Saturday, 30 March 2013

He is Risen ...

Our day started this morning at 04.00 as we had to be at our church in Wiesbaden at 05.30 to prepare the Paschal Fire. The service commenced at 06.00 with the blessing and lighting, from the fire, of the Paschal Candle which will now burn through the coming year at our services. The Eucharist that followed celebrates the empty tomb and the hope it brings to all of us that death is but a gate, a transition to our own resurrection in due time.

As always the Eucharist ends with the great Easter Proclamation. "Christ is Risen!" and answered with the congregational response, "He is Risen indeed."

In our community we enjoy a shared breakfast at tables set along the central aisle, and enjoy the fellowship of a shared meal, each member contributing something. It is a great way to celebrate the central part of our faith.

Happy Easter to all my readers.

The Church and Relevance ...

I found a very good article on Bishop Nicholas Baines' blog on Good Friday. His comments on the manner in which the UK media choose to attack the Church at Easter are, in my view, very 'relevant.' I therefore commend to my readers the Bishop's post.

In our present times, 'relevance' seems to mean whatever the latest pressure group, or the latest fashion in political correctness may be. There is seldom any consideration of the deeper issues involved or of the consequences. The media claim to be 'following' 'public opion' in much of thise, yet, at the same time, also claim to 'form' it.

The question therefore is not 'is the Church relevant,' but who is making that determination of 'relevance?' I would suggest that it is not the 'public' but a rather smaller group whose opinions are written and promoted in the 'media' and which the 'public' take as being 'fact.'

For me the question when any change is suggested to my understanding of doctrine, scripture or practice is this. What would Christ say? That is all that is 'relevant.' I may not like the answer either ...

Friday, 29 March 2013

Karfreitag ...

That's Good Friday to the English speaking world. We've just come home from our Good Friday Devotion at the Friedenskirch in Wiesbaden, and, as ever, it is moving and thought provoking. Last night's Maundy Thursday Eucharist was celebrated with the congregation seated round a table with the Host being passed from one to another with the words "Christi; Brot des lebens" and the wine was passed in jugs so that each person poured a small cupful for themselves. Again, the passing of the wine is accompanied by the words, "Christi; Kelch des Heiles."

Today's service, in complete contrast, took us through an abridged 'Stations of the Cross' with hymns and prayers between each. At the conclusion of the Stations each member of the congregation laid a small stone at the foot of the crucifix and spent a few moments in prayer and reflection at the foot of the Cross. Once again, the service is very moving and very reflective.

Harry accompanies us to church, unusual in Germany, but quite common in the UK and certainly in the Abbey. It has fascinated the congregation that he makes himself comfortable at our feet and watches the people arive, then settles to sleep as soon as the service starts. He seems to enjoy the organ and the singing and as long as he is with us and can see us, he's happy. The children in the congregation think it's great and make a fuss of him as soon as the service ends.

Somehow his presence adds, for me at least, a little touch of the real world and all God's creatures being present in worship. I find that comforting and humbling.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Maundy Thursday ...

As I sit to write this post, my former colleagues in ministry will be assembling in Gloucester Cathedral for the annual rededication of clergy and the Blessing and Consecration of the Chrism and Holy Oils. It used to be something I looked forward to every year, but it was also a bittersweet event for me. Traditionally the day marks the start of Easter, with the commemoration of the Last Supper of Christ, his retiring to the Garden of Gethsemane and betrayal by Judas Iscariot.

In the Anglican tradition the Eucharist is held in the evening and is, in fact, the starting point of a three day liturgy. At the end of the evening's service, the Ciborium is carried to a chapel, decorated as a garden, and left there for the Vigil which will last through the night until the start of the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy. Once the consecrated elements have been removed to the chapel, the High Altar (and any other chapels) are stripped of all decoration and the clergy, servers and other ministers leave quietly and without fuss, leaving the sanctuary bare of all adornment. It is an incredibly moving moment and one I have been a part of for many years, in different Parishes and in many roles.

I no longer have a 'ministery' role, my current spiritual home is a much smaller congregation, and a different liturgical tradition, and there is no role for 'Readers.' That is the Ministry I exercised sometimes with encouragement, and sometimes under tolerance, for a little over 30 years in the Anglican Church in South Africa and then in England. It is a somewhat strange ministry, since the role you are permitted depends very much on the Incumbent of the Parish.

Reflecting on that I realised why the Maundy Thursday Rededication was so 'bittersweet' for me. As a Reader one is always a second class minister. In English Law you are regarded as 'clergy' and even under some of the Canon Law of the Church of England you may be treated as 'clergy,' but in ministry you are most definitely not. While one Parish Incumbent may welcome a Reader and treat them as a de facto Deacon, another will not and may even insist on allowing the Reader only to preach, and then only if the sermon and the subject have been vetted and approved. The Maundy Thursday service tended to reinforce that for me, especially in the latter years of my service to a small village church and then the Abbey, as I had to stand by and watch as other Readers were eased into ordination. Yet, whenever I raised the possibility of exploring it, there always seemed to be a stumbling block. At first it was my wife's desire not to be a 'vicar's wife' and then it was the fact I was divorced.

It was often painful to watch others being joyfully ordained, or welcomed at the Maundy Service, while I remained in a limited ministry excluded by the difference between a 'licence' to minister, and being 'ordained' to do almost the same things. I expect, to some reading this, it will sound like 'sour grapes' and to an extent I suppose it is. It has certainly been spiritually very painful, since, from the very first, I have felt 'called' and three Bishops in South Africa certainly felt it was a genuine call. Sadly family problems prevented me following that path before my marriage, and later, it would not have been acceptable to my wife. The eventual divorce placed an automatic 'bar' on it - until the Canon Law was changed as a result of the ordination of women for whom the 'bar' did not apply.

At every parish I served, I was lucky enough to be treated, by the incumbent, as their liturgical Deacon and it was a huge privilege to serve in that role. I was encouraged to widen the ministry as far I could, given that I had a fulltime job and family. When I moved to Tewkesbury, however, it was different. At first I was allowed to preach, and not much more. I joined the Server Team as a result and tried to build a ministry through that office, but then came a 'Vacancy in Cure'. Suddenly the Readers were much in demand. Suddenly I was being 'trusted' with Reservation of the Sacrament as the Sub Deacon of the Mass and the role widened as I was called upon to 'Deacon' the Parish Eucharist and even allowed to lead Evensong, all functions previously 'reserved' for ordained clergy only.

With the appointment of the new incumbent, the role of the Readers remained as it had become in the Vacancy, but here there was a new twist. Some members of the congregation campaigned tirelessly to have Readers excluded from Administration of the Sacraments, some even refused to receive the elements from a "Layman" as they termed us. The new incumbent certainly resisted that, but it blighted any widening of our liturgical ministry. We were 'good enough' to be 'deacon' for the Parish Eucharist, but not for the Sung Eucharist. With one of our number now being ordained, another exploring it and one, in training, converted directly to 'ordained' status, I found myself once again being sidelined. Yes, I was exercising a 'new' ministry as Church Warden, but it was not, and is not, a role I either wanted or enjoyed. It did give me the opportunity to once again raise the issue of going forward for ordination myself (another Reader had already been approved for it) and so began a long drawn out process toward getting to attend a Selection Conference.

They say the mills of God grind slowly, I think the Church of England can probably do it even slower. In the time it took for the various 'background checks,' references and numerous discussions, meetings and reviews, I had retired, set up my own business and eventually 'retired' as Church Warden. A spell abroad (a man has to pay the bills even if he's retired), took me off the Ministry Roster long enough to become someone who 'may be called upon in emergency only' and essentially I found myself more or less a 'ghost at the feast.' All the focus was now on training several former Readers to be priests - and I certainly wasn't among the 'select.' Yes, I do say this with some bitterness, for most of my ministry I have taken out communion to the sick and to the remote where no priest could be sent. I have filled the gaps when there were no clergy available and I have ministered to the troubled, to children in need, to mourners and the dying. But, for the last year of my Reader Ministry, I actually felt as if I was being a nuisance just being there. I was clearly no longer part of the team, and apparently causing a problem somewhere in the system by trying to explore ordination selection.

Yes, at the eleventh hour, I got an interview with the Bishop, and approval to go forward to a Selection Conference, but I couldn't escape the feeling that it was a reluctant approval at best. In the end, I withdrew my application as I had, after a great deal of prayer, decided that I could not give up the opportunity to marry the woman for whom I feel nothing but love. So I will not, in this life, fulfill the Call to ordination.

It saddens me that I will never have the opportunity to serve my God as a priest. It saddens me even more that I can feel that the ministry I did offer and give for almost 30 years, 11 at the Abbey, should have just quietly 'run into the sands' as it did. So, while I wish it could be different, I have to accept yet another 'changing season' and move on. I hope though, that any friends at the Abbey who read this (or from any other parish in which I have had the privilege of ministry) will remain in touch and remain friends. They more than anything else, made it all worth doing, and I will be thinking of them as I celebrate "Gruendonnerstag, Karfreitag and Ostern among my new friends here in Germany.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A Question of Resources and Moral Values ...

I note with considerable interest the decision by the "BRICS" countries to establish their own "Development Bank" as an alternative source of financial support to the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank - both controlled by "western" economic blocs. BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and they class themselves as 'Emerging Economies' rather than 'established' ones or even 'developed' ones.

Listening to the 'spokesperson' at the Durban conference where the Presidents, Prime Ministers and presumably the financial advisers are meeting, one statement leapt out. She stated, in all seriousness, that the 'leaders' of the five nations, were looking to establish a bank which focused on the economic matters and did not attach endless social and moral conditions to the loan. She then went on to say there was no reason this 'bank' could not, in the fullness of time, replace the World Bank. She didn't say, or I didn't hear, the obvious addition which would be "and take control of economic development away from the US and Europe."

Sadly there is a large element of truth in the statement that any loan from the World Bank or the IMF comes with lots of 'moral' strings attached. We in the West have become used to the idea that anything and everything we desire for ourselves is absolutely and unquestionably right for everyone and everywhere else. There is an arrogant assumption that we are morally superior in the way we do things and have a right to demand that everyone else obeys those standards. All too often we fail to meet our own standards, so the Chinese, Russians, Indians and Brazilians have a point there. Our form of society is not theirs, and theirs is not ours - but that doesn't make either 'right' or 'wrong.'

From the current reports each of the five nations has to put up a large amount of money to get the 'bank' started. While I have little doubt the first four can find the cash, South Africa, with massive unemployment, a weak currency and massive corruption in the government is going, I think, to struggle. That said, I suspect the real reason behind this move is to free the money supply from the current US/Europe dominated World Bank and the IMF. I have no doubt at all that China and Russia have long planned this, and India and Brazil are well placed to support it and reap the benefits.

Sadly, the penchant among current US and European political classes for 'preaching' to the developing world - the vast majority of whom share nothing of our values or ideologies - and insisting on a wide range of meddling mechanisms was bound, sooner or later, to lead to this position. I think there are some interesting times ahead - and there will be some painful lessons for the West in it as well.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Attitudes ...

Recently I was sent a link to a series of photographs of children posed with their favourite toys by an Italian photographer who has gone round the world to photograph kids from different cultures in their 'home environment' posing with their toy of choice. The photos are beautiful, touching, possibly telling, but the comments that follow say a great deal more about our attitudes and our society. They range from a straight "these are beautiful" to a range of what are probably best described as 'political' comments.

One says -

Come on people, “Children From Around The World” and you couldn’t show ONE Black child living in a financially stable environment? Africa is a rich continent and there are a lot of Black millionaire families living in those countries, what’s up?!

The author of that comment obviously hasn't read the heading, which states that these are a 'sample.' While he is correct in saying that there are millionaire Black families in parts of Africa, they are very far from the lives and conditions of the vast majority of African families - so why not choose an image which shows something of the majority? Another commentator thinks that these images are the perfect example of why the US should give 'more Aid.' He then states that no one in the US lives in this sort of 'poverty' thanks to social engineering, a claim flatly denied by another commentator further down the list.

Other comments also focus on the social and political mores of our western society. Some can't see anyone being happy unless they are within walking distance of all the amenities we enjoy and take for granted. They probably have little understanding of what it cost our parents and grandparents to secure them for us. Some dive straight into the 'psychological' questions of how far a parent might have influenced a child's choices - as if this were something horrendous. Of course the parents influence the children, not least by giving them a 'role model' to aspire to emulate.

It strikes me that we all see different things when we look at images like these. I'll confess that I looked at them and could identify with the societies and the lifestyles of the parents. I've been in homes like the  one from Kenya. In many parts of Africa, such a house is almost luxury, and the lives of those who live in them are hard, grinding and a struggle. It would be very wrong to pretend otherwise, but it isn't going to change either, no matter how much I give up or contribute to 'Aid.'

Very few of the commentators seem to be able to see the simplicity of the child, the child's desire to show off his or her most treasured toys and just accept them for what they are. Children invited to share a moment with an interested adult. OK, I will confess that my sympathy is moved by the child in the wattle and daub dwelling in Kenya.

Friday, 22 March 2013

A Myth of Reason?

Recently I read an article that repeated one of those modern myths that seems to have gained traction in the minds of many. It states simply that all the wars in history have been 'caused' by religion. The author claimed that 'reason' as opposed to 'religious superstition' would have avoided, among others, the two world wars. According to those that push this line, every war is religious in origin. In a recent debate - if that is the right word - with someone from the atheist camp on this subject, I was reminded, yet again, that Hitler was a Roman Catholic, Stalin a failed Russian Orthodox monk and Mao Tse Tung had followed Buddhism. "Proof" according to my interlocutor, that religion motivated them to commit the atrocities and excesses that led to millions of deaths.

Of course, he was right. Hitler was raised a Roman Catholic, Stalin was a novice in an Orthodox seminary, Mao was a follower of Confucionism rather than Buddhism and there are many more examples of truly horrendous psychopaths who followed a religious path. My challenge to my friend was to show me what part of the teachings of the religions of confessions concerned, taught these men (and there are one or two women as well) to do what they did. They may have been raised in these religions, but they did not practice what they were taught, nor did they live the life these religions encourage. Hitler famously told a questioner that, because he had been raised a Roman Catholic, he knew exactly how to twist them round his fingers, and Stalin certainly followed the same pattern. Having first closed churches all over Russia and the Soviet Union, he re-opened them when he needed to convince the populace that the war - which he'd helped Hitler precipitate - was a'righteous' one. Yes, these men certainly knew how to play the religious card, but not one of them actually practiced what the religions teach. Can Hitler or Stalin be called a "Christian"? I would argue that the answer to that is an emphatic no.

As the Bible says, "By their fruits you will know them."

That, of course led to an exposition of the Crusades as an example of how Christianity has "always" used war to spread its message. Yes, the Crusades were a "religious war", and they were a response to the invasions from the Arabian peninsula of the Islamic armies. The Middle East and North Africa were largely Christian when Mohammad's followers began their invasions against the Byzantine rulers of these areas. From roughly 700 AD to 1000 AD they overthrew and subjugated one province of the Byzantine Empire after another. Their renowned 'tolerance' is a chimera used today to 'prove' that the Christians were 'barbarous' and the Arabs 'enlightened.' The 'tolerance' was a token. You could hold to your Christian faith, but paid a premium tax, your land could be seized, your servants could be removed if they converted to Islam, since no 'Unbeliever' may hold a position over 'Believers' and even the recitation of the Christian Creed could lead to a charge of blasphemy. Belatedly Western Christians decided to act - but, because the East didn't acknowledge the claims of the Pope to sole headship of the Church, Catholic and Apostolic, tried to act alone. Yes, this was a war of 'spreading the word' and like most such ungodly acts, it failed disasterously.

So what of the rest of the wars since the Crusades? Was the American War of Independence religiously inspired? Was the French Revolution? The Napoleonic Wars? The Franco-Prussian war? The Anglo-Boer Wars? What about Queen Victoria's 'Little Wars' to suppress the slave trade, promote the sale of heroine to China or the Boxer Rebellion? What, indeed, of the American Civil War? I was somewhat astonished by the assertion that 'religion played a key part in all of them.' Really? Naturally I asked for an explanation, since my understanding of the history of all these conflicts is obviously in some way flawed.

I understood that the American colonists rebelled over the stupidity of the British administration's insistence on the shipping back to Britain of all raw materials and the purchase of the finished goods by the colonists from British manufacturies. Few know that there were laws forbidding the colonists from making their own tools, or processing the cotton and tobacco they produced. There was no 'religious' motivation on the British side, it was all about vested interests and profit. Likewise the French Revolution, the motivation was not religious - unless one can count the atheist leaders of it as 'religious' - but about the abuses of the ruling class and the desire for more freedom and a fairer society. Ironically the roots of the Revolutionary ideals lay in the American War of Independence and the ideas brought back by French troops sent to aid the Americans against the British. The French involvement there was certainly not 'religious' - it was pure commercial advantage they were after.

The Revolution (like the Russian one a century or so later) quickly descended into a bloodbath. Napoleon rose to power as a result of it, and famously snatched the crown from the Pope's hands placing it on his own head. Was he 'religious' or motivated by 'religion'? I suspect Napoleon would regard you with astonishment of you suggested it. Like most wars, it was about trade and wealth from there on. Control access to markets and you control trade, control trade and, as they say, the world is your oyster.

The Crimean War was fought to prevent the Russian expansion - which threatened British and French trade interests in the Middle and Far East, so no 'religious' overtones there. The Franco-Prussian War was about who dominated Europe, France or Prussia. Even the British Civil War, though there was a 'religious' cloak to it, was really about who wielded power over the land, the King or Parliament, the political class or the nobility. Yes, the religion certainly provided the protaganists with plenty of "justification" for their un-Christian activities, but to claim that the war was 'caused' by religion is ridiculous.

I will concede that religion often plays a part in any conflict, but to make a sweeping statement that it 'causes' wars is silly. Most wars are about power, wealth, territory or political ideology. The two Anglo-Boer Wars were about territory and access to the wealth of the Gold Reef, nothing more. The 'little' wars in Africa and one or two other places, were also about access to raw materials, markets for finished goods or power. What part did religion play in the First or Second World War I asked. "Ah! Declared my friend, both sides told everyone 'God was on their side.'" He went on to remind me that the German Wehrmacht troops had "Gott mit uns" on their belt buckles. So they did, but what did he expect? This was a hangover from the days of the Kaisers.

The churches in any nation are there to provide comfort and support to those in need, the poor, the downtrodden and the bereaved. As the Stalinist period showed, if they fall foul of the regime and are closed - they cannot do what the Gospel tells us is their function. What, I asked him, did he think of the fact that many priests, ministers and ordinary people defied the regime - some, like Bonhoeffer - paying the ultimate price for their efforts.

Digging deeper into the history of Europe, one could point to the Thirty Years War or even the Hundred Years War. What was the 'religious' motivation for these? In short, once again, when examined closely both were about who held what territory and wielded what power - religion was, once again, a cloak for a deeper political agenda.

I find, having looked closely at the facts, religion is often invoked as a cloak for some ideological ambition on the part of some ruler or another. Almost all of the wars of the Twentieth Century have no religious aspect to them (the exception is the Islam versus everybody campaign against Israel and the Christian West). The two world wars, the cold war and all the little 'hot' wars within that, were straight up ideology. So, unless political ideology has now been elevated to a formal 'religion' the statement that religion alone 'causes' wars is patently and manifestly a falsehood.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

God Bless the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

The new Archbishop of Canterbury, the 105th to hold the title since Augustin arrived in England (it is reported, reluctantly), was enthroned today in his cathedral. It is always a double 'enthronement' as he both the Diocesan Bishop of the See of Canterbury and the Head of the Province of Canterbury which includes all the diocese of what, in Roman times, would have been Britannia Prime and part of Secunda (Which stretched from the Thames up the East Coast). In addition, he is the "Primus inter Pares" of the Anglican Communion, a position the Media and many individuals always seem to confuse with the Papal position in Rome. It is not, he has no overriding authority over any of the Provincial Primates or their Synods. Nor does he have the power to override any resolution made by any Diocesan Bishop and his Synod. All he may do is offer an opinion or advice.

Archbishop Justin Welby brings a number of skills to the position that we have not seen in many of his predecessors. One major difference between him and almost all of them, is that he comes with experience in the highest corridors of commerce and industry. He will need these and his mediation skills in his new role. It is to be hoped that he will have the support of the laity and the clergy of all factions within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. He comes from the more Protestant wing of the Church, but one should not make the mistake of thinking he does not value and appreciate the more Catholic traditions, he most certainly does.

His enthronement was not the massively glitzy affair which saw the new Pope installed in Rome, but it is no less important for all that. From what I have been able to see of it, it had its moments of quiet dignity, some glorious music and its moments of spirituality. I would dare to suggest that it was a good start to this Archbishop's primacy. He faces some difficult matters, not least the now entrenched belittling and antipathy to anything to do with Christianity and the Church of England in particular in Parliament and the Media. He must find ways to make the Christian message audible, acceptable and inclusive in the face of all the negative arguments advanced by the vociferous atheist, humanist and secularist lobbies. He must find ways of encouraging people to join congregations and take active roles in worship and find a way to reverse the negative impact of the secularist 'open for business 24/7' which means that many families never have the same days off together or spend time together.

Among his 104 predecessors there are several martyrs, ++Thomas Beckett, the only Archbishop or bishop to be murdered in his own cathedral, ++Lanfranc, murdered by a mob in the Tower of London, ++Thomas Cranmer, the author of much of the Book of Common Prayer, murdered by Queen Mary I by being burned at the stake in Oxford, and several others deprived of the 'Living' or imprisoned after falling foul of the ruler of the day. It is a position with enormous political as well as spiritual demands upon the incumbent and there will be many among the Media pack eagerly watching for anything they may use to drag him down, just as they did with ++Rowan, the 104th Archbishop. Sadly, there will also be those among both the Laity and the clergy of the CofE who will find endless fault with his actions, advice and decisions. One can but hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will uphold, uplift and inspire him at every turn.

I shall be praying for the success of his ministry.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Crime, criminal actions and responsibility ...

Crime has been with us almost as long as we have lived in 'societies' and made 'rules' about what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour toward it each other. That is, in part, the message of the allegorical story of Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis. There are, of course, two types of 'rules' - those that are based on our 'moral codes' of behaviour, and those that are less easily identified as having that 'moral' link and are more concerned with the protection of property. Generally, those that steal are more easily identified as 'criminals' while those who commit offences in the other group of 'rules' can be seen in a different light.

Many 'legal' systems, which is what our 'moral' codes have become, focus on the offender and often ignore or even exclude, the victim. There are some who argue that this, by removing the emotional suffering of the victim, ensures that Justice remains 'blind' and is truly served. I confess that I have some serious doubts on that score, and a recent case in the US strengthens it. The real problem with crime of any sort is how our society often condones it. This was brought home to me reading a post by Henry Rollins on the blog Under the Gun Review. His comments on the Steubenville Rape Case are extremely thought provoking.

The case on which he comments highlights a number of difficult areas in our society, not least that of 'responsibility.' In the Steubenville case the offenders were 'American Football Stars' in their High School team and so there were massive attempts to 'cover up' the crime. The girl concerned was drunk, according to some sources, 'reveallingly attired' and certainly the Defendents legal team tried to shift the blame onto her. The alarming thing about this case is that it took place in the presence of witnesses and was videoed, the video being posted online - which is what eventually forced the authorities to take action. More alarmingly, this is not a unique case, there are a number of other similar cases on record.

That raises a number of questions. Why did no one act? Why did no one attempt to stop the crime? Why were the police not immediately informed of a 'crime in progress' if no one felt able to stand up to the attackers?

One thing is clear, there are a substantial number of those involved who feel that the victim 'deserved what she got' or was somehow to blame for what happened to her. Perhaps her being drunk, and her 'revealing attire' did suggest she might 'want' to be raped - but then we have to ask why her friends didn't intervene either.

To a very large extent, this is a result of the manner in which our society has become 'individualised.' There again, we seem to have a degree of schizophrenia. When anything good is happening, it is 'our efforts,' but, as soon as it goes bad - its 'the government.' We demand absolute 'freedom' in everything, but then ask why, when someone gets hurt, the 'government' didn't prevent it. Parents divorce themselves from responsibility for the activities minor children get involved in. Many feel unable to impose discipline on their children because they fear any such attempt will lead to intervention by the Social Workers or the likes of the SPCC and other 'child' protection agencies. Others just couldn't be bothered, some in this group even take pride in the way their kids flout every law.

So who is to 'blame' in such cases? One school of thought see the offender as a 'victim of society.' They blame 'society' for 'letting down the offender,' the usual excuses beig poverty, disadvantage, educational difficulties, and so on. It is never, ever, the 'fault' of the offender. The comments on the article by Rollins make interesting reading and there as well, the 'victim is the offender because they invited it' mentality is at it again. There is a clear divide in opinions there, many want draconian punishment imposed on the offenders (both under 18), others feel the victim (also well under age) 'deserves' what happened and some feel that the offenders stand as scape goats for a wider group. I suspect I am partly in this third group.

As I write at the outset, why did these boys think what they did was even marginally acceptable? Why did those around them not intervene? Why did the parents, teachers and everyone else involved not raise objections to the cover up and then the vilification of the victim?

This is very much the mindset that allows vicious cyber bullying which leads to teenage suicide rates that are alarming. This is the mindset that allows gangs to ruin the lives of entire communities and it is the mindset that stands idly by while victims are punished and criminals laugh all the way to the next crime and the bank.

I believe those who are keen to 'reform' the Justice system actually need to adjust their vision and stop looking at 'improving' the jails, but at the root of the problem. We are now a society where there are no moral compasses for a significant slice of the population. There is no parental authority, no parental guidance and the emphasis on individualism and 'rights' has undermined all 'moral' authority. That has not been helped by the collapse in trust of all 'authority' figures, from religious leaders and politicians downward.

In the famous words from the Appollo mission that suffered a metoerite strike to its Oxygen tanks; "Houston, we have a problem." Like that mission, we have a problem that is going to require some very difficult decisions, some very tough solutions and a lot of pain and hardship to correct. And we'll either address it, or we will have to accept the failure of our society and live behind locked and barred doors afraid to venture out or to let our children go out.

The choice is ours - and sadly we put it off at our peril.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Mutualisation? What is that?

I note with interest and frustration that the government has issued a "rebuttal" of the story that they were planing to "privatise" the Fire and Rescue Services. The Minister is at great pains to make clear that "mutualisation" is NOT "privatisation." The question is, what is "mutualisation?"

My dictionary suggest that the word 'mutual' means, inter alia -

1. Having the same relationship each to the other,
2. Directed and recieved in equal amount, or
3. Possessed in common.

The English root of the word is from the French "mutuel" which comes from the Latin "mutuus" which meant exchanged, reciprocal or mutual.

Essentially it appears the Minister and his Civil Servant advisers wish to turn the Fire and Rescue Services into some form of "Co-operative" enterprise which is what, as my dictionary informs me is the meaning of the verb "to mutualise." Now, to me, a "co-operative" suggests that there are at least two "partners" in this venture, and possibly more. So now arises the question; who would be a party to this "co-operative" partnership?

Reading the Ministerial "rebuttal" one learns that the Whitehall idea is supposed to give 'control' of the service to the 'front-line experts' and to 'free' them from 'bureaucracy.' I'd love to see that, but I suspect what it will mean in reality is that there will be endless 'rules' issued by Whitehall in one guise or another and that there will be no 'savings' in Whitehall, but a severe reduction in funding to the service on the grounds that it must be 'locally funded and supported.'

It seems that what Whitehall has in mind is that the Fire and Rescue Services will take full control of their own management and 'contract' their services to the Fire and Rescue Authority under the provisions of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. Effectively the Chief Fire Officer and his staff will become "owners" of the local Fire and Rescue Service, saddled with 'leasing' their stations from the FRA and their appliances, fire equipment and uniforms from the contractor currently supplying these under contract to the FRA. Again, the Whitehall idea seems to be that the current staff, the Trade Union and the FRA will form a "mutual" to deliver the Service.

Frankly, I think this is someone in Cloud Cuckoo Land dreaming of Pie in the Sky. Frankly they may be taking some chemical substance as well.

A careful reading of the relevant Article in the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 says that the FRA has three options for "delivering a fire and rescue service." It can do it itself, it can join forces with another FRA and do it jointly, or it can "contract" someone to do it for them, provided the contractor employs "fire fighters." So, if an existing Fire and Rescue Service becomes a "mutual" with a contract to supply its services to the Fire and Rescue Authority in its area - and the FRA chooses NOT to be a party to the "mutual" - there is no obligation to continue contracting the service from the "mutual" owned by its former staff. (See Article 15 Arrangements with other employers of firefighters, and 16 Arrangements for discharge of functions by others.)

I can see a situation arising under the current Treasury Rules to show "value for money" in every contracted service, where a FRA may decide that awarding the contract to supply its FRS may be better "value for money" if it awarded it to - say - Serco.

Frankly this looks like one of those Whitehall schemes dreamed up to "save" money which will end up costing jobs, far more money than it "saves" and frankly feathering the nests in Whitehall and Westminster. It will be unlikely to provide any improvement to anyone outside of the small and utterly inward looking community that calls itself the Central Government under any political dispensation.

Whatever the Minister thinks may be the benefits of "mutualisation", the most likely outcome is exactly what he says it won't be. Privatisation.  

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Passiontide ...

Today is Passion Sunday, but it is also the anniversary of the death of St Patrick. As I have no doubt the church services will focus on the Passion, I will break with the normal and focus on the Saint. Yes, I am wearing a green shirt, but I will not be swilling green beer or any other 'token' to mark the occasion. In his memory I offer instead this version of St Patrick's Breastplate, also known as the 'Lorica.' It sums up the faith I hold and the faith he taught. Originally written in Latin, it may well be based on his own writing, it certainly fits with his known writing style.

The English version I give here comes from the New English Hymnal and is the work of the poetess and hymn writer Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander (1818 - 1895). It was set to music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, who used two traditional Irish tunes for it.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith,
Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet 'Well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun's life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.

The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide,
His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,

In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A New Pope - What can we hope to see?

My post of yesterday may well be seen by some as very negative, and perhaps it is. Having considered carefully and read the excellent article posted by Archbishop Cranmer, I am prepared to say that I hope Francis I will be able to bring some much needed change to the Vatican. The Archbishops article is entitled What Pope Francis might mean for the Church of England. It is worth reading.

My overriding impression of the Roman Catholic Church is that it is still a very 'feudal' heirarchy. The Pope/Emperor presides over the Provincial Cardinal/Princes and rules through the Curia, all power resides in the hands of the clergy, with the laity having little or no say in anything. Indeed, one sometimes has the impression that the laity are regarded in much the same way as peasants and serfs by the 'princes' of the Church - to be patronised, disciplined and corrected when they dare to question anything.

It is that, more than anything else, which has led to the abuse scandals that have all but destroyed the message of the Gospel for all of Christianity, not just for Rome.

The new Pope is said to be "anti-clerical" and pro-ecumenism. The Anglican Bishop of Buenos Aires (yes, there is one) has written a glowing account of his relationship with the former Archbishop, and it does seem that there is some hope of a greater rapproachment. He is also said to take a different view to his predecessor o the subject of such things as the Sacraments, which may mean a more open approach in a very wide range of matters the last two Popes have blocked. We can but hope.

Following the news here in Germany, and listening to those who want to see reforms, reading articles by prominent Roman Catholic laymen and women, I would list the following as matters Rome really does need to address -

1. Drop the claims to "infallibility" and to being the sole possessor of Apostolic Authority as 'Vicar of Christ' (the title was first used in about 600 AD and did not become 'permanent' until the 1200s),
2. Recognise the validity of the ordination of those confessions which still hold to the Orders set up by the Apostles,
3. Accept the validity of other Christian confessions and cease to demand that the only acceptable form of "Christian Unity" is the submission to the authority of Rome,
4. Move back toward the Synodical governance of the Church as practiced in the Early Church, and
5. Open the discussion on the ordination of women, and
6. Put an end to exclusion, opening the churches sacraments to all and adopting an "inclusive" stance to embrace ALL believers, not just those of their own profession.

The first item on my list is, perhaps, the key to the others. The doctrine of "infallibity" is of very recent date, and, contrary to popular belief it is not about the Pope being infallible in everything, it applies only to matters issued "ex cathedra" by him and the Curia. Even so, it is unacceptable to most non-Roman Catholics. In similar vein, the claims of primacy over all Christians rests on one text in Mark, a similar passage in the other Gospels makes clear the "authority" is shared by all the Apostles and it can even be argued that it includes all believers. The earliest Pope to claim this exclusive authority arose in the 500s, but the attempt to enforce it in the 900s led to the split between the Roman Catholic "west" and the Orthodox East. Stepping away from this claim of superiority opens the door to a number of he other items on my list.

History shows that Rome was regarded, by the early church, in the same manner as the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Church, as a "Primus inter pares" or "First among equals." Adopting that status again opens the door to much more inclusivity than exists at present between Rome and all the other branches of Christianity.

Why do I bother myself with these matters when, as many of my readers will know, I am an Anglican? Put simply, it is because I do believe that Christians must seek to unite in their faith, if not in the manner of their worship or even in the "orders" of their ministry. I do believe that it is imperative we unite around how we understand and read the Bible, that we share the sacraments and that we adopt Christ's own approach to those seeking understanding  - in short, that we welcome and include everyone. That we include even those we do not like, or with whom we 'have a problem.' God's mercy and grace is far, far wider than anything we can know or understand - but we are required by the Gospel to embrace it.

Throughout my own ministry I have prayed for the "unity of the church" and I have always understood that to embrace ALL Christians. But it cannot happen until we are all able to share the Eucharist in all its forms and that cannot happen as long as Rome excludes everyone who cannot accept the claim of Papal Supremacy. I will continue to pray for that 'unity,' though I fear I may never actually see it.

I hope, and pray, that the new Bishop of Rome, Francis I, will surprise me.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

A New Pope

I find it intriguing that the Papal election has chosen the Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Beunos Aires, not because he is from South America, but because he is closely involved in politics in his home nation. I'm willing to bet that he will not be long in trying to restate the Papal Decree which originally divided the world between Spain and Portugal in the 1500s - in favour of Argentinian's claim to the Falklands. You can be pretty sure of something else I should think.

I doubt there will be any move toward rethinking relations with other Christian professions of faith, nor will there be any move toward married clergy, much less the recognition of the ancient ministry of women, suppressed since the 600s AD. He faces some tough challenges, among them the corruption within the Vatican, in its financial affairs, in the power mongering in the Curia and the wheeling and dealing among certain lobby groups. The abuse scandals won't go away either, and the people involved are still in power in the Curia. It will be a very tough task.

It remains to be seen, what, if anything, will change.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

There is a time ...

There is a time and a tide in the affairs of men, wrote Shakespeare.  He is in fact quoting an even older source, Ecclesiastes 3: 1 "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." As one gets older, and presumably gathers some wisdom, there comes a point when one appreciates that it is right. There is a 'season' for everything and within that season, a 'time.'

Several things have made me realise lately that one season has passed for me, and with it, the time for certain things. It concerns my former career. 

I had a great one, yes there were lots of tears and frustrations, but there was a lot of laughter and some superb friends - people I would trust with my life. I am still in touch with most, if not all of them, and hope to remain so. I learned a huge amount, not just the acquisition of knowledge and experience, but about myself in the process. At times things sort of plodded along, at others it was a wild white water ride, but each part of it was worth every knock, every scrape and every scar. Some time ago, I realised that I saw my work as a 'vocation' and not as a 'job.' That, in itself, was a revelation.

As I worked my way through the service, I accumulated qualifications, some, like the two degrees, would have astonished some of my school masters (and still amaze me!). I met people and saw places I'd never dreamed of either being associated with, or seeing. When I moved to the UK, I knew I would be putting the job I loved on a siding that would end, one day, against the buffers. But still, thanks to some of the super people I worked with and under, managed to carve out a new career path and, I hope, make a useful contribution to the UK Fire and Rescue Service.

That season has run its course. I retired six years ago, and, because I enjoyed teaching fire investigation, fire service command and management and fire safety and protection, I continued offering my services to my former employer and others. That led me to some fascinating places and experiences and to meeting some really super people from totally different cultures. Six months in Tehran was an eye-opener, so were several weeks in Libya (pre-Arab Spring), so too was a spell in Jamaica. In each country I have visited, what has made it special is the students and the people I have met. I treasure the memories and the friendships, but I feel the time has come to let others pick up what I have been doing, and to accept that it is time to step aside.

Yes, I will miss the challenge of keeping up with the latest science, the latest techniques or the latest developments. So I won't stop studying them or thinking about them, I'm really only going to stop accepting contract work to try and teach it. I will miss the interaction of the classes, and the opportunities to explore something in a lot more depth, or to draw on someone else's experience. I've enjoyed the ride, I've had the fun, but the season has moved on and so has the Service.

It isn't the service I joined in South Africa 1970, and I'm happy to say that I was among those who moved it out of the 'Dark Ages' and into the realms of professional qualification and forward thinking. Nor is it the UK Fire Service as it was in 1992.  But neither are the Fire Services I thought I was helping to create either. It is time I stepped back, adjusted my focus, and looked at what this new 'season' in my life is leading me toward. That said, should someone ask, I'll always be ready to share my knowledge and experience.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Out for a walk ...

Saturday Harry went for a walk with the other Shelties from the Rhein-Main-Sheltie group. We walked in Ober-Ramstadt in a 'nature trail' area of the forest and the dogs loved it. Some scenes to show the fun -
Gathering the pack ...

Checking their people ...

Harry, Artus and friend ...

Group shot at the half-way point ...

Pure fun to watch these dogs race one another, play tag, chase and just enjoy themselves as a group. We had a very tired, but very happy pup when we eventually got home ...

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Falklands Referendum

An article today on the Yahoo News feed about the forthcoming referendum makes interesting reading, particularly the propaganda campaign the Argentinians are waging against the Falklanders and the flood of foreaign journalists descending to write about the "illegal British Colonial occupation" of the Malvinas. As usual propaganda bears little relationship to truth.

What I find interesting is the comments beneath the article which, no doubt, reflect a small but significant section of "public opinion" in the UK. There were all the usual comments about "taxpayers money being spent to benefit a few" which "could be better spent on the NHS/Social Security/etc." Even a few politicians would have no qualms doing what they've done to those they first sent out to work the colonies - with the profits going to the politicians and power mongers in Britain - and now wanting to throw them to the wolves because they've become an inconvenience now they want a share in their own productivity.

For once I'm in agreement with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when it says that the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is a matter for the Falkland Islanders - not Buenos Aires or Whitehall. The only reason Argentina wants them is to exploit the oil they think may lie off East Falkland. If they were to be given them the islands would quickly become yet another Latin American slum - with any money pouring into the pockets of the rich and powerful in Beunos Aires.

As for those in the UK who can see no further than their own comfort, mostly unearned from milking the system of benefits by the look and standard of the spelling and language abilities - let them be shipped off to live in Argentina for a while. It might give them a more realistic perspective.

Friday, 8 March 2013

You can fool some of the people ...

Abraham Lincoln was a man who could put emotions, concepts and home truths into words everyone could grasp, but his famous and oft quoted "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time" seems, these days, to be less true. Watching the circus that is currently taking place in Venezuela I wonder whether the balance is changing when it comes to "fooling all of the people all of the time."

Hugo Chavez has ruled his country through three terms as President and was elected for a fourth, but then, without reference to the electorate, appointed a 'caretaker' because he was terminally ill. He was elected by popular vote - Venezuela has a lot of poor people and a small number of very, very wealthy ones - and promptly nationalised a lot of the countries assets. He then set about creating several 'projects' to 'uplift the poor' and has ridden a wave of popularity ever since which has seen to his re-election again and again. But the people he claimed to be helping are still poor, the nations economy is in deep trouble and corruption among those he appointed to implement his Marixst/Socialist policies is well out of control. Yet the majority are still devoted to him ...

The North Korean government provides another example. Here is a nation that is so deep in poverty its ordinary people are starving, yet the "party" and the military have it all. Their populace are told, all day and every day, that they must continue this imbecilic armed truce situation "because the US is using South Korea as a springboard for attempts to destroy their Marxist paradise. And the bulk of the populace seems to accept it.

Then there is the current situation with Islam. The vast majority of Muslims accept the line that Israel is a US tool to destabilise and undermine their faith - I've had some interesting conversations on that one - and that all "Jews" living in Israel arrived there post 1945. This, of course, feeds into the idea that Israel must be destroyed in order to 'restore Palestine.' It underpins the credo by which Muslim fundamentalists live.

What strikes me most forcibly in each of the above is that the majority in each case - and in some everyone involved - actually believes the 'party line.' They make no attempt to check facts, or to examine sometimes obvious evidence which would immediately expose the lies they are being fed. But they prefer to be fooled apparently.

I can only wonder what Abe would have said.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Culture Clash ...

It has several times struck me in recent years that many well intentioned people simply do not understand any culture outside of the one they live in - and many have only a fairly parochial grasp of their own. The most obvious examples have to be the attempts to impose western ideology and 'democracy' on Iraq, or Afghanistan, but there are many others one could draw on. The left-wing media hype about the "Arab Spring" which failed utterly to understand either the cultural issues, or the demography which has resulted in the current situation in most where 'regime change' has replaced one dictator, with another.

Most of the western 'liberal-left' now eschew Christianity, and in doing so, fail completely to realise just how large a role it has played in developing our concepts of justice, human dignity and rights, our legal systems and even our understanding of government and democracy. None of that is present in any society where Christianity has not been a major player. Islam has its Sharia Law, a religio-legal Code developed from the 9th Century onward and, in many ways, similar to the English "Common Law" system in its development. Hindu and Buddhist cultures have their own codes of law based on the tenets of their faith as well. This ignorance of other cultures - or indeed recognition of their differing ideals and roots - was amply demonstrated by the utterances of the Blair government over the Bi-millenium celebrations when they invited Jews, Muslims and Hindus to 'celebrate' the two thousandth anniversary (give or take about six to twelve years) of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The proponents of "Multi-Culturalsim" happily believe that if one adopts the position that "all gods are equal" (as Sir Terry Pratchett has written in his Discworld stories), then all cultures can be compatible and equal and live in harmony. Unfortunately, that is naive, but its proponents do not wish to recognise that. So we continue to see the promotion of the idea that someone can change countries, but bring with them all the baggage of the society they have opted to leave. They can then live in a "cultural enclave" without integrating and with its own laws divorced from the rest of the nation. As I have remarked before this, that is the underlying premise of Apartheid, and it must be the supreme irony that many of those who now promote "multi-culturalism" were once among the placard waving and chanting crowds who demonstrated for the end of that ideology.

Now many of these same people wish to export their ideology to countries who do not share their cultural heritage. There is a certain arrogant ignorance attached to looking at another country or people and saying 'they would be much better off if they lived as we do.' For one thing, they seldom bother to ask whether those they claim this change will benefit, want it. Not everyone wishes to live in a society where there is a Pub on every street corner, a Post Office and a grocery store in the High Street. Not everyone wants to be a customer of a Tesco, Sainsbury or Carrefore. Not everyone wants to be able to receive 999 TV channels or live in a town where every move is watched by CCTV cameras. Some are quite happy to live in modest unheated homes, without television and a mobile phone, and many, many more, are quite happy to let government get on with whatever, as long as they don't interfere with their farming or their private lives.

It is a peculiarly western idea that government can or should 'improve' the lot of the ordinary citizen by intervening in their lives financially or materially. Once again, it stems from the misappropriation of certain elements of Christian teaching and it doesn't 'translate' to any other religious cultural background. I became aware of this when sent to work briefly in Bangkok. I was appalled at the poverty of many, often on the doorstep of fabulous and opulently displayed wealth. It was gently explained to me that each individual is responsible for their own lot in life and that families often benefited by the sacrifice of a child who might become a sex worker. To a westerner, brought up in the Judeo-Christian concepts of morality and societal responsibility, this is a totally alien concept - but, does that make it any less valid? Many Thais would argue that their system allows a child to raise its parents from poverty. I would not necessarily agree with that, but it is their society, not mine. By what 'right' would I impose a change? Human Rights? Human dignity? Morality?

Americans (and most westerners) are often surprised by the distaste with which many Muslims regard our culture. They look upon us as having no morals at all, pointing to our immodest (to them) clothing, our loose sexual code and our lack of religious observance. For our part, the 'liberal-left' often finds itself ina Catch-22 situation. On the one hand they decry the strict control of women's dress and their being subject always to husband or father, branding it as outdated and 'medieval.' On the other they eagerly encourage the preservation of these very aspects by promoting it as somehow superior to our own religious beliefs. These are then the same people who send an 'adviser on woman's rights' to 'assist in the development of a new nation' when they embark on 'Regime Changing' military adventures.

As I said at the outset here, the problem, certainly among the liberal-left activist types currently forming our political thinking, is that they do not understand 'cultures' at all. Not even their own.


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Some Common Sense?

I rarely read the Daily Mirror, I think the last time I actually held a copy in my hand was sometime in the 1970s. Yesterday The Postulant sent me a Tweeted link, to an article by The Fleet Street Fox entitled "Eastleigh was a failure all round because our politicians are Daleks."

Frankly, he puts the problem in a nutshell. Our politicans might as well be resident on one of Jupiter's moons. They are so far out of contact with reality they can't be on our own or even on Mars. I've been following the row over the "bedroom" tax and that is certainly yet another example of their loss of contact with real people and real living costs and conditions. The tax hits the armed forces (NOT all of whom live in "Barracks" as the Minister thinks), the disabled, and those on low incomes - but the relevant Minister claims it doesn't.

The Fleet Street Fox says it very well. I urge you to read his article.