Showing posts from March, 2009

Singer and his Critics

This is not about a singer of songs and his critics, but the bioethicist Peter Singer at Princeton, and his many critics, of which I regard myself as one. A friend sent me this article from Christianity Today on some of his views. It is, as my friend wrote to me, "Worth a read."
In case you haven't come across Peter Singer before, he is a quietly spoken, polite yet unabashed utilitarian and as I said in a reply to my friend, his views are broadly reflective of the development of Darwinian thought that ultimately produced Nietzsche, and would be held by many of my old biology lecturers… quietly content with the idea of nature red in tooth and claw applying to modern human biology. I do think that the article takes a bit of a cheap shot in closing by saying that he is the rare example of an honest atheist. An atheistic evolutionary approach does not necessarily lead to the twin poles of advocating both animal rights and infanticide. Dawkins, for example would argue that the…

Mothers' Day Proclamation

Now, before some liturgico-ecclesiological pedant points out that strictly speaking today is not Mothers' Day, but Mothering Sunday, a celebration of mother church rather than our biological (or any other sort of) mothers, I want to say, I know. Mothers' Day is actually an American invention, but like anything that comes out of the USA, whether it be MacDonalds, Disney, Dunkin Donuts or Double Dip Recessions, it eventually makes its way across the Atlantic, and so by default Mother’s Day has replaced the older and less commercial Mothering Sunday celebration. For that the card manufacturers, florists and chocolatiers may be very grateful, but actually even the American phenomenon didn't start out as the saccharine spending spree that it has become.
Apparently it grew out of Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers' Day Proclamation in 1870.
Julia Ward Howe, is perhaps best known for having written the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which inspired the Union Troop…

Predictors of What?

Whilst out and about on Wednesday afternoon, I heard that councils in England and Wales have been "banned" from using 200 words and phrases most generously referred to as "jargon" and by others as "gobbledegook." My particular favourite is "Predictors of beaconicity" which, even as someone who is relatively fluent in jargon and gobbledegook, is a mystery to me.
The following is the complete list. See if you can spot any of your favourites... or would you like to add any?:
Across-the-piece; Actioned; Advocate; Agencies; Ambassador; Area based; Area focused; Autonomous; Baseline; Beacon; Benchmarking; Best Practice; Blue sky thinking; Bottom-Up; CAAs; Can do culture; Capabilities; Capacity; Capacity building; Cascading; Cautiously welcome; Challenge; Champion; Citizen empowerment; Client; Cohesive communities; Cohesiveness; Collaboration; Commissioning; Community engagement; Compact; Conditionality; Consensual; Contestability; Contextual; Core deve…

We're Not in Kansas Anymore...

Not having read the book behind the Wizard of Oz, I was blissfully unaware that the whole thing is an allegory about the economic plight of people in the US just over 100 years ago. Oppressed by the Wicked Witches of the East (Bankers and Industrialists) and the West (the harsh environment) the woman, the scarecrow (farmer), tinman (industrial workers) and cowardly lion (William Jennings Bryan the leader of the Populist Movement) head along the yellow brick road (the gold standard) to the Emerald City (Washington DC, the source of greenback dollars) to seek the wisdom of the Wonderful Wizard (President) of Oz (either a corruption of US or the symbol for the Ounces of the Gold Standard).
It all sounds very plausible, though, as we were always taught in theological college to beware of intragesis as opposed to exegesis, ie. reading things into rather than out of the text.
As I said, I haven't read the book as of yet, though this might prompt me to... Until then I cannot make any judge…

Dan's the Man

Its been quite a year so far for Dan Rooney. First his team (and they are HIS team... he owns them) the Pittsburgh Steelers, won an historic 7th Superbowl, then yesterday, as many had predicted, President Obama announced that Mr. Rooney was to be his nominee as Ambassador to Ireland.
Over the years he has invested heavily in peace, reconciliation and redevelopment programmes here in Northern Ireland, and I hope that in his time here as ambassador he will get the chance to see first hand the effect his investment has had on individuals and communities across this land.
Now (ready yourself for a colossal namedrop) I got to meet Dan last year on a visit to Heinz Stadium, the home of the Steelers (hence the photo... that's Mr. Ambassador on the left). I must say that given his position he was one of the most humble men I have ever encountered. He has eschewed the flight of the wealthy to large gated estates further out in Allegheny County and still lives in the family home in what is …

A Wee Caim

In honour of St. Patrick's Day, here's a Caim (pronounced "kyme" I am reliably informed). A Caim is a protective prayer or blessing, almost certainly derived from pre-Christian pagan prayers or incantations. Most Christian ones are trinitarian in form and at least one writer suggests that they should be accompanied by the person drawing three protective circles around themselves with their index finger.

Anyway, this is one that I regularly use as a benediction, or to conclude a longer prayer, particularly in the setting of chaplaincy. In its final form I am not aware of having swiped it from anyone else, but its constituent parts are far from original, and anyone is welcome to use it themselves if they so desire.

But for now, consider it a prayer for yourself, gentle reader.

May the strength of God the Father support you in your weakness,
May the love of Jesus the Son surround you wherever you go,
And may the peace of the Holy Spirit overshadow and protect you. AMEN

Dia d…

Actually, it's not because I'm Fat... It's BPA!

Sorry, got it all wrong... I'm not a diabetic because I have eaten far too much of the wrong sort of food and not taken enough exercise throughout my life... It's all my Mum's fault! And the fact that she gave me baby milk in bottles containing BPA... A chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA) which is to be found in many plastics including those used to make baby's bottles, the lining for food cans, tuperware, the plastic shielding in mobile phones etc. It is apparently being linked to obesity and diabetes... as well as some cancers. US manufacturers are withdrawing it from baby-related items, but British health watchdogs claim that uptake from such items are well below safe levels.
I'm not making a judgment on the safety levels... Actually, I would tend to err on the side of extreme caution... We don't need to introduce any more active chemicals into our systems than we absolutely have to... Especially when we really don't understand all the side-effects. But PLE…

Miniskirt Music and Blood Besprinkled Bands

Just a quickie to signpost you elsewhere on the hoary old subject of contemporary v classic hymnody... it raises a few interesting if well-worn points... tho what really caught my attention was the reference to Christian George's description of the theology in much modern worship as "miniskirt music - songs that barely cover the essentials". Whether or not that is fair it is too good a soundbite not to use!
But the reference to some of Charles Wesley's stinkers (and personally I think Chuck was the best hymnwriter ever... not that I as a Methodist am biased at all, I think that the arch Calvinists Watts, Newton and Cowper run him close) calls to mind one of his hymns that in a fit of insanity I used to close a service some weeks ago (don't ask me why, even I can't believe my reasoning now!)
1 Come, let us join our friends above
That have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love
To joys celestial rise:
Let all the saints terrestrial sing
With those to glory…

Words and Silence

Today the Trade Unions arranged a silent protest in the centre of Belfast in response to the murders by dissident republicans of Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, and Constable Stephen Paul Carroll. It was only one of a range of protest rallies making clear to those responsible that they do not have the backing of the vast majority of the population of this province.
Leading political figures from across Britain and Ireland have spoken out clearly in condemnation of these attacks, including some very clear, but measured words from our own First Minister, noting that this was not a time for party politicking, and a clear condemnation from the Deputy First Minister and his own party leader. Those latter statements, and some other forthright condemnations by other members of Sinn Fein, notably John O'Dowd, may not have been in language that the Unionist community would have wished for, but are a quantum leap from the historic position of mainstream republicanism, against a ba…

It's not because I'm fat... I've got a virus!

Today I have to go see the dietician. I am, as some of you know, diabetic. When asked I sometimes say that the Dalai Lama made me a diabetic... because I was diagnosed with diabetes at a time when I was stressed out over arrangements for his visit to West Belfast... It was also a week before the birth of my second son Ciaran... so at other times I claim that it was the stress of his impending arrival that was the decisive factor... Typical of me, with other people it is the expectant mother who becomes diabetic, I had to be different! But the fact of the matter is that whilst stress has been shown to contribute to the onset of type-2 diabetes, it is only a minor and possibly a secondary factor.
Much more important is our genes, and in my case it is a nice little gift that my Dad gave to my eldest brother and me. However, both my Dad and brother got diabetes much later in life, suggesting that there was something else at work with me. It could be the stress I was under at that time, but…


On Friday morning the news broke that an elderly couple Peter and Penny Duff, from Bath, who were both suffering from terminal cancer, had become the first UK couple to die together in the Swiss euthanasia clinic, Dignitas.
I don't know why this story got to me so much. Perhaps it is because today at Dundonald Methodist we have our "Friendship Circle" Service. many of our congregation, myself included keep refering to the Friendship Circle by its previous name of Seniors Fellowship... Not quite sure why it was "rebranded". But every year after their service, some people comment to me how much "so-and-so" has aged in the past year... and that is often true, but more often I am struck at what a vital part many of our senior members still play in the life and ministry of our church.
Or perhaps it is because we have recently been looking at the 10 Commandments again at church, and we have, in passing, looked at euthanasia and at the position of the elderly…

First Dinner Lady

On Thursday the First Lady Michelle Obama became what a number of British copywriters called the "First DinnerLady" as she took time to help out at Miriam's Kitchen, a not-for-profit food pantry in northwest Washington DC.
It reminded me of the tour I led last year to the US as part of CCWA's "Unlocking the Potential" programme, which seeks to show church leaders what they might be able to do for the local community, taking them to visit faith-based initiatives that are operating in a context where the division between church and state is constitutionally reinforced, unlike here where there is much more opportunity for collaboration between the faith and public sector. I led a team to Pittsburgh, while my colleague led one to DC. Both teams visited programmes similar to Miriam's Kitchen, and both were amazed by what they did, as well as by the need for such programmes in the richest nation on earth.
We all reflected that inspiring though they were, the u…

Quantitative Easing

My friend Spike posted this wonderful picture on his Facebook wall, with the comment:
"Now who can remember what happened to this banknote? 100,000 Reichsmarks? Anyone? You at the back? Scotsman, big fellow, rumpled suit, grumpy face? Yes. I'm talking to you!"

It was prompted by an earlier dialogue between us on the announcement that the Bank of England, as well as dropping the interest rate to "half of one percent" (ie next to nothing), have decided to try some "quantitative easing," the wonderful new euphemism for printing up a few billion extra pounds. This brought to mind thoughts of the Weimar Republic and ultimately the oft quoted need for a barrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread...
But for Spike it drew to mind Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "trilogy" when the useless one third of the population of Golgrafrincham crash land on Earth and decide on leaves as currency... "But, we have also run into a small …

Methodist Spirituality

Another bit of sign-posting. Patrick Comerford, who wears more hats than is humanly practical, has just posted an interesting (if huge) piece on Methodist Spirituality from the perspective of a Church of Ireland cleric... Worth a look whatever religious tradition you hale from.


Journey to Jerusalem

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
Luke 9:51 (ANIV)

In this time of Lenten preparation for the events of Holy Week and Easter, why don't you join Christian Aid on a virtual pilgrimage, in their Journey to Jerusalem. I only came across this site yesterday, thanks to my friend, Tim Dunwoody, and am in the process of catching up with what I have missed... But I look forward to the rest of the journey to this holy and hurting city.



A light-hearted monologue, that ties in with this Sunday's Lectionary reading from Genesis 9: 8-17

Sorry! Excuse me for a moment! I'm just checking the long-range weather forecast... (Checks newspaper.)
As I thought, he's completely off his trolley. No sign of rain this side of doomsday... Mind you the lawn could do with it. We've had a hosepipe ban that long around here that half the grass is burnt to a cinder. And yet that buck eejit Noah insists that we're going to have a flood.
He's a strange soul, Noah. Keeps himself to himself usually. You never see him at the local orgies or anything... Follows some strange religion that doesn't allow that sort of thing, poor so and so... No temple prostitutes... No human sacrifices... Hardly a religion at all!
But recently he has gone completely off his rocker. First I knew about it was six months ago when I popped into Hadad's Hardware Store to pick up some gopher wood to make a new garden shed... Not a piece of go…