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March 31, 2006

The most intelligent Europeans

A study published by Richard Lynn from the University of Ulster has brought it to light: Germans are the most intelligent people of Europe! With an average IQ of 107 the Germans beat the Dutch (107) and Poles (106). The Swedes follow close enough (104) and then the British (100). There's already a considerable gap between British and French (94). The last three places are held by Romanians, Turks and Serbs.

Professor Lynn says that the colder climate in Northern and Central Europe favoured the volume growth of brains in these areas. (That instantly reminded me of Terry Pratchett's Trolls whose brains work much better inside than outside a freezer.) Another point he makes is that his findings also explain why the British could always beat the French over the centuries: according to him it is a simple law of history that the army with the higher IQ always wins. Except, of course, if the more intelligent army is hopelessly outnumbered, as the Germans were during WWII.

The fact that Richard Lynn published another study last year in which he stated that men are more intelligent than women lets me hesitate to readily believe his new findings. I do not think that there is a direct link between intelligence in terms of IQ and success. An IQ test usually only measures cognitive abilities. But especially when we deal and interact with other people in our career we need additional skills for success.

One of the most important is probably "emotional intelligence" a term that became popular in the early 90's. Emotional intelligence is

  • the capacity to accurately perceive emotions
  • the capacity to use emotions to facilitate thinking
  • the capacity to understand emotional meanings
  • the capacity to manage emotions.
  • Emotional intelligence will eventually enable you to read, be sensitive to, and influence other people's emotions, and also to enter and sustain satisfactory interpersonal relationships. Now I wonder - where does influence stop and manipulation begin?

    Posted by Mausi at 07:30 PM | TrackBack

    March 30, 2006

    Moderate voices of Islam

    Yes, there are some out there - more than one would think, and certainly at least as many as there are Christian's who are not of a fundamentalist mindset. I recently discovered a piece on this written by The Anchoress which sets out a very clear and well thought through discussion on the question of wither Islam and the West?" She has quoted extensively from the original source, but that is good since it provides a most interesting insight into the debate that is happening inside Islam, and an even better proposal for how we can and should all help those within the Islamic fold to regain the high ground of their faith from the Ayatollahs and terrorists.

    At the risk of being accused of being a "Link W***e" I will include another to a separate post which highlights the debate surrounding the Abdul Rahman saga. In case you missed it, Abdul Rahman is a convert to Christianity from Islam and currently faces execution (despite official "pardon") from his former faith because of this. Theose within Islam who feel that their religion is being turned into a monster need all the help they can get to bring to an end the sort of scene reported from Afghanistan when Mr Rahman was first placed on trial, to quote -

    On Monday, hundreds of clerics, students and others chanting “Death to Christians!” marched through the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif…

    As long as the fundamentalist wing of any religion have that sort of power we are at risk of a re-introduction of totalitarianism in its worst form.

    We, in the West, often argue that Islam must be reformed. To do so is to misunderstand the question and to completely misunderstand the principles of Islam. As The Anchoress has said, we may be well intentioned, but we are often acting in ignorance on this issue. What is needed is support for those who understand their faith and need to take it back from the extremists who currently have such a wide influence over it. Her original source stated -

    Man has always come to the assistance of man. The Helpers of Medina to the migrants of Mecca; Indians to the Pilgrims; Ottomans to the Sephardigm; Albanian Muslims to the Jews of Europe. There are men and women in the West who wish to be of assistance to us. So what if they sometimes say things that you find offensive or incorrect. To correct them by way of friendship is much better than to sneer at them. We must judge them, not by their ancestors’ history, but by their love of the oppressed. We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many Mukhtaran Mai? We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many tyranny? We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many Bin Laden? One too many 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, and Aksari Shrine and Shia massacre and Baha’i jailing and Jew-baiting. One too many Bamiyan Buddhas. One too many novelists accused. One too many suicides.

    A sentiment I am very much in accord with. Blood has always called out for blood, so any bloodshed will simply lead to yet more bloodshed. Surely we, as Christians can understand that? Look only to our own "Reformation" which saw Catholics burning Protestants and Protestants burning Catholics, witches and anyone else who disagreed with whatever they felt was the "true" path. No one wants to see a repeat of this sort of approach, least of all in a region renowned for its volatility! Islamic fundamentalism is currently a problem for Islam in much the same way that the Inquisition was a problem for all Christians in the 15th to 18th Centuries. It was eventually put out of business by the rise of moderate voices and the realisation that our Gospel preached something very different to what the Inquisition was doing. So with Islam, there are voices and minds that are much more "enlightened" and "moderate" and they deserve our help in reclaiming their faith from the men of political ambition and violence who use it as a weapon in a war about power and wealth and which has nothing whatesoever to do with faith or religion at all.

    Three cheers for a voice of moderation, now let's see what we can offer to help them!

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

    March 29, 2006

    An interesting little dilemma - and a serious case of sloping shoulders!

    It is supremely ironic that, in a country where we make a huge song and dance about extraditing criminals and terrorists to any country where they may face the death penalty or be subjected to what our civil liberties mob call "torture", we have shipped a man off to face a death penalty for his conversion from one religion to another. That "compassion" and "human right" to be given freedom from fear of "unnatural punishment" does not apparently apply to anyone who is under threat of death for changing his or her religion. The case in point is an Afghan man named Abdul Rahman, born in Afghanistan and raised as a Muslim, he converted to Christianity.

    That is a crime for which the sentence is death under Muslim Sharia Law. It is not negotiable and not transmutable. Apostasy equals death - literally. Even foreswearing on one's conversion and reverting to Islam still leaves you facing other penalties.

    So, when Mr Rahman fled to Britain and claimed asylum you would think that he would be afforded our much vaunted protection from injustice and "cruel and unusual punishment". You'd be wrong. After considering the case, our Whitehall Wankers decided that he wasn't under any such threat - and sent him back to Afghanistan to face the music. Not a murmur from Mrs Blair-Booth or any of the other members of the horde of "Civil Rights" campaigners. As for our Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the arch Apostate in all religions, Mr Straw, let us just say that he has lived up to his name and proved himself to be worthy of it in every respect.

    The result was predictable, Mr Rahman was arrested on his return to Afghanistan and charged with Apostasy. It has taken the combined efforts of the US and a host of other national leaders to compel the Afghan President to make the court drop the case - but that does not necessarily mean the Mr Rahman is home free. He still faces the prospect of being hunted down and killed by any fanatic prepared to act on a fatwah issued against him by any Mullah who fancies making an example of him. He also faces the prospect of being declared insane by members of his family - citing as proof his conversion - and he will spend the rest of his life locked away in a lunatic asylum. Death by beheading would probably be preferable.

    Is Whitehall in any way contrite about this situation? Of course not, it is, as ever, the "Rules" that made them do it. Nothing to do with us, we simply followed "The Rules". I seem to remember that plea being rejected at certain trials held in Nuremberg between 1945 and 1947. It was rejected then and it should be rejected utterly now.

    If anything happens to Mr Rahman the Civil Servants and the Ministers involved should be charged with his murder. They simply cannot argue that they could not have known this would happen, they were fully aware - and still sent the man home. His "crime" in the eyes of Whitehall was undoubtedly his conversion to Christianity - that seems to be a crime punishable by death even in this country these days. Anyone of any "minority" persuasion engaged in real crime can expect the full protection of our law - but not if you are a Christian.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:06 PM | TrackBack

    Unwilling self-negation

    A most interesting blog from the Islamic side of the debate and one I will be watching in future.


    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:57 AM | TrackBack

    The Anchoress

    A most interesting blog and an interesting name - an Anchoress was a title used in the medieval church to designate a holy woman who often lived in seclusion - Julian of Norwich was one such - and lived for prayer and the study of faith. I like this lady's writing and I like her philosophy!


    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:41 AM | TrackBack

    March 28, 2006

    Labour melt down?

    Recently Mr Blair has been in the spotlight over a little matter of undeclared "loans" from some of his chums who, no doubt, thought they might get a mention in an Honours List. Well, they didn't and now Mr Blair stands exposed, looking a little less than saintly despite his attempts to distract us.

    I will confess that neither he, nor the Party he leads, are top of my favourite people lists, so I am not sorry to see them exposed in this way for the deceitful and dishonest bunch they are. It really is time they were pushed, waiting for them to go voluntarily simply will not do. As is the usual procedure now with this dishonest party, they are now desperately trying to cover their tracks by throwing mud at everyone else. Give the LibDems their due - they are open about their donors and bankers, the Conservatives are less so. The real problem for all of them is that the donors frequently don't want to be known to be supporters of one party or another -and sometimes even support more than one!

    For Labour though, the crisis this has provoked runs deeper than mere money - although the news that they are having to make Party workers redundant and may even have to sell off their Walworth Road and the recently acquired Kensington office buildings to balance the books shows just how desperately dishonest and determined to cling to power they are. No wonder Blair immediately made a play for the public purse! Considering that they rented the former HQ of a government department for the first seven or so years they were in power at a peppercorn rent (until people started to ask awkward questions) perhaps it is also time to demand that they pay back to the public purse the difference between what they paid and what they should have paid on that rent. After all, the "rental" terms amounted to a public subsidy of one political party - which is both illegal and dishonest!

    Perhaps the best thing that is emerging from this is that, as Blair loses his grip, the party is once more showing all its natural internal divides. This is what kept them out of power for twenty years - their inability to all sit at the same table and sing from the same song sheet. If Blair is to be credited with anything, it must be that he has employed the same tactics that Lenin and Stalin used to bring the party under control. He simply did not allow dissent. His MP's all were fitted with pagers (electronic tags as the other parties dubbed them) and he ensured that any MP who broke ranks was disciplined by the party. It didn't always work, but it has kept him in power for far longer than he or his bankrupt cabinet deserved. Of course, he didn't have the same option for dissenters that Lenin and Stalin enjoyed - a visit by the Secret Police and an extended vacation in the Siberian Gulags, but his threats and bullying have worked fairly well on the whole.

    As his grip weakens though, more and more rebels are emerging and, surprise, surprise, all the Old Labour baggage with them. Class War, Selective and Private Education, Private Savings, Pensions and Health are all now in their sights. Brown, the "Heir Apparent" has already shown himself adept at robbing peoples savings and pensions so we know where this will go under his leadership. Hopefully the latest crisis in the Health Service and the paucity of the plans for education (basically dumb it down even more .... and destroy anything that might produce real learning or achievement!) will now begin to penetrate through the electorates collective consciousness.

    We live in hope I suppose!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 27, 2006

    Getting sidetracked ...

    It's been my turn to write for the blog yesterday but somehow I got sidetracked... I have to admit I had a lot of fun all afternoon and I thought you might like to share it with me.

    By now it has probably transpired that I am sort of fascinated by numbers. So I got easily hooked by a brain teaser I found in the newspaper: a Kakuro puzzle.

    Kakuro puzzle

    The rules sound easy: you fill in numbers between 1 and 9 so that the sum of the digits in each row or column equals the number given in the appropriate grey boxes. For example, first row on the left: 14 could be 9+4+1 or 8+5+1 or 7+5+2 etc. You are not allowed to use one the same digit twice for a sum. Sounds dead easy, but I assure you it isn't.

    Have a go yourself if you like - I wish you a pleasant time.

    Posted by Mausi at 04:55 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    March 26, 2006

    Talking to God ....

    Many of us ramble through the Lord's Prayer daily, sometimes more than once a day and I often catch myself saying the words with my mind actually elsewhere! I thought about this recently when a friend sent me the item I have shoved into the extended post below - a conversation with God based around the Lord's Prayer. It is quite light hearted but there is a serious message underlying it.

    Do we really think about what we pray for? Do we actually expect God to listen - or, indeed, to answer?

    I think most of us would be seriously afraid if we did hear His voice filling our minds and our ears - and society would almost certainly send round the men in white coats to take you away - but God does listen and he does answer - and sometimes, in the stillness He speaks to us as well. Perhaps the simple answer to the age old conundrum posed by the challenge that to follow Christ we must become as children does not mean that we must be childish in our beliefs and expectations of God, but that we must accept, as a child does, that He will give us all the we need - which may not necessarily be all that we want.

    We need to, to remember that it is a two way street. A conversation with God. Do we show Him the courtesy of listening to His comments? We should.

    Our Father Who Art In Heaven.


    Don't interrupt me. I'm praying.

    But -- you called ME!

    Called you? No, I didn't call you. I'm praying.

    Our Father who art in Heaven.....

    There -- you did it again!

    Did what?

    Called ME.

    You said,
    "Our Father who art in Heaven" Well, here I am. What's on your mind?

    But I didn't mean anything by it. I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day. I always say the Lord's Prayer. It makes me feel good, kind of like fulfilling a duty.

    Well, all right. Go on.

    Okay, Hallowed be thy name .

    Hold it right there. What do you mean by that?

    By what?

    By "Hallowed be thy name"?

    It means, it means . . good grief, I don't know what it means. How in the world should I know? It's just a part of the prayer. By the way, what does it mean?

    It means honoured, holy, wonderful.

    Hey, that makes sense.
    I never thought about what 'hallowed' meant before. Thanks.

    Thy Kingdom come,
    Thy will be done,
    on earth as it is in Heaven.

    Do you really mean that?

    Sure, why not?

    What are you doing about it?

    Doing? Why, nothing, I guess. I just think it would be kind of neat if you got control, of everything down here like you have up there. We're kinda in a mess down here you know.

    Yes, I know; but, have I got control of you?

    Well, I go to church.

    That isn't what I asked you. What about your bad temper? You've really got a problem there, you know. And then there's the way you spend your money -- all on yourself. And what about the kind of books you read?

    Now hold on just a minute! Stop picking on me! I'm just as good as some of the rest of those people at church!

    Excuse ME. I thought you were praying for my will to be done.If that is to happen, it will have to start with the ones who are praying for it. Like you -- for example.

    Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups.Now that you mention it, I could probably name some others.

    So could I.

    I haven't thought about it very much until now, but I really would like to cut out some of those things. I would like to, you know, be really free.

    Good. Now we're getting somewhere.We'll work together -- You and I. I'm proud of You.

    Look, Lord, if you don't mind, I need to finish here. This is taking a lot longer than it usually does.

    Give us this day, our daily bread.

    You need to cut out the bread. You're overweight as it is.

    Hey, wait a minute! What is this? Here I was doing my religious duty, and all of a sudden you break in and remind me of all my hang-ups.

    Praying is a dangerous thing. You just might get what you ask for.
    Remember, you called ME -- and here I am. It's too late to stop now.
    Keep praying. ( . . pause . . ) Well, go on.

    I'm scared to.

    Scared? Of what?

    I know what you'll say.

    Try ME.

    Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

    What about Ann?

    See? I knew it!

    I knew you would bring her up! Why, Lord, she's told lies about me, spread stories. She never paid back the money she owes me. I've sworn to get even with her!

    But -- your prayer -- What about your prayer?

    I didn't -- mean it.

    Well, at least you're honest.

    But, it's quite a load carrying around all that bitterness
    and resentment isn't it?

    Yes, but I'll feel better as soon as I get even with her.

    No, you won't feel any better.

    You'll feel worse. Revenge isn't sweet. You know how unhappy you are -- Well, I can change that.

    You can? How?

    Forgive Ann.

    Then, I'll forgive you; And the hate and the sin, will be Ann's problem -- not yours. You will have settled the problem as far as you are concerned.

    Oh, you know, you're right. You always are. And more than I want revenge, I want to be right with You . . (sigh). All right . all right . . I forgive her.

    There now! Wonderful! How do you feel?
    Hmmmm. Well, not bad. Not bad at all! In fact, I feel pretty great!
    You know, I don't think I'll go to bed uptight tonight. I haven't been getting much rest, you know.

    Yeah, I know. But, you're not through with your prayer are you? Go on.

    Oh, all right.

    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

    Good! Good! I'll do that. Just don't put yourself in a place where you can be tempted.

    What do you mean by that?

    You know what I mean.

    Yeah. I know.

    Okay. Go ahead. Finish your prayer.

    For Thine is the kingdom,
    and the power,
    and the glory forever.

    Do you know what would bring me glory -- What would really make me happy?

    No, but I'd like to know. I want to please you now. I've really made a mess of things.I want to truly follow you. I can see now how great that would be. So, tell me . . .

    How do I make you happy?

    YOU just did.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:05 AM | TrackBack

    March 25, 2006

    Islamic view of Christianity and the future of Britain ...

    Found this comment from a prominent member of the Islamic community on Dodgeblogium and it certainly made me sit up straight. Here, out in the open, is the vision of the followers of Islam for the future of Britain. I quote from Dr Abdalqadir as-Sufi himself -

    Join with good-will, to show your fellow British that we are different and we have a higher religion, itself the completion and cleansing of christianity, and that we bring good news to our country and our future.

    The quote is taken from a lengthy piece on his website - and it is worth reading as it is very revealing - urging other Muslims to join the Conservative Party. So, that is the cunning plan, having infiltrated and converted the Labour Party to be a puppet of Islamic thought and turn it against all things Christian, our good solid British Islam followers are now going to do the same to the Conservatives. History repeats itself - this is how Byzantium was overcome in the 12 - 15th Centuries. This - and the concept that all non-Musilims are "Dhimmi" and cannot be allowed to hold positions in authority over Muslims - is how Christianity has been suppressed across the Middle East and in all Muslim countries. Take note Britain, this is where secularism and pandering to the demands of the militant proselytising of Islam will lead this nation all too quickly.

    Two rays of hope shine out of this darkness, firstly the revelation that Islamic "Schools" are hotbeds of child abuse, and secondly, the Law Lord's rejection of a high profile case brought by a Muslim girl demanding the right to dictate what was appropriate wear for attendance at school. She demanded the right to wear the full veil and shapeless gown to hide herself from the world, saying that this allowed her to "take back her body and her sex from the malicious eyes of males" and our own beloved PM's wife defended her. The Law Lord's have thankfully seen through the stupidity of their case and rejected it, hopefully paving the way for further reduction of the imposition of other extreme Islamic practices and views being imposed on us all.

    I have to say that I found myself agreeing with the Doctor's summation of Blair and his government and of one or two other rather pithier comments on the political state of Britain. I cannot and never will agree with his summation of the West as "unenlightened" and I will certainly never see Islam as being superior in any way to Christianity. Christ was the Word, not the bearer of a word.

    I hope that the Conservatives resist the view expressed by the good Doctor, whose name - as-Sufi - should warn of his position in the theological debate, and make a stand for absorption and tolerance rather than the dominant position awarded by their Labour colleagues to these views.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:07 PM | TrackBack

    March 24, 2006

    New gender discovered ......

    It has been drawn to the Monk's attention that medical science has identified a new human gender. Apparently medics in the delivery room now look at a new born infant and can identify the child's gender in one of three classifications.

    The now tell the excited parents: "It's not a boy, it's not a girl - it's a civil servant!"

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Council vacancy

    A blog called the Watcher of Weasels runs an interesting council - thirteen members in number - who watch other blogs and commentators and comment on the entires on a weekly basis. They have rules of conduct and there are, as you would expect, requirements for the submission of items for their consideration. I do occassionally wander over there to see what has got a mention and once even got a nomination for their roundup.

    They now have a vacancy on Council and are inviting applications. The rules for Council members are fairly strict and I suspect will need a bit more time than I can give. But it would be fun.

    If you have a yen to try for it try the link. Good luck.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:11 PM | TrackBack

    March 23, 2006

    Hostage rescue

    The good news today is that the hostages, taken in Baghdad some months ago - ironically all "peaceniks" and some at least ex-CND - have been released. Equally ironically in an operation lead and executed by an elite unit whose existence is in itself the stuff of legend - and the very antithesis of what the hostages where in Baghdad to protest about.

    This is, I suppose, one of the supreme ironies of a "free" society. We are free to decry and denigrate the armed forces and any other "militaristic" service, but when we are in the swamp and the crocodiles start to close in, it is those very people that we expect to put their lives on the line to save us from our own folly. I hope that the hostages will consider carefully their future actions and the impact these may have on our troops and on the future safety of our entire nation. It is one thing to place yourself in harms way on a point of principle, it is another entirely to expect someone to rescue you from the jaws of death at the risk of their own wellbeing and safety when your own folly has placed you there.

    I salute the brave men and women of the armed forces who have pulled off this coup against the terrorists. I do not expect it to be the last such venture they will have to undertake, and I can only hope that any future missions go as flawlessly as this one.

    The motto of the regiment concerned is "Who dares, wins". It only tells a very small part of the whole story behind their success.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:28 PM | TrackBack

    Family friendly - not!

    Earlier this week there was a debate on a local BBC Radio station while I was doing my usual morning preparation to face the world. It concerned the allocation of children to school places by the Local Education Authority. Now this is a very sensitive issue, because, naturally, parents want their children to attend a good school, one which will give the child at least a running chance at a good education. The next criterion is almost always that it should be reasonably close to home, and, if there is more than one child in a family, that it should be the same school the other siblings attend.

    But, as ever when you let petty bureaucrats run things, it is never that simple. The Lord alone knows what criteria these rule ridden idiots follow, but it isn't commonsense. The debate centred around the fact that, this year, more than 20% of the families applying for places in the school of their choice have been allocated a place in another not of their choosing. Almost 70% of those are cases which separate children and place one in one school and one in another, frequently there is already an older child attending a school and the parents, not unreasonably, want their other child in the same school. But, apparently this is not a criterion for allocation according to the mealy mouthed idiot from the LEA!

    When the LEA representative was confronted with the fact that one brother has been allocated a place in a very good school in one part of the County and his younger brother has been allocated a place in another at the other side of the County, all he was prepared to say was that the LEA was only required in law to offer the parents a place in a school and that they were not obliged to take into consideration the presence of any siblings! The parent concerned pointed out that she has four children and will now have the joy of delivering each child to a different school - a round trip (at our present fuel prices and the taxman's cut!) of just over 24 miles each morning and each afternoon - thanks to the incompetent weasel in the LEA. This is not unique, it was the experience of my own family to have our three children distributed between schools, fortunately we did manage to argue a case to move one, but in any event it hardly helped as the Comprehensives to which they were allocated were, without exception, comprehensive failures at providing a balanced education or to meet their education needs.

    The present system of allocating schools by reference only to what is available and the absence of any consideration of a child's ability, family cohesion or parental wishes is a complete nonsense. It is beloved by the jobsworths who fill our burgeoning bureaucracy precisely because it gives them unlimited power over the lives of not only the next generation, but their parents as well. It is a system designed by socialist ideologues to ensure that all education is as mediocre as possible and to guarantee that they are never exposed to a generation better educated, more capable and more willing to exercise judgement than they are.

    In short, it is yet another example of how our education system is being run for the benefit of those who run it and for their paymasters, the political elite who can manipulate the system to their advantage. The rest of us have to take whatever they dish out and be grateful. So much for "Parental Choice".

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:47 AM | TrackBack

    March 22, 2006

    Spring has come - at last

    The sun is out every day now, the air has a new quality, even the crocuses have got the message this time and opened up at last.

    060320_spring11.jpg Poor little things have barely made it out of the earth this year.

    Because I have not been able to guard my garden very well this winter owing to the mountains of snow and the Siberian cold the other cats in the village seem to think they can now come and take a bath in the sunshine on MY patch.

    060320_spring01.jpg Look at that cat - strutting through my garden as bold as brass!
    060320_spring02.jpg Huh - a trespasser sneaking up along the fence!
    060320_spring03.jpg I can wait - surprise is the essence of attack!
    060320_spring06.jpg Here we go - belly down so we can pounce on that cheeky sod. He still hasn't seen me ...
    060320_spring07.jpg Full speed ahead - Aaatacke!
    060320_spring08.jpg And over the fence you go and don't you dare to come back - today!
    060320_spring09.jpg Any traces left? No. Good.
    060320_spring10.jpg Anyone else wants to have a go?

    It's hard a cat's life is!

    Posted by Mausi at 09:57 PM | TrackBack

    March 21, 2006

    Labour does love it's Terrorist chums ....

    According to the Sun Online - a link I found visiting Dodgeblogium - a Labour Peer (one of Tony's donors no doubt) has been extremely helpful to an al Qaeda sympathiser. Completely ignoring the security issues, Lord Ahmed invited a man with known al Qaeda sympathies arrested recently in a round up (much belated!) of terrorist suspects and gave him a personal tour of the Houses of Parliament. Nothing like the personal touch to help someone case the joint!

    Labour have always had a difficult blindspot when it comes to terrorists. They simply cannot shake off their love of anyone who opposes the US, the English Establishment, Capitalism or anything else that can be labelled conveniently as "working class struggle" for justice. Look at how many Labour supporters sport Che Guevarra badges, tee-shirts and other paraphenalia. When challenged they make excuses about "it's not about the man, it's about his ideals", completely ignoring that fact that this man was shunned by his supposed mentor Fidel Castro because even Dr Castro could see that Che was a psychopath! As for those other organisations, let's see - Pol Pot's little group (around 5 million dead), the Vietcong (something similar to Cambodia), dear old uncle Joe Stalin (30 million), Moa Tse Tung (anywhere between 30 and 50 million dead) the IRA ( probably small fry in the killing stakes, but whose counting?) the MPLA in Angola, the ANC in South Africa and dear Robert Mugabe's ZANU group in Zimbabwe. All at one time or another promoted and supported by Labour as being the best representatives for the "downtrodden masses".

    We should not be surprised that a Labour Peer has invited an al Qaeda supporter into the Palace of Westminster, we should be surprised that it has leaked this early. We should be even more surprised that Labour's Spin Machine isn't already trying to pin it on someone else!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:57 AM | TrackBack

    March 20, 2006

    Another blast from the past ...

    Going through my photo album the other day, I discovered this picture of a training crew from the 1970's drilling with a Merryweather Comet wheeled escape ladder at the station I spent a large part of my career at. These ladders were carried on the back of an applaince usually referred to as a "Pump/Escape" and weighed almost half a ton. They were incredible useful, being fifty feet in height fully extended, and very manoeuvrable.

    A drill crew prepare to extend the 50 foot wheeled escape.

    It took a four man crew to slip it from the carrying gear on the appliance and to "run" it to the position required. Once in position, the wheels could be "scotched" and the ladder extended, then the pitch altered to drop the "head" into the opening you wanted on the building. The head of the ladder was also steel "shod" and this could be used to "run" the extended ladder into the window, smashing out the frame and glass so that you could affect a rescue.

    One of the drills practiced with it - and one of the reasons almost everyone's building regulations require internal risers in a building above 60 feet in overall height, was the "extension" of this ladder by securing a "first floor" ladder to it's head by lashings! Quite an art, but very effective. This gave the fire service an overall "reach" for fire fighting from a ladder of - you guessed it - 60 feet! Not many people, least of all our wonderful civil servants who write the Building Codes, realise that we no longer use these ladders and the 60 feet benchmark is no longer valid as a result - it should be much lower!

    Ah, the fun we had with these ladders! Many are the stories of them being chased by a crew who had let it "run away" while drilling on a slope - or, even better, had lost one off an appliance en route to a "shout".

    Those were the days!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 19, 2006

    Sunday thoughts ....

    My new "ministry" as Church Warden has meant that, over the last year, I have not had that much opportunity to preach. This Sunday is, however, and exception to that and I have some interesting readings to work with! Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments, St Paul to the Corinthians on the "foolishness of God" and from St John's Gospel, Jesus in the Temple predicting that he will rise again in three days. Find a link in that!

    My final effort can be found in the extended post below!

    + May the words in my mouth,
    on my lips,
    and in my heart
    be inspired by the Holy Spirit


    “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods but me.”

    Our lessons today give us an interesting insight into how God has interacted with His people across the ages. In Exodus, we hear of the giving of the Ten Commandments, the foundation of our legal system today – and the foundation of many others. In Corinthians we hear of the “foolishness” of God and how even God’s foolishness exceeds all the wisdom of creation – His creation. And in our Gospel reading we hear how Christ overthrew the money changers and expelled them from the temple, cleansing the Temple in preparation for His death, and resurrection.

    John’s gospel places this story right at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and identifies it with the celebration of the Passover. Clearly it was an incident that lodged firmly in John’s mind at least for he says

    “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.”

    To which his hearers respond in anger and shock, after all, at this time the temple had been undergoing construction – a bit like the Abbey it seems – for forty six years and was still not fully completed. Jesus is, of course, referring to the resurrection to come and not to the physical task of constructing the Temple – a point not understood by his hearers until after his passion according to John’s account. Looking at the gospel we have today read, you do not find the account of the Passion until you reach Chapter 18, so John is here trying to give his readers an indication of the Godhead of Christ at an early point in the initial ministry.

    So what of the “foolishness of God”?

    To the many who heard and followed Christ on his journey through ministry and to the cross and death on a barren hill, much of his teaching must have seemed interesting, but not terribly practical. A problem we face today as we try to apply the Gospel principles in a world that imposes secularism on faith, ignores the concept of the Sabbath and insists on making every day a working day so that the “shareholders” can be rewarded by profits and which strives to divorce the concepts of morality, justice and forgiveness from the divine and make them functions subject to human foible. Jesus spoke to a world like ours, multi-cultural, multi-faith and ruled by a secular government. His message of salvation was probably not what his hearers expected or wanted – after all the Messiah was supposed to be the son of the greatest Jewish King – David. Surely he should at the very least have come among them to impose a new religious purity, a rule of religious law and perhaps even a purely Jewish and religiously inspired earthly government. But instead, He chose to die upon a cross, at the hands of foreigners, so that all might have life and have it more abundantly. Foolishness indeed, to expect to conquer the Roman oppressor by allowing them to crucify the messenger!

    Yet that is precisely what John and Paul are telling us He came to do, and the triumph that arose from the empty tomb is the essence of our faith and hope in Christ. Foolishness indeed.
    To the world death is an enemy, to the Christian it is the gate to life – God’s weakness as Paul describes it, becomes God’s greatest strength.

    “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

    Lent is a time of expectation and preparation. We go forward in the expectation of the celebration of Easter, and we go forward preparing ourselves for the ministry ahead as Christ did in the wilderness. Thos who have walked in a wilderness will know that they are never empty, there are always sounds, always bushes or scrub, there are scents, of heat, of dry vegetation, of animals that have been. Insects buzz, the wind sighs – in many ways a good place to listen to God in the silences between the sound, and in the silence within our own hearts. Seek the wilderness and the wild places and do not be afraid of what you may encounter, strength and understanding arise from making the space and the time to go there and to try to hear what God is saying in the stillness and quiet.

    St John tells us that Jesus “did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in man.”

    In preparing for Easter, we need to ensure that we have those things in our hearts, minds and lives which are acceptable to God and do not shut out the sacrifice of Christ or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If God’s foolishness exceeds our wisdom, how can we not follow where He leads us?

    He has given us the Law, he gave us the prophets, and finally he gave us himself. Can we, dare we, refuse so rich a gift?


    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 18, 2006

    Work interferes with pleasure .....

    This week the Monk has been under quite a workload, so he is, as ever, grateful to Mausi for filling the gaps! Things should quieten down again for a short while, but will probably get even more manic after Easter.

    Ce la vie - the mortgage must be paid!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:12 AM | TrackBack

    St Patrick for Ireland

    Yesterday was the Feast of St Patrick and those in New York, Sydney and a number of other cities with large populations who associate themselves most closely with the country he converted to Christianity, will have enjoyed a huge "bash" and probably have woken today to a bit of a hangover!

    Saint Patrick (or Padraig, Petroc and several other variants!) must have been a very interesting and forceful man in many ways. Legends tell us that he cursed all manner of people and things, from the tips of bullrushes (as a hayfever sufferer I do that regularly!) to snakes and other men and animals. Even some of the Kings were not proof against his wrath if the legends are to be believed. In fact, the legends make him out to be an almost fearsome figure, storming about the land smiting, cursing and seemingly always in a foul mood! Yet, these legends hardly accord with a man who has left such an indelible mark and whose contempories and disciples regarded with such affection and awe.

    In recent years almost everyone from John O'Groats to Land's End has tried to establish a claim to be his birthplace and we do know quite a bit about his early life from various sources, but primarily from the two surviving documents that can authentically be traced to him and his authorship - the "Confessio" and his letter to the Welsh King Caratacus. Born of well to do Christian parents, his grandfather a priest and his father a deacon, the young Patrick seems to have been a bit of a rebel. Captured in his early teens, presumably while being somewhere or doing something he should not have been/done, he was carried off to Ireland and sold into slavery somewhere in the North Western corner of the island. His journey into faith and to becoming possibly the most successful missionary in the Western hemisphere, makes a fascinating study.

    His successful escape from his slavery was largely due to his ability to work with and control the fierce dogs Ireland then exported to Europe as guard dogs - the huge Irish Wolfhounds of antiquity. Hounds which had a man killing reputation and which could take down wolves and defend any estate extremely effectively. The Vikings used them, the Gauls used them and they were even used in Byzantium and Rome itself.

    He was not the church's first choice as missionary Bishop, in his own words, being "most unlearned". The Holy See wanted someone with a less colourful and more learned background as it's ambassador to the Irish. However, the first missionary selected went and came swiftly back, opening the way for Patrick. He wasn't universally welcomed, indeed, many of Ireland's "Kings" made life very tough for him, but his sheer doggedness and his unfailing acceptance of whatever they did to him, threw at him and to his followers intrigued them, and eventually won their grudging admiration and finally their hearts. It certainly left a mark on the nation and his legacy is with us still.

    One does wonder though, what the Saint himself would have thought of the binges that usually mark his feast day outside of the island nation he won so surely for Christ.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 17, 2006

    Regula Stultorum (Fools' Rule)

    Regula Stultorum comes in quite handy if you want to multiply two numbers between 5 and 10 but can't remember the multiplication tables you've learnt by heart as a kid. Let's try for example 6 times 9. Raise as many fingers on each hand as the excess of each number above five and leave the others folded down. This should be 1 finger of your left and 4 fingers on your right hand. The raised fingers now represent the tens of the result, 5 x 10 = 50. The product of the fingers down on each hand gives 1 x 4 = 4. Therefore, the result of 6 x 9 = 50 + 4 = 54. Now try 7 x 7. That's two fingers up on each hand representing a value of 40. The multiplication of three fingers down on each hand is 3 x 3 = 9. So, 7 x 7 = 49. Dead easy, isn't it?

    When you have sorted out your fingers again try 6 x 6. At first sight this does not seem to work as the raised fingers represent a value of only 20! But of course four fingers down on each hand mean 4 x 4 = 16. Phew! And now the ultimate test: 5 x 10 = ?

    Believe it or not this system is still in use in some parts of the world, e. g. Syria, Palestine, Italy, Spain, southern France and southern Russia. Mathematically it is described by the following equation:

    (5 + a)(5 + b) = 10(a + b) + (5 - a)(5 - b)

    'a' and 'b' are the number of fingers we raise on each hand.

    If your fingers have got cramped during these exercises you can use a slightly different approach which is called the complementary method. It was quite popular in the 16th century and is based on the same principles as the Regula Stultorum.

    6   4         7   3
      X             X  
    9   1         7   3
    -------         -------
    5   4         4   9

    In the first column you write the numbers you want to multiply, 6 and 9 in the first example. The second column contains the difference of these numbers to ten. The tens are now found as the difference between either number and the >em>complement of the other number: (6 - 1) = (9 - 4) = 5. The unit digit is of course the product of the complements: 1 x 4 = 4. Not surprisingly the result is 54!

    Coming to think of it it's a real pity I never learnt these things at school. I certainly would have got a lot more fun out of my maths lessons than I actually did.

    Posted by Mausi at 09:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 16, 2006

    Where is spring?

    I tell you I am getting thoroughly fed up with this winter. It is the middle of March and we still have snow up here in the hills. Oh all right, not as much as on the photo below which was taken a couple of weeks ago but still a bit.


    This is I on my personal pathway.

    It helps of course to have a personal slave who clears a path for me in the garden so that I can walk around and reach my favourite places without getting my belly wet. But the ground is still frozen and icy cold. My poor paws! Last year we were all sunbathing at this time of the year at temperatures well over 20 degrees Celsius!

    Another thing is that I am moulting again. I frequently get told off by my people for generously leaving my hairs around the house. As if I did that on purpose. They are very enthusiastic about combing me every day (I am a European Short Hair, by the way, not a Persian) - you'd think they are trying to pluck an angora rabbit! I mean, they are not the ones that have to go outside in this flimsy fur coat!

    The meteorologists tell us it's spring since March 1. Ha - not even the crocuses up here have realised that. Anyway, meteorologists - one day they tell you about global warming, the next they say that that doesn't mean you are not getting real winters anymore. Because this year the clouds gathered up so much humidity over the warm Mediterranean that they shed huge amounts of snow when they met the cold Northern air at the North side of the alps. They also point out that all the water pouring into the Northern seas because of all the ice melting in the arctic is slowing down the Gulf stream that comes down at the English West coast. Watch out there - you might be in for a bit of a cold spell as well. So we have global warming but the winters are getting colder and more severe? I wish the meteorologists could make up their minds. But then I am only a cat, I do not need to understand humans.

    The only good thing about going outside for a few minutes is coming back to a warm and cosy place.


    Aaaaah - this feels good ....

    They tried to tell me that the black thing is a dust cover for a computer screen and not meant for cats. Nice try, folks, but I know it's just the perfect place for a cat to be dormant in ...

    Posted by Mausi at 08:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 15, 2006

    Turning a cocoa bean into something useful

    Cocoa was discovered by the Olmec an ancient people living in Southern Mexico between 1500 and 400 BC. They were the first to cultivate the cocoa tree. Already 600 BC hey were known for a drink called 'kakawa'. Cocoa beans made their first documented appearance in Europe at the court of Prince Philipp of Spain in 1544. But it still took a few hundred years to turn the cocoa beans into the delicious chocolate we know today

    The process of making chocolate bars is incredibly complex. The fruit of the cocoa tree is melonlike and between 10 to 30 cm long. Each fruit contains 30 - 50 cocoa beans, exactly the amount needed for a 100 g chocolate bar. After picking the fruits are opened and the beans taken out, spread in the open and covered by banana leaves. After a few hours a complex fermentation process starts. During the first 24 hours yeast cells decompose glucose to ethanol, afterwards lactobacilli take over and produce lactic acid. This reaction is exothermic (producing heat) and raises the temperature of the mixture to 37 degrees Celsius. This gives another type of bacteria the chance to have a go at the ethanol and lactic acid turning it into acetic acid. The temperature raises further to over 50 degrees Celsius and eventually the fermentation process stops. The beans are then dried in the open for about two weeks losing most of their lactic and acetic acid content during this time. Afterwards they are ready for shipping.

    During the fermentation process quite a number of 'aroma precursors' are formed. When the cocoa beans arrive at the chocolate plant they are roasted for 1-2 hours. The roasting lets the 'aroma precursors' react with sugars turning them into the characteristic chocolate flavours. Quite a number of complicated chemical processes take place during the roasting of the cocoa beans which I don't want to go into detail here. The result, however, are dark brown, lovely smelling cocoa beans.

    After the roasting the shells of the cocoa beans are removed and the beans are grounded. Then the natural fat of the beans, called cocoa butter, is extracted, leaving cocoa powder behind. In 1847 the English manufacturer Fry & Sons created the first chocolate bar from grounded cocoa beans, sugar and cocoa butter called 'Chocolat Délicieux à Manger'. Cocoa butter has a melting point between 34 to 38 degrees Celsius rendering chocolate a solid at room temperatur that readily melts in the mouth.

    The real step forward towards 'high quality' chocolate was made possible by the Swiss Rudolphe Lindt (1855-1909) who invented the 'conche'. The first conche was a device made of granite in which the grounded cocoa beans were kneaded together with other ingredients such as sugar and cocoa butter by two granite rollers. The friction was sufficient to heat up the mixture beyond its melting point. In the conche the cocoa bean particles are reduced to sizes below 20 microns. The tongue is not capable of detecting individual particles of this size. In other words: before the invention of Rudolphe Lindt chocolate felt like sand in your mouth.

    Besides reducing the size of the cocoa bean particles the conching process also coats the cocoa bean fragments with a layer of cocoa butter. Flavours from the cocoa beans diffuse into this fat layer thereby enhancing their effectiveness. Since the 1930's lecithin is also added during the conching process. Traces of lecithin reduce the viscosity of the chocolate considerably.

    Cocoa butter has a fascinating property: it is polymorphic, i.e. it crystallises in six different forms (I - VI) The chemical composition is always the same but the arrangement of the fat molecules in the crystal is different in each form. Gourmets will only accept chocolate of type V which is the only one that has a glossy surface, the right degree of hardness and melts in your mouth. Type VI is the thermodynamically most stable one but its surface is dull and its melting point at 36.3 degrees Celsius lets it only melt reluctantly in the mouth. If you keep type V too long or too warm it will eventually turn into type VI. Type VI is softer than type V reminding you of biting into a wax candle. The different types are achieved by heating and cooling the chocolate in the right way - another very complex process.

    Chocolate contains quite a few useful things like antioxidants and minerals. It does not contain cholesterol but a lot of sugar. After reading through all this I hope you are still able to enjoy your piece of chocolate now and then and perhaps will from now on also appreciate the work of countless scientists, engineers and manufacturers who put so much effort into turning the bitter tasting cocoa bean into this heavenly product...

    Posted by Mausi at 09:42 PM | TrackBack

    March 14, 2006

    Polish travels ....

    Another trip into history was the opportunity to visit Poland again last year, when we were treated to a trip through the Province of Poznan to see the sites associated with the first Polish Kings, crowned at Poznan and baptised at one of three possible sites near here. Another interesting site is that of Biskupin where there is a recreated wooden fortified village - reportedly the earliest such settlement associated with the Polish Kings in Poland.

    The Cathedral at Gniezno in Poland, one of the first Christian churches built to celebrate the conversion of Poland to Christianity in 994.

    King Mieszko I was the first of the Kings and it is he who converted to Christianity and was reputedly baptised at this island site - although both Poznan and Gniezno claim this honour as well. The whole area has played a very large part in the formation of the history of both the Polish nation and its people.

    Well worth another visit for me, and I can commend it to anyone else with an interest in the history of our European forebears and their road to our present civilisation.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 13, 2006

    Memories of a fun career .....

    This time last year I was among very good friends in Kentucky on a valuable and really useful "tutor exchange". I wish I was back there this year, but pressures of work prohibit it completely for the moment! Still, my thoughts are very much there as several of my friends are now busily engaged in delivering another of their excellent seminars in Richmond.

    The painting below is one that took my fancy when I was there for several reasons, not least that it reminded me of several fires during my early career, and of the apparatus that we then managed to do the job with. It was not unusual to see appliances with their "bonnets" (or in the US "hoods") raised in this way - if you were pumping for extended periods the engine needed all the cooling it could get!

    A painting of a fire scene in the late 1950's in the US, note the raised bonnet flaps - done to increase air movement and improve cooling on appliances that had no secondary cooling system fitted!

    While the painting is of a fire at least 20 years before my own career took off, there were still appliances like this one "on the run" until the late 1970's when diesel powered units gradually replaced the petrol engines we had used until then. One reason we were slow to adopt diesels where I worked was down to the fact that our pumps needed to run at a higher "speed" than the diesel engines then fitted to vehicles generally produced. This changed in the 1970's as more light weight diesel engines capable of higher speeds and quicker acceleration became available.

    The sight of a raised bonnet also became gradually less common as the appliances were fitted with secondary colling systems which had heat exchangers fitted to the gearbox oil, the sump and the radiator and diesel engines are generally cooler running than petrol units. Water for the secondary cooling comes from the fire pump while it is pumping and circulates through a closed loop system back to the pump where it is discharged as part of the hosestream.

    Altogether now - "Aaaah, those were the days ....."

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 12, 2006

    Memories of travels past ....

    It is now almost a year ago that I enjoyed a fabulous week with my good friends in Germany, including a day spent exploring short stretch of the Rhine. Searching through my "happy snaps" of that trip I came across this one of the famous Krone Hotel. Situated on the North Bank of the Rhine, it is located just downstream of the Mäuseturm situated near Bingen.

    The Krone Hotel with its almost fairy tale architecture.

    Wandering around the Rhine Palatinate area it is easy to see where the inspiration for a lot of the illustrators of the fairy tale books and children's cartoons got their inspiration. The castles perch high above the river on rocky outcrops, their towers rising like fingers and crowned with turrets. A beautiful area and one laden with history as the Rhine has been a highway for migration and commerce since human settlement began in Europe.

    There is so much more to explore that I think I will have to find ways to keep working simply to pay for more trips there!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:24 AM | TrackBack

    March 11, 2006

    Lifesaving mugging?

    An item on the news has caught my eye and my imagination. A 97 year old woman was attacked by a 17 year old who attempted to steal her hand bag. In the assault he flung her to the ground and made off causing her to lose her bag and to suffer some minor injuries. At the time of the attack he was high on cocaine and had been egged on to attack his victim by his "friends" and his need to get money to buy more drugs.

    Ironically, as a result of the check she received in the hospital, the lady was diagnosed as having a Deep Vein Thrombosis and received emergency treatment which has saved her life. In essence the mugging probably saved her dying of the usual outcome of a DVT - pulmonary embolis, a fatal condition arising when a part of the clot breaks loose and lodges in the main arteries to the lungs. Understandably the lady is grateful.

    Unfortunately that leaves the larger issue unresolved. The youth's cocaine habit. He is now serving a four year sentence in a Young Offender's Institute, which we can only hope will provide an opportunty to wean him off the drugs and give him some hope of a future. Sadly, I doubt it will successfully deliver either.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:27 AM | TrackBack

    March 10, 2006

    Farewell to a father

    Mausi and her family today said a final farewell to her father. His ashes have now been interred and the family must now adjust to a gap in it's ranks. This will not be easy to do, since the "missing man" will always be present in little reminders, little momentos and the occassional sense of presence.

    Many people who have not gone through this experience think that a funeral provides closure, an end and a closing of doors. It doesn't. The gap is always present in the hearts and minds of those who continue in this life, and, while it becomes less painful with time, one is always conscious of the absence of someone you could share something with, have a joke with or simply be with. For a husband or wife it is even more pointed at the moment when, some weeks after a funeral, everyone assumes that you are coping and can now "get on" without their help. That is often when the real pain hits for the first time.

    I believe that one important reason why we miss the absent member so much is that we are very much creatures created by those we interact with, relate too or have grown up with. Our parents in particular are instrumental in bringing us into this world, but in a veryt real sense they are also the instruments by which we are formed in the formation of our characters and personality. It is their rebuffs which harden us, their open love that warms us and their laughter that inspires us. As John Donne wrote, "if a promotory were to fall into the sea and be washed away, Europe is the less"; just so with us, if a friend depart from this life we are ourselves reduced by that departure, since we no longer have that interaction, and inspiration to enlarge our own horizons.

    Consider the epitaph to Sir Christopher Wren in St Paul's Cathedral in London: it translates as "If you seek his monument, look about you." That is also true of every individual who has played a role in our own growth and development. If you seek their monument - look in a mirror. You are as much a reflection of all who have played a part in your life as you are in theirs.

    Reinhard has left this life for another, but a part of him remains in his daughters and in his wife. He will walk among them as long as they live.

    Pray my brothers and sisters, that this family will know and feel the comfort of God's loving presence through the days ahead, that everytime they feel the absence of their father, they will know he is still there with them awaiting them in due time.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:07 PM | TrackBack

    March 09, 2006

    They still don't get it ...

    A news headline in one of the national daily's caught my eye this week and caused a sharp rise in my blood pressure. The Independent ran the headline "Nuclear Power - expensive, dangerous and unwanted" or words to the same effect. The article then went on to rehearse all the usual arguments about how much better and safer wind turbines and "renewable" sources of energy would be and how dangerous nuclear power is, how difficult to dispose of the waste, etc., etc., and so forth, etc.

    They still seem to be unable to grasp that some of the contamination that occurred in the past was a result of our not fully understanding some of the matters we have since learned - by experience - to be important. How much contamination arises from burning fossil fuels - besides the usual list of Carbon Dioxide, Sulphur Dioxide and the range of other "greenhouse" gases? Quite a lot actually, many of them even less well understood than the odd stray nuclear particle! The generation of power from coal certainly kills many more people each year than the nuclear industry has killed since the first nuclear reactor went "hot", and the wind turbines they love so dearly are decimating the wild bird population, are a hazard to aircraft and pump out vast amounts of non-ionising radiation in the form of magnetic fields that exceed by a huge factor those that have exercised minds on the anti-mobile phone mast debate. The noise of the turbine apart, I would not want one of these things within several miles of my home!

    Part of the problem is the misunderstanding of the difference between "high" level and "low" level waste from the nuclear piles. In fact the "high" level end waste is very small indeed - nuclear fuel rods are recovered, stripped, the Uranium fuel processed to remove the unwanted isotopes and the Uranium re-enriched and returned to it's "carrier" for re-insertion into the nuclear pile it came from. Recyclable and reusable. Very nearly a perfect example of a "renewable" energy source. The small amounts of unusable material that remains is extremely long lived and very dangerous and all sensible processing plants take proportionate precautions. The larger problem is the "Low" level waste, contaminated clothing, tools and other equipment. Yet even this can be safely cleaned and then destroyed or stored until the mainly short-lived isotopes they hold have decayed to the point of safe disposal.

    There have also been huge advances in safety, in containment and in operating procedures since the days of the Windscale fire and the Chernobyl catastrophe. It is important to remember that neither of these involved a "nuclear" explosion, one was a straight forward fire in the graphite core - successfully extinguished - and the other a very large scale steam pressure burst. Chernobyl certainly scattered radio active material and some nasty isotopes across a very large area of the European continent and the Northern hemisphere, but the reactor involved was an out of date design being subjected to a procedure designed by a bureaucrat to go wrong from the start.

    If the current population levels remain or continue to rise, planting wind turbines and wave power generators will certainly not fulfil the demands for energy. In fact the changes they will cause in the local environment will have an impact no one has yet fully assessed. These will get even worse if the demand for power increases due to the "global warming" we are threatened with - ironically by the same bunch who so strenuously oppose nuclear power. Nuclear may not be able to provide all the answers, but it does offer two very important advantages. It doesn't pump tons of Carbon Dioxide, Monoxide and Sulphur into the air. The waste heat doesn't dissappear up the chimney to help heat the atmosphere and it does provide a cheaper source of energy than many would have you believe.

    Unfortunately the author of the article has, as is now usual with the media, allowed their personal prejudice to cloud what could have been a useful and informative piece. To suggest, as the headline certainly does, that nuclear should be removed from everyone's thinking, is the argument of the simpleton. We simply cannot afford to rule out anything at this stage and would be extremely foolish to rule out the one source of energy which is both plentiful and capable of giving us reliable and relatively reasonably priced power.

    The main problem with making progress on nuclear energy is not the waste management or the "safety" issues - Scotland's granite pumps out more "background" radiation than Dounreah ever will - but prejudice. Prejudice is, unfortunately, frequently a stronger force than common sense.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:16 PM | TrackBack

    March 08, 2006

    PC Nonsense again .....

    The lunatics of the PC Brigade are at it again, this time it is a Nursery School which has been ordered to change the words of the nursery rhyme "Baa, baa, black sheep" to "Baa, baa, Rainbow (!!!!?) sheep ...." It not only doesn't scan but it makes a complete nonsense of the whole thing when they go on to start "qualifying" the rest of it! Apparently the term "Black" sheep is offensive to people of a darker hew. I wonder if they have considered the fact that the Gay Rights movement uses the "Rainbow flag" as it's identity and that the "negative image" of a "Rainbow" Sheep could be offensive to the Gay community? Or maybe that doesn't count?

    I am sure I cannot be alone at having severe reservations about the people who spend their lives dreaming up things to take offence at. They seem to be able to see evil in just about anything from children's toys to minstrel shows or even Morris Dancer's with blackened faces. Take a set of photographs of your children or grandchildren in their bathing costumes and you could wind up under investigation by the Thought Police for possible paedophilia. I jest not, it has happened recently to a grandparent and I have no doubt at all that it will not be the last occassion. It makes me ask myself "what is it that these people have lurking in their own minds that makes them see evil in everyone else?"

    I suspect that, in the long run, it will become evident that many were in fact covering up their own prejudice or prediliction for some "dark" sexual practice. Unfortunately, in the meantime, they will have demonised many more completely innocent parents and grandparents and further damaged our children's understanding of true morality, decency and responsibility. I do get seriously worried by this constant "moralism" from the PC brigade, much of it based on their own incomprehension of real life - God alone knows where they spent their own childhood, much less whether or not they actually work in any productive industry besides this destructive one of denigrating everything they do not like. In all too many cases the reasons they give for their "moral" judgement on something is based on entirely spurious and frequently self-invented "evidence" of past prejudice or wrong-doing.

    My own position and the deep distrust I have for these pedlars of twisted morality arises from a teenage encounter with someone who constantly publically ranted against homosexuals - then tried to seduce and molest a friend of mine. At the time it was all kept under wraps because the person was widely regarded as a "fine upright family man" - who also happened to hold a position of some power - and it was said that there was "no point in causing a scandal!" That was almost forty five years ago now, my friend is now dead - entirely unrelated to the original incident - but the perpetrator is still regarded as a "fine upright man of high moral standing who set high standards of morality for himself and society." I quote his obituary!

    The real scandal there is that my friend was not the only boy this "Upstanding Moralist" attempted to molest, in fact there were a string of boys, some less quick witted or on their feet than my friend, but none of them were believed and he got away with it! More importantly for me at any rate, I have encountered a fairly large number of so-called "moralists" over the years whose private lives told a completely different story.

    That is the biggest reason I can possibly have for distrusting anyone who sets out to dictate to me or any other member of society a set of "morals" based on their prejudices and supposed "moral code".

    Life is not fair, it is tolerable and moral only in so far as society subscribes to sets of personal rules and commonly held taboos. Erode any part of that code and suddenly the whole begins to unravel, that is why we have the highest teenage pregnancy rates, the biggest drug and alcohol abuse problems and a crime wave that is out of control by all the indicators - even the government's own massaged and manipulated statistics! These attempts to twist and warp and manipulate society's beliefs, values and language by a small group of time and space wasters is a large part of the problem.

    It really is time the very large majority of level headed and common sense guided people gently led the PC pundits quietly to secure mental hospitals and rid ourselves of their presence. Society will then be a much safer, saner and more pleasant place than it is under the stifling hands of these prejudiced and immoral idiots.

    That, or send them off to a planet far away from here! One way trip only.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 07, 2006

    Ah, memories ....

    Surfing the blogosphere is often fun, sometimes sad, and sometimes very entertaining. Recently I visited the blog of One Happy Dog Speaks and was amused by her stories of her youngest child - who obviously has an adventurous streak and a very enquiring mind. It put me in mind of the fun my own children gave us as they grew through the crawling stages to toddlers, then the Terrible Two phase and on to the Fearsome Fours and so on.

    At risk of embarrassing them all, I decided to share a couple of amusing incidents from their early years ....

    One of the funniest (and there were certainly many to choose from!) involved our youngest, aged around 18 months. An active child with a very enquiring mind, if any of the three was going to poke a stick into something disasterous it would be her. The piece d'resistance was an evening when I had been on duty for a long weekend (Working in the Emergency Services as a senior officer I had to be "On Call" at the HQ two nights in each week and one weekend in three - starting at 0830 on a Friday and coming off duty at 1730 on the Monday) and was just settling, glass of welcome beer in hand with my wife and the two older kids in the living room so we could catch up. The older pair were engrossed in whatever was on the telly and my wife was filling me in on the weekends events ( I usually had to be selective about some of my weekend as quite a lot wasn't very pleasant!).

    Eventually we noticed that our youngest was missing from the group - and so were the two dogs and the cat! One dog was a Kaffrarian Hound - a term used in the family for a mixed breed - with a thick pelt, curly tail and jaws like a crocodile hidden behind magnificent mustacheos and goatee beard, the other a pure bred Golden Spaniel with, as far as we could work out, only enough brains to get her from one meal to the next. The cat, a silver tabby, actually ruled both dogs even though she was a quarter their size. We knew they had to be somewhere in the house since the front door was closed and the rear door was a stable type with the lower half closed - in fact I could see this from where I sat in the living room. Apart from the telly the silence in the rest of the house told us there was something afoot!

    My wife went to check the playroom upstairs, and I walked to the kitchen. Mystery solved, there was our daughter sat in front of the grocery cupboard, the cat and two dogs sat, crouched or lying in radial positions around her. The entire kitchen floor, daughter, dogs and cat were now all snow white - just eyes and mouths showing through a complete dusting of cake flour - around 10 pounds of it! All I could think of was how funny it looked - and laughed.

    On seeing me, the dogs shot straight into their beds under the table, the cat gave me a basilisk stare and daughter shot from seated, to crawl to fast toddle - straight past me depositing a fine dusting of flour on my dark uniform trousers as she headed for her mother, through the dining room and into the living room - a fast moving cloud of flour trailing behind her and depositing on floor and furniture with equal impunity. She collided with my wife returning from the hallway and covered her in the fine white mess in an instant. The dogs added their share as they rushed to join this interesting little body - you never know when toddlers might shed something in the way of "edibles" do you? - and our dark brown furniture and the deep pile of the carpet in the dining room also absorbed the deposits.

    It took weeks to clean up the remnants, the vacuum cleaner gave up the ghost shortly after. Part of the problem was that we both collapsed in laughter every time we thought of it for some time afterwards.

    All three kids learned fairly early that the dogs made good waste disposal units - but they also learned fairly swiftly that if you held the ice cream cone still at dog level for more than 5 seconds - you lost the ice cream! It was constant battle of wits between my wife and I trying to get the kids to eat a balanced meal and the kids feeding what they didn't like to the dog conveniently parked in the "fall out" zone beneath the high chair. My son was the most adept at that one!

    All three were - and still are - individual and inventive. They provided us with huge pleasure and fun as they grew each finding their own ways to make sure that the saying "Insanity is hereditary - you get it from your kids" was proved true!

    Watch out kids - its my turn!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    March 06, 2006

    The Prince has some rights as well .....

    Currently the media is full of "leaked" documents supposedly showing that the Prince of Wales is "interfering" in politics. I have two problems with this. Firstly he should be accorded the same "right" to privacy regarding his diaries and his correspondence, particularly this sort of correspondence, as the rest of us. It is a private exchange of views and concerns between him and the appropriate people in the government and not intended for public consumption or to be used to influence the public!

    Secondly, the Prince is right to express these concerns, yet, in the eye's of the Press, he is supposed to be a brainless puppet without views or opinions on anything. Given that he and most of the other Royals are on an IQ level beyond most of the media hacks who publish this garbage, I suppose that one motive behind this is an attempt to drag him down to their level - the gutters.

    There is also a deeper concern about these leaks per se; namely that they seem to have come from within certain senior Minister's private offices. That suggests that Labour's Black Press team have been busy again, combing through files and looking for things to "leak" in order to distract the morons in Fleet Street from something that would embarass the government. Like the fact that Tessa Jowell's husband is wanted in Italy on bribery charges and Blair's stooges in the Home Office have managed to scupper the Italian prosecutor's case by feeding the papers and evidence to the accused! Their bleating that they "followed procedures" is akin to the famous plea entered at Nuremburg in 1945, that the accused were "following orders". It stinks of Number 10's direct interference and this campaign against the Prince of Wales is, in my mind, being orchestrated by Millbank in order to create a smokescreen.

    The Prince's comments to the then Lord Chancellor on the affect of the Human Rights Act upon the uniformed services are right. The fact that this is not yet showing up on the statistics is simply because the majority of people are probably still unaware of the fact that they can use the courts. Many are simply too dependent on their jobs, but if the position changes, as it will in the next few years, the floodgates will be opened and the consequences will be dire, both for business and for the country.

    Why did we need the Human Rights Act? After all, it actually reduced the "rights" we previously enjoyed under our unwritten constitution. One does wonder if it was perhaps a piece of wonderful subterfuge to create a niche for the Prime Minister's future, after all, his wife is part of a "Chambers" that specialises in Human Rights cases - and does extremely well out of it.

    There is undoubtedly also a Republican agenda in the leaking of the Prince's private papers. One cannot escape the feeling that we are being prepared for a coup d'etat staged by Labour - brief against the Prince, selectively leak papers and run a campaign designed to portray him as "unfit" to be King, then, when the present Sovereign dies, call a loaded referendum and depose him. Far fetched? Probably not as far fetched as some would like to think.

    In the meantime, let us have the police look into the source of these leaks since they amount to theft. Let us also see the use of the Human Rights Act to defend the Prince from these insidious attacks and this vile campaign to discredit him. As I said, I suspect that if the police do look at it without any interefernce or "help" from the incompetents in the Civil Service who dance to Labour's tune, I think we will be treated to the spectacle of several key members of Labour's Press Corps being stood in the dock for theft.

    One can live in hope!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:40 AM | TrackBack

    March 05, 2006

    What does a priest do?

    I have just completed a paper on the role of a priest in the modern church. It has certainly been interesting, but it has also been a challenge. The challenge has been to write, in only two thousand words, a summary of the role. The problem with that is that the role is so huge and so wide that it is almsot impossible to achieve.

    The task required the use of a limited range of source books, yet even here, the first thing that became clear was the consensus also contained a divergence of opinion in the sense that the individual authors all brought their own perspective of particular aspects. I started before Christmas, and have only just finished the reading, digesting and finally putting my own thoughts on paper.

    If you want to read these they are in the extended post below.

    Job or Vocation?
    In a secular world there is a temptation, indeed a deep perception among many, sadly including some churchgoers, that the “Vicar” is simply a matter of someone choosing to enter that role as a form of employment. Few in today’s society understand the concept of feeling a “call” to perform a particular role or function, and fewer still would associate such a call with their chosen careers or professions.

    Sadly, many today see the Vicar, Rector or Priest in Charge as the person who “manages” the local Parish Church, wears some strange outfits on occasions and is “on call” for funerals, marriages and baptisms when required. It is equally true to say that, as the perceived status of the Church has declined, in line with the decline in practicing faith and attendance at public worship, so the value of someone’s feeling a need to spend time in prayer or at worship is also no longer perceived as either necessary or good by those outside the Church. There is equally a feeling that it is an anachronism, a symbol of a dying faith, useful on occasions, but not particularly profitable or practical.

    This misunderstanding ignores the fact that the role is a scriptural one in the sense that it follows on from a long tradition of God calling people out to be His especial servants, to act as leaders in worship, as “pray-ers”, as absolvers, as reconcilers and as theologians (Ramsey. M; The Christian Priest Today). This theme is the principle thrust of Brown and Cocksworth’s work as they expand this stating that the priest is for Worship, the Word, Prayer, Reconciliation, Holiness and Blessing. Unfortunately, in today’s world, this is often forgotten amidst the demands of legal duties, “managing” the Parish resources and the ministries of the laity.

    Clearly, such a person is not found in a Job Centre (although he or she might be if God is calling them and they hear the call!), but is called out by God and once satisfied that the call is a call to the ordained ministry, must then be prepared to put this to the test, to undergo training and to accept the discipline that it requires. As Brown and Cocksworth’s treatise clearly shows, the priestly role is a vocation, and a very demanding one.

    Called out of the congregation

    Clearly the “Call” and the response is likely to be almost as individual as the people called. As the Gospel says, “Many are called; few are chosen”, and if for no other reason each “call” needs to be tested to determine the ministry and the gifts the individual brings or offers. Since the priest is called to be a leader or “elder” in the congregation – presbyteroi may be translated to mean either – it follows that this person must also be in possession of the qualities to be a minister, reconciler, healer (in the spiritual sense) and leader.
    In one sense, as Brown and Cocksworth point out, the one called is one “called out of the congregation, to become the parent of the congregation”. This would certainly appear to be the understanding attached to this process of “calling” and of “ordination” in the surviving examples of ordination ritual from the Early Church. It is still very much the understanding of the modern church, in that the priest is one who has accepted God’s call to undertake a role which calls for acceptance of a role which requires the person to live as a vessel for the Holy Spirit, able to reconcile factions, provide absolution, interpret the Word of God, bring comfort to the sick, the dying and the bereaved.

    The ordination rite of Hyppolytus makes the relationship between priest and people clear in the declaration required of the people in response to the question: “Do you choose …. “ and the congregation is required to respond with the words “We choose him!” In this model the “Presbyter” needs the people in order to be a presbyter, and the people likewise need the presbyter in order to be the people of God.

    Leader, disciple and living the Word

    The book “Ministry in Three Dimensions” (Steven Croft: Ministry in three dimensions; 2005 Darton, Longman and Todd) describes the ordained ministry as “Charismatic”, thereby suggesting that it is an outgoing and empowering ministry of the Spirit. This is not to suggest that the priestly ministry is recognised by it’s being engaged in some of the more extreme expressions of worship associated with the term (in recent years) “Charismatic, but rather that it is a ministry enabled, lead and driven by the Holy Spirit throughout. It is in the charismatic expression of the spirit that the priest, deacon and Bishop all exercise the ministry of Christ in the congregations.

    The ancient understanding of the role of the “Presbyteroi”, the Diakonia and the Episcope was that these were individuals “called out of their congregations by the Holy Spirit” to exercise leadership, demonstrate Holiness and to be teachers and livers of the Word of God. It is in this spirit that St Paul writes to the Ephesians saying that though he suffers from some un-named infirmity, the Holy Spirit uses that very infirmity to demonstrate God’s power. Likewise he writes to Timothy saying that he should rely on the Spirit to sustain and strengthen him for the task of ministry. Those called are, according to Brown and Cocksworth, called to:

    • Be for the “other”,
    • To be for God,
    • To be for discipleship,
    • To be lead worship,
    • To preside at the Eucharist,
    • To be for the Word,
    • To be messengers of the Word,
    • To listen to the “world”,
    • To be men and women of prayer, and
    • To reap the fruits of holiness.

    There is, however, a secular dimension which intrudes upon this, in that the modern priest is also responsible for a number of legally imposed duties which include the running of the parish in a manner that ensures it’s solvency!

    Examining the somewhat crude “list” above in a little more detail, one soon discovers that the modern priest is, in common with his historic counterpart in the early church’s presbyters, a person who must fulfil a number of interdependent and yet, sometimes contradictory roles. He or she must be a conciliator, a worshipper and a leader of worship, a bringer of absolution and a penitent, a bringer of the Word, and it’s upholder. As Ramsey says in “The Christian Priest Today” (Ramsey M: The Christian Priest Today; 1985 SPCK, London.) the priest is called to be both the preacher of the Gospel truth and the ready ear of the penitent for whom absolution should be given.

    It is clear that, in order to preach and to teach the word of God in the modern world, indeed, in order to make it relevant to the receivers of that word, the priest must interact with the lives and the world in which his hearers live. They cannot be divorced from the reality of the lives of those to whom he or she is called to minister. Thus too, in preaching the word of God to a congregation it must draw upon the realities of their lives, yet retain the essence and the hope to which God calls us.

    Leadership and discipleship are uneasy partners, yet there are times when the disciple must be the leader. In the case of the priest, their discipleship is to Christ and his Earthly representation in the Church, Apostolic and Catholick. Yet, in their own Parish, it is the priest who is charged with the Cure of Souls and is by both calling and statute the “leader” of the Parish.

    Spiritual dimensions

    Above all, the priest is called to be “the man (or woman) of prayer” in the community. In this they need to be diligent, to use the resources available to them and to encourage others by their own example. Prayer may be achieved in several ways as Ramsey, Dewar, Donovan and Brown and Cocksworth remind us. It is present in action as well as thought, and again needs to be a reflection of the realities of those prayed for.

    St Paul reminds us frequently that the Spirit imparts many gifts to different individuals and within any congregation this soon becomes apparent as these are discerned and exercised on behalf of others. It falls to the priest to assist all those given to his or her care, to develop these and to “grow in the Spirit”. Thus, the priest is an “enabler” as well as a “leader” in the congregation. This must surely be one of the most rewarding and frustrating aspects of priestly ministry, in that while some are eager to grow spiritually, others hold back out of fear, uncertainty or simply because, comfortable where they are, they do not wish to grow.

    It is in exercising the ministry of reconciliation that the priest’s true test may arise, for, in any community, there will always be jealousies, tensions and disagreements. In holding these together and in steering them towards a harmony there are many pitfalls, yet, in the fullness of the Spirit and in exercising what Brown and Cocksworth refer to as the “Fruits of the Spirit”, much may be achieved in bringing people together. In some sense this is related to the “People of prayer” calling since reconciliation involves a great deal of prayer, empathy and understanding.

    As a person of prayer the priest is called to pray in several ways, including the Daily Offices, the Special Offices, The Eucharist, in private prayer and in action. The liturgy provides a framework for public prayer, but even private prayer needs structure and a certain amount of direction. Thanksgiving, praise, intercession are all part of the cycle of prayer the priest is called to exercise daily, yet, simply visiting the sick and spending a few minutes with the dying or the bereaved, even when words fail, may be considered a form of prayer.

    In being a “person of holiness” it is important that we recognise that the priest is also human and suffers the same weaknesses, yet, in the power of the Holy Spirit is also able to exhibit the characteristics of holiness. As the current Archbishop of Canterbury is on record as saying, holiness is not static, but ecstatic! In living as someone under the Holy Spirit, the priest is called to practice the Word, to show the fruits of the spirit and the joy of living in the spirit. They can only do this if they are indeed committed to the life of the Spirit.

    Preaching is an important task, albeit one now shared with many in “lay” ministries licensed by the Bishop. Again the preacher needs to connect with both their own life and experience and that of those to whom they preach. The example of George Herbert, John Donne, Cardinal Newman in using the Biblical text and connecting this to the reality of the world they spoke to, is a sound example of reaching out to illuminate the Word and inspire the hearer. Donne’s famous sermon which includes the words “send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee” is a good example of the manner in which theology can be rendered more easily understood by a congregation in the way it connects the death of one to the life of all. Herbert’s hymns and poems are further examples of the transfer of Biblical thought to vernacular understanding. A good preacher must always be able to connect to the lives of the hearers; no point is served in praising the joys of a succulent banquet to a congregation of anorexics!

    Secular dimensions

    As in so many areas there is also a secular dimension to the priestly calling in the modern world – indeed it is difficult to imagine that there was ever a time when it could be completely ignored. The modern priest has many legal responsibilities within a parish and, in some cases, is almost the “General Manager” of a corporate operation, yet, in the exercise of these powers and duties it is the priestly traits and values which must guide the secular actions. Here, as in all matters to do with the priesthood, the priest must show the same holiness, reconciliation, prayerfulness and resolution of the Word and Spirit as in all else. In some larger churches and congregations he is also an "employer" as he heads the Parish and employs on their behalf the gardeners, cleaners and vergers.

    Concluding thoughts

    In conclusion, reading the five source books I have used for this exercise, I am left with the overwhelming conclusion that the priestly role is a complex mix, encompassing several important aspects of the Gospel, our faith as we have received it and our response to the world. Clearly the priest must be all of the following:
    • Called out of the congregation,
    • Called to be for God,
    • Called to be an Absolver,
    • Called to be for the Word of God,
    • Called to be a man or woman of prayer,
    • Called to be a conciliator,
    • Called to be a worshipper and a leader of worship, in short
    • Called to be a disciple of Christ.

    It is important to recognise that it is in the exercise of the gifts the spirit bestows upon those He calls, that the individual’s weaknesses and failings may be made strengths. It is in operating within the community that is served, in “getting alongside” the people of a community that the priest is best able to fulfil the role of intercessor, liturgical leader and “holy man of God”. It is in responding to the needs of people for hearing the Word of God, in being reconciled to God, in worshipping God and in seeking to find God and to grow in the Spiritual gifts of God that the priestly role is enlarged and fulfilled.

    The priest clearly has roles which are also definable as “tasks” and these include:
    • Presiding at the Eucharist,
    • Pastoral care of the souls in his charge,
    • Preaching the Word of God,
    • Leading the people in public and private prayer,
    • Bringing hope and comfort to the sick, the distressed and the bereaved, and
    • Enabling the development of gifts and ministries within the congregation.
    The distinction made in the New Testament between the congregations and the presbyteroi, diakonia and episcope are still valid and still provide a distinct and important role for those called to leadership in any congregation.

    Clearly the priest is called to be the “man of prayer, the man of the Word and the man of reconciliation” in the footsteps of the disciples and of Christ Himself. As the Byzantine ordinal indicated the priest is to be:
    • The proclaimer of the Gospel,
    • The exerciser of the Sacred Ministry,
    • An offerer of Spiritual Gifts, and
    • A renewer of the people by baptism regeneration.

    A challenging role indeed, one that is dependent upon the heavenly grace bestowed by the Holy Spirit and by the support and encouragement of the faithful.


    Brown R and Cocksworth C; On being a priest today; 2002, Cowley Publications.
    Croft S; Ministry in three dimensions; 2005 Darton, Longman and Todd
    Ramsey M; The Christian Priest Today; 2001 SPCK
    Dewar F; Called or collared; 2000 SPCK

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 04, 2006

    I don't only do ships ....

    Just to prove that I do - occassionally - paint something other than a ship or ships, here is my latest offering, a picture of the Abbey seen from the North West, in fact from a photograph I took from the "Ham". And before there is confusion over whether I was stood an a chunk of Honey Roasted or Smoked, the Ham is a roughly ham shaped piece of flood plain situated between the Mill Avon and the River Severn at Tewkesbury.

    DSCF0003 (2).JPG
    The Abbey towers over the houses fronting Church Street and backing onto the Mill Avon and the Ham.

    I am quite pleased with the outcome of this painting and find the creation of these "daubs" quite relaxing. I get quite a kick out of them when they turn out well - and I do have some that don't! This is my fifteenth painting in this medium, acrylic on prepared board, and with each one I have learned a whole lot which goes into the next. I reckon at this rate I may even achieve something a bit above the level of "daub" by the time I reach my 100th birthday!

    Anyway, it gives me some pleasure, even if it won't win any prizes for original art! But then I'm not into unmade beds and the other sorts of things that seem to get the big "art" prizes these days.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 03, 2006

    Anyone got a 48 hour day and fourteen day week?

    Having spent the last two weeks "on leave" - using up the leave I could not get to take during the last working year - I am returning to work on Monday with the distinct impression that I might as well have stayed in the office and just shut the door! There have been daily phone calls and e-mails, there is also the stuff I brought home with me because I thought I might get it done at home, and then there is the stuff I wanted time out to do for myself.

    Well, I haven't actually achieved most of it.

    The problem at work is that there are too few of us to do far too much. For example, those at my level in the department I am part of once numbered seventeen. Then we were reduced to eight, then five, now I am the only one in uniform and there is one other "manager" who allocates the course tutoring for all of us. The trouble is that my role is to teach, to develop new courses in my specialisms, write the course documents, research and write the student materials and to attend meetings, special interest groups, project boards and considerably more activities than I will bore you with here. All of us are under tremendous pressure and there is simply no one any of us can "delegate" any of our work too. Ergo, we do it ourselves or it simply doesn't get done.

    Now it may seem to you that when you are allocated to teach a course all you have to do is turn up for your class and teach. You'd be wrong, since each course is different and each class has different levels of expertise, prior knowledge and ability, so it takes quite a bit of preparation. On top of that we are required to do the course admin once the course is booked to run. That involves a considerable amount of pre-course paper shuffling so that our "support" staff ca do some more shuffling and not provide the things we haven't filled in the right bit of paper for. That in itself means that more and more tutors simply ignore the "support" side where they can and make sure that they have everything they need themselves even if it means working outside of teaching times (like evenings and weekends) to get everything we need together! No wonder we are frustrated, angry and doing our damndest to keep the lid on the a growing overpressure in our collective boilers!

    The Management argue that we are simply being "difficult", that our "Associate Tutors" can be hired in to assist - but these staff members (part timers) are NOT available to do the development, the papwer chasing and the preparation of notes etcetera! Their time is simply too expensive!

    Well, this couple of weeks has actually helped me to focus on something quite important. I need to have some time in the day for "me". So, a little later this year, I will be looking very seriously at moving on in my career, and no, I won't be moving to something that makes me work even longer hours, it will include time for the things that give me pleasure and which make my life fun to live. In fact, I plan to start looking around quite soon, but in the meantime, I also plan to simply start saying "no" a bit more frequently.

    It might make a difference to my workload, it will certainly make a difference to my quality of life.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 02, 2006

    I'm packed and ready to go ......

    This one is the fault of Practical Penumbra .....

    You scored as Babylon 5 (Babylon 5). The universe is erupting into war and your government picks the wrong side. How much worse could things get? It doesnâ??t matter, because no matter what you have your friends and youâ??ll do the right thing. In the end that will be all that matters. Now if only the Psi Cops would leave you alone.

    Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


    Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


    Enterprise D (Star Trek)


    Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


    SG-1 (Stargate)


    Serenity (Firefly)


    Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


    FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


    Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


    Moya (Farscape)


    Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


    Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


    Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
    created with QuizFarm.com

    This is one I really would not mind having to live out .....

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 01, 2006

    Ash Wednesday

    Ash Wednesday is a Mass of Obligation for those of us of a "Catholic" persuasion. It is the day we start our "fast" with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads and communion to start our fast. In the earliest days of the church many penitents would not only cover their head's in ashes, but wear sackclothe as a sign of their penitential state - a custom much in vogue in the High Middle Ages as well.

    The season is primarily about preparing for the celebration of Easter and all that the resurrection promises. It is an opportunity to consider all that we have not done that we should have done, or done that we should not have done over the previous year. As we mark our Lord's own forty days in the wilderness, we should seek to explore our own ministry and growth - and find ways to advance it. The original Lenten Fast involved Prayer and Fasting, but for many of us in this day and age neither is completely practical, time is simply to constrained. So many of us now simply "give up" some small token for Lent, and some of us "take up" something as well.

    This year I have much to consider as I prepare for Easter. This Lent could prove to be something of a watershed in my career, in ministry and for my future direction. Your prayers would be most welcome.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    St David's Day - Feast or Fast, now that is the question!

    St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, is commemorated today by many, but it does, as a feast, conflict with the marking of Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Fasting! The normal means of dealing with this in the Church's manner is to simply "move the feast" so that it can be celebrated by the faithful without the problem of having to break their fast for Lent. In our increasingly secular world, however, we find that the commercial and media interests just ignore the start of Lent and go for what makes them some money - a national Saint's Day!

    This date is also "celebrated" as the "official" first day of Spring, which, considering that it snowed yesterday, then rained, then blew a near gale - and today we have forecasts for severe weather in the Northern half of the country - is something of a joke. To me it is yet another example of ignorant politicians and bureaucrats sticking their grubby fingers into matters they do not understand in order to increase their "control" over our lives. You cannot "order" the seasons to follow a set pattern any more than we can control the weather or any other part of our natural cycle. Weather patterns change, cycles change, and we have little influence over it.

    In the days in which the Saint we commemorate as David brought Christianity to the people of Wales, humanity was much more inclined to live in a state that accepted the natural rhythmn, inconvenient though it was. Planting took place after the farmers had themselves determined that the seasons were changing and not at the dictat of some "guidance" from another part of the country altogether. Mind you, the sensible farmers still do, after all, they know their own land, and the local cycles and conditions far better than someone in an office in Whitehall ever will.

    Our modern lives demand that we eat three times a day, that we eat a balanced diet, that we have variety in our meals - that we have available to us many fruits that are not native to these shores, or completely out of season for most of our year. The modern diet comprises meat, fish, poultry, root vegetables, leaf vegetables and fruit in a plenty virtually unknown in many parts of the world - even those that grow most of what we eat! So, perhaps this is what we should focus on as we go into Lent this year, considering as our focus for Lent, "who is going hungry so that I can eat as well as I do?"

    In St David's time the seasons held an importance beyond our understanding of them today. Today they are little more than an inconvenience, it's cold and wet, when we long for the sun, or hot a dry when we long for rain - or, if you, like me, are a hayfever sufferer, everything is pumping out allergens when I would like to enjoy the sun, the open spaces and the warmth! Even in our grandparents day (Probably best described as Before Refridgerators!) the changing seasons meant that food had to be prepared to bridge the gap between one harvest and the next, particularly the vegetables on which we depend for variety and that lovely concept "roughage" are seasonal. Potatoes had to be dried and stored in dark, dry places, onions, beetroot, cabbage, beans and several other vegetables pickled and stored in sealed jars for consumption later in the depths of winter. Many of the things we today regard as "party" food, were originally essentials if we were to have them available during the winter.

    The cycle of planting, growing, reaping and storing held a vital place in all our lives - and should still. As I commented in a thought on Shrove Tuesday yesterday, The choice of timing for the Lenten Fast probably had a great deal to do with conserving one's Winter food stocks until the first of the summer fruits and vegetables became available.

    So for those who choose the celebrate St David today and Lent tomorrow, or who have marked David's Feast yesterday and will keep Lent today, I would say this; as we go through Lent this year consider the source of our food, consider the people who produce it. Consider too the implications for us if that source were to be removed through famine, plague (such as Bird Flu or some other pandemic) and ask yourself this question. "Can we survive without our imported supplies, and should we not consider how we would manage if it became a necessity?"

    It could be a very important question for those of us now divorced from the seasons by our reliance on the plenty of the supermarket!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack