Who's this then?

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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Friday, 30 January 2009

Hills of the North rejoice

I'd simply like to draw your attention to this post which some others pointed me to namely Sam and Peter, for which please both accept a big H/T.

I think this could be a really helpful grouping, if only because it promotes mutual respect and a seeking after understanding. I have pretty much had it with Forum mudslinging and NEAC style "consultations". It's all enough to make me drop off the edge of the Charismatic Evangelical world into what we used to call at college "Plot losers of the world unite!"

Funny how both my Clergy Leadership Programme and my wife's Arrow course spend a goodly amount of time focussing on your personal spiritual life, but neither of them, (remembering that Arrow at least is from a definitely evo stable, and a balanced proportion of the staff and materials for CLP ditto) suggest that leaders might grow by engaging in mindless and vitriolic waffling, in conferences or on line.
makes you think, doesn't it?

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

I've got my beer

But on a lighter note

Frankie goes to Gaza

They say the BBC did the DEC a favour by refusing to air this video, as they did to Frankie goes to Hollywood by banning their song "Relax" - no way would that tosh have been number 1 without a ban. However, I'm not hearing people talking about this much so am posting it here and would encourage others to do the same to spread the message.


Monday, 26 January 2009

Would you still remember me?

Well, that didn't last too long.
Following Obamageddon last week everyone was talking about Twitter.
I thought I'd have a little go, so I signed up and sent a message to an old friend, then started following Stephen Fry after reading about him on the BBC website.
Some of you may have noticed I even put a widget in the sidebar here (reminds me of a Chas'n'Dave lyric but that'll have to wait for another post), but that was a pain as it asked you to sign in every time you looked at this blog. Sorry about that.

So after about 4 hours and at least one stranger started following me, clicked the wondrous "delete my account" button and that was it. I was as free as a bird.

I suspect I was suffering from Facebook envy, as my wife has 87 friends, and I wanted to see if I could catch up by twittering but it wasn't to be. In the end I've got more and better things to do than spend ages clicking on "find a friend" - what i really want to be doing is getting up off my backside and finding some real ones!
As I thjought about my expoerience, I was reminded of the comedown from an inital encounter with Friends Reunited (you don't want to go there so I won't do a link) when we all suddenly thought, "what's the point of this? I already know where the people I want to stay in touch with are!"

We had an interesting discussion at an Arrow residential (a course that my wife is on and I get to go as spouse) about the definiton of the word Friend on Facebook, because its not the same as the meaning of the word in the real world.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Father and Son (or, why the subculture is pants)

Before we listened to the Obama stuff on the radio yesterday in the car, I was talking to my son about guitar music. He is learning the guitar and is not very motivated to practise, but he likes the electric guitar that is played in church. I thought therefore that I would play him some electric guitar music on the car CD, and talk about it. So I put on "Back in Black", by AC/DC which is hardly the most edifying spiritual material (e.g. "If God's on the left then I'm sticking to the right" from "Hells Bells", mind you at least they get God's politics right and acknowledge his existence!).

It does however contain some excellent riffs, and good examples of the interaction between lead and rhythm guitars, which we in due time talked about, using largely non-expert terms as I am not musical but like to listen to loud guitars and have done for some several decades now.

Then last night as I watched their gymnastics I was reflecting that a lot of the kind of music that I enjoyed as a young man wouldn't be very appropriate for the vicarage stereo today, as much of the sexism, phallocentricism and anti-God stance of (say) 1970's and 80's heavy metal goes against what I believe in when it comes both to human relationships and to God, yet here I was playing it to my son., because I wanted him to have the chance to hear it, and the thought came to me that the same thing happened to me when I was a kid.

My dad was a successful business lawyer, very involved in the Thatcherite boom, very into capitalism etc, yet when I was a kid I was raised on records by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly etc which was what he listened to as a young man, even though much of the message of that music went against where he stood then (and stands now.)

I didn't go to church at all until I was 20; my musical tastes were informed by secular music entirely. I had no idea at 20 that there was a whole subculture of music and art that agreed that the devil shouldn't have all the good music, and proceeded to make Christian versions that were morally and spiritually uplifting but still had the same riffs etc. Without wishing to disparage the musical integrity of these people, it has always struck me that this is an unnecessarily cheesy and isolationist approach to the relationship between music and spirituality.

The riffs of secular rock music in themselves are not satanic, but are the result of gifts and talents that I would say are God-given (even if to the producer rather than the musicians). When it comes to the lyrics I can only say that I'm glad I grew up on vinyl and cassettes, which made the words harder to work out, especially at high volume! So yes there is some stuff that I would switch off (or skip on the CD - had a mini epiphany yesterday in the car - "O blimey, that's about oral sex!" (a pint for the first person to guess correctly which song I was listening to!)) But why is it we have a tendency in the church to say that musical ability is only a God given gift if it is used to glorify God?

And why should I buy a CD just because it is by a Christian group when I prefer the music of the secular originators ? (being careful not to mention any names so as not to offend!)

The subculture is a con. Some people I have known use Christian versions of lots of things from holidays to plumbers to window cleaners (my window cleaner happens to be a jehovah's witness but I didn't employ him on that basis!) Its a con because it tricks us into ivory tower mentality - living in a safe world where only nice things and friendly godly people are around us. This effectively disables our mission by preventing us from ever actually meeting anyone who isn't a believer.

My kids live in a vicarage (some of their less enlightened school friends think they live in the church) but I want to make sure that they are free to experience as much as they can of modern culture and music. And if I have created the next Lemmy Kilminster then so be it.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

I have a dream (MLK not ABBA)

Well, that was indeed quite a speech.
I couldn't help but be reminded of this though

Poor chap was very nervous for the oath - I guess in the back of his mind he must have thought, "if a bullet is coming, it's coming now", and that's enough, even for a fleeting second of thought, to put anyone off their stride.

Where were you ...

Historic day blah blah, first Black President etc.

It is a very historic day, so I was a bit disheartened to see that just over 4 hours before Obama takes office, the most frequently read story on the BBC website in the US is this.

It just goes to show that we are suckers (ha ha) for a juicy headline.
It remains true to say though that this inauguration will replace 9/11 as the definitive "where were you when ... ". 9/11 itself took over from the Kennedy (or maybe Lennon) shooting.
My answer to future enquiries of this nature will be "Taking the kids to Gymnastics".
Oh well ...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Don't let it get away

As I am rather weary of bad news, I have begun reflecting upon blessings instead of woes. Found two photos this weekend that brought home to me again the beauty of the universe and its infinite variety.

Since I have a 9 year old son who thinks Dawkins is the best thing since sliced bread (and he likes sliced bread a lot), God as Creator has a low profile in our house.

This kind of thing helps though. That's a piglet squid on the left and a moon of Saturn on the right.
And rather nicely, It IS a beautiful day today

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

It belongs to them ...

Heard this song on the radio today and remembered how evocative it was of the campaigns in the 80's to return land to aboriginal peoples in Australia. ThenI started wondering how it would be if Israel collectively had this on their ipod.

The Palestinians have been given land by international accord, yet Israel seems able somehow to decide for itself what is their land, rather as the Whites did generally in the New World in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Imagine (and pray for) Israelis singing "The time has come ... It belongs to them, let's give it back" [then perhaps they'll leave off bombing us]

That bald bloke in the video is now the minister for environment in Australia. Wonder if He will give it back?

Monday, 12 January 2009

In Gaza

Was anyone else as uncomfortable as I was reading Amos 1 at Morning Prayer this morning?
At least I remain convinced that the Israeli army are not directly motivated by Scripture, in spite of evocative pictures of soldiers only old enough to grow bum fluff beards praying and reading before an assault. So Scripture is not abused but the innocents of Gaza (not everyone there but many) are.
I preached yesteday about the context of John the baptist's ministry; a nation occupied and oppressed, religious liberty under pressure, expectations of a Messiah. O how the boot is on the other foot today!
Who will be the saviour of Gaza?

Friday, 9 January 2009


Lots of people, notably John at the Ugley Vicar and Sam at Elizaphanian posting about Israel/Palestine this week. I know no amount of blogging will actually ever solve much but ...

I've been enjoying Phil's reflections on his recent trip to the Holy Land. I was also totally blown away by Brother Andrew last summer at New Wine. He is old and frail but still brave enough to go to Gaza with Bibles and aid, and brave (or crazy) enough to meet Palestinian leaders including those Israel would call terrorists. His most challenging statement was "these are not terrorists, they are just people who need Jesus". Now Israel is never going to see that, but the Church in the West must.
I suspect Sam may have a point in saying the establishment of the State of Israel was probably a mistake - it was certainly done in the wrong way, with Palestinian villages bulldozed etc. Trouble is, we still either feel guilty about the Holocaust, or think it is a good enough reason to let Israel (the secular State, not the ethnic/religious group) get away (literally) with murder.

See, I think we need to draw a line, between the Jewish people, whose identity and faith in the 21st century is shaped at least partly by the Holocaust, and the government of Israel who, riding on the back of the millenia of conflict between Jew and Arab and cashing in their victim chips at the bank of USA, seem determined to behave like a medieval nation when it comes to their neighbours the Palestinians, who, though not without blame, are certainly without power in this whole thing, and thus (for me anyway) attract the bias of God who cares for the poor (Luke 4 14-21).
I was trying to come up with an example to show how ridiculous this behaviour appears today. I tried to think about Scotland. Remember the Highland clearances? What if Scotland decided today that those horrible times should be avenged by invading England, a close neighbour whose inhabitants have peacefully co-existed with the Scots for centuries. There would be worldwide outrage and dismissal of the cause as invalid. What if the UK/Northern Ireland had responded to IRA attacks with an invasion of the Republic? The same thing ... maybe. Perhaps we do things a little more diplomatically these days.

I do not believe it is anti-Semitic to be against the State of Israel, for that a political not a racial or religious entity. Her behaviour outrages a goodly proportion of Jews worldwide anyway. How long are we going to let Israel profit from the Holocaust by throwing their weight around like the school bully? The family of a murder victim is not allowed to exact continuous revenge on the perpetrator and his family over generations - in fact the law prevents them from doing so at all. Indeed, if it were really about an Eye for an Eye, shouldn't Israel be invading Germany?

But the UN are about as effective in stopping the carnage in Gaza as a 5 year old would be in stopping a teenage hoody with a knife. There must be dozens of UN resolutions relating to this conflict that have just been ignored. If the rest of the world (ie not counting the US of Abstainers) is serious abotu bringing about a lasting peace, we must consider a more direct intervention - NATO peacekeepers, such as were deployed in the Balkans, at the very least.

Samson couldn't see what was going on around him, but we are neither blind nor powerless ands we must stop pandering to the Israeli government.

Rant over, off to bury a good man.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Mother do you think they'll drop the bomb?

Apologies if you thought this was going to be a post about Gaza; as someone who spends a lot of time looking after his kids, I have said a lot of these things in the last week (back to school etc)

Saturday, 3 January 2009

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

I promised a while ago to post about our trip to Dublin at the beginning of December. What follows then is a series of thoughts and reflections covering culture politics and travel journalism.

I come from Irish roots and had always wanted to go "back to the old country", but having been, I am of the opinion now that Dublin is really just a colonial British city in Eire, and, having held this status in reality in the past, it maintains it as a kind of Disney Ireland - on the one hand, catering for the discerning British stag party reveller at the weekend (thanks to Ryanair) and the discerning culturophile (not a word but can't think of a better one) and shopper during the week, and on the other hand continuing in architectural, ecclesiastical and linguistic form to celebrate its connections and disconnections with Britain.

What I mean by that rather complicated sentence (been picking Ephesians apart for tomorrow!) is that when I got to Dublin it was immediately obvious that this is a very international city - there were 5 different languages being spoken on the bus into town from the airport, and only 2 of them got off planes. Then though you start noticing on every street corner the shops selling Irish souvenirs - Guinness merchandising, rugby tops, stupid leprechaun dolls, etc. There are lots of great shops (if you can afford the euro/pound exchange) and the same number of coffee places and pubs as you would see in any British city (except maybe more pubs).

There is plenty of Irish culture to experience though much of it post-modernly - a trip round what used to be the Jameson's distillery but is now a heritage centre, and an audio-visual history of the city, featuring some pictures and some barely working touch screens (and only half open because Santa's grotto was in the other half). Irish dancing and music were similarly available but in a context more like Disney than authentic local culture. Indeed much of the city centre in terms of pubs and restaurants has turned into a giant Irish theme pub.
Don't get me wrong though, the craic was great, because even if the city has been disneyfied the people are the same, and you can get into a profound conversation with them very quickly. We did do the Irish dancing night out and I did not partake in but was amused to observe the system in that pub where there is a Guinness tap in the middle of your table which you use to help yourself, and it runs a meter so you know how much to pay at the end of the evening. You know it's tourist Ireland though when the band plays the Londonderry air and the Green Fields of France. At least they stopped short of the Fairytale of New York.

There were some frustrations - the cost of everything for a start, (but the food and wine were very nice) and the fact that the Book of Kells was not on display when we were there bcause it was being restored (D'oh). There were also some little joys, like stumbling upon a hearing aid shop just off O'Connell Street called Bona Vox, which is where Paul Hewson got the inspiration for his stage name Bono, or bumping (literally) into a statue of Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy.

Five minutes later though, the statues had become rather different - OK Oscar Wilde mostly harmless, but then you got a series of people immortalised in bronze because they were shot/hanged/tortured by the British for daring to arrange rebellion and uprising.

This was the strange ambivalence - one minute there are celebrations of the past - War Memorials, regimental flags of "The Kings Own ..." type, big busts of Jonathan Swift, the next minute it's all heroes of the 1916 Easter Rising. Maybe it'd be bad for business to remove all positive references to Britain, but I do wish the city would make up its mind. I'm with old Macca when it comes to "The Irish Question", even though my Irish forebears were Quakers, not Catholics.

Dublin has two Anglican Cathedrals, St Patrick's and Christ Church, of one of which Jonathan Swift was the Dean. We visited both; one as very dark and gloomy (OK there was a power cut but even so), the other was bright and welcoming and seemed alive as a place of worship, not just a stop on the heritage trail. One was built by Freemasons, the other not [geordie voice] which one? You decide!

Overall best things; "second homeymoon", chatting to the locals
Overall biggest downer; Guinness tastes the same everywhere.

Next time we'll go back with the camper and the kids and discover the real Ireland!

Friday, 2 January 2009

Say Cheese!

This is the cheesiest thing I've ever seen outside a cheese shop (h/t Duncan). Had to share it, can you beat it?