"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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Eve Sermon

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Have you noticed that Advent has been contaminated by Christmas Creep? In the classroom I seem to have been cast into the role of the Advent Police for the last month.

“No, go on Sir show us a film. It’s Christmas.”

No, actually it’s Advent.

“No Sir, seriously, it’s Christmas.”

No. It’s Advent.

“What’s that then?”

It’s the period of preparation leading up to Christmas.

“No, it’s Christmas now. We’ve had Cards; my mum’s been buying mince pies for weeks; she’s bought sprouts too; there’s Christmas music all over the place and everyone’s arguing. Of course it’s Christmas.”

Who can argue with such logic? Well, we’re nearly there!

What would the average class of 16 yr. olds make of tonight’s Gospel extract? Or, perhaps, more to the point what does the average adult make of it? What do you make of John’s dramatic introduction? Where’s the star? The stable? The angels and the shepherds? John surely knew the traditional story, yet he chooses to pass over it. Why?

Most people know that – America apart, obviously – very few people understand the Bible as 100% literally true; but, equally, very few people understand that such literal interpretations are a fairly recent phenomenon.

 So I ask my pupils: What is the story of Nativity all about?

“What do you mean?”

What is the point of these stories? Reduce them to their bare minimum for me. What’s the central element of the stories?

“The birth of Jesus.”

Is that it?

“Well, Christians believe he was the son of God.”

So it’s a pretty dramatic point?

“Yeah, maybe.”

Maybe? God sending his son into the world. It’s about as dramatic as it gets, surely?

“I suppose.”

Are the bits about the angel and virginity – and for that matter the star, wise men and so on – central to these stories?

“Probably not.”

Then why are they there?

There is silence while they digest this.

They are signposts to the significance of the story. This is the most dramatic event in human history. To me it doesn’t matter either way which Gospel story we use because the key part of the story is that God becomes human in Jesus and that’s what the story is all about, so I think that was what John was trying to say. Listen again, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Do we need stars and angels and all that to put that idea across? John clearly didn't think so.

How many Nativity plays have we been to? How many Christmas Carols have we sung? How many times have we heard the Nativity Stories read? I have a theory that there is such a thing as “the Tinsel Factor” and at this time of year our understanding of our key gospel stories is subverted by it: over familiarity with the stories and a life time of watching primary school kids in tea-towels and tinsel can actually inoculate us from what the story is teaching us and it becomes about the event rather than the message. Unless we are on the ball, the story takes priority over its own teaching.

How many people, I wonder, have got hung up on the details of the story and because they can’t accept them as literally true, they can’t accept the key element of the story and so dismiss it in the same way? It’s not about angels or a virgin, or a star or wise men: it’s about God intruding into human history in the form of Jesus with an agenda of salvation.
I think this is the point John is concerned to communicate to those who were to read and hear his writings, just as we have tonight. That's why I so like John's Gospel. Listen again, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
To illustrate the idea and to make that point I tell people this little story. Are you sitting comfortably?

"Now, take my friend Marlene: she's a very artistic type.  You probably know the sort - dangly Trade Craft earrings, pencils and paint brushes pushed into her hair geisha - style: half-moon glasses precariously perched an the end of her nose and a pair of Doc Martens - one red and one green. ('I've another pair like this you know.')
She's a leading light in regional amateur dramatics with a name for her radical re-workings.  Her trans-gender 'Phantom of the Opera' is still talked about in hushed tones …… in Harrogate.  Marlene is also a bit of a committee junkie, an inveterate organiser and with a reputation for not tolerating fools: (i.e. most other people she knows).  So I wasn't particularly surprised when she agreed to the Church Councils' request to stage last year's Nativity, although some concern was expressed: Marlene’s the sort of person who has causes. We feared her analysis of Santa’s carbon footprint and her concern that the elves should have a living wage. “After all, someone who wears that much red should be in sympathy with workers’ rights.” She opined.

The committee gathered in her large kitchen, all shaker style furniture and IKEA fittings. Oh, and she had an agenda. “To bring this story alive it has to be brought into the present.  We must make it relevant!” And so she set about her task with relish - carrying the rest of us, I have to say, rather in the slipstream of her enthusiasm.

Marlene had a bit of a temper tantrum – she called it “creative dissonance” – over the casting of the Wise Men. The Archbishop of York was not available. “Well frankly that’s ridiculous. What else has the man got to do at Christmas?” Similarly, Stephen Fry and Stephen Hawking sent their apologies. Marlene was heard to mutter something about not being able to get the staff and, without any sense of irony or self-awareness, she was also heard to mutter about people being full of their own self-importance.

“I’m surprised she didn’t ask the Pope” Muttered Carolyn.

 “I’m told she couldn’t find his e-mail address.”

 Lowering her sights somewhat, Marlene used her contacts at the University to cast the Wise Men who turned out to be Justin (lecturer in Astronomy), Trevor (lecturer in Ancient Near Eastern Philosophy) ... and Brenda, (lecturer in Theology - and convener of the interfaculty working group on Women’s Studies) … and you probably remember that Marlene and Brenda have not been on civil terms since the unfortunate incident at the Turkish bath.

Well it won't matter' said Marlene, all hurt pride and a large gin.  “No one will notice the difference: all they'll see is three moustaches – and that’s before the costumes are on.

“Nobody’ll care”. Carolyn had not yet learned to keep her opinions in line with Marlene’s. “I mean no one will know who they are and so they won’t make the connection.”

In the end Trevor, Justin and Brenda decided to wear their academic robes for the performance.

Carolyn was not to be pacified. “People still won’t get it.”

I was told that in the pub afterwards Carolyn was cordially invited to step down from the committee. When I say “cordially invited” I mean that in the sense of being shouted at a lot.

“So, the gifts the wise men bring?” As one, everyone turned to look at Jan, the popular young barber, who was to play the third road-sweeper. (It had been decided that we would not have shepherds - not inner-city enough.)
“They’d have been pre-delivered by Amazon.”

“I like your thinking Jan!” (Marlene could never resist a tall good-looking young man.) “Brainstorm, brainstorm everyone!”

In the end they decided on a donation from the local food bank, “We’re talking extreme poverty here. This needs to be confronting not twee”; an i-pad to represent the importance of mass communication and a hoodie for when he was older so he would blend in with the underclass.
"They probably won't be wearing hoodies by then."
"It's symbolic Justin. The whole story is full of symbolism. Surely you see that?"

Marlene’s neighbour's daughter, Sigourney, was cast as Mary, notwithstanding the fact that at 14, she was pushing the boundaries of virginity somewhat.

“But she's ethnic.  Don't you see she's perfect for the part: so 21st century marginalized.” and that was that. Marlene brooked no contradiction.

 “Anyway,” she said, gesturing to an open book on the vicar’s desk, “If you knew your Hebrew you’d know that it doesn’t actually say Virgin.”

 “Oh she thinks she’s a theologian now does she?” muttered Brenda to Justin.

The rest of the casting fell into place: the local Imam graciously declined the role of the Angel Gabriel.  "Well you can take multiculturalism to the point of political correctness and then where would we all be?  Answer me that?" observed Brenda.  Terry, the local postman took his place in a stunning piece of symbolism that no one got, even when Marlene, to considerable consternation, insisted that he performed in his uniform.

“Philistines.” she said, as she explained with elaborate patience for the third time the symbolism of postman as messenger of God.

“Actually, Marlene, point of order.  The Philistines were a very cultured people”

“Actually, Trevor, any more points of order and you’ll be the back end of the donkey."

Sigourney's boyfriend Cameron was drafted in as the innkeeper.  (Fortunately the ASBO he had been given for streaking through the synagogue as a bet had just lapsed.) A night-club doorman by trade he had little difficulty with the lines- “You can't come in here, we're full' although he did tend to keep fooling around at rehearsals and ad-libbing: 'You can't come in mate, but you can, love, we're letting in girls for half price tonight”.

Joseph was to be played by Len, the church caretaker.

"But he's about 1000 years old Marlene."

"Joseph was older than Mary you know.” Brenda was on her soapbox.  “Anyway, it says a lot about the exploitation of women in a patriarchal society."

There was much animated discussion in Marlene’s kitchen about what the 21st century version of the stable would be.

A three wheeled trolley in an overcrowded corridor at A and E was swiftly rejected on the basis that the church was in a Conservative constituency and Marlene confidently expected the constituency M.P. to be in the audience.

“A squat?”

“A garden shed?”

“A condemned council flat?”

“A homeless shelter?”

“A one-star hostel. Did you see what I did there? One star……anybody….. no?”

“Did I mention this is going to be a promenade performance?” All eyes turned to Marlene. “A promenade performance, yes. You know, where the audience follow the characters from scene to scene.”

“A promenade performance? As in outside? At this time of year?”

“I’m led to believe that’s when Christmas generally is. Would you prefer we did it in July? I think it might lose a little in terms of atmosphere and topicality? Do you not have a vest Justin? Man-up.”

Rehearsals came and went.

"Marlene, I'm sorry to interrupt but I'm having trouble with my character in this scene. What's my motivation here?"

"Shut up Trevor. You’re a palm tree. Any more of that luvvy-talk and you’ll be both ends of the donkey.

"Len, please!  How often have I told you?  Don't smoke during the birth scene - the baby Jesus is inflammable."

"Marlene, if I hear another religious person say: 'and Wise Men seek him still . . .' I may run screaming from the building"

"Brenda, they're not religious, they're Church of England."

"Sigourney, Darling, no more piercings please - at least not before Christmas.  I'm sorry Cameron ... you've had what pierced?  I see."

“Point of order, Marlene, technically, it’s not Christmas, its Advent, which means….”

“Someone bring me that donkey suit!

“That would be a problem Marlene. None of the Gospel stories mention a donkey at all.”

“Are you trying to trample on people’s long held beliefs Trevor? I really don’t think this is the time or place for Atheism do you? Terry - drop the line about 'Special Delivery', it's not working."

And so the evening arrived. Cameron was a no-show: another ASBO - it was the Buddhist Temple this time, but nobody noticed, apparently as they were all deep in meditation, so Jan was upgraded from road-sweeper to inn-keeper ("Cover up that tattoo please Jan") --- and Marlene was proved right.  It was a triumph - dramatic, moving and powerful. And yes, people wrapped up warm, loving the novelty of the occasion. Mary experienced her visit from the Angel Gabriel in the doorway of the post office and Jan looked genuinely distraught to turn the Holy family away from the doorway of The Star and Garter.

The stable became an old garage in the pub car park, back-lit in moody tones, the manger: the boot of a jacked-up wreck.  Drug paraphernalia littered the floor. Three local characters shared a bottle around a brazier and stray dogs sniffed around the set. The real pub landlord closed down his award winning Christmas lights display - all but the eponymous star, everyone delivered their lines perfectly, and on cue it snowed. 

It's hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago now, and here we are again getting ready for this year.  It's going to be different this year though.  After Marlene's triumph the church council members met in emergency session.  Words like uncomfortable, inappropriate, trendy and travesty were bandied about.
So we're back to the traditional again- shepherds in tea towels carrying cuddly sheep and angels with tinsel halos.  The relevant and the up-to date, it seems, have no place in the Christmas story.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sunday Sermon: Mattew 11.2-11. The doubts of John the Baptist

Matthew 11:2-11


When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

We say that the season of Advent is a season of waiting. We try to persuade ourselves that if we just say that often enough, it’ll become true. Advent is a season of waiting. Advent is a season of waiting.
But it's not. Advent is a season of impatience. Of course, there are other times throughout the year when we experience impatience. But this season, the time leading up to Christmas, this season is the climax of impatience, when all our anxiety and hurry and worry are concentrated into four short weeks.
We are busy preparing, each of us in our individual way, for something special to happen to us. Is this the right gift, or shall we seek another? Is this the right way for me to serve the poor, or shall I seek another? Is this the party I was waiting for, or will it be another one? Is this the moment with my family that I was waiting for, or was I waiting for something else?

The horrible possibility lies in the back of our mind that our expectation will go unfulfilled - that what we are waiting for will never happen - that we will forever sit waiting and lonely by the window like Eleanor Rigby. Or like John the Baptist, waiting in prison. Yes, John the Baptist. John the Baptist is back today, speaking differently to how he did last week.

In last week's gospel lesson, he burst on the scene with fire and vengeance, full of confidence and certainty. He announced the coming of Jesus with great hope and expectation. He gave us a fairly accurate model for Advent.

But, today, he represents Advent in another way, in a way that is just as authentic as last week's style. But he is tired. He is discouraged. He questions. John the Baptist is like us. He jumps to hope with power and aggressiveness. But, later, he has questions; he even has doubts.

Listen to John the Baptist later in his ministry. He thought he knew Jesus. After all, he baptized him in the River Jordan but, then, time went by. Things got harder for John. In today's Gospel passage, Jesus has begun his ministry, and John has been cast into prison by Herod the Great. He begins to have his doubts. Is Jesus really the one he was looking for?

What happened to the vivid forecasts of John the Baptist-that Jesus would chop down fruitless trees and throw chaff into the fire? Has Jesus spent his ministry throwing chaff into the fire? No, it seems not. And so John sends several of his own people, his own disciples, to ask the poignant question, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?" John has devoted his entire ministry, even gives his very life, to preparing the way for Jesus Christ, but now he worries that Jesus isn’t meeting the template of Messiah he has been expecting.

John the Baptist is a prophet because he shows us so clearly what happens to our narrow expectations. Jesus came, but on reflection, not in the way John expected.

At least he had sense enough to ask the right question: "Are you the one, or shall we look for another?"

Because that is the Advent question: "Are you the one I've been waiting for, or shall I wait for another?" Is this the present I've been waiting for? Is this the party, is this the family reunion, is this the date I've been waiting for? Is this the job I really wanted? Is this really the house we wanted so desperately two years ago? Is this really the person I loved four years ago? Is this really the person I love now?

Matthew's portrayal of John the Baptist's doubts about whether Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah is heartrendingly poignant. John, the fiery prophet who proclaimed Jesus' coming... John, the fearless messianic herald drawing crowds and rebuking religious leaders... John, the visionary scouring the banks of the Jordan with his call for repentance... that same John is now pacing a small cell and wondering if all his ministry has been for nothing. And so, desperate for some validation - of his ministry, of his suffering, of himself - he sends a messenger to ask a question as momentous as it is simple: Is it you? "Are you the one?"

There is great pathos in this passage of scripture. We don't really know what was in John's mind as he lay in prison, but it must have been hard for him to hold fast to the idea that God's eternal reign was about to be realized in the messiah. John was in prison. How is that a blessing of the coming kingdom? Of course, John had known of Jesus from a young age, but what specifically was Jesus' role? Was Jesus the messiah, or was he the promised Elijah whose role was to announce the coming messiah? Questions and doubts; faith under stress? There is much to learn from this great man.

It is normal for us to feel that doubts equate with little faith, so therefore, we tend to hide our doubts and fears - pretend that they don't exist. Yet, doubts are a normal part of the Christian life. The mystery will remain until we see through the glass clearly. Meanwhile, sticking with Jesus is what matters, doubts and all.

Refusing to give a straightforward "yes" or "no," Jesus instead recounts his credentials, the deeds he has been accomplishing: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." I wonder how John took Jesus' answer. It's an impressive list, for sure, but it assumes that John didn't know Jesus was doing these things and we’re as sure as we can be that John did know. Or could it be that it was precisely that John did know what Jesus had been up to that was causing him doubts? Given what we already know about John, we might guess that he was looking for something a little more spectacular. Perhaps restoration of sight, health, and even life seem to John a little too ordinary, too mundane, to signify conclusively that God is at work in and through the one John had earlier heralded with such confidence.

If this is the case, then Jesus' answer probably sounds more like a rebuke, “Come on John: have you not been watching and listening? Do you really need to ask?” I suspect that Jesus is telling John that he should reconsider his sense of who and what the Messiah is. John's problem, judging from Jesus' response, is that he hasn't yet recognized Jesus' actions as messianic because he hasn't been trained to see these things as indicators of God's presence. John, according to Jesus, needs to stretch his imagination of what the presence and power of God look like.

And here's the rub: are we any different? Or, to put it another way, what limitations have been placed on our imagination and expectations? I wonder whether one of the reasons many of our traditions are withering is that we haven't been trained to see God at work in the ordinary arenas of our lives. Each week, that is, we come to church, hear the Scriptures read and preached, sing the hymns and say the prayers, and, if lucky, have a sense of God’s presence. But do we carry that experience with us out of church and into our everyday lives? Do we look for God in the ordinary arenas of home and work, economics and politics? Can we imagine that God is using us in our various roles as employee, parent, spouse, friend, citizen, and volunteer, to extend God's love, blessing, and steadfast care of all creation? Can we, in short, see God at work outside of the church?

Let me give you an analogy: a year or so ago the reactions of commuters at an underground station to the music of a busker playing the violin were taped. The overwhelming majority of the 1000+ commuters were too busy to stop. A few did, briefly, and some of those threw a couple of coins into his violin case. No big deal, just an ordinary day on the underground. Except it wasn't an ordinary day. The violinist wasn't just another busker; he was Joshua Bell, one of the world's finest concert violinists, playing his multi-million pound Stradivarius. Three days earlier he had filled Boston's Symphony Hall with people paying $100 a seat to hear him play similar pieces. The question many others since have asked is simple: have we been trained to recognize beauty outside the contexts we expect to encounter beauty? Or, to put it another way, can we recognize great music anywhere outside of a concert hall?

I'd ask us the same question: can we detect God only when God is surrounded by stained-glass windows and organ music? I'm afraid that often we can't.

So here's the question. If Sunday after Sunday the sermon has next to nothing to do with life Monday to Friday, and if week after week we fail to use the hour gathered for worship to train our people to see God alive and active in the other 167 hours of the week, how long can we expect people to keep giving us that hour when they could probably find numerous other ways to spend it that would strengthen them for the rest of their week, life, and world? The answer, I think, is given each week as one or more members of the worshipping community doesn't turn up to worship.

We won't know how John responded to Jesus' answer. But we do know that Jesus wasn't finished. After giving his response to John's messenger, he went on to say that John was the greatest of all the prophets. Why? Because at one point he had recognized and heralded Jesus as the messiah. And then Jesus goes even further, saying that the least in the kingdom of heaven - that is, every Christian disciple - is greater than John. Why? Because we have perceived in Jesus' "ordinary" actions of restoration the very hand of God at work to heal, redeem, and save.

John witnessed to the coming messiah, and we too, like John or even Elijah, are witnesses of the coming day. Jesus' answer is an interesting one.  John no doubt thought the sign would be much clearer when it finally came.  But Jesus, in his answer, points not to world transforming occurrences but instead to very small events.  Of course, some of them may be considered miraculous - but always on an individual level.  Jesus does not respond by saying what is happening at the level of nations or governments or populations or the cultural movements of the day, (although there is an implicit challenge to all of those).  He tells us to look closely and see what is happening in the lives of people.  He is at work on a very intimate level.  Someone who was blind can now see.  Someone else who was lame can now walk.  Yet another person who was deaf can now hear.  Someone who's had the good news brought to them and now feels hope.
Later on in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say, "Move," to a mountain and it will move.  Though this is a powerful and well-known piece of scripture, I think we often misinterpret it.  I think the mistake is believing God's faithfulness is normally found in the moving of mountains, but it's not.  God's faithfulness is almost always seen in something that the world sees as inconsequential, like a mustard seed. We prepare ourselves this season of Advent for the arrival of the ultimate seed, the birth of a child in a manger in the middle of nowhere.
Do we really want the gift of Christ this year? No matter how young or old we are, whether we are waiting to receive that perfect gift, waiting to receive that special answer from our loved one, waiting for that special moment of reconciliation with our children or with our parents, we are also waiting ultimately for the Christ, the Saviour.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Well, I've no one to blame but myself I suppose: I did make a point of threatening (something akin to) violent death to anyone who wilfully insisted on failing to acknowledge Advent and now I have made a rod for my own back.

"Happy Christmas Sir!" Big Dave makes a point of this greeting every time he passes me on the corridor.  He has now taken to posting Christmas greetings daily on my Facebook page, but, as he's not called Big Dave for nothing, I have graciously and magnanimously decided to allow him to live for another year.

That's the spirit of Advent! I'm entirely sure that is what John the Baptist would have done.

Anyway it has been a mixed week at the knowledge College: on Friday as I was coming down the stairs from my classroom, I heard the sound of Maths Karl's door being unlocked. Approaching his door with a cheery "Good Morning Knob-Head", I was somewhat surprised when the dulcet tones of one of our Deputy Head teachers replied, "Good Morning Sir." from within.

No post-Advent card from that direction this year methinks.

My 11 year olds have come up trumps, though. We have been looking at religious festivals and the R.S. Department has been commandeering the display cabinets in the foyer to display our pupils' work. Poppy did a particularly good display on Eid and it was my turn to do both Hanukkah and Christmas. Now the problem is that there aren't as many weeks in the school year as there are in a calendar year so I've put these two festivals in the same display.

I suggested to my classes that each child produced a nativity in a shoebox. I had no confidence that they would actually do it - not in significant numbers anyway.

Boy was I wrong.

My classroom resembles a defunct shoe shop and the level of creativity is awesome. We have nativities where the star actually lights up, we have farmyard figure and mini holy family sets. There are wonderfully created Magi and an awful lot of straw. Some figures are made from clay, others from brightly coloured plasticine. There are wonderfully inventive mini Magi-gift-sets and lolly-stick stables. We have palm trees made from pipe-cleaners and some, frankly, quite scary angels. I have so many shoe boxes I have to change the display daily.

This has not been without it's problems though.

"Sir, I've lost Mary on the way to school. I think she's been run over."

"Sir, I'm missing a sheep. I think it may be loose in my bag."

The whole display is topped off by a large Hanukkah candelabra and some brightly word processed pages of commentary and explanation. What has been lovely has been the positive reaction to the displays from other students and staff. Well, apart from Maths Karl, obviously.

"It's just land-fill in the end."

On Thursday I had my bottom set 13 year olds. They really are a challenge but they respond very well to unmerited praise.

You know, what I really like about you lot is how well you listen. This to a group who have never knowingly been silent. They preen themselves.

We have been looking at religious attitudes to drug use and spent a good time discussing "legal" highs.

Why is the word legal in speech marks? I enquire.

"Er, that doesn't make sense because they're legal. Duh!

Actually, no. They are only "legal" in as much as the authorities haven't been able to analyse them and declare them illegal because of the volume of them on the market and the ever changing nature of the chemical cocktail. Any questions? Yes, Ryan?

"Sir, is it illegal to masturbate on a plane?"

Erm... now what was the word I was groping for here? I know ... ANYWAY! Moving on.


Thanks Ryan.

This is now the mantra of the day. You can hear "BOGIES" from various corners of the school/

"BOGIES!!!" (From somewhere beyond the I.T. suite.) Ah, Ryan'll be in Art.

"Can I clean the board Sir?"

That's kind but don't worry, I shan't be using it just now.

"But I hate all those half bits of words and phrases from where you've not cleaned it properly."

"That" announces Kayleigh "is because you're STD!"

"Sir, Is the Pope a Catholic?"

I look at Elise. She is a clever girl and I can see she is mentally backtracking.

"Ha!! You'll have to come and sit over here on the retards table."

Davina! I never said you were retards.

"Sorry Sir. Elise: you'll have to come and sit on this set of tables where Sir, in his cleverly crafted seating plan, has put those of us who are failing to get our target grades."

Davina is also a clever girl. (Even if she isn't getting her target grade in R.S.)

I have been looking at Religion and Medical Ethics with my Yr. 10 classes and we have been considering various attitudes to fertility treatment. This includes discussing both AID and AIH and I have found a poster from some Health Authority that pronounces, "Sperm donation. So much more fun than blood donation."

This goes completely over their heads.

"So is it like blood donation Sir. Do you give a pint?" Marcus is a student who annoys me beyond measure.

Yes Marcus. That's right.

Satisfied that I have emotionally traumatised Marcus, I go to lunch.