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January 31, 2004

Sermon for Sunday

Once again I am not on the preaching rota for this Sunday (we have enough preachers to only have to do about two sermons a month - more for the ordained members!) so I have only my article for the Parish Newsletter to prepare. This one will be on the Acts, a challenge, but it is an enjoyable one.

Studying the Acts though, reminds me of the whole issue of "saints" and I thought it appropriate to share this sermon from 2002 with you. I hope that it will provide you with some food for thought as we run into the coming week.

Take care and the peace of the Lord be with you all.

3RD November 2002

+In the name of God,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost,

"They lost their tempers, got hungry, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient by their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering their way toward heaven. And they won sanctity partly by willing to be saints, not only because they encountered no temptation to be less."

So wrote Phyllis McGinley in the introduction to a treatise on the most remarkable saints and divines in the Christian calendar. In seeking to define sainthood we have to be very careful not to be too pedantic in our choice of words or characteristics. Even the most holy of the Christian Saints could be incredibly unsaintly if you really look closely at his or her life under the sort of microscope that would today be brought to bear. Indeed, can we, in this day and age, exclude all the many very saintly people of other Faiths?

If we apply just one measure of sainthood, suffering for ones Faith, we find we must include the Dalai Lama, some Muslim clerics who suffered under the late Shah and a range of Buddhist and Hindu adherents who have been martyred by regimes such as the Pol Pot government of Cambodia. After all, the term, saint, means only some one set apart for God. Here in our own Abbey we commemorate St John the Baptist with a chapel shared with St Catherine and few of us recall that St John died before Christ and, what is more, would have considered himself first and last a Jew.

Another traditional measure of sainthood is martyrdom, dying in the defence of others, for something one believes in is something commended in the Gospel "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for another". That too could be interpreted in a manner which would open the ranks to of sainthood to all religions and to those of no particular faith at all. I was reminded of this just this week when we marked the death of a colleague in our traditional way at the Fire Service College and a passage from St John's gospel was read which included just those words. I cannot vouch for my dead colleagues faith or indeed his religion - I do know he died making sure that no one else was at risk from the fire in that building. Does this qualify him as a saint? Such a measure would open the question of the million or so members of the Iraqi and Iranian Christians forced into serving in suicide battalions – and perhaps it should!

Mankind, it is said, is incurably religious, captive to an inescapable predicament that is integral to the soul. It follows therefore, that any individual who demonstrates by word, action or simply their manner of dealing with the world around them, a greater spiritual depth or presence, strikes us as a person set apart by God. St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews that such individuals had existed throughout Jewish history and populate the pages of the Old Testament. Yet he goes on to say that it is in Christ alone that they and we can receive the full grace promised to us. Describing the saints of old as "that great cloud of witnesses" he argues that we must needs strive to emulate them and run the race with our eyes fixed on Jesus until we can join the saints in paradise. But, this is challenged by the “official” view – to be a Saint at least three miracles must be attributed to you – preferably after death!

Paul's vision of the saints is an inclusive one. To Paul every person who turns to Christ in love, renouncing sin and everything about the world that hinders our spiritual growth, is a saint. Can it be as simple as this? I think it can. All it requires is commitment – to commit oneself to God, for God. To serve Him and to accept whatever the world may throw at us.

But, is this our usual image of a saint?

The examples of the saints we have before us include not a few who must have been pretty nearly impossible to live with. Paul, by all accounts, could be pretty abrasive and so could James the Great and several others. Living with St John the Divine must be many peoples nightmare and even some of the later saints would have been good candidates for pain in the neck of the year awards. For the medieval Church and even for the Reformation Churches, it seemed almost de rigueur for a saint to have been impossibly pious and totally otherworldly. A severe expression, a hair shirt, incredible hardship and a longsuffering attitude of self-denial were the essentials of piety and sainthood. I for one would not be comfortable having either my faith or my possible sainthood measured against some of them.

But is this a true reflection of a saint?

Perhaps not, for, as a closer look at Paul and others reassures us, they were human first and foremost. What set them apart was their spiritual growth so that they, in a darkening world, shone out like beacons for others to see and emulate. We too are human and therefore subject to human limitation. We are incurably religious, even the atheist needs great faith to believe in nothing!

We, as Christians, must strive to live as Christ has directed through the Gospels and through the example of those whom we have labelled Saint. We must strive to grow in faith and spirit as they grew in faith and spirit and to show this growth to the world outside. I am sure that you have also encountered people whose faith has made an impact on your life or even just upon your awareness. There are those in this congregation who have just such a faith and those who know and visit them always remark on how they went to give comfort and left feeling comforted. That is the function of the saint and we are all saints in the making.

I was once told that there were no more saints in the world, I refute that statement and I hold before you tonight Mother Theresa, Archbishop Luwum of Uganda, and all those Christians East of Suez still persecuted for their faith and yourselves. We are all members of the body of Christ, we share in one bread at the altar and we share one faith in Him. We are charged to do his works and to bring his message to the world. Each of us has some gift of the spirit to be used in that task and each of us has the mark of sainthood upon us. To some it is given to be marked and remembered by the whole church, to some to be known only by their own congregation, and some are known only to God. But all are saints.

A definition of a saint, which I prefer, is one who hears God's call and accepts the challenge. All those we mark as Saints were human, like us they lost their tempers, got hungry, were disillusioned and depressed, but through faith they rose above such difficulties and we should remember this and accept our own call to follow them to Christ. I was reminded recently that not all the great saints had a particularly auspicious start. Patrick of Ireland in particular seems to have been a regular tearaway and Augustine of Hippo was also reputed to be a man of the world. Nor were they alone, yet God made these men and women his instruments in this life and set them apart for our example.

Grant to me the steadfastness of faith of Blessed Patrick,
The wisdom of Benedict,
The justice of Augustine,
The compassion of Bridget and
The courage of the Apostles and martyrs. Amen

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:27 PM

A timely warning?

The news today of a terrible tragedy in Strathclyde has stunned us all. It is a long, long time since we lost eleven people in a residential fire of this sort, yet it is also true to say that it was almost inevitable.

For far too long there has been a reliance on "applying a code" to solve all the fire safety problems, but then, once all the code requirments are in place, everybody forgets about them and we all go happily on our way thinking everything is fine. Then something like this happens and we discover that all the things the code required - and which were there on the day the certificate or whatever was granted - are there no longer or have been compromised because changes have occurred which bypassed them or introduced something not in the original scheme. And it will get worse as more and more "non-fire" staff are employed to do these inspections.

The problem with codes is that you have to understand the origins of them and the outcome the code is trying to achieve to apply it correctly. Most of the codes used in the UK rely heavily on "passive" fire protection - in other words -barriers to contain and slow the spread of fire through a structure. These will only work if everything is installed exactly as it should be, and usually four or five years after installation there are all sorts of breaches which will not be spotted until too late.

There is always an argument about sprinklers - the myth in the UK is that they do more damage than the fire - yet they are "active" protection in the sense that they will hold the fire in check by wetting the area around the seat of fire. And, in contrast to the cretin of a civil servant who spent years as the Head of Fire Policy Unit in Whitehall and who always claimed there was no scientific evidence to show that sprinklers saved lives, there are very few deaths in buildings with sprinklers. Most of those that do happen occur in structures where the sprinklers have been disabled or where the victim was at the seat of fire initiation - in other words, probably started it and died in the attempt.

Slowly the UK is waking up to the fact that sprinklers do save lives and more and more of the residential type premises are being fitted with them. Like anything else this requires maintenance as well - and management of the premises must be aware that any re-arrangment of the walls or of the furniture can affect performance. Sprinklers are not the panacea for all ills, but they do a lot better in most cases than simply letting it all burn unchecked!

Tragically, I doubt very much that the lessons which could flow from this tragedy will be taken onboard by those now "modernising" the service. They insist that fire fighters and fire officers have no need of "qualification" only "competence" counts. They may have a point - up to a point. Qualification is often the only measure we have of a persons ability to assimilate information, understand it, and present it in an intelligible format. Far too many of those driving the "no qualification" wagon are not themselves able to justify their blanket statements in an intelligible manner. Some spout acronyms until you give up, others quote endless and meaningless lists and statistics until everyone else gives up. I suspect that this hides the fact that they are themselves unqualified and incompetent for the task they are managing. Sadly it will take an even bigger tragedy to unmask this than the eleven elderly folk who have died today.

This is where those who have both the knowledge (qualification) and the skill (competence) would be able to identify that sprinklers will help in a fast developing fire by slowing it down, but may not respond to a slow smouldering fire. The reason is that the sprinkler head is a heat detector and will only respond when it exceeds a certain temperature. But, the danger is now that there will be a leap into demanding sprinklers at the expense of other measures when what is required first and foremost is a carefully considered, profesional and balanced approach to find a solution which will offer the best protection in each individual case. There is no such thing as a single solution for all such premises and it is folly to think that there is!

From the initial reports it seems highly likely that sprinklers would not have saved these lives, but it also seems probably that the passive fire protection measures had somehow been compromised to permit unchecked smoke travel. Again this would seem to highlight a need for a careful and balanced approach to fire safety - which requires properly qualified and competent inspectors who fully understand the nature of fire and the measures they are trying to apply.

Pray for those who have died, for those who mourn their loss and for the fire fighters who will not cease to wonder if anything they could have done would have reversed this tragedy. Pray too that those in authority learn to understand the meaning of the term humility and begin to use common sense or at the least, appoint those who do know what they are doing in this field.

For the full report of the fire read on through the link below.

Eleven People Die in Care Home Fire

Eleven people died and seven others were injured after a fire swept through a care home for the elderly.

The fire started on the lower floor of the Rosepark Nursing Home in Uddingston, near Glasgow, shortly before 4.40am.

Police said the fire had not caused major damage but the residents had been overcome by smoke rising to bedrooms on the upper floor.

The seven injured were taken to three different hospitals and one remained in a critical condition.

The home's two dozen other residents were unhurt and had been moved to another home nearby and no one was unaccounted for.

At the scene, Chief Superintendent Tom Buchan said there was "cause for concern" for at least one person in hospital.

The fire is believed to have started in a storage cupboard, investigators said, and residents may have been overcome by smoke as they slept.

Strathclyde Firemaster Jeff Ord said: "All we can say at this moment is that a storage cupboard is being treated as the most likely source on the upper floor."

He told interviewers the fire had been "very small", but generated large volumes of smoke. "The fire damage itself has spread only three or four metres either side of the cupboard, so it is not extensive by any means," said Mr Ord. He agreed the victims may have died in their sleep, overcome by the smoke.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:54 PM | Comments (3)

More musical musings ....

In this day and age when more and more churches struggle with the argument of organ versus guitars, many have difficulty finding an organist. Equally many fine organs are slowly falling apart because there is not the money to restore them. The photo is of Tewkesbury Abbey's "spare" organ. This is the Grove Organ, built for the Great Exhibition in 1880 and subsequently bought by a wealthy benefactor who gave it to the Abbey.

Those who have read Pratchett's Men at Arms and are familiar with the description of the Unseen University's organ in the Great Hall, could probably recognise the inspiration if they heard this instrument played at full voice. It lacks the Vox Dei and Vox Diablo stops as also the Assorted Farmyard Noises stop, but its got just about everything else! The largest pipes are just visible in the photo right at the back and on the right. The Verger's refer to these as the Earthquake and Thunder pipes - 32 foot Diapason for the cogniscenti!

Click on image for larger picture

It is quite a beast and our organist loves to play it, but lately it has been unwell. The problem is that it was very innovative when built originally - it uses a combination of mechanical and pneumatic linkages to operate the valves for the pipes (some 4,000 plus of them) and it is very difficult to maintain. It had a partial rebuild in 1981 (pipe organs need to be rebuilt about every 100 years or so if properly maintained!) but this was done on what they call "conservation" lines. In other words nothing that did not need to be replaced at the time was replaced. Some bits weren't even touched because to reach them would have required a major dismantling and then reconstruction.

The conservationists insisted then (and are insisting now!) that it must remain exactly "as built" and refuse to acknowledge that there needs to be some rather radical surgery to replace pneumatic piping that is crumbling and even some of the valves need to be rebuilt. It is still playable - but only just! This is, of course, where conservation often falls down badly. If something is not usable in the state it has reached, people stop using it. This in turn leads to further decay and by the time someone actually makes a decision to save it - its too late.

With the Grove the problem is compounded by the fact that a conservation rebuild could cost in the region of £1 million, but this is after all, only a parish church and we simply do not have that kind of cash! Not for a spare organ anyway.

That said, there is no intention to simply let this go. Efforts are being made to find a way to restore the organ and put it back into concert use so that Carleton and Ben, our organists can once more startle and amaze audiences and congregations alike with the magnificence and brilliance of this wonderful organs range and sound.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:52 PM | Comments (2)

January 30, 2004

Rambling round the houses ....

Into each life a little rain must fall said some git labelled wise by someone or other. Or so I'm told. Bah, humbug!

One of the pleasures of rambling around the blogs is to see the variety of things that interest people, that get them steamed up or which they really get passionate about. Politics seems to occupy a lot of people in the US at the moment. Personally I subscribe to the view that it makes no difference which part wins in any election, there isn't enough to choose between them to make any difference at all in the longer term anyway. Some will go for more tax to spend on their ideological sacred cows, others are more pragmatic and will go for more tax to fund their visions of the perfect society. Either way the money comes out of my pocket and into theirs and their cronies. So what the heck? They're all crooks and will sell their own children down the river if it will get another vote.

So, instead of linking to one of Cynical Cyn's posts on the Presidential Election campaign - I have chosen to enjoy her Blonde Joke. I hope you do too! Oh, and Cyn, you folks have to re-elect George W otherwise Teflon Tony will have to try and cuddle up to a new best buddy pal.

On the subject of leaders, cabbages and Kings (or possibly Queens in this all inclusive age), Da Goddess has another of the African Folk tales posted. This time it is the story of the contest among the birds to see who would be King. Read it and see for yourself who it might be! As a bonus, if you follow her link to the music of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo you certainly won't be dissapointed.

While on the subject of King's I see from Dodgeblogium that the "King of the Blogs" competition has been suspended this week. Sounds just like the argument among the birds in Da Goddess' story!

Finally, the Rev Mike has an excellent post on the issue of "inclusive" language and the Gospel. Under the title of "How to kill a nacent movement in its crib" he puts forward a well reasoned and very carefully considered argument. This is definitely worth a read.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:56 PM | Comments (3)

Once a knight?

Bill Gates as a Knight. At the recommendation of Gordon Brown Chief Robber Baron and Chancellor of the Exchequer with ambitions for the house next door no less! And a KBE to boot. That's the Honorific abbreviation he can put after his names and it represents "Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire". My thanks for this snippet to Gday Mate and to The Register for more details, but it certainly shows just how far this shower of ignorant and arrogant politicos have gone to debase the entire honours system.

At least Mr Gates cannot style himself "Sir". Let's be thankful for small mercies!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:58 AM | Comments (4)

Proposed for a Darwin ...

I haven't posted anything from the Darwin Awards for a while so I thought I'd check their latest offerings. The story I found is a classic - if it appeared as a Keystone Cops chase or even as a Monty Python skit, people would no doubt laugh and think it couldn't happen in real life. Or could it?

Read on in the extended post of the Post Office Raid that wasn't .....

The Post Office Raid (Not)

2004 Reader Submission
Pending Acceptance
This event was related to me by a friend who had been working for the Post Office (as was then) some years ago toward the end of the eighties. He related this as a debriefing session – a counsellor was interviewing three security guards who had been the victims of an attempted robbery, and this was their story.
It is important to note that security vans visiting post offices here in the UK do so primarily to drop off money, not (as is the case with many other stores and services) to collect it. Post Offices used to be the primary collecting point for pensioners to collect their state pensions and for those on welfare payments to collect their cash. As such, more money tends to flow out of them than flows in.

Said security guards were making their rounds in their armoured van fairly uneventfully, one in the back of the van and the other two making the deliveries at every stop. As they emerged from their last call of the day – a small, local post office in a village high street next to a bakery – three men in balaclavas armed with sawn-off shotguns leapt out of a nearby alleyway. Clearly, these guys had done their homework plotting the course of the van and ambushing it on its last port of call.

“Hand over the money!” they demanded, so with a shrug the two security guards handed over the cash bags they were carrying. Did I say these guys had done their homework? Clearly not, as having made their last delivery the bags were in fact empty. Our three desperados were not fooled for long, and realising that the cash bags were empty they made another demand:

“Hand over the cash boxes!”

Now, these cash boxes are designed with robbery in mind, and when relinquished by their owners their defences were triggered – one let off a cloud of orange dye, the other shot steel rods out of its corners to prevent it being secreted anywhere easily – so surprising the would-be armed raider that he dropped it, seriously lacerating his leg.

At this point, two elderly ladies (presumably shopping having just collected their pensions from the post office) emerged from the bakery and showing the defiant spirit that kept the Nazis from our hallowed shores many years ago, began to pelt the shotgun-armed raiders with their weapon of choice and convenience: bread rolls.

Now, while shooting someone (and being shot at) in a desperate gun-battle may add to a criminal’s street-cred, and while carrying through threat of armed force on a victim is par for the course, even our crooked trio, steeped as they were in the depths of underworld culture, found themselves unwilling to blow away two old-age pensioners just for throwing bread at them, and instead decided to seek their ill-gotten gains in the safety of the armoured van. They climbed into the cab and slammed the door shut, satisfied that they had now found the way to their prize.

Wrongly, as it turns out, for even if there had been any cash remaining in the post office van (there wasn’t), it was in the back, and they were in the front, and in the interests of security there was no way betwixt the two inside the van. Reaching this conclusion, our ruthless three sought to exit the van – only to find that, due to foresighted security measures, the doors would not open from the inside without a key – which was still in the hands of the security guards outside.

Relieved at last to be able to demonstrate their macho destructive power, the three pointed their shotguns at the windscreen, determined to blow their way out.

Did I mention this was an armoured van?

Oh yes, it did have bullet-proof glass.

All three suffered serious lacerations from the rebounding pellets, but they did inflict sufficient damage to break the glass to freedom, sliding bloodily over the bonnet of the van and still being pelted by bread rolls, they beat a limping retreat.

The counselling session was intended to help the victims of the raid avoid post-traumatic stress, but the counsellor realized that further sessions would be unnecessary after her asked each of the guards:

“Didn’t you try to apprehend the attackers?”

“No,” they each replied. “We couldn’t stop laughing.”

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:41 AM

January 29, 2004

Snowed under ....

How to disrupt the UK. Let it snow. A mere four inches of snow and the country is almost paralysed. OK, the problem is that we don't get it often enough, and, when we do we don't have the equipment to deal with it.

The Monk's car is the one cleared of snow - ready to get on the road South West.

Where, on the continent, they have tyres for snow and change from summer to winter tyres in the Autumn, here we run on the same tyres all year round. There, they plough and grit around the clock, here we wait until it snows, then grit without ploughing! Or better yet, we grit, let it snow, turn to slush, freeze - and then grit.

Either way, a three and a half hour journey turned into six and a half.

Oh, and today its trying to rain.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:07 PM | Comments (1)

Is the Church sick?

A letter to the tabloid paper I regularly buy (its not worth stealing it!) from a Church of England clergyman suggests that the C of E is sick because it is failing to communicate effectively. I have to agree with him - and admire his initiative in attempting to gather information on what it is that people want and don't want.

The surprise is that they don't want gimmicks, trendy services or even "all things to all men" type theology. What they want seems to be down to earth guidance they can understand, some decent leadership, some teaching on the reasons why Christianity (and by proxy, the Church) is relevant in their lives. The survey reveals that people are not actually rejecting Christianity, in fact they are desperately searching for something they can believe in, but they don't know enough about either Christianity or the Church itself to be able to make an informed judgement.

The Reverend Willans is the Vicar of Leigh and would really appreciate hearing from anyone willing to complete his survey. Please send him an e-mail at christian.survey@virgin.net and let him know what it is that you find difficult about the Church.

He receives hundreds of letters from people each week and hopefully he will eventually be in a position to advise the various Synods of his findings. It is important that we all remember that the "Church" is neither the buildings nor the heirarchy - it is the people who claim to be members, whether they are merely in the pwes week on week or "up the front" attempting to lead it and make sense of it all. You are the Church, tell us where we are failing - email the Vicar!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:52 PM

The Places I have been ...

Thanks to Ozguru for the link to this new site which has given me the opportunity to see the world as I have visited it. I notice too that I am not alone in visiting this, Cynical Cyn has been there too! It used to be a joke in my family that my father joined the Royal Navy and saw the Burmese jungle, Ceylon and the North African coast, the Atlantic and large expanses of the Indian Ocean and the West Australian coast occassionally. I joined the fire and emergency services and have been globe trotting. I have put into this all the places I have spent at least 24 hours.

create your own visited country map
or write about it on the open travel guide

It is a bit of a cheat as I would have to admit that my visit to the US was to NY and Florida, to Iran was to Teheran, to Indonesia to Jakarta and the NZ was to the North Island (Wellington). I have not managed to go further West than Adelaide in Australia or North of Newcastle, nor South of Mildura and the Red Centre is a total mystery. But, it looks impressive!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:45 PM | TrackBack

January 28, 2004

University fees

The great debate rages still, but, these two timing, double dealing masquerade which pretends to be a government have won this round. They found enough spineless lobby fodder among their backbenchers who simply cannot think beyond “class war” and “labour unity” to ram their latest tax on ability through against all opposition. The only comfort we can draw is that it was a majority of only five turncoats who swayed the vote.

It is a bit rich that a large proportion of those who voted this through come from Scotland where it will not apply. Such is the constitutional mess that Mr Blair has created with his emasculation of the Upper House. At least the Peers used to exercise their independence and they also used to look beyond simple ideology. Not so the poodles who now inhabit it, most of them “no brainers” stuffed in by Mr Blair as trusted “yes” men who will toe the line. Fortunately, most of them rarely turn up – even when needed to vote! As for the preponderance of Scottish MP’s in the Cabinet and those, like Mr Blair and Mr Brown, who are Scottish even if they represent English constituencies, it beggars belief that they have the audacity to pass laws that affect the English, but not their own constituents, in adverse ways.

There isn’t one of them that has not benefited from the existing system of University funding – Blair, Brown and the rest have all graduated, courtesy of the taxpayer, from the Blue Brick universities – though how, when they spent a large part of their time there on “sit ins” and other “protests” such as digging up cricket pitches or lying in the road in front of military vehicles, beggars belief. Our Tone isn’t exactly the brightest of soul’s in the brain department – his wife is far and away the brighter of that coupling and she knows it.

So why all the fuss? After all, there aren’t many countries which make university places so freely available, why not let the user pay? Well, for starters, having a degree does not, in the "New" Britain, guarantee a well paid job. Far from it, unless the degree is in a field in which there is a shoratge of skills, you are increasingly less likely to get a job in the filed in which you have qualified. Yet, these degrees are seen as "bread and butter" by the university authorities and the government, so, on the one hand there will be a drive to maximise the numbers of students on these courses and on the other satisfaction that this stitch up is working.

Once again it is about pushing people into university for all the wrong reasons. They want more people to go to university – regardless of the individuals’ suitability or the appropriateness of the qualification. But, the tax system is already overloaded, so we need a new way to squeeze the middle-income earners and fund our electorate – the “workers”. What we are up to here is that those judged to be from “deprived” backgrounds will get all the help going, those from wealthy backgrounds will hardly notice – most go to really top line (and fee paying universities anyway!) so it will be the middle income earners who will end up paying through the neck yet again to get their children the education that Blair and his cronies have manipulated to favour their own offspring. You don’t find them going to the sink comprehensive nearest their homes – no, at the taxpayers expense they are bussed or driven to the best available school (often non fee paying) some distance away, depriving children from that area the places their parents pay for through property tax. As for the so-called “cap” of £3K, it is totally meaningless as already some Universities are getting set to either charge it across the board, or bust the limit by simply going round it.

There is a name for this behaviour, its called Dynastic Succession. If you deprive your rival peer groups of access to the best education, their children are not in a position to challenge yours for the top jobs. This is why the first action of conquerors in the ancient world was to both emasculate and enslave all boys under military age or to put them to the sword. If your populace can’t breed they’re not a threat! This is a bit less violent and more “civilised” but it has the same effect.

Long live Emperor Tone and the Cronies.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:24 PM

Speaking out

In recent years it seems that the Christian Church in Africa has been most effective in speaking out against injustice and corruption in high places. It is always a dangerous thing to do, and it has often cost the life of the person bold enough to give voice to that dissent and speak out for his or her principles.

The late Archbishop Luwum, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin Dada and his thugs, was one such man – and he paid the price, his murder at Amin’s orders resulting in his body being dismembered and left for the animals to consume. In South America another brave man, Archbishop Oscar Romero paid a similar price, murdered as he celebrated the Mass in his own cathedral. Now, it is Archbishop Pius Ncube, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo who faces the tyrant, as yet without being martyred for it.

It takes a very brave man to confront a tyrant like Mugabe, and the Archbishop is not on the President’s list of favourites, yet he is remarkably unafraid although fully aware of the threat.

This week we have celebrated a day in honour of Archbishop Luwum, let us hope that we do not have to record the death of Archbishop Ncube. This is entirely possible, given that Mugabe is now 80 and getting frailer. He is surrounded by power hungry men as evil as he is, and the Archbishop is quite candid about what will happen when the Great Leader dies. He is convinced (and he’s probably in the best position to judge!) that, to quote; “All his ministers will be rushing to take the position of President and they will be poisoning each other. It’s very hard to hope. But miracles happen.”

Let us all pray for a miracle – it’s about all that can save the people of Zimbabwe from this vicious bunch of murderers now! Pray also for the Archbishop, he may be in grave danger even as I write!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:08 PM

New Style Justice

From a friend in the "New" South Africa comes this wonderful little example of the way our concept of the seriousness of an offence has been turned upside down. Bear in mind that in Britain you are more likely to be prosecuted for attempting to apprehend a burglar in your own home, than the burglar is for attempting to rob you. Or, if you are a motorist, for exceeding the speed limit by even a small margin.

It sort of puts things into perspective when you see it boiled down to this.


Two recent court cases have earned the attention of newspaper readers in
South Africa. One person was fined R1 000 for not having a TV licence.
Another was released on bail for R500 after being arrested for murder.
The moral of this South African story: if you do not have a TV licence and
the inspector comes round, kill him.
You'll save R500.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:04 PM

January 26, 2004

Australia Day

My calendar reminds me that today is Australia Day in (of course) Australia. I gather that all my friends and rellies in Oz have been having a day off. Good on yer, mates!

I should, of course, have remembered this, but I will admit that it got forgotten in the midst of all the other events of today. I hope that everyone had a good day, and that Australians will still be celebrating their nationhood in another 200 or so years time.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:07 PM

Interruption of normal service ...

Over the next few days I will be away from base and therefore unable to keep up on postings. Please do keep visiting, I should be back online by Thursday at the latest, possibly earlier.

I have also to start packing things up around this house as I must sell it in the next few months, sort myself out and find a new place to live. The last year has not been an easy one for a variety of personal reasons either at work or at home and it is time to start moving on. I must sell up in about March, which means I have a month to de-clutter and fix all the little things that can affect the price I get. Hopefully I will still have time to keep up a daily post, but if I miss, you will know what has caused it.

Thanks to all of you who have supported and encouraged this blogger - your friendship means a lot!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:29 AM | Comments (1)

Burns' Night

I could hardly not acknowledge the celebrations of Burns' Night that have been taking place this weekend. I cannot, however, quote the poetry of Burns' as Ozguru can so I shall merely suggest that you pay his site a visit to see the wee beastie!

It has often struck me, somewhat irreverently, that we really do not seem to have lost our tribal instincts. I have met people who have lived for more than eight or nine generations in countries far removed from these shores who still regard themselves as "English", "Irish", "Scottish" or even "German", "Polish" and now "African" or something else. While keeping contact with our roots is important, I sometimes wonder if this isn't what holds us back more than any other single thing. Especially since most of us are very rarely "pure" anything anymore. Hundreds of years of migration and movement have ensured the gene pool has been well and truly stirred!

Don't get me wrong, I am very proud of my own roots, but there is sometimes an element of "victim culture" to this clinging to roots and it is not healthy.

I have said before on this site that I am proud to be able to say that I am a very mixed breed. I have Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh blood to be proud of. But, I can also identify German, Danish, Norman-French and possibly Spanish blood as well. I can celebrate all year round if necessary, but I worry that many who do cling to one particular part of their roots , do so out of a misplaced belief that life would have been better if history had not been as it is.

This tends to mask the fact that many of the mass migrations in history have been triggered not by any one nations war on another, but by internal factors which have triggered catastrophy. The Irish Potato blight was not an "English" weapon, but a result of over planting and poor land management, the Highland clearances were triggered by a desire by the Scottish landowning classes to adopt modern farming techniques and compete with their English neighbours.

Even in South Africa, the mass migration of the Boer "Trekkers" North was primarily triggered by their desire to find a place where they could continue to practice their rather looser form of agriculture as "Trek Boers" - literally "Wandering Farmers" which the English, with, no doubt, good intentions, had sought to restrict. The introduction of a legal system which the Boers saw as restricting their right to visit reprisals on the raiding African tribes was another factor - and probably the insensitivity of the English in dealing with them was another. But, in the end, they have proved to be the architects of their own misfortunes.

This wanders a bit away from my original point, which was not to wax phiosophical, but to raise a glass to a poet who has, perhaps more than most, exemplified the Scottish character. Rough, resilient, passionate and oft-times generous to a fault.

A toast to Rabbie.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:59 AM

No Sunday Post

Sorry folks, but that old saw about the best laid plans and so on, applies to yesterday. It all went belly up very rapidly as far as time management went. And the rest of this week doesn't look too good either, although the conflicting weather predictions could make for a few interesting surprises as I head to the North East tomorrow.

At least the day ended on a very reflective note. I and my fellow members of our ministry team were present with a small group of close friends of Father David to receive his coffin into the Abbey in preparation for his funeral this morning. It was a very monastic moment as we processed to the door at the North West end of the church lead by the processional cross and two acolytes, a server and the four Readers, the Assistant Priest and the Vicar, to meet the undertakers and the family.

This procession then lead the family and the coffin up the nave to the Presbytery while the funeral verses and psalms were read and placed the coffin on the prepared stands in front of the high altar. With everyone in black cassock and white cotta (a sort of short surplice used usually for assisting at the Mass or any service where the long flowing sleeves of a surplice would get in the way.) several of those present said they felt they had slipped back in time.

In the Presbytery (that part of the Abbey situated between the Choir Stalls and the Sanctuary and inside the original monastic church) we were lead in the prayers of preparation by the Vicar while my colleagues and I covered the coffin with the funeral pall and laid on it a Bible, a Crucifix and the stole of a priest, the symbols of his priestly ministry among us.

A very moving little service and ione the family found as helpful as we who took part, primarily I suspect because it gave us time to take our leave in a simple way, honouring him in death as we did in life. At the funerakl this morning we will not be able to be as private as we tend to those who come to say their farewells more publically.

May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:48 AM

January 24, 2004

Wot? No sermon?

Afraid not. This week I am not down to preach, so I thought I'd be totally unoriginal and post one of my Bible Study articles instead.

This one was written following yet another article in a daily paper about some more "revelations" from the Dead Sea scrolls which was supposed to challenge our understanding of the Bible. As usual it was another rather overhyped and under substantiated piece of "news" that was rather a damp squib - provided, of course, that it was seen in the context of real knowledge of the scriptures and the books which surround them.

I am no Bible scholar, merely someone who takes the time to read as much as I can about the origins, the setting, the period and the history of these writings. It is a fascinating study, but it is also not for the faint hearted or the person who is seeking concrete certainties on everything. One thing I have learned is that it is a document of an evolutionary process culminating in the ministry and life of Christ and the events which followed the resurrection.

I hope that you will find the article at least interesting and perhaps stimulate you into doing some exploring of your own.

The “Lost” Books.

More musings on the Bible

From time to time one hears of some “startling” or “newly discovered” text which will change the face of religion or “challenge the Christian story”. Most often these are purported to be “newly translated” or “never before seen” translations of the Dead Sea scrolls. You will have no doubt heard or read of the “Fifth” Gospel, ascribed to St James, and there are others as well. In reality they are seldom that new or that revolutionary.

The truth is that there is a fairly large canon of scriptural writing which does not form part of either the Old or the New Testaments as we have them today. In fact, some of these do not even form part of the Jewish canon of books recognized as the Torah. Some of these extra canonical books are fairly easily accessible – just buy a copy of the Apocrypha if you do not already possess a copy of the Bible which includes them. Why are they “extra-canonical”? They were excluded from the main body of writings deemed to have been “inspired by God” when the scriptures we have today were formalized by a succession of Councils in the first centuries of the Christian Church. The Old Testament collection, as used in the Jewish faith, was in fact formalized about a hundred years after the Christian Canon was closed and there were two versions of that in use for several hundred years. The books in the Apocrypha, with one exception, are books that appear in the Judeo-Greek Septuagint, but not in the later approved canon.

From the Fifth Century until the Reformation they formed a part of the Christian Biblical canon, but the Reformers questioned both their validity and their spiritual inspiration, eventually compromising by removing them from the primary canon and placing them as a group in a separate section. These books are deemed (Article 6 of the 39) to be useful “for example of life and instruction of manners”. Hence The Reformers view that they form an “instructional” canon which illuminates the rest of scripture. The Apocrypha collection is interesting from several points of view. Firstly, the period of their writing is Post the Babylonian exile and covers a period which begins in about 200 BC and overlaps the ministry of Christ, the events of 1 and 2 Maccabees covering the period up to about 100 AD.

Secondly they do provide a slightly different slant on some of the events described elsewhere in the Old Testament, including the period of resettlement and rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Personally I find the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus particularly inspirational. But, there are further books in the Jewish extra-canonical collection which turn up in the Dead Sea scrolls to the delight of conspiracy theorists and others. These (and the Wisdom of Solomon in the Apochrypha is one such example) are sometimes referred to as the “Pseudepigraphica” which simply means “false title” in that the books are ascribed to someone other than the author. There is an extensive collection of these including the Testaments of the Patriarchs (twelve of them!), Enoch (four books) a Testament of Job and an Apocryphon of Ezekial to name just a few. Other books, which stand alongside that group, include the Book of Jubilees and the Lives of the Prophets.

In short – a huge collection of works! So why are they not included in the Bible itself? Would they not clear up some of the confusion and create some certainties instead? Sadly, the answer is not really. They are certainly instructional and illuminating - 2 Enoch contains an alternative creation story which is described by some scholars as the first attempt to explain the Creation scientifically – and others show how our faith grew from some very mixed beginnings and has slowly taken shape and form over the centuries. They also help us to understand how world events have caused re-evaluation of our understanding of how God works with and through us in the world. Those scholars and men of faith who fixed the canon of the Christian Bible in about 380 AD certainly recognized, and where probably familiar with, these writings, but did not consider them to add anything to the books we have today. The final shape of the Jewish Talmud did not emerge until almost 200 years later, in the so-called Babylonian Talmud, and again these books were seen as useful, but not part of the main body of historical or prophetic writing.

Despite having been excluded from the principle canon of both Christian and Jewish biblical collections, they seem to have continued in wide use. Certainly, there is evidence to suggest that Mohammed had access to, and possibly studied, some of them, as themes and sometimes almost literal quotations appear in the Koran. St John must also have been familiar with 2 Enoch 24, which begins “Before anything existed at all, from the very beginning, I created from non-being into being, and from the invisible things, into the visible.” Some of our “myths” and non-Biblical stories can also be attributed to these writings, particularly in the naming of angels (Book of Jubilees among others) and some of the legends concerning Jesus’ early life come from the Christian version of the “pseudepigraphica”.

Turning now to the New Testament collection, I expect that you, like me, would have found it valuable to be able to see the letters written to St Paul and perhaps to have a wider view on some of the other events described in the letters. Unfortunately these did not survive, but there is a large collection of complete and incomplete documents which were written in the first 400 years of the church which did. While the various Councils, which worked to provide the form of the final canon, recognized most of these as “heretical”, they do add something to our understanding of how the Bible was finally put together. They also help to explain why the early church got so worked up about some of the ideas they promote!

The extra-canon includes several Gospels, including one attributed by its author to Nicodemus which also goes by the rather strange title of “The Acts of Pilate”! It almost ignores the entire ministry and focuses instead on the Passion and Resurrection, claiming to be a “translation” of an eyewitness account of those events. Even in 380 AD it was regarded as a rather laboured attempt to provide “proof” – which the Council felt detracted from the events rather than enhanced them. Another such “Passion” Gospel is one attributed to Bartholomew. Written by an unknown author using the Apostles name, it is set entirely in the period following the resurrection and is a work which is associated with an early heresy called “Docetism” which claimed that Christ was not a man at all, but a “Heavenly Power” who chose to act in human form.

There are other works in this collection including a number of Acts of various Apostles and several Apolcalyptic books in similar vein to Revelations. As with the Old Testament collection of extra-canonical writings, most add little to our understanding of the God we worship and serve, except in the light they throw upon the struggles of the early Church to get to grips with the enormity of the task of bringing the Gospel of Our Lord to all the nations. They reveal the many false starts and blind alleys that some writers explored and illuminate many of the early heresies. Again, there is some evidence to suggest that they influenced more than just the Christian communities who read them. They also reveal just how influential the Pauline school of theology became by showing us what alternative views were held. In one important area, for me, they made me aware of just how far we, in Western Christianity, have moved in our interpretation, from the original source.

So, are these works lost? The answer is not really. They are available if you are determined enough to trace them. In fact some are still in use by branches of the faith such as the Ethiopian Coptic Church and some of the isolated Churches of the Middle East. For us, in Western Christianity, some of the books can be read in the Apochrypha, some are available if you have access to the reference sections of major theological libraries at some of the older universities – and the ability to read them in the original language. For most of us, it is a case of reading about them in treatises by those who have studied them in depth and there is a wide selection of literature available on this subject. One of the most readable (especially if you have a mind like mine that has difficulty staying awake in some deeply academic tomes!) is a book entitled “The Lost Bible” by J R Porter.

Did exploring these lost books help me understand my faith any better? The answer has to be both yes, and no. It made me look at a number of things in a new light, but it also raised a number of questions – which I must now go away and find answers too. Has it changed my faith? Yes, I think it has, and for the better.

Peace be with you always.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:09 PM

A Monastic interlude

Today the entire Parochial Church Council and the ministry staff of the Abbey spent the day at Prinknash (pronounced PRINAGE!) Abbey, a benedictine monastery on the hills overlooking the city of Gloucester. The purpose of our visit was twofold, first to spend some time exploring where we are as a congregation and where we envisage being in five to twenty years, and secondly, to do some recharging of spiritual batteries, but not necessarily in that order.

Prinknash is a fairly modern establishment of working monks who follow the rule of St Benedict, their Abbey being established in the late 1880's following the passage of the Freedom of Religion Act which legalised the establishment of Roman Catholic congregations in England - outlawed since Cromwell's Commonwealth had ruled. We had the use of the St Peter's Grange buildings - all ironically dating to the Cromwellian period - and had a very useful day together, finishing it with worship in the old monastery chapel. (The monks have moved down the hill to a new Abbey built in the 1980's and their new chapel is actually quite beautiful.)

There are many things I will take with me from this day out, but I would like to share this one thing with you. It is a sentence taken from Chapter 53 of "The Rule of Benedict" -

"Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect."

Think about that last phrase, and remember the Benedictines are famous for their hospitality to allcomers, rich and poor are treated equally. Perhaps it is something we could all learn from them.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:05 PM

The wrong kind of ......

A visit (overdue) to Da Goddess had me amused - as ever when I visit her ladyship - but in particular this post is worth a visit. I know that I am almost as guilty of this when I have to crawl along behind some driver who belongs to the "only people" club. You know the ones, they barge onto trains without letting the waiting passengers disembark, they jump any queue or simply push in front of you at a counter - and they never look in a rear view mirror as they hog the centre of the road and refuse to allow anything past.

But, I hope that I'm a little less stressed than this! OK, OK, Physician heal thyself!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:43 PM | Comments (1)

It had to come ...

A very short post by Kathy of On the third hand, caught my eye. Track it back to this post.

The original story is by Scott at the Daily Ablution. You can access it through this link. I wonder if the RSPCA hasn't got enough to do without this sort of idiocy.

Insect Rights? Soon it won't be possible to swat a fly or apply some germicide without some loon screaming abuse at you for the infringement of somethings rights. Is it just me, or does this not actually undermine the whole question of what rights are exercisable by whom and for what purpose?


Yeah, that has a certain something to it ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:18 AM

January 23, 2004

Lost in Space

First it was the Beagle and now it is the Spirit. Is this a warning? I suspect that many of the anti-space lobby will now be out in force proclaiming that if God had meant us to fly he would never have given us a railway.

In a sense, I suppose they have an argument, but, as the irascible Dr Samuel Johnson once told an argumentative critic of his, "Sir! I have found you an argument. I am not obliged to find you an understanding!"

That is the problem, in a nutshell, the space programme has probably driven more development worldwide than we appreciate. In my own profession our protective clothing, the materials we use to provide "passive" fire protection and even some of the alloys we are now using to make our tools lighter and more managable are all a result of the space programme. Advances in medicine, in computer hardware and a range of other hardware can all be traced to things on those original space craft. It is back to understanding the difference between a "cost" and a "value". Some things cost almost nothing yet have incalculable value, others cost an arm and a leg, yet have almost no value. The Mars projects have a high price tag, but they have a value beyond anything in pure economic terms.

While some will be saying that the lost Beagle demonstrates that it was a waste of money, in reality even in losing it, we have learned something and advanced a small step towards actually landing one and getting it to work. It seems that contact has been briefly regained with the Spirit Rover, which suggests that the problem with that one may be fixable. I hope it is, because that will take the wind out of the anti-space windbags. Sure they could spend the money on something "beneficial", but would it actually be as as beneficial? I doubt it - especially in the light of the billions already vanishing into various civil servant dominated and mismanaged public services such as the National Health Service, Social Services and Education.

ET may be trying to phone home, let's check the phonelines and keep going. After all, the orbital station has already made a spectacular discovery and may yet make even more of a success of the mission than the Beagle would have done sat in its isolated little patch of Martian Desert. The fact that there is water on Mars means that a permanent base could be built there and humans could survive there in specially constructed shelters.

What we need to know now, and soon, is why did the Rover go offline? Is it something in the atmosphere, or is it equipment breakdown. One thing is for sure, we will need to have a complete answer before we send anyone to stand on that barren planet, but the moment we do so, we will have changed the course of human development for ever.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:49 PM

An auspicious year to you all.

The Chinese new year is upon us, as Ozguru at G'Day Mate has reminded us. So I will extend a wish to all my readers for an auspicious Year of the Green Monkey to you.

Those who want to see how the Chinese calendar works should go here to G'Day Mate and read all about it there. You will find it informative to read the comments posts.

For the record I am a Fire Dog, born in the Year of the Fire Dog. An interesting little twist given my day job!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:14 PM | Comments (3)

January 22, 2004

Error 404 - file not found

My thanks today go to Ozguru of Gday mate for a link that about sums up the AOL experience. The original comes from Utterly Boring and I suggest you try this link for yourselves.

Be patient, it takes a while, but it's worth every second!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 21, 2004

The worm may be turning ....

A Chief Fire Officer in the UK has recently been found guilty of discrimnatory practice by an Industrial Tribunal. The case was brought by a Retained Fire Fighter who had applied for a permanent (Whole Time) post and had undergone and passed all the normal selection assessments. He was also fully operationally trained, yet he was not appointed. Instead, at least one woman (untrained and unable to pass the selection tests) and one man from an ethnic minority group (under 5' in height and also untrained) were - after some very dodgy manipulation of the selection tests and the results.

This case has repercussions for almost everyone - especially those large metropolitan fire and rescue services which now run training courses for "under represented groups" in how to pass the selection tests. It also has huge implications for anyone practicing any form of "Affirmitive Action" or "Positive Discrimination". Essentially, the door is now opened to almost every white male who is not given the post applied for if he is the best candidate on the selection criteria. Clearly there is a lesson here for the Politically Correct, but I doubt that they will heed it, they will instead, just be a bit more devious and less open about what they are doing. Until they kill someone.

What seems to have been lost on everyone, including the senior fire service "managers" as they now style themselves, is that this is a job that requires stamina, intelligence, physical strength and a mindset that is prepared to attempt the impossible. In this age of "health and safety" we now have officers who are terrified of making a decision to commit to fire fighting in case they are wrong - and are then prosecuted for doing their job. In some Brigades it has got to the ridiculous position of "making up" at every opportinuty so that the buck passes swiftly up the line. When you consider that these are also Brigades where their new civilian (and often female) managers demand that the training staff do not wear uniforms (they're a barrier to learning) or enforce any sort of discipline (it traumatises and encourages bullying) you have a situation developing where sooner rather than later something will happen that, if dealt with by old style types would have been swiftly controlled and argued about later, will get out of control and kill a lot of people.

The Fire and Rescue Service is there to protect lives, property and perform rescues. No I am not arguing for a fire appliance on every corner, I am arguing for a fully professional, properly trained and equipped service not used as a political pawn or an opportunity for social engineering. It is a service dedicated to protecting people. Yes, this requires a degree of team work (and that means a form of elitism) and it also requires dedication and discipline. It cannot entertain indiscipline, it cannot function if its command structure is riddled with ex-supermarket managers, and it will fail to deliver if it is not lead by inspired leadership.

At the moment it lacks that last in spades and there are too many politicians and civil servants interfering in operational matters of which they have absolutely no understanding. Watch this space for more litigation as the PC merchants dig in, and watch the press for news of increasing major losses and fire fighter deaths.

An extract from the news report that prompted this post is supplied through the link below.

Extracted from The Mail on Sunday, 18th Jan 2004.

A Fire Chief has been found guilty of hiring unfit and unqualified
firefighters to meet Government targets for women and ethnic minorities.
An employment tribunal ruled that Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service
deliberately and illegally discriminated against white male applicants
to increase the numbers of women and minority groups in the service.
Fitness and safety tests were made easier for women and ethnic
minorities putting the safety of the public at risk. Fire Chiefs
overlooked the skills and fitness of white men applying for the jobs by
ignoring the results of the selection tests and constantly changing the
selection criteria. Basic job specifications were changed for women and
ethnic minority candidates. They were also given the chance to practice
fitness and skill exercises on their own before test to improve their
scores, but white male applicants were not.

When women and ethnic minority candidates still failed the tests, the
scoring systems were changed. They were allowed to pass with scores
which gave white men 'failed' marks.

The above is extracted from the Mail on Sunday report.

It shows just what can, and does happen, when a public body goes
overboard with the Political correctness that has been introduced into
our services and overrides the basic needs of that service. Our Fire and Rescue Services are there to provide emergency protection to the public - not to provide "jobs for our supporters and lobbyists".

Racism, Ageism and Sexism can go both ways. Its time to put a stop to ALL forms of discrimination. Being caucasian, male and heterosexual is not a crime, much as some authorities seem to think it should be.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:30 PM | Comments (5)

More on the Thought Police

An editorial in one of the national dailies caught my eye. The writer, a well known journalist and author has written a comprehensive critique of the march of the Thought Police in Britain today.

She echoes, in a much more public (the paper claims to have a daily circulation of over 3 million) a great deal of what has been said on this blog and on The Edge of England's Sword, All agitprop; all the time and one or two others. In summing up the loss of freedom of speech in this country, she identifies the fact that the police now seemingly routinely take the view that expressing a dislike for someone of a different social, cultural, racial or religious background is "stirring up hatred" of one sort or another. In effect, this is the result of cretins in Whitehall attempting to enforce their vision, born out of fear, of the perfect world.

Now it seems that the entire West are labelled by everyone on the left as "Victimising" and everyone in the Third or Developing World as "Victims".

So the supposed "victimisers" - thee and me - must be brought to heel so that Utopia can spring into being.

One man's vision of Heaven, is frequently another's vision of Hell.

Enterprise; One to beam up.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:30 AM | Comments (2)

January 20, 2004

What Theologian?

Found this test on the Rev Mike's site and gave it a try. I'm assuming that this is a reference to Augustine of Hippo, in which case I'm flattered. But somehow I don't think I can live with a mitre and staff. I notice that Rev Mike is also Augustine - you can have the mitre and staff Mike, you're better qualified!

"God will not suffer man to have the knowledge of things to come; for if he had prescience of his prosperity he would be careless; and understanding of his adversity he would be senseless."
You are Augustine!
You love to study tough issues and don't mind it if you lose sleep over them. Everyone loves you and wants to talk to you and hear your views, you even get things like "nice debating with you." Yep, you are super smart, even if you are still trying to figure it all out. You're also very honest, something people admire, even when you do stupid things.

What theologian are you?
A creation of Henderson

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:54 PM | TrackBack

Darwin again ....

A trawl through the Darwin Awards site has turned up some real gems. First there is the guy hired to flush out petrol tankers and de-gas them. He checked the water level by climbing into a compartment (its dark!) and used his lighter to illuminate the scene. Terminal velocity when he hit the concrete 100 m away was enough to open his skull like a melon. Needless to say he will not be repeating this exercise.

Then there was the couple whose amorous coupling in Sheffield, UK resulted in a bus driver having his license suspended by a judge who obviously felt that making whoopee in the middle of the road (they had been narrowly missed by three other drivers!) was a perfectly legitimate place and the bus driver should have avoided them. They will not be repeating their mistake - and their genes have been successfully removed permanently from the gene pool.

Equally amusing in a dark way, was the idiot in Australia who attempted to tack weld his Oxy-acetylene cylinders to the roof he was working on. No moron, no house and another successful removal of the stupid gene from the gene pool. In the same general area - New Zealand to be precise - comes a report of a Safety Officer who needed to extend the lift of his vehicle jack. He placed it on top of the battery he had removed from the vehicle. It collapsed and dropped the ute on top of him.

Much argument surrounds this last one as some people doubt a battery would collapse under this load. Believe it people, the crucial thing here is the point of load, which is focused on the point on which the footplate of the jack is resting. Go figure, 1,000 kg of engine and vehicle focused on a little bit of flat metal, measuring no more than 60mm x 100mm and this is pressed on top of a battery made of plastic, filled with acid and flimsy plates of lead sulphide or chloride. The battery wall is 4mm thick, the top a little thicker, it can't take that sort of focussed load.

There are times when I really can't believe how stupid some people can be. Then I have to go and deal with the aftermath.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:32 PM

Farewell old friend

Last night I had some more bad news, my very dear friend, a gentle man in every sense of the word, yet a very capable man whose own modesty often masked from those who did not know him, his wide talent and ability. Tom Bell befriended me on my first vist to this country in 1986 and made me a member of his family and close circle almost from the start. It was he who got me involved with the preservation of the Massey Shaw, and it was Tom who taught me all her little foibles and bad habits - and how to deal with them.

Tom Bell.JPG
Tom in command of the Massey Shaw in the Upper Pool, Tower Bridge behind him. After his family, his biggest love was "his" ships.

Barbara, Olive, Kitty, Susie and Helen, his wife, mother in law, sister in law and daughters are naturally distraught, they were a very close family, but anyone who knew Tom was "family". You could not know him and not like him, you could not know him, or he you, and not be important to Tom.

Tom was, like myself, a fire fighter. He never aspired to the rarified heights of command, instead being content to do what he enjoyed well. He served with distinction for most of his career on the fire boats, working aboard the Massey herself, the Fireflair, the Firebrace and the later "Placky" Boats as he called them, the small but fast, Fire Swift and Fire Hawk. He finished his career at Southwark Training Centre as the Training Sub Officer for "floaties", the affectionate term applied to those who serve on the river in the LFB.

After retiring just over ten years ago, Tom began working for the trust that looks after the Cutty Sark, preserved at Greenwich, and rose to be her Boatswain, a job he enjoyed to the full. His skills as a seaman came to the fore here as he worked in her rigging and on various tasks requiring special skills with rope and lines, palm and needle and a thorough going knowledge of the ship.

Rest in peace old friend, it is not good bye, merely au revoir. I know that we will meet again, in calmer waters and sunnier climes. Those of us who labour on, will not forget you nor will we fail to take care of those closest too you.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:42 AM | Comments (6)

January 19, 2004

Taking the lunatic test

OK, so I should know better, but I followed the link from G'day mate und nun mit mien kaiserlich gedachten, ve must ensure zat all mien schachte und schlossen ist herstellen! Jawohl, Schultz, ve must ein Igor finden!

Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Oh boy, I think this could be fun. I rather fancy living in Schloss Neueschwanstein! I wonder if the Bavarian government is ready for this?

Posted by Pixy Misa at 06:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 18, 2004

The Truth shall ....

A Monday thought to be sure, to be sure! Re-reading Terry Pratchett's 25th Discworld novel I have, as usual with his books, found another layer of things I didn't absorb fully the first time round. Such as the misprint in the Banner for William de Worde's "The Ankh-Morpork Times" When first illustrated and set it proclaims "The truth shall make ye free - Extra" but, when printed after the fire that destroys Mr Goodmountain's first press, it comes out as "The truth shall make ye fere."

A subtle shift of letters, but what a wealth of difference in meaning. As William discovers, there are times when the truth is perhaps not the best bit of news there is.

On another level, this book highlights another little feature that the propagandists have long used to warp and shape public perceptions. William de Worde's father, a character who could and does exist in any society, has a favourite saying, "A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got it's boots on." Think about it, this is exactly what the propagandist does by sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant means. Once the lie is out there, it becomes its own truth and no amount of denial or evidence will ever convince some that it is not true.

Take the Princess Diana debacle, once the rumour mill started to roll, it became unstoppable. No matter that the French Police and their investigating Magistrate found and made public the facts regarding the drivers drunken state, Mr Fayed Juniors penchant for impetuous and sometimes foolhardy action and his ignoring the safety of a whole raft of people including himself and the Princess, the lie is that there has to have been a murder. I have no doubt that the latest enquiry will confirm that there has been no wrongdoing on anyone's part, much less a complex murder plot, but it will still not convince those for whom a scapegoat for their fantasies must be found.

In Pratchett's book, William de Worde must ultimately confront that fact that the truth is much more complex than merely the facts being made public. Truly the truth must be exposed, but the key question is whose truth and what is it?

This is why I love to read Pratchett, he makes me laugh, he can make me cry with laughter, but, my God, he makes me think as well!

The truth does indeed make me free - but it also makes me "fere" as well!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:24 PM | Comments (2)

Sunday's sermon

Sometimes inspiration for a sermon takes one by surprise. This one did - and the line of thought was not what I started out thinking. I have posted it to share some of these thoughts with all those who wander through this virtual realm, after all, I suspect that this is as much the sort of marketplace that Christ had in mind when He sent His disciples out into the highways and marketplaces to preach, teach and heal the sick.

Please forgive the "local" references, they are to people I work with in my ministry in the congregation we minister in. I am sure you will understand the humour we all share in our ministry. The Readings are from:

1 Samuel 3 1 - 20 and
Ephesians 4 1 - 16

Dare I hope that it at least makes some sense to someone else? Peace and grace be with all of you who pause and read.

Evensong Sermon
Tewkesbury Abbey
Epiphany 2, 2004

+ May I speak in the name God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
May the Spirit inspire my thoughts
And the word of God fill my heart and mouth.

“There is one body and one Spirit through the bond of peace – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

It is said that every preacher has just one sermon inside him. I am beginning to think that I know what mine is. Every time I start to prepare a sermon I find the same theme running through the readings. Either there is some truth in the one sermon theory or someone is trying to tell me something! Could it be that I am just not being as receptive as the young Samuel? I hope not, because then I would be in the same case as Eli, a worthy and faithful but uninspiring leader, but one who failed to fill his office, failed to speak out against wrongdoing and even condoned it by his inaction. A caretaker and no more.

“In those days the Word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”

Oh dear, could this be an indictment of our own age? Where are our prophets, where are our visions, where indeed is our \zeal for the Lord? To use a hideous media label, why is this a Post Christian Age? It sounds almost as if we, sat here tonight, are some sort of interesting architectural style instead of a living, vibrant and developing church.

Our Archbishops have only to open their mouths to be subjected to a torrent of criticism and abuse from one interest group or another, some of them even from within the church. How does this accord with the idea of one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one Spirit in the bond of unity and peace? No wonder people are abandoning the “institutional” churches in droves, we can’t even agree with ourselves!

St Paul is not everyone’s favourite Apostle, indeed he is sometimes irritating and always difficult, if only because he has such a large part in shaping the church as it is today. Some of us even have the radical view that maybe, just maybe, St Paul is, in the words of the authors of “1066 and all that”, a “bad idea”. I’m afraid I cannot subscribe to that view, and have to live, as a result, with all the difficult bits as well as the bits I like. And what I am seeing in this pair of readings is both a way and a warning.

“It was he who gave some to be Apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and some to be teachers.”

He called the boy Samuel to be his Prophet in a time when Israel faced growing threats from rising Empires around them and needed to move from the semi-nomadic life of the tribes under the “Judges” to the more settled and cohesive life of nationhood under their Kings. In doing so, he set in train a period of spiritual growth and the development of a religious coherence suited to the spiritual growth of the people he had selected.

Eli stood condemned by his failure to be more than a simple caretaker, a keeper of rituals and ceremonial, and his lack of vision to grasp the nettle of risking confrontation and getting to grips with the realities of ministry to and for the people committed to his charge. In this we can see the parallel with the parable of the Master who entrusts to three servants portions of his wealth. The first ventures all and does well, the second is more cautious but still does reasonably well, while the third buries the treasure, does nothing with it and returns it untouched to his Master. Eli was definitely the third servant in this case – in fact he may even have been in the position of having failed to protect it from inflation – so it was worth even less when he gave back what he had received.

What of us? What have we done with the treasures entrusted to us? Where are our Apostles? Where are our prophets? Where are our Evangelists? At risk of getting a good ticking off from Fr Paul and Fr Peter; Where are our Pastors and teachers? Yes there are some here present, we all recognize the ministries of Fr Paul and Fr Peter, David, Carolyn, Charles, Carleton and I suppose even myself, all exercise ministries which fall into those last two categories, but so should everyone else here present! This is where we find a unity in the Spirit, in ministry – the gifts of the Spirit are like the rich man’s treasure. In use they grow and multiply, buried in the ground, they shrivel and are reduced in value.

Ministry to the people of God requires a great deal of effort from us all, it is not a thing we do on Sunday, it is something we do all the time. Pastoral ministry can be as simple as lending an ear to a distressed colleague at work, and you don’t have to be a Priest or a Deacon to do it. A teaching ministry can be a simple extension of the pastoral care we show each other, or it could be making use of opportunities to discuss and challenge people who hold views we need to challenge, or alternatively to be prepared to help someone who is searching for a faith. What we must not do is let it slide, coasting gently through life, smiling sweetly at everybody and avoiding contentious issues.

I once heard a description of politics, as the art of compromise and perhaps this is the problem faced by Eli, he was too willing to compromise. In the end he had compromised God. It is for this reason that I do not envy the men who must take on the mantle of Archbishop. On the one hand they must find a balance that will hold the church together, on the other they must not compromise God. We should all pray for our Bishops and Archbishops daily as they have a difficult path to walk in this Post Christian Age, and we should pray for ourselves as well, because our path is no less fraught for all that it is not in the glare of the public spotlight.

So, what can we do to answer the call of God to be Apostles, or Prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers? First, listen to the voice of God, second, try to do as we are called, use our individual gifts to minister to each other and support those who have been called to more difficult and public roles. In this way we can do as Paul writes to the Ephesians:

“Speaking in truth and love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

It is when we embrace the call of God to be his ministers that we are able to obey what Father Peter once called the Gospel Imperative, to love one another and sustain each other in faith. It is when we embrace the call heard by Samuel, that we are filled with the desire to act for Him in ministry, it is when we embrace that call that we also find the courage to face the sneers and the jeers, the stones and the anger and to find the tranquility of the Spirit which comes from being in harmony with each other and the Spirit.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel, Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak for your servant is listening.”

Do we have the courage of the boy Samuel? It could be a life changing decision and a life changing experience!


Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:37 PM | Comments (3)

January 17, 2004

Danger - explosion imminent!

Ever since I started using the internet I have had an AOL account. U fule! Many might exclaim, but, as a technophobe it seemd to be the least difficult option at the time. Now I wish I had thought of something else! Carrier pigeons! Runners with cleft sticks, The Runners of Pern! Even the Dragon Riders! Anything but AOL!

Why the tirade? Simple, ever written something up with care, edited it, and then, when you try to save it (remember I am using a remotely placed server and software package tied to the server), all you get is one "error" message after another and the *expletive deleted* system refuses to complete the connection? That's what I get. All the time! Posting has become a challenge, I have even had to resort to writing in Word, then e-mailing it to another computer, and copying it to the programme I use. (Movabletype for the curious!) As long as I don't go through AOL I seem to have no problems. Go through AOL and everything goes wrong.

Are AOL Help Desk any use. No! Nada! Niet! Nien! I have had different "ChatAgentUK's" give me the same set of b****y instructions for modifying settings, changing the programme and rebooting at four or five stages and the problem just gets worse. I am now convinced that the problem is in their servers and its routing of signals and not in this computer. As a further annoyance, when I dial up, the first number dialled always, and without exception, fails to make the final connection to AOL. I have then to wait until it automatically recycles and dials a second time, at which point, BINGO! But they can't seem to fix that either!

If I intervene and change numbers, or worse tell it to try again - I am sometimes in a hurry - it simply repeats the connection failure!

At this point I am prepared to take any suggestions from anyone with an idea of how to fix this. At this stage it would be a major task to remove the AOL tentacles from my system so I am reluctant to change providers - until I buy a new machine!

Suggestions please! In language a technophobe can understand!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:45 AM | Comments (6)

January 15, 2004

It's Friday again!

Another week gone and I am even further behind with my task list! Oh well, I have achieved some things at any rate and my students have gone home reasonably happy. Browsing through some of my favourite Blogs, I see comments on a wide range of issues, including the latest on "top up fees" for students. An Englishman's Castle has a couple of interesting items for our consideration, including one entitled One for White Rose which is worth some more thought.

Meanwhile, over at On the third hand, Kathy has drawn attention to a creative solution to the simple demographic problem facing Israel. Virtual Citizenship. As the only democratic state in the middle East, Israel should be able to expect more sympathy from the West, instead of the constant carping. In an article posted earlier, Kathy also points to the Palestinian Authorities absurd orders to the Arab Press and their measures for enforcement.

As ever, Susie over at Practical Penumbra, has managed to get me chortling ( a frightening sound/sight apparently for the cat, who has left the room in a huff! I note that Ozguru has linked to this as well, but its worth repeating! In a blast from my past, he has also posted a picture of a VW 412 Estate! Mine was a nice sky blue, but it was a very good car. The one and only automatic transmission I have ever owned. Odd looking it may be now, but it was comfortable, reliable and reasonably economical as well. It also had one heck of a luggage area!

Over on Bear Left on Unnamed Road, Ron has as usual some thought provoking stuff under the titles of "the Grass isn't always greener" and "Visiting Sins of a son upon his father". I think I can identify with him on this, I can still blush at some of the more lunatic things I can be judged guilty of - but not the Playdoh!

And then there is Cynical Cyn and her Random Fact. This one being of a nautical bent, I enjoyed it, and it happens to be true (for the Royal Navy anyway!).

And finally, it having been another tough week, I must, as Samuel Pepys put it, "to bed". Tomorrow, I had better get my head around a sermon for Sunday night - and I better do it early, I have to help out the Vergers tomorrow afternoon! As the Rev Mike's banner says - it could be on the Bartian principle of Bible in one hand a newspaper in the other. I like that concept, we'll see what tomorrow brings by way of inspiration!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:41 PM | Comments (1)

Why God created children (and, in the process, grandchildren)

To those of us who have children in our lives, whether they are our
own, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or students...here is something to make you chuckle.

Whenever your children are out of control, you can take comfort from
the thought that even God's omnipotence did not extend to His own children.

After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And the
first thing he said was "DON'T!"

"Don't what?" Adam replied.

"Don't eat the forbidden fruit." God said.

"Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit? Hey Eve...we have
forbidden fruit!!!!!"

"No Way!"

"Yes way!"

"Do NOT eat the fruit!" said God.


"Because I am your Father and I said so!" God replied, wondering why
He hadn't stopped creation after making the elephants. A few minutes later, God saw His children having an apple break and He was ticked!

"Didn't I tell you not to eat the fruit?" God asked.

"Uh huh," Adam replied.

"Then why did you?" said the Father.

"I don't know," said Eve.

"She started it!" Adam said

"Did not!"

"Did too!"


Having had it with the two of them, God's punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus the pattern was set and it has never changed.

But there is a little comfort ...

If you have persistently and lovingly tried to give children wisdom and they haven't taken it, don't be hard on yourself. If God had trouble raising children, what makes you think it wou ld be a piece of cake for you?

Think about these ...

1. You spend the first two years of their life teaching them to walk
and talk. Then you spend the next sixteen telling them to sit down and shut

2. Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your own children.

3. Mothers of teens now know why some animals eat their young.

4. Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word
for word what you shouldn't have said.

5. The main purpose of holding children's parties is to remind
yourself that there are children more awful than your own.

6. We childproofed our homes, but they are still getting in.

ADVICE FOR THE DAY? Be nice to your kids. They will choose your nursing home one day.



Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:33 PM

January 14, 2004

St Michael and the Devil

This amazing bronze caste representation of Michael overthrowing the Devil at Coventry Cathedral speaks very powerfully of two things. Firstly the triumph of good over evil in the world at large, and secondly of the compassion of the good.


Look carefully and you notice that Michael's spear is not embedded in the Devil, but at rest. The Devil lies beaten at Michael's feet, but is not impaled or tormented. Good has triumphed, and in triumph can show compassion - even for the evil.

That epitomises the message of the Gospel.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:16 PM | Comments (1)

What do you mean, I'm in the way?

Madam has the most determined manner when it comes to getting your attention. Sitting on the keyboard is one of them.


Miss Paddy Cat makes her presence felt.

If all else fails, lying on the keyboard is guaranteed to get your immediate and undivided attention, and if ejected, we can then resort to scolding from the back of the chair and grooming your ears, hair and neck. We will not be ignored!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:03 PM | Comments (2)

Darwin Awards - Again?

As some of you will by now have guessed I have something to do with the emergency services. In fact, I have a lot to do with fire investigation, so I just love it when someone makes my job a whole lot easier. With the sort of idiocy demonstrated by the guy proposed for the Darwin Awards for this year, I like them even more, because they don't often reoffend. And if they do, they're generally easy to spot.

You may want to visit the Darwin Awards site yourself, just click here. The entry I particularly liked is reproduced for your pleasure in the extended post below.

Police have determined that John Naposki, 54, of Yorktown, NY accidentally set himself on fire while trying to burn down his house. He was found dead inside the home when firemen responded.

Naposki, who was going through a divorce, had threatened to burn down the down, which his wife wanted to sell, but he wanted to keep. Mr. Naposki had cancelled the home's fire insurance the week before the fire.Police said Naposki had doused the home with gasoline and was about to turn off the fire alarm before igniting the blaze. Rather than turn on a light, and risk being seen by neighbors, he flicked on his lighter to see the alarm panel. You can guess what happened when he did that...

Police found an empty 5 gallon gas can inside the house, and his car keys and lighter were on the floor near the alarm panel. After igniting himself, Naposki ran to a first floor bathroom to try extinguishing the flames, but was unable to because the water had been shut off to the vacant house.

The moral of the story is: Turn off the alarm first, and don't turn off the water.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:09 PM | Comments (3)

A parting of ways ....

Due to a number of things I was late home tonight. This is always a pity, because Tuesday evenings there is a Said Eucharist in one of the Ambulatory Chapels at the Abbey, and I like to go. It provides me with an opportunity to shed some of the frustrations and to just be quiet in a spiritually refreshing setting. Tonight it was an even greater shame, because Fr Paul (aka The Lord Abbot) had news which he wanted to impart face to face.

He rang me just over an hour ago to tell me that a member of the Ministry team at the Abbey, Fr David, had died suddenly today.

Father David was retired, but still did regular services at the Abbey and was a kind and gentle person of huge intellect - but never talked down to anyone or belitteled anyone not in the same league. Indeed, he often went out of his way to help someone struggling to understand something or some reference they found difficult. And he always did so gently, carefully and full of patient understanding. His sermons were an education in themselves, succinct, erudite and witty, they were always very well worth listening too and almost always sent you off to go and read further.

He was a scholar of classical languages and often amused us with his witty quotes and translations. He was also an historian and specialised in Medieval documents, reading and translating these with great interest and could share this with you in the most entertaining and interesting ways.

Fr David had spent a considerable part of his ministry abroad, in Turkey where he was Chaplain to the English School in Ankara and frequently returned to his former charge as a welcome and feted guest.

I will personally miss sitting occasionally with him in the congegation or at a musical occasion in the Abbey. Again his knowledge of sacred music was extensive and he enjoyed it immensely. Anyone in his company could not help but enjoy it with him.

It is occasionally given to us to meet and to walk briefly with a person whose faith is often almost tangible. It has been my privilege to have known several such men and women, and I number Fr David among them. I know that he will be received in Heaven and rest in the peace he has earned. I hope that I shall one day have the joy of meeting him again.

This is one of the men of whom it is possible to use the epitaph on Christopher Wren's tomb in a wider context.

"If you seek his monument, look about you."

Fr David has not left a great building or any other edifice that people will flock to gaze at, but he has left his mark on all who knew him. In his latin I use a saying he would find apposite: Quescunque tacit; vestigia legat. "Who touches, leaves a mark."

May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace,
And rise in glory,
Through our saviour Jesus Christ

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:34 AM

January 12, 2004

Rights and morals

A succinct exposition of what is wrong with a society based on "rights" rather than a moral code is to be found at Adrian Warnock's site under the title of Consenting cannibals. Rights without some sort of moral framework are likely to lead eventually to a complete breakdown of society as my "rights" collide head on with someone else's "right" to do something to me that I object too.

Whether we like it or not, the ten commandments provide a basic framework within which human activity can be regulated for the benefit of all, and not just for the strongest, loudest or most cunning. The "right" of any one of us to elect to be, for example, eaten by some other member of society cuts right across decent and moral behaviour. This route leads straight down the road to the descent of man to the same level as our prehistoric forebears.

It is not a popular view today to point out that we are all responsible for our own actions. It is much more acceptable to blame some other person or entity for our failures, but the fact is that it all comes back to our having undermined the moral authority that underpins our society. The individual is one component of society and should be respected for that individuality, but the individual is never going to be superior to the society in which he or she lives. They are as much a product of that society as the society is of the sum of its individual parts. This is why a "rule of life" is so essential.

I have long believed that we should not speak of an individuals "rights" but of his or her "privileges" - and these are entirely dependent upon our respect for each others privileges. In other words, if I consistently infringe your privileges within our society, you would be in a position to have mine restricted by the consent of the rest of our society. This is the underlying principle of the Commandments given in the Book of Exodus to Moses on Mount Sinai. Calling it a purely moral code is to restrict it, it is much more, it is a fundamental code of living, a set of principles which reach into every area of our lives as a "civilised" society.

The church has recently taken a great deal of abuse about its opposition to "modern" visions of inclusive society, in particular same sex relations. If we leave aside the Biblical injunction against these, we find ourselves in the dangerous arena of taking a pick and mix approach to all morality in society. As Adrian Warnock so succinctly points out, this opens doors to all sorts of abuses.

In order to work any society must hold common values, common ground rules and function on the ability of the individuals within that group to work with each other within those values and rules. The problem we face today is that there are values and rules which are now being eroded by small but vociferous minorities who wish to break free of what they see as restrictive rules and replace these with an "anything goes" approach. Hence the proposal to allow someone to eat another individual. The fact that in order to do this, he would have to first commit murder, is only one aspect of this debate that should make the whole of our society wake up to the fact that this is a step way to far!

We live in a society that is at a cross roads. It can rediscover values in spiritually inspired and well established principles, or it can turn on itself and plunge headlong into oblivion by rejecting all that binds a society into a workable and peaceful, just and fair group. "Rights" however noble, can never be sustained, if that society does not also adopt the moral imperative that accompanies them. In this post-Christian era, we have a serious dilemma to face, if all scriptural authority is to be denigrated, pulled apart and rejected as infringing our "human rights", then we must also accept that which will replace it. And that will lead to a society which will be so self destructive that it will eventually be replaced by something imposed upon it.

The notion that anything is permissible between consenting adults is perceived as a laudable goal, but is it? Or will this route open a Pandora's box on abuses that will ultimately destroy us all?

Sadly I think that the Box has already been opened. I sincerely hope that we are able to at least mitigate the forces we have released.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:58 PM | TrackBack

January 11, 2004

A Monastic end to the day.

The end of a long day, but a pleasant ending - Evensong sung by our Abbey Choir. Superb settings for the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by Wood in D, an Anthem by Stanford and closed off with a voluntary on the Milton Organ that took our breath away.

The "College" of ministers at the Abbey wait for the choir to join them. The Vicar (aka The Lord Abbot) is flanked by the Monk on his right, "Brother" Charles and "Sister" Carolyn, the Venerable Peter (aka Father Prior) and "Brother" David.

Never annoy the Vergers - they take photographs for revenge!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:48 PM

Freedom of speech?

I am not alone in expressing my concerns on this latest debacle, check out the item on All Agitprop; All the time. A post on An Englishman's Castle under the title of "He should blog instead" is also informative.

The current hoo-hah over the Kilroy-Silk article and talk show and his comments about certain ethnic communities rather neatly highlights the manner in which freedom of speech and thought is being steadily eroded by this present government and its politically correct Thought Police cohorts. We either have the freedom to say what we think or we don’t. And in this country – as, I suspect, in other Western states – we find that this is a proscribed activity.

To test this statement, simply make a contentious statement in a public environment. The measure of how contentious it was will be the speed with which you are suspended from your job, visited by the police and labeled by the press as a racist/neo-nazi or some other similar “enemy of the people” label.

While I do not, and probably never will find much in Mr Kilroy-Silk’s views or political philosophy that I would agree with, the very heart of a free and democratic society is that he has the right, as I do, to express his views without fear or prejudice. This is no longer the case. We now have laws which make any statement that may be considered top cause offence to any member of any other group in society, a more serious offence than it is to have your property destroyed or your security threatened by a member of any of those groups.

In this brave new world, with its disturbing echoes of George Orwell’s “1984”, no one dares to criticize the growth of minority communities in some of our cities who now regard the transit, however innocently, of a member or members of another ethnic group through “their” territory an offence they are free to “punish” even to death. Nor is there any criticism of the community that refuses to turn in the murderers – providing alibis and relying on silence to frustrate the police. So we now have “no-go” areas in our cities where any member of a group seen as “not one of us” by these self appointed patrols, is risking life and limb at the very least. Yet let any member of the so-called majority express a view that might offend one of the members of the same community that can shelter its murderous gangs, and the full weight of the law is likely to be brought to bear. All you hear from the PC lobby is the sanctimonious tut-tut and more hand wringing over the injustices that have lead to these “young people feeling alienated.” It seems to have escaped them that the majority of people now feel alienated within their own country, our cherished freedoms slowly eroded one by one to redress these perceived “injustices”. The greatest injustice is ignored, that of the high jacking of the moral arguments to pervert them to this twisted and warped view that everything must be suborned to placate the vicious and vociferous minorities that have taken full advantage.

I find myself, as a member of a uniformed organization for the last 30+ years, now being told that I must not wear that uniform as it is a symbol of oppression to some of our minority communities or a symbol of male machismo to the feminists who want to now take over the senior posts and don’t like the thought that they don’t actually know anything useful about how the job is done or what it demands of those of us who put our lives on the line. The fact that this insult to my integrity and intelligence cannot be challenged - because it shows that I am “institutionally racist/sexist” and simply resistant to change – is a measure of just how far the balance has swung away from reason and rational debate. If your position is indefensible and totally unsupported by hard evidence, you simply resort to slandering the opposition and then hiding behind the laws brought, quite properly, to limit the excesses of the extreme wings of both schools of politics. The problem is, that these are now being exploited to advantage by a group every bit as dangerous as the neo-fascist and neo-marxist movements.

Society has allowed itself to be highjacked by the politically correct chattering classes of the Islington coffee morning round and their cousins in all Western countries. These are not the people who have any real experience of the world, the have all the answers but no appreciation of the realities that drive the people they seek to “improve”. It is all very well prattling on about fairness and justice when you live in an address that has a six or seven figure price tag, life takes on a totally different perspective when you earn just enough to pay the bills each month and the Islington chatterers are the ones who decide if you have a job in a month or a year.

What this latest debacle has highlighted for me is the fundamental dishonesty of the people making all the noise. On the one hand they proclaim the glories of our “free” society, on the other, they seek to place limits on those freedoms, restricting them to those things that they find acceptable.

Please do not misunderstand me, I do not agree with a great deal that is said by a wide variety of people and I have no time at all for racists or sexists or, for that matter, ageists! But I will defend to the death their right to hold a view at odds with mine. That is what a free society is all about. That is what two World Wars were fought over. This current trend will ultimately lead to a society such as that created by Lenin and Stalin, by Hitler and Mussolini in which individuals are thrown in jail or sent to labour camps for disagreeing with the party line. It is already not safe to express your opinions publicly at work if it is not “on message”. Already it is necessary to think twice before sharing a joke with a colleague, lest they take offence. This is not a “free” society, it is a society in which fear already rules our actions.

The Kilroy-Silk saga is not the beginning, nor is it an end. Unlike the famous Battle of Britain statement by Churchill, nor is it the end of the beginning. It will get much, much worse before it improves. It will be a long siege, stock up and check your defenses, there but for the grace of God goes any of us.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 10, 2004

On a lighter note .....

Some years ago I used to live in a city on the coast of the Eastern Cape. Near the city was a small "safari park" which boasted several large "wilderness" enclosures in which the owners maintained a wide variety of animals including a small pride of lions, some cheetahs and one or two other predators of the large cat family. Most of these animals got used to the shiny motor cars and the flashing lights from funny things pointed in their direction by these strange and noisy "animals", but it was the lions who developed their own form of entertainment.

They discovered that you could catch motor cars. And they were fun to play with. But not just any car. Oh no! Only the best would do. They would ignore the family saloons, the beaten up VW campers and combi's, the Beetles and even the 4x4's. It was the Mercede Benz and top range BMW's they liked!

The trick was one of the lioness' would lie or stand in a part of the road where the driver could not get past her. Then the rest of the family would arrive. Papa lion liked to take the tyres off - after removing the shiny hubcaps of course! The others would chew off the trim around the headlights, the tail light clusters and any body trim they could pry loose, sometimes even removing the windscreen wipers and then lying on the bonnet to stare into the windcreen purring loudly and drooling gently while they sized up the occupants.

It got to the point where the owners posted notices, tried to discourage people in expensive cars and even escorted them. But there isn't a lot that you can do that will discourage a lion or lioness who's sassed out the weakness in your argument!

About the only way the keepers could effect a rescue was to draw the lions off with food to a holding area while the occupants of the car were removed and the vehicle retrieved.

Anyone want to bet this wasn't what Leo and his family had figured out? If this isn't an example of animals manipulating their so-called superiors then I don't know what is.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:25 PM

Sermon for Sunday ....

Well, I've finished the third draft. I'll probably have a major flash of inspiration about 30 seconds before I go into the pulpit, but by then it will be too late.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Baptism of Christ and the lectionary (the table which determines the Bible Readings for various services during the day - it actually works on a daily basis for a year at a time and over a three year cycle!) dictates readings from Acts Chapter 8 verses 14 to 17 and the Gospel reading is from Luke Chapter 3 verse 15 - 17 and then verses 21 & 22. Lukes account of the baptism is possibly the most anodyn of the four! And the Acts reading only serves to confuse an already difficult area in the whole debate on "initiation".

Well, for what its worth you can read my thoughts on the significance of this sacrament by following the link ......

Parish Eucharist
Baptism of Christ (Epiphany 1)
11th January 2004

+ Christ before me, Christ beside me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

“Then Peter and John laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Where I grew up in South Africa there were a lot of splinter Christian groups, many of them exuberant in their worship. Some of them came from a “Baptist” tradition and met at least once a year at a river or dam to conduct baptism services by full immersion. These were always colourful affairs – and there would inevitably be some entertainment and some drama involved. On occasion it was difficult to tell the difference between the Ministers baptizing and the baptized, and the occasional drowning probably added something to the ritual as well.

Looking back, I suspect that the Baptist’s sessions along the Jordan probably wouldn’t have been that different – in fact he would probably have approved. He would probably not have recognized our use of a font, or our somewhat more structured approach to the sacrament of baptism – but, somehow an encounter with the water of the Swilgate or the Mill Avon might have shown him something of our reasoning!

Why do we baptize? What exactly are we doing in baptism – and for some, how should we actually do it? These are probably questions that have been resounding down the centuries, and we still do not have complete answers to the last part at least.

The Western Church has, since the 3rd Century, tended to separate the act of Baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit into two acts, baptism as an infant during which parents and godparents make the promises, and the act of Confirmation in Faith made before a Bishop in which the individual makes a personal declaration of that faith. This is, in part, an echo of the first reading from Acts, in which the Samaritans receive baptism, but the two Apostles Peter and John must journey separately to Samaria in order to “Confirm” that baptism with the laying on of hands. However, is our practice correct? Is our understanding of this passage complete? Elsewhere in the scriptures we find that baptism and the reception of the Spirit are simultaneous. This suggests that The Samaritans may have been a “special case”.
Certainly the Eastern Church recognizes this in its practice of baptizing, chrysmating and confirming all in one ceremony!

But let us first ask where this tradition has come from.

The Bible gives us three different examples of the use of baptism in a ritual manner. The first is in Leviticus where the priests are to “sprinkle” the people with water “purified” for the purpose. The Prophets use the water of the Jordan (and probably other rivers and lakes as well) for ritual bathing and healing. The Jews themselves used baptism as one of the initiation rites for Gentile converts to Judaism and finally we have John the Baptist offering a ritual washing away of sin in the act of baptism which required the recipient to make a declaration of repentance.

John has probably combined the Jewish initiation ritual with the practices of the Essene community of which he may well have been a member at some stage of his life. The purpose of John’s baptism was the ritual washing away of sin and the declaration of a new start for the recipient. It was to this, then, that Christ came at the start of His ministry. Our gospel reading for today is probably the tamest of the four accounts. Luke tells us only that Christ was baptized – and not necessarily by John himself – and that the Spirit came upon Him as he prayed following this. Matthew tells us of a conversation between Christ and John, Mark, that the Holy Spirit descended on him as he rose from the water and John, that the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Messiah.

But why did Christ need to be baptized if the action was one of purification and commitment to God? Surely He of all people had no need of either? There are several arguments in answer to this, each having its own merit. Personally I believe it was done for several reasons, first and foremost to identify with His people, second to make a statement of intent and thirdly as an act of self preparation and declaration. Thus, as he has sanctified the act of acceptance in our faith by baptism, it is something we can do in identifying our own commitment to God.

Over the intervening centuries the rituals have changed, we have acquired additional “rules” which can confuse the issues and hide the simple and elegant truth which lies within this sacrament. This is the sacrament where, for the first time in our lives, we confront the throne of Grace and make our own commitment to be God’s own person. In return we receive in the sprinkled water and the prayers of the faithful supporting us, the gift of the Holy Spirit who will guide and sustain us through the journey ahead.

Peter and John had to go to Samaria to lay hands on those who had accepted baptism, but not received the Holy Spirit in that act. We retain the laying on of hands by a Bishop as a symbolic rededication of the individual who is making their own declaration, confirmation of the promises made on their behalf at baptism, yet it is important to remember that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given in the grace of baptism and is not a separate gift at some later point.

Nor should the confirmation of these promises be limited to the day of Confirmation. We should renew our promises as often as we have opportunity to do so, because they are the foundation of our faith – the sole reason we call ourselves Christ’s Church.

In a few minutes we will have the opportunity to commemorate Christ’s Baptism by renewing our own Baptismal vows. As we do so, let us consider how well we have kept those promises in the year gone past, and how we can work to keep them in the year ahead.

“You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:04 PM

Folklore from my past ...

Following a link from Ozguru's page I found myself reading Dagoddess and to my surprise, a couple of African folk stories from KwaZulu, not a place I would normally associate with California! A nice surprise, because one I knew and heard as a child, the other is fresh. Read about Jabu and the Lion here and the Cheetahs tears here.

As ever with folklore tales there are important reminders on the subject of integrity, honour and treating others with respect. Pity Joanie's (Da Goddess) landlord hasn't had a few lessons in this.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:17 PM

January 09, 2004

Keep off the grass!

Surprise, surprise, no sooner had our illustrious leadership downgraded cannabis to a Category B drug - in other words you don't get tossed in the pokey for possession, just a telling off - unless you offer to sell it to the Policeman, than a "new" medical report is published. This highlights the health risks that were identified back in the 60's when the Prime Misery's generation were rushing about organising "sit in's", blacklisting lecturers, digging up cricket pitches and no doubt smoking anything they could get rolled up and burning.

Of course, the committee that recommended the downgrade contained a number of medics - but none from the field of mental health! Therein lies the rub.

Those who claim it does not contribute to criminal violence are not telling the truth. This is a drug which suppresses the inhibitions and it also creates a state of mind in which the user feels invulnerable. Why do these idiots think the Ottoman Empire used to provide it in bulk to their troops on the eve of battle? Quite simply because the troops who got high enough could only be stopped by literally being blown to bits! As long as they could move they kept coming. This is not rational behaviour, nor is it the behaviour of normal soldiery in any other army.

Try holding a rational conversation with someone who has used it sometime. Rational it is not! The problem is that the cannabinoids remain in the system for an extended period (which varies from person to person) and they are cumulative, so the damage done is never quite repaired. Another factor is that the variants now being pedalled are a hell of a lot more potent that the weedy stuff puffed so daringly in the 60's.

The reports findings are frightening. Anyone using this stuff in their teens is much more likely than a non-user to suffer from a depressive illness before they reach their thirties. And even more likely to suffer schizophrenia! In fact the report does identify that the huge increase we are seeing in mental illness - particularly the schizoprenia related types, are directly related to increasing cannabis use.

Does our wonderful political leadership admit they have made a mistake? Of course not, we get the usual platitudes and assurances that the downgrade won't increase use. Oh yeah? You can't tell people on the one hand that it is a dangerous substance and then tell them its OK to use it by reducing the category! I notice they have stopped short of trying to rubbish the reports findings - the author has far more support in his profession than the cretins at the Home Office could possibly command.

Another nice mess you and your cronies have created for posterity Tone!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:35 PM | Comments (2)


Thank the Lord, that's the first week of the year out of the way. The next six weeks look pretty busy, but this one has been tough for all sorts of reasons. Let's just say that I haven't managed to open my e-mail for the last two days, and, as there is a divert in place which copies everything from my office to here, I had a pretty full mailbox!

First of all, thanks to all those of you who have visited me this week - your comments are appreciated, I hope that you don't mind my sometimes quirky humour in response. Its just my way of staying sane.

Certainly joining the Blogdoms of God has increased my hit rate - and suddenly promoted me to the status of Flappy Bird - I'd only just got used to having four paws and stopped slithering - on the TTLB Blogosphere, but it has also brought me into contact with a number of new and interesting blogs. One of these is the Rev Mike, a Presbyterian Minister in the US. Hi Mike, thanks for the explanation of the evolution on the TTLB Ecosystem - Creation Theory versus Evolution? If the former, we had better start being nice to the Bear in charge of the TTLB!

Blogging was out of the question yesterday. I had every good intention, but somehow my lunch hour vanished in a stream of problems all requiring my urgent attention and an emergency solution. Then I got home, made a quick supper and was heading for the PC when the doorbell rang. My son (normally resident in London!) had arrived for an unannounced visit. A nice surprise and a great chance to catch up. He has just landed a job as a First Officer with a company that hires out helicopters and also does charters. He still has to convert to a JAA Licence - but they liked his attitude, his determination and his initiative enough to take him on and offer to sort it out as he goes.

Sometimes your kids make you really proud of them, and this guy has earned gold stars in my book. He took himself off to the States and in three months and at his own expense, put himself through a Commercial Helicoter Pilots course. When he got back to the UK and applied for it to be recognised the CAA here told him they'd changed the rules seven days earlier and he would have to redo the exams and undergo conversion flying time with an "approved" school. As he had taken the trouble to go to them and ask about the recognition of qualifications before committing himself to the expense, you may be forgiven for thinking they would have told him the rules were about to change. But, no, this is the civil service we are dealing with here - only the answer to a specific question is given. You didn't ask about rule changes!

It is perhaps fortunate the smug moron who dropped that one was not within reach. As it is he got an offer to have his parents introduced to each other sometime.

I take my hat off to my son, he simply went out and started hunting for anything connected with flying helicopters that would enable him to get the flying time and the opportunity to sit the exams. And now he has succeeded. I look forward to having the opportunity to fly with him. He starts with Biggin Hill Helicopters in February. Anyone wanting to hire a helicopter - they're the people!

Today I have spent at a Military College lecturing on the practicalities and pitfalls of conducting a fire or explosion investigation. A nice class with mixed interests and an interesting day all round. As this is too students studying for an MSc, somee of them interested in a career path leading to Forensic Investigations, the questions and discussion were lively and fun. There is, of course, always a Joker in a pack like this and there was a fairly senior officer in mufti lurking amongst them - but he provided some interesting leads to be developed in the lecture and we got some good sparks going between us.

But it also reminds me that I have to contact my eldest daughter's (she's gone to University as a mature student and is doing a BSc in Physics!) Professor and see what he needs from a lecturer in investigation techniques and debris interpretation. Mind you, that last bits easy, the lecture can be summed up in one sentence. "I say, you've had a fire!"

Rambling swiftly on, I paid a visit to Bear Left on Unnamed Road and ended up with tears in my eyes, at Ron's decription of how he came to go hang-gliding. Read it yoursleves at "Flying on a wing and a prayer". Definitely a tip of the old titfer' in Ron's direction. I love gliding - can't afford it at present - but have usually done it in much larger sailplanes than the oversized kites they call hang-gliders!

Another of my favourite blogs "Practical Penumbra" has an hilarious story about a visit to the zoo. The bind definitely moggles at this one!

Now, I have a sermon to prepare. OK, so I'm goofing off and putting it off as long as I can, but I think I'm now pushing the boundaries of sleep time, so I had better get to it. But I can't go without another smile - see Cybnical Cyn for her "Cyn-icism" of the day.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:46 PM

January 07, 2004

Welcome back to the courier

Its nice to see Aussie Courier back on the web and in full form - even if sunburned (Da pain boss, da pain!). It's easily done if you don't usually get the chance to pick up a tan - then you rush it!

Mind you, this is one of the guys who was forever telling me to put on sunblock, wear a shirt and a hat!

Sympathies mate - but, it will peel and pass - eventually!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:23 PM

Danger! Evolution at work

Evolution obviously is affected by the web in some, as yet, unexplained manner. Until fairly recently my blog didn't register on the TTLB Ecosystem - or if it did, it was as an amoeba or some equally simple life form. Now, in the normal course of the evolutionary process, it takes millions of years for a simple life form to adapt to changes around it and evolve new attributes, more cells and possibly even more appendages on its way toward (hopefully!) developing more brain power and recognising its place in the grand scheme of life.

Well, all that it seems has changed - at least in this small corner of the blogosphere. Here evolution and regression happen at light speed! I have, in the last few days gone from being an amoeba to an Adorable Little Rodent in the TTLB Ecosystem. I was even, at one point for a couple of hours, a Large Flappy Bird! But, such is evolution at this sort of speed that I seem to have devolved again to the Adorable Little Rodent. Such is life!

Well, I don't pretend to understand how this works, but I gather that it has something to do with the number of visitors to the site and the number of links it has picked up. So, in essence, I owe it all to my readers.

Thanks folks, I hope you will keep dropping in and leaving your comments. I agree with Pratchett - writing is the most fun you can have on your own.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:13 PM | Comments (4)

January 06, 2004

Twelth Night

Well, its Twelth Night and I trust you have all packed away your Christmas decorations for another year? If not the Little Folk may bring you bad luck when they visit at midnight to check!

But why "Twelth Night" and what has this to do with Christmas or anything else?

Twelth Night occurs on the night of the Feast of the Epiphany - the fourth major Feast falling within the Christmas "Octave - which also marks the arrival and departure of the Magi in Bethlehem. The decorations should be down in deference to the fact that the Magi "returned home another way" and the Holy Family fled Bethlehem to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the Innocents following Herod's discovery that the Magi had left.

The "Twelve days of Christmas" include four other "Feasts" including St Stephen, Holy Innocents, St John the Evangelist and the Epiphany. Like all major feasts Christmas is kept with an "Octave", and the four additional "feast" days extend this to twelve.

But the Epiphany itself is important for another reason - one which the Ortodox Churches mark by celebrating Christmas with it. It marks the revealing of Christ to the non-Jewish world represented by the Magi. But you may ask, did it really happen?

The best evidence we have for this event having actually occured comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, who recorded that Herod the Great had ordered the killing of all male children between 2 and 4 years of age in Bethlehem, "the ancient City of David the King". He records that some 1,000 boy children were slaughtered by Herod's guards and the reason was simply that Herod had been told that a new heir to the throne of David had been born there.

This and the fact that a great conjunction of Mercury and Venus occured in 6 BC lends credence to the story of the slaughter and the story of the star guiding wise men. The conjunction of Mercury and Venus occurs at exactly 480 year intervals and the light the combined planets throw is bright enough to cause shadows in the pre-dawn. The last one occurred in 1913 and my Grandmother used to tell us how bright it was in the early morning.

The conjunction coupled with the triple entry of Jupiter into the zodiac sign of Leo in the same year was interpretted by Chaldean astrologers as meaning the birth of a new heir to the throne of Israel/Judah. It was probably their representatives who set out to find him. This was not unusual, such visits are recorded in Rome for the birth of Augustus Caesar and of one or two Pharaohs.

So, in effect, we have corroboration of the Gospel stories regarding the star, the visit of the Magi and the subsequent slaying of the innocents.

Epiphany marks the first occassion when Christ is revealed to the world and the world acknowledges him. It is also the first of many signs that he has come to all the world and not to a select few.

Happy Epiphany one and all. May the peace of the Christ child be with you and yours in the year ahead.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:54 PM

Another day, another ....

Its been an entertaining day one way or another. Our LAN was still down this morning but late this afternoon came the good news that Batgirl had been resuscitated and was once more available. Someone really ought to tell IT that "resuscitate" and "available" may not be quite accurate or even advisable words to use in conjunction with ladies of the nature of the Bat Caped lady, even less so of a computer server! The bind moggles!

Still, we can now talk to the right printers, each other and the outside world again. And all from our desk tops.

I notice this evening that Matthew over on Skipjack DOT info has a couple of posts worth exploring (he has a lot more as well, but you get my drift.) and one in particular caught my eye. Titled "First post of the year" it is the text of Kipling's poem "If". Hackneyed it may be, trite it possibly could be, but it still has something to say to us all. Thanks Matthew.

A pity though that our illustrious leaders cannot see the dangers in slavishly following the EU diktats and not backing off the power hungry bureaucrats for a change. Tim, of An Englishman's Castle says it very well in his post titled "Freedom to work". Like him I want to live in a country where I accept responsibility for my own actions, where I am not ordered about by bureaucrats with no common sense and a plethora of rule books and without the blackmailing or bullying of the Union bosses.

An economic market union, yes, a United States of Europe? NO!

It is nice to see that there are others out there who think as I do that we are all individuals and all responsible for our own failings, decisions and situations. Iain and Kris on The Edge of England's Sword hit the nail square on the head with Kris post on the patent nonsense of morons who try to blame their own decision to eat fast food on the supplier. My response is to want to shout at these morons "Grow up for heaven's sake and get real!" Read Kris' comments for yourselves under "My fault, not McDonalds". Great stuff Kris.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:06 PM

January 05, 2004

Polish entertainment

Going through my pictures of the Polish trip to put together a review of the trip, I was reminded of the evening reception for speakers and delegates, during which we were entertained by this group of young students who proudly showed off their skills in music, dancing and singing.


A stirring tune and a traditional dance, ably performed by a group of young Polish students.

It was an amazing experience to hear carols and folk song tunes that you recognise being sung in a language that you don't - and being sung with a genuine feeling. These youngsters are very proud of their cultural traditions and we could all learn a thing or two from them methinks.

The Monk enjoys seeing the real people and traditions of a people when he travels, and is often fortunate to be shown a city, country or culture by his hosts in the emergency services. There is no better way to see a country than to see it with someone who lives in it, and loves it.

I know that I will one day have to go back to Poland, just to see it and learn a bit more about its people. I live in hope!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:46 PM

Back to work ....

Well, I've survived the first day back at work, and even managed to get some done! Quite an achievement really considering that one of the key servers in our LAN was down all day - so no access to the internet - but I did notice that we still got floods of e-mail.

One curious side effect of the server being out of commission was that it seems to have scrambled all our printers. The one I am normally on is called Laser E, but my printing was happening on one in another part of the building called Laser C, when it wasn't happening in yet another part of the building on a printer designated Laser U. I'm still missing some pages but what the heck, it adds something of a frisson to ones life to have to take a tour of the site to discover which of the 23 printers your printing has been downloaded to this time.

The IT wizards tell me that the ant farm will be replaced, they hope, by tomorrow and that Batgirl should be back up and running (or should that be hanging?) by close of play tomorrow. The culprit seems to have been our electricity provider who blacked us out on Friday last and this evidently fried a crucial switch, which in turn has done something to poor Batgirl.

I wonder if they will remember to TBE her? (Readers of Terry Pratchett will recognise the designation from the Hogfather after Hex is given his (its?) Hogwatch present!)

OK, OK, not everyone reads Pratchett - it stands for Teddy Bear Enabled. See, I told you those little fellows are amazing!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:27 PM

January 04, 2004

And the prize is ....

Usually three weeks in Scunthorpe with Auntie May, but that would be far too good for this lot.

Hypocrisy has a peculiar stench to it, and the Dr Kelly affair must be stinking all the way around the globe by now. It seems that, in anticipation of being blamed by the Hutton report for the suicide of Dr Kelly, the civil servants running the Ministry of Defence (yep, the same ones who bought automatic personal weapons for the troops which seize up if you don't clean it out everytime you fire it, or if it gets too hot, or too sandy and boots that melt in the desert heat!) have now hired a bunch of very expensive lawyers and put together a team of other civil servants to contest any potential claim for compensation that Mrs Kelly might make.

Not content with having driven him to suicide, they now want to deny any involvement and are trying to put forward "evidence" - which since it comes from "confidential" files cannot be tested, and given that it is also "found" and written by civil servants, shouldn't be trusted - that he was mentally unstable! So, if we can't do a Pontius Pilate and wash our hands of involvement, then we can claim he was his own worst enemy. Oh, really? So no one spotted the fact that he was in need of help while he was actually involved in the Iraqi arms inspections? What sort of management is this?

Frankly, the whole thing stinks, the people involved should be thrown out of post. They have deprived the Kelly family of a father and husband, they have deprived the country of this mans knowledge and his expertise and now they want to deny his widow the compensation she and her family are entitled too. No doubt Mr Blair will reward the MoD team with Knighthoods or some other appropriate award.

I sincerely hope that the Hutton Enquiry turns up the dirt on the Civil Servants involved, but I somehow doubt that it will.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:21 PM | Comments (2)

Flattery will get you

Everything, especially if you are Cynical Cyn, who has put a very nice comment on her blog for today about my efforts. Thanks Cyn I look forward to catching up with some more of your thoughts in future.

Speaking of which, she has an amusing story to tell under the title "Heaven" a nice little laugh for the bleak prospect of Monday ahead. If that's a vision of heaven, count me in.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:50 PM | TrackBack

The Law is an Ass .....

A post on An Englishman's Castle that is worth a read can be found under the title of "Todays Result" and touches on several items which have come up in the Sunday papers. The crazy state of the law in the UK essentially turns the householder into a criminal if he or she does anything to apprehend the thief/burglar or attempts to defend themselves.

What on earth the people at BBC Radio 4 thought they would get as suggestions I'm damned if I know. As for the idiot MP who stuck his neck out and then retracted his promise, well, his constituents should know what to do with him at the next election. Trouble is, most of those who vote for him are probably burglars anyway. The Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is promising us a Tony Martin Law to allow us to defend ourselves and our property, and already the sneering and so-called liberal left are trying to paint a picture of thousands of slaughtered sixteen year olds. To quote the MP embarrassed by the listeners "it would authorise the slaughter of sixteen year olds".

Really? And just how many sixteen year olds actually go in for breaking and entering? Outside of his area I would suspect that the number is very small indeed, and the police probably have bulky files on most of them - which was certainly the case of the one killed by Tony Martin.

It comes to something when an elderly retired High Sheriff of a County, a respectable country gentleman farmer and his wife can be burgled once, (little if any action by the police), then have a second attempted burglary while the pair are in residence, driven off by the old boy firing a shotgun over the getaway car, (police action, threaten arrest of the householder [Remember he was High Sheriff! - OK, its a titular appointment, but its certainly not handed out to just anybody - he represents the Crown and the Law in a County], confiscate the shotgun and make no attempt to catch the frustrated burglars) and then, when he is attacked again, assaulted and robbed again in his own house, the police warn him of the dangers of attempting to defend his property - and make no attempt to catch the would be thieves.

In similar vein, there is the story from another part of the counrty of a pharmacist whose shop was invaded by a brawling gang, a lot of damage caused and one of the thugs attacked him and his staff, beating the pharmacist unconscious before grabbing some goods and running off. The pharmacist had managed to get a photograph using a disposable camera and someone else identified the thug responsible. Doing the right thing, the pharmacist reports his knowledge to the police, hands over photograph, and from his own records, the address of the thug. Result? HE is now threatened with prosecution for breaking the law? What law? Oh, the Data Protection Act - it seems he should not have looked up the address of the thug and handed it over to the Police.

Have the police made any effort to catch and charge the thug? Of course not, it's much easier to catch speeding motorists, or charge the victims with hindering the criminals in their activities.

It must be said, that it is not the Police who make or even interpret the law. That is the exclusive task of the Legislature - ergo, Tone the Cronymakers bunch of bleeding hearts. Most of this moronic legislation can be traced back to clauses they have inserted into Bills or more recently Acts they have passed. The Human Rights Act, The amendments to the Data Protection Act, The Criminal Justice Act and a raft of others. These are not in themselves such bad concepts, but they are so badly written (blame the Civil Servants who can turn the design for a horse into a donkey!) that a good lawyer can drive a fleet of double decker busses through most of it.

Who can blame the police for going for the soft targets. The real crimanls can always rely on a technicality - such as the source of the b*st*ards address - to get them off.

I may just vote for Mr Howard this time round - you never know, being a lawyer himself, he might just get a piece of legislation right and give us the lever we need to get the criminals put on the spot instead of us.

There are just two things I would want to see any politician get right for a change. First, make all civil servants responsible for their cock ups and make them take the can for it. Too many of them just go from one huge cock up to the next and no one ever pays the penalty for it - unless its a Minister stupid enough to let the Civil Servants set him up for it.

Secondly, I want the right to defend my property without fear or favour, and I want a police force that is going to come down like a ton of bricks on the burglars, thugs and assorted other wrongdoers, backed by courts that aren't going to commend law breaking or allow people like Ian Huntley to walk away again and again laughing at the law.

I don't need politicians like the Labour MP on BBC Radio 4 whose opinion of the entire electorate was revealed in an unguarded moment, when he said, "The people have spoken - the bastards!"

So much for a party in tune with the electorate. I rest my case, my Lord.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:08 PM | Comments (3)

Knocking on the door ....

Recently I have seen a number of posts and comments that take a very negative line towards the Church of England and the wider Anglican Church. While I agree that everyone is entitled to their own view, some of the posts and almost all of the newspaper reports have been written in that sort of sneering tone which suggests that the writer considers their view to be so superior they do not need to justify the opinions stated nor, indeed, offer any alternative to the institution they decry.

As this is a rather huge subject, may I invite those that are interested to see my view by following the link below. Thanks for taking the time to consider another opinion.

Everyone, it seems, is taking a shot at the poor old Church of England these days. If the Archbishop of Canterbury (or his counterpart for the Northern Province – the Archbishop of York) dares to express an opinion, out come the media circus to pour scorn on everything he says. Yet they seem remarkably short of alternatives to what is actually said – in fact they never offer anything other than denigration or sarcastic abuse. This evidence of the way in which our society is slowly losing all sense of direction and seems incapable of sensible debate always saddens me.

The most complex issues are reduced to 30-second sound bites – and heaven help the Archbishop if the little fragment that the editors select from an otherwise perfectly rational answer becomes something vacuous or provocative. Sometimes, of course, this is deliberate. After all, there’s nothing like a whiff of scandal or controversy to stir up passions and sell newspapers. And the Church is such a soft target.

Therein lies the problem. The Church tries very hard in a society that now considers greed, envy and avarice to be laudable – indeed the entire philosophy of the socialist programme, as implemented in our present society, is driven by engendering envy of everyone else’s success – to provide an alternative view in which it is OK to be who you are and make the best use of what you have both in skills and physical abilities as you move through this life. It also tries to keep alive the view that we are all each others keepers and that it is not right to abuse, to deprive or to take what is not yours in any shape, form or manner. Precisely because it tries to give a moral lead, it is vulnerable to attack by anyone who wishes to show their own superiority, usually by highlighting the failures. And, yes, there are many.

The Church is, after all, like the nation, the people who do their best to follow its teaching and who may or may not be regular members of any congregation. It is not some amorphous extraterrestrial being having an independent life entirely of its own, it is the embodiment of its members and adherents. The Archbishop of Canterbury has to attempt to represent the views, not only of his Diocese, but also of every member of the Anglican Communion. Not because, he is some sort of Anglican Pope, but because his See is the senior one of the Worldwide Anglican Communion. This means that he is also speaking for the African, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern Provinces of the Church as well as for the Western ones. I think most people would find it far easier to cross the Niagara gorge on a tightrope.

Perhaps this also sums up the single most amazing thing about the Anglican Church. It is so wide in its usage and in its interpretation of received teaching and scripture, in its formularies and in its celebrations that it is nothing less than a miracle it is held together at all. Even within the Provinces of Canterbury and York there is a faultline that runs through it between “Evangelical” and “Anglo-Catholic”, and this is reflected between Parishes and often within the same Parish. There are those who want to adhere to the 16th Century idealism of the Protestant practices and those who want to move everything forward into a “happy-clappy, Jesus loves me” hymn sandwich environment at the one end of the scale and at the other those who feel that Vatican 2 should never have happened, that any relaxation of ritual should be fought tooth and nail. The Archbishops and their Diocesans have to hold all of this together. And here lies yet another problem. What may be acceptable to one group in this diverse set of understandings and traditions in the UK, may not be to another, and may have even more serious ramifications to the wider church in Africa and elsewhere. Here lies yet another dilemma, because, the church is growing – it is growing very rapidly in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and in other parts of the world. One reason for this is that the Anglican tradition offers a less rigid line of spiritual direction than is available from the Roman Catholic tradition, but it also appeals to those from other faiths for very much the same reason, but with a recognizable structure.

We in Europe make a great fuss about the rights of humanity, but we forget that our priorities – recognition of women’s equality, human dignity, sexual expression and our concept of democratic governance, are not the experience or the priorities of anyone in the developing world. Indeed, for the average African, sexual freedom is a major issue, partly because of the massive spread of AIDS/HIV, but also because the sexual restraints which we accept as “the norm” do not apply universally in many of these tribal cultures. It is this that concerns the Bishop’s when you have a large portion of the Anglican Communion in effect telling another part of the Church where ignorance and sexual abuse is killing off a large part of the population, that the very practices which give rise to their problems is “OK”. It is very easy to pass judgement on the Bishops for being “conservative” in their views and to condemn the Church as a whole for this debacle, but there are issues here which are much wider than what one or two Provinces in a worldwide Church think or feel. It would also be stupid of me not to say that there is a very long tradition (2,000 years give or take a few!) of not accepting same sex relationships within the theo-philosophic understanding of scripture. It is not an easy thing to simply say that because society has changed that this must change as well. That is not to say, that people of that persuasion should be ejected or rejected, the Christian Gospel is for ALL God’s creation, not just a select few po-faced individuals with a holier than thou complex!

Frankly, I am personally of the view that what consenting individuals do in the privacy of their homes is entirely between them and their maker, it is none of my business. It becomes my business when someone determines that I must be told or must in some way be forced to acknowledge that they have a different lifestyle or a different set of norms to mine. As I said I don’t have a problem with you or anyone else doing it your way – provided that you accept that I may not choose to follow your lead. If you want my respect than show me that it is a mutual arrangement. Besides, I regard this whole thing as a side issue being used for political purposes, the Church is not there to reflect society but to provide a vision for society. This is what it has done through a very long period. It usually falls down and loses its way when it tries to be the society it serves, that is when you get the Torquemades, the burning of “heretics” and other abuses. Nor should we forget that the Church has had “gay” clergy for a long time, most of them exemplary priests and Bishops. I have had the privilege of knowing quite a few in my time, but they would have been horrified at the thought of being “outed”, rather accepting that they were different, had different gifts and bringing them to use for the benefit of their congregations. Nor must we overlook the problems that have arisen for a number of churches – including the Church of Canada and the Roman Catholic Church in the US where a very small number of clergy have abused their positions to prey upon young people. What do the sneering, jeering mockers and politicians want? On the one hand they demand the Bishops put an end to these abuses, and on the other that they take a stance which will proclaim in some sections of society that this is “all right”. Either way, it gives the mockers something to sneer at.

Yes, the Church is a soft target, but what do we have as an alternative to the round of worship, the teachings and the traditions of Christmas, Easter and so on? On the one hand you could go down the New Age route and set up “Wicca” covens as an alternative “Earth Spirit” religion to provide a spiritual outlet. Of course, you would have to accept that some of the practices of this group would probably frighten the horses, but it would also possibly provide plenty for the salacious delectation of the media circus and so would possibly be more acceptable than the C of E vicar caught with his chorister. You could, of course go for an African or Indonesian style “animist” religion, but I suspect that these would give the Police a problem with the following up of mutilated corpses and animals and attempts to prosecute the “worshippers”. Or perhaps, you would favour closing all centres of religion and just making available a variety of chemical and herbal substances to those who feel a need to explore a spiritual side to their natures?

That, really, is the problem we all face. Some simply refuse to consider it, others pay it lips service but shy away from exploring it and others, like myself, attempt to explore and make some sort of sense of it as we go through life. Our society has been created by the principles set out in the Christian Gospels, but we have also borrowed from a number of other religious sources as well. Now that we have successfully demolished the authority of the Spiritual leaders of the nation we are left with a society that has lost direction and replaced religious belief with a selfish and self indulgent approach which breeds greed, avarice and envy. This is why whenever you care to take a good look at the book shelves in any decent book store, you find the shelves are bursting with “alternative” philosophies – religion of the individual, by the individual, for the individual. There is a strong element of desperation in the search for a belief system that spawns these books.

In a recent survey in Britain, the somewhat startling statistics revealed that more than 50% of households considered themselves to be basically Christian, a majority claiming to be C of E, yet our Churches are actually seeing only around 5% of the people. This is in part because the Church has allowed itself to become a “holy huddle”, inward looking and self defensive, instead of being more robust and challenging the knockers and mockers.

Our new Archbishop may look like a pushover, but I suspect that many will find in due course that he has a strength they lack. Like most things in this world, if it is reduced to a 30-second sound bite it either becomes a non-event or a controversy. The trouble is, that the Church has a message for all of society and all the people, gay, straight, black, white and every other shade, rich, poor, intellectual or not, but it cannot be reduced to a single sound bite applicable to all.

By all means knock the Church when it is being silly and it often is, but give some thought to what could or would replace all that it brings if you destroy it. Let’s hear your alternative philosophy so we can also see where you stand. It’s never as simple as it looks from the comfort of an armchair or the editing suite of a TV studio, and its always much easier to shoot at someone else than it is to take the return fire.

A Rabbi, once told me a story in which God watched the Israelites cross the sea and Pharaoh’s army drowning in the waters. An angel noticed He was weeping and asked why. God replied, “Did you not realise that the Egyptian’s are my children too?”
The C of E has many faults, but it also recognizes that it is there for all those who live in these isles, the doubters, the mockers, the adherents and those like me who have to struggle sometimes to hang in there and keep going in the face of our own personal crises as well as those of the folk around us. The key element is that it is there to welcome everyone, but it does have a few “issues” which will continue to cause heartache for a long time to come. The only way these will ever be resolved is to sit down and talk them through, not in emotive terms, but in reasoned and rational debate, with both sides being completely honest and open. At least the Bishops have been open and honest, give them credit for that, and then let us all see how the situation can move forward for everyone.

As I said in my opening lines, it is easy to take a shot at the Archbishop, but would you care to take that responsibility? I know that I would rather attempt to climb Mount Everest in a blizzard.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:51 PM | Comments (3)

January 03, 2004

A little Biblical interlude

Among the many things I get to do around Tewkesbury Abbey, one is a regular article for the Parish Magazine. Over the last year or so I have been focussing on studying the Bible, and I offer this introduction to the Old Testament for those who might find it interesting. As and when it seems appropriate I will post others.

To read the item go here .....

A wander through the Old Testament

Yet more ramblings on the study of the Bible

The collection of books we commonly refer to as the “Old Testament” did not take its final form until 550 AD. Earlier versions of this collection included, as I pointed out in the March ramble, many books now collected under the heading of the Apocrypha, the collection from the Hellenic Diaspora known as the “Septuagint” being regarded as the most authoritive. This last compilation formed the basis of the Latin “Vulgate” translation on which some later “vernacular” translations were based. Indeed, our “Authorised” translation drew heavily upon the Vulgate, with “amendments” such as the creation of the Apocrypha being affected by the Protestant use of the later versions of the “Talmud” as set by the Jewish Councils by 550 AD.

The collection as we now have it in most versions of the Bible in use today divides into four main sections. The first of these is the foundation for the whole of the rest and is often referred to as “The Pentateuch”, a title which simply means “The Five Books”. It is these five books which underpin the Jewish, and by definition, our own, faith.

The second set of books form the “Historical” group and include, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. (An extension of Esther known as “The rest of Esther” can be found in the Apocrypha and is an apparent attempt to bring a religious tone to a book which does not even mention God!)

The next group brings together the “Poetry and Wisdom” books with, as you would expect, Psalms, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. It also brings in Job – with some debate I suspect as to whether this book brings salutary warnings or wisdom to bear! Of this group we are probably most familiar with the Psalms, all one hundred and fifty of them, most of them attributed to King David. This attribution is probably debatable as many of them make reference to events long after his death, though this could be a reflection of an original poem being “up dated” to keep its theme topical in much the same way that many Gilbert and Sullivan “patter” songs are updated each time they are performed. The themes in them range across the full spectrum of human emotion and endeavour. Who could fail to be moved by the deep sense of contrition contained in Psalm 51, or the plea for help underlying the lament in Psalm 137, “By the Rivers of Babylon, where we sat down”? Then too, the pure worship in Psalm 150 or the description of a sea journey in Psalm 107 verses 23 – 32. Anyone who has ever been caught out at sea in a small boat will recognize the visceral terror contained in those few lines of poetry – and the relief at being able to reach dry land!

The final and perhaps longest section is that of the Prophets. These record the work and prophecy of a collection of men sent by God to guide and steer the chosen people through their preparation for the coming of Christ. To a Jew, their word was a matter for constant resort, debate and a guide to daily activity. They span an interesting period of the nations history - and have not a little to say to us as we live through a period in which God is forgotten, ignored or denigrated. The book we know as Isaiah is in fact three books each from a slightly different period and written over a period of slightly more than 100 years between about 780 BC and 670 BC and is addressed to the Kingdom of Judah. During this time the twin Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were under threat from the Assyrian empire and the Kingdom of Israel fell to that invader around 750 BC. It is also contemporaneous with the Book of Micah which begins in about the same years and ends about 15 years earlier than Isaiah does.

Each of the prophets following, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah warn of the consequences of the disobedience and disregard for God displayed by an evermore decadent Judah as the threat from the North and East grew. Finally, Jeremiah and Obadiah see the fall of Judah to the Babylonian invader and the destruction of the Temple of Solomon. Daniel, Ezekiel and Obadiah are all from the period of exile, but they are followed by Haggai, Zechariah, Joel and Malachi as even the restored Kingdom of Judah, now probably a vassal state of the Persian empire, was almost no better behaved than the pre-exile Kingdom had been. Who have I omitted? Why, Jonah, Hosea, Amos, Micah are also there, but not necessarily in the sequence I have given.

If we add the Apocrypha as the Fifth section we have a span of writing in the Old Testament that begins in Genesis at around 1950 BC and ends sometime in the first or second Century AD. Why do I choose the beginning date at 1950 BC? This is the date accepted by most scholars as the probable date of Abram’s start from Ur in the Euphrates delta – a little upstream from present day Basra. It is in the Apocrypha that we find the short-lived restoration of an independent Kingdom under the Maccabees, so very soon to be once more crushed and subjugated by the might of Rome, finally destroyed and dispersed by the rebellion in 68 – 70 AD when the last Temple was utterly destroyed by the Romans.

What of the historical accuracy you may ask? In my first ramble on this subject, I mentioned that the dating of some events is quite difficult since they either do not get a mention in anyone else’s records or differ radically with another version of the same event. Personally, I think it is well worth keeping an open mind on this subject. Firstly because, as in our own time, rulers always prefer to be seen and remembered in the best light. Ramses II of Egypt is now known to have “embellished” the truth somewhat on his monuments. At the hands of his “spin doctors” defeat is recorded as victory and this may well be true of other records as well. After all, no one whose power depends on his people believing that he is a great general and omniscient (if not omnipresent) and infallible ruler is going to admit willingly to having his army kicked out of a piece of territory he has attempted to seize by a bunch of nomads. Consider our own history in the America’s and elsewhere. Coupled with this we must make allowance for the interesting habit (which we still do not seem to have overcome – see the television pictures of Saddam Hussein’s portrait being crushed under tanks!) of defacing and destroying any marker left by the overthrown King or his predecessors.

Only recently there was huge excitement over the discovery of an inscribed fragment of a border marker, which refers to David. It is the first such marker ever found and it throws open a whole new field of research as well as providing confirmation that David did, in fact, rule a large chunk of today’s, Israel, Jordan and the Lebanon. The paucity of such “evidence” is perhaps not so surprising when you realise that that area has been over run by conquerors on an almost annual basis ever since David ruled. Naturally, there are those who doubt its provenance, and I am sure the debate will rage for years yet, no doubt fueled by entrenched positions on all sides, yet there are other clues which support the historical aspects of the people and events the Old Testament describes.

For me, as I am sure for you, there are parts of these books which are very difficult to deal with. The blood bath of sacrificial goings on in Leviticus and the apparently implacable desire of God in some parts to destroy those who step out of line and enemies of His people in others. Both seem sharply at odds with the God of the New Testament and the Gospels - a forgiving and loving God. Yet it is in these pages that we find the origins of the faith to which we have been invited and which we profess. It is in the unlikely and sometimes downright ungodly people that God chose to work out His plan of salvation for all His creation. It is hard going at times reading it, but it is rewarding for the insights that lurk within the pages and leap out at you when least expected.

As I suggested at the end of my first article on this subject, it is worth investing the time and the effort in studying these books and such others as will provide the background and the supporting information that we need to reach an understanding of God’s purpose as set out in them. Bible Codes? Maybe, the narrative as it stands is interesting enough for me. For one thing, it fills me with hope that if God could work with some of the men described in these pages as He has, then there is hope for me.

May peace and grace be with you always.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:41 PM | Comments (2)

Another year, another set of achievements?

I can always rely on Bear Left on Unnamed Road for a thought provoking comment or three. A visit to his item entitled Tidings of comfort and joy mixes humour and some very thought provoking stuff.

I have to say, that since I started Blogging I have discovered a whole new range of interesting people and things on the www. Now I shall have to start clearing out the "favourites" list on my bookmarks - lest I can't find the ones I visit regularly.

Its back to work on Monday (Bleeeeeggghhh!) and straight into getting to grips with the latest crop of idiocy from the new management. The last DCEO lasted six months before getting "promoted" and the new one comes from an service/authority regarded by everyone outside of that service/authority as a prime example of how to get it wrong big time. As far as we can see the only qualifications are gender based, politically correct and reputation for being "an organiser". Should be a very interesting year then. Especially as the CE also disappeared to pastures previous just before Christmas.

So it looks as if we will have yet another year of the blind leading the sighted and refusing to acknowledge that they can't actually see where we are going.

Oh well, only another 33 months to pension!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:58 PM | Comments (3)

January 02, 2004

Religion and faith

Something that often irritates me is the confusion between these two. Religion, although it implies faith, is not necessarily an indication of having it! The best attempt I have come across to describe the difference, is one which says that religion is "the practice and the public demonstration of a particular form of belief and its symbols and sacred texts" whereas faith is described as "the underpinning beliefs and understandings or accepted, but not necessarily understood, tenets and principles invested in the acceptance of a higher state of existence or being and which motivate a person to behave towards and respond to others according to that persons understanding of the priniciples of faith".

Quite a mouthful when you look at it, but it can be summed up by saying that my belonging to a religion may indicate, but not necessarily confirm, my having a particular depth of "faith". That can only be assessed in the long term by how I respond as a result of that faith, to those with whom I interact daily, and how I conduct myself in all other matters connected with living in accordance with my declared beliefs. Ergo, if I profess to be a Christian, but behave in a thoroughly unpleasant and dishonest way towards the rest of the world, I am probably not a Christian. Oh boy, what a nice Anglican fudge that last phrase implies! But it demonstrates the principle. If I wish to be considered a Christian, then one of the things I should not be doing is going around passing judgement on anyone else's state of faith or beliefs! Therefore, being human, I may THINK someone else may be lacking in faith, but I cannot declare it with certainty.

In short, faith is something we all have - even an Atheist is a person of great faith, in that they have the conviction to believe that they are entirely without higher grace - but it is something many of us neglect to develop. We can cheerfully accept that, because a bus or a train is scheduled to arrive at a certain time, it will, give or take a few minutes, but we either accept and don't think about our beliefs, or simply gloss over them as something we should believe in faith, but somehow can't quite get it right. The trouble then is that we don't make the effort until, when something happens which tests that faith, we find we haven't developed it sufficiently and are somewhat lacking in answers. Too late to reach for the manual now! The world tends to fall apart because we haven't tried to grow and prepare.

As an Anglo-Catholic, I recognise that it is one of the biggest drawbacks to "organised" religion and we are not alone, the same applies in many "protestant" or "evangelical" congregations. The very structures and organisation provide a comfort blanket and people eventually feel safe only inside the familiar formularies - don't expect them to do anything outside of those and don't ask them to try and grow in faith, or even consider what they really believe! Happily this is changing for the better, more and more people are starting to explore the real meaning of faith and finding that it is an exciting and stimulating journey. One which requires an open mind and a mind not afraid to explore new and "different" approaches.

One of the problems many churches face when it comes to the crunch is that the people in the pews have failed to grasp the need to take an active part in the ministry of the church and have also failed to grow beyond the level of the comfortable Sunday School simplicities.

In my time as a Lay Minister (I was first licenced in 1982!), I have had a number of encounters with varying degrees of belief (the precursor to faith!) and complete unbelief. I have also ministered to those who have been seeking faith or found it at the last minute. Both have been incredibly rewarding experiences and have given me the opportunity to grow as well. One particularly poignant occassion involved baptising someone in the back of an ambulance as he quite literally died of his injuries, remaining conscious and aware right to the last few seconds. And it was in those last few minutes of life and consciousness that this young man declared that he had found what he had been seeking. A kidney basin for a font with some simple prayers and the action of sprinkled water allowed that man to make his statement of faith. The Paramedic and I were both moved to tears by it.

One of the biggest problems we all face in this issue of growing in faith (and I include those who declare themselves as having no faith in this!) is that it is very difficult to accomplish anything positive (note I do not say impossible!) in growing and developing one's faith. It is one of those areas where you need to encounter others of similar faith, hear their visions and share in the teaching, learning and nurturing experience. This is where organised religion comes into play, because it can and does provide the environment for this - but, it can also provide a negative environment unless the ministry is faithful, and not afraid to allow and encourage people to grow.

So, my rant for the day, religion is an expression of faith, but it is not in itself faith. And all Churches in the Christian fold are Bible based - but we all reserve the right to our own interpretation of how we show this!

Pax vobiscum.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:27 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 01, 2004

Tempus fugit ....

Just time to get in a quick HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all. I hope it brings all you hope for and need.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:11 AM