Showing posts from August, 2010

Tolkien's mill

Another story that caught my eye in the eChurch Christian Blog was that of the Irish Gypsies arriving en masse in Birmingham, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Pope ( Birmingham Post ). But I don't have any comment to add on the incident itself (other than to notice the authorities being totally flummoxed by the fact that people are flocking to see the Pope in huge numbers - this must be one of the few countries where this would cause surprise to the police). What was interesting, to me and probably to a small number of others, was the obscure pleasure of seeing Sarehole Mill get a mention in the press. Sarehole is a restored water mill in Birmingham, a monument to the City's industrial heritage. It bears the name of a long-vanished village now swallowed by the urban giant. But it occupies another niche in history as the childhood home of JRR Tolkien. Tolkien lived in Sarehole at a formative time of life, and remembered it with enormous affection. The Mill in particu

Dove does not bring peace

Thanks to the incredibly well-informed eChurch Christian Blog for putting the spotlight on the Qur'an-burning church in Florida. Today's post on that blog highlights the way in which their actions are endangering the lives of Christians in Islamic parts of the world. As another example of when biblical Christianity goes bad (see my previous post of that title), I invite you to explore the website of the book-burning church, the inappropriately named Dove World Outreach Centre. While there might be some comic elements about it (Q: "why would we put up a sign like this?" A: is it because you don't own a ruler or have any grasp of the proper use of capital letters?) this is actually in a different league to the curious madness of the Latter Rain Ministries. Dove is nasty. Quite apart from frothing at the mouth at their own local authorities for refusing them a "burn permit" (what?), this church seems to be intent on defining itself by what it opposes,

more thoughts, not quite random

Time to tidy up a few loose ends, relating to the last three posts on Always Hope. Last night's post on religion and the BBC seems to have attracted a lot of interest (I say a lot, but it's all relative), although the general thrust of opinion seems to be in the opposite direction - Bishop Nick Baines and LankyAnglican make the point on their blogs. I think the case is well made but still believe that this is not a drum we should be beating, for the reasons I attempted to set out in my post. Meanwhile, I need to clarify something I wrote in Cameron's Cornish connection . When I referred to "the Duchy", I was of course describing the ancient and Royal Duchy of Cornwall itself, not the private hospital which is situated adjacent to Treliske, for the convenience of Doctors who need to fit in their NHS jobs between private consultations. One or two cynics have suggested that Samantha Cameron might quietly move across the road in the next day or two, to which Alwa

Religion and the BBC

The BBC apparently has an editor for arts, science, business, but not for religion .  Some people are quite vexed by this, including Bishop Nigel McCulloch (Manchester), who is the C of E's national spokesman on things to do with the media.  I don't know whether Bishop McCulloch volunteered for the role, or whether he drew it out of the hat at New Bishops' Training Camp, but he certainly gives the impression of being an enthusiast.  There does seem to be a certain repetitive quality about his public statements, though.  Perhaps he has other things to say that the press don't pick up on, but whenever he makes the papers he always seems to be saying the same thing that he is here,  ie. "there should be more religion on telly".   A slight simplification perhaps, but the logic does always seem to come down to the same basic assumptions, namely: 1.  Religious broadcasting is A Good Thing, and in some way is doing us good when we watch it. 2.  The more religious

Cameron's Cornish connection

Always Hope congratulates David and Samantha Cameron on the birth of their daughter (un-named, presumably on a temporary basis) and notes with pleasure that BBC Cornwall are able to make the story their online headline today, beating unusual plants and fish-related stories further down the page than they normally are. This is, of course, because Cameron petite , coming a bit earlier than expected, interrupted the family holiday and was delivered at our very own Royal Cornwall Hospital (Treliske). This news will raise a few chuckles here in the Duchy. Everyone in Cornwall wishes nothing but the best to the RCH, which provides so many lifesaving services and is one of our biggest employers (the biggest?). However, it's no secret that the hospital has had its problems in recent years. Dogged by persistent criticisms and management difficulties, in many people's minds it is labelled with the tag "could do better". Perhaps, now, the new-forged connection with the he

Newsflip - humour lost in transit

Yesterday's news brought conclusive proof that "you had to be there" is a verifiable law of Physics. Comedian Tim Vine won the award for the FUNNIEST JOKE at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Suprisingly, the rib-tickling line is not copyrighted and hidden in secrecy, only to be revealed on very special occasions, and so Always Hope is able to pass it on to you now. Please sit down, secure your sides and head, and read: "I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what, never again." There you go. It might be just me, but it didn't seem to hit the spot when I read it, and I guess snappy one-liners can't be pinned to the printed page. I could imagine laughing at it, but I just didn't. It's the way you tell 'em, after all. The oddest thing about this is that they also gave prizes for the worst jokes, but if you weren't told which were which, you would be hard pushed to tell the difference. One guy told the worst joke

Heat Death, where is thy sting?

Earlier this week, it was reported that new studies have conclusively proved what the fate of the Universe will be. This page summarises the report, although it demonstrates the limits of language when describing anything Universal. "It will eventually become a cold, dead wasteland" makes the end-time Universe sound like a bit of brownfield property waiting to have a new Tesco built on it. Still, you get the idea. I don't have the up to date knowledge to say whether this has really "proved" the case (how indeed could you prove something in the future?), but the majority of experts in the field have long been convinced that this is the most likely patten of the cosmic future. The Universe continues to expand indefinitely, in the process dissipating the available energy, until eventually it approaches the point where energy flow is no longer possible. This is where it gets a bit mind-bending, but although the Universe continues to exist, without energy flow th

Remote communion has Methodist church in a twitter

Poor old Tim Ross. The Methodist minister, who had organised the first ever Twitter communion service, had to back down and cancel it after getting a call from the enforcement arm of the Methodist church. He said that while he "hadn't been absolutely forbidden" to perform the rite, he had been "strongly urged" to do so. (Always Hope notes in passing that the Methodists can now expect a few calls from C of E Bishops, who will be dying to know how to exert that level of control over their clergy). I hadn't really followed this incident, and only looked into it after encountering Tim on Twitter this week. Initially, I had imagined it to be an insubstantial idea, something novel just for the sake of a quick headline, but the fact is that there's nothing particularly controversial about it at all. Essentially, the proposal was to tweet the communion service ( ie . broadcast the liturgy by text-based messages), and then, at the appropriate moment, for partici

Review - Faith School Menace?

Richard Dawkins' latest offering, Faith School Menace ?, aired last night on Channel 4, where he seems to have almost taken up residence, so many hours have they devoted to him and his views. But before Christians leap to complain, we should note that Channel 4 has been by far the most interesting religious broadcaster of the last few years, giving time to a range of religious perspectives, including some Christian, that other channels just won't touch. And they have probably worked out that they'll get more Christians watching if they put Dawkins on, than they would for any church leader. Dawko's current crusade (or the current aspect of his ongoing crusade) is directed against faith schools. He has taken up the long-standing grudge of British secularists about this, and thrown his considerable weight behind it. And Faith School Menace? began in fairly predictable fashion. Dawkins has never been embarrassed to use overheated rhetoric, and the introduction was what w

Is the internet scrambling our brains? - 2

Following yesterday's post on the ideas of Nicholas Carr, I've been thinking about whether this affects the way we pray. Carr thinks we are losing the capacity for calm, deep, and measured thought because we are constantly hyper-stimulated by our engagement with the internet. His description of the book-reading, pre-internet mind uses language which could easily be applied to the practice of prayer. He talks of "filtering distractions", "immersing yourself" in a thought, and "solitary contemplation and reflection". So will the internet generation find it harder to engage with God in prayer? What I wrote yesterday probably applies here as well. Some of us have brains that are naturally prone to flitting around, who find the internet a handy source of distraction. These are the same people who find it hard to engage in sustained, reflective prayer. Also, much of prayer is about habit. If we spend a lot of our time in shallow, bitty mental a

Newswatch - Cornish plant shocks owners

A brief news update, largely for my own amusement. First, a couple of local interest stories of a botanical kind, demonstrating as much as anything how good the Cornish climate is for moisture-loving plants. This morning, readers of BBC Cornwall's website were greeted by the headline "plant growth shocks holidaymakers", now abbreviated to " plant shocks holidaymakers ", which sounds quite sinister. Mr and Mrs Godfrey of St Merryn were amazed to find their Agave had grown to 26 feet high in their absence. This is the kind of story that makes you wish that local news could leave their site blank on days when nothing happens, especially when you realise that the Godfreys had been away, not for a week or two, but two months. If I left the the Vicarage garden for that long in the summer, it would generate enough biomass to fuel a small town for a year. More interesting, but only to a very small number of people, is the news that the rare Many-Fruited Beardles

Is the internet scrambling our brains (and should we care?)

Nicholas Carr is a writer who has made it his mission to alert us to the re-wiring of our brains. In last Saturday's Times (no link because Times Online is closeted behind its paywall), he published a summary of his points and a plug for his book . Carr's argument is that the internet has "changed the way we think". In his own words: I'm not thinking the way I used to think. I feel it most strongly when I'm reading. I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or lengthy article... That's rarely the case any more. Now my concentration starts to drift after a page or two. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. This, he says, is the result of our engagement with the internet, the way we access information online in an instant and flit from site to site, browsing and messaging simultaneously. No longer do we think in good old book terms, starting at the beginning and working through to the end, but we spider about all

Hats off to The Church Mouse

Respect to the Church of England's premier blogger, The Church Mouse , who has managed to get some column inches on the Guardian's Comment is Free site today.    Read the article to see why Mouse has a beef with Richmond Borough Council, and see the predictable heaps of vitriol poured on the little furry head (in the comments section). I take my hat off to Mouse for his courage (although Always Hope understands this is not his real name) but hope that he was not expecting a reasoned and measured response to his piece.  Half the comments seem to have been moderated out already, a blood-curdling thought, given the level of animosity displayed by the ones that got past the moderator.  The comments section of online newspapers always seem to be populated by the kind of people who you wouldn't want to give free access to the knife drawer.  I just hope the Pope is grateful for Mouse's willingness to take up the cudgels on his behalf.

Man sinks while looking for snakes

Off message again, but I can't resist this. I'm just going to have to accept that coverage of odd news stories is going to be one of the themes of Always Hope. There's not much we can add to this one: Man 'up to waist in mud' in Stourport -on-Severn rescued Except one thing - this guy's given reason for being stuck up to his waist in a muddy lake was that he was "out looking for snakes". Is it just me, or does this sound a bit wrong? Is the cold lakeside mud really the natural habitat of snakes? Maybe this lake is renowned locally as a haunt of strange snakes, a sort of scaled-down Loch Ness ? Did the emergency services mis -hear what he said as his teeth were chattering too much? And if not, is lake-snake-hunting really a healthy way for a 25-year old and his mates to spend an afternoon? Was he up to something embarrassing/illegal and this was the first excuse that came to mind? Like a man stuck in a lake for an hour, Always Hope smells a

Jesus' authority to forgive

I'm preaching on Mark 2 tomorrow (apologies to liturgical purists), Jesus healing the paralysed man after he is lowered through the roof. What an engaging passage it is. I love the way in which it is so graphically visualised, dragging us in to the action, and then hits us with the enigmatic dialogue which makes us stop and think. Verse 9 is especially challenging: Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk'? Which is it? I was taught at an early stage that it's clearly the latter, because only God can forgive sins, and so it must be harder to do that. But now, when I read this, that just doesn't seem to fit. Why does Jesus then go and heal the man? If that is the easier thing, it doesn't prove that he could do the harder thing. So is it easier to say "your sins are forgiven"?? I suppose in one way it is, because if you say "get up", and the guy stays where he is, it

Justice for the Plympton too-woo

A bit off message this, but it sneaks in on the grounds of local interest. Always Hope has a soft spot for the traditional British eccentric, and so today we lament the case of the Plympton Owl Man: Man banned from taking owls for walk We should note, in the interests of fairness, that Plymouth City Council hasn't actually banned Russell Burt from walking his owls because, er, they can't. But by intimidating this one man with the full weight of local government, they have effectively done so. What's particularly dispiriting are the given reasons for this sledgehammer-to-nut approach. "Owls live a nocturnal lifestyle" intones the council spokeswoman, demonstrating a grasp of Biology gained from the Ladybird Book of Nature. And, to cap the argument, she invokes the danger of "a large spooked bird of prey running amok on a highway", apparently confusing the Owl with a Road Runner. Always Hope respectfully suggests to Plymouth City Council, in the unl

When biblical Christianity goes bad

Today, courtesy of the perennially marvellous Ship of Fools , Always Hope brings you the curious case of and the Latter Rain. This seems so incredible that I can't decide whether it is really what it seems, or some kind of elaborate hoax, so judge for yourselves by looking at this website , or this one , where you will find everything you never knew (and probably didn't want to) about the imminent judgement day. Of course, confident predictions of the end of the world are nothing new - the Jehovah's witnesses have predicted it many times, with zero percent success so far, but usually the door is at least left ajar for the possibility that God may have alternative plans. "We Can Know", however, takes apocalyptic certainty to new levels. So many things about this are bizarre, that it's difficult to know where to start. What I find most perplexing, though, is that this comes out of the stable of "Bible-based" Christianity, that we know o

Not such a daft question

Clayboy is a blog I always enjoy reading, especially on biblical things - as well as holding provocative opinions (quite common in blogging), Doug Chaplin is a mine of expert opinion (much less common). This week he has been getting stroppy (his own word) about the way people think about heaven .  The discussion was prompted by a reference to the perennial question "will my dog go to heaven?" Doug makes a convincing case (as ever) that this isn't a good question.  However there might be more to this than meets the eye.  I can think of at least three reasons why: 1 - Only someone who hasn't had a dog would say this isn't a serious question.  I say this not to demonstrate that dog-lovers are hopelessly sentimental and deluded, but just that there is an analogy between the way we feel about pets and the way we feel about other people.  Of course, human relationships are deeper, more complex and, at least potentially, more satisfying (as well as being potentially mu

Big society, little cash?

Polly Toynbee scents a political point in the Guardian ( online ), laying into the Government for their proposed funding cuts to the "third sector". This is an interesting point, revealing a tension between the rhetoric of the "Big Society" and the reality of funding cuts. Should charities, including churches, be worried? On one hand, there must be concern that the constraints on public funds will have an impact on charities working in areas of social need. Government grants that have been useful to all kinds of projects and charities over the past few years are fast drying up. On the other hand, we need to remember that it's a bit misleading to speak about the Government "cutting" charities which, by definition, are independent bodies and not run by the state. If you look more carefully at Toynbee's article, you see that most of the cuts are in fact to Government-run volunteering agencies and other quangos dealing with the third sector. I su

Taxing issues for clergy

I completed my tax return at the weekend. Not a great acheivement after more than four months, but with a deadline of January 2011, it's difficult to find the enthusiasm to plod through the endless pages of little boxes. My own return runs to 10 pages, with a further 30 of accompanying notes. Like all paid clergy, I have to do a tax return because I am what HMRC quaintly calls a "minister of religion". One minor vicar generates the kind of paperwork more often associated with small businesses or commercial landlords. And in return for itemising every pound received and spent in the course of a year's ministry, I benefit from an insanely complicated tax scheme which, to the best of my reckoning, saves me about £150 a year, or a little over £12 a month. Never has so much effort been expended by so many for so small a return. Of course, I could pay someone to do it for me, as many clergy do. Typically, this might cost me about £100, leaving me not much change but at le

Blogging on

Always Hope is back, after a break of a couple of weeks. For an explanation of the interruption, click here .