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February 28, 2005

Futuristic visions?

A very futuristic building on Doha's West Beach skyline. It is actually two buildings, mirrored images of each other.

Countries like Qatar, where money is not counted out by bean counters who understand only bottom lines, provide a wonderful opportunity for innovative architects. As I have said elsewhere, Islamic culture has developed a wealth of geometric designs and patterns to replace the images and statuary that dominates Western Art, and this translates well in to the built environment - provided the developer is a man (or woman) with the vision to see that it is money well spent when it produces a building which excites interest and is pleasing to look at.

Yes, buildings need to be functional, and they need to be economical in terms of usable space, but they do not need to be ugly or ultilitarian. The architects who have created these buildings certainly have achieved something beautiful, here - my only concern is the lack of understanding of my field of expertise - fire!

That said, I would have to add that that, too, is being addressed. The Amir has said so!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:14 AM

February 27, 2005

Et tu, Mr Livingstone?

It seems that everyone is a racist in the eyes of some of our political elite, but not them. Mr Ken Livingstone's edifying contempt for the Jewish community in this country should be a matter for his resignation as Mayor of our Capital city, but Mr Blair seems quite content to let the racist slur cast upon a Jewish reporter from a paper Mr Livingstone loathes - not least because they exposed his chicancery as Chairman of the late unlamented Greater London Council - pass totally unpunished.

It seems that in the eyes of Mr Livingstone and Mr Blair, the Jewish Community is not covered by the laws of this land which forbid "stirring up racial hatred". So it is perfectly alright to attack Jews, verbally and physically, but any other racial group - except native Britons - is totally off limits. I suspect that, in part, it is Labour's love affair with the Palestinian and general Anti-Israel cause that lies at the bottom of this. We should not forget that it was the conniving little schemer Attlee, then the Labour Prime Minister, who had planned, in the face of warnings of genocide, to hand the state of Palestine to the Pan Arab groups who had an avowed intention of driving out every Jew from the land. It was Attlee and his Labour Government who ordered the handing over of the arsenals to the Palestinian and Jordanian Arabs and leaving the Jews to their fate. Just like the Balfour government, they mouthed their platitudes, they blamed the Germans for the genocide, yet these same men held equally, but more subtly expressed, views of the Jewish people, and Mayor Livingstone evidently still does.

If Blair wishes to have any credibility as believing his mantra of "equality" of all, then this last unreconstructed and deeply prejudiced man must go. Ken Livingstone has demonstrated that he is totally unfit to serve in government. He must now be slung out on his ear, having demonstrated that he is no better than the worst Islamic fundamentalist or the concentration camp guard he had the temerity to call the reporter.

The only acceptable apology from this man is his departure from all public office for good.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:42 AM | Comments (1)

February 26, 2005

Oh dear, oh dear?

Where have all the readers and linkers gone? I seem to have been hit, not only by spammers in a big way, but also by a flight of links and readers. Evolution strikes again, from Marauding Marsupial down 2,000 places on the blogosphere to Flappy Bird!

Oh well, such is life after all. For those of you who have kept visiting in my absence, please bear with me, I am away again for three weeks now and will keep posting whatever I have when I have a chance, but I have also given Church Mouse a supply of things to put up which some of you may find interesting to see and read.

Who knows, if my readership keeps going downhill like this, I may end up vanishing away "like the dew in the morn" among those many unlisted blogs way down the list of the blogosphere. Like Pratchett's Small Gods, no believers, means no existence outside your own head, but I'll still be here!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:05 AM | Comments (4)

February 25, 2005

The Norman Chapel

Lady Chapel.JPG
The "Lady Chapel" at Tewkesbury Abbey.

The original Lady Chapel was the one part of the main church destroyed at the dissolution of the Abbey, and the present chapel was known until the 20th Century as the "Norman" Chapel. It is apsed and occupies the South Transept behind the Milton Organ. It is into this area that the original "Dortoire" stairs descended, allowing the Monks to come directly from their dormitory to the night offices without having to go outdoors.

The Apse above this Chapel's sanctuary is occupied by a large part of the Milton Organ, including the Tuba, Trombone, Clarina, and Trumpet stops. An amazing sound if you are in the Chapel when the organist uses these stops!

The Chapel is used throughout the week and provides a space where pilgrims may pray, leave a lit candle, or place their requests for our prayers. It is also the home of the Elliot Organ when that is not in use for concerts, and it is used for services in this Chapel, as the organist can both see and hear the service - which he could not do from the Milton Console!

It is a lovely quiet place - when the organs aren't in use!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:18 AM

February 24, 2005

Het Volksmuseum

The "Volksmuseum" in Bruge provides a fscinating glimpse of Bruge in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Various rooms recreate the "Apotheker", the "Skool", the dairy, the baker, the cobbler, and the domestic kitchens, living rooms, and various tradesmens workshops.

The Schoolmaster waits for his pupils. Even the children's smocks hang from the pegs and their "Klompen" (Clogs) are neatly placed below them.

A few rooms away a domestic kitchen is filled with the family's coppers, the cradle, and a uniquely designed stove which provided heating, hot water, and cooking surfaces with a small but efficient fire box.

A family's kitchen from the late 19th Century. Note the design of the stove.

This old brewery and public house houses a truly fascinating window on the lives of our grandparents and great grandparents. It brings together the lives of the people who populated Bruge for the last two centuries, but it also serves to remind us of just how harsh life was without our modern conveniences! Just a glance at the array of bottles and their labels on the shelves of the Apotheker is enough to remind us that there were no "magic bullets" in terms of medicine - everything depended on the doctor and the apotheker being able to find the right concoction for your survival and recovery!

The appliances in almost every display remind you that it required constant and unrequiting work to achieve things that today we simply flick a switch for and walk away from. There were no easy options - unless you were rich enough to afford to hire others to do it for you. Most were not.

Another "must see" when in Bruge.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:08 AM

February 23, 2005

Bruge lace

One of the many things that Bruge is famous for is its lace making. This cottage industry has been one of its staple industries since the middle ages and the founding of the city as a trading port. The lace is particularly fine and the patterns very intricate, and it was in great demand as a sign of one's status and wealth - the more lace on display at collar or cuff, the wealthier and more important you were.

Lace making classes at the "Kant Museum" in Bruge

The fashion for lace has fluctuated through the centuries, seeing a major revival in the early 20th Century as a fashion statement. The money generated helped to rebuild the war-damaged medieval buildings, but, sadly, the hand made lace was soon replaced by cheaper machine-made lace, and the craft was threatened with extinction. Fortunately, it survived and is now a popular hobby among many residents. One abiding memory of Bruge will always be the young girl seated on a chair outside her home next to a canal making an intricate piece of lace oblivious to the tourists passing by, staring at the rows of pins and the flashing bobbins as she wove them back and forth.

The art is now taught and encouraged and may yet see a return to popularity in fashion. Who knows? But there is one place it still enjoys great popularity - among the many traditional Catholics both Roman and Anglican! You can tell how "Catholic" the person is from the amount of lace on his cotta!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:05 AM

February 22, 2005

Venice of the North

The canals in Bruge are beautifully maintained, and no private boats are allowed on them any longer. Instead, the city licences tour boats which do a wonderful trip around the old parts of the city with a good historic commentary in three or four languages!

A view looking North up the principle canal towards the Cathedral

The Old City still sits within its walls and the circular canal which protects them. Access to the old city is permitted for vehicles but it is difficult and restricted to a few points where bridges cross into the original gates. The streets are narrow and one way systems abound. Bicycles have almost free reign, and pedestrians mix with the traffic, yet there are few accidents and patience is definitely a virtue. The wise soon abandon their cars in one of the many carparks and walk. The city is quite compact and easily walkable - and the canal boats also provide an alternative way to get around as do the horse drawn carriages.

This city is a lace-making centre (called "Kant" in Flemish) and is strongly Roman Catholic. The great cathedral dates back to Roman times with Roman graves and decorations under the present floor. Some of these have been excavated and can be viewed through glass panels set in the floor.

Another place of interest is the "Volks Museum" set in an old brewery and public inn called "De Zwarte Kat", which was a gathering place for artists in the early 20th Century. Examples of their work are still on display.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:58 AM

February 21, 2005

An interesting machine

The ancient city of Bruge is full of surprises. Tucked away at the head of a dock is this reconstruction of a medieval crane with a set of simple gears which allows manpower to be translated into mechanical action.

The Medieval Crane reconstruction in Bruge

The city was once on the Flanders coast, but the gradual silting up of the bays and the extension of the coast over the centuries has moved the city several miles inland. The enterprising inhabitants were not to be beaten by this shifting coastline and, rather than abandon the city, they built a canal. Then they extended it, and extended it again and again until finally they built the city of Zeebruge to manage the entrance!

Driving alongside the canal from either end can be entertaining. Cars give way to ships at the bridges.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:46 AM

February 20, 2005

Faith, Hope, and Charity

One of the more amazing stories from the Second World War is from the defence of Malta. This was a rather desperate situation, and there are plenty of accounts of the heroism of the people, of the sailors who managed to get supplies through to the island, and of the garrison who defended it. Due to the complete incompetence of the civil service and the lack of foresight on the part of the politicians, Malta's air defences were woefully under-strength at the outbreak of the war, and, by the end of 1940, the fighter defences were down to just three Gloster Gladiator fighters.

These three out of date and hopelessly slow fighter planes managed to give a very good account of themselves in battle, being flown by RAF officers whose skill must have been stretched to the limit by the Gladiator's upper high-mounted wing, paltry armament, and slow airspeed when pitched into battle against the faster Aeromacchi and other modern aircraft operated by the Italian Regio Aeronautica.

What caught my imagination as a child was the names these three puny aircraft bore as they were thrown into frontline action way beyond their capability. They were "Faith", "Hope", and "Charity", and in a peculiar twist, it was Charity that survived the longest, holding out until, finally, a squadron of Hurricanes could be flown in to Malta and then enhanced with more, and eventually even Spitfires. As most will recognise, the names come from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians Chapter 13, which famously begins "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." Ironic, too, that the word, which has now been debased to mean "free handouts" actually meant, in the days of King James 1, "love". And that in the sense of the Greek word "philos" and not, as the word again seems to have been debased, to mean "eros".

As a model for Christian behaviour, St Paul sets us quite a task with his "Faith, hope, and charity," as all three are necessary essentials in our lives and in our worship. Having faith and hope but without the essential ingredient of charity (love) we are incomplete as Christians, because it is Charity that provides the glue and the fuel for the other two. Faith without love is an empty shell, hope without love is a chimera, but most importantly it is love for God which is needed, hence the use of the Greek "philos" which is a selfless form having an "other worldly" connotation. It is a love based on belief that it is returned, not on the physical proof, a love which gives all without expectation of reward, the sort of love that leads men to offer their lives to save someone else's, even a stranger's. It does not require a perfect understanding or even a depth of knowledge, it is independent of these, yet it is THE essential in the Christian life.

Watching a documentary on the making of the Tolkien epic, "Lord of the Rings" the point was made several times over that the book and its epic tale draws heavily on the role models we have in history. Aragorn, the unwilling heir to the throne of Gondor, has an historical counterpart in William Wallace the Scots "Braveheart" and in Queen Elizabeth 1 in her willingness to sacrifice her own desires and needs in order to serve her people. Gandalf has the counterparts of Cecil, adviser to Queen Elizabeth 1 and Benjamin Franklin, all wise advisers and lacking in personal ambition. It is this combination of leadership, service, and love for those who serve under them which sets apart the great leaders. Perhaps, too, here lies the clue to the phenomenal success of the movies - they offer people the vision of a world in which good can triumph over evil, where leaders do behave with honesty, openess, and with the best interests of their people at heart. Faith, Hope, and Charity underpin the entire story. But there is another and equally important thread in this - that of the concept of individuals all being important but their shared goal is achievable only when every individual fulfills his or her own part as part of the whole team. Nowhere is this more evident than in the complex relationship between Frodo, Samwise, and Smeegel-Gollem.

As St Paul tells us, charity is forgiving, patient, without envy, without pride or vainglory, not easily provoked or angry, but filled with hope and endurance. How aptly named those little aircraft were! Yet, the key to the message Paul is trying to convey, and it is as true now as it ever was, is summed up in the closing lines of the reading -

"For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

Being human, being limited to our perception of the world and the universe, we "see through the glass darkly" for now, but we live with the hope that all will become clear when once we cross that border between this life and the next. Until then we will need to ensure that we develop and nurture all three, never forgetting that Charity is the greatest of them all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:20 AM

February 19, 2005

A desert interlude

Qatar is a country of strange contrasts - the sea is incredibly clear, the desert very dry and the colour of sand. Here and there stand small clumps of vegetation, but they are dwarfed by the expanse of sand. The people are friendly and warm; the contrasts, though, spread through them as well.

On the one hand you have men dressed in their flowing white robes and head-gear, and women in their head-to-toe black Burkhas. But not all the women wear the Burkha and not all the men wear the dishdash! And then there are the mosques with their exquisite architecture and delicate tracery of decoration right alongside both the drab and the opulent.

I shall post one or two photographs when I am able to upload them; perhaps you will see what I find interesting here. Not least is the architecture, the blend of the ultra modern with the traditional decorative style of the architectural detailing. Again, pictures will show more clearly what I mean. Yet, there is almost an absence of understanding of the things which make these modern buildings safe to use - the codes are followed only in part, because there is no understanding of the safety principles.

There is much to see and much that is valuable. As ever, I find myself enjoying the company of these people and their friendship.

I shall be sad to leave on Friday, but I know that, in the words of Arnie the Terminator, "I'll be back!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:14 AM

February 18, 2005

On a lighter note.

Mastering a new computer system is not that easy for a technophobe like me. It involves sorting out a whole raft of tricky new functions, sorting out what a range of new icons mean, and trying desperately to find something that looks at least a little familiar in the new layouts, windows, and toolbars that confront you. Approaching it in the spirit of a 5-year old is probably the best way to deal with it - hit the button and see what happens! Then try to remember what it did the last time you tried that!

Of course, it gets complicated if you are trying to run the old system alongside the new one so that you don't lose things you need to keep from the old one - as now you have two keyboards, two mice, and two screens to watch! Add in one cat, and you have the recipe for a nervous breakdown.

Madam is convinced that all this technology is merely something new for her to play with! I suppose I should be grateful she hasn't figured out how to turn it all on! I'd do some pictures of her, if only I could persuade this new computer to accept the software for the cameras! So far I have to admit complete failure on that one, but I live in hope; the Help Desk Online for the computer and for the camera supplier has assured me that it is easy! They have even sent me detailed instructions; however, nothing in them actually relates to the windows and messages I am getting on my monitor screen. So, Plan B, call in the experts.

I now await the convenience of a friend who knows how to outsmart the computer and get it to do as it's told. In the meantime, Paddy Cat assures me that she really is helping, and if I just leave everything to her, it'll all be fine. She likes to sleep on the keyboard!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:22 AM

February 17, 2005

More Bruge Beguinage

To give some idea of the buildings inside the larger Courtyard of the Beguinage, these are some fine late 17th Century buildings.

The courtyard range in the Beguinage.

All the buildings have been beautifully restored, and, barring the Convent section, the rest seem to have been leased to families and other couples. A small museum occupies the site of the old convent, and the rooms are preserved as they were when the nuns used them.

Definitely worth more than a cursory visit.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:18 AM

February 16, 2005

Bruge Beguinage

One of the features of the Flemish culture was the Beguinage, a sort of convent cum refuge for women. The core of a Beguinage is a traditional convent, but it was also home to women of substance who chose to remain unmarried after widowhood and to withdraw from the world while continuing to manage their own affairs. The large Beguinage at Bruge still houses a convent, but most of the other dwellings within its walls are now used by couples and families.

The outer wall of the Beguinage with the canal "dam" in the foreground.

The enclosure still has its Convent Church at its heart, and the two large courts are surrounded by the living quarters. It is a place of rare peace even when it is full of tourists.

If you visit Bruge, you can reach the Beguinage by boat along the canal or by horse-drawn carriage from the main square - or you can simply walk!

One more thing you should know about this country - beer is to the Belgians what wine is to the French. Belgians have over four hundred different varieties of beer, and each has its own shape and style of glass. A meal eaten in the traditional Belgian manner will disclose that there is a different beer for each course. Oh, and the full "formal" meal is seven courses, and the guests change tables at the half way point in accordance with a pre-arranged seating plan. This sensible arrangement means that the guests sit with a different group for the rest of the meal.

Guess who enjoys Belgium?!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:16 AM

February 15, 2005

As predicted

With the announcement that the Prince of Wales and the former Mrs Camilla Parker-Bowles will marry on the 8th April has come the expected torrent of abuse from the "Royalty must be perfect" lobby. Alongside the "Saint Diana" mob, we also have the "Head of the Church of England must not be a divorcee remarried" mob, whose view is, quite frankly, irrelevant.

Taking that last first, so far, the majority of those expressing this view do not even attend any church, anyway. Therefore, I would suggest, their opinion of what the Head of State and his or her relationship is with the church is irrelevant. Besides which, I would far rather have as the Secular Governor of the Church of England a man or woman who reflects the reality of the world the rest of us live in than have someone tied to a person they do not love and who loves them not at all, as I am pretty sure has been the case in a number of Royal marriages.

Since the days of the Gospel writers, much has changed in the world, not least the life expectancy of the people entering into marriage. In the 1500's when Henry VIII (Four divorces and two beheadings!) set the Church of England apart from the See of Rome and made himself Governor, the average length of a marriage was around twelve years - because the wife normally died in childbirth before even reaching menopause! Equally, it was only really in society families that marriage actually occurred; until fairly recently (about 150 years ago) a farmer could take his "wife" to certain fairs and "trade her in" on a younger model!

Now I am in no way suggesting that we should return to that, but I do think we should recognise that there are a number of very good reasons why marriages fail - not least because they have been entered into under pressure to "make a suitable and acceptable match" and because people often mistake their feelings and plunge ahead when they should exercise more caution and spend time examining the realities of what and who they and their partner to be are.

Taking a pragmatic view, the Prince should have married Camilla 30 years ago, but knew then that the political establishment and the media would have made it impossible. We should not forget that the government of the time at that point (Labour again!) were very likely to make use of the opportunity to ram through some nasty piece of spiteful legislation, because Parliament has to approve the marriage of the Sovereign and the Heir. As the issue of further progeny doesn't enter into this union - at least on the surface - there should be no such opportunity this time.

It is equally fatuous for that House of Cards to make spiteful and judgemental comments about his or her behaviour since they are in large measure the originators of this mess through the spiteful legislation put in place in the 1600's to prevent anyone of the Roman Catholic faith ascending the throne. Since they were the ones who made plain their likely refusal for the heir to marry "morganatically" - unless to someone they approved - they must accept at least some of the blame for the subsequent debacle.

As for the "he treated Diana badly" lobby, well, they need to move on as well. As the Bishop of Gloucester has put it very succinctly, "This marriage is a new beginning and we all need to pray that they will be very happy together."

Pragmatically, this is sound advice; neither of them is flushed with the follies of youth any longer, they have known each other for a long time, more than long enough to know their own hearts. The marriage to Diana failed for the very simple reason that, while there may have been infatuation at first, this is no substitute for real friendship and for love.

The Church of England will survive having its Supreme Governor a divorced and remarried man - it may even be improved by having to ditch the sourfaced attitudes that currently are attributed to it. The Lord alone will tell in due course what His will is for this Union and for the succession to the throne. As I said in my previous post on this, with the way things are going at the moment, we may not even exist by the time Prince Charles needs to step up to the throne!

In the meantime, let's actually put aside the petty sniping; the King to be is no worse than and in some ways far better than, many of his subjects to be.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:30 AM | Comments (5)

February 14, 2005

Dresden remembered

The bombing of Dresden saw the destruction of a medieval city of historic importance, one which today would probably have been earmarked as a "World Heritage" site. The arguments about the rights and wrongs of the actual bombing are now the subject of entrenched revisionists on one hand, armchair generals who have never had to make tactical or strategic decisions on the information immediately available, and those who have read the diaries, memoranda, and intelligence reports and support the decision of the Allied Commanders.

Hindsight is wonderful; there is no one who has ever commanded anything who, in the light of subsequent information, information NOT available at the moment of decision, has not taken a decision which he or she would have done differently if the missing information had been known. That is what the revisionists, in their outright certainty of their moral superiority to everyone and anyone in a uniform, forget. It tends to be forgotten that Dresden had not been deliberately bombed previously, a decision taken at very high level because of its significance historically and the lack of any military activity or industry. That all changed in 1945 when the indications were strong that the city was about to become the alternate capital and that there was a strong military build up around it. That, and its apparent strategic position on the rail and road network was then still available to the retreating German Forces.

Dresden was Germany's Hiroshima; the only difference was the weapon. The high explosive and incendiary bombing was the same as that dropped earlier in the war on Coventry and had the same result. The medieval timber-framed buildings created a bonfire. More than 25,000 people died in the bombing and the firestorm which destroyed the city and its community. It also dispersed the military forces and scattered them, destroying the command chain and disrupting any attempt to regroup. A tragedy and a strategic victory, if a Pyhrric one.

The city has been rebuilt, ironically with the help of British artisans, artists, and craftsmen who have worked alongside their German counterparts to recreate what was destroyed. The symbolic Frauenkirsche is the last of the significant buildings to be restored and has drawn people from all the nations involved in the war to its restoration. Surely this must go some way toward the restoration of, and atonement for, the wrongs of both sides. One of the most significant pieces of this drawing together must surely be the recreation of the statue atop the great dome of the church - by the son of one of the RAF Bomber pilots.

We should remember the dead of Dresden, just as we should remember the dead of Coventry, London, Birmingham, Hamburg, Rotterdam, and all the other cities bombed by both sides. We should remember; we should also strive to ensure it never happens again, but we must never again allow dictators or tyrants to rise unchallenged and threaten our society. Only by remaining strong and determined to never allow the circumstances which led to this to arise again, can we truly give the honour due to our dead from this and every war.

Let us remember Dresden, but spare a thought for the men and women who defended our liberty then, those who defend it now, and ensure our political leaders know they cannot ignore or condone tyrany in any form. Pliny wrote:

"Si vis pacem, parabellum"

"Seek peace, but, be prepared for war"

Peace is the prize, but it can only be secured by remaining strong and determined to maintain it. Appeasement can never be a substitute for strength; John F Kennedy proved that in the Cuban crisis in 1963; we forget at our peril.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:04 AM

February 13, 2005

Abandon hope?

My elder daughter has sent me an extract of a post from a chat forum which I think is worthy of further consideration, not just by ourselves, but by every government, every captain of industry, and every would-be politician. In sending it to me my daughter has added the rider that she intends to respond to the poster on the chatboard, but can't, at the moment, think of what to say.

Having read it, I can see the dilemma, for there is so much in this that I am at a loss as to where to begin to comment! Reading it, and my daughter stresses that most of her friends feel exactly the same way on many of these issues, I am not surprised that so many young people have simply walked away from politics, from voting, and from what is on offer to them. Far too often the control freaks now running, seemingly, every Western government have so bound these youngsters up in "protective" legislation and ringfenced those with limitations placed on access to education, good jobs, and a range of other things, that it has stifled their ability to carve their own way in the world. It has stifled initiative and suppressed freedom of choice.

The big question they all ask, is where does humanity go from here? It is very certain that our politicians, our civil servants, and a goodly portion of my own generation would reply - nowehere but straight on exactly as we have done before! Yet, as the writer of the article I have pushed into the extended post below will tell you, none of that option is sustainable! We need to create a new way forward - something fresh, innovative, and far less restrictive - but, what?

I make no apology to the writer of the article I have reproduced here, I hope that he will take my doing so as an indication that I share his concern and feel it should be aired with a wider audience. Perhaps someone out there will have a positive response - and be able to start the ball rolling toward a solution!

This Post comes from a Chatboard called Maddoxmania. It was written by one of the "Administrators" who I am told is in his 20's and Canadian. It is worth a careful read and some serious thought!

"This is posted here, but makes reference to some posts in other sections.

I apologize in advance for having no jokes in this, but I’d like to get it on (electronic) paper none the less, because it takes up entirely too much of my thoughts during my waking hours. What bothers me, to make my point very quickly, is that there is no hope left. I’m going to post this as a counterpoint to the ‘feel good’ posts that some other members have posted here, most recently being a well written piece Ash posted. I’ve thought long and hard, and I fail to see what we have to be hopeful for.

As I see it the future, our future, was decided hundreds of years ago, and nobody seems bothered by this in the least. It’s like thought one day decided to take a back seat to discovery.

Every year we are confronted by the progress of the human species; material goods in unprecedented numbers, that satisfy almost our every need and whims. It’s easy to forget that under all the great accomplishments we make there is a very fragile and very flawed system supporting us.

The species would never survive without a system of organization, especially not at the numbers we’ve achieved. The system we use to organize our labour and industry is fundamental in our sustainability, and for the future development of our planet. Why is it then that we’ve stopped developing systems? Are we really fooled into thinking we’ve found the right one? Is market capitalism really the best we can do? It seems to me, and I’ve thought on it long and hard, that we’ve been pigeon holed into two or three competing systems, none of which are sustainable, or offer us any real hope.

Market capitalism is praised constantly for being logical, realistic, and successful, but what it fails to be is sustainable. If left to pure market capitalism we’d have been screwed long ago, so what we’ve done is installed temporary solutions to ease the burden the system creates, while still enjoying the great benefits. I’m not saying that there are not great benefits, such as material wealth and technology that would be unthinkable in another system. Capitalism, however, relies on growth to sustain itself. Without the ability to grow a market will die. If there is no chance to expand the wealth we have, then it won’t be re-invested. The problem with a system based on indefinite growth is that it is impossible to grow forever. All our activities consume some of our limited resources, and capitalist industry consumes a lot of it. The results are astounding in creating material wealth and products, but it has to end somewhere. Resources run out, there is a limit on how efficient and cheap you can make labour, there is an end to growth. When growth is done, then capitalism will be done. Existing wealth will be hoarded, millions will be left without. We can see the effects today all around us. The masses of unemployed, where there are no jobs to be found. Manufacturing is employing more automated systems, and more foreign slave labour than ever. The sea of unemployed will be such a burden that the system will never be able to maintain them. Add to this the sentiment within a capitalist society that a man should benefit from his labour and capital, and that charity should be left to the market, and you begin to see the huge humanitarian crisis that MUST happen. It seems all but inevitable that when the bottom drops on industry, those not in a position of relative power will have a choice to rebel or starve.

The solution to market capitalism was developed a long time ago as well. They were developed not so far apart. Communism, or socialism, took into account the struggle between sustainability, industry, and growth. With everyone sharing the wealth it would seem that a sustainable industry would develop, for everyone sakes. But this system was as flawed as capitalism…more so. Where capitalism allowed for democracy and power, socialism called for the abolition of law and government, saying that they were no longer needed in a society where the impetus for social ills (disparity of wealth primarily) was eliminated. The most glaring flaw of Socialism was that it’s impossible to institute in our species. Socialism works fine for ants and termites, but in an individualistic species it is impossible, and no amount of social engineering can make it work.

History has born out this point again and again. Another great flaw with socialism is that it is open to the abuse of a charismatic leader. When law is abolished, power will be gotten by individuals with the ability to lead and manipulate others. The authority of a charismatic leader is bound by no rules or restriction, as it is in a democracy where a constitution governs a leader’s actions. Like facism, communism is doomed to become a dictatorship, and is definitely not the solution to the problems we face. There is no hope in a socialist future.

So where do we turn for hope? Where are our philosophers coming up with new ideas? Theocracy, feudalism, etc… these are all directions that most of us would consider unthinkable. Where does humanity go? It seems to me that nobody is looking for this answer. They’ve chosen one of the two classic systems to fight for and ignored the problems in both of them. Or maybe there is no solution, no way to organize us that will bring us any hope down the line, and the best we can hope for is that the shit hits the fan for another future generation. This is scarce relief for those who believe in leaving a better place for their children. I fear there is no solution to the problem of sustainability, and I really fear that nobody is looking for that solution. The best of us are too caught up with either defending capitalism, or pushing socialism, and the loser will be the species. This may not have as much an effect on those of you who believe in God, as he is your source of hope, but for the rest of us: where do we look for the answer? Who is looking for the answer?"
Source: http://www.maddoxmania.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=10104

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:40 AM | Comments (6)

February 12, 2005

Heading out for new shores!

Tomorrow I must catch a flight to Qatar. This will keep me busy for about two weeks and is probably going to be quite intense one way or another!

This journey is a work project, and I am to be part of a larger team engaged to modernise the country's emergency services. This first phase is a study to see what is there, how it functions, and so on so that we can make recommendations as to how to build on this. As I said, a challenging project, one I am looking forward to, as it will open up some interesting new fields and force me to renew some I had wandered away from.

Secondly, I am always interested to explore new cultures, new countries, and to get a feel for and understanding of the way someone else lives. The old truism that you should not criticise someone until you have walked a mile in his shoes is very true indeed. I may not criticise, but I may have a better understanding of the way he lives, thinks, and responds - and then I can make allowance for it.

So, posting will probably be a bit light for the next while; watch this space, though, you never know when I may have some entertaining "bon mot" to share!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:35 PM

For the engineering minded

Bruges' Cathedral is a remarkable structure for many reasons, not least because it is built of brick, and that in the twelfth century! Bruge is built on sand and clay, for there is no natural stone nearby, so the early builders used brick. The cathedral is large - at least as big as the Abbey in floor area and possibly taller internally. But the tower is a remarkable construction.

The view up the tower from its base.

The Tower sits over the original church which dates back to Roman occupation. In its base are large glass panels set into the floor and through these can be seen Roman and later medieval tombs with decorated interiors. Nothing like giving the dead something nice to look at while they await the resurrection of the body!

Standing beneath the bell hole, one looks upward through successive vaults to the very top of the tower - and it is certainly an impressive height. Structurally there is no doubt that the builders were well aware of the limitations of brick in carrying such massive loads, and they have carefully designed this tower so that, as it grows higher, the walls are thinner and taper slightly, thus reducing the loading while increasing the strength.

Yet another fascinating place to visit!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:49 AM

February 11, 2005


Today marks what would have been the 80th birthday of my mother. Sadly, she died in 1999 after a very brief illness which followed major surgery.

Grace Eleanor Frances - Mater to her irreverent elder son - as a young woman.

She had a very interesting life and a sometimes very difficult one. Her father was from Ireland, her mother from a very well to do farming family in South Africa. Mater (as I used to call her to tease her), was born in Durban in 1925, spent three years from the age of 2 in the UK and then returned to SA with her parents. The Second World War wiped out her father's business, and the droughts and animal plagues of the 1930's had wiped out the farms, so Grandfather set to work to rebuild his family's security from scratch in wartime.

Mater joined the WRNS in Cape Town and served on the Cypher Staff of the Commander in Chief, South Atlantic, the then Rear Admiral Burnett. As a "Hostilities Only" rating she was discharged in 1945 and had some wonderful tales to tell of the signals which flew around the world detailing the triumphs and disasters as they unfolded. She remembered, too, the Code names for the huge Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary as they shuttled round the Cape with troops for various theatres and how they always arrived at night, landed their troops for a "Route March" which left Cape Town's streets along the route they were given whitened by the boots, and then sailed again with the dawn.

Our family life, as with all families, had its up's and down's, and my brother and I remember most of these with a touch of humour.

Mater came to join my family in the UK when she retired in 1991 and lived here until her death in 1999. Her ashes were, in accordance with her request, returned to South Africa and now rest in her beloved Cape Town in view of the mountain.

May she rest in peace as she so richly deserves.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:36 AM

Human robots?

A contradiction in terms, surely? Yet, this is a serious question posed by a number of writers recently in newspapers in response to the claim by a Korean programme expert that he had succeeded in creating a virtual robot. Under the banner headline "Can robots ever be human?", one of the national tabloid dailies ran a leading article written by a well respected science editor. His article certainly looked at all the ramifications and even at the science fiction "models" for this but, I think, missed the primary point.

In pointing out that achieving the humanoid, learning, thinking, and "human" robot described in Asimov's books such as "I, Robot" and others we will have created a machine which thinks, not a human being which lives, breathes, eats, sleeps, grows old, and dies. This is the dilemma explored so very well in Star Trek - Next Generation with the Android Lieutenant Commander Data and his constant search to be "human". Robin Williams' protrayal of the sentient robot who eventually finds a way to die like a human is equally educational.

The point which it raises is not "can a robot be human", but what is life? If we define "living" as "sentience" we open up a whole new range of thoughts on the reality of what is alive and what is not. Each step along the way of discovering how the world, the universe, and everything in it actually works and functions, makes us look anew at a range of things like this. Is a plant sentient? Some scientific tests seem to suggest that plants may well be "sentient". Does this mean they think, feel, and respond as we do? Probably not, but whatever it is they do, it seems certain that it would be appropriate to the manner in which they "live". The next question this raises is, of course, if sentience is the measure of "life", then does something which is sentient have a soul? And, if sentience is related to the spiritual concept of "soul", can a machine - such as a sentient robot - have a soul?

Putting this into the concept of the spiritual "soul" which Christians and other believers in God have, does the creation of sentient machines threaten our concept of ourselves as spiritual beings? Probably not, but it certainly means we have to revise our thinking on what makes us who we are and what the soul actually is.

Recently I asked a group of 8 - 14 year olds what they thought the soul was. After we had finished laughing at the usual joke about "the bottom of my shoes, sir", they got down to some serious thinking on this and came up with the definition:"Me, without a body." Now that is pretty good as a definition, but again, we run into the question of "sentience", purely and simply because, in terms of defining myself, I will use measurements which are bounded by and, indeed, determined by, my degree of sentience. Ergo, I am back where I started; is a sentient machine possessed of a soul?

As the science editor has pointed out, the human brain, as indeed the living brain of any sentient animal, is incredibly complex, and we have not yet figured out how, or even why, it functions the way it does. It is a mass of chemical reactions, electrical impulses, and neural pathways which, we think, are different in every individual. We know it malfunctions if the wrong chemicals get to work or if the delicate balances between some chemicals are disturbed - but we don't actually understand why. In a computer, we can create a "neural network" of wires, capacitors, transitors, and microchips, but we cannot, yet, create something which thinks spontaneous thoughts. And, if we could, would this be sentience? Would it be life?

I suggest that the jury is going to be out on this one for some considerable time. We may actually be quite close to creating a machine that is sentient if the Korean professor is right in his "virtual robot" programme which copies human genetic patterns as its base operating system. If we are, someone somewhere had better start getting to grips with the ramifications of a life created by us!
Even for those who claim there is no God, no soul, and no life to come, this is one question which raises some very interesting issues. Should we demand a halt to these experiments? No, I don't think so, for they are a part of evolution and a part of our learning journey.

Let us hope that with the outcome, we actually advance our understanding of both creation and God sufficiently to understand the ultimate question; "What is life?"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:49 AM

February 10, 2005

Wedded blisters?

The announcement that the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles are to marry will no doubt kick off a storm of hypocricy among the great cloud of cretins infesting the Mother of Parliaments. I expect it will also see a storm of chest beating and wailing from the "Diana is a Saint Cult" members.

Does it make any difference to anybody if the Prince marries the lady he has loved for a great number of years through one crisis after another? Probably not, as his mother the Queen is probably going to outdo her Great-Grandmother, Queen Victoria, as longest reigning Sovereign in our history. Once our gracious lady the Queen dies, who knows what the nation (if it still exists) will even look like? Politically, if Blair and his hypocrites continue in power we will probably be forced to accept one of his cronies or camp followers as a President. The thought of President Mandelson or President Brown turns my stomach and there are certainly no other candidates among our political elite that would attract my vote either!

Perhaps the solution would be to change our current parliamentary arrangements by introducing Proportional Representation, two elected chambers, and a directly elected Prime Minister in Cabinet, with the Sovereign remaining as a Figurehead to represent the country on the international stage and to provide continuity and stability between elections. On the other hand, can anyone really see the current crop of Gravy Train passengers imposing anything on themselves which might threaten their seats on the train? Not likely.

So, the Monk wishes the Prince and his lady well. I suspect, however, that the gutter press and the rest of the media circus will now have a field day trying to demonstrate their morality and their outrage - while carrying on all manner of underhanded and immoral activities themselves.

Such is life, or, as Lord Vetinari would say, "Ah! Politics!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:58 AM | Comments (2)

February 09, 2005

Letting go

At the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple our preacher was the Venerable Peter (aka Father Prior!), and he used the set Gospel (Book of Common Prayer) to point out the fact that two of the characters, Joseph and Mary, were adhering to and honouring the traditional Jewish custom, while two more, the elderly Simeon and the even older Anna, were welcoming the change that Christ was bringing.

Thus we have the conundrum of the young wanting to hold fast to the tradition and the old seeking to cast it aside. An image that rather turns conventional perceptions on their head!

Watching the Fiddler on the Roof, we have Tevje applauding adherence to "Tradition" - but at the same time acknowledging that it sometimes brings pain. This is the dilemma nearly all of us face, we want to embrace change, but are afraid of it, we want to stay where we are, but are afraid of being left behind. In the story of Simeon and his recognition of the Christ child in the Temple, we have an example of a man who had been waiting for the promised Jewish Messiah all his life. The Messiah that was supposed to bring about the restoiration of the Davidian Kingdom and the glory of the Solomon period, yet, here, at last confrointed by the reality, this frail old man recognises that the Messiah is come to many more than the Jewish nation, he has come to the world.

As St Luke tells us in Chapter 2 verse 29 - 32 in the canticle we know as the Nunc Dimittis, Simeon proclaims:

Lord, now dismiss your servant in peace, as you have promised.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
A light for revelation to the Gentiles
and the glory of your people Israel.

To this he then added an explanation to Mary and Joseph, saying that this child would bring both joy and distress to the world and all who encounter Him.

Now that may seem a strange thing for the promised one to do, but consider, whenever there is a change required, whenever we are forced to think through our "safe" positions and the need to change, we find ourselves distressed by it. Some will, of course, embrace a change willingly, others will fight against it. This is exactly what happened with Christ's ministry: some embraced it, some did not and some even switched sides in both directions.

As Tevje discovers after having allowed one daughter to break with "tradition", he is faced with another who wishes to flout an even bigger one. The first case he can live with, the second he cannot and it causes both sides enormous pain. There is always that option, but it also carries with it the risk that the person who refuses to embrace the change will find themselves eventually the isolated and ostracised one - and they will have done it to themselves.

Tradition demanded that all first born boys had to be brought to the Temple and offered to God, being "redeemed" by the sacrifice of an animal (usually a lamb). This goes back to the sojourn in the desert and the Law set out in Leviticus. Mary and Joseph took Christ to the Temple in accordance with that "tradition" even though, by this time, many didn't bother. They sought to abide by tradition and maintain the familiar pattern. Simeon and Anna, on the other hand, recognise in this infant the Messiah and that He will change the world radically. Contrary to expectation, they embrace it!

Perhaps, in this, there is a lesson for us all. If we resist change, one of two things can occur; either it will happen anyway and we will be swept aside in the tide of change, or we will succeed in preventing it - and eventually have to accept responsibility for the fact that something we value and hoped to preserve has become increasingly irrelevant to anyone else until eventually we are either forced to change or accept that it dies with us. On the other hand, if we embrace the change and then seek to work to ensure that it is properly done and that the best of the old is kept alongside the best of the new, we can at least be sure that the best of what we valued is preserved and the whole can now move forward keeping all onboard.

Listening to the sermon the other day I was struck by how easily we fall into certain set patterns in everything - and how difficult it is to change them. Sadly, all to often we do not change when we have the right opportunity and then face having to do it later when it is even more difficult to accept. Perhaps, like Simeon and Anna, we need to be more receptive to God and less fearful of our own likes, dislikes and prejudice.

Letting go of our "safe" concepts, styles of worship, "traditions", and comfort zones is the hardest thing we can ever do, but sometimes we have to take it on faith and trust that the Lord will guide us into the future safely. No one ever said it would be easy being a Christian, as being Christian demands that we grow and change spiritually. Failure to do so locks us into a meaningless and negative spiral which leads nowhere.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:22 AM

Danger, hypocricy at work

The spectacle of the grandiosely styled "Public Accounts Committee" of the House of Commons ran a blatant display of "Class War" and Republicanism yesterday for the benefit of those voters not yet reduced to stomach churning illness by Labour's hypocricy. Several of the Labour Members attacked the four accountants who between them run the business of the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancashire, trying to portray their efforts as somehow underhand and the income they generate for the Prince of Wales and his sons as "obscene".

Coming from a bunch of cretinous and nasty little minded men who between them have helped themselves to a little under £750,000 in "expenses" as members of that House of Shame, it was a pretty unlovely sight!

Still, they did us all a favour and showed their true colours. Treason is such a pretty colour this season isn't it? So much for truth.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:31 AM

February 08, 2005

Some notes on Lent

Just having put together some notes for a short class for the choirboys at the Abbey, it occured to me that there might be one or two other people asking some of these questions as well. Perhaps they will explain a little and provide some answers to those who seek.

May I wish you all "Well over the fast!"

What is Lent?

Lent is a period of fasting (we are supposed to give something up for Lent), and in times past it was strictly observed as a “fast” with only basic meals and water to drink. Sundays are not kept as “fasts”, because they are “Feast” days, thus we are allowed to relax our “fast” on Sundays. In effect this means that Lent lasts for more than 40 days, since there are six Sundays in Lent.

The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon, meaning “Spring” or “Refreshment”. It is still used in Dutch, Friesian, Danish, and German in different forms to mean Spring. For Christians it is a time of preparation for the commemoration of the Passion and Easter. It is comparable to the period of fasting observed by the Muslims in the Ramadan Fast which closes one year and heralds the new one.

Why forty days?

The fast of forty days commemorates Our Lord’s period of preparation for his ministry. After His baptism in the river Jordan, he went into the desert for a period of solitude and fasting lasting forty days. Forty is a significant number and is used in a number of different situations in the Bible, for example; forty years in the Sinai Desert. It symbolises purification and preparation.

Colours in Lent

It is usual for a church to use purple vestments, altar frontals, and dossal clothes. Alternatively they can use the Sarum colours which are sackcloth (Unbleached linen) adorned with black and red symbols. Flowers and banners are usually put away, as it is a “Penitential” season.

Worship in Lent

During Lent it is customary to leave out the Gloria during the Eucharist and to say the Creed and the Lords Prayer instead of singing them. This is because it is a season in which we think about the things we have done wrong over the past year and prepare for Easter.

How was Lent introduced?

The season came about as a preparation period for people who wished to become Christians as, in the early Church, it was the custom to baptise all new converts at Easter, on the Eve of Easter or Holy Saturday. The converts would spend as much time as possible studying the scriptures and preparing themselves for Baptism.

In those days, Baptism was also an act of “confirmation” so that the new Christian could receive their first communion at the Mass on Easter Day.

When does it start?

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, which gets its name from the practice of imposing ashes on your forehead and wearing torn clothes as a sign of mourning. We still impose the mark of the ashes as a symbol that we are penitents seeking reconciliation with God.

How should we keep Lent?

We should keep Lent quietly, giving up something we like, but also taking up something we find hard. We should try to remember on each day why we are thankful to God and why we should prepare ourselves to celebrate Easter properly.

Read: 1 Corinthians 9. 24 to the end, and
Luke 18. 9 - 14

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:53 AM | Comments (1)

Year of the Rooster

A happy New Year to any Chinese readers; may the year be auspicious and bring you good health, good luck, and prosperity.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:59 AM

February 07, 2005

Trackback Spam

My apologies to any of you who use my trackbacks - I have been hit by a Spammer who uses the Trackback to attach spurious "comments" to various posts. There were 64 of these parasitic abominations attached this morning and it takes forever to clear them out! The only way we can block these is to turn off the Trackback feature while we explore upgrading this blog to a differnt system or a higher version of MT.

A curse on all spammers - believe it or not - there was another of the damned things in the box tonight!

Anyone who can create a spammer attack programme will get my support!

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

Founder's doubts?

When the founder of one of the world's most vociferous, and sometimes most obstructive, "green" lobby groups, distances himself from that organisation because it has forsworn “science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism.” My thanks to Weekendpundit for the post labelled "Greenpeace - controlled by know nothings!"

Patrick Moore's doubts about the direction and leadership of Greenpeace are well founded. This is the organisation that launched a massive assault on the truth when they campaigned to prevent the sinking of the Brentspar storage bouy in mid-Atlantic a few years ago trumpeting (and the media eagerly rushed into print with it) that the bouy had onboard "thousands of tons of oil and hundreds of tons of radio-active material". Their "experts" had invaded the Spar Bouy while it was undertow and "tested" the tanks coming up with the conclusion that it held 15,000 tons of oil and "highly radio-active waste." This, they blazoned across the newspapers, would contaminate the ocean, destroy marine life and place everyone in the UK "at risk."

In fact the Spar held at most a few tons of oil residue and the "radio-active" waste was mainly mud which had been drawn from the seabed anyway! Their "expert" had been unable to gain access to the tanks or to measure anything - so, Plan B - lie!

The government of the day fell for it and backed down instead of ordering in the RN to sink it with the protestors on board, they had it towed back to the UK and ordered it broken up on land. The result has been real pollution - seabed mud is highly saline and damned difficult to remove or to dispose of - oil residues (the final tally was under 100 tons) are equally toxic and very difficult to purge or to destroy, so had to be cleaned and removed by hand - with the increased risk of cancer or mutagenes entering the bloodstream of the workers - and cost an astronomical 20 times as much as it should have.

The same problem applies with "wind farms" and their blanket opposition to anything nuclear or, now, hydro-electric. The fact that hydro-electric dams in the third world are about the only viable way to solve the two perrennial problems of water shortage and power needs seems to have escaped them completely. At its heart, this organisation is unable to distinguish between common sense and a pragmatic approach of weighing up FACT and then making an informed and sensible decision and the emotive and often completely unsustainable position of "no development".

Hat's off to Patrick Moore for being honest enough to come out and say it!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:01 AM

February 06, 2005

The Da Vinci "Code"

Some people, it seems, especially in the media, have difficulty with the terms "fact", "fiction", and "fac-tion". I recently heard the book "The Da Vinci Code" being touted on radio and later on television as "historical fact", which it is not. It certainly raises a number of interesting questions, but fact it is not.

Part of the problem with books like this is that there is a very large body of people who, for whatever reason, wish to see Christianity brought down, or at the very least, to see the structure that we call the church discredited and destroyed. I can only speculate as to why they wish to do this, but it is certain that books like the Da Vinci Code certainly provide fuel for their vendetta. In fact, I will not be surprised to see this "promotion" of the otherwise interesting fictional postulations become the "accepted truth" in much the same way that the "blood libels" are seen by the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish lobby as "fact".

So what is the origin of much of the source material for this book?

Well, the author draws heavily on the New Testament and on the Extra- canonical books rejected by the Council of Nicea because they were from the Gnostic heresy or tended towards that position. Most of those that I have read do not tell me anything I didn't already know and certainly don't change my faith. The problem is that most of the people who will read this work of fiction will not have read the sources and will not bother to check the blurred boundaries of fact versus fiction. This is what makes the book disturbing. Even more disturbing is the automatic assumption that anything not included in the Bible, such as the Acts of Pilate, the Gospel of Thomas, or any other extra-canonical book must have more provenance or truth than those included in the Bible. This reverse logic is not healthy, it betrays a willingness to believe anything that supports a negative opinion or view, and precludes sensible and clinical examination of the evidence. And the evidence does not support all the postulations of this book.

The book postulates that Jesus was married and that his descendents are still among us. It also puts forward the interesting hypothesis that Judas Iscariot was his brother. So, let's take a look at those suggestions.

The New Testament writers simply did not include in their writings anything they considered to be "common knowledge", so it is very likely that Jesus of Nazareth was married; I would even go so far as to suggest that a good candidate for a wife would be Mary or Martha of Bethany, the latter being the more likely. Magdala was a place - it still is, but has changed its name several times in the last two millenia - a small town located on the shores of Lake Galilee, and it is probably there that Simon, James, and John, and possibly others, were first recruited. Christ himself lived a little further along at Capernaum and not in Nazareth as many assume. There is no secret about any of this; it has been known for some time - in fact from the very beginning - but was never considered as significant as the message He brought us. Does any of this change the validity of that message?

Of course not!

Yes, there was a power struggle within the early church; in fact it was a three- and possibly even a four-way split. The faction led by James (identified in scripture as the brother of Jesus) wanted to remain purely a Jewish Sect; Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, and a majority saw that it must outgrow Judaism and the "traditions" of Temple and Synagogue, and there was another faction called the Gnostics who saw things in much the same manner as the Muslim faith does today. Other factions, such as the Docetists, also contributed to the confusion, and the Coptic Church claims to have been founded by Mary Magdalene herself.

By the 6th Century most of these factions had either died out or been absorbed - or, as many of the 8th Century "Fathers" believed, found a new Prophet in Mohammed. The separation of the "Christian" church from its Judaic roots added another complication, particularly as it became more a "Western" religion, in that much of the scripture became overlaid by European interpretation of what it says, and the gaps where it doesn't! Thus virginity, poverty, and a number of other words which have been interpretted by the Western Church in one way actually have a different meaning in the roiginal Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek.

Even the imagery we have of Christ, the disciples, and the Holy Land is all coloured by Medieval interpretation of the scriptures and the fact that the artisits seldom had any idea of the scenes or the people they were painting. There is a lovely story about the models painted in the Last Supper which says that Leonardo had painted all the figures bar Judas Iscariot and went out into the highways and byways to find a suitably evil looking man. He found one, and asked him to pose, whereupon the man burst into tears and said, "Master, I have posed for you before - but the last time I was your Christ!"

If, as the book asserts, the figure next to Christ is a woman, it may well be a case of Leonardo's quirky sense of humour rather than some coded message. The artist was known to poke fun at some of his patrons and this would be one way of doing it which would really bug the Abbot and his Chapter! Besides, they probably wouldn't notice until someone pointed it out!

I am rather saddened by the fact that this otherwise well written story will become, for years to come, yet another weapon in the arsenal of lies, half truths, and propaganda used against the Christian Faith by so many who find it necessary to mock, deride, or denigrate anyone who believes that there is a God. The Church is not and never has been a perfect vehicle; it is, after all, the instrument of humanity and is not infallible. In fact, I rather think that it proves there is a God and that He has a sense of humour. Our antics in worship must afford Him huge amusement - but equally our squabbling and dogma must cause Him huge pain!

Read the book if you must, but do remember that the sources were rejected with good reason and not malicious whim. If you can seek them out and read them, too, at the very least they will cause you to examine your faith. As to the claim that Judas was Christ's brother, let us just say that you will find nothing in any of the literature to support this. If He did father children and their descendents are today walking the Earth, I would hope that they have found and kept the faith as He would have wished. It changes nothing in my own faith - in fact it excites me to think that any one of us could bear the genes and the bloodline of this Son of the Living God!

Every Christian should take the time to examine carefully all the source material and to ponder deeply on what lies in plain view if you interpret it as the Jewish and Helenic converts would have understood it all in the first century. Perhaps it is time to put aside the Medieval European overlays and consider what this Eastern Mystic religion has been trying to say to us for centuries!

May your journey be rewarding!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:54 AM | Comments (5)

February 05, 2005

Serious amusement

One of the more enjoyable aspects of blogging - for me, anyway - is the variety of experiences and range of opinions it exposes one to. I really must give a hat tip to Ozguru of G'day Mate for persuading me to take this up; it has broadened my horizons immensely. Like, I suspect, most other bloggers, I don't always have time to read as many blogs as I would like (Memo to self: Find out how to update and extend my Blogroll!) but I do try to read a selection every day.

Among those that have recently tickled my funny bone was Paul's (of All agitprop; all the time) take on protesters under the banner "Giving village idioting a bad name". After I had picked myself up a couple of times from the floor, I began to consider the event he describes in this piece. You could not write this as fiction; people would simply dismiss it, in a novel, as "not real", yet it is. There are people like that out there in the world - sadly, some of them even become Prime Ministers and Presidents of Somewhere - ask Mr Blair!

Hilarious as it is, these earnest anarchists, well meaning though they might be, do a lot of harm in their espousal of "justice" and "causes" and never really cotton on to the fact that, if they were to succeeed, their extreme views and zealotry would create the sort of society that the Mujahedeen and the Ayatollahs have created in Afghanistan and Iran. It is these sorts of zealots too, who plague the search for workable solutions to the climate change problems we face.

Let's face it, they should be excluded from Higher Education on the grounds that they are far to intelligently stupid to be allowed to pursue it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:04 AM | Comments (1)

February 04, 2005

Reasonable force?

The argument that the government has advanced stating that the definition of "reasonable force" is a perfectly adequate protection for the householder defending his property is a blatant nonsense - especially in the hands of a jury whose vision of a home owner may well be a little biased by their visions of "Class War" and "freedom of expression."

The guidance now published by our Illustrious Leader and his barmy army in Whitehall, makes a number of interesting points. If the pictures which accompany it are to be believed, I can belt someone over the head with a cricket bat as long as he (or presumably also she!) is facing me. I cannot if they turn tail and run away! Similarly, I can hit them once only, twice is interpreted as "mailcious or vengeful!" Right, well, any b**s**d who breaks and enters my property will find himself or herself confronted by a descendent of a Norse Berserker! My problem is stopping myself - precisely because, in those far off days of doing defence training we were taught that if you put someone down - you make sure he/she stays there!

So, in terms of the guidance, I have a problem!

It really does come down to the manner in which the word reasonable is interpreted. The rarified atmosphere of a court room is very different to the atmosphere when you are confronting a burglar who may or may not be armed in one's own home. This is the same problem that many of our troops are now confronting - if they shoot someone who may be throwing stones or Molotov Cocktails at them - some smart lawyer will argue that they used "excessive" force in their response! The lawyer is, of course, never going to have to make this call with his troop of say 20 men surrounded by a stone-throwing mob of a thousand! It is presumptious, to say the very least, of any court, or any smart lawyer, to try to make that call years down the track and in possession of evidence that the person who made it in the first place did not have available at the time!

This is very much the same situation the householder will face in defending his or her actions during an assault on their property or person. The Prosecution, the Police, and the Court will be in possession of information which was simply not apparent or available to the Defendant at the time of the action taken.

The real problem is the interpretation of the word "reasonable". It used to mean whatever the man on the Clapham Bus would consider the action of a normal and sensible person. No longer; now it means whatever the latest smart lawyer has persuaded an often not so smart jury to accept as reasonable. No doubt the Police are afraid of having to manage a law which might be seen as giving people a "licence to kill", but their argument that the law is adequate as it stands is spurious - a fact born out by their continued pursuit of householders and victims while the assailants, burglars, and robbers go free. The householder is a much softer target - for one thing they know who he or she is, they have usually admitted taking whatever action they took and they stand exposed to whatever interpretation the Crown Prosecution Service cares to put on this.

The law will have to be changed; this panacea remedy put out by the Whitehall idealists will simply not prove, like most of this "guidance", to be any use other than as an emergency supply of paper in the smallest room in most households. I hope the paper is appropriate to this use!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:53 AM

February 03, 2005

Redefining terrorists

Each time our "Human Rights" lobby gets up and starts to sound off these days I experience something of a failure of reality. If I understand these people correctly, we, the British taxpayers, must pay benefits to and harbour terrorists in our midst, because, if they were returned to their homelands, "they would be subject to torture or abuse and possible the death penalty". If one dares to ask why, you may be told that this is because "they are accused of having committed acts of terror or murder!" The fact that they got out ahead of the law, and now cannot be extradited because of our having signed up to a piece of paper the lobbyists seem to think came down from Mount Sinai after being blasted into stone tablets that proclaims that no one should be subjected to the threat of torture or "unnatural or inhuman treatment", our courts feel that we should provide shelter.

My reaction to this is probably unChristian, but it is human. These people have placed themselves outside the law. By committing acts of murder in pursuit of their political or religious aims, they have shown their contempt for it, yet they now hide behind it in another country while denigrating their host's culture, political structure, and even the majority religion - yet they are untouchable because they are "refugees" from persecution. Thus Britian is saddled with some of the most evil men alive, and we cannot do anything with or to them! Even the four returned to these shores from Guantanamo Bay have had to be released. Why? Because the most compelling evidence against them is "tainted" in the eyes of their lawyers and the lunatic British legal system because the US Jailers will stand accused of using "mental torture" to get information from them.

This is the same legal system that is prepared to spend over £10,000 to prosecute a woman for driving with a small apple in her hand and accuse her of "not being in full control of her car". Similarly, in another case a large amount was spent to prosecute another motorist who drove through a puddle and splashed a policeman. But it can't deal with a bunch of terrorists living off our backs and working with the enemies of democracy to bring about its downfall. Not until one of them actually makes a bomb and blows up a police station or a shopping mall - or incites his followers to attack a Christian church or others for their faith.

Even then I suspect that there would be a stampede of Human Rights lawyers to defend the guilty and to argue that the police had framed them, beaten them, or in some way denied them justice. To hell with their thousands of victims scattered across the globe - including the many gullible and stupid young men and women who strap bombs to themselves fueled by the hatred of these evil men.

It is time to change this ridiculous law and treat those who have killed and maimed in their own countries with the same regard that they show for their victims. Send them back to whoever has a warrant for them - and let them face the justice of their own lands. We are not the arbiters of law outside our own boundaries, and we should not presume to be.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:14 PM | Comments (1)

February 02, 2005

Fire tragedy

In the early hours of this morning two young firefighters of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service gave their lives in a fire in a high rise block of flats in Stevenage, Herts. Their names have not been released as the families are still coming to terms with their loss, but neither young man had more than four years in the service. Two fire fighters and one other person have died, several more are injured and in hospital, and over seventy people had to be evacuated from the building.

Every uniformed and disciplined service has its tragedies, and the fire and rescue services are no exception, the UK services are perhaps more fortunate than most in that we do not lose many in this way. Sadly, though, there are always circumstances and situations in which lives are at risk, and can be lost. Let us hope that these deaths are not a result of any of the "modernisation" dreamed up in the Ivory Towers of Whitehall and implemented locally, frequently by newly appointed "civilian" managers who cannot connect "strategic" decisions with their impact on "operational" policy, tactics, and tasks.

I ask your prayers for the bereaved, both families and colleagues, and your prayers and support for all those affected by this tragedy.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:53 PM | Comments (1)

Supporting friends

There are many ways we can support our friends, even when we are not in the same continents, countries, or sometimes hemispheres. Today a fellow blogger and reader of this blog among many others, is undergoing major surgery, having been diagnosed with a cancerous tumour just before Christmas. Your thoughts and prayers for her at this time and through today will be very much appreciated and helpful to her.

She is a very generous person with her time, and her loyalty and dedication to her friends and acquaintances is phenomenal, so let's all make sure we spare a thought and a prayer for her today. I don't want to embarass her by name, but I am sure that many of you will already know who I am referring to! The surgery is to be quite radical and will involve a lot of pain, discomfort, and a degree of disfigurement, all of which must be dealt with alongside the ongoing treatment which will take its own toll. Your ongoing thoughts and prayers will be very important to her over the coming days and weeks. Even if you do not know the name of the person, it all helps.

As John Donne said in his famous meditation, "No man is an island, entire of itself. We are all part of the whole....", and this is especially true as soon as we know someone or have worked or shared something of ourselves with them.

Pray, my friends and readers, for all who today face pain, disfigurement, bereavement, ongoing illness, or lengthy recuperation from illness. Everyone prayed for does receive spiritual help, even when we do not like the answer that help may bring.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:55 AM | Comments (1)

Something for the Crossword fanatics

This week saw the 65th anniversary of the first Crossword Puzzle to be published in "The Times". It was published on the 1st February, 1940 - according to my radio station - but I will admit that I thought it had been earlier.

I will also admit that I have never been able to crack the code on these and generally avoid them like the plague. Only once have I succeeded in getting one out correctly and completely and that was because all the clues were historical and I could spot the pattern! Still, it gives a lot of people lots of fun, and there is even a fancy name for those who do Crossword Puzzles for amusement. The fact that I cannot recall it should tell you the level of my commitment to the "sport" of crossword solving!

"Oh, Tempora, oh Mores" as Flanders and Swann once proclaimed translating that as "Oh Times, Oh, Daily Mirror." Sadly both now shadows of their former selves!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:46 AM | Comments (1)

February 01, 2005

We're all doomed?

I apologise for my quote from "Dad's Army" and the cadaverous Private whose response to evry impending threat was the cry - "we're arl dooomed!" - but having watched another doom-laden analysis of the planet's attempts to rid itself of us, I feel it's appropriate!

There can't be much happening on the news front at the moment, or the disasterous tsunami has triggered a wave of doom laden documentaries to amuse some and frighten everyone else. It's a wonder we have survived this long if you consider that there are at least four "super volcanoes" just waiting to blast us into oblivion, the entire Western slope of one of the Canary Islands is teetering on the brink of collapsing into the sea and creating a tsunami that would make the one that hit Aceh and the surrounding area look like a splash in a paddling pool, the atmosphere is about to become saturated with Carbon Dioxide, the rain forests are dissappearing, and the deserts increasing their area, while the polar ice sheets melt. It seems that no matter what we do, or try to do, someone, somewhere has a potentially doom-laden scenario to run at us. All that is missing so far is a rogue comet or asteroid, and I have no doubt that someone will find one soon enough.

On the tsunami front, it seems to have dropped from most news channels altogether even though the death toll is still rising and has now topped 280,000 with the Aceh figure standing at 240,000 on its own. The US Carrier task group centred on the USS Abraham Lincoln is still there, as are the Australians, and the small British Group with the USS Bonhomme Richard and her group at Sri Lanka, but, as the shouting and the tumult of the early days has died, so too has the interest of the media.

This is, in part, the problem with trying to get a grip on what is happening as our climate changes. It is only news if it will attract a reaction, if it will sell newspapers, as one cynical editor put it. It does not help when you are looking at something which has a much longer timescale which has nothing to do with human attention span or the famous 30 second soundbite culture of the mass media. When it comes to global change, the issue is much, much more complex and simply cannot be addressed in soundbites! Is it a natural cycle and are we doomed, or is something else at work here. In part, the earth is a "living" organism in the sense that it has changed dramatically in the last couple of million years and is still changing. In purely geological terms we have been here hardly any time at all, so we actually have a bigger problem in that it is really only in the last couple of hundred years that we have even begun to fully analyse the way the planet works, never mind find solutions for any of the questions we raise every time we find an answer to any problem we have managed to identify.

A good example was the giant "Ecosphere" experiment a few years ago which was supposed to be totally isolated from the rest of the planet for three months and be a "self-sustaining environment". It failed spectacularly within weeks - because the designers simply had not fully appreciated the complexity of the interactions between ourselves, the plants, and the animals in the sphere. Seriously, this is something that will have to be resolved before we can attempt manned interplanetary exploration on any serious scale, and it is something we will have to get to understand if we are to find solutions to the problems we currently face, whether these are the result of human activity or not. The whole is far too complex to be corrected by simplistically addressing one aspect only.

As I said in my earlier post "Crying Wolf", I suspect that the problem for all parties in the debate at this point is that far too often the cry of "we're all doomed" has gone up with the intention of stirring up activity, but it has now been overused to the point of derision. This is not productive, and it will not serve to get the problem sorted out. Nor will the entrenched positions of the many well-intentioned lobby groups who seek to vilify those who disagree with their particular vision of the problem.

If we are to find a solution, it must be a carefully and scientifically based analysis which can then give rise to a supportable and sustainable programme to which everyone can sign up. Let us stop wasting time bickering and grasping at short term fixes which may, in the long term, prove to be disasterous. We should not forget, either, that, in part, the rapid change in the planetary heating in the last 20 years has been a result of action to reduce acid rain. Less Sulphur Dioxide has meant that the clouds are no longer as white as earlier in the 20th Century - ergo; they do not reflect away the heat radiating from the sun as effectively as before. Sure, we don't have the acid rain, but now we have the heating.

We must not, in solving that problem, create another worse one!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:35 AM