Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mission & Leadership Training Events

Trying to pull various things together into 1 place:

Mission 21 church planting conference in Bath, November 17-19th

Christians Together in a Spiritual Age Churches Together in Somerset day conference with Steve Hollinghurst, Locking Castle (Weston super Mare) at 17th October

Mission Action Planning study day, run by the national Anglican MAP boys (Mike Chew, Tim Ireland, Peter Hill) in Telford. They have a book on 'how to do Mission Action Planning' in November.

Vision to Action conference on management and leadership skills, run by Holy Trinity Brompton

Lead Where You Are videocast of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit from earlier this year, at 16 venues around the UK in October/November. Most of this stuff is pretty high quality, and if you sign up for a year you get a discount for the conference, and on their teaching DVD's, which are normally very good.

Youthwork, the Conference at Eastbourne, 20-22nd November.

Growing Leaders, Youth Edition: Growing Leaders is an excellent lay leadership development course, developed by CPAS. They've just developed a parallel version for developing young leaders. Well worth a look, if this is a challenge in your church.

Fresh Expressions training days, including a day on Mission Shaped Church for Older People (29th Oct in London), something we're starting to look at in our church.

If The Sun prays, does God listen?

"The Sun believes - and prays - that the Conservative leadership can put the great back into Great Britain. "

So concludes the Sun's editorial this morning. The whole idea of prayer in editorial meetings of the Sun boggles the mind. A few thoughts:

- Are the Sun actually praying, or is this just a comment in a leader? Do they actually believe that God backs the Conservative party, or do they think He needs some persuading? It would be interesting to hear the theology behind this.

- If they're not actually praying, then todays leading article is a lie. Make of that what you will. It wouldn't be the first time.

- Nick Assinder joins some dots. There are bound to be some financial calculations here. News Corporation have their sights set on the BBC, and the Conservatives have a track record in being less sympathetic than Labour. For the Sun to back the Tories makes business sense for the Murdoch dynasty. For the Tories to get News Corporation behind them makes electoral sense for Cameron.

- This makes me less likely to vote Conservative. And I'm not sure it's a good thing for democracy either, but it's probably always been like this.

2 dimensional worship?

"In company with a number of churches singing contemporary songs, the focus is either on the praise and adoration of God, or the call to participate in his mission. There is little written to nurture the community life of the local Church, or promote belonging to the wider body of Christ.

In theological terms, the call to be holy and apostolic is evident, but the call to be one and to be catholic is lamentable.

The songs that are written and become popular are driven by album sales: they rarely come out of local creativity and a local church story. So sometimes they don't fit. Most are written for big bands and front-led performance with electronic amplification that makes the necessity for congregations to sing up superfluous.... the verbal style is excessively individualistic, and there is little that builds the sense of communal and corporate. The language and tone in many songs seems to appeal more to women than to men.

Here is a challenge for many fresh expressions.... the biggest platforms don't show how to be small Church, just as cathedrals are unhelpful models for village parishes."

so writes George Lings, in 'Across a Threshold', the latest Encounters on the Edge booklet from the Church Army on mission and fresh expressions. Highlighted bit mine.

I thought this was worth quoting at length, as it's a challenge I can recognise. I'm also wondering, with our cafe service and Messy Church drawing a lot of people who aren't regular churchgoers, whether there's any mileage in trying to rewrite the words of tunes they'll know from the secular charts. The danger is that if you do it badly, it's even more unsingable than the worst 'I love you Jesus and I want to give you a big slobbery wet kiss' kind of choruses. Wonder if we can do something with that Robbie Williams song?

The other challenge we face is how to develop our cafe service congregation from consumers of the 'product' (which is normally put together by a committed team from the church), to a community where people are part of what's going on, contribute to it, and shape it. Most succesful thing by far has been nothing to do with sung worship: giving everyone a fiver to multiply into funds for a school in a Kenyan slum. It's not just song lyrics that need attention, it's the whole way we frame and practice discipleship.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Faith and Darwin

I'm hoping to get to see the Darwin film in the next couple of weeks, but it seems like a good time to revisit 'Faith and Darwin', a research piece done by Theos earlier this year. They even produced a map based on the results, so that if you want to move in next to a Creationist you know where to look.

They quizzed 2000 people on their ideas about God, science and evolution, and discovered the following:

54% of the sample knew Darwin had written 'Origin of Species'

37% agreed that evolution is proved beyond reasonable doubt (36% said 'not proven', 19% 'no evidence')

75% agreed that science could explain most things, but not everything.

53% believed in God: 8% used to believe in God but now didn't, and the same percentage had made the opposite journey.

Who's Who
The research breaks the sample up into 4 groups, according to what they believe about the origins of life on Earth:

1. Young Earth Creationists (believe earth is less than 10,000 years old) 17%
2. Intelligent Design (evolution, but with specific intervention by God to make certain stuff happen ) 11%
3. Theistic evolution (evolution, but with God as the ultimate agent behind creation) 28%
4. Atheistic evolution (life has evolved full stop, there is no God) 37%
Sorry the picture's a bit faint. The maths-heads among you will have already noted that 10% more people believe God had a hand in the origins of life, than actually believe God exists. The main finding of the survey seemed to be inconsistency: over 40% of the sample gave contradictory answers to questions on the same topic.

Amongst those who consistenly fall into the above categories, there were a few demographic differences.

- 'Young Earth Creationists' more females, economic class DE, older people. Oddly, 8% of them don't have a religion.

- 'Intelligent Design' younger and more educated than average

- 'Atheistic Evolution' generally younger, more in the ABC economic groups, and with degrees. There's suggestions here of the middle class atheism referred to in some recent blog exchanges, and this today by Ariane Sherine.

Some interesting snippets:
- 31% of those in the 'atheistic evolution' category think that Christianity and evolution are incompatible, and 21% that science undermines religion. That leaves a sizeable majority who don't hold to these views, even among folk who don't beleive God had anything to do with creation.

- Only 1/5 of these folk agreed that 'evolution tells us there's no purpose to life'. This gives the lie to the idea that atheists think that life has no meaning or purpose. Most of them clearly do, though whether that's a logically consistent position is another matter. I'm not even sure if 'meaning and purpose' are scientific categories, or unverifiable value statements.

- 18% of the sample believe Genesis is a literal and accurate account of the origins of life. Bizarrely, 22% of the 'theistic evolutionists' believe this, which doesn't really leave much time for evolution to happen!!!

- 85% of the sample believed that science and faith can coexist, though about half of these think that science challenges faith to some degree.

Spiritual beliefs
- 72% 'see a spiritual element in the universe', which is a lot more than the 53% who believe in God.

- Of those who believe in God, 1/5 see him/her/it as an 'impersonal force', and roughly the same amount are pantheists - that God and the universe are the same. Believing in God isn't the same as believing in the orthodox deity of Christianity.

Other spiritual beliefs:
Human soul 70
Heaven 55
Life after death 53
Ghosts 39
Reincarnation 27
Astrology/horoscopes 22
Fortune telling/tarot 15

It highlights that there is an element of confusion, and suggests that many people hold contradictory views. There is also evidence of significant variation in how people form their opinions and how much engagement with the topic they have previously had (p20)

It has been considered by some that Darwin’s theory of evolution has been abused by ‘extremists’ of two very different philosophical positions. From an atheistic position, some suggest that evolutionary belief must disprove belief in God and from a creationist point of view, considering evolution and Christianity to be incompatible has led to suggestions that evolution contradicts a theistic view of God and so theists cannot hold an omnipotent view of God together with evolutionary theory.

This research challenges both the extreme atheists and theists, who frequently join in this debate. In general people do not subscribe to such polarised views, but rather happily hold a spectrum of beliefs reconciling scientific theory and religious belief.

Richard Dawkins gives the impression in his latest book that vicars are to blame for the prevalence of Creationism, and that if we get our act together, it'll all be sorted. Bad news Richard, there are far more Creationists out there than Anglicans.

There is a lot of confused thinking, and with sizeable numbers believing in astrology and horoscopes, we're dealing with a large chunk of the population who don't form their spiritual beliefs on the basis of reason alone (or even reason at all).

The strength of atheism amongst folk with higher education means that the 'new atheism' will continue to be a favourite of the chatterati* for some time to come. Given that the CofE is middle class, the temptation will be to think that this is the only argument we need to engage with. It will probably be the faith/God position which is held most forcefully, and by those most able to articulate it, but that doesn't mean we should stop listening to everyone else. The majority of the population, vague and confused though their beliefs might be, have a sense of the spiritual, and of life being more than just random acts of biology. These are the folk who accost our Street Pastors with questions about God, who want their kids baptised, and who sing along to Robbie Williams.

This creates a problem. The church needs to communicate with both groups. If we talk in spiritual terms to engage with the majority, there'll be talk of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in postgrad chatrooms. If we talk in scientific terms to engage with the rationalists, that will turn everyone else off. And of course postmodernism means that there'll be people who hold to both worldviews, and several others, all at the same time.

*over 1200 blog posts in, I guess that includes me too.


Much of the talk in the blogosphere is about 'that question'. Lets get a few facts straight:

- Roughly 25% of the population have a serious depressive episode at some stage. It doesn't mean you're 'mad'. The kind of abuse and stereotypes chucked around demonstrates that many people are still at some infantile playground stage of understanding when it comes to mental illness.

- Taking antidepressants to control mood is analagous to diabetics taking insulin - it corrects a chemical imbalance in the body.

- Guido Fawkes claims double standards, in that David Cameron has been asked about his drug use, whilst suddenly everyone is protesting about Andrew Marr's question. Wrong. Antidepressants are legal, spliffs are not. Questions about illegal drug use are entirely proper for someone who is going to be making laws.

- Having depression needn't affect your ability to do the job. Churchill is a prime example of this, but there are thousands of other good examples. I would hope Nadine Dorries might spring to Gordon Browns defence, having counselled 'suicidal' MP's in the wake of the expenses scandal. (Update: she has). Depression is no respecter of political boundaries, and the Westminster village should be mature enough to set the tone on this, rather than use it as a means to score political points. Some journalists get it too.

- It just so happens that 11th October is World Mental Health Day, and churches are being encouraged to take part in the Time To Change campaign to end mental health discrimination. We've had some stories, prayers and sermon notes circulated by our Diocese, you can find them here. Perhaps this sorry business might actually give more impact to the campaign, and to what we say in our churches.

- I've had depression, and have taken antidepressants. Does that make you think any less of me? If so, why?

- Gordon Brown should be judged on his abilities and achievements as Prime Minister. What he takes to cope with the blues, or with a headache, or with irritable bowel, or whatever, is nothing to do with this.

Links: (sensible posts only)
Enemies of Reason: what an unbleeped Alastair Campbell might have said in response to the question.
Polis on the genesis of the rumour.
Graeme Archer at CentreRight, writing as a psychiatric specialist. Good article.
Interesting piece at The Appalling Strangeness, written a couple of weeks ago, about the stigmas around mental illness, and whether public figures, by going public, might help lift it.
Libdem Voice.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Did anyone come back to church?

Back to Church Sunday want to know what happened, you can relay your experiences here.

Thanks to Paul Bayes' Start the Week for this, which also has links this week on:
- Mission Action Planning - a new training day on Nov 12th, the week before the Mission 21 church planting conference in Bath. Don't expect to see me in Yeovil in mid-November!
- new Church Army/Christian Enquiry Agency partnership
- focus on older people
- Rowan Williams CD from York Courses
- a publication which covers topics like 'how to pray in board meetings' (apart from 'Oh God how much longer is this going to go on for?') and 'funeral evangelism'.

Comment is Free has a couple of pieces about Back to Church Sunday:
'What's the Point of Back to Church Sunday?' which wonders if it's fishing in the same pool as Alpha. Alan Wilson has responded, and debunks the myth that BTCS was dreamed up by a marketing department somewhere. If only we had one...

Meanwhile, 'You and Yours' is covering the topic tomorrow: this from their website:

*Call You and Yours: How relevant is organised religion in today's society?*

This weekend Christian churches in England and Wales are organising their latest "back to church" day to try and encourage people to return to Sunday worship; though their rap inspired radio advert has been criticised by some for being an embarassing attempt at trendiness.

There are also suggestions that British Mosques are failing to connect with young Muslims in the UK and there's been a steady decline in the numbers of people attending traditional Synagogues.

Those within the organised religions continue to debate whether it's time to modernise - so that they reflect society's more liberal views on homosexuality and the role of women.

In times of hardship and changing circumstances people supposedly look for meaning in life - are we more inclined to turn to spiritualism or the humanist movement rather than tradititional religions?

Let us know your thoughts ahead of Tuesday's programme.

details of how to call are via the link above.

Update: a search for Back to Church Sunday on Twitter throws up one or two successes, people tweeting about a decent number of guests in church. We had 2 (I think) one who was there not because it was BTCS, but because she 'felt a need to go to church' and really enjoyed it. We split it over 2 weeks to include our Harvest service next Sunday, so there may be others at that.

Idea for next year 'Back to World Sunday', where churches close their services and Christians spend the day hanging out with their non-churchgoing friends.

SPCK - unfinished business

The SPCK Annual General Meeting is coming up, and the annual report and accounts for 2008-9 are online. There is a passing reference to the former SPCK bookshops:

"SPCK continues to have a number of significant legal issues with Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust in regard to matters connected with the former SPCK Bookshops. The Charity Commission has appointed an Interim Manager for the Trust, and progress is being made." (page 6)

Others have stronger views than I over how much responsibility SPCK should shoulder for handing over their bookshops (and staff, customers, and suppliers) to a family of charlatans, who have unfairly dismissed over 30 former staff, been censured in the US courts for a fraudulent bankrupcty claim, and finally been booted out by the Charity Commissioners.

Some better news for former staff: the report reveals that their pension scheme, which is managed by the CofE pension folks (as far as I can tell), had a big shortfall as a result of the CofE revaluing its pensions (though it was struggling before this). SPCK has started making additional payments into the fund of £285,000 to top it up. This is going to be paid for the next 15 years, and the whole amount has been put on this years balance sheet - £3,832,000.

So though the pension fund has imploded, SPCK are at least doing their bit to support former bookshop staff on this front.

Couple of other things:
- SPCK have nearly £300k in a restricted fund for Newcastle Bible House, which seems to be for the purpose of Christian retailing in Newcastle. What's going to happen to this?
- Do the premises of former bookshops still belong to SPCK, or were they completely made over to the Brewers? The shops, as I understand, were given over with restrictive covenant, and at least one has been sold on by the Brewers for another use. Not sure what the legal situation is here, whether the shops revert to SPCK if the covenant has been transgressed.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

There's Probably No Parking

Thanks to Nigel for this video of a Porsche parked illegally which gets taken out by a bus in Reading

The BBC report is here, full credit to Nicky Gumbel for driving that bus up and down in the background to make sure the Alpha ad got in the shot. Does your Porsche exist? Not now love.

Sunday Brain Food

An interview in the monthly review with Terry Eagleton, about religion, atheism, culture, and lots of other things. Covers lots of ground, good stuff.

Normblog responds to the Eagleton interview, kicking off a whole discussion about whether religion is basically about believing certain doctrines, or is more 'performative' - based on action (which expressed doctrine). Stumbling and Mumbling argues that perhaps faith is more like getting into a piece of music, and here's Norms response to that.

Couple of posts at Heresy Corner, one on Richard Dawkins at the Libdem conference, the other on Back to Church Sunday and comments by bishops about supermarket queues. (ht Thinking Anglicans). Ann Droid posts a Facebook discussion about blasphemy, offence and Christian values in a secular society.

I am Christian, hear me roar wonders if John Calvin is to blame for capitalism.

Ben Myers notes the 'Jesus, All About Life' advertising campaign in Australia. Not being an Aussie, I've no way of knowing how culturally appropriate this is, or whether it's come across better or worse than Back to Church Sunday, but Ben doesn't seem to be impressed.

Beyond Relevance has a good meditation on the Princess and the Pea: Many church leaders will tell you that they do not have problems with the non-Christians, its the finicky church people that keep them wound in a knot. (spotted this a bit late, but it's still worth a look)

Thinking out Loud takes us behind the scenes at King David's worship committee.

Girlpreacha has a nice version of the 10 Commandments translated for 7-11 year olds.

Steve Borthwick has unearthed a copy of the Daily Mail from AD 33

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Robbie Williams turns Theologian? 'Bodies'

Channel hopping the other day, I stumbled across this

God gave me the sunshine,
Then showed me my lifeline
I was told it was all mine,
Then I got laid on a ley line
What a day, what a day,
And your Jesus really died for me
Then Jesus really tried for me

UK and entropy,
I feel like its ******* me
Wanna feed off the energy,
Love living like a deity
What a day, one day,
And your Jesus really died for me
I guess Jesus really tried for me

Bodies in the Bodhi tree,
Bodies making chemistry
Bodies on my family,
Bodies in the way of me
Bodies in the cemetery,
And that’s the way it’s gonna be

All we’ve ever wanted
Is to look good naked
Hope that someone can take it
God save me rejection
From my reflection,
I want perfection

Praying for the rapture,
‘Cause it’s stranger getting stranger
And everything’s contagious
It’s the modern middle ages
All day every day
And if Jesus really died for me
Then Jesus really tried for me

Jesus didn’t die for you, what do you want?
(I want perfection)
Jesus didn’t die for you, what are you on?
Oh Lord
(Jesus didn't die for you) Ohh
(Jesus didn't die for you)
(Jesus didn't die for you) Ohh

What is that all about? Yet another pop star 'doing God', or not? Gregorian chant backing creates a deliberately 'religious' feel to the song. Is this a prayer, or a dig at deluded Christians ('what are you on?'). Maybe it shows what happens when you've watched a bit too much of the God channel.

Wannabepriest has some good reflections, to which I'd add the following:
- The chorus intrigues me. Looking good naked is lifted straight from Gok Wan, but further back it's from Genesis 2. All we've ever wanted is to be naked without shame, to look at our reflection without rejection. I don't know if Williams is making the connection, but if he isn't, maybe that's interesting in itself: picking up on our obsession with bodies and perfection as an expression of the primordial dis-ease with self brought on by sin.

- Perhaps the confusion is just honest. When crowds of thousands at Williams gigs sing 'God save me rejection' in one breath and 'Jesus didn't die for you' in the next, perhaps that's just a thermometer to the brow of the times. We all want God to be there (apart from folk who don't want him to be there!) but we don't want to feel indebted, or personally got at. If Jesus really died for me, then I owe him.

- Some interesting stuff about death and entropy, the kind of thing a man in his 'modern middle age' might start thinking about. The final resting place of the body is the cemetary. This is standard mid life crisis stuff: awareness of mortality, trying to hold onto sexual potency, but when you look in the mirror that body isn't what it once was. What you need isn't sex, but love. Someone who can look at you, naked, and 'take it'.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Euthanasia - C of E Statement on new Guidelines

There's been an official response from the CofE to the guidelines on prosecution for those who help with assisted suicide earlier this week. To my mind the guidelines did very little to make things clearer, and left several grey areas. There was almost a tacit acceptance of euthanasia in some of the provision, despite the fact that it remains illegal. Here's the CofE statement:

"The Church of England has consistently argued - and Parliament has consistently voted - against any change in the law governing assisted suicide, even when this is motivated by compassion. Guidance from the DPP about the application of the present law to particular circumstances has the potential to provide greater clarity and is in principle to be welcomed, so long as there can be confidence that it will not in practice lead to an erosion of respect for the present law. There are serious moral, ethical and practical issues to consider - for example in relation to concepts such as 'encouragement' and the nature of 'informed decision making'. The Church of England is therefore reserving its position on the detail of the draft guidance at this stage. Its formal submission will be made public in due course."

Nick Hood of Bournemouth: Clegg's Conference Speech:

In another part of the blogosphere there are debates on 'pirate theology'. In Bournemouth this week Nick Clegg gave us pirate politics. Perhaps drawing inspiration from Jack Sparrow, and the romance and appeal of the outsider, Clegg sought to put clear amber water between the Libdems and the 'red and blue' tankers of his rivals. At the same time, he made an audacious raid on their rhetoric.

Key Lines
"Let me tell you why I want to be Prime Minister"
"The beginning of real change in Britain"
"There is less to him than meets the eye" (on David Cameron)

Key Ideas
This was a policy-heavy speech, in contrast to last year which focused more on principles and overt attacks on Brown and Cameron. It could have been a manifesto launch speech. But the top two key concepts were a smash and grab raid on Labour and Conservative:
- Change: the word was used 39 times, lifted straight from the Tories campaigning tagline, but Clegg's argument was that Cameron offered 'fake change' whilst the Libdems' is real.
- Fairness: the words fair/unfair used 15 times, lifted straight from Gordon Browns conference speech last year, where 'fairness' was the repeated mantra.

Having raided the clothes of both parties, Clegg then sought to paint himself as the champion of the poor, against the bonus-earning rich and their tax loopholes, the Robin Hood of the Recession. Nick will go into battle for ordinary people and your taxes, for young people and your jobs, for children and your class sizes. Armed with a bow and arrow and Vince Cable (no more Trident), Clegg's charge to the polling booth has begun.

Various bits of libdem philosophy came through: smaller state, individual freedom (scrapping of ID cards), environmentalism etc. But in his conclusion, Clegg sought to paint the LibDems as the natural heirs of Blair, the people upon whom all the hopes of 1997 now rested.

Much of the rest was positioning: talking of 'the old red-blue politics', listing several areas where both main parties had failed, and talking of the Libdem ability to stand up for their principles and for the ordinary person.

Almost too many to list. Here are some of the specific policy commitments made during the 50m speech -

- Begin talks with Taliban
- 150 fewer MPs
- change the electoral system
- cut defence spending
- no replacement for Trident
- end the Child Trust Fund
- independent review of public sector pensions
- young people will be found a job or training within 90 days of losing a job.
- Cancel the VAT cut
- 10,000 more university places, 50,000 more college places
- Paid internships with £55 a week
- 800,000 placements for students.
- Classes of 15 for 5-7 year olds (inconsistent – Clegg spoke of the earliest years being crucial, so why wait till kids are 5?)
- Raise Income Tax threshold to £10,000
- More tax on the richest.
- Cancel ID cards
- 10,000 more police on the streets
- Elected House of Lords

- It was odd that Nick Clegg began the speech with, effectively, a separate statement on Afghanistan. This seemed to have nothing to do with anything else he was saying, and the speech proper only began once he'd finished this section.

- The 'less to him than meets the eye' line on Cameron has something going for it. The Conservatives have still to come under proper scrutiny, they have bobbed to the top of the polls without very much effort, and very little in the way of concrete policies.

- No engagement here with crime levels, family breakdown, and the need for a change of culture and values, most of his solutions seem to be economic or legal. Nothing about the NHS either, which, considering how much money it hoovers up, is remarkable. But that's my hobby horse of the week at the moment....

- There's also nothing which challenges the basis of debt-driven consumer capitalism, apart from a couple of warning shots at bankers. Lots of small to medium ideas here, but I would have expected something more radical. Go back to Sherwood Forest and prepare for government? Or is Robin more effective as an outsider?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ten Random Beliefs

I've been tagged by Sam Norton in the following challenge:

Post a collection of 10 things you believe, ethical, philosophical or theological. You choose how much to connect them or make them coherent: do you want people to know where you belong, or do you want to mix and match to keep them guessing? I encourage you not to aim for a totally coherent credal statement of faith, and I also encourage you to put one or two in about controversial topics.

If you want, tag three other people whose beliefs you think you’d like to read about.

1. God is there, and he has spoken.
2. God is probably less bothered about sex than we think he is, but that doesn't mean he's not bothered at all.
3. The church has a future, but that doesn't mean that every church denomination has a future.
4. The primary calling of the church is mission.
5. I shall probably change one of these beliefs in the next few years, but not sure which one.
6. The greatest challenge to the church at the moment is discipleship, the quality of Christian life among professed Christians.
7. The Christian faith will never be able to rely on the mainstream media, broadcast, printed or online, for a decent presentation of what we are about.
8. Marriage between a man and a woman is God's good intention for the core of human family life.
9. There is no sacred/secular divide: there is more genuine spirituality in rock music and modern art than in many things which carry the name 'Christian'.
10. The collapse of the 'Christian' book and music market might be a good thing, as there is far too much substandard stuff out there, and too much marketing of gimmicky franchises (the power of a praying... etc.)

I tag.... well, anyone else who wants to have a go!

Radio 2 Church? Back to Church Sunday on Jeremy Vine Show

Really good chat between Jeremy Vine and Bishop James Jones on the Jeremy Vine show yesterday, talking about welcome, mercy, what to wear to church, what to do if someone asks 'are you saved?' The section starts at 1:42:50 into the show. (There's conversation earlier in the show on euthanasia)

“when you get a taste of mercy, it does begin to change you” (James Jones)

It's worth listening to the phone-in bit after the song. Some interesting stories, how would your church respond to the unmarried mum seeking baptism for her child?

Science v Religion?

The Beaker Folk have invented a tremendous new game, which now officially replaces all discussions on science and religion. A taster

The players take up a position on either side of the fence. They take it in turns to throw their cards over it. The aim of each card is to trump the other team's previous card. For example, if the Science player plays the "Spanish Inquisition" card, the Religion team might play the "Darwinian eugenics" card. Likewise a "Homophobia" card might be met by a "Gays will burn in Hell" card - or possibly by a "My vicar's gay actually, but he just doesn't shout about it" card. Although the latter card is rare, and only available in the limited Edition "C of E" game pack, where you're allowed to sit on the fence.

For slightly more serious approach, you could try
The Faraday Papers series of free downloads by eminent authors on questions of science and religion.

Test of Faith a new site set up by the Faraday Institute, with study materials, videos, links to a big range of sites discussing science and religion.

This page at the Pew Forum has a transcript of a conference on science and faith, with Francis Collins (former director of the Human Genome project) talking about how he found his atheism challenged by what he discovered as a scientist. Here's a bit:

...I began to realize that even in science, where I had spent most of my time, there were pointers to God that I had paid no attention to that were actually pretty interesting.

One obvious one, although maybe it’s not so obvious, is that there is something instead of nothing. There’s no reason there should be anything at all. Wigner’s wonderful phrase “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” also comes to mind – Eugene Wigner, the Nobel laureate in physics, talking about the amazing thing about the whole study of physics is that mathematics makes sense; it can describe the properties of matter and energy in simple, even beautiful, laws. Why should that be? Why should gravity follow an inverse square law? Why should Maxwell’s five equations describe electromagnetism in very simple terms, and they actually turn out to be true? A thoughtful and interesting question. This is certainly one that Einstein also wrote about quite significantly.

The Big Bang, the fact that the universe had a beginning out of nothingness, as far as we can tell. From this unimaginable singularity, the universe came into being and has been flying apart ever since. That cries out for some explanation. Since we have not observed nature to create itself, where did this come from? That seems to ask you to postulate a creator who must not be part of nature or you haven’t solved the problem. In fact, one can also make a pretty good philosophical argument that a creator of this sort must also be outside of time or you haven’t solved the problem.

So now we have the idea of a creator who is outside of time and space, and who is a pretty darn good mathematician, and apparently also must be an incredibly good physicist.....

For an odd tangent on this whole business, read about the atheist scientist who thinks that a rediscovery of God as 'divine punisher' may help us to get real about climate change.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

#fail Race, NHS versus the Home Office

Following my grammatically challenged letter from the Home Office (see yesterdays post), my discharge letter from the local hospital arrived today. Not only did it have the wrong diagnosis, it was sent to the wrong surgery. Getting very worried about having to go back there for my hernia op, in case they give me a heart transplant by mistake.

For the record, most of my poor experiences in the NHS this last week are down to management, not medical specialists. Most, but not all.

Clergy Pay Freeze on the Cards?

We're having a meeting next week in Wells for local clergy to think about financial issues - the credit crunch has hit central finances, pension funds etc. 2008 saw a dreadful year for the Church Commissioners, though with a 25%+ rise in the stock market this year, I'm guessing things have improved a bit.

One of the options on the table is a possible pay freeze for 2010-11. Twitter conversations suggest at least one Diocese has already decided on this. From what I can gather this is a national consultation which all Dioceses have been asked to take part in, and respond during the autumn. It's a tricky one:

- some clergy can cope with this better than others, so it's difficult for us to make a decision corporately when we'll all be affected differently. I would vote for a freeze if it just affected me, but I'm aware that things are tighter for other clergy, so don't really feel it's my place to decide on their behalf.

- depending on which inflation measure you look at, a 'freeze' in pay is not much different from an inflation-linked increase. Given that we have houses provided by the CofE, the one which excludes mortgages is the logical one, which currently stands at 1.6% (the figure including mortgages is -1.3%)

- The question of solidarity with church members, who are also looking at pay freezes, has been mentioned. Would this have come up if the CofE wasn't in a financial hole? I'm just asking. The other way of showing solidarity is to use our pay increase to help other people out, surely it's better to provide practical help than simply to jump into the same pit as everyone else? Still thinking this one through....

- The question is a good one: we are so used to pay, living standards etc. increasing as a 'right' that it's quite a shock to think things might go the other way. If we're going to live in a way that's caring to the planet and loving towards our neighbours across the globe, then it's probably at a lower standard of living than what we've got used to.

The meeting next week is one of the 'non-essentials' which I'm dipping out of in my hernia recovery phase. It wouldn't surprise me if there's at least one call for less money to be spent on central posts at Diocesan and national level, given that these have stayed constant, or even risen, at the same time as parish clergy and congregation numbers have fallen.

After Sunday: what connection between church and work?

The very excellent After Sunday project has published the results of a survey they did at Greenbelt last month on how well churches equip their members for the world of work. Here's a couple of the charts

3. 'The church values me more for the work I do inside the church than for what I do in my daily work'

9. 'My church feels like another thing to fit in to a life, full of parts competing for my attention'
Lots of food for thought here, both for church members and church leaders/teachers. Lots of resources and helpful things on the After Sunday site, including this quote, which I like:

All of life is spiritual, for all is part of God's creation. There is no division between sacred and secular, work and worship, religion and politics. Spirituality is not apart from our daily lives, it is our daily lives. But it is a life with a cutting edge not avoiding the pain or fear. Alan Ecclestone

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Here's Why Alan Johnson isn't Education Secretary

I recieved this back from the Home Office this morning, after emailing Alan Johnson to ask him to intervene in Elizabeths deportation case last week:

Dear Rev David Keen

Thank you for your e-mail on behalf of Ms Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba concerning their immigration matters.< /FONT>
Yours support has been noted and will use for any future consideration of the case.

Yours Sincerely,< /FONT>

Public Correspondence Team

All that formatting stuff is in the original email. A free plane ticket to Uganda for the person who can spot the most grammatical/composition mistakes.

This is the Home Office for goodness sake, the same department which makes asylum seekers take tests in English when they want to apply for citizenship. It's clearly a standard reply email, and ignores the fact that there won't be any future consideration of the case because the unjust machinery of the immigration system deported the poor woman and her children last week.

There is not a single part of the British system so far that has done as well as a Poor rating in this whole sorry saga. Maybe the Home Office is using Uganda as a benchmark.


Just down the road from Stonehenge, a new 'monument' made from 30 recycled (i.e. second hand) fridges, put up for the Equinox as a monument to organic farming. No, I couldn't see the connection either. Full story here.
It will be taken down on 29th September, presumably to stop absent minded bulls doing themselves an injury if they try to mate with it.

'Bishops to PR Event' Sunday

Say what you like about Back to Church Sunday, it's capacity to get bishops doing quirky things for column inches in the press is unparalleled. There seems to be a transport theme this year, including bicycles, motorbikes, trains and motorised advertising hoardings.

quite a nice little vid from Steve Croft, Bishop of Sheffield

Meanwhile news of BTCS doesn't seem to have reached my own Diocesan website. (Update: it's there now. Amazing what a quick email can accomplish!) For more serious postings on the topic, use the tag below.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Deportation update: Childrens Commissioner now involved

Last week this blog highlighted the case of Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba, who had come to the UK seeking asylum, but was in the process of being deported by the UK authorities. Sadly, the deportation went ahead - latest news is that Elizabeth was arrested and interrogated on her arrival in Uganda, but released after 2 hours. If you're the praying sort, please keep her and her 2 small children in your prayers.

The Childrens Commissioner has complained to the UK border agency about the treatment of Elizabeth's children, Marie and John:

Sir Al wrote: “I would be grateful if you could tell me why it was deemed appropriate that a four-year-old and a one-year-old be separated from their mother.

“In view of the fact that the older child has been described as being hysterical at being separated from her mother, I would like to know what justification the decision maker had for deciding on, or authorising, the separation.

“Does UKBA accept that such action could cause emotional harm to a small child, and how was this foreseeable risk balanced in deciding on the course of action taken?”

Uganda is not a safe country to be if you are known to sympathise with the opposition, and stand up for human rights, though I wonder if anyone involved in adjudicating Elizabeths case got round to reading the Amnesty International report on Uganda.

Say Cheese

Congratulations to the Church Mouse for winning 'best newcomer' in the Christian blog awards this year, and on his first piece published by the Guardian. I guess a Mouse knows enough about small spaces for small animals to write about pigeonholes.

Here We Go Again

Another faith in the workplace controversy involving a West Country nurse, this time one in Exeter whose health trust asked her to stop wearing a crucifix on health and safety grounds. She's been wearing it for 30 years, without injury to patients, but the trust policy is 'no necklaces', so she's been taken off front line duties until she complies.

The Trust statement is here - it appears the policy was adopted 18 months ago, and it seems the nurse was only informed of it in June this year. Obviously not that crucial a policy then..... It does seem a little odd, given that there are plenty of other things patients can grab (stethoscopes, security tags, watches). It would be interesting to know what led to the review of policy in the first place, but it clearly wasn't this particular nurse or else this story would have happened in April 2008.

The Christian Legal Centre, who have taken up the case, point out that there's not one recorded incident of anyone in the NHS suffering injury from a necklace. The CLC has a fuller version of the story, including quotes from the nurse herself, and links to media reports. The Telegraphs story points out that other trusts are perfectly happy with the wearing of religious symbols, as a sign of diversity. The CLC are arguing that a secularist agenda is behind the policy/this particular application of it, but I'm not really sure that we need that level of rhetoric to get this sorted out sensibly.

It's certainly very easy to hide one agenda behind another: secularism behind health and safety, or refusing to publicise church events in a library/renaming Christmas, because you 'don't want to offend people of other faiths', who wouldn't have been offended anyway. There is a track record here, so the CLC may be wrong, but it's not unreasonable to be suspicious.

One of the issues is whether certain things are 'required' by a religion, or are just an expression of faith. Having said that, wearing a wedding ring isn't 'required' but if anyone asked me to remove mine then they'd have to have a pretty good reason, because of what it symbolises.

And given my recent experience in the NHS (more later this week), there are much more important things for NHS managers to be doing than faffing about with jewellery.

Other coverage and comments:
- Tabloid watch notes how stories like this fit a running 'political correctness' narrative in certain sections of the press.
- the Journal of Medical Ethics blog thinks the Trust is in the right, and that 'a hospital is a secular institution' - which doesn't entirely square with the presence of chaplaincies and prayer rooms, it's not quite that simple is it?
- best piece discovered so far is One Minions Opinion.
and lots of strange 'Britain is being turned into a Muslim country by political correctness' sites.

If it Makes You Happy...

Missed at the time: an experiment to see what makes us happy, by psychologist Richard Wisemen. 26000 people took part, and tried 4 different exercises, plus a control group who were just asked to think about the previous day.

People who were asked to relive a happy memory scored 15 per cent better than the control group on the mood questionnaire at the end of the test. Those who thought about an aspect of their lives for which they were grateful scored 8 per cent above the control group. Those who forced their face into a smile did 6 per cent better. The surprise was found in the group asked to perform small acts of kindness, such as giving a small gift or complimenting a friend. While their mood also improved, their scores went up by 9 per cent less than the control group

tie-in website here, which explains a bit more. Not sure whether that's good news or not: does it give the lie to claims that altruistic acts are simply self-gratifying (because they make us feel good, and that's why we do them), or is it bad news that self-centred routes to happiness are more effective than those centred on others?

The overall finding though, must be that reflecting on what's going on is good for you - whether you're thinking about the previous day, acting in the opposite spirit to your mood, consciously thinking of others, or identifying things to be thankful for. The unreflected life is not only not worth living, it's also more miserable.

via Christian Research's monthly research bulletin, available from

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Putting the Wine back into Swine Flu

Just had some new guidance from our Diocese (Bath and Wells) which says that, given the dip in swine flu cases, churches can go back to having bread and wine if they want to:

we are content that incumbents and priest-in-charge, in consultation with their churchwardens, may resolve to return to the use of a common cup if they so desire, after careful consideration of the risks and factors involved. We append a helpful summary of some of the issues, which we hope you will take note of when making your decision.

This was also worth saying:

If people question the action that churches have taken in recent weeks, it is important to remind them that this has never been about ‘protecting ourselves’. It has been about avoiding transmitting infection unwittingly to others. Furthermore, we have never suggested ‘banning the Peace’ and we regard it as important that worshippers have the opportunity to greet each other in this way.

Most intriguing:
physical exchanges between members of a congregation... are almost impossible to avoid* There must be some pretty rough churches in Somerset then. Our lot only fight amongst themselves once a month at the most. At least I think it's fighting they're talking about.

Meanwhile here's the real issue.

* the omitted words are either directly or indirectly (through touching church furniture, for example), but I just took them out for fun...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Coldplay at Wembley, 18th September

What would you discharge yourself from hospital for? For me it was 2 things: a wedding today (brilliant sunshine, fantastic couple) and Coldplay at Wembley yesterday, a slightly late 40th birthday present, but well worth the wait.

Call it music therapy, but it was a calculated risk to sign myself out of Yeovil hospital on Thursday night (long story, another post) to trek up to London yesterday. Tube in from Amersham, and after overshooting Wembley on the first train, we finally found it: there was Wembley Way and the iconic arch. After running the gauntlet of ticket touts (they were replaced by mounted police for the journey back) and riding the escalators to level 5, we found ourselves 2 rows from the front of the top balcony, level with what would have been the half way line, but instead was a couple of lighting stacks and some strange yellow objects under tarpaulins (ballons, released during Yellow).

3 support acts - White Lies were noisy for the 1 song we heard, Girls Aloud suffered from a) not having much stage to play with b) being on in daylight, so no chance of lighting effects and c) a dreadful sound mix, with drums, muffly bass, voices and not much else. They had a go, and you had to feel sorry for the vision mixer who tried (and mostly failed) to keep up with which one of them was singing at the time. Call the Shots was great, but no quantity of faux-seductive pouting could make up for the sound quality. We were 100m away, so it probably sounded better at pitch level. Shame, we were really looking forward to seeing them.

Next came Jay-Z, cue time for me to go and queue for some food: if I want to be shouted at by grown men then I'll take up refereeing for kids football. But no food: somehow Wembley hadn't worked out that if people are there from 4pm - 11pm, they might want to eat a meal during that time. None of the amply staffed food outlets had anything to sell except £6 pizza slices, despite advertising fish and chips and all sorts of other stuff. Back to Jay-Z, who wasn't that bad for a rap artist (you can tell I ain't part of the 'hood), great band behind him, and a woman with an incredible voice who came on for 1 song. It's probably a global no.1, but the days when I taped the top 40 are long gone.

Hats off to the roadies, who did some very quick changeovers between the support acts: we got 45m each of Girls Aloud and Jay-Z, who finished his act by singling out people in the crowd to pay complements to - big job when 70,000 are watching. Then not long after 9 the sound system switched to Oasis (Acquiesce), then the Blue Danube Waltz, then down went the lights and here we go.

Having not been to a major gig for years, it was spectacular. The sound was fantastic, the lighting was awesome, and if Coldplay were tired at the end of several months touring they didn't show it. The instrumental Life in Technicolour was followed by a series of singalong favourites: Clocks, Yellow, Violet Hill, In My Place, Glass of Water. Very clever bit in Yellow, where Chris Martin 'asked' Simon Cowell to comment on the quality of the crowds singing, and showed clips of some of his X Factor put-downs. Martins sense of fun and joy is infectious, and despite the fairly limited banter between songs, and the massive venue, everyone felt involved.

The second part of the set did some 'interesting' things: a techno medley (God Put a Smile on Your Face, and Talk) from the end of one of the walkways, followed by an acoustic set on a small stage towards the back of the pitch, where the band were joined by actor Simon Pegg on harmonica. The cover of Billie Jean was unexpected and good for a giggle, but there was a bit of a loss of momentum. Then back to the mainstage for a rib-jangling Politik and Lovers in Japan, which had everyone on their feet, and confetti butterflies being sprayed across the stadium. The encore of The Scientist/Life in Technicolour 2 finished with fireworks, and a happy crowd singing the 'whoa oh oh's from Viva la Vida all the way down Wembley Way.

Discovered today that Oxfam were shadowing the tour as Coldplays special guests, but there wasn't anything at the show yesterday to highlight that. Their CD notes regularly encourage support of things like Fair Trade, but there was no attempt by Coldplay to use the stage as a platform for causes. Personally I'd have been thrilled if they had done, there's no need for U2 to corner the market in this. We also missed out on our free giveaway CD on the way out, so I'll just have to listen to LeftRightLeftRight on Spotify instead.

Minor quibbles: bit too much swearing from Chris Martin, and I'd have loved to hear more tracks from X&Y rather than Simon Peggs harmonica, but hey, they're a world renowned band and I'm not, and there's probably a good reason for that. On another occasion I'll probably do a 'compare and contrast' on corporate singing between Coldplay, weddings and church, but this post is long enough already....

Other links
here's the setlist
Youtube clips
lots of great photos on Flickr, from where I got the one above.
Review on BBC6

Friday, September 18, 2009


Have been in hospital for the last couple of days with a suspected hernia, which they then decided wasn't. With Coldplay tickets booked for today, the pain easing slightly, and each day in hospital characterised by a long wait followed by an inconclusive diagnosis, I have taken my chances and discharged myself.

Coldplay aside, the next week will consist mainly of rest and Ibuprofen. Blogging may, or may not feature, depending on whether I can get it classed as a 'restful' activity. There's probably an NHS post waiting to be written: one of many strange features of the hospital was a lift attendant paid £5.60 an hour to sit on a stool in the bed lift making sure it was only being used by the right people, whilst the other bed lift was being repaired.

Having been out of the loop for a couple of days, latest news on Elizabeth's deportation (see posts earlier this week) didn't sound good, it looks like it went through, despite all the lobbying. One commenter made the point that if we let Abu Hamza stay for his own safety, what are we doing deporting a vulnerable young woman and her two infant children. Exactly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harvest Resources

If you're after some resources for Harvest assemblies, services etc., there's a good collection at farming matters. Or try the Arthur Rank Centre, who have lots of stuff. This reflection is from the farming matters site:

Harvest Dreams
Tread softly because you tread on farmers' dreams.

Of what does a farmer dream?
In the U. K.Of a rich harvest?
Of a good price for the crop, covering costs with something left over.
Of enough capital to see him through the bad times.
Of security - for himself and his family.
Of a good well-managed farm to pass on to his children, as his father passed it to him.

It may be easier to ask ‘what does a farmer fear?’
Because fear of failure is ever present!
Fear of too little rain - or too much.
Fear of rain and wind spoiling a good crop.
Fear of low prices for his produce, falling bank balances and an overdraft refused.
Fear of sickness or injury - how will my family cope without me?

And all these apply in the world wide farming communityalong with other fears:
-Fear of total crop failure.
Fear of an invasion of locusts, leaving just bare earth where there was a green field.
Fear of drought - lasting for months not just a few weeks.
Fear of ‘picky’ buyers for the crop - refusal could mean disaster.
Fear of starvation:- no rain, no grass, no cattle, no crop, no sales.
Nothing for tomorrow.

And for the the ‘consumer’?
Do you remember the fuel shortage in September 2000?
Have you ever seen a Supermarket with no food on its shelves?
Our food supply appears secure.
If the buyer does not like one farmer or country he can make a deal elsewhere.
And it is so easy for us with our own ‘dream’ of cheap food to tread on the dreams of others!

The prophet Isaiah expressed God’s indignation
when he spoke of ‘Grinding the face of the poor’. (Isaiah 3 v. 15)
Love for our neighbour can be expressed
in treading very softly and carefully in our choice of food.
A wise choice will mean fewer ‘food miles’,
‘Fair Traded’ imports
and a fair return for the primary producer where-ever they may be.
An unwise choice can cause irreversible damage to God’s world and farmers everywhere.
In buying food - ‘Tread softly for you tread on farmers’ dreams!’

©2005 T.W. Brighton You are free to use this but please acknowledge copyright

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Telegraph #fail on creation and evolution

Steve Borthwick highlights the risible attempt by the Daily Telegraph to name the top 5 arguments for evolution and creation.

I despair, I really do. I am bored witless with arguments about creationism, but it seems impossible to have a decent debate about science and God without the C-word being uttered in the first 3 minutes, and then everyone jumping up and down calling each other morons.

For the record.
- I'm a Christian, I believe God created the cosmos.

- I'm not a 'creationist' - I believe the universe is roughly as old as science says it is, until they get a better measurement. Last I heard it was about 15 billion years.

- I'm convinced that the thrust of the first three chapters of the Bible is not chronology but theology: what kind of world is this, what kind of God have we got, where do humans fit in, what's our relationship supposed to be to God, the world, and one another.

- I would love to hear more from the physicists, if the biologists could let them have a word in. There's lots of fascinating stuff about the origins of the universe, evidence of 'fine tuning' of the cosmos to make life possible etc. There's more to science than evolutionary biology, just as there's more to Christianity than how exactly God made the world. Not all physicists are theists, so it's clearly not a done deal, but there are some good debates to be had in that area.

- I don't know a great deal about evolution, but from what I have read it sounds like there's still some questions not settled, including the phenomenon of evolution happening in short bursts, followed by long periods of stability. It would be interesting to hear what someone better informed has to say about this, as I'm not expert enough to know what that's all about, or how much of a discussion is going on.

Where's Woolas?

A number of us have been trying to contact Phil Woolas to ask for the deportation of Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba to Uganda (due tomorrow) to be halted. Background here, this weeks events here, here and here.

Given the timescale, sending letters is out of the question, but now emails are getting this automated response:

"Thank you for sending an email to Phil Woolas, Member of Parliament for Oldham East and Saddleworth.

Due to the volume of email we are receiving, we can no longer accept casework electronicially. Please write to Phil at: Lord Chambers 11 Church Lane Oldham OL1 3AN

If your query is urgent, please telephone our constituency office on 0161 624 4248.

If your correspondence relates to the Home Office, please forward your correspondence to:
Home Office Direct Communications Unit 2 Marsham Street London SW1P 4DF

With all best wishes and many thanks for your understanding in this matter.
Office of Phil Woolas MP Oldham East and Saddleworth"

You'll notice that the Home Office contact is a surface mail address. There is an email ( on the Home Office contacts page next to this address, but it also informs you that We aim to answer your enquiry - whether by email or letter - within 20 working days. That's not very helpful, as we're only working in a timescale of 24-48 hours here. Elizabeth was taken by border control officials on Monday.

Ok, we'll phone on that constituency number. Except that
"House of Commons rules mean that Phil can only deal with enquiries from people who live in Oldham East and Saddleworth." (says his website). So if you ring the number to plead Elizabeth's case but don't live in the area, it's against the rules for Phil Woolas to do anything about it.

I can understand that government ministers don't want to be deluged with email just because it's easy to fire one off, and some bods on the internet have put a campaign together. But the net effect of all this is that there's no way for the general public to get in touch with Phil Woolas within the necessary time-frame. In 20 days time Elizabeth could be in a Ugandan jail and her infant children taken from her and put in an orphanage. A sympathetic letter from the Home Office will be worse than useless by then.

Update: Just got this:

Hi folks, Just a plea for everyone to write first class to Phil Woolas today - as you may have already read, they are not accepting emails.

Rt Hon Phil Woolas Home Office Direct Communications Unit 2 Marsham Street London SW1P 4DF

So, don't forget to include Elizabeth's HO Ref: 1147269/5

please remind Phil Woolas that Elizabeth was only following his suggestion of the 6th August to gather medical reports and more information but weren't given the time to do it.

you could mention the manner in which Elizabeth and the children were taken and the bullying tactics of the Immigration Officials. They said, in front of the children, 'if you don't come quietly Elizabeth, we'll handcuff you and carry you down the stairs'. They also put E and the children in separate vehicles.

Don't forget to send a copy to Alan Milburn (you can do that by email) Elizabeth's flight is booked for 8pm tomorrow night. In the meantime, we are hopeful that we have found a solicitor.

Back to Church Sunday Radio Ad

A new radio ad has been produced to go with Back to Church Sunday, hear it here, there's also a CofE press release about it.

Reflecting this year’s theme of ‘Come as you are’, the 40-second advert features a variety of voices reading a rap-style poem that counsels listeners “You might have left for so many reasons, but am I wrong to sense that now’s the season, to stop, turn around, walk back? Don’t look to make no airs and graces. Faked up smiles and masked up faces. No need to make no innovation. Please accept this as your invitation.”

It set me wondering who the ad is aimed at. Most of the people who might come back to church are those with a church background: that figure increases with age. Will a rap-style poem appeal to most over-60's who are thinking about coming back to church, or will it put them off, if they left churches in the first place because they were trying too hard to be trendy? Having said that, there are probably loads of folk in their 50s who were brought up on Grandmaster Flash.

Dave Walker also has thoughts.

Back to Church Sunday is 27th September, and the ad will be running in various places from next Monday.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Only Phil Woolas and Alan Johnson can stop this girl crying

The Northern Echo has more today on the story of Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba, which I've been highlighting over the past couple of days.

This picture is her 4 year old daughter in tears, just before the British immigration authorities put her and her baby brother into a separate car from their mother, and drove them 250 miles from Darlington to Yarlswood detention centre.

From the Echo:
The Reverend Sheilagh Williamson, who the family have been staying with, said the experience had been a nightmare.

She said: “It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. It was a nightmare.“The children were taken in a separate vehicle and Marie was crying and screaming that she wanted to stay with me. It was heartbreaking.”

She said violence that had erupted in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, was an extra worry, and added: “It is certainly no place to be sending a vulnerable woman with two young children.”

The family are due to be deported on Thursday, and it's highly likely that Elizabeth will be arrested, and her children put into an orphanage, due to her connections with opposition parties and stand on human rights abuses.

MP Alan Milburn also contacted Mr Woolas yesterday on Elizabeth’s behalf.
He said: “If there is anything Elizabeth’s supporters want us to do on her behalf, we will be happy to help.”

Contact details: this is urgent, after Thursday it will be too late.
Alan Milburn - or call 01325 380366
Alan Johnson - and/or and/or or 020 7035 484
Phil Woolas

more details on Viv Neville's blog, and a supportive Facebook group. For a taster of life in Yarlswood for a detained family - what can only be described as institutionalised child abuse - go here.

Please contact Alan Johnson

Update: story in the Northern Echo today, worth a read.

Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba, whose case I mentioned yesterday, is now in Yarlswood detention centre, and scheduled for deportation back to Uganda tomorrow. I recieved the following update last night:

"We have heard that Elizabeth is in the Yarl's Wood Detention Centre and they are looking at deporting her on Thursday. If you haven't e-mailed the govt please do so - this really is our last chance. There have been riots in Uganda recently where members of the opposing parties have been rounded up and imprisoned. Elizabeth is likely to be arrested immediatley on her return, especially as a failed ayslum seeker. Please write, telephone and do something."

Elizabeth is connected with the opposition parties in Uganda, where she has spoken out about human rights abuses, and there is medical evidence that she was badly maltreated whilst in Uganda before. She has two small children (3 years and 6 months), who were separated from her when the British border officials took her from her home yesterday morning. This has happened before, and her treatment by the authorities in the UK has been inhumane. Her local MP, MEP, and CofE bishops have all called for her to be allowed to stay here. The authorities have ignored all of these pleas.

Here is one official report on human rights in Uganda
U.S.A: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Uganda 2006
The government's human rights record remained poor: violence and discrimination against women; female genital mutilation (FGM); violence and abuse of children, particularly sexual abuse; trafficking in persons; unlawful killings by security forces; disappearances; security forces use of torture and abuse of suspects; vigilante justice; harsh prison conditions; official impunity; arbitrary arrest; incommunicado and lengthy pretrial detention; restrictions on the right to a fair trial and on freedoms of speech, the press, and association; limited freedom of religion; abuse of internally displaced persons (IDPs); restrictions on opposition parties; electoral violence and irregularities; government corruption; violence and discrimination against persons with disabilities; forced labor, including by children; and child labor.

to repeat the contact details from yesterdays post:

Please contact Alan Johnson (Home Secretary) and Alan Milburn (local MP for Darlington) to complain about this treatment of a peaceful woman and her family and ask they release her immediately - and review her case favourably - this really is last chance saloon, because if she is returned to Uganda she is likely to be imprisoned and the children placed in an orphanage.

So I ask you again to take a few minutes out of your day to make a stand on her behalf
Alan Milburn - or call 01325 380366
Alan Johnson - and/or and/or or 020 7035 484


Monday, September 14, 2009

Jesus and the Nazi, the Muslim Christian, and other links

Please visit this Facebook page, with the details of the shameful treatment and deportation from the UK of a woman who faces torture, imprisonment and separation from her 2 small children in Uganda. There may still be time for Alan Johson to intervene. More details in my previous post today, including contact details for Alan Johnson and Alan Milburn, the local MP.

Journeys with the Messiah is a striking bit of art, putting a 1st century Jesus into a series of modern settings, put together by fashion photographer Michael Belk. Ht Church Mouse, Maggi Dawn.

Matt Wardman reports on the bloggers who uncovered a false story in the Sun (who'd have thought it?), and argues that bloggers might be better at checking their facts than newspapers anxious to print anti-Islam stories.

Sam Norton lists 10 'random beliefs' - interesting collection, might follow his example even if that particular meme doesn't come my way.

Cranmers Curate reports on a creative bit of church planting in Sheffield, whilst the Urban Pastor wonders whether Anglican parish boundaries have had their day.

Missionary Carl Medearis declares 'I am a Muslim': I have friends in the Arab world who are from America and grew up in the Christian faith who would call themselves “Muslims.” They reason that the word simply (and literally) means “one who submits to God.” And they do, so they are. Or…are they? Depends on who’s doing the defining. Ht iGod. Medearis asks the pertinent question 'are you a good communicator or a good talker?' let the blogger understand...

Derren Brown's blog is still offline, as it has been since Friday. But I'm sure he knows what you're thinking anyway.

Britain, Hang your Head

Posted here a few months ago about the case of Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba, a Ugandan refugee in the UK with 2 small children, who was fighting to be allowed to stay in the UK. Her final appeal against deportation was rejected, despite support from the MEP, local MP Alan Milburn, and a coalition of churches and local people.

Got this on Facebook this morning;

8 border control women have taken Elizabeth and her children and have separated her from her children...I thought this was a free country? How can they do this to such a peaceful godly woman?

If you pray, please pray for Elizabeth and her family, and for compassion for the UK authorities. I'm at a loss really: if MP's, MEP's bishops and campaigns can't win compassion for one vulnerable, frightened family, then what kind of country is this? The sheer lack of humanity in taking small children away from their mother is beyond my comprehension. Come on Phil Woolas, there must be a heart in there somewhere.

The following from 'Shame on You Alan Johnson', a Facebook group:
This morning Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba and her two young children were taken from their home by eight border control officals. Elizabeth, despite assurances from the police that she would be placed in the same car as her children was separated from ...them causing much trauma to the children. Also no-one got to say goodbye to Elizabeth.

Please contact Alan Johnson (Home Secretary) and Alan Milburn (local MP for Darlington) to complain about this treatment of a peaceful woman and her family and ask they release her immediately - and review her case favourably - this really is last chance saloon, because if she is returned to Uganda she is likely to be imprisoned and the children placed in an orphanage.

So I ask you again to take a few minutes out of your day to make a stand on her behalf
Alan Milburn - or call 01325 380366
Alan Johnson - and/or and/or or 020 7035 484

Wearing your Heart on your Chest (or stomach)

Ht Will and Testament for the Telegraphs comparison of the 'top 20 coolest' Christian and atheist t-shirts. I have to say that the atheist collection shades it, but you can make up your own minds. It's not an objective study 'we have selected 20 of the coolest....', which means the Telegraph possibly spent a few minutes on Google Image search. I'm sure there are better designs out there on both sides.

The only place I've seen Christians wearing Christian t-shirts is at Christian festivals. Where do atheists wear their stuff? Ricky Gervais gigs?

My favourite message t-shirt was produced by the fair trade jewellers Cred, in the days before they specialised: "How you spend controls what happens on the planet." It's full of holes but I refuse to throw it away.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cheaty Cheaty Bung Bung

What do the following have in common:

  • Formula 1
  • Afghanistan elections
  • Westminster MP's
  • Derren Brown
  • Several Premiership football clubs
  • Harlequins

Yup, cheats (or alleged cheats) are everywhere. OK Derren Brown may not have cheated, but anyone tuning in to find out how he 'predicted' the lottery numbers on Friday would have been disappointed. He promised to explain how he'd done it, and didn't - or at least, nobody else who watched the program is any the wiser*. So maybe 'misdirection' is the latest word for being 'economical with the truth'. The main trick he pulled was to get people watching his programme, and that worked very well.

From an early age, we're wired to sniff out potential cheats. Cries of 'that's not fair!' echo around every school playground and childrens party. It often means 'you've got something I haven't, and I'm jealous', which is another reason why people cheat in the first place.

The way we use language to cover up our cheating is almost comical. Brown (Derren, that is) gets away with 'misdirection', and millions of illegal downloaders protest about being 'criminalised'. How does that work? If you're doing something that's against the law, and you know it's against the law, you're a criminal. Yet somehow it's the laws fault, and the downloader is entirely blameless. The same specious rubbish is used about speeding. Are benefit and tax cheats 'criminalised' too?

The good news is that we can still get up in arms about cheating. The moral compass still works. The bad news is that we're better at reading other people's compasses than our own. Whether it's MP's trying to bluff their way through expenses scandals, or a football manager protecting his diving centre forward, there are far too many supposed role models who live as though cheating was ok, and a perfectly acceptable means to an end.

Before we get too uptight about the Afghan elections, and what Our Boys are doing propping up a corrupt and backward regime, it's worth reminding ourselves that the UK is hardly a bastion of fair play. If we wink at, celebrate, or reward those who cut moral corners, then we lose moral authority. When there are protests that immigrant communities have failed to 'integrate', I sometimes wonder if they've been wise not to do so, given the values of their host nation.

My other concern is that we're leaning to experience moral outrage as a form of entertainment. It sells newspapers, as the Telegraph discovered to their shareholders delight and MP's distress. The online Daily Mail headline generator ('Will Yobs infect British farmers with AIDS?') is close enough to the truth. If we can package moral outrage as an 'event' - a march, a music festival (remember Live8) then that heightens involvement, but our politicians also know that within a few days we'll have got bored and moved onto the next thing. Sustained pressure, outside of committed activists and pressure groups, is more elusive.

The encouraging thing is that these stories are 'news'. If everyone in rugby cheated, Harlequins wouldn't stand out. Unfortunately cheating is suspected/expected in so many sports now (athletics, cycling, football....) that rugby was seen, until this year, as an island of fair play in a sea of corruption. Will that tide turn back, or is this just part of human nature which will keep repeating somewhere, in some form, for as long as there's an advantage to be gained?

this is a cross post from the Wardman Wire, where I occasionally write a column called 'Touching Base'.

*if you watch the vid, his method is a load of cobblers: 'averaging out' numbers from 24 people who write from their 'collective unconscious'. Notice that none of them see his workings, or his conclusions. I really hope his 'team' weren't taken in by this, nor anybody else. The online consensus seems to be that it was a camera trick, with a split screen, with the balls switched after the draw, and the split screen removed.