Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin

Wednesday, March 25, 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 evolution of the brain has put us in a position where we are now broadly freed from the motive force of evolution ie natural selection or survival of the fittest, because of our ability to reason and apply technological fixes to problems (although even our ability to bring technology to bear on problems may not help us to avoid the eradication of our species and many others because that same technology has messed up the environment!) But essentially, dawkins does not argue that we are anything more than animals, just that we no longer HAVE to play by the same rules if we don't want to, and that as highly social animals we have a lot of selective pressures to behave altruistically (eg kin selection, reciprocal altruism etc).

Guys like Singer are so plausible. Their logic is impeccable and they often come across as nicer or at least more humane than many of those who argue for any form of theism, even when spouting on about something as emotive as infanticide. Then when you add into the mix those from the Christian right who deny the scientific evidence or invent their own pseudo-science, then is it any wonder that those of us advocating a theistic, or specifically Christian position are losing the public debate?

However, on one area, untouched by the article, we as Christians should have common cause with Singer, and not to mention it almost speaks of dishonesty on the part of this and other of his Christian critics. Singer is one of the most vocal, and intellectually rigorous advocates of the immorality of the distribution of wealth and resources across the globe. He argues that the situation where some people live in abundance while many others starve is morally indefensible, and that if anyone is already living comfortably, a further purchase to increase their comfort rather than donating money or time to help the poor is immoral. Some have tried to deflect his critique by saying that he never specifies what he means by 'living comfortably.' But such reasoning is pharisaical and offers nothing to the debate.

On a very practical level Singer reports that he donates 25 percent of his salary to Oxfam and UNICEF. I wonder how many of his Christian critics could say the same?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

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 Troops in your Civil War, but horrified by the effects of that war, in its immediate aftermath she wrote this:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of fears!
Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace,
And each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

You don't read that on too many Mothers' Day cards. But perhaps in the light of events here in Northern Ireland and the other conflicts around this world, it is an appropriate time to hear that proclamation again.

Friday, March 20, 2009

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 developments; Core Message; Core principles; Core Value; Coterminosity; Coterminous; Cross-cutting; Cross-fertilisation; Customer; Democratic legitimacy; Democratic mandate; Dialogue; Direction of travel; Distorts spending priorities; Double devolution; Downstream; Early Win; Edge-fit; Embedded; Empowerment; Enabler; Engagement; Engaging users; Enhance; Evidence Base; Exemplar; External challenge; Facilitate; Fast-Track; Flex; Flexibilities and Freedoms; Framework; Fulcrum; Functionality; Funding streams; Gateway review; Going forward; Good practice; Governance; Guidelines; Holistic; Holistic governance; Horizon scanning; Improvement levers; Incentivising; Income streams; Indicators; Initiative; Innovative capacity; Inspectorates; Interdepartmental; Interface; Iteration; Joined up; Joint working; Level playing field; Lever; Leverage; Localities; Lowlights; MAAs; Mainstreaming; Management capacity; Meaningful consultation; Meaningful dialogue; Mechanisms; Menu of Options; Multi-agency; Multidisciplinary; Municipalities; Network model; Normalising; Outcomes; Output; Outsourced; Overarching; Paradigm; Participatory; Partnership working; Partnerships; Pathfinder; Peer challenge; Performance Network; Place shaping; Pooled budgets; Pooled resources; Pooled risk; Populace; Potentialities; Practitioners; Predictors of Beaconicity; Preventative services; Prioritization; Priority; Proactive; Process driven; Procure; Procurement; Promulgate; Proportionality; Protocol; Provider vehicles; Quantum; Quick hit; Quick win; Rationalisation; Rebaselining; Reconfigured; Resource allocation; Revenue Streams; Risk based; Robust; Scaled-back; Scoping; Sector wise; Seedbed; Self-aggrandizement; Service users; Shared priority; Shell developments; Signpost; Single conversations; Single point of contact; Situational; Slippage; Social contracts; Social exclusion; Spatial; Stakeholder; Step change; Strategic; Strategic priorities; Streamlined; Sub-regional; Subsidiarity; Sustainable; Sustainable communities; Symposium; Synergies; Systematics; Taxonomy; Tested for Soundness; Thematic; Thinking outside of the box; Third sector; Toolkit; Top-down; Trajectory; Tranche; Transactional; Transformational; Transparency; Upstream; Upward trend; Utilise; Value-added; Vision; Visionary; Welcome; Wellbeing; Worklessness.

As a woman from the campaign for Plain English said, such jargon does have a limited place within professions, as all those within certain rooms will know the complicated ideas concealed behind a single piece of jargon, thus shortening converstations substantially; but they can also be used as professional shibboleths... That's a piece of Biblical jargon, but let me explain: in the Book of Judges the Israelites used the word shibboleth as a password, because the surrounding nations pronounced their "sh" as an "s" and said "sibboleth." Often jargon is used in the same way: to demonstrate who is in or out of those "in the know." At its most positive this can, if the individual or group's knowledge to the background of such jargon is tested, can be a means of weeding out those who really know what they are talking about, or, at its worst, can be a means of ticking boxes for funding applications or jobs... say enough of the magic words and you are in.

Although a word such as "vision" has a clear theological/Biblical dimension, the church has been slow to pick up this secret language that opens so many doors to funding and areas of influence. I often joke that I would have been better learning public sector jargon in theological college rather than Greek or Hebrew. But you do see it creeping into church leadership speak, particularly as we discover/rediscover/reinvent the idea of community engagement (one of the "banned" phrases) as part of the core principles (another no-no) of the church.
This "banned" list doesn't apply to Northern Ireland, and I am not so sure that I approve of banned lists of many things (apart from those things that annoy me of course). Where there are internal conversations to be had, be they in councils or churches, we will always have our shorthand, jargonesque terms... Councils have "benchmarking" and "subsidiarity", theologians have "justification" and "sanctification", but I would agree that these terms shouldn't be used when seeking to communicate more widely... And I will try to use less of such gobbledegook in future...

But surely there can never, ever, be any excuse to use the phrase "predictors of beaconicity?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

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 judgement as to how much of this thesis is correct...

One thing I always found strange about the film though, was the fact that the Kansas that Judy Garland was so eager to get back to was monochrome, while Oz was wonderfully multicoloured. In times of crisis... be that economic or of any other sort... people yearn for simple, black and white solutions... But we are not in monochrome Kansas any more... economically, culturally, religiously, morally... We are in a technicolor world, with no easy answers, and no amount of wishing while we click our ruby (or silver as I am informed they were in the book) slippers, will transport us back to the good old days.

Rather, we have to forge on ahead, together, ready to cope with whatever the wicked witches from all points of the compass can throw at us.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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 quite a run down area of downtown Pittsburgh. It's one of the closest houses to the football field, and he is rumoured to walk across to the stadium on match days and queue up with the ordinary fans. That may be an urban myth put about as a PR exercise, but I would believe it of him. And it is encouraging that the President should invite such an able, compassionate yet humble man to be his Ambassador. It certainly will project a different image of the US than is normal. He, and the community-orientated ethos of the Steelers as a whole, was so impressive, that he almost convinced me to shift my 30 year allegiance from the Chicago Bears... And had no qualms about buying my son a Steelers shirt (which he felt very smug about, subsequent to the Superbowl).

Mr Rooney's appointment set me thinking again of Paul's description of Christians as "Ambassadors of Christ" II Corinthians 5: 16-20. The humility that Mr Rooney exhibits may be a characteristic that we as Christians might do well to emulate. We may well be representatives of the King of Kings, but that doesn't mean we should be arrogant about our relationship with Christ when it comes to dealing with those who do not claim a relationship with him. After all he described himself as "humble in heart", and if we are to represent him authentically then that is what we should be. Anyway, arrogance is ultimately be self-defeating.

And what is the message committed to us as Christ's ambassadors? Reconciliation... Paul talks about it in terms of reconciliation with God in Christ, but the rest of scripture makes it clear that you cannot have reconciliation with God without reconciliation with other people.

So may both Dan Rooney and each of us who claim to be Christ's ambassadors do all we can to promote reconciliation in this island...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

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 duit

Saturday, March 14, 2009

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 PLEASE STOP POINTING TO THESE THINGS AS POSSIBLE CAUSES OF DIABETES... They may contribute... but the general problem for those suffering from early onset Type 2 diabetes is still that we... or rather that I... eat too much... (I know because my dietician told me!)
In this as in everything else there may be background influences and predispositions, but we have this wonderful thing called free will... Or do we prefer the idea that we are prisoners of fate/our genes/predestination (delete as applicable)? Does that free us from any responsibility?

Friday, March 13, 2009

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 gone;
For all the servants of our king,
In earth and heaven, are one.

2 One family we dwell in him,
One church, above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream of death:
One army of the living God,
To his command we bow;
Part of his host have crossed the flood,
And part are crossing now.

3 Ten thousand to their endless home
This solemn moment fly;
And we are to the margin come,
And we expect to die;
Ev'n now by faith we join our hands
With those that went before,
And greet the blood-besprinkled bands
On the eternal shore.

4 Our spirits too shall quickly join,
Like theirs with glory crowned,
And shout to see our captain's sign,
To hear his trumpet sound.
O that we now might grasp our guide!
O that the word were given!
Come, Lord of hosts, the waves divide,
And land us all in heaven.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

It is, I am sure most will agree, awful. With its "blood besprinkled bands" it sounds like a call to Methodist Jihad, or prticipation in a Jim Jones-like suicide cult... However, it must be said that one (elderly) member of the congregation did say she found it, in conjunction with the preceding prayer, very helpful... So just goes to show that God can use anything.

But certainly in the current work being done on a possible new Methodist Hymnbook, which, we are told and logic dictates, will have fewer Charles Wesley hymns than before, I for one will not be clamouring for the inclusion of this one!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

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 background where they still have some distance to go to wholy convince their constituency of their current democratic path.

Then, last night I was at our own Belfast Synod, an experience which generally fills me with great joy... But under the business of the Council on Social Responsibility, the synod heard that mainstream loyalist leaders had given an undertaking that they would sanction no acts of retaliation for these attacks. Not only was the synod pleased to hear this, they also incorporated an endorsement of this undertaking into their prepared statement, a statement which didn't merely condemn the attacks but called on the dissidents to seek a peaceful way to achieve their desired ends. There are many who will find it uncomfortable that the church has endorsed the words of loyalist paramilitaries or addressed the murderers behind these attacks in any way other than to condemn their actions, but personally, I have never been as proud of our synod. I'm naturally cynical and grumpy, and intolerant of empty gestures, and we may be fooling ourselves in thinking that anyone, least of all the loyalists or the republican dissidents will ever listen to our words one way or another, but it sets a context in which we now need to put those words into action... Incarnate them...

Words or silences are only the beginning... We need to work together across all sectors... Church, trade unions, political parties, business, community sector, public sector... to make sure that we do not get sucked back into the cycle of violence and condemnation, retaliation and recrimination... But create a hope-filled future for all our children.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Laughter and Tears

A monologue based on the experience of Sarah in the Old Testament, written by me for a service my wife was taking at a local congregation. It relates to the lectionary readings for last Sunday, but also to the fact that, as I was reflecting a few days ago, we have a tendency to write off people once they come to a certain age or stage of illness.

Laughter and tears…

Laughter and tears have marked my life
Especially my later years…

I could have cried when Abraham, or Abram as he was then,
said that God had told him to leave his father’s house in Haran
and set off for who knows where…
We were both already well on in years…
It was time to think about winding down
not setting off on a journey of exploration.

But I trusted him totally
I knew he loved me…
He said I was well named because I was his little princess… Sarai…
But I knew his name was painful to him… Ab-Ram… Exalted Father…
And because my years for bearing children were long in the past
We knew that name would never be fulfilled.
And I cried long into the night at that thought…

Yet God had promised that if we trusted him and went where he led
He would make Abram into Abraham… the Father of Many…
As many as the grains of sand on the shore
And the stars scattered across the sky…

So we set off from Haran in search of this land of promise
This place where old people give birth…
We ended up in Egypt during a time of famine
and our journey nearly ended there
When the Pharaoh wanted to claim me as his wife…
As if he didn’t have enough of them already…
We had both doubted the protection of God
And Abraham had pretended I was his sister…
When the Pharaoh found out we had lied
We almost died…

But we didn’t…
and we went back to the land of Canaan…
You would have thought that would have taught us to trust God more closely
And not try to cook up schemes of our own.
But know…
When it seemed no more likely that I would have a child
I encouraged Abram to father a child on my servant Hagar…
I’m ashamed to admit it…
It wasn’t his idea…
But he did, and was so proud of the child when it was born.
I on the other hand, even though it was my idea
Was mad with jealousy
Eventually I drove Hagar and her child away from our encampment…
I didn’t care if they lived or died…
In fact I prayed for the latter…

If only I had trusted God, what pain would have been avoided.
Yet despite my lack of trust
God still promised that Abraham and I would give rise to a mighty nation…
I whose spirit and body had dried up.
I laughed at the thought of it…
And God said our son would be called “Laughter” – Isaac

And nine months later I was laughing again…
Though it made my body ache
Not the cynical laughter of someone who doubts
But the laughter of someone who has known the impossible come true.
Laughter and tears…
Laughter laced with tears of joy…

Monday, March 9, 2009

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 it is much more likely to have been my poor diet (great in quantity but not necessarily quality), an inability to say no to food or leave anything on my plate (which I suppose I could blame my Mum for...) and a more sedentary lifestyle than previous generations.

In all of this I am not atypical of the current "epidemic" of type 2 diabetes cases that are cropping up in their 30s and 40s (as opposed to 50s and 60s as in previous generations)...

But apparently future generations may be saved from all this, because we shouldn't blame it on our mums, dads, or the Dalai Lama. It is apparenty the fault of a virus. But then... isn't everything!

News last week suggested that 'scientists' have discovered that a gastric virus may be associated with both Type 1 & 2 diabetes, raising hopes of a 'vaccine' to prevent diabetes.
This, again, shows the alarming tendency within the media to simplify science, as seen, for example, in some of the climate change stories. So far as I have been able to see, the particular virus occurs up to 60% of Type 1 patients and only 40% of Type 2 diabetics, and there is no causal link yet demonstrated. So even if a vaccine for this bug where to be developed, there is no telling whether it would actually prevent anyone from developing diabetes, nor indeed if killing off this bug might not have other serious deliterious side-effects. But why let the complexity of scientific truth stand in the way of a good headline.

In this, as in so much else, we want someone, other than ourselves, to blame. I could make a significant change to my condition today if I would simply change my eating habits.

But perhaps I'll just tell the dietician today that it's not my fault... It's a virus...

Sunday, March 8, 2009


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 in society, whilst studying "Do not Kill" and "Honour your Father and your Mother" respectively. My fear is that within a culture where the elderly are so chronically undervalued, while families and social services are in difficult financial straits, the much campaigned-for, 'right to die' might all to easily become the expectation or obligation to die. Maybe I have read too much science fiction, or even classical literature, but I worry that we might just end up with a society where people feel that they are a burden or an embarassment to those around them and should "do the decent thing."

I am sorry that Mr. and Mrs. Duff got to the stage that they felt, because of their illness, that life was not worth living any more. As a pastor I have encountered a number of people in that physical, psychological and spiritual state, and pray that I never find myself there. I also pray for the loved ones they have left behind.

But I equally pray that there never comes a time that there is a Dignitas on our doorstep.
ps. What I also turned up in the Sunday Times this morning, was a feature suggesting, as many pastors and chaplains already know, that we may not have active euthanasia in this country, but many terminally ill people, often elderly, commit suicide by starvation... Refusing to eat or drink and slowly (or not so slowly) wasting away... This can add to the suffering not only of the person with the terminal diagnosis, but also those impotently watching them die by degrees.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

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 usefulness of such programmes back here in NI might be limited to the few that slip through the safety net of the welfare state that we take so much for granted, such as asylum seekers who have not yet been granted official status.

However, I was only home a matter of weeks when the community programme associated with our own church, Dundonald Family and Community Initiative, was asked to help support 2 families with emergency food aid. We were able to link in with the Storehouse Programme recently established by the Belfast Vineyard Church, and have now had to call on their support a number of times in the past year. Recently both ourselves in Dundonald Methodist and the other church partner in DFCI, St. Mary's Ballybeen, have been collecting non-perishable foods for the programme. This week's top 5 shopping list is:

1. Tinned Desserts
2. Tinned Fish
3. Tinned Meals
4. Crisps
5. Long Life Milk

But it is not just food that it is needed in this time of economic crisis. Many community projects including our own, are currently under financial threat just when they are most needed. And the thing that the voluntary sector needs more than anything else is volunteers. So I hope that Michelle Obama's little photo op bears fruit, not only for Marion's Kitchen, but for all sorts of programmes on both sides of the pond, seeking to help those who have been hit hardest by the credit crunch. Because one lady, in one programme for one day will not be enough...

If you would like to support DFCI you will find a widget in the sidebar which will allow you to do so. If you would like to find a faith-based programme where you can volunteer, contact Mark Goody at CCWA.

Friday, March 6, 2009

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 inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability. Which means that I gather the current going rate has something like three major deciduous forests buying one ship's peanut. So, um, in order to obviate this problem and effectively revalue the leaf, we are about to embark on an extensive defoliation campaign, and um, burn down all the forests. I think that's a sensible move don't you? "
So I'm going to invest in a new wheelbarrow, to move around leaves or money, whichever turns out to be worth more! Or perhaps some shrewd investment of some of this freshly printed money in a wheelbarrow manufacturer might just be enough to kick start the economy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

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.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


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 gopherwood to be had for love nor money. None in the whole area.
Apparently that idiot Noah had decided to build a boat... Or rather his god had told him to build an ark, whatever that is... I suppose Noah didn't know either, so he started to make a boat instead. But what a boat! It was massive... The only problem is that he's building it right in the middle of the desert... So when a few of us pointed out the logistical difficulties of getting such a huge hulk of a boat down to the sea he said that there was going to be a flood...
We had just stopped ourselves laughing so much to ask him where he got his meteorological information, when we were nearly knocked down by this colossal herd of animals which his sons Ham, Shem and Japheth had gathered up... They're as bad as their Dad... They'd at least one pair of every animal I've ever seen, including a few I'd never seen before, and wouldn't care to see again... and they were loading them all onto this ark thing... Noah said he had to go and he joined his sons herding all the animals on board... He invited us to join him, but we said we'd rather not... And when he got all the animals and his family aboard, he pulled the hatch closed.
I'm telling you, if some of those animals don't get him the smell and the heat in there will...
Here, hold on a minute... (holds out hand.)
Well, I never... Rain! That's the last time I'll pay any attention to Michael Fish. Oh well, suppose I'd better get the washing in...

David Campton © 2000