Breaking news...

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Though All Hopes Fall to Dust

An Advent Poem
As a man waking in a dark night
runs to the window, and there afar 
sees the first gleam of dawn
and the morning star.

...a woman struggling, as she grows,
feels the first birth-pangs, sure, though fearing
that through more pain to come
child-dawn is nearing.

And a world grown old in sin and blood
yearns for an answer and hopes so long
though all hopes fall to dust
hears an angel song.

This post free to use Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike

It is Wrong to Shoot People in Clinics

Somebody has been arrested after killing people in a Planned Parenthood clinic in the USA.

We don't know why, as far as I'm aware. It could be because he is murderously anti-abortion. Or he could be someone whose girlfriend aborted a child and he is angry. He may be a Christian, or not. But some people have taken other people's tragedy as a chance to make snarky remarks. (It's not the original here that counts as snark - probably irony to make a point -  but you can check out the replies).

So if anyone was in doubt, I'm a Christian. And I think shooting people in Planned Parenthood clinics is wrong. God does not approve. I don't normally claim to speak for God as God is cleverer and more compassionate than me. But on this occasion I'm risking it. God gets angry when people murder other people.

As Inspiral Carpets nearly sang, "this is how it feels to be Muslim".

Friday, 27 November 2015

Don't Let's be Beastly to the Syrians

This is not a pacifist blog. I'd hope it's a pacific one however, except obviously when the Moot House dissolves in ashes. And I notice that the Labour leadership is not totally pacifist, either. The Shadow Chancellor, for example, has previously indicated he doesn't mind people bombing, for instance, the British army or shoppers. Although apparently these days he prefers throwing Chinese-made books at people.

But the pressure is on to bomb Syria. Even Hillary Benn seems to think it's a good idea. His dad would be so proud. But David Cameron is determined we should do our bit.

David Cameron was also determined to do his bit two years ago, when he wanted to bomb the other side. Or, at least, one of the other sides.

It's really complicated, as shown when Turkey (anti-ISIL) shot down a Russian (anti-ISIL) plane for allegedly straying into its airspace. Turkey doesn't only want to hit ISIL - it also keeps attacking Kurds. And it wants Assad gone. And Russia doesn't only want to bomb ISIL - it also wants to bomb the people who want Assad gone. Though it doesn't want to bomb Turkey. Not yet.

So with all this bombing going on, and Syrian airspace thick with the aviation of all nations, David Cameron thinks that there needs to be a bit more bombing. It's like, "there's enough munitions in the Syrian air to blow Raqqa into tiny pieces. Every legitimate target could have been destroyed months ago. What could possibly help now? Chocks away, Ginger! The Brits are coming!"

The only way, it seems to me, that ISIL is going to be properly driven out of Syria is by really well-equipped, well-disciplined soldiers on the ground. But Turkey wouldn't want them to be Kurds or Assad's army. And Russia wouldn't want them to be an army that would then take on Assad. Nobody wants it to be an affiliate of Al Qaeda. And the West won't put up with another round of British or American body bags returning from a foreign field that is forever Armageddon.

So chuck a few more bombs in. If there's one thing Syria can use right now, it's a few more bombs. But of course these will be British bombs. They'll make all the difference, won't they?

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Bishop of Greater London

Edit - after this post was written the Telegraph article was rewritten to remove the Bishop of Greater London and make it clear that Bp Croft thinks the "ban" is silly. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents or one journo that corrects a story...

Utterly intrigued by the discovery, courtesy of the Telegraph, of Jonathan Blake, "Bishop of Greater London".  Interestingly the Telegraph lists him alongside Stephen Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, as attacking the Church of England "Lord's Prayer" ad.

It says something for the religious illiteracy of the Telegraph that it takes this comment from Bp Croft:
And The Rt Rev Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, said it was hardly surprising that the Lord’s Prayer had been banned “in the boardrooms of consumer culture” as it promoted everything global corporations were against.
as an attack on the ad, not on corporate culture. But let's leave Bp Croft aside. His point is well-made (if badly understood by the reporter, Victoria Ward, who is presumably hoping that if she writes a really good article she won't have to write in pencil any more.) And we've heard of the Bishop of Sheffield.

The Bishop of Greater London. I'd never heard of him. I mean, it doesn't sound like a proper title, like "Archdruid of Husborne Crawley", a post going back in its current form to 2000 AD and before the interruption due to the evil Celts to 4000 BC. Although I once met the Archdeacon of Charing Cross and that sounds pretty unlikely as well. Very Barchester.

What Victoria Ward fails to mention is that the Bishop of Greater London is not a Church of England or Roman Catholic bishop. He is a bishop, according to Wikipedia, of the Open Episcopal Church. And so entitled to that title. And according to their front page he is very much an action-bishop.

I don't quite understand the point the Bishop of Greater London is making in his comment on his own web site about the Lord's Prayer controversy, where he appears to be saying that identifying God with Jesus is wrong. But then he fell prey to that mistake of typing " fell pray ", so it could just be poorly wordsmithed.

So that's the Bishop of Greater London. I hear he has an Archdeacon of Fulham Broadway and a Dean of Staples Corner, and his cincture is technically called the M25, but that's just a rumour.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Richard Dawkins Commentary: the Child Jesus in the Temple

When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[Luke 2:41-49] 

Yet another young boy getting credit for his so-called "intelligence" and "originality". And what exactly was he doing, this prodigy? "Listening" to the teachers and "asking them questions". Is there anything so remarkable about that? Had he invented a new language? No. He was just using the same Aramaic words everybody else used, and re-arranging them. I hardly call that "understanding". If he were so "understanding", he would have created a new  language of his own and asked questions in that - not just copied the same old language.

And what questions was he asking? Were they important ones such as what kind of genius would popularise a meme, or had the teachers of the Law heard the terribly witty thing that Sir David Attenborough once said to him? No. Again, he was almost certainly asking questions about God. And who would be in the best position to ask searching questions about God? His Son, obviously. So in astonishing everyone with his supposed understanding of God when in fact - let us face it - he had already got all the information he needed from the Godhead Himself, Jesus was frankly cheating. His Father had already given him all the answers.

Jesus lived in the Land of Milk and Honey. Yet at no point in any of his journeys across the borders of Judea, Samaria and Phoenicia was his honey confiscated. Which is yet another blatant example of religion receiving privileges.

Somebody else said something terribly apposite about religion to me once. But she wasn't very famous, so I can't remember what it was.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Why the Widow Gave Her Mite

Thanks to the eloquent and prolific Bosco Peters, I've been fretting away about the text of the widow's mite. Bosco Peters has an interesting, challenging and, I suspect, correct view on this story.
The problem - the bit where we get it wrong - is where we break the text up into chunks rather than seeing it as a whole piece. Here it is:

The Widow’s Offering (Mark 12: NIV)
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said,“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
And, concludes the preacher, Jesus commends the widow for her whole-hearted giving. Because she alone understands that what God is doing is calling for whole-hearted sacrifice - giving all she has to the service of God. What a great example she is to us.

See, what we've done there is rip a gobbet of Scripture out of context and used it to justify what we want it to say. And the sub-headings in our Bible and our chapter divisions let us do it.
Let's take the headings and chapters out and put the context in.
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said,“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?”replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”'
In that context, the moral isn't about whole-hearted sacrifice at all. It's about a futile act. The widow has invested her money in something that won't last. The rich men have thrown their money as well for the same lost cause, but then they can spare it. And they got the benefit of being known benefactors. They have received their reward on earth, at least.

And giving to the Temple isn't, strictly speaking, giving to God even if it were going to last. We refer to the Temple of Herod as the Second Temple but it's actually more like Temple 2(b). Herod the (so-called) Great was rebuilding the Temple to the Glory of God, and his own glory as the half-Jewish puppet king. And it was a nice little earner. The priests had the money to be proper players in the Judean power games. Until the Zealots went over the top and the roof fell in on the whole thing.
So the thing she's given her money for isn't gonna last 40 years - if she's a young widow she might even see it fall. And she's given her money because she's been conned into a corrupt scheme where the priests can wield patronage with a vicious Gentile occupying power - propping up a scheme that should, if the priests really read the prophets, be giving money to her.

The widow was conned. She should have spent her mite on a bagel. You reckon Jesus commended her? I expect he wasn't angry with her. But I bet he hated the system

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Evolution of a Modern Controversy

Those Banned Church Media Ventures in Full

Congratulations to the Church of England in finally getting something banned as being disturbing to people waiting to see porn, torture, films involving adultery or science fiction franchises in which whole planets are destroyed. The C of E has worked hard enough at it. But it's the first real major public success.

The "Lord's Prayer" advert is just one of many attempts to get something Christian banned in this country's media. The Millennium Prayer, for instance, was still played on the BBC and made it to Number 1 despite being absolutely shocking. But here we remember just a few of the Church media endeavours over the year that got banned, yet never made the headlines.

"Robbie says Relax, Don't Do It" (1984)  - The then-Archbishop of Canterbury's attempt to discourage active homosexuality was always doomed to fail.

"Don't let's be Beastly to the Liberals" (1994) As the tide turned in favour of Evangelicalism, Noël Richards wrote this satirical song about the need to respect those who didn't really believe in the Bible.

"The Romans in Britain" (1980)  - Accidentally showing this biography of St Augustine of Canterbury instead of Howard Brenton's play, the National Theatre quickly corrected its mistake.

"Ebeneezer Good" (1992) This attempt to raise awareness by an Independent Baptist chapel in Buckinghamshire was sadly eclipsed by the Shamen hit of the same name.

"Never Mind the B*ll*cks, Here's the Church of England" (1977) - When the youth of the country were wearing strange clothes and complaining they were marginalised, misunderstood and nobody liked them, the clergy of the Established Church didn't understand why they didn't fit into the same category.

"A Clockwork Orangeman" - Never caught on in the Republic of Ireland.

"Glad to be Gray" (1977) - the attempt by the Methodist Church to celebrate the average age of their congregation fell foul of the BBC's attempts to court the youf market. Janet Street Porter was concerned that this was a direct attack on her hairstyle.

"Je t'aime.... le bon Dieu" (2012) - The duet between Gary Barlow and Susan Boyle was banned because of the heavy breathing.

"God save the King/Queen" (1744)  - A recording of the National Anthem that was rejected for being "overtly political" and "supporting a feudalist and Caledophobic narrative". Had to be trimmed to the first verse before it was acceptable for singing. And even now, cinemas refuse to play it before every show.

"I Vow to Thee, My Country", "Lord of the Dance", "Imagine" - Not actually banned. Just should be.

Liturgy for an Advert for the Lord's Prayer Being Banned

Archdruid: The chains Odeon, Cineworld and Vue

All: When faced by the Lord's Prayer know exactly what to do.

Archdruid: They won't show it cos it might offend their gentle little flocks

All: Let's face it, they can't cope with such terrifying shocks....

Archdruid: As forgiving people and obeying God's law

All: When they're waiting to watch the next sequel to "Saw".


Archbishop: Arun Arora is a marketing genius!

All: Arun Arora is a marketing genius!


Archdruid: Pa-pah pa-pah pa-pah-pa-pah pa-pa-pah.

All: Pa-pah pa-pah pa-pah-pa-paaaaah pa!