Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday Supplement

This is Virtual Methodist's electronic equivalent of those glossy supplements you get in weekend newspapers that take a full week to get through... at least in this household... Its a few of the more developed stories I've come across this week which are too long for a FB post and which I haven't had time or inclination to post on myself.

The first involves story of Mary Bale, a 45-year-old bank clerk, and former church choir singer,dropping a cat into a wheelie bin... Now given what happened to our cat while on holiday (and I'm not blogging about that yet... still too angry) I can understand some of the outrage, but I'm with Will Crawley who is bemused by the wholesale hue and cry in the media given the other, bigger issues in the news.
One of those issues has dominated Will's blog, and the Northern Ireland news this week, that being the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's report into the Claudy bombing back in the very darkest days of our most recent Troubles in 1972. The rumours that have persistently circulated concerning the involvement of Roman Catholic priest James Chesney have finally made it into an official report, raising comments concerning the cooperation, if not collusion of the Roman Catholic hierarchy with the British Government and the RUC in a perversion of justice. Certainly those who lost loved ones at Claudy and Fr. Chesney himself have been denied the opportunity of justice in a court of law, but I have been left wondering what was the right thing to do in the midst of a sectarian-fueled conflict. Is this yet another episode where our limited, earth-bound concepts of peace (as in "absence of conflict") and justice (as in "criminal justice system") have been weighed in the balance, and both have been found wanting? There will doubtless be more on this to come, and sadly, probably many other stories like it.

Meanwhile friends and colleagues of mine have been beginning a process to help people here in NI get their heads round events from further back in our murky past... We are heading into what have called a "decade of centenaries"... Ulster Covenant, UVF Gun-running, WWI, Easter Rising, Somme etc... (and some would add the Titanic to that list)... all of which can be twisted and spun and remythologised to feed hatred and fear and fuel further conflict, as the centenary of the United Irishmen's Rebellion was at the end of the 19th century... In the light of this Dr. John Dunlop has written a succinct yet perceptive piece drawn from the South African experience... I've heard him speak about this before, but it's good to have it on record.

A story which hasn't been covered widely on this side of the Atlantic (at least not in the less rabid sectors of the news media) are the tensions caused by the proposed building of a mosque a few blocks from New York's "Ground Zero". I've been asked on facebook to join groups opposing and supporting this, but frankly I feel it is none of my business. I understand the arguments being made on both sides of the debate. However, I did find Allan Bevere's analysis helpful, and I will be filing it away for future reference in an increasingly multi-cultural Ireland. Less helpful has been the proposal by a pastor in Gainesville, Florida that they should remember the 9/11 events with the first ever "Burn a Quran Day". Thankfully other church leaders have been vocally opposed to such an un-Christlike response.

Whilst I'm generally opposed to book-burning in all its forms, I would happily organise a mass flushing of all homeopathic medicines. Of course it's never a good idea to flush real medicines down the toilet as you don't know what you are unleashing on the environment. But it really won't matter if you are flushing homeopathic charlatan's sugar pills down the loo since their active ingredients have already been diluted beyond the power to identify them. Over at Practical Ethics Steve Clarke offers a much more generous and nuanced approach to homeoquackery, which is essentially founded on supporting people's rights to make stupid decisions, but controlling the amount of money that has to go into that support, by offering homeopathy as an internal service in the NHS, with the homeopaths being paid a comensurate salary to their scientific and medical qualifications ie. minimum wage. One of the comments left suggests:

"I would imagine that by diluting the homeopaths salary, and then repeating the
dilution many times, eventually we would develop extremely powerful homeopaths
as we approach the minimum wage."

However, whilst I poke fun at homeopathy on the NHS, there are those who might make exactly the same comments about NHS funded chaplaincy. How do we respond to that?

Meanwhile, over at Bad Science, Ben Goldacre, the frequent hounder of homeoquacks has turned his attention again to drugs trials, and the media's coverage of them, particularly where they relate to "cancer drugs". I'm with Ben in saying that we must follow the science in this, but I equally understand the anecdotal approach of the media. Statistics don't sell... real life stories do... even when the story is the exception, rather than the rule. And when someone is unwell they will not be comforted, or even swayed by statistics, but they will grasp hold of any hope offered them, be it the experience of a one in a thousand success story of a someone on a particular drug (even though the longer survival might actually have nothing whatsoever to do with the drug) or the outrageous claims of homeopaths and other "alternative" practicioners. Fear messes with our minds... makes us irrational, whether it is in relation to disease and medical treatment, or our attitude to other faiths and communities. And some media outlets thrive on pedalling fear. Is it a surprise that the Daily Mail, the bastion of positive community relations (that is a joke by the way) is also the greatest purveyor of health scare stories?

But finally, the video below is taken from a truly amazing site which I ended up at thanks to Maggi Dawn. This short animated illustration of a talk by Matthew Taylor explores the implications of and understanding behind the new strapline of the RSA "21st Century Enlightenment". This appeals to someone who was first introduced to many philosophical, political and scientific giants and their thoughts through the old Beginners Guide to... series, and repays repeated viewing. I'll be dipping back into the RSA animate series from time to time for a bit of stimulation...

But for now, I'm away off to finish my preparation for tomorrow and to polish off the Sunday supplements from last week!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stars and A-Stars, The Few and The Many

Last Friday was the 70th Anniversary of Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons in the midst of the Battle of Britain referring to the fighter pilots of the RAF saying: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” A number of historians have questioned whether or not that was strictly accurate in historic or military terms, suggesting that the image of the heroic few of fighter command being all that stood between Britain and invasion by Nazi Germany, was a myth sold by Churchill as a morale-booster, in the same way that the disaster of Dunkirk was repackaged (or spun) by him and others in the light of the heroism of the "little boats" (even though the "little boats" only helped a minority of those evacuated from Dunkirk.
I wonder whether subtleties of that part of the Second World War was on the history syllabus for A or AS levels? Those results came out last week as well (with GCSEs to follow this week). As ever there have been many bleating about how much easier exams are these days. I’ve said in a previous post that my personal belief is that they are, but that’s a subjective opinion and I’m not going to be airing it much wider than this blog or the dinner table, because, frankly, whether or not that is true, it is not the fault of those sitting the exams and is a real slap in the face to those who have worked hard for their results… particularly those who’ve worked hard and NOT got the grades they needed. This has been exacerbated by the addition an extra grade at A level this year – A-Stars for those at the very top of the pile… but also by the fact that even some with high grades haven’t got university places, because of high demand and economic cut-backs.
But while some are striving for A-Star's, a huge number of young people want to BE a Star. Its ironic (or perhaps clever planning) that on the same weekend that the exam results come out, the X-factor hits our screens in its annual search for talent, or failing that someone to laugh at as their ill-concieved dreams come crashing down around their ears in front of 2000 people. This idea of instant success stands in direct contrast to the old idea of learning your trade as an artist… paying your dues… I read yesterday that former aspiring X-Factor Star from Northern Ireland, Eoghan Quigg, is now singing in holiday camps to earn a living… Well in the bad old days that was how artists like Tom Jones started. For most people success at any endeavour, be it in singing, sport, school or anything else, requires both talent hard work... Instant success is very rare and often fleeting... yet a tantalising myth, mass-marketed by Simon Cowell and his ilk.
However, whilst I believe that it is important to work hard at school and do the very best you can with the brains that God has given you and the opportunities laid before you, I’m not convinced that the obsession with going to university is necessarily a good thing either… It too may be a myth, being mis-sold to the young.
Not everyone is cut out for proper third level education and frankly I am sometimes a bit cynical about government policies that have pushed more and more young people that direction, wondering whether it was simply a way of delaying their appearance on the unemployment figures. Who we are is not defined by the number of our A-levels or the grade of our degree… Not everyone can get an A-Star in Further Maths… Indeed, for society to function properly we need people skilled at all sorts of things, many of which cannot be taught effectively in a school or university.
In the Battle of Britain, “the few”, most of whom were privileged graduates of university, may have got the plaudits… but they wouldn’t have succeeded with the ground crew and radar operators working behind the scenes, or those working long hours down mines and in factories to allow the manufacture of planes and munitions. And in other spheres, not least in the Battle of the Atlantic, many others were fighting and dieing to keep Britain safe without the recognition or romance.
Paul in the Bible reminds his readers in Corinth that not many of them were regarded as wise, influential or wealthy by the standards of the world (I Corinthians 1: 26), and that is still true within the church today. At its best that means that those who feel like rejects in the wider world can find a place where they are appreciated and welcomed. At its worst it means that sometimes people who do not have any power or influence within the wider world, can get themselves into positions of power, without the skills or experience to exercise it wisely. This is exacerbated when we buy into the "Stars and A-Star" culture within church. Inappropriately lauding the high-flyers and ignoring the plodders, having our own stars and celebrities, whether they be preachers, worship leaders, or even worse "celebrity Christians" who are lauded because, whilst being famous for something (or even nothing) in the wider world, they still, to a greater or lesser degree, profess to be Christian. In this we fall into the same trap that James warned about in his letter (James 2: 1-9).
Later on in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he reminds his readers that if Christ’s body, the church is to function properly then each person must perform their particular function… not everyone can be an eyeball or an earlobe… someone has to be a buttock! (I Corinthians 12: 12-31)
So whether we’re one of the few to get the high grades and recognition in life, the Stars and A-Stars, or one of those working away behind the scenes, for what seems scant reward, we need to remember that we were all created by God for a particular purpose… and play our part to the full…
This is an adaptation of my review of the week for Downtown Radio on Sunday 22nd August.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming out of Holiday Mode

I've been back from my summer travels for a wee while now and back at work for a few days, but I've had a lot to clear up both personally (I'll rant about that in due course) and in terms of the usual backlog of emails and paper, so I have hardly looked at the blog in ages...

So I thought I would dip my foot in the water by sharing a few interesting links that I've come across in recent days... Some I've already posted on FB, but most of them demand more attention than I ever give to something over there. Most are of a theological bent, but some touch on my other diverse interests.

On the theological front, Patrick Mitchel picks up on Ben Myers thoughts regarding theology in the blogosphere and applies them to denominational theology in Ireland. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Meanwhile, Karen Spears Zacharias (don't know if she's a relation of Ravi) has written an interesting piece on the hoary old subject of militarism and nationalism in American, evangelical worship. The nationalism may not be so pronounced this side of the water, except in pockets of this wee province, but the militaristic language is something that continues to concern me. Mind you, the best thing about her article is the the illustration...

I'm currently preparing a study series on how to read and use the Bible, so a re-blog by Richard Hall on Connexions, was timely, especially since it includes a number of other interesting links. I also pointed people on FB towards a post by Kim Fabricius on the same site earlier in the week to read a purported quote by grumpy old theologian Stanley Hauerwas' regarding his suspicions about that will-o-the wisp area of "spirituality". Then today I came across this short You Tube offering posted by Allan Bevere, where Stan tells us what he likes about evangelicals, but also suggests where evangelicals fall down in their appreciation of church and tradition.

In the week that A and AS level results come out you expect a rash of "Exams are Getting Easier" stories... (personally I think they are, but it's only subjective opinion) however, Ben Goldacre approaches the question with his customary thoroughness.

Meanwhile Professor Billy McWilliams uses the local story of the fine upstanding local employees of HMRC being sacked for diddling members of ethnic minority communities out of benefits, to launch into his recommendations for welfare reforms. Perhaps if he becomes leader of the UUP he will be able to put these plans into action. His site is not for the easily offended, but very, very funny.

Speaking of those who are easily offended, the French are up in arms this week, apparently, because their national icon of resistance against the evil empire, Asterix the Gaul, has been adopted by those archetypal agents of the Anglo-American Empire, McDonalds, for an advertising campaign. I've always loved Asterix books, hate McDonalds myself, and am just back from a Menhir-strewn area of Asterix's home turf in Brittany, where a local supermarket has Getafix the Druid pushing one of their trolleys in an advertising campaign, so this story entertained me on a number of levels.

But finally, and I do mean finally, after exhaustive research Harold Camping has calculated that Judgement Day will be on May 21st 2011. To read about it, pop over to Ship of Fools, or to pick up on free bumper stickers and flyers, go direct to his website.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Darwin Award Contender?

A few weeks ago I was invited to a community consultation looking at the problem of motorcycling and alcohol among young people in the local area. Judging by this video they have a similar problem in parts of Germany.

The title of this posting comes from the website (and subsequent book and movie) dedicated to those who have either attempted or succeeded in removing themselves from the gene pool. You will be pleased to know that none of those involved in this video actually did remove themselves from the breeding population. Or perhaps not...