"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Joyce and Lillian

Every Saturday my beloved and I go to our little cafe during the usual Saturday chores. We are creatures of habit as are the others who tend to be there at the same time. We tend to sit in the window and bicker about whose turn it is to face the window and whose to sit with her back to it. Inevitable the other window table is taken by Joyce and Lillian, two ladies, agewise on the older edge of completely indeterminate. They give the impression not so much of being lifelong friends, but of two aquaintances who have given up trying to shake each other off. Being a little on the hard of hearing spectrum their conversations tend to be held at a volume somewhat above the norm.

.... so I asked him how we were going to manage. I mean turning out to decorate the second bedroom is fine as far as it goes but they don't have a spare bed.

What, no camp beds or sofa beds?

No. Not evan a crouton.

..... and he gave a wonderful urology at the funeral.

We're going to Evita in January.

Oh really? Will it be warm there then?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Exams in the summer? Whose great idea was that?

Well, here we are at the start of week two of an unseasonally hot Easter break. Just prior to breaking up my Yr 10 students took their mock exam using a past GCSE paper. They will be doing the real thing on June 9th. I started to mark a couple of days ago and, in time honoured style, I started with my weakest group.

I don't know why I do this. There is some residual sense that the weakest ones will be the easiest to mark and shouldn't take too long. This is not true and every year I make the same mistake. The weaker ones are the hardest to mark because of the scrambled handwriting, the poor spelling and the dodgy thought-processes. Oh, and the lack of revision: don't let's forget the lack of revision.

Oh we never revise Sir.

I can't revise, me.

And, thus, cheerfully, they give themselves permission not to bother. However, not knowing the core material has never been a reason not to write pages and pages of misinformed personal philosophising.

Example 1) The design of the world shows that God created it. Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer.

I think god did create the world because thier wasnt noone else what could of. (sic)

Example 2) There will always be evil. Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer.

I don't think we could last very long without evil. If there was no evil all the policemen would have to lose their jobs.

Example 3) God cannot be loving if he lets people suffer. What do you think? Explain your opinion.

I think God can be loving if he lets you suffer. For example, your Mum loves you even though she might make you tidy your bedroom.

Example 4) At the moment of death, the soul returns to God. What do you think? Explain your opinion.

Where does God keep all the souls?

The ones I have marked so far are all well below their target grades and if they perform as badly on June 9th a senior manager will come to me wanting to know why. But so-and-so's target grade was C and yet she got an E. How do you account for that?

She's lazy and wouldn't revise.

But you're the Head of Department.

Yes, but she's lazy and she wouldn't revise.

But it's your job to ensure she does.

Would you like me to move in with them all and sit over them every evening in the holidays?

There's no need to be facetious.

On the second day of the Easter holidays, I invited my Yr 10s to attend a revision morning and my Yr 11s to attend in the afternoon. It was a sunny day. Three came in the morning and nine in the afternoon. In theory they are all revising now. The sun continues to beat down. What are the chances?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Because you didn't listen last year: Summer dressing for men

Below is a repeat post: I am currently in negotiations with the Coalition Govt. to make the following recommendations mandatory by law.

My beloved and I were sitting in our favourite cafe on our Saturday morning date. (Yes, I know how to show a girl a good time.) It was my turn to sit facing the window: my beloved sees this as something of a disadvantage because, as a people watcher, I have a tendency to pay more attention to the world passing by than to her.

We are in the middle of an early heat wave after an overlong, cold and miserable winter, where spring hardly got a look in. As I looked out of the window I was, in turns, perplexed, shocked and occasionally, frankly, disgusted by what I saw parading by. A collective madness descends on the British public when the sun comes out and we feel that atavistic compulsion to discard our winter layers and show our sun-starved and pale flesh to the world.

That is not of itself a bad thing but, having travelled extensively around Europe, North, South, East and West in the Summer months, I note a tendency in the British, only matched and occasionally beaten by our American cousins: the journey from winter woollies to summer shorts by passes one significant stop-over - the mirror. The French, the Italians, the Finns and the Estonians do summer in style. We, on the other hand, are the sartorially lost and confused.

When I next change jobs I am going to join the fashion police: as a meterosexual male and misanthrope I offer the following observation of the British male in the sunshine.

* British men and shorts: this is not a marriage made in Heaven. Amongst all the ill dressed tides of humanity that swept past the cafe window was an elderly man clearly wearing the shorts he was issued in 1946 on demob. Another man of indeterminate middle age wore the sort of genitalia defining very short shorts beloved of the 1970s soccer player. One overweight youth was wearing acres of baggy, bold, floral print.

* Varicose veins are not a fashion statement.

* Men who wear sandals with socks - black, brown and dark blue generally, tend to be given a wide berth by mothers with small children: it is an unconscious response designed to protect the young from exposure to evil.

* The wearing of sports gear as leisure wear: it's just lazy. Don't do it guys. Are you on your way to play sport? No, I thought not with that physique and a cigarette in your mouth.

* The wearing of combat camouflage: are you in the armed forces? (You wish.) No, I thought not. See previous response.

* Tattoos: why do we think they're called POLYNESIAN STYLE? (The clue's in the name.) Yes, because they look good on dark-skinned, muscular, Polynesian fishermen and not on skinny, ginger accountants from Wakefield. The upper-arm Celtic ring really did look cool in 1986. Its now 2011 (no, honestly) and its beginning to look like a serious lapse in judgement.

* Unless you've got that physique, shirts should always be worn unless you are within 50m of sea, lake, lido or river. If you do have that physique, cover up anyway. No-one likes a show off.

* Wear only one pattern: shirt, T-shirt or shorts/trousers. Do not mix and match. You'll look like a train wreck.

* That hard-rock T-shirt proclaiming Up Yours Mother-F***er works on a 17 yr old. It does not look edgy on a fifty-something with hair growing out of his ears.

* And that Rolling Stones tour T-shirt 1991: no-one cares.

* Have you seen how much hair you have on your torso? I recognised you from Planet of the Apes.

* As previous. Grey wiry body hair escaping around the neck, belly and arm holes of your T-shirt is singularly unappealing.

* Allow me to introduce you to the concept of the anti-perpirant deodorant in the summer months. You smell and sweat patches are just not cool.

* That slim fitting shirt/T-shirt may have looked good last year. You've had a beer or two since then, no?

* No-one ever needs to see your navel.

* Crocs: don't even start me on that crime against humanity!

* The baseball cap was never cool.

* Look Youth, that woolly-hat-beanie-thingy looked good in January. You just look ridiculous wearing it with a vest top and shorts, right?

* Taupe, beige and pistachio for the over 50s have been banned by the new Coalition government, as has anything with suede inserts.

This is what you do:

* You are allowed to look critically in the mirror.

* You may throw clothes away - especially ones that make you look like a knob and/or no longer fit. Get over it.

* You must go shopping when the summer clothes hit the shops, not once in a decade under sufferance. Take your girlfriend/wife with you. You don't have one? Why am I not surprised?


Thursday, April 21, 2011

A two minute meditation on footwashing

Now then: feet.

Aren't they gross?

No, really. Aren't they? Well, usually, anyway.

I could never be a chiropodist. There is something deeply unattractive about feet. If ever I was an actor called upon to do a nude scene I'd have to have a foot double.

Spreading midriff? Well, that comes with the territory I supppose. I can live with that - and the man-boobs too, but feet?

No way!

We've reached the point in the Christian calendar when feet are in.

Big time.

Today Christians celebrate the occasion when Jesus washed his disciples' feet and some churches act that out with the vicar washing the feet of the congregation.

What's that all about?

I was quite uncomfortable the first time I ever saw this done but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.



Well, think of it like this: forget about feet. What unpleasant thing would you be prepared to do to show how much you cared for someone?

Well, it's like that. Simple as.

The disciple Peter tried to resist Jesus washing his feet. I like Peter. I didn't like the vicar washing my feet. It didn't seem right. And yet it makes real sense this week in the lead up to Easter. Jesus does something loving and humble for those he loves and it confuses and upsets them.

Later this week we remember a more significant event where Jesus does something else for those he loves and again it confuses and upsets them.

He goes to his death.

Jesus washed his friends feet as one day, when I'm a vicar - dispite all my misgivings - I will too and, in doing so, I will stand in for him.

I will do something seemingly off-the-wall but at the same time deeply personal and intimate and yes, something a bit unpleasant.


Because its not really about feet is it? Jesus wanted to say something about himself: about compassion, about love, about friendship and committment...and about the fact that he was going on to do something even more disgusting to do with love, compassion, friendship and committment.


So, other people's feet: corns, bunyons and the ugly rest. And what am I left with now?

A vision of another's feet: bloodied, bruised and nailed together to a piece of wood as a way of showing love.

Just a little extract of the wedding rehearsal I smuggled out ...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Terry Jones and Quran Burning

My students occasionally assert that religion is the cause of all war. I disagree and ask them about World War 2. "Well, it was about the Jews" they answer, with all the grasp of history of ill informed 16yr olds viewing events of 70 years ago. I explain that it was about Fascism and Nationalism and aggressive politics. They remain unconvinced. I point out that WW1 had no overt religious element, that the Falklands War was about Nationalism and politics. I try to look at Vietnam and Korea with them. "But they're Buddhists." they proclaim. Yes, but it wasn't about Buddhism but about the spread of a political ideaology in Communism. "What about the IRA? That's all about Catholics and Protestants." Maybe, but that's tribal. It's not about Christianity. Real Christians wouldn't behave that way.

And now we have Terry Jones and his Quaran burning. (That is not that nice Terry Jones from Monty Python.) In September 2010 this was all over the media here. Pastor Terry Jones from the Dove World Outreach Centre Church in Florida had threatened to burn multiple copies of the Quran on Sept 11th as a protest against....well, all sorts of things really.

The Dove World Outreach Centre Church? You sort of know what's coming don't you? This is no mainstream denomination. It is a pentecostal-style set-up with a congregation of between 30 and 50. The sort of place where pastors work who are trained at the Hicksville Southern Baptist Bible College (no formal academic qualifications required to teach). Oh, but it's even worse than that. Pastor - or as we really ought to call him - "pastor" - or to be truly accurate, Mr. Terry Jones is both self taught and self ordained. How can one self ordain? Can one self ordain?


Ordination requires specific regulated academic standards in theology and doctrine from accredited theological colleges and authorisation by a recognised denomination. Hatred of Muslims isn't a required qualification for ordination: well not on this side of the Atlantic anyway.

So, why does he want to burn copies of the Quran? Initially this was some vague protest which seemed "appropriate" to the anniversary of 9/11 (or for British readers 11/9). It now seems to have become linked with the prospective building of a new (which isn't new because it is an extension of property already owned by the Muslim authorities) mosque (which isn't a mosque but a cultural centre) at Ground Zero (which isn't at Ground Zero but several blocks away) - but let's not let factual inaccuracy get in the way of a good bit of Muslim bashing. He has been on Facebook holding a Quran and claiming that "This book is responsible for 9/11" I may go on and hold up a copy of the Bible and say "This book is responsible for the Crusades and the Holocaust." It's not the books. It's the misguided people who read and interpret the books against their prevailing doctrine and morality. Can you blame all Christians for all time for the Crusades? Of course not. Can you blame all Muslims in the same way for 9/11? Apparently so in some of the less logical branches of the American Right and that is both mad and dangerous. Dangerous to us all. If it was Just "Pastor" Jones one might just be tempted to feel that whatever came his way as a result of his actions would be well deserved and little mourned, but that is more of a Buddhist worldview and we are required to love and forgive this man. The way of the disciple is indeed hard.

"Pastor" Jones shows all the signs of early-onset Republicanism in his intolerance of diversity and active fear and hatred of Islam. He seems to believe that an act of gross provocation such as burning Qurans is somehow sending a message to Muslims that America will not take any more! "Where do we draw the line?" he asks.

Any more what? What line? What exactly is it that we are all being asked to stand up against? Well, Muslim extremism and terrorism of course. (Plus creeping Shara law and the fifth column enemy within. That goes without saying - although some are saying it.)

So let me just get this right then. Burning Qurans is going to send a message to Muslim extremists? You bet it will, and the ramifications of this ill thought through strategy will be wholesale bloodshed and murder. Already Jones has the death of two men on his conscience, and he has only threatened to burn the books: two Afghan men were shot in an attack on a NATO base in Afghanistan. A NATO base run by Germans, who most of us know aren't Americans. The cry now goes up "Kill the Christians!" as reported in my newspaper. So potentially anyone of European, Australasian or North American background becomes fair game.


Thanks Mr. Jones.

Even his mayor, Craig Lowe has come out against him, saying he is "Part of a fringe group and an embarrassment to our community."

Ah, but all is well. He has been in contact with the Imam at the new (but not new) Mosque (which is not a mosque) at Ground Zero (which isn't at Ground Zero) who has agreed to a trade off. No Book burning and no Mosque.

Hang on. That doesn't sound credible.

No. The Imam concerned denies any such conversation.

Of the two, guess where my money goes on the honesty, integrity and reliability stakes?

What is this man doing? What is he about? Publicity of course. How wonderful in today's democracy that one lone nutter can cause the world to hold its breath. One lone nutter, who is NOT an ordained minister; whose "church" is NOT affiliated to any denomination; one lone nutter who has a support base of 30-50; one lone nutter who was thrown out of his previous "church" for "financial irregularities" - also known in plain-speaking as theft.

And this man commands the media? Or perhaps more to the point, the media flocked to him and thus lit the blue touch paper via the oxygen of publicity and a non-story became international news and, once again, we are left speculating to what extent the press, our guardians of free speech, have reported or made the news. Of course it is wonderful that he has been universally condemned but he has still scored a victory for those hardy "Christian" zealots who support this brand of provocative anti-Muslim insanity: now the Westboro Baptists have jumped on the bandwagon - those role-models of all things good in Christianity.

Book burning is cultural vandalism and aggression. The Romans and the Christians did it to Hebrew scripture; the Catholics did it to Lutheran texts; the Nazis did it to "decadent" writings; the Serbs did it to Bosnian-Muslim writings. It's been going on down the ages. What great examples to follow while making a recruitment drive for Al Qaida.

For those of us viewing the furore from this side of the Atlantic it continues to remain a mystery that Christianity - albeit a form of Christianity Jesus would not recognise - has become profoundly intertwined with political agendas and the concept of patriotism allowing such feelings to be hijacked by the conservative populists who take Fox News as gospel and love Glen Beck and right-wing shock-jocks on the radio. A climate of fear has been stirred up and President Obama himself, remember, is deemed by many on the right to be anti-American and, of course, a secret Muslim because he doesn't wear his church attendance on his sleeve. This is the politics of division and fear which has polarised the political landscape, marginalised, ignored, misrepresented and upset the relatives of the dead who are being invoked as supporters of a cause many do not support, which potentially leads to the scapegoating of Muslim citizens, the burning of holy books and the banning of places of worship. This is no way to commemorate those who died on the planes, in the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

Ceremonies commemorating 9/11 should be peaceful, dignified and respectful and not sidetracked by inflammatory sideshows. Let's pray that this aberration of a "Christian" gets the message.

Could I suggest you all listen to Radio4's Thought For The Day for Sept 10th with Dr. Mona Siddiqui.

On 20th March 2011, largely ignored by the mainstream media, Mr. Jones went ahead and burnt a Quran. The power of Blogs, Facebook and Twitter in this age ensured the story spread like wildfire.

The consequence of this (so far) has been the death of seven U.N. workers in a mob riot in Northern Afghanistan. No doubt there will be more to come.

Mr Jones takes no responsibility for these deaths. "We find it very tragic any time that someone is murdered but we do not feel any responsibility for that." (The Observer 03.04.11) Someone needs to take this man on one side and spell out the nature of cause and effect to him.

He added "It definitely does indicate that there is a very radical element of Islam."

There's a very radical element of Christianity, too, Mr. Jones and you are right up there in the vanguard.

Still, that's what Christianity is all about - if you're pompous, stubborn, self-serving, irresponsible, self-publicising, deluded and dangerous.

Mr. Jones' new organisation is called Stand Up America. Ah someone else hi-jacking the identity of all for his own narrow agenda, akin to the amorphus Moral Majority. The Observer reports that Jones' church has "...put up three signs that that read Islam is of the Devil. A passing dessenter appears to have vandalised them, scrawling over the hate speech a new message that stated: Love all men."

I know it sounds trite but if we follow the model of Jesus when dealing with those of other faith groups, even those who were despised, you don't find him being provocative. What you get is courteous engagement: Jesus with the Centurion and Jesus with the Syro-Phoenecian woman for a starter and then the iconic story of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus deliberately makes a marginalised and despised foreigner the hero of his parable. Why? To make a point Mr. Jones hasn't learnt!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Shack

This book has been on the periphery of my awareness for a while now but all I really knew about it was its hype. I have vague memories of it being discussed - or at least referred to - on Facebook and various blogs so when I came across a copy on a church bookshelf and commented to my Beloved that I had been recommended to read it, she leapt straight into action - well into Amazon actually - and ordered me a copy.

This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress did for his. It's that good.
proclaimed the blurb. Fair enough, I thought, I'll give it a go.

I've been teaching a module on Suffering and Evil to Yr 10 students as part of their GCSE for many years now and it is a hard topic, although it is right to attempt it and I enjoy teaching it, so I hoped The Shack might be an aid to this. Sadly I can't afford the finacial cost of buying a class set, nor the time cost in trying to read it with them, but there is much in it that is quoteworthy: my problem now is whether the AQA GCSE RS markers would consider this book as an appropriate source from which to quote. But I'll worry about that on another occasion.

My kids can't cope with Transcendence. I have no problem with it: the otherness, the aboveness and beyondness of God makes perfect sense to me. My pupils, on the other hand, who are mainly unchurched, regularly ask "But Sir, how could one man create a universe?" The Shack is good on Transcendence and on the Trinity for that matter, although the interrelatedness of Papa, Jesus and Sarayu got a bit too lovey-dovey-cloying on occasions for my taste, although that is a minor criticism.

But I run ahead of myself. The key character, Makenzie is suffering The Great Sadness following the abduction and murder of his young daughter Missy and he is angered four years later to receive a note, seemingly from God, to meet with him at the shack in the wilderness where Missy was murdered. He does go, reluctantly, and the rest of the story charts his encounter with the Almighty in all three guises. I had no problem with the presentation of God the Father as a "large, beaming African-American woman" with a tendency to refer to everyone as Honey, although she is referred to throughout as Papa. The representation of God the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman who seemed "almost to shimmer in the light....It seemed almost easier to see her out of the corner of his eye than it was to look at her directly." increased in logic as the story unfolded. Jesus is a Middle Eastern man whose "features were pleasant enough " but " not a man who would stick out in a crowd. But his eyes and smile lit up his face and Mack found it difficult to look away."

I can see problems for the more conservative or Biblical-literalist minded with these representations but I didn't find them unhelpful.

Although it is quite a short book, the story of Mack's ultimate reconcilliation to God, acceptance of his daughter's death and forgiveness of her murderer is too detailed to go into here but I will quote this little section which made me smile:

Mack says to Papa: "I always liked Jesus better than you. He seemed so gracious and you seemed so ..."
"Mean? Sad isn't it? He came to show people who I am and most folks only believe it about him. They still play us off like good cop/bad cop most of the time, especially the religious folk. When they want people to do what they think is right, they need a stern God. When they need forgiveness they run to Jesus."
"Exactly." said Mack with a point of his finger.
"But we are all in him. He reflected my heart exactly."

And a little later: "Are you saying you have no expectations of me?"
Papa now spoke up."Honey, I've never placed an expectation on you or anyone else. The idea behind expectations requires that someone does not know the future or outcome and is trying to control behaviour to get the desired result. Humans try to control behaviour largely through expectations. I know you and everything about you. Why would I have an expectation other than what I already know? That would be foolish. And beyond that, because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me."
"What? You've never been disappointed in me?" Mack was trying hard to digest this.
"Never." said Papa emphatically. "What I do have is a constant and living expectancy in our relationship, and I give you an ability to respond to any situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. To the degree that you resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that degree you neither know me nor trust me."

If you have a copy, read up to P 208 to see the resolution of this little debate.

I hope that gives you a flavour.