Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Moral Culture of Banking: Selling Ethics by the Pound

A young man I know was interviewed for a City job earlier this year. He was turned down for it not because he wasn't able, but because he 'wasn't sufficiently motivated by money.'

We've got used to thinking of everything in terms of economics: earlier this week Ed Balls spoke of preschools and nurseries as part of our 'economic infrastructure', and betting companies like BrokeLads are classed as 'financial services'. But isn't there something wrong with an economic sector, no matter how much it contributes to the economy, fuelled principally by greed?

The latest warnings of bankers fleeing overseas as a result of a bonus cap are pathetic. Who would you rather have working for you: someone who'll work hard and do their best because of pride in the job and personal integrity, or someone who'll only do it if you throw enough cash and share options at them? Do we want people who need an 'incentive to behave prudently and responsibly' running our biggest companies? Since when did ethics become an optional extra, sold by the pound?

It shouldn't therefore be a surprise to find the same people dodging taxes. After all, greed means there's no such thing as 'enough', and whether its the badly paid cleaner in your office or the taxpayer who pays the price, who cares? Why should financiers change their behaviour when it comes to HMRC? Bonus culture and tax avoidance are two sides of the same coin.

George Osborne talks of rebalancing the economy. That's not the only thing that needs rebalancing. If we continue to celebrate being a 'leading financial services sector', driven by companies who hold greed and avarice as key values and motivational factors, then we will not only breed a class of rich but very selfish people, but we'll attract more than our fair share of similar people from other countries. Shouldn't we have an economy where the brightest minds are attracted, not to the jobs which reward greed, but jobs which do most good and are most worthwhile? There are higher values than economics, but we're struggling to give them a look in. There's a reason why Dragons Den, which celebrates inventiveness and enterprise, is on BBC2, whilst the Apprentice, which rewards ruthlessness, cheating and moral short-cutting, is a flagship BBC1 programme.

If our education system and our society is merely producing brilliant minds who have no moral issue with working this way, then we have a problem. History is littered with the victims of people who were brilliant scientists, engineers, educationalists, politicians, even religious leaders, who had lost their souls along the way.

Even if the bonus cap is flawed in other ways, if it means less of a culture of greed in the UK, then the Treasury should be looking for a way to work with it, not oppose it. No, wait, Treasury, the clue's in the name isn't it?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Nativity Factor is back!

A couple of years ago this launched the Beatbox Bible on an unsuspecting world, and there were some superb entries last year. More details here. Worth bookmarking if you're a vicar short on ideas and long on Christmas services.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Making Parenting Pay

It seems New Labour hasn't lost its appetite for outsourcing parenting. Ed Balls announced today a policy (yes, a policy) of 25 hours free childcare for 3-4 year olds where 'all' parents are working. This extends the free nursery care introduced by the last Labour government.

Last week the Libdems offered to let the state cook the main meal of the day for all infant school children. This week Labour are offering to relieve us of the burden of being with our own children so that we can get out to work.

Hello? Parenting is the most significant work that anyone with children will ever do. Yet again politicians send the message that earning money matters more than raising your children. But not to worry, the Big Friendly Government will do it for you. Politicians go on and on about making work pay, how about making parenting pay? Shouldn't it be more rewarding, in every sense, for parents to invest in their children rather than being bribed back into the workplace? Home is a workplace too.

If Labour really do want to put £800m into family support, then how about something really useful: parenting skills courses for first-time parents, with regular refreshers/peer support as children grow older, to equip parents with the skills they need to raise children well. Then there wouldn't be so much need for the state to step in at a later stage to provide the hot meals and safe/supportive environment that some children never experience at home. It also empowers people to do a better job themselves, rather than extending the client base of the state at the expense of family life.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Housing Policy - Mind the Gap

I'm one of the few people outside East Coker who's been following every twist and turn of the planning process in South Somerset. The District Council plan - covering development in the area up to 2028 - is currently up in the air, after a government inspector said that in its current form it wouldn't pass muster.

Under new government rules, if there is no Local Plan in place, developers can propose schemes pretty much wherever they like. There is a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' in the national policy, a deliciously vague term which will surely generate a steady income for the legal profession over the next few years.

I spotted this comment today on a thread about planning policy (wake up at the back there)

Planning rules have already been massively relaxed with the adoption of the National Planning Policy Framework, with its mumbo jumbo "presumption in favour of sustainable development". In my area the Council has put together a 5 year housing plan which specifies where development may take place. Developers simply ignore it as it`s not yet been officially sanctified by the Planning Inspectorate, get turned down at local level and appeal to the Inspectorate, who then quote the "presumption" and allow the appeal, sometimes awarding costs against the Council, on the grounds that they have not demonstrated a 5 year supply of housing land.

The longer we have no Local Plan, the more opportunity there is (especially with the market picking up) for speculative applications. And what a national developer learns in one part of the country, they'll apply everywhere. The sooner we have the Plan in place the better - even if it isn't perfect, it will be better than the alternative. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Does Religion Cause War?

I always figured that people were the major cause of war and conflict, but found this an interesting riposte to the standard atheist 'religion is a major cause of war' thing.

Here's a very different take. Sorry chaps, but it's hard to argue with.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Taking too long to tell people what they already know

A chilly day at the list rites of an Ashes summer yesterday, the car said 9.5 degrees as we drove away from Southampton. Bit of a disappointment, though the Australians were very good.

The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for a sign. Crickets 'decision review system', like almost everything else in sport these days, has a sponsor. So whilst the crowd are waiting for a decision, Natwest flash up their subliminal advertising on the big screen, until 'Out' or 'Not Out' appears. One decision yesterday was reviewed, overturned by the umpire almost immediately, and the players were all ready to resume but the big screen was still ticking through it's pre-programmed message. It then went into a countdown, intended to raise the sense of drama (#fail), and then seemed to get stuck, and went round the loop a couple of times before flashing up Not Out, to a loud and ironic cheer.

Natwest probably lost a few customers in the process.

If you take a long time to tell people what they already know, when they'd rather be getting on with something else, it doesn't tend to go down very well. Which makes me wonder how many Natwest moments we have. Sticking to a pre-programmed liturgy, regardless of context, can be deadly. Stop me if you catch me doing it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

He has made everything beautiful in its time...

..well, nearly everything

the Blobfish has become the mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. I guess the writer of Ecclesiastes hadn't met one. Or maybe he/she had, and has a better insight into the character of God and the beauty of things than yours truly, child of the Botox culture.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Always a Woman: A Song for the Church of Wales

To celebrate the decision of the Church of Wales to have women bishops, here's one of the moments I remember most vividly from theological college in the 90s. St. Johns Nottingham was a bit of a hotbed of feminism at the time, and my good chum Simon penned this little ditty. Billy Joel as you've never heard him before. I'm not sure how he escaped with his life, to be honest.

Enjoy, if you can.....

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Church Growth Research Findings - CofE Conference

The CofE's new Church Growth Research Project will be reporting back early in 2014 at a special 1-day conference in London. Here's some blurb:

Faith in Research Church Growth Research Conference 2014

Thursday 16th January 2014 at Hotel Russell, London 9:30-16:30

This exciting conference will provide you with an early overview of the findings from a major 18 month research programme investigating factors related to church growth within the Church of England. This will include results from a survey of over 1,700 churches, a detailed study of Fresh Expressions in 12 dioceses and a study focused on factors related to growth at cathedrals and greater churches. You will gain from the conference:

 - An overview of what we can say about church growth from the data which the national Church already holds and which has been collected during the research.
 - Insight into some of the challenges involved with researching church growth.
 - Practical suggestions of how both diocesan leadership teams and those working on the ground in parishes, fresh expressions and cathedrals might seek to encourage church growth. 
 - A chance to discuss and debate the findings: including their relevance to your situation.
 - An honest assessment of what we still do not know and of where we might go from here.

Full details, including how to book, here.

Sunday, September 08, 2013


“(Jesus) is never disgusted. He never says that anything – anyone – is too dirty to be touched. That anyone is too lost to be found. Even in situations where there seem to be no grounds for human hope, he will not agree that hope is gone beyond recall.

Wreckage may be written into the logic of the world, but he will not agree that it is all there is. He says, more can be mended than you fear. Far more can be mended than you know.”

Francis Spufford ‘Unapologetic'. 

(If you've not read it, imagine CS Lewis after several pints rewriting Schliermachers 'Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers' - which short circuits rational disputes by talking about talking about how Christianity feels - ghost written by Malcolm Tucker. Actually, don't bother, just read it, astounding book.)

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Immortalised in Sand

That was the caption on this picture from this BBC story. Some idiots have vandalised a set of sand sculptures in Weymouth, including one of Andy Murray holding the Wimbledon trophy. Strangely, "Sculptures of ET, a smurf and the Gruffalo remained untouched."

And now the phrase is rolling round my head. Immortalised in sand. Sand which crumbles underneath you in a storm, sand which blows away on the wind (I watched Spiderman 3 last night, the powerful image of Spiderman saying 'I forgive you' to Sandman, who then, bit by bit, is released into a stream of sand and blows away). 

As Spiderman discovers, fame isn't all its cracked up to be, better to be loved than to be immortalised in sand, waiting for the next dousing of rain, or the next idiot to come and destroy you. What a blessing to be able to receive eternal life as a gift, one that nothing can erode.

The pursuit of happiness has overtaken everything else as the top value in the West. But is it the right sort? Interesting research here contrasting two types, 'hedonic' happiness, the 'immortalised in sand' stuff of fame and pleasure, and 'eudamonic' which comes from a 'deep sense of purpose and well being'. Turns out a sense of purpose and meaning is good for your health, licking the earth is bad for it. Tastes sandy too.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Coldplay - 'Atlas'. New Single, New Prayer?

some saw the sun
some saw the smoke
some heard the gun
some bent the bow
sometimes the wire must tense for the note
caught in the fire say oh
we're about to explode

carry your world, I'll carry your world

some far away
some search for gold
heaven we hope is just up the road
show me the way Lord because I
am about to explode

carry your world, I'll carry your world
carry your world and all your hurt

full track here.

Prayers are nothing new to Coldplay - here's UFO from Mylo Xyloto:
 Lord I don't know which way I am going
Which way the river's going to flow
It just seems that upstream I keep rowing
Still got such a long way to go
Still got such a long way to go

And that light hits your eyes

I know I swear we'll find somewhere
The streets are paved with gold....

and I predict that by Easter there'll be Youtube versions of Atlas intercut with scenes of the cross as Jesus carries the world and all our hurt (Isaiah 53). As with all Coldplay stuff, I never know whether the lyrics are finely crafted for deep meaning or recycled sentiments from previously released songs, or a bit of both. I like the idea that the song might be a dialogue with God, and when you think about Syria there might be a lot of people having this conversation with Him right now.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Mission to new housing areas: what works?

...a question I'm very interested in, given that it's a major thread of my work here in Yeovil. The Church of Englands new 'Church Growth Research' unit has commissioned a piece of work to evaluate the CofE's engagement with new housing areas in recent years, particularly in the 14 Dioceses which have received national funding to support mission work in new developments.

Some of the key factors in the evaluation include:

  • The extent and effectiveness of support and training provided by dioceses for the local projects/posts being funded; 
  • Whether any common factors are emerging which are contributing to (or hindering) the success of pioneer and other outreach posts(e.g. supporting team in place; links to parish church, being resident on or near the new development s/he is serving; access to community facilities; access to facilities for worship; length of term of appointment for post-holders);
  • Whether and how community engagement initiatives through the projects/post-holders being funded are translating into new Christian disciples;

looks like a helpful piece of work, and I'm delighted to hear that it'll be reporting back in March 2014, a lightening-fast timescale for the CofE.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Precious Trust

Excellent and thought-provoking piece by Nigel Traynor, reflecting on Rowan Williams book 'Tokens of Trust', and what it means to be a 'professional Truster', as a priest in the community. 

Some of the relationships I have had in the parish have been fleeting but trusting. Strangers have trusted me with their secrets, others with their weddings, baptisms and funerals: Precious moments of privileged trust.

Others have not trusted, a working relationship yes, but not trust. I wonder when there is no trust then comes fear and self-reliance. I am aware when my trust is at its least I rely upon what I know and can do. And nothing much is built or done. Willams’ book reminds me the Father trusts creation to its people, the Father trusts the Son with the kingdom, the Father entrusts a fragile Church with the Holy Spirit. Jesus trusts us enough to go home to the Father.

I am asking myself why have some not trusted me and opted for something else, fear and control.  The lack of trust results in relationships that are fragile and unfruitful. I have noticed when trust is not common currency the phrase “God has told” (me) is used. Reflecting on the gospels I am not sure Jesus ever says “God told me”. It is the most non-Christian phrase in use today. It is used by fundamentalist to attack and disarm the enemy because there is no trust.

Some of my most painful experiences have been were trust has been broken. My natural tendency is to withdrawal my trust and be more self-reliant. But in the long term as the professional Truster I am not afforded that for long, because it cripples me. If I cannot trust my community how can I trust God?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Sherborne Abbey 'Insight' Lectures on Christianity & Islam

some fascinating and timely talks coming up just up the road:

Insight Lecture - Living with Islam
Wednesday 25th Sept 2013 7.30 p.m. Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, Director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity and International Director of the Barnabas Fund.        
Insight Lecture - Crusade or Jihad?
Wednesday 23rd October 2013 7.30 p.m. Canon Edward Probert looks at the effect of Jihad and Crusade on the Holy Land and asks what lessons we can learn from these conflicts.                             

Insight Lecture - Just War in the 21st Century
Wednesday 30th October 2013 7.30 p.m. Dr David Whetham explores the concept of Just War in modern times and whether it has a place in the 21st century.                           

Insight Lecture - Living with Christianity
Wednesday 27th Nov 2013 7.30 p.m. Imam Mohammad Ovaisi discusses the problems faced by Muslims living in a Christian culture.   

each in the Digby Hall, Sherborne, booking details here