Thursday, 31 July 2014

Bacon bap fail.

The Guardian has an article today in which the author describes teaching her children how to make a Bacon bap from scratch. A noble idea and it looks like good fun. The problem is it fails at step one when they go to the butcher to buy some pork belly which they will then cut up and cure. Now I may have misunderstood but surely if you are going to make it all from scratch you need to buy a piglet, avoid giving it a name, raise it, slaughter it, butcher it and then cure the pork belly. Otherwise to my mind it isn't making a bacon bap from scratch but from basic ingredients.

But here's the real failure in this article. Tomato sauce - NO! The only sauce in a proper bacon bap is brown sauce, the more toxic the better. My preference is for the sort that eats through a kitchen work surface if not cleaned up within thirty seconds of spillage.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

oh Dick

I was going to post something about Richard Dawkins' absurd assertions on Twitter but to be honest they are now so frequent that it's hardly worth comment (and I'm two glasses into a post Holiday Club delicious Pinot Noir). And so I simply share with you the wise advice of Dean Burnett:

For a typically succinct explanation of Dawkins' behaviour on Twitter I recommend The Very Hungry Dawkins.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Deafening silence

I've been doing a spot of Googling in the rare free moments during our church Holiday Club week to catch up on responses to the murderous onslaught being endured by Christians in Mosul, Iraq. I particularly wanted to read what our leading politicians have had to say. So here's what I've found:
Now it may be that Google has been asked to remove links to our leaders' comments under the new and rather bizarre 'forgotten' policy in operation at the behest of an EU court but I doubt it. Frankly, it looks like our leading politicians would rather pretend it just isn't happening.

I don't often agree with Damian Thompson, however, this is an important and timely piece. In Iraq, ancient Christianity lies in ruins. But who cares?

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Loving the alien

Sorry folks, this isn't a post about Susan Sarandon's revelation that she had an affair with David Bowie during the filming of The Hunger. Yesterday I was reading a report on Lord Sacks' comments about social media when I caught sight of an article informing me that Aliens can't be saved according to creationist Ken Ham.

Ham's argument is as follows:
"You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam's sin affected the whole universe,"    
"This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam's sin, but because they are not Adam's descendants, they can't have salvation." 
"Jesus did not become the 'God Klingon' or the 'God Martian'!" he wrote.  "Only descendents of Adam can be saved.  God's Son remains the 'Godman' as our Savior.  In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word). To suggest that aliens could respond to the Gospel is just totally wrong." 
It strikes me that Ham has a very limited soteriology. He argues that Adam's sin affects the whole universe but Christ's salvation only affects humanity. In other words Ham is suggesting that Adam's work is much greater than Christ's. Well I'm with St Paul on this one when he declares:
'In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth'.      Ephesians 1:7-10 
As Tom Wright comments:
'God's plan is for the whole cosmos, the entire universe; his choosing and calling of us, and his shaping and directing of us in the Messiah, are somehow connected with that larger intention... the point is that we aren't chosen for our own sake, but for the sake of what God wants to accomplish through us.' Paul for Everyone - The Prison Letters p.9
This is what I understand to be a universal Gospel; Good News for the whole creation. So if I happen to come across these characters on the underground it will be my duty and my joy to share with them the love of God made known in his son the Lord Jesus Christ.


Friday, 25 July 2014

Lord Sacks may have a point.

During a debate on religious freedom in the House of Lords, the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks suggested that social media may play a part in inflaming conflict. His comments were made against the background of rising anti-semitism in Europe and the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. A particular comment was highlighted in reporting by Christian Today:
"In all this we recognise the power of the internet and social media to turn any local conflict into a global one. We see how the wilful confusion of religion and politics allows soluble political problems to be turned into insoluble religious ones. We witness the ignorance that allows people to mistake one strand within a faith for the whole of that faith, and we pay a high price for our fascination with extremists. It is the worst, not the best, who know how to capture the attention of a troubled and confused world."
In response to Lord Sacks' comments Vicky Beeching, a proponent of social media, made the point that social media is a neutral tool:
"It's crucial we remember social media is a tool, and like any tool it can be used for good or for harm. The tool itself must not be blamed; that points the finger in the wrong direction. We must take responsibility for what we do with that tool."
On the surface this seems a legitimate point, however, I'm not so sure. The same 'it's only a tool' argument is used by the proponents of fire arms. 'Don't blame the gun, blame the people who misuse the gun'. There are of course legitimate uses for a gun, for example in the control of vermin. Yet, as a society we recognise that there is something inherently dangerous about a gun which leads us to impose tight restrictions on its use. We also recognise different types of gun carry different risks; the air rifle popping off manually loaded pellets is different from a rapid fire machine gun capable of delivering 60 rounds per minute and one causes much more damage than the other.

Is the same not true with the means of communication? There is a difference between a comment piece written after considered reflection and published several hours later after review by an editor and a comment fired off in instant response to a news story in 140 characters via Twitter. Consider the growing list of reporters who have discovered this to be true having published a gut reaction comment on social media which they have then had to retract almost as quickly as their bosses have transferred them to another story. I am not suggesting that comment pieces published in the more traditional media cannot be ill informed, inflammatory or even dangerous; the Daily Mail remains a constant testimony that they can. What I am suggesting is that certain forms of communication by their nature may lend themselves to this problem.

Bex Lewis in the same article recognises the distinction between different media while still defending social media when she observed:
"Social media can be considered like a brick – you can build houses with it, or you can throw it through people's windows. People are doing both with it, as people have always done with every communications medium. Yes, social media allows messages to move faster globally, and those who speak loudest will often be listened to. Social media, however, gives the opportunity to speak back, particularly if people gather together."
I am a supporter and user of social media. I blog, tweet and use Facebook and yet I have a slightly ambivalent attitude towards each of these forms because of the misuse I observe and some of the damage that can be done. The most recent case has been over the 'debates' about the situation in Gaza on social media. I have become increasingly uneasy about the way Twitter interaction seems to polarise opinions and suggest you must be either for or against a particular side in the conflict. My timeline has been full of 140 character or less statements, sometimes with links, about a situation which is far more complex than can be communicated in a sentence. The ability to nuance an opinion is lost and it has been easy to read some tweets as being anti-semitic or uncritically supporting of Israel. Isn't this part of what Lord Sacks was seeking to highlight?

Update: If you want an example of a more nuanced approach on social media then check out Sometimes it's hard to write anything funny.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Error of judgement.

The news has been full of horrific images from around the world over the last couple of weeks and thanks to modern communications we are able to watch much of the reporting from these scenes in real time. One particular piece of journalism has attracted a large amount of attention and criticism. Sky News reporter Colin Brazier was reporting from the MH17 plane crash site and he began to rummage through a passenger's suitcase while speaking to camera. Part way through the reporter suddenly says 'we shouldn't be doing this... this is a mistake' and stops. However, the video went viral, in some versions without the final comment from Brazier, and the full force of social media instant rage came crashing down upon Brazier's head. Today in The Guardian Brazier explains how he came to make the error of judgement in his broadcast and in so doing gives us an insight into what many journalists are confronted with when reporting from these scenes of devastation.

The incident raises several issues for me. The first is that I am not sure why we need to have so many reports from these situations in order to understand what has happened or is happening. Did we really need reporters standing in the middle of the wreckage to convey the horror of what had occurred? Whenever a disaster, tragedy or atrocity takes place the default seems to be to send one of our well known news presenters to stand at the scene, breathlessly telling us what we already know. Are they really better placed to inform us from the field rather than from the studio? Often they are simply anchoring the programme and introducing other reports. Is this about creating a sense of tension and immediacy rather than helping us to gain insight into the events?

In Brazier's case the situation was different. He and other journalists had been allowed access into the heart of the site, where normally they would be excluded to the perimeter, as Brazier observes in his piece. We also had an insight into the shambles around the site as investigators and journalists where herded around by the Ukrainian rebels and we were able to observe the failure to secure the situation, protect the evidence and enable a proper investigation to take place. There are times when the on the ground reporting does bring a perspective that would otherwise be missing.

What is also revealed in Brazier's piece is the toll that this type of 'in the field' reporting has on the journalists. I guess we have become so familiar with seeing these reporters speaking to camera against a backdrop of mayhem, that we can forget they are human beings, struggling with their own emotions as they engage with the devastation around them. Brazier speaks of the sudden connection between what he was seeing and his own family as the context of his error of judgement:
And so during that lunchtime broadcast I stood above a pile of belongings, pointing to items strewn across the ground. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a pink drinking flask. It looked familiar. My six-year-old daughter, Kitty, has one just like it. I bent down and, what my Twitter critics cannot hear - because of the sound quality of internet replays of the broadcast - is that I had lost it. It is a cardinal sin of broadcasting, in my book anyway, to start blubbing on-air. I fought for some self-control, not thinking all that clearly as I did so.
There are of course situations where the journalists cannot gain access. At the moment reports are coming out of Iraq that Christians in Mosul are being driven out of their homes or murdered for their faith. The story is gaining some coverage but is largely being drowned out by the situation in Gaza and the Ukraine. What is noticeable is the lack of on the ground reporting from Mosul, presumably because it is too dangerous for journalists to go anywhere near the place, and so there is little visual imagery to convey the atrocity on our televisions. Perhaps if we could see something of the tragedy that is unfolding in Mosul more attention might be given to it by news agencies, the public and our politicians, who seem to be almost silent when it comes to anything to do with Christian persecution in the Middle East.

I confess I was appalled when I saw Brazier's Sky News video clip. Looking back at my Twitter timeline I see I didn't make a comment at the time or RT anyone else's comments. though I easily could have - it only takes a click. I'm grateful to Brazier for his openness and honesty about what happened and for the reminder that those reporting the news are affected by what they encounter and can make mistakes, just like the rest of us.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Captain Hook

Well the vultures are circling as England engineer another batting collapse to hand India a victory at Lords. The pundits have been lining up to call for England captain Cook to be dismissed and it looks like he could be on his way out after this dismal display. Given the way three of the batsman ludicrously holed out after lunch today, I would suggest Captain Cook be replaced by Captain Hook for this really was a pantomime performance.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A simple question

A simple question today as the Assisted Dying Bill is discussed in the House of Lords. It is not do you want the right to choose the time and means of your death in the face of terminal illness? It is are you prepared to be the elderly vulnerable terminally ill person who is pressurised into requesting death because you are made to feel a burden on family and society?

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Anyone who knows me will have been aware of the agonies I suffered last season as Manchester United staggered from one humiliation to another under David Moyes. Moyes is a decent man and a good manager but he seemed completely out of his depth at Old Trafford. I recognise that Moyes was badly let down by some seriously over paid and under performing players, however, man management is part of the job. Now I look forward to a new season with new manager Louis van Gaal, who recently led the Dutch side to a World Cup semi-final in Brazil.

There has been much speculation about who will leave the club and who will be signed in the wake of Van Gaal's arrival but for me the good news has already started. It has been reported that as part of his deal with MUFC Van Gaal negotiated a £1.2 million donation to his favourite charity Muscles for Muscles whose work focuses on spinal muscular atrophy. The money was saved by manager and club as Van Gaal didn't use an agent in negotiating his two year £12 million contract. Set aside for a moment the issue of whether anyone should be paid that sort of money, they shouldn't, and let us rejoice in the fact that a charity has benefited from this deal, rather than one of the shady snake oil salesman who all too frequently infect the game.

Van Gaal is not alone in his charitable works. A couple of days ago it was revealed that Arsenal and Germany player Mesut Ozil paid for the operations of 23 Brazilian children out of his earnings and bonuses. Now, how about it Wazza, RvP and those of you who earned so much and delivered so little last year in a MUFC shirt?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

El Cid on a bike

It was worth the wait to watch the Tour de France flash by me in Chelmsford last Monday, even if ITV did decide to cut to an ad break just as the Peleton reached me. However, I've become increasingly amazed as the race has progressed through France and one by one the superstars of this toughest of challenges have fallen by the wayside. First out was Mark Cavendish with a dislocated shoulder having crashed in a sprint to the line on the first day. Next off was Chris Froome who, refusing to let a broken wrist get in the way of defending his title, fell twice more and fractured his other hand. Even as he staggered towards a support car his team were trying to offer him another bike. Other members of Team Sky have fared little better as day after day riders have been withdrawn. Then yesterday Alberto Contador abandoned his challenge having broken his leg, but only after his doctor had made a vain attempt to strap him up so he could continue.

I watch these supreme athletes take tumble after tumble during the TdF, get back up and carry on draped in tattered Lycra with medics leaning out of cars, applying plasters, spraying on plastic skin and slapping on the ointment. I remember a couple of years ago viewing open mouthed as a group of riders were knocked off the road by a courtesy car and found themselves splayed across a barbed wire fence like latter day Steve McQueens. I gasped as, undeterred, they untangled themselves, grabbed their bikes and charged off down the road in pursuit of the leaders. Even more surprising is the way other riders, rather than taking advantage of misfortune, often slow down to let the fallen catch up with them. It puts the average pampered World Cup footballer to shame as they dive, tuck and roll at the merest brush of an opponent.

As we were listening this evening to the latest roll call of casualties and vain attempts by support teams to keep them in the race, Kate commented: 'One of these days they are going to strap a rider to his bike like El Cid and send him off down the hill.' I wouldn't put it past them. Respect.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

I agree with George...

The Daily Mail seems to be having a bit of a thing about people named George at the moment. It has got itself in a pickle with George Clooney by running a completely false story about his future mother-in-law. When George challenged The Mail they offered an extremely rare apology. This apology turned out to be another piece of journalism which George has rejected as disingenuous if not dishonest. George Clooney deserves great credit for being prepared to take on a newspaper that trades in this type of journalism, particularly on-line, on a daily basis.

Today the Mail has published another article, this time penned by George. However, in this case it's George Carey the former Archbishop of Canterbury. This George is making a bit of a habit of dropping bombshells on the Church he used to lead at the most inappropriate of times. So while General Synod meets in York, George takes the headlines with an article explaining why he has shifted his position on the issue of Assisted Dying. It just so happens that George has decided to take a position on the Assisted Dying Bill before Parliament at the moment which is diametrically opposed to the official position of the Church of England on the issue. So no surprise what took the headlines in the media this morning. Let's set aside the complexities of the arguments about this sensitive and important issue for a moment; I have blogged on this in the past and will do so again and you can read about my views here and here. And before anyone lectures me, as has happened today, that this is an issue about compassion verses cold theology, I can assure you that this is an issue that directly affects my own family circumstances. I would simply make the point today that it is unhelpful and inappropriate for a former leader of the Church of England to make life so difficult for the present incumbent of that office. George Carey was fortunate to be preceded by an Archbishop who, upon retirement, on the whole held his counsel on contentious matters affecting the Church; George Carey's successors have not been so blessed.

So to be clear: I agree with George about The Daily Mail article. George Clooney that is, not the other one.

Update: Some good responses to George Carey's article being posted today. I found +Nick Baines' critique particularly lucid: Dying matters.

P.S. I tried to find an unflattering picture of Clooney so as not to unduly influence this post but to be honest I couldn't find any!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hold the front page

To be honest I'm not a regular subscriber to the Church Times for a variety of reasons which I won't bore you with now, however,  this morning's front page made me feel as depressed as a Brazilian football fan at about 9:29 pm last Tuesday.

I'm not sure who decided to run with this picture but as someone who has a role in fostering vocations in the Church of England I fear the front page has made my job even harder. What message does the picture convey? Ministry in the C of E is for white, middle aged people who like to bounce like Tigger while managing to look slightly awkward about it? Strange, because in the Diocese of Chelmsford two weekends ago we held three ordination services at Chelmsford Cathedral with 32 people being deaconed. Something of the diversity of the diocese was represented in age, ethnicity and gender amongst both candidates and congregations, though we've still a long way to go. Don't get me wrong, God calls white, middle aged people to ministry and I'm one of them, though I was ordained in my mid-twenties, but they aren't the only people he calls. It is said that a picture paints a thousand words and unfortunately most of the words that came into my mind when I saw this front page are unpublishable.

Anyway, if you feel you are hearing even an echo of a whisper that God may be calling you to ministry, to use +Stephen Cottrell's phrase, why not have a chat with your local minister or check out Call Waiting.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Monday, 7 July 2014

The feast of 6th July

Yesterday I celebrated the Feast of 6th July. This incorporated the Men's Wimbledon Final; the Tour de France in Yorkshire and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. The problem was they were all on at the same time so how was I going to cope? The answer was simple as illustrated below...

Now if there had been a World Cup match on as well I really would have faced a dilemma.

Friday, 4 July 2014

In a good cause

A few weeks ago our church held a promise auction to raise funds for Mid Africa Concern and in particular for a hospital in Uganda that is facing severe financial hardship. We were pleasantly surprised by the amount raised and I suspect some of us were caught up in 'auction bid fever'. It was a fun evening with a canny auctioneer and plenty of laughs.

And then I caught sight of what went on at the Tory Party summer ball. Apparently someone paid £45,000 for a bottle of not very good champers signed by Margaret Thatcher. Someone else forked out £160,000 to play tennis with the Prime Minister and Mayor of London (not in their official capacities of course which would be, well how do I put this, corrupt). There were plenty of other extraordinary amounts bid for various items and all in the good cause of... The Tory Party. I see the successful bidder for the tennis match was a banker married to a former minister in Vladimir Putin's government.

I'm writing this listening to the Genesis classic Selling England by the Pound while feeling slightly sick and I don't think it's because of the croissant I've just eaten.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Crammed with heaven...

Wonderful quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning used by Martin Percy at a conference yesterday:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only those who see take off their shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.
I used it today and someone thought I said:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only those who see take off their shoes,
The rest sit around playing with their Blackberries.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Madman across the water

A bit of a kerfuffle was created the other day by Sir Elton John when he made some comments about the Church and clergy gay marriage. In an interview with Sky News the balladeer shared his views declaring:
“If Jesus Christ was alive today, I cannot see him, as the Christian person that he was and the great person that he was, saying this could not happen.
“He was all about love and compassion and forgiveness and trying to bring people together. “And that is what the Church should be about.”
Now let's set aside the novel idea that Jesus was a Christian person, which would mean he was a follower of himself, because I think I can understand what Elton means by that phrase, even if it isn't expressed very clearly. A better way of stating it might have been that Jesus Christ lived out the values and priorities he proclaimed about the Kingdom of God. As someone who has read many a Christology essay from those training for ministry, I can assure you that I have come across many more bizarre statements on the person of Christ than the one expressed by Elton.

Let's also set aside the particular issue he is commenting on, which is a topic that the Church of England is working through at the moment and requires much more consideration than this blog post affords. The main objection from many seems to be that Elton is not in a position to comment on theology in general and Jesus in particular because he is a rock musician and not a trained theologian, nor as far as we are aware is he a Christian. To which objection I offer the following observations:

I have been studying theology for many years as a student and ordained minister. The Rocket Man's summary of the Christian faith seems to me to be fairly orthodox; Christianity is about love, compassion and forgiveness and that is what the Church should be about. Did Jesus get his summary of the law wrong when he spoke about love of God and love of neighbour? And was St. Paul barking up the wrong tree when he wrote 1 Corinthians 13? Of course, how these things are worked out and applied in the ethical complexities of modern life is not easy. If you think they are then just look at the knots the C of E is tying itself up in over its investments in Wonga. All Elton is doing is what the rest of us are struggling to do on the issue of gay marriage as on a whole range of other issues.

Secondly, I think it is a cause of celebration when people seek to consider what Jesus might say and do about an issue or in a particular situation. I'd rather people did that than turn to a horoscope, consult one of the secular high priests in the daily red tops or spout the latest nonsense that drips out of the mouths of contributors to Loose Women. In order to consider how Jesus might want us to speak or act we do need to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, prayer and worship and engage with the reflections of other Christians on these matters, but at least Captain Fantastic is making a start. We also need to recognise, and this is as true for us in the Church as for any musician, that there is a difference between seeking to discern what Jesus might want us to say and do, and imposing what we want him to say and do to fit our own predetermined preferences and prejudices. In theological terms we refer to this as a distinction between exegesis and eisegesis (two great words for the scrabble board) and let's be honest we all fall into this trap from time to time.

Finally, I would simply make the observation that in my experience some rock musicians have made good theologians. There are those who write as Christians including the likes of Bono, Bruce Cockburn, and Bob Dylan, just to name some of the Bs. Then there are those who wouldn't identify as Christians but wrestle with some of the big questions and issues that confront us and come up with some fairly profound theological questions and insights; here I would suggest checking out Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen. Why do we think a singer/songwriter has less right to consider a moral theological issue than we do the merits of one of their albums if we are not a trained musician?

As I thought about Sir Elton's comments I did find myself wondering whether he might go for one of those rubber bracelets with WWJD on it. However, given his attraction to bling I thought he might go for something like this...

Anyway, rather than sneer at him, I think I'll try praying for him and for the Church as we continue to wrestle with what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ amidst the messiness of life in today's world.