Friday, December 10, 2004

Gone to a better 'ole

Storyteller's World is moving to another location: please come with me, and if you link to this blog, I'd be really pleased if you would update your links, RSS feeds and other geekeries. See you in the new place!

posted by Tony at 12/10/2004 02:39:54 PM 1 comments

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Male Infertility Postscript

These scary news reports about another thing having been discovered to cause infertility crop up with such regularity, that you could almost think they must be pandering to some paranoia among men. (Can you credit such an idea?!)

So I thought it was time for a bit of Web research. On a reputable looking and British site I found that the following are thought to be causes of infertility in men:
  • Very hot baths
  • Obesity (folds of fat hanging round the testicles and overheating them)
  • Tight underpants
  • Too much sitting down
  • Too much sex (three times a day: bad; every three days: good)
  • Too many cigarettes (20+ per day)
  • Too much alcohol ('for a variety of reasons' ?!)
  • Too much work
So, nothing there about some of the other things that are sometimes cited as causes of infertility:
  • Standing too near a microwave oven
  • Keeping your mobile phone in your trouser pocket
  • All that oestrogen in the drinking water because of the numbers of women taking the Pill.
  • Mumps (extremely rare, as a cause of infertility)
Source: malefertility.co.uk - though they do seem to be trying to sell you something, namely a wonder treatment to aid the production of healthy sperm.

posted by Tony at 12/09/2004 05:52:25 PM 1 comments

Good Grief!

BBC NEWS | Health | Laptops may damage male fertility
I never sit with mine on my lap, as it happens. But in any case, fortunately, I've done my bit of investing in the future of the human race already.

posted by Tony at 12/09/2004 12:52:16 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Murder at the Vicarage

Back in July, when I had just started using Blogger, one of the first things that captivated me about the possibilities of this tool for blogging was getting a response to something I'd posted about visiting Dorchester-on-Thames where an episode of the new Miss Marple series was being filmed. Rebecca from Boardman, Ohio, e-mailed me about it, having found my post via some search engine or other.

Now at last, the series is about to be broadcast on ITV, starting at 9 p.m. next Sunday. With Geraldine McEwan playing Miss Marple, the rest of the cast list looks like the complete directory of British actors: Ian Richardson, Tara Fitzgerald, Simon Callow, Joanna Lumley, James Fox, etc. - to say nothing of later episodes.

Coming soon is Murder at the Vicarage:
At the vicarage in St Mary Mead, the vicar, his wife, the curate and an artist discuss how they might kill Colonel Protheroe. The next day he's dead.
Now that's what I call a ministry team! Good job they didn't involve the PCC, or they'd still be discussing it.

posted by Tony at 12/08/2004 09:08:22 PM 0 comments

Scourge of the Spell-Checker

I've started reading The Seven Basic Plots and it's actually very compelling: you keep wanting to read on and it's no effort at all. Christopher Booker has read widely and seems to know a lot about what he's read. Which makes it all the more uncomfortable to find myself moaning about some of the examples I do know something about, viz. the biblical stories. (Not least because I start to ask myself: If he's wrong about these, what else might he be wrong about?)

Thus, there were ten plagues of Egypt, not seven, as he informs us. (In a book about stories, in which numbers play an important part, this is pretty major. We're not talking seven dwarves here, you know.)

Then there are the spelling mistakes: Niniveh instead of Nineveh, Phaoroah instead of Pharaoh. Which I can't help noticing because both occur two or three times. I can just see this happening. Author types in a strange word. Spell-checker queries it, but has no correct version in its data-base. Author fails to check whether s/he has spelled it right, and instructs spell-checker to 'learn' a wrong spelling. I guess we've all done it. But when you're reading a £25 tome, you do expect that one of the things you've paid for is decent spelling and proof-reading.

I know, I know. I'm living in the past, again.

posted by Tony at 12/08/2004 04:38:44 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

There's old news - and there's news I haven't heard yet

A week ago the BBC web-site was reporting that the most looked-up word of 2004, according to Merriam-Webster Online, was 'blog' - and I thought nothing of it. But just today I went to the web-site and discovered what the second most looked-up word was. Any guesses?

It was incumbent. So, from one of those who is one, (according to its Latin derivation, someone who is lying down on the job - I wish) all I can say is, a happy 2004 to all you word-seekers. Carry on blogging - and lying down on the job.

posted by Tony at 12/07/2004 02:57:07 PM 3 comments

Why I Love Cascading Style Sheets

Because all you have to do is change one word in your site's stylesheet:
text-transform:uppercase; to text-transform:lowercase;
to make all the titles of your posts look different: like they are today. And then if you get fed up with this look, you can change them back again. It's a lazy man's dream.

posted by Tony at 12/07/2004 12:29:33 PM 0 comments

oh dog

I'm just giving enormous and hearty thanks to whatever angel keeps an eye on dogs. Personally, I was surprised there was one - I'm one of those people who can't recognise one dog from another of the same breed - but dog-loving friends assure me there is such an angel, genius or deity. Anyway, he/she/it was looking after Polly just now.

I was cycling through the village when a dog (which naturally I did not recognise) dashed out at me with every appearance of wanting to knock me off my bike and lick me to death. I was shouting at it to go away - in the course of which it nearly ran under two passing cars - when I saw a friend running down the road, and realised at last whose dog it was. Friend was in great distress, and it was only after a couple more cars and the intervention of another passer-by that we arrested an excited Polly - who was clearly having a great time - and got her lead on.

Thank you, Dog, that I wasn't partly responsible for killing a friend's companion. That would have been pretty terrible.

posted by Tony at 12/07/2004 12:24:53 PM 0 comments

Superhero Vicar

Thanks to Scribblingwoman for the link to the Hero Machine. As a result it's now possible to view my hidden, superhero alter ego. Voila! Supervicar.

posted by Tony at 12/07/2004 11:15:44 AM 0 comments

Required Reading

Well, I thought so when I saw Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories. It's a stonking great tome weighing in at 1.2 kilos, 728 pages and £25. So not the kind of book that makes for easy bedtime reading. You can't slip it into your pocket and read it in an idle moment at the bus stop, either. Also, it got reviews in the Observer and Daily Telegraph that were admiring at the same time as dismissive - a bit of professional envy here, perhaps? But, thanks to my good friend Dr S. I had a recent book token to invest in it, in the name of professional development, continuing ministerial education etc.

In another review, someone claimed to have read it thoroughly in 7 days. But I think you may have to watch this space for 7 months to find out a) if I manage to get through it; and b) what I think of it.

posted by Tony at 12/07/2004 10:01:08 AM 0 comments

Monday, December 06, 2004

Over 50s

When I came to this parish, we had an Over 60s Club. The membership were mostly in their 80s, like the lady who had faithfully run it for 40 or more years. It was all somewhat in decline. Winnie used to complain that no one else was willing to help her run the club, at the same time as making it difficult for anyone else to do so. Human nature and systems are the same all over, aren't they?

At last Winnie simply had to give up, and after the usual agonising about how the club could possibly continue, several good people came forward to take it over, in a real sharing of roles between those who could stand up and chair meetings, and those who dreaded doing that, but were really very good at organising and making things happen. They also took the opportunity to change the name to the Over 50s Club. This had the effect of making the present vicar eligible to be a member (!) and reducing the average age. Not to 50-something; but certainly to 60- and especially 70-something. Since then the whole thing has taken on a new lease of life and is thriving, with a membership of more than 60.

Today was the club's annual Christmas Lunch outing, to which I get invited. It's an occasion I wouldn't miss for the world, even though I'm by several years the youngest there. We go to the Mitre in the High, and I get a chance to do several weeks' worth of 'visiting' all under the same roof. And a good time is had by all.

In the mean time I reflect that it's all very well having clubs which are supposed to be for retired people (presumably?) You may then call them Over 50s, to reflect the fact that many people take early retirement, or are made redundant at this sort of age, and don't work again. But what's going to happen in this projected Brave New World future, when the pensions crisis means we have to go on working well up to and beyond the former retiring age? (I thoroughly agree with this in theory, of course. Why should people work for only 45 or 50 years - in many cases more like 40, if they go through tertiary education - and then have possibly as much as 30 years of doing nothing? It does seem a waste of human potential.) The result may be that only one short generation of Over 50s Clubs may exist. In a very few years' time, clubs for retired people will revert to being Over 60s, then Over 70s - and after that, who knows?

posted by Tony at 12/06/2004 06:02:23 PM 0 comments

Sunday, December 05, 2004

No Need for Monty Python

Here was a moment I overheard on the radio a couple of weeks back, and wished I had recorded or recalled more accurately. The news reader solemnly began, "And - has the Holy Grail been found?" With barely a pause, he segued into a completely different mode: "You will probably guess the answer is No, from the fact that this is our second, rather than our first, story." Not sure if this was scripted, but it was certainly a gem.

posted by Tony at 12/05/2004 03:53:40 PM 1 comments

On Storymaking

One of the joys of telling stories to the same audience is that it becomes a collaborative project. After all, you can't have a storytelling with just a storyteller: you need story-listeners too. So I can begin, almost as a formula, with "Are you ready to help spin a yarn, and weave a tale?" and know that they are.

Today at our Family (Toy) Service I told a version of The Gift of the Magi by O.Henry, filtered via Margaret Silf's Wisdom Stories. When I first read it there I thought it was a bit thin, or sickly sentimental. But in this collaborative telling, with suitable pauses and audience response, it came alive. The adults could see the ending coming (but loved it anyway when it came) and the children - well, I find them harder to read, but they certainly listened and were with it all the way.

I still only begin to glimpse this magic, and feel just as far as ever from understanding it. Perhaps I never shall understand it. Perhaps it is good not to.

posted by Tony at 12/05/2004 03:48:02 PM 0 comments

Voice of the Underclass!

According to today's Observer, weblogs are the voice of the underclass - people who are abused not just by corporate culture but also by celebrity culture. This leaves me as a blogger feeling peculiarly socially displaced. It's bad enough being consigned to the middle class just because I have a university degree and live in a vicarage. Now there's the additional reason to be underwhelmed, that I blog because I feel frustratingly relegated to an underclass.

It turns out, however, that the bloggers the Observer has in mind (whose blogs I have absolutely no intention of linking to from here) merely add to the general and sickening fascination with celebrity - they just do it in a ruder way than the celebrities like. Well, my heart bleeds. If blogging really has a social purpose and value, it's because of the times and places where it really does give a voice to the voiceless. Which doesn't include the lackeys of the New York media elite.

posted by Tony at 12/05/2004 03:30:20 PM 1 comments

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Christmas Bazaar

For a couple of years now, I've been plotting how to discontinue having our traditional Christmas Bazaar, which sometimes feels as if it's got into the 'As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be' mode. The trouble is, this has never been a popular idea. People actually like the Bazaar; and it raises money that we give away to good causes. But it has sometimes felt like a burden falling on the same faithful souls year after year. And how do you discern, anyway, when it's time to stop doing what has been done in the past, and turn your efforts to something new?

Well, this year's Bazaar took place this morning, to raise money for Divya Shanthi (the Christian association in Bangalore that we support) and the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind. And it was a really happy, friendly event. Everyone had fun. There was none of the grumbling sense of being put upon that has sometimes been hanging around. So now I haven't got the heart to suggest scrapping it next year. And I still don't know how to discern about endings and new beginnings: surely one of the hardest things in church life.

posted by Tony at 12/04/2004 08:30:10 PM 2 comments

What to do when you get Microsoft Word attachments

John Naughton posts about how to deal politely with people who will persist in sending attachments in Microsoft Word format. (Like my dear colleagues and friends at Diocesan Church House, and in fact just about everyone who ever sends me attachments.) He suggests sending them a reply phrased something like this (slightly edited for the purposes of ecto.) I'd love to do this but haven't yet had the brass cheek.
Thanks for writing. However the attachment to your message is in Microsoft Word format, a secret proprietary format that I avoid whenever possible. If you send me plain text, rtf, HTML, or PDF, then I will read it. Distributing documents in Word (or Excel) format could be bad for your correspondents because they can carry viruses. Sending Word attachments could be bad for you, because a Word document normally includes hidden information about the author, enabling those in the know to pry into his or her activities. For example, text that you think you deleted may still be embarrassingly present. But above all, sending people Word documents puts pressure on them to use Microsoft software and helps to deny them any other choice. In effect, you become a buttress of the Microsoft monopoly and reduce the incentive for people to explore alternatives. Can I respectfully ask that you reconsider the use of Word format for communication with other people?

posted by Tony at 12/04/2004 01:06:50 PM 3 comments

Friday, December 03, 2004

Remembered Childhoods

I'm grateful to Victoria Coren in last Sunday's Observer for the insight into the dreadful impact that a misplaced consonant can have on one's life and reputation. If only Philip Larkin had read the proofs more carefully, and noticed the single miss-set letter in the first line of his sensitive poem about an idyllic childhood: 'They tuck you up, your mum and dad'.

But would it, after all, have made any difference? I've been thinking about how we think about our childhood, and how it differs from the way our parents remember and feel about the same events. And all because of Tom's comment about the chocolate Advent calendar he wanted and was never allowed, and his miserable old dad's grumbling about the Advent Calendar pictures 'not having much to do with the real message of Christmas'.

I didn't have the (mis)fortune to grow up in a vicarage myself, and neither did Alison, so we've had to make it up ourselves as we went along. We may have done it 'properly', or at least, the way generations of clergy have done it before us, in the sense that we've left our children with psychic baggage about being vicarage kids that they are going to have to deal with for the rest of their lives. It's not only clergy parents who leave their children with lifelong baggage, mind you. I've already blogged about some of what I feel about my dad and his expectations of me that I found burdensome, or contrary to what I envisioned myself to be. The truly terrible thing is that this doesn't just happen in abusive and damaging families. Even our most loving and best-intentioned ones leave scars. Even the parents who did the best they could, in circumstances where they were stressed, distracted, selfish, depressed, exhausted, anxious, poor, just plain human, leave their children with unintended wounds.

I particularly cringe at the image I now have of myself in that puritan hat I have so dreaded and suffered from in my own inner life. Spoiling my son's innocent, childish Advent joy and delight in - of all things - chocolate! and conveying the image that Christmas is somehow dour and joyless. Out of the best intentions, to try and honour the story of God's own gift of self; yet taking away from the enjoyment of so much else that he has given.

Oh yes, a part of me wants to say, Let's hear the parent's side of the story too. (A bit like wanting to read Philip Gosse's version of his son Edmund's book, Father and Son.)

But that would be an excuse. The fact is, Philip Larkin has got it right. Your mum and dad really do tuck you up. With a capital F.

posted by Tony at 12/03/2004 04:20:36 PM 1 comments

Blunkett wins right to seek access

BBC NEWS | Politics | Blunkett wins right to seek access
How come the Home Secretary gets the courts to uphold his claim to see his son, when Fathers4Justice dads don't? I do hope he's keeping his maintenance payments up...

posted by Tony at 12/03/2004 12:27:11 PM 0 comments

Thursday, December 02, 2004

When is a War not a War?

I was searching the Web today for one of those handy maps or lists of all the wars currently going on in the world: there was something of the sort in the Radio Times a few weeks ago. Naturally - I should have expected as much - this was not as straightforward as I had hoped. It seems that one person's war is another's insurrection is another's campaign of terrorism is another's organised criminal activity.

The list on Wikipedia could easily be an area for endless arguments about NPOV. While the WILPF web-site includes an entry among Minor Armed Conflicts for USA vs. poor people: 'mostly African American shooting each other and others, inner cities'. True, but not quite what I was looking for.

Where to find something authoritative, impartial, but also holding similar (unbiased, impartial) views to myself? I thought I was getting somewhere with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, but even here there doesn't seem to be one handy page I can look at which has a world map with all the wars marked, linking to more information. Does anyone else know if there's that kind of Dummies Guide to Wars anywhere?

posted by Tony at 12/02/2004 05:58:51 PM 0 comments

Mobile Advent Calendar

Not sure whether I'm more intrigued by my son's idea, or bewildered about having children who think they need to protect their clerical father from the real world? Whatever images can we expect here?

posted by Tony at 12/02/2004 11:48:45 AM 2 comments

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

David Blunkett

I can't really decide what to make of the David Blunkett storm-in-a-teacup (if that's what it is.) On the one hand, there's the usual hypocrisy of the British media about any sexual misdoings in high places. A compound of envy that here's this boring old politician somehow attracting a rather good-looking younger woman, with the prurience which actually admires this when it involves glamorous, star-quality celebrities. This hypocrisy just makes me sick.

But on the other hand, we are talking about an adulterer. Someone who induced another person to break her vows to her husband; and just as with Robin Cook and many another, I'm not sure that I trust someone who is faithless, or encourages faithlessness, in such 'little', private matters, to be faithful or honest in 'big' public ones. I know this is pretty unfashionable, but I really don't believe we can compartmentalise morality like that. And, according to the headline of one rag, he only wants access to his child! No, I don't believe mere biology gives him any claim or right, if he hasn't the faith or decency to commit legally and publicly to the mother, and she to him.

posted by Tony at 12/01/2004 09:18:50 PM 2 comments

Oh, yes ...

I forgot to mention the little treat I allowed myself on the way back from Church House to Marylebone: popped in to the Apple Store in Regent Street. It's an astonishing place, designed more like a play area for grown-up kids, than a shop. (Sort of Early Learning Centre for geeks.) The really annoying thing was that because it was so crowded, all the play areas were occupied and I ended up having to buy something (the something I'd really gone there for) and leave, without having a chance to play myself. But since most of the play that was going on seemed to consist of downloading tunes onto their iPods - and an iPod is a gadget I'm not currently tempted by - I'm not sure what I would have found to 'play' with.

Basically I could do with another nearby Mac-head to compare notes with. That's why it was such a treat when Tom was home the other Sunday and we spent the whole meal talking Mac OS. Much to Li's disgust.

(And another thing. Today was my first journey on the Jubilee Line, and the interchange at Baker Street looked just like something out of a slightly nightmarish futuristic film.)

posted by Tony at 12/01/2004 08:56:01 PM 0 comments

Country Mouse

Something about Going To London always makes me feel like a deep country cousin, a straw-chewing yokel. Doesn't matter that I was born at University College Hospital - I don't know if you call that Bloomsbury, or just plain Euston - and was a London suburbanite and sometimes commuter for the first quarter century of my life. I've been away too long, it's all too changed.

Today I went to this training day run by the Ministry Division at Church House, the very nerve centre and beating heart that is the HQ of the Church of England !?! So whereas this country mouse usually travels to London on the coach, taking a good two hours, I felt important enough to put on a jacket and go by train from Haddenham Parkway to Marylebone and claimed travelling expenses. Is it more comfortable? Well, it's quicker.

And what are we to make of training? Sometimes I think the whole point of the sessions is to read through the literature with and for people who haven't bothered to read it themselves beforehand. Which I had done, as well as doing the preliminary exercise we were asked to do (oh, virtuous self!) and it took practically all of Monday, too. But then again, even though I had read it, it was good and reinforcing to go through it and discuss with others. So maybe even training has some purpose.

And now I know, for example, all about the Changes in Nomenclature. So that the national process for selecting candidates for ordination training is no longer called a Selection Conference, but the Bishops' Advisory Panel on Selection for Training for Ordained and Accredited Lay Ministry. And myself, who used to be just a Pastoral Selector, am now a Bishops' Selection Adviser (Pastoral). So please don't forget that, now. When you hear that this BSA(P) is going to attend a BAPSTOALM, you will know exactly what is meant and nod sagely over your Church Times and corn flakes. Thank you, friends.

posted by Tony at 12/01/2004 08:34:14 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

ecto

Tom drew my attention to ecto, a blogging utility for Mac OS X - and there's a Windows version available too. I'm not quite sure what its advantages are, whether it really is better and more streamlined than Blogger's built-in way of doing things. But hey, there's a fortnight's free trial, so why not give it a whirl?

posted by Tony at 11/30/2004 07:33:30 PM 1 comments

Returned Hymn Books

Covered with confusion, I have to report that the hymn books have returned. They were not, in fact, stolen by weasels or wildwooders, and I offer my sincere apologies to the man who broke down the robes cupboard door, for even suspecting him of having anything to do with it. (However, I still owe him a whacking for the door episode, and will be happy to repay that debt whenever he wants to claim it.)

The hymn books were in fact legitimately borrowed by a member of the congregation to use with one of the Advent study groups. S/he had asked me if it was OK and I said Yes, and had forgotten all about it. In mitigation however, I would say I never could have imagined that s/he was asking for, or intending to use, 12 music copies, when only the words were necessary. Nor that s/he would not have returned them by the following Sunday, when they were actually needed for both services and, without them, the choir had to make up the tunes they were singing.

What can I learn from this incident? Probably, that I just have no idea how much even key members of the congregation are unaware of the needs of other aspects of the church's life, or other services, that they do not attend or are not involved in. I take it for granted that everyone knows that we sing hymns at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., that we have a choir, that the choir need music editions. Perhaps someone who at present mostly comes to the 8 o'clock doesn't know these things.

posted by Tony at 11/30/2004 09:55:20 AM 0 comments

Becoming a Bishops' Adviser

A couple of years ago the Bishop invited me to become a Pastoral Selector for ABM, which is the board of the C of E that selects candidates for training for ordination. You might think this was the passport to real power, at last. But in fact it is a thrilling, fascinating and humbling experience. There are many horror stories about selection conferences that haven't worked, people who surely should have been selected but weren't. Maybe we can even think of some people who have been ordained, who should not have been ... But my one experience of serving as a selector left me with a great respect for the people who do this work, the process, which really is prayerful and spiritual, and most of all for the people who offer themselves, who are of such a high calibre.

One reason I've only done it once so far, is that the process is being revised (including a change of title from Selection Conference to Bishops' Advisory Panel), and tomorrow I go to London to be trained in the new procedures. They include candidates preparing a theological reflection on a subject of their choice, relating to one of the criteria for selection. In preparation, we were asked to write a reflection of our own on some topic relating to the criterion for Mission and Evangelism. This post is my first stab at it. Comments welcome, although I reserve the right to delete any of the variety 'If you went to a selection conference now, do you really think you'd be selected?' I've already worked through that one.

posted by Tony at 11/30/2004 08:35:20 AM 0 comments

The Trouble with Evangelism

It is now widely recognised that the cultural context in which the Church of England is operating at the beginning of the 21st century, is one of mission. An integral part of that mission of God in the world, which the Church exists to serve, is evangelism: the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In a culture in which we can no longer take it for granted that people (even those who would think of themselves as 'Christians') have any real knowledge of what the Christian faith is, there is every chance that the Gospel really will be news to many people. Yet one of the problems for evangelism is that many people experience the Gospel neither as news, nor as good. Why is this?

I believe there are two major parts to the problem.

a) The implicit requirement that anyone wanting to be a Christian must first change. However much the Church preaches that God accepts people just as they are, and that salvation is by grace through faith, the accompanying appeal to repent and believe the Good News is all too often perceived as (and maybe communicated as) a demand that 'you' must first become like 'us' in order to be a Christian. This has implications for communicating the Gospel in society generally, where the Church is often perceived as being predominantly middle-class, and inaccessible to other social groups. It affects communication between the Church and the increasingly diverse sub-cultures within society (youth, urban, rural, ethnic, hi-tech). And it has implications for the sexuality debate, where many gay and lesbian people feel rejected by the Church and unable to respond positively to its message, because the demand to change who they are is implied by the Church's current stance on sexuality.

This feels like the Church playing the same old game of trying to control people's lives (so, not news) and telling them they are damned if they don't change (so, not good).

b) The intellectual content of the Gospel is alienating to many people. The best evangelistic efforts are often associated with a very clear-cut, definite message, often expressing a theological position at the evangelical end of the spectrum, which some might even characterise as fundamentalist. Yet in most other areas of life, people know that there are no clear-cut answers to the deepest and most difficult questions of human existence, and are rightly suspicious of anyone who claims that there are. Vulnerable individuals, at different times of need, may respond to such a definite presentation of the Christian faith. But this may then have a negative effect as if it were abusive or manipulative. Many people know, or have themselves been, casualties of this kind of 'evangelism'.

There is then a real dilemma for the Church. We have good news that we want to share, and unless that has some clear-cut content, it will fail to qualify as good news. But at the same time, if it is clear-cut to the point of appearing dishonest or delusional about the major obstacles to religious faith, it will also fail to win a hearing. The way forward is to make sure that what we proclaim as Good News is not a set of propositions to be assented to, but a relationship with God and with other people that is honest and open about uncertainty, and encourages questions without being in a hurry to give easy answers.

In this context the experience of the Alpha Course, one of the most successful tools of evangelism to emerge in recent years, still calls for serious reflection. It has been welcomed by archbishops and other church leaders, even many who would not share its theological basis, because it appears to work where not many other things do. But I would suggest that if Alpha works, it is in spite of, rather than because of, its theological content. The process of welcoming people, sharing a meal with them, getting to know them, encouraging their questions, is probably what attracts them. It embodies the widely accepted concept of getting people first to belong to a Christian group, and then helping them to believe the Christian message. What the Church needs is a broader application of this principle, together with a more open, flexible and questioning presentation of the content of the Christian message.

posted by Tony at 11/30/2004 08:22:48 AM 2 comments

Monday, November 29, 2004

Beating the Blues (Continued)

A friend was talking to me about how she equips her depressed clients with an armoury of tools to strengthen them against the blues. Since she obviously can't do the same for me (I'm a friend, not a client), I have to do it myself. So here are today's contributions. Reasons not to be miserable:

1     There's no getting away from God anyway, for "You did not choose me, but I chose you." (John 15.16)
2     In view of our mortality, every day could be my last. And if it's possible I might die today, I'd much rather my last day on earth was a happy one than a miserable one.

Come to think of it, you'd have to be in a fairly odd state of mind to find these thoughts encouraging ...

posted by Tony at 11/29/2004 10:16:50 PM 1 comments

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Threat of IPPA

John Naughton describes in today's Observer the threat to intellectual freedom - to say nothing of how we use our computers, watch videos etc., presented by a bill currently before Congress.

posted by Tony at 11/28/2004 04:30:45 PM 0 comments

Stability, Again

I've been thinking quite a bit about stability over the last month or so. It has always seemed to me to be one of the most attractive and useful aspects of the Benedictine ethos. Apart from anything else it provided a justification for what less charitable souls might consider my lazy, cowardly or unadventurous side. (Who, me?) Or, more positively, it gives sound theological foundation, from the tradition, for that long-term vision for ministry, which is so counter-cultural in the present age of looking for quick results, and using short-term contracts as a form of centralised control of parishes. Sorry, I mean strategic deployment, and resource management.

At any rate, I determined to practise and model stability by remaining in this particular place, and doing this particular job, until I got a definite prompting, nudging or kicking from God to move on. What I hadn't realised, is quite how difficult this would get, and the personal cost it can exact. I've been here nearly 14 years now: long enough for clergy colleagues who ask, "How long have you been vicar there?" to give you a funny kind of look when they hear the answer, as if the thought, I wonder what's the matter with him? had, all unbidden, momentarily crossed their mind. There is, undoubtedly, a temptation to think that if you're doing well, you might be in line for 'promotion' to a more significant parish or other appointment. For while all parishes are equal, it appears - who would have thought it? - that some are very much more equal than others. There is an element of boredom with the same people, places, events; and with one's self, because of that common enough feeling that I could be a much more interesting, energetic and successful pastor and preacher, if the surroundings were more stimulating. These are the normal temptations of parish ministry, even in these latter days where the system doesn't allow so much in the way of differences of prestige and wealth from the clerical profession.

But one of the surprising knocks, was coming across a photograph, in the course of clearing the drawers. This photograph was taken 9 or 10 years ago to carry greetings from us to a church in Africa that one of our members was going to visit. The problem with having been in the place so long, is that I look at it now and see all the dear brothers and sisters who are no longer with us. Two retired couples have moved away from the area. One young family decided to transfer to another church. Seven or eight of this group have died, and in some cases their widowed spouse has moved away. And all the rest of us are that much older and changed: in the case of the children, a delight; for many of the adults, a loss of strength and faculties.

Stability is all very well. But there comes a time when you find that it requires you to be standing still and firm, in the midst of a tempest of change, which is changing you too. The easy thing to do is cut loose and let the flood sweep you away. But I still think what Benedict calls his disciples to do is the harder thing of letting the waters shape you into something different and more beautiful, more apt for the purpose you have been placed here for.

The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks (of good works that lead to growth in holiness) is the enclosure of the monastery (the parish) and the stability of the community (congregation). (RSB 4.78)

posted by Tony at 11/28/2004 04:05:22 PM 0 comments

Saturday, November 27, 2004

20th Century Greats

Can't believe I nearly missed Howard Goodall's 20th Century Greats first programme on Lennon and McCartney. In fact, I did miss the first quarter of an hour; but the rest was fascinating. Goodall's assessment is that the Beatles will be recognised as among the truly great musical phenomena of the 20th century, because their innovative work changed not only pop music, but revived the whole Western musical tradition which had been ruinously damaged by the classical avant-garde of the 50s and 60s.

Can't wait to see the later programmes on Cole Porter, Bernard Herrmann and Leonard Bernstein.

posted by Tony at 11/27/2004 08:04:21 PM 2 comments

Got Broadband

I've finally taken the plunge and subscribed to broadband. What I hadn't realised was how expensive it would be (a 'free' installation from the provider involved calling out the security engineer to put another filter in a place that I cannot reach) and how much time it would take up - because there are so many places I could never think of visiting before. Like this French computer engineer's CV, which some might call irritating. (Don't even think about clicking this link unless you have broadband, I'm warning you.) It's amazing what some people get up to.

So the next thing now is how to network all the family computers. Probably cost money, I suppose.

posted by Tony at 11/27/2004 05:41:17 PM 1 comments