Tuesday, May 16, 2006

George Blush

Just in case anyone hasn't already seen it (it's been number 1 in the google video Top 100 for a couple of weeks at least). This has to be one of the most audacious and brilliant pieces of satirical comedy I've seen in a long time, if a little cruel. I hadn't heard of Stephen Colbert before this, although I have watched and enjoyed the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I'm not sure how this was allowed to happen. I actually almost felt sorry for George Bush having to sit through it, I guess he has to get some credit for actually being there, and for shaking Colbert's hand at the end (and for doing this earlier on in the evening). I'm not sure what the Whitehouse Correspondents' dinner is all about, but I understand that the speakers usually have a bit of a pop at the administration and the media in equal measure. I think Colbert actually does this, but of course he has been heavily criticised for being too harsh on the president, the conservative media proving Colbert's point for him. For those who happen to think he did a great job there is a blog to thank him.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bono edits The Independent

The Independent is probably my favourite newspaper. Although it has definitely gone a bit more tabloidy since its new format, and is occasionally somewhat alarmist I enjoy it a bit more than the Grauniad, which gets a bit tedious, although it is probably my second choice. All the rest are right-wing, zenophobic, fascist rags, Murdoch owned or gutter press filth. (With the possible exception of The Mirror).
Anyway, tomorrow the Independent is guest edited by Bono, and half of the proceeds go to towards his RED initiative in the fight against AIDS. Go buy it.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Love Life Love Lent

Last night at housegroup we talked about this Lent programme, which was started in the Diocese of Birmingham and is apparently growing increasingly popular. The idea is that rather than just giving up chocolate for 40 days, and then eating lots of chocolate, giving onlookers the idea that for Christians Easter is all to do with chocolate, we actually take on some generous, practical habits as part of the Lent season. I think it looks like a brilliant idea. There are 50 actions altogether, falling into 6 different catagories - Personal, Friends, Neighbours, Church, Community, World. The actions are really simple and fun. Examples from the 1st week are - Have a meat free day, write to someone and thank them, spend some time in silence, give up your place to someone who is in a rush eg. traffic or shop queue. There have been more than 50,000 booklets distributed so far; could make quite an impact. Read more about it here or download the booklet (pdf).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

Well it's day 1 of Lent. So far the alcohol free thing is going great. I haven't touched a single drop all day :). 40 days does seem like a long time though, although I have to remember that Sundays are feast days that don't count in the 40 days. (Something I didn't realise last year). So maybe my wine intake with Sunday dinner will increase:)

The thirst for life thing has made me think about how many peoples lives are destroyed by alcohol and other addictions. I can only think, 'there but for the grace of God go I.' If I didn't have such a comfortable life, if I was on the streets for example, maybe I would depend on alcohol rather than 'enjoy it responsibly.'
Last night I met a homeless man who had just fallen off the wagon after 18 months. He was understandably gutted. He asked me to pray with him, which I was glad to do, and then went on to pray one of the most penitent, beautiful prayers I have ever heard. I believe he meant it.

I'm not too sure what Ash Wednesday is all about. I know that Holy Trinity are doing their traditional Ash Wednesday service, where your forehead can be marked with a cross in ash and olive oil. I think it's a penitence thing. I must be very penitent, as I spend most days up to my eyeballs in ash. Unfortunately I will not be fasting today, as I have some pancake eating to catch up on, which I will be doing at mum and dad's tonight. I'd be such a rubbish Roman Catholic.

Sven has an excellent post on Jesus and Guantanamo Bay, which he has also done as a podcast.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Shrove Tuesday

It's pancake day again! Not that I had any as I was down at meeting place. This means that lent starts tomorrow. As last year, Maggi Dawn has some interesting thoughts here, here and here. I'm not sure if I'll repeat last years attempt to blog through lent. I might do. I could do with getting back in the habit. I guess it depends if it will be a help or a hinder to making space for God and renewing my dependence on Him, which is what lent is supposed to be about. I am going to be giving up alcohol for lent, inspired by the Thirst for Life campaign. I may also have to give up eBay, one of my latest addictions. Coventry Vineyard have started a 40 days blog for people to blog their lent stories.

Today I was sweeping in Tamworth with my fellow sweep David, and on the way back to Coventry we decided to call in on Atherstone to see if we could catch any of their ball game shenanigans. The Atherstone Ball Game is one of our countries oldest Shrove Tuesday traditions, going back at least 800 years. When we got there the police were just cordoning off the streets and shopkeepers were boarding up their windows. Schoolchildren were beginning to gather outside Barclays bank where they are apparently showered with sweets. We couldn't hang around to see the townsmen engaging in the ancient 'sport', a very primitive, alcohol fuelled version of football/rugby where the only rules are no biting, no hair pulling and 'get and keep the ball'. Shame.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Archbishop John Sentamu - Oi! Guantanamo, No!

Or words to that effect. Archbishop of York John Sentamu has added his voice to the growing number which are speaking out against the disgrace which is Guantanamo Bay. He was on the front page of the Independent on Saturday, suggesting that the UNHRC should seek a writ of habeas corpus, compelling the US to bring those being detained at Guantanamo to court, to establish whether they are imprisoned lawfully and if they should be released.

He said "The American government is breaking international law. The main building block of a democratic society is that everyone is equal before the law, innocent until proved otherwise, and has the right to legal representation. If the guilt of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is beyond doubt, why are the Americans afraid to bring them to trial? Transparency and accountability are the other side of the coin of freedom and responsibility. We are all accountable for our actions in spite of circumstances. The events of 9/11 cannot erase the rule of law and international obligations.

The US should try all 500 detainees at Guantanamo, who still include eight British residents, or free them without further delay. To hold someone for up to four years without charge clearly indicates a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Wow! No mincing of words there. The more I hear of Archbishop Sentamu, the more I like him. His inaugural sermon was awesome, and it seems to be quoted every week at church. Great stuff.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Some of the stuff I've been listening to recently.

Close Guantanamo

Following the UN report on the Guantanamo prison camp, which described aspects of what goes on there as torture, an increasing number of voices are asking for the camp to be closed. Kofi Anna has called for the camp to be closed as soon as possible, and for the 500 inmates to be tried or freed without further delay. Cabinet minister Peter Hain has said the same thing. Even Blair has described the camp as an 'anomaly' which must be dealt with sooner or later.

Archbiship Desmond Tutu, who is always an inspiration to hear, was on the Today programme this morning. He was vociferous in his condemnation of the detention without trial which occurs at Guantanamo and which was proposed in the 90 day legislation here in the UK. (listen here).
Here are some of his comments on Guantanamo :

"A horrendous blot on the image of what was supposed to be the only superpower and a democracy to boot"

"I never imagined I would live to see the day when the United States and its satellites would use precisely the same arguments that the apartheid government used for detention without trial. It is disgraceful and one can't find strong enough words to condemn what Britain and the United States and some of their allies have accepted. I can't believe it."

"I am appalled, I am deeply appalled and what is even more sad is, especially in the United States, is that there has been so little outcry.",

A recent report by John Simpson suggested that even on the US Department of Defense's own admission only 8% of detainees held at Guantanamo were actual Al-Qaeda fighters, and only 5% were actually captured by the Americans themselves. Most were handed over by what could be called 'bounty hunters' after a big campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan where notices such as the following were handed out :

"Get wealth and power beyond your dreams... You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taleban forces catch al-Qaeda and Taleban murderers.

"This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life."


If these people are accused of being part of terrorist groups then try them (allowing them access to lawyers). As Desmond Tutu said "If you've got the evidence, produce the evidence.". If they are prisoners in the 'war on terror' then let them be treated as prisoners of war in accordance with Geneva convention. This neither here nor there, unlawful, immoral situation cannot go on. Guantanamo Bay must be closed.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Clean Sweep?

There was an item about my august profession on Radio 4’s Home Truths this morning (listen again). It was fascinating to hear from fellow sweeps, some of whom came from families which had been sweeping chimneys for 200 years or more, the trade being passed on from father to son.

When I’m out sweeping, people are often surprised to find that we still use brushes and rods. This equipment goes back to at least the 1830’s, when laws were passed outlawing the practice of sending small children up the chimney to clean them. Most people know that small boys used to be used to clean chimneys, but they may not be aware of some other methods which were once employed, including dragging a holly branch through the chimney or sending up a live turkey! I have actually met people out in the villages of Warwickshire who remember the holly bush method.

I’m not sure where the idea that, in the words of Dick Van Dyke, ‘a sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be’ comes from. This guy has a few ideas. One story goes back to George II. Apparently, the horses for the royal carriage were going wild on one occasion and the only person who could get them to calm down was a chimney sweep. The lucky sweep idea somehow became connected to the folklore of weddings. It was meant to be lucky to see a sweep, or especially a sweep’s brush popping out of a chimney on the way to the church. At some point sweeps began to be invited to attend weddings, to be in the photographs and to give the bride a lucky kiss as she leaves the church. Many sweeps now advertise this service as a means to supplement their income (although this guy doesn’t seem to actually do any sweeping, just wedding appearances, surely that doesn’t count!) My boss Colin has so far resisted this practice, probably 'cos he's far too busy sweeping. Maybe if I go forward for ordination as a vicar I could play both parts!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism

Here's the third and final piece which I wrote for my vocations adviser:

Here I will give a brief overview of my understanding of the sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism. Once again I am aware that there has been much ink (and blood!) spilled over the nature of these sacraments, and whatever I say here will only touch upon what is a huge subject.
I will begin by my understanding of sacraments in general. I believe a Christian sacrament is a physical action/rite which has been instituted by Christ that when combined with faith is a means of grace to those who partake in it. I do not believe that sacraments are automatically effective, no matter who they are given to, as this idea would seem to be more akin to magic, and could encourage superstition. On the other hand, I don’t believe that they are merely symbolic. When administered correctly, I believe that the sacraments effect what they signify. The key question being ‘what constitutes correct administration?’ (a question which I don’t intend to answer here!). I believe that there is an aspect of mystery to the sacraments (one of the origins of the term) which belies explanation – trying to explain how they work somehow misses the point. Nevertheless, there are depths of meaning and multi-levelled symbolism that are there to be explored.

Eucharist – The Meal Jesus Gave Us

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”

In the bread and the wine of the Eucharist I believe that we meet Christ in a special way. There is a whole spectrum of beliefs as to what is happening in the bread and wine. At one end of the spectrum are the Roman Catholics who believe that the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Christ in the miracle of transubstantiation, at the other end are the low-church evangelicals who, following Zwingli, believe that the bread and wine are just a remembrance of Christ’s death. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I believe that when approached in faith Christ is really present in the bread and the wine so that they are to us, in a spiritual sense, the body and blood of Christ.

The Eucharist is of course a remembrance of the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, and all that it achieved. Each time we partake in it we appropriate once again the benefits of the cross, forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ. It is a thanksgiving (eucharist), and a celebration.
In the same way that the Passover meal remembered the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the Lord’s supper remembers the New Exodus that Jesus achieved on the cross.

It is more than a remembrance, however. I believe that when we approach them in the right way the bread and the wine of the Eucharist really do feed us in a spiritual sense. They focus our lives on the central facts of our faith and prevent us from drifting off into an unmediated, mystical spirituality.

The bread and the wine are an offering. We take what has been given by God, the wheat and the grapes, we make bread and wine from them and offer them back to God. God then makes them to be the body and blood of Christ and gives them back to us. We eat and give Him thanks! There is a continual, relational interaction between God and us.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”

The Eucharist is where past, present and future meet for Christians. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, in the present, we are connecting with the Easter victory of Christ and anticipating the consummation of that victory when He comes in the future. We remind ourselves that we are living in the ‘time between the times’. This passage also tells us that in the symbolic action of the Eucharist, we are actually preaching the gospel in a way that goes beyond words. We are rehearsing the central drama of our faith and finding our place in the story.

There is also a ‘horizontal’ aspect to the Eucharist, Holy Communion. As well as communion with God it is communion with all those who belong to the New Covenant community. It is the family meal. I believe that Holy Communion should be a truly ecumenical celebration. There is one body. It is a tragedy that so often the Eucharist has become a source of division within the church, when the Lord’s table should be the one place that all those who trust in Christ as their Lord and saviour are able to come together. – Story about Vineyard pastors at the Vatican.

There is a sombre warning in 1 Corinthians that whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup should examine themselves to make sure they are not doing so in an unworthy manner. They are to ‘discern the body’. I believe this has a double meaning. Discerning the body as in the death of Christ that it represents, and discerning the body as in the body of Christ the church, and making sure that one has not been a cause of division within that body. Paul even warns that those who don’t discern the body are eating and drinking judgement upon themselves, resulting in sickness or even death! If this is the result of the sacrament being abused, then when it is approached correctly it must bring healing and life.
This presumably has implications for priesthood and who is ‘allowed’ to partake in the Eucharist. Are there occasions when it is appropriate for the priest to deny people communion?

Water Baptism

If the Eucharist is the family meal, then baptism is a sign of entrance into the family. In baptism we are entering the New Covenant community. Baptising people is part of the ‘making disciples’ mandate of the great commission. I believe that water baptism is one part of the nexus of Christian initiation which includes repentance, water baptism, reception of the Spirit and faith in Christ.

I can see several aspects to water baptism.

A new beginning/birth. You enter a family when you are born. In baptism you are entering a new family. John 3:5 talks about being born of water and spirit.

A wash for the dirty. In baptism our sins are washed away and we are made clean.

A burial for the dead. In baptism, our old life is buried and we are raised into our new life with Christ. (Burial would seem to be especially well symbolised by full immersion, although sprinkling of earth does of course happen at burials too!)

Identifying with and being united with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Romans 6:3-5

A public declaration of faith. Baptism is a very public way of declaring our allegiance to Jesus as Lord. We leave behind our old allegiances and pledge ourselves to follow Christ.

A sign of the New Covenant. As with the Eucharist there are connections with the New Covenant. The waters of baptism recall the crossing of the Red sea and the Jordan whereby the people of Israel were delivered from slavery and entered into their inheritance. Some also see a replacement of the old covenant sign of circumcision with the new covenant sign of baptism.

Some of these aspects seem more appropriate to the baptism of believers. What about the baptism of infants?

There are historical understandings of infant baptism that I struggle with. For Augustine, and many following, the doctrine of ‘original sin’ meant that unbaptised infants who died were hell-bound, and therefore by baptising a baby you were giving him or her a better chance of salvation. This seems to portray a rather bizarre view of God, in my opinion, and would seem to be little more than superstition. I am much happier with a ‘covenantal’ view of infant baptism. I believe that the children of believers are to be considered full members of the new covenant community, and it may therefore be appropriate to give them the sign of this fact. (Incidently, I also believe this is an argument for giving these children communion –question: at what age may children be confirmed/take communion?)) Given my stated understanding of a sacrament – a means of grace, when combined with faith – in the case of the baptism of believers children, the faith must be ‘by proxy’, expressed by the parents on behalf of the child. Question - in the case of unbelieving parents presenting a child for baptism, where is the faith? Is it in the priest, or the church members, or both? Or is the actual presenting of the child seen as a step of faith on behalf of the parents?

Much more that could be written but once more time has defeated me, and I’m sure there’s more than enough here to discuss!

Monday, February 06, 2006

catching up

Ok, so somehow nearly 2 months has passed by since my last blog. How did that happen? To ease myself back into it here's a few photos :

This one was taken at Perranporth beach on the day of Jamie's dedication down at Truro Vineyard just before Christmas. It was a special day, made all the more poignant by the knowledge that his Dad (my brother-in-law) Karl had just been called up to go to Iraq. He goes out with the Auxiliary RAF for 3 months this summer.

We spent a nice and quiet Christmas down at Su's mum's in Yateley. We then went over to Su's dad's for a couple of days where we actually got some snow. It was only a couple of inches but enough to make everywhere look nice. I wanted to stay there 'cos we never get any snow in Coventry. (I can completely understand Michael bemoaning the blandness of English winter weather, where is the harsh winter we were promised?)

Just after New Year we went for a walk in the Berwyn hills with our friends Steve and Siobhan. For our North American friends, here is a stone circle which is probably around 4000 years old.