Friday, 30 September 2011

The Horn of Africa

Powerful infographic of the unfolding tragedy in the Horn of Africa.

(Click to enlarge)
Famine in Somalia
Created by in partnership with The Washington Post

If you would like to help please go to the Disasters Emergency Committee site to donate.

h/t Save the Children for link to the picture. You can also donate at their site.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Possibly the best placard ever

Obama placard

I also enjoyed this short clip of Obama during a fundraising speech. Contrast his gracious response with the ranting of a heckler.

“Jesus Christ is God! Jesus Christ is the son of God! You are the antichrist!” yells somebody.
“First of all, I agree. Jesus Christ is the Lord. I believe in that…” replies Obama.

You might not agree with everything he's done but you've got to admit Obama's got style.

h/t Sam Tomlin for the picture & Sojourners for the video clip.


Today we celebrate Michael and All Angels. Here’s a picture of a stone my son found on Branscombe beach in Devon a couple of years ago.


You might like to check out Malcolm Guite’s Michaelmas: sonnet for the archangel.

Please also pray for Yousef Nadarkhani a Christian pastor in Iran facing execution for his faith. May he and his family know God’s presence, peace and protection at this time.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


These two stories from Saudi Arabia caught my attention earlier today and made me wonder which our government would be more concerned about.

The first piece is the news that a Saudi Arabian woman is to receive 10 lashes for driving a car without permission. The full story in The Guardian.

The second article is news that the Ministry of Defence is seeking a new commander to take charge of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia after the last one, Air Vice-Marshal Sean Bell, was withdrawn after seven months in the job. It transpires that Bell headed up a 100 strong team flogging weapons to Saudi Arabia. (Full story in The Times behind their paywall).

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Common error

An intelligent young man came to Jesus and said:
‘Teacher, what convention must I use to date the time of your birth in order to enter the Kingdom of God?’
Jesus replied…
To be honest I don’t know how Jesus would reply. My hope is he would say something like:
‘Get a life’.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Avin a larf

Looks like the gloves may be coming off in comedy circles over faith and atheism. The issue has been around for a while with various familiar names lining up to identify publicly with the atheist cause including established comedians David Baddiel and Dara Ó Briain. Ricky Gervais caused a bit of a stir with hisGervais mock crucifixion pose on the front of The New Humanist magazine.

The ante was upped by Frank Skinner in an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury in which he spoke about his faith and commented on comedians who speak about their atheism in order to establish their credentials as a ‘cool modern comic’.

On the back of the Skinner interview Christine Odone wrote a piece in The Telegraph called Subversive believers will have the last laugh. In the article Odone is really complaining about what she perceives to be an anti-religious bias at the heart of the liberal establishment, including the BBC. Odone goes on to identify various Christians operating in the media as a ‘subversive’ group. There is very little in the article about what Frank Skinner and Rowan Williams actually discussed as she uses a couple of brief quotes to hang a rather vague and meandering argument together.

On Saturday The Times magazine published an interview with Rowan Atkinson in which he made a disparaging remark about Church of England clergy being smug, arrogant and conceited. The comment was picked up by Ruth Gledhill, The Times religious correspondent (no link as it’s behind the paywall), who tried to spin the brief remark into a news story. If you read the original piece it was little more than a throw away line as Atkinson reflected on how he had portrayed clergy in sketches and on film. I found Atkinson’s portrayal of a vicar in the film Keeping Mum sympathetic and endearing. I do, however, find it ironic that an established member of the Oxbridge comedian set dismisses others as being smug and conceited.

Today, Brian Logan, comedy critic for The Guardian, has written a piece Divine comedy: how sacred is standup? in which he challenges the notion that there is an ‘atheist establishment’ in comedy. His article is as much a critique of Odone as of Skinner and Logan lists a variety of comedians and shows where faith is portrayed in positive terms. Logan’s own stance is clear as he argues: ‘In the bigger picture, religion remains, overwhelmingly, the establishment, and atheism a still-revolutionary challenge to that, which needs constant reassertion’.

It will be interesting to see how the debate develops. My suggestion would be a Mock the Week style face off in which Christian comedians are lined up against atheist colleagues to riff on a variety of topics. Personally, I think the combination of Frank Skinner and Tim Vine would be a hard act to beat and if they found themselves up against Ricky Gervais then on current form there would be no contest.

Friday, 23 September 2011

R.I.P. R.E.M.

As the world of rock comes to terms with the demise of R.E.M. here is what I regard as their definitive performance.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

#Follow me

Came across this picture on Facebook.
    Twitter disciple

    Here’s a few of the questions it raised for me:
    • How has social media impacted on our understanding of language in general and religious language in particular?
    • What image of Jesus is being presented here?
    • How do we communicate the Christian faith in a digital age?
    • Why do I detest text speak so much IMHO?

    h/t Arvind Munshi & the BigBIble project.

    Wednesday, 21 September 2011

    Get Matthew back in the tax booth

    Today we remember Matthew the tax collector who was called from his tax booth to Caravaggio_The_Calling_of_St_Matthew_1599-1600follow Jesus and appointed one of the twelve disciples (Matthew 9:9-13). As I was preparing for Morning Prayer and then our mid week communion service this morning I was reflecting on the call of Matthew in light of a piece of news I had heard earlier on the radio.

    Apparently the latest official estimate is that the annual amount of uncollected tax in the UK is about £35 billion. The figures are for 2009/10 and represent a reduction from the previous year but it is still a staggeringly large amount. Of course this is an estimate, how can you actually know the amount since it is unpaid or undeclared, nevertheless the same method for assessing the amount has been employed by HMRC for many years. HMRC explains that the reason for the reduction is largely accounted for by the reduction in VAT during the period being assessed. In other words, it was not that more tax was recovered but that less was owed.

    So it occurred to me that as we celebrate St Matthew today perhaps we ought to call people to become tax collectors so we can recover some of this money and that might go some way to addressing the huge financial mess we find ourselves in.

    Anyway, I found today's collect for St Matthew challenging:
    O Almighty God,
    whose blessed Son called Matthew the tax collector
    to be an apostle and evangelist:
    give us grace to forsake the selfish pursuit of gain
          and the possessive love of riches
    that we may follow in the way of your Son Jesus Christ,
    who is alive and reigns with you,
    in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
    one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    Saturday, 17 September 2011

    Friday, 16 September 2011

    prière publique

    Today in Paris it became illegal to pray in the streets. The law has been introduced with the intention of stopping Muslims praying in public, however, it applies to all faith groups including Christians. The Telegraph reports Claude Guéant, the Minister for the Interior, as saying the ban could be extended to other French cities and he went on to say:

    "My vigilance will be unflinching for the law to be applied. Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism." Le Figaro

    Guéant also explained that public praying "hurts the sensitivities of many of our fellow citizens".

    It appears that the move has been prompted by problems caused on a couple of streets in Paris during Muslim Friday prayers.

    In many ways France appears to be a very religious country. As a family we holiday in France each summer and always check the calendar because of the frequent religious festivals when the shops and even many restaurants shut for the day. So what will this law mean for Christians who wish to parade in public on holy days or hold open air services? What happens if the Pope pronounces a blessing as he travels up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on a visit?

    If such a law were introduced in our country would Christians be prepared to break it, or would we accept that the public square was no longer a place where we could express our faith?

    My own suspicion is that this law is less about defending secularism and more about keeping Muslims in their place and preventing them displaying their faith in public. It certainly fits with the ban on Muslim women wearing full veils in public. However, it does suggest a form of secularism that is intolerant and even fearful of other belief systems and seems to cut across the much vaunted claim to freedom of expression that I always thought was a cornerstone of democracy.

    h/t Tim Goodbody for link to The Telegraph story

    - Posted using Blogsy from my iPad

    Tuesday, 13 September 2011

    Lost in translation

    There have been many benefits from the influx of top class foreign footballers to this country but many of them have had to pay a high price. Hard to believe given their salaries which rival the GDP of medium sized nation states but nevertheless true. These great artists of the beautiful game have been infected with a terrible disease known as Translationitis. The disease strikes while the player is experiencing a loss in form or the onset of restless feet (a desire for a transfer).

    The illness presents by way of an interview given by the player in their first language to the media from their mother country. Mysteriously when the interview is republished in English it turns out they have said something disparaging about their club's owners, or manager, or fellow players and occasionally the fans. When their club pick up on the interview and what has been reported the player is hauled in to explain their comments. It is at this point they reveal the malady as they explain that somehow their words have been changed in translation and do not accurately reflect what they said.

    The latest victim of Translationitis is Chelski forward Fernando Torres who is suffering an extended loss of form. The £50million Spanish striker has given an interview in which he criticises his team mates for being 'old' and 'slow' thus explaining his inability to hit the target. Torres has claimed that his words have been mistranslated and he didn't mean what is reported. The only problem is that the interview is translated with these words on Torres' own website. It gets worse because his manager at Chelski is fluent in Spanish and has demanded to see the original transcript.

    I don't know why Torres has risked incurring the wrath of colleagues and employers. It is perfectly clear that Torres' loss in form has coincided with his decision to cut his hair and stop colouring it yellow. This is a high price to pay to avoid being mistaken for the ubiquitous football pundit and Strictly Come Dancing stooge Robbie Savage.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

    Monday, 12 September 2011

    Sunday, 11 September 2011

    United 93 - remembering 9/11

    There has been a plethora of programmes and films on T.V. over the last few days to mark the anniversary of 9/11. By far the best I have seen so far is United 93, a powerful film about the flight of the United Airlines plane that crashed before reaching its designated target. The film was shown on ITV and to their credit they showed the film without the interruption of adverts.

    United 93 is a docudrama by British film maker PaUnited 93aul Greengrass and based on recordings, interviews and testimonies from many of those involved in the unfolding horror of 9/11. Several of the participants in the events play themselves in the film, giving the unfolding narrative authenticity and avoiding the melodrama of offerings like Oliver Stone’s World Trade Centre. The story begins with the hijackers preparing to depart for the airport and passengers going through the mundane process of checking in for an everyday internal flight. Knowing what is to come, there is genuine tension from the start in watching as late passengers check in and people make routine phone calls before take off. The flight is backed up due to heavy air traffic and there is a real possibility that it won’t take off before news comes in of the other terrorist attacks. The short glimpses of passengers reactions when the plane finally takes to the air are truly poignant because the viewer knows what is to come.

    The film depicts the reactions to the unfolding horror from several perspectives; the passengers and crew of the plane, air traffic controllers and the military . What emerges is the chaos and confusion as well as the inability to comprehend what is happening and how to respond. Some of the most effective scenes are the reaction shots as controllers watch the second plane crashing into the World Trade Centre; no one can quite believe what they are watching and all are struck dumb as the fireball envelopes the top of the tower.

    The later half of the film focuses on the events inside United 93 during its last few minutes in the air. There is a certain amount of speculation as to exactly what happened but much of the story is pieced together fromunited 93 the phone calls to loved ones made by the passengers. It gradually dawns on the captive passengers that this is not a straightforward hijacking as they hear news of the Trade Centre attacks and the explosion at the Pentagon. The decision to try and retake the plane is no gung-ho act of bravado typical of Hollywood blockbusters, but the hesitant conclusion drawn by terrified men and women who see no alternative course of action. The last few moments are harrowing as the passengers almost succeed in over powering the hijackers before the all too familiar final event.

    From start to finish United 93 maintains an almost unbearable tension, remarkable for a film in which the ending is so well known. The routine of the flight, the ordinariness of the passengers, the disbelief and confusion of those responding to the unthinkable, the breakdown of communication between the authorities and uncertainty about how to react, all effect a realism seldom achieved on the big or small screen. United 93 comes as close as any film can in creating a fitting tribute to those caught up directly in the tragedy of 9/11.

    I first posted this review in September 2009 and I still maintain it is the best film or documentary I have seen on the subject.

    Saturday, 10 September 2011

    Per sueded

    I read an interesting interview with Brett Anderson this morning. Anderson is the former lead singer with 90s band Suede who were once heralded in the music press as 'the next big thing'. They won the Mercury Prize in 1993 but never quite fulfilled their early promise. I enjoyed Suede's distinctive brand of pop and in particular the guitar playing of the underrated Bernard Butler (who quit after the first two albums) and Anderson's vocals.

    During The Guardian interview Anderson was asked if he could go back in time where would he go and his reply took me by surprise:

    'Even though I'm not a Christian, I can't think of anything more fascinating than observing the reality of the human being whose legacy became one of the single most powerful forces on earth.'

    I hope Anderson continues to reflect on this and comes to discover why Jesus had and still has such an impact on people's lives.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

    Friday, 9 September 2011

    Close to the Edge at Tesco’s

    Kate picked up a local free magazine called The Edge this morning at the checkout in Tesco’s. At first glance it looked like the usual fare of news, features and pages of adverts for businesses in Chelmsford and then you reach the page called Only Joking. The first joke was innocuous, unless you are a roadie, but from then on it was offensive. The second joke was about an African baby covered in flies, followed by a sexist joke, a joke about blow jobs and a racist joke about Pakistan. At the bottom of the page it says that all jokes have been provided by Edge readers and there is an invitation to email someone called Shaun at the magazine with your jokes.

    I’m tempted to publish Shaun’s email address at the magazine to unleash the horrors of bots, spam, trolls and all the other plagues of the web on the magazine. It would be about as funny as the nauseating drivel the magazine has published. Instead I think I’ll drop a line to Tesco’s and some of the local business who have adverts in the mag and see how happy they are to be associated with this material. After all, they have paid to identify with sexism, racism, obscenity and cruelty.

    Tuesday, 6 September 2011

    Rhythm of the saints

    I was chatting with a friend at the beginning of the summer and he mentioned that he had noticed how in the preceding eighteen months more of my blog posts had related to the church calendar and particularly saints days and the seasons. He was right and I began to reflect on why that was.

    When I began work in the Diocesan Office looking after the lay education and training brief I found it quite a shock to the system in terms of my own spiritual discipline. For the first fourteen years of ordained ministry I had been used to meeting daily with colleagues for Morning Prayer. It was only when that pattern stopped that I realised how important it had been to me. Not just the regular prayer and Bible reading but the liturgical pattern of the year with it’s distinctive rhythm.

    For the last ten years I’ve struggled to find a pattern that fed and sustained me in the way Morning Prayer had done. Early on I tried attending worship at the cathedral but it didn’t really work for me. My own personal devotions used a variety of patterns of worship and the one I settled on was Celebrating Common Prayer. During the final year of my time at the office I valued meeting each Monday with some colleagues for a form of Morning Prayer.

    When I returned to parish ministry in May I also returned to using Common Worship Morning Prayer for my devotions. In part this was prompted by the iPad I had received as a gift from work colleagues which enabled me to say the office from one source provided on line, rather than having do jump back and forth through a weighty tome from Church House Publishing. However, the one thing that was still missing was the corporate aspect of praying that I had so valued in those early years of ministry.

    Before the holidays I explained to the  congregation that from September I would be saying Morning Prayer in the prayer chapel of the church each day and invited others to join me. As part of a team ministry I already meet with colleagues for prayer on Monday mornings so we will use Morning Prayer for this in the future. Most days I will be joined by our associate minister and later in the autumn by a curate who will be on placement with us for a few weeks. We are also hoping to have a stipendiary curate join us next year and I want them to experience what I had come to value during the early years of my ministry. 

    Yesterday we met for the first time and I was greatly encouraged that five of us gathered together for Morning Prayer. As I left the chapel I found myself thinking, that’s what I’d been missing.

    Monday, 5 September 2011

    Happy birthday Freddie

    I remember the first time I saw Queen, it was on Top of the Pops performing Seven Seas Of Rhye. Mercury with black nail varnish on one hand and the glam with some serious rock thrown in. Next day at school it was this performance we talked about as we speculated on what effects May used for that distinctive guitar sound. I saw them live a few years later on the News of the World tour in 1978. Their performance came close to rivalling my all time favourite gig, Led Zeppelin at Earls Court in 1975. Close but not quite.
    I’m fairly sure this video is that performance from Top of the Pops. So happy birthday Freddie and thanks for some fantastic music with plenty of pomp.

    To save & invest don't talk to Nat West

    My young son has raided his money banks and discovered he has large amounts of dosh in small change. He assiduously bagged up the coinage and trekked across to the local bank with his mum to convert his change into notes. Unfortunately the cashier in the local branch of Nat West informed my wife and son that since they were not customers she was unable to help them. Big mistake. I presume this is bank policy, in which case it is very short sighted for they have just rejected a potential customer.

    My son may well have been interested in opening a savings account. No doubt Nat West, along with the other banks, will be touting for his custom when he starts work or heads off to university. They could have rejected a budding Richard Branson or future dragon from the den for all they know.

    On returning home we tried to contact customer services and were led into the nightmare maze of options and menus on high tariff call charges that is the money spinning feature of so many companies. We gave up trying and I fired up the blog.

    When I left school I went to work for Nat West. I got out in 1980 and headed off to pursue a brief career as a drummer, just at the time when the whole banking industry switched from being a service to a business hell bent on maximising profits at their customers' expense.

    Towards the end of the 1970s Marconi's, a major local industry at the time, switched it's employees from a weekly wage paid in cash to a monthly salary paid into a bank. Each employee was told to open an account with a local bank and subsequently issued with a cheque book backed up with a cheque guarantee card. I had to print up many of these cheque books in a machine designed by Torquemada. No advice was given on how to manage or budget with this change to income and unsurprisingly some people couldn't handle it. Customers would come in part way through the month to explain that they had run out of money. As cashiers we were instructed to offer customers in such circumstances either a loan or better still a shiny new product called an Access card. In other words, we didn't give advice on how to handle finances or manage their debt, we were told to encourage people to take on further debt so that they became more dependent on the bank.

    When I handed in my resignation I had an interview with the branch manager. He told me that though he was sad to see me go he thought I was doing the right thing. During our conversation he explained the changing nature of banking. One small example was the way that in the past a perk of the job was an occasional round of golf with a valued client. Now, he told me, he received regular instruction from head office as to which clients he was to entertain and he had to report back on the outcome of this aspect of his work and consequent results. I think he would have been happy if he had never seen another golf club in his life.

    You will not be surprised to hear that when I left employment with Nat West one of the first things I did was to change banks. After my son's recent experience I don't think we will be going back.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

    Has God unfollowed me?

    There's a debate kicking off on Twitter as various people have either given up or decided to stop following other tweeters. The reason given is the amount of spam doing the rounds in the twittershpere. I saw this cartoon the other day and it made me smile.


    h/t @FisherPeter

    Friday, 2 September 2011

    An unholy trinity

    Earlier this week I entered hell. Bank holiday Monday hell. Before the weekend my iPad experienced a nervous breakdown and I was booked for an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar to exchange it. Unfortunately, my nearest Apple store is at Lakeside shopping centre and so at lunchtime on a bank holiday I headed to an icon of modern day consumerism with another icon of the same tucked under my arm. My journey was surprisingly smooth and I was in and out of the shopping centre with little delay thanks to some excellent service from the Apple staff. Not quite the hell I was expecting.

    lakeside I know Lakeside well. I served my curacy in a neighbouring parish and was there during the completion of the shopping centre and retail park. I remember my first visit to the site and how impressive the building looked. One thing in particular struck me and that was that Lakeside looked like a temple or a church. The centre of Lakeside is topped by a dome and spire and it reminded me on first viewing of one of the American mega churches from the 1980s.

    The image of church or temple is appropriate because Lakeside has become a symbol of our culture’s values and priorities. In the aftermath of the summer riots, which I observed from a distance while on holiday in France, one of the most incisive comments came from French political commentator Agnes Poirer. Many of the foreign papers had taken some time before reporting the story including the French press. This was not a bad thing as it gave them time to reflect in a way that was sadly lacking in many of our media outlets. Poirer, interviewed on the BBC Today programme, argued that the wider social and economic context had to be considered in order to understand the rioting and looting. In a devastating observation she argued that London had become the epitome of inequality in the Western World before going on to suggest that ‘profit, speculation and consumption are Britain’s holy trinity’.

    I think Poirer is right. Our culture is obsessed with profit, speculation and consumption. These forces have driven our politics, our economics, our priorities and values as a society. I do not in any way excuse the violence and the looting of the summer’s riots, some of which happened in places I know very well because I’ve lived there and friends and colleagues still do. But I am astonished at the way many of our politicians and commentators refuse to step back and look at the bigger picture. Only this morning the Prime Minister was again reluctant to accept that the behaviour of those in positions of authority and power in our society may bear some responsibility for what took place on our inner city streets.

    For decades we have celebrated the Gordon Gekko ‘greed is good’ outlook on life. This attitude crosses the political boundaries. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when Peter Mandelson was reported as saying ‘we are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich‘. No surprise to discover that Mandelson and his chums have spent a good deal of time holidaying with the world’s wealthiest and once out of office many have touted their services to the highest bidder, one describing himself as being like a ‘cab for hire’. It is this culture that led so many of our politicians to think there was nothing wrong with fiddling expenses, decking out houses with the most luxurious goods on the public purse, playing the tax system to best advantage and all the while condemning the 'undeserving poor'.

    And then I remember the reason I was heading to Lakeside and my own part in the whole sorry mess we have got ourselves into. I know that I am just as caught up in the profit, speculation and consumption culture as the next person, be they Prime Minister or brick throwing Hoodie. So I find myself driven back to those words from Romans 12:1-2:
    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

    Thursday, 1 September 2011

    the agony and the ecstasy

    Every now and again there comes a match when a football fan experiences 90 minutes (or in Manchester United’s case 97 minutes) of pure joy. Last Sunday’s evisceration of Arsenal was such a time as Manchester United left Arsene Wenger’s managerial dreams in tatters at the Theatre of Dreams. But for every ecstatic fan there is another keeping balance in the universe as they experience the agony of their team’s complete humiliation. Such misery was captured brilliantly by Ripping Yarns in the episode Golden Gordon (Gordon Ottershaw is even wearing red and white!). Watch it and weep or laugh depending on which team you support.