Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Shafts of light in an imperfect but connected web.

Monday, 29 October 2007

The peril of personal pronouns

This blog is prompted by a variety of sources - partly from reading Ron Sider; partly from my thoughts about yesterday's sermon at church; partly by the Hideous one's comments on my last entry; and partly (and recurringly) by my bete noir at work.

Ignoring the last source to avoid another rant-a-long, it strikes me that evangelical churches are prone to emphasising personal salvation as opposed to tackling societal injustice etc. (This isn't the main thrust of this blog, and to avoid confusion - I know that we need to deal with both elements.)

The point is that our churches tend to use singular pronouns a lot of the time - for example, yesterday our pastor asked 'where are you being called to engage with the real world?' It's a fair enough question, but I think it's even more relevant to ask 'where are WE being called to engage with the real world?'

The song that I was moaning about yesterday would be more tolerable if it said "WE want ..."

When I was a student I recall Professor Whyte saying that he preferred credal statements to be use plural forms - "We believe ..." This served two purposes - to reinforce the communal nature of church, and also to overcome any theological difficulties with any of the statements!

Of course WE is not just a cop out. WE needs to be a statement of identification and support - it's not about shifting MY responsibility to YOU. I remain accountable, but there is great strength and witness in WE.

OK - grammar lesson over!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Songs and theology

I’ve been reading Ron Sider’s excellent “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience” (more of that in another entry). Almost as a passing comment, he highlights the difficulty that he has with a worship song, which he enjoys singing but has problems with some of the lyrics. I guess that most of us will have our pet hates.

And, yes, I am going to share mine with you!

Today in church we sang (well actually I didn’t) “I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation” by Mark Altrogge. The first verse is OK, as a statement of personal commitment; but for me it’s all downhill from there on. The last two verses start like this:

I want to see the kingdom of God
In my generation …

I want to see the Lord come again
In my generation …

The first problem for me is the view of the kingdom as something not yet present (more of that in another entry as well). But then, who do we think we are, to sing to God that we want the Lord to come again - if you don’t mind very much – in my generation! I’m dumfoonert!

What made it worse today is that our minister is preaching a series on “Disillusioning the Illusions” (sermon titles and series titles can wait for another rant!). Anyway, last week he was talking about the problem in our culture of “I want it my way and I want it now”. So how can we sing a worship song the following week, that starts every verse with I want, I want, I want…?

Or should we just switch off our brain when we stand up (or sit) to sing?

Saturday, 27 October 2007


Inspired by The Word at the Barricades, a simple entry:

"It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness" (Chinese saying used by Eleanor Roosevelt)

"To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world" Karl Barth

Friday, 26 October 2007

electric macca

From the ridiculous to the sublime?

Last night The Ramones, tonight Paul McCartney!

I'm listening to the Electric Proms concert from last night - and it's brilliant. From the tender beauty of 'Here Today', to the rockiness of 'Back in the USSR'. Not bad for a bloke who's about 108!

Dolly D doesn't get it, but if you have more discernment and wisdom do yourself a favour - make a cup of good coffee, maybe with a bit of home-made tablet (thanks Dolly) and sit back for an hour and a half listening/watching online.

It's good!! And if you want more, the Kaisers and a host of others to come.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Hey Ho Let's Go

Something a bit lighter after yesterday’s entry.

There’s something about my age – a mixture of dangerous nostalgia, searching for lost youth (I like to think of it as disappearing rather than completely lost!), and a modicum of disposable cash.

On one of our shopping trips to Newcastle a couple of weeks ago, I wandered into the Virgin Megastore to have a look at CD’s – OK I was never going to just look. Anyway they were selling some CDs at 2 for £10. Well, I had a tenner in my pocket – so how could I resist?

After a brief glance at the selection I knew that choice would be a problem. So many albums that I wouldn’t have dreamt of buying when they were first released, but now …. Well, I went for a safe choice - Who’s Next by The Who. It contained a handful of classics – Baba O’Riley; Behind Blue Eyes (my favourite Who song) and some previously un-released material. As soon as I listened to it I understood why it hadn’t been released before!

My other choice was a bit less safe… But it was 57 tracks for a fiver!! I mean you don’t get better value than that. Yes, I chose The Ramones Anthology!! And it’s great. More diverse than I remembered (no, really). It’s just perfect music for the gym - although the idiotic grin on my face seems to alarm people.

What can I say? Hey ho, Let’s GO!

(OK HTM, I know that it’s payback time - bring it on!)

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Trafficking #2

We’ve just become aware of the BMS ‘In Transit’ campaign. It’s about human trafficking, but is aimed specifically at trafficking from Albania, where it is a prevalent practice. This strikes a chord with me because our link missionaries and friends are working there, and told about some of the issues. When they first went to Albania they were based in a coastal town, and in the evening fast boats would come in to take away the human cargo – usually women and girls.

I like the way that BMS are approaching this campaign. They are asking individuals to sign postcards (it’s not too late – you can send an e-card), which states:

  • Personal opposition to trafficking;
  • Supports the Christians in Albania who are tackling this issue; and
  • Requests that the Albanian Evangelical Alliance is invited to join the Albanian government’s anti-trafficking committee.

This seems to me to be a positive and constructive approach, as opposed to soapbox campaigning.

Obviously there are issues for us all to face up to and tackling it at source is important. To put this into perspective (for me), Dolly D would be a prime candidate for this appalling activity if we were Albanian.

There is also a need to tackle the end users – and it’s chilling to think that it’s men like me that are abusing these women. I mean, relatively rich Westerners with disposable income. Clearly there’s a role in this arena for the church in this country as well!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Trafficking #1

Back to a quotation that’s been rumbling around in the empty space above my neck…

“Our great problem is the problem of trafficking in unlived truth”
D L Moody

I was sitting in church on Sunday and thinking to myself - theology isn’t what we say, it’s how we live.

I think we often kid ourselves that theology requires huge intellectual capacity and 3 degrees from different universities (2 of which must be doctorates). But that’s daft. Yes, the words and thinking are important, but the lived out lives of Christians are always the best theology in my view.

I came across Camel Crossing, and was intrigued by ‘a conversation not a soapbox’. While the context was around blogging, I think that the thoughts can be applied equally to church and our mission. We need to find ways to have conversations not soapbox rants, both in church (hard to break the traditions though) and in our lives.

On the way home tonight I was listening to a Bill Hybels sermon. He said:
“When your back is against the wall, your true theology is revealed.”

I guess that’s when our truth is really lived, whether we like it or not – and after the day that I’ve had it’s ‘not’.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Learning about glory

Shortly after reading His Girl Friday’s blog on reading, writing and arithmetic, I read this:

“Education that fills us with facts but often does not allow us to experience what is around is a poor education indeed and leads many to be bored with so-called learning. We need to keep glory and wonder in our lives as well as bare facts … life without glory is just meaningless and trivial.”

This is from a book that I’m reading just now called Mirror Images by David Adam.

As this week has seen some of the most beautiful sunrises that I can remember (and I do tend to because I drive straight towards them on the way to work), I’ve been thinking about the need for more glory in my life. More wonder, more music, more fun and less ‘bare facts’. I’ve probably been making progress in this dimension for a while now, but it’s always good to be reminded.

I find that playing around with my new camera helps, and I’ve started to juggle again when I get ‘a bit frustrated’ at work.

Multi-dimensional life is definitely recommended – something about ‘that they may have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10).

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Doesn't do what it says on the tin!

This week we’ve had a bit of stooshie (several steps short of a stramash) over a legal ruling in relation to the policy of Free Personal Care in Scotland. Now I accept that this is the field that I work in, and therefore, my musings here may be of interest to no-one but me. Two key issues emerge for me from this week’s events.

Firstly, the Scottish Government was criticised by the judge (admittedly in very polite, legal code) for not accepting his invitation to attend the hearing and explain the intention that lies behind the legislation. This criticism was seized upon by political opponents as a dereliction of duty etc, etc.

I’m glad that the Government didn’t send a representative to the court. As I understand it our legal system is built around an independent judiciary, making judgement on the basis of the legislation passed by Parliament. Any move toward Government explaining its intentions in court seem to me to be a dangerous erosion of the process and could be exploited for all sorts of political purposes. Instead, the legislature should make sure that the statutes that they pass are carefully worded to ensure that the policy intentions are adequately and competently described.

In other words – politicians should do their jobs properly, then the courts can do theirs.

Secondly, and something that I’ve been concerned about since this policy was introduced. Free Personal Care is not new and it’s not free. It’s not new since the provision of social care in this country is based on assessed needs, not ability to pay. The amount that anyone is asked to contribute towards the cost of the care provided to them is then (and only then) assessed according to their financial situation. For the poorest people this means that care has (generally) always been free. The advent of the current ‘flagship’ policy has meant that the more affluent users of care services have received more subsidy from the state. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing in itself, it’s just that the language used in this area is misleading.

For my tuppence-worth, I’d like to see our politicians refraining from political ambushes and one-up-manship and asking the big questions about the provision of care.

  • Do we want to be socially progressive in this area?
  • If so, should all care be truly free?
  • How does this interact with the welfare benefits system?
  • How will it apply as the demographic composition of our population changes in the next 20 years?

Then, when we’re clear about the way forward, we can amend the legislation so that it does what it says on the tin – without the need to explain the underlying intentions.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Blogging dilemmas update

I'm grateful to That Hideous Man for his comments, which confirmed my own instinct. So I did have a conversation with one of the parties, and all is amicably sorted. A simple administrative oversight lay behind the problem, so the 'offending' blog entry has been removed - and maybe, I've got a new 'electronic friend' in the process.

Blogging dilemmas

Dilemma #1
I sat down with a cup of coffee to clear out my e-mail this morning. I thought I'd give it about 15 minutes, then go and do something else. Well, I deleted one e-mail at a glance, and moved on to read the next one. There was a phrase in this one that I particularly liked, but it was only referred to as 'someone once said ...' So I Googled the phrase to try to find the original source and context. This story continues under Dilemma #2 below.

The point here is that a 15 minute e-mail clear out has resulted in one deleted e-mail, and more than 20 minutes so far pursuing a tangential thought, ultimately resulting in this blog. So how do you stop the Internet in all its guises from consuming too much time?

Dilemma #2
This is the real thrust of this blog entry. Having Googled the phrase, I came up with only 2 results. One was from the document that I had been reading. The other was from a blog, which I then had a look at. Worringly, the entry relating to the phrase that I was hunting was exactly the same as the e-mail that I had received. I mean, word for word copying - but without any acknowledgement of the source. The blog author has a different name from the e-mail author. They were both published on the same day - yesterday.

So what to do? First of all let me say that one of my pet hates is plagiarism. I'm all for using other people's material, and quoting it verbatim - but acknowledge the source, or at least indicate that it's not your original material. Aye, I know there will have been times when I've fallen short of this standard - but not the the extent of a whole blog entry!

In the preface to his book 10, J John writes:

"There are lots of quotes in this book and where I can I have tried to give due credit to their authors. The eighth commandment applies to words as well as things... For the unconscious use - or abuse - of any such material, I ask forgiveness."

Should I enter into an e-mail dialogue with either party or both, or should I let it go?

There is a discipline involved in getting this kind of thing right, but surely it's not too onerous. Of course, beyond the lazy/careless excuse there are other explanations, but I'll leave that to the consciences of the individuals concerned.

I once came across a situation where a whole series of presentations had been pinched from the Internet and only changed where there were specific cultural references that wouldn't have worked. I ignored this at the time, as it didn't seem to be worth picking a fight over. I now regret that decision.

Thoughts would be appreciated.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Ancient and modern

That Hideous Man's blog "Going, going, going, gone" chimed in with something that I was involved in at work yesterday. We were discussing the need to replace several buildings that have outlived their usefulness. On the face of it there's nothing extraordinary in that, but I became aware as the meeting progressed that there were other aspects that we hadn't consciously been considering.

To explain, some of the buildings that need to be replaced are Victorian, and are cherished by their local communities; others are more modern - built in the 60's and 70's, and are not so well loved! Firstly, it's interesting (to me at least) that these buildings are coming to the end of their lives at the same time, even though they were built 100 years apart.

Secondly, as we plan for the replacements there is a responsibility on us to ensure that they are not constructed in a 'fadish' way that will need massive re-investment in a relatively short time span. Yet there is also an important dimension of civic pride (for want of a better phrase). The buildings are for public services, and so will have some degree of ownership by the communities that they serve.

Other complications such as town centre versus greenfield, value for money will need to be considered. But in our ever-changing, disposable, consumerist society should we plan buildings to last for 100 years or should we be up front and say that we are designing buildings with a life expectancy of 30 years, and the next generation will need to start planning before that time has elapsed?

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

On reflection

The exhibit that I liked at the Baltic - "Square dreams" by Kader Attia was a collection of fridges (150 according to the literature - I didn't count them) covered with small, square mirror tiles and all assembled to resemble a city skyline.

I loved the fact that the fridges had all been reclaimed from garbage, and seemed to me to be a statement about our disposable consumerist society. the literature for the display says that:

"Attia seems to be ironic about the structures we struggle to erect as monuments to ourselves. He comments on the human instinct that drives us to collect possessions, and to protect and defend them against all-comers. Like the Tower of Babel of Christian mythology, he sees the fortresses of possessions we build as our weakness."

I like that, and would add that these fortresses are commonly the cause of our divisions and lack of community.

Of course, art works at all sorts of levels - and Dolly D just thought that they were 'way cool' (pun originally unintended but shamelessly exploited by me!) and 'could she buy one?'
Oh, and they're useful as mirrors too!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Art for art's sake?

While in Northumbria we visited Newcastle - primarily for shopping purposes (at least that's what Dolly D thinks!). Our first stop - after using the efficient park and Metro facility - was at the Baltic centre for contemporary art. I should say at this point that I am not an art expert, just an interested amateur.

I have a problem with the exhibits at the Baltic. One had been removed altogether - more of that later; for another you had to read a safety notice before entering the gallery, where the "F" word seemed to dominate and the materials used included razor wire; another was based on images from pornographic magazines superimposed on images of women doing everyday household tasks. Maybe, I'm a grumpy old man - I just didn't understand where the works were coming from. Does art only have an impact when it shocks? Isn't there scope for pieces that focus on hope rather than moral decay and anger?

On returning to work today, I was reading "Holyrood" magazine which had come in while I was off, and was intrigued to read an article (opinion piece) about the Baltic. It turns out that the exhibition was withdrawn after one photograph was removed - by Northumberland Police. It was a picture of two young girls, one of them naked. This begs another more complex question (which I'm going to bodyswerve) - about when is an image pornographic or abusive for the child? The Holyrood article by Shona Main said:

"I will gladly defend the right of artists to be free to confront, enquire and capture. But they are not outside of society, they are part of it and they must reconcile their practice with the culture they detail and expose."

I agree with this - but would simply ask for some more positive examples to balance the position.

I like the Baltic - I think that the space that has been created in an old flour mill is fantastic, and I will go back the next time I'm in Newcastle.

I also liked the first exhibit that we saw - "Square Dreams" by Kader Attia - more of which on another day.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Breamish Valley

We've been going to this place for thirteen years now - at different times of the year - and it's always beautiful. We always come back relaxed and refreshed - a kind of annual sabbatical. I don't get commission from the Northumberland Tourist Board, but I've recommended it to so many people that it would have been very lucrative!

The cottages where we stay are superb, well equipped and with leisure facilities etc. as part of the package. The owner is selling off some of the properties, so we'll need to see whether this changes anything about the place.

The photograph is the sun setting behind the Cheviot Hills - spotted as we were eating our evening meal, so I scurried out to grab a few shots as the light faded. The sheep thought it was very strange (for about 3 seconds).

Friday, 5 October 2007

Feeble Friday

Pretty feeble blogging today ("No change from usual!", the crowd roared in response).

Anyway I'm on holiday for a week, so need to go and pack etc etc. Going to our favourite place in Northumbria for a week (that's Northumbria, England NOT North Umbria, Italy).

Two moments of light relief before I go. And since this is inspired by Lins Honeyman, pride of place goes to him. Witty. topical and timely - no wonder the girls all love him.

Second, but by no means last (except in the sense of being last in this post) is Reverend Fun.

Off to iron, then pack. Bye for now!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

The well of human spirit

“It's time we tapped the well of human spirit that runs so deep in our land.”
Ronald Reagan

I had planned to have one final post from Out of the Storm – maybe it can wait. Tonight I feel duty bound to write about something else.

I’m feeling very drained as I write this. Emotions have been running high at work today. We’re introducing a new job evaluation scheme, so everyone’s job has been re-assessed. Generally it seems to have worked out OK, but there are a few jobs that have come out very badly. Quite a few of the ‘losers’ are in my service area.

So I’ve spent a large part of the day meeting with the staff concerned, explaining what happens next and how we plan to support them through the changes. The changes are not insignificant (up to 20% reduction in salary – after a 3-year period). It’s not that the jobs are overpaid just now – it’s simply the case that they don’t fit well with the new system.

I expected a very difficult time. In itself this didn’t worry me – I’ve been a manager for long enough to know that tough days are part of the deal. I’ve sacked people for a variety of reasons, I’ve been instrumental in closing down business units, I’ve told people that they’re not getting the promotion that they expected … but somehow today’s issue seemed to be less fair. These people perform well and have never caused any trouble.

But … I was completely amazed by the reaction that I received – without exception. Of course the individuals were emotional and angry and confused, but they behaved with decency, integrity and professionalism that I hadn’t thought possible. They have taken the bad news, processed it, asked the right questions and let us know in an honest but measured manner what they think.

At the end of a tiring day I feel very proud of my staff – and I have told them so. They have shown exceptional character and I will re-double my efforts to ensure that the impact of the new scheme is minimised for them. People often surprise me, but not usually in such a positive way.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Cluttered marketplace

Still on about stuff from "Out of the Storm". I had been planning to use this quotation today anyway, but it seems to link to some of the comments under the 'question everything' post.

“The Catholic church had become a cluttered marketplace where a variety of theological, ethical and psychological merchandise was being energetically hawked to a bemused clientele. It should not surprise us that this was so, for the situation today is not markedly different. Among the bewildering variety of Christian denominations and networks some are wedded to sacramentalist ritual, some espouse fiery Pentecostalism, some see themselves as caretakers of old buildings and traditions, some proclaim an intellectualised liberal theology while others trumpet an unthinking fundamentalism and there are those which would have difficulty defining clearly what they do stand for. Were Luther to return he would find few churches marching proudly under the banner of the biblical evangel whose discovery cost him so dear.”

When I read this I was a bit taken aback. Aye, I know that the analysis of the church and our denominationalism is not particularly earth-shattering; but is that how the church really looks? Are the things that divide us so prominent? Does this mean that what unites us is obscured?

Then I thought that the image of a marketplace might have some advantages in our consumerist society – you know, choose whichever church ‘tickles your fancy’. But I can’t convince myself of this. Maybe we need some consultants to solve our image problems – like a new logo or even change our name!!

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

question everything

More from Out of the Storm:

When Luther gave men the open Bible he gave them permission – by the application of plain reason to the text – to challenge centuries of official Church teaching. Well, if the pope and his minions were wrong, who was to say that other authorities might not also be doubted? Without intending to do so Luther encouraged men to use their God-given intellect to question everything.

Question for today - I know I'm happy asking questions about everything - but am I happy listening to questions?
And more pertinently, am I happy to change as my response to those questions?

Monday, 1 October 2007

Cumulative effect

Over the next couple of posts I'm going to draw on some quotations from Derek Wilson's Out of the Storm (see previous post). Lazy blogging? Probably, but I'm going to do it anyway!

"Dramatic sights stick in the mind while the daily routines of early life become blurred in recollection but it is the latter that, cumulatively, have the greater formative effect."

So how does this apply to our Christian experience? Many, particularly in evangelical churches, place a strong emphasis on the 'dramatic moment of conversion' - I don't, because I don't have such an event.

For me the greater signficance is the ongoing formation of character, as we seek to become authentic Christ followers.

There are scary thoughts here:
  • What are we doing to support and nurture people exploring Christianity?
  • What are we doing to keep on developing ourselves?

(Please note - I didn't say that the posts would be about Luther!)