Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Offline

see you after Lent

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

British Values

40% of schoolgirls report being coerced into sexual activity by their boyfriends, and we release a film on Valentines Day telling us that submitting to male coercion and power is sexy.

On the 5th anniversary of the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, a £5.14bn deal is agreed to show premier league football on TV. That's enough to kit out every one of the nearly 4m refugees with tents, blankets, kitchen equipment, and have some spare for food. Our government is doing its bit, usually greeted with howls of protest for spending 'our' money on foreign aid.

We all champion free speech on Twitter, but at the beating heart of Britians secular deity there's not a lot of it about.

People like me complain about things on social media but do nothing practical to fix them. Blogging is the easy short-cut to feeling righteous....


Monday, February 09, 2015

50 Shades of Whitewash

"Your desire will be for your man and he will rule over you" (Gen 3:16)

These words summarise the brokenness in sexuality and male-female relations that follows the arrival of sin in the world. They aren't something to be celebrated, or repackaged as arousing and fun, or sold at the cinema or the bookstall for profit, they are to be mourned. 

Love is fully love when it lays down its life for the other person. That's why marriage is not a contract, signing up to do x in return for y, but a covenant, a solemn, mutual, unconditional lifelong promise. Call me old fashioned, but it's the only context where lovemaking makes sense. To give your body without giving your heart, mind, soul and strength is to fracture our sexuality from the rest of us.  

Desert Island Discs

This post has been sitting on the mental back burner for ages, and it's been impossible to make up my mind on the final lineup. To be honest, I still can't, so here is this weeks top 8. It'll probably change by next week, but for the moment...

Shriekback - Hand on My Heart
My brother 'built' a radio as a teenager, a real mongrel of a thing but it worked, and picked up Radio Luxembourg, Radio Hallam and the late night John Peel show, which I listened to when I was supposed to be sleeping. Peel was where I first heard Shriekbacks 'Lined Up', and when 'Hand on My Heart' just sneaked into the charts and was played in the top 40 rundown, I was straight out to Roulette Records in Sheffield to buy the LP, Jam Science. I ended up with a collection of just about everything Shriekback had ever released, including some (so I thought) extremely cool 12" singles. It felt even cooler that hardly anyone else had ever heard of them.


New Order - Crystal
Looking back, it was an awful gig, Sheffield Uni students union, New Order didn't even come on stage until about 10, by which time the hall was filled with drunken Mancunians. The band weren't in a great mood, but Peter Hook never is. But it wasn't enough to put me off. It's hard to pick a top tune, but this will do.


Newsboys - Breakfast
I'm not a Greenbelt groupie but hearing the Newsboys live there was a major highlight (along with Andy Hawthorne getting everyone doing 'Jumping in the House of God'). 'Christian' music has, by and large, been flaccid and uninspiring, you can't say that about this lot. The lyrics are great too "That day he bought those pine pyjamas/his cheque was good with God"


The Choir - Fine Fun Time
Another Greenbelt revelation, my first ever CD purchase (remember cassettes anyone?) and probably my favourite band. Consistently brilliant over 25 years, atmospheric, mysterious, and if I can't think what else to put on in the car, it's this lot. If you want a flavour, try Circle Slide, probably their best album (20 years old this month). Again, hard to pick a favourite, but this one always puts a spring in my step. Not an official video, just a random set of home movies, but it gets the spirit of the thing:


U2 - Gone
Like most people who converted to U2, I did so round about the Joshua Tree. They probably peaked with the next one, Achtung Baby, and every CD since has been a real mixed bag - but each with 2 or 3 classic tracks. My longlist of U2 songs for the desert island reaches about 20 (Zooropa, Acrobat, Magnificent, Every Breaking Wave, Invisible, Zoo Station, Red Hill Mining Town...), but Gone, from the Pop CD, clinches it. Couldn't find an official video, so here's a live version.


Thomas Tallis - Spem in Alium
Best to close your eyes for this, gorgeous, and the only 'classical' piece in here. Run close by the Jan Garbarek/Hilliard Ensemble 'Officium' CD for atmospheric choral music.


Moby - Lift Me Up
I got into Moby about 2 weeks before the rest of the world after hearing Natural Blues. His James Bond theme tune is superb, and so is this.


Jean Michel Jarre - Ethnicolor 1 (especially from 7:45, where it really takes off)
Alongside my more 'normal' early 80s stuff (Madness, The Smiths, Depeche Mode), I had a wad of Jarre and Tangerine Dream, and still put it on in the background if I need some 'wallpaper music' to help me concentrate. Jarre's stuff seemed to get more and more peculiar, this is a long way from the simplicity of Oxygene, and you'll probably hate it....


Honourable mentions:
The Smiths - How Soon is Now?
Kate Bush - Cloudbursting
Depeche Mode - Stripped
Saint Etienne - Like a Motorway
Deacon Blue - Will We Be Lovers
Black - Wonderful Life
Brian Doerkson - Creation Calls
The Teardrop Explodes - Reward
Dire Straits - Industrial Disease

Book: either Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson, or The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder.

Luxury item: a cricket bowling machine (and a set of balls and a bat)

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Do You Trust This Blogger?

Are we becoming more trusting? Some new research published at the Institute for Government (I can feel your pulse racing from here) on who we trust and how much. I was struck by the chart below, on how trust has changed over time (the catchily named Veracity Index, big version here so you can read the labels). Doctors and teachers remain at the top, politicians and journalists at the bottom, with clergy like me fighting it out with newsreaders and police. I was surprised we came out that high. Wonder where celebrity panel-show hosts would rank?



This next one's a bit clearer, a snapshot of who we trust at the moment. For the 25% of you who don't trust me to tell the truth, here's the original. Ha!

It would again be interesting to compare the general with the particular. Do you trust your doctor? Your childs' teacher? Your local vicar/pastor/priest? Your MP? Fiona Bruce? The estate agent who sold you your house/arranged your rental?

And whilst we're at it, do you trust your neighbours? Do you trust the internet provider which has logged the fact you're reading this? Do you trust the internet?



Do you trust yourself? Should the rest of us?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Justin Welby on Wealth, Tax, Sin and Business

"I'm strongly in favour of the creativity of wealth and jobs and risk taking and all that goes with that," 

"[But] with wealth comes power and with power comes a temptation to misuse power. There's a reality of the human condition, which Christians call sin, what the Bible calls sin - don't misuse the power you have through wealth."

"But you don't throw the baby out with the bath water and say that business is bad, you say that there needs to be solidarity and that there needs to be a regulatory framework that does not allow the abuse of power but gives the freedom for creativity."

Justin Welby, interviewed by the BBC in advance of a speech this evening on the economy.

There's also a prod at the whole Boots boss/taxes saga 

"There has always been the principle that you pay the tax where you earn the money. If you earn the money in a country, the revenue service of that country needs to get a fair share of what you have earned."

update: here's the full text of the speech. 

update 2: the CofE's daily news digest has links to the media coverage of the speech, 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Questions at the Pearly Gates

Stephen Fry has been in the news for a full and frank giving of views about what he'd say if he came face to face with God. As Krish Kandiah points out, he's not the first person to have asked these questions, and he won't be the last. (another good response by Madeleine Davies here)

Fry has probably got a much more robust conscience than I have. I'd be far more worried about what questions God would want to ask me.

A related but vaguely relevant aside: I heard the remark recently that the gates of heaven are made of pearl because they are a jewel which is formed through a process of suffering. Judging by Revelation (which we're working through at our church at the moment), most of those within the pearly gates will be those who have known suffering, and known God within it.

update: Pete Greig has also written a response, as has Red. Even Russell Brand has got involved, with a real curates egg of a piece, which combines serious argument with a fair dollop of postmodern spirituality. Having seen Brands piece, I find I'm more upset by Fry comments about Jesus than those about God. I guess it's because I don't recognise the God he describes, but to say that Jesus teachings are 'twee' and 'an insult to the human spirit'... I'm not really sure I want to say in print what I think about that.

and here's another response from Brother Ivo

and one at Christian Today from Ella Lloyd (which is a pseudonym): We all have reasons to be angry with God. Even those friends who I think are skipping around haven't got perfect lives. God has not granted anyone an easy ride. Anger is a healthy emotion and I am sure God is used to hearing it.

and Thou Shalt Not Question Stephen Fry at Fulcrum

Thursday, January 29, 2015

'It is not for all of us to set everyone right on everything': ABofC on tweeting and love

Very helpful and challenging piece by Justin Welby on conflict resolution and social media:

The subtleties we lose when we communicate electronically have to do with expression, with touch, with the face-to-face aspect of relationship. Social media does not show tears in the eye, a hand on the arm when saying something painful, body language that speaks of inner turmoil, deep distress – even gentle respect.  It is simply there – usually forever. 
...It is not for all of us to set everyone right on everything.  There’s a point at which we need to leave it to those who know people to speak to them personally and quietly – in spaces where the tone is subtle and full of love. That is how people can be put back together rather than torn apart and left lying around in electronic media space.
Love often says don’t tweet. Love often says don’t write. Love often says if you must rebuke, then do so in person and with touch

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

99 Days To Go - how to get my vote

Fixed term Parliaments mean that 120 days of electioneering replaces 200 days of Nick Robinson speculating over the election date. What would you prefer? I don't yet know how I'm going to vote, but here are a few of the things which will affect it:

 - We have a family member who has coeliac disease. Because of EU food labelling regulations, we can now tell with every item of food whether it's safe for them to eat. Restaurants are now obliged to tell us about the allergen content of every dish they serve. This is a massive plus for us. Given the volume of lobbying against the laws, you can bet they'd be dropped like a hot brick as soon as we left the EU.

 - Mental health services in the UK are doing even worse than the NHS as a whole, with reduced funding and beds, and a broken system of care. Depression is more like alcoholism than a broken leg. Broken legs heal, you can be discharged as fully fit and don't come back until you break something else. Depression and mental illness tend to recur, but the NHS system is to discharge people once they are better, thus removing all formal support bar the GP (who offers an occasional 10 minute consultation). Unsurprisingly, many relapse. Given the nature of mental health, there aren't any sizeable lobby groups speaking out on behalf of the anxious and depressed, so I'm pleased the Libdems are making some noise about this, and disappointed that they seem to be on their own.

 - Over a million people used food banks last year, this is a national scandal. We can't have a government that pretends that austerity, benefit sanctions etc. are working. I'm pleased that more people are in work, though many of those are using food banks too. Billions have been poured into the economy through extra borrowing and quantitative easing, but where have they gone?

 - Speaking of borrowing, whilst interest rates are at a historic low, isn't this a good time to borrow to invest? I thought that was the idea of low interest rates anyway, to encourage business to borrow and invest, so why doesn't the government follow the same logic? (But)

 - The environment has disappeared off the agenda, the 'greenest government ever' was a pile of steaming compost, and the only thing people talk about now is fracking. Last year was the warmest ever in the UK. Brazil, that place that used to have a rainforest, now has a drought.  If Eric Pickles had a biscuit for every renewable energy proposal he'd blocked he'd... oh right. We ignore this one at our, and everyone else's, peril. The poor and vulnerable of the world suffer most from the over-consumption of the rich.

 - If I get an election leaflet through the door which spends most of the time whining about the other party, displaying distorted bar charts, claiming credit for an initiative which was actually a campaign by a cross-section of the community, not just them (yes I'm talking about the A303), then I'll think less of the candidate for taking me for a fool. I'm not going to vote for someone who assumes I'm stupid. (here is one recent selection of local leaflets)

 - Neither am I going to vote for someone who seems more concerned about gaining power than they do about using it for the benefit of the community.

 - Having foreign aid at 0.7% of GDP isn't a massive burden for the 5th richest country in the world, and I would rather we erred on the side of generosity. What goes around comes around. I would have thought UKIP of all people would understand the concept of standing your round in the global village pub, but they don't.

 - Immigration: we're in a mess over this one. Despite the promises, we are importing people faster than we're providing the infrastructure for them (housing, services etc.). Thanks to recruitment policies for the NHS, we have a health service that would collapse without foreign-born labour. (Which in turn leeches qualified doctors and nurses from countries with far more need of them than we do). We're in a mess over integration too: attempts to define 'British Values' splutter out, or emerge knee-jerk in response to things like the Charlie Hebdo killings. We talk about 'tolerance' and 'rights' mainly because we don't want people interfering in our personal so-called freedom, not because we believe in them as principles of liberal democracy. We are neither physically or philosophically equipped to deal with the current influx of cultures and people, but neither do we know how to talk about it sensibly.

 - Ideology & Character: I'd have a better idea of who to vote for if any of the political leaders actually believed in something. For one thing it's easier to work out what they'll do, Cameron and Miliband give the impression of making it up as they go along, based on not sounding like one another. Clegg is the clearest and (oddly) most consistent. But to be honest there isn't a leader of a mainstream political party that I trust. They have schemes but no vision. It doesn't help that they're all about my age and most are career politicos: where have all the talented and experienced politicians gone who knew how the real world functioned?

 - Christians are encouraged to pray for those in government, and to work for the good of their community. I believe its my moral duty to vote and to be politically involved. So I don't have the Russell Brand option.

 - The NHS is a great blessing and a bottomless pit. There is no obvious stopping point for the amount of cash you can pour into it: why should one hospital get a high-tech bit of kit and not another? At what point do you go for a cheaper, but less effective drug over one which gets better results but costs 10x as much?

 - The future may be more like 90 years ago than 20. The welfare state again is a great blessing, but it nationalised community support. People haven't needed unions, churches, working mens clubs, community spirit etc. because the things we used to do out of neighbourliness are now done by the government. Despite the empty rhetoric and the absence of strategy, the 'Big Society' has started to re-emerge in recent years. It is too complex, too costly, and too ineffective, simply to leave everything to the government. That's not an easy piece of logic: do I leave the government to pick up the tab for my bad health choices? Do I complain about the litter in the park on Facebook and ask what the council are going to do about it, or pick it up and bin it myself? We can't leave everything to politicians, if we ever could.

 - I'd rather have politicians who can admit mistakes, admit that they've learned things they didn't know a few years ago, admit that they tried something and it didn't work. We know that all politicians can do bluster, from Boris to Burnham. Stop it.

I do wonder if this is the best time for ages for those who really care to get involved in politics. The fragmentation of the voting system means that smaller voices are more likely to be heard (the Greens, with 1 MP, and Plaid, with 10% in a recent Welsh poll, are to feature in national debates). UKIP is clearly a party in flux, the Libdems could turn left (Farron/Cable) or right (Laws/Alexander) after the election, historic allegiance to the Conservatives and Labour is drying up - Scotland is a straw (or maybe a salmon) in the wind for Labour, the North of England will be next, given a decent alternative. This either spells a dangerous vacuum, or a great opportunity, for 'normal people' to get involved in reshaping our politics and parties. Leaving it to the career politicians isn't working.

Monday, January 26, 2015

New Mental Health Resource for Churches

Going live today is the new Mental Health Access Pack, a resource website for churches on mental health and illness, which looks very good and I hope gets widely used. 

Main sections are:
 - common conditions
 - caring for people
 - practical tips
 - what the Bible says

with a range of pages under each one - e.g. mental health and learning difficulties, types of counselling, pastoral policy. There are sections that are worth printing out in full and discussing with church leadership, small groups etc. to a) develop best practice and b) get the church talking about mental health, so that people know it's ok to do so

"Churches have a responsibility to welcome everyone who comes to them in Christ’s name, but the reality is that they don’t always know how best to support people who are struggling with mental health issues. The Mental Health Access Pack will help equip churches to make God’s love more visible in the welcome they offer to every person." (Justin Welby)

As well as addressing our day to day practices, I hope the church makes a concerted effort to get mental health onto the election agenda, as the Libdems are trying to do

PS bear with me, I've tried to add a new 'Mental Health Links' to the sidebar and things have all gone a bit pear-shaped. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Spirituality Spectrum: 21st century believing

The University of Exeter published some research earlier this week on evolving attitudes among those born in 1970. Here's the analysis of their views on religion and faith, with analysis by Prof David Voas (who's also been involved in some of the CofE research recently). More details plus a link to the full research here.

Professor Voas concludes that it would be more meaningful to allocate people to one of seven categories:

  • Non-religious (28% of the 1970-born cohort): Does not have a religion or believe in either God or life after death.
  • Unorthodox non-religious (21%): Does not have a religion or does not attend services. Believes in God or life after death but not both.
  • Actively religious (15%): Has a religion and believes in God and life after death. Attends services.
  • Non-practising religious (14%): Has a religion and believes in God and life after death. Does not attend services.
  • Non-identifying believers (10%): Does not have a religion, but believes in God and life after death.
  • Nominally religious (7%): Identifies with a religion. But believes in neither God nor life after death.
  • Unorthodox religious (5%): Has a religion and attends services at least occasionally. Believes in God but not life after death (or, in a few cases, vice versa).
It's a fascinating spectrum, and a reminder that the UK doesn't have a simple Christian/atheist binary option (if it ever did). On first sight it reminded me of the current political opinion polls, a spectrum of identities with no one block claiming a significant or decisive percentage. 

What I'd love to see is some way of tracking how people end up at these points. The research suggests that the stronger your religious upbringing, the more likely you are to have a faith now, and be practicing it. No surprise there. But how do you end up as an agnostic who believes in God and life after death. Or a Christian who doesn't believe in either?

It's a reminder that we can't pigeon hole people, everyone's faith is part of their life story, not everyone in church will believe the same thing, nor will everyone at a Richard Dawkins book signing. People need to be listened to, rather than lumped together, 

The report also notes that men are much less likely to identify with a faith than women. Another challenge. Given that Jesus started with a bunch of blokes, the church has to ask itself what we've lost of authentic Christianity that the majority of men don't see Jesus as any of their business, or themselves as any of His.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Anthropocene or Neanderthal? Murdoch signals the end of an era

A few days ago, some geologists announced that we were living in a new global epoch, the Anthropocene Age. It turns out that the first nuclear tests marked the beginning of this new phase of global history, up there with the Triassic, the Cretaceous and the Audacious.

It turns out they had got slightly ahead of themselves. We are actually in the final few days of the Neanderthal Period, with the news that the Sun is about to stop publishing pictures of breasts on page 3.

However, there are signs that we may be simply entering the Dacre Age: most of the papers reporting on the Sun story are themselves putting up lots of pictures of women in bikinis, because their readers clearly need to be reminded what a woman in a bikini looks like.

 #Fail.

This has been standard Daily Mail practice for years - x is so outrageous we have to show you a picture of it, just so you know how outrageous it is (wink wink).

Congratulations to the No More Page 3 campaign, even the Mighty Murdoch can be forced to change by people power. Now for Stop the Sidebar?


update: having said all that, the Neanderthals may not have quite given up yet...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mental Health - an election issue?

It should be, and on 'Blue Monday', a couple of the party leaders are highlighting it:

Nick Clegg is backing a pilot scheme in the NHS, based on results in the US, to reduce the number of suicides by providing better response and support.

Ed Miliband is focusing on child mental health, having had his own taskforce looking into this over the last 2-3 years, with a report launched today. I notice that the report on this says this will be funded by 'increasing the proportion' of mental health spending which goes on children. I.e. reducing the proportion spent on adults. The whole mental health budget needs to rise.

This is good, there may not be many votes in depression, but we don't want politicians who are hunting votes, we want politicians who identify the major issues our country faces which governments can address, and this is one of them.