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Friday, 24 October 2014

And There is No Peace

"At that time King Hazael of Aram went up, fought against Gath, and took it. But when Hazael set his face to go up against Jerusalem, King Jehoash of Judah took all the votive gifts that Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Ahaziah, his ancestors, the kings of Judah, had dedicated, as well as his own votive gifts, all the gold that was found in the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the king’s house, and sent these to King Hazael of Aram. Then Hazael withdrew from Jerusalem."

The Book of Kings has quite a resemblance to modern matters - bloodthirsty men claiming to rule in the name of God, kinglets running amok around the Middle East and King Jehoash playing the part of the Iraqi army.

Thomas Hardy was scathing about the way Religion looks forward to peace, while the opposite happens:

"After 2,000 years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas."

But the Great War was about nationalism. And the scientific modernism Hardy lived gave us tanks and Hiroshima. Then atheist politics gave us Stalin's purges and the Chinese Cultural Revolution and Year Zero.

Then just a quarter of a century ago, Francis Fukuyama promised us that liberal democracy would bring us the End of History.

Yeah, that went well. Between Russian nationalism and radical islamism, we've got far more history than we can deal with. Whenever anybody tells you they've got a brilliant plan for how everything's going to be good from now on - check whether that person's philosophy is balanced like a bus on an Alpine peak.

And so we come full-circle, with Putin cast as Nebuchadnezzar and al-Baghdadi playing Hazael.

There's a special psalm for thoughts like these. As I sit in my comfortable Home Counties conservatory, watching the leaves on the Virginia Creeper glow red under an autumn sky, maybe it's not for me just now.

But for those where there's no hope; those fighting bravely in a hopeless cause, doomed to be forgotten; they're very powerful words. And they're brave, honest, shocking words to have been written in a book of religion, when everything is supposed to turn out nice again in the end. It's Psalm 88.

Ready? Here's the last bit. 

"Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?
I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.
Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.
They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.
Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness."

It ends there.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Hurtful Welcome

This morning's little post was an un-referenced response to a post I thought so snarky I wouldn't link to it - a sub-blog-post, if you will. My point was, if you couldn't get it, that gay people are to be welcomed as part of the family of the church, just as anybody else is. We welcome people irrespective of their differences, because it's in our diversity that we become whole, and a reflection of the diversity yet unity of the Trinity in whose image we are made.

But discussion in another place about that same blog that inspired - if that is the right word - my little piece of drivel, uncovered this far more serious and important piece from "A Queer Calling". I commend it to your notice.

How to Welcome Gay People into Church - the Beginner's Guide

Leader: "The Lord be with you"

All: "And with Your spirit"

Leader: "Morning everybody. Nice to see you. If you've not got tea or coffee it's over there - have a bun. If your kids run around don't worry. The hymn is...."

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Words Simon Jenkins Didn't Write

Simon Jenkins at the Guardian tells us why jail won't work for Oscar Pistorius.
"Oscar Pistorius was guilty. However gripped by anger, it’s difficult to accept he didn’t know whom he was likely to kill. He had a violent history and his claim that he thought he was shooting a burglar stretches credulity."
That would make it murder. If you fire several shots at someone else, you are trying to kill them.  However gripped by anger you are, if they're not trying to hurt you, that is murder. I would like to say that, if Simon Jenkins believes it was murder, then that on its own would be enough to discount everything else he has to say. I have a sneaking suspicion that, in Simon Jenkins' mind, it wouldn't.
"He killed his girlfriend"
He killed Reeva Steenkamp, two words not mentioned anywhere in this article. He killed a woman who happened to be his girlfriend. But she had her own life, dreams, experiences, name. She was not merely a being whose existence was dependent on that of a famous man.
"Given the leniency South African courts used to show towards white people killing black people, it is hard to see how the court could show leniency to a white person killing another white person."
Let's accept, for the sake of argument, that the verdict was correct. For recklessly shooting into a closed room, apparently heedless of who it was, five years would seem to be at the low end of a reasonable sentence - especially for a man who, I presume, has had his life genuinely ruined by losing the woman he presumably loved. I'm sure it has been ruined. I am also sure that a sentence that could result in him being out after 10 months is very lenient.
"Beyond the cause of consistency, imprisoning Pistorius can serve no purpose."
I wonder if such a fatuous, 6th-form-debating-society sentence could have been written in any other British paper. But let's go on.
"The purpose of depriving wrongdoers of their liberty, now that we no longer hang or flog, should be to rehabilitate them and, if not, keep them from further crime."
Rehabilitation and keeping felons from further crime are both good reasons to imprison people, although rehabilitation seems a fairly rare result. But on this basis, a seriously recalcitrant shoplifter should never be released. Actually, I met an old felon once who had spent his whole life, whenever released from pokey, immediately committing crime and, shortly afterwards, getting rearrested. I presume Simon Jenkins would never let him out. Personally, I certainly wouldn't. Getting out and having to go to all the trouble of getting caught again used to play havoc with the old bloke's routine.

But back to this case. Simon Jenkins has told us, in his first paragraph, that Oscar Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp because he was angry. If somebody is in the habit, when angry with his partner, of shooting her - doesn't this suggest some kind of education around the whole not-shooting-people-when-angry area might be useful? That, if we believed rehabilitation worked, then this is exactly the sort of thing the next 5 years might be useful for? And, if not, that if this man has a habit of shooting people when angry and can't be rehabilitated, well.... I refer you, on Simon Jenkins' logic, to my friend the geriatric burglar.
"That it should be “retributive”, a mere expression of society’s rage, is primitive theology. It is trotted out when no other reason for imprisonment can be imagined."
I can see nothing wrong with locking somebody up simply to punish them. If you have committed this kind of crime, you should be punished. It has fairness about it, and it expresses the revulsion that we ad human beings have for crime. It is not intrinsically fair, I reckon, to lock people up for different periods of time depending upon how malleable they are - or how malleable they can pretend to be. The taking of a life - such as Reeva Steenkamp's - demands a price. The one who commits that crime should pay it.

And I don't see this as "primitive theology". It's the reaction, I suspect, of most non-Guardian-readers, and many that do read it, to the idea that a human life - such as Reeva Steenkamp's - is utterly precious - worth far more than just a bit of retraining would ever repay. Obviously we've not been as well-educated at keeping down primitive emotions as Simon Jenkins, but then other primitive emotions - love, fear, happiness - continue to work and be accepted as legitimate.
"Imprisonment is brutalism, reflecting society’s inability to police antisocial acts"
How on earth does he think society could police this manslaughter - or, if you prefer, "antisocial act"? Should there be a Guardian columnist, equipped with soothing words, in every bathroom?
"Men such as Pistorius have had their lives ruined, their failings exposed and chance enough to reflect on their crimes and what they can do to atone for them."
Women such as Reeva Steenkamp have had their lives taken away.
"No one will be more or less “deterred” by the length of his jail sentence."
Do you know, I reckon this. If, whenever women were hurt by men, the Law took it seriously, and the men got the sentences they deserved, then the sort of men who hurt women might actually be deterred from doing it. If we let people get away with culpable homicide, abuse or murder on the grounds that they won't learn anything from being locked up, then they probably won't.

Given the way it's written, I half-wonder whether the Guardian has just indulged in the most vile piece of click-bait trolling. In case anyone was wondering, the crime featured in the Guardian's puerile piece of adolescent argument had a victim. But don't expect Simon Jenkins to tell you who she was.

Generation Z and Generation α

That's the problem with designating groups of anything with a letter - based scheme. It did for car registrations in the UK a few years ago.

When the concept of Generation X - the social cohort, not the short-lived British punk rockers - was invented, they were so named for being the 10th generation since the American revolution.

Why this then took in we English and other Europeans is beyond me. Even in England, the American revolution was little more than "in other news", as a bunch of plucky Brits fought off a largely-German colonial army.

But Gen X was a number - 10 - not a letter. So to call the people born after that Generation Y, rather than XI, was silly. Small wonder we now instead refer to "Millennials", not least as this science-fictiony term perfectly captures the alien appearance of the young-men-in-whiskers currently plaguing London and similar locations.

But if we'd continued with the X-Y pattern originally established, then we're currently about halfway through Generation Z being born.

Generation Z will be a troubled and troubling bunch. Half of them will be dedicated apocalyptics, convinced that - if they are "Z" - there is nothing to come after them. They will reject the previous 50 years of environmental angst, gleefully consuming whatever we leave them of this world's resources in the belief that after them, the Flood. The other Generation Z-ers, convinced that they are the generation that all the previous ages have been in preparation for, will just act like teenagers for their entire lives.

Meanwhile, the offspring of the Millennials will be being born. Having run out of Latin letters, they will be Generation α.

Generation Alpha will, I predict, be the ones that bring it all to an end. Addicted to small-group meetings and dinner parties, they will spend their lives deepening their spiritual awareness and driving 7-seater cars. They will know that Generation Z are sending the world to hell on a Segway but they won't care. They'll have a home in glory land that outshines the Sun - which will be a great consolation as Generation Z declares war on the Moon.

Generation α will be like an extended edition of the Great British Bake-off, set to Matt Redman music, while global nuclear meltdown occurs outside the force-fields of suburbia. Nobody else will be born in the West - Gen Z will be too busy consuming and destroying, while Gen α will never get away from finger buffets and prayer triangles.

It'll be a shame to miss it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Liturgy For a Windy Day

Quite a shocker, this morning's "Power of Storm" liturgy. The idea was that we'd get the walls of the Moot House opened - they rotate on a hinge to point outwards. Then, as we could see outside through the windows, we would be awed by the awe-ful awesomeness of this awful weather.

Turns out if you do this on all sides of the Moot House, you convert the entire place into a giant anemometer. On the down side, the Beaker Folk aren't going to be much use for the rest of the day. On the plus side, quite a few of them think they've had a spiritual experience.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to lay down.

Another Suitcase, Another Hall

From Fr. Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment


Monday, 20 October 2014

Lynda Bellingham

Lynda Bellingham's death has been announced. 

She was too young, too sexy, too clever, too funny for cancer to take her at that age. But everybody who dies of cancer is all those things.

God bless all those who look for cures to the various kinds of cancer. May they have success in their work. And God bless Lynda Bellingham, those who loved her, and all who suffer from cancer.

We call cancer sufferers "brave". We talk about their "fights". They may be brave, they may fight. They don't have to be brave, they don't have to fight. They don't have to fit the media's definitions. They can do what they like. It's their lives.

But cancer's a bastard.