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June 30, 2004

Tee-Hee !!

Fortunately for all of us, Our Monk has not had this problem, but as a solitary contemplative figure, he will appreciate this sad situation.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:23 PM

June 29, 2004

Cheese and nanny-government........

Although Church Mouse has been around for more than a few years, she has a very forward-looking attitude about life and how to live it well, which does not include being told what to do. As mentioned previously by The Monk, she does have a particular predilection for cheese, having been bribed with extra to jump into the breach, here. This topic of cheese [and other food] was triggered by an article in the D-T requesting the public's view on food, diets, and government! Of course, the government won't pay a blind bit of attention to anything the public says, but it's nice that someone has actually asked.

One must admit that is a strange mixture of words at first glance, but, with the current government so overly fond of messing about in every nook and cranny of everyone's life, those words have been thrown together as just one more topic which would justify those bossy-boots at No. 10 and WhiteHall and all other functionary locations sticking their noses in AND imposing yet another set of their rules. CM wonders why they believe that should be, for she does not see any evidence at all that they are possessed and siezed of such superior powers as to justify their right to rule our lives.

Many tourists come to visit CM's Abbey, so she hears many things from people who come from all over the world. She did hear a wonderfully blunt comment, once, from an American that seems most apropos, here: Who died and left you boss? Perhaps we should all be asking that question of every politician of every cant at all times. Maybe, just maybe, we can take back our lives. They are ours, after all, given at birth and supposedly ours to do with the best we can, not commanded by others who have usurped that right.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:33 AM

June 28, 2004

Gleanings from elsewhere

Visiting Tim at An Englishman's Castle I found that he has several interesting posts up. One points out that if we left the EU according to the Think Tank Civitas, we would not lose any jobs or any trade and we'd actually be around £20 billion a year better off. He suggests a visit to this item for more details.

On the same blog, I found some amusing place names and a link to a site that looks them up for you. Just for fun I looked into the question of amusing place names near where I live and this fun search engine found the following -

Druggers End (map)
7.5 miles

Wyre Piddle (map)
10.8 miles

Piddle Brook (map)
11.1 miles

Feckenham (map)
19.6 miles

Lickey End (map)
25.8 miles

Bell End (map)
28.3 miles

Sodom (map)
32.1 miles

Bishops Itchington (map)
34.9 miles

Bullyhole Bottom (map)
35.0 miles

Booby Dingle (map)
36.7 miles

I guess it does depend on the level of your sense of humour ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:45 AM | Comments (3)

June 27, 2004

Sunday Thought

As The Monk is heavily involved in the running of an International Conference over the next few days, Church Mouse is on extra cheese rations in case I can't get a break long enough to write something. In the meantime I would like to share this article I wrote a little while ago on the Book of Revelations.

Hope you find it interesting; this is a challenging and much misquoted Book, and it does say some very challenging things, but it is still worth the read - provided you do so with an open mind and a knowledge of what it addressed.

Revelation or Rant?

Some thoughts on the Book of Revelations

This is perhaps the most difficult book of the New Testament, not least because of its apocalyptic style and the dire prophecies it sets before us. Is it a prophecy yet to come, or one that is already fulfilled and will be fulfilled again? Where does it come from, and who wrote it?

Let us begin with the where and when. It is believed to have been written between 90 and 95 AD, most probably from Ephesus, one of the churches addressed in the “letters” section. The “who wrote it” is more difficult because, at best, we are not certain. The evidence, however, points to it having been St John who is known to have been living in Ephesus and to have eventually died there. It was written during a time of severe persecution, and popular legend (and some facts) indicate that John had been arrested and exiled to a salt mine (some sources say “quarry”) on Patmos. Most people so sentenced died in the mines, but this John survived and was released to go home, legend says that he was blind, crippled, and “filled with the zeal of the Lord.” If it is indeed the John of the Gospel, then he certainly survived to a very old age, apparently outliving all his fellow Apostles and disciples.

The Book itself caused some controversy during the subsequent Councils which determined the Canon for the New Testament. Many felt that it should be rejected as it did not (and still does not) sit comfortably with the message of the Gospels, which it almost certainly postdates. In style and language it is completely dissimilar to the Gospel accredited to St John, although we should make allowance for both changing attitudes due to age and to the hardship of his exile. That said, it is a book of surprises as well as dread, not least because it is a very “Old Testament” style of vision, poetry, and prophecy, drawing heavily upon the imagery of that heritage. Those who seek to understand it need to start by understanding the Old Testament images and references on which it is based. They also need to leave aside the attraction of interpreting the easily understood passages in the light of the obscure ones!

The early Christians lived in hope of Christ’s return to earth, overthrowing the oppressive Roman Regime and replacing it with His own reign over creation. At the point that this book was written, some sixty years after the crucifixion and resurrection, some were beginning to waiver and to cast doubt on both the facts and the expectation. This, as much as the Roman attempts to suppress this Jewish Sect drawing revenue away from the various temples, was probably at the root of the author’s urge to write it.

With this book there is possibly the strongest case of all for seeing the content in the light of the history of its writing. This is the only way it would be possible to see what it meant to both its author and his audience. Once the events and the influences on the readers are understood it becomes a lot clearer. One such influence was the movement in Rome toward deification of the Emperor and the compulsory worship of him as a God. This would have created a terrible dilemma for the young church and, indeed, for the Jews. Secondly, there were already siren voices saying that the Apostles had it all wrong and that Jesus wasn’t a man at all, but a God in the form of a man. From this came the heresy that, as a supernatural being, He couldn’t suffer or die upon the cross because He lived on another level to ours. Ergo, no death, no resurrection – which blows a large hole in the Gospel message and in Isaiah 53. Taken with the lack of reappearance to reign in triumph over creation and the churches have to rethink a great deal of their teaching. This, of course, exposes one of the problems with too literal and fundamentalist interpretation of any religious text or teaching.

As I have already said, this book is in the apocryphal style; that is, it uses imagery and symbolic language to convey its meaning. It cannot therefore be taken too literally, nor can it be treated as some sort of timetable. That would be to miss the point and goes against the entire spirit of it. To interpret it you need to understand the background and you need to be able to interpret the various symbolic images it uses – and these are in the Old Testament. It is necessary to compare scripture to scripture to find a meaning. Nor does it end there; obscure passages cannot simply be glossed over or ignored, but neither must they be taken out of context or simply treated on their own. It is the clearly stated or at least clearly understood passages that should throw light on the difficult ones, not the other way round!

It is a book of visions, and thus, it is not some sort of timetable. The Eastern Mystic mind is not as obsessed with timetables as we are in the West; the focus is on the main thrust of each picture and not the timetable. Each vision should be taken as a parable, and the hidden meaning drawn out in much the same way. Look first at the whole painting and then try to discern the theme and finally the meaning. Consider the Heironymus Bosch triptych, which includes on either side of the vision of harmonious life a vision of Eden and a vision entitled “The Garden of Lust” – synonymous to him with Hell. The visions of this book are very much in that theme and should be studied in the same way.

The book gives us some incredibly powerful images which lace our worship and influence our perceptions of Heaven or “the life of the world to come”. Consider the Sanctus at the Eucharist “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your Glory, Hosanna in the highest.” This is from Chapter 4 of the Revelations and is the cry of the four living creatures before the throne. That image, too, is one we hold in our minds, the throne of grace or of judgement, the sea of glass, the crowned elders, and the host of the saved. These are all images from Revelations, as are the images of avenging angels waging war across the heavens and the earth against the forces of evil. Yet all of them have their origins in the writings of the Old Testament and – the angels, particularly – some of the extra canonical books. The images of Heaven and Hell (or Hades if you prefer) are very much those of the first Century Jewish teachings on the place of grace and the place of the dead.

The book shifts effortlessly between Heaven and earth, between condemnation and salvation, the images increasingly more powerful. Armageddon, the proposed ultimate battle, is identified as the plain of Meggido, a site where many battles in the History of Palestine have been fought – and, famously, a few refused – but with a very logical reason. It was known to John’s readers as a place where much of Jewish history had been created by the decisive battle fought by Joshua in that place and by subsequent battles won and lost there against the Egyptians and others. It made a perfect “earthly” place to stage the last battle of all time – the fulfillment of history in a place steeped in history.

The period stretching from 200 BC to 100 AD was the most difficult of all Jewish history. The voice of prophecy had long been still, the nation was divided and not as devout as we perhaps assume. Strangers ruled the land and the people of God were scattered, with non-Jews taking up residence among them even in Judea. This resulted in a loss of confidence and gave rise to a wide variety of sects and even to some “resistance movements” determined to bring about a Messianic revival of the former glory of Solomon and David. It gave rise to many other writers of apocalyptic literature, most of who adopted a pseudonym or reinterpreted the earlier prophets. While the Revelations is in similar style, it differs in one important particular, the author identifies himself as the Apostle, he does not use a pseudonym or try to hide his identity and even the different style can be accounted for in the nature of the content – visionary rather than reported fact.

Much is sometimes made of the numerology of the book, but in fact these are much more likely to be symbolic. The obvious ones are the twelve, twenty-four, and seven, these representing twelve tribes, twenty four elders (see Judges and Exodus), and seven is the “perfect” number, as it represents God. The number of the beast, 666, is a tripling of the “human” number, which is 6, less than perfect no matter how often repeated. In this symbolism, no matter how powerful the beast, it cannot overcome God, the perfect seven. In the final chapters we encounter another large number “one thousand”, which is again symbolic, as it represents “sufficient time for God” or “longer than the human span”, roughly thirty generations in John’s day.

Finally the new vision is created, death destroyed, the beast completely under control, and the new age ushered in. Here John describes a heaven on earth, all loved ones reunited, no pain, no hurt, no more parting, for God is near and all those who have chosen the way of Christ are reunited with Him.

It is not an easy book to read or to understand. In places it is quite frightening, and one could be excused for thinking that, strictly interpreted, there is little hope for anyone, let alone sinners like us! Yet, if read in the context of its period and with the understanding of the imagery that comes with knowing the Old Testament thoroughly, it becomes something much less threatening and much more enlightening. Don’t be put off by it, read it thoughtfully, and try to discern what it is saying about our own age. Do get a good guide to it, either the Lion Handbook as a starter or a copy of the Tynedale commentary which will give more depth. Enjoy it, but don’t fall into the trap of taking too strict an interpretation of it. Who knows, you may yet be able to refute the arguments of the Jehovah’s Witness evangelist at your door!

Peace be with you as you read.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:24 AM

June 26, 2004

More lunacy from the "centre"?

For a Party that trumpets its "democratic" principles at every opportunity, we might expect to see a little less control from the Centre of every aspect of our lives. Mr Blunkett's latest intervention in local issues is a good case in point. Completely ignoring the local politicians who all support the Chief Constable, Blunkett has now decided he will have his way come hell and presumably high water as well!

So, it's off to the High Court we go (at the Tax payers' expense) to get an injunction to dismiss a Police Chief who has had the misfortune to incur the wrath of the Press and the Political Elite at the Centre. Scapegoat time! Democratic? You must be joking, this lot are only democrats when they absolutely have to be and even then the process is so stitched up in their favour it is a complete sham. This is the result of too many career politicians in the Chambers of Government. Democracy works best when it is the business of enthusiastic amateurs, a balanced chamber with ordinarty men and women, business people, entrepeneurs, ex-military officers and other ranks, retirees, and workers. Once it is stuffed with idiots who have gone from school to university and the Students Union, to Union official, to Council Chamber and then Parliament without ever having done a real job, or come from the rarified atmosphere of the legal profession and the bean counting of accountancy, Democracy is dead.

This latest interference is just another example of the absence of democracy in this country under our present Party Political Elitist "Democracy". Bring your own pitchfork and let's man the barricades. Time to throw the whole lot on the dungheap they have created and start afresh, methinks.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:18 AM

June 25, 2004

Visions of society and roads to faith?

Thanks to a link from "The view from the Foothills" to my post quoting Terry Pratchett on the Nac Mac Feegle I have found a site called "Ex Libris" which has a must read post for those just starting to discover Pratchett. As I think I have remarked before, there are many layers to the Pratchett stories and sometimes you need to get past the jokes to see the point underlying them.

We do seem to have forgotten that a society works because the majority of those living within it feel secure, comfortable, and free to enjoy the fruits of their labours. It ceases to work as soon as one group or another within it starts to dominate the agenda or to impose their "vision of heaven" upon everyone else. I find again and again that Pratchett manages to hit that squarely between the eyes, often using his characters such as the Vampyr Count de Magpyr and his ghastly clan to illustrate the point. For me, one of the strongest things I get from these books is that this is a man who came from faith and has lost it, and now spends a lot of time trying to find it. His books read at one of the many sub-levels as a journey of exploration - much as my blog is for me!

Well, enough, I think, from me on this - do visit the two links above, they are worth a read.

Again on the The view from the foothills site. I find another item that arrested my attention - a statement of faith, and a personal journey recounted. For many of us this is both a shared experience of how we came to belief and faith and an intensely personal one. It can be a very difficult and sometimes frightening journey as we move from initial realisation that we are being directly addressed and having to confront our own fears and inadequacies, and a very uplifting and joyful experience as we realise that we are not alone and that God Himself makes up for our shortcomings in His own inimitable way.

My own journey began probably in a Methodist Sunday School - I say probably - because they scared the living daylights out of me with a vision of my entire family (who smoked, drank, and did all the things the Minister seemed to think were Cardinal Sins which consigned you straight to Hell!) being destined for damnation. The RC Cathedral was a much more attractive place to spend the Sunday School time - it was only a little further away and my parents weren't likely to check on my Sunday School attendance anyway - with its bells, incense, and the chanted Latin Mass. That came to an abrupt end when the Monsigneur called on my parents to ask if I would like to be an Altar Boy. They weren't rude about it to him, but the "no" was quite firm. My Grandfather was, after all, a Grand Master in the Orange Lodge.

It was explained to me that if I didn't want to be a Methodist that was OK, but I was not going to be a Roman either.

Then came the day my mother "got religion". She caught it from a friend whose husband was a Church Warden in the Anglican Church, and it was politic for his wife to actually be confirmed and at least make the effort to be a churchgoer even if she had reservations about the rest of it. The Rector actually managed to convince both her and my mother (who had gone along to these classes to keep her friend company!) that it was not only a good idea, but a very worthwhile one - in fact they both met Christ.

Well, to cut a long story short, the rest of the family, including me, were dragged along to a service (Evensong, as I recall), and it was one of those "Damascus Road" moments for me. The lesson from the New Testament was the Prodigal Son. The sermon was one of the best I have ever heard, and it used the story magnificently. Christ sat beside me that night and I knew it. No, I wasn't struck blind or moved to visit someone for a cure, nor was I given any visionary insights. I just knew He was there and that He wanted me to become a friend.

Like all friendships, it has been a rough journey through its tests and trials. But He has never lost faith in me and has always welcomed me back with warmth and open arms. I sincerely hope and pray that everyone who searches for something to believe in will discover as I did that the still small voice is there for each one as well - all you have to do is acknowledge it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:11 AM

June 24, 2004

The hidden price of multi-culturalism?

The news broke today of something many in fire investigation have been aware of but unable to address - mainly because it exposes an ugly side to some of the cultures being actively "promoted" in Britain and elsewhere as equal or superior to the native culture. Believe me, the native culture could do with some looking at, but at least it does not condone the murder of female family members who have "brought shame" to the families. The Police are now reviewing 117 cases of supposed "suicide" deaths of girls who had "shamed" their families by acting outside of rules their culture says are the norm. In fact it usually involves some member of the family who undertakes to expunge the source of shame on behalf of the parents, brothers, or other family members who then also protect the murderer.

Now I do not suggest for a moment that this is widespread; it is, however, something that is far more frequent than is admitted, and even when it is, it is usually hushed up "because it might incite racial prejudice". Worse, it is often denied by the PC lobby who will then accuse the investigators of being prejudiced.

The Police hope to learn how to prevent these by studying the cases they have re-opened. To be fair, they do obtain convictions, and they do succeed in bringing to justice quite a number of the murderers, but it is something that will be very difficult to prevent as long as there remains a cultural acceptance that girls are the property of their families and must obey at any price the edicts of their male relatives. This extends to wearing certain styles of dress, who they may consort with, who they will marry, and what they may do or study at school or university. Laws forbidding female circumcision in this country have simply led to the girls being taken to visit "relatives in their 'home' countries" where they are subjected to this appalling practice by quite often unqualified and frequently unhygenic practitioners.

Add to this the killing of young boys for "muti" - African Tribal remedies based on animal parts, spiritualism, and herbalistic practices - which is supposed to cure everything from AIDS to infertility. Recently there have been a couple of deaths in London which could be directly linked to this practice and there will no doubt be others which have not yet come to light. If we are to guard against these things there needs to be a greater public awareness of exactly what these cultures do practice, do condone, and bring to these shores with their practice. Again, not every African condones or practices these things, just as not everyone English is a potential Fred West or Ian Huntley, but it is something we need to admit happens. It must not be hidden for the sake of not upsetting the PC mobsters.

These things are deeply ingrained matters of belief in some cultures and I regret to say that the promoters of "multi-culturalism" frequently have no idea of the viper's nest they are stirring in their efforts to be "unprejudiced".

If we are to become a truly open and harmonious society we need to address a number of things, not least the tolerance of abuse of tolerance and the abuse of truth in the way we deal with matters which should be repugnant to every thinking and compassionate person. Sweeping things under the carpet, refusing to discuss them, or admit to them is a recipe for undoing all the good that has been and can still be done to make our society work better.

Murder is an ugly thing in any society, it is even more ugly inside a family, and it is particularly ugly when it is dressed up as a cultural remedy for a supposed "wrong". It must be brought into the open, and it must be stopped. I hope that the conference on these issues currently underway in Amsterdam produces something positive and not just more blather and PC word mangling as these things usually do.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:39 AM | Comments (6)

June 23, 2004

An attack on democracy? I think not!

According to Mr Chris Patten, sometime governor of Hong Kong (where he was known as Fatty Pang), demoraliser, and destroyer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and now EU Commissioner, the holding of a Referendum on the new EU constitution is an attack on the sovereignty of Parliament and an undermining of democracy. Excuse me? Since when was our Parliament a body independent of the electorate? Surely they sit in that place as our representatives , our servants, and not as our overlords?

"Fatty Pang" is possibly the only man who could have come up with that complete distortion of the truth. Maybe his spell in Hong Kong where he succeeded in alienating just about everybody, coupled with his attack on the majority of people's sentiments in Northern Ireland, and his subsequent spell in the rarified and totally detached atmosphere of Brussels has given him a superior understanding of democracy. I would strenuously refute his charge. Parliament represents the people of this island, it is our voice and our authority that it wields - not theirs. If ever there was a powerful argument for its total reform and the rejection of the current "party" based democratic process, this is it.

I would remind Mr Patten that the last man to declare Parliament to be "sovereign" was a fellow called Cromwell - sometime Lord Protector of England - to quote the tablet in Westminster Abbey which supposedly covers his remains. It does, but only his head - all that could be found of him after the mob removed the rest of him from his grave and dismembered it. It was Cromwell, too, who used the Army to quell dissenters and to impose his Puritanical views of religion - and, when Parliament stood up to him - had them expelled by force from the chamber.

No, Mr Patten, a Referendum on the future of this Kingdom and upon the Sovereignty of these isles is not an attack on democracy, it is democracy at work. It is in exercising our right to say no to you and your bloated and corrupt friends who have destroyed our freedoms, dismantled our nation, and disgraced our democratic institutions that we uphold democracy. This is about our determination to be heard in the debate about how and by whom we are governed in future.

If that threatens the nice little earner you and your power hungry elite have got going for you - tough luck. Accept it, we are not going to allow the Party elites of Labour, Conservative, and Lib Dem to sell our history, our traditions, our sovereignty down the river for their own advantage and benefit.

Get used to the idea. This is democracy.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:09 PM | Comments (2)

June 22, 2004

Where to start?

Where does one start with the news, today - or for that matter - yesterday?

I have recently been deliberately trying to be less of a political anarchist and more reflective/positive about the state of the world, politics, religion/faith, and general relationships, but really, I am no saint and I am certainly deeply cynical about many things in today's society. Let's look at the choice of topics here:

- the fire-bombing of two synagogues in this wonderfully "inclusive" society of ours,

- the "capture" and "interrogation" of eight soldiers/sailors in the Shat al Arab by Iranian troops (with whom they have been operating amicably for months now!),

- the confession, after four years of protestation of innocence, by the convicted murderer and peadophile, Roy Whiting, that he did kill Sarah Payne,

- the claims by the PM and his poodles that the new EU Constitution doesn't affect sovereignty, doesn't create a superstate, when the text clearly states that it does,

- the campaign launched today by a childless and humourless ex-teacher who operates through a number of rather iffy "front" organisations, to have reasonable discipline of children banned and made into a criminal offence, or

- the revelation that our wonderful NHS botches abortions and then allows the aborted feotus to die miserably in a steel basin, a process that sometimes takes many hours.

Frankly any one of these would be enough under normal circumstances to cause my circuits to fuse and send me orbital; togather they fill me with a deep sense of shame and sadness that this is the society I have allowed to be created in the name of "freedom", "harmony", "mutual respect", and "human rights". This is the society that our fathers fought to protect; the society that Hitler and Stalin would, quite frankly, have found perfectly acceptable. This is a society that penalises those who dare to defend themselves from attack, robbery, or their property from a burglar. A society that bans law-abiding citizens from owning hand guns, but can't control the explosion of illegal firearms now flooding the market. A society in which the law-abiding can expect no redress in court where a criminal may walk free because the policeman who caught him (or her) red handed forgot to read out a ridiculously lengthy caution before writing down the criminals name in his notebook. A society which has judges who allow violent and disruptive thugs to escape prison "because of overcrowding" of the jails. (No doubt all the people in them are normally law-abiding citizens in this twisted view of the world!) A society which promotes the use of a drug (by downgrading it to a lower class) which has known and proven links to disorderly behaviour and to schizophrenia and clinical depression. A society which turns out the mentally ill into so-called "care in the community" without putting in place any safeguards to ensure that the medication they need is taken, that they are adequately supervised, and that they pose no threat to other vulnerable people in society.

This is a Government that believes in armed forces and uniformed services only when the chips are down and someone has to go and limit the damage, deal with the dictator, or rescue someone. Any other time they are a nuisance, elitist, or a threat to inclusive society, "institutionally racist" and far too expensive, wasteful, or "not cost efficient". Of course they have their uses, like when it is necessary to show how big a statesman we are, how we support "peace", "democracy", or "combat terror/racism/dictators/add your own favourite here .... and to provide photo opportunities for our cameleon of a PM. The lads taken hostage by the Iranians - and make no mistake I believe there is an ulterior motive to the Iranians' sudden volta face - need not expect Mr Blair and his chums to be overly supportive or energetic in helping to free them.

This is a society where the lunatic fringe have gained control, where to be "inclusive" means to trash everything that they view as "restrictive" or "elitist". These are the ideas that took root in the 1960's amid the sit-ins and the "pot" smoke hazed common rooms of our universities and polytechs among, God help us, the crew that now occupy that "mother" of parliaments, and they are obviously still befuddled with the pot they smoked then, and for all I know are still smoking now. To have a faith in anything other than the "greater good", the "collective", or the "model socialist state", Jung, Marx, or Lenin is seen as regressive, dangerously moralistic, and therefore judgemental and a hinderance to "multi-culturalism" - particularly if it is Christian or Jewish! Of course, if it is Islam or any of the plethora of Eastern or the modern "pagan" religions - that's alright!

Welcome to modern Britain, welcome to "Cool Britannia"!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:28 PM | Comments (2)

June 21, 2004

Labour losing Labour ?

So the Fire Brigades Union has severed its connections with the Labour Party. Well, it is a bit of the pot calling the saucepan, but on this one I can sympathise with them. This government and its poodles in local government have just about destroyed the goodwill of the fire services towards them, and it will not be long before they lose the rest of the trades unions' support as well.

This shower of complete incompetents who spent their university days smoking pot, rebelling against everything, digging up cricket pitches, chanting 'Better Red than Dead', and protesting anything else they didn't understand or approve of, are now destroying everything else they can get their claws on. Their arrogance is breathtaking, and their surrogates in the Civil Service, who proudly proclaim themselves "managers" without any understanding of anything they manage, are ten times worse.

One can only hope this trend continues and grows; the best outcome, of course, would be that the trades union members realise that voting in another direction altogether would actually be best for them, but at least a first step has been taken to show the current form of the Labour Party that real Labour disapproves.

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

June 20, 2004

Sunday thought

Today's Psalm from the Revised Common Lectionary, Psalm 49, made me think - and this was reinforced by a snippet I heard on the radio from our Illustrious Leader on the subject of fair distribution of wealth, sharing, and much more that has become the stock in trade of politics since the 1960's. The Psalmist is saying that we should not envy another's good fortune, that we should not covet his wealth, possessions, or industry (meaning his hard work.). Of course this is about how the psalmist sees the wealth impacting upon the individual in spiritual terms, and not, as Mr Blair and his fellow oligarchs would argue, about making sure that everyone has everything they need (or think they need and deserve).

St John in today's epistle tells us that as Christians we should share and look after those less fortunate than ourselves, but this message has been perverted by the politicians, particularly those of the socialist and liberal persuasions, to mean that the fruits of one person's labour should be penalised and redistributed to the idle. It has been further perverted by the insidious message to the idle that society "owes" it to them. This is reinforced by the legal view that crimes against property - ie: burglary, theft, pilfering - which do not involve an "injury" to the person so robbed, are somehow less serious than one which involves anything which produces an "injury". Any burglar is invariably able to depend upon the armies of social workers who will testify in his or her defence that they are "from a deprived social group" or "forced to commit this (these) crime(s) in order to feed their drug habit" which is, of course, somehow the fault of those of us who have worked damned hard for what we have.

I do not mind, in fact I try to actually do something positive, helping those who are truly in need. I support several charities, and I actively visit and try to help those whose needs are a bit more complex. I resent and object strongly to a bunch of freeloading politicains and totally incompetent and inefficient civil servants living off my back while using as an excuse that they are "redistributing" my "wealth" to build a free and fair society! I am equally strongly opposed to the notion that someone less well off than I am supposed to be is "entitled" to share in the fruits of my labours. This is now entering the arena of a set of politics based on greed and envy - the very things both St John and the Psalmist condemn.

As a child my family could be said to have been deprived - we certainly where by today's measurements, with no TV, no expensive trainers, or other luxury goods - yet we were able to enjoy the things that really mattered. We were taught that what really counted was what you made of your opportunities, not what you could freeload off someone else; what you could do for yourself. We were also taught never to envy anyone else's possessions, wealth, or good fortune, but to work hard to achieve these things for ourselves. Well, I have done just that. I am where I am because I have worked damned hard and managed, in spite of quite a bit of opposition at times, and in spite of a lot of damned moron politicians and other idiots, to come from the wrong side of the rail tracks to a position where - OK, my new flat is not in the most salubrious area of town - but I own the bricks and mortar, something my parents never did. I have gained a number of qualifications along the way as well, almost all by distance learning, which is not the easiest way, and have never enjoyed the privilege of having parents fund my education beyond school as I am now doing for mine.

A cousin with an even worse start than mine is now a millionaire, having started out as an apprentice glassblower for a neon tube company. And I wish him the very best of that - no, there is no envy there - I know exactly how hard he worked for that and he deserves every penny of his efforts.

For far too long our political masters have been preaching, under the guise of creating a fair and equitable society, a mantra of envy and greed. They have created a society in which anyone who has achieved and is reaping the rewards is a target for envy and frequently singled out by the criminal element precisely because they know the courts support the view that this is merely another way to take from the rich and give it to someone who wants it. Note I did not say needs it. One thing I and my cousins have learned is that to become "wealthy" you have to work hard. To become very wealthy, it helps if you have some support at the start, but you can also achieve this by working even harder. The problem here is that far too many regard anyone better off than themselves as "wealthy" and envy that "good fortune" without understanding how it was achieved. Not all of us were born with the proverbial silver spoon in our mouths like Mr Blair and his cronies. Most of us have had to work damned hard to get where we are.

Listen carefully next time Gordon Brown or any of the Labourites speaks about their vision of a new society - it will invariably include some suggestion that the fruits of the hardworking types who have managed to put aside a few pennies for their or their children's future should be shared (and let us help you do it!) with their constituents. Note, too, that they themselves are doing extremely well out of what they steal from you in the taxation regime they have created, ostensibly to do this 'sharing' for you.

There is an active encouragement of the stirrings of this monster of envy and greed every time one of these idots opens his mouth to prate about "deprivation" or "social exclusion", as if the possessions of those who have made the most of their abilities have been somehow "stolen from" or denied to those who haven't made that effort. Well, perhaps it's time to start fighting back, to preach an alternative message.

As I said earlier, I have no problem with sharing what I can spare after I have helped my family and close friends. I have no problem contributing towards helping the aged, the disabled, and those who have a real problem and cannot support themselves. I do object very strongly to supporting those who can work but won't, who take the money and go and drink it, or smoke it, or snort it. I object very strongly to supporting a huge and overweening bureaucracy that is wasteful, restrictive, and frankly useless, and I object even more strongly to funding the luxury lifestyles of the "elected" goons and their hangers-on. This is not sharing, this is not fairness, or even beginning to work towards a better society; this is destroying any hope of a society in which individuals can improve themselves, because it is creating a society which traps and stratifies everyone into those who are able to manipulate the system to their benefit and stay in power, those who have to fund it all, and those who freeload off the middle group.

Envy, greed, and their surrogates are the bain of our society, and they are also the tools used by the politicians to keep their bandwagon rolling. It is definietly time to derail this, to take back the doctrine of fairness to the religions that gave it birth, and to apply the doctrine properly, fairly, and in a manner which does not promote greed or envy but which does ensure that individuals have what they need to make the best of themselves.

Finally, we also need to remember that "wealth" can also be a poison to the soul. The pursuit of it can and does strangle spiritual growth far more effectively than anything else known to man. Take a look at countries that have "wealth redistribution" schemes in place. The state has subsumed the role of the Chruch, charities struggle, and faith is nonexistent - why - because God has been replaced by possessions and by the politician who will promise to give me something for nothing.

We need to regain the real meaning of fairness. Then we can really create a fair society.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:00 AM | Comments (2)

June 19, 2004

A second murder most foul ...

Another al Qaeda victim - and this one a man who was converting to Islam and loved the Arabian peninsula and the people. About the only thing that mitigates the horror in the slightest is that it has also resulted in the death of one of the ringleaders - shot dead by the Saudi Police.

Words are totally inadequate to express the anger any decent person feels against these cold blooded murderers and, frankly, perverted monsters who perpetrate these barbaric acts. Let us hope that their hosts in the Arab world take this as a wake up call and act to destroy these mad dogs before they destroy everyone.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:57 PM | Comments (1)

Learning patterns

The latest offering from Terry Pratchett is a follow-up to "The wee free men", entitled "A hatful of sky". The introduction essentially sets the scene, to quote:

"The Nac Mac Feegle

(also called Pictsies, the Wee Free Men, the Little Men, and 'Person or Persons Unknown, Believed to be Armed')

The Nac Mac Feegle are the most dangerous of the fairy races, particularly when drunk. They love drinking, fighting, and stealing. In fact they will steal anything that is not nailed down. If it is nailed down they will steal the nails as well.


The average Feegle man is about six inches high, red haired, his skin turned blue with tattoos, and the dye called woad, and, since you're this close, he's probably about to hit you" .......

The Nac Mac Feegle have a strange philosophy of life. They believe that they are dead and that this is heaven. This is based on their belief that a world this full of wonderful things to fight, steal, drink, and eat must be heaven. If you are in heaven, you must be dead.

Well, I have heard stranger arguments and even more twisted logic, but not, I will admit, from a wee man six inches tall and covered in woad. This is one of the problems with the pursuit of things logical or or philosophical. Take the argument far enough and you pass out the other side and into the realms of fantasy and the fantastic. This is where Pratchett excels; he can take a perfectly logical argument and move it that one step further down the road. Bingo, the result is often hilarious and superbly parodies our own world or its politics - but we should also be thinking carefully of our own logic process in any debate or argument. Is our own logic any sounder than the other sides?

It is in such simple beginnings that many a feud has its origins - a gesture, a smile, or a laugh misinterpretted and you have a war breaking out faster than you can telephone to say it was all a ghastly mistake. It remains to be seen what the final outcome of the politically correct lobbyists is; of one thing I am certain they provide Pratchett with at least 50% of his funniest scenarios. Let us hope that his antidote of laughter helps drive them and their ilk from our land - or at least from the positions of power they currently hold.

This week has seen a number of PC shiboleths exposed for what they are - pure sham! Perhaps the most important item was a report published by a scientific research group who have identified the method of learning used by teenage boys and girls. It identifies that, contrary to the fondly held belief that it can be "nurtured" into the learning process, it takes a difficult and extended process which allows the brain to determine its neural paths and store information, requires the "learner" to study it by turns passively and by trying it out until the correct storage and retreival systems are working to find other means of storing the information.

It seems the best way to impart the basic knowledge is - wait for it - Learning by rote! That's right, reciting the times tables and other basic work. So will we see the trendy teachers returning to classroom discipline and learning by rote? I doubt it - unless parents start to demand a reversal and a return to proper teaching. Funny thing about this research though. It was into AI and how a robot learned. It seems that we learn the same way. Repetition, analysis, and improvement based on experience.

What has this to do with the Nac Mac Feegle? Well, they serve as a good example of the logic progression which leads our educators to conclude that simply allowing mixed abilities, mixed learning skills, and behavioural problems to sit side by side, is somehow improving the education of everyone. According to their logic it is "fair" and "best practice". Right.

Humans aren't robots; they need some basic rules to live by and they need to learn and grow in order to survive. They should not be so tied up in rules that they are stifled as individuals, and they need to be able to believe in something bigger than them. The Nac Mac Feegle don't need to believe in anything bigger - they know that most of the world is bigger than them, but it worries them not at all. Maybe that's the key: we need to be less anxious about our comfort, safety, and rules and more willing to admit mistakes and move the world back to where it will be able to move forward along a new and now proven path.

Crims. That almost makes sense!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:52 PM

June 18, 2004

Medieval fever?

It's approaching that time of year again when the streets and fields of Tewkesbury are thronged with people in medieval dress for the space of the second weekend in July. A large "encampment" grows on the old Battlefield on the Friday and a Fair is erected around it. By Sunday afternoon it is all being taken down and put away, but, in the iterim, there will have been a series of re-enactments of the Battle of Tewkesbury (which actually happened on the 4th May 1471), a large Fayre with a very wide range of stalls for all tastes, a Said Mass on the Sunday morning, and all the while a large throng of people, all in period costume, roaming the streets, attending the Abbey's regular services, and generally bringing a part of the history of this ancient river and market town to life.

Archers 2.JPG

A pair of longbowmen stroll through the camp, their bows unstrung and carried on the shoulder.

I will admit that it is a bit disconcerting to look out of one's window and see someone walking past in armour, or any of the variety of colourful and flamboyant outfits the medieval peoples enjoyed. It is the range of pale colours which at first intrigued me. Surely these could not be authentic? Surely they wore dark colours - perhaps the darker reds, purples, blues, browns and blacks? A visit to a talkented lady who makes these costumes using the authentic materials and the same tools as a medieval seamstress, soon disabused me of that notion. The dark dyes, red, purple, blue and black were the most difficult to make, the most difficult to apply evenly and effectively - and even when successfully used, soon faded - and were fantastically expensive. Therefore only the extremely wealthy could afford to wear the darker colours. Simple when you know, and even more importantly - if you have only one suit of outer garments - the paler colours wore well, remained reasonably colourful for far longer, and thus your garment lasted.

Only the Church, and the Kings, Dukes, and similarly wealthy people could afford the Black, purple, blue, and red dyed clothe! Thus, they stand out from the crowd. A different meaning perhaps to the wearing of black clothes than we would today associate with it.

Looking back, the world seemed a much simpler place, yet, even then, life was full of dilemmas. While some things may seem, with hindsight, to have been better, we should take a look at them without the rose tinted glasses! This was an age when powerful men held that power by the sword. Only the very rich or the people living in very remote parts could afford to ignore this. The simple things that we enjoy - the leisure occassioned by the ability to simply go to the shop for bread, milk, meat, and other foods, was not quite so simple then. Clothing was a frighteningly expensive item, so the vast majority of people made do with only one set of clothes for most of their adult lives. Disease, poor diet, and sheer hard work wore them out fairly early, so they seldom lived much past 45 if they were lucky. Those that did had better have been wealthy or have an overlord who would help them in old age, because there was no state help and the old and infirm simply struggled on until the dropped if they were unlucky enough to have no one to support them.

The Church, too, was no sinecure - unless you were lucky enough to be the son of a wealthy "patron", you were unlikely to rise to the lofty position of an Abbot, Bishop, or Archbishop. While the laity were illiterate and steeped in superstition, any test of faith would have shown an uncommonly high level of belief. Whether or not it would be taken today as a belief in the tenets of the Gospel, or simply a matter of superstitious belief raised by the dire paintings on many church walls and the constant exhortations, threats, and cajolings of the Church is another question. Such was the power of this belief that the Abbot of Tewkesbury could, armed only with the Monstrance and Blessed Sacrament, drive the fighting soldiers from the nave of his Abbey Church and then deny the King entry when he tried to enter armed to seize the Lancastrians taking shelter there.

Faith arises from belief, and it is certain that those who lived at this time had few doubts as to the existence of God. One of the benefits that they did have in this respect was their close association with the annual seasonal cycle and the simplicity of their lifestyle. Men like Abbot Stresham, a man of phenomenal faith himself, were also good pastors to those who turned to them in faith. Children's toys and shoes, household utensils, and other items recovered during the restoration of the roof of the Abbey in the 1970's have all been dated to the period of the Battle. Our records are enigmatic (probably because the King would have exacted his displeasure had he known), but other sources suggest that the Abbot had the woman and children of the town hidden in his roof voids during the three days the Yorkists and Lancastrians were busy here. Small wonder then that this place has such a special feel about it.

Our Vicar now occupies the former Abbot's House, the public face of which is still very much as Strensham would have known it. Uniquely for a Vicarage, it has its own Chapel, as well as a large space now referred to as the Abbot's Parlour, and very likley a formal hall for receiving lay visitors when it was the home of the Abbot.


The former Abbot's Lodge, now Abbey House, residence of the Vicar of Tewkesbury Abbey. The Chapel is the large bay window on the left.

Just as the town is enlivened by the presence of the Medieval role players, so, too, is the Abbey, and this year, particularly, we will extend our work among them - at their request. For at least one Reader and the Servers this will be quite a weekend - we are in Glastonbury on Saturday for the annual pilgrimage and High Mass in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey - and then at the Abbey with the "Battle" throng on Sunday. It will be a very medieval weekend.

If it also provides a vehicle for the Lord to do His work in the world, then we are glad to be a part of it. It will be fun, and it will almost certainly provide us with a fresh insight into the road of Faith.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:07 PM

June 17, 2004

A question of ethics ....

When does the soul begin? When is life formed? What is life? These are fairly fundamental questions, yet no one has the answers, yet, and quite possibly never will. Is it playing God to interfere with genetics, to attempt to create human clones? It may well be, and do we really know what we are doing when we do this?

I am pro-life, not in the sense of the extremists who assault abortionists or wave placards, daub paint, or engage in vitriolic and emotive campaigns, but in the sense that I do not believe that we have even begun to understand the full impact of what we do when we engage in these scientific experiments. I am also very much in favor of research which will assist in eliminating the scourge of debilitating conditions such as diabetes, Crohn's Disease, liver malfunction, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, and many more. I am in favour of most things which will improve the quality of life for everyone, but, here is the dilemma - have I the right to prosper by depriving an unborn child, even one created in a Petri Dish, of its life?

There is much debate about the ethics of the latest research to use cloned human embryos to generate a cure (using the "stem" cells) for such things as diabetes. And a cure for this distressing condition, brought on by a failure of the pancreas to produce the enzyme needed to break down sugar into a form in which it can be absorbed by our systems, would be a miracle indeed. But is it ethical? Is the cloned embryo a human life? Has it a soul? At what point is life, life? Is "life" only to be measured in purely "material terms" such as "it looks like a human being, it walks, speaks, talks, or crawls and gurgles like a human being, therefore it is alive" - the "I think, therefore I am" line of philosophy? Or do we measure life as the existence of living tissue which may or may not become a fully developed human being?

This is the dilemma, is it not? The law recognises only a neonate as a "living" person post birth. Yes, there is protection for the infant in the womb after 24 weeks of gestation, but it has no "rights" until it is born. This is interestingly reflected in our pattern of measuring a person's "Star sign". In the West it is taken as the time of birth, in the East it is the time of conception! Thus, under the Eastern view, a person comes into being at the moment of conception. Ergo, our cloned human embryo is therefore a "person" in its own right.

Now we really move into the realms of conceptual "ethics"!

If you believe, as I am coming to, that the spark which is that first part of life, and which is present as the cells begin to divide and form as the embryo, is a part of the Living God, creator of the universe and the essence of life itself, then we have a problem immediately. Why? Because the embryo is already a living soul. Now I know that many of the scientists and researchers do not believe this, and would argue that the whole concept of a "soul" is a nonsense (as that great "Socialist" Lenin put it - an opiate of the people); thus they would therefore argue that they are not destroying a human being, merely the beginnings of one, which is neither sentient nor human. Their own evidence rather refutes this. You have only to see the struggle put up by an embryo during an abortion to know that there is a major question mark over this entire issue.

One other point which remains unanswered at this point is this: why, if the science of cloning is so inexact at this time, use embryos? The cloned sheep Dolly and her subsequent offspring have all shown major defects and have aged rather badly. Surely this is the risk with cloning any human cells - and I am all too conscious of the potential benefits - that we may in fact achieve a result which is very far from what we wanted to do. As I said, there are no easy answers, and, as with all the Genies in all the Arabian Nights and other folk stories, once you have taken it out of the bottle - it will not go back in!

We have now developed the technology and a part of the understanding to be able to "create" life in a laboratory. Do we really know what is happening when we do this, and, more importantly, do we have the moral, spiritual, and ethical integrity to recognise that we are now in the realms of God - and, just maybe, treading where we have no business to be.

In this arena I do not believe that we can rely on legal definitions of what is and is not ethical. We are in totally uncharted waters. Violent responses are equally inappropriate; that leaves us with prayer and a lot of thoughtful soul-searching to do. Pray, my brothers and sisters, for all those involved in this work; pray that they may be guided by God, and pray that they may learn to recognise the spark of life for what it truly is.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:33 AM

June 16, 2004

Spiritual healing

Recently I have had the opportunity to look more closely at the whole issue of healing in the spiritual sense. It is one of those areas that is most commonly misunderstood and even potentially abused in Christian circles, yet it is a fundamental part of our faith. So what is it all about? Why does it apparently work for some and not for others?

Most people, asked about the possibility of being healed by prayer, laying on of hands, or anointing with consecrated oils would either say that it works, or that it doesn't - but might make someone feel better about whatever ails them. A small proportion would be openly sceptic and another small group would be openly hostile, usually because they have had what they regard as a "negative" experience of it. Others will think in terms of the "Toronto Kiss" or the bare hands "surgeons" in the Far East who perform "miracles".

Herein lies the problem for us all. The Bible is quite clear (or seems to be!). If you have faith, and you ask the Lord for healing for Grannie, Dad, Mum, or little Johnnie - it should be a matter of instant cure. Or, if not instant, at least a reversal and recovery. So why doesn't it happen?

In part, at least, it does, but perhaps not in the manner that we wish to see. The problem here is that we are asking for what WE want, not necessarily what the person concerned NEEDS. The answer to the prayers is always in terms of what is needed by the individual concerned, not what we (or sometimes they!) ask for or want. Terry Pratchett puts this very well in describing his Witch Granny Weatherwax. The reason people are afraid of her, the reason she is so good is that, from her they get exactly what is needed, not what they want. She is a force to be reckoned with as she moves around his stories, her counterparts doing the nice bits and she doing the tough love bits undoing the damge done by "nice to have" and putting right the things arising from not having what is needed.

There is another reason that healing can fail as well. It may be that the person seeking healing doesn't actually want it. That may sound strange, but consider for a moment the lame man at the pool of Siloam in the Gospel. He'd been there for 28 years. In other words, he has been a cripple and a beggar for all of his adult life. This is why our Lord asks in the Gospel story, "What do you want?" It sounds silly, but consider for a moment. "Do you want to be healed?" Our response would be "Why not?" or "Yes, of course!" and probably "what a stupid question!" Now think of it from the perspective of the lame man. No living relatives, no trade, no skills, no job, no livlihood. Still want to be healed?

Not an easy question is it?

I believe that if we really examine our hearts and our records we will find that our prayers for ourselves and for others have always been answered. They may not have been answered as we would have wished or indeed as we thought we needed, but they have been answered. Speaking entirely from my own experience on this I find that in the many cases where I have appealed for help, I have always had an answer. Sometimes it has taken me a while to recognise the solution or the cure, sometimes I have not really appreciated it either. But it has always been exactly what had to be provided, exactly what I needed at that time.

So I can say that spiritual healing is a given. It happens, but, sometimes we are looking for the wrong kind of healing. Sometimes what we want is not the healing we need, sometimes the body is not what needs healing.

I do not subscribe to the view that illness, disability, or any form of disabling illness is a "punishment" upon the sufferer for some past misdemeanour. To accept that is to deny the message of the Gospel of a forgiving and loving God. Look carefully at the Gospel stories of the healing miracles. Does Jesus say in any one of them - "Well you must have been a real sinner, then!"? No he does not, and neither do the Apostles in the later books. Affliction is not imposed by God; it may well be the result of abuse of alcohol, drugs, or some other "sinful" activity, but it is not imposed by God. In all cases God heals by providing the support that is needed to overcome the underlying causes of the distress that accompanies the ailment. Sometimes, indeed, the person is physically as well as spiritually healed, but sometimes that is not what is needed and we are tempted to see this as a "failure" of faith or of God not answering prayers.

Healing, and the healing ministry, is a difficult one. Even the doctors I know will often say that the medication can only provide a part of the answer, the patient's own body must do the rest. It is just so with spiritual healing; only a part can come through the prayers - the people themselves must do the rest, and this may not be what the rest of us expect. It may well be that the person needed only the ease of some burden upon their souls to slip quietly from this life to the next, and did not want to be physically healed at all. This is why Jesus asked the lame man at the pool, "What do you want?"

We should never confuse our desires with those of others. Often when we pray for someone to be healed we are praying for our own ends - we do not want to let that person go. In our minds, it is a case of "I want you to stay" whereas the people themselves may be in such pain or be facing such a reduced quality of life that they want to go. It is for this reason that our resident "Healing Minister" at the Abbey always stipulates that we should not place a person's name upon the list of those to be prayed for at Healing Services unless we have discussed it with the person concerned.

God is full of surprises, I have found, and the ministry of healing is one of them. He moves and works in wonderful and mysterious ways to achieve His purpose in the wolrd and in our lives - but at every step of the way the question is the same. It is also intensely personal and addressed to each individual.

"What do you want?" Take care how you answer; you may be certain that He will provide exactly what you need in His reply.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:39 PM

June 15, 2004

Dangers of the job

Dogs are increasingly used in searching debris and other areas, particularly in detecting trapped victims, or in finding contraband of one sort or another. This is not a new idea; it is one that has been in use for centuries. In the Fire and Rescue Services we use them for detecting accelerant at fire scenes where we have reason to believe there has been foul play, and in natural disasters (or manmade ones, occassionally) where there may be people trapped beneath piles of rubble or collapsed buildings.

Occassionally we also have a reminder that it is dangerous work. Yesterday, one of our accelerant detector dogs was sent into a first floor room in a house which had suffered a severe fire. Men had been working in the room up to a few minutes before the dog was sent in. The dog had hardly begun his search when the floor collapsed and the dog has been severely injured. Several other members of the team had narrow escapes or minor injuries, but the dog and his handler are a very special team, one built out of mutual respect and - yes - love. It will be months before the dog is fit to work again, even if his injuries permit it, but the bond will be a difficult one to replace. His handler is off work looking after his team mate and I would ask your prayers for both of them as they deal with this.

It is a salutory warning to us all, in fact, as it reminds us that it is a dangerous and difficult job - one where there are often deliberate attempts to hinder or injure investigators or fire fighters. It is not that long ago that in the same Brigade area a fire fighter was killed by a deliberately planted gas cylinder exploding. Let us hope that Sam and his handler have not been victims of a similarly twisted mind.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:50 PM

June 14, 2004

A musical feast

Saturday evening saw (and heard!) a Gala Organ Concert in Tewkesbury Abbey. I have previously written about two of the Abbey's three organs, the "Mighty" Milton, the "Gorgeous" Grove, but there is a third - a delightful little Chamber Organ which could be dubbed the "Eloquent" Elliot. Our three extremely talented organists, Carleton Etherington, Benjamin Nicholas and Roy Massey, former Director of Music at Hereford Cathedral, played a wonderful game of tag to demonstrate the versatilty and eloquence of all three.

The little "Elliot" Chamber Organ - built in 1813 for a Country House - under restoration in April this year.

The programme contained a glorious mix of periods, styles, and sounds as all three organs strutted their stuff and filled the Abbey with thunderous sounds, quiet sounds, and rich and sonorous tones. What a mix! It left the audience of over 200 breathless and by turns awestruck, stunned, and overwhelmed as the three performers played their way through a challenging repertoire.

The Milton's amazing range of sounds and its ability to be "mighty" and "reticent" by turns or by demand - at one stage it was paired with the Elliot and amazed us all by the range of delicate flute sounds it produced to accompany its little sister, which left us all amazed. For a truly "Mighty" sound, try Ben Nicholas and Carleton Etherington in duet on its four manuals and pedal playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa! From the sound of a "hurdy-gurdy" through the full range and finally into the full set of reed pipes - Clarina, trombone, and tuba to name just some.

The Elliot, newly refurbished and rebuilt, gave its all as it, too, filled these old stone walls with its pure tones and delicate voice. Yet even though it was built for a country house, it manages to make a rich and lovely sound as it performed under the hands of Ben Nicholas and then a duet with Roy Massey and Carleton Etherington performing together on its single key board and push-up pedals.

And then the Grove. Well, what can one say about the Bach D Minor Toccata and Fugue on such an instrument. Believe me, when the FFFF 32 foot Diapason sounds, you don't so much hear it as feel it. What a sound! Roy Massey enjoyed himself thoroughly as he attacked the 120 year old action (and the Grove has a mixture of "Tracker", "Pneumatic", and "Electro-pneumatic" action). You can't "tickle" it - you have to (in Fire Service paralance) "give it some Wellie".

The full programme included:

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; J S Bach - The Grove, Roy Massey

Concerto III in G; Fr Antonio Soler - The Elliot, Ben Nicholas and The Milton, Carleton Etherington

Introduction and passacaglia in D Minor; Max Reger and

Spring Song; Alfred Hollins - both on The Milton, Roy Massey

Festival Toccata; Percy Fletcher - The Grove, Carleton Etherington

Sinfonia (Cantata No 29) J S Bach - The Milton, Ben Nicholas

Duet for Organ; Samuel Wesley - The Elliot, Carleton Etherington and Roy Massey

Andante Sostenuto (Symphonie Gothique); C M Widor - The Grove, Benjamin Nicholas

Variations on "America"; Charles Ives - The Milton, Carleton Etherington

Stars and stripes forever; John Philip Sousa - The Milton, Benjamin Nicholas and Carleton Etherington

Offertoire in C; L J A Lefebure-Wely - The Milton, Roy Massey

Why has it taken me until now to write this up? Well, it took me until last night to stop replaying the sounds in my head!

If you are in the UK and want to hear something really good, Benjamin Nicholas will have the Grove and the Milton in concert on the 3rd July, Carleton Etherington will be playing the Elliot and the Milton in recital on the 28th July and on the 25th September he will be giving all three another workout.

There is a series of Lunchtime Concerts, as well, from July to October on Tuesdays from 1300 to 1340. Check out the Abbey Website for more information.

Now I had better get my feet back on the ground - I have to get back to the mundane - but, oh boy, does it ever do one good to hear such magnificent music live!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:11 PM | Comments (3)

June 13, 2004

Sunday thoughts

It being Sunday, it seems a good excuse to post something again about the Bible. And why not; after all, I don't hide the fact that I am at least trying to be Christian, and the Bible is central to the Christian Faith.

Unfortunately, it is often abused, taken out of context, or used to support views and opinions that it very probably does not support if read in context. It is very important to read any passage with an understanding of the period it was written in and of the circumstances that were being addressed by the writer. This does not mean that it has nothing to say to us in our age, only that it must be a contextual situation. I have posted some of the articles that I have written on this subject for our Parish Magazine at various times on this blog, namely here, here, here, here, and here, in no particular order. Today I would like to add another to the list. Please follow the link below to read "The Poetry and Wisdom Books".

The Poetry and Wisdom Books
A flight of thoughts on Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

The use of the word “poetry” conjures up visions of the sort of flowing verse produced by poets such as Donne, Milton, Herbert, and Wesley to mention just a few. Most of us would certainly not associate the word with books such as Job or even Proverbs, yet both of these fall into the category of “poetic” books in the Biblical Canon. In fact, read in the original language, they are closer in style to what we would today call reiterative prose. It could be called “prose with rhythm” – an ancient form of “Rap” perhaps? The rhythm is created by using reiterated phrasing and varying stresses and “beats” in the phrasing of lines. Typically there are three such “beats” to a line (which the translators have struggled to preserve for us – sometimes to the detriment of the original meaning) with a similar pattern in the next line, and each pair of lines forms a couplet.

The writers also seem to have enjoyed little word games and have created acrostics in some passages alongside the usual rhyming of words, plays on words, and the use of assonance to make the verses flow. All of these devices should be seen as secondary to the message of the passage or section, books such as “The Bible Code” notwithstanding! It is here that our reliance on translations inevitably cause us to loose the sense of intimacy that the original hearers and readers would have enjoyed and perhaps still do in Synagogue and household.

Of the five books in this group, Job, Psalms, and Proverbs are classed as poetic because their writers used the “poetic” structures of couplets, accents, and rhythms in their structures.

While Job may challenge our views in many ways, it is unique in both form and style in the Bible. Its author is unknown, as is its date of compilation, and it is unsettling because it raises questions which are not properly answered until the message of the New Testament is read. Why then is it considered to be poetry? Job is poetic in form but it is also part of the “Wisdom” because of its subject matter and the concepts it puts forward. It reads rather like a Norse Saga in structure and in the phrasing of sentences; for example:

Job 30: 1
“But now they mock me, men younger than I,
whose fathers I would have disdained
to put with my sheep dogs.”

Or verse 3
“Haggard from want and hunger,
they roamed the parched land
in desolate wastelands at night.”

Both the content and the form set this book apart from all the rest of the Old and the New Testament. It is set in the days of the Patriarchs and purports to be the story of a man who is both city dweller and nomad with his wealth in his flocks and his family. The debate between Job and his “friends” or “comforters” is lively and illuminates much that is still troubling us today.

These books represent the flowering of Judaic culture under David and Solomon and the continuing of that growth in the generations that followed. There is ample evidence that they were influenced by the cultures around them; indeed, as more is discovered that illuminates both Babylonian and Egyptian culture, we are better able to see the manner in which precepts are translated by their absorption into informed faith. Solomon’s reputation for wisdom was pre-eminent, but it was built on his patronage of the arts and learning as much as on his own intellect. Sheba was not the only visitor to his capital and court; she was but one of many such eminent people. That the arts and the desire for learning took firm root is evidenced by the continuing of the writings and the ongoing growth of both faith and knowledge in the Jewish peoples long after Solomon’s Kingdom had been swept away.

The Psalms are at one and the same time familiar and yet obscure. Some we love and some we hardly ever read. Mention Psalm 119 and everyone groans – especially the choristers if you fail to mention which sections are to be omitted! Yet here we have a collection as rich as our own heritage of poetry – love songs, laments, both individual and communal, “Royal” psalms for special occasions, and thanksgivings. We all have our favourites – mine are 43, 51, 107 v 23 – 32 in particular, and 121 – but do we ever stop and consider the deeper meaning of them or to explore some of the others? They give expression to almost every human condition and emotion while praising God for His grace in all things. The collection we enjoy covers 150 that are recognized in the Hebrew Canon; there are others but their value is in their expression of individual or communal matters, not necessarily in giving praise to God. And they were written to be sung!

We do know that the collection we have today was finalized sometime before the Maccabean period and they are organized into five “books”. They cover an extended period of writing and although they are all attributed today to David, they are the work of a number of authors, some of whom may well have “amended” earlier versions to include later events. As I suggested in one of my earlier rambles, they may well have been treated like the Gilbert and Sullivan “patter” songs. Be that as it may, the imagery they use is powerful stuff and still speaks across the ages if one is prepared to listen and be open to them.

Proverbs offers us an anthology of “wise sayings” some of them reading almost as classic cliché material. That said, it is much more, because it is in fact more of a text book to be used to teach young men and women the tenets of faith and of decent living by means of short and easily memorized “sayings”. It divides into eight sections, with the first being a general introduction to “wisdom”. It includes an interesting acrostic poem on the “perfect wife” and six “collections” of sayings, at least two of which were authored by Solomon. It is probable that the basic collection of these sayings was started under Solomon and expanded by later generations as they dealt with new concepts and ideas coming in from other nations. It may well be that it started as a text book for scholars coming to learn from the source, as it were, at Solomon’s court. There is a very similar tract known as the “Teaching of Amenemope” in Egypt which is closely paralleled by Proverbs 22: 17 – 23: 14, evidence that there was considerable interchange of ideas going on at this time.

The next book is clearly part of the Wisdom literature. Ecclesiastes is a book of life; life as man sees it, with questions raised by observation followed through to logical conclusions. The author imposes no preconceptions and follows a form popular in the near East for this type of literature. The title is in fact a Greek translation of the Hebrew “Qoheleth”, a title rather than a name which means “Teacher” or “Philosopher”, but can also be “Preacher” or “Speaker”. The author is unknown, but the title suggests that it was someone in an official position and may even be a pseudonym for Solomon himself. Strikingly, the book explores some difficult areas and avoids the modern problem of cynicism and despair, instead leading the reader to understand that God wishes to be included in their lives.

Finally we come to the Song of Solomon, a series of poems on the theme of love between man and woman. Some of the passages explore the intimate nature of love and certainly evokes some powerful imagery. The sequence is of the bride and groom and their relationship. The form is poetic but the content falls within the wisdom genre. There is some thought that it may well have originally been intended for “dramatic” reading or even some sort of “performance”. There is some support for this in the use of a similar set of poems in Syria today which are performed, sung, or acted out at the eight day long wedding feasts. The “Song” draws heavily on nature for its images, and its setting is a pastoral one, leading some scholars to place the bride and groom as shepherd and wife with the King himself as the third party.

At this point I have to confess that I have yet to find modern guides to these books that address them fully and do them full justice. For this note I have used my trusty Lion Handbook to the Bible and some notes from here and there. I am looking for a good book on the Psalms and a recent one on Ecclesiastes would be useful, too. If anyone knows of some recent titles on these I would like to know about them.

This group of books offer some surprises and plenty of food for thought. I hope you enjoy exploring them.

Peace be with you.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:18 AM | Comments (2)

June 12, 2004

A rollercoaster week ....

This week has been an interesting one in many respects. The most public aspect has certainly been the European election and the plethora of local government elections which have evidently given our Illustriuos Leader a bit of a hammering. Losing over 400 seats in local government may not sound like much of a problem, but bear in mind that this removes his key workers from positions in which they can manipulate the local budgets to gerrymander votes for him in the General Election which should follow next year. Even the attempt to gerrymander the postal voting and the revelation that The Party issued a handbook, which included instructions on how to influence voters and not to identify themselves as Labour, has now been exposed. The Party stand revealed as liars, cheats, crooks, and blatant frauds. Let us hope that fraud charges follow - but somehow I doubt it - Tone's cronies will smooth it all out with some more fraudulent "spin".

The week has also seen the death and burial of possibly the last "gentleman" in politics, Ronald Reagan. He was a natural Statesman, unlike his successors in all countries, but particularly this one, who are simply poseurs. The late President Reagan was a modest man who believed passionately in doing what was right, and it is he more than anyone who brought the Cold War to an end, and the downfall of the Communist regimes who at least were open about their intention to retain power and to suppress all dissent. Unlike Mr Blair and the rest of his so-called democratic party. We will certainly be the poorer for the passing of a great and compassionate man, quite possibly the last of his breed.

A third and perhaps less well noticed event this week has been the inquiry into the professional conduct of a certain eminent paediatrician whose deeply flawed and totally unsupported evidence has been responsible for the imprisonment of a large number of women whose children died apparently of SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The Professor has spent a lifetime in treating children and has specialised in the treatment of children who have been abused. This evidently now qualifies him to diagnose abuse in children from TV reports and to file abuse charges against parents who have already had their families torn apart by similar charges made by another eminent paediatrician now also under investigation. In both cases it seems that these doctors are so convinced of their own infallibility that they do not need any second opinion - unless of course, it is from someone who agrees with every word they say.

It is these huge egos that have imposed upon every parent the threat of immediate police and social worker intervention to tear their families apart and in many cases destroy one or both parents for quite simple and normal childhood accidents. Once these heavyweight egos weigh in, the parent and the child become simple pawns in a huge game of chess, with social services scurrying about fabricating and destroying evidence where the facts don't fit the theory and the emminent medics inflating their egos and their reputations at the expense of both commonsense and compassion.

In the latest case to be investigated, the husband of a woman already in jail for the "murder" of her two children was accused by another "expert" of murder - on the strength of an interview on television in which he mentioned that his infant son had suffered an unexplained nose bleed! Not satisfied with having already destroyed the wife, this monumental egotist set out to try and destroy the husband - with not a shred of medical evidence to support his charge. Naturally, both the police and the social services leapt into action, and only the fact that they could not find anything to support this totally irresponsible abuse of power saved the husband. The so-called experts are still in denial even after the wife was cleared of all charges by the Appeal Court last year. They still maintain that their grand-sounding Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is a reality and not a figment of their desire for recognition. If anyone is suffering from such a syndrome, I would propose that they are themselves the prime candidates!

This onslaught on the integrity, decency, and ability of parents is an abomination. It has gone far beyond a joke and is now threatening the very fabric of society. The industry that has grown around child abuse has become a self-perpetuating monster, and it has bred a group of "experts" whose egos now seem to be more important than the many children and loving parents who are being systematically brutalised by these constant threats and abuses of power. It is high time that a more rational approach was taken. Yes, there are children being abused, but not every household has an abuser or an abused child. Children get hurt, they bump themselves, they fall off bicycles, they get into fights with their syblings, and the marks show. As a kid, I lost count of the times I had bruised knuckles, bruised shins, and black eyes. Not once were these the actions of my parents or any other member of the household. Yet, certainly with some of the marks I acquired, in today's society, my parents would have had threatening visits from social services and the police!

This is supposed to be a free and fair society. All I can say is, don't get married, don't have children - and find somewhere that is free of politicians and chattering nitwits whose constant whinging about abuse, dangerous dogs, dangerous guns, cars, and the cost of decent coffee has led us to this mess. There needs to be a review, too, of the selection process for juries - or possibly the dispensing of a jury altogether - where there will be a large body of "expert" evidence. Juries are all to easily swayed by the blather that accompanies a big-name, big-ego "expert", with the result that he or she can pronounce the most complete garbage and convince the jury simply by his or her reputation that it is "fact". No jury is able to distinguish between scientific "fact" and egotistical and unsupported "theory" in such cases, and theory is all to often all they get!

So it has been a mixed week. Some good, some bad. Let us hope that the election has served to put our illustrious leader on notice that he has gone far too far in his destruction of our Nation, and let us also hope that the inquiries will serve to rein in the rampant excesses of the army of "experts" now destroying families.

Finally, let us remember Nancy Reagan and her children as they mourn the passing of a great man.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:16 PM | Comments (2)

June 11, 2004

A secret ballot?

I may be misunderstanding something fundamental here. Indeed, I think I may have no understanding at all of "modern" democracy, but one principle I really thought I had a grasp of was that the ballot paper was secret and not a record of who I vote for or how I vote. It seems I have that wrong in spades in Mr Blair's "modern" Britain, for my ballot can be tracked!

It has always been thus in some form, but only with enormous difficulty could the number of the ballot paper have been used to identify the person who used it. Not any more. In insisting on forcing about a quarter of the population to vote in a postal ballot, they have made fraudulent use of the language! Quite apart from the issue of potential fraudulent use and "guided" voting where someone offers to "help" fill in the ballot paper, these papers are most emphatically NOT secret. Your name, address and signature all appear on the ballot paper - and justb to make sure we know who voted with it - you have to get someone to confirm that you are who you say you are! This is secret?

No wonder there are already charges being made that Labour's footsoldiers were out in force making sure that anyone they could get at was marking the right boxes on the paper. And it gets worse - some employees have revealed that they were told by their employers that they voted anything except Labour at the expense of their jobs. The one good thing about it is that it seems to have misfired - Labour are losing seats at an unprecedented rate - a pity it's only in the Local Government arena and not in Parliament, but hopefully it is an indication of things to come.

Of course proving any of this will be very difficult and that buffoon who rejoices in the title of Deputy Prime Minister will no doubt have his army of civil servants rushing about manipulating the statistics to hide both their incompetence and the fact that this is a monumental exercise in gerrymandering. Funny, a few years ago some Conservative councillors were prosecuted following accusations by a Labour-supporting member of the National Audit Office over the sale of former council flats to known Tory voters. I wonder if we can expect to see any similar accusations from that source now that Labour's blatant gerrymandering is so apparent. Some how I doubt it because the people who should expose this sort of thing have been sat in Labour's pocket for years. Where did you think all the leaked secret documents came from? Father Christmas?

Personally I describe myself these days as a political cynic. There is no democracy in this country anymore - it died as soon as Party politicians were imposed at Local Government level. Parliament is not democratic either - in a true democracy the elected member is directly representing and directly responsible too the people/community/group who elected them, in a Party-dominated Democracy their allegiance is to a Party and its ideology (declared and undeclared), and the only time the electorate are considered is when an election is looming. As soon as it is out of the way, it's snouts back in the trough, boyo, we can safely ignore the plebs for another four years.

If Mr Blair and his worthless cronies truly wish to widen democracy and increase turnout among voters, he will need to do several things. First; remove the system of "whips" which forces elected members to toe party lines; next; introduce a true democracy where only those policies which a majority of the elctorate have endorsed can be implemented; make provision for direct access to electronic and secret balloting and consultation systems; remove the party domination of parliament and make provision for direct election of non-partisan candidates (who must be required to resign their seats immediately if they join a party) who should hold at least one third of the seats in any parliament; and finally, cut the civil service by two thirds and remove them from the actual management process of anything. The Upper Chamber - The Lords - should be directly elected and its members should be drawn from the Hereditary and the Life Peerage - but not from the "Party of the Day" cronies list. If this House was to be established as an Independent body with the power to hold a check on the House of Commons - and its blatant contempt for the democratic process under this present government, there could be a balance struck with perhaps a one third representation of Peers elected by Commerce, Industry, and Trade Unions and a further Third sitting elected by the Judiciary and the Churches.

There should a reduction in the number of elected bodies as well - these do not work democratically and are simply stuffed with people feathering their nests at the expense of tax payers. Fewer and more meaningful bodies (with appropriate restraints on them) would make more sense and be less wasteful than the layers of Parish, Town, Borough, District, County, and Regional Councils and Authorities, most of whom have no real powers and are simply there as a sop to "local" representation.

No, I do not believe that the widening of the use of the very public system of postal ballots will improve turnout. If anything it is likely to put people off altogether as soon as they realise that the local bully boys on the Labour Street Committee can check to see that you voted the "right" way. Reforming the House of Commons and the Civil Service to make them truly democratic and answerable might. Somehow, though, I doubt that Mr Blair or his cronies would really want that at all!

So, is this postal system still a "secret ballot"? You must be joking!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:19 PM | Comments (2)

June 10, 2004

Corpus Christi

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi - the commemoration of the institution of the Holy Communion. As you would expect, the Abbey marked this with a full High Mass and ended with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the site of the former Lady Chapel and the act of Benediction.

The Holy Communion (or "The Eucharist" or "The Lord's Supper") is one of the most distinctive acts of Christian worship, yet we differ on the "how" and the "what" and agree, possibly, only on the "why". The origins of it lie in the book of Leviticus, as the offering of fellowship, where the offering of bread and wine was brought to the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting and offered by the Priest to God - then shared between the person making the offering, his family, and any friends present, and the priest and his family. This action still forms an important part of certain meals in any Jewish household. After the bringing of light to the table by the women of the household, the Husband, father, or male head of the house offers a special prayer over bread - which is then shared. The meal proper is then eaten and finally the Cup is blessed by the eldest son (or the newest Barmitzvah son) and again shared by all at the table.

This is the action Christ converted to represent him here and which we commemorate in the Communion. Whether or not you believe in the transubstantiation, or follow the Orthodox belief that the sacrament cannot be abased or abused because it is only the sacrament if it is used as such, or the Protestant tradition that it is only a token, the underlying purpose and meaning is exactly the same - it is a meal consumed in fellowship.

The pattern of ritual has grown out of the early church's original fellowship or "agape'" meals which included Bible reading, psalms, and sermons, sometimes baptism and always the breaking of bread and the blessing of wine. It became too unwieldy to continue with this as congregations grew, so a separate act of worship was developed to allow for the "fellowship" part to become an act of worship - and then be followed by a meal. If you want to see the origins of the Western Rites that we use today you need to see the Liturgy of St James - all 4 hours of it - which is still in use in the Orthodox traditions. Or the Coptic service which is almost as old.

Whatever tradition you follow, the act of communion is the same - you are members of the Body of Christ and in sharing in the Body (Bread) and Blood (Wine) of Christ you are "in communion" or in fellowship with every other Christian of every persuasion and with Christ Himself.

If there is something that we should celebrate it is surely this - that He left us this physical token of His presence among us.

Christ is risen - he is risen indeed!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:07 PM | Comments (1)

June 09, 2004

Mangled musings .....

Ever wondered what the Western world would be like if Christianity had not flourished? Or even if Constantine had adopted another religion as the State faith? What would our world be like? What sort of society would it be?

It is a fascinating question, and one which, I suspect, has no real answer. I am reasonably sure that several things which we take as "natural freedoms" or "natural philosophy" would not in fact be around today. My reason for this is that many of these are in fact founded upon Hellenistic interpretations of things which come from the Christian Gospels or the early Christian thinkers. Now, it is always tricky trying to guess whether or not these philosophical concepts would have arisen if the world religion choices had been different, but I would suspect that some of them would be unlikely to have a risen in a society in which the religious thinking was based on Mithraism. Even Islam is unlikely to have emerged, as it owes a considerable amount of its philosophical foundatiion to Judeo-Christian thinking and writing in the early 3rd and 4th Centuries - and if no Islam - then aspects of Sikhism would be different as well - if that religion had in fact EVEN emerged.

Had Constantine elected to adopt Mithras and the Mithraic religion as the State Religion of Byzantium, we would indeed be living in a very different world. By the way, this was the alternative choice - Constantine having invited leaders from both "Cults" to debate the principles with his advisers, and apparently the Christian leaders impressed him more. In some ways this was both a blessing and a curse for the church, because although it stopped the persecution and "established" it as the one true faith, it also linked it to the secular authority and made it a political body. Suddenly the Church assumed power, and power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But, what would we have had if the debate had gone the other way. What would we have had from Mithraism?

Well, for one thing, based upon the tenets of the Mithraic doctrine (and it is mainly a "fertility" religion) we would most likely still have slavery. "Human Rights" would almost certainly not have arisen as a philosophy, since there is no doctrine, or foundations for a doctrine, of the sanctity of human life. We would probably not still be living in a Mediterranean-centred Empire, but we would almost certainly be living in a society where might was power, in which the ability to wield the big money would buy anything and anybody to a much greater extent that is true today. And when I say "buy" I mean that in the literal sense.

Mithraism was an Eastern "Mystic" religion, arising in Persia, originally, and it was one favoured by many of the soldiery of the Empire. It espoused the virtue of the warrior and saw the pursuit of conquest and war as being something to glorify. Those who fought bravely and well were believed to be "favoured" and would reap rewards mostly in this life, but with some suggestion of an afterlife remarkably like that on this earth. There was certainly no praise of peace and no suggestion that anyone could expect to be equal. Slave is slave, and the heirarchy rises from there. Don't expect promotion!

So, the world this would most likely have created would have been one of almost constant revolt and war, a world in which life was cheap and human rights consisted of what you could carve out and hang onto for yourself. Slaves would be a norm in the households of the wealthy, and we would still be able to settle debts by "selling" a child into slavery or perhaps even becoming one ourselves. Many of our "moral" standards would also be absent - again because there was no philosophical basis for them in the theology of Mithraism. Some might argue that this is a good thing, but I rather think that if it is properly thought through, it will be seen that it would lead to a society that is debased, brutalised, and generally rather ugly.

Christianity has certainly made some mistakes along the way. Usually when it has tried to be a Secular Power instead of a way of life to which people are invited to subscribe. It has followed some dead ends and as a world religion has made some rather unpleasant choices in its history. However, by and large, the fanatics have not held sway universally or for long. Most have been expoosed as frauds and swept aside fairly swiftly. Worse have been some of the excesses committed in the name of Christianity by political leaders seeking to use the Church as a vehicle for their own ends. Joe Stalin was a very good example in 1940 - 41 when he suddenly espoused the Russian Orthodox faith, restoring it to legality - because he could use it as a way to mobilise and energise the cowed peasantry of Russia.

Without Christianity as a moderating source for philosophy I suspect that life today would be much more like that experienced in the former Eastern Bloc countries under Stalin - with little, if any, hope of change.

I think I prefer the world we have. Of one thing I am certain, I do not wish to live in a world dominated by fanatics of any persuasion - Christian or anything else - and I have every sympathy for those living in Iraq, Iran, and any other country dominated by fanatical clerics whose abuse of power is really getting beyond a joke. This post at On The Third Hand illustrates my point quite well. Ironic, isn't it, that the place that gave rise to Mithraism is now in thrall to people who think along very much the same terms as regards human rights, freedom of choice, and particularly the status of women.

We've a lot to be thankful for that, wrinkles and all, Christian, Judaic, and, yes, reasonable Islamic tenets are now the norm, rather than the terrible prospects that would have issued from centuries of a perverted philosophy. Much of what we now consider as "normal" and, equally, as "unacceptable" stem from the religious influences of these three major religions. Humanism, Marxism, Socialism all have their roots in the message of the Gospel and the religious philosophy that gave rise to them and to Islam. If you doubt this - take a look at the Acts of the Apostles and the "model" community it proposes in Chapters 3 and 4.

Nope, we are fortunate that Constantine chose as he did.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:23 PM

June 08, 2004

Sic Transit Venus?

Today saw that extremely rare event - a "transit" of Venus. There was a great deal of excitement about it in the press - alongside many warnings not to try and look directly at it even with your sunglasses. I think we can be pretty sure that a large number of people did just that - and are now wondering when the sun flares in their eyes will clear. Not that they will have been able to see much anyway as the small dot passing slowly across the face of the sun was just that. A small black spot.

For many I dare say it will have been a non-event, or one they simply had to see knowing that they would never have another chance. It only happens about once a century - the last one in 1882 - and is alternately visible from the Northern or the Southern hemisphere but never, I am informed from both. This means in effect that when it is next visible from the UK in 2114 I am unlikely to be around to see it, and if the doom sayers are to be believed, it's possible there won't be anyone around to see it.

So why all the fuss? Well, its one of those things the astronomical community get really excited about, and scientists getting excited tends to set the press off on a feeding frenzy, probably on the premise that something like this could turn into an "end of the world" type story. Personally I am glad I saw it, even if it was a not very exciting black dot on a white card reflecting a bright disc. It serves as a reminder of just how vast the universe is - and of the immense forces that are at work in it.

It also underlines just how fragile the balance is for life on this planet or any other, for that matter. The transit is over, the photo opportunities have been taken, the media have moved on to the next news selling story, but the universe grinds on and we will no doubt eventually hear what the scientists were really all excited about - because this sort of event is a huge data gathering opportunity for the sciences, and they may well yet make a discovery from the analysis of that which could change the way we see things in a number of spheres rather radically.

So, the transit is over - but now the learning begins.

Sic transit Venus.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:43 PM | Comments (1)

A gentleman passes from the stage ...

Funny how, with hindsight, a period, a politician, or a leader takes on a different mantle. One such is Ronald Reagan who died this week, released at the age of 93 from the clutches of a debilitating and humiliating illness - Alzheimers. The media, for the most part, now look back at his Presidency with fondness; those same wolves who delighted in highlighting his every stumble, mispronunciation, and the occassional gaffe, are now singing his praises.

I can remember a time when he was being reviled as a "madman", a "failed B-list movie star", and "a puppet of Nancy's making". I will confess that, as a non-US citizen whose own country was being affected by the Cold War struggle kept going by surrogate terrorist organisations, I did make the odd crack at him, myself. But I will also say that it was difficult not to admire his honest approach to the threat of Communism. He faced it head on, called it what it was, and declared he would kill it. In one sense he succeeded; in another, sadly, he underestimated it. He failed to kill the bureaucracies that are now strangling the West by their "socialist" policies and controls.

It is evident from his record that he was neither fool nor puppet. He was his own man in every sense of the word, and he had a quality singularly absent in any of the world leaders (or would be world leaders!) currently strutting the stage. If there is one quality that shone through this man's leadership it was this - he was a Gentleman. This does not mean that he was stuck up, a snob, or a social climber; he was a man of courtesy, humour, and compassion. A man who stood by his beliefs and did his best to do what was right, and not necessarily just what was popular. A man rightly honoured by our Head of State, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second (and of Scotland, the First), when she made him an "Extra Knight" of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

I picked up a link to the Ronald Reagan Foundation on Ozguru's site and I would urge you to follow it and leave your condolences for the family who have lost a loving husband, father and friend - and for a world that has lost one of its very few statesmen.

May he rest in peace, and rise in Glory.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:11 PM

June 07, 2004

D-Day and a bit of pride ...

Yesterday saw the huge effort to commemorate the beginning of the liberation of France and then the rest of Europe by the Allies. The original event was, and still is, the largest seaborne operation and invasion ever attempted. Those who took part are fully justified in feeling proud of their achievement; many did not leave the beach and are buried in the cemetaries that surround the landing zone. Those that did survive left the beaches with a fellowship born in fear, forged under fire and carried forward in friendship. It has stood the test of time in that many have remained friends and in touch - and those who lost touch have found tremendous joy in re-establishing contact.

It was right that the heads of State of so many of those whose soldiers were there, were represented. And perhaps it is time, too, that we remembered that the Germans also took a huge number of casualties, defending the indefensible maybe, but still the sons, fathers, and husbands of parents, children, and wives in their homeland.

The commemoration on and off the beach at Arromanches and along that blood-soaked strip of sand, now a peaceful and pleasant strip of beach, rightly marked the achievement of those who triumphed and of those who fell. The only indication that this is the place where something remarkable was achieved is in the vast concrete caisons that lie abandoned and half submerged in a great arc offshore - the remains of the "Mulberry Harbour" - a complete prefabricated harbour towed across the channel from building sites all around the South and East Coast and assembled to create a harbour through which reinforcements and supplies could be brought ashore faster and quicker than by landing craft.

Offshore too, lie the wrecks of many landcraft, destroyers, frigates, and minesweepers lost to shell and bomb while protecting the endless shuttle of troop-carrying landing craft ashore. The figures defy imagination, so let's try a word picture - imagine a convoy advancing across this section of the channel with the leading ships at intervals of 2400 feet and along a fifty mile front. The first ships were anchoring and disgorging off the beaches of Normandy while the last ships were raising their anchors and setting out from England. Then picture the escort racing between these ships and around the flanks and the flotillas of minesweepers and coastal patrol craft who swept the mines out of the path of the approaching ships, marked beaches and channels and acted as rescue craft and shell spotters for the big ships laying donw the bombardment that would shatter the "Atlantic Wall". In the movie "The Longest Day" that bombardment was summed up by a German Officer on the telephone to a higher ranking officer in Paris shouting "What do you mean it isn't the real thing? There are thousands of ships off this beach - and they are all shooting at me!" Having had the good fortune to meet a man who had been there - in fact had been in charge of one of the heavy batteries firing back at our ships - I can say that the film was not far off the mark according to his story. Perhaps it would be fair to add that his battery was one of those "knocked out" quite early by the heavy shells from the 15 inch guns on a battleship - quite possibly HMS Warspite - an experience which cost him a leg and very nearly his life.

D-Day destroyed an evil regime. In the words of Churchill, "It was the beginning of the end." Within the year, the Nazi Regime had collapsed and the stunned German people faced up to the reality of a destroyed infrastructure, of missing relatives and dead fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, and children. Almost as importantly, they also faced up to the things that had been done in their name - such as Auschwitz, Belsen, and others.

It is possible now, after 60 years, to admit that they suffered almost as much in this conflict as those they had attacked at the outset. Certainly in the latter part of the war, their suffering was probably worse - and I speak as one who lost family in Coventry. Perhaps, therefore, we should also think of the German Chancellors presence at these commemorations as a reminder that they, too, were liberated by D-Day, that their dead were also victims of the monstrous regime that spawned the conflict that this was part of.

The commemoration of D-Day should continue to be marked - as a rememberance of the fellowship of the servicemen who fought there, as a reminder of the horrific price of war, and as a reminder that liberty is always worth fighting to preserve.

As a child of a man who fought in the Burma and Pacific theatres, as well as stints in the Med and off East Africa, and of a mother who served briefly with the WRNS on the C-in-C South Atlantic's cypher staff, I would like to say that I am proud indeed to have known some at least of those who fought in that war, and in particular, to be able to celebrate their victory today. Without their dedication and effort, without their determination and their blood, sweat, and tears, this world today would be a very ugly place indeed.

As Tacitus noted and Pliny the Elder is reputed to have said -
Si vis pacem, para bellum.

We forget this maxim at our peril - some forces simply cannot be negotiated with - they understand only the politics of force.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:57 PM | Comments (1)

June 06, 2004

More old stones

Initiation has always been through Baptism in the Christian Church, and has come to us from the Jewish tradition of ritual bathing in the Jordan. The font is therefore always prominently placed near the entrance in a church - in some older traditions it is outside in a separate "Baptistry" - and is often elaborately decorated. The one pictured here dates from around 900 AD - a time when the Celtic and Catholic traditions were still finding their way toward union.

The Saxon Font at Deerhurst.

It is these links with the distant past of our Christian tradition which I find encouraging - the fact that so many of the faithful have worshipped in these places, been batptised, and made their declarations of faith - it is this fellowship of saints, both past and present, which is the main reason for continuing the worship in church in congregations.

When this font was new, the dust from the Synod of Whitby was still settling, the Venerable Bede was still a living memory, and the Saints such as Aidan, Cuthbert and even Patrick were still a living presence among those they had ministered to. For me there is a further link - the knowledge that many of my forebears and distant relations have been baptised in water from this ancient vessel - and now lie around it in their tombs.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:06 AM | Comments (1)

June 05, 2004

Spread the Gospel? Who, me?

Recently I have been examining my ministry and my role in it. Is it liturgical? Is it missionary? Is it something else? It opens up a whole range of subsidiary questions - like why do I feel a need to do it at all?

Strangely, it is not something you necessarily choose to do - it more or less chooses you. Or perhaps, more accurately - God chooses you. Now this is not something I have recently discovered, far from it; this is something I have actually spent a lot of time running away from because I felt I wasn't up to the job. Needless to say - God took care of that. Gradually the escape routes have narrowed, the number of alternative exits have diminished, and I find myself at a point where I have to face the fact that I have a ministry, I am not going to evade it, and it isn't going to go away. So, you may ask, does this mean that this blog will turn into to a Bible-thumping exposition? Well, I certainly hope not. You see, that has always been a part of my problem with ministry - people expect you to be an absolute oracle on all matters religious, to adopt and adhere to particular doctrines, and to defend the sometimes indefensible doctrines of the late medieval and the more extreme catholic and protestant reform movements to the death!

I am not that kind of person. And I do not have that kind of faith. My faith (and I give thanks to my glorious Saviour and the Holy Spirit for it!) is one which is still growing, evolving, and developing. It is a very personal journey and not one where there is much place for absolutes other than: -
a) There is a God, Creator of the Universe and everything in it,
b) That he sent His son - the Word made Flesh - to walk among us and show us the road to salvation and re-union in God, and
c) That the Holy Spirit is among us and upon us and working through us to achieve both our continued growth and His purpose in this world.

Those are my absolutes; everything else is a slow and sometimes painful process of evolving understanding as I seek to understand the Scriptures, the writings of the great scholars, the human desire to suborn everything and sometimes to pervert it to their own ends.

So, am I about to become a missionary like St Paul? Probably not; for one thing I do not have the fire that burned in him, nor do I have the vast knowledge of scripture and theology, and for another, I do not think that is the ministry I am called to render. My ministry seems to be developing along the lines of providing support in the form of study notes, short classes for the choristers ,and some liturgical roles, all of which are part of the vehicle which spreads and maintains the Gospel message. Mine is a ministry more of maintenance and support than "sales", but that doesn't mean I don't have the same passion and zeal for the Gospel, just that I am not a "frontman". My ministry seems to be settling into a pattern of preach, teach, and provide individual support where it is needed among my fellow ministers, my colleagues at work, and in the congregation. There are still more things the Spirit is driving me to explore, and I would ask your prayers as I feel my way into this.

Of one thing I am convinced: I am called to serve our great and wonderful God and to tell the world in any way I can His wonderful message of love. It will not be easy, because I find much in myself that is not admirable or particularly lovable, but if God calls, it is not for me to deny Him.

What will change in me? I am still to discover this. I have changed enormously over the last five or six years and am still changing. I have grown in matters spiritual and I have grown in my understanding of many things scriptural. It has all given me a greater understanding of not only where I am at, but where I need to be, and how I can best show my ministry to the world.

One thing I will commend to all who read this - Christianity is much less, I have discovered, about how one worships, what one espouses as the truth of scripture, and much more about how one lives the message of the Gospel as shown in the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I can commend this journey to all who have the desire to discover the true meaning of what it is to be a Christian.

Peace be with you all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:41 PM | Comments (1)

June 04, 2004

What to do when you discover you are riding a dead horse ...

A friend sent me this and although I have seen it before, I enjoyed it again and so at risk of boring you, gentle reader - I am sharing it.

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that, "When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount."

However, in today's government and in big corporations, more advanced strategies are often employed, such as: Buying a stronger whip. Changing riders. Appointing a committee to study the horse. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride horses. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse's performance. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

And, of course, my all time favorite...........

Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:26 PM

Countryside in bloom

Returning to Deerhurst Church I managed to catch the sun in the churchyard and this lovely flowering shrub in full bloom.


This flowering shrub exemplifies the beauty of this season – despite my hayfever – it is one of the joys of being able to visit places like Deerhurst churchyard without having to endure the traffic of Bank Holiday weekends. It is, after all, almost in my backyard!

‘nough said!

My drive to work takes me through tunnels of trees, flowering hedgerows, and banks of daffodils, bluebells, and other wild flowers which start in late February and keep going through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours, varieties, and patterns right through to the winter. And even the frost-decked trees can be beautiful to see.

Nope, I love living in this part of the country and enjoying its variety.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:55 PM

June 03, 2004

Ain't technology wonderful?!

You begin to realise just how dependent we have become on technology - electrical goodies in particular - when you wake up to hear that all the UK's airports have been closed because a super duper high tec computerised air traffic control system has just gone belly up. OK, so it was only down for an hour - but they don't know why it went down, or why it came up again - and in the single hour it has completely thrown all the departures schedules off the timetable. The last news I heard was that all flights outbound could expect delays of a minimum of three hours!

It reminded me sharply that much of my work has become so dependent on this lump of metal and plastic set in front of me. So much so, in fact, that around half of what I do would not be possible for some time if I suddenly had to do without it! The amount of information I would not have access to is phenomenal!

Last August we saw what happens when you deprive a major population centre of power for 24 hours, and while the people coped reasonably well and rather good naturedly, what would have been the case after 48 hours, Or 72? or 164?
Never mind backing up my files, what essential information would I need and how do I store it so that I can continue to function without this fancy hardware? Perhaps my habit of keeping paper copies and copious files is not such a stupid idea after all. And perhaps there ought to be some other "failsafe" on the air traffic control system!

Now, where the hell did I pack that gas cooker and the oil lamps ........

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:17 AM

June 02, 2004

Day by day ....

Each day it seems that this government or one of its favourite think tanks comes up with some new piece of twisted and corrupted logic. Listening to the news this morning was a bad move for my blood pressure - there on the TV screen was a po-faced member of the team who pronounced in disapproving tones that the rise of "Islamophobia" since 9/11 in Britain will give rise to a backlash from disaffected Islamic youth. She proposed in all seriousness that the government should bring in a law to make it an offence to promote religious hatred!

Excuse me, but I thought we already had one. It has been used exclusively against Christians who have had the temerity to question or challenge anti-Christian statements or remarks about matters of Christian belief or doctrine. These prosecutions echo the perceived wisdom that only Muslims can be offended by remarks about their religion. Apart from anything else, if this group of PC fanatics get their way, it would be an offence to write what I am writing here today!

Let us look at the facts of this perceived "Islamophobia" and its causes, then let us ask ourselves if this is indeed something that should be addressed in law.

First, the link to 9/11 makes it plain that even the authors of this report acknowledge, even if it is in a backhanded and begrudging manner, that the poor image that Islam now enjoys is largely due to the FACT that the twin towers atrocity and the Pentagon (and possibly a third target) were all the work of Islamic extremists whose avowed aim is to drag the West into a perverted vision of Islam based on the 7th Century "Ideal" world they seem to think should be the model for civilisation. The ongoing fanaticism in the Middle East, the ranting of Abu Hamza, and several other Muslim "Clerics" all promoting a war on the West and the imposition of death sentences for offences against Islam on anyone who dares to challenge them or disagrees with them seems to have found no place in their reasoning in concluding that non-Muslims should be forced to accept the superiority of Islam over all other religions and stifling any debate.

Personally I find this offensive. This is primarliy because, under this present government, Islam is promoted as "preferable" to Christianity, more "peaceful", less threatening than all those nasty Christians who have imposed Christianity for so long on a reluctant population. The rise of Atheist and Humanist thinking and its promotion in our Universities and Schools is also a Government sponsored initiative - in fact anything that is non-Christian or anti-Christian is now "de riguer" in the minds of those in favour of promoting their "multi-cultural" vision. Sadly this is also true of the rising promotion of anti-semitisim which is a by product of promoting the anti-Christian and anti-Judeo-Christian standpoint.

So, what is the agenda, and why are most "thinking" people actually rather worried by the promotion of Islam to the status of "preference" by this government? Why is there a growing backlash against this promotion?

Well, let's look at the facts of the matter. Islam is a religion which allows no debate or interpretation - officially. That is to say that the Mullahs are the sole interpreters; what they say goes. It is also a religion that does not permit anyone to have second thoughts. There is a death penalty if you wish to leave it or change to something else. Women are chattels, there for the pleasure of men and the possession of men. I am always saddened by the teenage girls who chant the mantra of "my veil sets me free". Any one of them is a person who refuses to see that she is simply accepting her own imprisonment and allowing the view that her sex/gender makes her somehow inferior. (And I know that I will get a howl of protest for that one!). It is also a religion that proclaims itself a religion of peace - but has always been spread by war on anyone who does not accept it by any other means. It is a religion which proclaims that homosexuals should be stoned to death, that any deviation from the proclaimed will of the Mullahs should be punished by death, and a religion that breeds fanatics whose vision of heaven sounds remarkably like a brothel with a free pass for eternity to me. (And yes, I do know that there are Christian fanatics as well!)

Perhaps we should also draw a veil over the regular murder of women and girls who have "brought disgrace on their families" by dating non-Muslim boys or refusing to toe the line and marry some peasant boy from Afghanistan or Pakistan that the family have arranged for her. These are frequently disguised as "suicides" but those of us who have had to deal with the aftermath of these supposed "accidents" and "self-immolations" are all too well aware of the wall of silence and the deliberate untruths that are told by the relatives when these are investigated. In my book that makes it a religion which practices ritual murder.

Then we come to the attitude of the supposedly dissaffected youth. They have set themselves apart by adopting attitudes which are in conflict with the freedoms this society offers them. And by their espousal of the openly hostile preaching of men like Abu Hamza.

If there is a growing "Islamophobia" I would suggest that the place to start addressing it is not among the non-Muslim community, but among Muslims themselves. Let them ask themselves why so many people find their behaviour and their attitudes offensive. Let them first address the cancer that is promoting such a negative image of their religion that it is creating this loathing among those who are not "of the faith". Let them acknowledge that they are not the "victims" anymore but the creators of their own misfortunes.

This is not a situation in which another law will help. That is more likely to produce an even stronger backlash as people realise that their freedom of speech is being further eroded and extended to freedom of thought as well. Well intentioned though this report may be, it is likely to inspire the opposite effect. People are already angry at the erosion in the name of "fairness" of their rights; this may well be a step too far.

I hope that Mr Blair and his company of cretins think very carefully before they leap into legislation on this one - it may well produce a response far opposite to what they want.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:30 AM | Comments (3)

Terror strikes home

We should all be very alarmed by the attacks on the Saudi Arabian oil terminal, and on the expatriat compounds. This is not random, and it is certainly not unco-ordinated; this is the real war in the Middle East and it is one which we all stand to lose.

Why? Simply because the West is much more dependent upon the oil from this nasty little Kingdom than we like to think, and which has, for years, supported one of the most radical forms of Islam - Wahabi-ism - and a truly repressive form of government. At the same time they have kept the oil taps open and flowing to the West, trading political support for their regime for the oil they hold. This country holds probably a good third of all the oil reserves, yet is also one of the least open societies in the world. It is that which will become even more closed if al Qaeda succeeds in overthrowing the present Rulers and substituting their approved Ayatollahs as the new government. And it is probably much more likely to happen than we think!

First thing that will happen is that the oil tap will be closed. Those who wish to overthrow the House of Saud want to replace them with a fundamentalist state which seeks to espouse and impose a simplistic lifestyle. They have no need of the oil revenues and therefore have no fears about shutting it off to all but domestic consumption. We are not talking commonsense here - we are talking ideology and fanatical theology - always a very bad combination.

Saudi Arabia is a powder keg. It has been one for a long time. Only the control exerted by the Religious Police and the Saudi secret police has kept the fuse from igniting thus far. This latest assault - which is very likely to escalate rapidly - may be sufficient to tip the balance against the regime. If it does we are all in deep water.

This is where the real battle is at the moment - Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Iran and Pakistan are all sideshows. He who controls Saudi Arabia's oil fields effectively will control the world. Ironic isn't it that it is our need of the oil that has propped up the House of Saud for this long - and it is our need of this oil that will bring us to do deals with the fanatics in the long term.

A neat dicotomy. As the Arabic saying goes "The enemy of my enemy is my friend and the friend of my enemy is my enemy."

I guess we all know where we stand in that analysis.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:17 AM

June 01, 2004

A busy day in the life of the Abbey

Spring Bank Holiday is a busy day for a large band of Abbey people. Traditionally it is our annual Fête, a chance to share our Abbey with a wide range of people and to make some money to support it, while offering fun and pleasure to as many as wish to join us. This Bank Holiday saw a wonderful turnout - the crowd was well up on last years and may well have set a new record. The queues were forming at the gates a good half hour ahead of the opening and it was crowded all the way through.

The Town Crier announces Fr Paul and listens to our response to his loyal challenge. The stone paving marks the foundation of the Lady Chapel - the only part of the church to be destroyed at the Dissolution.

Fr Paul, our "Abbot", shared the opening with the Town Mayor and even though he modestly described his role in ensuring fair weather as "only in sales - a request has gone to the management" - we were blessed with good weather. The threatened rain held off until after the last guest had gone and the fete tents, booths, and chairs had been packed away.

The Town Crier (who is also the Town Constable!) introduced Fr Paul and the Mayor for the opening ceremony with the traditional Oyez, oyez! and closed with the cry "God save the Queen!" to which the crowd are required to respond - on pain of being placed in the stocks for disrespect as we were reminded by our Constable! After this the Town Band and the numerous side shows and stalls got down to serious business.

It will be a week or so before we know how much money was made during the day; previous events have made substantial contributions to our annual budget, and it is both good fun and good value for a great day out. Given that the Church of England gets no financial support from the government and that churches like the Abbey have to be entirely self supporting, you will readily see that with an annual budget for repairs, wages, and running expenses of over £1 million, the success of days like the Fête are of paramount importance to the Parish and our continued ability to function. Not least, days like this give us the wherewithall to help the needy in our own community as well as supporting some elsewhere. We at the Abbey were fortunate to have the Town Mayor ( a member of the Methodist congregation in town) very happy to open our fête - pity though the congregation in one of the South Gloucestershire Villages who had invited a TV personality. He cried off at the last minute saying he objected to the blatant Christian Propaganda opportunity the fête represented. One wonders why he accepted the invitation in the first place!

These fêtes are the life blood of many small villages and churches and are a major part of the life of every community. The Abbey is blessed by having the ground around it - which is held in trust by a group called "The Abbey Lawn Trust" and managed for the benefit of the Abbey and the community of Tewkesbury, but many have much less to work with. This year the Vicar made the Vicarage Lawns available for the Refreshment tent and an Archery range, and this in itself drew large crowds.

It is a huge effort to bring it all together, but it is worth every aching muscle to see so many enjoy such a glorious day. Long may it continue to be part of village and church life.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:21 PM | Comments (2)

D-Day sixty years on

This year sees the sixtieth anniversary of those now legendary landings on the Normandy beaches in June 1944. Those taking part at the time saw it as a job to be done; probably very few of them actually wanted to storm ashore into the face of German defences, but it had to be done. There was no other way to drive the Nazi philosophy out of Europe and out of power. But I do wonder whether those who waded ashore on that day and set in motion the "Beginning of the End" for the totalitarian forces then occupying Europe would have envisaged the "Brave New World" of the 21st Century with its terrorsim, its insidious PC "New Speak", and the centralisation and creeping "communisation" so ably manipulated by the faceless wonders of Whitehall and similar Bloated Bureaucracies, hiding behind the "ideologically blinded" cretins who occupy parliaments across the European Union?

A comment on this blog a few days back touched this particular nerve very much on the raw - the UK Civil Service has now grown to the bloated 5.5 million mark - a little over 20% of the total workforce. When you add in the Local Government employees, you find that this figure shoots well past 35% of the total and is in fact very close to 40%. Further, the creeping regulation of every aspect of our lives is now so pervasive that we are in fact more heavily regulated, and probably more assiduously policed than the citizens of the openly communist regimes. This is, after all, the Socialist agenda - complete control of the organs of government and of wealth creation - purportedly for the benefit of all, but in reality, for the benefit of the "ruling class". These days that is increasingly Civil Servant Mandarins and Middle Class "professional" politicians and their offspring.

Is this the world those brave men and women fought to create? I doubt it very much indeed, and it should make us all ashamed of what we have allowed to be done in their name and in ours to create this perverted version of liberty and justice. Those who now peddle the poison of Political Correctness, banning everything they object to, are no different from the Heinrich Himmlers, Adolf Hitlers, and Joseph Stalins who plunged this world into the global conflict of 65 years ago. And it is they who, with their twisted and perverted sense of "justice" and "fairness", will bring about the destruction of liberty and the continuing rise of terrorism. These are the same people who for decades supported terrorist organisation in Africa, in the Middle East, in Europe, and in the Americas in the name of "freedom". Everytime you see the image of Che Guevarra you should remember the murders and the executions he performed in an attempt to create his vision of paradise. Even his closest supporters found this uncomfortable!

Was this the world our fathers and grandfathers fought for? Of course not, nor should we permit it to continue.

If they thought they were fighting for democracy and freedom, how have we allowed ourselves to become so restricted. How have we come to this point where a government (even a Labour one) can so blatantly gerrymander the electorate? The debacle in the North East, where there will be no Polling Stations, only Postal Balloting, where over 4 million voting papers will not be delivered by the deadline, and where there is precious little in the way of safeguards to prevent fraudulent use of those ballots that are delivered, speaks for itself. Is this the society our soldiers fought to create? Of course not, this is the vision of the power-hungry cretins who will do anything to preserve themselves in power - and are prepared to use any means at their disposal, just as Adolf Hitler and Joe Stalin did, to remain in power.

On June the 6th, we will remember those who fought for our liberty, we will remember those who fell getting ashore, and we will remember why they had to do it. The very least we can do is to make it plain to our political leaders and to the bureaucrats that they have gone beyond far enough with their lies and their deceitful restrictions of our democracy and our freedom. It is time to demand they change their thinking and their way. It is time to create a truly free nation of which we can be proud - not a mockery of democracy and a closet communist state that masquerades as a "free" nation, but one which is truly free.

That would be a real mark of respect to the men who went ashore in 1944 and rolled back the Nazi regime. Let us hope that there is a really strong turn out at the polls - and that the electorate see more than just the usual tribal loyalties as their reason for turning out. As to the great Northern experiment; let us hope that it proves to be an expensive and fraudulent failure, because that, more than anything else will expose the dishonesty behind it.

We should look back on June the 6th with pride and with sadness. Pride in the achievement of those brave men who gave everything and sadness at having thrown it all away. In their name, let us take back our country.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:51 AM | Comments (1)