Playing with Emacs

I never met a text editor I didn’t love. Well, actually, that’s not really true. I love the text editors that I love, and I love to play with them. For a long time my favourite was TextMate, but that’s only available for Mac which in my case I am no longer using. I also used vim and learned a lot about its capabilities, chiefly from Drew Neill’s wonderful book, Practical Vim: heaven for geeks. But I find I need a manual of some kind to discover all the potential of the editor I’m using. That’s one of the reasons I’ve never been able to get on with Sublime Text, even though many people rave about it. I could never find a manual that actually explained how you could make it work, and use all its wonderful stuff.

And Emacs? Well, it all seemed so complicated and difficult to learn the commands, though I loved the idea that it could be a single environment in which you spent your whole working life…

But then, inspired by bsag and the fact that I’m currently also playing with reinstalling Linux on my moribund desktop, I decided to have another go at Emacs. She was actually writing about Spacemacs, a kind of hybrid of Emacs and vim (often thought to be the two arch
rivals for geeky fans of text editors), which makes the claim: “The best editor is neither Emacs nor Vim, it’s Emacs and Vim!” But she also mentioned org-mode as one of the great attractions of Emacs. Org-mode is that promise of living and working in a single
environment: it talks about living and organising your life in plain text (another of my fantasy desires…)

So, I installed Emacs, on my Linux box but also on my Windows 8 laptop – because, after all, that’s the machine I can bring out of my refrigerated study and use in a room with a survivable temperature. And started playing with org-mode, which is now part of
the standard installation of Emacs. The jury’s still out about its long term capability, but hey! it comes with manuals, which you can get free on the Web in PDF format, or buy a hard copy of! you can find an awful lot of answers to your questions with a very simple Google search! it does a load of stuff like managing your agenda and Todo lists, providing an environment for note-taking, drafting documents and publishing them in varying formats, and stuff I haven’t yet even heard of, never mind imagining I might want to do.

So, I am having fun. And the next step will be learning how to write blog posts and post them from within org-mode. For the time being, I’m going to be unambitious, and simply copy and paste this via Chrome.

Maybe the more direct way comes later.

We want to see Jesus

You know, after nearly 36 years, I’m tired of preaching.

*****

OK, that was a bit of a storyteller’s exaggeration, to get your attention. After 36 years, I’m tired of preaching – sometimes. Because of course preaching is the best thing. As many of you know, it was a call to preach that was the heart of my call to be ordained in the first place. It was about the second or third time I went to church as an adult believer, and undergraduate here in Oxford, and I was listening to the sermon, and I suddenly had the powerful thought: I want to do that! And it was like God said, OK, you’ve got it. And I love it, it’s the best job in the world: telling people about Jesus, about God; doing your best to make that introduction: Harry, this is Jesus; Jesus, Harry. I can’t understand why anyone would want to do anything else, really. It’s the best thing in the world – and you get paid for it, too.

But preaching is heartbreaking, too. You preach your heart out (on your good days), and yet you don’t see lives dramatically changed week by week as people are converted. You don’t see revival beginning in this nation. You don’t see people flocking to church and bringing their friends because word has got about that when you preach, God is really there and doing something. None of that is the heartbreaking thing. The heartbreaking thing is that I’m not listening to what I say; that I don’t really live out the word I preach. I am not that disciple of Jesus, that I invite others to become and to be.

At the festival some Greeks – Gentiles – came to Philip and said to him, We want to see Jesus. No problem! Philip went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus. I suppose they took the Greeks with them and made the introduction, though it doesn’t actually say so. Some people wanted to meet Jesus, and his friends introduced them to him.

Where are the people today, who are saying, We want to see Jesus? Do you know where they are? Do they come and ask you for an introduction?

People can still meet and see Jesus now, even though he lived 2,000 years ago, because he did not cling to his life, but became like that seed he talked about, the seed that falls into the ground and dies. In obedience to the Father, he gave up his life for all of us, so that he might (rise again and) keep it for eternal life, and – and! – make that same eternal life available for everyone who sees him. Jesus wants people to meet him; but the thing is, he chooses first of all to be visible, for people to meet him, in his body: the men and women and children he calls to be his church.

But you know, maybe Christians get in the way so much, like the tiny moon crossing the face of the sun, that people can no longer see the glorious light of the Son of God, it’s eclipsed for them. Perhaps people have stopped wanting to see Jesus, because they can see Christians all too clearly, and if Jesus is anything like that, they don’t want any. Or, maybe there still are people crying out to see Jesus, but they sure as hell aren’t seeing him in the Church.

Why, why, why? Why do we hide the face of Christ? Because we forget what Jesus is like… Preachers tell you about God, rather than tell you how to find God. Actually, that’s one of the better case scenarios. What often happens, rather, is that Christian leaders are intent on painting a picture of a hating and hateful God, a God who is against this or that or everything, instead of showing you a God who is so much for the world, for us, that he endured the very worst we could do to him, the cruel and senseless death of the cross, and then said, Is that it? Well, I still love you. I still want you to be my friends.

When we think of the present state of the Church: the people wanting to tear it apart in disputes about human sexuality, or about the ministry and place of women, or just generally judging other Christians for one thing or another. The Christians who resort to hateful words or threats or violence to try and impose their views on others, or who are quick to give their blessing to the use of military force to try and solve problems, instead of weeping tears of repentance that we live in a world where that has become necessary. The Christians who are so sure that they are right, they are the sole possessors of truth, and everyone else is wrong. Is it any wonder that Jesus is obscured, hidden from view, that people have stopped looking for him, or stopped looking for him in the church?

We are the people of the covenant, the new covenant, that God has made. We heard this in the reading from Jeremiah. The first covenant was that of the Law given at Mount Sinai, it was an external kind of law, that required being taught it, consciously learning, deliberately obeying. The new covenant God promised was an internal one: God’s will would be written in his people’s hearts, so that they wouldn’t need anyone to teach them, to urge them to know God; they would all know him for themselves, they would intuitively know what God wanted, and be able to do it. That’s what it means, that we have the Holy Spirit, the life of God within each one of us. You don’t need a preacher! (Well, maybe occasionally it helps to have someone articulating what we all think and know?) What you need, what we all need, is to let the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, breathe in us. But remember, this new covenant was first new 2,000 years ago. It only goes on being new if we make it new, day by day and minute by minute, living this new relationship that God makes between himself and us.

Go home and be quiet. Turn off the noise in your life for a little while. Find something that will help you to pay attention to God. It may be a short passage of scripture. (Short!) A simple repeated word or prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Or if that’s too long, just the name Jesus. Or the contemplation of something made: a flower, a fruit, a stone, a child. God needs no introduction from me or any preacher: you will know him. He will be found by you, if you seek him with all your heart.

And then: we don’t need to know more or be taught more about God. We just need to do what he says. To feed on him in the word and the sacrament. To love God with all our heart, to love ourselves and then to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Do this, and you will know God, and people will catch a glimpse of Jesus in his Church, and if all the people who profess to follow Jesus would do this, people would once again start coming to us with that request: We want to see Jesus.

On Reading Cover Her Face by P. D. James

Hearing the news last week of the death of P. D. James made me want to re-read some of her novels. As I noted last week, she is one of the few crime writers whose books we usually bought in hardback, because we didn’t want to wait for the paperback editions to come out. So it was a surprise to find how few of them we actually have on our shelves: just 9 out of 19 novels. I thought we had more, but it’s just possible some have got lost in the recent redecoration of parts of the vicarage, involving large scale packing, relocating and unpacking of books. In the resulting confusion it’s more than likely some titles will have got misplaced, with the resultant risk of us ending up with multiple copies.

Anyway, I started with the first of her published Adam Dalgliesh novels, Cover Her Face, published in 1962. It was a fascinating experience. The overwhelming impression I had was of entering a bygone, post-war age which really did feel like a foreign country. A place with different social and moral attitudes, where the English class system ruled even more rampantly than it still does. I wasn’t entirely sure how much irony the author intended in one of her comic interludes, in which a member of the public is surprised (during the parish summer fete, glory be!) by the people in the great house where the murder is to take place:

‘Were you looking for someone? This is a private house.’ … ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Please excuse me. I was looking for the toilet.’ It was not an attractive voice. ‘If you mean the lavatory,’ said Deborah shortly, ‘there’s one in the garden. It seemed adequately signposted to me.’

It was with something of a shock that I realized it’s 52 years since Cover Her Face was published. This means that the time-gap between then and now is greater than the interval between some of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, and the time when I first read them in the 1970s.

Why did I never feel the same historical distance between me and Peter Wimsy – who is much more upper class than anyone in Cover My Face? I wonder if it’s because, being set years before I was even born, Dorothy Sayers’ novels are prehistory to me. 1962 I remember, so that the social changes between then and now are ones I have actually lived through. Strangely enough, that makes them feel greater and more far-reaching.

When was your first pizza?

What’s your favourite food? And can you remember where, and when, you first ate it?

The other day Alison and I were talking about pizza – maybe not our favourite food, but one of. For millions of younger Britons, pizza has been part of their diet for so long, they can’t remember a time when they ever had not eaten it. But when we were young, it hadn’t even been invented. Well, OK, maybe it had been invented; but it wasn’t the kind of thing that you ever came across in meat-and-two-veg-1950s-style-austerity Britain. So we were trying to recall when we first had eaten it.

Then I chanced upon a diary I kept in April 1970, recording my first visit to Italy. And there I find the record of when I first ate a pizza: on 5 April 1970, in Taranto.

Found a (not too) expensive hotel, then went to a pizzeria for my first pizza with cheese, tomato, mushroom and fish which didn’t seem to fit somehow. But on the whole the taste was all right, only the pastry [sic] was … heavy going.

Clearly I wasn’t a sophisticated food writer, and most of my diaries have always omitted the things I now find interesting and would love to know. (“What kind of fish, for heaven’s sake? Anchovies? Tuna? Battered cod?”) For much of that Italian journey diary I wrote things like “Went to a restaurant. Had a nice meal.” WHAAAT?!

Still, at least I now know when I had my first pizza…

Jesus is an Anglican

Following a cricket match on Twitter was surprisingly exciting. This was yesterday’s match in Canterbury between the Vatican St Peter’s XI, and the C of E Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI. The Vatican won the toss and opted to bat first. At the end of their 20 overs they had scored a very respectable 106 for 4. After 14 overs, the C of E were still nearly 50 runs short, but then they began piling on the runs. In an exciting conclusion, the batsman hit the first ball of the last over to the boundary, giving the C of E victory by 108 for 4, with 5 balls to spare.

The disadvantage of Twitter: with only 140 characters a tweet, there’s no way of giving the full results of who scored the runs or took the wickets.

My favourite comment came in the Guardian blog, written before the match.

“Would Christ spend his time on something as trivial as sport,” a young Church of England curate asked, “or would he play to win? I think he would take the middle ground.”

Sounds very like our curate Rob Glenny, who was the opening bowler. And if it wasn’t he who thought of it, I bet he wishes he had.

Scotland’s Wake-Up Call

What a relief to wake up on 19 September and learn that Scottish voters had voted resoundingly against independence! So the United Kingdom remains united. Sort of.

As democrats we should rejoice that this momentous outcome was possible within a peaceful democratic process. This is a moment in history when nations should seek to be growing together, rather than separating from one another. The recent history of nations that have divided, and the bitter warfare that so often follows, not only between those that were formerly united, but also within the newly formed nations as different factions or tribes vie for power, shows the dreadful dangers of nationalism and separatism. Some of the violent rhetoric of the Scottish Yes campaigners was, frankly, quite frightening.

So we have a result which preserves the Union, and which both sides have pledged to respect and to work with. But that should not mean that the UK Government breathes a collective sigh of relief and returns to business as usual. For very many people, one of the strongest appeals of the Yes campaign was the promise of creating a fairer society. And this should give us and our Government great pause. Because it means that a large number of us believe that this is very far from being a fair society.

The statistics speak for themselves. The UK is one of the most unequal societies in the Western world, third only to the USA and Portugal. During the recession of the 2000s real incomes have declined for most people, with ⅓ of workers having a pay freeze or even a pay cut. Not so the rich. In 2012 it was revealed that the richest 1000 people in the UK had increased their wealth by 4.7%. And let me tell you, 4.7% of a million pounds is a lot of money. Pay rises were also widely different depending where you stand on the already well-off scale. Average pay rises this year are:

Bankers 35%
FTSE 100 directors 14%
MPs 11%
Nurses, teachers, members of the armed forces 1%
Police 0%

Pay differentials between top CEOs and the lowest paid of their workers are typically about 300:1. Yes, the boss ‘earns’, or at least gets paid, 300 times what the lowest paid worker in the company does. Our politicians obviously don’t think this is a problem. Why would they? In 2010 23 out of 29 members of the Cabinet were millionaires, several of them with fortunes running into billions. Privately educated, from the upper classes of society – why would they even think of introducing a reformed monetary system, or a new set of taxes to seriously redistribute wealth and properly fund the NHS?

Is it any wonder that not even ⅔ of those eligible turn out to vote even in General Elections? Why bother, when my vote seems to make no difference, and all the political parties seem to be in league to preserve the status quo? Is it any wonder that UKIP and even more far right parties are gaining in support? But the Scottish referendum engaged the electorate in such a way that 85% of them turned out to vote. There is hope that, when given the chance to really influence the course of events, the British electorate will have and express their views. And what’s clear today is: British society and politics have got to change.

So, thank you, Scotland, for voting to preserve the Union. And thank you for showing the rest of us how it’s possible to get the vast majority of the electorate to vote for a fair society. It’s time to tell the Westminster elite: the rest of us want one too!

Sources include
Pride’s Purge
The Equality Trust
The Green Party, and especially their call for a People’s Constitutional Convention

Scotland and a fairer society?

I would hate it if Scotland voted for independence on Thursday and ended the 300-year old Union. This is not a time in history for nations to be dividing rather than coming together. The bitter fruit of this nationalism and separatism is all too evident in the news.

But I can see the immense attraction of one plank of the ‘Yes’ campaign: the promise that it will lead to a ‘fairer society’. Whether or not it will isn’t the point. It reflects a deep-seated conviction which isn’t unique to Scots, that Britain is a hugely unfair society. For the last 20 years or more, inequality has been growing, and social mobility grinding to a halt.

So when it’s the banks, and big business which throw their weight behind the ‘No’ campaign – the very institutions which have done their damnedest to increase inequality, with pay differentials between CEOs and their lowest paid workers of around 300:1 – well, forgive me if I wonder whether the Scots who want independence haven’t got a point.

My question is: if the Scots abandon the rest of us into the hands of the Westminster elite… when can we ever hope for anything like a fair society for the rest of the UK?

Including Vicky Beeching

A preview of what I’m writing for the next issue of Marston Times:

Inclusive?

Vicky Beeching is a Christian musician who for a number of years was one of the most popular singers on the multi-million dollar American Christian music scene. She also studied theology at Oxford University, and in more recent years, after returning to the UK, she has worked as a broadcaster, often offering commentary on current events on radio and TV. She has even been tipped as a future presenter of BBC’s Songs of Praise. In August this year, she “came out” in an interview with the Independent newspaper, stating publicly that she is gay.

Hers is a profoundly moving and honest testimony to what has been the experience of many people for whom faith in God is the foundation of their whole lives, and yet who also realise that a sexual orientation towards their own sex is a “given”, an integral part of who they are. She describes how, even as a 12-year old, she realised that she didn’t share her schoolfriends’ interest in boys. Instead, she found herself increasingly attracted to other girls. This caused her intense shame and guilt, because she ‘knew’ it was condemned by Scripture and church teaching – certainly by the conservative churches which she attended. She tried keeping her feelings to herself, changing the way she felt by prayer and will-power, even seeking spiritual healing by going forward at a big prayer and worship gathering. Here she was subjected – by a group of adults and Christian leaders – to what was effectively a form of exorcism as they attempted to drive out the demons of homosexuality that possessed her. It’s hard to imagine the psychological trauma and damage this inflicted on a vulnerable teenage girl, or to forgive the cruelty of the people responsible.

Fortunately, Vicky was intelligent and strong enough to survive, and she knows God well enough to have come to the point where she is able to say, “I’m gay. God made me the way I am, and God loves me just the way I am.”

Such a public statement, from such a public Christian, obviously adds to the heat of the current Church debates on sexuality. There will be some who are so entrenched in their views that they simply refuse to accept the testimony of gay Christians that they haven’t chosen their orientation, it is just their God-given identity. Others may argue that the Church should love and welcome gay people, while not accepting that same-sex relationships can be part of God’s plan. I wonder if it’s really coherent to accept that God created and loves gay people, but wills to deny them the support and blessing that marriage affords to heterosexual people?

For me the issues about inclusiveness in the Christian community really beg the question: who would Jesus exclude? My reading of the stories in the Gospels leads me to think the answer is: No one. Jesus wouldn’t exclude anyone, or condemn anyone as being outside the reach of God’s love. (Look at the way he fed the five thousand, no questions asked; the way he healed lepers and Gentiles; the parable of the lost son – among many other examples.) Actually, I should maybe say the answer is, Probably no one. Because there were some groups of people Jesus had very hard things to say about. These were the hypocrites – people who pretend to be religiously better than everyone else. (Perhaps, like religious people who think they are OK because they are straight, and condemn gay people?) And there were the religious people who cause a more vulnerable person to stumble (Mt. 18.6) – like the people who tried to convince a young girl struggling with her sexuality that she could not be acceptable to or loved by God unless she changed. Would Jesus exclude hypocrites, and these? I don’t think he would – but the fact is they have effectively excluded themselves or cut themselves off from being within God’s plan.

Vicky Beeching has already exposed herself to hatred and abuse from parts of the Christian community that formerly loved her. It would be better for us all to thank God for her courage, pray for her, and pray for ourselves to understand more clearly the amazing richness of the mystery of how God has created human beings, and God’s longing to welcome everyone into the commonwealth of his love.

Money Laundering?

The last section of The Testing of Hearts is the journal Donald Nicholl kept when he was dying of cancer in 1996. Among his reflections on the state of the world, he writes:

Increasingly the human family has 'fallen into the hands of gangsters' (the phrase used by von Preysing at the time the Nazis took over Germany). These global gangsters are described as 'mafias' at a certain level, but they are scarcely distinguishable from the groups who govern many of the countries on earth – 'respectable' people who attend conferences and get themselves elected. There is an interlocking of arms dealing, drug dealing, media lying and monetary fraud of which the profits are 'laundered' into Swiss banks and other 'whited sepulchres'.

Little has changed since he wrote. In fact, it has only got worse. And these are the same gangsters who not only failed to prevent the banking crash of 2008 – who indeed brought it about – but also use the threat of money laundering as a reason to make ordinary people constantly produce private documents and other forms of ID to the banks, to prove who they are. I had to do this again this week. I wonder how many Parochial Church Councils have really been engaged in money laundering, that this particular nut needs this particular (and clearly useless) sledgehammer?

 

The Testing of Hearts, by Donald Nicholl

One of the great things about having your study taken apart book from book and then put back together again, is the opportunity to try and cull some of the titles from the shelves.

(Oh, ye book lovers of tender heart,turn away your ears; it may seem cruel and unusual to you, to even think of getting rid of books, but I'm afraid that is what the lack of space in our home has brought us to. Not even seeing our children grow to adulthood, and set up homes of their own, has released enough space for the quantities of books we have acquired over the years and are still acquiring.)

And after all, if I haven't opened some worthy theological tome since I was at theological college – even assuming I ever opened it then – do I really need to keep it on my shelves?

But the joy among this pain, is to discover some titles I've forgotten, which I read and loved, or in some cases never quite read, and on looking at them again, can't imagine why I didn't.

One of those titles is The Testing of Hearts, by Donald Nicholl. Nicholl was the director of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute from 1981 to 1985, during which time he kept a journal and wrote numerous articles for The Tablet, which are the material for this book. And what a wonderful, humble, insightful book it is! Nicholl's great and holy wisdom was to reflect on the Institute's work of trying to foster understanding and reconciliation in the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and teach that creating peace is impossible unless we first create within ourselves a pure and peaceable heart. Whatever events we experience, provide occasions for this heart-testing which gradually refines and purifies the heart until it can become of use to God in making peace.

Almost every page of this book yields some nugget of pure and peaceable wisdom that you want to underline and treasure, and quote to people as if you had discovered it for yourself. (But what would that say about the purity of your heart?)

I want to blog about lots of them. And maybe I will.