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 31, 2013

Saturday Supplement

As I write this up, the news is dominated by the vote on Syria and the death of Seamus Heaney, but neither have produced much by way of blog comment yet... Watch this space next week... Instead this week's trawl through the internet is dominated by one event...

This week saw the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior's "I Have a Dream" speech, spawning a range of columns, blogs and events the world over. Most interesting for me was this piece by Gary Younge, arguing that the remembrance of King's speech and overall message is very selective... He railed against 3 major evils in contemporary American society: Racism, economic inequality/poverty and war... Has the dream been achieved? The removal of formal segregation may have gone some way to address the first of those 3 issues, but have the other 2 disappeared off the radar? They are certainly live issues here... And I wonder what MLK would have made of the whole firearms debate, particularly in the light of the actions of Antoinette Tuff, referred to in this Guardian column. I'll leave it to my American friends to debate that one...
But bringing it back to NI I was at an event in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church that night, where Jim Wallis was speaking as part of the promotional tour for his current book "On God's side". It wasn't intended as an anniversary event, but Jim noted the influence of that speech, and the work of MLK on his life and work, and certainly the pursuit of the common good, which is the subject of the book, seems in tune with the vision that Dr King articulated that day in DC, and his lifetime pursuit of the "beloved community". Sojourners, Jim's organisation, also took the opportunity of publishing 10 decisions that we can make to foster the common good... and they are worth taking on board. I will probably refer back to this event when I've finished with the book, but here is the host, Steve Stockman's take on the evening.
As Stocki says, at the same time Chris Lyttle of the Alliance Party was hosting an anniversary event in Stormont attended by a large number of MLA's and other political/civic leaders. There were those at the Wallis event who noted the irony of such an event given the current stand-off at Stormont on so many issues, but this piece by Allan Leonard of the Northern Ireland Foundation, not only describes what actually happened within the Great Hall that night, but also some of the challenges it sets before our public representatives and the whole of civic society here.
One of those at the Wallis event who, as Stocki notes, reminded us of the other event happening at Stormont, was John Brewer, who was quite critical of our politicians' leadership at this time... His site "Compromise after Conflict" has been turning out interesting pieces on the situation here... Including input from politicians, be it the less traditional Unionism of Basil McCrea or the less compromising Jim Allister... No prizes for guessing which flavour of Unionism I think will serve the common good more... But for me the most inspiring piece was by Colin Parry, who, like many of those Jim Allister speaks for, is a victim of our conflict (and it was a conflict Jim... yes, there was a terrorist campaign as part of that conflict, but it went WAY beyond that and still does) having lost his son Tim to an IRA bomb, but his principled and highly nuanced response is a way of redeeming an evil event, and preventing such evil events in the future, and as such is very much in keeping with Dr. King's dream...
Finally on this subject is this supposed Fourfold Franciscan blessing... again an appropriate resource in this week of remembering and seeing how we might realise King's dream...

The piece by Younge referred to above seeks to unpick some of the mythology around King's "Dream" speech. Two book reviews I read this week highlight books that seek to do the same in other spheres... First, Patrick Mitchel reviews a book by J.P. Mallory looking at the "Origins of the Irish" which may do something to dent the romantic notions of a united celtic nation.
Second, in a somewhat longer review of "God's Philosophers" atheist and humanist Tim O'Neill explodes the idea, beloved of new atheists and old anti-papists, that the medieval period was a science-free zone because of the heavy hand of the church of Rome...

This supplement has been a bit tough going, so, to pick you up here is a bit of musical fun from Paint... Mind you it manages to deal with environmentalism, the war on terror, bestiality and the treatment of native Americans... I suppose this picks up the previous paragraph in that it is exploding the Disney myth...

I began with a dream, so it seems appropriate to end with sleep... But according to this piece, in this changing world even sleep isn't what it used to be...


Monday, August 26, 2013

St Lubbock's Day

Today is one of the days when we should give thanks for St. Lubbock. Never heard of him? Well there's no point going to look in a dictionary of saints.
Sir John Lubbock was a banker and politician, which in modern eyes might doubly exclude him from sainthood. But in 1871 he introduced the Bank Holidays Act, providing for additional, so called “bank” holidays on top of the existing holidays of Christmas Day, Good Friday, November 1st and May 1st. Until then, holidays were invariably holy-days, linked to church feasts… Sir John was, unlike myself, a fanatical cricket enthusiast and wanted bank employees to be able to participate in and attend matches when they were scheduled. So, the new bank holidays included the dates when cricket games were traditionally played between the villages near where Sir John was raised. The people of England, whether or not they were cricket fans, were so thankful that they called the first Bank Holidays 'St. Lubbock's Days' for a while.
The last Monday of August wasn’t included among the original “St. Lubbock’s Days”, but it is a welcome addition, as we teeter on the brink of another few months of hectic activities. I often feel that the beginning of September is like getting onto one of those moving walkways in the airport… Where the pace picks up and there’s no stop until Boxing Day! So I hope to make the most of this last breather, and I hope many of you will be able to do the same.
But even when we do get back into the swing of things lets remember that the principle of taking a regular break from work goes back much further than Sir John Lubbock. Indeed back to the very beginning. According to Genesis, the requirement for rest is built into the rhythm of creation itself…
Too often when we look at the first chapter of Genesis and the story of the creation of the earth in six days, there are those who want to raise a ruckus over evolution and creationism… And when we look at the story of the seventh day and the commandment that cites it, we can end up falling out over what is and is not permissible on the Sabbath… and even what day we should observe the Sabbath on… But when he was faced faced with legalistic nitpickers Jesus reminded them that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath…
It was made for us so that we could not only rest from our work, but work from our rest.
And in a world that is increasingly hectic, increasingly lived 24/7, that Sabbath principle is even more important… Holidays and the restoration they offer should still be seen as holy… And days like today should be seen as a small compensation for all the Sabbaths we don’t take…

So thank God for sabbaths, holidays and St. Lubbock… 
(This was my Thought for the Day this morning but it has a chequered history. It started out as a broadcast for another radio station about 4 years ago, but that recording disappeared into the ether without ever being broadcast... I think there was a bit of confusion when the guy covering for the August Bank holiday didn't know he had a button to press to bring in the pre-recorded talk. I then revised it for a blog a couple of years ago, but took it down to put it up again in the form I delivered it live this morning.... If it actually did go out today you should be able to find it on the BBC iplayer 25 and 85 minutes in to Good Morning Ulster. If it isn't there I've probably fallen victim to another Bank Holiday mix-up)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Psalm for Sunday

A responsive Psalm based on bits of todays Psalm in the Revised Common Lectionary, Psalm 103, which we will be using in Belfast South during our 11 am worship.

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all that lies within me, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul:
Don’t forget all that he has done for us;
He forgives sin
He heals illness and injury;
He lifts us up when we find ourselves down in the depths;
He crowns us with love and compassion;
He satisfies our desires with good things
So that in him our hearts soar and our spirits are renewed.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious
He is slow to anger,
Overflowing with love.
He does not stand in judgement over us forever;
He does not nurse his anger eternally.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay in full for all our wrongdoing.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as one side of the universe is from another,
so far has he removed our offences from us.
As a parent loves their child,
so the Lord loves those who put their trust in him;
Always and forever the Lord's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord.
From Psalm 103:1-6, 8-13, 17, 22


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saturday Supplement

A bumper bonanza issue of the supplement due to a two week backlog of stuff I'd compiled... (you can save some of it for Bank Holiday Monday if the weather's bad and you have absolutely nothing better to do!)

Ongoing Fun and Games
...not a reference to the World Police and Fire Games, which seems to have been a great success, but to the fact that after the fun over the flag at Christmas and the annual riot-fest around the Twelfth... this year we had the added bonus of a right royal ruckus in Royal Avenue in response to a Republican Internment Parade... This has led (among other things) to much activity in the virtual sphere... A few of the more interesting pieces include:

  • "What does the Outside World Think of Us" - this is a question I ask myself all the time given that I have spent a fair proportion of my ministry interpreting the Northern Ireland situation to visitors from the US and elsewhere, and my FB is usually filled with questions and concerned comments in the wake of NI making it into the world news for all the wrong reasons as it did recently... Here Katrin Dudgeon asks the question on the Compromise after Conflict site...
  • "Towards a Common Future" - Also on that site Basil McCrea offers his analysis of where things have gone wrong and what is needed to produce a genuinely inclusive Northern Ireland.
  • "Give Peace a Chance" - this chimes well with this blog by Lesley Carroll, a Presbyterian minister working in North Belfast (not the middle class enclave of south Belfast derided by some commentators on Basil's piece, and the area I now minister), and former member of the Eames-Bradley Commission on dealing with the past.
  • "An Open Letter" - But that is enough seriousness for the moment... as an antidote, Professor Billy McWilliams offers us this first draft of Peter Robinson's letter concerning the Maze Peace centre, which came into his possession somehow...
  • "We didn't start the riot" - In like vein, a superb video including the immortal line "Ever since the Boyne we have walked Ardoyne..." The thing is I have seen people sharing it and commenting on it not seeing the satire...

Church Stuff...
  • God Loves Richard Dawkins: In the light of some of Dicky Dawkins recent pronouncements, Elizabeth Oldfield has been musing on how to engage more graciously with those with whom we disagree. Don't think that Dawkins would be terribly impressed with the title of the blog though, and it does come across as a little patronising... Not unlike Dawkins himself...
  • Religion is not what it used to be: Meanwhile Linda Woodhead, Professor of the Sociology of Religion at the University of Lancaster, offers an analysis of the change in the shape of religion in Britain over recent decades, which may go some way to explaining, if not excusing, the caustic approach to faith in general and Christianity in particular by Dawkins and his merry band of New Atheists.
  • 3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On: This short blog is right on the money... I'm sure I could come up with a few more phrases that drive me bonkers, but I don't have time at the moment... watch this space...
  • The Apostles Creed for Methodists: Kim Fabricius offers his take on this... Don't see it making it into the next Methodist Service Book however...
  • David Cameron's Creed: Nearly missed this because it was in the Torygraph, but it does offer an insight into our Prime Minister's lukewarm and somewhat fuzzy faith... The Bible is "not a bad handbook for life" but dodging the bullet on giving all his riches to the poor... But at least he is honest!
Other Celebrity Musings
  • Springwatch Axe Put Me in a Mental Hospital: I haven't watched Springwatch since Bill Oddie got the boot, despite the allure of Kate Humble (I think she's gone now too...) so it was interesting to read this short piece about the repercussions of that for the erstwhile Goodie, and the diagnosis and treatment of his bipolar disorder... We need other public figures to be honest about their mental illness.
  • I'm Not Frightened of Death: This was another interesting piece on a taboo subject, with Tony Benn wrestling with the issue of aging and death. Benn is definitely not coming at things from a Christian perspective and talks about death being the end... yet he also talks about the hope of being
    reunited with loved ones... a strange mixture.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beyond the Grey Sky

A meditation based on St Francis of Assisi's Canticle of Creation/the Sun:

Beyond the grey sky
sits brother sun
but his heat drives brother wind
and draws the waters
into clouds.

Those clouds, our sisters,
that shield the sun
bear the water, 
sustaining sister water, 
to the parched earth;
mother earth.

From earth we came; 
to earth we return,
but all through our lives
we are watched over
by you, our Father God;
unseen, all seeing.

Grey sky may loom over us
but brother sun shines on,
and your love for us
is more constant than the sun,
with no beginning and no ending.
Praise you.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Do We Measure People by their IQ, Bust Size or Bank Balance?

Well, I'm back in harness this week after a short period of aestivation, both in the real and virtual realms. This morning saw me start the day at BBC Radio Ulster doing Thought for the Day (if you didn't catch it you can find it approximately 26 and 86 minutes into Good Morning Ulster on the iPlayer for the next week) and this is that thought, more or less in written form...

I’m not very athletic… I can’t play a musical instrument… I’m useless at arts and crafts… and I’m never going to be offered a modelling contract… But I am supposed to be moderately intelligent, if IQ tests and exam results are to be believed…

So I was interested to read a report last week suggesting that religious people, tend to be less intelligent than self-professed atheists. This led to some crowing by atheists on social networks, although the study emphasised that it probably wasn’t a simple case of cause and effect. Rather, as well as asking more searching questions than those who are less intelligent, those with higher IQs tend to succeed in life, becoming materially wealthy, while other studies have shown that individuals and societies that are better off tend to become less religious with time, due to a sense of self-sufficiency, whereas poorer people continue to profess belief in and dependency on God…

However, it didn’t take recent studies to note this… Jesus suggested that we cannot serve God and money… While in terms of intelligence Paul reminded the church in Corinth that not many of them were wise by human standards…

There are however other standards to measure wisdom. It was one of my psychology professors who used to remind us that intelligence tests measure IQ, not actual intelligence – never mind real wisdom… And if that is true of intelligence tests, how much more true is it in relation to exams.

Last week we had the usual circus around A level and AS results, with some students elated and others devastated… This week younger students will go through the same hoopla over GCSE results. But exams results are not the be all and end all of life… That has been proved repeatedly by those who have not done well at school but have excelled in other spheres of life…

But again, there are dangers in how the world measures success… In an image and celebrity obsessed society, there are those who go to the other extreme thinking that intelligence and education don’t matter, so long as you look fabulous or are famous…

And of course the world’s ultimate measure of success is how you turn your assets, be they intellectual or physical, into cold hard cash…

But, drawing on Martin Luther King’s most famous speech (which he delivered 50 years ago next week I think), I too have a dream that all our children will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by their qualifications or IQ, their appearance or their wealth, but by the content of their character. How they use whatever gifts they have been blessed with, to bless others…


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Saturday Supplement

I fully intend being as far away as I can be from a computer this morning, preferably with a nice cup of coffee and a book in my hand. But here's a quick link dump on related themes for those of you not in such halcyon surroundings:

Wonga-World and Beyond
  • Following on from my own piece earlier in the week, I came a cross a nuanced look at the regulation of pay-day loan companies by former head of Church Action on Poverty, suggesting that Credit Unions alone are an inadequate response to the banking needs of the poor.
  • Then I came across this piece by Bishop Nick Baines responding to an editorial in The Independent written in the light of the AoC's pronouncements, ably defending the place of the church in the public square.
  • Then there was a piece looking at the moral-murk behind ethical-consumerism - are companies getting more ethical about their production practices and effective use of slave-labour, particularly children - or are they just getting cleverer in covering it up? And are we simply turning a blind eye?
Social-Experiments (Fact and Fiction) 
  • In a cross-over between the previous section and this one a piece on Upworthy looks at the corrupting power of wealth - However, there should be a statistical and scientific health warning given re such social experiments, as they never tell you what sort of a sampling technique they used and how they adjusted for other factors eg. age, gender, ethnicity etc
  • Similar questions should also be asked of the social experiment to be found on YouTube regarding whether we would be willing to intervene in a situation where someone is stealing a bike.
  • Then there is the piece doing the rounds on Facebook re pastor Jeremiah Steepek who is supposedly a New Pastor of a Megachurch who poses as a homeless man. It is a great story... but it's just a story, which is exploded on hoax-slayer. It is a device many have used... Not just in church... Antony Sher did something similar in the build up to an RSC production of the Taming of the Shrew in the late 70s early 80s, and inspired by that I had the leader of a visiting youth team, to do something similar on his first morning with us, when I was minister in Glastry, before speaking on the story of Bartimaeus... One member of the church nearly physically restrained the youth leader from coming up to the front of the church... I later had actor Steve Fortune do something similar before the New Irish Arts production of "Healing of the Nations." Many have responded to my critique of the story by saying that it may not be true but it has truth within it, just like the parables. But my main gripe is that the "factualising" of it actually robs it of some of it's power because there are those who will simply write it off as a piece of emotional chicanery that has been "debunked" whilst missing the point of it... Perhaps it would be better done as a social experiment in local churches...
Politics, Parades and the Peace Process
I've commented earlier this week on the danger of pontificating from on high regarding the political situation here in Northern Ireland, but there have been a number of interesting pieces on the post-Twelfth political scene including the following:
  • In between the Twelfth and the first "peaceful" protest on the Woodvale Road, while Belfast was still convulsed with nightly riots, Alex Kane, former Ulster Unionist advisor, wrote this highly critical piece regarding the Orange Order's approach to the whole parading issue.
  • That was mild compared with Brian John Spencer's take on it on Eamonn Mallie's blog, where he puts the loyalist riots in the context of the confrontation between progressive forces in the world and those that are more reactionary and regressive.
  • I think that John Kyle, on the same blog, (but also reprinted in the Contemporary Christianity ps section) slightly misrepresents what Spencer was saying. There are significant elements in his post that I will possibly take up directly with John, but his ultimate conclusions regarding offering loyalist youth a better alternative than dole or soldier deserve further discussion in the corridors of power.
  • John cites the work of Dave Magee, who has studies and blogged on the place of masculinity in loyalism... He has also studied the work of Martin Luther King Jnr. and applied Kingian non-violent techniques ot his work in loyalist communities. In a piece last week he looks at some of King's teaching as a means of forging a real community in the face of chaos.
  • In my last Supplement I cited John Brewer's assertion that the Orange Order needs to be part of our future in this province and urged others to work with them to that end. In a piece prompted by a column by William Scholes in the Belfast Telegraph saying much the same thing, Gary McMurray, a Church of Ireland minister in Fermanagh, responded to the whole parading issue not primarily from a community relations or political perspective, but from a specifically faith-based one, asking whether the actions of the Orange Order are really advancing the cause the Christianity that they supposedly espouse. What is also of note in this blog is the etiquette in asking the author for permission to quote him...
  • However Declan Kearney, Chairman of Sinn Fein didn't ask for the Queens permission to quote her, without attributing the words directly to her... In an academic situation that would gain you accusations of plagiarism, but in the political moominland of Northern Ireland, that is a sign that we are actually listening to and learning from each other... slowly.
  • It is ironic then that in another piece Alex Kane urges Unionism and Orangeism to learn from Sinn Fein... Meanwhile, on Eamonn Mallie's blog Sean Brennan argues that loyalist communities have been learning. He uses social capital theory to demonstrate that they are learning the importance of binding, bridging and linking capital in the pursuit of their ends... However I would argue that here in Northern Ireland we have defined social capital too tightly, and consequently we tend to learn from the wrong examples that maintain divisions and keep people locked within disadvantaged communities.
  • In a final piece from Eamonn Mallie's blog (though I never seem to be citing Eamonn himself it must be said) Barney Rowan looks forward to the upcoming intervention of Richard Haas... and beyond that to what the Executive will do with any findings that will come from it. I have to say I share Billy Hutchinson's scepticism with regard to the latter, but also have a certain frustration with a political class and society as a whole that needs someone from outside to come and hold our hands like toddlers being told to share and play nicely together... especially when "outside" generally means the USA which doesn't exactly have the world's finest example of a fully functioning democracy... And that is the conclusion of a former president!
Meanwhile, Back at the Church