Thursday, 18 December 2008
If you don't know 'My Fair Lady' then you should. Buy it! Or search on Youtube and you'll find the originals of these songs by various worthies. Or just try the links I've put in for you.
The scene opens to a slightly bewildered-looking person who has just received some news...
I Could Have Failed My BAP ("I Could Have Danced All Night")
[BAP=Bishops' Advisory Panel, three days away leading to advice to your Bishop whether you should be recommended for training to ordained ministry in the Church of England]
BAP, BAP, I could have failed my BAP
I could have called the Bishop 'Dodgy Dick'
Job, job, I could have kept my job
But now I've got to train to be a vic
I could have failed my BAP
I could have failed my BAP
What made me such a fool?
I could have run away
Gone off on holiday
But no, it's back to school
I'll never know what made me so convincing
I'm like a crab caught in a trap
I only hope the rest were smart and flunked the test
I could have failed, failed, failed my BAP
[Job's comforters appear on cue]
I understand, friend - but it's all planned, friend
Don't cry for milk that's spilled
You didn't fail your BAP
Now there's no turning back
It's time for you to go
Where would you like to train?
We want to fill your brain
With stuff you don't yet know
And now I know what makes it so, so frightening
I'm off to vicar factory
At least I get to choose
What have I got to lose?
Because I passed, passed, passed my BAP
BAP passed, it's time to visit theological colleges. So many to choose from. It's a gamble. Will luck be a lady? Hmmm, I should have written this as Guys and Dolls, shouldn't I?
Wouldn't it be Rid-er-ley ("Wouldn't It Be Loverley")
All I want is a room somewhere
Small and dark and I have to share
One good and one duff chair
Oh, wouldn't it be Rid-er-ley
Lots of chocolates and all fair trade
Lots of lunches just like home made
And I'd be poorly paid
Oh, wouldn't it be Rid-er-ley
Oh, so loverly readin' lots of that theo-lo-gee
I'd be happy I'm on B, C, E, F or even G ("What about H?" "Nah, miserable bunch")
[Assorted Ridlebeests are espied about their joyous daily routine]
"Someone said morning prayer all wrong"
"Must we learn yet another song"
"The basement showers all pong"
Oh wouldn't it be Rid-er-ley (Rid-er-ley)
Wouldn't it be Rid-er-ley
Cut to a few months later. Student life has begun, and bewilderment has increased. Still, there's plenty of time for reflection afforded by the journey between the Cambridge Theological Federation colleges' rooms, conveniently strung out around the Inner Ring Road. As the sun twinkles romatically off the juggernaut that just tried to run you down at Westminster College roundabout, oh! what a beautiful morning it is. (Oklahoma!, that's what I meant to rip off I mean pay homage to.)
Off Round The Ring Road Again ("On The Street Where You Live")
I have often walked down this street before
I am tired and I am grumpy and my feet are sore
It's compulsory to do an SCP
So I'm off round the ring road again
A contemporary church, that's what we all seek
We've got Books of Common Prayer and we are learning Greek
And it's very odd, there's no time for God
'Cos it's off round the ring road again
And oh, the wonderful feeling
Just to know he's somewhere, not far
But now my poor head is reeling
No-one told me Ridley doesn't have a bar!
Once I thought I knew all that I believed
But a lecturer has told me that I was deceived
I'm going round the bend: Jesus was my friend
Now I'm off round the ring road again
And oh, the wonderful feeling
When we come together to praise
I know when I am kneeling
That he's chosen me to serve him all my days
I've been broken down: that don't bother me
If they laughed at the Messiah then they'll laugh at me
Now this lecture's done, and it's ten to one
So I'm off round the ring road again
[SCP=Social Context Placement, time spent outside study in an unfamiliar environment]
All good things come to an end... If you don't blot your copybook too badly, you'll be ordained, somewhere. Your sending diocese may have something for you, or you could be 'exported.' In regular life, companies export things people want. The Church, of course, works differently: dioceses export unwanted ordinands to seek their fortune elsewhere... Hmmm, perhaps I should have written this as panto, not Eliza Doolittle but Dick Whittington?
I’m Getting Deaconed in the Summer ("I'm Getting Married In The Morning")
I'm getting deaconed in the summer
If someone wants to ordain me
I've been exported
Must get it sorted
Get me to a curacy
I've got to clear off in the summer
"Where?" Well, you'll have to wait and see
Profiles I'm reading
Help! I need a curacy
What can I handle? Will I be go...
...ing up the candle or snakebelly low?
I'm a Leaver - leaving in the summer
What have I learnt? What will I be?
Rural team cleric?
How do you choose a curacy?
I need to buy some medieval kit
There's an allowance - don't spend every bit
(Save some for the bubbly)
I'm getting deaconed in the summer
This ship is searching for a See
Ridley's done my brain in
Three years more training
Are waiting when I start
Are waiting when I start
Are waiting when I start my curacy
So, friends, it's been a low trick. Three years, or two years, or one year of training leads to... three or four years of training. Bah! Humbug! I knew I should have written this as A Christmas Carol. Sigh. As Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
The bell rings for remembrance. We obey
Its call: we reach with hands of faith to touch
Lost fingers of the fallen so they may
Receive this next instalment from the much
We owe to those who went ahead, whose blood
Was spent for good, for ill, for its whole worth.
Now frayed and faded images in wood
Are bone-by-bone mute witness under earth.
Mark’s blood betrayed him. His remembrance day
Is poppy-studded, wears its suit ill-pressed,
Finds tears choke words of love we long to say –
Until deep laughter helps recall him best.
Under that plain cross on light-dappled wall
We hear his song: “God is my all and all.”
Monday, 27 October 2008
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Being in theological college provokes all kinds of questions.
What’s it for? Why do you study for two (or one, or three, or four, or seven) years?
One question I have as a Church of England ordinand is: why, when these days most of us enter training with a significant amount of post-school ‘life experience’ (not my phrase, and yes, that mainly means we’re oldies), is the philosophy to treat this as at best an occasional inconvenience, at worst a positive barrier to effective ministerial formation. I do not mean this question flippantly, and certainly not disrespectfully.
One part of the answer is probably crude economics. It’s cheapest to train a relatively undifferentiated group in a relatively undifferentiated way. And I marvel, in the case of the college I know best, how far the five loaves and two fish go towards feeding us all; yet the biblical parallel fails, as there are no crumbs left over.
But this is crude economics. To the extent that we comply in suppressing rather than expressing the knowledge, skills and experience of whatever portion of life preceded training – to precisely that extent we are buying into a questionable model of priests (presbyters if you prefer, same root word) as not merely specially set aside for service, but as specially set aside from life.
With the people I know best here, I know some of their story and some of their talents, of course. But I also see those stories being condensed – in them and in me – into another volume. And if this were not true at least in part, something would be wrong, because we must learn to be different from that past self and to do differently. And yet...
We have offered our whole selves. I must learn to say simply, with Jo recalling her sacrificial offering of hair,
“I took a last look at my hair while the man got his things, and that was the end of it. I never snivel over trifles like that. I will confess, though, I felt queer when I saw the dear old hair laid out on the table, and felt only the short rough ends of my head. It almost seemed as if I’d an arm or leg off. The woman saw me look at it, and picked out a long lock for me to keep. I’ll give it to you, Marmee, just to remember past glories by, for a crop is so comfortable I don’t think I shall ever have a mane again.”
“It’s only the vain part of me that goes and cries in this silly way.”
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
The letter below was sent yesterday to Mark Brewer, from representatives of the We Support Dave Walker facebook group:
Dear Mr. Brewer
We are writing on behalf of 498 supporters of cartoonist and blogger Dave Walker, a group which includes bishops, national journalists in the UK and US, lawyers, clergy, and concerned members of the public.
We would like to ask you please to contact Dave Walker and withdraw the demands made in the ‘Cease and Desist’ letter which you sent him in July. Your letter, as far as we know, instructed Dave to remove all his posts about the recent history of SPCK bookshops or face action for libel. With the pressures of the impending Lambeth conference, and a very short deadline given by yourself, Dave complied. He commented at the time: “I have therefore removed all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this blog, as, although I believe I have not done anything wrong I do not have the money to face a legal battle. The removal of these posts is in no way an admission of guilt.”
Many of us have read the posts concerned, and are surprised, to say the least, that they could be called libelous. Indeed, the first three posts make no mention at all of yourself, the Society of St. Stephen the Great, or anyone associated with you. The 4th post reports your takeover of the bookshops with the comment “this is splendid news.” Another post is a simple link to your SSG video on YouTube. Other items include verbatim reports of your own statements, and in the simple post on the death of Steve Jeynes, dozens of people used the comments to expressed their grief and condolences to Steve’s family.
Dave is a reasonable man, and if all critics were as fair as he is the world would be a better place. If you were able to reconsider, and point out specific statements and claims you were unhappy with, we are sure Dave would be happy to correct them where appropriate. This is the normal process of debate on the internet, and in real life, and follows the strong tradition of free speech for which our countries stand and are rightly proud.
So this is a polite request from all of us: please contact Dave Walker, advise him that your ‘cease and desist’ communication no longer stands, and let him report freely.
Rev. David Keen and seven other signatories representing the ‘We Support Dave Walker’ group
So here are some of the things I am determined not to put (much!) time, effort or brainpower towards:
- The antediluvian administrative structure for students, which guarantees a lack of teamwork on community responsibilities, ensures inequality in the division of labour and creates that special combination of inefficiency and near-effectiveness that prevents the resource that is our joint time and effort being available to respond to need and opportunity
- The Common Room's indifference to the administrative burden and intensified financial hardship (to the college) of a new payment regime for students
- Our shared failure to take an interest in the student world beyond our own Victorian walled garden, whether in theological or general academe, and learn from their experience and practice
That list-making needs, then, to be the end of my musing on these three topics. The first and best of what's freed by this resolution needs to go to my family, who inevitably bear the lion's share of the burden of our change of circumstances as a result of a call to ministry. And the next in line is The Outside World.
The first flowering of this latter is being put up as the 'older and wiser' head on a panel for a 'grill a Christian' evening. I can guarantee 50% achievement on this measure, at least. And I am of an age when making a complete fool of myself is absolutely no deterrent, so as far as I can see the worst that can happen is that someone asks a clever question to which all I can answer is 'wibble,' while the upside is if someone can argue me out of faith I can give up this life of giving up and go back to consultancy, holidays and money.
If you have a praying disposition and are reading this on the day, do keep me in mind this evening. It would be great not to be the scaffolding that spoils someone's view of Jesus.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
I enjoyed today's In Our Time, on Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem (where I lead, Melvyn follows 8v) ). So it's not just me who says not all that is true can be proven, nor all that is false disproven.
There was a more practical demonstration of this in our Common Room Meeting today, when a room-full of ordinands were so struck with the futility of words that we agreed to do nothing about something we had previously agreed was burdensome and unjust when it was announced, that we had just agreed had resulted in all kinds of problems, and that we were experiencing directly as some of its impact fell on them.
We are, though, considering buying more newspapers every week. We will therefore be better informed on all kinds of injustices in which we are less involved, in respect of which we have a less credible voice, and about which we will agonise and do practically nothing.
[I wrote those two paragraphs first with 'they' not 'we,' because mine was one of the voices raised against defeatism and inaction, but did I press my point? No. So it's 'we,' all right.]
We are the future of the church. Lord help us. Lord help them.
I feel like the Roman confronted with a dish of battered eels - O Tempura! O Morays!
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
For us here in Britain, the banking system as most of us have known it through our lives has come to an end. From today, our taxes will support our loans, and the increasing inflation that will come with increased public sector debt will be the legacy of the banking bubble.
You meet this scenario quite early on in maths, where instinct and 'gut feel' are tested to destruction.
For instance, common sense says if you take a punt on the toss of a coin, head or tales, then if you lose just double your bet, however many times it takes.
And if you have unlimited resources, and unlimited time, and the person you're betting with gives fair odds, and no limit to stakes, your expectation is to come out even. But...
But at every loss, your exposure increases. In every real game, whether in a casino or in commercial banking, the odds are not fair. And in every transaction, the strongest party calls the shots.
At some point in time, if I understand it correctly, 'real' banking activity became smaller than the casino. For instance, derivatives (bets on share price movements) became more significant than shares. On the surface everything continued as normal, but vast profits in some places must imply vast losses elsewhere, and the whole thing turned out to be a latter day South Sea bubble, where the vast losses turn out to be everywhere.
Banks are not the same "yesterday, today and forever." My immediate future and yours will be adversely affected by this, one way or another. We had better look for security other than in the securities market, for peace elsewhere than our pensions, for liquidity in the one moving over the face of the waters and not the one drowning in them.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Monday, 29 September 2008
Here I am, back in harness for my second and final year of pre-ordination training: lots of new faces, lots of familiar ones, a sense of anticipation. For this year's leavers, there's a mood change. Some have curacies sorted out near to where they were sent from, some in other places, the rest are at various stages of the search.
There's been some freshening up, lots of new paint, lots of old furniture. Which is a bit like us, as we are sent out, fresh paint ready to be slapped on somewhere.
And - of course - there are rapidly filling diaries and rotas, there are bills and kitties: this is the Church, after all.
More than one conversation has shown me that many of us are already experiencing that sense that what's a few months ahead is more real than this immediate future. I don't want to lose touch with that sense of destination, or rather of that sense of the next station in this journey; but nor do I want to lose out on the present, on these precious, privileged months of close fellowship, on the opportunities there may be to serve in this city.
It's Autumn, and we are leaves reddening for the coming fall. In the natural way of things, the next step is a drying to dust or a dampening to mould. It takes the eyes of faith to see the possibility of ingrafting to another tree, leading to new growth and a new sharing of life.
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
The popular reaction seems to be wonder at the majesty of science, rather little comment on the two incontrovertible points on the scientific enterprise that this shows:
The state of physics and of its mathematical underpinnings in particular is weak enough that it's necessary to build this quantum rollercoaster
The problem of two incompatible scientific theories, each by definition practically effective in its home territory yet provably incorrect, is a big head-scratcher for scientists
I regard myself very much as a scientist by instinct. My first degree was Maths at Oxford, and I try and keep in touch at least with pop science. I don't claim great expertise in any field of science, but nor do I find myself struggling with basic concepts in any field that has introductory literature.
So it's frustrating, to say the least, to find that when it comes to God, some people seem to want to apply a standard of proof far beyond that applied to science before giving the big ideas of faith credence. I'm not especially thinking about Richard Dawkins' wild venturings in this area - he has so far and so furiously overstated his case that he is not seen as a serious commentator in the area of theology (or atheology) any more than I am in respect of the putative Higgs Boson. But a de-frothed version of his outlook is increasingly the norm in certain areas.
So, just for a moment would you please suspend your disbelief about belief?
Science is at least as uncertain as theology.
Allow me to prove that for you.
First, let's be clear what 'science' is. The definition must include:
- Description - an area of science addresses a topic that must be clearly and objectively identified
- Observation - the topic must be capable of observation, even if only indirectly
- Prediction - the scientific enterprise is to make successful predictions
- Comparison - it must be possible to compare results of experiment and theory and reach conclusion about the relative success of different ideas
- Duplicability - experiments must be capable of independent repetition and the scientific method requires consistency
Description is problematic. As any fule no, there's a world of difference between saying 'banana' and defining one with precision. As science has progressed, there is both increasing scope and refinement, but also increasing co-dependence and circularity of definition.
Observation is problematic. Much measurement is indirect - the LHC is not really expecting to see a Higgs Boson but traces of its predicted decay products; refined measurements are rarely direct and generally bounded in accuracy (for instance Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle demonstrates why at the level of the very tiny it's not possible to know both where something is and where it's travelling). Probability comes in at every level.
Prediction is troublesome in some fields, for instance in some areas of biology it's impossible to examine most theories except in retrospect - you can't simulate a thousand or a million years in the life of marsupial mammals.
Comparison has severe logical difficulties. Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem puts serious limits on logic. There are true things that can't be proved, false things that can't be disproved. That's not conjecture or handwaving, it's proveable mathematical fact.
Duplicability is also limiting for all sorts of reasons, practical (we can't have another Big Bang), financial (how many particle accelerators or Hubble Telescopes will there be?) and so on.
Overall, science is great, and we need to carry on investing. But that's in a context where progress relies on an element of trust, and where most of the money invested will prove to have been wasted - outweighed, we hope, by the benefits of the tiny proportion of successes.
But we will never be able to predict the moment that the next drop will fall from a dripping tap.
So please don't tell me that science gives a complete view of reality. It doesn't. It can't. It won't.
Christian theology doesn't either. My contention is that - ultimately - it will. What we see today through a scanning electron microscope subject to revision, we will come to experience directly for ourselves.
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
My 'good enough' phone died. It didn't cost much - I bought it as 'refurbished' which actually just meant a scruffy box. It had Edge - fast enough Internet access to be usable for most purposes, even uploading the odd photo to my blog. It had Wi-Fi. But it seemed half-finished. Even really, really basic stuff like entering text had horrible quirks. I couldn't use capitals with T9 text entry; editing text would occasionally mangle it. Synchronising my address book was fine but the calendar wasn't. I won't name the manufacturer or model, because I think it's an aberration. But in any case, it's turned up its virtual toes and is going back to the store for a refund.
I had hoped it would fill the gap left by my ancient and now defunct Wi-Fi phone, and do enough of the stuff my old Windows Mobile used to do that I wouldn't be too sad. No chance.
So I confess I rather fancied an iPhone, but not on an ordinand's salary. I nearly bought a PDA - with canny buying through Quidco or Expansys a decent one comes in at around £100. I toyed with various smartphones, but on proviso they had to be network-independent. But I found I was eithergoing to pay the same £100-ish for something that didn't do all the jobs I had in mind or nearer £400 for something that did.
So for about £30 I bought a used version of my old, quirky, cumbersome phone. I re-installed SBSH Facade to improve the interface, I re-installed Olivetree Bible Reader (free software, free versions including ASV and NET Bible, paid-for NRSV). And by the magic of synchronisation, everything else including my address book, tasks and my OneNote Mobile database of notes, recordings and photos reappeared.
I'm not expecting this one to last for years. We had two the same before (ahhhhhh...) and both died of the same thing - the mini-USB port broke meaning they couldn't be charged. No doubt that will happen again. But for now, I'm typing this on my £150 eBay laptop which is plugged in to my £30 eBay Windows Mobile phone, which curiously doubles up as a DAB radio so that I can take BBC7 with me. I pay on average £5 a month for calls and the occasional browse on-the-move. Technology on a budget. And just think what I'm doing for the environment ;)
Monday, 11 August 2008
It's been a great holiday. This picture isn't the best image from our time, but it sums up the sense of it all: light and dark, sun and rain.
There's a rainbow, of course, but far and faint.
Church-wise, we found a warm welcome at the Church of Ireland in the South, and the Presbyterian Church (with dear friends) in the North. The weather's been mixed - no surprise! - but we've already had a beach holiday so we came for peace and beauty, and found both.
Curacies are now upmost in our minds. It's an interesting process, one it's probably better not to think about too much until you're in the thick of it. So we're waiting for the wind that sweeps us up and takes us... where?
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Of course I'm missing Bluetooth, micro SD, a screen that I can read in moderate sun but this phone just works and goes on working. It even takes Opera Mini.
Nokia, I salute you.
Saturday, 26 July 2008
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Ely is a small city with a big cathedral, thanks to the Saxon Princess Etheldreda, who founded a double monastery (for men and women) in the 7th century. It became a place of pilgrimage, leading to the building of a great Norman Abbey with Etheldreda's shrine, and the establishment of the cathedral and its diocese.
The cathedral church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity suffered a setback in the 1300s when one of its towers collapsed, but this led to a great symbol of resurrection with the building of the Octagon and its lantern that draws a quarter of a million visitors a year to the former swampy island.
The Victorians carried out major refurbishments, opening the inside of the building into one glorious sweep, installing the beautiful stained glass windows and building a beamed and painted roof that draws gasps from all but the fussiest (and most historically naive!) visitors.
More recently, refurbishments to mark the millenium included restoration of the Lady Chapel, a new enclosed processional walkway and a range of sculptures around the building. Well over a thousand years of praise and prayer are in the foundations of this church (buildings and people).
So much for the history. The present is the 'nerve centre' of Ely diocese, which includes Cambridge and Huntingdon alongside the many fenland towns and villages. Until a couple of days ago, that was my diocese: my 'sending church' is a Cambridge church, Holy Trinity, so I came to train as an Ely ordinand.
Ely isn't exactly short of ordinands, and I now know I'm not one of the privileged few who will remain but one of the large majority who are 'exported' - so my hunt for a curacy somewhere starts here. Or it will when we're past the grieving stage. Meanwhile, back to the week of mission.
Four of us - Jamie, Nick and Stefan and myself - donned cassocks and badges and met between us lots and lots of people. Our job in a nutshell was to offer prayer to and for all who felt in need, and to help all our visitors to relate the buildings and their history, Jesus whose story is told by those buildings, their fixtures and the daily pattern of services, and their own life and story. Not in a ramming-religion-down-your-throat kind of way, just being available, friendly and taking a few risks. It's genuinely a privilege to meet so many people from so many places near and far.
Looking up in the octagon there's a 14th century statue of the crucified and risen Christ, showing (assisted with Victorian paint and beams from every age in between) one hand raised in blessing and displaying the wounds that mark the brokenness he received from us and took into the very heart of God for us.
His blessing offered freely and his voluntary suffering are always the beginning of the Gospel. For our own issues we receive not always relief, not even an explanation, but always that loving, wounded hand reaching out to take ours.