Sunday, 27 February 2011

5 soundtrack songs meme

I thought this one up while walking the dog in the rain. List 5 songs used to great effect in a soundtrack for T.V. or film.
  1. The West Wing - Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits: This track is used at the end of The Two Cathedrals (The West Wing series two finale) and underscores the poignancy and tension of the whole episode.
  2. American Gigolo – Call Me by Blondie: The song and accompanying opening shot of Richard Greer driving sets the film up perfectly.
  3. American Beauty – Don’t Let It bring You Down by Annie Lennox: Well judged use of a gorgeous rendition of Neil Young’s classic.
  4. To Live and Die in L.A. – Dance Hall Days by Wang Chung: Don’t know why but this just works with Friedkin’s underrated thriller capturing the 1980s West Coast zeitgeist. Wang Chung were also commissioned to write the score.
  5. The Wire – Way Down in the Hole by The Blind Boys of Alabama: Each series of The Wire uses a different version of Tom Waits’ classic for the opening credits and this is my favourite.

You are tagged if you want to have a go.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Right diagnosis, wrong prescription

There is an interesting article in Christianity Today suggesting that it is time for Christians to reassess their perpetual outrage. The author, Christopher Hays, argues that many artists court attention by producing offensive material in the hope that people will respond and therefore generate valuable publicity. Hays rightly argues that Christians are too quick to react with outraged comment and this simply serves the purposes of those they attack:
To rise above the billowing waves of culture, the latter-day Voltaire need only to offend a small-but-vocal subset of Christians. But unlike Jonathan Edwards's angry God, the Christian culture rages ineffectually, merely providing sound bites for the familiar stories in the mainstream media.
By overreacting when some hack misrepresents the biblical story, however, we send the message that the misrepresentation is more surprising and controversial than the genuine article.
Though I think Hays’ gets the diagnosis right, that Christians too readily take offence and then take to the blog, Facebook page or tweet, I believe his prescription for the problem misses the mark. Hays’ argues that Christians should simply ignore the controversial:
A thought experiment: Imagine if every Christian leader who was invited to comment on the next Dan Brown book simply said, "Why are you calling about this? You know his books are fictional, they're boring to anyone informed, and they're kind of poorly written." No facts, no offense taken—no story.
While many Christians crave the catharsis of rebuttal, a passage from Proverbs balances this sentiment against the wisdom of stoical restraint: "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes" (26:4-5).
While this might be a good response for some attention seekers, I want to argue for a more creative response. Not to protest and condemn, nor to ignore, but to positively engage with the controversy. Take Philip Pullman whose novel The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ Hays specifically cites. When the book was published Christians reacted creatively by reviewing the book and noting it’s strengths and weaknesses. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s review of the book is a good example of this more positive approach and is more powerful for its measured tone. ++Rowan has been happy to discuss Pullman’s Dark Materials work with the author, taking the opportunity to respectfully challenge the caricature of Christianity presented by Pullman. In fact, it was in response to ++Rowan’s observation that the church in Pullman’s trilogy had no Jesus and cross that Pullman wrote The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

For several years I have been involved with colleagues in running a series of courses reflecting on how Christians engage with controversial portrayals of Christianity and Jesus. We have sought to explore the opportunities afforded by engagement rather than protest. Partly this is because many Christians in their swiftness to react have missed the point; the Life of Brian and The Last Temptation of Christ are a couple of notable examples we examine. Primarily we are keen to show how the more controversial works raise issues and questions that give the church a tremendous opportunity to engage and witness. When Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code came to the screen many churches used it as an opportunity to invite people to explore the claims made by the film and to present an alternative understanding of the issues, including the nature of the gospels, the formation of the canon of scripture and early church history.

So yes, Christians should be slower to react with predictable outrage. But rather than ignore the controversies, I would encourage Christians to engage with the issues raised and explore creatively alternative responses.

The Social Network

Not since Closer have I seen a film with such an unpleasant cast of characters, only this time the film was worth watching.

social network The Social Network recounts the origins of Facebook and the legal wrangles over who invented and contributed to developing the social media phenomenon. The genius of Aaron Sorkin’s script and David Fincher’s direction is that such an obnoxious group of individuals could make compelling viewing. The story of Facebook is recounted in a non-linear montage of scenes mainly focusing on legal depositions between the protagonists. This could have been both confusing and boring, however, no one makes people talking at breakneck speed in small rooms more interesting than Sorkin. We are taken into the world of Facebook from three different perspectives and the ambiguities about who is telling the truth and what really went on are never resolved and the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions.

The central performances from Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg and Andrew Garfield playing his best (only) friend Eduardo Saverin are convincing and the recognition coming the way of the actors is well deserved. Justin Timberlake is impressive with his portrayal of Sean Parker, founder of Napster, and he commits wholeheartedly to making Parker as unpleasant as possible. The supporting actors are all up to the mark and Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins, who claimed Zuckerberg had stolen their idea, captures a sense of arrogant entitlement perfectly. All of this simply reinforces feelings of admiration and disgust that such a group of individuals could have made themselves so unimaginably wealthy.

At the end of a very enjoyable couple of hours I was left with one overriding thought that we forget at our peril. Everyone involved in Facebook is looking for the best way to make the product as successful and ubiquitous as possible. So those of us who complain when Facebook changes privacy settings, location information or links to other companies, products and services need to remember that these guys aren’t in it to serve our interests. Zuckerberg and co. aren’t interested in creating a social network, they are interested in making Facebook the biggest beast in the digital jungle and the message of the film is that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve that end.

Now I’m off to double check those privacy settings on my Facebook profile.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Migration watch

In August 1972 the murderous dictator Idi Amin gave the Asian population in Uganda 90 days to pack their bags and get out of the country. Amin had accused the Asians of being bloodsuckers leeching off the Ugandan economy and stirred up the majority black African resentment against them. Some 50,000 Asians were forced to leave and of those about 30,000 who were British passport holders came to Britain. Many arrived with little money, having lost savings and businesses in Uganda, and they had hardly any possessions. 

Britain didn’t exactly welcome the Ugandan Asians with open arms. Cabinet papers disclosed in 2003 reveal that the Conservative government at the time tried to find a remote island where they could be settled. Ministers were worried about race relations and feared that the country would be inundated with immigrants from other African countries. The Ugandan expulsion took place only four years after Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood speech’. Yet, the influx of Ugandan Asians proved to be a positive experience for Britain with many of them establishing and building successful businesses and making a significant contribution to the community. This is a story of how our nation has been enriched by the presence of those who, however begrudgingly, we received in their time of need.

On Thursday the Office of National Statistics publishes a report on migration levels under the last government. Some organisations have already been given access to the figures including Migration Watch. I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of Migration Watch and their Chairman Andrew Green as they tend to be quoted and interviewed whenever immigration is in the news. Now I don’t know why Migration Watch were given advanced access to the ONS figures but I’ve read how they have interpreted them and not surprisingly the Daily Mail ran the story. Green always claims that his organisation is simply presenting the facts and rejects any accusation of racism or being anti-immigration. However, I can’t remember one single story or statement produced by the organisation that presents immigration in a positive light, though there are a few rather grudging acknowledgements of the need for some population movement in and out of the country.

Green contributed an article on the ONS statistics, again published in the Daily Mail, and in it he rails against what he sees as a conspiracy to silence debate on the subject of immigration: Labour are accused of an immigration conspiracy and of gross incompetence; employers’ organisations of colluding to keep a supply of cheap labour; the middle-classes are guilty of enjoying exotic restaurants and cheap domestic help; the BBC is condemned for having a multi-cultural bias. Green praises the present government’s immigration policy although he warns the Conservatives that their Liberal Democrat Coalition partners ‘can be expected to make difficulties’. There is an insightful response offered on Migration Watch’s  and Green’s statements by Michael White. In his article, White dismisses Green’s claim that this was all a deliberate government conspiracy and challenges the spin that he has placed on the ONS findings.

My fear is that we are now trapped in a vicious spiral when it comes to public debate and political discourse on the matter of immigration. Our politicians seem convinced that taking the toughest of stances is a vote winner, despite the fact that businesses and universities are warning of the potentially damaging consequences of severe restrictions on immigration. I would cite the infamous Question Time debate (Oct 2009) featuring Nick Griffin of the BNP when the three main political party representatives tried to outdo each other in declaring how strong they were on this subject. It was the one part of the programme where Griffin looked at ease as the others scrapped over his turf. I hear virtually no one today in the political arena speaking positively about the benefits of immigration, nor of the contribution being made to the economy and wider society by those who have made this country their home.

So I wait to see what tomorrow’s Office of National Statistics report says about immigration and then I will watch to see how the facts are spun and selectively presented to fit the wider political narratives. But I’ll also be thinking about those in our communities who already face hostility, suspicion, resentment and violence because they are immigrants and I’ll be remembering these words:
‘You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.’ Exodus 22:21

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Over the last few weeks our news bulletins have been full of reports from North Africa and the Middle East as in country after country people have risen up to challenge the rule of autocrats. In some countries change is coming remarkably quickly and relatively peacefully, but for others the process will be long and painful. Few  rulers in the region can sleep easy at night with protestersthe knowledge that their regime might be the next to topple. Some will employ every weapon at their disposal to cling to power and suppress the will of the people; if that means shooting and bombing unarmed women and children then so be it.

So what does our Prime Minister do at this momentous time in world affairs? He jumps on a plane and flies to the Middle East with a quick stop off to glad hand Egyptian leader Ahmed Shafik and talk about how inspired he has been by the protesters. Then it’s back on the plane and on to Kuwait. Is this a trip to encourage democracy; to demonstrate to the brave people standing unarmed in front of tanks that they have the support of the wider international community? No, it turns out this is a business trip and part of the business is making money out of selling arms. David Cameron is in Kuwait with a bunch of arms manufacturers, euphemistically referred to as the defence industry. Meanwhile over in Abu Dhabi the British defence minister Gerald Howarth has been supporting British manufacturers at the region’s largest arms fair. Apparently there are over 90 British companies doing business at this jamboree, selling everything from crowd control equipment to the latest fighter planes.

fighter No doubt the usual platitudes will be trotted out in support of the defence industry’s lucrative business. ‘If we don’t sell the weapons then someone else will’ and ‘Our economy depends on the contribution of arms manufacturers’ are two of the most frequently employed arguments. Here’s what the Prime Minister came up with in support of his trip to Kuwait: ‘My view is that you cannot expect every country in the world to provide for its own defence and so it is perfectly logical and sensible that there should be a trade in defence.’ The problem is that our country has been trading with dodgy regimes who have a track record in suppressing their own people by any means available including the weapons our country has sold them. If that were not the case then why has our government recently had to revoke arms export licenses to Libya and Bahrain? If you want to see who we’ve been doing arms business with in the region then check out this map.

An opportunity has been handed to our Prime Minister and government to stand shoulder to shoulder with those crying out for freedom and the opportunity to elect their own leaders. Instead, in one of the crassest moves of international statesmanship, our Prime Minister portrays himself as a grubby back street trader hawking and peddling his wares in one of the most volatile regions of the world at the most uncertain of times.

A prayer for the Middle Eastern and North African countries facing unrest and uncertainty.

O God you are in the midst of us
and we are called by your name.
As the foundations of our society
are shaken and our future is uncertain,
may we be given the grace to trust in you.
May we find our refuge and strength in
your eternal changelessness,
today and for ever. Amen.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Cooked - a culturally revealing advert meme

Thought this was an interesting meme set up by Clayboy: If you were a media or cultural studies teacher, which current TV advert would you pick for a challenging reflection on our cultural values?

I’ve picked the Thomas Cook advert featuring Jamie and Louise Redknapp. The advert ran last year but I’m sure I’ve seen it quite recently. Here are some of the issues and questions raised by the campaign.
  • The use of young, attractive celebrities from the worlds of sport and entertainment to promote a product. Interesting that Jamie’s football skills are referenced but not Louise’s singing!
  • You would never know that the Redknapps have a young family because they tell us ‘we are at our best when we are on it (the holiday)’. They are on holiday without their children.
  • The location could be anywhere with sun, sand and surf with no sense of a specific place.
  • There are no cultural reference points nor is there any encounter with the local population. Enjoy the climate and location without having to engage with the local community. 
  • ‘We fantasise about it’, ‘we shop for it’, ‘we lose weight for it’. Consumerism, body image and escapism.
  • The advert suggests leisure is a serious matter involving important choices; it needs research, careful planning and preparation.
Here's the advert.

    Now watch the mashup

    As Clayboy said, if you want to have a go consider yourself tagged.

    Friday, 18 February 2011

    To be continued… Bible Year 2011 (8)

    Excellent podcast by +Stephen Cottrell on the importance of the Bible. Here is the full text and it is always worth listening to him speak.
    I have to confess to feeling slightly irritated by the Radio 4 insistence that the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible is an important cultural event. You know, all that stuff about the incomparable prose of the Authorised Version, its indelible mark upon the English language. Well, all that is true. It is impossible to understand European literature and art without some familiarity with the Bible. It has indeed shaped our culture and our laws.
    But the reason we are celebrating this anniversary is not primarily about the form of the Bible, however beautiful, but its content. The Bible is vital and central because it is God’s word, not faxed down from heaven, but inspired by the Spirit, the indispensable record of God’s dealings with his people, written by the people themselves, a record of God’s activity in history, God’s ways and God’s heart and supremely God’s revelation of his self in Jesus Christ who is God’s word made flesh and then the beginnings of the Christian church and the story of how we are formed as God’s people today.
    The Bible, which is a great library, a collection of books within a book,  enables us to meet with God and to know God. That is what we are celebrating in this year of the Bible. That is the reason we are encouraging people to open their Bibles. And here it doesn’t really matter which translation you are using. What matters is letting the word of God into our lives and through us into our world. The word that was made flesh in Jesus Christ is made available to us through the written word of scripture and now God wants to write that same word in our hearts.
    Sometimes I rather provocatively say to people, I would like to make a change to the Bible. It is this, a simple addition, right at the very end: ‘To be continued  until that great day when we see the Lord face to face.’ The great promise of scripture, the great Christian hope is that  God wants to write his word in our hearts, and we need to listen and brood upon that word so that we can learn to be his people. What was revolutionary about the King James Bible 400 years ago was that it put the scriptures into everyday language and into the ears and hearts and hands of ordinary people. That is also the challenge for us today.
    Further details about  Bible Year 2011 in the Diocese of Chelmsford can be found here.

    Wednesday, 16 February 2011

    Tiny temper tantrums

    Sat down to watch a bit of men behaving badly at The Brits last night and it turns out I should have watched the football instead. Gone are the days of overpaid, self indulgent and immature young people making fools of themselves in public. No swearing, leering and sneering, buckets of water tipped over a deputy prime minister’s head and general drunkenness and revelry. Instead we were treated to a corporate bash with winners in suits and evening gowns thanking their accountants and multi-national backers for making it all possible. No more ‘sticking it to the man’, the man was everywhere.

    The whole event was epitomised by one of the winners, a very pleasant young man called Patrick Okogwu aka Tinie Tempah who received his accolades with good grace and thanked everyone from God to his broker for standing by him through the hard times.

    Some things could be relied on. Rihanna was up to her usual tricks as my young son rather wearily observed ‘Daddy, she’s stripping off again’ while she reprised her X-factor appearance. It was left to Mumford & Sons and Arcade Fire to add a musical touch of class and wardrobe eccentricity; 1st prize to Winston, Mumford’s banjo player, for the yellow baseball cap and 2nd to Arcade Fire’s Win Butler for sporting half a hair cut. Everything ran to time, James Corden, presenting the evening, thought he was Ricky Gervais but was more like Kenneth Williams and all were out of the O2 Arena and tucked up in bed before the Newsnight paper round up. Roger Daltrey sought to instil a bit of rock n roll spirit by commenting ‘It's good to see the British music industry still has enough money for a good booze-up’ but his heart wasn’t really in it.

    Meanwhile, Spurs had gone to the San Siro stadium in Italy and given a classic European football away fixture performance against A C Milan. So riled were the home side that they resorted to trying to cripple the opposition and how Flamini avoided a red card is, as Toyah Wilcox would say, a mystery. Milan’s captain Gattuso attempted to strangle Spurs’ coach Joe Jordan and then after the match gave Jordan a head-butt for good measure. Now that’s more like it; overpaid, self indulgent and immature young men making fools of themselves in public.

    Here's Mumford & Sons' performance from The Brits last night with no miming, half-naked dancers or fake attitude.

    Tuesday, 15 February 2011

    Biblical Google Earth

    What if Google Earth had been around in Biblical times? Perhaps we would have access to images like this.

    Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea.

    Noah’s ark coming to rest on dry land.

    The images were produced by art collective The Glue Society and exhibited as God’s Eye View at the Miami Art Fair in 2007. The idea was explained by the collective’s James Dive:
    We like to disorientate audiences a little with all our work. And with this piece we felt technology now allows events which may or may not have happened to be visualized and made to appear dramatically real.
    As a method of representation satellite photography is so trusted, it has been interesting to mess with that trust.
    The other pictures can be found on The Glue Society website and are of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and The Crucifixion.

    I find myself wondering whether Mary and Joseph would have objected to Google sending a street view car down their road in Nazareth?

    Geoffrey Shaw

    I was saddened to hear the news that Canon Geoffrey Shaw died last Saturday after a short illness. Geoffrey was the principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford between 1979-1988, and this included the period when I trained there for ordination.

    wycliffeI don’t really remember much about Geoffrey’s teaching, however, he was one of those people who exuded a gentle godliness and this permeated the college. A friend reminded me that when Geoffrey preached there was ‘sometimes a sense of the glory to be in his face’. I think that observation is true and Geoffrey’s preaching seminars were infused with his love of the scriptures. There are also fond memories of Geoffrey trying to teach us the pointing of the psalms in chapel; a lost cause with some of us, given our determination to make the whole exercise into a joke. I will always be grateful for my time at Wycliffe Hall and in no small measure that is due to the graciousness with which Geoffrey exercised his stewardship of the college.

    Following a family funeral next week there will be a Thanksgiving Service for Geoffrey at St Andrew’s Church, Kingham, on Friday 25  February at 2.30pm.

    Sunday, 13 February 2011

    Clerical fashionista

    Read a short article in The Sunday Telegraph about two clergy that met on Facebook and have now become engaged. It is a lovely story and I pray for them and for all those preparing for marriage at this time. There was however one thing that caused me to let out a slight sigh of despair and it was the photograph accompanying the article. joanna jepson The picture is of Rev Joanna Jepson wearing a clerical collar, only the collar isn’t attached to a clerical shirt and is more like a choker. Actually, I think Joanna’s outfit looks quite tasteful but I’ve seen others that were, frankly, distracting. The first time I saw one of these collars the wearer matched it with a cashmere v neck sweater and on another occasion the dog collar was worn with a matching patterned dress with a plunging neck line.

    bad vestmentsI confess I am a fashion ignoramus, but then I didn’t expect a clerical collar to be a fashion statement. I guess it’s the logical extension of the increasing trend amongst colleagues to try and find   the wackiest / tackiest clerical wear. Clerical shirts now come in more colours than a Dulux paint chart and some vestments make Elton John’s 1970s outfits look understated. I once had a conversation with a bishop who assured me that the shade of purple was a significant decision and I know clergy who regard the size and type of dog collar as a statement of church tradition.

    It seems that clerical wear has become an extension and expression of the minister’s personality. I had always assumed that the purpose of robes and other clerical outfits was to avoid such a statement, so fashion that people focused on the ministry not the minister. Now when I attend a diocesan service at the cathedral I’m not surprised if it turns out to be something like religious chic day at the London Fashion Week.

    Would love to write more but I’m off to be measured for my latest alb. What to go for, gingham or plaid?


    Tori Amos doesn’t get the attention she deserves as a composer and musician. Perhaps it is because her material can be quite challenging but she is capable of exquisite writing and her playing is exceptional. Judge for yourself.

    Saturday, 12 February 2011

    The Mercy Seat

    Spent a very productive couple of hours yesterday with friends Jonathan Evens and Paul Trathen preparing for a course we are running called Living the Story.

    Tom Wright has described the Bible as being like a five act play containing the first four acts in full (i.e. 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Israel, 4. Jesus) and the writing of the New Testament as forming the first scene in the fifth act and also giving hints of how the play is supposed to end. We are then called to live in this story improvising our part in the play on the basis of what we know of the story so far and the hints we have of how it will end.  Living the Story is something that Christian artists and writers have tried to do throughout Church history and continue to do today. In the course we will be examining a selection of contemporary uses of the Bible and the Christian story in popular culture and considering whether or not they can be said to be 'living the story'.

    One of the artists we will be considering is Nick Cave and here’s a taste of his work. I’ve posted about Cave’s spirituality here.

    Friday, 11 February 2011

    What is the Gospel?

    I read a blog post on this question from Lesley Fellows and it’s been nagging me all morning so here’s my response. I’ve answered Lesley’s questions briefly because I imagined what I would say if chatting to someone on a short journey. So here goes:

    1. What is the Gospel?

    The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. The person of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection and his mission, sharing God’s invitation to be loved by him.

    2. How can I know it is true?

    ‘Taste and see that God is good’. The only way to find out if the Gospel is true is to start living as if it is true.

    3. Why should I believe it?

    Because without it we are less than fully human and we cannot be what we are meant to be; loved by God and responding with love to God and each other.

    Anyone else want to have a go?

    Wednesday, 9 February 2011

    Tweet If You Heart Jesus

    A few weeks ago my blog post on the Pope and the digital age was picked up by Religion Dispatches thanks to Dr Elizabeth Drescher. In checking out Elizabeth’s work I was interested to learn that she has written a book called Tweet If You ♥Jesus. The book is published later this year and the blurb describes it in the following terms:
    TweetCoverArt From an emerging scholar and writer on contemporary spirituality comes a fascinating exploration of new social media and religion that connects ancient and medieval wisdom to the digitally-integrated practice of faith by believers and seekers today. In Elizabeth Drescher’s Tweet If You ♥Jesus, ministry leaders will learn how changes in everyday communication have begun to reshape how we relate to one another, how we form and sustain communities, and what that means for churches and other religious organizations that hope to enrich and extend their service and become more relevant in the world today.
    I was particularly interested in some of the quotes from the book which reflect on the opportunities and challenges afforded the church by social media.
    The Church is at a critical juncture as it attempts to respond to dramatic cultural changes related to new mobile, digital social media. Some of those changes are wonderfully liberating, inviting creative involvement in the practice of faith and the nurturing of community by believers and seekers of all stripes around the globe. Others, such as the restructuring of concepts of privacy, self-presentation, and relationship that seem to undermine notions of interpersonal, communal, and spiritual intimacy that are at the heart of much Christian practice, feel more troubling. Threatening, even.
    I like the suggestion that a way forward may include drawing on the riches of the Christian tradition, particularly the practices of religious communities in relation to the emerging social networks.
    New digital communication practices provide the opportunity to share the riches of ancient and medieval Christian traditions that ground much of mainline religious practice while also opening our churches to the diverse spiritual perspectives of the many believers and seekers who, while they may not wear an Episcopalian or Lutheran or Presbyterian badge on their sleeves, are nonetheless engaged by religious questions as they respond to the challenges of life in the wired world today.
    There is also challenge in this book and a timely warning for ministers who want to embrace the possibilities of the new forms of communication and interaction.
    If we get annoyed when the Facebook advertising automatons don't know us well enough, imagine how it feels when our priest or pastor keeps posting or tweeting stuff that betrays no understanding of who we are or who we hope to be.
    All good thought provoking material and I look forward to reading more when the book is published. I’ll finish with a final quote which has got me thinking and I look forward to engaging with the thesis in more depth.
    The counter-intuitive reality is that without digital social media, it would be impossible…for leaders in ministry to so richly witness to the significance of face-to-face relationship and grounded spiritual presence.

    Favourite liturgical music meme

    I was tagged by Kathryn Rose who wrote an insightful piece on worship and created this more positive meme in response to the CCM praise songs we have trouble with meme. These aren't necessarily my all time favourites but what came to mind in response to the questions.

    What is your favourite piece of music for congregational singing? Why?
    Be thou my vision. A challenging prayer and in my last parish the worship band used an arrangement accompanied by a Bodhrán (Irish frame drum) which added just the right beat. If I was to go for something  written more recently it would be Everlasting God by Chris Tomlin. It's rooted in scripture, focused on God and is communal (we rather than I) and a family favourite.

    What is your favourite piece of music for performance by a group of specialist musicians within a liturgical context? This might be a worship band or a cathedral choir or just a very snazzy organist or something else entirely, but the point is that it is not congregational singing and it is live music in liturgy.
    The Grail Prayer. Difficult to choose but our parish choir have sung this on several occasions during the administration of communion and it is a beautiful and uplifting piece of music with words appropriate for the moment. The other piece is Allegri's Miserere a setting of Psalm 51. The choir at Waltham Abbey used to sing this during Holy week and I would find the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

    What is your favourite piece of music which makes you think about God to listen to outside of your place of worship? Why? This could be secular music.
    Passion: The Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack by Peter Gabriel. I could listen to this for hours and the music, with its middle eastern cadences, is the perfect accompaniment to the film. I used a track to accompany a meditation on the cross one Good Friday and it left people stunned.

    What is one thing you like about the music at your usual place of worship? Have you told the musicians about this lately?
    The choir is quite small but they are faithful people offering their gifts to God and led by our very talented Reader. It is often the simple Taizé chants that help me to focus my attention on God. They also feel right in the setting of a small ancient parish church. Last Sunday we learnt sign language to accompany The Lord is My Light and it provided a prayerful response to the talk in our all-age service. I try and remember to thank them but not often enough.

    Thanks to Kathryn for setting this one running and consider yourself tagged if you would like to have a go.

    Tuesday, 8 February 2011

    iPhone Confessions

    A few weeks ago I blogged about an iPhone app called Penance. Now a new app has hit the market called Confession: A Roman Catholic App and this one comes with the blessing of the church, or so its creators claim.

    Confession is described on the iTunes site as follows:
    confessionDesigned to be used in the confessional, this app is the perfect aid for every penitent. With a personalized examination of conscience for each user, password protected profiles, and a step-by-step guide to the sacrament, this app invites Catholics to prayerfully prepare for and participate in the Rite of Penance. Individuals who have been away from the sacrament for some time will find Confession: A Roman Catholic App to be a useful and inviting tool.
    The text of this app was developed in collaboration with Rev. Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Rev. Dan Scheidt, pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, IN. The app received an imprimatur from Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes of the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend. It is the first known imprimatur to be given for an iPhone/iPad app.
    - Custom examination of Conscience based upon age, sex, and vocation (single, married, priest, or religious)
    - Multiple user support with password protected accounts
    - Ability to add sins not listed in standard examination of conscience
    - Confession walkthrough including time of last confession in days, weeks, months, and years
    - Choose from 7 different acts of contrition
    - Custom interface for iPad
    - Full retina display support
    The Confession app could be seen as a serious attempt to take up Pope Benedict’s challenge for Christians to embrace all things digital. However, it could be just one more product jumping on the burgeoning market in products encouraging people to bare their souls for the purposes of entertainment. There are a variety of these products available from the iTunes app store including iConfess and Confession Booth.

    I welcome anything that helps people in their Christian discipleship, my Bible apps are a must on my Blackberry, and there are plenty of useful resources out there. I do hope the Confession App doesn’t treat faith and spirituality as a game and I will watch the reviews with interest. I confess I’m not tempted to part with $1.99 to find out more and not just because I don’t have an iPhone.

    For some really useful resources why not check out Big Bible and Biblefresh. One of my favourite and most used applications is You Version.

    Update: One of the developers of Confession has been in touch to leave the following comment for which I am grateful:
    I'm one of the developers of the app. Thanks for not assuming things about the app (as I've seen happen on my twitter feeds). The app is not a joke, but is meant to truly help individual reflect on their life. Nothing is ever shared or transmitted from the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. All user info is password protected and once a person walks their way through the confession all of the sins are erased. Let me know if you have other questions.

    Sunday, 6 February 2011

    Gary Moore 1952-2011

    Sad news that legendry blues guitarist Gary Moore died yesterday while on holiday in Spain. Moore played with some great bands, including Thin Lizzy and Colosseum II, and collaborated with a whole host of other top artists. He had a prolific solo career and was a genuine guitarist’s guitarist. Moore’s signature sound from his Gibson Les Paul was a screaming slow blues with a sustain that went on and on.Yet, he was as adept at light, fluid jazz as well as hard core rock. Another great Northern Ireland guitarist leaves the stage.

    Here's some Colosseum II from 1978

    6th February 1958

    MunichClock On 6 February 1958, a charter plane carrying 44 people crashed after refuelling at Munich Airport.

    The accident claimed 23 lives, among them eight Manchester United players and three club officials.

    Geoff Bent
    Roger Byrne
    Eddie Colman
    Duncan Edwards
    Mark Jones
    David Pegg
    Tommy Taylor
    Liam Whelan
    Walter Crickmer
    Bert Whalley
    Tom Curry
    Alf Clarke
    Don Davies
    George Follows
    Tom Jackson
    Archie Ledbrooke
    Henry Rose
    Eric Thompson
    Frank Swift
    Kenneth Rayment
    Bela Miklos
    Willie Satinoff
    Tommy Cable

    Saturday, 5 February 2011

    Red Nev, with thanks

    neville 2 Gary Neville, Manchester United right back and former club captain, has announced his retirement from the game. The news came as no surprise given that Gary has been struggling with injury for several seasons. Few would deny that Gary has been key to United’s success in the Premier League. A true one club player, he was one of the golden generation of United’s early 90s youth team that conquered all before them, before busting into the first team alongside Scholes, Butt, Beckham and his younger brother Phil.

    Gary became club captain in 2005 and won every domestic honour in the game as well as being part of the magnificent 1999 treble winning side. A rock solid defender, he was also renowned for his overlapping wing play, accurate crossing and for the partnership he developed with David Beckham on United’s and England’s right side.

    neville At international level, Neville made his debut in 1995 and is England’s most capped right back. He gained the nickname Red Nev as leader of a group of England players threatening to go on strike over the suspension of Rio Ferdinand for missing a drugs test. Never short of an opinion, not least about Liverpool FC, he is an articulate and thoughtful student of the game and will have no trouble developing a career as a manager, commentator or future leader of Unite the trade union.

    No longer will the Theatre of Dreams resound to the chants of ‘Neville, Neville’ to the tune of David Bowie’s Rebel, Rebel. So thank you Gary, a true Red Devil.

    A brief reminder of Gary Neville’s honours:
    • Premier League 8
    • FA Cup 3
    • League Cup 2
    • EUEFA Champions League 1
    • Club appearances 602
    • International appearances 85
    • PFA Team of the Year 5

    Friday, 4 February 2011

    The CCM Praise Songs we have trouble with Meme

    Sticking my neck out here. I was tagged with this little gem by Sam who cried off having a go himself.
    Please try to name ONE (I know, there are so many to choose from) CCM praise song that you find unbearable and at least 2-3 reasons why, pointing to specific lyrics if you must.
    I’ve gone for Isn’t He by John Wimber and I’ll explain why after you’ve read the lyrics.
    Isn’t He (isn’t He)
    Beautiful (beautiful) ?
    Beautiful (beautiful)
    Isn’t He (isn’t He) ?
    Prince of peace
    Son of God, isn’t He?
    Isn’t He (isn’t He)
    Wonderful (wonderful) ?
    Wonderful (wonderful)
    Isn’t He (isn’t He) ?
    Almighty God, isn’t He?
    Isn’t He? Isn’t He?
    Yes You are (yes You are)
    Beautiful (beautiful)!
    Beautiful (beautiful)
    Yes You are (yes You are)!
    Prince of peace
    Son of God, yes You are!
    Yes You are (yes You are)
    Wonderful (wonderful)
    Wonderful (wonderful)
    Yes You are (yes You are)!
    Almighty God, yes You are!
    Do I really need to explain?

    I can’t sing it. It’s romanticised, cloyingly sentimental and cringe making; the sort of lyrics and tune you might find Lionel Richie crooning to a woman while she models a lump of clay. How can we complain about the lack of younger men in church if they are expected to sing this as an act of worship when they turn up?

    Show me anywhere in the scriptures where Jesus is described as beautiful. Many descriptions are attributed to the Lord Jesus Christ from scripture, some are mentioned in the song, but beautiful isn’t one of them.  We have no account of Jesus physical appearance in the Bible. The nearest you get is if you take Isaiah 53 as a prophetic description of Jesus, as many Christians do, but then the song contradicts this:
    Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:1-4
    I wonder whether Isn’t He is a worship song at all. Does making Jesus the subject in a lyric make it worship? If so, why couldn’t this be worship?

    Valentine spoof?

    valentineI’ve received one of those lovely proposals of help from a well known finance organisation. They are offering to help me choose a Valentine’s present for my wife. They’d just better hope that my darling wife hasn’t seen the message they sent me.
    Women can be complicated creatures and deciding what to give them for Valentine’s Day can be a real struggle. When is lingerie a bad idea? What if you don’t know her size? How can you make chocolates and flowers personal? What about something really special? We’ve got titillating tips and great gift ideas to help you get it right for your Valentine.
    The bottom of the email contains the following:
    How do I know this is not a Spoof email?
    Well, if I need advice from a spamming finance organisation about what to get my wife for Valentine’s Day then my marriage really is in trouble. I’d be interested to know what a similar message sent to the ‘complicated creatures’ says about men.

    On a more serious note, if you want a creative way to celebrate Valentine’s Day why not check out Special Someone. This is a really imaginative campaign organised by Sharecreative, Care and Stop The Traffik.
    Heart-shaped confetti? Hand-crafted chocolates? However you choose to celebrate it, Valentine’s Day is on its way! It’s the one time of year we all have an excuse to show everyone how much we value them. But for 27 million people across the world it’s a different story. These people are trapped in slavery, unloved, with a price on their heads but treated as worthless.
    Human Trafficking is a multi-billion pound industry happening right now, in our world, and in our cities.
    This modern-day slave trade is all around us. From the clothes we wear, the food we eat and the phone we use to the people we walk by every day.
    It’s Valentine’s Day. It’s a day about love. Everyone deserves to be treated as that special someone – not as a commodity to be bought and sold. Let’s use this day to show the real value of people. Let’s use it to call for an end to human trafficking.
    You can also follow Special Someone on Facebook.

    special someone

    Thursday, 3 February 2011

    Skewing Faith Schools

    In November 2010 Ian Craig the head of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) made some startling claims about faith schools in a press conference.  He was quoted in The Guardian as stating the following:
    Speaking at the publication of the tribunal's annual report, Craig said: "We are bothered by the complexity of some faith schools' points systems. We have come across points that benefit white middle-class areas and don't benefit the immigrant children in the community." He said the issue affected all faith groups, but predominantly Christian schools because these outnumber other faith schools.
    "We haven't found schools are deliberately skewing their intake, but our view is that this has been the effect. In some cases the faith schools are measuring parents' commitment to the church over and above the number of times a family attend church. Is it a measure of a parent's Christianity if they are bell-ringers at their church? In working-class areas, there might not be the option to do this."
    Not surprisingly The Guardian’s headline bellowed:

    Faith school admissions 'unfair to immigrants’

    I found this disturbing. I’m vice-chair of a Church of England primary school and have in the past been chair of another such school. If there was something wrong with our admissions policy I wanted to know about it. So I downloaded the tribunal’s annual report and read it page by page looking for the evidence. To my surprise, apart from some rather generalised points, I could find few specifics to back up Craig’s claim.

    So I phoned the OSA and spoke to one of the members of staff. I asked for specific details and examples to stand up the claims. I also wanted to know how many schools were involved. The first response was to say that it was a press conference and you know what the press are like. I pointed out that these were attributed quotes and I was concerned to see the evidence supporting the claims.

    Eventually I was told that permission would need to be sought before further information could be released. I explained it was not unreasonable to expect evidence to back up such sweeping statements and was assured I would receive a call in the next couple of days. I took the member of staff’s name and waited for a call, it never came. To be honest I had a lot going on so didn’t follow up my enquiry.

    Then today I read that Ian Craig has been questioned by the Commons Education Committee and criticised for the claims he made last November. The BBC reports:
    Appearing before a committee of MPs on Wednesday, Dr Craig was accused of overstating the extent of the problem.
    He was taking questions from members of the Commons Education Committee on the Office for Schools Admissions annual report, which was published in November.
    Damian Hinds, Conservative MP for East Hampshire, asked Dr Craig to clarify how many of the cases his office had ruled on related to church schools' admissions codes.
    Dr Craig said 45 of the 151 cases last year related to "own admissions" faith schools, of which 23 related to supplementary information forms and 12 related to the "clarity and complexity" of the criteria.
    "So that's 12 or 23 out of 6,753 religious schools in this country," Mr Hinds said.
    "Can I make a request that in next year's report, given the publicity that extended to this year's report, that the Office makes strenuous additional efforts to put into context the extent of this problem and the extent to which there is not a problem, clearly, in the vast, vast majority of schools."
    "I'm very happy to take that on board," Dr Craig replied and said he had already written himself a note to that effect for the next report.
    But he stood by his concerns that church school entrance criteria needed to be objective and clear.
    Now I want to be clear that I am against any malpractice when it comes to school admissions. Any such poor practice needs to be challenged and addressed by the appropriate authorities. The church above all should be a model of best practice in this area, it is part of our witness to the wider community.

    However, I also expect that the person heading the OSA, the body charged with adjudicating cases of potential malpractice, would speak and act in an impartial manner. If criticism is to be made, I expect Mr Craig to be able to back up his criticisms with facts and figures. I also expect such criticism to be proportionate.

    Not surprisingly the usual suspects were out in force following the OSA press conference, continuing their campaign against faith schools. Heading the charge was the Accord CoalitionEkklesia ran the story under the headline ‘Faith schools criticised for skewing admissions towards better-off’. But it seems a more appropriate headline would have been ‘a handful of faith schools may have inadvertently skewed their admissions policies towards the better off.’ Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

    Update: The British Humanist Association has posted an article based on Craig's Commons Education Committee appearance yesterday which  continues to misrepresent the situation. I am interested to know why they make no mention of the state schools with admissions policies criticised by the OSA?

    Wednesday, 2 February 2011

    Proportional propaganda

    I’ve been mulling over a blog post about the way in which Christians participate in debates online. This evening the MP Tom Harris, who has sadly stopped blogging, tweeted the following suggestion:
    How about instead of accusing someone of being a "denier", you just point out that they disagree with you?
    Tom hits the nail on the head about the tone of much public debate. Those who disagree with the government’s current economic policy are labelled ‘deficit deniers’; their opposition must mean that they refuse to recognise the state of the economy rather than that they might be offering an alternative solution. This is where we are with political discourse at the moment and it’s depressing.

    What is even more depressing is that some Christians seem to be slipping into the same approach when discussing matters close to their heart. If you take a more traditional approach to issues of human sexuality you can easily find yourself labelled ‘homophobic’. If you take a more liberal approach then you are in danger of being dismissed as ‘unbiblical’.

    The campaigns for and against the Anglican Covenant also play this game, pumping out a constant message in support of their cause and often caricaturing the position of opponents. The quality of the debate is therefore debased because people don’t listen to each other or engage with serious points made and issues raised. I followed the debate on the Anglican Covenant at General Synod and found myself exasperated by the contributions of some of the live online reporting. The line between informed commentary and misrepresentation was far too frequently crossed in support of one side of the argument.

    But the most concerning example has been the conduct of the debate over the Alternative Vote referendum. I don’t need to go into details about some of the most recent contributions to this debate, the Church Mouse and Pete Phillips have both done an excellent job of summarising key issues for Christians. However, I have found myself increasingly wound up by the tactics of some contributors to the debate. It seems that blatant misrepresentation of opponents and the perpetual pushing of an argument without engaging with the concerns of others are regarded as legitimate tactics.

    Here’s a definition of propaganda that I find quite useful:
    Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position.
    As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further an agenda.
    My question is this: At what point does robust debate and forthright argument become blatant propaganda?

    I would offer this thought in considering the question. The method of winning an argument reveals a great deal about the merit of the argument and those employing the method.

    Update: Very helpful contribution to the 'Christians and the AV' debate from +Alan Wilson. I'm also grateful to Dr Bex Lewis, for her link to other definitions of propaganda.

    Tuesday, 1 February 2011

    A lake of beer

    Today is St Brigid’s day. There seem to be an interesting variety of accounts of Brigid’s life and I am grateful to Catholic Online for the following summary.
    brigid Brigid was probably born at Faughart near Dundalk, Louth, Ireland. Her parents were baptized by St. Patrick, with whom she developed a close friendship. According to legend, her father was Dubhthach, an Irish chieftain of Lienster, and her mother, Brocca, was a slave at his court. Even as a young girl she evinced an interest for a religious life and took the veil in her youth from St. Macaille at Croghan and probably was professed by St. Mel of Armagh, who is believed to have conferred abbatial authority on her. She settled with seven of her virgins at the foot of Croghan Hill for a time and about the year 468, followed Mel to Meath. About the year 470 she founded a double monastery at Cill-Dara (Kildare) and was Abbess of the convent, the first in Ireland. The foundation developed into a centre of learning and spirituality, and around it grew up the Cathedral city of Kildare. She founded a school of art at Kildare and its illuminated manuscripts became famous, notably the Book of Kildare, which was praised as one of the finest of all illuminated Irish manuscripts before its disappearance three centuries ago. Brigid was one of the most remarkable women of her times, and despite the numerous legendary, extravagant, and even fantastic miracles attributed to her, there is no doubt that her extraordinary spirituality, boundless charity, and compassion for those in distress were real. She died at Kildare on February 1. The Mary of the Gael, she is buried at Downpatrick with St. Columba and St. Patrick, with whom she is the patron of Ireland. Her name is sometimes Bridget and Bride.
    It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that for me the most interesting attribution to Brigid is the following prayer:
    I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.
    I'd love the Heavenly
    Host to be tippling there
    For all eternity.

    I'd love the men of Heaven to live with me,
    To dance and sing.
    If they wanted, I'd put at their disposal
    Vats of suffering.

    White cups of love I’d give them,
    With a heart and a half;
    Sweet pitchers of mercy I'd offer
    To every man.

    I'd make Heaven a cheerful spot,
    Because the happy heart is true.
    I'd make the men contented for their own sake
    I'd like Jesus to love me too.

    I'd like the people of heaven to gather
    From all the parishes around,
    I'd give a special welcome to the women,
    The three Marys of great renown.

    I'd sit with the men, the women of God
    There by the lake of beer
    We'd be drinking good health forever
    And every drop would be a prayer.

    The Writing on the Wall

    I am delighted that Revd Dr Maggi Dawn is coming to Chelmsford Diocese to lead two study days on her book The Writing on the Wall.

    Writing on the Wall
    The Writing on the Wall
    Saturday March 26th
    Chelmsford Cathedral Chapter House
    Saturday May 7th
    St Margaret’s Church, Barking
    10am – 4pm

    2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of The King James Version of the Bible. But just how well do we understand the Bible, and its relationship to our culture?
    Maggi DawnMaggi Dawn, author of The Writing on the Wall, will show how art, music, poetry, sculpture and film have been influenced by the Bible far more than we usually realise. But the arts do more than merely illustrate bible stories and characters: they also open up possibilities for interpretation.

    This day will open up some of the theological and devotional adventures that become possible when the riches of the Bible are recognized within the world of the arts, and offer all kinds of inspiration, for teaching, preaching and personal spiritual growth.

    Reviews of The Writing on the Wall.

    The days are being run as part of the Diocesan Lent and Eastertide Schools. Details of cost and booking can be found here.