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December 31, 2004

Only a Jeroboam, sir? Care to try our Goliath size?


Some giant size drinks were on display at the Simonsvlei Winery in South Africa when I called and I couldn't resist this photograph. I cannot remember all the names - they are all from the Old Testament and include Methuselah, Nebucadnezzar and several more. Suffice it to say that the smallest here is the Jeroboam - 3 litres of wine - and the largest is the Goliath at 27 litres! That ought to satisfy the largest thirst!

The colloquial term for a 1.5 litre "carboy" of cheap "plonk" (they won't even give that grade of wine shelf space at this winery!) is "'n ses-man kan", literally a "six man can". I don't think we'll explore what the term for Goliath would be under the circumstances.

Anyone care to take on a Goliath for New Year?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:31 PM

Ongoing tragedy

Watching the satellite news channels, there is no doubt that this earthquake and tsunami have probably cost far more in terms of human tragedy than any other natural event in our recorded history. Of course it was much more likely to do so in a part of the world where overpopulation forces people to live in areas subject to flood, volcanic eruption, earthquakes, and any other natural event. The scenes of devastation are simply beyond comprehension, whole communities wiped from the face of the earth, entire towns reduced to rubble, and their populations either dead, dying, or trying desperately to hang on and deal with their tragedy.

The Aid Organisations have mobilised extremely quickly, and already, at least in those areas that are still accessible, aid is pouring in. I do find it disingenuous to hear the usual "spokespersons" mouthing their usual mantra of "not enough is being done to prevent further tragedy!" What the hell do they expect anyone to do? This is precisely the sort of political claptrap we hear from our own politicians who mouth off this sort of garbage to "assure the voters that we are doing everything we can to protect them". Yeah, like building a nice little nuclear bunker for themselves and their civil service cronies to sit out the disaster in. It is inevitably these people who grab the limelight but who never, themselves, actually have to get out there and deal with collecting the corpses, feed the starving, and comfort the dying, the mourners, and the survivors suffering from shock, but can always blithely tell those who are dealing with it in real time that "they aren't doing enough!"

Of course, this is, at the most cynical level, about getting more money. They need more money from the public and from governments so that they can deliver the aid and the assistance. But this constant abuse of the language, this constant mantra of "we must do more" accompanied by handwringing and mass media images of the devastation is becoming so overused that it may well, eventually, backfire on them. Then the aid will be too little and too late. As an ex-emergency worker I find the talking head mouthpieces used by the Aid Agencies downright offensive. Their bleating irritates the hell out of me and inspires in me the feeling that the efforts of those who are actually on the ground, who are doing everything they can, often at risk of their own health, safety, and welfare, are being belittled.

Naturally the talking heads will say that isn't so, that they are trying to get the government or governments to do more, but the reality is that no matter what the government agencies anywhere do, it will never be enough to deal with anything on this sort of scale. In the end it all comes down to the people on the ground, the people at the coal face who must actually deal with whatever the disaster with whatever they have to hand.

The Abbey has launched a collection appeal for the victims and for the relief efforts. There is a collection point in the Abbey with a member of the congregation or the ministry team in attendance to speak to people and to thank them for their donations. This money will be given to the Aid Agencies to use in the relief effort. It is the least that we, at this distance, can do. We will also be praying for all those caught up in the disaster, for those who have been bereaved, for those who have died and who have no one to mourn for them anymore. We will also be praying for everyone who is involved in the relief effort, for the emergency services, medical services, military, and police who must deal with the aftermath.

As the death toll continues to rise inexorably, let us hear less of the bleating about "more must be done" and see a little more acknowledgement of what is being done, what has been achieved, and some positive thinking on how and what can be achieved when the human race combines its efforts in rendering assistance to those in need. The UN Aid Commissioner has summed it up extremely well, saying that he can recall no other event in which he has seen so much money and aid pledged within three days of a disaster. The world is responding, and let us hope it will continue to respond to aid those in the affected Region.

That said, it is a little disquieting to see that almost nothing seems to be happening in the devastated areas of Somalia and there is little reported from the coast of Africa, from Reunion, the Seychelles, Mauritius, and Madagascar, all of which have also been hit by this surge. Admittedly they are not at the centre of this disaster, but they will also have need of our prayers and assistance. Let us hope that someone among the many Aid Agencies now competing for recognition of their appeals is also looking to see what is needed at some of the more remote areas. It does not seem to be the case at present.

There is also the danger, as this aid programme gathers momentum, that the human tragedy will become submerged in the sheer scale of the statistics being churned out in its wake. The size of the relief effort is already becoming more of a focus than the people being helped, the cost is already assuming the prominence that should be accorded to the individuals desparately trying to hold onto their sanity, their livelyhoods and their very lives. It is a very human tragedy, it is not an exercise in logistics or in "doing more to prevent ..." - this is about actually providing help, restoration of lives and livelihood, and about the people. Above all it is about the people.

We must never forget that.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:03 AM

December 30, 2004

Inside the Castle of Good Hope

Governor Simon van der Stel had the the imposing residence built inside the Castle between 1760 and 1780. It has now been beautifully restored and houses a superb collection of historic paintings and furniture reflecting the history of the Cape and the castle.

The imposing entrance to the Governor's Residence inside the Castle of Good Hope.

The Castle is the scene of a daily ceremony of mounting sentries and the "opening" of the gates. Known as the ceremony of the Keys, it takes place at 1130 every morning. As it finishes the Noon Gun is fired from Signal Hill and a reply is made from the Castle by firing a small brass signal gun in the courtyard.

The "Guard" parade carrying the weapons and wearing a uniform based on the Dutch garrison uniforms from the 18th Century.

The Castle Garrison parades a guard for the Ceremony of the Keys. Two "Pikemen" are flanked by four Musketeers while the Sergeant of the Guard requests the keys from the Governor.

Any castle ghosts would not feel out of place - the ceremony is one that recreates the daily routine of opening the gates for petitioners, visitors, and business and the changing of the sentries. The signal guns were fired to convey messages between the lookout point (and small battery) on Signal Hill - located on the Lion's Rump - and the Castle Garrison. Even in bad weather the report from these guns can be clearly heard at both locations.

The government has changed, the faces have changed, the history lives on as a reminder of what was both good and bad - and of the mistakes from which we must learn.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:35 AM

December 29, 2004

A breath of sanity from Down Under.

Over on Silent Running I found this wonderful piece - a real facer for the PC Brigade who are so desperately trying to annoy the hell out of everyone in their misguided attempts to secularise everything. Under the title of "Orthodox Rabbi uses "Christ" in sermon; Sky fails to fall" he reproduces the Rabbi's actual statement.

Thank God for His men of God - everywhere. Let us hope the PC cretins take note. Somehow I doubt it!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:00 AM

Forces of nature ....

The earthquake which has touched off the tragedy in South East Asia and the Indian Ocean area provoked me to look up the geological information for that area. I was well aware, having visited Jakarta and several of the cities in that region, that there is a long chain of very active volcanoes stretching the length of the chain of Islands that forms the Indonesian Archipelago and the peninsula that is Burma, Thailand and Malaysia. On two occasions when I have flown out to parts East and crossed that chain, the flight has diverted to avoid one or another "clearing its throat", and the ash plume has been, even from the air, spectacular!

Not unnaturally the volcanoes are associated with a tectonic faultline similar in activity to the one on the other side of the landmass and islands known as the Pacific Rim or sometimes, more dramatically, "The Ring of Fire". There are several large and very active volcanoes on Sumatra; at least two within spitting distance of Jakarta itself. As we have just been reminded, in comparasion to the forces our own planet is able to harness, and occasionally unleash on us, our achievements, our very existence is almost as nothing by comparasion.

The tragedy of the latest demonstration of this power is that it has hit a corner of the world that is both "paradise" to the tourist and home to some of the world's poorest people. We know the danger, yet some of us at least have little choice but to continue living under, around, or on top of natural hazards that are potentially far more devastating to us than the entire world's arsenal of nuclear weapons.

If my maps are at all accurate (and they consist of a very useful atlas which includes details of plate tectonics), then this faultline is one which runs up the Bay of Bengal and continues in a great arc into Eastern Mongolia having intersected or joined others along the way. A recent article on "rift formation" in one of the many "scientific" style magazines I read mentions that a new Rift Valley appears to be forming in that region and that these can be associated with mass extinctions as they give rise to another phenomenon - a blowout of magma gasses trapped under rock domes, then released during powerful quakes. These leave a characteristic crater that resembles a metoer strike - except when examined closely the "meteor" has been fired out of the ground and not struck it!

Another item from the same source mentioned that powerful earthquakes frequently set off "earthquake storms" as the shockwave causes other parts of the crust to build tensions or to release tensions suddenly. On a purely scientific note it will be very interesting to see whether this one does the same - and where these will strike. Sadly, I would expect the real devastation over the next few months to increase as faults associated with this one give way and produce yet more damage on the surface all along the Andaman Trench and the associated faults. On a humanitarian point, we should prepare for this and try to have the resources available to render relief as soon as possible after the next hit.

Were I a betting man, I would put my money on a major volcanic outburst in the next few months, or a large quake somewhere under Bangladesh or in South West China. As I am not, I will continue to pray for the dead, the dying, the devastated, and the relief workers, and supporting them as I can. I will be praying in particular for all those of my colleagues (and I make no distinction here as to national services or boundaries) in the Emergency Services of those countries hit by this latest outburst of nature, who must, frequently, with little in the way of madern equipment or training, deal with this and its aftermath. I hope that some of our "modernisers" will take note that their reductions and inadequate provisions for watered-down training and qualification will not prepare us for anything like this.

It has certainly been an interesting year for natural disasters; Fire, Wind, Water - all essential to our well being and our current existence in one way or another, yet, when combined as in a Hurricane, in a volcanic outburst, or a Tsunami, are the most devasting forces known to us. The Florida hurricanes which have also brought untold misery and hardship to the Caribbean island Nations are barely out of our minds when this latest event has brought death and destruction on an almost unimaginable scale.

A sharp reminder, perhaps, that we are not the masters of creation. Let us hope it is a timely one.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:39 AM

December 28, 2004

Terror in Paradise ...

The devastation now visible in the Far East following the earthquake off the North West Coast of Sumatra is appalling. Even more so is the mounting death toll as more and more bodies are washed up, areas cut off by the quake or the tsunami are reached, and yet more devastation is unveiled. The human tragedy will not end there, either, as, for many of the populace of these areas, their entire livelihood has been destroyed.

Fire, water, wind, three "elements" which can cause enormous damage, yet over which we have little if any control. A Tsunami of these proportions striking the UK coast would do almost as much damage, the only difference being that the population density is lower. The scope and scale of the area affected is almost unbelievable as well. The quake was off Indonesia, yet the Island Nations of the Maldives, Seychelles and the other low lying island chains dotted across the Indian Ocean have also been badly hit. Nor has the coast of Africa been spared, with Somalia having devastation along its extended coastline and the death toll there being a matter for conjecture!

Interestingly, some of the media have suggested that the affected nations failed to respond to the "Early Warning System" and did not alert people. This is not entirely true, in fact there is no "Early Warning System for the Indian Ocean where Tsunamis are thankfully rare. Such a system does exist in the Pacific and the Pacific Rim Nations all have the means to maintain it and to act on the warnings. Not so the poorer nations surrounding the Indian Ocean - hence no Early Warning System.

Speaking to a friend who I had feared may have been in Phuket (he goes there to race a 71 foot yacht every year) I was relieved to learn that this year, because of work commitments in the UAE, he was at home in Dubai. Yet even there, inside the Persian Gulf, they have had a huge "surge" and a series of huge waves that have done damage along the gulf coast. Part of the reason for this is that the gulf is fairly shallow, it has had the original tsunami waves "funneled" into it, and now the waves are being reflected back and forth in its confines. I have other friends in Mahe and in Victoria, colleagues from those nations whom I have had the privilege of training, and I wait with some anxiety to hear from them or to hear that they are also OK. According to CNN the Seychelles and the Maldives, being fairly low lying, had the waves wash quite literally straight over them. No one seems to know at this time what the death toll is in either place.

It is a relief to know that the Aid and other International Emergency services are already mobilising to help. The US Navy has already got aircraft and ships on their way. In the days of the British Empire there would have been a fleet of warships already on its way from the nearest RN Base and more under orders from other areas. Sadly, the UK no longer has the fleet or the resources to do much more than make political gestures and send some "advisors". The real work will be done by the volunteer organsisations of which we have, thankfully, a number.

For the rest of us, our prayers to support the dying, the bereaved, and those who will work to save them, to comfort them, and to deal with the thousands of bodies are not just desirable, they are essential. If there is an appeal for help from any agency sending Aid, I would urge you all to support it. All of humanity is affected by this disaster, and all of humanity needs to respond.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:58 AM

December 27, 2004

Back to normality?

It has been a busy few days at the Abbey. In fact the whole of Advent is busy, with performances of the Messiah (by candlelight and with the English Symphany Orchestra and Choir), school carol services (Birmingham Bluecoat School, Dean Close School, the Abbey School, and the local combined schools), organ recitals, choral concerts, and, of course, the full slate of services daily. The Christmas Services are always exciting, and it is a joy to welcome so many visitors and those who come infrequently to this celebration. It is a time to rejoice (my little swipe at bureaucrats notwithstanding!).

Our first major event is the Christingle Service at 1600 on Christmas Eve. This is always huge, but this year we went past all previous records. There were 800 chairs set out in the nave, the North and South Aisles, and the Choir Presbytery. There was a Brass Band with another 40 or so sat at the East end of the Presbytery across the Altar rails. We had extra fire extinguishers, extra stewards (the entire Serving Team, plus Stewards, Vergers, and of course the Ministry Team). We filled every seat, we had children on parents' laps or on the floor, we had people standing in the Ambulatory. We ran out of Christingles and had to hand out small hand candles instead. The best guess is that we had just over 1000 people in the Abbey for this short service for children.

Now I have to admit, that as a person who, as a "day job" deals with fire, to me this Christingle Service is a bit like the scene from Monty Python in which the Python team produce the "Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch". The instructions for use go along the lines of:

"1. Thou shalt take the Holy Hand Grenade in thy right hand.

2. Thou shalt take the pin at the top in the left hand.

3. Thou shalt pull out the pin and, casting it aside, shalt count to three.

4. Thou shalt not count to four, and five is right out ......

5. At the count of three, thou shalt cast the Holy Hand Grenade at thine enemy."

Perhaps I should explain that a Christingle (they were invented just after World War 2 by an English clergyman as a way to teach children the meaning of Christmas, the Christian message, and give them a treat (in post war Britain oranges were a luxury!) is an orange, with a hole cut in the top and a candle inserted. A red ribbon is tied around the circumference and at the four "cardinal points around this are cocktail sticks with a soft sweet (marshmallow), a raisin, and often a peanut in its shell. Perhaps now you can see why I view the prospect of handing out 400 of these to children aged from 2 - 13 with such trepidation .......

"Thou shalt not count to four - and five is right out ...."

Our Curate, Julian, manfully gave a short address, which was one of the most succinct and perfectly pitched attempts at explaining this strange ritual I have heard in a long time. Having attempted it once myself, I do not say this lightly. He actually managed to get everybody's attention for most of the five minutes he spoke!

With the Abbey once more restored to normal after this, we were all back for the Midnight service and rejoiced in the arrival of the Christ Child in our Christmas crib alongside the angels, about 600 people and with the fantastic music produced by our choir.

Christmas morning's services also saw large congregations, and even the Evening Prayer (Said, at the Crib) was well attended. St Stephen was also duly remembered and his ministry celebrated yesterday (My sermon is posted under yesterday's post!), and now we can attempt to regroup, relax, and prepare for the Epiphany.

Among the joys of this Christmas, for me, at any rate, was taking communion to the homebound and sharing with them, in an informal and very intimate setting, the joy of the fellowship of the communion and the presence of the Saints.

Today is, of course, the feast of the Jewish Martyr, John the Baptist. He who described himself in the Gospel of St John as "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord." Lest we forget that Jesus was born a Jew, a unique example of the strong spirit of our God still being present with them can be found at the Diplomad, as witnessed by this statement of goodwill.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:49 AM

December 26, 2004

'twas on the feast of Stephen ....

Mention St Stephen and most Christian's will go - "Oh! Yes, the martyr." Some may even remember that "Boxing Day" is actually his feast day, but I would suspect that most would be non-plussed by the question. Some might recall that one Saul, a youthful pharisee, held the coats of the men doing the stoning, but how many would also recognise that young man as Paul, the Apostle.

The whole question of "martyr" and "martyrdom" has become incredibly complex, and there are possibly many more questions than answers on this at this point in time. It helps to remember that the word "martyr" originally meant "to witness to the faith unswervingly." In recent times "faith" has been supplanted by "politics", "miscarriage of justice" and a host of other equally "political" issues. Having to preach on this - on the day following Christmas - is not easy. My effort is offered for your thoughts in the extended post below ....

"At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the tops of their voices they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him."

St Stephen's Day
26 December, 2004
Sung Eucharist

+In the Name of God,
Father, son and holy spirit,

"At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the tops of their voices they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him."

It seems strange, at this time of celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, the Christ Child now to be seen in our representative manger, to mark the death of the first Christian martyr. Over the next few days we will mark several more, Holy Innocents on Tuesday, Thomas Becket on Wednesday and, through the rest of the year, many, many more. Why should this be so?

In part, it is to remind us that Christmas is inexorably linked to Easter - and we are an Easter Faith. Our salvation lies not in the babe in the manger in Bethlehem, but in the broken man on the Cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter. It is to remind us that the path between the two is not one of unmitigated joy and celebration, that it has its moments of pain as well. Yet, as I was reminded while preparing this sermon, St Athanasius - yes, he of the Athanasian Creed - argued that in the Babe lays the truth of our salvation, saying, "He became man, so that we might become God." Sometimes perhaps, our focus is too narrow; we do not see the reality behind the obvious.

The word martyr is one that is much abused in our present age. From its original meaning of "witnessing to the Faith" sometimes by dying rather than giving up the faith they hold, it has come to have a slightly different meaning - in the modern media usage it means someone taking their own life in order to maim and kill others. In such circumstances it can be very difficult to distinguish between martyr and tyrant, between slain and slayer. Martyrdom is now, in some parts of the world an "acceptable" manner in which to bring death and destruction to anyone perceived as an "enemy" of the faith, but it was not always so, and it should not be seen in this manner.

It is true, too, that many Christian martyrs would appear to have deliberately provoked the authorities in order to bring about their own death. It may even have been a political tool for some, but in each case, when you examine it carefully you find that the distinguishing mark is that they did not, themselves, kill their persecutors. They were persecuted even to their deaths by their tormentors and did not resist or attempt to retaliate. That is the mark of a martyr.

It would be a legitimate question to ask why, if the Babe in Bethlehem came to bring Peace and Goodwill to mankind, there should have been suffering and death in bringing this faith to the world? The answer lies within us. Each of us is given by God the freedom to follow, to accept his grace, and to practice the peace and love that He preached. But each of us is also free to reject that and to continue to exercise our greed, our fear, and our all too fallible nature in seeking the easy route, the soft option, and avoid the big issues that test us.

Stephen chose to express exactly what the Spirit moved him to do and say. It obviously provoked his audience and they, for their part, found him so offensive that they exercised their human anger and stoned him. The babe came to bring peace and goodwill to mankind, according to the angels, but within days, his arrival had brought fear, enmity, and death.

So, where is the peace and the goodwill?

The message that the creators of our lectionary calendar were trying to bring to us is this. To follow where the Christ child, the man, and the Gospels lead us is not without a price. We have to be prepared to surrender our much vaunted and prized "freedom" in order to accept the burden that comes with having to give ourselves, our fears, and our ambitions entirely over to God. We have to be prepared to give up everything in order to pursue our faith. This was the message to the rich young man who asked; "What must I do to have eternal life?" The answer was "Give everything you possess to the poor - and follow me." It is worth remembering that, in making this rather harsh reply Jesus was looking directly into the young man's heart - and seeing what it was that stood between him and the faith he sought.

To be truly followers of Christ means we have to be prepared to serve Him, and in so doing, we have to be prepared to make sacrifices. Worship is, in one sense, sacrificial, for we surrender our time, our energy, and our efforts in order to give God the praise and the glory which is His due. We cannot earn our way into heaven; we have to accept it on trust and as a precious gift. That gift is one well worth giving up everything to receive. Stephen and the other early martyrs recognized this and did not flinch; their faith held firm.

As Matthew tells us in today's Gospel: "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."
For the first three hundred years following Christ's death and resurrection the church suffered persecution, and there were many who followed Stephen into martyrdom. They died because they believed that they had a faith worth dying for. In many parts of the world Christians still live in fear and persecution. We are more fortunate than most - we have only the occasional sneers of our neighbours and the media to deal with. Do we hold this faith - or is our faith a simple candyfloss of pretty images - mangers, stables, sighing virgins, and children flocking to a gentle and humble stranger wandering from place to place? Or is it something that grips us firmly, something that speaks from our very being? Something that accepts that it was not and is not all sweetness and light, all singing and joy?

The events of the last few years have shown us another aspect to martyrdom, a very modern one that sacrifices life in order to take it from others. This is not the martyrdom of Stephen and the rest; this is something altogether different in our understanding. Yet it shares one thing - a determination to hold to faith no matter the consequences.

Our faith - the Christian faith - calls us to make sacrifices in order to follow where Christ leads. These are made in order that we may obtain understanding of the Gospel and grow spiritually. Our sacrifices may be simply giving up our time, suffering the occasional snide remark about Christian "abuses" or "superstition" from work colleagues or neighbours. Sometimes we may have to make career choices in order to preserve our ability to exercise our faith. This is increasingly so as more and more commercial enterprises opt to trade seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day. No room there for anyone who wishes to exercise their faith by attending church.

Whether we recognize our sacrifices as such or not, we are all making them as we seek to follow our faith. Stephen and the other Christian martyrs paid a price we are not likely to be called upon to give, but that does not mean we should not be prepared to do so. To follow Christ means that we must give of ourselves - yes, even give everything we have.

We have welcomed the Christmas Babe, and now we must welcome Him as our Saviour. He compels all of us to make our worship and our lives His own, to give spiritually that we and others may have faith, be strengthened and developed in faith - even when it means giving up something dear to us to do so.

We are all called to be martyrs like Stephen; let us hope we are never called upon to make that ultimate offering. Let us offer instead our prayers for the growth of our community, for the spread of peace and goodwill to all mankind - and to the defeat of fear and ignorance that binds so many into the darkness. May the peace and goodwill promised in the birth of the Christ child be eventually delivered to all men and women everywhere. When we leave this place today, let us do so in the hope that we can be the bringers of that peace to our torn and troubled world.

Finally, as we stand on the threshold of a new year, our New Year Resolutions at the ready, perhaps we should step back and ask ourselves "if I were the young man confronting Christ; What would He see in my heart as the blockage between me and true discipleship? What would He tell me to leave or to give away? When we can answer that - and walk away to do it, we open ourselves to the true joy and meaning of the Incarnation - and to true discipleship. Then we can discover the real gift that came at Christmas, which led Stephen and others to become martyrs - witnessing to the faith even in death.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:40 AM

December 25, 2004

In the beginning ....

One of my favourite passages from the Bible lies in the first chapter of St John's Gospel. It is in John that we encounter, more than in any of the other Gospels, the mystery and the "mysticism" which underpins Christianity. It is, at heart, an Eastern Mystic religion. The opening verses is quite possibly the best description of God to be found anywhere.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

The Incarnation according to John

In his opening sentences in the Gospel known throughout Chruistianity as the Gospel according to St John, the author draws upon sources from the Jewish extra-canonical writings and from the Greek traditions in which he then lived and worked. He uses the Greek word "logos" to describe the relationship between God and the Christ. Our translations have this as simply the "Word", but the Greek meaning is much deeper. It is in the original more akin to "spirit of the idea" or the "embodiment of an idea". But John is not creating a new vision of God and the Christ in this; he is, in fact, adapting a passage from 2 Enoch in which we find the first "scientific" explanation of the creation.

By using this description John is saying to his readers that the Word (Logos) shares God's own nature, that He was God's "executive" in the Creation and that when God spoke , it was the Word that brought life itself into existence. Thus, in his opening prologue John is saying categorically that this person, whom we know as Jesus, was no ordinary man, that he "lived among us" and that "we have seen His glory, the the Glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." Of course, we have not, in our time, had this privilege, and even those who lived and worked with Him seem to have had occassions when they were so blinded by proximity that they frequently had to seek reassurance.

Sometimes when we stand to close to a fire, we are so focused on the heat that we fail to see the flames! I suspect that this is so of Jesus; those who stood close were often dazzled by the Man and failed to see God.

Saint Athanasius, one of the most influential "Fathers of the Church" argued very persuasively that it was in the Incarnation that our salvation was given. In the coming among us of "The Word made Flesh", the Babe in the manger at Christmas came the promise of a life beyond this one, a life fulfilled in union with God.

Having told us that God was among us in the incarnation of Our Lord, the "Logos" of God, the actual birth and the story around it are irrelevant to John. He moves straight on to the start of His Ministry - and again goes straight to the ministry of John the Baptist. Who, having heard the the musical setting by Gibbons of this passage from the Gospel, can fail to have understood the import of that announcement of the coming into the world of the Christ. As the "Authorised Version" puts it so poetically; "This is the record of John ..."

Clearly the author of the Gospel is drawing the attention of the reader to the stupendous nature of the events he is about to record. As a Jew, this would have been a truly profound and earth shaking revelation. Yahweh Himself has sent His Word into the World as a Man, Jesus, to be its salvation by His very presence. Equally interesting is the fact that John uses, in Greek, the Word "Logos" which has an equivalent in Hebrew, "dahbar", which can mean either "Word" or "Event" - and either is appropriate in the context of the Incarnation.

It is in the Incarnation that Christianity is set apart. Christ was no mere Prophet, He was the Son of God, and as Athanasius wrote in the Creed which bears his name, the Christian Faith believes in God the Father of all, God the Son, Incarnate and made man, who dwelt among us, and God the Holy Spirit who lives and works among us even now, yet not three Gods but One, united in Trinity, three persons in one God.

The wonder of Christmas is the Incarnation, the most priceless gift of all time, the gift of life to all mankind in the Babe lying in the manger. Yet, as with all gifts, it is one we can choose to receive, to open, to cherish and value, or - like some ill-conceived gift from a distant relative - we can choose to be polite about - and consign it to the back of a cupboard or a drawer and forget it.

In the flush of feasting and excess of gifts this Christmas, pause and consider the gift we have all received from God - His one and only Son, made flesh to dwell among us, so that we might become like Him.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

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

Bureaucracy defeated!

Thanks to the combined efforts of a dedicated group of Santa-supporting parents, friends, and other rebellious parties, Santa has succeeded in overcoming all the obstacles placed in his way by the joyless bureaucrats and politicians who have done their best to prevent his deliveries!

Christmas is saved for the millions of children and adults who still celebrate the joy of the birth of the Christ child - and who reject utterly the Whitehall-promoted claptrap that has threatened to rob this country of this important celebration. A concerted effort has organised a smuggler "railway" which has seen Santa whisked in under the very noses of Immigration Officers, Customs officials, and the HSE Inspectors. His packages and parcels have been disguised as all manner of things and moved from car, to van, to hedgerow, to barns. Private aircraft, helicopters, and even bicycles have been deployed to ensure the old spirit of Christmas is preserved and passed on. Santa has had some strange modes of transport - including heavy haulage vehicles, tractors, and even small boats - but he has been got to all the places he needed to reach, and Christmas has been saved!

Ministers were left fuming at the defeat of their plans and have had to sit down to their Christmas meals knowing that they have lost yet again to the determination of the British people to hold onto their heritage and their traditions.





Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:00 AM | Comments (1)

December 24, 2004

Santa cancels visit to the UK

Santa announced today, through his legal representatives in the UK, Clampitt, Heep, Loophole, and Obscura, that he will not be visiting any part of the British Isles this year. According to his statement, read out by Mr Uriah Heep, he very much regrets having to take this step and fully understands the disapointment this will cause many children and adults, but he simply cannot afford to jeopardise his international clientele's reasonable expectation that he will deliver his wares to them on time.

He feels that the avalanche of regulations and legal assaults on his charitable activities in the UK and elsewhere are being unfairly targetted by a small group of people whose narrow interests do not accord with the greater British public, whose goodwill he knows will be sorely tried by this decision. He feels, however, that he has no other option. He sincerely hopes that a way will be found to address the concerns of the various departments involved and that he will be able to resume normal service in the not too distant future.

A government spokesperson stated that the departments involved had no alternative but to uphold the law as it stood. She regretted the inconvenience this would cause the many children who would be disappointed by Santa's over-reaction and failure to comply with their reasonable interpretation of the regulations, but stressed that "the law is the law".

In a separate development, the Minister for Cultural Affairs announced that it was intending to abolish Christmas and replace it with a new commercial opportunity to be named Winterfest. She felt that this would address the needs of all cultural and religious groups in "modern" Britain and felt sure that a local replacement for the silly old man in the red suit and sleigh would soon arise. This, she felt, would be preferable, as the "new" figure would be "one of us" and fully willing to embrace all the regulations pertaining to safety, equality of distribution of gifts, and so forth.

She added that there was no connection between the sudden interest of all the departments in Santa and the new celebration.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

December 23, 2004

Environment agency to prosecute Santa

It was announced today that the Environment Agency is to prosecute Santa for the pollution caused to run-off water from roof and street drains by reindeer droppings and "other effluent". The EA alleges in papers before the Crown Prosecution Service that the accumulated droppings and other waste from the reindeer is causing a serious case of bacteriological pollution in all ground water, several streams and rivers, and has possibly entered some of our largest reservoirs.

An EA inspector has been monitoring run-off from drains and streams in areas Santa has visited for several years and now has conclusive proof that there is an increase in bacteriological pollution levels over the 24 - 25th December period. He denies that this could arise from the location of several hostelries in the immediate area around the drains and streams he is sampling and states that it can only be due to the visits of a certain S Claus, known to drive a sleigh and reindeer, to the area.

The EA takes its responsibility to protect the environment extremely seriously and thus cannot permit this situation to continue. That well known Barrister, Mr G Pettifogger QC, has been retained to prosecute the case. "In a high profile case such as this," he stated, "it is important that we get to the facts - and the fact is that the accused in this case has been getting away with polluting our water ways, our skies, and our chimneys for years. It is time to put a stop to his activities, and the agency is determined to do so!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:56 AM

December 22, 2004

Animal rights groups seek injunction against Santa

The Animal Rights lobby groups in the UK, including the Animal Liberation Front, RSPCA, Fairness for Farm Animals, and several others are seeking an injunction against Santa for the "abuse" of his reindeer. It is alleged that forcing these animals to draw a fully laden sleigh around the world at the sort of speeds that must be achieved and sustained causes the animals to suffer severe friction burns to noses, antlers, and hooves.

In their submission they have also claimed that it would cause the animals undue stress to have to draw the sleigh around roads that are not snow covered (it is unlikely that the UK will have snow for Christmas) and that the traffic noise and fumes will also cause them physical and mental harm. It is alleged that bringing them to our climate - and indeed, to the warmer parts of the world - will expose them to unecessary risks of contracting diseases for which they have no immunity. It is further alleged that Santa is causing these animals to be exposed to risks for which reindeer are not equipped - to whit, the risk of aerial collision during flight with a variety of aircraft which may not have suitable equipment to detect them. This will be compounded by making them use the UK road system (or any other EU road system), as motorists are simply not able to cope with animals on motorways.

A spokesman for the ALF has threatened to take direct action against Santa and the Elves if they dare to abuse the reindeer in bringing them to the UK. Other groups are threatening to blockade roads and airports if Santa is permitted to land and make his deliveries by road.

The High Court will hear this application as soon as a Judge and jury can be assembled in the next few days.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:00 AM | Comments (2)

December 21, 2004

Santa in breach of Health and Safety legislation

The Health and Safety Executive has also announced that it is to bring charges against him for a failure to carry out the necessary risk assessments for his workplaces and to adopt safe working practices for himself and the elves. This arises from the fact that several attempts have been made to secure assurances from Santa that he has taken steps to ensure that he is meeting his obligations under Health and Safety legislation - specifically the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and their associated regulations for the health, safety, and welfare of employees.

Under the HSE's interpretation of the regulations, Santa is classified as an "employer" even though he ostensibly does not pay the Elves who are all "volunteers" and donate their time to the cause of creating the gifts for distribution. As an "employer" he has to ensure that all "employees" are properly trained in manual handling, operation of safety equipment, tools, and in "safe working procedures". Santa has so far failed to provide copies of his training records, safety policy, and evidence of his consultation with employees.

Several attempts have been made to verify the fact that Santa is required to wear approved clothing while ascending and descending chimneys. He must also show proof that he is trained in the use of abseiling equipment and in its setting up and securing. To date he has failed to provide this evidence, and it must be assumed that he does not comply with the requirements. As reported several days ago, he is now required to use a ladder to reach the roof, but he has also failed to provide evidence that the elves assisting him with the ladder have received proper training in erecting it or supporting it while he is using it.

An HSE inspector confirmed that he has investigated several reported instances of accidents and "near misses" which he believes may have been exacerbated by Santa's excessive drinking - believed to be a result of so many people leaving sherry and other intoxicating drinks for him. It is reported that he sometimes allows the elves to drink these and this results in the possibility that there may be instances of Santa and his helpers being under the influence while operating machinery. He believes that an Improvement Notice should be served and enforced and that Santa should be compelled to obey the legislation - even though the bulk of his manufacturing is outside of the UK "it is still within the EU jurisdiction and should comply with the EEC Directives".

The HSE solicitors are considering the material collected so far and will announce their decision in due course. "At present it looks as if there is a clear case for prosecution", said a spokesperson.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:05 AM | Comments (1)

December 20, 2004

Santa in contravention of EU livestock protection law

The Department for Forestry, Rural Affairs, and Agriculture is to prosecute Santa for crossing the UK borders with livestock which has not been innoculated or quarantined. Since the BSE or "Mad Cow" crisis and that last outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the UK, and the debacles caused by the delays in dealing with the outbreaks - or in acknowledging the scale of the problems - Defra has been very sensitive to the risk of importing any more damaging diseases.

A spokesperson stated that Santa's reindeer are known to be suceptible to several parasitic and fungal or viral infestations. Among these is a fungal/parasitic infestation which attacks the mucosa and external skin of the animal's nose, causing it to go red. One of Santa's reindeer is known to be a carrier of this fungal infection, and there is a serious risk of its being transmitted to the red deer herds native to Britain. They are also known to visit parts of the world where Anthrax and other serious illnesses are endemic. It would be a requirement for the reindeer to be quarantined as soon as they landed in the UK, and the normal quarantine period is for a minimum of six months.

She felt that it would not be in the best interests of the UK farming industry or the natural fauna to make any allowances for anyone, and, Santa being a particularly high profile case, it might help to get the message across to anyone else tempted to break the law.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:07 AM

December 19, 2004

Santa in trouble over immigration

In a separate development, Mr Clarke (replacing Mr Blunkett at the Home Office) has refused to intervene in an investigation into allegations that Santa is a Turkish migrant from Smyrna travelling under false papers. If found to be true, Santa would be subject to immediate arrest and deportation to his state of origin - Turkey.

In papers before the Immigration and Nationality Department (IND) it is alleged that Santa is actually a Turkish citizen also known as "Saint" Nicholas and formerly resident in Smyrna. The informant alleges that he is an illegal migrant to Finland and is therefore living under a false identity and forged papers. It has been confirmed that Immigration Officers have been alerted to this and instructed to apprehend anyone answering to the description of him which is widely circulated. This is expected to be fairly easy to do now that the EU's flight control rules will force him to land at Heathrow, Stansted, or Gatwick and clear through Customs and Immigration there.

A Spokesperson for the IND confirmed that, if apprehended with false documents, Santa could face immediate detention and deportation. His reindeer, sleigh, and its contents could be impounded and sold to defray expenses as a result. If his documentation was found to be in order, there would be no problem, and he would be permitted to proceed, provided no other government agency had any objection.

It was confirmed that if he sought to claim asylum, his case could result in his being permitted to remain in Britain, possibly under restriction, until his case had been thoroughly investigated. It was pointed out, however, that he would have to provide adequate proof that his life or liberty would be in danger if returned to Turkey. When it was pointed out that, as a Christian, Santa may face persecution in his home country (if he is indeed a Turk), the spokesperson rejected this as a reasonable claim.

"That is simply a myth", he alleged, adjusting his fez.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:44 AM

December 18, 2004

Santa in trouble with Customs and Excise

In a further complication to the ongoing Santa saga, the Department of Customs and Excise is examining evidence that Santa has been failing to pay import duties on goods imported into the UK and failing to pay VAT on goods manufactured and obtained in the UK for distribution. The Customs and Excise officers are currently preparing a submission for evasion of duty and VAT to bring before the High Court as soon as possible.

It is alleged that Santa has been, for some hundred and fifty to two hundred years at least, been smuggling in goods for which duty should have been payable. In the last thirty-five years almost all the goods Santa has delivered should have had VAT paid on them, even if obtained in the UK. Since Santa has failed to file any Importer Documentation and has filed no VAT returns since the inception of VAT (Sources at the Customs and Excise Section report that he has no VAT Registration or Exemption), he is now potentially liable for the immediate payment of several billion pounds of VAT and other Customs Duties. A demand for payment has been prepared and sent and no reply has been forthcoming. The Department is therefore briefing barristers to take the matter to the High Court.

If found guilty, Santa could be liable for the immediate payment of all outstanding tax and duty and could be imprisoned for a maximum of 25 years.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:13 AM | Comments (1)

December 17, 2004

One for the Chancellor of the Exchequer

This is too good to pass up - thanks to Ozguru for this story. It should be compulsory reading for all those who think of hard workers as nothing but a source of revenue for their pet projects.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:48 AM

Another problem for Santa

Following the discovery that Santa's pilot's licence is invalid for commercial flying in the UK - delivery of parcels whether for payment or not is currently deemed to be "commercial" activity - Santa has had to make arrangements to use the road network. This has raised a number of other questions among the bureaucrats now responsible for public safety, health and safety, and transport.

Among the questions being examined by the jobsworth brigade is one of the suitability of sleigh runners instead of wheels on our roads. Then there is the question of MOT certificates, braking systems, warning lights, spare reindeer, and driving licences. It is believed that Santa may be able to satisfy this last requirement under the agreements for recognition of driver licensing arrangements between countries - provided he has a current EU (possibly Finnish) or appropriate license from the US. However, the information given to the Transport Section is not encouraging as regards the use of the sleigh on public roads.

The Transport (Road) Section is examining whether it will be legal for Santa to drive his sleigh in its present unregistered, untaxed, and un-insured state on the UK's motorways and subsidiary roads. Preliminary advice from the Treasury Solicitor and the Solicitor General's Department is that he would be committing an offence if he attempts to drive the sleigh (currently registered in the US according to the evidence, as an aircraft) on any road in the UK or the EU. Protests that he is actually resident in Finland and is therefore an EU resident are being examined, but this merely compounds the problem as it would appear that his flying licence, sleigh registration, and continued use of the sleigh in an unregistered state is a serious offence under current EU law.

A case is being prepared to impound the sleigh and bring appropriate charges against Santa through the appropriate EU court and using the newly formed EU police agreements if Santa cannot produce the necessary licenses, tax certificates, insurance, and other documents before attempting to use the vehicle.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:40 AM

December 16, 2004

More trouble for Santa

Now it appears that Santa has also fallen foul of the new EU Pilots Regulations managed by the UK Transport Section of the Office of the Deputy Prime Misery. The Civil Aviation Authority has identified that Santa's pilot's licence was issued in the US by their FAA and is not valid for commercial flying in the UK and Europe unless it is for single points of landing and departure on scheduled airlines operating from the US. To do multiple landings and take-offs for commercial purposes in the EU flight control area, he needs to qualify under the Joint Aviation Authority Rules.

This will necessitate a minimum retraining period of 4,000 flight hours with a JAA-approved instructor and a full re-examination of his performance in flight. This includes emergency procedures, emergency landings, and recovery of inflight engine (reindeer) failure or damage. Until this has been successfully completed, Santa will only be permitted to make a single landing in each EU country, and all subsequent deliveries must be made by road.

He is further in breach of the Aviation Rules for foreign aircraft entering UK airspace in that he has been failing to land at a designated International Airport to obtain clearance for immigration and customs purposes before proceeding to his other destinations. An investigation is also underway to determine whether or not he is in contravention of flight control rules in the EU for landing and taking off from, inter alia, roof tops, gardens, and public streets and pavements. Santa could face the impounding of his sleigh, presents, and reindeer and the arrest of himself and his elves if he attempts to land anywhere in the EU before this matter is cleared up.

Whitehall and Brussels strike again!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:49 AM

December 15, 2004

Health and Safety considerations for Santa?

The ubiquitous health and safety nutters have caught up with Santa. Recently I have seen a number of large Santa figures decorating various houses I pass journeying to and from work. Each is carrying a ladder. Now, in my misspent youth, Santa didn't need a ladder, he simply landed on the roof and came down the chimney. Ladders were for people needing to get up high or repair things - or for burglars. Definitely not part of Santa's equipment.

I have to admit that, although I had noticed the ladders, it wasn't until the local radio station started to ask if anyone knew why the Santas were all equipped with them that I started to wonder. It ran for several days - and then: enlightenment!

It seems that it is all part of the Health and Safety at Work legislation - and the Health and Safety considerations of a "caring" home owner!

According to the announcer (how he managed to not laugh while reading this out I will never know!), reading a letter from the local authority Health and Safety Adviser, Santa is now equipped with a ladder because he is no longer permitted to land the sleigh and reindeer on the roof. This is because the impact of a fully laden sleigh and the team of livestock could damage the tiles and even dislodge them. This could lead to further claims against the householder from anyone injured by a falling tile.

The ladder is therefore necessary so that he can climb up to the roof in order to descend the chimney. This in turn creates a further problem in that many chimneys have been closed off or converted to permit gas firing, and Santa now requires special clothing which is non-combustible, heat resistant, and capable of preventing adherence or snagging when descending inside the chimney. He must also wear a safety harness and make use of safety lines and dual abseilling lines when descending or ascending the chimney.

Further, the droppings from the reindeer might be carried into the rain water downpipes and convey foreign bacteria into our eco-system.

He must also take steps to prevent fouling of the ground or street by the reindeer and potential infestation or conveyance of diseases to the UK livestock population. Failure to act strictly in accordance with the regulations could lead to Santa being prosecuted for failing to obey Health and Safety at Work legislation. Householders could also be prosecuted for failing to ensure that a "workman" entering premises in their control followed the regulations.

Householders, for their part, need to ensure that there are adequate anchor points for the safety and abseilling lines and that the chimney is sound and capable of bearing the weight of Santa as he descends and ascends. They must also ensure that the roof covering has adequate non-slip coverings to the chimney and that it is capable of bearing his sustained weight during transit to the chimney from the ladder. They must also make adequate arrangements for cleaning and disinfecting any waste left by the sleigh and the reindeer.

Whatever happened to a simple "Bah! Humbug!"?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:27 AM

December 14, 2004

A Cape sunset

After a blustery day, the Cape said goodbye with a spectacular sunset.

The sun lights up the mountain from the West while mist softens Table Mountain's silhouette.

It is true that one can never really cast off one's roots, and this image of Table Mountain taken from my brother's front garden is one reason why I will always be tied to the Cape. I left Cape Town not knowing when or if I will have the opportunity to return in this life, but I will never really leave the Cape, for it is a very large part of me.

No matter where I have wandered - and I have visited five out of seven continents - this is always the place that calls. Strange, really, since I left it when I was a bare 2 years of age and have only been back to visit it for brief periods since. Many places I have visited have felt good, many feel comfortable, many even feel homey - but this is, I suppose, where my my roots are, still.

I shall return; I simply do not know when.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:30 AM | Comments (1)

December 13, 2004

Views from the Table Top

The Cable Car ride up the last part of Table Mountain is well worth the effort. The car rises just over 600 metres to the summit of the mountain and gives access to a restuarant, amenties, and a carefully laid out network of paths which allow visitors to complete a long and fascinating walk around the summit without causing damage to the delicate sandstone and the ecology.

The spectacular view of Cape Town, the Docks, and the Bay from a lookout point near the Cable Car station.

The mountain is geologically unique, being sandstone seated on primordial granite called the "Malmesbury Upthrust". No one is able to explain why this particular sandstone formation has survived, the last remnants of a huge sandstone plateau formed more than 400 million years ago. The mountain itself was then more than 3 kilometres in height, but is now weathered down to a mere 1,088 metres - still over a kilometre above the bay!

The views from the top on all sides are as spectacular as this, but, as with all mountains, the weather is a major consideration. At this altitude it pays to remember that the temperature is lower, and the sunburn factor higher than in the city or on the beach, and the clouds can form and blanket the top in a matter of minutes, reducing visibility to nil very swiftly. A siren sounded at the Cable Station warns of cloud cover, and visitors are warned to return to the station immediately if it sounds.

Still worth the effort and the time spent there!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:32 AM

December 12, 2004

A question of gravity

It seems that, according to the New Scientist magazine, at least, the question of the nature of gravity, or at least the effects of gravity, are currently exercising the minds of a number of important scientists. The cause of it all is the observation, first made almost a hundred years ago, that something strange appears to happen during a total eclipse of the sun. Essentially a pendulum loses its rhythmn during the apogee of the eclipse and becomes erratic.

Various attempts to replicate the original observation have met with varied success. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. One part of the problem seems to be the type of pendulum, but the rest seems to be eluding the scientific community at present. One thing is for sure - it actually calls into question at least part of Einstein's theory of gravity being relative. In this theory, the eclipse should have no effect at all - yet, clearly it does. So the BIG question is - why?

The next part of this question is raised by the fact that gravitational anomalies are now being discovered elsewhere - without the benefit of a solar eclipse to help explain them. So now we also have to ask the question again - why these anomalies?

For a sci-fi buff, this research may ultimately lead to the discovery of something without which all deep space travel is simply unthinkable - artificial gravity. I jest not. Consider for a moment how we train astronauts for the condition of weightlessness that they will encounter in space. We take them up in an aircraft and by flying fast and high in a series of shallow dives and loops the passengers can be given a few seconds of weightlessness in flight. These trips are made in aircraft aptly named "vomit comets" - because the sudden changes affect the passengers' stomachs rather adversely! Anyone who has had the experience of flying in a fast jet, or a light aircraft during aerobatics - or even a big helicopter doing a stall turn will know the sensation of weightlessness - and the wrench it gives the stomach!

Another form of weightlessness can be generated in a laboratory using massively powerful magnetic fields. Since all matter has a positive or negative electric "charge" if subjected to a powerful enough magnetic field - and we're talking mega-teslas here - it can be rendered "weightless" by countering the downward pull of the earth's gravitational field on the body. So far this can be demonstrated only with small objects. However, scientists can do it to a human body as well - it just requires a dose in the giga-tesla range! The report does add that this should not be attempted by anyone with "piercings". Just so; I don't think I'll go there - frankly the bind moggles!

The research does open up the debate - still raging - about the existence of something called "dark matter", a substance which some surmise may exist in greater quantity than that form of matter we can see and measure. They argue that this is the only way to explain the way gravity draws and links things across huge distances - and that it is the only way to explain another mystery surrounding gravity - that there is more of it than the "matter" we can see and measure should provide!

Well, I am not a scientist. I do, however, live in the hope that one day this research and other work will combine to allow us to explore beyond our solar system and out into the deepest reaches of the galaxy, perhaps even, one day, the universe. Then, perhaps, we will come to begin to understand the true wonderment of creation - and its Creator.

Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, and Star Wars, to name but a few of the truly pioneering sci-fi films and shows may yet all be prophetic. It all depends on how we come to understand the simple matter of why gravity is and how it can be manipulated or generated so that we can leave this tiny speck of dust in the vastness of space and venture out into the stars.

A dream? Perhaps, but I think one worth pursuing.

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

December 11, 2004

A new tranche of rights?

Maybe I'm becoming too cynical, maybe I'm so used to being told that Whitehall, the legal profession, the politicians, and the rest of the nannying crew all know better than I do what is good for me, what I should think, eat, smoke, or inject. So when one of them comes out and says something intelligent and intelligible it comes as something of a shock to the system. When it is the Commissioner (about to retire!) of the Metropolitan Police, it's worth taking a closer look!

Well, the moon has not changed colour, the seas have not dried up, and the usual howls of dissent all seem to have gone remarkably silent! It was even announced that an MP - Conservative no less - was to table a Bill (as he's a Conservative it probably won't get passed into law - but it's worth a try.) which will give householders the right to use whatever means at their disposal to defend their homes, property, and so on. Of course, it stops short of authorising actually killing a burglar - and it should - but it sets out a right to defence which is currently sadly lacking in our law and in our courts. Sir John Stevens, the Commisioner of the Metropolitan Police has placed himself on record as supporting this - and arguing for a law which will stop the practice of arresting the householder who dares to injure or restrain some wrong-doer.

What a pity Sir John is retiring; his successor designate is so wrapped up in the Politically Correct culture engulfing the Police that we can expect little of this sort of common sense from him - rather the reverse. Equally the Chief and Assistant Chief Police Officers Association (aptly abbreviated to CACPOA) will need to change their official stance on this matter which is currently that no one should defend themselves - as to do so may constitute a "breech of the peace"! In accordance with that thinking one could be arrested for being attacked, after all the attack constitutes a breech of the peace does it not, and the victim is certainly guilty of being attacked! He or she may even have provoked it by looking too well off or at least in possession of goods or cash the attacker wanted.

No sooner had this news broken upon us stunned citizenry than our Illustrious Leader was leaping up to contradict his own Lord Chancellor (he of the Dome fiasco!) and announce that his government was "looking into" the entire matter. As you may imagine that ignited a full debate - and led to the spectacle of the Conservatives exchanging the usual "yah! boo's!" over the dispatch boxes in the Commons with this vacuous little oik whose government was, in the Times, no less, reported as being incapable of making any decisions in Cabinet. Lord Butler it was who attacked them on that, citing the fact that they have now so many "special advisers" that they have difficulty knowing reality from fantasy at No 10.

The recent article in the Spectator - picked up by a few of the less Labour loving papers - about the gentleman arrested for carrying a pocket knife and a baton in his briefcase is a good case in point. The officers of the law decided that he was a potential terrorist and carted him off at great expense and inconvenience to the Charge Office and made a huge song and dance out of it. Surely a few simple checks - like is he who he says he is, is the car registered in his name, does his employer vouch for him - could have avoided all the drama and avoided creating the impression that the police are only after soft targets (like anyone who looks well off or a "toff" and not like a "working man") who will enable them to keep their "targets" up. After all, if you target a member of an ethnic minority, there's a whole drama immediately, but target a white male motorist and the chances are he won't have a "brief" he can contact, he won't know his rights and he'll pay up any fine just to get shot of the delay. Of course he'll be upset, but that only makes him an easier target.

Well, we can live in hope. Perhaps the MP's Private Members Bill will succeed, perhaps it won't, but it does seem that the political establishment is starting to wake up to the fact that the public has had enough of this soft touch approach to criminals, and that can only be good news all round! Who knows, the government's own review may actually bear some fruit as well. In this day and age it probably pays to carry out a reality check regularly - especially after the politicians and the Civil Servants have had a go at and pronounced upon anything!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:10 AM

December 10, 2004

Crime: Lies, damned lies - and crime statistics?

I note with interest that our Illustrious Leader has managed to steal the Conservatives clothes - again. No sooner had the Conservatives responded to Sir John Stevens "give the householder the power to protect himself and his goods" with a plan to bring in a new law, than Mr Blair leaps in with an announcement that he is setting up a consultation and review of the existing position - so he can change the law. Ah! Politics. Don't expect anything positive from this, the consultation will embrace all the usual suspects who are responsible for this situation anyway - and once the election is out of the way, he'll quietly shelve the whole thing.

The newspapers have also jumped on this bandwagon and are peddling the usual mix of stories - quoting statistics from both the British Crime Survey and the Police Crime Statistics. These show what the public perceive as the crime rate - and what the police accept as a case to be pursued; ie: cases they have some hope of "clearing up" and thus meeting their centrally set "target" to show they are "driving down crime".

How can I say this is a fraud? Easy, my son's car was broken into on his driveway and stripped of its stereo and speakers. A mini-coach from his work (he is allowed to bring it home if he has an early run) was graffiti-ed and broken into - and stripped of a CD player, speakers, DVD player, and TV screen. Two nights later the replacement mini-coach was also attacked. Each incident was reported to the local Police Station (Metroploitan Police - Greater London area!) who gave him a "Crime Reference Number" for each incident - and then frankly told him they didn't have the resources or the time to investigate "petty" offences. In other words, these offences will not be appearing in their statisics - because they are "petty". As he points out, the damage to the two coaches runs into several thousand pounds each - just for the repainting and signwriting! His car is another matter, and his insurance excess has just shot through the roof!

To make matters worse, this is not an isolated incident or set of incidents, it is part of a long running and ongoing problem in the area he lives in. Hardly a night goes by without someone's car being attacked, graffitti-ed, or damaged in this street or the adjoining roads, yet the police refuse to deal with it. It is "petty" crime, not worth recording on their statistics, yet, if you consider this carefully, it is obvious that there is a small group of out-of-control yobs behind it. Catch them, deal with them effectively, and you have solved this problem before it becomes a major assault or a serious crime. Leave petty crimes uninvestigated and unpunished and you encourage the criminals. Besides, 200 worth of damage to Mr Blair and his cronies may be "petty cash", but to a young man or woman earning less than 1,000 a month, it is a lot of money. It isn't "petty" to them; in fact it probably represents a good 10% of the value of the vehicle itself, one he does his best to maintain in good order, taxed and insured (none of them cheap) and pays income tax (a portion of which goes to the police to "protect" his property as well!) and what, precisely, does he get for it? Nothing!

As part of the general drive to protect those of us who actually work hard for our livings and have worked damned hard to acquire what little this thieving government allow us to keep, there needs to be a serious rethink on the way our arrogant and remote police forces treat both the paying public and the crimes they report.

All crime is serious to the victim. All "petty" crime leads eventually to bigger and more serious crimes - unless the perpetrators are stopped early and given a damned good reason to rethink their attitudes and ways. This is where it should start - not in a review by the very lawyers and judges who have, by their soft touch and lack of concern for the victims of the crime, nor by the politicians, whose bleating about "miscarriages" in the justice system, both groups having caused the disastrous result of crime being virtually unpunished!

Yes, there is a gap between the perception of crime and the reality of crime, but to the victim it is all serious. One thing that is never truthful or accurate about it is the Government's own statistics - instead of the truth these reflect whatever "massage" is being applied to ensure that the appropriate Minister can stand up and tell the media that, under his government, things have never been better.

The question is - for whom?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)

December 09, 2004

Spanning the gap.

The Garden Route along the South Eastern Cape coast between George and the Storms River is a area of outstanding natural beauty and some spectacular scenery. The bridge spanning the Storms River gorge, also known as the Bloukrans Gorge, has shortened the route by a considerable distance. The Bridge replaced a "pass" that wound down to the river bed and then climbed labouriously back up the other side through a series of hairpin turns and bends. The distance from top of the bridge to river bed is almost 1 kilometre, the distance across the bridge is 2 kilometres. The distance shaved off the road by spanning the gorge and cutting out The Pass is just under 15 kilometres!

The spectacular arch of the Bloukrans Bridge - a feat of engineering which created the highest and longest single arch bridge span in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Bridge was created by "pouring the arch" in two "raised" halves, draw-bridge fashion. These were then lowered by huge pulley and cable arrays very slowly into place so that the two halves met and locked. Once started the lowering process could not be stopped, only the rate of descent could be controlled. The engineer responsible was asked afterward what he would have done if it had failed, and his reply was succinct. "Jumped in after it!"

The bridge now houses a walkway on the arch leading to a platform from which Bunji Jumps are conducted. Some idea of the size of the bridge can be gained by looking very closely at an enlarged version - and a small blue dot can be seen directly below the centre of the arch about a third of the depth of the picture below it. That is the "catcher" awaiting the next "jumper" so that a harness can be attached to haul them back up.

Not for the faint-hearted, I think.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:15 AM

December 08, 2004

Creative birds

The Weaver Birds of Southern Africa are amazing builders and construct these nests out of woven grass. Considering the fact that the birds use only their beaks for this construction, the nests are themselves a major work of art - one which their mates, having watched the building carefully, will destroy if they are unhappy with the build quality!

A group of weaver bird nests next to the hotel swimming pool.

The birds usually build their nest near or over water, and several eggs are laid, but usually only two chicks survive to fledge. About the size of a sparrow, they are bright yellow with black streaks in the wing and tail and the males have slightly brighter plumage. A male can be seen at the entrance to the centre nest in the picture attending his mate who is inside the nest.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

December 07, 2004

Value centred culture?

The newspapers this week are running a wide variety of very interesting thoughts on the imposition of "values" onto our society. The Scotsman has a very strong lead on this, pointing out that it is no good Mr Blair bleating about "privacy" when his Party has stripped us all of our right to this most precious commodity through the imposition of a range of "values" which strip us of our right of personal choice. Any Minister who wishes to impose his "values" on me should expect to have mine imposed on him or her!

A further even more interesting twist is reported in the Times as the big players in the EU, France and Germany, and a whole raft of other EU nations have suddenly discovered that their Islam-friendly policies have fostered a real tiger in their midst. Even the normally tolerant Scandanavians are now introducing measures such as the exclusion of children from school if they insist on wearing the Hijab. As someone who is very keen to see fairness applied universally, I find this sad precisely because it is an assault on personal choice and freedom, yet it is increasingly necessary as the assault by radical Islam escalates into all aspects of Western life. The French, who established a Muslim Council to address the issue of integration, have discovered to their alarm that this forum has become increasingly fundamentalist. So much so they are having to rethink the whole issue. Recently a young woman was murdered in Marseilles for not kowtowing to the demands of some young Islamic men, and there have been marches of demonstrators - mainly Mulsim women - demanding an end to the radicalisation of their faith and its use as a political tool which binds them to the ghetto.

The Germans are also alarmed at the fact that the Mullahs serving the mosques in German towns are increasingly drawn from non-German speaking clergy. They have taken to monitoring these and others and recently recorded a sermon which described the German people as worthless non-Muslims destined for hell. Well, there are limits as to what any host community will tolerate from people who seek refuge in their country and then proceed to attack and abuse their culture. Western Europe is now host to a very large number of Islamic refugees from poverty stricken Islamic countries and has failed, signally, to address the issue of integration. In pursuit of the multi-cultural ideal, they have failed to realise that all this does is re-inforce stereotypes, perpetuate the ghetto, and lock people into a cycle which re-inforces poverty and prevents escape. Why, as Ozguru recently asked in a comment on this blog, do we need to pander to people who come to a new country seeking escape from the poverty or persecution they experienced in their own - and then have them try to impose the same corrupt and debilitating system that holds their original society in thrall to poverty?

This is the question now being raised across the channel. Western Europe is a Christian Liberal society and it is discovering that the Islamic onslaught is far from benign and very far from intending to integrate. As one German Minister put it on a recent interview, the Islamist agenda is to destroy the liberal and Christian traditions of Europe. No wonder the alarm in the EU capitals. A little late, but, I suppose, better late than not at all.

So is our wonderful Labour Party actually taking note of this? Probably not; after all, their stock in trade for the last 20 years has been to create a wonderland fantasy island of rainbow culture. They are hardly likely to abandon it now. So, the Islamic extremists will continue to thrive here, and Blunkett's new laws against "stirring up religious hatred" - designed to protect Islam from us nasty Christians - will make it illegal to even discuss the issues.

Value centred culture? Well, as long as it's in line with what our Illustrious Leader and his cronies consider to be modern "values" - incompetence, ignorance, nannied obedience, anti-family, filandering, anti-privilege, anti-ambition, anti-achievement, and anti-British, it will be allowed. Anything else is Verboten!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:01 AM | Comments (2)

December 06, 2004

Another triumph for the anti-discipline brigade!

Imagine what it is like to be an 11 year old girl who has survived a brain tumour, radiation, and chemo-therapy. Your hair falls out and takes years to grow back, your confidence is severely damaged as your face is affected by the damage to nerves and muscles, but, finally, you have the courage and the strength to return to school after a four year break.

And then some obscene 14 year-old out of control bully sets fire to your hair!

OK, so the police arrested the little swine, but the magistrates have bailed him. Stand by for the usual angry bleating from his parents that he isn't a bad child - just misunderstood. Any bets on his never having had any discipline at home? Any bets on his parents never having even attempted to control him or teach him respect for others? Any bets they vote Labour and live on all the benefits they can get? No, probably not on that last one - they live in Swansea! William Hill or Coral only take bets where the house percentage is in their favour!

The charge against this absolute brute - words fail the Monk to describe exactly what he thinks of people like this - is Assault. If found guilty - and the magistrates are likely to be under pressure from Social Workers and Labour Civic Leaders here - he is likely to walk away having been made to , grudgingly, apologise to his victim! Apologise? For endangering her recovery? For causing her further harm and perhaps even causing irreparable psychological harm?

The little swine should be publicly birched! And his parents pilloried alongside him! As for the anti-smacking, anti-discipline, and anti-families creeps - they should be shut away in the grimmest possible institution and displayed to the public on special occassions as a warning to any others with ambitions to tinker with the glue of our society!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:14 AM | Comments (1)

December 05, 2004

Only Presbyterian?

Surfing around the blogs, I found this hilarious yet serious post on the Rev Mike's House of Homiletic Hash. Titled "Your church might be Presbyterian if ..."; it could be a commentary on the wider church, particularly in the developed nations.

It is a sad fact that since the "Age of Enlightenment" dawned in the late 18th Century, the Church (in the widest context) has been under siege both from without - those who have challenged the existence of God through "scientific" analysis of the scripture - and those within who, through their blinkered refusal to open their hearts and minds to the true Word of God, have given Christianity a bad name - and a reputation for bigotry. You have only to look at the argument between "Creationists" and the scientifically proven position of "Evolutionists" to see what I mean. Personally I find no conflict - after all, God can use any mechanism He chooses to create us! And He hasn't finished yet; evolution is still in progress - a fact that can be verified by examining the skeletons of our own ancestors - and comparing the differences between them and our own!

The youth of today have been fed a diet of Hollywood pseudo-religion and the Humanist mantras from the Age of Enlightenment. Coupled with the plethora of material things around them - and which most of the developed world now regards as essential to decent living - is it any wonder these young people have no desire to get involved in a religion that they see as irrelevant, tied up in "rules" and demanding that they pay respect to some unseen and - to them - unknowable God who may or may not (according to the Politicians and the Social Workers) exist? They see a Church full of "old" people, run by "old" people, and would rather not be involved - thank you very much. These are a generation that have been taught that the world "owes" them respect, but they are not expected to give any themselves - unless it's to a soccer star, film star, pop star, or the boy or girl who is the toughest, nastiest, and/or most violent in their group.

Church simply doesn't enter into it.

All things have a starting point and I would suggest that this situation is the result of a very long running struggle for the soul of the Gospel - one which, for the Western half of Christianity at least, goes back to the Reformation and the fanatical activities and preachments of some of the more extreme reformers. Among these I would include John Knox and Calvin with, on the Catholic side, the leaders of the Inquisition and probably quite a few more. Certainly the response of Queen Mary I and her husband, Philip II of Spain to the reformation - burn them - didn't endear the Catholic community to anyone. But then, neither did Knox's offensive and rude pronouncements on a wide range of things. The Protestants were pretty good at stoning and burning as well - the "Witch burnings" were inspired by Protestant Witch Hunters and a lot of those were simply folk who made the mistake of expressing a desire to return to the Catholic certainties.

The bumpy ride of Christianity with its complete polarisation into two equally fanatical camps in the 16th to 18th Century meant that the Gospel message of love and consideration got buried in the tide of hatred and fanaticism. Reading the Visitation records of the Bishops of the period you could be forgiven if you wondered where the Gospel had got to under them. They show no concern for the teaching or propagation of the Gospel, being concerned with finding out if any of their clergy showed "Papist" sympathies. One wrote to all the Churchwardens demanding to know if any of the clergy were prone to wearing a surplice or any other idolatrous garment of the "Papist Style." Readings of sermons, read from a book inherited from an uncle or a predecessor - and which lasted for a minimum of an hour and a half - were not unusual, so it is also not surprising to learn that, in this period, it was common for the menfolk to turn up for the beginning of the service, stay for a short period and then filter out "to take a comfort break" - ie: escape the boredom. Woe betide any serving man or wench who tried to follow the Master's example, though; they were forced to stay for the duration! Little wonder then that the working classes found something else to amuse themselves as soon as the yoke of the Master and Mistress was no longer so tightly binding them to their employers! Equally, the pomposity of the Parson and his self-righteous and often bombastic approach to anyone he regarded as a social inferior (everyone except his Patron!), soon drove the better educated and moneyed classes to seek an alternative to the stilted and bigotted views expressed Sunday by Sunday in the Churches.

Enter the Age of Enlightenment. If the God proclaimed in the Churches was such an oppressive and repressive personage, if the Parson and the rest of the clergy would not acknowledge the advance of science and the changing society around them, then a new vision, a new "God" was bound to find more appeal. The Churches all fell into the same trap - everyone not inside the Church was doomed to Hell (probably most within it as well!) in their twisted vision of the Gospel, so the seekers after enlightenment, who by now had access to other sources of information, philosophy, and thought could look elsewhere - and did. Out of this was born the "Humanist" Theory - man is basically good, but corrupted by his environment. Nature versus nurture.

This started the decline in attendance and the decline in religious belief, but it doesn't necessarily mean that people no longer believed in God - the growth of "spiritualistic" activities testifies to something else. The Church also lost moral authority and credibility in its inability to deal effectively with the slaughter of the first Great War and then in its inability to address the horror of aerial bombardment in the Second. Why would the God of peace - the Creator and "Gentle Jesus meek and mild" of the hymns allow this? Why did he not answer prayers for it to stop, to keep Tommy, Uncle Dudley and all alive?

The children of the war - particularly those who survived the blitz on the major cities and ports and who did their growing among the death and the rubble - came to believe that there was no God. Not one that they could identify with anyway! And for this, the Churches must accept the blame, indeed, they still fall into the same trap today - they either attempt to obscure the truth - or try to oversimplify it.

Look at the attempts to persuade young people to come to church. You hear all the buzz words - "relevance" - "exciting" - "youth centred" - "uplifting" - "inspiring" - and yet, when you look around, the few young people there look embarrassed and the over thirties (actually usually the over 50's!) are waving their hands in the air and trying hard to make the trite choruses into something meaningful. Don't get me wrong - I firmly believe that we have to reach out to children and young people - I simply do not think that approaching it like some 1960's campfire campout is the right way. These young folk are intelligent, they are educated, and they have some serious questions. If you try to fob them off with trite answers and platitudes you will convince them (are convincing them!) that there is nothing in the Christian Church but a bunch of silly people who get high on silly songs and mutual hysteria.

This is further reinforced by the condescending attitude of the media - and the glee with which any Vicar who is caught acting out of the expected po-faced piousness is "exposed" in the press. Anyone would believe, and this is probably another legacy of the pompous piety of the 16th to 19th Century clergy, that putting on a dog-collar instantly converts the wearer from normal human being to some sort of pure and perfect version of super human. I can only think of one man in that league - and they nailed him to a cross on our behalf!

So, the church today suffers from the legacy of the power struggles of the 16th to 19th Centuries and the hangover of the worst of the Reformation - including a lot of very suspect theology and Biblical understanding - and the derision which accompanied the growth of the Humanist philosophy of the Age of Reason. The late Medieval Church needed reform - it needed to be kicked out of its closed vision of a "saved clergy and everyone else in Hell". it needed to rediscover its origins and re-establish contact with the true message of the Gospel. Neither wing did so - and now we have to start out afresh.

Returning to the points raised in the original post which started this rant. We have to find a way for Christians everywhere to put aside the differences of opinion in how we worship. We have to find a way to actually rediscover what and who we worship, and we have to rediscover our real roots. I for one think that the Jesus who walked the roads of Galilee, who ate with his friends, and who died on the Cross would not recognise any of the rituals or practices we currently use. He probably would not recognise our interpretation of his teachings, either - and may not have much sympathy with our understanding of them! We need to move our belief, nay our faith, out of Churches and buildings and heirarchies and into the family unit. Worship for Christians needs to return to where it is in Judaism - in the home and in the family. We need to restore the daily rituals around the evening meal, the learning about our faith from our parents, and the practice of our faith in the community. Then the Churches will begin to refill.

Changing the worship patterns may produce a quick fix, it may increase the numbers, but it is almost always short term. The fun wears off, the joy fades, and we are left with a shell, because the worship is not about the actions or the songs or even the excited and incoherent prayers, the gabbled readings. It is about God, it is about worship, and about the message of the Gospel - Love your neighbour as yourself. When we can understand this, when we can actually face up to our lack of knowledge and understanding of God, when we can openly debate tricky issues and admit our ignorance, when we can explore and seek genuine understanding, then we can worship properly.

The young people outside the Church don't want a Church that is always trying to pretend that they are "happy" and "joyful" all the time. They are not fooled, they know this is not the human condition. What they are looking for is something honest, something which offers them a genuine vehicle in which they can explore what they believe and why, which offers them something spiritual which is not fleeting and false. They see the Telly Evangelists and think - false, money-grabber. It is this kind of religion which gives all Christians a bad name, and it is this image that the media and the anti-Christian factions revel in promoting. It is an image we have to break!

If the Church wishes to attract the young then it has to start by stopping the peddling of what Pratchett calls, in "Science of the Discworld", "lies for children". It is time we stopped clinging to outdated and childish images of an unbelievably wimpish Jesus and a God who intervenes to respond to our every whim. He does answer our prayers - but by giving us what we NEED, which is not necessarily what we want. This is not the image conveyed by the average Sunday School lesson, or the average sermon, and least of all by the Telly Evangelist and his false appeals for money - which any but the terminally desperate knows will wind up in some new extravagance for his own comforts!

Religion is not about superstitious practices, it is not about being on a permanent "happy" high, it is about getting to know and understand God and our own spiritual growth. This means opening the Church up to re-discovering the mystical nature of the origins of its beliefs, of learning to be open to finding new ways to understand the scriptures - and of finding ways to explore what worship is really all about.

If we don't, our faith, Christianity, will dissappear as these congregations age and slowly dwindle into nothing. If we do not tackle this boldly now, we will have a lot to answer for in due course - and the thought of confronting God's sorrow at my failure frightens me more than anything else I can think of.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:59 AM

December 04, 2004

Cromwell: A great Christian?

Our esteemed and infallible Leader, the Right Honourable Tony Blair, Member of Parliament, and Prime Misery - sorry - Minister proclaims Oliver Cromwell as a great Englishman and a great Christian. The first part of that may be debatable, provided you are prepared to overlook oath breaking, rebellion (actually mutiny!), Regicide, usurpation, dictatorship, and wholesale abuse of power; the second is, as far as I can see, not even worthy of consideration. Assuming that the Prime Minister even understands what it means to be a Christian, I fail utterly to see how a man who could use churches as stables, prisons, and warehouses for the materials of war - when he wasn't defacing them or blowing up altars and smashing windows - could even be considered a Christian, no matter how piously he attended church on a Sunday.

Cromwell was a man in a turbulent age, much influenced by the ravings of John Knox in Edinburgh, and it has to be questioned as to whether or not any of the radical "protestant" leadership of which Cromwell must be considered one, can be considered to have been servants of the Gospel as proclaimed by Christ. In our own time, Cromwell has a modern incarnation who is without doubt of the same "faith" and temperament - the Rev "Doctor" Ian Paisley. Their Gospel is not one of love, fellowship, and understanding, it is one of rabid hatred for all who disagree with their narrow and blinkered vision of God.

In fact, Cromwell is best seen as the Ayatollah Khomeini of his day.

Having lead the "New Model Army" (who Goose Stepped into towns and were fond of lining up the menfolk in one part, the women in another, and the children somewhere else - then using blackmail on them) to victory against the King, ably aided by the King's inability to take advice from anyone who knew what they were doing - and thus always relied on a set of incompetents who took him from one defeat to the next - Cromwell led the "court" which tried the King for treason and then ordered his death. When parliament failed to live up to his ideals - he called in the army (shades of what the King had tried to do earlier thus starting the Civil War) and disbanded parliament, retaining only the "Rump" - a group of "Presbyters" - of people who agreed with him. It was this group that suggested that he should assume the Crown. Showing perhaps the only bit of decency in him, Cromwell refused, but assumed the title of "Lord Protector". Dictator in anyone else's language.

So should we call him a great Christian?

Not unless your view of Christianity is the narrow, bigoted, fundamentalist sort who blows up the buildings of those who disagree with his interpretation of scripture. The sort of man who can spend an afternoon happily watching the distruction of religious symbols, order a gun fired through the Great Rose window of a cathedral - or even order the destruction (in Carlisle) of the entire nave of the cathedral to repair the city walls and castle.

Should we call him a "great" Englishman?

Not unless you count the shambles in Ireland, the divisions in Scotland, and the apostacy of much of the English family a triumph. Almost all of these are the legacy of Cromwell's actions and the minions he appointed to enforce his narrow views. What should warn us all is that Mr Blair thinks that this murderous, bigoted, and intolerant man was "great". It should tell you exactly what you need to know about Mr Blair's ambitions and leadership and everything you should know about his intentions if he has his way.

There is a very good reason why the "tomb" in Westminster Abbey contains only a skull. The London mob took their revenge on Cromwell's corpse for the misery, the hardship, and the oppression they suffered during the Civil War and the twelve years of the "Commonwealth". His head was all that remained when they had finished.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:00 AM | Comments (1)

December 03, 2004

New Labour Paternity Patterns

An interesting contrast in the way the Government responds to Fathers for Justice and their demands for a fairer and better system giving them access to their children, and the Home Secretary's response to being ditched by his mistress. On the one hand they mouth platitudes and assure the public that the matter is being addressed - in other words; "we don't intend to do anything!" On the other, the Home Secretary immediately starts claiming paternity of his married mistress's children.

Times change, of that we may be sure, but the response of the mass media has been interesting to say the least. Under the last Tory government, any minister, never mind the most senior Secretary of State after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would have been hounded by the BBC, the gutter press, and the entire establishment. The response to Blunkett's revelations has been most informative. Nothing at all on the BBC, barely a mention in the Labour-supporting gutter press, and a very reluctant back of the bottom columns in the Guardian. Only the right wing (and I sometimes wonder about them as well!) Daily Mail and the dear old Torygraph have made an issue of this. It seems that the left wing and Labour Luvvies in the mass media don't feel the same way about "one of theirs" getting caught with his trousers down and in someone else's wife's bed as they did about the three Tory ministers they drove from office. I wonder why? Same "sin", surely?

As for the Secretary of State, if I had any sympathy for him, it is no longer the case. He has proved himself not only to be a thoroughly dishonourable man, but an arrogant one to boot. The decent thing to have done when his mistress indicated an end to the affair would have been to send her flowers or a box of chocolates - and walk away! Not, as this cretin has done, rush into law to try and rip apart a family that is already under the strain of the husband's awareness of the wife's infidelity. The sheer arrogance of trying to claim that the children of this marriage are his beggars belief. This compounds his disgraceful behaviour by considering only his own wants, needs, and desires. To hell with the children who must live with this stigma - and stigma there will be - and to hell with the cuckolded husband. Only the great David Blunkett and his feelings and wishes matter.

Mind you, this is not a new situation for this government of atheists, hypocrites, agnostics, and aging hippies. The spectacle of Robin Cook openly cuckolding his wife with a member of his staff - and refusing to resign over it simply makes one wonder if there are any other "affairs" being carried on under the blanket of "governing honestly" and without the 'sleaze' that the same silent media organs were quick to label the Tories with.

So who are the "sleaze champions" now? And where are the "sleaze-free" media?

I wonder what other sleazy little affairs are being ignored by the Blairite media? I wonder how long it will take for the dupes to actually realise that this bunch of filthy little oiks are only in it for themselves?

Some starry-eyed "anybody is better than the Tories" members of the chattering classes must by now be finding it very difficult to continue supporting this arrogant, ignorant, and sleaze-ridden Party. Some at least must have woken up to the fact that this is a Party which will say anything to retain power. Just don't expect delivery of anything other than even more scandal. In reality, they, like their predecessors, are really only interested in power and the exercise of it. They have it, the media support them in it, and the rest of us pay for it.

C'est la vie! - as our French cousins would say.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:55 AM

December 02, 2004

Well, that's reassuring!

OK, so I'm a sucker for these "Quizzes"! And this one, found at Dodgeblogium, tickled my fancy a touch more than usual.

Reassuringly it confirmed what I thought - and I didn't have to try more than once, either!

You scored as Catholic.













created with QuizFarm.com

Interestingly, the spread of the other potential "religions" reflect, in my view, the shared vision of the mainstream. I have to admit, though, that scoring as an Anarchist is probably a true reflection of my character make-up, but not necessarily of my faith! In reality I do have tendencies to fight against imposed authority - particularly when I disagree with whatever is being imposed.

I am surprised at the higher score for Buddhist tendencies than for Jewish, as I would have rated myself more Jewish than that! As, indeed, all Christians are.

One other little thought on this - is being a Catholic different to being a Christian? I don't think so.

We are one body in Christ.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:32 AM | Comments (3)

December 01, 2004

De Kasteel de Goede Hoop

The "Castle" at Cape Town is the oldest building in Southern Africa. It was completed in its present form by 1790, having been started in 1686 as a fortress to defend the Dutch East India Company watering and provisioning station at the Cape. The design is a very 17th Century one of a central court with projecting bastions overlooking outworks which are in turn defending the inner bastions by preventing a direct approach or assault.

The entrance to the Castle of Good Hope.

The castle is a five pointed "star" design with each bastion bearing a name. The inner "ward" is divided into two parts by the "Governors House" which cuts across the width of the inner courtyard. The original gate faced the seashore, but this was closed in 1786 and the present gate replaced it. This was necessary because at high spring tides it was impossible to enter or leave the castle.

The castle has never been taken by assault but was surrendered to the British twice - once in 1795 after the defenders had been beaten in a battle fought at Blaauberg Strand and the second occassion in 1801 after a French Force which had been sent by Napoleon to bolster the Dutch defences refused battle to an inferior British Force and withdrew, leaving the Dutch to take the brunt of the fighting. With the Royal Navy in occupation in Simonstown and blockading Table Bay and the Royal Marines and units of the British Army in occupation on the mountain and in the Cape Flats - the garrison surrendered.

Today it is a museum, but still has a garrison and was, until the 1970's, the military HQ of the South African Defence Forces. Prior to this it had been the HQ of the British Forces in Southern Africa, but was handed over to the Union of South Africa as military HQ in 1917.

A great deal of effort has gone into preserving it, and restoring it to its glory days' state; there are some very interesting exhibitions and displays to be seen - and definitely not to be missed is the Ceremony of the Keys, the firing of the Noon Gun, and the responding Signal Gun, traditions kept alive by the Garrison and performed daily.

Worth every minute spent there!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:52 AM | Comments (1)