Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wonga: The Welby Effect

A plan for the church to develop credit unions has been floated, with Welby proud that the church is “putting our money where our mouth is” in developing an alternative to payday money-lenders. The plan, he says, is to create “credit unions that are both engaged in their communities and are much more professional – and people have got to know about them.”
It will, he adds, be a “decade-long process”, but Welby is ready for the battle with the payday giants. “I’ve met the head of Wonga and I’ve had a very good conversation and I said to him quite bluntly we’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we’re trying to compete you out of existence.” He flashes that smile again. “He’s a businessman; he took that well.”
that was an interview in July last year. Since then Wonga has been fingered for sending fake legal letters to 45,000 customers, and made to pay out over £2m in compensation. This morning they've just announced that pre-tax profits for 2013 fell by 53%. At this rate Wonga will be out of business before the CofEs alternative credit union scheme has even got off the ground. Welby 1 Wonga 0.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Neil Baldwins 'Marvellous' faith

“Every morning I get up and pray. Prayer is the best gift you can have.” I ask him whether his faith comes through in the documentary and he smiles. “My friends who came along to the premiere said ‘you’ve put God in it first’ – and that’s it how should be. Sometimes Christianity is not portrayed very well. If you’ve got no Lord, you are lost. God is always working in me, and through all the people that I’ve met.“

Really enjoyed 'Marvellous' the other night, the true story of Neil Baldwin, which showed his great faith as well as a brilliant sense of fun and positivity. Read the rest of this interview with the Diocese of Lichfield here

Welby: The theological challenge of ISIL

"We must face the fact that for some young Muslims the attractions of jihadism outweigh the materialism of a consumer society. 
As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice implied, if we struggle against a call to eternal values, however twisted and perverted they may be, without a better story, we will fail in the long term."
Full text of Justin Welbys speech to the Lords here

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How to Busk Properly

Bath Abbey has been having problems with unruly buskers, whose amplified warblings are drowning out worship services. Busking is a major part of Bath city centre life, and the Abbey has a good working relationship with most of the regulars. It's a different story, when they use battery-powered amps outside the doors whilst a funeral service is going on inside.

Here is a better way to busk. Ht Banksyboy. And not an amp in sight.

Shining, Hidden.

As the rain hides the stars,
as the autumn mist hides the hills,
happenings of my lot
hide the shining of Thy face from me.

Yet if I may hold Thy hand
in the darkness,
it is enough;
since I know that,
though I may stumble in my going,
Thou dost not fall

Alistair Maclean, from Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria Community

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Quote of the day

"I think we are at risk of worship becoming a genre of music, a routine or a mundane activity as opposed to being a heart cry, an overflow of love, a response to the revelation of an almighty God."

Joe Hardy puts into words something that's been bugging me for ages

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Cross

Where is Jesus in the depths of our suffering? He is the God who became wholly human, who stood by our side, who sucked into himself every ounce of sin and suffering and brutality of this world, before then and after, in total injustice, absorbed it, held it, overcame it and rose from the dead, and is alive and with us by his Spirit today in reality and truth. And therefore death is defeated, despair is overcome, whatever we feel, wherever we are, however weak we are, afraid we are, depressed we are. You can be overwhelmed by the sorrows of this world – many are, sadly; depression assails them and only darkness seems all around. And yet Jesus remains light, whatever we feel, and loves us, however much we turn away.
So this cross is for all of us. It is the cross of sorrows and grief, that says God loved us enough to come and share every ounce of it with us. Grace upon grace, love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.
And the response he calls us to – to trust this grace and love with our lives. The one who is lifted high on the cross requires more than a glance from us, more than a quick squint or look. He calls us to believe, to trust, to take this love for us as the most certain thing in our lives. To become those who take up our cross and follow him. Who consider it fitting for us not to live life for ourselves, for our own glory, our own power, because that way lies evil and darkness. But live our lives for others, sacrificing everything. That is what it means to take up our cross, it’s what Jesus said. And when we do that, the morning breaks, the light fills our lives and our hearts and our world.
And as God’s people we are called to go out and draw others to find that extraordinary life that is found in the death of Jesus Christ. 
from Justin Welby's sermon this week at Bristol Cathedral. Read the rest here

Friday, September 19, 2014

Food Standards Agency: Announcement

Immediate recall: the memo released last night announcing that the following items now classify as 'foreign food'

Porridge oats (and derivatives: oatcakes, flapjack)
Anything on the menu at an Angus steak house

PS: on a separate issue 'pulled beef' does not refer to cattle slaughtered within a few hours of someone buying them a drink at a nightclub

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Token Scot Day

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 06, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Evil in Nigeria

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

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

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Faith, Fairness, and the Workplace - Government Survey

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

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

Monday, September 01, 2014

Doctor Whumanist: Can the Physician Heal Himself?

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

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

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

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

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

 - religious faith portrayed as a self-destructive mania

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

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

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

Here we go again....

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

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

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

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

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

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