Friday, 4 May 2012


A couple of days ago I went with Daughter into Manchester. This was a mistake, as a travelling Moroccan market was in town, selling rugs, bags and stuff. Naturally, we reinforced each other's greed and ended up buying a couple of rather nice leather holdalls.

Guilt ensued, so to assuage it a bit we looked into the local Louis Vuitton outlet. Our large leather cases were well into double figures, but there we could buy a small shiny vinyl handbag for over £500. Shiny vinyl handbags were naff in the 1960s. Presumably they are now daringly retro. But still - £500+???

I know the wealthy have to find some way of offloading their moolah, but these things are plastic! And Ugly! However, it's all probably part of a strange mindset in which more is less - at least, that's the only explanation I can come  up with for the strange pricing on an LV outlet site, a typical example of which is

Authentic Louis Vuitton Mahina Leather Shoulder Bags And Totes
Retail Price : $ 254.34
Concessions Price : $ 1272.00
Wow, Mum, look! I can pay six times a much here! Is that cool, or what?
There's probably an indignant sermon struggling to get out of all this, but on reflection, it's too depressing to think about.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Friday

I dig this out now and again for Good Friday, so I thought I'd post it here.

Friday morning

Rooted deep in earth's
The trees forgot not,
Though they were by men,
By unnatural storms.
They saw and honoured,
As one passed who'd been
Since the Garden's gates
Were Barred.
All save one dry tree.
It kept its hilltop
Lonely it must bear
The weight
Of He Who bore
The world.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Lent and ale

Gave up bread for Lent, but suspect that this will have little spiritual effect, unless I successfully resist the temptation to grumpiness.... I also doubt it will have any positive contribution to the battle for fat loss. Yet somehow it seems necessary to mark the season in a physical sort of way. I must think about that sometime.

Too busy today, though, trying to catch up after a trip to Nottingham to take Daughter to a university interview. It was incredibly nostalgic to wander round the city centre and see how little (superficially) has changed since my student days.

We lunched at the Old Trip to Jerusalem, nowadays a Greene King pub (Sam Smith's in my day) but improved over my last visit a few years ago by the availability of guest ales: Oakham Inferno and Nottingham Brewery Extra Pale Ale to name two palatable ones. Food was OK too, and my duck with hoisin wrap was supposed to be only 450 Calories....

Saturday, 21 January 2012


I've just been to the Winter Ale Festival in Manchester. This is one of the largest gatherings of Fat Old Blokes in the country, in which a relatively unbloated FOB like me can feel thinner than the average. I went with Daughter (and her inevitable friend) and met up with Sons, so it was a family outing, though we felt that sitting in the space labelled "Reserved for Families" would take more explaining and arguing than was worth while.

The beers were fine, as usual, though it being Saturday, many of the more popular ones were sold out. I did find Thornbridge's excellent St. Petersburg stout, though, so the afternoon was a complete success.

Friday, 13 January 2012

New Year - no resolutions

Wow! Is it really a year since I put anything on this?

We did our our Christmas card as usual, and adapted the design to be an altar frontal for the Christmas/Epiphany seasons. This is what they looked like.

The card

The altar frontal

This was pretty well received. At least, several people said they liked it. Those who made no comment may have hated it, of course, but since they didn't say, they don't count.

I did the original drawing, but the transfer to the big screen was mostly done by daughter who acted as studio assitant, or as we nowadays say in the art world, "fabricator". I understand that this means the artist has the idea, and a menial does the actual craftsmanship. It sounds rather a cheat to me, but it does allow me to claim that I am the world's greatest artist. It's just that there is no fabricator equal to the magnificent, but purely mental, vision.

The fabricator also does her own art and you can see some on her own blog here.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Doggie Heaven?

Another parish mag item, just to keep the blog in existence.

A friend whose dog has recently died asked me to consider doing a sermon on the general theme of "do pets go to heaven?" I wasn't sure how long it would take for a suitable Bible passage to crop up in the Sunday readings (a long time, I suspect) and I wasn't sure either, that I could pad out "I don't know" into a full sermon. But that "I don't know" does turn out to raise a few issues, so I thought I'd have a quick shot at a couple of them here.

The traditional answer to the question is simply no. Animals, having no souls, can't really go on to an after-life. But the issue isn't quite that simple. For one thing, it's not really all that obvious what a soul is. The idea that we have a sort of detachable part of us which leaves the body when we die, and travels off to realms unknown is rather hard to find in the Bible. It got into Christian thinking from Greek philosophy and it causes more problems than it solves.

Can we even imagine a soul? Aren't we in fact so intrinsically embodied that it is impossible to conceive of a bodiless existence? That isn't to say that talking of souls is meaningless, but it does say that souls aren't so much something we have as something we are. The definition I like best is "rational self-consciousness".

Some animals, I would argue, are certainly self-conscious to a degree. My cat definitely is (though she does not accept that anyone else is). And if being a soul is a function of rational self-awareness, then it seems that other creatures than humans possess a degree of such consciousness (and to some extent rationality). So on the soul front, it might well be that there is a sliding scale, on which some creatures score pretty highly.

However, thinking about souls doesn't get us all that far if we are not looking for them to break loose on death, and sail away. In fact, the Christian view of life after death is actually about the hope of resurrection, and God's provision of a new creation. In that creation (though what it may be like is beyond our imagining), it may well be that there will be some sort of animal life - after all, in this one, God seems to have created rather a lot of non-human life, so why not in the new creation?

Whether that life will in some way include our beloved Fido, we can't say. It is, after all just speculation - butit's possible, I suppose. This, though, brings us to the real point, which is not just about about pets. We are told very little about the life to come.

Christians believe in resurrection, in a new creation, and a healing of all that is broken and hurt in this world. But we are not told about it in detail, and attempts to speculate hardly do it justice. (Look for instance, at the well-meaning but hopelessly twee illustrations in those tracts that Jehovah's Witnesses leave behind them.) What we are told, is to trust God.

This comes out well in funeral services. We don't focus on the destination of the person who has died, but on God. We do not commend to deceased to heaven or Valhalla or wherever, but to God. Christianity is not a belief in a particular system of heaven and hell or whatever, but a trust in the God who meets us in Christ, and who will ultimately say, "Behold I make all things new."

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Worlds Apart

Well, I'm back.

Of course, not many people knew I'd been away, and it was only for ten days, but it feels like a trip to another world. In some ways, it was.

I was taking part in a sort of conference for clergy. There were only twenty-four of us, but it was interesting and challenging. The speakers were fascinating, the discussion engrossing and the food amazingly delightful. All this took place at St. George's House in Windsor Castle, and that was the different world.

People there didn't lock the doors of their houses, and left cars parked with keys in the ignition. I think the idea was that your average burglar and car thief might be put off by the men and women in flak jackets and carrying machine guns who greet you when you enter the castle. To enter, of course, you need a security pass (or to have bought a ticket).

There's a little chapel there (well, bigger than St. John's, Heaton Mersey) with a Dean, canons and choristers. Services are three times a day, and the evening prayer is beautifully sung. (One can't actually join in, but it's great to listen to.) Knights of the Garter gather there on special occasions and sit in the choir under their personal banners. The Canons are erudite, and organise conferences and discussions for the great and the good (and occasionally the clergy).

And somewhere in the background are royalty. One evening I was warned against going down a certain part of the cloister because a Duke and Duchess were down there. I said I wasn't afraid, but they still wouldn't let me in.

The whole thing was a sort of surreal experience, a glimpse into a world which rarely interacts with the one I normally live in, and then only in carefully managed events.

And yet, strangely enough, it turned out to be an ideal place to get away from the everyday and spend some time reflecting on the topic of the conference - how to speak about God in the light of the present world.

We had various speakers address us on everything from the shape of future computers (in bacteria, living in yoghurt) to stem cell research and cloning (you can make a copy of yourself with existing technology, but you'll have to do it in Paraguay where it's not illegal). One of the speakers was Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian.

He spoke about how newspapers are rapidly becoming redundant in the light of the internet and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Once, he said, journalists lived in their own little world, where they produced newspapers and threw them out to be read by those of us who lived in the world outside. Nowadays that's impossible. People want to question and comment - and some of them know more about the subjects in view than do the journalists who write about them.

Newspapers can no longer live in their separate world. They have to get out, produce the news, but allow it to feed back, to be challenged and indeed to be improved by the encounter with the wider public. Hence the Guardian web site is replacing the printed paper and being a place where issues are discussed and updated far more quickly than could be done with the daily paper.

News is even gathered in from the public - and issues can be investigated simply by asking for help on Twitter. Needless to say, some journalists don't like this. They prefer the old model - pass on information and move on. Now they have to discuss their articles on a web site.

I couldn't help seeing a parallel with Windsor Castle. The old papers were like that - a sealed environment full of a certain expertise and encountering the rest of the world only in a special way - like the encounters of royalty with the commoners, in carefully managed events, with no prospect of a chance encounter in a cloister.

But of course, there's a parallel that's much closer to home. For isn't that how the church is traditionally seen to work? We worship and pray in our own religious world, and occasionally throw a message ("the gospel") out over the walls, hoping someone will respond, and come knocking on the door.

I suspect the model has never really worked. It's only when we interact with the people around us, allowing ourselves to hear their questions and doubts, and letting them see what makes us tick that a message is truly communicated. If we have good news to share, it will be shared with people who see us as willing to show our faith, our hopes, our weaknesses and our doubts and discuss them in the public arena.

So, where do I sign up for Twitter?