkins makes the following statement about Christmas:
My Christmas favourite is Christmas itself, its lit streets and decorated homes; its food, songs and music. For me it holds no religious import, but only the most hardened cynics could turn their back on this annual celebration of happiness. Christmas is the world's one moment of licensed pleasure, when custom requires us to behave, however briefly, as sociable human beings. A shot of uncomplicated joy is surely a social boon.
Jenkins continues:
Christmas carries little of the theological (or pagan) baggage of Easter. The myth of supernatural birth, common to many religions, focuses attention on children as gifted with unsullied virtue. It honours the sovereignty of childhood, yet of childhood in general, free of the pressures and strains that can come with the intimate rituals of family life, such as births, marriages and deaths.
What Christmas story has Jenkins been reading? The Gospel according to Charles Dickens as he explains:
Most Christmas ritual relies, to an extraordinary extent, on Charles Dickens. To him the event mattered not for its biblical significance but for how society treated it, indeed, seemed to crave it. His novella A Christmas Carol depicted a Manichean triumph of good over evil, warmth over coldness, generosity of spirit over meanness.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like A Christmas Carol. My son played Scrooge in his school’s production last week and great fun it was. However, Jenkins has completely missed the point and this is summed up by his conclusion:
Christmas breaks the harsh rhythm of life, offering an interlude when contact is re-established with neighbours, home and hearth. Hence the curious iconography of a "white Christmas", when reality is blotted out with snow and people are driven indoors to find warmth and reassurance round the fireside. I wouldn't be without it.
‘Reality is blotted out’ says Jenkins. If we go back not to Dickens but to the Gospels this claim couldn’t be further from the truth about Christmas. God is not offering an escape route from reality, he is demanding full engagement with reality. The Word became Flesh is the great acclamation of the Church at this time of year. God in the person of his Son entered our world as a flesh and blood human being. He engaged with a world of teenage pregnancy, occupation, oppression, persecution, homelessness, asylum seeking and mass murder. We might want to skip over these bits of Christmas because they don’t fit with the sanitised version of the story which features in so many of our school and church nativity plays. Christmas IS about ‘the harsh rhythm of life’ not an ‘interlude’ from it.

I know which I prefer. We don’t need a few days to anaesthetise ourselves to the realities of everyday life, usually at the price of getting further into debt and a stinking hangover. And for how many is Christmas an ‘annual celebration of happiness’ anyway?

We need to hear and receive the Good News that God invites us to share with him in transforming this world; experiencing abundant life in the midst of the dung and straw of this beautiful yet deeply scarred creation. This is the message that enables me to echo Jenkins’ final words about Christmas:
‘I wouldn’t be without it.’

Update: Check out this report from Theos on The politics of Christmas. h/t Sam Tomlin

Monday, 12 December 2011

Friday, 9 December 2011

Joseph – a nativity poem

They say there are signs.
Not with her.

I’m no professor
but neither am I stupid.

I asked her who she’d been seeing.
She sat there murmuring ‘Angel’.

She went north a few days
- change’ll do you good.

The solicitors said to forget it.
‘Without proof…’ they smiled.

If anything she started to brighten:
‘They’ll be cousins, same age!’

(I can’t be sure,
but I think I saw him, too.)

We left it too late, of course.
The traffic was solid,

some pop idol on the hire car radio
massacring ‘Hallelujah’.

We stopped at a Little Chef
on a B-road somewhere in the hills.

Crystal midnight it was,
good as daylight.

Then she grew wild-eyed.
Her bawling, a blunt saw,

cut through me.
It wasn’t like in the songs.

Wonderful poem by Anthony Wilson. This is part of a series of poems written for a nativity carol service.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

I predict a riot

Not long after the Brixton riots in 1981I happened to be in Keswick and heard a well known preacher proclaim that the cause of the riots was sin. He dismissed economic or social concerns, the racial tensions and problems with policing in the area. Sin is the cause was his message.brixton In one sense he was right, sin was the cause. However, he chose to define sin purely in terms of personal sin and individual responsibility and dismissed the idea that there may be wider sinful structures at work in the situation. I found it somewhat ironic that here was a man whose ministry was based in one of the wealthiest parts of the city, where he served a large eclectic congregation, pronouncing on one of the poorest and most troubled parts of the same city.

I lived in Brixton following the riots and it didn’t take long to see at first hand some of the underlying issues behind the tensions in the community. On one occasion my parents witnessed a racial attack by a group of white men on a black man in the centre of town. The victim knew how to look after himself and got the better of the others only to be arrested by the police who turned up late to the scene and presumed he was the assailant. My parents tried to speak to the police as they had witnessed the whole incident and were told in explicit language to mind their own business. It was only when my father pointed out that he was a chaplain at Brixton Prison that the police began to take him more seriously. So worried was my mother that she asked me to take her to the police station a week later to find out what had happened to the young black man who had been arrested. It turned out that no one had been charged and the case was closed. 

All this has been brought to mind by some of the follow up to the riots in major cities across the land during the summer. I’ve posted on the riots before.This week the discussion about the riots and their causes has resurfaced and the Archbishop of Canterbury has contributed to the debate in an important piece written for The Guardian: Rioting is the choice of young people with nothing to lose. I thought of the Keswick preacher because following ++Rowan’s article several people on Twitter criticised him for not mentioning sin. I think ++Rowan mentions sin in his article quite frequently, though he doesn’t use the word explicitly because of the audience he is seeking to address. Here is his opening paragraph:
The Guardian's Reading the Riots reports left me with a sensation of enormous sadness. So much of what is recorded here reflects lives in which anger and depression are almost the default setting, thanks to of a range of frustrations and humiliations. Too many of these young people assume they are not going to have any ordinary, human, respectful relationships with adults – especially those in authority, the police above all. Too many inhabit a world in which the obsession with "good" clothes and accessories – against a backdrop of economic insecurity or simple privation – creates a feverish atmosphere where status falls and rises as suddenly and destructively as a currency market: good lives are lives where one's position within a fierce Darwinian hierarchy of style is temporarily secure. Too many feel they have nothing to lose because they are told practically from birth that they have no serious career opportunities.
He continues:
But because many of these people are damaged – by unstable family settings, by education delivered in almost impossible conditions, by what is felt as constant suspicion and discrimination – their way of releasing tension is destructive and chaotic. There is no point in being sentimental: they make appallingly bad, selfish, short-term choices.
The Archbishop is not excusing the actions of the rioters, he clearly condemns the choices made by those who took to the streets. However, ++Rowan goes on to question the values and priorities of a society in which these choices are made:
The question is why such choices seem natural or unavoidable to so many. We may well wince when some describe how the riots brought them a feeling of intense joy, liberation, power. But we have to ask what kind of life it is in which your emotional highs come from watching a shop torched or a policeman hit by a brick.
Nearly three years ago the Children's Society produced its Good Childhood report, a careful analysis of what young people thought constituted a nurturing environment to grow up in. Its conclusions were devastatingly simple. Young people need love. They need a dependable background for their lives, emotionally and socially; a background that helps them take certain things for granted so that they know they don't have to fight ceaselessly for recognition. We should be keeping a sharp eye on working practices that undermine this, and asking how law and society reinforce the right kinds of family stability by training in parenting skills as well as high quality out-of-school activity and care. We should be challenging an educational philosophy too absorbed in meeting targets to shape character. And we should look long and hard at the assumptions we breed into our children about acquisition and individual material profit.
In other words we are an idolatrous society whose worship of the gods of consumerism and money making are reaping their own particular fruits. If that isn’t sin then I don’t know what is.

The Archbishop is not content to sit on the side lines finger wagging like many of the commentators who spouted so much ill considered nonsense in the aftermath of the riots. Nor does he settle for platitudes and misty eyed optimism. ++Rowan presents us as a society with some hard edged truths which we have to face up to if we aren’t to see our inner city streets going up in flames every summer.
Demonising volatile and destructive young people doesn't help; criminalising them wholesale reinforces a lot of what produces the problem in the first place. Of course crime needs punishment, and limits of acceptable behaviour have to be set. The youth justice system has a good record in restorative justice that brings people up sharp against the human consequences of what they have done. We have the tools for something other than vindictive or exemplary penalties.
The big question Reading the Riots leaves us with is whether, in our current fretful state, with unavoidable austerity ahead, we have the energy to invest what's needed in family and neighbourhood and school to rescue those who think they have nothing to lose. We have to persuade them, simply, that we as government and civil society alike will put some intelligence and skill into giving them the stake they do not have. Without this, we shall face more outbreaks of futile anarchy, in which we shall all, young and old, be the losers.
This is the Archbishop doing his job. Speaking prophetically to a nation that needs to wake up before we drift into a state of perpetual anarchy.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Conspiracy of hope

This is one of my favourite Advent Conspiracy videos. It was created in 2009 but I think it stands the test of time.

There was an interesting comment left underneath the video on Youtube:
You had me 'till 1:28. The message you are spreading does not need to only apply to the religious. So don't market it only to the religious. I'll still probably go along with this, but that bit put a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
Interesting question: if I follow everything you say, except that part at 1:28, what do you think of me? Am I headed for hell?
The words at 1:28 on the video are ‘worship fully’.

The commenter is right, the message doesn’t need to apply to the religious and I don’t have a problem with anyone being encouraged to engage with the suggestions in the video. However, this comment does seem to highlight something important. For Christians our Advent starts with a focus on God and it is in the light of his now and not yet Kingdom that we are called to realign our priorities, values and concerns. From our worship flows our response in loving service. To worship means to reorientate not  just a few actions or attitudes but our whole lives towards God. The Advent Conspiracy website expresses it like this:
It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.
As for the question asked by the commenter ‘Am I headed for hell?’. The answer is I don’t know; that’s between him/her and God. I do believe that until we enter into a relationship with God in which we are so overwhelmed by his love that our only response can be worship, then we are not experiencing the fullness of life that God longs to share with us.

I think that’s part of the Advent Conspiracy. As Christians we are called to live, liberated from and challenging those things in this world which damage, debase, dehumanise and ultimately destroy us as human beings. That's a conspiracy worth being part of.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Not so cute

You know Tian Tian and Yang Guang, those two cute and cuddly Pandas that have just shipped in from China. Turns out they aren’t so cute and cuddly.

h/t Chris Tilling


I returned home from church this afternoon to hear the news that Socrates, the Brazilian footballer, has died. When people think of Brazil Pele is the name most often mentioned but for me Socrates epitomised the glory of the South American game. socratesA heavy smoker and drinker throughout his playing career, Socrates never the less stood out as one of the exceptional midfielders of his generation and was capped 60 times for his country. The languid grace with which Socrates stroked the ball around the pitch, married to great vision and physical strength made him an ideal captain for Brazil. Socrates captained Brazil at the 1982 World Cup finals and was the epitome of footballing cool at 6’ 4” and with his trade mark beard.

Following his career in football, Socrates practiced as a medical doctor; he qualified while playing. However, he was troubled by ill health later in life and this is largely attributed to what he acknowledged to be his dependency on alcohol going back to his playing days. A sad end for such a great footballing icon.

Here’s one of Socrates great goals, celebrated with a wonderful exuberance.

RIP Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira

Saturday, 3 December 2011


I’ve added a countdown to Christmas calendar to the Treehouse. The calendar comes courtesy of Damaris who produce some excellent resources. Each day the calendar displays a video on a theme connected with Advent and you can preview all the videos online. There is also a tab to play the Real Jesus video.

This is just one example of the many high quality digital resources available at the moment. I came across the calendar via the Digital Evangelism Issues blog.

Wait on the Lord

Friday, 2 December 2011

track record

The most surprising thing about Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘shoot the strikers’ comment on the BBC One Show is that people were surprised that he made it. Clarkson, who has a new DVD to promote, has developed his own niche market in this sort of thing. Any regular viewer of Top Gear or reader of his newspaper columns knows this is how Clarkson makes his not inconsiderable dosh. A casual racial stereotype here, a quip about murdering prostitutes there, pepper his reviews of the latest hatchback or four wheel drive.

What has received little attention was a comment Clarkson made later in the show. He apparently made a joke about people committing suicide on the railways. I say apparently because I couldn’t find a transcript or video clip and the Beeb has pulled the edition of The One Show from iPlayer. The joke was referred to in the BBC news report on the programme and several newspapers have summarised the comment, though none gives a direct quote. Here’s The Guardian’s reference:
Clarkson went on to shock viewers by saying trains should not stop for people who have committed suicide by throwing themselves onto the rails.
Well it’s just Jezza being Jezza isn’t it and no doubt he and his mates Hammond and May will have a snigger about the whole incident next time they meet up at the license fee payers’ expense to do their boy racer shtick.

Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised when I receive a text or email from a parishioner apologising that they will be late or miss a church meeting because of a suicide on the railway line. At the moment it is an almost weekly occurrence. I find myself wondering how desperate someone must have been to throw themselves under a train. I pray for their family, if they have one; I pray for the driver of the train and for the emergency services called to attend the scene of the incident.

I can’t help but think it might do Mr Clarkson some good to attend one of these incidents with the public sector workers who have to do their work in these situations: the police; the fire brigade; the paramedics; the ambulance crew. The same people he jokes about in these terms:
Frankly, I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?
Who knows, one day Jezza may find himself in an accident and in need of the people he quips about executing. I hope they don’t treat him as a joke.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Aids and Abishag

Today is World Aids Day. When I was in Kenya last month I noticed this sign outside a large tea factory on the slopes of Mt Kenya. These signs are quite common in Kenya. A person I met who really impressed me was the wife of Bishop Charles, the Bishop of Meru. Whenever her husband preaches the bishop’s wife then speaks and she invariably repeats the ABCD message on this sign. She does. however, change the last part so her message is:
A very powerful message spoken by a remarkable woman whose name is Abishag.

Update: And here is the Archbishop of Canterbury's message for World Aids Day.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

#SPOTY blokes

So there I was lying in bed late last night listening to the news when the nominations for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2011 were announced. Something didn’t sound quite right so I double checked the list and discovered I hadn’t misheard it. Surely there must be some mistake, I thought, this can’t be right, what on earth are the BBC playing at?

Out of the ten nominations for SPOTY not one, NOT ONE, is a Manchester United footballer. What’s going on? This is the team which won the Premiership for a record breaking NINETEENTH time. The team that beat Arsenal 8-2 in the autumn of Arsene Whinger’s discontent. The team that guaranteed the final expulsion of Carlos Tevez from English shores by granting their noisy neighbours victory in the Manchester derby. The team that is helping supply the new ‘golden generation’ of England players to replace the last gilt or guilt ridden crew.

Oh, it’s also worth noting that there are no women in the shortlist. Despite Britain having several female champions in 2011 including: Sarah Stevenson (3 time Taekwondo world champion); Keri-Anne Payne & Rebecca Adlington (both Gold at the World Aquatic Championships); Kath Grainger (Gold rowing world championships for the sixth time); Chrissie Wellington (World Iron Woman champion 4th time); as well as assorted successful female footballers and cricketers. For those who claim they haven't heard of these sports women, I think that speaks volumes about the pathetic coverage these women receive in the media.

We shouldn’t be surprised that no women were nominated for SPOTY given that the BBC decided to entrust the nominations for their award to such enlightened publications as Nuts and Zoo. For those of you who have never heard of these magazines, Nuts is the one that promotes female sports like topless bread making.

Perhaps our female sports women should be grateful they were ignored by the BBC; it saves them the cringe making experience of listening to Sue Barker and Gazza Lineker trotting out crude jokes, double entendre and smutty innuendos in a pathetic attempt at what the Beeb no doubt regards as laddish sporting humour. I’m surprised the Beeb haven’t brought in Andy Gray and the other former Sky Sports clown Richard Keys to pep up the banter. Why not get in Ron Atkinson and Sepp Blatter, that will really wow the viewers?

I’ll leave the last word to Gabby Logan former gymnast and BBC sports presenter:
I can't think of anything to say about there being NO women on #SPOTY top 10 list that is positive so I won't say anything.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Heart and mind and deed and life

Thought I might introduce a spot of culture to the Treehouse during Advent. Here is a performance of Bach’s glorious cantata ‘Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben’. BWV 147. Bach originally wrote it for Advent, however, Leipzig kept a time of silence during the season so Bach rewrote it for the Visitation.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent in 2 minutes

In case you hadn’t worked out what Advent is about. I wish I’d discovered this video before this morning’s service; would have saved a lot of work!

h/t Fr Edmund.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Bible bother

The Government has let it be known that the Prime Minister plans to send a copy of the King James Bible to every school in the country. The initiative is intended to mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of the KJV and to acknowledge its impact on our culture and society. Apparently Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education,  is writing a forward to the edition and has commented on the significance of the KJV:
Some people look at certain battles, or some look at certain parliamentary acts, as hinge moments in history, I actually think the translation of the Bible into the vernacular is a critical moment in the life of the nation.
It’s a thing of beauty, and it’s also an incredibly important historical artefact. It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture. And it is a work that has had international significance.
I would want to say that the Bible is much more than an important historical artefact but welcome the government’s attempt to acknowledge the significance of the KJV.

Needless to say, the usual headbangers have been swift to respond. The National Secular Society’s President Terry Sanderson comments:
“It‘s not as if Bibles are in short supply in schools, but if (Mr Gove) intends to go ahead with this, will he also please ensure that a copy of On the Origin of Species is sent out on Darwin Day. This book is much harder to find in schools and would be in line with his policy of promoting science and evidence-based education. I‘m sure that he could write an excellent foreword to this, too.
The British Humanist Association has joined in with its campaigns officer Richy Thompson stating:
Either the Government is funding this initiative itself at a time when it is making severe cuts elsewhere, or the Church is funding it but using the Government as a vehicle through which to promote Christianity - both are unacceptable.
I really don’t think the NSS and BHA interventions merit much comment and to be honest their complaints sound rather half hearted.

Much more interesting is the revelation that The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley have a bit of a scoop with an exclusive of the preface to the KJV written by Little Mickey Gove.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Ever wondered why the wise men turned up late for the birth of Jesus? All is revealed in SatNav-itivity.

This is just one of the many great video clips submitted as part of The Nativity Factor.
The Nativity Factor is a short film competition, asking entrants to tell the story of the Nativity in their own unique way. Video entries can be any length between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, and will be judged on 3 criteria: Creativity, Style, and Story.

Some excellent ideas and resources to use over the Christmas period.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Snowman redux

For those of you who find the Christmas adverts a bit too much Charlie Brooker has written an interesting piece in The Guardian. And here’s an excellent take on The Snowman for all the Scrooges out there.

h/t Paul Trathen

Friday, 18 November 2011

Inept Bladder

In September I had to report the discovery of a malady afflicting certain footballers known as Translationitis. It is now my sad duty to relate that a further illness has been diagnosed. This particular illness seems to target those sepp blatterin the upper echelons of football administration and the most tragic victim is none other than the FIFA president Sepp Blatter. The disease is commonly known as Vox Incontinence and the most obvious symptom is an inability to speak without causing offence to any rational human being.

Blatter has suffered VI for many years and the tell tales signs have been there for those who had ears to hear. Here are a few examples of Blatter’s illness:
"Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?" 2004 on women’s football.
"I think in football there's too much modern slavery in transferring players or buying players here and there, and putting them somewhere." 2008 on multi millionaire Cristiano Ronaldo wanting to leave Man Utd.
"There are gay footballers, but they don't declare it because it will not be accepted in these macho organisations. But look at women's football – homosexuality is more popular there." When Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup Blatter declared that gay fans attending the tournament should "refrain from any sexual activities". Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.
"There are no rotten eggs. There is no systematic corruption in Fifa. That is nonsense. We are financially clean and clear." 2010. In 2011 a FIFA vice-president and a presidential candidate left the organisation following accusations of bribery.
Now Blatter has hit the headlines again with his utterances about racism in football. Not once but twice in interviews this week Blatter claimed that racism was not a problem in football.
"I would deny it. There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that. He should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination." CNN
"During a match you may say something to someone who's not looking exactly like you, but at end of match it's forgotten." Al Jazeera
blatterTo begin with Blatter attempted to deploy a version of the Translationitis defence claiming he had been misunderstood but that line didn’t hold up. Blatter also tried to tackle head on some of his more vociferous critics, including Rio Ferdinand via Twitter, and issued a photograph of himself with Tokyo Sexwale the South African anti-apartheid campaigner and politician. However, today the FIFA president has issued a statement acknowledging the ill advised nature of his comments:
"My personal position against racism is very clear and has been very strong for many years. I am sorry and I regret that my statements earlier this week have contributed to an unfortunate situation."
I don’t wish to be cynical, but I wonder whether Blatter’s regret is related to the heat being turned up on FIFA by some of its corporate partners and sponsors anxious to avoid association with a man who treats racism so glibly. In Blatter’s case I fear that Vox Incontinence may be incurable; only time will tell.

Friday, 11 November 2011


The Christmas adverts are in full swing and I think this one has a lot of mileage as a talk or sermon illustration.

h/t Nigel Coke-Woods

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Not so great - Rev

I’ve returned to Blighty after a couple of weeks away to much excitement on the Christian blogs and in the Twittersphere about the return of the sitcom Rev. Clearly many people enjoyed the first series and are looking forward to what the new series has to offer. I have to confess I am rather more ambivalent about the programme.

revFirstly I ought to say I think Tom Hollander is a brilliant actor and plays the part of the Rev Adam Smallbone with a well judged balance of empathy and comedy. I recognise some of the characters and scenarios played out in the first series having served in an East London parish. There is a real appreciation of some of the challenges, frustrations and dilemmas of urban ministry. I’ll leave aside mention of some of the predictable inaccuracies which are used to help drive the plot; if you know anything about the C of E you’ll have spotted them.

However, the problem I have is with the ministry offered by Rev Smallbone. Put quite simply, I haven’t a clue what Good News Adam has to share with his parishioners. He seems to live out an incarnational ministry devoid of any sense of joy or hope. Watching the first series of Rev. I was often left feeling frustrated and miserable and the reason is that I couldn’t see where God entered the situation. I hardly ever heard any articulation of the gospel, or a gospel, nor was there much about worship and hardly any sense of Adam’s own relationship with God expressed in a devotional life.

One of the great strengths of the Church of England is that it has maintained a presence in communities that have been abandoned by just about everyone else, but maintaining a presence isn’t enough. The incarnate Jesus came that we might have life and life in abundance. I hope that in the second series of Rev. we might glimpse something of what that abundant life might look like.

I’ve just spent two weeks meeting with Christians living in conditions that make the parish Smallbone serves look like a cosy suburb so perhaps my perspective is somewhat distorted. Yet, having witnessed the vibrant faith and sense of mission of those with so little I’m left wondering why these aspects of ministry are missing from Rev.?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Kenya (6)

On Monday and Tuesday morning our party was based at the Samburu Game Lodge for some rest and relaxation, stunning scenery and fantastic wildlife. I will post a separate account of our time at the reserve with photos but I want to record a big thanks to John Doherty who helped arrange our stay and was on hand to give us information on the wildlife. John is based at the Samburu reserve where he heads up the Reticulated Giraffe Project.

After a game drive on Tuesday morning our party headed back to Nairobi with a six hour drive made even longer by hitting the city’s rush hour traffic again. Some of the scenes on the way were pretty hair raising, though nothing topped the sight of groups of school children trying to cross six lanes of under construction motorway full of speeding traffic. The evening was spent unwinding from the journey over an enjoyable pizza and Tusker beer.

There was another early start Wednesday morning to prepare for a visit to Kibera. Kibera is referred to as an ‘informal settlement’ and is the second largest urban slum in Africa. The exact size of the population is difficult to assess as NGOs, the Kenyan government, Nairobi authorities and other groups use different figures depending on their perspective and interests. Our visit was St jeromes Kiberaled by Colin Smith of the Kibera Centre for Urban Mission. After a short briefing from Colin we headed to Kibera, left our vehicles and travelled into the settlement on foot. We split into small groups and were escorted by members of St Jerome Church and the urban mission centre. We were able to visit people’s homes, the church and the centre and talk to those living in Kibera as well as those working in the community. There was also time to do some reflection with Colin on the experience of our visit and to chat with some of those working at the centre.

CUT KiberaNo briefing could adequately prepare one for the experience of visiting the settlement, nor for hearing about the lives of those dwelling in the community. Just a few of the facts about the place drove home the hardships and exploitation faced by the people living there. For example, those living in Kibera pay eight times what other Nairobi residents pay for their water. Despite paying taxes the residents receive none of the public utilities, the settlement is not policed and though there is the promise of a solid waste management provision nothing has happened. The U.N. provided large amounts of money to improve housing but there is little evidence that the money is being used in this way effectively. Many public officials and politicians seem to have a vested interest in maintaining Kibera including those acting as landlords to many of the residents of the houses which are little more than shacks in the settlement.

Despite all the hardships the residents of Kibera maintain a recognisable social structure, with distinct villages, law and order and schooling provided internally and with no external aid from the authorities. Organisations, including the churches and NGOs such as MSF, provide some health care and the settlement has developed its own economy. It seemed to us as we walked around that everyone ran some sort of business or service as a way of surviving. Yet, the open sewers and drainage, cramped living conditions and lack of amenities has a devastating effect on the residents and particularly on the young.

The churches and the Centre for Urban Mission are working hard not only at helping the residents of Kibera to develop skills and education, they are also developing theological insights and approaches relevant to the indigenous population. This includes drawing on the liberation theology concept of base communities, though not in an uncritical way. The Centre for Urban Mission runs modules for theology students and ordinands and is developing an M.A. programme in the face of limited resources and cramped facilities which reflect the character of Kibera.

This was the last morning of our stay in Kenya and the visit to Kibera was possibly the most challenging part of our time in the country as we returned to the luxury of our hotel for lunch and to prepare for our late night flight back to the U.K.. Lots to process and reflect on and I am so grateful to Colin and his team for the time they gave to enable us to experience first hand the conditions in Kibera, though our visit barely scratched the surface.

Our final day in Kenya ended with an early dinner before heading off to Nairobi airport and our overnight flight back to Heathrow. I’ll post some photos and further reflections in the coming days.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Kenya (5)

Sunday was a big day for our party as we visited St Thomas' Cathedral, Kerugoya for their morning services and then said goodbye to our friends at the church. I was to preach at the 9am service in English and then we planned to stay for part of the Kikuyu service before heading to Samburu Game Reserve for some rest and relaxation.

The 9am service began by following a worship liturgy very similar to Common Worship. As the service progressed the ministry team and members of the congregation led 'presentations'; times of singing and prayer in thanksgiving to God. The choir, having been congratulated for winning the choir competition the day before, were on good form and despite the number of people leading the worship there was a natural flow to the service. Our party were introduced and then spoke briefly about our visit before teaching the congregation an action chorus which seemed to go down well. We also presented various gifts to the cathedral and to the Provost who has been such a gracious and flexible host. My sermon was on the theme of thanksgiving, based on 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 and drawing on the many experiences of our visit to give thanks for the life and witness of the Christians in Kirinyaga diocese and at St Thomas'. Above all I focused on giving thanks for the grace of God which had drawn us together as partners in the gospel. At the beginning of the service there were very few in the congregation but by about half way through the cathedral was full with about 1,000 worshippers. The service lasted over two hours, but this turned out to be only a taste of what was to follow.

After a cup of Kenyan tea, which included sausage, egg, and jam sandwiches as well as the tea, it was back into the cathedral to experience the Kikuyu service. Again the church filled up over the first half hour or so and we were grateful to members of the ministry team who translated the worship as it went along. Then the service took an unexpected course. A couple had brought their recently born child to church to gives thanks for a safe delivery after the mother had suffered a stroke during pregnancy. Mother and child were both well and so they came to the front of church with the father and were joined by friends and family to sing a song of praise and thanksgiving. Provost Winnifred then turned to me and asked me to bless the child and pray for the parents. I was delighted to do so and held baby Edna as I prayed. During the next hymn the Provost whispered to me ' can you remember the prayer to bless the water for baptism?'. I said yes and then was told I was going to baptise the baby! So we headed over to the Font and I baptised baby Edna. I'm not sure who was most surprised by the turn of events but what a joy and privilege to be asked to share in this wonderful celebration. Shortly after we were led by the choir out of the cathedral to the car park and I was asked to plant a tree as a sign of the developing partnership between St. Thomas' Cathedral and our own church, St. Mary's.

While the Kikuyu service continued for another hour or so we joined the cathedral church council members for lunch and to chat about the way ahead for exploring a possible partnership between our churches. Then it was time to jump in the van and head off on the four hour journey north of Mt Kenya to Samburu Game Reserve. I thought I might catch up on some sleep, however, there was too much to look at and take in as we made our way from Embu to the reserve. We arrived at Samburu at the ideal time for a game drive before rolling up at the Samburu Game Lodge just as the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour.

What an amazing day, full of unexpected moments and with so many things for which to give thanks to God.

Bwana apewe sifa! Niwega nathwani!

- posted from my iPad using Blogsy from Samburu Game Reserve.

Kenya (4)

Saturday was a bit less active but in some ways more exhausting than anything we have done so far. We attended a music festival / choir competition in Kaburu. Treated as honoured guests we were seated on a pew to the side at the front of church right next to where the choirs would perform in full view of a packed building. However, no one had warned us what the format of the competition was. There were 21 choirs in our section of the competition and each performed four pieces. The first piece by the first choir was pleasant enough but after the third choir I thought the song sounded familiar. It turned out that in the first competition each choir sings the same piece and after two and a half hours I decided that if I never heard 'Jesus comes with power to gladden' in Swahili again it will be too soon. The pews were painful and I kept falling asleep in the heat. On Sunday we were to discover that the cathedral choir had won.

Eventually we headed to the vicarage (no green guide for clergy houses in Kenya!) for a pleasant lunch and then it was back into the church for more choral singing. After about half an hour the choirs began to perform traditional Kikuyu folk songs and these were highly entertaining. One song in particular accompanied by traditional instruments and a vuvuzela was brilliantly performed and afterwards we were informed that it was a song against the evils of drink. At this point I decided not too mention I was hankering after a long cool Tusker beer. Two days on and I think my rear end has just about recovered. The toilets were the usual fare though one of our group was caught out when she went in the wrong shed and found herself confronted by some angry chickens. The phrase 'going to see the chickens' has now been employed as a suitable euphemism for the rest of the trip.

The late afternoon included a brief stop back at the cathedral for some tea and a chat with some of the Church Council. The focus of the short discussion was how we might develop ways of partnering in mission between our parishes and this is a very exciting prospect. The council were amazed to discover that our young people had self funded their visit in the summer through months of hard work. The assumption had been that the young people were very wealthy and had been given the money to come to Kenya. We assured the council members that our youth group had been transformed by their experiences on the trip and this in part was why some of our party, which included three parents, had wanted to visit.

Back to the hotel for dinner and to catch up on the footie results and then I spent the rest of the evening preparing my sermon for Sunday morning in the cathedral. Sunday would prove to be an amazing day but the battery on the iPad is running low and there is no power in our game lodge during the day so more about that in the next post.

- posted on iPad using Blogsy from Samburu Game Lodge.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Kenya (3)

It's raining heavily as I write this post before getting some sleep. Thursday afternoon was taken up with a visit to St Andrew's School (see previous post) and St Andrew's Theological College in Kabare. The college serves the five dioceses that formed what was previously known as Mt Kenya East. Most ordinands from these dioceses train at the college and there are also business studies and secretarial courses. These are the dioceses that Chelmsford Diocese is formerly linked with and the five diocesan bishops along with the Bishop of Chelmsford met together at St Andrew's to renew their partnership agreement. There was a short, simple signing of papers and prayer but behind this ceremony lies a real commitment to share in partnership in mission for the sake of the gospel.

Later in the afternoon we joined the students and staff at St Andrew's for their Thursday evening Holy Communion. This turned out to be a communion like no other I have experienced, though I suspect Sunday morning in the cathedral at Kerugoya might be just as amazing. Ostensibly the liturgy is not unlike a Common Worship service but with 'value added'. In part this took the form of various groups of students presenting songs and hymns of worship, some traditional and in English, others in Kikuyu and Swahili. The Clash once rocked the Casbah but these students rocked the chapel to its foundations. Bishop Stephen preached another captivating and challenging sermon on the resurrection words of Jesus from John's Gospel and every time it seemed like the worship was coming to an end the students broke into singing and dancing again. The one downside to the worship was the accompaniment by a rather dodgy out of tune guitar, unless there is an African form of tuning I had never encountered before.

Following the communion service we headed for the refectory led by students again singing and dancing. The food was the usual fare of beef stew and rice. At the end of our time the students stood and sang an African blessing to us which included throwing God's blessing at us. I have a segment of the blessing recorded and will post it when I am back in the U.K. I cannot get over the passion and enthusiasm of the students in worship and it was wonderful to experience a community of diverse tribes and tongues committed to studying together for the ministry of the gospel.

Friday morning began with a trip to the slopes of Mt Kenya to visit tea plantations and a tea production centre. Unfortunately the factory was undergoing refurbishment so we were unable to visit inside and therefore didn't get to do the tasting we had been promised. However, we did get to spend time at a tea research facility and were given some insights into new types of specialist teas, including white tea now marketing at $70 per kg. which is not bad considering a normal variety is sold at about $4 per kg. The head of the research centre has also published on the impact of climate change on the tea growers, pest control and the environment around Mt Kenya.

After lunch back at the cathedral we headed to Utugi to see the work of one of the Christian Community Service centres. These centres around the dioceses of Kenya are self financing and seek to help the poor and marginalised in communities develop self sustainable forms of enterprise. It is an exciting initiative developed by the church as a practical expression of the gospel and the centre we visited is having a profound impact on the local community.

Finally, and much later than planned, we moved on to the Utugi Boys Children's Home on the outskirts of the town. This home, again sponsored by the church, works with street children from across Kenya and seeks to provide them with a place of safety, love and learning. The head of the home, Revd Phyllis, is a remarkably lady who has given her life to serve the boys of the home. Of all the children's places we have visited this was most noticeably different because so many of the boys came from such challenging circumstances. When we arrived we were each invited to plant a tree by the staff and boys and then we gave them some sports equipment that we had taken to Kenya. This was another place where young people from St. Mary's had worked and it was particularly good to see that the football pitch they had created a couple of years ago had been put to such good use. The home is still being developed and the hope is that it will house its own school. I would say this visit has had the biggest impact on the group so far.

Another packed couple of days, full of memorable visits and encounters that will take some time to process and reflect upon. So many things to give thanks to God for as we have seen people's lives transformed by the witness and ministry of the church in this part of Kenya.

Time to finish as we have a power cut and the mosquitos are coming out to play.

Asante Sana Jesus.

- posted with Blogsy on my iPad from the Isaak Walton Hotel in Embu.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Kenya (2)

It's been a busy two days and I wanted to post a brief summary before I lose track of some of the events and experiences.

Wednesday morning began with a meeting at St Thomas' Cathedral, Kerugoya the church with which we are exploring a possible parish link. This visit was for 'a cup of tea' but I hadn't realised a Kenyan cup of tea includes much more, basically a second breakfast within an hour of the first! Great for Hobbits, not so good for someone hoping to decrease their waist line during the visit. However, this is just one example of the generous hospitality offered wherever we go.

We then headed for Mutira and a visit to the Mission Church which is preparing to celebrate it's centenary. Interesting to discover the present Bishop of Kirinyaga Diocese, Daniel Ngoru, was vicar there. From this small and unassuming church 108 other churches have been planted so the title 'mission' is born out in the history of the church. The church supports a hospital, small but well equipped with pharmacy and laboratory. I chatted with a couple of mums. One had a two year old daughter with suspected Malaria and she was waiting the result of tests. The other mum had brought her young son to be wormed, a regular treatment for adults and children in the area. I smiled when I saw the little boy was wearing trousers with 'England 1966' written on them. There are also two church schools, a primary and the recently opened Canon Njumbi Mutira Secondary School. These schools are linked to Great Baddow High School from our home parish and it was encouraging to see the use to which equipment provided by the link school had been put. Conditions in the classrooms were very basic and a few of the children were without shoes, yet, it was clear the children took great pride in their school, their work and that they had a hunger to lean. The set up in Mutira reflects the outreach approach of the Christians in building churches, hospitals and schools to serve the local community.

Next to the church schools is Mutira Secondary Girls boarding school and the contrast in facilities with the neighbouring schools was dramatic. There was time to look round and chat with staff and pupils and again it was impressive to see and hear the pride that all involved in the school took in education. A couple of facts stick in the mind. Teachers in the state system are paid the same whatever their position. The head is paid the same as other members of staff and the emphasis is on distinction of role and responsibility but not reflected in salary. Teachers are also deployed by the Ministry of Education and are expected to go where they are sent, including the Head. The girls start at 5am and the day goes through until lights out at 9.30pm. Along with the studies they are expected to do the cleaning and their laundry and all the other tasks required to keep the school running. In general the schools are all very results orientated and there is strong competition between schools and celebration of academic achievement. Walls are covered with internal and external tables of performance and certificates of achievement.

The afternoon was taken up with lunch back at the cathedral and informal conversations with members of the ministry team before a tour of Kerugoya. The Provost Winifred Munene is a very gracious host who has worked hard to provide us with an interesting and varied programme of visits and we will be exploring links between our churches more formally later in the visit.

Thursday was a long day. It began with a visit to the recently opened Kirinyaga Diocesan Office and then attendance at the diocesan clergy chapter held in St Paul's church next door. St.Paul's is a massive building still under construction and when completed will seat 2,500 worshippers. There is much work to be done but the walls and roof and initial internal construction of the church is complete. There are no windows or doors and the floor is still bare earth but the church was a good venue for the gathering. After a Eucharist and welcome to visiting bishops, curates and our party from St. Mary's the chapter meeting centred around a powerful Bible study on Luke 24 led by Bishop Stephen (Chelmsford). The study drew out the shared challenges facing the church in mission in both Kenya and Chelmsford. There was also some excellent exuberant singing and I worried at one point that the worship might bring the walls of the new church down.

The afternoon was split between visiting St Andrews School and the Theological College in Kabare. The girls school is where the young people from our church worked in the early summer and it was a real joy to see the impact their time there had made on the school. As soon as we mentioned the team from St Mary's the children's faces lit up and when three of our party explained they were parents of members of the team the children became very excited. Our young people had helped create the playing field facilities and provided resources for a play area. We managed to get the Head teacher sitting on the playground roundabout and the deputy head on the see-saw for some photos which the children found highly amusing. Each of us had just over half an hour in a class with the students and I spent an enjoyable time chatting with a year 8 class (13) who will be taking their key exams in a few days. We prayed for the girls as they approach this crucial time and as they prepare to leave the school in November. The girls sang to us at various times during the visit and when they shared with us the songs they had learnt from our young people it was a very moving experience.

During the visit to St Andrew's School we presented a few gifts of stationary and were taken aback by the response from the children. The gratitude for being given what most English children would take for granted in school was just one more reminder of the contrast in facilities and available equipment. The most challenging reminder, however, was the group of old small huts at the end of the sports field which turned out to be the student toilets. About eight of these long drop toilets served all the children at this residential school and the staff toilets were not much better.

It was a real privilege to visit the school which has had such an impact on the young people from our church. This is but one example of the way in which our diocesan and parish links with the churches and schools in this area of Kenya are greatly enriching our understanding of ministry and mission.

The rest of Thursday was spent at St Andrews Theological College in Kabare, however, that experience will require a separate post along with our trip to a tea plantation and visit to Utugi Children's Home today.

The only down side to the visit so far is that the television channels seem to have Man Utd's match against their noisy neighbours from last weekend running on a loop. The excellent Tusker beer is scant consolation.

Asante Sana Jesus!

- posted using Blogsy on iPad from the Isaak Walton Hotel Embu.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Kenya (1)

Arrived yesterday in Nairobi after an uneventful eight hour flight from Heathrow. I'm with a group of six others from our church, along with +Stephen, Bishop of Chelmsford, Canon Dr Roger Matthews (Bishop's adviser for mission and ministry) and Rob Fox (Diocesan Director of Education). A group of curates from Chelmsford Diocese also flew out with us as part of their CMD programme. News on arrival was not very good. I was already aware of an explosion in Nairobi before our departure and our driver in Nairobi informed us there had since been a second explosion. I've been wondering how much attention this has received on the news back home.

We spent the night at the ACK Guesthouse in Nairobi and then earlier today transferred to Embu where much of our visit will be based. Lunch and early afternoon has been taken up meeting the Provost of St Thomas' Cathedral Kerugoya, Winifred Munene, who has been planning our itinerary for some time. We have a packed and very interesting programme of visits line up. Part of the purpose of the visit is to explore how we develop our links at St Mary's with the church in this part of Kenya and with St Thomas' in particular. Our young people have been out to Kenya to work on various schools based projects in the last couple of years and I'm looking forward to seeing at first hand the work they have been involved with.

A few brief initial thoughts and reflections:
1. Driving through Nairobi in the morning rush hour is not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry!
2. Pirates of the Caribbean 4 is every bit as bad as Mayo & Kermode warned me it would be.
3. I was surprised at the large number of churches, chapels and other places of worship on the side of the road on our route from Nairobi to Embu.
4. I have discovered my camera isn't working which put me in a bad mood. Then I thought about the poverty I'd glimpsed during our journey north and felt rather pathetic. I'm grateful to my friend Roger who has lent me his camera for the duration.

A good start to the trip with no hitches or problems so far. I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing about the work of the church in this part of God's world and am also open to the unexpected ways he might encourage and challenge us during our time in Kenya.

- published from iPad using Bloggsy

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Stop moaning, keep praying

Richard Dawkins has carved out quite a career for himself as flag waver in chief for the New Atheists. His utterances have ‘cool’ comedians genuflecting and Christians fuming in indignation. Sometimes Dawkins’ refusal to speak is more infuriating than his ranting. That seems to be true of his latest sortie into the battle. Or should I say his decision to decline entering the battle.

dawkinsThe theist William Lane Craig has invited Dawkins to a debate and Dawkins has declined. Fair enough, no one is required to participate in a debate about their views, even if others might suspect it is because Dawkins fears the weakness of his arguments being exposed. Dawkins has explained his decision in The Guardian. The first reason he gives is that he had never heard of Craig and neither had any of his philosopher chums so why should he give Craig publicity by granting him a debate:
Don't feel embarrassed if you've never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a "theologian". For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: "That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine"
Dawkins then went on to explain that he would not debate Craig because of Craig’s explanation of the text of Deuteronomy 20. Dawkins’ argues that Craig is guilty of defending genocide and that makes him an unworthy opponent:
Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.
And if any of my colleagues find themselves browbeaten or inveigled into a debate with this deplorable apologist for genocide, my advice to them would be to stand up, read aloud Craig's words as quoted above, then walk out and leave him talking not just to an empty chair but, one would hope, to a rapidly emptying hall as well.
dcameA response to Dawkins has been offered by the philosopher Daniel Came. Again writing in The Guardian Came suggests:
Given that there isn't much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists' dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren't exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed…
Came goes on to say that though he is disinclined to defend Craig’s argument about Deuteronomy 20 the issue is a red herring:
But whatever you make of Craig's view on this issue, it is irrelevant to the question of whether or not God exists. Hence it is quite obvious that Dawkins is opportunistically using these remarks as a smokescreen to hide the real reasons for his refusal to debate with Craig – which has a history that long predates Craig's comments on the Canaanites.
As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins's conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people's beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn't care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason. On the contrary, people's attitudes towards religious belief can and should be shaped by reason, not bile and invective. By ignoring this, the New Atheists seek to replace one form of irrationality with another.
The interesting point here is that Came is arguing from a philosophical, not theistic, position and he is clear that he is not a theist. Came despairs at the arrogance and lack of intellectual rigour at the heart of the New Atheist enterprise and longs for a different tone to the debate:
The New Atheism is certainly a far cry from the model of civilised interlocution between "old atheist" Bertrand Russell and Father Copleston that took place and was broadcast on BBC Radio in 1948. The New Atheists could learn a lot from the likes of Russell, whose altogether more powerful approach was at once respectful and a model of philosophical precision.
Now here is what I think of the matter. It is about time we Christians stopped moaning about Dawkins and his pals. They have every right to spout about their particular brand of atheism and they have every right to decline defending it when confronted with anything bordering on a rigorous intellectual examination. I think we should spend more time praying for these people and less time complaining when they don’t do what we want. I suspect that would wind them up far more and, who knows, they may find their hearts strangely warmed by the Good News of Jesus Christ. As it is I can’t help feeling there is something of the hound of heaven about Dawkins’ increasingly vehement attacks on everything to do with God.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Segment of lost gospel scroll found

‎'On reaching Ludgate Hill, Jesus entered the precincts of St. Paul's Cathedral and began driving out those who were speaking out against the greed and corruption inherent in the capitalist economic model. He overturned the tents of the protesters and the sleeping bags of those pedalling utopian ideals and would not allow anyone to prevent the cathedral restaurant or shop from functioning or infringe health and safety regulations. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:“‘My house will be called one of London's top ten tourist attractions for visitors from all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of subversive thinking.’ The cathedral authorities heard this and began looking for a way to get Jesus invited to a banquet at the Guildhall, for they feared him, because what at first had seemed like a good idea was now calling in to question the cathedral's very purpose'. Gospel of God and Mammon 15:12-16

Discovered by Nicholas Wheeler an old chum from vicar school who serves as a priest in the City of God, Rio de Janeiro.

For an excellent account of the camp at St Paul’s check out Pete Phillips blog.


The Christmas countdown is well under way and the prize for most bizarre Advent calendar so far goes to Lego who have produced a Star Wars calendar.

star wars lego

Lego tell us:
With 24 unique gifts, including iconic minifigures, vehicles and accessories from the Star Wars universe, the all-new LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar is the perfect way to set the festive holidays into hyperspeed!
Do they refer to the baby Jesus as a youngling and does it warn children that the figures aren’t edible?

Sorry Lego but I think I will stick to a more traditional approach and this year will be going for the TradeCraft Advent calendar. You know, the one that reminds us what Christmas is about.

Update 201801: The TradeCraft calendar link no longer works but you can find out more about TradeCraft here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

For some, little has changed.

In early second century AD Ignatius of Antioch faced death because of his faith and we remembered him in the church's calendar yesterday. In some parts of the world little has changed.

For further information and the latest updates on Yousef’s situation go to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fig leaf or bay leaf

I attended a clergy study morning on Thursday and was disappointed that most of the material covered was a straightforward summary of the basics of theological reflection with some case studies. Having spent the last ten years teaching ordinands and lay ministers how to engage in theological reflection I was beginning to despair of a wasted morning. However, in amongst the familiar there is usually some gold and it came in the form of a comment that resonated with me and I think several other participants. The speaker related an insight drawn from a particular experience about the use of the Christian tradition in theological reflection. She spoke about the need to move away from using the tradition as a fig leaf to using it as a bay leaf. In other words we should not use the tradition, in particular the Bible, to legitimise or justify our predetermined reflections but allow the tradition to infuse and flavour our reflections. An important reminder and an effective image, so the morning was not entirely wasted. The session ended with an excellent Shepherd's Pie for lunch, though I'm not sure if it was flavoured with a bay leaf.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Is this what church feels like?

An excellent advert which prompts the question:
‘Is this what church feels like to many visitors?’
h/t Paul Trathen.

Not one stone left upon another

I was surprised to read a report today drawn up by the U.S. State Department which declared that there are no public Christian churches left in Afghanistan. The International Religious Freedom Report on Afghanistan covering the period July to December 2010 describes the situation regarding non-Islamic places of worship:
In the 20th century, small communities of Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Sikhs lived in the country, although most members of these communities emigrated during the years of civil war and Taliban rule. By the end of Taliban rule, non-Muslim populations had been virtually eliminated except for a small population of native Hindus and Sikhs. Since the fall of the Taliban, some members of religious minorities have returned, many settling in Kabul.
Nuristanis, a small but distinct ethno linguistic group living in a mountainous eastern region, practiced an ancient polytheistic religion until they converted to Islam in the late 19th century. Some non-Muslim religious practices survive today as folk customs.
There are two active gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) in Kabul and 10 in other parts of the country; there were 64 gurdwaras throughout the country before the war. There are four Hindu mandirs (temples) in three cities: two mandirs are located in Kabul, one of which shares a wall with a mosque; one is in Jalalabad; and one in Ghazni. Eighteen others were destroyed or rendered unusable due to looting during the mujahidin civil war.
There is one synagogue, located in Kabul, which is not in use for lack of a Jewish community. There is no longer a public Christian church; the courts have not upheld the church's claim to its 99-year lease, and the landowner destroyed the building in March (2010). Chapels and churches for the international community of various faiths are located on several military bases, PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams), and at the Italian embassy. Some citizens who converted to Christianity as refugees have returned.
The report also commented on the persecution of Christians in Afghanistan:
The government's level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals. Residual effects of years of jihad against the Soviet Union, civil strife, Taliban rule, popular suspicion regarding outside influence and the motivations of foreigners, and weak democratic institutions remained serious obstacles. In May 2010 video footage of Christian converts being baptized aired on an Afghan television station and was re-aired every night for a week due to its popularity with the public. The station did a series of follow up segments as well. In response, inflammatory public statements were made against Christian converts by two members of parliament. These incidents led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals. At least two individuals who converted from Islam remained in detention at the end of the reporting period. (Note: All individuals detained for conversion from Islam were released after the reporting period ended.) Negative societal opinion and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity. The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.
The detailed account is well worth reading in full to gain a snap shot of the state of religious freedom in Afghanistan at the turn of the year.

I read this report on the day the Morning Prayer reading is Mark 13:1-13.

It begins:
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
And ends:
and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.