Friday, February 27, 2009

40FP(2): Colossians 1.15-20

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Why is this a favourite passage?
This is one of the most dense and theologically intense descriptions of Jesus. It dates from around AD 60, written by Paul, and as such it is a remarkably early statement of the significance that Jesus had for the early church. Often theological complexity is taken as being evidence of a more developed theology - and that more developed theology is taken as evidence of late composition (this often comes in discussions of John's gospel). Yet here we have a passage that is the equal of the Johannine prologue, and it is written within a generation of the crucifixion. It is worth emphasising that, in a Hebrew context, this is rank idolatry, for it is asserting a union between Jesus and God.

Verse 15a: the word 'image' is the greek eikon, from which we get not just the word 'icon' but the entire theology of iconography. The claim of Christianity is that in Jesus we see God, he is the window through which we see the divine.
Verse 15b: this verse gave rise to all sorts of controversies in the early church, and was the sort of verse used by the Arians to assert that Jesus was a creature (ie 'born'). The Nicene council went through all sorts of philosophical hoops to reconcile the verses here, both with each other and with other texts. Jesus is begotten of the Father but not a creature - in other words, this verse is interpreted in the light of the later verses, not vice versa.
Verse 16: I see this as an 'unpacking' of logos-theology - that Jesus is the purpose of creation, everything else has a derivative purpose which is only intelligible in the light of who Jesus is. I might write on another occasion about the principalities.
Verse 17: another aspect of logos-theology - it's not just that all things were created for Jesus (ie leading towards him, what he embodies) but that Jesus is what gives integrity to the whole. In other words, Jesus isn't just the blueprint, he is also the keystone and cornerstone of the structure itself.
Verse 18: which means the church, which is Christ's body on earth (as well as his bride and several other metaphors!). He is the beginning in the sense that the new creation (resurrection) in which all will eventually share has begun already through Jesus. This gives Jesus the authority of the first-born, a customary attribute at the time the letter was written.
Verse 19: I have some qualms with this verse as there are interpretations of it that tend towards the docetic, ie that eclipse Jesus' genuine humanity. It is something of a fine distinction, to distinguish between calling Jesus fully God and calling Jesus God in human form. My qualm is that Jesus becomes a superman figure, with the philosophical descriptions of omniscience and omnipotence and so on, and that this distorts his character, evacuating him of any shared humanity. I would read the 'fullness of God' as ascribing to Jesus not the philosophical attributes so much as the spiritual ones, most of all the overflowing sharing of love. In other words, if we see the foremost attribute of God as being one of eternal and creative love, then it makes sense to claim that this love dwelt fully in Jesus and was embodied through his life. I don't think it makes sense to ascribe omnipotence and omniscience to Jesus as he lived on earth (which leads to a kenotic Christology of course).
Verse 20: the wonderful claim that 'all things' are reconciled to God through Jesus, specifically his death on the cross. This is atonement theory, and again the ghost of penal substitution hovers morbidly around the interpretation of the passage. What is important here is the global and cosmic nature of the atonement - it's not just that specific individuals with their passwords have been 'washed clean in the blood of the Lamb' but that the whole of creation has been put right with God. This cosmic healing - and the way in which it is an essential part of Christianity - is a doctrine that needs to be made more prominent today.

So we have a wonderfully expressive claim about the nature of Jesus in this passage, one that is philosophically pregnant, and thus ambrosia for the systematically inclined, like me.


A backlash against the greens?

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I wish clergy had proper weekends.

The Velveteen Rabbit now a film?!?!

Forty favourite passages (1)

Passage 1: 1 John 4.7-21 (RSV) Click 'full post' for text and commentary.

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world.
15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.
16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
19 We love because he first loved us.
20 Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Why is this a favourite passage?
This was the passage that articulated my new understanding of the world after my foundational religious experience (see here), and I still see it as the manifesto for Christian faith. It functions as a description of the grammar of Christian faith, in other words, it describes what it means when Christians talk about God, about love, and how that is shown through life.

Verse 7: the passage begins with the call to love, which is, in my view, the primary Christian call. Jesus' ministry begins with the call to repentance, which I see as closely related, but the word 'repentance' carries many moralistic connotations in our present day, as if Christianity was all about becoming morally respectable. We are called to love people, and that is it.
Verses 7&8: it's not a content-free call, for the passage goes on to spell out what is meant by this call to love. The first and most primary element is the equation of God with love, and the truth that it is in loving that we know who God is, and that in loving we become children of God. The love that is shared on earth is a reflection or participation in the love of God himself, and as we know and experience what it is to truly love one another, we begin to discern what it is to share the love of God and to know Him.
Verse 9: what was the point of Jesus' life? That we might live through him. Sometimes the emphasis there is on the through him and Jesus becomes this exclusive burden laid upon people's backs. I read the emphasis differently: Jesus came that we might live; God's eternal intention is for us to enjoy abundance of life. It's a finger and moon situation - the Hebrews have got stuck on the finger, and are taking pride in the finger, so God sends his Son to point back at the moon again; but now it seems that "Jesus" has become just another finger. Instead of Jesus being the vehicle (the way, the truth and the life) Jesus has ended up being yet another barrier. The point of Jesus (the logos of Jesus) has been missed. It's the equivalent of saying that we must all become first-century Jews in order to be saved.
Verse 10a: two very important things in this verse. The first (and most important) is about divine initiative. Love does not begin with us. We are not the source of love, we are called to be channels of the love. More than that, God's love is being poured out all the time, eternally, and our role is simply to fall in with that constant outpouring of love. Sometimes we get snagged by thinking that there isn't enough love to go around (there's a good Duffy song on this theme by the way) - and that is surpassingly foolish. I love Rowan Williams' image for this - trying to safeguard the love is like standing beneath Niagara Falls with a bucket, we simply cannot contain it. We are called to simply be vessels.
Verse 10b: The second part of this verse is one of the few that raises a concern in me, the grim shade of penal substitution. I read the language of expiation as 'God reconciling the world to himself' - not through being appeased but by removing the powers that destroy our capacity to live. So I read this text as: In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to [heal us from all that afflicts us]. In other words I don't see any desire to punish in God. (I go into more detail in how I understand God's wrath here.)
Verse 11: I tend to be suspicious of 'ought' and 'should' language - I see it as worldly, in the sense of 'of the devil' but the point here is a straightforward appeal to respond to what God has done.
Verse 12: the first part is explicated further in a few verses, and the second part is a reiteration of the theme of this paragraph: that we know what God is like because of the love that can be shared between human beings. Note especially the point that 'his love is perfected in us'. I read this as meaning that when we love then God's purpose in creation is fulfilled, is brought to completion. The Word has not proceeded fruitless but is accomplishing its purpose.
Verse 13: developing the theme by now talking about the Holy Spirit. This is how we are to understand the language of the Holy Spirit - when we love as Christ loved us, then we share in the Spirit - the Spirit is the sharing of love. There might be other things associated with that sharing, other spiritual phenomena, but those are extraneous and non-essential. The essential part of Spirit-filled worship is the love that is shared between human beings.
Verse 14: personal testimony. This is not a theory, a nice sounding speculation that is all heavenly minded but no earthly good. This is a response to a particular human being who was known directly and personally.
Verse 15: a grammatical point, which cannot be understood apart from the context. This is not a magical incantation like saying 'Abracadabra' to open a hidden door; it has a specific meaning in terms of what this confession commits the person to in the situation at the time. In particular it entails: i) an acceptance of the resurrection, and therefore ii) an acceptance that Jesus has been vindicated by God, and therefore iii) a commitment to the truth embodied in Jesus which is iv) the love-sharing life being explored by the Christian community. To confess that Jesus is the Son of God IS to be committed to the life of love.
Verse 16: the teaching is grounded in further experience - it is believed because it is known - and it is followed by another reiteration of the main teaching of the whole passage.
Verses 17-19: A very important aspect of the central teaching, which further develops the 'grammar' of what it means to love, which is that fear is banished. The context is divine judgment and the assurance given from knowing the character of God as love; in other words (and this is why I interpret verse 10b in the way I do) there is no desire for punishment in God. The primary and basic truth is that God loves us, he desires us to flourish with abundant life, and he sent his Son in order to achieve this. We leave behind the game of spiritual achievement with all the attendant neuroses of heaven and hell and simply allow God's love to be experienced in the here and now. That gives the blessed assurance which is the spiritual fuel enabling the sharing of love in the present.
Verses 20,21: A renewed emphasis upon the link with love in the present context. Christian love is not abstract and ephemeral, it has real, concrete consequences. It is impossible to say that God is loved when the neighbour is not loved - in this situation, to use Wittgenstein's terms, the surface grammar is being respected but not the depth grammar; we are back with fingers and not with moons. The passage finishes with a renewed appeal to follow the commandment, for that is the nature of Christian discipleship.

I see this passage as the mission statement of the faith; it captures what I see as the core element of a lived Christianity. There is a lot of doctrine embedded in it, but the emphasis is upon the difference that the doctrine makes in the life of the believer. Where the doctrine does not make a difference, or, worse, where it leads to a less-loving life, then we can be certain that the Spirit is not present. To love God is to love our neighbour, and when we love then God lives in us: we know God, and we have no need to be afraid.

(A Lenten resolution, inspired by my therapy.)


The big question. At least, it's one of the ones that I ponder.

100 books

You copy the list and put an x for the ones that you have read.
Average is 6 out of this 100, according to the BBC...

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (x)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (x)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (x)
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (x)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee ()
6 The Bible - (x)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (x )
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (x)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (x)
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (x)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott ()
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (X)
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller ( x)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (x)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier ()
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (x)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk ()
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (x )
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger ()
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot (x)
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell ()
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald ()
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens (x)
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy ( )
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (x)
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh (x)
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (x)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck ()
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (x)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (x)
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (x)
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (x)
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (x)
34 Emma - Jane Austen (x)
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen (x)
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (x)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini ( )
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres (x)
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden ()
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (x)
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell (X)
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (x)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez ()
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving (x)
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins ()
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery ()
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy (x)
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood ()
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (x)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan (x)
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel (x)
52 Dune - Frank Herbert (x)
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons ()
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (x )
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth ( )
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon ( )
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (x)
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (x )
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon (x)
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez ()
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck ()
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov ()
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt (x)
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold ( )
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas ( )
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac ( x)
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (x)
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding ( x)
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie (x )
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville ( )
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (x)
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker (X)
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (x)
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson ( )
75 Ulysses - James Joyce ()
76 The Inferno - Dante ( )
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome (x)
78 Germinal - Emile Zola ( )
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray ( )
80 Possession - AS Byatt (x)
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (s)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell ()
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker ()
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro ( )
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert ( )
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry ( )
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White ()
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom ()
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (x)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton ( )
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (x)
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (x)
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks (x)
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams (x)
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole ()
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute ( )
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas ( )
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (X)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (x)
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo ()

59/100 (but includes a couple that I'm reading at the moment like Life of Pi)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spiritual Gifts (/Supernatural)

Something I've just written for the parish magazine.

'Earnestly desire the higher gifts' (1 Cor 12.31)

I have been asked by several people recently about the nature of spiritual or supernatural gifts: what are they and how should we understand them? Well, St Paul devotes a very long sequence in his first letter to the Corinthians to this topic (chapters 12-14) and I would heartily recommend studying those chapters to get some good sense about what these gifts are and how important - or unimportant - they are. What I would like to do briefly here is say something about the 'supernatural', which might help to clear things up.

When we talk about the 'supernatural' today, we tend to think either of poltergeists and vampires, or else of some sort of special power like Superman's X-ray vision. We think that there is a natural world which we are familiar with, and then there is a supernatural world which goes beyond this. Supernatural gifts in particular are seen as forms of power, especially the ability to do or achieve something physical like lifting an amazingly heavy weight. This is not the way that the early church understood 'the supernatural'.

In the early church, the division wasn't between the natural and the supernatural, but between the natural and the graced - that is, between what was human and humanly comprehensible, and what was the subject of divine activity. This was not a matter of power so much as it was about morality. The early church took it for granted that we were sinful, we were corrupted by original sin, and so we are incapable of being virtuous or good by our own activity. However, the action of divine grace can work within us and enable us to become better people and thereby do good work. This is the understanding that lies behind much of the language of the Book of Common Prayer, especially in the 39 Articles.

The difference might be envisaged by comparing Superman - a character who can achieve all sorts of physically impossible feats, like flying and lifting trains with one hand - and St Francis of Assisi, who overcame the patterns of his upbringing in order to serve the poor. Superman is 'supernatural' in a modern sense, but it is St Francis who is supernatural in the earlier and more Scriptural sense. His 'nature' was surpassed, and his life of virtue was therefore supernatural.

This is what St Paul emphasises through the famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, which we will be studying in the house groups throughout Lent. The most important gift is love, and this is a spiritual gift, this is a supernatural gift. Consider how hard it is to forgive someone who has deeply hurt us - it is not something that we can achieve through our own power. Yet it is possible - it is a gift from God when it can happen, and all the thanks belong to him when it does.

So when St Paul writes, introducing that chapter 13, 'earnestly desire the higher gifts' this is what he is talking about. There are all sorts of strange and exotic phenomena in our lives, some are spiritually important, some are not, but the most important gifts are those of love, most especially what he elsewhere calls the 'fruits of the Spirit': love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the most important, the most worthy, and the most supernatural of the gifts that God can bestow on us. Let us pursue these gifts, and pray for these gifts, and share these gifts in our community.

25 things about me

I got tagged on Facebook by Jon for this. I'm not going to tag anyone else though.

1. I was born completely deaf in my left ear. Same as Rowan Williams.
2. I'm 6'1" tall and 17.5 stone overweight.
3. I have a long ponytail - for the second time in my life - as a result of a Nazirite vow I made with myself. I'm not going to cut it until I've finished my book. As I've been wanting to finish a version of this book for nearly twenty years that may be some time.
4. I'm currently in therapy trying to work out why I haven't done the book.
5. I've lived on or near the River Blackwater for most of my life, including six very happy years on houseboats. I've also lived in Oxford, Cambridge, Alnwick and lots of places in London, especially Stepney.
6. I have an IQ of 174 (the 99.8th percentile according to Mensa) and a First Class degree in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford University, but the academic achievement I'm most proud of is getting a scholarship grade in my English Literature STEP, which I took at the same time as A Levels.
7. I was rejected by Oxford the first time I applied - I had applied to read PPE; they told me I should have applied to read English. I took a year out and applied after taking my A Levels - definitely one of my best decisions.
8. The worst mark I ever received in an academic exam was for the Wittgenstein paper in my Masters; I feel aggrieved about the injustice of this even now. (Despite protests from my tutor there was a resolute (and not incomprehensible) refusal to re-mark. I now understand how and why it happened, and it's a long story.)
9. I spent four years working for what was then the Department of the Environment as a Fast Streamer. This provided some royal jelly in terms of management training, which has held me in good stead, but I left because I was bored and didn't want to drive a desk any more.
10. I spent the academic year 1996/97 working as a caretaker in a primary school. During that time I appeared on Blue Peter.
11. I dropped out of a PhD at Cambridge after two terms for a complex mixture of reasons, academic and spiritual. I'm sure it was the right decision, but there's a lot of unfinished business there. (Unfinished business is a bit of a theme in my life.)
12. I failed my ordination training through not completing the academic syllabus. I was ordained anyway because I 'met Bishop's requirements' - principally through having done a theology degree already. I only completed the MA after getting ordained (which is one example of finished business.)
13. I presided and preached at my father's funeral. I think it was the most constructive outlet for my anger, and it crystallised a core part of my vocation.
14. I took a year out from parish ministry in 2002/03 to recover from several things, principally exhaustion. I came very close to starting a PhD at Durham but after a lot of prayer and reflection decided to come back into parish ministry. The right decision.
15. I like to wear colourful shirts.
16. I proposed to my wife seven days after we started going out. That was about 11 years ago now. That was a very good decision, possibly my best ever.
17. I enjoy singing but can't stand the sound of my own voice. That applies to my speaking voice as well.
18. I am prone to visions, premonitions and religious experiences. I'm trying not to bury these things so much these days, which is difficult because I tend to see references to religious experience as theologically dubious.
19. I've recently started using a motorbike. I only passed my (car) driving test in 2003, on the same day as I was appointed to the Mersea job.
20. I think I have some gifting for spiritual direction, although I've never been formally trained for it. This seems to have been recognised by others, and people are (informally) being referred to me. I am suspicious of the formal recognition process as I see direction as being a core part of the priestly vocation, it is precisely the 'cure of souls'.
21. I'm going on sabbatical this autumn. As well as trying to finish the book (see above) I want to do a lot more sailing. Sailing is one of the most profoundly refreshing things I know.
22. I don't believe that the Church of England knows what it is doing. I think it is propped up by establishment and maintained by inertia. There are days when all I want to do is kick away all the supports and set fire to it. Then there are the other days, when I think it is massively under-rated and under-appreciated. I try to remember the latter on the days when I am prone to the former. It might be a grace that the Church doesn't know what it is doing as it allows God some room in the process (!) but that being true doesn't mean the church couldn't do better.
23. There are three things in ministry which I value above all else: presiding at the Eucharist; teaching the faith; and intimate spiritual conversation.
24. I don't believe there is such a thing as mental illness. I believe there are two things which are presently described as mental illness: physical illness which has mental effects, and spiritual problems.
25. Throughout my teenage years and early twenties I expected to go into a career in politics. I still occasionally feel the pang of temptation, but I am very glad that God prohibited that path for me.


Happy Birthday Mum!

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Richard Swinburne's a priori errors. (H/T John Hobbins)

The financial crisis is irrelevant

Just a thought: however bad it gets, the financial crisis is solvable. Whether it takes five, ten, twenty years to sort through all the deleveraging there is nothing in this financial crisis that is going to seriously threaten industrial civilisation. After all, we've been through similar things before. There is no reason why, in 20 years time, the system can't be doing exactly what it was before - chastened, no doubt, but not fundamentally reformed. There will be all sorts of suffering in the meantime - and we need to do all we can to address that, and support those who go to the wall - but it is not, in itself, civilisation-threatening.

In that respect it is very different to the crisis we face with respect to resource limits. These do seriously threaten industrial civilisation. In twenty years time, we will either have shifted to sustainable patterns of life, or we will have embarked upon die-off. Or, perhaps more likely, some will have chosen one way, some will have chosen the other.

The pointer that will tell you if someone 'gets it' is whether they continue to mouth the platitudes about restoring economic growth. Growth - in the sense of anything physical - will not be restored any time soon, certainly not this side of 2050, possibly not ever. Ritual invocations of growth are simply a manifestation of contemporary idolatry. It is a god that has toppled from its plinth.

I can't help but be reminded of Brueggemann's analysis in 'The Prophetic Imagination' when he describes the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh as one between two systems of Gods - the living God versus the gods of the status quo. Each of the plagues topples one of the Egyptian gods - and eventually they are all shown to be worthless.
“The Gods of Egypt could not! The Scientists of the regime could not! The imperial religion was dead! The politics of oppression had failed! That is the ultimate criticism that the assured and alleged power of the dominant culture is now shown to be fraudulent.” The powers have been named, and in being named, they have been dethroned. Now that the dominant system has been unmasked as temporary, that its claims to divine eternity have been exposed, its foundations begin to crumble. “By the middle of the plague cycle Israel has disengaged from the empire, cries no more to it, expects nothing of it, acknowledges it in no way, knows it cannot keep its promises, and knows that nothing is either owed to it or expected of it. That is the ultimate criticism that leads to dismantling.” (see my longer post on this topic here)

So: Obama as Pharaoh? That's certainly what the appointment of people like Geithner would suggest.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

If the cards had fallen differently...

I might have become a Unabomber.

After women bishops are approved...

Just a thinking out loud post: once women bishops get approved for the CofE, why don't FiF and similar simply set up as independent churches with a more-or-less formal link with the CofE itself - rather like the Methodists? Or even a stronger link with Rome? Take the physical churches that they currently occupy, but leave the parish system (other churches can adjust boundaries to cope) and leave behind any church schools and so on. Take pro rata pensions and so on as well. In other words, isn't there a way to do this reasonably and charitably, and avoiding legal arguments over who owns the particular church buildings and so on?


People of the screen.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Evidence of my own hypocrisy

Re: Geert Wilders, I'm really glad this lot aren't getting in.


Experimenting with my new camera/phone/diary thing (Nokia 5800). Hadn't realised how attached - and how plugged in - to my old diary I was. I'm in mourning. The very worst thing about this new one - and something on which I was misadvised by the salesman - is that it has to link in to MS Outlook. Grrr.

Anyhow, been having a very busy few days catching up with the family during half-term as I took some 'official' time off to make up for the time I was ill over Christmas, when they didn't see much of me. It's been great, must do it more often.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Food and sex. (NB not food with sex, you'll have to go to a different sort of website for that)

Monday, February 16, 2009


My Bishop has generously agreed that I may take a sabbatical this year - from mid-September to mid-December. It's something that a colleague pointed out that I was eligible for after ten years in holy orders. I plan to: turn my Let us be Human talks into a publishable book, the Lord - and my therapist - being my helpers; gain the next qualification for sailing; and spend lots of high quality time with my family.

One of those moments when I can't believe how fortunate I am.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rowan's Rule (Rupert Shortt)

Very interesting, comprehensive and humane biography of the ABC which, whilst not pulling any punches, particularly with regard to his management capabilities, nevertheless conveys an immensely positive portrait of Rowan as a whole. We're lucky to have him.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Geert Wilders

A lawfully elected Parliamentarian from a fellow EU country is invited by members of our Parliament to speak to them. This Parliamentarian has been similarly invited by other parliaments (eg Italy, Denmark, the US) and none of their governments see a problem with hearing what the man has to say.

Yet our government-in-place objects to this (possibly illegally) whilst allowing equivalently controversial clerics from the Islamist side free reign.

I know that I'm prone to immoderate Meldrew-moments but something seems really wrong here. Does our culture not care about the principle of free speech any more? I doubt I'd agree with Wilders' perspective - the film is hardly balanced and measured - but that's irrelevant. All the liberties and practices built up over centuries are being washed away because people don't care any more, and our government is too incompetent and historically ignorant to know what it is doing. These are the moments when I ponder emigration...

(note the reference to the Koran)

I think one of the things I need to work on in my therapy is why I hate the state so much. I'm sure it's a mix of rational and irrational, but quite where the boundary comes... This I do know: people should not be afraid of their governments.


Bereavement in the blogosphere.
Reminded me of when we lost Tom Allen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A classic example of government incompetence


The Victory of Reason (Stark) 1.ii
Morality, individualism, slavery

This one will be brief as a) the material is shorter, and b) I'm just wanting to get back on to the saddle.

In the second half of chapter one, Stark extends his argument from science to morality, arguing that many of the most important moral characteristics of Western civilisation derive from Christian theological insights. Two in particular are singled out: the rise of individualism, and the abolition of slavery. He writes: "The blessings of a theology of reason were not confined to the sciences. From its earliest days, Christianity was equally inventive in its conceptions of human nature and in confronting issues of morality. Chief among these were propositions concerning fundamental human rights such as liberty and freedom. And underlying these ideas was something even more basic: the 'discovery' of individualism - of the self."

Stark (drawing on Colin Morris, a book I'd recommend reading) argues that "the Western sense of individualism was largely a Christian creation", pointing out that earlier societies, eg Ancient Greece, had no equivalent concept. Stark develops this by bringing in the Christian doctrines of sin and free will, arguing that "Jesus taught that each individual must atone for moral lapses precisely because these are wrong choices. There could be no more compelling intellectual emphasis on self and individuality than this."

This emphasis upon selfhood was extended, argues Stark, into the abolition of slavery. He writes "While no one would argue that medieval peasants were free in the modern sense, they were not slaves, and that brutal institution had essentially disappeared from Europe by the end of the tenth century. Although most recent historians agree with that conclusion, it remains fashionable to deny that Christianity had anything to do with it" and adds "Slavery ended in medieval Europe only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews). Within the context of medieval Europe, that prohibition was effectively a rule of universal abolition."

Stark asserts that "The theological conclusion that slavery is sinful has been unique to Christianity (although several early Jewish sects also rejected slavery). here too can be seen the principle of theological progress at work, making it possible for theologians to propose new interpretations without engendering charges of heresy... of the major world faiths, only Christianity has devoted serious and sustained attention to human rights, as opposed to human duties." Stark contrasts Christianity with all the other world faiths, pointing out that "there is not even a word for freedom in the languages in which their Scriptures are written - including Hebrew". Stark is particularly critical of Islam, pointing out earlier that the only places where slavery continued in Christendom were those with extensive contact with Islam, and that it is impossible for Islam to outlaw slavery for the simple reason that "Mohammed bought, sold, captured and owned slaves." He argues that "While Christian theologians were able to work their way around the biblical acceptance of slavery, they probably could not have done so had Jesus kept slaves. That Muhammad owned slaves has presented Muslim theologians with a fact that no intellectual maneuvring could overcome, even had they desired to do so."

Some questions:
1. Is it true that Christianity has a uniquely positive view of the individual self?
2. Is it true that Christianity is more hostile to slavery than other faiths, and more embracing of human rights?
3. It is true that other faiths cannot evolve in the same way?


Geert Wilder's Fitna film available here.
A much longer, related film, here.
Another Meldrew-inducing moment, to compare and contrast, here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bye, bye, bye... Scolari

Well, it happened sooner than I thought it would - and I take that as a positive. If Abramovich was only concerned with penny-pinching he'd have let Scolari die off quietly rather than paying several millions up front.

So: Hiddink or Rijkaard? I can't see Zola and Clarke making the shift this quickly - although it is Clarke's absence that has really told.



Strictly speaking not so much a beach photo as a view-from-my-bedroom-window photo!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A good article about Sarah Palin

Al keeps asking when I'm going to write a defence of my pro-Palin views. Fortunately someone else has articulated it.

Ilium & Olympos (Dan Simmons)

Blends together Homer, Shakespeare's 'Tempest' and contemporary sf tropes in a mind-bendingly interesting way. Good stuff, but probably for fans of the genre only.

(One of the benefits of being stuck in bed is the chance to catch up on some reading! I've even recovered from being 18 months behind on my TLS.)

Why I'm worried about Natural Gas supplies to the UK

Extracted from some notes for the PCC here in West Mersea. Our existing heating system has failed and we're considering putting in a like-for-like replacement boiler - diesel at the moment, but we could shift to gas. (We remain committed to a greener system in the longer term, but the social costs of doing without heating, eg at weddings and funerals, are too much).


The concerns I have centre around what is called 'Peak Gas', a variant of the 'Peak Oil' that I have frequently mentioned in meetings, talks and sermons. "Peaking" describes the moment of maximum flow of a resource, whether of oil or gas or any other non-renewable commodity. It tends to come at around the half-way point of extraction of the resource and so, by definition, there is as much of the resource left as has yet been exploited. In the case of both oil and gas this remaining resource is a vast quantity.. (I'll use 'billion cubic metres', or bcm, as the units in this note.)

Given the inexorable decline of domestic production, not only will we be importing most of our natural gas needs in a very short period of time, so too will North America and the remainder of the EU.

So where will this imported Natural Gas come from? At the moment the EU imports its gas principally from Russia, and to a lesser extent from North Africa:

Through to 2020, however, there will be an increasing reliance upon newly established LNG imports, to the tune of over 200bcm.

This assumes some demand growth, however, which may not be quite so plausible in the current climate! Another way of considering this, for the EU, is through this chart, which shows OECD Europe needing to import over 400bcm, from all sources, by 2020:

So where will the gas come from?

Although there has been some concern about the strategic viability of depending on imports from Russia, due to the 'crisis' in the Ukraine, it is in Russia's own interest to be a dependable partner to the EU, not least because it is such a huge source of income. With the development of new gas fields to replace the more mature declining fields, it looks likely that Russia will be able to sustain her production capacity.

However, there are two other considerations. The first is that Russian internal demand for natural gas will be increasing over time, so, given static production, the amount available for export will decrease. More significantly, as other supplies to the EU decrease the competition for Russian supplies will become more severe. So, although Russian supplies to the EU are likely to be comparatively stable, ie amounting to the same quantity in 2020 as in 2010, they will become increasingly expensive.

LNG 1: North Africa
The second principal source for Natural Gas imports to the EU is from North Africa. Here there is some better news, in that increased capacity should raise the amount importable from this region:

Let's be generous and say that through to 2020 up to 50bcm of extra import capacity is available from North Africa. This leaves some 350bcm to find.

LNG 2: Middle East
Along with Russia, the nations with the largest resources of Natural Gas are in the Middle East, principally Iran and Qatar, with Saudi Arabia having a little more. However, these vast quantities of reserves do not translate simply into a readily available resource. According to the EIA the export capacity of LNG from the Middle East, (around 200bcm now and mainly exported to the Far East), will be around 340bcm by 2015, rising to around 640bcm by 2030. This is one potential source of LNG imports to the EU.

Realistically there are no other sources of Natural Gas supply that could be imported to the EU. Whilst there are other Natural Gas sources (eg Indonesia) their supplies are both subject to peaking and already tied up in export contracts (eg to China and Japan). There are essentially two main LNG export markets, the Atlantic Basin (EU and Eastern US) and the Pacific Basin (Asia and Western US). What we are facing is a bidding competition between all the advanced nations for the increased LNG capacity from the Middle East; and even if the EU were able to completely win that bidding competition then there would still be a shortfall of around 200bcm each year!

What does this mean for the UK in particular?
This image, from 2005, shows where our government expects our gas supply to come from:

This picture is more than a little misleading in that it shows the capacity to import, rather than anything more concrete (worldwide LNG import capacity is around double the export capacity). What I would point out is that it also assumes that the UK can access the extra gas supply from Norway/Russia/LNG without giving any consideration to how realistic it is. If, as I believe to be true, a) Russian production is static and b) EU demand is static, then the gas imported from Russia is going to have to be obtained over the heads of an existing customer, which, again, will be expensive even if it is possible at all.

If we assume a demand for gas equivalent to today then we are looking at importing around 60bcm of gas; if we accept the government's figure then we are looking at importing around 90bcm of gas needing to be imported. It is not at all clear to me where that gas is going to come from - even if the LNG capacity is developed in the Middle East according to plan, we are going to be bidding against other, richer nations for access to that gas, and there is not enough to meet the total demand.

As I see it the gas supplies will first become more expensive, as we rely on Norwegian gas and are only competing with other Northern European countries, and then the supply will become not just increasingly expensive but also scarce, as we start competing with the rest of Europe, the United States and Asia for access to a restricted resource. If I had to hazard a guess as to when these problems will start to become manifest I would suggest the 2012-14 time frame, as that is when Norwegian production is expected to have passed its peak. This is why I am concerned about our natural gas situation and why I don't think it's a good idea to commit ourselves to a gas supply for the next ten years.


Definitely improving on the health front - made it down to the beach with Ollie for all of 5 minutes this morning! So hopefully I'll be OK to take my three services tomorrow.

Now: what odds on Scolari being given a couple of years to run through his contract and then Zola & Clarke make a triumphant return?

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Taken on Monday; I've done very little since then due to a strange stomach bug/virusy thing (which has also taken down eldest child). On Tuesday I thought I was through it, but no such luck, as it returned with a vengeance on Wednesday. So no TBTMs, and poor Ollie has had hardly any walks at all...

I hope I'm better tomorrow as I have a shedload of work to catch up with!

Monday, February 02, 2009


A movie based on a video game and it shows. Had some nice touches though. 3/5

The Frighteners

I'm sure I watched this when it first came out, but caught it when I was being a vegetable in front of the TV one evening last week. Holds up quite well really. 3/5

The Haunting

Began well but then faded to mundanity. 3/5


Just a little snow here this morning. Ollie loves it though, as do the kids.

Lots of heat being generated inside the Rectory, in vintage Victor Meldrew fashion, by this story. (H/T Cranmer)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Beer and God

This appealed to me. More at MP's place, make your own here.

On being too Christian

Just a thought that occurred to me yesterday - it is surely possible to be too Christian.

Consider Jesus' teaching about salt, and how salt that has lost its savour isn't any good, it is fit only to be trodden underfoot.

Salt is not there as an end in itself. It is there to enhance the flavour of the food. It is not there to be eaten in its own right; to do so is in fact to be poisoned.

That is the role of the Christian. Not to have an alternative life, marked out with boundaries and little fishes, but rather, to enhance the life of all which is not salt.

In other words, the role of the Christian is to ensure that those who are not Christians can enjoy abundance.

When this is missed, I think that Christians have become too Christian, and have missed the point. They have become too isolated, and too concentrated, and have thereby become toxic to the wider community. Rather than enabling the savouring of the flavouring they induce vomiting. Not good.

(and after writing that, I see this)


Yesterday really was exceedingly busy.