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.