Friday, December 31, 2010

So that was 2010

2010 has been a good year :)

Best thing about the year was the arrival of child #4 - a bit nerve-wracking to begin with, but she's doing fine now. Definitely the last one!

Worst thing was probably the national press & TV catching up with last year's events.

I managed to sail quite a bit - but have come to the conclusion that the boat just has to be sold, as we need a second car and can't afford to run both (can't really afford the boat at all... took three years to work that out!) Probably going to sell the motorbike too - no point having that and a car.

Managed to get some interest in my book from publishers, but nothing substantial yet. I'll keep plugging away at that in the background.

Carried on with therapy on a weekly basis - I think I'm much calmer than I was.

Had a bit of a wobble in September and thought about leaving Mersea (tempted by a couple of jobs) but dearly beloved put me back on the straight and narrow path, TBTG :) I am starting to 'fizz' again with lots of ideas for things that might be done over the next several years.

Carried on watching films and some TV series - got up to date with Doctor Who, also enjoyed Lost and Fringe, Dexter most of all :) I dropped Sky Sports (which I miss) and Sky Movies - replaced the latter with Lovefilm which, on the whole, I'm happy with so far.

Also bought a PS3, so that I could play Bioshock 2 (brilliant) and several others. Just finished Red Dead Redemption - review to come.

I started to lose weight - from a high of 17 stone 10 pounds I did get down to 15 stone 10 pounds, but have been stable at just under 16 for the last six weeks or so (despite indulgence at Christmas!). Definite challenge for the New Year will be to carry on losing the weight, and also to get back into the habit of regular exercise.

Had a shave. And a haircut.

I feel that there has been an awful lot going on underneath the surface. I have high hopes for what 2011 will bring.

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mourinho's bitter legacy

So Rafa has been sacked. Well how do you follow the special one? Similar problems with Avram Grant and Big Phil.

Is it not the case, though, that a true measure of greatness is less how much success you are able to drive through by force of personality and talent, but rather how much success others are able to enjoy once you have gone?

In other words, rather than be proud of a large catch of fish, is it not better to leave a legacy of many fishermen?

(I'm not doubting Mourinho's innate ability, just saying that he needs to stay somewhere for the long run.)

Fifteen films meme

This is an interesting one (from Khanya). "The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen films you’ve seen that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen films you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes."

Not in order of preference.
1. American Beauty (as I've just reposted a 'review' of it!)
2. Blade Runner
3. Magnolia
4. Fight Club
5. First Blood
6. Life of Brian
7. An American Werewolf in London
8. Un Couer en Hiver
9. Star Wars
10. Vanilla Sky
11. The Matrix
12. The Truman Show
13. Lawrence of Arabia
14. The Passion of the Christ
15. Good Will Hunting

If you read this, consider yourself tagged.

Why I like 'American Beauty'

A talk given to a church film group, Feast of the Epiphany 2001 (first blogged 17th July 2005)

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, when the three Kings came to worship the infant Jesus and give him presents. At least, that is how we celebrate it in the Western church. What Epiphany is really about is the manifestation of God in human form, the word made flesh, the incarnation. In other words, it continues and completes the theme of Christmas as a whole. So what does this have to do with a film about someone who, in his daughter’s words, is a ‘lame-o’, ‘some horny geek-boy who’s gonna spray his shorts whenever [she] brings a girlfriend home from school’?

That’s what I want to say a few things about today. But a general point to begin with: I really enjoy watching films, primarily for their narrative content, but also – under Rolanda’s influence – for more filmic qualities as well. Narrative is for me the clearest vehicle for teaching anything about theology: if nothing else, theology is about human meaning, and the only way we can really absorb it is if we see it lived out through a story. So, if this works out OK and is of interest, there may well be further ‘showings’ when I indulge my own interests, and teach theology through film.

So, back to the horny geek-boy. American Beauty is about a man who saves his soul – it is a story of redemption. Lester is a man who has ‘lost something’ – he feels sedated, as if he has been in a coma for twenty years. He is estranged from his wife and daughter, but, just as important, he is completely estranged from himself, from his own passions. His wife and daughter think that he is a loser – and he doesn’t fight that assessment. He has given up. At the end of the film, this has all changed. In his own words, he’s ‘great’. So, how did this change come about?

The moment when the ice cracked was when he saw this sixteen year old nymphet dancing as a cheerleader. As is shown quite clearly in the film, this is a revelation to Lester, a true Epiphany. He sees something glorious and it sparks his passions into life, he starts to desire something again. Now, put to one side for the moment the questionable nature of this attraction, we can come back to that in our discussion afterwards. What I want to emphasise is that his desires are reawakened; in other words, his instinctual, bodily, carnal appetites.

Now, there is quite a good tradition in Christian thinking, which tends to get systematically overlooked in Western culture, about desire as the means to approach God. And desire is rooted in sexual attraction. This doesn’t mean that all our aesthetics, our understanding of beauty, can be reduced in Freudian fashion to misplaced sexual urges; it is to say that our sexuality is a gift, and a foundation for what can come later. In other words, what I am saying is the precise opposite of what Western Christian teaching has often held to be the case: that our sexuality is a dangerous inheritance from the fall, which must be repudiated or at the very least disciplined into submission. On the contrary, our desire is often a path to God, if we can but be honest about our true desires. Think of Augustine’s famous saying, Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

“…There may be higher states of vision. It may be possible ultimately to love God free from all form. But it is certainly better for man to love God in a form to which he can respond, and which has meaning for him, than it is to imagine he is loving a formless God when really he is simply committed to a spiritual vacuum. For in this way – in this loving of the divine in the creature – he is at least in touch with the Divinity. It is not for nothing that the great Andalusian spiritual master, Ibn Arabi, can say that the sages who enjoy the most perfect vision of God are those who can contemplate him in a woman.”
(Philip Sherrard, Christianity and Eros)

The whole point of the incarnation is that God can be found in the things of this world, if only we see them the right way.

So, back to Lester. Lester is having a mid-life crisis, and realising that all the things which he has been working for these past twenty years are actually worthless. This comes out most in the conversation he has with his wife, the opportunity for a reconciliation lost because of the importance of keeping a couch pristine. Although his wife’s character, like almost all in the film, is somewhat stereotypical they are fleshed out enough to be believable. And in this film the wife stands for a certain materialistic, career oriented ambition: her desires are focused on the world, her child raising is geared around success – ‘you didn’t screw up once’ – and material wealth ‘when I was your age…’ and even her adultery is lensed through her career goals. This is what Lester is walking away from. I think it appropriately symbolic that the first time we see him he is masturbating in the shower, the high point of his day. He is completely enclosed within himself.

Now the tagline of the film was ‘look closer’, and this is brought out most clearly with the video of the bag blowing in the wind. Ricky, remember, is the one who teaches Lester to let go, to the extent of seeking a job with the minimum amount of responsibility. He has what for me is the most important line in the film. When he is talking to Jane about why he films the things that he does, he says ‘When you see something like that, it’s like God is looking right at you, just for a second. And if you’re careful, you can look right back’. Jane asks what he sees, and the answer is simple: ‘beauty’. Ricky has what can be quite strictly characterised as a mystical outlook on life. All things hang together, they are meaningful and they are beautiful. In the course of the film, Lester absorbs this perspective, so much that by the end of the film, after he has been murdered, he is able to give thanks for ‘every single moment of my stupid little life’.

Some people commented to me that they were upset that Lester is killed at the end. To my mind that is a sign that the point has been missed. Our culture is terrified of death – it is the great taboo, and the dark side of the emphasis upon youth and sexuality – a diseased emphasis, to be sure. For me, American Beauty is a profoundly orthodox film – it is informed by a true perspective on the world, which doesn’t accept the values that the world provides, but transcends them. There are of course, other Christian motifs running through the film, but I don’t want to spell everything out. I’d like to finish with another extract from Sherrard:

“…the truth is that our heritage – and in it Christian (or what is called Christian) morality, according to which sexual love is at its best a frailty, at its worst damnation, has played its not insignificant part – has directed us into a way of life, or death, in which this energy is degraded and prostituted on every side. It has directed us into a way of life, or death, in which a person may be born into any one of our proliferating megalopolitan monstrosities and may go through the whole number of his years upon earth without ever once becoming conscious of the beauty of such a simple thing as a tree on the pavement catching the lamplight or as the rain falling.”

Or the beauty of a bag blowing in the wind.

Monday, December 20, 2010


"It was said that so many people had for years past come to confess their sins to Father Zossima and to entreat him for words of advice and healing, that he had acquired the keenest intuition and could tell from an unknown face what a new-comer wanted, and what was the suffering on his conscience. He sometimes astounded and almost alarmed his visitors by his knowledge of their secrets before they had spoken a word.

"Alyosha noticed that many, almost all, went in to the elder for the first time with apprehension and uneasiness, but came out with bright and happy faces. Alyosha was particularly struck by the fact that Father Zossima was not at all stern. On the contrary, he was always almost gay. The monks used to say that he was more drawn to those who were more sinful, and the greater the sinner the more he loved him."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thought for the day (on worship)

When we praise God, we are offering worship - we are saying 'God you are so awesome wonderful amazing' etc.

The important thing is that the praise, the worship is directed towards the object of that worship.

So the language itself is a means to an end. It is the finger pointing at the moon.

So is everything else associated with it - the prayers, the music, the silence.

All those things might be wonderful and worthy of praise in their own right - they might be marvellous language (eg KJV, BCP) - they might be gloriously sublime music (Allegri's Miserere, Tavener) - they might be profoundly affecting silence - but if these means become ends in themselves, if they become the focal point of attention, then whatever is being done is no longer worship.

And when that happens, what the believer needs to do is to go without them, to fast, in order that these wonderful elements might be re-placed into their proper position.

For the excellence of what is offered - when considered separately to the act of offering itself - is a spiritual snare. It is to offer out of an imagined bounty, not to give the widow's mite. It is to say 'I thank you that I'm not like those uncultured heathens with their praise songs (/prayer book societies/ beers'n'hymns/ high mass/ whatever - delete as applicable)'.

I suppose I'm saying: genuine worship begins with 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner'; and 'I am nothing, I am no longer worthy to be called your son'; and also 'yet what I can I give him, give him my heart'.

If we have our attention on God - everything else will fall naturally into place, and everything else will flourish and be excellent. Yet if we have our attention on those excellent things, then they distract us from God, and then we find ourselves bewildered and lost, tied up in sin.

The first commandment must come first.

Augustine had it right - as so often: "Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Growth in discipleship #3

I want to try and answer my own question from the last post in this sequence: "do we provide a context within which people can enter in all sorts of different ways?"

Four different 'shapes' - and recognising that we are all a blend of them: active experimentation ('doing'); concrete experience ('feeling'); reflective observation ('watching' - actually I think 'imagining' is better); and abstract conceptualisation ('thinking'). Let's call them earth, water, fire and air ;o) And of course - and essentially - they all feed into each other.

So what we'd need, to have a healthy environment within which people can grow as disciples, are places where:
- we can get on with the 'doing', eg serving the community - classic example: soup kitchen;
- we can get on with the 'feeling', eg pastoral care - classic example: home visiting;
- we can get on with the 'imagining', eg creative arts and liturgy - classic example: the eucharistic liturgy; and
- we can get on with the 'thinking', eg doing theology - classic example: bible study.

The questions, therefore, are: do these characterisations work to sum up how people can get involved in the faith (these are the different paths by which people can come in - have we covered all the bases?); and - and here's the kicker - what do we have in place by which people can do this?

Here on Mersea, my initial thought is that we are pretty healthy (tho' not perfect!!) on the latter three, but there's quite a gap with the first.

The moral character of beauty

A question asked by RevSimmy in the comments: "the equation of the aesthetic and the moral - i.e. beautiful art/music has a moral effect. Do we agree? Why (/not)?"

I would say: yes, I have no doubt that beauty has an effect on character, partly from watching this programme recently (and I've purchased the book, but haven't read it yet).

Of course, this is a complicated proposal. I happen to think that the Weeping Woman of Picasso is also tremendously beneficial to character - but I'm not sure I would count it as beautiful, even though I could (and have) spent ages contemplating it.

I feel on stronger ground when thinking about architecture - I think the living environment affects how we live, both directly and indirectly.

And of course music....

What do people think?

Scruton's programme is available on Youtube, part 1 here:


R Vaughan Williams' preface to the 1906 English Hymnal.

Fascinating stuff.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The original plan was...

Had to dig out the original 'parish profile' for the Mersea benefice - all sorts of fascinating stuff in it - but included was my original application to the clergy appointments adviser when I was looking for a job somewhere.

Question on form: "What is the meaning of your ministry and where do you think God is calling you in the future? In other words, 'What are you realistically looking for?'"

My answer:
"I would say that the centre of my vocation is 'the ministry of word and sacrament' - hackneyed, but true nonetheless. I believe that I have particular gifts in the sphere of teaching and writing, structured by a strong academic training but rooted deeply in orthodox Anglican Christianity, seeking to express itself through following the teaching and example of the Christian mystics. My orientation is towards the church and cloister, not the academy.

"I seek for these gifts to bear fruit in a Eucharistic community: where I can talk the talk, walk the walk, and, by God's grace, kneel the kneel also. My most fundamental motivations are pastoral, and I view Eucharistic ministry as the opposite side of that pastoral coin - they are one thing, viewed from different sides. I am competent at public liturgy and practical administration, and I would wish to develop my potential in these spheres. I am less good at 'Youth Ministry' - partly from my deafness, partly from temperament, partly from doubt as to its validity. I am also not the best at polishing practical details or at tying up loose ends and finishing jobs.

"I conclude that I need the following: a Eucharistic community, in which I can exercise my priestly ministry. A balance of life between different elements of public engagement, pastoral ministry and private prayer. The ability to develop as a contemplative and teacher of the faith. A chance to put down roots and cultivate 'stabilitas'. The possibility of training as a spiritual director in due course. Such a combination might be found in various different guises and I have no determined sense about what shape it will take. My ideal would be a small parish of my own on the East coast. I am sure that God will make his intentions clear to me at the appropriate moment."

Not sure I'd say much different today.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Some links:
Matthew Burrows (Jon Evens - are you familiar with him?)

How much coal is left? Not a lot. More than we think. Both stories from The Oil Drum, probably the best energy blog on the planet.

Why free online lectures will destroy universities.

A throwback look to my favourite film (Magnolia).

Bishops urged to take up social media. Perhaps one will become as good as Sarah Palin.

The crisis of the American intellectual.

And finally, here is something ("Disinviting Islam") which I need to emphasise that I don't fully agree with, but the response will take some time to flesh out - and will be on my other blog.

Film notes

Cemetery Junction 3/5 Sweet
Where the Truth Lies 4/5 Oddly fascinating (not as good as Sweet Hereafter)
Enter the Dragon 3/5 reliving my adolescent Bruce Lee fandom
Fantastic Mr Fox 4/5 cleverly done
Diary of the Dead 5/5 owned this for about 18 months but put off watching it as I had very low expectations after the reviews, but thought it was great - can now see where Walking Dead got some of their ideas from (unless both were from the original graphic novel). Romero on form - but, obviously, for fans only.
Nine 2.5/5 Turned this off after half an hour. All the tinsel and none of the tree.
A Perfect Getaway 3.5/5 Surprisingly watchable. Also surprised to see some genuine acting skill from Milla Jovovich - I'm used to her Resident Evil persona, so nice to see her being human.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

One Artist meme

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, answer these questions. Be as clever as you can. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think...

Pick your Artist: Martyn Joseph

Describe yourself: Liberal Backslider

How do you feel: I have come to sing

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Vegas

Your favourite form of transportation: Walk down the mountain

Your best friend is a: Gift to me

You and your best friends are: Contradictions

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called: Whoever it was that brought me here will have to take me home

What is life to you: This fragile world

Your current relationship: My love, my life

Your fear: Nobody loves you anymore

What is the best advice you have to give: Kiss the world beautiful

I would like to die: Carried in sunlight

Time of day: Let's talk about it in the morning

My motto: Yet still this will not be

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cruel leniency

“Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine of life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”
(Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

Something I'm pondering.

What I really think about the student fees controversy

"In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside...

I am quite aware that we have just now lightheartedly expelled in imagination many excellent men who are largely, perhaps chiefly, responsible for the buildings of the temple of science; and in many cases our angel would find it a pretty ticklish job to decide. But of one thing I feel sure: if the types we have just expelled were the only types there were, the temple would never have come to be, any more than a forest can grow which consists of nothing but creepers. For these people any sphere of human activity will do, if it comes to a point; whether they become engineers, officers, tradesmen, or scientists depends on circumstances. Now let us have another look at those who have found favor with the angel. Most of them are somewhat odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows, really less like each other, in spite of these common characteristics, than the hosts of the rejected. What has brought them to the temple? That is a difficult question and no single answer will cover it. To begin with, I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought; this desire may be compared with the townsman's irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity...

The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshiper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart...."

(Albert Einstein, here)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sacralized spectating

My new subtitle for the blog, the explanation for which can be found in this old post, and, a bit more technically, here.

I think I am finally starting to move. That is, I know where I need to plod to...

This ancient holy island

I've been thinking about an article I read in the local paper recently, which discussed the creation of 'The Strood' - which is the causeway that links Mersea Island with the island of Great Britain. I now discover that the article can be found on the Mersea Museum website here, and it references an academic article that can be found here (pdf).

Key points:

- the Strood was not built by the Romans, but by the Anglo-Saxons;
- it can be fairly firmly dated, to between 684 and 702 AD;
- the creation of the Strood would have been a major engineering project which "suggests the presence on the island of a sufficiently important feature to merit such a structure and also a substantial financial expenditure on the part of somebody or some organisation able to afford it";
- Essex at this time was an independent Kingdom (and so it should be again!);
- the King of Essex at the relevant time was Saint Sebbi;
- we know that the Anglo-Saxons founded a Minster church, of Benedictine character (linked with Rouen if memory serves) on the Island, probably in the 'early 8th century';

all leading to the slightly speculative conclusion "What can be more likely than that the saintly King Sebbi took a personal interest in the construction of the minster church at Mersea?"

A Minster church, of Benedictine character, founded by one who was "much addicted to religious actions, almsgiving, and frequent prayer".

I find it remarkable how a place can have a particular spirit - and, unknowing of all this, it's uncanny how it ties in to what I've been pursuing in the benefice over the last couple of years, especially my sense that the Rule of St Benedict provides all that the parish needs.

So. Society of Saint Sebbi anyone? (Feast day is August 29 - clashes with Greenbelt!!)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gandalf's Hope

I'm setting up another new blog, called 'Gandalf's Hope'; I want a place to park my more political rantings, and I think there is an argument for specialising. As with my other blogs, there will normally be a link here to what is posted there (it'll begin simply with transferring some old political posts to that venue).

Embracing St Benedict (as opposed to Killing George Herbert)

This is from his Rule, on 'The Character of the Abbot':

“It is seemly for the abbot to be ever doing some good for his brethren rather than to be presiding over them. He must, therefore, be learned in the law of God, that he may know whence to bring forth things new and old; he must be chaste, sober, and merciful, ever preferring mercy to justice, that he himself may obtain mercy. Let him hate sin and love the brethren. And even in his corrections, let him act with prudence, and not go too far, lest while he seek too eagerly to scrape off the rust, the vessel be broken. Let him keep his own frailty ever before his eyes, and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken. And by this we do not mean that he should suffer vices to grow up; but that prudently and with charity he should cut them off, in the way he shall see best for each, as we have already said; and let him study rather to be loved than feared. Let him not be violent nor over anxious, not exacting nor obstinate, not jealous nor prone to suspicion, or else he will never be at rest. In all his commands, whether spiritual or temporal, let him be prudent and considerate. In the works which he imposes let him be discreet and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, when he said: 'If I cause my flocks to be overdriven, they will all perish in one day'. Taking, then, such testimonies as are borne by these and the like words to discretion, the mother of virtues, let him so temper all things, that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak nothing at which to take alarm.”

That's an ideal I could aim at.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Growth in discipleship 2

Lots of interesting comments on my first post on this, here and on Facebook. I'll concentrate on the things that I agree with.

First: learning styles. Yes, this absolutely needs to be taken into account. One model that I've liked is this one:

Second: the list in the last post can be jumbled up and shuffled around - it's not a linear process I mostly agree with this, but not totally.

Put these two together and we'd have more of a spiral staircase, with lots of different access points. So the question becomes - do we provide a context within which people can enter in all sorts of different ways?

Those learning styles: Activist - Theorist - Reflector - Pragmatist. How do they fit into 'learning how to be a Christian'?

Third: a comment from Tim on FB, "The problem as I see it is that the NT does not present the apostles and early missionaries as leading Christians through ten-week courses. This doesn't mean that they didn't grow disciples, though. I tried the 'course' approach for years and it just didn't work for anything more than a minority of people in our context. I also noted that even those who had been through the courses were not necessarily practising the disciplines they had learned about. So I've come to the conclusion that the old-fashioned one-on-one approach may well be best. It seems to be working better for me anyway." I liked this a lot, not least because it chimed with my last talk on St Benedict, wherein he described what the Abbot was supposed to do (how he was supposed to be) which was to focus on the monks as individuals. Raises the ghost of George Herbert again though...

So "What would Jesus do?" - in the ASB ordinal the priest is enjoined to 'set the Good Shepherd always before [you] as the pattern of [your] calling'. I can see the following:
- plenty of private prayer time and solitude getting intimate with the Father;
- work with a small group of the 'inner three';
- work with a small group of 'the twelve';
- work with a wider group of disciples (and where Mary Mag?)
- generalised teaching to crowds primarily with parables but also with healing/exorcisms
- prophetic drama and public debate with the religious authorities.

I would say that he modelled a particular understanding of faith, and lived it in the circumstances in which he found himself.

(I'm not sure that he did much of what might today be called 'public service' or 'good works' - that seems to be a liberal distraction - things that make us 'good people' rather than 'people of God' - not that there's anything wrong with being a 'good person'!)

OK time run out; still thinking about this; more later.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Christmas list for Santa (for Chelsea!)

Dear Santa,

I know that Chelsea are not necessarily numbered amongst the 'good boys' but in case you're able to drop some presents down their chimney, I thought I'd send you this list anyway.

1. Carlo Ancelotti stays in post. We really don't need any more messiness at the club. I realise it's a bit of a forlorn hope, but it's #1 on this list for a reason.

2. An established English centre-back in their mid twenties. We have a bit of a hole in our team structure, and one of these would certainly fill it (Gary Cahill for preference).

3. An established striker in their early/mid twenties. Drogba is great, Anelka is marvellous, but they're both the wrong side of 30 and we need someone in between them and the Sturridges of this world. That's why it would have been great to have claimed Rooney - however unrealistic - it showed up the gap.

Not much then :) Thanks for reading,

A Chelski fan

My posts on Palin

Prior to a lengthy review of America By Heart, which I greatly enjoyed.

First comment - and I really should avoid predictions(!)
Alaskan values and the character of leadership
A bit more about Palin
Our image of Palin
On disagreeing with Mrs Palin
My review of Going Rogue: A Woman of Substance

And a general one: some political confessions.

I never expected the gray champion to wear lipstick.

Growth in discipleship

If you go to a school of Martial Arts, there is a clear structure describing how you grow from a complete beginner to someone who has proficiency (helpfully marked out by different coloured belts). The same scheme applies in all sorts of other areas. It doesn't really apply in the church, and I wonder if that is a problem. In other words, I wonder if a clear structure setting out how we understand what it means to grow as a Christian would be of some use. As a first sketch, how about this:



Confirmation course and confirmation

House groups and regular attendance at worship

Private prayer and becoming comfortable with silence

Regular and formal bible study, also some doctrine and church history

Service to church

Service to community

What do people think? What is missing?

Of course, having something like this offends against all sorts of shibboleths, eg that we are all of equal value in the sight of the Lord (true, but irrelevant). It begs the question of whether it is possible to be more 'advanced' in the faith than others. Yet I don't believe anyone actually thinks that there isn't a difference - it's just that it is only acceptable to talk about such differences when the people being mentioned are a long way away, either in time or space.

I can't avoid thinking that there is a distinct gap in our formation of new disciples, and we need something to plug that gap. (NB I'm aware that the Emmaus course covers much of this).

Friday, December 03, 2010

How I think the church will grow

"Indians had learned to look on us missionaries as friends, as people who would help them, and as good workers, but they had not yet learned to look on us as men and women of God." (Quoted in Praying Hyde).

The church will grow when people perceive that here there are men and women of God.

And that will come about when we become men and women of God.

And that will come about when we put the first commandment first.

Let us pray.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Ah, Church

Found this from here, via Graham, and thought I'd share it as it impinges on several conversations being had within the benefice:

Here is a step-by-step plan for how to get more young people into the church:

1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.

2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.

3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.

4. Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.

5. Stop looking for the "objective truth" in Scripture.

6. Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.

7. Actually read the Scriptures. If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it. Start in Genesis, it's pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don't worry: during those ten years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.

8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.

9. Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By "extraordinary music" I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants. Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel. We are the church; we have a uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.

10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

11. Learn how to sit with people who are dying.

12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.

13. Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.

14. Be vulnerable.

15. Stop worrying about getting young people into the church. Stop worrying about marketing strategies. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn't going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.

16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.

17. Remind yourself that you don't have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.

18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being-together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.

19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.

20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions.


No comments for now, although I don't agree with all of it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shutter Island

I would count myself as a Scorcese admirer rather than fan - I greatly enjoy his films, but I haven't seen all of them (eg The Aviator). This, however, seems to me to be his best yet, principally because I found it so orthodox - thanks to the last line of dialogue, which raises it from 4/5 to 5/5. Grim, but wonderful, and with some profound lessons for our culture. Highly recommended.

Wake Up!!

"This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." (Romans 13.11 NLT)

Inspired by reading this before taking a service this morning.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Film notes

Triangle - 5/5 and I bet you've never heard of it! Not a horror, more of a mystery-thriller like 'Memento', very clever script, highly recommended.
Red - 4/5 - Helen Mirren with a Gatling gun, oh yes.
Harry Potter 7.1 - 4/5 - satisfying
Legion - 3/5 - entertaining hokum
The Book of Eli - 4/5 - visually interesting, plot solid without being great
Edge of Darkness - 3/5 - Mel being Mel
Into the Wild - ?/5 - I turned it off after 15 minutes as I wasn't in the mood to watch some adolescent being obnoxious and stupid for the next two hours - might go back to it one day
Holes - 4/5 - satisfying family film with a good message (older children)
Invictus - 3/5 - OK
The Box - 4/5 - I'd like to rewatch this at a later date, the rating might rise to 5/5; the trouble with movies like that is that they are too clever for the mainstream audience at which they are pitched (says the very low-brow Rector!!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some brief thoughts about episcopal kerfuffles and covenants

1. Poor +Pete.
2. It is perfectly legitimate to take the oath of allegiance whilst maintaining Republican views - at least, that was my belief when I took them, even though I wouldn't describe myself as anything like a republican (in the UK sense) these days.
3. The problem with +Pete's remarks, as compared to, say, spouting rampant heresy or nonsense, is that they were immediately and directly hurtful to the couple concerned. I don't think it is wrong to have a higher standard with regard to pastoral care than doctrine (even though, in the long run, maintaining right doctrine is the foremost pastoral task of a Bishop). 1 Timothy 3.2 is also relevant.
4. The Daily Hate-mail is an odious and obnoxious organ, which faithful Christians need to ignore, for the sake of their spiritual health (even if I take great interest in reading some of their columnists, like Peter Hitchens).
5. Rowan called on the new Synod to have a grown up conversation theologically. He also talked about the 'realities' of the situation. One reality of the situation that he did not address is that the US church and the GAFCON churches will not enter into a meaningful covenant together. It is therefore disingenuous of him to plead that we acknowledge a reality whilst not being real himself. Either he takes the high road of calling for more Christian behaviour from everyone (which would carry authority from him), or he takes the pragmatic path of saying 'this is our bed and we have to lie in it'. Straddling the fence in the way that he does is uncomfortable for him and catastrophic for us.
6. The pragmatic choice facing the church is not, therefore, between 'division' and 'no division' but rather 'where shall the division fall?'. Having an honest and direct conversation on that subject would be much more helpful than the frankly abstract and legalistic semi-theological ramblings that we've endured so far.
7. There was a distinct whiff of fear being stoked to drive the conversation forwards - if we don't do this then terrible things will happen (vaguely defined). Fear is the opposite of faith and therefore a good indicator of what it would be a mistake to do.
8. Much of what Rowan said amounted to a plea to trust him. Sorry, no. I revere him and consider him a holy man in all sorts of ways, but on this issue I do not trust his priorities, so the appeal fails.

All of which makes me a little sad this morning.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Go read Tim, and, a thought on the Anglican Covenant

Tim has started a really interesting series on 'The Anglican Way of Following Jesus', kicking off here, which looks to be really good (not least as Tim is so heavily tempted by/ influenced by the Anabaptist tradition).

However... (you knew that was coming) I wanted to pick up on something that Tim wrote: "We agreed that we were both heartily sick of hearing about the Anglican covenant (from both its supporters and its detractors)". I can understand that, it's not as interesting or as soul-feeding as all the things that Tim will be writing about, but I want to argue that it is something important to consider - or, perhaps better, I want to describe the way in which it is important to consider it.

Consider the small print:
This is for aspirin - that all-round miraculous wonder-drug. For the vast majority of people in the vast majority of cases, all you need to know is to take one or two three or four times a day, and your pain will be eased.

In the same way, when it comes to the faith, all you need to know in the vast majority of cases is 'Jesus is Lord', and then 'take the pill', ie apply it in your own life - and then your pain will be eased.

The small print is there to give much fuller and much more specific guidance; it sets out what the aspirin is for, and it outlines how it is possible to abuse the aspirin, possibly in life-threatening ways. It is not intended to cover 'normal use' - it is designed for those who have some understanding of the drug (and to cover the company's back in case of a lawsuit of course!) and need to know more specific details about how and when to use aspirin.

I think the Anglican Covenant is like the small print (I think the Creed is, too). It is not for 'normal' time, it is for the exceptions, the times at the margins, it is precisely an 'in-house' conversation. And yet, for all that, this is why it is important. If you get the small print on drugs wrong, it is likely that people will die. If you get the small print on the Covenant wrong, it is also likely that people will die - spiritually (and, actually, sometimes physically too).

That's why we argue about it, and that is the nature of its importance.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Absolutely superb, and I was thinking about it for ages afterwards in order to come to my own conclusions about the question at hand! 5/5

(In that alternate universe where they were making a film of my life, PSH would be the one playing me...)

Dark Caves and Dark Waters

I've updated one of my other blogs - the one that has the Courier articles - so my recent sequence of 3 on general spiritual questions is now available there.

Struggling with Satan

Fifteen songs meme

1) Turn on your MP3 player or music player on your computer.
2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode.
3) Write down the first 15 songs that come up–song title and artist–NO editing/cheating, please.

1. Must I paint you a picture - Billy Bragg
2. Way Down - Elvis Presley
3. Pater Noster - Gesange Aus Taize
4. Exsultate Deo - Westminster Cathedral Choir
5. Beethoven symphony #2, 1st Movement - Berlin Phil (I think - conducted by von Karajan anyway)
6. See now he sleepeth - from Mendelssohn's Elijah
7. Track 20 from Carmina Burana
8. Smackwater Jack - Carole King
9. What you never know - Sarah Brightman
10. Tahi Nei Taru Kano (Maori Folk Song) - Kiri te Kanawa
11. Glory to Thee, my God this night - King's College Choir
12. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny/Misirlou - Pulp Fiction Soundtrack a particularly entertaining jump in mood ;)
13. You can't lose what you ain't never had - Muddy Waters
14. What is love? - Haddaway
15. Space Walking (demo) - After The Fire

No tags.

Monday, November 15, 2010


As it's been a while since I put one up...

One link today - go and have a listen to the track(s) at MadPriest's place, which is a long time favourite of mine - I even referenced it in conversation last week.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My head hurts

I've put a couple of recent sermons up on my other blog (link to the left) - a short funeral address, and today's Remembrance Day sermon, which seemed to be well received.

Life is incredibly busy at the moment (with lots of good things as well as work!), but I can see a glimmer of space in the middle of this week coming up when I should be able to engage with various questions that I've left hanging. Believe it when you see it though...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Short thoughts 2 - responding to Orlov's pessimism on Peak Oil

Dmitri Orlov has written an excellent article here, which I'd recommend reading, the gist of which is that the 'descent' of oil production will be much steeper than the standard Peak Oil analysis expects. I have no dispute with his analysis, so far as it goes. I agree that reserves are overstated (and we have front-loaded the extraction); that the Export-Land problem is very serious; that EROEI will exponentially reduce the available of energy as such oil as is extracted; and that there will be systemic break-downs of the infrastructure needed to extract oil. All of which makes me think that, taken together, we (average Westerners) are looking at severe oil scarcity within about ten years (possibly sooner) and that, if we haven't as a society shifted away from oil-dependency, then our future is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

So why do I think his pessimism is overdone? Two principal reasons, one specific, one (flowing from the first) more abstract.

The specific reason why I believe the pessimism is overdone is that our culture is massively wasteful of energy. Take transportation: most cars in most morning commutes carry a single occupant, when they were designed to take four. Setting up car-sharing agreements is technologically straightforward and would have all sorts of wider social benefits in addition to the reduction in petrol consumption. In other words, this is an 'easy win' - and it is an easy win that can be adopted rapidly, which means that it buys time to deal with the more fundamental issues, which is the most crucial point. There are other easy wins (like home insulation, CHP) along with some other not-so-easy-but-very-likely-to-happen 'wins' like: we'll be colder in the winter and have to wear more jumpers rather than turning up the thermostat. My 'wild-assed-guess' is that we (the UK) could face a 50% reduction in the availability of oil and just about keep the show on the road - not without a great deal of hardship, and not without having to rely on a very great deal of social solidarity and rationing etc - but I think we could do it.

Now this is just a temporary fix - it will give us, I would guess, ten to fifteen years of time 'coping' with Peak Oil - which leads to my more abstract grounds for optimism, which is that the Western way of life is dynamic, not static. The greatest problems facing our civilisation are not technical, they are social, political and spiritual, and the biggest problem of all is a refusal to face up to the reality of our predicament. If my first point is anywhere near true, then the one certain thing that will flow from it is that people will realise the nature of our crisis and, in typical human fashion, respond rapidly and adaptably. When motivated, we are able to do all sorts of ingenious things, the best example of which is probably the retooling of our factories in order to fight WW2.

To my mind, the issue is not whether the world as we know it is coming to an end (it is, we will see [DV] the end of a society based around the assumption of perpetual economic growth), nor whether civilisation of some sort will continue on afterwards (I have no doubt that it will). What I ponder is what sort of civilisation will there be to succeed our present one, what values and achievements will we be able to salvage from the wreck of Modern Industrial Civilisation? I am optimistic that we will be able to save a lot - but that is undoubtedly a moot point.

Short thoughts 1 - on the Tea Party

Partly by way of a response to Graham

So far as I can tell, whilst it has its fair share of nutters and cranks, the Tea Party is motivated by fiscal conservatism & a desire for small government - which is pretty mainstream in US politics (some 17% of tea partiers are registered Democrats; only 57% are registered Republicans). They can be as antagonistic to establishment Republicanism (eg the CBC) as to Obama, and seem to mainly want to get the US government to rein back on spending. Which is also pretty reasonable.

The only question might be a prudential one - is now the right time to cut back on state spending, in the midst of recession etc (same question as in UK politics)? My perspective is that this question assumes that the recession is temporary, and relies on the return of growth to escape the consequences of more indebtedness. If you don't believe that we will ever go back to having growth in the same way again - as I don't - then continuing to build up huge debt is a really really bad idea. We can still debate about where and how to cut the spending, but that spending does need to be cut, and cut significantly, that seems straightforward to me.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Some links

I've had a bit of a hectic first week back at work, and my brain is melting down a bit (so Deanery Synod tonight might not be the best idea...) Anyhow, I've been reading a few things - here are some items of interest:

How to cope with your mid-life crisis

Strongly disagreed with this article - I suspect mandatory paternity testing is a good idea...

Third Nolan Batman film will be in 2D (hooray! I hate 3D)

Peak Oil is history - and why it'll be worse than expected (good article, at some point I might write a response explaining why he's too pessimistic)

Catholicism, Conservatism and Capital Punishment. Hmmm.

The crisis of the humanities (read part 2 as well)
and related - so you want to do a humanities PhD? and pushing back on mediocre professors

Giving up football - something I think about a fair deal as well, I've given up Sky football as a start

"liberalism cannot defend corporate religious freedom"

Peter Hacker (one of my fave philosophers) on neuroscience

Overconfidence in the IPCC

Homophobia is itself an abomination

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Been on holiday...

Holidays, friends - two wonderful things that are even more wonderful when combined. Normal service will resume some time this week.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ollie - updated

Ollie has a lump on his left jaw (you can just about see it on the photo above, taken this afternoon). He has to have an operation tomorrow to remove it (general anaesthetic!!), and have it biopsied. It might just be blocked glands; it might be something a lot worse :(

If it's the sort of thing you do, please say a prayer or two.


He's all clear! Thanks for all concern

Fiona Apple

Discovered this via looking at Paul Thomas Anderson stuff.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I do like it when...

... I read an article that I really agree with :)

"Perhaps the problem isn’t the lack of a narrative, but that the public has formed one already, and it seems to go something like this: A young community-organizer-cum-seminar-leader, having led a sheltered political life in deep blue America, is swept into office on the strength of a financial collapse weeks before the election plus the emotional need for a biracial redeemer. He misreads the country, the times, and his mandate, pushes through plans to turn the country into a social democracy at the exact moment that model is proving unworkable, governs in every way against the will of the people, and proves himself to be a bad politician, a coalition-destroyer, a fish out of water, and over his head."


Britain's defence review and the end of NATO
8 reasons why the UK SDR must not savage the military

Capitalism saved the Chilean miners
Psychobabble didn't

Judith Curry on the specific nature of IPCC overconfidence (part one)

My new favourite blog, Edward Feser with a brilliant analogy for humourless atheists
and a specific rebuttal to Stephen Law's 'God of Evil' argument
More succinctly, Kim Fabricius with twelve swift ripostes to atheists

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reason, emotion, judgement, faith

Here is one of those truisms that I quite like:
"The definition of insanity is to repeatedly do the same thing whilst expecting a different result."
This seems to embody some wisdom - it might be told in order to bring someone trapped in repetitious behaviour to realise that they are doing something wrong, and that if they are unhappy with some aspect of their present situation then they need to change something.

Now compare that with the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider making a web, which generates the truism 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again'. Once more, this seems to embody some wisdom - it might be told in order to encourage someone not to give up, not to be daunted by a sense of failure but to learn to overcome the obstacles in their path and treat triumph and disaster just the same.

My point is not that one of these truisms is 'more true' than the other. My point is that discerning what is appropriate depends upon the faculty of judgement, what Aristotle called φρόνησις phronesis, or practical wisdom.

In my chapter 3 I was quite critical of "reason" - a position that I maintain. "Reason" - as understood in contemporary society - is, to my mind, radically inimical to the cultivation of phronesis. This is due to the idolatrous conception of reason, in particular, the way in which it systematically denigrates the emotional aspects of human life.

Now Scott responded with this comment: "Emotions follow beliefs. That is, they are involuntary reactions we have as things happen to us, but what they are (and how strong) depends on how those things are evaluated (subconsciously) by our beliefs. Hence, they are data that, if we are self-observant, tell us what our beliefs are -- in particular, in this context, what we idolize. But the only way to change beliefs (short of personal revelation -- different data) is through reason."

I disagree with this. I would want to discriminate between "reason" - by which I would understand our capacity to exercise logical thought - and "intellect" which I understand in a much broader sense. Intellect is to my understanding something much more reflective and, indeed, a much more integrated-with-emotion sort of faculty. It is intellect which gives birth to phronesis. In other words, our emotional reactions are not (they do not remain) unconscious - the whole point of spiritual maturity is that the emotions progressively become more integrated into the wider personality.

What I mean by this is that the choice between sanity and Robert the Bruce can be made entirely rational on either side - I see that as simply a sterile working out from whatever premises are chosen, and trivially true. What the intellect can do, however, is work out which of sanity and Robert the Bruce is applicable in the particular instance. This faculty derives from, and is dependent upon, a high degree of self-understanding and awareness with regard to values. It is this faculty which, to my mind, can only result in faith - for all other value commitments end up producing idols. (I don't expect this to be persuasive to those who currently worship such idols, but it makes sense to anyone 'outside the bubble'.)

Which brings me to how this links in with faith. The commitment of Christian faith is that in Jesus Christ we see the truest account of what it means to be human - the image of God in human shape. In other words, Jesus Christ is the idol of the system, in the sense of being the capstone and summation of it. The choice between sanity and Robert the Bruce is one that ends up being drawn into an intellectual reflection that brings Jesus into the conversation (much more could be said in unpacking this - another time).

To walk with a particular faith is to make choices that reveal that the judgements formed derive from a specific set of assumptions and beliefs about the nature of reality; in other words, a Christian faith is displayed by a series of decisions that only make sense if the actor is assumed to believe the truth of the faith. The worth of Christianity is then assessable by the fruits of those decisions made by such actors (called saints in Christian theology).

The saints are those whose capacity for judgement has been built up from the intellectual integration of reason and emotion; or, to put that differently, the emotions of the personality have been trained to love God with all heart, soul, mind and strength. The saint is the one who has been enabled to desire one thing, and thus has purity of heart. That is why they see God.

Cooking up conflict

One of my more barking posts, when I was in my salad days as a blogger, and green in judgement, was predicting World War Three by Easter (of 2006!). I'm very glad to have been wrong, but I still ponder those elements indicated. I think we have all the ingredients of a messy conflict in place - obviously it requires a certain sort of leadership to actually turn those ingredients into a conflict.

Here is a list of some 'thinking out loud' as to the ingredients:

- the US is strong militarily but weak financially; in essence it is a declining empire;
- in contrast, China is strong financially, regionally strong militarily, and is a growing empire.

Tension here is between a USA that won't - possibly for good reasons - be willing to accept a smaller role, esp in East Asia, and a China that is rapidly asserting itself. You have a lot of other regional powers feeling rather nervous about China, who have traditionally looked to the US for leadership.

This part of the ingredients list is not necessarily conflict-inducing - it depends upon the nature of the leadership being deployed on each side.

Next major bit: Islam and the West. The Iranian situation becomes more scary every month, and it doesn't just scare Israel it scares the Arab states too. Throw in the instability in Iraq (and the vast oil wealth there) and the problems in Afghanistan/Pakistan and the West's options seem very restricted. (For what it's worth I have a growing sense that the UK needs to come out of Afghanistan as soon as possible - the costs are getting larger and the benefits getting smaller the longer it goes on). This is a situation that could literally go 'bang' very quickly.

Will China stay out of any Islam vs West conflict? India? Russia?

The way that public opinion in the US seems to be developing is in a more anti-Muslim direction, with all the attendant dangers. I happen to think that more conflict with the khawarij is inevitable, the question is as to how it is done.

Underlying these two major areas of tension is the economic meltdown that is playing out - and will carry on playing out, along with the random acts of God like the Pakistani floods. Peak Oil will be the heat applied to these ingredients, and will likely make everyone's experience worse.

I wouldn't even be surprised if Argentina had another go at the Falklands...

OK, end of pessimistic train of thought.

Free Essex

Originally posted 2006...

I am an Essex boy, born and bred.

Essex has a population of around 1.3m. If it was a state in the US it would lie 40 out of 50, in other words, bigger than Maine, New Hampshire, Montana or Alaska.

It has a GDP of £15bn. That makes it bigger than, for example, Latvia or Bolivia, which have UN representation, and about the same size as Vermont or Wyoming.

All those places carry certain responsibilities. They can elect their governments. They have their own legal systems. They can control their own affairs.

We can't. We're going to end up being controlled by a Scot.

This does not seem just to me.

Is this the beginning of the end for Manchester United?

Just thinking out loud here...

- last season, MU were carried by a great performance by Rooney, which compensated for their loss of their previously best player, Ronaldo;
- MU are already suffering from significant injuries, especially Hargreaves and Valencia;
- there is nobody waiting in the wings to replace Rooney;
- the rest of the team is looking decidedly ropey - as they did last year, but that was hidden behind Rooney's genius.

Of course, the last six months hasn't seen Rooney playing as he did, but why was that? Rushed back too soon after his injury?

So - despite having probably the greatest football manager ever, MU are looking distinctly vulnerable for at least this season - fourth place is by no means unthinkable.

Now add that to the precarious financial situation, whereby success on the field is essential to keep paying down the Glazers' debt, and suddenly what was a virtuous spiral starts to look ominously like a vicious one.

Of course, this is sheer speculation :)

As for where Rooney is going to go, I'm not convinced about Spain. Real Madrid have overspent on forwards, and I can't see Rooney wanting to play second fiddle to Ronaldo again. As for Barca, that would surely be a better fit - but they too have just splashed out on a new striker, and they are cash-strapped. I have a sneaking feeling that he is going to go to Chelsea - he is, after all, six or seven years younger than Drogba, and one of the few people on earth who could conceivably do as good a job...

(Of course 2 - he and Lord Ferg might just kiss and make up, but I think not. Now that it has gone public, I can't see SAF backing down).

Interesting times.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Our journey is just beginning

A repost

The beginning of the film 'Contact' provoked awe when I first watched it, on a trip to Boston in 1997. It is the ultimate in 'pull-back shots', beginning from the surface of the earth and just going back, and back, and back, and back. Out of the solar system, past the heliosphere, through the Milky Way, beyond the point where our galaxy is just a small dot in a haze of other galaxies. I had thought that I had a good sense for the scale of the universe, but when I lost my sense of depth about three-quarters of the way through the sequence, I realised that I had been deluding myself. The sense of scale that we need to try to comprehend when we consider our position in the universe is quite possibly unattainable to the human mind. Our Galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 400 billion stars. There may be 125 billion galaxies in the universe. There are probably more stars than there are grains of sand on earth. I find these numbers meaninglessly large.


(My MA thesis, without footnotes - it's the argument that's important!)

This is my MA thesis on Wittgenstein - the pinnacle of my academic career. (So far ;-)
Having just re-read it, six years after production (now ten years!), I feel rather proud of it. Certainly my thinking hasn't changed, and I think I make a solid case - but then, I would, wouldn't I?

My essay can be summarised as an argument for the following theses:
a) Wittgenstein had a consistent purpose in his philosophical work, composed of two elements –
i) a belief in the ineffability of the mystical, that value cannot be spoken; and
ii) a consequent need to put limits to the realm of philosophy, in order not to distort our understanding of what is of value; and
b) the change from the early to the later Wittgenstein is only concerned with part ii) above, viz. Wittgenstein’s understanding of the nature of philosophy changed (the division between sense and nonsense in the Tractatus mutated into the development of a new method for philosophy in the Investigations) but the rôle of philosophy within his overall thinking remained constant.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Does Anglo-Catholicism have a future?

I've written before about where I think the CofE is headed (see especially here, here, here and, most simply, here). And I'm just wondering... I wonder what future the TEC-sympathetic clergy and congregations have in the CofE? Which is really one way of asking: what is the future for those of us who are Anglo-Catholic in theology and worship and spirituality, but who neither want to go to Rome nor embrace liberal-ish evangelicalism?

I read this post a while back, which made me think a lot. I know the church and people concerned (close to where I did my curacy) and the vitality of that sort of Anglo-Catholicism has surely vanished - rightly, on many things.

If I were to dream up a recipe for 'my' sort of Anglo-Catholicism, what would it look like?


Something about the new Bishop of Southwark
Last minutes with ODEN (dog lovers prepare to cry)
Stanley Cavell's philosophical improvisations
13 theses on writing
What classical theism actually is ("if one hasn’t grappled seriously with the arguments of the great classical theists, then one simply cannot claim to have dealt a serious blow to theism as such. Not even close.")
The case for living with uncertainty
As Western Civilisation lies dying
If you build it (cycle-friendly transport) they will come
Verifying the Export-Land model (people really should become aware of this...)
Opinion warning signs

Idolatry and Science - chapter 3 of my book

(Shorter - 4500 words - and easier to read than the transcript!)

Chapter three – idolatry

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6)

“Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 19)

Jesus repeats and amplifies this when he says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22.37)

If this is the first and greatest commandment – so that, if we fail to keep this commandment, we fail in our duty as Christians – what does it mean? How are we to keep it? Answering those questions is the burden of this chapter.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Blink (Malcolm Gladwell)

Excellent, highly recommended.

I now want to write blogposts about global warming, on the having of too many opinions, and why Sarah Palin will make an excellent President.

Maybe later...

Film notes

Big Fish - 4.5/5 - rather wonderful, though not at all the family entertainment that I was expecting (children were ushered out from the film half way through...)
Pandorum - 4/5 - better than expected, a collage of classic sf tropes
Horton Hears a Who - 5/5 - tho' I haven't read the book, just before watching it I read Michael Connelly's 'Chasing the Dime' which features the motifs. I want to say 'My name is Sam and I approve this message!'
Sherlock Holmes - 4/5 - great fun, look forward to the sequel

I also rewatched A History of Violence the other day. It's climbing into my 'top ten all time favourites'...

PS - am enjoying Dexter series 4, and Fringe has returned! Saw the first episode of series 3 last night (thank you Sky+) - all sorts of interesting paths lined up to follow.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The language of 'should' and 'ought'

I think I've written about this before but can't think where...

When I hear the words 'should' and 'ought' alarm bells go off. So often the language is used to reinforce social pressure to do certain things - because that is the way that the community does them, it reflects what the community expects and considers "right".

Christians need to exercise extreme caution when dealing with such worldliness. I use this corrective: when considering an action that 'should' or 'ought' to be done, try to rephrase it in terms of the great commandments, ie:
- will this action give glory to God, or
- will this action show love to a neighbour?

If the answer is 'No' then the Christian is free from any obligation, no matter how strenuous the efforts to say 'you should be doing this!!'

Friday, October 01, 2010


A cartoon (from here) that really spoke to me. This is a good relevant article.

And then there is this (found here):

The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross … Here we touch the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future. It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest … To come to Christ is to come to the crucified and risen One. The life-giving apostle embodies in himself the crucifixion of Jesus in the sufferings and struggles he endures as he is faithful and obedient to his Lord. So Paul preaches the crucified and risen Jesus, and he embodies the dying of Jesus in his struggles to further point to the Savior. His message is about the cross and his life is cruciform, shaped to look like the cross … I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence.

Friday, September 24, 2010

About the church magazine, and a bit more...

So. The Church magazine was dead on it's feet a few years ago, before a friend picked up the editorship and managed to take it off life-support. For very good reasons, he is now wanting to concentrate on other things, and I have said that I will - in the very short term, ie between now and Christmas - take over that job.

Yet I look at the magazine and I wonder... why? Why do we keep it going?

We need to have a channel to distribute information to the congregation. Yet we already have a weekly pew-sheet and an e-mail circulation list. The number of people who actually rely on the magazine is pretty small, if any.

It's not as if there is any prospect of it becoming a general interest magazine, which non-churchgoers would be happy to peruse (which happens in a different one of my parishes, and very successfully). I can see a way of working to build up the magazine with lots of interesting articles... but why? What would be the point? There is a general interest magazine/newspaper for the Island already, and actually I think it's pretty good. More than that, I think that as a culture we are drowning in words and we really don't need any more.

In addition, the job of being a magazine editor is pretty thankless, all things considered (and I've done it before, so I know what I'm talking about). If there was a proper budgeting of the enterprise - that is, one which included the cost of the labour involved to produce it - I have no doubt that it would be shown that the magazine runs at a significant loss.

So I wonder... why? What's the point? Why don't we just let the natural processes take their course and allow that particular expression of church communication to rest in peace?

And then I think: what's the difference between church magazines and church as such?

Synecdoche, New York

Surreal, tragic, absorbing, brilliant.

I want to know: is this a portrait of a man destroyed by the fear of death - and thus a warning? Or is this the expression of the film-maker's vision of life, in that it is Kaufman who has the tragic and self-destructive fear of death? If it is the former, then 5/5. If the latter then 4/5.

Highly recommended, for those who like films that aren't run of the mill.

In honour of this morning's Old Testament lesson

One day I would like to be able to sing this.
(And having posted it, I've just noticed the Bible Gateway 'Text of the Day' (look to the left)! Spooky...)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Roman Catholic Social Policy vs Sharia Law

I was shocked (shocked, I tell you, shocked!) by the Observer's comment "I would take sharia law over roman catholic social policy."

I find this unfathomable, and offer up this post so that people can have a natter about it, should they so desire. Here are a few thoughts to kick things off:

- I see catholic social theology as one of the glories of Christian thinking and practice. Whilst I have some minor disagreements with it (eg some aspects of sexual ethics - I disagree with Aquinas as to how to properly describe the telos of sexual behaviour) on the whole I find it a tremendously congenial place to stand;
- in contrast I see sharia law as profoundly iniquitous, not in theory (which I can understand) but in practice. To put it bluntly, the imposition of sharia law - not least if it threatened my daughters, eg their education - is something that I would have very few qualms about fighting...

Roughly speaking, it seems to me that if you have any desire for the full human flourishing for those who are not the dominant heterosexual males in a society, then the Catholic side of things has to be preferred.

Off you go :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A few brief thoughts on Benedict's visit

Didn't get a chance to really share in it while it was happening, but followed at a distance and skimmed some of his speeches. I'm reasonably familiar with, and sympathetic to, his major themes. That being said, a few thoughts:

- Richard Dawkins has replaced Ian Paisley in his role as walk-on-nutter/rentaquote (see this);
- it was good to see Christians out in force, and we should do this much more often;
- I think the tide began to turn against secularism some time ago (in the academy, best part of 30 years ago) but often it takes a while for an event to crystallise understandings that have been brewing for a while. This visit may end up being seen, retrospectively, as the moment when 'the tide turned'. He hasn't got Gandalf's voice, but I was reminded of this

(See also this)

And that's all I have to say about that.
UPDATE: actually, reading this, I'm starting to think that his attitude is much more hostile than I realised. Hmmm.