Thursday, September 18, 2014

Token Scot Day


who's on their way from misery to happiness today?
"And I would cast 500 votes
and I would cast 500 more...

In the spirit of new Westminster band David Cameron and the Flying Visits, Opinionated Vicar brings you Token Scot Day, a once in a century chance to make Scottish people feel like they belong to the rest of the UK by playing the Proclaimers and cracking jokes about haggis. Normal service resumes tomorrow.

As a nod to the fact that I'm ethnically 1/8 Scottish, you get 2 Scots for the price of 1 in the video.

(For a brief moment, I did moot the idea of playing 'Lets Get Married' by the Proclaimers on our wedding day. It was only a brief moment.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Oh yes

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

28% of the illness, 13% of the funding, the scandal of mental health 'provision'

The Chief Medical Officer for England has pointed out what many of us have been saying for years, that mental health gets the short (bordering on non-existent) straw in terms of funding and priority. Some snippets from the BBC report on this:

Dame Sally Davies said there were signs funding was being cut at a time when the cost to the economy was rising.
Her annual report said mental illness led to the loss of 70 million working days last year - up 24% since 2009.
She recommended they allowed people with mental health problems the option of flexible working to keep them in employment and maintaining regular contact during sickness leave.
Overall, mental illness costs the economy between £70bn and £100bn in lost productivity, benefit payments and absence from work.
In terms of NHS spending, it accounts for 13% of the budget despite causing 28% of illness.

Dame Sally said there were signs spending in real terms had been cut since 2011 - and called for this disinvestment to stop.
Not quoted by the Beeb, but just as stark, is the fact that 70% of people with a mental health condition get no treatment at all. And some of the treatment is itself pretty patchy - people with specialisms in other areas (e.g. general nursing, social work) are put through short courses to deliver Cognitive Behavoural Therapy, and that counts as 'treatment' even it's poorly done. 
The piece quotes Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb, all saying the right things, but who have comprehensively failed in this area. Clegg has spoken about the need for better mental health services in 2011, 2012, and earlier this year. The evidence quoted by the Chief Medical Officer shows that this is a monstrously ineffective talking therapy. On Cleggs watch, and Camerons, spending has fallen in real terms. Four and a half wasted years. 
The problem is getting worse, working days lost to mental illness have risen by a quarter in the last 5 years. The toll of the recession is not just an economic one. 
here's the official press release, and here is the full report. Some of the good recommendations include mandatory training for GPs in mental health (is this not in place already? if so, that's an absolute shocker), and waiting time targets for people with mental illness. I know people with fairly common mental illnesses who had 10-15 years of going to different GPs before their condition was correctly identified. 
What I can't see (it's a 300+ page report and I've just skimmed it, so I may be wrong) is a systematic attempt to listen to the experience and needs of patients. For example, the model of discharge which works for physical health (your broken leg is now working) doesn't work for mental health - there is often an ongoing vulnerability which ongoing, low level support can prevent from flaring up into a full blown episode. But that's not usually available - and a target based approach may make this worse: put more people through CBT, get more people off the books - that is not the same as a successful outcome for the patient. 
It's not glamourous, it's not a headline grabber, but any politician wanting to be taken seriously has to get a grip on this one, or they are failing 25%+ of the population before they've even started.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Fresh Expressions at Lambeth Palace: putting your dwellings where your doctrine is



Justin Welby is setting up a new monastic community at Lambeth Palace, to spend 'A year in God's time'. Great idea, you have to be aged 20-35 to be part of The Community of St Anselm, and it's part of the Archbishops ongoing vision to put prayer at the heart of the renewal of the CofE.

The community is 'an experiment' - the role of prior is a fixed term 3 year contract - and the aim is to draw in 16 full time and 40 associate members for prayer, study and service.

Welby not only believes that the renewal of the CofE begins with prayer, but is prepared to put his dwellings where his doctrine is. I wonder if any other bishops palaces will follow suit?

I think this probably also makes him the first bishop in the CofE to set up a Fresh Expression of church, though I'll happily be corrected on that one. If you're going to encourage other people to do things, the best way is to lead by example. Bishops should be church planting, if they're going to lead the rest of the church in doing it.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Evil in Nigeria

The savagery of Muslim terrorists in Iraq is being matched by their equivalents in Nigeria. Boko Haram as just as evil as Islamic State, and share the same ideology. Whilst NATO and the West contemplate military action in Iraq, they face the tough decision about where to draw the line. How many people can the West defend against fundamentalist Islam? Nigeria? Mali? Somalia? Less oil, and less atoning to do, in West Africa (though once you factor in the slave trade, perhaps not...).

Targetting Christians and wiping them out is clearly top of the agenda for both groups. Having preached on Moses last week, I can identify with his response to the Egyptian slave driver, it's hard not to simply be consumed with anger and hatred. But then they really will have won.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Faith, Fairness, and the Workplace - Government Survey

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is doing a survey on people's experience of faith in the workplace, and in using public services:

We want to gather as much information as we can from employees, service users, employers, service providers, trade unions, legal advisors and religion or belief groups so that we can assess how a person’s religion or belief, or lack of it, is taken into account at work and when using services.
This major call for evidence is part of our three year programme to strengthen understanding of religion or belief in public life, to improve knowledge of what happens in practice and to make sure that the laws which are in place to protect everyone’s right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect are effective.
You can do the survey here
I'm aware of several people who have ended up working more Sundays then they bargained for when they first agreed to do the occasional Sunday. And there was this case earlier this week, a registrar whose council could have done more to accomodate her but instead got the sack. So it's all very relevant.
Press release from the Evangelical Alliance on the survey here, which references some other research done on faith in the workplace/public life, and where the 'rights' of Christian belief fit into the map of other perceived rights. 

Monday, September 01, 2014

Doctor Whumanist: Can the Physician Heal Himself?

The rebooted Doctor Who has a pretty thorough track record of raiding the cupboard marked 'Christianity' and smearing the contents:
 - Not one, but two lots of deadly angels, the stone ones, and the 'Angel Hosts' on the spaceship Titanic.

 - The clergy are now an armed unit of soldiers, who work for the Church of the Papal Mainframe, the evolution of the present church into a military authority. The Church decides the Doctor is a threat to the universe and a whole series is centred around their despatch of River Song to assassinate him.

 - Monks: oh yes, headless monks, not very pleasant either.

 - Confession: has its own species, the grim looking 'Silence', who maintain confidentiality by making people forget they've ever met them. Bad lot. Another enemy for the Doctor to save the world from.

 - And the Daleks recast as evangelical fundamentalists worshipping their Emperor and zealously destroying everything in their devotion.

 - religious faith portrayed as a self-destructive mania

meanwhile creating secular/scifi analogues of spiritual practice: e.g. the regeneration of David Tennants Doctor through the 'prayers' of the planet via the Archangel satellite network (actually, people all thinking about him at the same time), creating a computerised form of eternal life, and an updated Exodus story broadcast around the Passover season.

The casting may have changed, but the Richard Dawkins subplots haven't: here's a dialogue clip from Episode 1 of the new series:
"I will not die I will reach the promised land" (robot baddie)

"There isn't any promised land, this is just a superstition that you've picked up from all the humanity that you've stuffed inside yourself." (Doctor)

Here we go again....

Both episodes have ended with a mysterious character, Missy, who seems to know the Doctor, welcoming people to Paradise, the promised land, 'Heaven'. Here beginneth the story arc for the current series, and I somehow doubt that 'Heaven' will turn out to be paradise.

CS Lewis wrote the Narnia books as a deliberate attempt to appeal to the imagination and feeling, rather than reason, to commend the Christian message. Worship, sacrifice, resurrection, judgement, were experienced positiviely by the characters (and the reader) rather than described in theological words. Doctor Who seems to be doing the reverse: working its way through the Christian imagination, and recasting everything in it as either villanous or imaginary.

And yet the parasite needs the host in order to feed: Episode 2 has the Doctor trying to save the soul of a Dalek (his words), by appealing to how he felt when he saw a star born, and how that feeling showed him the truth about the universe. How postmodern, thinking with our feelings. The doctor tries to change the Dalek by putting himself into the Daleks mind, who has a conversion experience as the Doctor redescribes the universe to him: "I see beauty, I see endless divine perfection"  which the Doctor encourages him to make it a part of himself, put inside himself and live by. Is this a scifi/humanist version of the Holy Spirit? But the Dalek goes off the rails, because his saviour is himself not whole: "I see into your soul Doctor, I see beauty, I see divinity, I see...... hatred. I see your hatred of the Daleks, and it is good!" And back to EXTERMINATE it goes, just with a different target.

The Doctor asks at the end of Clara, 'Am I a good man?' to which she responds 'I don't know, but I think you try to be and that's probably the point.'

Great line, and I'm impressed by a lot of the scriptwriting so far. But even as Doctor Who debunks faith, it actually makes a profound point: yes we can change, but we need a power to change us that isn't itself tainted by the same thing we are. An imperfect saviour will not do. What we put inside ourselves, what we live by, what we are saved by, has to be entirely pure in order to work.

(use the 'doctor who' tag for previous posts on moral/spiritual issues in Britains favourite sci fi show)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Evolution of the Ice Bucket Challenge

Ice Bucket Challenge: Have some iced water thrown over you, give money to support research into Motor Neurone Disease, and nominate some other people.

Ice Bucket Challenge 2: After watching 14 video clips on Facebook, you now know about the Ice Bucket Challenge, but can you remember which charity it's in aid of?

Ice Bucket Challenge 3: You've been Iced. Will you remember to donate to charity?

Ice Bin-It Challenge: A bearded man throws some ice cream into a bin in a tent in a field. You are the BBC, can you turn this into a ratings winner and front-page news?

Nice Bouquet Challenge: You are a man, you want to buy your wife some flowers. Do you get some at the petrol station (cheap, convenient, sachet of that powdery stuff that's supposed to keep them alive), or a proper flower arranger (a what? more expensive, but more thoughtful). Or do you abandon the idea because making the right decision is too stressful?

Ice Bouquet Challenge: once you've bought the flowers, how do you make them last as long as possible? Tip: don't put them in the freezer. The wife can't see them and the flowers die.

House Pack-It Challenge: How many party donors can you get into the House of Lords without causing a national scandal? Quite a few it seems.

House Quit-It Challenge: You are a Tory MP. You have some sympathy with UKIP. You have even more sympathy with keeping your job. Your parliamentary seat is on the coast. Do you jump ship now and take a risk, or wait until Carswell wins and look like an unprincipled opportunist? Are you an unprincipled opportunist? Sorry, silly question, you're an MP.

Ice Baptism Challenge: You are a vicar in a suburban church who spends hours preparing for and doing baptisms for families you never see again. How might you show people, that baptism into Christian faith is a bit more demanding than showing up once in your life in a white bonnet, and cut your workload at the same time? Can you fit an ice machine into the vestry?

Ice Baptism Challenge 2: A fresh expression of church among the Inuit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Training your dog in evangelism

A friend has the maxim that, if he has a bright idea, he waits for at least 2 other people to come up with the same idea before doing anything about it......

Being out and about is vital as lots of life in Derwent is conducted out on the street so we got a dog, and it was brilliant to see the kind of 'God things' that happened as a result. Billy looks like a greyhound on steroids but he's actually a lurcher/Staffordshire bull terrier cross so he has got quite a lot of street cred because of his quite 'tough' appearance. When we first took him out for walks, people would say things like, 'Would you look at the muscle tone on that?!' The irony is that he wouldn't hurt a fly, but Billy's unconventional looks have certainly sparked many a chat we wouldn't otherwise have had. There are a number of neighbours we now count as friends through these haphazard conversations. (read the full story here)


and from a new book on sharing faith:
Some of their ideas are pretty quirky - like getting a dog just so you can chat to your neighbours when they happen to be in their garden - but the idea behind them is the same: to get talking to the people around us.
Their ideas are laid out in their new book from Moody Publishers - A Field Guide for Everyday Mission: 30 Days and 101 Ways to Demonstrate the Gospel. 
"Walk your dog when your neighbors are outside. Strike up conversations. Invite them over. No dog? Here's your chance to guilt trip your spouse into getting one," they write.  
There. You were thinking about getting a dog weren't you? Not that 'guilt tripping your spouse' is a great way to conduct your marriage, though I'm hoping that quote is tongue in cheek. 
It's also an ethical dilemma: how does a Christian (or any person for that matter) justify spending money on feeding, insuring, housing etc. a dog when there are human beings who have neither food or homes? 
I once did a research degree on a chap who declared that his dog was his spiritual director. It took me years for my attitude to our canine friends to recover, though now we own a dog, I can occasionally see what he was getting at, even though I disagree with just about everything else he said. 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Don't Read This, Read...

this

http://frrme.org/canon-andrews-blog/

and keep praying for Iraq, especially the Christian population there.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Love Is....

The following piece was penned for the local newspaper, but as a dedicated recycler....

"Love is patient
love is kind
Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud
Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
It always protects, always trusts
always hopes, always perseveres."

It’s the height of the wedding season. In line with national trends, we’re doing more weddings this year at St. James than last year, which in turn was busier than the year before. More often than not, the couple choose these famous words as one of the readings. Originally written by St. Paul 2000 years ago to a feuding church in Corinth, they’ve stood the test of time as a vivid picture of love in action.
Standing in front of the newly married Mr and Mrs, I ask them to take that reading, and cross out the word ‘love’. Then write in their own first name. David is patient (#fail) David is kind (sometimes), David does not envy … I’ll stop there. You can tell a lot about the character of the bride and groom from the amount of laughter coming from their guests at each line!
The words from Corinthians act as a plumb-line, a standard that we can measure ourselves against, because love can grow, or it can decay. One trend that really encourages me is the number of couples doing marriage preparation with us. Not preparation for the event, but for married life after it. How to talk, how to forgive, how to resolve conflict, agreeing your goals and values, working out a pattern of time together and apart.
All the couples who do marriage prep find it hugely helpful. Often the men need dragging along to the first session, but by week 3 everyone is telling their workmates about it. Having time to take stock, to learn, to invest in each other, is the best time a couple can spend before their wedding day.
It really doesn’t matter how much you spend in cash on the celebrations, its what you spend on each other in time, attention and love that makes the difference. Marriages might be made in heaven, but the couple pick up the maintenance contract.

And what’s true for marriage is true for friendship, and for our own characters as well. We reap what we sow. CS Lewis wrote “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.” (yes, I know I posted the same quote yesterday)


When I stand in front of the happy couple, I pray that they’ll make a daily decision to love. When it’s easy, and when it’s hard. So that each time they put their name into the Corinthians reading, they’ll find it’s a little closer to the truth. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The APR of the Soul

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” (CS Lewis)