Sunday, October 31, 2004

How Many?

According to Blogger, I've blogged over 41,000 words since July. This is, incredibly, 15,000 more than I wrote in my Master's dissertation on Anglican Parish Churches and Social Responsibility, which took months and felt like squeezing blood out of a stone. (And you wouldn't want to read it, either.) Whereas the blog has been like relaxing in an easy conversation with friends. Makes you think, doesn't it?

posted by Tony at 10/31/2004 11:30:44 PM 0 comments

Desperately Seeking Gospel

US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OUTCOME DECIDED BY LAWYERS

I really can't see how this coming week is going to include any Good News for anyone. Unless lawyers count as someone. But what about the Dream of Democracy? That a free people should be able to decide its destiny, and that they should be wise enough to choose a destiny that would help establish God's peace in the world? Back to my knees is the easy part. Praying with any faith for the outcome is harder.

posted by Tony at 10/31/2004 04:11:11 PM 0 comments

God in Ambush

In Surprised by Joy, C.S.Lewis describes the feeling of God 'closing in on him', when all his friends and thinking and reading seemed to be conspiring to bring him to faith in God. In a more trivial vein, I've got a similar feeling today of God lying in ambush for me. After all that stuff I blogged the other day, reflecting on my father and on my fatherhood, what does Ieuan preach about this morning but the Fatherhood of God? I really felt quite emotionally stirred up about it all. It's just as if God is trying to tell me something. But I'm blessed if I can understand what.

It comes at a time of some turmoil anyway, when I would very much like a bit more certainty about where God wants me to be. And all I get is more of the same feeling of being in the mixer.

posted by Tony at 10/31/2004 03:50:57 PM 0 comments

Saturday, October 30, 2004

On Line Again

Just back from a few days at the flat, and posted the two longer pieces I wrote while I was there, 'as if' I had posted them when they were written. Hope they're not too long and indigestible!

Naturally the sun, which had not appeared all the time I was there, came out as I drove homewards.

posted by Tony at 10/30/2004 08:50:48 PM 0 comments

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dad

Sometimes I wonder if Freud wasn't right after all. About all men having a subconscious desire to kill their fathers. Not that I go along with the idea that the reason they want to kill their fathers is so they can have sex with their mothers. That seems like pushing a good analogy too far, till it goes over the edge of the cliff. Just because Oedipus did it, and he's the only classical figure you can think of who killed his dad, doesn't mean that's going to be a universal archetype.

When I was a very young child, Dad often seemed like a distant, fantastic figure that Mum talked about all the time and told stories about. It was a time in ancient history, when mothers stayed at home and looked after the house and children (and in our case the sick grandfather), and fathers went out to work. Dad went out to work all day Monday to Friday, and Saturday mornings too. Then he would come home, and Saturday lunch would be some kind of special event, which included, as its invariable dessert, suet pudding with golden syrup and custard.

Nearly fifty years later, it's not easy to read back the memories and accurately interpret what was going on. Some of my difficult memories are about things that I bought. I didn't have a lot of pocket money, and the things I really wanted to spend it on were often not the things my parents thought wise. (Is this a law of human nature? No doubt parents really are more experienced in money and its uses; but that doesn't necessarily make them wiser about a child's needs and desires, and the best ways for the child to acquire that kind of experience-based wisdom.)

One day I bought some items from the jokes department of our local sweet and toy shop. They included some comic visiting cards with names like I.M.Swanky. Mum wanted to look at them and - what, to encourage me? - said they were funny and I should show them to Dad when he came in. By this time I was a bit embarrassed about some of them and thought they might be rude. I didn't understand some of them or why they were funny, but I knew a lot of things people thought funny were rude; and I thought I might get into trouble about them. So I threw them in the rubbish bin. Sadly this was one of those occasions when Mum remembered I had something to show Dad when he came home. So he heard about my purchase; then came the questioning, the embarrassment, the attempts at evasion, the confession, the hunting through the rubbish, the discovery that I wasn't going to be told off or punished, and the humiliation of it all.

Somewhere behind this trivial and still painful memory lies the question: Why was I afraid of my father? A mild-mannered, sociable man, who I hardly remember raising his voice, and never remember hitting me. Is there, somewhere here, the reality of a stressed young mother, finding it hard to raise a child and look after an ageing father-in-law who had suffered a stroke, and more than once set fire to his bedding by smoking in bed, and trying to instil discipline with the words, 'Wait till your father gets home'?

But apart from memories of fear and embarrassment, there are memories of anger, some of which I now see as justified. The times of resentment at parental expectations, the times of feeling pressed into a mould of someone else's making, the times of not being free to be myself. I guess that Mum and Dad would feel mortified to hear this, or would justify what they did on the grounds that they only wanted what was best for me. Hence their urging me to get outside and enjoy some fresh air, or to work with Dad in the garden, or help wash the car; when what I wanted to do was sit with my nose in a book.

Now that I have been a father myself, and more or less successfully or otherwise seen four children through to adulthood, I've been on the receiving end of some of their critical assessments of the experience. The word expectations cropped up there too. And I hotly denied it: "We never expected anything of you!" (Except that you would be bright, gifted, would want to work hard at school, because that's what we did; though we never pressured you like some parents we could name; and yes, we expected that you would make something of life because that's the way to be happy, and that's what we really want for you. Which begins to add up to what a child might feel as a pretty heavy weight of expectations.)

Later on, when I was a self-centred and probably obnoxious adolescent, Dad certainly wanted to be a friend and mentor. It was part of his attempt to be a good father. But I was going through a reclusive and non-communicative phase, and his efforts to talk to me, to establish genuine communication, were met with a stony and moody silence. On one occasion this became too much for him and he burst out with his true feelings about it all: "You must find it terribly difficult to communicate!" This made me furious - though I didn't communicate my fury - for was I not a poet, a writer, top of the class in all linguistic skills, one who was learning to be the great literary artist? And I had better things to do than make small talk with mere parents! Did I say probably obnoxious?

And now this kindly and infuriating and successful Dad is himself becoming a child. In his 80s, and physically strong, his mind is being eaten away by whatever it is that Alzheimer's does to the mind. He is abdicating, like someone putting off a heavy garment they can no longer wear, his role as the strong support, the breadwinner, the practical man who was always pottering, tinkering, making and doing things. And he is letting himself become childishly dependent, mentally and emotionally, on Mum who is physically not well, who is indeed too frail to bear this burden.

From somewhere in him, there are emerging distressing habits that are both like, and totally unlike, the man he has been. He sits repeatedly wiping his nose on his handkerchief, and then spreading it out on his lap like a napkin. If it is a table napkin he has on his lap, he wipes his nose on that and spreads it out again. He gets up and wanders around the house, with some idea in his mind about something he wants to do or look at or find, but can't remember what it is, and doesn't recognise it if he does find it. He agrees enthusiastically with everything that anyone says, and you know his agreement has none of the value it once had, because it's coming purely from a desire to please, rather than any mental place that could be called an opinion.

And all the time you know, this is only going to get worse; and you dread some of the ways you know it can get worse. The wandering off completely, the failure to recognise loved ones, the violence that can be symptoms of Alzheimer's. And you are angry with him, and for him. And you dread the day when you will wish him dead because you've already lost him, and you don't want him or the people who love him to suffer any more.

I love my Dad. I wish I had loved him better. These are my particular memories of him, today. They are particular, personal; I think that perhaps is what makes them universal.

posted by Tony at 10/29/2004 03:30:39 PM 2 comments

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Free as in ?

If you have a good idea, that is going to make people's lives better, and maybe even change the world, should you be able to patent it, so that you can make money out of anyone else using it? Or should you give it away for free?

This is the basic question that lies behind the whole debate about 'intellectual property', which according to one side is the worst threat to human freedom and innovation since the Spanish Inquisition, and according to the other is the sole safeguard of enterprise and technological advance.

Some cases are much more simple to decide than others. If you have a new idea about God, or about how to live a truly human life, you had better give it away and not expect to make anything from it. This is one way you can tell that the Gospel of Jesus is true, while Scientology or the teachings of Shree Baghwan Ragneesh are the work of charlatans.

If you write a novel, it's reasonable to be able to publish it and have people pay to read it, so that you get some reward for the ideas-work of creating it. Other people shouldn't be able to profit from your work by selling pirated editions: that was the whole point of copyright law. But copyright was supposed to expire after a certain length of time, either from publication or from the author's death: why should descendants, or other commercial interests who may have bought or otherwise claimed a copyright, continue to benefit from the intellectual work of the author?

If you write a song, you can't stop someone else from singing it, but if they earn money from their singing, then surely you should get some sort of commission from them.

Here, the key issues are about the amount of work that goes into the intellectual creation, and whether another person using them is making money from them. If a company puts years and large amounts of cash into research and development, then it expects a return: though the profits in some cases, notably the major drugs companies, seem obscene when weighed alongside the suffering of patients with diseases like HIV/AIDS in the Two-Thirds World, who are too poor to have access to those life-saving discoveries.

Somewhere between these instances, comes the matter of software. It is summed up by the difference between, on the one hand, the world's biggest corporation, Microsoft, with its stranglehold monopoly on the world of personal computing, and on the other the Free Software Foundation which is the brainchild of Richard M. Stallman, or RMS as he is commonly known in Geekworld. RMS had his early experiences of computers in the hacker culture of MIT in the early 1970s, where there was a strong ethos of camaraderie and sharing. If someone found a new hack for some piece of software, a bit of code that would fix a bug or just generally improve it, he (it was, I think, invariably he at that time) would be happy to make it available to all his colleagues, just as they would share their fixes with him. RMS perceived it as betrayal, when his colleagues started to restrict their work and sell it to companies who made a proprietary 'secret' of it. He has become a (some would say) fanatical advocate for Free Software, claiming that it is an issue of timeless values such as freedom, justice and fair play. So strong are his views, that he even distances himself from the open source software movement which is related but not coterminous.

Microsoft argues that quality computer software, in the complex computer world of today, is only possible where there is strong centralised research and development, and the secrecy and strict licensing conditions that are necessary to turn a profit from it. This argument is largely confounded by the success of RMS's own GNU Project (GNU = GNU's Not Unix) and Linux, which have been the work of outstandingly talented individuals, but also of whole teams of hackers working together on the projects for nothing but the sheer fun and intellectual challenge of it. (I've long thought that this is a challenging model for Christians, who have tended to stay with the centralised and top-down way of doing things that the Church has preferred for centuries, rather than the collaborative, grass-roots style of the early Church.)

A notable recent legal challenge has been brought against Linux, on the grounds that it includes some code 'stolen' from a proprietary part of Unix that is owned by the plaintiff. It now appears that it will be almost impossible for them to prove this. But indeed, how could it be proved, unless thousands of lines of Linux code were identical to thousands of lines of the proprietary code, even down to the programmer's comments? And what if only hundreds of lines were identical? Or only dozens? At what point could you prove copying, rather than simply arriving at the same ways of solving the same problem in the program?

Computer language is not that different from any other kind of language; and there are only so many ways you can say: "The sun rose over Ragleth Hill." You can't copyright the basic building blocks of language or thought - so when do any of these things become 'intellectual property'?

If I describe my love as a yellow, yellow daffodil, I can't claim it as an original thought. (Of course, when I write a whole song about it, I may expect you to pay me royalties if you earn money from singing it.) No more should anyone be able to buy up patents on, or extend copyrights of, works or ideas that have once been in the public domain or which are part of those essential building-blocks of culture. You could not copyright the words, "Mirror, mirror on the wall; who is the fairest of them all?" - yet Disney have virtually stolen some of those key works of the Brothers Grimm, and made their film versions seem 'definitive' in the popular culture. The copyright of some of those films would normally expire, 70 years after they were made; yet the Disney Corporation are among the key players in the attempt to extend the length and scope of copyright and intellectual property laws, in order to keep their profits rolling in.

So RMS's crusade for free software is much more than just a geek's quixotic fantasy: it has implications for many fields of human creative endeavour, other than just that of writing software.

See Free As In Freedom by Sam Williams

posted by Tony at 10/27/2004 07:33:41 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Surprise, Surprise

It's such a comfort to know, isn't it, that the UK is the second largest arms manufacturer and exporter in the world. All that trade coming into the country, all those people gainfully employed. But (SHOCK! HORROR!) it turns out that the ethical policies of our leaders, which ensure that we only sell arms to buyers and governments who will not use them for naughty purposes (like oppressing their own citizens, or engaging in regional conflicts [what other kind is there, I wonder? every conflict is in someone's region, and it's just not good enough to shrug and say, well that's OK as long as it's not our region]) - those ethical policies are actually not effective!! People are - no, sit down, you'll find this hard to believe - actually using the weapons they buy from us to kill people.

It's times like this that I wonder whether the politicians are mad, or just assume we are stupid. Yet when you raise questions about the ethics of us getting wealthy by selling people the means to kill people, all you get back - from politicians of all parties - is the stuff about the number of jobs that would be lost if this iniquitous trade was discontinued.

At moments like that, I like to think about Japan. For years after the Second World War, they were banned from making anything with a military application. So they used all their inventiveness, design, energy and manufacturing power to create non-military products. And became the boom economy of the time. Meanwhile we go on squandering our talents and inventions to design better ways to kill people. What was I saying about being under God's judgement, by means of the governments we've elected?

See Safer World

posted by Tony at 10/26/2004 06:05:16 PM 1 comments

Monday, October 25, 2004

Jakob Nielsen

If you haven't yet discovered Jakob Nielsen, you're missing out!

His website on usability of the Web, and especially the Alertbox column, are well worth reading.

posted by Tony at 10/25/2004 11:10:55 AM 0 comments

Sunday, October 24, 2004

We Who Are Strong

Another day on which the lectionary readings seemed so perfectly apt for our times. I talked about Romans 15.1-6 in the light of the Windsor Report:

I couldn't help thinking about this when I read the third passage the lectionary set for today: Romans 15.1-6. "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please our neighbour." Now, St Paul was a genius: this is brilliantly put. For who are the strong? And who are the weak? In the present context, you have those who take what we might call a more traditional view, about the sinfulness of homosexual practice, saying: Well, we are the strong ones, because we believe in the word of God. We have the correct view about the authority of God's word, and we understand it to teach, unequivocally, what we believe. While on the other hand you have those who take what we might call a more liberal view, and they say, Well, we are the strong ones, because we believe that the balance of God's word allows us to move beyond the literal sense of those texts that you are quoting, and that it teaches what we believe.

No one who is involved in any controversy as big and damaging as this is, then, will be likely to say, Well, to tell you the truth, I am weak (in my faith, in my views, in my interpretation of scripture.) "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please our neighbour".

So who are the strong? We are! Whatever side you take in this issue, this is meant for you, you are one of those Paul described as the strong. And what should you do? Put up with the failings of the weak (that is, the other side) not please yourselves, but please your neighbour, for the good purpose of building up your neighbour. "For Christ did not please himself, but, as it is written, 'The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.'" Wouldn't it be wonderful (astonishing, but wonderful) if what we now saw in this dispute, was both sides falling over themselves to give way to the other? For the 'traditionalists' to be saying: Please go ahead, make your churches as inclusive as they can be of all people, no matter what their sexual orientation etc., and we won't raise any question about it on the ground of our certainty about scripture. While the 'liberals' would be saying, We respect your deeply held views so much that we won't go on flaunting our freedoms, or doing anything possibly inflammatory like consecrating Gene Robinson, or publishing official liturgies for blessing same-sex unions, etc. (A man can dream, can't he?) But oh, for a Christian Church that could behave in a Christian way!

I know this doesn't address the issue of justice for those who have been marginalised and excluded and persecuted for all these years, our gay brothers and sisters. But I'm sure that would begin to become clearer, if we could only have the charity St Paul call for.

Full text of sermon

posted by Tony at 10/24/2004 04:59:49 PM 0 comments

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Power of Story

Once again I'm amazed and humbled by the power of the Story, and the privilege that it is, to be called to tell it. The Celebration Praise event at Woodstock went really well, (thank you, all of you who prayed), taking the form of an extended Eucharist - extended, that is, over the whole day, with the first part up to the Gospel (part 1) before the keynote speakers and workshops, and then the second part from the Gospel (part 2) through the Eucharistic Prayer and communion. It wouldn't have been my favourite conditions for telling: huge sports hall of a secondary school, big audience, no clip-on radio mike, but only a clunky hand-held on a lead; yet nevertheless there were people who were impressed by the power and immediacy of the Road to Emmaus told.

In the two workshops, too, participants were captured by the power of someone just telling the biblical story in the plain, unadulterated words of the text, and became excited by the thought that this is doable, and they could do it.

And yet it's so low-tech, so fragile, so weak, so unimpressive by the standards of this world and all its expensive flashy gimmickry and gadgetry. That's how I know it's from God, because it so truly models the Incarnation: the power and true nature of God taking material form in a human, fleshly body.

posted by Tony at 10/23/2004 07:38:18 PM 1 comments

Sporting the Beads

Kathryn muses about the way the Church comes across to people so often as saying No; and though I agree with Justin's comment too, it's true that we are pretty good at it. Right now it's the (Roman) Catholic Church who present the best example with all the fuss and geflapple about David Beckham's rosary beads, and the way they object to the young wearing them just as a hotly desired fashion accessory. I thought it was Madonna who started it. No, I mean the pop singer. At any rate, this is not the first time young people who know nothing about their significance or use for prayer, have bought rosaries because they are beautiful objects, and valued them as such. And sourpuss old Mother Church (let the reader understand, and take note, that this generally means her male spokesvoices) is bleating and complaining about it!

As a mere one-time (or some-time) Evangelical devotee of Our Lady and her blessed Rosary, I say, let the children come to me, and do not try to stop them! So what if they don't know what the beads are 'really' for? If they love them and are drawn to them, let them enjoy them. Trust their power! Who knows if the beads won't lead the people who think they are beautiful to wonder what they mean? Why are they arranged like that? What are the patterns about? Who is the little man on the cross?

I should have thought that Catholics (rather than mere outsider-cousins like me) would have had a bit more faith in the spiritual efficacy of material things. Isn't that what being a catholic is all about?

posted by Tony at 10/23/2004 07:10:46 PM 0 comments

Don't Knock Boris

I think it's really unfair, all the flak our Oxfordshire MP Boris Johnson has been getting this past week. I say, Boris for leader of the Conservative Party! It would make politics a whole lot more fun that it has been.

Plus it might be Labour's last best hope of a third term ...

posted by Tony at 10/23/2004 06:53:38 PM 0 comments

Friday, October 22, 2004

Dame Rosemary's Blindness

I probably blogged more than enough about Dame Rosemary; but at any rate you will have got the idea that she was a special person, who was an inspiration to many who knew her. But I've got to add this, possibly the last, to all the other stories, because it made such an impression on me when her niece told us about it at her funeral.

When Rosemary lost her sight over the last couple of years, through macular degeneration, instead of regarding it as the terrible disaster and loss that most people would have done, she approached it as another task to be faced, a challenge and a learning opportunity. She delighted in the new things it gave her the opportunity to discover: the different aids and gadgets that exist to help the blind; and the many new friends she made as a result.

She was an incredible woman.

posted by Tony at 10/22/2004 08:40:27 PM 0 comments

Shameless Self-Promotion

Hey, if you don't promote yourself - who else is going to?

I sent an e-mail to that nice Jane Perrone at Guardian Unlimited's Newsblog, in answer to her request to let her know if you have a blog, and she has featured my blog as today's Pick of the Day.

posted by Tony at 10/22/2004 04:32:17 PM 1 comments

Your Prayers Please

Please can I ask your prayers for tomorrow's 'gig', at the archdeaconry worship event, Celebration Praise? I have been asked to tell the Gospel at the Eucharist (The Road to Emmaus) and I'm also leading a workshop showing people how to do it. Some time for preparation today might be nice, too.

posted by Tony at 10/22/2004 09:18:32 AM 1 comments

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Right Leader

While we're talking about the Daily Office, did anyone else trip over this gem in the first reading at Morning Prayer today, from Ecclesiasticus 10.4?
The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right leader for the time.

Which is more terrifying? That millions of Americans still believe that he did just that, in November 2000, working miraculously through hanging chads, the disenfranchising of thousands of black voters, and all the rest of the sorry tale? Or the possibility that they might actually be right?

This is the same dilemma I wrestled with for 18 long years under the Tories. And came to the conclusion that no matter how ghastly and downright wrong a government or regime may be, there is some mysterious sense in which, if God's sovereignty is a reality, it is the right government for the people at that time. But whether that is for blessing or for judgement, is another matter. In the case of 18 years of Tory rule, I think they so totally expressed and formed the crass godless materialism of 80s and 90s Britain, that we have been under judgement for it, as a result of their policies, ever since.

And while, in May 1997, I thought we had been liberated at last, and we sang in church, 'We'll walk the land with hearts on fire, and every step will be a prayer; Hope is rising, new day dawning; sound of singing fills the air," (Mission Praise 743) - after 7 years of New Labour, it's beginning to feel as if the judgement hasn't actually quite finished yet.

So should I take comfort or further cause for concern from verse 8, which adds:
Sovereignty passes from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and wealth.

Not much hope for empires, or leaders, there, then.

posted by Tony at 10/21/2004 06:08:01 PM 4 comments

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Silence of the Journalists

Is it my imagination, or have the media gone rather silent since the Windsor Report came out? Oh yes, there's still the occasional fading little bleat about the Anglican Communion being on the verge of tearing itself apart, but it all sounds strangely stale and reheated like Monday's reappearing of the Sunday joint. (Historical reference: For many years we couldn't afford a big enough piece of meat to produce any leftovers, and by the time we could, half the family had become vegetarians, anyway.)

It could be, of course, that everyone, including the journalists, is carefully reading and appraising it. (Though this seems a tad unlikely.) It could be that it's all so Anglican and balanced that no one can understand what its conclusions actually are, so they're afraid to disagree with it in case it turns out to be saying what they want it to. Or maybe, just maybe, it's actually going to work, and produce a formula for staying within the same family of faith. Perish the thought! Whatever would the journalists have to write about then?

Anglican Communion Not To Split Shock Horror!

That's the interesting, Man Bites Dog headline I'm still praying for.

posted by Tony at 10/20/2004 08:03:41 PM 2 comments

Over By Christmas

From the BBC's news site:
Mr Blair said if the troops were redeployed they would remain under British military command, and that, whatever was decided, Black Watch soldiers would return to the UK by Christmas.

It'll be over by Christmas: weren't they saying something like that in August 1914? Looks like we're in for the long long haul, God help us.

posted by Tony at 10/20/2004 07:45:00 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I Used To Be Angry ...

... but now I'm really quite mellow.

I've been having a clear-out today, throwing away piles of old papers that have been lying on top of the filing cabinet for the last 4 or 5 years. (Yes, that's how long it's been since the last clear-out, and that was only partial.) Among these were stacks of back-numbers of the Marston Times, which make interesting reading about the kind of issues that interested / concerned me / drove me mad during that time. I used to be quite radical, you know, and much more political than I have been recently.

And also pretty critical of journalists and the news media generally, for their reporting of anything to do with the Church of England. I was particularly angry about the way one retired clergyman was almost in despair at the decline of the Church, which he fully believed in, because he read it in the papers ...

Read what I wrote in Don't Believe Everything You Read.

posted by Tony at 10/19/2004 03:35:41 PM 1 comments

HSBC: The S stands for Sucks

From the Name Them and Shame Them Department

My bank recently returned three cheques I had paid in, which were funeral and other fees from one of our local undertakers, an excellent, friendly and caring family firm. These cheques had been bounced by the undertaker's bank branch, marked 'Account Closed'. The undertaker had indeed closed that account, but with instructions that the bank should first honour all cheques already drawn, which the bank agreed to do. They failed to honour their instructions and promise, to the great embarrassment of a fine local business.

The bank? HSBC. The branch? Their Witney branch.

My advice: if you are thinking of opening a bank account, or changing yours: don't even think about HSBC. And if you are unfortunate enough to use them: well, what about changing?

The sad thing is that this is probably typical. The banks and financial institutions don't really give a damn about individual customers (unless they can add your little debt to the trillion pounds or so of personal debt that feeds their outrageous profits) or business customers that are anything smaller than Megacorp Inc.

posted by Tony at 10/19/2004 09:20:37 AM 5 comments

Monday, October 18, 2004

Sorry is the Hardest Word

It's a hard thing, to ask your Christian brother and sister to apologise for doing something they sincerely believe is right. I only want to ask people to reflect on how they would feel, if someone did this to them (which seems like a reasonable application of the Golden Rule). It's one thing if you know that you made a mistake; then the obvious thing to do is to admit it, say sorry and move on. But can we be clear that that's what the Diocese of New Hampshire has done? Where's the difference between what one person sees as a mistake, and the other person considers a prophetic act?

It might indeed be that we need to avoid rushing ahead with further such 'prophetic acts'. But the other side of that bargain would be, that those who regard them as mistakes go back to prayer. Not along the lines that they've prayed up till now, ("Please, Lord, show these liberal unbelievers they are wrong and bring them to repent,") but along the lines of "Lord, we are all mistaken. Show us where we all need to change our minds and learn your truth. Show us your way of keeping the church united, at the same time as including people we categorically disagree with. Better yet, help us to learn to value them, understand where they are coming from, and who knows? maybe even agree with them."

posted by Tony at 10/18/2004 07:33:04 PM 1 comments

Dame Rosemary Murray's Funeral

Rosemary's funeral today in St Nicholas church, Marston, where she worshipped for the last 10 years, was attended by a packed church of family, friends and former students and colleagues. Reflections on Rosemary were given by her niece Claire and one of her great-nieces, Annie. Another great-niece, Hester, played a Chopin Etude.

Following the commendation at the end of the service, I read Bunyan's account of the passing of Mr Valiant-for-Truth: a fitting reading for saying goodbye to Rosemary, too.
After this, it was noised abroad that Mr Valiant-for-Truth was taken with a summons by the same post as the other; and had this for a token that the summons was true, That his pitcher was broken at the fountain. When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it. Then, said he, I am going to my Father's; and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river side, into which as he went down he said, Death, where is thy sting? And as he went down deeper, he said, Grave, where is thy victory? So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

The obituary in The Independent today was late appearing, but adds a good perspective from New Hall, having been written by the librarian there.

posted by Tony at 10/18/2004 04:40:56 PM 1 comments

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Vice-Chancellor's Bike

From the formal obituaries, and the conversations with people who knew her, the fund of great stories about Rosemary continues to grow. One of my favourites is the one she herself related in her Woman's Hour interview.

When she was Vice-Chancellor at Cambridge, she used to turn up at the Senate House on her bicycle, and instead of leaving it round the back, where the undergraduates and others were supposed to park their bikes, she used to leave it in front of the building. One day one of the officials remonstrated with her and rebuked her.

She replied, "Oh, don't you think you could make an exception in the circumstances? I am the Vice-Chancellor." The hapless guardian, who had not known, or had failed to recognise her, was covered with confusion. "After all," she continued, "there is a reserved parking place for a Vice-Chancellor's car."

Hence it came about that, in front of the Senate House, there was a bicycle rack with the sign Reserved for the Vice-Chancellor.

Does anyone in Cambridge know if it's still there?

(A related story, from someone who was an undergraduate at New Hall in Rosemary's time, is that it was common knowledge among visitors to New Hall that if you ran into someone who looked like the gardener, it was probably the College President.)

posted by Tony at 10/17/2004 02:42:04 PM 1 comments

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Popular Pages Part Two

Another page of mine that seems to have been getting a lot of hits over the past couple of weeks - though I don't know where from, or who's been linking to it - is What's In Your Computer? This was another piece of Quixotism: an article I wrote for the diocesan newspaper - but they never printed it - about why Christians shouldn't use Microsoft products. Who said the age of starry-eyed, idealistic dreamers was dead?

This is my goal: to convert the Church of England to Linux. And first off, to stop people in Diocesan Church House and elsewhere sending Word or Excel files as if they were some sort of universal standard, instead of the secret, proprietary format that they actually are. For the verdict of a higher authority, see what Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, says on the subject of 'What not to email'.

posted by Tony at 10/16/2004 08:58:06 PM 0 comments

Stability

The thing I love about Lark Rise to Candleford is the same thing I love about Groundhog Day, and the Rule of St Benedict. It's something about the contemplation of time and place; staying with the reality of a place and its people long enough to grow to know and love them, instead of wishing them other than they are.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's insufferably arrogant weatherman, Phil Connors, stranded in the time loop of the most boring day of his life, is forced to find another option than raging against the day and the place, hating them and everyone in it, trying to destroy them or himself. It's when he starts to use the day to get to know people, to enter into their lives and understand them, that he comes to love them. And it's as he starts to use the day to improve himself, learning to play the piano and to help other people with the little crises of their everyday, that he becomes loveable.

And St Benedict's way of putting it is:

The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community. (RSB 4.78)

This is what Flora Thompson does with her sympathetic observations of life in the hamlet of Lark Rise, and the village of Candleford Green, as they were in the 1880s and 90s. Because she has observed them closely enough, and described them in enough detail, she doesn't reproach or find fault with anyone. Even those who are clearly at fault, are recognised as just human, no more nor less so than any of the rest of us. And the charitableness of this point of view is such, that we come to see her as immensely loveable, too. As the gipsy who told her fortune for her said, "You're going to be loved; loved by people you've never seen and never will see." What a fortune! What an ambition!

This is a part of why I think long incumbencies were a good thing. The 'generational ministry' of clergy who stayed in the same parish for 20 or 30 years, was able to touch people's lives in a completely different way from the fly-by-night 5 or 7 year contracts now favoured in team ministries and elsewhere. There the idea is, that once you've inflicted your 'bright idea' or programme on your long-suffering flock, there's nothing else you have to give. So up sticks and on to the next place to do the same again.

I'm trying to adapt these insights to any situation of boredom. The 110 mile drive to our flat in Church Stretton could easily feel tedious - especially when you're stuck behind a slow lorry on the A44 - but I'm trying to study it, to get to know every tree and bend and house along the route, so that it becomes perpetually interesting instead.

In the same way, if a child or anyone says of a thing, "That's boring!" the proper (Benedictine) response might be: You just haven't looked at it closely enough, and long enough. I'd quite like to try this with the people who call Anglican worship - especially the BCP - dull or boring. You just haven't looked at it closely enough. Pray with the BCP for an hour a day for 30 years, and see if you still find it dull.

I suppose they might reply, "Life's too short for that!" But it's not, you know. One of the things that eternal life means, is learning to unfold each instant so that it embraces the universe, and the whole of time.

posted by Tony at 10/16/2004 08:35:33 PM 0 comments

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Coffee without the bad conscience

Cafe Progreso is the name of a new partnership that aims to run coffee shops for the benefit of the growers. Thanks to David Robinson for the link - and for reading my blog!

posted by Tony at 10/14/2004 01:56:15 PM 0 comments

Dame Rosemary Murray: Daily Telegraph Obituary

The dailies seem to be slow picking up about Dame Rosemary. This obituary in today's Daily Telegraph.

posted by Tony at 10/14/2004 09:57:43 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Dame Rosemary Murray on Woman's Hour

I just picked this up by chance on my way back from the chiropractor. It was strangely affecting to hear Rosemary's voice on the radio, reminiscing in her usual funny and humble way about her great achievements.

posted by Tony at 10/13/2004 11:34:51 AM 2 comments

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Preaching Matthew

A rare and special privilege today: a CME (Continuing Ministerial Education) Day arranged by the diocese. Sometimes you get the 'menu' of these and your heart sinks because you know you should show willing and attend at least some of them, and it looks rather bad if you don't, and you don't want to be one of those 'bad boys' that there are in every diocese who never ever go to in-service training... but the topics don't always look that appetising. That wasn't the case with today's session: David Wenham's overview of Matthew, which is the principal Gospel for Lectionary Year A, beginning on Advent Sunday.

David's enthusiasm for the subject, knowledge, humour and lightness of touch made it a joy to take part in; and I think all of us who were there are looking forward to preaching Matthew next year.

posted by Tony at 10/12/2004 07:21:21 PM 0 comments

Dame Rosemary Murray

So far only two obituaries that I have spotted:
On the Cambridge University website
and in the Times

I'd forgotten about the bookbinding. Rosemary repaired my copy of Lancelot Andrewes' Preces Privatae, and the lectern copy of the Book of Common Prayer. More reasons to treasure them.

posted by Tony at 10/12/2004 04:50:08 PM 0 comments

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Great Pumpkin

Time was when being the Vicar counted for something. Gave you a position in society, brought respect with it. Not any longer, it seems.

Last weekend we had our Harvest Festival and Supper. The Supper is traditionally followed by an auction of the fruit and vegetables that have decorated the church, with the money raised going to Christian Aid. It used to be, in the early years of my being vicar here, that if I bid for anything - a jar of David and Stephanie's home-made honey, or someone's pickles, or a home-made cake - everyone else suddenly stopped bidding and fell silent. "The Vicar wants it,' the whisper would run around the room; and that was that.

But not this year. Alison had given me my instructions: to buy one of the two big pumpkins, because she wanted to make pumpkin soup for the PCC Away Day the following Saturday. But I wasn't destined to have things my own way. I was out-bid. By the treasurer himself.

My first thought was that we'd reached a better and healthier situation, where the Vicar isn't regarded as somehow to be favoured with special treatment. That was until I got home and found the pumpkin on the doorstep. It had been too heavy for Joe, so he donated it to the Vicar after all.

The pumpkin was so big, that less than a quarter of it made enough soup for everyone at the Away Day. Alison recycled a lot more by taking portions of it to church yesterday and giving them away to anyone who wanted a piece. And there has still been enough for a number of menu experiments at home. Yesterday: root vegetable crumble. And today: pumpkin balti.

posted by Tony at 10/11/2004 08:50:12 PM 1 comments

Coffee in Oxford

Caleb (clearly a man who appreciates his caffeine) agonises in Confessions of a coffee drinker about the tensions between the guilt we feel about our blatant consumerism and our pain when the price of our favourite beverage goes up. I commented somewhat glibly about how cheap coffee was in the States relative to UK, then wondered if I'd got it quite right, and went round Oxford this morning checking in some of the more high profile coffee shops. Here are the results.

I wondered at first whether it wasn't that coffee cost twice as much here, but only that for so many everyday uses, one dollar buys as much as one pound over here. (Even though according to today's currency conversion, it's only really 55 pence.) But I found that in fact the price of a latte grande at Starbucks (which they claim is 12 ounces, whatever that means) is 2.15, or $3.86. So my first claim, that coffee in the UK costs over twice as much, was an underestimate.

posted by Tony at 10/11/2004 02:52:04 PM 2 comments

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The First Thing They Teach You at Theological College

Over the years of parish ministry, 'the first thing they teach you at theological college' has become a kind of catch-all expression in my mental dictionary for things that I may or may not have actually been taught at seminary, but certainly should have been, if the force with which the University of Life has taught those lessons subsequently has anything to do with it.

Number One: If anything goes wrong (when leading worship etc.) pretend it was what you planned to do anyway. You'll usually get away with it.

Number Two: (which the UoL taught me again this morning) Never choose as the first hymn something most of the congregation don't know. It gets things off to a ragged, unwilling and grumpy start.

Number Three: If you break rule no.2, tell the congregation the first thing they teach you at theological college is [Number Two]. They'll all laugh, and you've got away with it again. Thank God for loving congregations!

Any other good ideas for The First Thing They Teach You at Theological College?

posted by Tony at 10/10/2004 04:26:46 PM 6 comments

Never Surrender!

... as the man says in one of my favourite movies.

It's been really encouraging and affirming to read some of the comments from people who not only read this blog but actually value it. It does matter to me; though I have to say, too, that I was never really going to stop blogging, no matter what the internal sender of critical dre-mails might say. You see, it helps me, and that's justification enough. It's a creative outlet which feeds the spirit, and because of that, nourishes everything else I do.

Apart from that, yes, I'm hooked.

- Hello, I'm Tony, and I'm a blogoholic. I know I am, because quite often when I go into the sanctuary to pray silently before the start of the service, I find myself being distracted by thoughts, not of my next fix, but of my next blog.

I expect some of you know the feeling; for of all the things I am learning from all this, one of the most heart-warming is: I am not alone.

posted by Tony at 10/10/2004 03:55:53 PM 0 comments

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Rosemary

The dear sister in the Lord I recently blogged about, after I visited her in hospital before her heart operation (Hospital Tonic) is dead.

It was always going to be risky, performing a valve replacement operation at her age. But she was so strong, so determined, so open-eyed in her insistence on it, that it seemed a risk worth taking. And in fact the operation went well and seemed to be successful. But sadly she had a stroke a few days afterwards, which left her without speech or movement. If she had lived, she would have hated the helplessness; she was already almost blind, and being able to get around and talk to people was about all she had. She slipped away, and died about 9 a.m. on Thursday.

As Dame Rosemary Murray, she is a very public figure, founder President of New Hall in Cambridge, and first woman vice chancellor of Cambridge University. I'm expecting to see her obituaries in the serious press any day (not yet appeared) and will post links to them when I can.

But to us in the parish, where she moved about 8 years ago to spend her last years among us, she was just Rosemary. In that short time she made an astonishing number of friends, many of whom are genuinely sad to lose her, at the same time as knowing it's far better for her not to go on living as an invalid. She used to drive me mad on the PCC with her searching questions (which so often discovered my ignorance, lack of preparation, or inefficiency) and requests for the fullest transparency and communication about everything. But I loved her for it, too. It was all of a piece, you see. The quality that really characterised her was a boundless curiosity about life and an interest in people. She loved books, and gardens, and the Book of Common Prayer. But in spite of her distinguished career, and her wit and brilliance, or perhaps because of them, she was a model of humility and graciousness. There was never any side about Rosemary. (For overseas readers: side (Brit. informal) = boastful or pretentious manner or attitude.)

She's one of those people, so rare and precious, whom I get to know too late, and then wish I had known better and longer. Whom I want to take as a model for my life. Yes, I covet that curiosity, that joy in people and their ideas and lives. She once told me she hated small talk and was never any good at it. That's because every conversation you had with her felt big: it was about real stuff, and made you believe that it (and your ideas about it) mattered.

God bless you, Rosemary. And thanks for being part of my life.

posted by Tony at 10/09/2004 03:34:00 PM 2 comments

A Blogger on Blogging

I thought I'd got it bad, but I reckon Maud Newton's got it worse.

posted by Tony at 10/09/2004 03:12:27 PM 0 comments

Professor Michael Grant

This obituary caught my eye, and should be filed under two headings:
a) Why I wish I had read Classics
b) You couldn't make this stuff up.

posted by Tony at 10/09/2004 01:53:33 PM 0 comments

Friday, October 08, 2004

Saying Sorry

Don't they teach our leaders anything at Leader School? "Don't get into a war you can't see your way out of. Remember Vietnam!" I would have thought was the first or most obvious thing they might have included on day one.

Like many others, I really feel betrayed by the Labour Government over this one. Right now I'm even thinking of voting LibDem next year, which is a hard thing to do as a Party member, and in all honesty I may have to give up my Party membership first. Except I resent this too: why should Tony Blair alienate me from my true roots like this?

That was why I signed up to the Just Say Sorry campaign.

The unforeseen consequence is that I have started getting e-mails from them, and every time one of these arrives with the subject line: 'Just Say Sorry, Tony', paranoia kicks in and the first thought is, My God! What have I done now?

Incurables, some of us.

posted by Tony at 10/08/2004 10:32:14 AM 1 comments

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Voices of Accusation

In one of those long dark hours before dawn, when you loiter palely and alone upon the margins of sleep and wakefulness, I received a vivid dre-mail. I don't get many of these, so I read it with some interest. It was an anonymous comment on my blog. And well, the writer didn't think much of it. Said it was selfish, self-indulgent, time-wasting, garbage; and much more along the same lines. No decent clergyperson should be spending their time and energy with this kind of crass nonsense; they should be out there seeking and saving the lost, in the midst of this naughty world, etc.

'Anonymous' was naturally not saying anything I haven't thought myself. But he (she?) conveniently overlooked the other side of it: the creativity, the energy, the interesting people you meet in Blogland, and get to swap ideas with, the way it feeds the search for the lost who need seeking and saving. I don't think there is much I have blogged that hasn't also turned up in sermons, conversations, parish magazine, prayers and other pastoral work. The blog is a kind of mirror and testing ground for so many ideas that later work all the better for having had a test flight here. (Wow, and such a mixing-bowl for metaphors, too!)

But it's intriguing to me that the Accuser has got into my dream country and is attacking the very part of my life which is currently one of its strong sources of energy, a spring of living water. Anyone else had this experience?

posted by Tony at 10/07/2004 10:10:07 PM 10 comments

Archangel Michael?


Well, yes. It might sound grandiose to claim an archangel guardian for one's garden shed - especially such an unsightly one. But it came about like this.

During the course of its occupation of that little corner of the vicarage garden, it was put to use as a kind of chapel, or prayer station. No, really. It wasn't my idea; it was during the church barbecue that concluded the children's holiday club. The barbecue was to conclude with an informal outdoor service, but also to provide an opportunity for prayer, reflection, spiritual exploration, in the form of some activities devised by Gill (she of the aubergine). To give at least a semblance of quiet and retreat in the midst of a throng of burger-eaters and cola-quaffers, we carpeted the shed and put a couple of cushions to sit on. The theme of the activity was Angels, with various images printed out and displayed; and it wasn't till over a week later that I discovered Michael had been left behind. Patron of the Shed. I think it worked. I haven't once seen the devil anywhere near the place.

posted by Tony at 10/07/2004 07:18:24 PM 1 comments

Disheartening

At last the monstrous eyesore in the back garden, the hideous blot upon the landscape, the great wen of Marston, AKA the shed the builders put up to contain the overflow from the house during their depredations, is almost cleared. The Archangel Michael who watched over it has been taken down, the cardboard boxes full of books have been emptied and the books carried back by armfuls into the house. Only the box of old vinyl records, and the about-to-be-knackered (as they say at the vicarage) carpet, remain.

And here I face again one of life's depressing mysteries. No matter that I have thrown away (or, put aside for throwing away) more books than mortal spirit can bear. There still seem to be more books going back in, than came out in the first place. How can this be? Books I have never read, and never will read. (Until, that is, a week or so after they've been chucked, when they will suddenly become indispensable must-reads.) Books I read once but can't remember why, and am pretty darn sure I'll never want to read again. Books that are Alison's and pass (this) man's understanding why anyone would want to read them in the first place, but it would be more than my life was worth to make an executive decision on putting them aside for disposal ...

George Meredith's The Egoist? I don't think so. Damon Runyon? Well, you know, I just might want to read them again. (Index of un-highbrow-ness, here.)

Well, maybe I exaggerate slightly. On further inspection I might just have cleared half a shelf. But unless I disguise the fact, Alison is quite capable of colonising it with her books before I manage to very naturally and properly enhance it with mine.

posted by Tony at 10/07/2004 06:03:16 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Rosary of Don Quixote

A couple of weeks ago maggi dawn posted about the idea of re-posting 'classic' entries from people's blogs - or if not classic, exactly, then some of the most read postings.

When I look up my log page, the thing that gets the most hits, most weeks, is my little booklet Reconsidering the Rosary. This has to be one of the more exotic pieces of writing that has ever been remaindered. Not because it's about the Rosary, but because its aim was to try to persuade Evangelical Anglicans that the Rosary was an interesting, useful, helpful (and permissible) form of devotion. I think it's probably been viewed more times since I published it on my website, than it was ever read in its earlier existence as a Grove Book.

No one should ever think I don't have visions and dream dreams about theological possibilities, after this, I reckon.

(The hard copy version of Reconsidering the Rosary doesn't look anything like as attractive as the PDF version, because Grove were much stingier about margins and the like when it was published back in 1991. But it is still available from the author, if you insist.)

posted by Tony at 10/06/2004 06:52:26 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

We Won An Award!

I'm so proud of, and pleased for, my 'little' parish of Elsfield today. At this evening's award ceremony of the Oxford Preservation Trust, the development at Elsfield Church was given an award, and a plaque: the highest kind of recognition from the Trust.

Elsfield is really only a hamlet, outside the Northern Bypass, with a population of probably less than 100. Yet over the past eight years they have raised about 200,000 to re-order their 13th century church building, build an extension with kitchen and toilet, take out the rear pews, and turn the space into a handsome village room to serve the whole community, which has no other public amenity space.

Elsfield Church

The new screen and village room beyond

They raised the money not only from grants, but also by holding an annual plant sale over a weekend in May, a whole-village venture selling plants brought on from seeds and cuttings, selling teas etc. To give an idea of the result, this year's record breaking total raised was in the region of 8000. I can't think of a more deserving project for an award, and I feel privileged to be their vicar.

The excellent churchwarden, Carolyn, who really held the vision and saw it through, announced at Monday's PCC that we're now going on towards Phase 2, which is the more 'churchy' restoration of the East end and sanctuary, the tracery of the E. window, and the 1860s mosaic by Salviati.

For the satirically minded among my readers, I am happy to note that the Oxford Preservation Trust reported that the Heritage Lottery Fund have awarded them a grant of 3.7 million towards the Oxford Castle Restoration project. Just 5% of that amount would have nearly paid for the Elsfield project in full. How much do you suppose they actually gave us? Nothing. Could it be, just possibly, that they are not interested in small community projects that hardly anyone will notice, but only the grand, high profile ones that everyone will look at, admire, and forget that it's all done by gulling millions of people out of their money week after week after week? Surely not.

posted by Tony at 10/05/2004 07:47:08 PM 3 comments

Migrations #2

Welcome to Bedlam! Oxford this morning was gridlocked with returning undergraduates. You can tell them by the family saloons packed to the roofs with luggage, nose to tail along every road and lane that's too narrow to swing a cat in. If life were a bit longer, and I were the true straw-chewing yokel I'm sure I have it in me to be, I would stand and watch, just to see how these unimaginably convoluted knots of traffic ever get themselves unknotted. But sadly it's all still a bit too raw; the days of driving Tom to and from Cambridge are still not yet forgotten.

I'm wondering how long it will be before the average undergraduate's amount of luggage (chiefly electronic equipment: computer, printer, DVD, hi-fi, TV, document shredder, sandwich maker, mini-bar, still, etc.) becomes so huge that no family saloon will be big enough and they'll all have to hire small removal lorries or trailers.

When I were a lad, it were still possible to go up to 't University by train, and have your trunk delivered by British Rail the following day. Only, I were too poor to have trunk delivered, so my Dad used to have to take me and my two suitcases. Er, yes ... in the family car.

posted by Tony at 10/05/2004 02:37:28 PM 2 comments

Seen in Oxford

From the 'I wish I'd had a camera' Department

A couple (not young) walking hand in hand along the High, she talking into her mobile phone at her left ear, he talking into his at his right. A whole story waits to be told, about who they are talking to. Their employer, explaining why they are not in the office? Their spouse, with news of an unavoidable delay? A friend? ('I've just met this gorgeous guy / woman.') Or maybe - and this would be my favourite version - they are talking to each other. Because we are becoming so addicted to our mobiles, that we can no longer talk face to face to the person we're with, but only electronically. (Those radio waves give you such a buzz, they enhance any conversation!)

posted by Tony at 10/05/2004 02:18:31 PM 0 comments

Monday, October 04, 2004

Tommytoes

You learn something new and amazing every day. I mean, I knew tomatoes had been introduced to this country from somewhere, but not that it was as recently as the 1870s or 80s. Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford has this lovely cameo:
It was on Jerry's cart tomatoes first appeared in the hamlet. They had not long been introduced into this country and were slowly making their way into favour. The fruit was flatter in shape then than now and deeply grooved and indented from the stem, giving it an almost starlike appearance. There were bright yellow ones, too, as well as the scarlet; but, after a few years, the yellow ones disappeared from the market and the red ones became rounder and smoother, as we see them now.

At first sight, the basket of red and yellow fruit attracted Laura's colour-loving eye. 'What are these?' she asked old Jerry.

'Love-apples, me dear. Love-apples, they be; though some hignorant folks be a callin' 'em tommytoes. But you don't want any o' they - nasty sour things, they be, as only gentry can eat. You have a nice sweet orange wi' your penny.' But Laura felt she must taste the love-apples and insisted upon having one.

Such daring created quite a sensation among the onlookers. 'Don't 'ee go tryin' to eat it, now,' one woman urged. 'It'll only make 'ee sick. I know because I had one of the nasty horrid things at our Minnie's.' And nasty, horrid things tomatoes remained in the popular estimation for years ...

There is just so much social and class history here to reflect on. Wikipedia confirms that tomatoes were initially unpopular in Europe generally, because it was known the plant was related to deadly nightshade, and thought to be poisonous. And now, they are more or less a staple item of many people's diet.

posted by Tony at 10/04/2004 09:20:25 PM 0 comments

Bleeping round the town (not more bad language, I hope)

bsag reports on the trials of clothes-shopping when you are (like most people, as far as I can see) differently-proportioned from the clothes the designers want to sell you. Last Saturday I was taken off guard while in town with Alison, and succumbed to buying a new pair of shoes (which I did need, as the old ones were letting in the rain) and three sweatshirts which I wasn't so sure about. I had some difficulty settling on the size of these, because they did seem to be designed for someone still possessing the kind of shape I formerly inhabited.

What I didn't discover until this morning was that the shop girl had overlooked one of the security tags. At that point I remembered how strange it had been, going in and out of several shops around Oxford that afternoon, that the people just in front of or behind me in the crush were constantly setting off the alarms. In Borders, HMV - everywhere, in fact, except the shop where I had bought the sweatshirts. And not one of us was stopped in any of them. Saturday is obviously the day to go shoplifting. (You didn't hear this from the vicar, note.)

posted by Tony at 10/04/2004 08:27:08 PM 0 comments

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Bubbles of earth

A little later, remembering man's earthy origin, 'dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return', they liked to fancy themselves bubbles of earth. When alone in the fields, with no one to see them, they would hop, skip and jump, touching the ground as lightly as possible and crying, 'We are bubbles of earth! Bubbles of earth! Bubbles of earth!'

So Flora Thompson describes in Lark Rise to Candleford, one of the games she and her brother played in their 1880s Oxfordshire childhood. For those of you who have ever wondered, that's where the first phrase of my 'profile' comes from.

I've been reading Flora Thompson's book this week, and using material from it for our Harvest festival. We've come a long way from those days, and are much more distant from our roots in this soil. I'm one of the worst offenders: I actually prefer my vegetables to come wrapped in plastic, with not a trace of mud or clay on them; I like my fruit without worms, regardless of the excellent protein content the little wrigglers are said to have.

But at harvest time particularly, this just seems so short-sighted. In our reckless exploitation of the earth, and squandering of its resources, we really are sawing off the branch of the tree of life that we are sitting on. The often quoted nugget of knowledge, that to fly one kiwi fruit from the ends of the earth to our supermarket uses up its own weight of air fuel, ought to make me think twice about the next exotic fruit or unseasonal vegetable I am tempted to buy. We are throwing away our children and grandchildren's energy future, to satisfy our craving for exotic fruits. And we call the later Roman Empire decadent!

posted by Tony at 10/03/2004 01:44:54 PM 1 comments

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Telsa

Telsa seems to be feeling a bit low at the moment about her more accurate diary. Since she was one of the people who first interested me in online journalling, and so is indirectly responsible for this current blog, I think the blog-world would be much the poorer without her wit and wisdom and candour. Do go visit her online diary and cheer her up!

posted by Tony at 10/02/2004 06:30:33 PM 0 comments

Eternal Changelessness

Quite a few people in our little Christian community are feeling bruised and wounded at the moment. Some of them are growing elderly and frail, and their mental faculties are not all that they once were. A few have begun to 'wander off', leaving their carers searching the neighbourhood frantically for them. Grown-up children in middle life spend their energy worrying about and caring for parents; spouses grieve for, and have to care for, life partners they used to lean on, who are becoming lost to them. Some dear ones are in process of dying, more or less slowly and welcomely. Others are adjusting to teenage children leaving home for the first time to go to university, or setting up new homes with partners of their own. Others have reached the point of deciding to sell homes they have lived in for many years, that are now too large or unmanageable for them. Whatever it is, many of our people are coping with these life issues, and we weep for and with one another as we try to bear each other's burdens, as well as our own.

It's all about change, of course: the universal lot of human kind. 'Time and chance happen to them all,' as that excellent Old Testament blogger Ecclesiastes put it. I've got a hunch that Christians are not at all well adapted to change, and it must surely be because of our notion of God. Reflecting on this, I found myself thinking of the beautiful prayer at Compline:
Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We hear it so often in debates about liturgy, doctrine, tradition, morality: Christian people are bewildered by the rapid pace of change, can't cope with it, and look to the Church and to God as the things that don't change, that provide them with certainty, solidity and continuity.

And safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here ... says the old hymn, 'In heavenly love abiding'.

The trouble is, it's not safe. Because the Church does change, is changing all the time just like everything else. And does it really help, to believe that God alone doesn't change, when everything else does? Doesn't that just make God too distant from, and unlike, everything else in our experience? So totally alien, that we can't even relate?

I actually think God is dynamic, alive, and apart from being above time (which is a bit hard for me to get my head round) must also therefore be capable of change in some sense. I need to think that he is interested in what I might do because it is possible for him to be surprised and delighted by it, as he sees how this unique work of art he has created in me, turns out. This seems to me to be far more pastorally useful, and consoling, than the idea that somewhere out there / up there, is a Being who is above and outside of change. It seems to me the Taoists have got it worked out better, with their doctrine that the only permanent thing is change, and that there's a constant dance of yin and yang which moves the universe, and as soon as things reach one extreme, they already include the seed of the change to move back to the other. As a 'Christian Taoist', I want to assert that the Triune God is that dance of change. We have nothing to fear from change, or resist in it (or seek restlessly in it, either), because the dance and the stillness is God. We are caught up in it whether we choose or not. So let go! Move with the dance! Let the rhythm and the music take you and move you, in their enchanting, enchanted flow.

Does this help? Not as much as I'd like it to, because many of us have trained ourselves not to be dancers at all, but to 'just sit this one out, I think'.

posted by Tony at 10/02/2004 04:59:29 PM 2 comments

Photo Call

An idea from Blogger:

Ask your readers to think of three photos they'd like to see posted to your blog. (Things around your house or whatever.) When you have enough requests, post them!

Any requests, then?

posted by Tony at 10/02/2004 02:57:10 PM 0 comments

Friday, October 01, 2004

His quiver full

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. (Psalm 127.4-5)

Well, I've only got one son to go with the three daughters (on account of the good Lord loving vicars' daughters so much). But this one has made his old dad very happy today - and thank the Lord for IT minded and equipped sons - by downloading OpenOffice.org for Mac OS and sending it to me on CD. He has broadband, you see, and I don't - and it's a mere 155Mb download, which would have taken about quite a few hours if not days at my lamentable dial-up speed.

And now it's installed on the iBook and working. It's the office suite that I'm used to; it beats AppleWorks hands down; it's not Microsoft; and it's free and open source software! What could be more of a blessing on a dark, wet Friday evening?

posted by Tony at 10/01/2004 06:10:21 PM 0 comments