Monday, October 31, 2005

The dog pulled my trousers down

The truth is stranger than fiction. See this.

Be prepared to have your mind boggled.

For fans of James Alison who also preach....

I feel like I'm giving away all my best secrets here, but if you like James Alison and also preach on a regular basis you need to check out this website which is where I get all my good ideas from (and where I discovered the Alison site).

The Text This Week is also indispensable.

A new kind of Christianity

Over the last few weeks I have been reading Brian McLaren's trilogy 'A new kind of Christian'. It's very good, stimulating, (for more info have a look here and here) but the disconcerting thing is how close most of the material is to what I have been trying to cover in my own book.

(Later addition: lots of material also here.)

McLaren seems to be writing from a perspective emerging out of fundamentalist evangelicalism; my perspective is the polar opposite - a history of emerging out of a fundamentalist scientism - but the place we end up in is similar. Which raises the question - do I need to write my book at all? Because now, when I want to point people towards an understanding of Christianity which I'm not ashamed of I can say 'have a look at Brian McLaren's stuff'. There are interesting links with some of the Radical Orthodoxy material, which I also appreciate, although I'd never send a novice in their direction. Perhaps that's where my book has something to say - not so much the shift away from the Reformation emphasis, which McLaren covers pretty thoroughly, as towards the high-medieval roots that the RO people identify. Maybe I have one or two other things to add.

I'm going on retreat next week, and I'm going to be taking his 'A Generous Orthodoxy' with me, (along with Peterson's 'Christ Plays...'). This'll be one of the main things I'll be reflecting on.


Every four or five months I spend quite a lot of time (10 - 12 hours) sorting out the rota.

This involves:
- listing the Sundays for the coming months [easy];
- listing the services to take place on each Sunday in each of four different churches (big church has four Sunday services, one church has two, the other two have one each - seven or eight per Sunday) [doesn't change much - fairly easy, bar festivals];
- listing who is going to take each service [this is the hard bit].

I need to try and reconcile the desires of the ministers; the desires of the parishes; my own sense of who needs to be where; and - so far as I can - my own desires and spiritual needs. I've got a basic pattern in my head, which is where I begin from - and then real life takes over and it becomes a question of finding out if there is anyone at all who can cover an Evensong when most ministers are away and I'm committed to a different church....

I do enjoy the process though, despite the struggle. Appeals to the nerd in me I guess. And today I publish the rota through to after Easter. Hooray!

Lady Julian

One of the best Learning Church sessions yet (from my point of view), on Julian of Norwich. Did me a lot of good to do some revision and new research - primarily via Grace Jantzen's excellent book on her - and finally understanding the Lord and his Servant analogy.

Looks like we might even get to go on a pilgrimage - I thought we might need a minibus, but was assured that a coach would be more appropriate :o)

"Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end."

Be afraid

Read this on the context for the remarks about Israel by the president of Iran.

Chilling. Something to be aware of. Would anyone blame the Israelis if they act militarily against the Iranian nuclear programme?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

How exciting

One of my favourite (living) theologians now has his own website here.

A lovely verse

This is what the LORD Almighty says: Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.

(Zechariah 8 4-5)

Something worth hoping for.

Friday, October 28, 2005

About capital

A post (originally sent to the MoQ list) about the nature of capitalism, setting out my views. A good website for Hernando de Soto is here.

A few book references first; if you read these you'll get most of the background to my understanding. Most important: Hernando de Soto's "The Mystery of Capital", which I think is simply essential to any informed debate on this topic, and which I'll be drawing on explicitly below. Second, David Landes' "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations". Thirdly, Bjorn Lomborg's 'The Skeptical Environmentalist", especially Part 2 on Human Welfare. There are others, but they are the ones I rely on most.

I'd like to use De Soto to sketch out a framework for looking at the Quality of Capitalism. De Soto employs an analogy early on in his book: think of a lake. It could be looked at by a naturalist, and the beauty appreciated. It could be looked at by a sportsman, and the possibilities for recreation considered. If it is looked at by an engineer or a physicist, however, then the potential for installing a dam might be examined. That is, in the body of water that is the lake there is a _potential_ for energy which is currently being ignored. By the application of certain technology and machinery (e.g. a dam with turbines etc) that potential energy can be turned into something usable, and various possibilities flow from that. The potential energy is 'fixed' into a certain form, e.g. electric current, and then activities can be developed which derive from that fixed form. De Soto's point is that capitalism is the equivalent of the dam. In other words, capitalism is that application of human ingenuity which releases the potential that would otherwise be locked up, and which generates new fixed forms of energy which can be used in other ways.

So what is 'capital'? De Soto argues that although it is often confused with money (cash), this is a mistake. He writes, "What I take from [Adam Smith] is that capital is not the accumulated stock of assets but the potential it holds to deploy new production". In other words, to refer to the earlier image, capital is not the water, it is the possibility of electricity. Money is the facilitator of transactions, but "is not itself the progenitor of additional production". So money, or, more widely, any form of wealth or asset (land, housing, machinery, whatever), none of these are 'capital' in the sense which De Soto is describing.

The essential point is that for any of these assets to become capital, they must be 'fixed' by a legal process of property rights, and it is this legal process which is the heart of capitalism. It is this legal process which is the equivalent of the dam on the lake, which allows for the potential energy locked up in that body of water to be accessed and deployed in various creative ways. So, whatever assets there may be, unless there is a conversion process, it is not possible to speak of 'capital', nor is it possible to speak of capitalism.

Now the key step in the argument, and the natural link in with the MoQ, comes when De Soto is describing 'the codes of conduct that govern the use and transfer of assets', in other words, the formal property systems that have developed in the West. He writes, "Formal property records and titles thus represent our shared concept of what is economically meaningful about any asset. They capture and organise all the relevant information required to conceptualize the potential value of an asset and so allow us to control it. Property is the realm where we identify and explore assets, combine them and link them to other assets. The formal property system is capital's
hydroelectric plant. This is the place where capital is born."

De Soto goes on to identify six ways in which this legal process enables capitalism to function:
1. The economic potential of any asset is 'fixed' by the abstraction involved (as described above);
2. Various elements of dispersed information are integrated into a single, formal, representational system;
3. It makes individual people accountable to an impersonal process of adjudication, rather than local and customary relationships;
4. Crucially, the abstractions are fungible, that is, "unlike physical assets, representations are easily combined, divided, mobilised and used to stimulate business deals". The process of abstraction allows all sorts of creativity to apply;
5. It enabled a network of individual actors to relate within a reliable and transparent framework, which "radically improved the flow of communications about assets and their potential [and] enhanced the status of their owners, who became economic agents able to transform assets within a broader network";
6. Finally, and crucially, it gave a strong and clear protection to the transactions carried out within the system, thereby enabling trust and the proliferation of business.

We can discuss the above in more detail over time, but what I want to emphasise is the way in which De Soto's characterisation of capitalism parallels Pirsig's description of different levels. That is, what De Soto is describing is an intellectual level phenomenon, i.e. the abstraction (symbolic representation) of physical, biological or social assets, and the way in which they have 'gone off on purposes of their own', generating vast new static patterns of Quality. (Note that this analysis disagrees with Pirsig's own account of capitalism.)

De Soto's main point, in fact, is that the problem in Third World countries is not the presence of capitalism, but the absence, in other words, that those countries are still operating at the social level, and it is the absence of the intellectual level phenomenon of capitalism (i.e. the abstract representations of economic assets) which is hindering their economic development. De Soto's book is an extended argument as to how and why this is the case.

Now, the foregoing is the conceptual analysis of 'capitalism', and to summarise, it is my view that capitalism is the intellectual level representation and organisation of economic assets in such a way that new forms of Quality can come into existence. The question might then be - is this the best or the only intellectual level organisation of economic assets?

Leaving aside the question of open-ness to DQ, and associated questions of human rights and liberty etc, (on which Pirsig is reasonably clear IMHO) it seems to be the case that the existence of capitalism has benefited the residents of those nations depending upon it, and it can also be shown to have benefited the population of the world as a whole. The following thoughts (from Lomborg) seem pertinent:
- global GDP per capita, from a base of approximately $400 in pre-history to 1800 is presently around $6000;
- global poverty has diminished: "In the past 50 years poverty has fallen more than in the previous 500" (UN report of 1997) - still much to do, but the situation in developing countries is much better than it was;
- inequality "peaked in the 1960's [due to historical factors], has been decreasing since then, and is likely to continue to decrease dramatically for the coming century";
- the proportion of people starving in the world has fallen from 35 percent in 1970 to 18 percent today, and is expected to fall to 12 percent by 2010.

Lomborg's conclusion is that 'Things are not everywhere good [he's mainly concerned with Africa] but they are better than they used to be". As he puts it, "All in all, pretty incredible progress."

I've wanted, with the above, to provide more of a conceptual background for our discussion, rather than dive immediately into comparative statistics and moral debates about globalisation etc. I'm sure we can come on to those in our forthcoming posts. But I'll give the last word here to De Soto again, because I agree with it completely:

"I am not a diehard capitalist. I do not view capitalism as a credo. Much more important to me are freedom, compassion for the poor, respect for the social contract and equal opportunity. But for the moment, to achieve those goals, capitalism is the only game in town. It is the only system we know that provides us with the tools required to create massive surplus value. When capital is a success story not only in the West but everywhere, we can move beyond the limits of the physical world and use our minds to soar into the future."

The great dislocation

A post about running out of oil, and the consequences.

After reading Brian Appleyard's comment piece on October 16 I bought a few books that came up from a browse on Amazon, and have now read two: Kenneth Deffeyes' 'Beyond Oil; the view from Hubbert's Peak', and Richard Heinberg's 'The Party's Over - Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies'. I have two more to read (one linking the oil crisis to wider problems, one looking at an investment strategy for when oil becomes significantly more expensive) but I think I have the gist of the issue.

This is the key point:

And there are good wikipedia articles here and here. As you can imagine, there's lots of stuff on the web, which I have just begun to explore.

My reaction to the two books was very distinct. The Deffreyes' book is very calm and considered, and Deffeyes has a very self-deprecating sense of humour which comes across well. He's a retired professor of geology, and his book is a very thorough analysis of the geophysics of petroleum production, Hubbert's Peak, and the viability of alternatives to oil. I had previously accepted a 'free market' analysis of the oil question, ie that oil will never run out, it will simply become more expensive. I am now persuaded that the reality is more complicated than that; specifically, that the consequences of 'more expensive' - given human nature's tendency to short sightedness - are likely to be grave.

The Heinberg book assumes the truth of Deffeyes' argument, and explores the wider implications for industrial society. Heinberg irritated me greatly; although I knew nothing about him before beginning to read, it rapidly became clear that he accepts a Chomsky-ish analysis of the world, whereby all 'Rightist' thinking is driven simply by the urge for self-aggrandisement, and this skews his analysis. For example, he has a brief discussion of money, which he argues is a 'creation' of central bankers representing debt - and that therefore the financial system is ultimately untenable. This is simply false. Money is two things: a store of value, and a medium of exchange. He needs to read Hernando de Soto's book on Capital (I'll copy in something on that which I've written previously for the MoQ site).

So Heinberg's wider analysis was hampered, for me, by his stridently left-wing perspective. He didn't seem content to marshall facts; he had to imply a moralistic rebuke to western patterns of life. I think that is for the reader to discern.

However, he did persuade me of certain points:
- oil, and to a lesser extent gas, have particularly beneficial properties as a store of energy, which cannot be replicated by other fuels, eg hydrogen (which is not a plausible energy source);
- therefore, the era of mass use of the automobile is almost certainly over (even if we all had electric cars the electricity would need to be generated, and without the fossil fuels that becomes exceptionally difficult);
- wind power is the most effective alternative;
- there is a serious question about the 'carrying capacity' of the earth, in terms of how many people can be supported with food, given the dependence of modern agriculture on petro-chemical products;
- there are likely to be severe and increasing 'resource wars' as the oil runs out over the next decade or two (or perhaps it has already started).

(He didn't convince me that nuclear power was irrelevant; I think nuclear power could have a significant role to play in easing the transition, even if the long-term answer has to emphasise renewable energy.)

Hence the title of this post: 'the great dislocation'. It now seems highly plausible that the political inertia and denial of the run down of oil resources will lead to a catastrophic switch to a lower energy system, rather than a smooth transition from one to the other (which, I'm optimistic, I believe would be possible if we generated sufficient political will). [NB I'm using 'catastrophic' there in a sense more technical than melodramatic.]

We do have time, but not a lot. It would be prudent to start setting up our lives, so far as possible, to minimise the use of oil and oil products - that's the next thing to start exploring.

All this and I haven't mentioned global warming....

Late addition: I also get irritated by Simon Jenkins, but this is worth reading.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

How many are saved?

The question about how many are saved (Luke 13 22-30) is a strikingly sharp one. Investigating the answer can lead to one of two opposed problems. Either, as with Jesus' questioner, there is a sense of being righteous, and therefore a spiritual pride - a pride which Jesus effectively debunks by pointing out how many will come from East and West and North and South into the kingdom - in other words it isn't just for the Jews.

Or else there is the opposite problem of fear - a fear of being condemned by God, of not coming up to the mark. This is a problem because love and fear are opposites, and this sort of fear is crippling, radically inhibiting the possibility of showing forth love in our world. Which is what we are here for.

I understand that the orthodox explicitly teach that salvation is a mystery that it is unhealthy to spend too much time considering. We have to concentrate on being loving, depending solely on grace, and allowing that love to be demonstrated by our lives. We are to trust and depend solely on the mercy of God. Too much time considering 'How many are saved?' ends up with sectarian strife. Something which our Anglican Communion may need to ponder a little further, today especially.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Battlestar Galactica

I watched the remake of Battlestar Galactica over the weekend (pilot film), and am now working my way through the series. I was impressed; much more coherent and dramatic than I was expecting, with a lot of nice touches. Clearly a great deal of post-9/11 sensibilities being worked through, but I am intrigued to see where they go with the cylon/human interactions, especially Boomer and similar characters. It doesn't look like being a simplistic good vs evil story, which is refreshing.

Haven't managed to watch Serenity yet - maybe this week, assuming that it's still on show somewhere.

A classic hat

In Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance there is a wonderful description of a debate between the narrator and a friend about 'shim', which leads to a long philosophical discussion of the difference between 'classic' and 'romantic' outlooks upon life.

The friend is riding a shiny new BMW motorbike, but the handlebars are slipping. The narrator offers to fix the handlebars with a 'shim', ie a piece of metal to be inserted into the handlebar socket. The qualities needed for a 'shim' to work are that it should be soft enough to enable the handlebars to be gripped more consistently, without causing rust to build up over time. The narrator has the perfect material to hand - the aluminium from a Coke can. However the friend takes one look at the Coke can and reels with shock - there is no way that a piece of junk is going to be applied to the nice new BMW, so the friend simply 'copes' with wobbly handlebars for the rest of the journey.

The narrator draws a distinction from this: he was looking at the underlying properties of the material, ignoring their origin as part of a coke can - this he calls a 'classic' perspective. Whereas his friend was going on the surface qualities and 'feel' of the Coke can - a 'romantic' perspective. It's not that one is better than the other, both are needed, but it means that sometimes there is a conflict between them, whereby something works wonderfully, but looks bad, or just silly.

Which brings me to my classic hat (which I was reminded of by the Seven Samurai)...

Seven Samurai

Watched Seven Samurai last week - in the church hall, with a (small) number of parishioners - the trial run for a fortnightly film club. Started with the Kurosawa to establish our credentials as a profoundly serious film society (grin), but the tone should be leavened on a regular basis (we've got The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou coming up next, on Thursday November 3rd at 7:30 if any parishioners are reading this).

Anyhow, the film was marvellous. Could understand why it is seen as one of the greatest action movies ever made. Not sure I have anything distinctive to say about it - it has been analysed to death over the last forty years or so - but one thing that struck me was the beatiful individuality of the faces, example below.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Learning Church site

Good session this morning on 'the emergence of Christian mysticism' - and reassuringly the numbers have kept up, although that disguises a significant level of turnover in attendance.

I was reminded by an e-mail that all the material from last year's sessions is on my 'homepage' here. I haven't put this year's material on to it yet, but I hope to do that over the following days.

As stated there, the material is available free for use in any church context; accreditation would be nice, but I'm not going to do any chasing!!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

David is our leader!

Well, the next leader of the conservative party will be called 'David' - whether that implies 'our' for you will depend on far too many things for a blog subject line.

I'm glad Cameron is doing well. He speaks my language, and - if I were a member of the conservative party - I'm sure I'd vote for him rather than Davis. I'd have preferred to see a Cameron - Fox fight though, would have been a choice between two positives. Davis is just IDS with a sten gun (or SA80, whatever they have these days).

Interesting set of articles at the Guardian which Cameron wrote when he was just becoming an MP. See this one in particular - great quote, "if you cannot control the agenda in a leadership campaign, what chance have do you have when it comes to the real thing?"

My political affiliations have wandered during my lifetime. Grew up as a card carrying conservative - even ran in a mock election at my school in 1987 wearing a blue 'I love Maggie' rosette - but then went deeply green, and briefly became a member of the Liberal Democrats. My politics now are a deep turquoise - I don't like the state, hate it in fact, but the green agenda requires a certain amount of state action. And I am convinced that the denudation of social capital requires a response, reaffirming much of the 'traditionalist' agenda - but nothing like what 'Conservatism' in the UK has looked like for the past twenty years. I like reading Peter Hitchens and Melanie Phillips, but I also like Timothy Garton Ash whose book 'Free World' I thought was excellent. I also like Noam Chomsky and I'm a ZNet (paid up) supporter.... In the US I'd definitely be a Republican, but I think the 'Religious Right' are neither. I don't put much faith in any political platform - bit of an end to independent thought if you have to sign up to a party slate - which is why my initial ambition of becoming a politician was doomed to fail - I like nuance just a little too much to be a politician. But I remain fascinated with power and it's working out.

And I shocked a friend the other night by saying that the English will never vote for Gordon Brown, simply because he is Scottish.....

Oh yes. I'd love to see a Giuliani v Clinton fight in 08. I'd vote for Rudi, but it would clarify a few things. Rudi has proved himself. Hillary? Yeah, right, uh huh.

Is it possible to be a libertarian traditionalist? (Only in the Anglosphere.....)

Monday, October 17, 2005


OK, so I finally finished watching Firefly. It grew on me. At first I was distinctly underwhelmed; in particular, I found the premise irritating (ie the SF/Western hybrid). Sticking with it was worthwhile though, simply because the weight rests upon the shoulders of the characterisation, which is what Joss Whedon is good at. I particularly enjoyed the 'Janestown' episode, which was a very effective way of putting across an important point. I thought the penultimate episode (Heart of Gold) was very good, and would have made an excellent place to finish the series. The last episode itself was comparatively weak.

So sometime this week I intend to watch 'Serenity'; I'll let you know how I get on with it.

Mulholland Falls

Trying to keep to my promise of putting reviews in.

Watched 'Mulholland Falls'. Great cast. Good cinematography. Mediocre film.

Late addition: in the middle of the night it struck me that there was a structural parallel embedded in the film. (Spoiler coming....) The film begins with Nick Nolte throwing a crook down a cliff face - 'righteous' violence, good guys throwing bad guys for a Mulholland Fall. Yet the main pursuit of the film is the pursuit of 'bad guys' who threw a woman out of a plane, for threatening national security, I thought there might be some point to this - ie that the Nolte character might recognise the sickness of righteous violence within himself, and see the bad guys as reflections of himself, and that he might thereby grow, become a better person, blah blah blah.

But then I remembered that it ends with Nolte again throwing bad guys for a fall - this time throwing the killers out of the same plane. So whilst there was a structural parallel, it wasn't serving any point.

Very useful site

Read this.

I think the constant repetition is numbing, so it is good to have a place where it is all listed clearly.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Food for pessimistic thought

I've always enjoyed reading Bryan Appleyard - his 'Understanding the Present' is, I think, one of the best simple introductions to understanding science and what science can and cannot do.

In today's Sunday Times is a long, good and sobering article about the various oil-shocks that are coming, amongst other things. Well worth a read.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Gratuitous Mersea pictures

V. satisfying Learning Church this morning - about 50 people(!), doubtless attracted by the subject (Christian Mysticism - an introduction) - if we have that many next week I'll be pleasantly surprised, I have the sense that it was a little too 'deep' for many people to digest...

But in the middle of a glorious day - before the final wedding I'm taking this year - I took the boys onto the beach, and thought I'd let you see what Mersea is like in (truly) mid-October!!! when the tide is out.

NB those marks in the background that look like they might be dirt on the camera lens? They're actually kite surfers....

Friday, October 14, 2005

First you laugh, and then you get worried

Have a look at this.

The worry, of course, being that such people are not so far removed from those with the capacity to bring armageddon into being.

For the record, I'm pretty certain that Christ won't return in my lifetime. Call it a direct revelation from God if you like, but it's more a pondering on the fact that if St Paul got it wrong in Thessalonians, how come any one today is so arrogant to think that they can predict or discern when it will be? About that day or hour nobody knows, and all that....

The world changes, and nobody notices

Good post here by Daniel Pipes. I've been working through some books on Islam in recent months (seven or so) and there will be a full discussion and review in due course, but his book 'Militant Islam reaches America' was one of the best. Do explore his site, it's now one of the most regular ones that I read. Follow in particular his link at the end to his description of this as launching a 'third era' in the conflict with the <Islamists.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Therapeutic silliness

You are the Cross of St. Benedict: This cross is
inscribed with several prayers for holiness and
peace including, -May the holy cross be my
light! May the dragon never be my guide- and -
Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your
vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the
poison yourself!-

What Kind of Cross are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


Your Brain's Pattern

Your mind is an incubator for good ideas, it just takes a while for them to develop.
But when you think of something, watch out!
Your thoughts tend to be huge, and they come on quickly - like an explosion.
You tend to be quiet around others, unless you're inspired by your next big idea.


With thanks to Costly Grace and Kathryn.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A vote of confidence

Big PCC meeting tonight. Set out my stall on where I think we're going, and what part I might play in the process.

Seemed to go OK - got a vote of confidence at the end - I just trust that it's not of the football chairman sort... :o)

Seriously, I'm very happy, and vastly more relaxed than I have been for a month or two. Time to draw a line under that, and start moving forward positively once more.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Long day yesterday, lots of listening. So put on Woody Allen's 'Curse of the Jade Scorpion' to help wind me down.

Not a great film.

Generally poor acting (Helen Hunt excepted).

No great theological points to make.

But it served the sedative purpose requested of it - I was asleep within 15 minutes of the end titles.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bird's eye view

This blog is really good, especially if you're interested in things like hurricanes and earthquakes.

Why postmodernism is nonsense (or: it's work, honest!)

So, sat in the pub, having a drink with the church wardens (regular Monday night practice - one of the better traditions that I have instituted).

In walks a member of the PCC who happens to be a Captain in the Merchant Navy (it happens when you live in a community like Mersea, which has at least a foot in the water at all times). The conversation turns to signals given between ships at sea, and the story emerges...

... of a time when a sailing ship was displaying lights, coming across the path of another ship, also displaying the correct lights. According to the rules, the first ship has right of way.

There is a quick call on the radio.

"Greetings", says the second ship. "You have the right of way. Unfortunately I'm drawing 80 feet of draught [ie depth] and my course has been established through the deep water in this channel. I can neither stop nor change my course. Would you be happy to change course instead?"

The (large) sailing ship gets out of the way of the tanker :o)

House of Sand and Fog

One of my new resolutions is to use this space as a depository for my impressions of the various books and films that I process. I "consume" rather a lot, and before now I have very rarely committed my impressions and thoughts to more concrete form - the impressions become silt sinking down through the waters of my consciousness ending up as the more or less stable deposit of mud which represents my mind.

But I think that's a bad habit. It's a habit deeply ingrained - I was one of those annoying people at school who would never 'show working' but always came up with the right answers to the maths questions...

And I think it would be a good habit - a good discipline - if there was more 'output' to correspond to the various inputs. So, with that out of the way, for the first and last time, let's begin.

Last week I watched 'House of Sand and Fog', a remarkable film with Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly. Possibly the most depressing film I have ever seen, so I'm not sure it would be fair to say that I 'enjoyed' it, but the story and the images have stayed in my mind.

The plot revolves around the sale and purchase of a house overlooking the Pacific near San Francisco. At the beginning of the story we see Connelly kicked out of the house by bailiffs because of non-payment of a business tax. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that, to a large extent, Connelly is innocent, and should not have been evicted. Connelly, in fact, is a victim - abandoned by a husband, she is lost in a 'fog' of grief and misdirection, driven primarily by immediate emotions.

However, the council sell her house to the Kingsley character - an emigre colonel who fled Iran following the Khomeini revolution, and who has built up a life for his family in the United States. He purchases the house, principally to make money, but also to 'redeem' certain failures in his own past. He is a strong-minded, principled and extremely proud man - abrasive, like sand.

There follows a slow building conflict between Connelly and Kingsley over who has the 'right' to this house of sand and fog, which conflict escalates, draws in bystanders, and ends in an unbearably tragic outcome. (I told you it was depressing).

What I have been musing mostly about is the nature of sin, and that here is a portrayal of people and community crying out for the word 'forgive' to be spoken. Connelly is the principal actor provoking the tragic outcomes, in a certain sense it is all 'her fault', even though it is unwitting. The moral vacuum within her provokes chaos and destruction around her.

There is no redemption in the story, no straws to grasp representing the possibility of hope. It is a portrayal of the outworking of 'karma', where actions taken sometimes a great many years previously work out their consequences remorselessly, and the human beings involved become mangled by the machinery.

The film portrays a group of people in whom the law of sin and death is dominant, and where grace is absent. The film doesn't glorify karma (in the way that, eg, a Schwarzenegger film might do), it simply portrays it convincingly and realistically.

So: a very dark film, but also a very good one. It lingers in the mind.

(I enjoyed writing that. I'll have to do it more often.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

But I wanted to be River

I'm about five episodes into 'Firefly' at the moment.....

You scored as The Operative. You are dedicated to your job and very good at what you do. You've done some very bad things, but they had to be done. You don't expect to go to heaven, but that is a sacrifice you've made for a better future for all.

The Operative


Capt. Mal Reynolds


Inara Serra


River Tam


Zoe Alleyne Washburne


Simon Tam


Shepherd Derrial Book


Kaylee Frye


Jayne Cobb


Hoban 'Wash' Washburne


Which Serenity character are you?
created with

God's sense of humour

Back from - very productive, affirming and reinforcing - conference on clergy leadership, principally led by Rob Mackintosh of The Leadership Institute. Details of the course are here.

In the course of various discussions, I was working through issues associated with my deafness - bit of a theme at the moment - so I shared with my small groups the various problems I have been having in the parish, and the way in which I thought God was leading me through it. I said, in particular, that the most difficult times were at common meal times - when someone sits on my left, there is lots of background noise, and I find it difficult to have a conversation.

So, as you might expect, at the next meal (supper) I end up sitting with a free space on my left - free until the guest speaker sat there, that guest speaker being the Bishop of Chelmsford....

Had to laugh.

Bizarrely, I also went to a formal meal on Friday night, where I was placed in the worst possible position - at the end of a huge row of tables, with a person to my left and nobody to my right. But in fact - running with the way the spirit is moving me - I thought 'sod it' and just got on with conversing - with a hand next to my right ear to deflect the noises from my left so that I could hear my neighbour's speech. It worked OK - only missed a few sentences - and all this with a jazz combo in the background as well.

God is certainly up to something at the moment - which is reassuring, in it's own way, however difficult things might get this week.

It's good to be back.

Monday, October 03, 2005

God's timing is always perfect

A phrase which has sustained me before in "interesting times".

Today I travel to a conference on Clergy Leadership, looking in particular at issues of power, conflict and the management of change.

There won't be any more posts until Saturday at the earliest.

God be with you until we meet again :)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The future of ministry?

"The emphasis for ministers, he says, will be on "ranchers" instead of "shepherds," those capable of being overseers who direct congregations and encourage members to make decisions."See article here

Chimes with other things I've been working through, of course...

(hat tip to Titusonenine)

Women bishops and the Spirit

Had a good Learning Church session this morning on Paul the Apostle and women bishops. Basically running through what Paul thought an Apostle was (witness to the resurrection being key to his own 'appointment'), touching on the 'Junia' question and Mary Magdalene, going via 1 Timothy 2, towards outlining the Forward in Faith arguments for a third province. 36 people in attendance, which was average.

In the discussions there was a question from one of the group (a Quaker in fact) about where the Spirit fitted in. I had been explaining about the Anglican use of authority - from Scripture to tradition to reason, and I said that the Spirit came as part of that process. In other words, that the Spirit could only be found at the end; ie we have to take the historical fruits of the Spirit seriously - that the Spirit has been guiding the church in the context of what has already been done. So, with respect to the consecration of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire, I could see no resources within Anglican structures of authority to say that this was a wrong move. (NB not that there are no arguments for saying it is a wrong move, only that there is no agreed authority that can be appealed to). In other words, it is impossible, within Anglican understandings of authority, to say that what happened in New Hampshire was wrong. It was enacted in accordance with the ECUSA constitutions etc, and whilst it has undoubtedly led to ructions with the rest of the communion, I can see no theological grounds within Anglicanism for saying that the Spirit was (definitively) not present in that action.

Anyone wishing to correct me on that is warmly invited to comment!!