Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to all

peace and blessings to anyone who reads this, thankyou for dropping in, hope you have an excellent Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

David Cameron does what Rowan Williams says shock.

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury was encouraging people a few days ago to read the Gospel of John. I'm not aware that David Cameron makes a habit of this, but he seems to have followed Rowans advice and done exactly that, quoting Johns gospel in his Christmas message.

Nearly every media source headlines on the Christian content of Camerons words e.g.
'David Cameron cites Gospel of John' (Guardian)
David Cameron quotes from Bible (Huffington Post)
Camerons' olive branch to the church in Christian Christmas message (Telegraph)

here's the full text of the speech and this is a much quoted snippet

"But Christmas also gives us the opportunity to remember the Christmas story - the story about the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that he brings to the countless millions who follow him."

Mr Cameron added: "The Gospel of John tells us that in this man was life, and that his life was the light of all mankind, and that he came with grace, truth and love. Indeed, God's word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace.
It's striking that, in a fairly short message, DC touches on only three things - the 2012 celebrations (Olympics, Jubilee), the Christian message, and support for the troops. Am I the only one to jar slightly at the link he makes between Jesus the Prince of Peace and the troops? Or, more amusingly, that he uses the image of 'punching above our weight' before talking about peace.... 
I'm not sure whether it reflects on David Cameron, or on us, or both, that people aren't sounding very convinced, and wondering whether this is politics, rather than personal conviction. Cameron makes regular references to his faith - e.g. at the anniversary of the King James Bible earlier this year - but it's hard to see how the dots are joined between his faith and his actions. Perhaps that's wise on his part, it was used as a stick to beat Tony Blair with even when he wasn't open about it.
Anyway, happy Christmas to Dave and to all our politicians. And remember, Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

New Carols for 2012

There's been a bit of a hostile takeover of the traditional Christmas carol. Here are some of the rebranded ones making their debut in 2012

Ding Dong Merrily on Sky    After a quiet word with Jeremy Hunt, Maria Miller, whoever is culture secretary as you read this, the Conservatives award Rupert Murdoch monopoly control over Christmas and exempt him from annoying stuff like paying taxes.

The First Cowell     After a quiet year on the UK front, Simon Cowell attempts to revive the failing X Factor format by starting the elimination shows in mid February, and introducing a shark pool underneath the stage.

Away with the Manger    Eric Pickles seasonal message to local councils, seasonally named 'Nativities without Straw', spells out how to make savings during the Christmas season, including Mary holding Jesus on her knee to save on the expense of a wooden feeding trough. Now that Mary and Joseph have spent a night in the stable, it qualifies as an extra bedroom and the innkeeper will see a drop of 20% in his council house benefit come April.

Jungle Balls    Not the usual collection of vipers, grubs and crawling creatures, we've already seen enough of the Conservative front bench for the year. Instead, Ed Balls is locked in the jungle by his colleagues until he thinks of a more incisive economic critique than 'that's not fair'.

The Angel Gabriel from Devon Came has had to be cancelled and replaced with the original The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came due road flooding. Even though some trains are still running, Gabriel can't afford a ticket, despite living in a place paved with gold.

Silent Nick   What David Cameron wants for Christmas

White Christmas   What Nigel Farage wants for Christmas

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2013, Year of Thankfulness

Assuming we get through the next 48 hours, Tina has a great idea for the next 12 months:

Even when life is limited or painful, we have much to be thankful for.  Colour, sound, texture, relationships, beauty in faces and bodies and art and clothing, different flavours of food, the riches of the natural world, material goods of all kinds, freedom of speech and conscience.
God waits to receive our thanks.  Not because he’s a grudging giver like me.  Because gratitude does us and our world immense good.  So many influences in our society work to make us dissatisfied with what we have, when materially we’re phenomenally rich by comparison with most other people on the planet, and we’re spiritually rich in the riches of Christ.
I’m going to unilaterally declare this the Year of Thankfulness.  Join me?  Let’s try to thank God for more things every day, and marinate our lives in gratitude
The phrase 'aggressively thankful' has stuck with me from a talk I heard a couple of years ago - a church member who consciously looks out for things to affirm and praise in other people, and writes several notes a week to people to say thankyou. I guess for a few of us that will come naturally, for the rest it will be a spiritual discipline, but a good one. 
Tina's blog is Portishead Pilgrim

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CofE press office overdrive - burying bishops expenses?

There's an end of term torrent of press releases from the Church of England media centre, including a response to the latest Energy Bill from the government. Each of the other ones is noteworthy, for different reasons:

The House of Bishops has recognised that it needs a bit of outside assistance in drafting decent women bishops legislation for the July synod. I'm glad it's also resisted the calls of WATCH to delay until after the next set of Synod elections (another 3 years), which seems a bizarre request designed to prolong the discomfort in the short term and steamroller traditionalists in the long term. A new working group will start meeting in January to help get something workable together. IIt's a mixture of men and women, lay and ordained, including the lay theologian Paula Gooder and Philip Giddings, current chair of the house of laity at General Synod...

.... though he may not be for much longer. A 'public meeting' of the House of Laity has been called for January, with one item on the agenda. That item is a motion of no confidence in Dr Giddings as chair of the house of laity, citing his speech at the November debate as the reason. I don't know if this legally has to be a public meeting, but I can't really see why it shouldn't happen behind closed doors. There's a danger of it becoming a public trial, and yet another public airing of divisive views. (update, Peter Ould isn't impressed with the reasoning for the motion)

Finally the 2011 figures for Bishops Office and Working costs have been published. These amounted to £17m, a jump of over £1m on last year, most of which is accounted for by increased legal fees. The reason for this (reading between the lines) is the additional cost of the Clergy Discipline Measure, as legal advice for this isn't already covered by the other legal expenses of a Diocese. Full details are here, where you can see what's happened in your own Diocese. Here in Bath and Wells, costs have jumped 10%, whilst next door in Bristol they've gone down. I'm assuming there's a back story to places like Southwark, where costs have risen 40% in a year.

More concerning is the fact that, in 2006, this figure was £11.3m. That's a 50% rise in 5 years. How is budgetary control exercised here? As a local priest, every day I meet the people who pay the bills, and am part of a church that has to balance the books month by month, year by year. That's a big incentive to make sure I use resources wisely. No such financial discipline exists for bishops, the money does not run out, there is not the same context to provide that accountability and discipline. And whilst clergy numbers have dropped significantly in 5 years, we still have 113, the same number, in the purple.

There is mention in the full details of a new 'block grant' system of allocating funds for bishops expenses. Will that mean that, in future, if all the money is spent then there's no more? This will increase by 4% year on year, which is significantly ahead of inflation, and this seems overly generous given the huge increases of recent years.

I'm sure there are local factors wherever these expenses have risen, but the aggregate of 44 local factors over 5 years points to a lack of budgetary control and accountability. Perhaps bishops should be funded out of their dioceses, with budgets accountable to diocesan synods as they are for the rest of diocesan functions? The changes may be an attempt to address the spiralling costs, but the document doesn't mention them, instead the reasoning is 'greater flexibility' for bishops. There already seems to be too much flexibility in the bottom line.

Bethlehem tells the Christmas story

this is very powerful, really brings it home, at lots of levels. Pray for Bethlehem, and thank God for Jesus.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nicky Gumbel and Jonny Vegas on the One show

Sorry about the song at the end, but the rest of it is good value. Good to see an articulate spokesman for Christian faith on the sofa, talking about Jesus rather than church politics.

Vegas once trained for the priesthood, and made a film about evangelical Christianity a few years back, so it's interesting to hear where he's at now, would be fascinating to hear more.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nativity Factor Winners

The winners of The Nativity Factor 2012 have just been announced, a national competition run by ITN to produce a 3 minute film retelling the Christmas story. Here are the top 3 adult entries:

No Pressure (posted this a few weeks ago)

The Christmas C(h)ord, which I think is brilliant.

and joint third Mary and Joe (camcorder style, very clever)

and Operation Christmas, the Angels wear Prada

great competition this year, I can't see these going viral in the same way as Gavin Tyte's Beatbox Nativity last year, but they're all excellent, and thought provoking in their own way. The Christmas C(h)ord should be getting a play at our main service on Sunday.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

And The Winner Is..... George Bernard Shaw

"The reasonable person adapts themselves to the world, the unreasonable persists in trying to adapt the world to themself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable person."

Great to hear my favourite every quote from George Bernard Shaw getting an outing at Sports Personality of the Year (well done Bradley, by the way). Now, top 100 quotes ever, that would be a good TV phone voting show. We might even learn something useful. Well, you might think that, I couldn't possibly comment.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beatbox Nativity

Yes I know you've all seen this already, but lots of people haven't, and it's a great way to do the Bible reading in one of the Christmas services. Go on, dare you.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Marriage: what's up for grabs?

Amidst all the sound and fury around redefining marriage this week, I've been trying to work out what I think. The Ugley Vicar has already pointed out a lack of clear thinking in government about what marriage is, and what it is actually trying to do. 

So much of the debate seems to come down to whether or not marriage is a 'given', an institution, something which exists independently of our efforts to define or redefine it. And if it is a 'given', how much of that is up for grabs, and how much of the nature of marriage can be tweaked from culture to culture? So the Church of England, for example, has moved from a set of marriage vows where the wife promises to 'obey' and the husband to 'worship', to creating an alternative symmetrical set of vows, to taking the symmetrical vows as the norm. 

Here's Dietrich Bonhoeffer Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more that something personal – it is a status, an office.

This sense of an office is part of the furniture of Christian thinking, whether we are thinking about leadership in the church (apostles/bishops etc.) thinking about power (kings, prophets, the place of the law), work and rest (sabbath), or relationships. There are some 'givens' which God has put in place, for our good and for the good of community and the planet. Even in secular terms, we still recognise a 'vocation', that sense of a call which comes from beyond you to take a particular place in society as teacher, healer, carer, pursuer of knowledge etc.  

Postmodern liberalism, on the other hand, doesn't recognise any givens. Everything is a social construction, everything is up for grabs. Inherited institutions, from the monarchy to the Lords to the church to marriage, carry no intrinsic authority, and have to justify their existence on the same terms as everything else. All is merit and practicality. And there's plenty to be said for this. I would much rather have a competent Bishop than one who says 'I'm the bishop of (insert), this is what I do', to justify any action. 

The political and cultural outworking of this is the extension of free choice into any and every area of life, from conception to cremation. The battle over assisted dying is the same as the battle over marriage, is individual free choice sovereign, and does anything else trump it? The proponents of euthanasia, consistently led by the BBC, will not let this one drop until they win it. 

However the flipside of this is that any principal that liberalism appeals to must be a social construct as well. You can't reject all 'given' social institutions, and then insist on innate and given moral values. The notion of 'equality' which the government is currently appealing to is a social construct too, and just as open to challenge as the institutions it is used to challenge. 

The Biblical description of marriage - the exclusive and life-long union of one man and one woman, instituted and blessed by God - is consistently affirmed from Genesis 1 to the arrival of the 'Bride' in Revelation. It is a microcosm of the human race, a reflection of the love of God for his creation, the ideal context for having and raising children (though the Bible wouldn't recognise our nuclear family, operating as an independent unit from any form of community or clan). There are things that are like marriage: a parents commitment to their children is (hopefully) life long, there are deep friendships which offer companionship, there are extended families who support the rearing of children. Marriage doesn't have a monopoly on the social goods it embodies. But that doesn't mean that other relationships which carry these social goods need to be renamed 'marriage'. 

This is not simply a matter of equality, or justice, it's a deep philosophical and cultural issue about the very structure of existence. Are we simply making it up as we go along, or is there some kind of a structure to human existence and society which actually needs to be respected and worked with? It doesn't strike me that this week has made these questions any clearer, or helped us to resolve them. 

Other bits worth reading:
Peter Ould has several posts
God and Politics notes that ignoring the public response to the 'consultation' is seen as a badge of honour by the Equalities Minister. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The 'Christian' map, 2001 and 2011 census

The BBC has an excellent graphic for comparing the census results of 2011 with 2001. The screenshot above is the map of those who put 'Christian' in the religion question. That's right, 2001 is on the left. You can look at your own postcode in detail by clicking on it.

If you prefer words to pictures, British Religion in Numbers has a good summary

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Census 2011 - The Religion Question

Update: Church of England press release here (really slips the leash in the last paragraph) and a round up of links on Echurch Blog

A big batch of stats has just been released from the 2011 census. Of particular interest to people like me is the 'religion' question, which shows that 59% of England and Wales now identifies themselves as 'Christian' (down from 72% in 2011) with a corresponding rise in 'no religion' from 15 to 25%.

In the detail, there are all sorts of local oddities:
 - You are more likely to meet a Satanist in Bolsover than anywhere else
 - Oxford is the agnostic capital of Britain
 - Knowsley has the highest percentage of Christians
 - Norwich has the highest percentage of 'no religion: heavy metal' and rivals Brighton for being the most atheist area.

There are 2 data tables, religion by local authority, which has summary figures, and this more detailed set which breaks down the details - e.g. we discover that there are 4 Bahai in South Somerset.

No doubt everyone will draw the conclusions they want to draw - the Daily Mail will focus on 2.1m net migration, and over 7m Britons born in other countries; eco campaigners will note with dismay that we now have over 27m vehicles (up from 23.9m); but I wonder who will look at the near doubling of people in rented accommodation and the decline in home ownership (mostly on Labour's watch, as more and more of us were priced out of the market). It doesn't really suit any political party to draw attention to this. There's a few more of the headlines here.

As for me, I merely rejoice at the effectiveness of the other churches in South Somerset. About 200-250 of the professed Christians in the area come to our 2 churches (that's at least once per month), so with 100,000 Christians to go round, everywhere else must be packed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Nativity Factor: The Christmas C(h)ord

one of many excellent entries for the Nativity Factor this year, voting is open, but not for very long.

Lowering the tone - daft Christmas pictures

With apologies to those who are here for incisive theology and cutting edge missional reflections, here are some very silly pictures.

Here's the Vicar who dressed as a Christingle. And yes, if you're local, we're repeating the Christingle at Palmers Garden centre, Friday 21st December 4pm. The good news is that the cafe is bigger this year, so there's a chance we'll actually fit everyone in.

and this is just superb

Four candles

The Beatbox Passion

Ok, it's utterly unseasonal (if you want the Beatbox Nativity, go here), but I've only just caught up with this, even though it's been online for a few months. Actually, it's more seasonal than most of the stuff around during December, because at least it's about Jesus.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Love your neighbour

great visual meditation. Took me a couple of minutes to work out how these were all connected.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Health and Safety Executive Visit Bethlehem

Requiring shepherds to watch their flocks without appropriate and flexible seating arrangements is a contravention of health and safety regulations and human rights.  The provision of benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs is recommended.  The angel of the Lord is also reminded that before shining his or her glory around it must be ascertained that all shepherds are issued with suitable eyewear conforming to British Standards for filtering the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and glory.

more like that here. You'll need to scroll down a bit.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The 12 Tax Dodgers of Christmas

Tax dodger poster

Ht 38 Degrees. High res version of this pic available for posters etc. here

Ho Ho Ow! Yes, the Christmas Linebacker is still on the hunt.

No apologies for posting this for about the 30th Christmas in a row. There's nothing like a bit of wanton violence to get the Christmas message across. This ain't no sleigh ride baby!

Venn Diagram Theology

Just what we need. Now, where's the one on women, leadership and episcopacy?

Authentic Pauline letters in a handy venn diagram
From Theologygrams, this one's a Venn of Pauls letters. I thought Colossians was fairly happy myself.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Nativity Factor: Gabriels Visit

One of the better Nativity Factor entries this year. One of those (many) Bible accounts where you'd love to have a bit more detail: why does Gabriel say 'don't be afraid', how does Mary react, what does Gabriel 'appearing' actually look like, etc. Nice touch with the radio playing the Magnificat.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Leveson on press sexism and soft porn

Update: several dozen MPs have written to the Sun to call for page 3 to be scrapped, as part of the ongoing #nomorepage3 campaign. The Sun are resisting, because they know sex sells. 

Here's a few snippets from the Leveson report, which devotes a section to how women are portrayed in the press (vol 2, p660 ff).

the unfortunate juxtaposition of the article expressing outrage at a satirical programme on paedophilia and an article commenting on a 15 year-old’s breasts exposes a hypocrisy in relation to the sexualisation of young girls and women that is seen beyond the Page 3 tabloids: some have commented on the awkward co-existence of the Daily Mail’s support for “traditional values” with the Mail Online’s “sidebar of shame”. (p663)

The evidence as a whole suggested that there is force in the trenchant views expressed by the groups and organisations who testified to the Inquiry that the Page 3 tabloid press often failed to show consistent respect for the dignity and equality of women generally, and that there was a tendency to sexualise and demean women (p664)

The impact of discriminatory or prejudicial representations of women in the Page 3 tabloids is difficult to  judge. There is credible evidence that it has a broader impact on the perception and role of women in society, and the sexualisation of society generally

these are important and sensitive issues which merit further consideration by any new regulator. What is clearly required is that any such regulator has the power to take complaints from representative women’s groups.  Consideration should also be given to Code amendments which, while protecting freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, would equip that body with the power to intervene in cases of allegedly discriminatory reporting and in so doing reflect the spirit of equalities legislation.

The fleet street trinity of sexism, soft porn and stereotypes are alive and well, and are explored further in this BBC piece. For a particularly rancid example, here's a dreadful Mail article about a vicar who (shock) wore some 'fashionable' clothes, cut and pasted from a piece in the Times at the weekend, plus half an hour reading Twitter, with the usual (my apologies) set of bikini shots in the sidebar, which tells you all you need to know about how the Mail sees women.  Too Liberal nails it.

So if there's any prospect of a regulator who can challenge this kind of garbage, and a change of culture in the press towards treating women as women and not as pieces of meat, then bring it on.

Lovely Links List

A recent Jubilee + conference on 'Churches that Change Communities' - lots of talks and presentations now online, on things like food poverty, housing, ex offenders, mental health etc.

Presentations and audio from the recent Headroom conference on faith and mental health are now online.

The latest Research Bulletin from the Church Army's Sheffield Centre is now online. I must admit I still can't tell my modal from my sodal, and I'm not sure I want to, but I'm sure it's all very important.

I subscribe to the Lead On email from CPAS every month, it usually has a thought provoking short article and lots of good links to websites and leadership resources.

The new Mission Scene newsletter from the Baptist Union is just out, this is one ebulletin I read cover to cover every month, great way to find training opportunities and learn about new mission initiatives.

Archdruid Eileen has posted 'her' 3000th post. Cue rejoicing all round. This is the kind of creative mind we need to redraft the women bishops legislation.

Whilst we're on anniversaries, the excellent God and Politics has been going for a year now, a deserved popular and well recognised blog. It's worth reading what Gillan thinks he's learned over the past year, both about blogging, and about God and Politics.

Another route

St. Pauls Cathedral, HMS Belfast, an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, Hamleys. That, plus a few bells and whistles, was the itinerary of a recent OpVic day trip to London.

From the place of worship to the toyshop, via war and gluttony.

Such was our journey, such is the journey of my entire culture in recent history. Andrew Marr speaks of the story of 20th Century Britain as 'the triumph of shopping over politics'. That's an understatement.

My advent quest is to return from the toyshop to the place of worship, but by another route.

"perhaps the reason the lamb had come to life and run away from the big store was that it could no longer bear to listen to the cash registers and the talk about buying and selling. And perhaps that was why Elisabet was following it." (Jostein Gaarder, The Christmas Mystery)