Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some links

Whilst my brain barely nudges out of neutral at the moment (although I have a double book review to do for the Church Times by Friday), I'm still reading a fair bit. Some interesting links:

One of the reasons why I think it's wrong to be a partisan re Israel/Palestine:

The Dreyfus model of skills acquisition. There aren't many things I'd claim to be proficient in using this model.

The end of contrarianism. Interesting, as I'm somewhat that way inclined :)

And on that subject... and also this and this and this.

Interesting long article about James Cameron.

Re: the Holy Father's attempt to recruit some elements of Anglo-Catholicism, I thought this was funny and this was to the point.

MadPriest on the BNP.

Reasons for liking Tolkien.

Bad options on Iran.

And finally, something I'm looking forward to purchasing one day.

The Concrete Blonde/ The Last Coyote (Michael Connelly)

Slowly working my way through these and it becomes clear how far Connelly is developing in the mastery of his storytelling art, each one more satisfying than the last.

Ghost Town

Quite diverting. 3/5

The Invention of Lying

Religious satire from a humourless atheist. 3/5

Friday, October 16, 2009

More on Rowan: that time has come and gone my friend

First off, if it wasn't clear from my preceding post, I do agree a very great deal with what Rowan said, and if I had been there I'm sure I'd have found it exciting and inspiring to hear him speak in these terms. My difference with him is subtle, but, IMHO, significant nonetheless.

At one point, Rowan says this: "Hulme is right surely that the scale and complexity of the challenge we face mean that no one solution will suffice. We need to keep up pressure on national governments; there are questions only they can answer about the investment of national resources, the policy priorities underlying trade, transport and industry and the legal framework for controlling dangerous and destructive practices."

From my perspective, political activism at this point is somewhat nugatory. When the discussion about the Limits to Growth first came to public prominence nearly forty years ago I think that there was a tremendous opportunity for political engagement to make a difference. I believe that if the message of LTG had been heeded at that point in time then the possiblity of maintaining 'the world as we know it' was strong.

We are not at that point. Despite a very great deal of environmental activism through the ensuing decades, the trajectory of our civilisation has not been changed and I believe that a more-or-less 'hard' crash is inevitable. Actually, 'inevitable' is still the wrong word - I believe that the hard crash has begun, and that we are going to spend the next fifteen to twenty years living through what could be called 'world-historical-events' - at least the equivalent of World War II, although I retain a selfish hope that England might be spared the trauma that it experienced at that time.

I feel that political engagement (on the large scale) is rather like wrestling for control of the steering wheel _after_ the car has gone over the edge of the cliff. It is a pointless exercise. In other words, don't try and grab control of the wheel, try to ensure that the seatbelts are secure and the crash bags are functioning properly. Or, as my favourite line from 'The Day After Tomorrow' has it, "that time has come and gone my friend... save as many as you can."

Part of my perspective here is that the larger situation is chaotic and unknowable. Much is written from the climate change perspective about the chaotic side of things, but that argument so often proceeds from a narrow and 'unaware-of-LTG' perspective that it undercuts itself. The best example of this, for me, is the way in which the IPCC doesn't take the peaking of resources into account. The interactions between the various different aspects of the crisis will sometimes exacerbate and sometimes mitigate each other, and this is one reason why I think climate change (on its own) is overblown as an issue. (Let me make clear, when I express scepticism about climate change, it is a little like someone saying of a crashed and written-off car - hey, at least the left wing panel is undented.)

In addition to this, one aspect that I am pondering is what the hospice movement has to teach us at this present moment. I accept John Michael Greer's distinction between 'problem' and 'predicament' and what is at stake is how we are going to respond to the predicament, not how we are going to solve the problem. (Rowan was sharp on this point: "Mike Hulme's book is helpful as a warning against too readily buying in to extravagant language about 'solving' the problem of climate change as if it were a case of bringing an uncontrolled situation back under rational management, which is a pretty worrying model that leaves us stuck in the worst kind of fantasy about humanity's relation to the rest of the world.")

So, gathering these threads together, I believe that what we are called to do - as Christians - is not to focus upon what will 'solve' or 'fix' or even 'address' any of the manifold aspects of the crisis. I believe that God is in the crisis, still working to reconcile the world to himself, and that it is way beyond any individual or group of individual to pretend to "solve" all the aspects of our situation. To put this in another way, I do not believe that we are "responsible" for the world, or to keep the world in good order. When Rowan talks about "a rediscovery of our responsibility for" the material world then I start to feel uncomfortable.

Part of the problem - what has led to our predicament - is a sense of humanity being mightier than it is. As Byron put it "God may and does call us to a role of responsibility for one another and his good world. But to believe that we bear the full burden of the future of life is another form of human hubris, and like all hubris, it will eventually crush us."

You could say - to change my metaphor somewhat - that we have been swept by a current into a tunnel and we don't know how or if we are going to come out. What we are called to do in this situation is exercise a very great deal of faith in God's purposes for us, and cleave to his intentions for our small scale patterns of life. As Rowan himself says, "we ought to beware of expecting government to succeed in controlling a naturally unpredictable set of variables in the environment or to produce by regulation a new set of human habits. We need equally, perhaps even more, to keep up pressure on ourselves and to learn how to work better as civic agents."

In other words, what is not pointless - and what I firmly believe is a Christian duty at this point - is to be "politically" engaged at the local level, principally through the Transition Town process, and to actually change our patterns of life - in the sorts of ways that Rowan hinted at (eg gardening). Martin Luther's teaching - if the world were to end tomorrow I would still plant a tree today. Our relationship with God, and our relationships with our neighbours, are not abstract and can be directly meaningful in a way that striving for a particular global outcome simply isn't.

This is why Jeremiah is our guide. He was chastised by God for trying to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people, to try and prevent the immense suffering that they were about to experience. It was too late for that. Jeremiah was called to be a witness, to be a sign that God had not abandoned the people and that there was still room for hope (I particularly resonate with the way in which he purchased land as a pledge of what is to come - very timely for us I believe). That is what I think we need to do - change the world from the inside out, start to live differently in the here and now, not be distracted by fantastic tales about what may or may not happen (including mine), and trust that if we are right with God then he will be right with us - that his grace is not exhausted or his mercy spent, and that, perhaps, enough righteous men will be found in Sodom to stay his hand.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Archbishop Rowan calls us to be human

In a way rather similar to what I've been banging on about for the last few years.

Rowan says "We do justice to what we are as human beings when we seek to do justice to the diversity of life around us; we become what we are supposed to be when we assume our responsibility for life continuing on earth" and later "this surely is the main contribution to the environmental debate that religious commitment can make... it is to hold up a vision of human life lived constructively, peacefully, joyfully, in optimal relation with creation and creator, so as to point up the tragedy of the shrunken and harried humanity we have shaped for ourselves by our obsession with growth and consumption", and later "What we face today is nothing less than a choice about how genuinely human we want to be".

In other words, 'Let us be Human'.

I do have differences with his perspective though, and whilst they will take a much longer post (even a book [grin]) to flesh out, I'd summarise it like this:

Rowan is still looking outwards - seeing the ecological crisis and saying we will not be fully human until we act in a way that safeguards creation. So safeguarding creation is the end purpose in mind. In this way, Rowan is channelling the Green perspective - giving a Christian spin to an agenda that is already in place.

What I want to do is look inwards. I want to give a fully Christian account of the ecological crisis. (See this and this.)

I see the ecological crisis as a symptom of two deeper crises, which are inter-related but still separable. The most important crisis is a spiritual one; we have forgotten God, we have succumbed to idolatry, and therefore wrath is descending upon us. The second is like it, namely this: we have abandoned any sense of social justice and our lack of concern for our neighbour is one of the prime drivers behind environmental catastrophe.

In other words, if we get our spirituality in order, if we worship God correctly, and if we safeguard the poorest amongst us, then the ecological crisis will be solved as a consequence of that.

If we carry on trying to fix the ecological crisis as an end separate to those two prime commands, then we will never be fully human. In particular, if we succumb to fear in our plans (which seems to be such a large part of climate change activism) then we will never get the spirituality right - and it is the spirituality that is more important.

I wish I could get a publisher... DLT? Continuum?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some links

John Hobbins starting to look at human sexuality and the image of God, which is relevant to the marriage question (I'll be returning to that soon).
Bishop Alan on the media; loved this "one message to angry vicars who feel misrepresented becomes “Forget Fleet Street. It simply doesn’t matter any more." The Trafigura fuss brings home part of that point.
Joe the Evangelist on Mission and Worship (I disagree with Joe, but I'll write separately about that).
Dave Keen links to this interesting polemic against celebrity culture. I think the rant is against a symptom rather than the cause though (the cause being, IMHO, the collapse of virtue diagnosed by MacIntyre).
BNP supporters are planning a bombing campaign, allegedly (h/t Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream).
Some gorgeous Rachmaninoff (I recommend checking that site regularly to get a fix of the heavenly).
Bishop Peter Selby on the Anglican shenanigans: "Protestations of our opposition to homophobia will count for little in an environment where our representative actions speak far louder than our words." (h/t Wounded Bird)
Finally, for Al: one sense in which I am most certainly a liberal - and I should add, if home-ed becomes illegal, it's one of the few things that would persuade dearly beloved to emigrate to the States (something I ponder regularly).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The elevation of conscience....

"the elevation of conscience over a catholic understanding of orders..."
One of many useful insights in Judith Maltby's paper (re: the Act of Synod allowing women to be ordained).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Eagle Eye

So-so plot, but some very impressive action sequences. 3.5/5


A wonderfully powerful parable for our time. 4.5/5


Bad options on Iran.

A brief question about marriage

Just thinking out loud here: is Christianity tied to any particular view of marriage? That is, if the social patterns of marriage changed drastically from what is conventionally acceptable today, and the Church blessed the process, would anything essential to Christianity be lost?

A handful of points:
- Jesus tells us that marriage is an earthly arrangement, not a heavenly one;
- Scripture witnesses to a variety of marriage styles, especially polygamy;
- on the other hand, Scripture also often portrays the heterosexual bond as normative (eg Mt 19.4-6);
- it's probably the particular virtues involved (fidelity, honesty etc) that are crucial for Christian life;
- in Christian history there have been times (eg medieval era) when marriage was restricted to those who were comparatively wealthy, eg with property, so marriage as such is not a universal;
- more recently, polygamy still seems to be tacitly accepted in some Christian areas, the argument being that monogamy owes more to Roman culture than to Scripture (although there are good scientific arguments for monogamy too).

With this I'm just trying to get clear about what is at stake in the discussion about the blessing of civil unions, and what it would mean if they were called 'marriage', and, more broadly, what would happen if a wider culture embraced or accepted a wide variety of "alternative" lifestyles.

My suspicion is that the answers to my opening questions are both 'No' and that Christianity can function, flourish and 'be itself' in all sorts of diverse contexts.

This made me laugh

Sunday, October 11, 2009


The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine

Kicking women bishops into the long grass

Although it is not quite as baffling as the decision to award Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, the continual backtracking, equivocation and compromise-at-all-costs we can see going on with respect to consecrating women bishops is very nearly as daft. A decision has been made by Synod; now the gnomes are working out how to thwart it. Unity can also become an idol; surely a walking separately is an honourable outcome (and likely to lead to better relations in the long term)? Just how long does this process have to go on for? I fear that ABC is once again so concerned to include the extremes that the mainstream majority is prevented from pursuing its own vocation. Yet another thing that makes me suspect that most of the CofE will be aligned with TEC before too long.

Maggi has an interesting suggestion.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On that peace prize thing...

Sam to dearly beloved: did you hear that Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize?
Dearly beloved: For...?
Sam: well that's the question, isn't it?!

Strange that something so honourable can end up demeaning both parties. If Obama was Roman Catholic then beatitude might be possible, but as he isn't, is there anywhere else left to go? I fear that after this, everything will be downhill and anti-climax. Is Nemesis ever merciful?

(Sorry if this comes across as excessively cynical and snarky. I'm genuinely baffled.)

Some thoughts on Worship (vi): Postscript - the fruits of right worship

Some friends are kindly discussing this series, see here, here and here. I'm prompted to write this postscript to head off a potential misunderstanding.

Worship has fruits. These are not the uses of worship - if we aim for the fruits then we are no longer worshipping rightly - but if we get the worship right then we can reasonably expect the God of all grace to equip us for ministry.

In heaven - or after the resurrection - then all that we do will be worship, for God will be with us eternally. In the meantime, worship allows us to touch heaven and enables us to carry out the work of the kingdom.

It is a little bit like a musician taking time to tune their instrument in order to then play sweet music; worship tunes us in to the correct pitch. Of course, that analogy breaks down a little - pursuing it would mean that all that happens in heaven is the tuning of instruments, a little like the cacophony that precedes the symphony.

Yet whilst we are here in this sinful world, right worship, which relates us to God and sets us right with God, is the spiritual medicine which heals us and enables us to share that healing with the wider world.

So right worship is the prerequisite for right mission, for right proclamation, for right witness. Where the worship is confused and confusing all these other elements of Christian life are diminished and inhibited.

This is why the stewardship of worship is an essentially pastoral task - it undergirds all other pastoral work - and why it is properly the prime concern of the priest. If we get the worship wrong then everything else we do is diminished; if we get the worship right then everything else we do is enhanced.

So yes: let us be concerned with all the other things that Christians are called to do - with mission, with evangelism, with political engagement and care for the poor, with provocative lives that challenge the powers and call people to repentance. But if we are going to do that in accordance with God's will and not with our own... let us take our worship with ultimate seriousness, and love God with ALL our hearts, minds, souls and strength. God must come first, and if we seek His kingdom then all these other things will be given us as well.

Friday, October 09, 2009


Glorious fun, especially the Bill Murray cameo; I hope there's a sequel. 4/5

Some thoughts on Worship (v): Greenbelt 09

OK, having cleared my throat, here are some further specific thoughts about the Sunday morning service at Greenbelt this year.

- structure - I thought the structure was pretty good. I can't recall if it began with an invocation of Christ but, on paper, there was a good balance of word and sacrament, the hymns were appropriate to the theme and on the whole it was pretty solid. The service didn't fall down because of the structure, although there was room to quibble about some bits (eg no Lord's Prayer);
- the Word - this was the first serious problem with the service, in that the Scriptures were not read out in English. Sure, if you had a Bible with you (or if you had a good memory for Scripture) then you could tell what was going on, if not, you were alienated from what is (probably) the single most important element of Christian worship. Also, the 'sermons' were read out (and people had the text in the service sheets), this too was a mistake, although not so serious;
- the music - this was diabolical. The hymns chosen were good-to-excellent (new words to old and familiar tunes) but the implementation was a disaster and the best example conceivable of how not to enable worship. In the environment of Greenbelt on a Sunday morning - when there were some 15,000 people gathered together in a field - then the onus is on those preparing the worship to ensure that some sense of solidarity is generated amongst the diverse people present. This is most readily achieved by singing in unison - so, a familiar hymn which all could join in with easily. Sadly, the way in which the music was played (technical people can describe the details) achieved nothing but alienation amongst most of the people gathered together (certainly all the people around me; it may have been different in other areas). There was a strong sense of wanting to join in and sing, but being prevented from doing so, and this compounded the error of not having the Scriptures read out in English. In sum - there were some people doing things on stage but it didn't have much integration with what the people were able to join in with;
- the politics - I'm probably more pro-Israel than the average Greenbelt attender, so the pro-Palestine theme was a bit jarring for me, but even taking that into account I felt that it was too specific and one-sided to work well as the theme for this service. The principal occasion for fostering unity amongst the people gathered was probably not the best time to pursue a politically divisive issue (the same could probably be said about criticising Tesco). It raises the question of what the worship was for...;
- the sacrament - this was the best bit of the official service. I thought that the 'elbow bump of peace' was creative (although, in the context of a lot of people alienated from the worship, laughing and bemused, it didn't increase a sense of transcendence!) and the use of oil for anointing was excellent and moving, and I was fairly happy that this had replaced communion (which left people the option of a supplementary communion amongst themselves at the end, which we did). Also, the giving out of an olive seed at the end was a good, incarnational idea.

So, on the whole, some good ideas at the planning stage, which were only partly successful in implementation, but as a service of worship the music in particular killed it nearly stone dead. What makes it most bizarre is that the 'Beer and Hymns' is an excellent demonstration of what might be possible. The service could have been mind-blowingly wonderful. It wasn't, and that is a shame.

For the record, given the comments made at the Greenbelt site, I am not a conservative evangelical (!!) and I have no idea who Tim Hughes is.

Previous posts in this series:
What makes worship distinctively Christian
Participation and Performance
Worship is Useless

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Butterfly on a Wheel (aka Shattered)

This is an extremely good film: an excellent twisty script; believable performances from the leads; an immensely punchy ending. Sadly it is also the most graceless, misanthropic and unforgiving film I have seen in a long time. 4/5


Word count: only about 700 more than it was last time I said (end of last week)! The sabbatical is starting to take effect; I'm beginning to relax more fundamentally than I have in many years; and right now I don't think trying to "achieve" the book is what God wants me to do - so I'm spending a lot of time just fiddling, watching TV, reading books (for myself and to the kids) playing Bejeweled Blitz(!) and stuff like that. I'm sure I'll come back to hard work before too long but for now, this seems like the right and holy course. It means I can write a bit more on the blog as well, which is fun :)

Some thoughts on Worship (iv): worship is useless

(An extra one prior to one about Greenbelt, in response to comments)

Sam's first rule of worship: worship is useless, and as soon as worship is used for something else, it ceases to be worship.

In other words, worship must be centred upon God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. As soon as we say 'let's do worship this way, in order to achieve X' (where X is anything other than 'worship God more effectively') then we are no longer loving God with all that we have. We have allowed another priority to intrude, we have slipped our moorings and begun to drift with the tides.

- Mission and evangelism. Where a service is geared around bringing people to faith through what is expressed and achieved in a service, then worship is compromised. That is not to say that people don't come to faith through worship - clearly they do. Nor is it to say that we should take no account of how people experience worship when planning services - clearly we must but that is because we must be concerned with what will enable people to worship. There is an ultimate difference between asking 'what will enable people to worship' and 'what will enable people to come to faith'. The former is legitimate (and might achieve the latter); the latter is, in the end, an abandonment of worship. When the Reformers introduced worship in the vernacular, that was something that enabled worship. It probably also enabled a deeper conversion in people, and was missionary and evangelistic, but those were the healthy byproducts, not the main outcome sought.
- performance (especially in music but also in sermons, sometimes also in the intercessions). When the pursuit of excellence in musical performance becomes an end in itself, and has become separated from the spiritual activity of the community as a whole, then worship is compromised. The achievements might be immense, the music might be breathtakingly beautiful or stimulating, but where the spirit isn't right then worship is no longer present. God is much more honoured by something imperfect but sincere and heartfelt than by something highly polished and accomplished that is oriented away from Him. This is not to say 'don't pursue excellence' - OBVIOUSLY we pursue excellence - but we pursue excellence within the larger framework that in the end all we can offer to God is dross. 'Only by grace can we enter...' and all that.
- liturgical correctness and formality. When those involved in all the formal elements of a service have become excessively focussed on doing things 'correctly' then worship is compromised. Yes, all things must be done decently and in good order but church is not a military operation and it is most essentially a human endeavour. So insisting on perfect right-angle turns, inhibiting any human contact eg between priest and servers (or between priest and people), insisting that those serving must wear highly polished black shoes (and being scandalised if a young server happens to be wearing trainers) - these all risk missing the point.
- political correctness. I have often worried about whether it was right for me to criticise Tesco in a sermon, not because I don't think what I said was true but because it didn't leave much room for people to disagree. Perhaps I am wrong. I do think that it is legitimate for Christians in general, and clergy in particular, to be politically engaged, so long as they are not party-political, eg saying 'Vote Labour' or 'Vote Conservative' from the pulpit but the danger with becoming too specific with political points is that it overwhelms the worship. What is the difference between a service of worship and a political rally? Allowing God to be God, and acknowledging and praising God for being God - which means accepting things like: we are all sinners, we must not stand in condemnation against other people, we must not think that our actions are the most important actions, which lead to the equal temptations of giving in to despair or an excess of hubris. There is a clear Scriptural mandate to be politically controversial in terms of Christian life and witness; I am not clear how far it is legitimate to be specifically controversial in Christian worship. Preach and sing about God's bias to the poor, yes, but saying that the tax rate should be raised to 50%? Probably not.

I'm sure there are other ways in which the priority of worship can be distorted, and the power of worship prostituted to human will. Worship is useless, and must remain useless, it is a divine waste of time.

Other posts in this series:
What makes worship distinctively Christian
Participation and Performance
Greenbelt 09

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

It's a disaster!

I thought this was very funny:

Actually, there is one thing that is putting me off watching it: from the official trailer it looks like one of the kids of the main character gets killed....

Some thoughts on Worship (iii): participation and performance

I think there are two ways in which Christian worship can fail: one is that it fails to approach God properly (so it breaks the first great commandment); the second is that it fails to enable the community to approach God properly (so it breaks the second great commandment).

Worship can be oriented correctly to God, yet not engage the worshipping community - then it is no longer worship but performance. On the other hand, worship can engage the community but not be oriented to God - that is simply self-congratulation.

I believe there is a 'sweet spot of the Spirit' where a community is enabled to worship God fully; where excellent worship is offered and where everyone shares in this process. Most of all, I believe that as the community grows and develops, so too does the sweet spot migrate and the community as a whole must change with it. The Spirit blows where it will.

To say that 'everyone shares' is not to say that all things are done by all people. There are all sorts of ways in which elements of worship are carried out 'on behalf of' the worshipping community as a whole. For example, when one person reads the intercessions, or one person reads the Scriptures, or one person recites the Eucharistic prayer. Such actions do not necessarily fail to engage with the community as a whole. It is the same with music: there are ways in which the sung elements of a service can be undertaken so as to alienate the community or to enable a sharing in what is being offered (this is why the singing of an anthem as such is not problematic). This pursuit of excellence must, however, be tempered by the element of service. The community has to be carried along together.

There must also be an element of transcendence involved - some element of challenge and invitation to spiritual growth. This transcendence can be found throughout the service - in the set prayers of liturgy, in the sermon, in the intercessions, in the sacrament. It can also be found in the music, in general hymnody or in choral pieces (it is particularly important for choral pieces to be beautiful). Where this element of transcendence is absent then there is no worship as such - we are in the realm of football stadiums, rock concerts and Nuremberg rallies. These can be uplifting experiences which unite and solidify a community - but they do not on their own bring that community closer to God.

The aim in worship is excellence, that what is offered up to God is the best that it can be. This is not always easy, and sometimes, with the best of intentions, worship ends up being a more or less glorious failure, which brings me to Greenbelt, the prompt for this series as a whole.

Other posts in this series:
What makes worship distinctively Christian
Worship is useless
Greenbelt 09

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Fine. I'll watch the sequel. 3/5

Some thoughts on Worship (ii): distinctively Christian

I think there are three things that make worship distinctively Christian.

1. What is done is done explicitly in the name of Christ, the Great High Priest. This can either be done formally (with a signing of the cross whilst saying 'in the name of the Father...') or informally ('we have gathered together in the name of Christ...'). Yet I believe it crucial to do this, not least on grounds of spiritual warfare.
2. That the Scriptures, especially the gospels, are read out loud in the midst of the assembly. Christians are a people constituted by a particular story about a particular person, and to retell the story is a way of recognising that the assembly lies under the authority of Scripture.
3. That there is something sacramental in the worship. Normally this would be the Eucharist but it could be Baptism; more broadly it might include anointing and the laying on of hands, or be a marriage. I see this as essentially Christian as it reflects the logic of the incarnation: Jesus wasn't just a teacher, he embodied the truth. In the same way Christian worship is not simply about speaking or hearing truth, but about being formed to perform the truth. Sacramental worship achieves that.

There are many facets of Christian worship - such as creeds, confession, intercession - that help to fill out the nature of Christian worship but I believe that where these three elements are present then we have fully Christian worship. This is why Holy Communion is 'the source and summit of Christian life' and 'the richest and fullest expression of Christian faith'.

It is certainly possible for worship to miss one or two of the above and still remain recognisably Christian (eg Morning Prayer). However, where a community does not have regular access to the full expression of Christian worship then it begins to drift away from the fullness of the faith. This has happened, I believe, with organisations like the Salvation Army (however highly esteemed they deserve to be on other grounds).

Where worship lacks all three of the above elements then I doubt whether it qualifies as Christian. This is one reason why I was so disturbed by the worship offered at New Wine; it was, at best, sub-Christian.

Tomorrow I want to say something about the participation of the believer in worship.

Other posts in this series:
Participation and Performance
Worship is useless
Greenbelt 09

Something brief on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)

Ian has asked "why that one source (Yamal) is so important to your overall belief in this subject".

The short and direct answer is that the Yamal data underlies much of the advocacy surrounding AGW, specifically that it seems to be the major grounds for believing that our present climate is warmer than it was in the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). This is the graph accepted by the IPCC in 1990 to show the change in temperature over the last thousand years. Note that the MWP is warmer than the present.

This was replaced after 1998 with the 'hockey stick':

The principal scientific source for the 'Hockey Stick' relied on data from Yamal (see this wikipedia page for more background).

Now, it could well be the case that even without the Yamal data, the evidence for the late twentieth century being warmer than the MWP is robust. I'm open to that being the case. My concerns are different, because, in the end, I'll believe what scientists tell me on matters of scientific fact (in other words, when they stop using words like 'consensus' and just say 'this is how it is' - after all nobody talks about a consensus when discussing, eg, gravity, or the sun being at the centre of the solar system.)

I think that:
a) the science supporting the AGW hypothesis, and the alarmist predictions built on it, is not as robust as it is claimed to be. I think this because i) the IPCC does not take into account the peaking of fossil fuel resources; ii) the (on-going) Svenmark research exploring solar/cosmic ray influence on climate; and, yes, iii) the sort of arguments that McIntyre makes;
b) in other words, I think that scepticism about AGW is not illegitimate, I believe that it is intellectually respectable;
c) because I think this, I find the attempts to repress debate (either by suppressing the data, eg with Biffra) or by ridiculing, scorning and doubting the moral fibre of sceptics to be distinctly lacking in virtue. If the science is robust then it will stand up to the most virulent of partisan criticism, and will emerge all the stronger for it (this is not to say that some criticism isn't simply partisan and deserving of scorn, only to ask for discrimination);
d) because of the prevalence of c) I have come to see that there are aspects of idolatry involved in the AGW consensus. In particular I believe that many people accept AGW because it fits into a wider picture of belief about what is wrong with the world today. As it happens, I share that wider picture of belief (basically, the 'Limits to Growth' argument), I just don't believe that we can build a better future on the back of c) - that is, I really do believe that it is the truth that sets us free and that fear paralyses us (and I think the AGW consensus is trying to force change by amplifying the fear. I see this as morally wrong and spiritually unsound);
e) my motivation in sharing information like that about Yamal, therefore, is much more to do with wanting to combat that idolatry than wanting to object to the bigger picture, and all that it entails. The difference in personal behaviour required in responding to AGW or responding to Peak Oil is pretty small.

That ended up being less brief than planned. I should add that for some time (eg in my early LUBH talks) I accepted the AGW consensus. Two things started to shift me on it: first the IPCC ignorance of Peak Oil, second reading this book. I became more sceptical the more I studied the question. Now I would class myself as an agnostic/mild sceptic on the specific AGW issue, but definitely a critic on the 'wider aspects' of what is involved.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Some thoughts on Worship (i)

I've been thinking about Banksy's post on Greenbelt, and the discussion that the Sunday service generated on Greenbelt's own website. I was going to write some further comments about what I thought was bad about it (and some about what was good) but the more I've pondered, the more I want to go back to first principles. So a short (three or four post) sequence on worship, to put my criticisms of GB in context.

This post is really some ground clearing thoughts.
a) Worship doesn't have to involve God. That is, something can be worshipped without being God - money, power, celebrity and so on. Worship is essentially about giving worth _to_ something, praising it and celebrating it.
b) The claim of the believer is that the worship of the living God gives life, whereas worship of anything else (dead gods/idols) bleeds life away.
c) Worship (good worship) normally requires some form of ecstasy, which is not a comment about little yellow pills, rather that the person sharing in the worship should be in some way taken 'out of themselves'. Ecstasy in this sense doesn't have to be an awe-inspiringly joyful and eye-popping flashes of light (though it can be those things); it can be the 'still small voice of calm'.
d) Another way to describe this is to talk about a sense of transcendence, that those sharing in the worship become aware of something bigger than their own preferences and concerns. That 'something bigger' may or may not be God.
e) An example of worship which is transcendent but not necessarily 'of God' is this:

In the next post I want to talk about what makes 'worship' into 'Christian worship'.

Other posts in this series:

What makes worship distinctively Christian
Participation and Performance
Worship is useless
Greenbelt 09


Some odd pictures.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Not just any old data set

Have been exploring the present fuss about the Yamal data which is used to show the extreme nature of present global warming.

It would seem that the Yamal data is debunked. That is, the reports of warming in the twentieth century have been greatly exaggerated.

A nice readable summary is here. A criticism is here, although it's not very good.

I think the controversy shows up how essential it is that, for proper science to be done, full data has to be shared openly. That it has taken around a decade for the information to be shared (and that it has only now happened under duress) shows that one side of the argument had something to hide.


H/T Tim Abbott

Friday, October 02, 2009

Not a picture

More like a round up of things I've been looking at recently, in lieu of the next TBTM (because I forgot to take a picture this morning).

First things first: word count 12,000 or so, poised to start ch3 (tho' I've been "poised" for about 48 hours now and probably won't do anything until Monday!).

Now here is a video from our corporate sponsors:

What the church should be doing??

Why capitalism fails.

The UN Human Rights Council is a scandal.

The Top Ten things you didn't know about Iran. (Tho' I did already know several, I'm sure you do too.)

Why Obama is right on Iran.

Rob Bell is a heretic performance artist.

Some thoughts on violence.

British soldiers are strong but their government is pitiful.

On Polanski.

And last, but certainly not least, what Transition Island Mersea should be pursuing.

Tropic Thunder

Very funny; I especially appreciated the Tom Cruise performance. 4/5

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Good, solid science fiction.
UPDATE: because I've been thinking about it a lot since watching it, especially about the wife character, I'm upgrading the verdict to 4.5/5. I think it will bear a great many repeat watchings.