Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sarah Palin, via Madpriest

Pure class from Newcastles answer to Ross Noble. Hang on a minute, Ross Noble is from Newcastle. Oh never mind:

"What does Mrs Palin Think? I Don't Know But Alaska."

On another headline, the Beeb website today is running with 'Rich Flanders seeks More Autonomy". Quickly I followed the link, wondering if this was a major new story arc in the Simpsons. But it isn't.

new wedding website

Up and running from Oct 1st is 'Your Church Wedding', timed to coincide with the new rules for Anglican weddings. Nice logo too.
(Ht Start the Week, who also want to know how your 'Back to Church Sunday' went, if you did one. )

Update Oct 1st: and here is the news, it looks like a really good site. You can listen to hymns, click through a lot of helpful pages and questions, all the subsections are short and snappy and seem to link well to one another. Good job, whoever put it together. Dave Walker has more. Great to see Andrew Chalkley getting the recognition he deserves at the Beeb in their report on this today. If he gets any more popular, I'll have to start blackmailing him with past issues of our satirical college 'magazine' Forum, which he edited.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Justice By Fuel Hose & Sporting Roundup

This is Felipe Massa, playing hose skipping with his Ferrari pit crew in Singapore yesterday, all of which gave Lewis Hamilton the 7 point lead over Massa he would have had anyway if it weren't for the harsh penalty he was given at the last Grand Prix.

I think it's the first time we've watched a Grand Prix all the way through, mainly because we were hoping to catch sight of our cousins in the crowd. More importantly though, England have announced their cricket squad for the tour of India. And staying with sport, the Diocese of Lichfield have been advertising their churches in football match day programmes. 4 out of the 5 teams with the advert won (Wolves, Walsall, Shrewsbury and Burton Albion), so I'm not sure what that says about Stoke City, who were no. 5. And lost.

You can see why a football crowd might be seen as a good target for the advert. After all, here is a bunch of people who assemble in the same time & place every week (unless Sky are showing it, in which case the start time is anybody's guess), use singing and responsive chants, and are used to uncomfortable seating. Far more radical would be to build up a Christian community within the football club.

Latest on SPCK/SSG

Though most of the action is going on at the spck/ssg blog, I know that some readers are keen to stay up to date with the latest goings on.

Most of the legal stuff looks like it will take months, but also going on:
- there's a round up of Orthodox views on whether the Society of St. Stephen the Great is truly advancing the ancient faith on this thread.

- Matt Wills has a picture of a poster at Salisbury bookshop, seeking volunteer staff. It has some interesting claims: "the U.K's most successful Church and Bookshop Charity. - Saint Stephen the great/SPCK bookshops", and Matt does some analysis, and Phil Groom does a bit more.

- Some interesting stuff at Solomon Hezekiah's blog, previously under the radar, posted a few weeks ago. Father Christian Troll has also had some correspondence from an anonymous source, at which he has taken umbrage of biblical proportions.

- Numbers: the petition to encourage Durham Cathedral to act on the SPCK bookshop they currently host has over 250 signatories, including local clergy and theological college tutors. And the 'We Support Dave Walker' Facebook group is nearly up to 500. Dave is still steering well clear of SPCK related issues, though if you search for 'spck' at The Cartoon Blog then there are still some traces of Dave's faithful and excellent work in keeping track of the whole SPCK saga. However, as none of these were covered in Mark Brewers 'cease and desist' letter to Dave, they can happily stay up there. You can join a Facebook group for the spck bookshops too.

Since the attempt to get SSG declared bankrupt in the US was thrown out, comments on these various threads seem to be getting a bit bolder/harsher depending on how you look at it. There is a lot of anger and distress, which is understandable, but I hope there can be some room left for repentance and change.

Update: along with the links above, blogs still posting regularly on this are asingleblog, and One blog One Lord. Matt Wardman may post an update once the conference season is over. You can stay up to date with who's posted what via Phil Grooms very handy News Index page.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who's talking to who?

The 'Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging 2008-9' has recently been published, online here. It has all sorts of charts for differnt types of blog, for example the 'top 100 right of centre blogs'. I'm struck by how few I know, and how much fewer I'd know if Matt Wardman hadn't roped me in to the writing team for the Wardman Wire (Matt makes an appearance in one of the lists). Here's the top 20 political blogs overall - see p10 of the report for the key, and what you have to do to qualify. Number in brackets is last years position:

1 Guido Fawkes LI (2)
2 Iain Dale CO (1)
3 Conservative Home CO (4)
4 Dizzy Thinks CO (3)
5 Political Betting NA (5)
6 Devil’s Kitchen LI (6)
7 Spectator Coffee House ME (9)
8 Burning our Money CO (12)
9 John Redwood MP CO (42)
10 Ben Brogan ME (-)
11 EU Referendum RW (20)
12 Tim Worstall UK (15)
13 Tom Harris MP LA (-)
14 Archbishop Cranmer CO (13)
15 LibDem Voice LD (54)
16 Mr Eugenides CO (16)
17 Hopi Sen LA (-)
18 Daniel Hannan MEP CO (85)
19 Three Line Whip ME (-)
20 Stumbling & Mumbling LW (70)

I've looked at 6-8 of these in the last year, and probably none the year before that. It's a reminder of how much of blogland is in-house conversations. Cranmer, whatever you think of his views, is one of the few crossovers between religion and politics.

One problem is that if you're not an 'expert' in a particular field, it's easy to get shouted down. There's all sorts of political, scientific, cultural etc. things I'd love to spout off about, but most of it will be ill-informed, and if you're not one of the big hitters then nobody will really listen to you anyway. I'm still not quite sure what to think that the most popular post ever on this blog was a review of 'The Choir: Boys Don't Sing' on BBC2, whilst lots of other stuff which is probably more important, or more thought through, has disappeared into the dark matter of cyberspace.

Anyway, one more for the road. My latest 'Touching Base' for the Wardman Wire, on political conferences, family policy, whether Nick Clegg writes speeches for John Sentamu, and other meanderings, is here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Families and how to survive them

Research from an 18-year long survey of thousands of households, published earlier this week, points to the relative stability of marriage compared with cohabitation, especially for any children involved. Rather than me try to summarise it, here's a chunk from this report on the research:

John Ermisch, a Professor of Economics at the University of Essex who analysed the data, said: "The rise in births outside marriage is a real cause for concern.
"It is primarily attributable to the increase in people's tendency to cohabit in their first partnership and to have children within these unions. The instability of these unions means, however, than more British children will spend significant parts of their childhood in families with only one parent - and this appears to have long-term negative consequences."

The new report, published by the university's Institute for Social & Economic Research to commemorate 18 years of the British Household Panel Survey, shows that just 9 per cent of births in Britain were outside wedlock in 1975. By 2006, however, this figure had risen to 44 per cent. Three-quarters of these were jointly registered by both parents, suggesting they were living together.

But Prof Ermisch said that many of these cohabiting relationships are doomed to failure, leaving the baby in a single-parent family.
"The time couples spend living together in cohabiting unions before either marrying each other or separating is usually very short, the median duration being about two years.
"The unions that produce children are much less likely to be converted into marriage and more likely to break up than childless ones."

He said only 35 per cent of cohabiting couples stay together until their children turn 16, compared with 70 per cent of married couples. "Having a child in a cohabiting union is often not indicative of a long-term partnership." In addition, single mothers take much longer to find another partner, which leaves their children growing up without a father figure.

Those born into a single-mother household spend 7.8 years of their first 16 years without a second parent, the figures show. Children born to couples living together spend on average 4.7 years with just one parent, but those born to married parents spend on average all but 1.6 years of their childhood with two parents.

Prof Ermisch went on: "Analysis of people born in the 1970s using the BHPS data indicates that a child who experiences a period in a one-parent family, particularly before they start school, ends up with lower grades, worse job prospects and in poorer health than a child from a family that remains intact."

Certain ministers say that family arrangements are a lifestyle choice, and not for the government to promote or encourage. Conservative thinking is slightly more joined up (see p11 of this paper from the Tories 'Childhood Review') An alternative view is here. One challenge of this is to have the debate without the cries that this is stigmatising single parents.

Friday, September 26, 2008


(I foolishly took Bloggers advice to upgrade to a new layout, and it's lost all the links I'd put together down the right hand side. Grrrr! If you find this blog in a mess, sorry. Hopefully it will be sorted soon!)

So, here is the 'new look' Mark 1. All the extra links to blogs, websites etc. from yesterday have vanished - if anyone using Blogger knows how I can rescue my old template and all the html formatting from it, then please let me know! It's also lost my widgets - Bravenet, Technorati, Blogtopsites, which is a bit annoying.

Any feedback gratefully recieved. I was told once that a background in the yellow spectrum was easier for dyslexics to read, so I'm having a go with that, but if you think it just looks like watery custard then let me know. I'd hate to lose popularity over mere presentation, that would make me a politician.

The Occasion - Youth Work Conference

STOP PRESS: This event has been cancelled (Oct 6th). But it sounded good at the time.

Here's the flier for 'The Occasion', a youth work training event near Taunton in October. Hog roast, great seminars, they've even asked me to come and co-host a seminar, silly people. Bookings close on Sept 30th, but as it's to do with youth work, everyone will probably just turn up on the day. It's run by Bristol Centre for Youth Ministry/Frontier Youth Trust, and should be good value.

For info, the keynote speaker is Nigel Pimlott, author of Youth Work after Christendom, and seminar streams include Godly Play, Messy Church, Growing Community and Freedom for Faith

FYT are also responsible for this ASBO:

don't know if Jon Birch has anything to do with this (and catch more of Jon's stuff on Proost, if you're a fan, I like the look of the interactive digital confessionals), wonder what you have to do to get one?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid, not Rowan Williams

At least one blogger has laid into Rowan Williams for being a 'Marxist', in the light of his critique of the crisis in the banking sector. Williams, and John Sentamu, are both singing from the same hymn sheet in condemning some City practices and calling for better scrutiny of the financial markets.

It turns out that Rowan Williams cites Karl Marx only once, and this is what he says:
"Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that, if about little else." (emphasis mine)
(Ht Ruth Gledhill, Times main story here, and more quotes on her blog here)

So Williams says that Marx got just 1 thing right, and now he's a Marxist? That must make me a member of Al Qaeda, since I agree with Osama bin Laden on the existence of God. I must admit that Times headline really doesn't help "Archbishop of Canterbury speaks in support of Karl Marx" - that's not quite what Williams is getting at! But hey, now an army of the usual suspects will pile in, misquote Rowan without reading what he's actually saying, and the focus will switch.

So lets stick with the real story here. The Archbishop of York said to a group of bankers (you've got to love his guts - talk about Daniel in the lions den):

"To a bystander like me, those who made £190million deliberately underselling the shares of HBOS, in spite of its very strong capital base, and drove it into the bosom of Lloyds TSB Bank, are clearly bank robbers and asset strippers.

"We find ourselves in a market system which seems to have taken its rules of trade from Alice in Wonderland, where the share value of a bank is no longer dependent on the strength of its performance but rather on the willingness of the Government to bail it out, or rather on whether the Government has announced its intentions so to do."

and the real bomb:
"the President of the United States recently announced a $700 billion bailout plans for banks and financial institutions. One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable. It would cost $5 billion to save six million children's lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they now tell us that action for the poorest on the planet is too expensive?"

If you were planning to get enraged about Rowan Williams, don't. If you were planning to get enraged about media reporting, don't. If you were planning to get enraged about bloggers not getting their facts right don't. Get enraged about this. Bush can find hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the banking sector, but not even 1% of this to stop people dying of starvation or for lack of clean water. If this doesn't show that capitalism is sick to the heart, then I'm Karl Marx.

Update: Thinking Anglicans has a good round up of links for this one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Who I am, What I believe"

Gordon Browns speech is already being binned by some opinion writers, but it's worth a look to try (again) to get to grips with Browns vision and values. This wasn't Gordon £rown, measuring everything in sterling, but seemed like a determined attempt to spell out a moral vision. The headlines are from Coldplay, in case you wondered.

(PS Welcome if you've come here from the Today website. How I've ended up there I don't know, I shall have to be nice to the Beeb now)

See What I'm All About
Browns opening line was : "I want to talk with you today about who I am, what I believe", so lets take him at his word. What does make him tick?

- the mantra of the speech was 'fairness', which clocked nearly 40 mentions in one form or another.
- 'duty' - which Brown applied both to himself and to others
- service: the role of the government is to serve the people: “our duty, what gives us moral purpose is serving the people who need us most… people on middle and modest incomes who need to know that they are not on their own amidst this change – we are on their side

There was a lot of talk about values, enduring beliefs, the DNA of Labour etc., which all seemed to come back to fairness. But what does Brown mean by fairness? A few quotes which flesh it out
"treating others how we would be treated ourselves."

And doesn't each of us want to say of ourselves:
That I helped someone in need.
That I come to the aid of a neighbour in distress.
That I will not pass by on the other side.
That I will give of myself for something bigger than myself
" (in spite of Theos, this was the only Biblical or faith allusion in the whole speech)

and part of this fairness is advocacy: defending the weak at home and abroad. “the poor will not go unheard tomorrow at the United Nations, because we the British people will speak up for them and for justice.”

You've Got to Soldier On
...and fairness means not only that the government will support you if you're vulnerable, but if you're not vulnerable you should do your bit. “everyone who can work, must work” . Brown talked repeatedly of a new 'settlement' - we work hard, make the effort, be enterprising, and in return the government will 'serve' us by insuring us against the uncertainties of globalism, and protecting us when we're vulnerable.

Part of the 'settlement' was a raft of proposals for the vulnerable: free prescriptions for folk with long-term illness, more support for the elderly, a better safety net for educational failure, and free nursery places for 2 year olds.

Whoah horsey! Free nursery places for 2 year olds? Is that really about protecting the vulnerable, or is it adding a rider to that 'everyone who can work, must work' phrase: 'even if you've got children'. Despite the rhetoric about supporting families, it is working families who are valued, parenting families didn't get a look in. Parents featured as a) workers and earners and b) people with children in the education system but never as parents full stop. This continues to bother me.

Sometimes Even the Right is Wrong
There was the obligatory Tory-bashing, and no mention of the Libdems at all. Brown took issue, again, with the 'Broken Society'. His alternative is 'the Fair Society', and noted that “we should never forget one thing - that every single blow we have struck for fairness and for the future has been opposed by the Conservatives.”

Dreaming of When the Morning Comes
So what's the vision? What does he get out of bed for in the morning? What is the pulsating heart of Gordon Brown?
Providing free nursery care for more children is a cause worth fighting for.
Providing better social care for older people who need it is a cause worth fighting for.
Delivering excellence in every single school is a cause worth fighting for.
Universal check-ups and new help to fight cancer - these are all causes worth fighting for."

‘fairness is in our DNA, it’s who we are – and what we’re for. It’s why labour exist… we stand up, we fight hard, for fairness….treating others how we would be treated ourselves."

This is an ethic of a different age. We're so used to being motivated by the 'feel-good factor' that ideas of duty, hard work, and plain boring old right and wrong don't really give us a buzz any more. But Jerusalem isn't built with a magic wand, it's a slow, labourious and back-breaking process.

Browns vision is not one of a great philosophy or dream, but of practical morality. If you don't have a serious moral purpose at the core of your being, you have no place in politics. I have some serious questions about where he goes with it, but I remember one recent election where what swung my vote was Browns clear commitment as Chancellor to dealing with global poverty. There wasn't much in it on the domestic front, so my vote went with the party likely to be most effective and energetic on behalf of the developing world.

Reign of Love... We're Waiting
Last night we had an evening looking at early church history, and one thing struck me powerfully. 2nd century church worship is described thus by Pliny

“They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing
responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not
to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their
trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so"

A couple of hundred years later, things have changed - the commitment to living a life of integrity and honesty has gone, and been replaced by the reciting of a creed: commitment to an intellectual version of Christianity, in place of a practical one. Subsequent church history shows how much of a mistake this was, sparking repeated attempts by monastic movements to spell out a 'rule of life', a way of living, a practical programme of Christian ethics.

Maybe we'd rather have an intuitive, touchy-feely leader like Blair or Cameron. They are certainly more in tune with society. But the practical morality of Brown - duty, service, fairness, integrity, advocacy for the weak - it may not get your pulse racing, but can we do without it?

Back to Church Sunday

....is coming up this weekend, the CofE has a press release about it, with stories of how bishops are trying to publicise the day around the country. Around 30,000 guests are expected, which is a fair number, and research suggests that around 1 in 10 of these will like it enough to stick around. I'm not sure how to take that - what about the other 9 out of 10?!

We're spreading our BTCS over 2 weekends, as we can never fit everyone in anyway, and Oct 5th will be our Harvest service, which seemed to fit with the whole concept. We had about a dozen guests last year, some of whom are still with us. More thoughts here.

In the opposite direction, Prodigal Kiwi notes the publication of a new book, Quitting Church, and links to some of the other key research and reading on this topic.

And it's also a great chance to post Dave Walkers cartoon, a scene which will be famliar to churchgoers everywhere:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Christian Blog Awards

Dave Walker has a list of the winners of this years 'Christian Blog and Web Awards', which were presented on Friday. Unfortunately we didn't get the SPCK bloggers onto the list.

Also not on the list, but worth a look (Ht Madpriest) is Stuff Christian Culture Likes. It's painfully close to the truth, apart from what she says about Coldplay. She'll probably do a post next on how Christians like to present themselves with awards.

The Magic of Shepton Mallet

Update: here's a Times piece on the archaeologist who found the original amulet, which puts the case for it being genuine. So I'm very confused now. But I still don't like the building they named after it.

A supposedly 4th century Christian amulet, found in Shepton Mallet, has been exposed as a fake. I mention this because I used to live there. The amulet was found in 1990, and is now thought to have been planted by protesters opposed to the building of a warehouse.

I was bemused by the following comment from the deputy mayor: “It’s like the magic has been removed from Shepton Mallet". Sorry? Here's a picture of Shepton

notice the nice old market stall thingy in the front, completely dwarfed by the concrete monstrosity behind it. The monstrosity was named 'The Amulet' to commemorate the finding of the historic piece. Maybe now, to recognise that it's a fake, they'll pull it down to reveal a very nice view across to Shepton's ancient parish church from the market square. That would save them thinking up a new name.

To be fair to the place it does have these very nice gardens. And a prison. And a brilliant rabbit-warren of a furniture shop opposite the 'you could be anywhere in the country' retail park, built over the rubble of the Clarks factory where I used to work. Actually, since Clarks paid people on piecework - a dehumanising and corrosive practice - the retail park is probably a nicer place to work.

It's a lovely place really, they've just not been blessed with the best town planners.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Face to Face and Side by Side: the good, the bad and the government jargon

Had an email today about a consultation event in November: part of the blurb (bold is all original, red is my emphasis)

This summer the Government published a new framework for building inter-faith cohesion and harmony in a multi-cultural Britain. ‘Face to Face and Side by Side’ sets out how government will work with faith based groups to improve community cohesion and interaction, as well as initiatives to support faith organisations in delivering public services. This commitment will be backed up by £7.5million worth of investment at national, regional and local level to build the capacity of faith based organisations and help them work and have dialogue with local authorities and regional development agencies

Delegates will have the chance to engage with the panel in investigating key questions such as:

- What are the key practical steps that local authorities can take in supporting inter faith community relations?
- How to integrate faith relations into wider strategies for community cohesion and empowerment and ensure dialogue and good relations between faith groups and local decision making bodies?
- How best to promote understanding and awareness of different beliefs and religious practices?
- How can faith based organisations best utilise their unique capabilities, access funding, and develop their infrastructure in order to deliver public services?

Since the email has the usual disclaimer at the bottom, I won't put the rest of it up for fear of being sued by a Texan, but most of the above is public domain anyway. A couple of thoughts:

1. I'm glad that this is going on. There are plenty of countries where a Christian presence is met with violence, persecution and death. Here, we are invited to partner with the government. That's good. The government is also starting to recognise the contribution churches and faith groups make to society at large. Again, good, though a recent report questioned how deep that recognition goes. To its credit, Face to Face and Side by Side tries to deal with some of the issues raise in Moral but No Compass?, including the need for an evidence base. Simply reading through the reams of local initiatives, and seeing that they are recognised by the government, is very encouraging.

2. If there's £7.5m to build the capacity of faith based organisations (highlighted in red, above), the best way to build capacity is to increase committed membership. I wonder if we can use some of that money to employ an evangelist? Just imagine having that kind of budget on your next Alpha course.....

3. The strong pragmatic leaning of the questions - 'practical steps' 'utilise capabilities' etc. Nothing about building a common vision/philosophy of a multi-cultural society. As I commented the other day, in political life we have seen the death of every 'ism' except pragmatism. As the common values which underpin our society have dissolved, the political class have fought shy of trying to spell out a vision of life, society and values which we can all sign up to. This comes naturally to religion, and is one thing we could really contribute to society, but lines about 'understanding and awareness' speaks to me of wanting to keep the really challenging questions at arms length. 'Sure we'll try to understand what you're about, but engage with it.......?'

It's interesting that 'Face to Face and Side by Side' spells out what the government would like to see, but misses the chance to spell out a Christian, or Muslim (or etc.) perspective on the same issues, and to show where the common ground is. In 132 pages on faith, God isn't mentioned once, which is either a triumph of even-handedness, or something else.

4. Labour is very keen to get the 'third sector' (charities and faith groups) involved in welfare delivery, and the direction of this consultation seems to be about how - with a financial incentive -faith groups can be bound into a clearer commitment to delivering government policy. Community cohesion, understanding of faith groups, these are familiar terms to anyone who's ever read a Home Office document or the national curriculum. Of course these are good things, but is this the government 'working with' faith groups, or faith groups working for the government and being paid for it?

5. You could reword the 4th question as 'how far can faith groups change their organisation and priorities so that they can become an arm of government?' Put like that, it sounds a bit less enticing. Yes there are areas of overlap between our priorities and the governments, but in the overlap, who is on top?

I'm all for partnership wherever it can work. Here in Yeovil there is lots of it - over youth, community, policing, new communities, poverty relief, homelessness, childrens services etc. But the ultimate community cohesion is that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, and that God was in Christ reconciling the whole world to Himself. If we are going to be part of this conversation - as we should - then we need to be as confident in using our own language and worldview as the Government is in using theirs. Whether Christians are then penalised for this will show how serious the state is in engaging with us as equals.

SPCK roundup

Still things happening on on the SPCK front, various things from the last few days, which might have got blogged here but for our clergy conference:

- the preliminary hearing of the employment tribunal for 30 former SPCK employees. The notes on the hearing are here. It seems to be the beginning of a long process. Matt Wills has some thoughts on this at his blog.

- Exeter 'SPCK' has closed down, I can't quite work out the full story on this, some of it is here, and asingleblog seems to know some of the background too. It all seems a bit of a mess, which is the story of many of the bookshops, very sadly. It's good to hear that the former manager of the Salisbury bookshop is to open up a new Christian bookshop in the town, Sarum books.

- nothing further from the US, though Father Christian Troll has, as usual, some helpful advice for all concerned. There are now so many blog posts on 'Houston Bankruptcy' that various automated sites are springing up with some links you might recognise.

things have quietened down on Facebook, though a few new members means the 'We Support Dave Walker' group has 486 members now. 14 more and we get free chocolate, or something. I even met one of the other group officers in the flesh at our clergy conference, didn't realise he was another Bath & Wells vicar. We do get about.....

The spckssg blog remains the place to go for all this, and it makes it a lot simpler for people searching for stories. Even though it feels safer to have several blogs going on this at once, Mark Brewer knows exactly what will happen if he has another go at shutting down Phil's blog. And don't forget this, which is still an offence and a grave injustice.

So, what are the ongoing issues:
- current SSG shops, like Durham, Chichester, and how they are being run. People are still signing the petition to encourage Durham Cathedral to step in at the Durham shop, and there is plenty going on behind the scenes there too.

- the employment tribunals - next stage of this is December/new year, it looks like this will take a while to sort out.

- what will happen over the court sanctions on Mark Brewer/Brewer&Pritchard in the US for - it is alleged - using the US bankruptcy courts system to evade their responsibilities in the UK.

- with 3 companies now running the UK shops in place of the Society of St. Stephen the Great (ENC, and separate companies for Chichester and Durham), there are some sharp questions being asked about stock transfers between the various shops, and what suppliers can do about this. There are hundreds of suppliers who are owed money by SSG and its surrogates, who must be less than impressed at what is going on.

- the fact that the 3 Cease and Desist letters against bloggers have not been withdrawn, with the result that Dave Walker is no longer posting about SPCK, despite having been the mainstay of news, comment and analysis of the bookshops in the last 2 years. Matt Wardman has more thoughts on what a 'cease and desist' letter really means, do read the comments there too.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Change at CPAS

It's interesting to see that CPAS are giving a major boost to the leadership development side of their work. Their vision over the next 5 years has some pretty ambitious goals:

  • developing 25,000 men and women to become more effective in leadership
  • equipping churches to train a generation of children and young people for leadership
  • helping 600 18-25 year olds aspire to and prepare for leadership
  • inspiring 150 leaders under the age of 30 to offer themselves for ordination, including pioneer ministry
  • equipping 8,500 leaders to be effective in reaching and discipling children and young people through Ventures and Falcon Camps
  • working with our 500 patronage churches to develop effective leadership
  • promoting research and sharing expertise on issues of church leadership.
Having been through the Arrow Leadership Programme, run by CPAS, I can vouch for their expertise and commitment to excellence in all this. One day theological colleges and clergy training may start to take leadership training more seriously than ticking boxes for universities, but that day hasn't arrived yet. For me, Arrow filled a yawning hole in my training, and because it ran alongside day-to-day responsibilities in the parish, it could be applied and worked through in real life.

If you are looking to develop as a leader, or to find a good training package for full-time leaders in your church, I would thoroughly recommend Arrow. There is a lay training equivalent, 'Growing Leaders', which can be run in a local setting over a year or so. The training pack costs quite a bit, but the good news is that if you're anywhere near Yeovil you're welcome to borrow mine. I can also recommend the book of the same name, by James Lawrence, which distils much of the wisdom of Growing Leaders/Arrow into 1 volume. Alongside Hybels 'Courageous Leadership' it's one of the best single volumes on Christian leadership on the market....

(...though I picked up a copy of 'Leading out of Who You Are' by Simon Walker on our clergy conference, which looks very good and is getting a lot of good reviews)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Did Darwin Think of Religion

Theos have been busy this week, not only reporting on political God-talk (see below), but rounding up some quotes from Charles Darwin on what he thought of faith.

Also from the Times site, readers letters on creation and evolution in the light of the Royal Society mess, and some words of wisdom from Sir John Polkinghorne.

Will God Save Gordon?

(cross-posted from the Wardman Wire.)

As the Labour Conference begins, there is probably an obscure spread bet to be had on how many times God is mentioned. The thinktank Theos reported this week on the rising number of credits offered to the Man Upstairs in conference speeches by party leaders. Findings include:

- despite Alastair Campbells protestations, Labour has made most use of ‘God talk’, making 98 religious references and allusions in the ten party conference speeches examined, compared with 65 for the Conservatives and 23 for the Liberal Democrats.

- Gordon Brown makes most references per speech. In 2007, his one speech (in which he famously referred “the sermons my father preached Sunday after Sunday”) contains 14 religious references, compared with Blair’s average of 9.3 and Cameron’s 8.3.

- Brown, Blair, Cameron and Duncan-Smith each made over 8 references per speech; Hague, Campbell, Kennedy, Howard and Ashdown each made fewer than 5 per speech.

- In 2001, when each of the speeches was delivered within a few weeks of the 9/11 attacks, the three leaders between them made over 50 religious references.

- Since 9/11, there is a general upward trend in religious rhetoric. Prior to 2001 (i.e. 1998-2000) there are, on average, 11 references and allusions made in party conference speeches per year, whereas after 2001 there are over 16.5.

Okay it's hardly a scientific study, and Tony Blair looms large over all of it, but he's certainly far from alone.

There are a whole cluster of reasons for this. One is the religious faith of some of the leaders themselves. In another age, religion was a private matter - no longer. Our confessional culture requires people to wear their heart on their sleeve, and Blair is the prime example. Margaret Thatcher professed a Christian faith, but (with one notable exception) she rarely spoke about it.

Religion is, of course, a much bigger issue in politics. Not what you'd expect in a post-Christian, and increasingly secular society. But part of the process of secularisation is debates about things like faith schools, and how to deal with religious worldviews in the state education system. Post-9/11, how our society relates to Islam has become both a local and global issue.

There are other things going on too:
- Faith groups, particularly churches, are more involved in 'welfare delivery' to use an awful government phrase. Media coverage suggests that the only politically active groups are those like CCFON, focusing on embryo research, abortion and sexuality. Look more closely and you find a different picture.

Christian groups are involved in everything from debt counselling to marriage support, prison visiting to Make Poverty History, mental health to measures against people trafficking. Even city traders get a look-in. Organisations like Faithworks, with a track record in dealing with a whole spectrum of need, are routinely consulted by the state, and rightly so. When the church's Moral But No Compass report criticised the governments attitude to faith groups, the one thing that nobody questioned was the church's major role in civic, economic and social life, and in welfare and support of the vulnerable.

- As Britain loses its Christian identity, church and Christian groups become much more distinct from society in general. In 'Christendom', a Christian perspective is taken for granted by everyone, but in a secular society, a religious perspective is novel and distintive (or strange and deluded, depending on how you look at it). It is the very success of faith in motivating people to work with and for the marginalised which makes some politicians keen to work with them, though the reality doesn't always match the rhetoric.

- Religion may be on the way out, but God isn't. Research suggests that more of us are reporting religious experiences, and praying, than 20 years ago.

- The divide between religion and politics, reinforced by Margaret Thatcher once she started getting it in the neck from the Church of England, is weakening from both sides. Politicians see religious groups as a legitimate part of society and politics, and most Christians would say 'Amen' to Desmond Tutu: "I wonder which Bible people are reading when they say religion and politics don't mix".

Finally, there may be one other thing going on. Political ideology seems to be a thing of the past. Back in the 1980's we were drowning in 'isms' - socialism, Thatcherism, communism, monetarism. The Ism is now an endangered species. Now that politics no longer gives us a Theory of Everything, religion has the field all to itself. The success of the Alpha Course - tagline 'is there more to life than this?' - is evidence that people want to see life in a bigger perspective.

Maybe God-talk in political speeches is just politicians trying to hint that, like the majority of voters, they believe in more than pure pragmatism. This is not the same as button-pushing 'God Bless America' rhetoric, which takes God's name in vain in order to win votes.

It would be a miracle if Brown survives to win the next election, and there will be a lot of praying in Manchester over the next few days, much of it done by MP's who have seen the latest polls. I'd be surprised if there is a lot of religious rhetoric at the Labour conference, but if there's no mention of God, you can see the headlines: "Brown hasn't got a prayer".

Friday, September 19, 2008

Couple of SPCK/SSG etc. links

The case notes from the hearing for 30 former SPCK employees at yesterdays employment tribunal have been posted at the spck/ssg blog.

Matt Wardman has posted on whether Cease and Desist letters are worth the paper they're written on: “Cease and Desist” letters are just like any other letters - they are a collection of statements that are somebody’s opinion, and they may or may not be true. People like writing them because they are a cheap way to get people to comply with demands that may or may not be reasonable

And it sounds like there won't be a 'Sunday programme' item on the SPCK saga now, so that's saved you getting up at 6am on Sabbath. (Except that the Sabbath is Saturday).

Meanwhile if you're still coming down from the adrenaline high that was the LibDem party conference (surely shome mishtake?), Theos have a fascinating analysis (link should work now!)of how much God-talk there is in conference speeches made by party leaders. It's on the rise, apparently - though one question they don't ask is what God thinks of this.....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cricket Crunch

Returning from a very good clergy conference (yes, you heard me right), to find that our modest stock market investment is now worth less than a postage stamp, but even worse my cricket club has folded. Tintinhull CC is no more, at least for the time being. Injuries, weather, Curry Rivel, our foes have been numerous and merciless, and there's been too much to do for the same core of faithful people.

Thankyou to Lindsay, Jerry, Colin and Ticker, and to everyone else who made me feel welcome at the club. I'd just about decided to stop playing cricket on Saturdays from next year anyway, as Sundays tend to get a bit busy in this job, and my kids are starting school, so that makes my mind up for me. A great shame.

Monday, September 15, 2008

We're all going on a.....

...... clergy conference
No more blogging for a day or two
Lots of vicars at the clergy conference
There's room for me and you -hoo - hoo
If you're from Bath and Wells too.

We're going where the beer flows nightly
With Bishops Peter one and two
We've seen the fliers and the programme
Now we'll see if it's true

(with apologies to Cliff Richard)

The 'No Small Change' conference prayer: "Lord, you are the changeless one, who comes to change us into the likeness of Jesus Christ your Son: as we gather in your name give us the courage to let your Spirit transform us that we may hear again your call to be an instrument of changing lives in the world you so love. Amen."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Noel Edmonds: Criminal Mastermind

Having made his name at the BBC, TV presenter Noel Edmonds is now refusing to pay his license fee, because he doesn't like the threatening tone of the adverts which encourage folk to pay. Ah well, that's grabbed the headlines anyway, just as Edmonds is launching a new series on Sky. Is he not paying his Sky subscription either, because they've outbid terrestrial suppliers on key sports for years, denying many of us the TV we used to get on the (much cheaper) license fee? Possibly not. Okay then, do it as a gesture of solidarity with the Chinese against book-banning, Dalai-dissing Rupert Murdoch. You've bitten one feeding hand, why not go for a complete set?

Edmonds says: "We have a society where we blame someone else when something goes wrong", and he's also quoted as saying "The politicians - and I'm talking about Gordon Brown - have had their day," he said. "They've had their chance to do it and look at the mess we're now in." So that would be blaming someone else (politicians) for when somethings gone wrong. Excuse me whilst I sink my teeth into a solid object and emit a muted cry of anguish. With logic like that, there's no end to the criminal actions you could justify.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Brewer 'Ill Advised' but not much else

(sorry, more spck stuff. Noel Edmonds post tomorrow)

Following the legal moves against him, what has Mark Brewer actually admitted to? Todays SPCK/SSG headline says he 'pleads mainly guilty', but I'm not so sure.

That post on the spckssg blog has the full response made by Mark Brewer to the motion for sanctions issued against him just over a week ago. What does it actually say? I won't quote the full version here but you can find all the legal papers through this link. Lets have a look at how it lines up:

1. Admissions
- anything that's already on the record as fact - e.g. that the bankruptcy case was denied.
- that he was 'ill advised' to bring the bankruptcy proceedings, recognising the 'grave seriousness' of what he did.
- that his actions have cost the court money.
- that he/Brewer & Pritchard will pay 'an amount that is reasonable'

2. Nearly Admitted
- the original motion asked for retraining in legal ethics, with a certificate to prove it. Brewers response suggest an alternative - some training in bankruptcy law (bit late for that!) with an ethics credit. No mention of providing evidence to the court that he's done it. A sidestep.

3. No comment
Brewers response claims he has 'insufficient knowledge to admit or deny' a number of things. Maybe this is another way of saying 'no comment'. Those include:
- whether an LLC (in the US) is the same as a Limited company in the UK
- Whether the bookstores were the only asset of the SSG charity. I'm sure they acquired some churches as well. And he was the boss of SSG, so it's the kind of thing he ought to know.
- The contents of a post on the CartoonChurch blog. This is interesting: not so long ago Mr. Brewer was sufficiently sure of the contents to threaten Dave Walker with libel if he didn't take them down. Now he saying he has 'insufficient knowledge' of one of the posts he asked to be removed. Wonder how that would affect any libel action?
- A number of financial matters raised, including paying himself for legal services to his own company. Brewer's response is that he provided all the necessary information to the bankruptcy hearing

4. 'Denied': not point by point, but under the overall heading of 'Brewer denies the remaining paragraphs in the motion'. So that covers....

- Filing the bankruptcy to avoid paying up in the UK.
- Having 'no assets to reorganise' (not sure what the significance of that is)
- deliberately misleading the court
- committing a fraud on the court by failing to discluse the true name of the Debtor, and transferring business between companies all of which he owned.
- Conflicts of interest in representing SSG as a lawyer whilst at the same time being its chairman, and not revealing this.
- Not informing the court that SSG’s business had been transferred to ENC And in paras 9-12 he denies
- Violating his duty of candor to the Court (i.e. not telling the whole truth)
- Possibly violating Title 18 of the US Code (bankruptcy fraud)
- Filing the case to avoid claims made against himself, SSG and ENC in the UK
- Expressing displeasure with Randy Williams (the lawyer who got the bankruptcy case thrown out)
- Arguing to the UK employment tribunal that it’s proceedings were dependent on the outcome of the bankruptcy filing
- Violating Bankrupty Rule 9011
- (inferred) vexatious conduct
- committing a fraud on the court
- wrongful acts
- violating section 157 of Title 18. This is a fraudulent attempt to obtain bankruptcy, punishable by fine and 5 years in prison. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/usc_sec_18_00000157----000-.html
- Violating a duty of honesty and candor
- Bringing disrepute to the US Bankruptcy Courts as haven for those seeking to escape justice
- Attempting to escape justice in the UK
- Using the charitable status of SSG to prevent his actions being scrutinised
- Attempting to subvert the law to escape his responsibilities.

some of these overlap, or say the same thing in a different way. But it's safe to say that Brewer denies all of the most damaging allegations, and admits to only what is already a fact in the public domain, and to making a mistake in bringing the case in the first place.

Not being a lawyer, there is technical language here that someone else will have to explain. But this looks like a fairly straight bat to me. Now we'll see whether the original motion is followed through, or whether, like Brewers Cease and Desists, it's bark is worse than its bite.

Creationism in Class?

Prof Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, has called for 'Creationism' to be explored on the school curriculum:

"Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis.
"However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis.
"I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview'; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility."

I hadn't realised that he's a fellow vicar as well, and he seems to have had a busy 24 hours since the story broke! I have 3 observations:

- This whole story reinforces the Dawkins myth that there are only two possible worldviews when it comes to the origin of life - Creationism or evolution by natural selection. So therefore anyone religious must believe the world was made in 6 days. Creationism is a minority view among Christians, but you wouldn't guess that from the way this kind of stuff is reported. Most of us don't have a problem with evolution, and a cosmos many billions of years old. In fact, that cosmos is charged with the glory of God in a way increasingly discovered by scientists.

- By all means teach Creationism as a worldview, but if you're going to be fair why not teach Darwinianism (or Dawkinsism) as a worldview as well? Atheist scientists make faith statements too.

- Part of the debate is whether this belongs in science or R.E./PSHE (personal, social and health education) It's not as though there isn't an explicit worldview behind most of what's in the school curriculum, in terms of what's important, and education as a practical exercise to prepare you as a worker and citizen of a particular sort of society. Everything belongs in RE.
Update: great collection of links at Thinking Anglicans on this story. TA also reports rumours that the CofE is to apologise to Charles Darwin on his anniversary next week. Why? The scientific community gave Darwin plenty of stick too, and soon-to-be Archbishop Temple welcomed Darwins insights. And maybe it's time to re-examine the legend of Huxley vs Wilberforce too.

Anyone like to go on the radio?

I've been asked to blog this:

Radio 4 Sunday programme are hoping to do a follow up report on the SSG Bookshop issue including the outcome of the tribunal meetings and the issue of the court action against Mark Brewer. They need to be able to speak with the following people: 1) Someone who can speak on behalf of the ex SPCK Booksellers (I am willing to do this if people give me the information.) 2) A representative from the publishers 3) Someone who can speak on the wider Christian Bookselling issue.
If you would like to be considered for this please let me know at
Phelim McIntyre

...I'm assuming we're talking about Sunday 21st September for this.

Meanwhile the Church Times has run a substantial story on the bankruptcy and tribunals, and mentioned in print for the first time the threats against Dave Walker. It hasn't mentioned Phil Grooms blog, which is now the main source of ongoing news on this story following Dave's silencing, so if you'd like to write to the CT and mention http://spckssg.wordpress.com/ I'm sure their readers would appreciate it.

First of a 2-part roundup of news this week on the SPCK/SSG saga at Phil Grooms blog. Mark Brewer seems to have owned up to most of the charges in the 'motion for sanctions' which was laid against him in the US courts. He is 'sincerely remorseful'. Good. There are now some strange things going on ahead of the employment tribunal later this week. (Update: part 2 has just gone up, but there are now 4 parts in all! It has the full text of Mr Brewers response to the motion, haven't got round to working out exactly what he's admitting to and what he's denying. Maybe that's part 5.)

Fr. Christian Troll has risen from his sickbed to pass comment, though I'm not sure I understand what he's getting at. Maybe that's good! Matt Wills notes that there is now an evidence section on the spck/ssg blog - one difficulty in all this has been trawling posts, comments and goodness knows what else to find out the facts. Having them all together in one place is a good idea.

Can't keep up!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Court action against Mark Brewer - links

As you might expect, there have been various bloggers picking up on yesterdays news that a motion requesting sanctions has been issued against Mark Brewer and his law firm. The deadline for their reply is close of business today, 11th September. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Bloggers commenting and citing include
Thinking Anglicans
Squiggle Jones
God, Christ questions and faith
Matt Wills
LankyAnglican new blog inspired by Tom Allens great example.
Richard Peat : "the motion provides a lot that can be used back in the UK, and does seem to represent another spectacular backfire on Brewer’s part. Rather than quietly winding up the charity, the US court is now looking to punish him and his firm for bringing the motion in the first place."
Blogspotting Anglican Episcopalian (why can't he use short words for his blog title?)
Matt Wardman has posted a revised version of his summary on the Wardman Wire, which is a good place to get the whole story.

We may see a Church Times article on this tomorrow, so I take back everything I said.

The strange thing is that I was wondering on Tuesday night whether to send a message to Mr. Brewer, on behalf of all 480 Facebook Dave Walker supporters, asking him to reconsider his legal correspondence with Dave. Maybe I'll leave it for a bit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE: Very Important new SPCK/SSG Development

Big developments in the SSG case today. Mark Brewer is now the subject of court proceedings for fraud, trying to evade his legal responsibilities, and bringing disrepute to the US court system

http://spckssg.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/motion-for-sanctions/ has the full text of the legal proceedings against Brewer and SSG

http://spckssg.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/the-significance-of-the-motion-for-sanctions-against-mark-brewer/ has Matt Wardmans excellent summary and commentary on this.

Incredible stuff. I'm in and out of meetings, otherwise I'd post more.

The legal motion concludes (emphasis mine):
14. At best, as this Court has already found, Mr. Brewer’s conduct was in bad faith. The Trustee submits as set forth herein that such bad faith also amounts to a fraud on the Court. At worst, his conduct violates § 157 of Title 18 and possibly other statutes. As an attorney and a law firm, Mr. Brewer and Brewer & Pritchard owe a duty of candor and honesty to this Court and to the bankruptcy process. The acts that are the subject of this motion violate that duty. In addition, the filing of this case in the United States where almost every creditor is located in the United Kingdom brings disrepute to the Bankruptcy Courts of the United States as they are being used as a haven for a party attempting to escape justice where it was formed and where it did business. Mr. Brewer seeks to use the designation of St. Stephen as a charity to somehow suggest that his conduct does not bear scrutiny. In fact, just the opposite should be true, any attempt by an alleged charity to escape or defer its obligations should be subject to the utmost in candor and disclosure so that no question of impropriety exists. Here, just the opposite is demonstrated by Mr. Brewer’s conduct, and he and his firm must bear responsibility for these actions and make amends to this Court, the Trustee and most significantly the bankruptcy process so that creditors, especially those in a situation like this who are looking at the system from outside U.S. borders, can see that parties who would attempt to subvert the law to escape their responsibilities will be punished.

15. Accordingly, the Trustee requests that the Court grant the Trustee’s motion, enter sanctions consistent with the foregoing and grant such other relief as is just.

Some of the sanctions include compensation (5 figure sums), and compulsory retraining in legal ethics. The piece de resistance is the inclusion of a post from Dave Walkers blog as part of the evidence in the case.

If it's broke, dont fix it

A bizarre piece in Tuesdays Guardian on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and why it's bad for the soul. CBT is a form of therapy which focuses on symptoms: e.g. someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder is exposed repeatedly to something which makes them anxious (the symptom), with the result that anxiety is reduced, and the obsession/compulsion comes under control.

The article argued against CBT, in favour of 'traditional therapy' where patient and therapist form a relationship to go deeply into the patients past and psyche.

So the basic argument is:
1. CBT works better than traditional therapy
2. It does so more quickly
3. It does so without going into a whole load of personal issues that may have nothing to do with it.
4. So we should avoid CBT.

Houston, we have a problem. The authors main issue seemed to be with the style of CBT, rather than its results. But if I were seeking treatment for a mental problem, I'd want the thing that worked and worked quickly. So what if it's 'mechanical'? So is injecting yourself with insulin every day, or taking a blood pressure pill. Mental illness often isn't that difficult from physical illness, there is chemical stuff going on in the brain - i.e. a physical component to the mental problem - so why insist on treating it differently?

I do have some sympathy with what he's getting at:
CBT promises change just as swiftly. Unwanted character traits or symptoms are no longer seen as a clue to some inner truth, but simply as disturbances to our
ideal image that can be excised. Instead of seeing a bout of depression or an
anxiety attack as a sign of unconscious processes that need to be carefully
elicited and voiced, they become aspects of behaviour to be removed

- reducing all mental illness merely to 'symptoms' can just mean you're avoiding deeper stuff. But I know people who've done all the deeper stuff and the symptoms have remained, and CBT has been the only thing which has worked. Not everything has some deep Freudian root.

The other thing which bugged me was the complete lack of evidence for his argument. Though the article covers several pages in the G2 section, the only piece of evidence he brings in, oddly, counted for CBT rather than against it:
Lord Layard stunned therapists earlier this year with the following vignette:
"The most striking experience I've had in the last few years was when the chief
executive of a mental health trust ... said his life had been saved by CBT ...
He said he is a fully fledged bipolar case but he has not had a day off work for
the last 15 years. He has a little book, which he carries around and whenever he
has funny thoughts coming into his mind, he turns to the relevant page,
according to what kind of thought it is or if he has a mood attack, and he does
exactly what it says on the page. Now, you could say that's mechanical. I say
that it's brilliant and not so different, you know, from what Jesus or any other
great healer did for people."

Yes we should pay attention to the soul, but that goes for everyone, not just people who are mentally distressed. And for someone suffering with a crippling mental disorder, is it better to give them what works, or be purists and prolong their suffering?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Shocked and saddened today to hear of the death of Tom Allen, the Bigbulkyanglican, a priest, missionary, and a very good and thoughtful blogger. Please do pray for his family.

Here I Am To Worship?

Does anyone else find it hard to worship in church on Sunday?

My problem, from what I can make out, has 4 sources:

- theological college, where we were taught to be critical, and there was an overall ethos where everything you did was evaluated. It was intense to the point of destructiveness, and it meant that people hung back from really getting stuck in to worship, or preaching their hearts out, or being zealous and 100% committed to things. That was naivety, the unforgivable sin. We were sophisticated theological students, and we didn't want to let our guard down.

- from my conversion at age 15 I've always had a strong sense of 'how does this look to outsiders?' Nearly 25 years on, I think I'm a bit hypersensitive to the way what we do in church comes across to folk who are visiting. Religious language, obscure songs, in-house jargon, there's a part of me I can't switch off which is scanning everything for off-puttingness. Trouble is, I'm far more sensitive to this stuff than most of our visitors, who seem to take it far more in their stride. Yet I continue to be acutely aware of how weird and strange church must seem to folk who aren't used to it.

- perfectionism: At least I think that's what it is - there's very little about myself, the world, the church etc. that I'm happy with exactly the way it is. Continuous improvement - a jargon phrase from days in management training - pretty much sums it up. So it's incredibly hard to take part in an act of worship without thinking how it could be better: the preaching, the liturgy, whether we needed a bit of silence after that Bible reading, whether the hymns/songs are too touchy-feely, or not personal enough, have people been welcomed, is it all going on too long, etc. And that ruins it as an act of worship/sermon. It becomes an object of analysis, rather than something I'm listening to or engaging with. Goodness knows how I'd have managed with one of St. Pauls all-night teaching sessions, or Jesus saying rude things to some of his 'visitors'.

- the experience of being a regular worship leader and preacher for the past 10 years, and occasionally for 10 years before that, means that it's well-nigh impossible for me to be part of something without working out how I'd have done it differently.

Chatting to someone today, she raised the question of where I go for spiritual nourishment. "Where can I go to meet with God?" Bizarrely, the first answer which came to mind involved the theology of Spiderman 3, then how good it was to talk to other folk over coffee. Maybe it's through things which don't look like normal 'worship' where my critical faculties are down, that God can get in and do something. Perhaps that's why 'alternative worship' has always attracted me. Perhaps it's also why Christian music often doesn't engage me in the same way as 'secular' music with a spiritual message (e.g. Coldplay, U2)

This may sound like complete cobblers. You may be thinking 'whooah boy! Our vicar's losing his faith!' You might be a church leader who can relate to some of this. I don't know, it's not often I try to work out what's going on in my head at 10.30 on a Sunday morning.

And sorry for saying 'I' so much (am I being hypersensitive again?), but it is my blog, after all.

Extra bit: I should be grateful, by the sounds of it David Ker struggles even more than I do.

Monday, September 08, 2008

SPCK bookshops meeting on Wednesday

the other big event on Weds, besides the Big Bang (see below), is a meeting in London of folk concerned about the SPCK bookshops situation. An agenda has now been published, which you'll find in the comments here. If you're a publisher, bookseller, former employee, blogger or just interested, follow the link for details of the meeting, and to let the organisers know you're coming.

Monday Links

Bit of a roundup today:

The pic above is from Start the Week, which today covers the youth evangelism fund, a 'director of hospitality and welcome' at Birmingham Cathedral (every Cathedral should have one), and use of the 'Jesus Deck' in evangelism. The Jesus Deck is, to use a very bad description, a Christian version of tarot: except that rather than tell you what the future holds, each card tells part of the gospel story - people choose a card at random, have it explained, then talk about any connections that makes with their life. Very creative.

Madeleine Bunting weighs in in support of faith schools, arguing that a strong ethos is vital to a succesful school, and faith schools find it easier to articulate this than secular schools:
Edward Skidelsky argues that both the secular and sacred "languages"
underpinning the values of self-discipline and responsibility have been badly
eroded. Secular humanism has not found a popular ethical narrative to replace
faith; parents, uncertain how to bring up their children with a sense of
responsibility for others, resort to school Christianity.
Ekklesia, whose Simon Barrow is one of the 'Accord' founders, has a roundup today responding to some of the criticisms and calling for debate, rather than dismissal. I still don't see how Accords position holds together, but if they're opposed by the National Secular Society then perhaps they have got some of it right.
Former SAS man and novelist Andy McNab is doing the rounds highlighting the issue of mental illness in former soldiers. I've avoided the US elections on this blog, but Oliver Kamm discusses Sarah Palins religious beliefs, whether it's right to call her a 'creationist', and what that means anyway.
Looking ahead, the Big Bang happens again on Wednesday, when the 'Large Hadron Collider' starts firing atoms at one another at mind-boggling speeds. The hope is to learn more about subatomic particles, how the universe began, discover new dimensions, and be finished in time for tea and cakes at 3. This Q&A section from the BBC guide makes a bit of sense of it. Here's Rob Bell on subatomic particles and the Trinity

Finally, Andy Murray, what a player.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Lessons from watching telly

After a summer break (thanks to Simon Sarmiento for filling in), weekly 'Touching Base' columns at the Wardman Wire have restarted. This weekends was 'Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learnt from Watching Sport on Telly', here's the potted version.

1. Know what you have to do, and why
2. Work on your connections
3. It's ok to be human
4. There's more to life than football
5. Eventually, the game ends.

The link explains all.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

More on the SSG 'bankruptcy'; Dave Walker/SPCK roundup

The Wardman Wire has a round up of this weeks main developments in the ongoing SPCK saga. Without repeating all of it, lets just remind ourselves that Dave Walker would be posting this....

The Bookseller reports on the application for Bankruptcy by SSG in the Southern Division of the Texas Court in Houston. They have been in contact with Randy Williams, the Trustee in Bankruptcy :

“The Chapter 7 bankruptcy filed by Christian bookseller St Stephen the Great was dismissed because the case was filed “in bad faith”, according to a court official.
Courtroom minutes show that the case was dismissed “with prejudice” during a hearing at Houston Bankruptcy Court last Thursday.

The ruling has a number of restrictions on it, including a set period when Mark and Phil Brewer, who run the chain, cannot submit another bankruptcy filing in the US. Randy W Williams, trustee for the Chapter 7 case, told The Bookseller that “the motion to dismiss was granted with prejudice and the judge found that the filing of the case was in bad faith”.

“Bad faith means in this case that it was done for a wrong or improper purpose,” he said.
In June, Williams filed a motion to dismiss it, claiming “on its face, there is nothing to liquidate and nothing available to fund an investigation in the UK”.
The brothers told suppliers in June that SSG had filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. The court later converted this to Chapter 7, leaving the retailer in liquidation.

Mark Brewer told The Bookseller last week that he did not have enough money to file for bankruptcy in the United Kingdom. He was unavailable for comment this week.”

...but because Dave has been sent a 'Cease and Desist' letter by Mark Brewer, threatening him with libel if he posts any more about the SPCK story, you're reading this on my blog, instead of his. As a legitimate news story, it should be getting reported on the Church Times blog as well, but since Dave authors this, we effectively have press censorship by the back door. Even though the bankruptcy application was thrown out earlier this week, and the date for preliminary hearings for the 30 former SPCK employees has also just been set (Sept 18th), there again doesn't seem to be any reporting in the Church Times this week. I'm disappointed.

Other developments at the Wardman Wire link, and on the SPCK/SSG blog, including:
- meeting in London on Sept 10th for those in the area with an interest, more details here.
- more digging around the apparent non-payment of pension contributions, which have gone out of people's wages, but not appeared anywhere else.
- Matt W is compiling a list of bloggers keeping an ongoing eye on the spck saga, if you're one of those, then let him know via this page.

You can also follow things via the 'We support Dave Walker' Facebook group, inching ever closer to 500 supporters, and the SPCK bookshops Facebook group.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Motivational quote of the day

"I know there are a lot of players in the [dressing] room who have settled for some sort of comfort zone in some areas, but I don't live with any comfort zones," said Pietersen. "I don't settle for mediocrity. I want my guys to perform, to chuck their talent around and be the best people they can possibly be. There's no point in living if you don't want to be as good as you can possibly be."

When is a faith school not a faith school?

Missed this earlier in the week, but Thinking Anglicans has a good collection of links about the new proposals for reform of faith schools launched on Monday by the Accord coalition. Their main goal seems to be to remove the religious element from admissions, recruitment, syllabus and assemblies in all state funded schools. There is a new collection of links today, including a Church of England newspaper editorial, which supports the reforms. Good critique article from the IoS here.

Accord claim they're not looking for the abolition of faith schools, merely their reform. However I struggle to see how a school reformed along the lines they suggest can remain a faith school, as there will be nothing to distinguish it from community schools. Yes sectarianism is a problem, but the fact that there are bad or questionable faith schools doesn't mean that we scrap the entire system. Our local CofE primary benefits from being a 'faith school' in the gentle way that many Church of England schools are. There must be ways to avoid tribalism which don't involve making every school a secular clone.

Update (Sat): article in the Church Times, with some fairly stinging comments about Accord and their reasoning. More links in the Church Times blog, and a new set this morning at Thinking Anglicans. On the official C of E website, their FAQ's about church schools address some of the Accord concerns, but there doesn't seem to be any official Anglican response yet. There is a related post on Cranmer from earlier this week.

Trademarking language, Ben Elton, and hurt feelings

Todays inbox had a round up of various legal cases involving Christians - we're so blessed to live in a country under the rule of law, even if sometimes the law is wrong. One of them caught my eye, involving the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and it's attempt to trademark the phrase 'dignity in dying'.....

Case Win - Victory in Important Trademark Case
In 2006 the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) changed its name to Dignity in Dying. The group were seeking to monopolise the phrase to advance their ideology, particularly in the educational sphere. Many people felt that a monopoly of the words “dignity in dying” were misleading for an organisation which advocated euthanasia.

In August 2007, the Christian Medical Fellowship, Alert and the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council sought to stop the monopoly by challenging the phrase under the Trademarks Act 1998. We thank God that a victory has been achieved, because the VES withdrew its trademark applications for the words ‘dignity in dying’. This is a great step forward for pro-life groups, because it means that they are free to use the phrase ‘dignity in dying’ in a way that expresses the love and care people deserve at the end of life. The VES has kept its own stylised trademark - ‘dignity in dying - your life your choice’. VES had sought to set the tone of the debate surrounding end of life issues, but pro life groups have claimed back the language. We give thanks to God for this victory.

I'm reminded of Orwells argument in 1984 that control of language is the first step towards control of thought. When people try to trademark language that's used in ethical debate, I find that incredibly worrying. Just imagine if someone got the trademark on 'love'...

(In an unofficial way, there's plenty of that going on in the Anglican church at the moment, with everyone claiming that they are the 'real' Anglicans and the other lot are the separatists - whether it's the Americans who went their own way over sexuality, or the Africans who are going their own way over structures, or the rest of us who wish people would stop going on about sex and focus on something more important.)

Ben Eltons 1984 update 'Blind Faith', closes with Trafford (the Winston Smith of a post-flood, religion-dominated 22nd century) subverting the language used by the totalitarian state, using one of their own tag-lines as a secret code to identify dissidents. For Elton, freedom comes through reclaiming the ability to think, and the rebels are the 'humanists' who take Darwin as their core text. He's been reading Dawkins then. The novel (last months holiday reading) is typical overblown Elton stuff, taking various current social trends and projecting them to the extreme. It's not subtle, but still provides food for thought.

I was most struck by Elton's depiction of a society where emoting and 'sharing' has become the only mode of communication. To think, argue, reason etc. is alien; what counts is exposing yourself - emotionally, physically etc. We've already become a society which 'hears with our eyes and thinks with our feelings' (can't remember who said this), and Blind Faith, in its own way, is a warning of what could happen if this is all we do.

If language is so debased so that it's content is either purely emotional (Elton), or owned by some interest group or other (VES), then it becomes harder to think before someone comes in and accuses you of being intolerant, or sues you for violation of copyright. I wonder if some of the debates currently going on in the church would get a bit further if we had a moratorium on people declaring that they were 'hurt' or 'offended'. Sure, our feelings as just as much part of who we are as our minds, but we seem to use them more and more as a trump card.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quiet Days at Home

A brilliantly simple idea from Steve Tilley for anyone with a reasonable sized house, or who can persuade someone with a reasonable sized house to make it available. Like a rectory, for example. Follow the link to see how it works.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Meeting for former SPCK staff, booksellers, and anyone else who's interested

Phelim Mcintyre, who is a former SPCK employee, is hosting a meeting on 10th September, and asked for the following to be posted:

Next Wednesday there is a meeting being held in London. Details of time and where are here http://spckssg.wordpress.com/diary/

What we need now though are two things: firstly I need to know you are coming. It is open to exSPCK/SSG staff (and current staff if you are willing to come) and those in the publishing/bookselling world. Other interested people can come but let me know please via this link.

Secondly we need to get an agenda together. A lot has happened in the months since this meeting was called. The death of Steve Jeynes. The pension chaos. The petition concerning the Durham shop. The bankrupty case being thrown out. Shops opening in Cardiff and soon to open in Norwich and elsewhere. In all this how can we support each other beyond the blogs? How can we support those who want to start a bookshop to replace the old SPCK/SSG one? How can we provide emotional support for each other? How can we continue to make sure that something rises from the mass destruction caused by the Brewers? Again please let me know what you want discussed - contact by email via this link, as before.


As always, daily updates on the SPCK situation are at Phil Grooms blog, today exploring the mystery of where people's pension contributions have ended up. There are also updates on the 'tragic demise of SPCK' Facebook group, and an interesting new post from Squiggle Jones, who reveals that the employment tribunal of 30 former employees against SSG is due to be heard on 18th September.