Friday, December 28, 2007

On a cold and frosty morning..

We're all just back from celebrating a very cold Christmas with the in-laws. Travelling there and back was entertaining. On the way there, Boris was horribly car-sick, all over the car. On the way back, Doris was explosively sea-sick, all over my wife. Her whole family were back home this year, with attendant spouses and children too - so the ratio of humans and wrapping paper to floor-space was a bit pressured! It was worth all the vomiting (and clearing up) to join in the fun though.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas is Offensive (it's Official!)

Apparently the BACC (the body that passes TV adverts as fit for airing) is in a quandary over the song, "I Saw Three Ships". Its new policy is that in ads, festive soundtracks are not to feature any tunes which refer to the birth of Christ, (ie Carols) but only secular ditties like "Jingle Bells". "Three Ships" causes a dilemma in that it does reference Christ (and his mother) but no-one remembers that, so no offence caused!1

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.
Happy Winterval!
1. Ad Nauseum, Private Eye, No 1120, 11 Jan 2008, p11
3. As a Radio4 documentry last year demonstrated.
4. Acts 20:35

Friday, December 14, 2007

On Yer Bike!

A mountain-bike has long been on my wish-list, especially as it could avoid some very long 'walk-ins' to distant mountains - bringing them several hours closer to home! Mountain bikes are, however, rather pricey, and so for one reason or another it has never happened.

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!

Book Notes: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet

A Very Whimsical Subversion.

I was given a copy of this entertaining little book recently, and last night I finally managed to set aside the time to sit down and read it, time I spent with a wry grin attached to my face! Bennet's premise is that The Queen discovers reading, by a chance encounter with a mobile library parked in the grounds of the palace. The reading she undertakes begins as yet another duty, evolves into a joy and then an obsession which finally ends up.... well that would spoil the ending!

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

Quote Unquote

In some sense the most benevolent, generous person in the world seeks his own happiness in doing good to others, because he places his happiness in their good. His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself. Then when they are happy, he feels it; he partakes with him, and is happy in their happiness. This is so far from being inconsistent with the freeness of benificence that, on the contrary, free benevolence and kindness consists in it.

Jonathan Edwards 1707-1758
(quoted by Piper, Desiring God, p111)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Early Light

Old, Older, Oldest

This rock-face has been 'tastefully' re-enforced to prevent further chunks of it dangerously falling off. "I know why it's crumbling, Dad", Boris said. Thinking that we were about to have an insightful conversation into the power of freeze-thaw action, I replied enthusiastically, "Why's that?". "It's because it's even older than Grandpa", he replied.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


My aged and venerable father has just sent me a link to an on-line advent calendar, which each day has a short, thoughtful advent thought. So far, December 1st has been particularly good, I'm interested to see what comes next.