Friday, December 28, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
The underlying assumption is of course that Christian content (and note this - only in the tune, not even in sung lyrics) is so offensive that the public must be protected from it! But to whom (apart from the unelected apparatchiks of the BACC) is the Christmas story offensive? Presumably the answer is that it is offensive to atheists and adherents of other faiths.
But wait just a moment - this is what other faith communities are saying today:
- "Hindus celebrate Christmas too. It's a great holiday for everyone living in Britain," said Anil Bhanot, general secretary of the UK Hindu Council. Sikh spokesman Indarjit Singh said: "Every year I am asked 'Do I object to the celebration of Christmas?' It's an absurd question. As ever, my family and I will send out our Christmas cards to our Christian friends and others." Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Shayk Ibrahim Mogra said: "To suggest celebrating Christmas and having decorations offends Muslims is absurd. Why can't we have more nativity scenes in Britain?"2.
So is it the voices of increasingly militant atheists who are demanding the banishing of Christmas Carols from public life? Apparently not so, as this year even dear old Richard Dawkins (Oxford Professor for the Public Misunderstanding of Faith) will be singing along, joining in the traditions - the content of which he so despises.
What is more baffling in the debate though is this. When Christians are offended by anything from porn to blasphemy, the media's standard response is, "if it offends you -turn it off, no-one is forcing you to watch it!". Why then does the same standard not apply when it is Christianity which is deemed to be the offence!? Perhaps on this occasion the free-market has something to say. Surely if the public at large are so offended by the tune of 'Silent Night' that it will make people switch off their TV's in outrage, tarring the brand in question with negative connotations so damaging that advertisers themselves will switch to 'Jingle Bells'! If not, then who are the BACC to protect us from our own traditions and tastes?!
There is, of course, a good side to this controversy. The advertising industry is one of consistently questionable ethics; not just in the obvious matter of dubious claims and small print, nor even in the way in which so many seek to bolster their brand by appealing to at least one of the so-called "7 Deadly Sins";3 but more in the deceit of selling 'product' on the basis of 'image' when there is no link between the two. Perhaps Christians should be grateful that the story of the coming of Christ into the world, of the love and mercy of God in sending us His Son, is not being drawn into this miry world of image construction, spin, deceit and flogging tat. There is, after all an inherent contradiction between the "gotta-have-it" worldview of the advert, and the one who told us that it is "better to give than to receive".4
So, are we better off with the BACC's anti-Christian agenda, and the further driving of our Christian heritage from public space; or should we be grateful for the fact that Christ is not being used as a tool for selling tinsel? There is no obvious answer to that dilemma, but here is a radical suggestion. Perhaps the BACC should spend its time and money seeking to reform the culture of advertising, rather than doggedly pursuing its private ideological agenda. Perhaps if they did that, they might be able to pass adverts as fit-to-air, which have the transparent integrity fitting to be backed by a song about Christ.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Outside the school the other day, one of the Dad's of one of young Boris' classmates told me about the 'Launchpad Project' which re-cycles old bikes (pun probably intended), does them up and sells them on.... at only £25 ! Now the bikes are not works of art, don't come with all the latest advances in fork suspension and disc brakes, but they are in good working order and worth every penny. Looks like I'll be getting a bike for Christmas after all!
The book is quirky, witty, camp and amusing, but not quite as 'subversive' as the blurb on the back would suggest and what subversion might be hidden within it lies below the faintly deferential tone. This, of course, is the 'voice' that Alan Bennet likes to write in and which he has perfected. What drives the books is the power of reading, and its ability to change people (whoever they are) and the way that defenders of the status quo react to try and control its potentially radical effects. It is not amongst the best of Bennet's writing by some margin. But it is, as one would expect, rather nicely executed. It works best when you imagine it being read to you in his warm, ironic, but straight-faced, idiosyncratic way. It is a very short, and enjoyable read though.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Jonathan Edwards 1707-1758
Friday, December 07, 2007
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I am currently listening to a (very strange) CD, the new release from Woolly Wolstenholme's Maestoso, curiously entitled "Caterwauling". The sound and lyrics to the song "Shoes" are a particularly moving part of the album. Although the lyrics are dominated by themes such as war, death, and divorce - it's not all light-hearted fun.. there's also plenty of staring into the abyss of mental illness, as Wolstenhome endured it several years ago. Musically the album uses rock, folk and classical formats to deliver its complex and sometimes demanding songwriting. The recording is rough in places and Wolstenholme can presumably only dream of having access to the recording budgets he once knew as a member of Barclay James Harvest in the 1970s. This is probably the strangest album I have bought in years, yet one on which I hear new things with each play, and which has kept me admirable company while stripping wallpaper over the last few evenings!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
It's taking a good few days for the work to be done and in the meantime, we are getting rather chilly. The job of getting up early and lighting the fire has, naturally, fallen to me. Of course, a generation ago this was all part of the everyday routine.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Apparently the consensus is that young Boris has a future as a football pundit! Lins was there that afternoon, and his entertaining description of what it's like to watch the footie with 'that hideous family' can be found here.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Although the set filmed was in London, there is plenty of footage of the Edinburgh gig, including a few seconds of my hideous self, chatting to Mr Wolstenholme after the gig. My wife says that I am a sad groupie! I like to think that I have at last began to embrace the infamy I deserve.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
Many years ago, we went to a CARE marriage event held at our church, designed to help couples grow in their relationship. It would be a gross exaggeration to say that it 'saved our marriage', it didn't as I am confident that we would still be here if it hadn't been. It did, however, mark a significant turning point and a milestone in our marriage as some of the relational skills we gained that day were the answer to some of our tension-causing blind spots.
And here is a tragic irony. We left our kids that day with a good friend who agreed to babysit so that we could go to the marriage event. As we dropped the kids off she told us that she was in more need of the course than us. Several years later her marriage ended.
We developed a growing conviction that as a church our effort was wasted when we only pronounced about the importance of marriage; and better spent actually supporting marriages! So we began to think and pray about how we might do that, when we came across "The Marriage Course". We did the course ourselves with some friends, and found it really helpful, on an emotional, practical and spiritual level. It contains all the things that we found so useful on that CARE course so many years ago, and loads more in depth stuff. So we asked the church leadership if they would like us to run it in the church - to which they agreed, and so we went down to London to the leaders training conference.
So six years after this process began, we have just completed hosting our first course and had the chance to review what we learnt the first time round.
Hosting the course was a tiring labour of love. It was great to have our place full of people every week, chatting laughing, eating, drinking, watching, talking and maybe praying. Thursday nights will seem very dull now that the course has finished!
Reviewing the course ourselves was hugely encouraging! On a marriage-course evening, although we watch the video together (which contains talks on subjects such as 'communication' of 'conflict resolution' etc) couples work through exercises together on the topic in complete privacy. So we reviewed what we had written in our course manuals a year ago, and were amazed at what a profound difference the course had made to us in a year!
There are I think five myths about The Marriage Course that we need to overcome in order to see it more successfully used in the church:
1) That it is for couples whose marriages are in difficulty. When we said that we were doing the marriage course, a common reaction was an uncomfortable look followed by, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that you're having problems". One professional marriage counsellor wrote to the people that run the marriage course saying to them that the course contains everything that a couple needed to know, five years before they end up coming for crisis marriage counselling! This is not primarily a marriage-rescue course, but a course designed for people who want to see their marriages thrive and grow. Research demonstrates that a generation ago how marriages fared was based largely upon how well the spouses fulfilled prescribed social roles. Now however, in a society in flux, the relational skills with which to manage change are a key element. The course is really for any married couple.
2) That it is a marriage-preparation course. No, it's not that either! The Marriage Course is designed for couples who are already married. There is a separate marriage-prep course that exists.
3) It is mostly for newly-weds. On the course we have just finished the youngest folk had been married a year, and the oldest almost four decades! We've met people who have done it in their retirement and really enjoyed it too.
4) That it is only for committed Christians. There is a Christian content to the course, and it is based upon underlying Christian principles and assumptions, however many non-Christian people have done the course and benefited from it. For instance there is a section on praying-together, but before couples split up for that part of the evening the introduction says, "but if for any reason you are not comfortable with that...... " and gives an alternative.
5) That there is group discussion and that you are compelled or invited to tell anyone else anything about your own marriage. This is absolutely not the case, but probably the hardest thing to convince people of! For some reason, people picture the marriage course as a group discussion-event in which there is an open-forum for airing your problems or triumphs in front of others; or worse still other people wanting to discuss their sex-lives in front of you! There is no group discussion, there is total privacy at all times, and there is neither the compulsion nor even the invitation to tell anyone else, anything at all! This is very hard to convince people of though!
Well, it looks as though we'll be running it again next year. However first of all we need to review what we have done, how we could improve it. One thing that has been great so far has been that when we said we were going to run it, some couples offered to help us with the logistics and prayer-support (without us even asking) and someone else has now offered to help us with the cooking next time!
The course seems to us intrinsically worthwhile. That it fills our house with all kinds of wonderful people, takes us a step closer to the sense of community that we aspire to, and the support we get from the church-fellowship, does the same. For us two, the fact that we work on it together as a couple as a joint project is in itself a new and much welcome part of our worship of God.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
We spent a splendid afternoon on the Lucan estate on Saturday. They have brought down a dodgy tree and so while Lord Lucan worked away with the chain-saw, I swung the axe. Boris and Norris then joined in the fun of throwing all the split logs into the dumper truck ready for stacking. Best of all - they got a ride in the dumper!
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Mr Swann had a sharp mind and a warm heart, two characteristics which were vital in his long ministry. What won him huge respect from so many people was his in-depth and thorough bible-teaching, for which people would travel many miles. As a contributor to reference works such as the Illustrated Bible Dictionary, and a book reviewer for publishers such as IVP, Mr Swann was no mean Bible-scholar whose rigorous grappling with the texts, and languages meant that hearing him preach was always an enriching learning experience. What he presented though was not mere dry, austere academic orthodoxy, (orthodox though it was!) but heartfelt, and heartwarming preaching of Christ, forged as much on his knees in prayer, as it was in study at his desk.
Fewer people will remember what a great pastor he was to children. His children's talks in church were way ahead of their time in the 1970s, innovative, interactive, visual and memorable. That is not to say they were ever flippant - far from it - in fact they could be very sobering. Several stand out in my mind very clearly even to this day. As the children left the church part-way through the service we all filed past the big pulpit and lots of the little ones would wave up at him as we went past the foot of the steps, and he would beam back at us! In a not unconnected vein he once taught us to begin our prayers, "Dear, kind, heavenly-Father".
In my teenage years, Mr Swann was willing to spend time with me - not just talking to me and engaging with problems and ideas - but also listening to me, despite the fact that much of what came out must have sounded like self-obsessed teenage rambling! He was also known for his faithful visiting in the town, calling in and spending time with the elderly, the sick and the suffering (distributing Lucozade, driving very fast, and being accompanied by a mad little dog!).
Mr Swann not only married my parents in 1967, and baptised me in 1971, but with his immense learning, wisdom and integrity has had a huge influence on my life. I thank God for him.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Our programs are designed for single men looking for a true life partner, who is beautiful (10 to 20 years younger), intelligent and educated, is unspoiled by feminism and whose culture is one of support and respect for their husband".
So is this the practical solution to a practical problem; poor women seeking residence in a richer nation, and lonely men finding love? Or is it a scandalous trading in people as if they were commodities, and as outrageous as the Albanian people-trafficking that Endlessly Restless has been blogging about today?
I think the latter. Immanuel Kant famously interpreted the command of Christ (the golden rule) to "do to others as you would have them do to you" as, "you may only treat people as 'ends' never as simply 'means'". The thought that just as businesses can re-locate to Eastern Europe in order to pay lower wages, and be faced with lower health and safety, pension or NI costs, might be transferred to the field of romance and marriage is appalling. The suggestion that a woman might have to assume a subservient role, in order to get here is shocking. The suggestion that 'respect ' can be purchased any more than 'true love' is deceptive. The Christian debate between Complimentarians and Egalitarians is well documented, but both sides of that fierce debate would condemn this trade in souls.
I can't believe that this is being promoted so close to home.
As for Vlad himself, he says he is not going to pursue a wife this way, thankfully. He rightly points out that they sound a bit insipid and that a proper row with a feisty Scots lass is a far more appealing proposition. I might add that the Irish shouldn't be excluded from the search criteria either!
Monday, October 22, 2007
On leaving the restaurant I remarked on the fact that the evening had been noteworthy for its staggeringly unusual cast of characters present. Percy Cowpat retorted that what could I expect, given the fact that the only thing they had in common was that they are friends with me! Seldom can a common denominator have been quite so low!
2. To believe that being compulsively busy even to the point of exhaustion is a sign of healthy and productive living.
3. To believe that having a successful career is more important than being a good parent,a good spouse, a good neighbour, a kind and loving person, or taking a walk in the woods.
4. To believe that good work is reducible to making money and unpaid work, particularly in the home; is not really working.
5. To believe that the appropriate goal in life is to enjoy prosperity in a stylish home with a perfectly manicured lawn.
6. To believe that depression can / should be cured by shopping.
7. To believe that the most important thing in life is to have your needs met.
8. To believe that we are all on our own, because there is no grace, no ultimate mercy within the depths of things and our task is to look out for number one.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The last few moment's of Perth's old hospital, being cleared for sheltered accommodation and luxury flats. The design for the new building has everything that one would expect from contemporary development, it is too big for the site, incongruous in context, managed to flaunt planning guidelines because of a healthy bung given to the council (er, sorry "planning gain" not bung), and all residents objections were ignored.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
It reminds me of Psalm 19, which starts:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
Day after day they pour forth speech;
The creative intent was that the world should be a canvas on which the glory of God would be displayed.
Lord, spare me from the idolatry of merely glorying in the created - and not lifting my gaze higher, to worship you.
The evening sun reflects on the bogs by the path up to the Old man of Storr.
Friday, October 05, 2007
This appears to be something which he is not going to repeat, judging by the comments he has made today, directed at hawks within the Bush administration whose sabres are rattling towards Damascus and Tehran. He said, "We do hear talk from some quarters of action against Syria, or against Iran", any such action, he said, would be "criminal, ignorant...and potentially murderous folly".
May these prophetic words be heard loudly and clearly.
Recently when I exercised the parental prerogative and reached for the 'off' button (the "it's not fair" button) the kids claimed that they were now 'bored'. This of course indicates the extent to which the wretched tube, sucks their creative spirit, and will result in more extensive use of the off-button, not less.
What followed was brilliant though! Boris and Norris had overheard an edition of Radio 4s "I'm sorry I haven't a clue" and Boris was especially taken with the word-game they play in which they construct a sentence, each player submitting a single word and trying not to be the one to end it.
This lead to uproarious laughter as the sentences got more and more surreal. We ended with, "Once upon a spring there was a large potato which has nothing to do with spoons!". With this, both boys up-ended themselves with laughter, rolling with fits of uncontrollable giggles which made their sides hurt. The rest of the game was abandoned in the ensuing chaos.
When was the last time that watching TV was that much fun?
Total Abandon the story of a contemporary martyr over at Unashamed Workman.
Dominic Smart's address at the 'Preach the Word' conference last week.
Reformed Theological Seminary in the States has made a huge number of their course lectures available free on iTunes. I have gone through the four-part series on the theology of Karl Barth, which is a useful introduction to his thought from his reaction to 19thC liberalism, his conflict with the Nazis, and his development of Neo-orthodox existential dialectical theology.
Endlessly Restless over at his blog "Of Dreams and Visions" has been running a series of contemporary reflections on a biography of Luther.
While Adrian has had a few posts on the spirituality of John Owen
Monday, October 01, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
For ten years I have sired far too many children, with quite alarming regularity. Now however, the breeding is over, the big-V, the decommissioning of the gonads is complete, and all weapons of mass reproduction have been put finally and verifiably beyond use.
Now clearly I am feeling sorry for myself, and believe that I am paying a high price! This is however not a view shared by my wife, who points out that bearing all our kids was, on balance, a little worse. So if you see me, hobbling about, with a sheepish-grin, feel free to laugh, mock and point out that it's all self inflicted. Of course when you have a 'surprise addition to the family' when you are 50 years old, it will no doubt be equally hilarious!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I am slightly more proud of that moment than is perhaps entirely appropriate.
However I am a child of the 70s, so here is a small tribute to that most hairy, flared, and flowery decade -when so much weird and wonderful music was made - and millions of rolls of wallpaper were made with gigantic swirling patterns!
Add to this, the fact that the food isn't bad at all, all the coffee is all Fairtrade, the people in the place are really friendly, and it was set up to make money for health and education projects in the developing world; it makes it the place to head for when in Dundee!
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Salisbury Cathedral is a lovely old building, famous for its huge spire, which towers over the city. I took a few photos and then found a quiet place. Here I was able to both remember happy times spent with with my uncle and his family, and also to pray for them in their grief.
I was calmly sitting in a Cathedral seat when I was interrupted by a member of staff clearing away the chairs. Row-by-row he crashed them onto a trolley and wheeled them away, and it soon became obvious that the chairs I was sitting on where going to disappear next. So I gathered both my thoughts and my possessions and went off for a coffee.
I am not criticising the cathedral or its staff. They run a working church with an important programme to maintain. What I am wondering though is this. Do the church services I am involved in offering afford sufficient time to think, pray, meditate, contemplate or grieve? Or does a programme (however good) sometimes crowd this out? I hope that the extension we are trying to add to our church facilities (though not making it Salisbury Cathedral) will create some space for this, without interfering the valuable programme of events, worship, teaching, children's work etc - that we offer.
When in the seat in the Cathedral I noticed that most of the chairs had little brass plaques on them. The one above was the one right in front of where I sat. It gives four short facts about a man about whom I will know nothing else. I thought about life and death, the shortness of the first, the inevitability of the second, and my soul was stirred. Pressing in on my consciousness was the rugged truth of the old cliche about 'life not being merely a dress rehearsal'. This was compounded by a sense that life ultimately comes from God, and that I am answerable finally to Him for the choices I make within it.
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
15 Whatever is has already been,
16 And I saw something else under the sun:
17 I thought in my heart,
18 I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [b] ; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal [c] goes down into the earth?"
22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?