Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Is it possible.... be in a position of institutional authority in the church and also to be holy?

Just something I'm thinking about at the moment. Reading this (pdf file; h/t Maggi) helped to clarify the question for me.

I'll probably write something more substantial on the question in the next few days, DV.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hauerwas on Leadership

Found here; two key quotes:

"It was a bad innovation when the revivalistic structure overtook the church’s primary liturgical form in a way that charismatic preachers replaced the centrality of Eucharist..."

"People called to administrative positions have to undergo a deep ascetical discipline. You’re dealing with people who have possibilities and limits, the limits sometimes will drive you crazy, and you cannot take it personally.
...You do this to provide space for the different gifts of the community. I’m very Pauline in this. Communities have diversities of gifts. Part of your responsibility as an administrator and leader is to help members of the community own them as contributing to the overall good of the community. To be in a position of power means that you recognize how fragile the power is. You wouldn’t have it otherwise. And you have enough confidence that you don’t have to win all the time. That’s a real ascetic discipline, a discipline of the ego, which is absolutely crucial for being an administrator and to allow the institution to go on once you’re no longer there...
... For any person that wants to be in leadership, if they try to lead in a way that means they don’t have to deal with people, they automatically defeat community. It is everyday interactions that make it possible for there to be people who tell the truth to us one at a time in the hopes that in that process we will be a truthful community...”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Some links:
Obama's big sellout (long Rolling Stone article, very good)
Why Britain faces a bleak food future - by the government's chief scientist
"I stay because I love God." I tend to agree with Calvin that the only acceptable reasons for leaving a church are i) if the gospel is not preached and ii) the sacraments are not administered.
A very funny 70 minute review of The Phantom Menace.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where does our energy go?

Just doing a little research on how much energy the UK uses, and where it goes - with a view to wondering what we are going to be able to hang on to. This is where we get our energy from (here)

Units are Million tonnes of oil equivalent
Coal: 37.9
Oil: 74.4
Gas: 93
Nuc: 11.9
Hydro: 1.1
Imports: 0.9
Renewables: 5.3

Total: 224.4

On an individual basis this works out at 3,814kg per head (here)

The fossil fuel elements of that are going through the peaking process, so we can expect them first to become more expensive, then to become increasingly scarce (over what I would guesstimate as a twenty year period, see my post on UK gas supply here).

Balance of payments questions
It has to be said that the UK is not best placed to withstand a constrained energy context. We import most of what we use and we are running out of ways to pay for it. This graph is from this post:

End use:

This is where household fuel goes:

Some rapid tentative conclusions from the household level:
  • the most significant thing we can do to reduce our energy consumption and prepare for the shift is to insulate our homes;
  • normal electrical use (eg TV, internet, fridge) is small beer compared to the two heating functions;
  • therefore I'm still mildly optimistic that my geeky gadgets have a future, especially if the government succeeds in building new nuclear
  • this is also why combined heat and power is important

This is where the transport fuel goes (source):

Rapid tentative conclusions:
  • by far the greatest share goes to private transport;
  • there is massive wastage in private transport; therefore
  • there is a lot of room for comparatively painless squeezing (eg carsharing) as an initial reaction to stress;
  • in the longer run private transport (electrical?) is likely to be the preserve of the wealthy
  • I'm sure there will be a lot of efficiency gains in the wider transport sector but in part that will be through shifting to slower modes of transport (eg the canals)
  • we're not going to be flying in green beans from Kenya anymore; though we may well still import chocolate
  • I think the truck sector will shrink the most
  • there will be much less road transport on the other side of the bump - this will be a very good thing

I don't know much about the industrial use, so I'll find out more about that.

Of course, all I'm doing here is thinking about an energy descent action plan. Which is what the Transition Town movement is for. Next step might be to find out more information about Mersea and how these broad patterns apply locally.

Copenhagen was (mostly) irrelevant

I know I said I wasn't going to post anything further about AGW – and, really, this isn't - at least not in the same way. For the purposes of this post I'm going to assume that the mainstream consensus (ie disregarding the extremist forecasts) is basically true, and, in particular, that the models have some connection to reality.

Click 'full post' for text.

The first point is to do with the amount of fossil fuel resources available, and the way in which the IPCC overestimates how much there is. I've linked to these articles before, but as I suspect the links are often not followed I'm going to set out some of the key claims. (The graph above is taken from this post which is one of the key ones).

The point is a simple one: the IPCC, in their reference scenarios, use estimates of the availability of fossil fuel derived from the IEA which are seriously implausible. The most recent article spelling out why is here. I quote: "Our conclusion is that the assumptions of coal use that the IPCC recommended that climate researchers refer to in calculating their future horror scenarios are completely unrealistic. The question is why at all these gigantic volumes of carbon dioxide emission are to be found among the possible scenarios. The IPCC bears a great responsibility for the fact that thousands of climate researchers around the world have dedicated years of research to calculating temperature increases for scenarios that are completely unrealistic. The consequence is that very large research resources have been wasted to little benefit for us all." Aleklett points out that the burning of even as much coal as there is is unlikely, due to the political context (Montana in the US) and the lack of local need (Siberia).

The second point is the one underlying the graph above: if human society continues to burn all the fossil fuels that are available, ie including Montana and Siberia, until they are economically exhausted (ie the net return on energy is close to 1:1) then carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will peak at around 480ppm in the second half of the twenty-first century. According to the MAGICC model used at the Oil Drum, this translates into around 1.7ÂșC above 1990 levels.

The third point that I would make is that ceteris paribus makes morons of us all. The human economic system is dynamic, and, especially in the more free-market oriented societies, there is room to respond to changed circumstances. What I take this to mean is that a) peak oil and associated limits will cause havoc to our economies well in advance of our accessing all the coal, b) the truth of the Limits to Growth perspective will by then be unavoidable for all except the most wilfully obtuse, c) we will as a human community either shift towards sustainable habits of life or we will slaughter ourselves fighting for what is left - in either case the coal will not be accessed.

Which makes me think that the rather extravagant boondoggle proposed in Copenhagen was somewhat besides the point. Moreover, I can't help but feel that the doom and gloom being put about is counterproductive. It is as if the Victorian clerical cliche of 'You're going to burn in hell' has been resurrected in a green dress; it turned people away then and it is turning people away now. The truth is that we are not in control of the system (any complex system) and we need to leave room for God to be God, and to avoid continuing the intellectual, scientistic and technocratic hubris that drove us into this mess in the first place.

What we need to do is to prepare for the great dislocation. Over the next ten to fifteen years we are going to be jettisoned from the sinking luxury liner and we need to get ready for a much simpler existence in the lifeboat. We need to ask ourselves what is worth saving from our present cornucopia, and work to save what we can. Doing that properly requires rather more prayer and listening to God than is presently in display. I am more and more persuaded that it also requires the adoption of a Ninevite attitude if the lifeboats in their turn are not to sink.

I'll write something more about the nature of these choices in due course.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Church this morning

What a gorgeous morning, and the kids are SO happy that the holidays have now begun.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stephen Toulmin 1922-2009

Not many philosophers whose death would elicit an 'oh no' from me, but he's definitely one. Obituary here. Cosmopolis is the one I'd recommend most for a general reader (though I haven't by any means read everything he's done).

Note to self: really must get my philosophical brain up and running again.


So: yesterday I got a CROS hearing aid, from the lovely people at Addenbrooke's (though, as always, it was a bit hellish to get there).
I put it through its paces pretty quickly, and it was quite a remarkable feeling to know what someone to my immediate left was saying. It's not quite as useful in a social (ie noisy) setting as I had hoped - people with only one hearing ear lack the capacity to discriminate voices in that context, and the hearing aid doesn't change it - but it does make a difference, and in other settings, eg PCC meetings, it will be a real boon. I can tell already that I feel more confident in those contexts. Next step - wearing it whilst taking a service this morning.
By the way - it's worth mentioning - I was getting a bit fed up with my hearing last year, and I did offer up some fervent prayers for it to be fixed. So I do see this as an answered prayer, and a miracle, even if it is all completely scientific!

Monday, December 14, 2009


First day back at work.
Plug the phone back in.
First phone call: 'Hello sir, this is Kwik-Fit car insurance....'

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On deciding about socio-political engagement

Paul asked a challenging and intriguing question in this comment thread, which I felt deserved a longer response: How do I, as a priest, assess whether and how far to engage politically, including socio-politically?

I have two principal concerns. First, before I was nobbled by God, I was set upon a political career, and the good Lord made it quite clear to me that this was not the path I was called to follow. My path is in the church, and so any time I start to feel an inclination towards active political engagement lots of bright red alarms start flashing and bells start ringing. Second, the Tesco experience, ie when I spoke out against the setting up of a new Tesco Express on Mersea. I still boycott the store, as part of a personal and essentially private witness, but taken as a whole the experience was (and is) dispiriting. It felt like throwing pebbles at a bulldozer, where the bulldozer wasn't just the Tesco machine, it was the way in which the community tacitly supported the process, not caring (or not caring to know) why it was wrong. Lots of people who I respect simply thought that I was barking mad to be objecting to it (many even proudly declared their shareholdings in Tesco). It has made me more wary of speaking out; not to the extent of not being prepared to do so again, primarily in realising that I have a limited amount of "outspokenness capital" to use, and it would do no good whatsoever to expend it all tilting at windmills.

These two together became sharp for me when considering the question of Transition Towns. I was involved in the setting up of Transition Island Mersea but took a conscious decision to step back from a direct involvement in running things when it seemed that there were plenty of people able and willing to take things forward. The principal fruit achieved so far was the setting up of the Food, Drink and Leisure festival, which showcased local products. I also believe that the local council has started to take things on board. However, it also seems clear that a great deal is still possible, and the issues are very salient on Mersea because we are so close to Bradwell power station, which is on the list for siting a new nuclear power station. I keep mulling over whether to write some articles about the overall energy situation and possibly, eg, argue for some form of local CHP in the town.

A further factor is the way my thinking has been sharpening up about what exactly the Christian community is called to do in our present context. To that end, it might help to explain, or recap, the context for my recent chewing over of material related to global warming, but which is really rooted in two earlier posts: on being Christian not green and Why bother saving the planet? I feel that the current state of the science with respect to global warming functions as a Rorschach test - people will see in the plethora of data support for conclusions that they already hold. I think that what has happened in me over the last eighteen months or so is a gradual disengagement from some nominally 'green' positions in pursuit of a more substantial Christian perspective. In other words, I've just been digging deeper to try and get at the roots of the present crisis - with the hopeful consequence of knowing the way forward that much more clearly. I think the time for prevention has passed us by, but there are still many things we can do to ease the pain of the long descent. That way forward still has a great deal in common with the green perspective, but they are not the same.

My thinking at the moment is that the Christian church needs to be strengthened in its understanding of discipleship; to understand that being a Christian is a doing not just a saying; and that this is what the priest/pastor/teacher is called to do. I am not at all arguing that there should be no Christians in political careers - I believe the opposite rather strongly - it is more that the shape of the priestly vocation (perhaps: MY priestly vocation) is becoming clearer to me. I am not called to be engaged in the political sphere in any active sense (though I suspect I probably am supposed to be engaged in a 'shouting from the sidelines' sense, what Justin calls the watchman role). I think that the most important thing that a priest can do at this time is enable and strengthen the Body of Christ for their work and engagement in the community. That means right worship, right teaching, right fellowship and everything else involved in calling Christians to a serious commitment to their faith and the cost of discipleship. In my case I think it means teaching about the ecological context in which we find ourselves, and what it means for our lives as Christians. I have an obligation to 'pattern my life and that of my household' according to what I believe to be right, but I am coming to the conclusion that a further, active political engagement is not right for me. I could be wrong. I shall continue to chew it over.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wendell Berry on Copenhagen

Here's another one:
"Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics. Local life may be as much endangered by those who would 'save the planet' as by those who would 'conquer the world'. for 'saving the planet' calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know - and thus will destroy - the integrity of local nature and local community."
(Both recent quotes taken from his collection of essays 'Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community'. Highly recommended.)

Christianity connives directly in the murder of creation...

"Despite its protests to the contrary, modern Christianity has become willy-nilly the religion of the state and the economic status quo. Because it has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into Heaven, it has been made the tool of much earthly villainy. It has, for the most part, stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households. It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire. It has assumed with the economists that 'economic forces' automatically work for good and has assumed with the industrialists and militarists that technology determines history. It has assumed with almost everybody that 'progress' is good, that it is good to be modern and up with the times. It has admired Caesar and comforted him in his depredations and defaults. But in its de facto alliance with Caesar, Christianity connives directly in the murder of creation. For in these days, Caesar is no longer a mere destroyer of armies, cities and nations. He is a contradicter of the fundamental miracle of life. A part of the normal practice of his power is his willingness to destroy the world. He prays, he says, and churches everywhere compliantly pray with him. But he is praying to a God whose works he is prepared at any moment to destroy. What could be more wicked than that, or more mad?"
(Wendell Berry)

A woman of substance and virtue
A review of Going Rogue, by Sarah Palin

Going Rogue is the memoir of a politician concerned to settle scores and set the record straight. It is not a substantive work of policy, rather it takes the opportunity to speak at length directly to her constituency, without the distorting and malicious prism of the mainstream media, about her background and beliefs. Palin is manifestly a gifted politician but much more importantly she is a good politician, a woman of substance and virtue.

Although Palin was born outside of Alaska, she moved there while still an infant, and this Alaskan context dominates her understanding of the world. She writes movingly of the influence that her father had upon her upbringing, most especially the way in which she imbibed the virtues of hard work and determination. I was particularly impressed by the story she tells of a Basketball final in which she played through despite having a broken ankle, an ankle that still troubles her today. Todd Palin also comes across well – which isn't a surprise – but what is a surprise is the way in which Palin tells a story against herself (concerning Faye Palin, her step-mother-in-law) in order to bring out her husband's integrity. Indeed, the moral failure exposed in this anecdote is significantly worse than most of the criticisms thrown at Palin during the 08 campaign and the lesson she learned then has held her in very good stead ever since.

Palin says much about that campaign, not least her interview with Couric. This caused a great deal of pain and she spends quite a bit of time giving her perspective. Palin is intelligent and well read, but she is not an intellectual, and a format geared around stroking the egoes of the latter was never going to show her at her best. Yes she was stitched up, and it was an unfair presentation, but if you throw someone in the deep end it isn't a surprise if they swallow some water, so I don't think it can all be blamed on CBS. In contrast to Couric Palin is quite gracious about Tina Fay, and her sense of humour and innate humility are healthily shown by her appearance on SNL, and, indeed, her recent speech to the Gridiron club. What is most striking in her account of the campaign, however, is how far she was shackled by her “managers”, who seem to have been barely competent. The bias shown by the mainstream media during that campaign, and the vilification, misogyny and obstructionism thrown at Palin ever since, would have caused many people to have buckled completely. I found Palin convincing in her discussion of her resignation as Governor, which was, as her father put it, 'not retreating but reloading'.

Some particular things that I like about Palin:
  • fiscal conservatism, which is pursued on a pragmatic basis. This is seen in her tenure as Governor, but can also, I would argue, be seen from her time as Mayor of Wasilla (a good discussion here). Palin is not an ideologue, she is a pragmatist, and is happy to use government for those things which government can do best, eg infrastructure. What impresses me is the way in which the costs of these measures was budgeted for, and the tax increases agreed with the voters, before anything happened. This seems like excellent governance to me;
  • public service: Palin believes in public service in a way that is remarkably refreshing. It has led to her taking some significant knocks along the way, but they only seem to have strengthened her determination;
  • this has depended on her personal courage and integrity, seen in all sorts of different ways. Taking on the CBC, resigning from the Oil and Gas commission and then the governorship, most of all in the decision, movingly discussed in the book, to keep Trig – Palin is manifestly someone who has been tried and tested and has proven her integrity to a degree significantly ahead of most politicians (which is surely a large part of her appeal);
  • social capital: Palin is a product of the proverbial small town. That has both bad and good sides. The bad side has already been mocked mercilessly – insularity, chauvinism, possible boorishness (eg her remarks about vegetarians in the book). Yet the good side has not been as widely recognised by the media. Small towns are schools of virtue and good judgement – Victor Hanson is good on this – and I wrote more about this aspect here: Alaskan values and the character of leadership. There is a contest here between the cynicism of 'inside the Beltway' (or the Westminster village) and the sincerity of a normal person;
  • her faith, which seems normal and real to me (obviously, to the secular elite, that just means I'm a fundamentalist too). I wouldn't agree with how she describes the evolution/creation debate, but Palin's faith seems genuine, personal and recognisable, and something on which she leans regularly.

The most significant area where I disagree with Palin relates to energy, where she seems to have a distorted sense of what is possible over the next ten to fifteen years (distorted, but doubtless very much the US mainstream). I think she is wise to pursue an 'all of the above' strategy on energy, the problem is that I have little hope that the status quo can be preserved, and she gives no evidence of realising the tough choices that will have to be faced. However, I have no doubt that her pragmatism and basic good sense will allow her to make good decisions when she is actually put on the spot. Her record has earned her the benefit of the doubt on that, at least for now.

In many ways Palin is the antithesis of Obama. Where she is unambiguously a product of the US mainstream, saturated in patriotic, even chauvinist values, Obama is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic man who seems to have little visceral attachment to the US at all. Where Palin is someone who has risen on the basis of her own drive and abilities, often at odds with party establishments, Obama is a creature of the political machine. Where Palin was hugely influenced by her father, Obama's life has been marked by a search for a father figure. Where Palin is an outsider and reformer, Obama is an insider and elitist. If Palin succeeds in parlaying her current influence into electoral success for the Republicans in 2010 then I shall look forward to her taking on and then beating Obama for the presidency in 2012. She is not a person who will solve all the problems that the West faces – who could? - but I do believe that she would make an extremely able and effective President of the United States.

Episcopal and congregational

John Richardson has written a series of very interesting posts about ministry, see here, here and here.

This is an issue I've been thinking a lot about on my sabbatical (including reflections on the conference at Westcott I attended, and finally getting a chance to read Justin's book) but I've held off from writing anything up as it has felt too much like 'work', which is something that I have been religiously avoiding. I'll write something on those aspects in the New Year.

All I wanted to raise here is that, whenever talk about congregational funding of ministers is mooted - it is something which I feel is both inevitable and right - the spectre of 'congregationalism' is raised. We are Anglican, therefore we cannot be congregational!

So far as I can tell, this is a nonsense. To be an Episcopal church is to be governed by Bishops - to have ministers licensed by bishops acting under their authority, where the local priest represents the wider church to the parish and vice versa. The funding arrangements by which that minister is paid are irrelevant to whether a church is Episcopal or not.

Nor is it to say that there shouldn't be a transfer of wealth from those that can afford it to those that can't. Yet this does not have to be done on the model of state socialism; after all, we are Christians, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect people to give to worthy causes like spreading the gospel. Frankly, I can't see any fundamental structural reform of the church being possible for as long as a parish share system is in place.

I also find it theologically dubious to see 'inner city' parishes as more demanding of resources than suburban or rural parishes. Having worked in both settings my principal reflection is that those in poorer areas rub much more closely against reality and limits, and this makes for a greater openness to the claims of faith. Those in comfortable, insulated, "rich" areas are a much harder field to plough. As John says, once a particular limit is reached - a limit which I would say is between 120 to 150 people in a congregation - then no further growth of ministry is possible, by a particular priest. (Of course, what this means is that the model of ministry needs to change: George Herbert must be killed.)

One last thing: John did a survey of parishes in his Episcopal area (which is the same as mine) and says "...there was actually a correlation between electoral roll size and parish population — but only until the parish population reached about 4,000. Below this number, a smaller parish population correlated with a smaller electoral roll. Once the electoral roll reached (on average) 110, however, an increase in parish population saw no corresponding increase in the electoral roll. Parishes of 7,000 and parishes of 17,000 still tended to have churches with electoral rolls of around 110." This applies to Colchester Deanery, where the average ratio of full-time stipendiary to congregation is 1:110, but not to Mersea, where the ratio is 1:320 (total population c.9,000)! I had a long chat with my bishop about this, and we agreed that a) my ministry cannot replicate what has gone before (and it is self-destructive to try), and, b) Mersea is something of a pioneer, in that what is happening here is going to happen everywhere else before long.

Some relevant older posts: on workload, killing George Herbert and specifically on the size of this benefice.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Some recent films

Not worth bothering with a separate post for each; I still want to use the blog to keep a record of the films I see, but I don't need to say more than the minimum!
Don't mess with the Zohan 3/5 (very silly)
City of Ember 3.5/5 (solid family fare)
Role Models 3.5/5 (sweet)
Species: Awakening 2.5/5 (I have a new appreciation for what 'straight to video' means!)
Skinwalkers 2/5 (one of the worst scripts I've ever experienced, with absolutely no care and attention to, or even awareness of, werewolf lore)
Saw V 3/5 (better than expected)



Monday, December 07, 2009


Why there are so few men in church:
"There was another baneful consequence springing this time from the newly acquired professional standards of the clergy and their desire to see the ideals they had come to regard as obligatory to their calling practised in their parishes. In their path, to take one of the most dramatic examples, lay the haphazard independence of the gloriously unprofessional, unapologetically male, fiercely proud and deeply culturally entrenched world of church bands so affectionately and movingly described by George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. The bands however could not long withstand the more refined, middle-class sensibilities of college-trained clergy. These modern clergy preferred ‘organ-music to any other’. It was cultural imperialism just as insensitive as any imposed by missionaries in ‘darkest Africa’. And with very baneful consequences. For in came organs and in came choirs. And out went men. ‘[F]or the first time in their lives’, Hardy observed of the male musicians in church after their displacement, ‘they all felt awkward, out of place, abashed, and inconvenienced by their hands’. And that tragic cultural displacement was permanent. Men have not returned. The balance shifted for the clergy ‘decisively away from their congregations to themselves. Whatever the wishes of the villagers, Anglican services became more dignified, more feminine and more clerical.’ And, as they did so, they created a special Anglican worship ambience – grand, beautiful and reverent perhaps – but ever more remote from ordinary people, particularly men."
Found here (pdf) (Original found linked on John Richardson's blog).

Friday, December 04, 2009

Art and Christianity

Jon has tagged me with another meme. This one is: "To list an artwork, drama, piece of music, novel, and poem that you think each express something of the essence of Christianity and for each one explain why. Then tag five other people."

Artwork: Resurrection, Cookham by Stanley Spencer. This has always struck me as the perfect expression of Easter in Ordinary.
Drama: Magnolia (assuming that 'drama' isn't restricted to the stage). A warts'n'all portrayal of modern life, which nevertheless contains the rumour of grace and forgiveness.
Music: haven't I said enough about music recently? OK, off the top of my head: Leonard Cohen's Anthem, which I'm listening to a lot at the moment. The light gets in through the cracks; in other words: pride leads to darkness.
Novel: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; I'm thinking especially of the second series and the way in which Covenant's 'poison' is redeemed, which seems authentically orthodox.
Poem: Teach me my God and King, George Herbert - if we do what we do for God, then all shall be well (a theme of mine at the moment)

BTW readers in the UK are strongly recommended to watch this programme on the IPlayer which is highly relevant (and it might not remain up for much longer).

I tag Tess, Joe, Trevor, Byron and especially Alice.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Contemplation in Action (Thomas Merton)

Some extracts from the prologue to his 'Ascent to Truth' (1951) which I have just started reading, and which is doing me the world of good.

"The only thing that can save the world from complete moral collapse is a spiritual revolution. Christianity, by its very nature, demands such a revolution. If Christians would all live up to what they profess to believe, the revolution would happen."

"If Christianity is to prove itself in open rebellion against the standards of the materialist society in which it is fighting for survival, Christians must show more definite signs of that agere contra, that positive 'resistance', which is the heart of the Christian ascetic 'revolution'. The true knowledge of God can be bought only at the price of this resistance."

"If the salvation of society depends, in the long run, on the moral and spiritual health of individuals, the subject of contemplation becomes a vastly important one, since contemplation is one of the indications of spiritual maturity. It is closely allied to sanctity. You cannot save the world merely with a system. You cannot have peace without charity. You cannot have order without saints."

"The Truth man needs is not a philosopher's abstraction, but God Himself. The paradox of contemplation is that God is never really known unless He is also loved. And we cannot love Him unless we do His will. This explains why modern man, who knows so much, is nevertheless ignorant. Because he is without love, modern man fails to see the only Truth that matters and on which all else depends."

"It is useless to study truths about God and lead a life that has nothing in it of the cross of Christ. No one can do such a thing without, in fact, displaying complete ignorance of the meaning of Christianity."

In other words, right contemplation (worship) always of necessity bears fruit in right action (social justice). A commitment to social justice educates and informs right worship, yes, but I would say: the first commandment comes first.

A last word about AGW

I really wasn't going to say anything more about AGW; my list of posts was going to be the last thing because I'm wanting to move on to more interesting things, more spiritually rewarding things... but perhaps a programmatic summary would be of use.

I believe:
1. our present industrialised Western society is going through a great dislocation and that in 10-20 years time we will be in a completely different place.
2. we are called to prepare for this shift; that, for example, it makes eminent good sense to change our patterns of life towards reduced consumption, sustainable energy supplies, localised food and so on. In other words, I think the Transition Town agenda is what needs to be followed.
3. the above is true irrespective of the truth of AGW. However, I think AGW has become a distraction, for the following reasons:
- it is neither the most immediate, nor the most pressing, of the Limits to Growth (Peak Oil is much more immediate and will achieve most of what the anti-AGW advocates recommend; deforestation is probably more pressing);
- the politicisation of the science has obscured what is actually KNOWN about what is presently happening. Clearly the climate is changing, it is probable that human activity is contributing to that change - but the extent of that contribution, the possibility of negative feedbacks in the climate system and, most especially, the reliability of the models used for long-term forecasting (which have not exactly had a good record so far) - all these things are much less certain than the "consensus" would have us believe;
- this politicisation often takes the form of 'apocalypticising', ie forecasting a dread future. I see such apocalypticising as theologically corrupt and corrupting and no Christian should indulge in it as it demonstrates a lack of faith (NB I accuse myself in saying this);
- this lack of faith has a correspondence in a form of ecological Protestant Work Ethic - that if only we can be righteous enough, in the form of reducing our carbon footprints etc, then we can achieve our salvation. This too is sub-Christian.
4. "He has shown you, O Man, what is good." I don't believe that Christians need to be convinced about Global Warming - or about Peak Oil - in order to move towards the way of life that is God's intention for us. The root problems that we face lie in particular idolatries - idolatries of Mammon, of Baal, of our own egotistical choices - and the principal manifestations of those idolatries are our worshipping patterns and our abandonment of social justice. I firmly believe that if the Christian community gets its worship right (especially through recentring upon the Eucharist, our new covenant which renews creation) and - on that basis - gets serious about tackling social injustice both locally and globally, then God will heal the world. In other words, all the environmental crises are but symptoms of the more fundamental spiritual crisis.
5. I am therefore convinced - and this may just be for me and not universal for every Christian - that the most important thing that I can do to alleviate the ecological crisis is help Christians to become serious in their discipleship and pursue all that Jesus taught. If we become the fully human creatures that God intends for us to be, then the creation's groanings will finally cease.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Starbridge insight

One of the things that I have done with my sabbatical time is re-read the six Starbridge novels of Susan Howatch. I first read them in 1994, and I am sure they played a large part in driving my unconscious towards realising my vocation. They have been equally stimulating this time. I particularly liked this description of Jon Darrow, with whom I was once compared by a colleague and friend, and with whom I do identify myself somewhat (especially given these sorts of thoughts):

"Let me now say something about the qualities that made Jon such an original priest. He was a mystic - by which I mean he was one of that army of people, existing in all religions, who understand themselves and the world in the light of direct experiences of God. Such people do not fit easily into conventional ecclesiastical structures, as their individuality is at odds with institutional life, but the best Christian mystics, the ones who have been able to explore their special knowledge of God to the full by attaining a holy, disciplined life, are always those who have managed to integrate themselves into the institutional life of the Church. The mystic who insists on steering his own course runs the risk of isolation, self-centredness and delusions of grandeur, and this is never more true than for those mystics who are psychics..."

Some of my resolutions from the sabbatical are: a renewed commitment to attaining a holy and disciplined life, an acceptance of the institution (for better or worse) and, indeed, a desire to avoid isolation, self-centredness and my delusions of grandeur.

God is good.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

World in Conflict (PC game)

Quite fun, but not a patch on Bioshock. It might have been better if I'd explored the multi-player aspects but life is too short! 3/5
Now that I'm rediscovering the joy of playing and being silly, I can start to see a PS3 on the horizon (on which I shall play Bioshock 2). Not until I've finished the book though!


Some links.
On the AGW front: Richard Lindzen in the WSJ, and a statistician I've just discovered. Both excellent.
55 real things to worry about.

High Gold prices - it's the oil, stupid.
One of my favourite Oil Drum writers (read the link as it's relevant to the CRU debacle) has started his own blog.

My posts on Obama

I'm not a fan of President Obama. Here are some of the things I've written:

Cloverfield, Obama and Islamists (from Feb 2008, even before he gained the nomination)
Random thoughts about Obama (Oct 08)
A sequence written after his election:
On President Obama 1
On President Obama 2
On President Obama 3
On President Obama 4
On President Obama 5

A very brief review of Dreams from My Father

Unless he changes course in the next year or so, I think he will go down as one of the worst presidents in US history - and he's up against some stiff competition! Including GW Bush, of whom I am not a fan.

My AGW posts

This is an index of my posts on AGW, for ease of access.

A summary of where I'm coming from
Climate change is a secondary issue
Two steps towards climate change scepticism (when my thoughts were still in flux)
Why am I an AGW sceptic?
The historic link between CO2 and temperature
Something brief on AGW
Some thoughts on climate change and Peak Oil
My first stirrings of scepticism in 2006

And some broader posts to put that scepticism into context (the important thing is that I very much accept and endorse the broader Limits to Growth argument):
Babylon at the gates
That time has come and gone my friend
Why bother saving the planet?

For a full exposition of my point of view on all this go to my talks (which will hopefully become a book before too long).