Saturday, January 30, 2010
To be fazed is to be surprised, taken aback, knocked off one's stride.
A phase refers to a period of time, part of a cycle.
I've noticed that a lot of people are now confusing the two.
And here's some more:
To ensure an outcome is to make certain of it.
To insure an outcome is to guard against it, seek compensation if it happens.
To elicit something is to encourage it to emerge (eg a reply).
Something is illicit if it is illegal.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Why the I-pad is bad futurism
Today we sang our hymns of faith,/cocooned for a while/in a warm blanket/of yesterdays tales…"
The top 10 faults in human thought (h/t Ian)
Why men don't like church (cont)
A new tool for solar flare prediction
Call this a recession? (When I were a lad....)
An open-source hydrogen car
The war against suburbia
The old hag
Thursday, January 28, 2010
John Michael Greer on great form.
This is something I've been thinking about a very great deal recently - and is likely to form a big part of my talk at the conference next month - and I see it as the legacy of cultural Protestantism, ie the emphasis upon private judgement. There are very great positive aspects to this - nobody should come between the believer and God - but there are also very great downsides. It underlies the 'ten thousand things' which is the modern Western church; it is the theology which undergirds world-raping consumerism; it is why the church can teach all it likes about how bad the world has become but will never be able to act as a coherent body and do something about it.
As JMG points out, nothing will change because people don't want it to change. They don't want it to change because that is how their value system has been structured - and that value system is one reproduced every week in our western church, reproduced, for example, whenever there are arguments about worship and people 'getting something' from it. It is why my teaching about Tesco has been the most controversial (and practically repudiated) thing I've ever said in church. It is part of what needs to die - what God will destroy - in order that our hearts of stone might be replaced by flesh.
I keep thinking of Moses in the desert. One aspect of the ten commandments isn't their specific content, but simply the fact that a community accepted them as their boundary and identity. We have far more equivalents of the 10 commandments than we need - I even came up with my own one here - but what is missing is any sense that a community can be bound over by such a structure. Which is one reason why I'm thinking about getting the church to study the Rule of St Benedict for a while...
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
"The fact is that if the clergy of the future are to be team leaders, they must also be allowed to be team managers, and this means being allowed independence to exercise local initiative, authority to commission local leadership and financial control to fund what they propose doing.
And that is where the problems will come, because I cannot see the Church of England’s current hierarchy allowing any such thing. What we will have instead, I fear, is centralized control, outside interference and fiscal starvation."
See also his follow-on post: "The reality is that the erstwhile ‘vicar’ is increasingly exercising an ‘episcopal’ role. But that being the case, the vicar needs episcopal authority. In short, we need to get back to something nearer what is generally acknowledged by scholars (and was recognized by the English Reformers), namely seeing the local presbyter as also the local bishop.
Indeed, if the need is for more ministers and ministry, why shouldn’t there be more bishops? I would guess that a typical rural dean today probably overseas a population as large as that of some medieval bishops. Why not go the whole way and make them into bishops who can ordain local ministers accordingly?"
I haven't done a TBTM for quite some time. I think I'll be getting back into the habit over the coming weeks.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Our post-Church of England future
Actually..... I think my views have changed a little bit. I'll post the new talks though!
b) all my old sidebar has gone. Don't know if that was of any use to anybody but I quite liked having all my links etc there. I might see if there is an easy way to include parts of it in this new format.
What I'm now going to try and do is work out how to stop twitter from publishing my blogposts automatically. Trouble is, I can't remember how I set that up....
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Top Ten reasons we don't read certain books
On the problem of opinions (chimes with Ben Goldacre)
5 reasons why financial services are socially destructive
To help Haiti, end foreign aid
Over her dead body 3/5 ditto
Max Payne 3/5 stylish but empty and it got more annoying as time went on
30 Days of Night 3.5/5 pretty effective, marred slightly by the stupid decision of the lead character at the end
Mirrors 3.5/5 some good elements but yet another really annoying and misanthropic ending. Might write something longer about this trend of hatefulness.
Surveillance 3/5 Well made but morally bankrupt, bordering on the outright evil. I must be getting more grumpy in my old age
How about this for a sentence: "The Hollywood that Simpson left behind was provincial, incestuous and almost hermeneutic in its isolation from the outside world and ordinary human reality." Now I think that Fleming meant 'hermetic' in that sentence, which would seem to fit, but his writing is so sloppy (and badly edited) that I simply cannot be sure he wasn't genuinely thinking of 'hermeneutic' and just got the rest of the sentence mangled.
Some eye-popping details, but not recommened. Read a long review instead.
I'm exploring the GoogleReader system, which has some advantages, but isn't as good as Sage. Ho hum.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
At my Bible Group on Friday afternoon the question came up about the suffering in Haiti: how can God let such things happen? It now looks as if some 200,000 people will have lost their lives in the disaster. But the scale of this disaster doesn't really affect the underlying question. I think that Fyodor Dostoyevsky framed the question well in the nineteenth century, when, in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, he has one character say that there is nothing which can justify the suffering of one innocent child. I think that is right. There is no greater tragedy than that which can happen to one person, to one family. What happened in Haiti is not a greater challenge to belief in a good God than a beloved child getting cancer, for example.
Formally the problem looks like this - we have four statements:
P1: God is omniscient - he knows everything
P2: God is omnipotent - he can do anything
P3: God does not desire suffering - he is good
P4: There is suffering
It is incoherent to assert all of P1 - P4.
Now, as you might imagine, there are lots of ways in which religious people have responded to the problem, most of which take the form of denying one or more of P1-P4. I have some sympathies with all of those, in other words, I think that all of P1-P4 are complex truths which need to be broken down, and that much of the immediate force of the problem is lessened when they are broken down. But I don't think that this answers the real force behind the question, which I think is much more direct and relevant than most philosophical questions. As I see it the problem of evil is much more about how to live in the face of suffering, rather than being an intellectual nut to crack. When you are faced with trauma, all the philosophy in the world means nothing.
Some years ago I took the funeral of a 33 year old man who had died in tragic and unclear circumstances. There was some suggestion that drugs were involved, but there were no clear answers. In talking to the parents, the father talked about how he had built a swimming pool in the garden for his son to play in, but that now his son was dead, he said "was it worth it?" In other words, the real problem of evil is one about the meaning of the suffering that we experience. In my ministry so far, I've discovered that those who can place some sort of interpretation on what they experience are far better able to cope with tragedy than those without some sort of guiding framework; in particular, those who lack any sort of religious faith can be totally overwhelmed by an experience such as this.
I think when any of us are faced with an overwhelming experience of suffering, there is a profound existential choice that is made - and all of the religious and philosophical arguments only come in to play after that choice has been made. The choice is about whether life is meaningful or not, and it is that choice which generates the various resources needed in order to live. In other words, when the problem of evil becomes one that is of vital importance to resolve - because life has just whacked you over the head with something awful - then you are forced into determining your own attitude.
If you resolve that life is meaningful, then you carry on building your life around whatever it is that you value, and you say that those things which you value are sustainable in the face of evidence to the contrary (the suffering, the logical problems etc). And I would say that as soon as you start to talk about those things which you value in this context, you are inescapably resorting to religious language. ‘To believe in God IS to see that life has meaning’ (Wittgenstein)
If, on the other hand, you resolve that life isn't meaningful then - I would argue - something essential for a good life is taken away, and you are left with suicide in various different forms, some of which don't immediately lead to a physical death. And religious language is meaningless.
For me, when I am faced with the logical arguments about the problem of evil (much the strongest arguments against the existence of a loving creator) I am content for there to be an irreducible element of mystery about it, and to say that although I can't answer the problem now to my own intellectual satisfaction, I believe that there is an answer. This is because I see the alternative as unliveable - I could not raise a family, and enjoy that raising, if I didn't experience it as 'worth it', whatever the future might hold for me or for them. In other words, my answer to the problem is a choice about how I live, not a belief that I hold in my mind.
And the way in which I think about this issue is through the language of cross and resurrection. The cross represents the way of this world, and the nature of our suffering. And the resurrection represents our hope that one day it will make sense. For in Christ we have received a promise, a promise of eternal life for all who turn to Him. When we are confronted with pain that we don’t understand, when we feel cheated by life, we still have a choice. We can say that life is meaningless, that it doesn’t make sense, and reject what God has given to us. But if we do that, we never move away from the cross, and we never get to Easter morning. For the alternative is to say, although I don’t understand how this can make sense, I trust that God is in charge, that He loves us, and that nothing and no-one who is truly loved is ever lost. That somehow our brokenness will find a place in God’s design. That is our hope, that is our faith, that is the God in whom we put our trust. May God guide us all through the valley of the shadow of death, and may his goodness and mercy cover us all today and for ever more. Amen.
Friday, January 15, 2010
In our Deanery there is a transfer of funds to support clergy deployment in areas of social deprivation. This might seem innocuous - praiseworthy even - but the more I think about it, the less I think it makes sense as a general rule (I happen to support the present divvying-up in our Deanery but on other grounds).
Consider: the argument is that a poorer area is more in need of support from the church, therefore clergy provision to such an area is subsidised by other parishes.
If this was talking about social and economic matters then I would have no argument. Economic deprivation leads to economic support - yes, like for like, the strong helping the weak and so on.
Yet that is not what is being followed. Instead we have social and economic deprivation being met with the provision of increased spiritual resources. The assumption being (I guess) that areas of social and economic deprivation are also spiritually deprived and in need of more spiritual support.
This is what I don't believe to be true.
First off, just from my own experience, working in the East End was very much more straightforward spiritually than in supposedly wealthier rural Essex. As I see it, people in harsher contexts have less grounds for illusion; being less under illusion they are more open to the truth of the gospel. It is the educated and relatively wealthy middle class who have the greatest barriers to spiritual growth as they are able to preserve an illusion of independence for longer.
Secondly, and more importantly, I think it goes against what Jesus taught. He said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.
It seems to me that the church should be addressing itself to areas of spiritual deprivation when considering the deployment of its spiritual resources. There is just the faintest whiff of this being yet another example where the church has become captured by a secular agenda.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The Church of England is facing some key and very difficult decisions. Its relatively new pension fund, the CofE Funded Pensions Scheme, which was only set up in 1998 following previous investment problems, has developed a significant deficit -- its liabilities to pay pensions in the future (estimated at £813 million) far exceed the assets it has available (£461 million) -- and, like many other organisations in this country, the Church is faced with the challenge of trying to fill this deficit and fulfil its obligations to the clergy, its future pensioners.
In significant part, this deficit has arisen through following conventional thinking: after taking advice, the scheme put all of its assets in shares, then conventionally seen as the best place for long-term investments such as these. The turmoil of recent markets -- in 2000/01 as much as in the most recent couple of years -- has exposed the risks embedded in that conventional thinking. There has also been increasing realisation in recent years of the impact of the increasing life expectancy, which has boosted the assessed liabilities of the scheme.
The Church recently closed its public consultation on changes to clergy pensions to limit the liabilities which the fund and the Church itself faces. The Task Group on Clergy Pensions proposed some limited housekeeping changes which will have a useful impact on the apparent deficit. Increasing the retirement age to 68 and the expected period of service to qualify for a full pension to 43 years, and reducing the inflation protection in the scheme will cause some personal pain to individual clergy but this pain is perhaps outweighed by the overall benefit for the scheme and the financial position of the Church and its parishioners.
There are, however, some much more radical steps which the Task Group considered, in particular moving away from a so-called defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution one, either in whole or in part. Defined benefit (DB) schemes are also often known as final salary schemes and guarantee a portion of (usually the final year's) salary will be paid as the pension; defined contribution (DC) schemes invest the money collected each year and each individual's pension pot is determined by the investment performance of this money over their working life. In effect, in DB schemes the pension is guaranteed and is mathematically fixed depending on the salary and the years of service; in DC schemes nothing is guaranteed apart from the contributions. The investment risk is taken by each individual rather than by the scheme and the employer.
This looks like conventional thinking again: many companies have already switched from DB pension schemes to DC ones. They have felt themselves pushed to do so because of new accounting rules which have made clear the scale of their deficits as pension beneficiaries have been living longer, and because of the nervousness of their investors about the scale of those deficits. But the Church should not be prey to these short-term pressures; we as a church do not have the inherent instability built into our structure seen in the corporate construct. We should have confidence that we are sustainable and can afford the burdens we are currently facing; while they currently look severe they should diminish over time (the current projections assume filling the deficit over a period of a few years, not over the lifetime of the scheme).
I personally am clear that a DC structure for clergy pensions would be wholly inappropriate. The Task Group's consultation contains a key sentence: "A wholesale transfer of risk is inevitably a more sensitive subject in relation to a group of people who, during their working lives, are paid only around £20,000 per annum and are expected to house themselves in retirement after many years of living in tied housing."
I believe that this understates the case. It is not only more sensitive, it is inappropriate to transfer risk to this group of people. While the Task Group is right to state in defence of DC schemes that 'there is no general reason why they should provide lower pensions than DB schemes, but they have gained bad media coverage because many employers have also taken the opportunity to cut contributions', this is not the whole story. A key difference with DC schemes is that they introduce an element of lottery: one cadre of clergy would benefit disproportionately from positive financial market performance over the lifetime of their DC investment, and one cadre would suffer when the market performance over their lifetimes was less favourable. This differential treatment of clergy simply through the luck of when their investing lifetimes fall seems wholly inappropriate to me. It does not reflect the caring and nurturing organisation that the Church is, but rather introduces an unwholesome element of blind chance into the process.
Not least as a contributing parishioner I hope that performance in the scheme improves but I also hope that the Church has the confidence not to be prey to every element of conventional thinking going forwards. The Church is there to nurture the faith among its community; in order to do this it needs to nurture its clergy and care for their long-term well-being. Providing appropriate pension coverage is an important part of this.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
So why is the government looking to build new nuclear power stations? Because it has belatedly realised that there is a looming energy crisis and, if it doesn't build new power stations, a lot of people will be trying to function without electricity in the near future.
One of those nice colourful pictures that I like so much:
This shows the amount of nuclear generating capacity that is expected to go 'off-line' over the next decade or so. Simply to maintain a power supply equivalent to what we have today we need to find some 8GW of generation capacity. Of course, the 'equivalent to what we have today' understates the issue. I've talked about the gas situation here, but it is also worth mentioning that a number of coal-fired power stations are due to close by 2015 due to European legislation. Even if we ignore the problematic nature of depending on fossil fuels over the coming decades, we are facing a shortfall of generating capacity. Which is why the Government indicated in 2006 that they would look to build some new nuclear power stations, as part of the requirement to generate some 25GW of new capacity.
This is the first reason why the government is looking at expanding the number of nuclear power stations.
Image from here, which is highly relevant.
This was originally going to be a much longer post, but it was verging on the indiscreet, so I've pruned it back. The PCC might get the original version at an away day this year!
One chapter of Gladwell's book Outliers discusses airplane crashes, specifically the way in which human communications in the cockpit directly contribute to a surprisingly high number of catastrophes. Specifically, he talks about something called the 'Power Distance Index' developed by Hofstede which is about the way in which less powerful members of a group accept the inequality of that power relationship. The way in which this led to plane crashes is frightening but very human: Gladwell documents cases where the assisting officers were not direct with the captain of the plane even in situations where catastrophe was imminent, eg the plane wasn't where the captain thought it was, or where it was about to run out of fuel. Instead, the subordinate officers relied on mitigated speech, that is, they weren't direct in telling the captain exactly what was going on, relying on hints, suggestions and euphemisms, which were catastrophically inadequate. Gladwell outlines six levels of mitigated speech, going from the most explicit to the most implicit:
1.Command – “Strategy X is going to be implemented”
2.Team Obligation Statement – “We need to try strategy X”
3.Team Suggestion – “Why don’t we try strategy X”
4.Query – “Do you think strategy X would help us in this situation?”
5.Preference – “Perhaps we should take a look at one of these Y alternatives”
6.Hint – “I wonder if we could run into any roadblocks on our current course”
What Gladwell makes clear is that communication can't simply be analysed in terms of what is said or not said; rather it cannot be abstracted from the political context (ie hierarchy) within which communication takes place. The subordinate officers on the airplane did pass on sufficient information to the captain to make it possible for the captain to change course, if he had been actively listening. Tragically the captain - either from personality or tiredness - didn't hear what was being said. In other words, I don't think that the fault with the plane crashes was simply that the subordinate officers weren't direct enough, there was an equal component where the captain was not receptive enough.
The reason why I was struck by this was because I felt it gave a lot of insight into the 'plane crash' that took place in the parish last year, following my decision to ask the Director of Music to retire. Without going into the messy details, I do think that the nature of communication between the various parties involved was a significant factor, not simply in terms of how explicitly various things were said or not said, but also in terms of what people were able to hear or not hear.
The Korean airline that was the principal subject for Gladwell's analysis managed to change their culture in such a way that they were no longer vulnerable to these catastrophes. What I am pondering now is how to foster the right sort of culture within a parish whereby it is possible to genuinely 'speak truth in love'. I think a large part of the answer has to be modelling the right sort of behaviour myself, which gives permission and space for the truth to be spoken. The two risks to avoid are 'too much truth' - which can become bullying - and 'too much love' - which means that the community simply sags into a morass of niceness.
The good news is that there is a lot of explicit Scriptural guidance on this topic, which I'm going to spend some time studying before the parish away day.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I suppose one of the good things about a blog is that it becomes a record of such things - which means that I have become much more circumspect, and that is healthy.
I still think we have entered into a great dislocation though ;-)
PS feel free to add in any that you remember. 9/11 I covered here.
Friday, January 08, 2010
For more detail see the wikipedia page, although that doesn't address the material on airplane crashes, on which I'm going to do a separate post.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Anyone wanting a rapid memory-refresh (that manages not to mention my favourite character Mr Echo):
Of course, whilst inside it had been snowing rather heavily....
So on the way back I was very cautious - actually the worst thing was the fogging inside the helmet - and the roads were fine, albeit rather wet.
However, when I got to the very last fifty yards I realise that the road we live on is covered in fresh snow overlaid on mush - so I go cautiously, slow down using gears, come right up to my own gate and... splat, over I go, trapping and twisting my right ankle beneath the bike.
Ouch. Cue anguished cries as I lie on the floor for a minute or two...
Anyhow, manage to wrestle bike up off me and push it into drive; beloved comes out and puts it in garage and I spend the rest of the day being well looked after (and had time to read the third of the complete Inspector Morse books that I've been given for Christmas).
This morning - long hot soak in bath, with massaging of ankle, things are very flexible albeit still painful.
But the bike? Haven't dared look yet. I think that the right foot rest is bent inwards a bit; what I'm most worried about is whether the handlebars need to be reset.
Still, should be alright for the weekend. My dominant feeling - after kicking myself (not literally, obviously) all through yesterday is how grateful I am that it wasn't so much worse. Thanks be to God.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Tim Chesterton who links to this.
For what it's worth, my Bishop has proven himself something of a star on such matters, but I have it on very good authority that not all Bishops are the same. All the same, I'm pondering joining Unite.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
NB I have no plans to apply for this or any other job for a great many years yet, if ever. I still think I'm in the place that God wants me to be :)
(Should also add: I'm a fan of the movies - watched Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace again over the Christmas break. Still don't fully understand the plot of the latter, but Daniel Craig makes an excellent Bond.)
A very interesting polemic against all the scare stories saying (eg) 'video games make children violent'. Jones' argument, if I manage to summarise it fairly, is essentially that children require "violent" fantasy in order to process the very real extremes of emotion that modern life puts them through - and that removing fantasy violence makes them more emotionally crippled. I found it a very plausible analysis. Recommended.
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Halloween (2007) 4/5 Much better than I had been led to expect; the first 1/3rd was excellent.
Body of Lies 4.5/5 Tremendous and lingers in the mind.
War, Inc 2.5/5 Everything that Body of Lies wasn't. Cusack really should be ashamed of himself for helping to produce such dreck.
Quarantine 3/5 the occasional good moment glinting like brass in a sea of muck.
Yesman 3/5 Jim Carrey doing his thing.
Bedtime tales 3/5 Adam Sandler doing his thing.
The Tale of Desperaux 4/5 one of the more assertively Christian films I've seen in some time, and the kids loved it.
Friday, January 01, 2010
Other things from 2009:
I started psychotherapy, and I think I'll be seeing some of the first fruits of that process next year.
I had a much-needed sabbatical which was healthy in so many ways.
I came very close to finishing my book; more excitingly, the ripples from that process have already started to reach out.
I became much more sceptical about global warming specifically, green politics generally, and much more conscious of the distinctive contribution that theology can give to our present crisis.
I did no sailing, but I spent a lot of time on the boat and learnt much about boat management. Maxim from the year: I must recharge my batteries.
I found someone to play squash with. This was the year that I discovered that, for the first time ever, I weigh more than my brother. I expect to weigh less at the end of 2010!
Although I purchased the bike in 2008, this was the year I learnt how to ride a motorbike (haven't passed the test yet though - the present set up is bonkers and I'm waiting to see if the Parliamentary select committee recommend some changes).
I watched too much TV and junk movies - to the extent that I have had enough of the same and am switching back into my historical mode of being a book junkie.
I caught up with the family, and managed to readjust my priorities, for the first time in about six years.
Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008.