December 31, 2011
So, what is really going on here? A review group on health matters is reported to be proposing that people should be asked about their diet, alcohol intake and other habits whenever they see a health professional – even if the reason for the conversation has nothing to do with how fat or boozy they might be. The Guardian reports as follows:
Patients should be asked about their diet, smoking and drinking habits every time they see a health professional according to radical proposals from the government’s NHS advisers to tackle soaring rates of obesity, cancer and alcohol misuse. The NHS Future Forum wants health staff to routinely talk to patients about their lifestyles, even when they are suffering an unrelated illness, and offer them advice and help to become healthier.
So far, so reasonable. After all, part of the social contract involved in a welfare state is that we own up to a mutual responsibility to the service. If my lifestyle choices are costing others, then I can have no objection to being asked questions. And again, after all, the questions are aimed at my better health and best interests, aren’t they?
The statistics almost beggar belief:
- The number of people in the UK with diabetes has risen by almost 130,000 to 2.9 million in the last year. That is up by almost 50% in just four years (2006-7 to 2009-10). Some 90% of these 2.9 million have Type 2 diabetes, which almost always develops in people who are very overweight.
- The Lancet medical journal has conservatively estimated that, on present trends, by 2030 obesity in the UK will have produced 5.45m cases of diabetes, 330,000 more people with coronary heart disease and stroke and 87,000 extra cases of cancer, which together will mean a loss of 2.2m quality-adjusted life years in the population, and costing the NHS another £2.2bn a year on top of the existing huge price of tackling obesity-related illness.
Yet, the Guardian report continues:
But some medical leaders last night voiced fears that such interventions might stop some patients from seeking medical help in case they were asked questions they found uncomfortable, and the Patients Association said it was “overkill”.
Of course the questions are ‘uncomfortable’. Isn’t that the whole point? They are supposed to be uncomfortable if they call into question the effects and consequences of our choices or habits. But
that is no argument for not asking the questions. The guy leading for the government on this gave an example:
… A podiatrist who’s looking after the feet of a diabetic patient has an absolute responsibility to talk to the patient about their smoking, because smoking makes diabetes worse and means the patient is more likely to have a foot amputated.
Now, anyone who has ever been phoned by a journalist knows the sorts of games that might be being played here. However sensible the substance of the story, someone has to be found who will object. (A bishop says the sky is blue and the National Secular Society is called to object…) And it is often the case that the person being called is told a rather biased story to which the desired response can readily be given and the ‘story’ is then complete and ready for publication. I have no idea, therefore, how the ‘objections’ to the proposals above were elicited, but I do want to be wary about taking them at face value (and would be interested to know if those quoted feel that they have been quoted justly).
Why this interest? Well, simply that what really interested me about the story was the choice of words used by those who aren’t so keen on the proposals. Try this for starters:
But Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the policy was “muddled” and some patients might be put off by what they saw as intrusive questioning. “Young men pluck up the courage to go and see their GP, maybe about a sexually-transmitted infection, and would not want to be lectured. So we have to be careful that we don’t impose our agenda on to the patients and don’t inadvertently frighten patients who are coming in to see the doctor and who fear that they might be preached at,” said Gerada.
Er… ‘preached at’?’ ‘Lectured’?
Why these words to describe questions that need to be asked precisely because they are uncomfortable? The patient doesn’t have to answer them. As any doctor will tell you, you can double the figure any patient gives you when asked about weekly alcohol intake. But, since when has the asking of relevant health questions been synonymous with ‘lecturing’ and ‘preaching at’?
The economic price, as measured in lost productivity, welfare payments and the cost to the NHS, are already mind-boggling. Diabetes costs £10bn – almost a tenth of the entire health budget. That includes £725m spent on drugs for diabetics, and the cost of hospital beds – one in seven is occupied by someone with the condition. Yet every expert believes that, without a major change in human behaviour (which no one expects), these costs will only rise. These lifestyle diseases have been increasing at the same time as the risks of unhealthy behaviours have received unprecedented attention. Everyone knows that cigarettes are ruinous, but one in five still smoke.
… Professor Steve Field who chairs the forum admits: “Not enough people take enough responsibility for their own health, despite the amount of information that’s available.”
But, if this challenge to individual, personal responsibility needs to be heard loudly and clearly, so does the warning to society generally need to be heeded:
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said it agreed that patients needed more advice on living more healthily and help to do so. “But the underlying factors causing unhealthy lifestyles, for example poverty, also need to be addressed.”
So, happy new year to you! And my advice to myself and everyone else? Drink less alcohol, eat less, get more exercise, … and welcome ‘intrusive questioning’ about all three. It might make the difference between a healthy and a miserable 2012.
December 29, 2011
Bradford Cathedral Choir sang Mozart’s Coronation Mass on Christmas Morning and it was brilliant. You can’t hear music like that ‘live’ and not find your soul taken up, shaken around and given a taste of something bigger than ‘here and now’.
Which was an interesting experience, given that I had been saying at various Christmas events that Christmas is all about (a) God coming into the ‘here and now’ (as it is and not as it should be), and (b) setting the ‘here and now’ in the context of ‘eternity’ (as God sees it and wills it to be). As I suggested to the choir afterwards, Mozart is a classic example of someone who was deeply conflicted, morally inconsistent, and yet whom God touched and from whom such sublime music came. Somehow we have to hold together the hope with the reality, the messiness with the vision.
Archbishop Cranmer is always worth reading. Yet, I feel he slightly missed the point in his Christmas post (entitled Christmas concerns: a pope, a queen, and a couple of archbishops). Cranmer was looking for Christmas joy, found it in the Queen’s address, but couldn’t detect it in the words of the Pope, the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster. He begins with:
Having trawled through the Christmas messages of leading Church figures, there was only one glimmer of light; only one person used the occasion of the birth of the Son of God to communicate joy to the world. And it wasn’t a cleric in a pulpit.
He concludes (before showing a video of the Queen’s speech) with:
There was only one Church leader who spoke inspirationally of courage and hope; only one who used the occasion to speak of the importance of family, friends and the indomitable human spirit. Only one who spoke of the gospel of forgiveness, the uniqueness of Jesus the Saviour, the love of God through Christ our Lord:…
Funnily enough – and, obviously, before I had read Cranmer’s complaint – I asked in my own Christmas Day sermon whether the Archbishop and the Pope were being miserably negative and should cheer up a bit… or whether Christmas joy actually has to begin with the particular context. After all, hope is not the same as wishful thinking, vision is not the same as fantasy, and joy is not the same as escapist indifference. I contended (I think) that Christmas can be happy precisely because it calls us into the celebration of a God who comes among us, right where we are and as we are, saying, “I am on your side – I am for you as well as with you.” Joy comes from the hope evoked by (even small numbers of) people who are captivated by this understanding of God’s generous surprise and then living together in generous ways that look to the interests of their neighbours – even those neighbours who are complete strangers.
The problem for archbishops and bishops is that our roots are deeply planted in the real lives of real people in real communities in real places. Perhaps we see too much of the fear, the hopelessness and the ‘reality’ of too many people’s lives and cannot dismiss those when trying to articulate a Christmas hope that is not just wishful thinking or disincarnated fantasy. Maybe we find it hard to get the balance of the message quite right. That is for others to judge.
However, I take Cranmer’s point. And, as we now continue to work out how our churches are going to support the increasing numbers of families using food banks, how we shall care for people displaced from their homes because of changes in the benefits system (a reality I am merely noting without comment here), how we shall square a gospel of joyful freedom and abundant life with the reality we encounter every day, how we shall face the challenges by global political, financial, economic, ecological uncertainty, etc., I shall also take seriously Cranmer’s challenge to keep the focus on a gospel of hope.
I hope there was joy at Christmas in Bradford. At least, that’s what I was encouraging. And the sort of joy that then spills over into generosity and incarnational care for people like the shepherds outside Bethlehem who were the utterly surprised first visitors to the newly-born Christ.
(And, having seen the shameful – but not entirely original – footage of ‘rival priests’ (!) fighting in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I simply offer the following picture – although I have no idea where it came from and cannot attribute it.)
December 24, 2011
One of the challenges of Christmas is to say something sensible and enlightening that doesn’t descend into unworldly piety or sentimental wishful thinking. After all, we are celebrating Christmas while the little town of Bethlehem is surrounded by a dirty great wall, a bombing in Syria elicits the hurt response from a government minister (who clearly doesn’t ‘do’ irony) that “we wouldn’t hurt our own people”, Baghdad explodes in fear, Egypt ferments, parts of Africa starve, global financial systems totter, and the poorest people in Britain are about to enter a year of fear. It almost seems indecent to light up a tree and sing about ‘peace on earth’.
So, why do we?
In this last week – my first Christmas in Bradford – I was asked to say something at the City Carol Service attended by hundreds of people at Bradford Cathedral. It is pointless hoping that the service will speak for itself as the language both of carols and readings seems quite alien to the regular discourse of most people. So, I tried to pull the ‘now’ into the big picture of God’s presence in the world. Basically, Christmas is about the good news that God has not waited for us to climb our way out of the mess of life towards his unsullied glory… where we might find escape, relief or reward; rather, Christmas should shock us with the almost insane news that God has chosen to come among us, as one of us, thereby whispering into the business of human life that God is on our side – he is for us as well as with us.
I have no idea if this made any sense to the ‘outsiders’ who are unfamiliar with ‘church’ or the language of God. But, I hope it offered a different way of looking at Christmas: that we are not to seek God ‘out there’, keeping himself pure and unaffected by the dirt of the real world, but opting into this world as it is in order to offer newness and hope.
God, it seems, is less worried about his own purity than we often are. Rather than fear contamination, he quietly goes about contaminating the world with love.
Anyway, having done Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 on Thursday morning, I came back to Bradford in time to speak at the Carol Service for Bradford City Football Club at the Cathedral. Again the challenge was how to hold the attention and say something comprehensible about Christmas. On the radio earlier I had begun by noting that 22 December was the first step towards summer:
What a relief. Yesterday was the shortest day… so, it’s all up hill to summer from today. Isn’t that brilliant? The days are getting longer, the nights shorter – the darkness lighter and the light brighter. Come on, show a little optimism!
But, before we get too happy, we’ve got to get through Christmas first.
I wanted to find a story that illustrated what Christmas was about and remembered the following story – which I repeated at the Cathedral in the evening:
A little lad was getting worried. He desperately wanted a new bike for Christmas, so he decided to pray about it and wrote his letter to God. “Dear God, I’ve been a really good boy all year and think I deserve the new bike.” Then he thought about it, scrubbed it it and wrote: “Dear God, I’ve not been perfect, but I’ve tried hard and not been too bad. Please can I have the bike?” But he realised this was pushing it. So, he decided to go for a short walk while he thought about it. As he went round the corner of his road he saw a crib scene in a neighbour’s garden. He nipped through the gate, knocked over Joseph, grabbed Mary and stuck him under his coat. When he got home he wrote: “OK, if you wanna see your mother again, gimme the bike!”
And the simple point?
We sometimes think that we can bargain with God. Or that we can earn his favour. Or, even, that we can chalk up credits which he might then reward with good fortune. But, Christmas amounts to a massive rejection of all this. Christmas is about God opting into the mess of the world and neither exempting himself from it, nor waiting until we got the formula right before coming to us. In other words, it isn’t about us coming to him, but, rather, him coming to us.
It’s gift. That’s the surprise. That’s the deal. And that’s why I can wish you a happy Christmas.
Now, I’m not arguing that this is the deepest thought about Christmas – or the best way of telling it – but it does represent one attempt to speak simply, clearly and in language that can be understood by people not terribly familiar with Christian language or concepts. So, in the evening at the football club gig I tried to set the reading from John 1:1-14 in a comprehensible context before reading it. The short address (once I’d recalled Bradford City beating Liverpool on 14 May 2000 – not that it still hurts, you understand) invited us to lift our eyes up from the immediacy of the ‘now’ and the ‘me’ and the ‘my life’ to the cosmic, the God who creates and loves and sustains the universe. Having been grasped by the bigness of this (which is rooted in the human memory), we can then begin to understand the shocking enormity of God coming among us as one of us in a way that we can immediately understand and recognise. (I used easier language on the night…)
Christmas is God’s invitation to us to see where the ‘me’ and the ‘now’ fits into the great sweep of God’s history… and to be caught up in the wonder of being loved infinitely.
Perhaps the obvious words to focus on this Christmas will be the plea of the angels: “Don’t be afraid…” There is plenty to be afraid of in the year to come – just witness the impact already of job losses, housing support reductions (and the numbers of families that will be forced out of their homes, and communities that will be split up), hopelessness. Am I being trendy leftie here? Well, stop reading the blog and go into your city or town and ask homeless people why they are there. Investigate the number of floating shelters, church initiatives to feed, clothe and care for the casualties of our society.
It should come as no surprise that many Christian churches are providing so much costly and imaginative care for the most vulnerable. They will hold together the celebration that re-tells the story of God among us. They have been captured by a God who gets down and dirty in the midst of the real world. They are free to celebrate this way because their eyes have been lifted in order to see the ‘now’ in the context of eternity. And it is rooted in hope.
At Bradford Cathedral on Christmas morning we will recognise that we are a bunch of mortal and messy people who have simply been caught up by a vision and experience of God’s committed love. And it will be a celebration that commits us to living differently in today’s world – because of Jesus. As the great Bruce Cockburn put it:
Like a stone on the surface of a still river / driving the ripples on for ever / redemption rips through the surface of time / in the cry of a tiny babe.
December 21, 2011
One of the benefits of not living in London is that traveling to London allows time to read. My Inbox is empty, my desk is clear, correspondence is all done and I am ready for Christmas. And now the’s just catch-up to play with the books, papers, articles and briefings that haven’t quite found their way to the top of the pile.
So, coming down to London (I’m doing Pause for Thought on the BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Show and then meetings tomorrow before getting back to speak at the Bradford City FC Carol Service at Bradford Cathedral in the evening) got me reading a pile of papers. All very important and worthy stuff and I feel better for having read it all. But, I got to my hotel and stuck the telly on… and that’s where the perspective changed.
I don’t usually watch awards shows, but this one captured me. I switched straight in to ITV’s A Night of Heroes: The Military Awards 2011 and listened to the story of a reservist paramedic who saved the life of a soldier in Afghanistan who had been shot in the head by a Taleban sniper. This was followed by four seriously injured soldiers who raised funds for charity by walking unaided to the North Pole (with Prince Harry).
I have to admit to a deep unease with the way in which the word ‘heroes’ is being used in relation to our military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. From the safety of comfortable England I wouldn’t be so insensitive as to question the language used to draw attention to the people who don’t have the luxury of sitting in an armchair and doing semantic criticism. But, watching this awards ceremony makes it clearer than ever that people are not heroes for simply being in a place of conflict – that’s what they signed up for. Heroism comes in when people, with disregard to their own survival, put their life on the line to save someone else. To do this when people are shooting at you is one thing – you can hear from the stories how the adrenalin cuts in and you do something extraordinary. But, to do it again and again – conscious of the real fear and the potential cost – that is heroism.
These stories are astonishing. Seeing the human emotion in relationships forged by shocking violence is powerful.
But, the contrasts are also there to be seen on the screen. The audience includes glamorous telly stars and footballers (OK, I spotted Frank Lampard, Jeremy Clarkson and some dancer from Strictly Come Dancing)… but I just wonder how the pay of these extraordinary soldiers and medics compares with the pay of the media stars.
I’m not being bitchy. I just wonder what it says about our values and how we reward those who do the ‘harder’ job. Silly question, I know. But, it seems wrong that soldiers who have given life and limb at the command of politicians have to rely on charities to support them when they return to what we loosely call ‘civilisation’.
For the first time I feel we are watching real heroes… without having to quibble with the wording. These stories put the trivia of most of our superficial culture into perspective. (And I still hope the Military Wives get the number one spot at Christmas.)
December 19, 2011
Two days, two deaths. But, what a contrast.
Vaclav Havel, a brave and reluctant leader who found himself propelled into the presidency of his newly-liberated country, oversaw its split into two separate nations (the Czech Republic and Slovakia), managed the uneasy transition from Communism to European democracy, and gave up power as soon as it was decent to do so. He leaves behind a legacy not only of political courage, but of great writing and rhetoric. Here was a man who gave his life for his people.
Then, today, Kim Jong Il left North Korea choking on its tears – but not on much else. The Great Leader has starved his people while feeding his own ego. The danger for North Koreans lies in spotting the lack of greatness in their all-too-human ex-leader and catching a glimpse of what the rest of the world sees. (Try reading Barbara Demick’s powerful book Nothing to Envy for some reality.)
I am reminded of that great line by Jeremy Thorpe about Harold MacMillan following the Night of the Long Knives way back in 1963:
Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his friends for his life.
Havel might be remembered for this:
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.
Kim Jong Il will be remembered by many by this:
Three deaths in one week (Hitchens included) – don’t they know it’s Christmas?
December 17, 2011
Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech yesterday in which he praised the impact of the King James Bible, stamped all over the nonsense assumption of secular neutrality, and called for Christians to be confident about their faith, the Bible and their right (nay, responsibility) to speak into public life. Not surprisingly, it has caused a bit of a stir amongst the commentariat whose assumptions got a bit of a kicking.
Cameron was speaking in an Anglican cathedral, so was duly confident in his laudatory observations on the impact of the King James Bible. He also used the occasion to give the Church of England a bit of a kick in relation to its wrangles over women and sexuality. Fair game, I say. And it was good to hear a British politician ‘do God’ without embarrassment, hesitation or self-exonerating caveat.
But, having praised the phenomenon and some of the content, I am still left with a cautious hesitation myself. And I think I know why this is.
He managed to talk up the language of the Bible without really referring to the content of it. Yes, the KJV has powerfully influenced our language and, proclaimed by the Church, has shaped our culture and law as well as our worship. But, we can’t just leave it there.
It reminds me of a rude remark I made recently at an interfaith gathering. I said that many of the global interfaith conferences I attend are a bit like a glorified BT commercial: ‘It’s good to talk’… provided we don’t actually talk about anything. Yet, avoiding ‘content’ is a sure way to waste time and money on non-engagement and the fostering of a false sense of coherence when all we have done is avoid speaking about ‘content’ that might prove contentious. Of course, this is a caricature, but it made the point: we have to move beyond talking about talking to talking about something.
Well, Cameron lauded the language and spoke eloquently about the need for moral codes and ethical foundations in private as well as public life. He argued for a thought-through moral and spiritual basis for our ethics – rather than just assuming one.
But, the problem with the Bible is that as soon as you get beyond the language to what it says, you begin to find it challenging – on lots of fronts. Beautiful language is a means to comprehension, not an end in itself. And it’s taking a bit of a risk challenging the Church of England on its ethical conflicts when those conflicts arise precisely from going through the language and on to conflicted ways of reading the text in its integrity. So, it is alright for the Prime Minister to “recognise the impact of a translation that is, I believe, one of this country’s greatest achievements” and to claim that “the King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history” as long as we don’t delve too deeply into what it says. He goes on:
One of my favourites is the line “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” It is a brilliant summation of the profound sense that there is more to life, that we are imperfect, that we get things wrong, that we should strive to see beyond our own perspective. The key word is darkly – profoundly loaded, with many shades of meaning. I feel the power is lost in some more literal translations. The New International Version says: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror”. The Good News Bible: “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror”. They feel not just a bit less special but dry and cold, and don’t quite have the same magic and meaning.”
I take the point (and basically agree with him), but the Bible isn’t meant to dazzle us with poetic magic; it is meant to open us to the mind of God… which tends to be a little bit challenging.
Like Shakespeare, the King James translation dates from a period when the written word was intended to be read aloud. And this helps to give it a poetic power and sheer resonance that in my view is not matched by any subsequent translation.
Again, point taken. But, resonance isn’t enough. It isn’t a performance prop. Like with Shakespeare, it is possible to enjoy the spectacle and experience of a play while going home oblivious to the point of it all. It won’t kill you, but you are missing out on rather a lot.
Cameron (or whoever wrote the basic text) does a good job of exposing assumptions of neutrality, affirming the role of the Bible in the development of British politics and culture, the fundamental power of biblical anthropology in shaping what would now rather weakly be called ‘human rights’, and the importance of biblically informed theological and spiritual motivation in social altruism. He says:
The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country. Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.” Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love… pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities… these are the values we treasure. Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that.
I didn’t know we were afraid to acknowledge that. But, we are not told which biblical origins these virtues are derived from… or just how to deal with the fact that some people who read that same Bible will not recognise in the same way Cameron does how those virtues should be worked out in concrete priorities, policies or practices. He is absolutely right to knock on the head the utter nonsense that confident Christianity confounds those of other faiths – usually a patronising and ignorant gesture from secular humanists who think they know better than Muslims what offends them. Christianity has indeed created the space in which all people can freely worship or not.
However, Cameron’s conclusion made me wince a little – not at what he said, but at the unarticulated assumptions behind it:
I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities. But to do so it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country. The future of our country is at a pivotal moment. The values we draw from the Bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country
…and you, as the Church of England, can help ensure that it stays that way.
And what might the ‘agenda that speaks to the whole country’ actually be? I suspect it has to do with stuff that some Christians, precisely because of their reading of the Bible – in whatever translation – believe is contentious on moral grounds. I am not saying they are right or wrong; my point is simply that Cameron’s point is itself contentious… as soon as you move beyond vague generalities about ‘values’ and ‘magic’ and into the text itself.
But, maybe he has just opened the door a little to a willingness to take the content of the Bible seriously and invite people to look at the text itself rather than some general or selective bits of nice language. (‘The Word became flesh’… which is when it all got a bit difficult…)
Two cheers for a brave and serious speech. One cheer reserved for the reservations above.
December 16, 2011
Posted by nickbaines under Death
| Tags: Bertrand Russell
, Christian faith
, Christopher Hitchens
, CS Lewis
, GK Chesterton
, Richard Dawkins
, Terry Eagleton
|  Comments
So, Christopher Hitchens has died. I, for one, am sad to hear this.
Any death ends a world for those who are bereaved. And the brutality of this rupture has been brought home recently in the premature deaths – by various means – of people like Gary Speed, the young family in Pudsey, the victims of Liege. Death strips from our ‘normal’ life the veneer of self-sufficiency and confronts us with the pain of our mortality.
The odd thing about the death of Christopher Hitchens, however, is the repeated suggestion that he was in some way (and incontrovertibly) a ‘scourge’ of religious believers, trouncing by sheer intellectual sharpness the nonsense of religious belief. He wasn’t and isn’t a scourge in any sense at all. The difficulty for Christians like me (and theists in general) was that that he wasn’t ‘scourge’ enough. I don’t need to repeat the response he got from Professor Terry Eagleton (among others). Along with Richard Dawkins, Hitchens set up aunt sallies which are not only easy to knock down, but which theists might also wish to knock down. Caricatures of faith might be convenient, but they are not thereby credible.
But, that said, there was always something admirable about Hitchens’ willingness to provoke. Polemic – whether entirely rational or not – is at least interesting. It is a pity that such material will no longer come from his pen.
However, his death provokes thought not only about the impact of lifestyle choices on long-term health, but about mortality itself. We shall all die – that is the fundamental fact of life. Heidegger described human beings as ‘beings towards death’ – and he wasn’t really being miserable. Hitchens went along (as far as we can know) with Bertrand Russell’s conclusion that ‘We die, then we rot’. But, is that all there is to say?
Faith is often dismissed as a crutch on which those who cannot cope with life as it is can lean for emotional support. Apart from the fact that this (lazy) assumption rests on a further and un-argued for assumption that the non-faith world view is somehow neutral, it also fails to understand what faith is. Faith, for the Christian at least, is not some sort of credulous and escapist wishful thinking about a ‘system’ derived from fairies; rather, it is rooted in a person, a judgement and an experience. Put very briefly, a Christian is one who believes there is more to life than death, sees God in the face of Jesus of Nazareth whom death did not contain, commits himself or herself to living a life that transcends the mere satisfaction of personal needs or fulfilment, and, in the company of others who have had a similar experience of being grasped by God (including intellectually – see people like CS Lewis and GK Chesterton among others), live life to the full.
The beginning of being a Christian is coming to terms with – by facing and naming – death. We are mortal. We shall die. But, the sting of death is drawn by the conviction that death neither ends nor ridicules all that has gone before it. No escapism here.
The end is in the beginning. At Christmas we celebrate God coming among us as one of us. In being born, death became inevitable – and, with it, grief, loss, fear, and everything else that makes us alive. But, as the great Bruce Cockburn put it:
Like a stone on the surface of a still river, driving the ripples on for ever, redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.
December 13, 2011
Abba thought it was all about money. The MC in Cabaret sang that ‘money makes the world go around’. And Der Spiegel poses the key question on its front page this week: money rules the world… but who rules money?
At least this question reminds us that, despite the technology that now drives financial transactions across the world, it is still real people who are responsible (a) for the system we accept, and (b) the values that shape our acceptance of that system.
It seems to me that this is actually the bit of reconnection that needs to be made today. Politicians seem to think that more of the same systems that have created our current distress will get us out of the mess we are now in. Where, we ask, is the political or economic imagination – the vision of an economic system that puts people back at the heart of the enterprise? Where is the vision that re-grasps the only dynamic that can ever have integrity: that money exists for people and not people for money? Which is subject and which is object?
These questions might be inevitable and acute right now, but they are not new. Jesus quietly slipped in the notion that if we want to know where your values really lie (and what really drives you and your choices, etc) we’ll need to see your bank statement. Heart and money lie closely together – at least for those who have money to love.
So, Spiegel‘s front-cover question is a deeper one than it appears. Markets do not drive the world, money does not behave as if personified, the economy cannot be ascribed personality or moral competence. People make systems, people are driven by values and assumptions about what (and who) matters (even if there is a discrepancy between what they think and what the evidence suggests), and people decide on the ends the systems are intended to achieve – and in whose interests.
December 9, 2011
A couple of years ago I was asked to write a book about the real meaning of Christmas… for people who don’t usually read Christian books. So, I did. The Sunday Telegraph did a piece which caused me enormous grief and an awful lot of media exposure. The headline had me saying that Christmas carols are ‘nonsense’. The rest is history.
After facing a barrage of bile and ridicule from various media and individuals (one email helpfully offered methods by which I might like to take my life as I was now a ‘disgrace to the Church’), I put my case in a post entitled Grumpy Bishop – an accusation levelled at me despite the sheer happiness of the book I had written. Needless to say, none of the journalists or critics had seen the book, let alone read it.
Anyway, we needn’t go over all that ground again – or the debates that raged on this blog about journalistic accuracy. It’s all history. Except that that particular post has had hundreds of new hits in the last couple of weeks. No idea why – perhaps because Christmas is coming again?
But, the book isn’t! You can still order it direct through this blog or from a bookshop or Amazon. It is called Why Wish You a Merry Christmas? and tells the story afresh.
December 8, 2011
Posted by nickbaines under music
| Tags: Bob Marley
, Tim Hain
|  Comments
I just got news of a new film about the legendary Bob Marley. A mate of mine did the song on the trailer and it all looks worth a look.
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