Thursday, 30 June 2011


Ostensibly, the Dutch government has just banned kosher and halal slaughter: . However, the law is that animals must be stunned before slaughter. Most halal meat in the UK is stunned - see this report, for instance: - and most Islamic scholars would agree that the practice is perfectly legitimate for Muslims; see, for instance, this page: . I assume practices in Holland are similar to those in the UK, or if not, they could soon be brought in line.

Kosher slaughter seems to be another story, judging by the Meat Site report. I can't find anything decent online about it, but there may be a problem there. If this is motivated by Islamophobia - I don't know, but the current political climate suggests that it may be - then they seem to have scored an own goal.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sunday School

We're making progress getting this organised. We had a discussion after church - it's much better to make decisions in a wider group, rather than having a bunch of stewards deciding everything in a back room - and came up with a lot of ideas. The two ladies running it are keen to organise an open day, and do some leafleting in the area. So we talked about the age group (5-12? Younger wouldn't be too practical unless the parents were in the building), activities, and so forth. I'm trying to get some training organised, on a circuit basis.

The great thing is that it gets a couple of the younger people involved in organising something. We couldn't go on indefinitely with the same group of people trying to run things, but moving on from that has been a major struggle, and we're not out of the woods yet. With one vital person retiring to Jamaica, and two more stuck in London, it's sometimes felt hopeless. It's God's church though, and his resources are more than ours!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Unspeakable Acts

I had an email this morning inviting me to a concert at my old school, in honour of one its most famous Old Boys, Ivor Novello. Naturally it doesn't mention the fact that he was expelled in 1906, aged 15, for committing unspeakable acts on half the First XV. There's no evidence that any of them were expelled with him, despite their being older, probably bigger, and therefore presumably consenting. It seems that hypocrisy around gay sex is nothing new.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Stoning dogs

The Heresiarch has a post about a right shaggy dog story here: . I don't know how to make the link come out as 'Heresy Corner' or something in blue type. We're used to this sort of nonsense about Sharia, but it's not so common about Jewish law.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

God made these too

This is a wasps' nest which has established itself in an empty beehive. It's made of paper constructed from fibres chewed from weathered or decaying wood; I believe the patterns in the surface can be used to identify the species. There are several very similar species, and I'd need to take my book down to the allotment to be certain which this is.

Wasp and bee colonies contain thousands of juicy grubs, and as a result, they tend to be extremely good at self-defence. Their weapons are only used in that way, though, at least against us. I can lift the cover off the hive and watch them without the slightest reaction.

Social wasps are major predators; thousands of insects, many of them pests, are brought back daily to feed the grubs, which produce sugary syrup to feed the adults. It's only at the end of the season, when the queen stops laying and there are no more grubs, that they come looking for anything sweet, and come into regular contact with humans. As far as I'm concerned, they more than earn their keep, and they're no problem at all. I've shared my shed with wasps several times, and never been stung yet.

The beehive next to it has been building up steadily, and is now beginning to store a little surplus honey. Most of it will come in during the next month, as the brambles flower. At this time of year, the queen's going full blast, laying somewhere from 1200 to 1500 eggs, more than her body weight, in a day.

A few feet away is another hive with a swarm which moved in a month ago. I get them every year, and use them to restock empty hives. They can be an impressive sight; the queen can't survive alone, and she flies off, driven out of the hive, accompanied by about half the workers in the colony. This is a small one I found hanging in my hedge one afternoon:

The older bees go with the queen, while the younger, which don't fly much, stay behind to maintain the colony, look after the brood, and attend to the new queen which will have been started before the hinve swarmed. In the air, a swarm can be a tight knot of bees ten feet across, or it can be fifty yards across, turn the air black with bees, and sound like a jet aircraft.

A queen is nothing but a sexually mature, overfed worker, and all being well, she soon mates. They'll have raised several queen cells, and many colonies keep more than one for a while, as an insurance against mating failure in our dodgy weather. In the wild, about 75% of swarms will probably fail to store enough honey to see them through their first winter, so I feed them like mad during their first autumn.

These are all part of God's creation, and we've got no need to regard them with the fear which is so common!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A little Good News

There was some good news at Circuit Meeting last night. Firstly, the pressure to join the local megacircuit is off. It's got financial problems, another big circuit in Coventry had to appoint an assistant to the Superintendant as he couldn't keep up with the job, and the assistant, of course, wasn't getting the Super's allownace for the extra work. So it's now running as two separate circuits, and a halt has been called. Maybe a little sanity will now manifest itself, and we can look at the Super's role, and see what we can do to improve their lot.

Secondly, the Circuit is no longer losing members, at least for the moment. We keep having to dip into our financial reserves, and if that continues, we have two options. One is to cut back, but this isn't necessarily a good idea. All too often, as the history of British industry shows, it leads to further decline. We've done a great deal of cutting back already; over twenty years, we've gone from three circuits with around ten ministers, to one Circuit with three. That's an enormous change, and we can't go on at that rate. What we have is working at the moment, so we need a breathing space before we even think of cutting another minister. I'm not so sure about buildings. Several churches are in large, uneconomic old buildings, when they might be better off getting rid of them, and meeting in something smaller and more manageable.

The other option is to build up our churches, and make them flourish. If you have more people, you can do more, bring in yet more people, and your finances grow with the congregation. We need to go from managing decline to managing growth, and some people are going to find that very threatening. If a church is shrinking, there are few if any new people coming in, the same people stay in control, and the church becomes their little empire. Everything I've seen suggests that this is part of the problem; new people are left to drift away, or are pushed, as they're seen as a threat. Growth brings in new people, new ideas, and it only continues as long as they're given space to thrive.

Things are happening round the Circuit; we're starting a Sunday School; other churches are doing other things. Hopefully, one step may lead to another. If decline really has ceased, then we have to be doing something right, and we need to do more of it!

Saturday, 4 June 2011


I still can't comment on this or other people's Blogger sites. Infuriating!

I'm very wary of using the word 'can't' of God. It's a sort of hyper-Arminianism I come across quite often; God can't force us into Heaven, and now there's a string of other things he can't do either. He's supposed to be an omnioptent being, though, and in that case there can't be anything he can't do!

Luke speaks of the Holy Spirit's presence repeatedly in his Gospel. Elizabeth and Zechariah are filled with it, it rests on Simeon. Then Jesus is filled with it. It doesn't seem to be the least bit inhibited before the Ascension, so I think there's something else going on. Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon all prophecy, paralleling passages in the OT where people are filled with the Spirit, and prophecy. Jesus is filled for the duration of his ministry, then,  when it's time for the church to continue his mission, the Spirit fills the disciples. Wherever God is acting, the Spirit, which in Luke is like the active presence of God on Earth, is also present.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Ascension Day

Yesterday was Ascension Day, and some bloggers have been using this as an opportunity to poke fun at the literalists. Some people are very quick to claim that they 'believe every word of the Bible literally', but I wonder what that means in practice?

Of course Jesus didn't take off like a space shuttle on his way to Planet Heaven. I hope not too many people think he did. Luke's the guy who talks about it it. In his Gospel, Jesus appears to have ascended within a few days of his resurrection. The two disciples meet him on their way to Emmaus; then the scene moves to Jerusalem. He's off shortly afterwards:

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke (24:50-53).

I have trouble seeing Spaceship Jesus there.

In Acts, of course, Luke gives us a more elaborate, and not entirely consistent, version of the story. Jesus famoulsy spends forty days with the disciples, so Luke now wants us to know that he was around for a long time; it seems that he had rather more to tell them than the author lets us know in his Gospel. The two things that Luke is keen to pass on to his audience is that the Holy Spirit will be given to 'you' - ostensibly the disciples, put perhaps extending to Luke's audience a couple of generations later. Then, probably in answer to questions as to why there's such a delay, Luke's eager to assure his hearers that it's not for them to know when the kingdom will be restored to Israel (1:7). They will, however, be Jesus' witnesses 'to the ends of the Earth'. Acts is, of course, the story of how the message went as far as Rome.

Once that's out of the way, we get to the Ascension itself:

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts 1:9-11)

No doubt the two 'men' are intended as angels; which turn up in human disguise in the apocalyptic writings. I suppose a blind literalist could see this in terms of Jesus flying off to some heaven beyond the bright blue sky, and no doubt that type of interpretation was once widepread. The intention, however, is to put a full stop (more or less; let's not forget Paul) to Jesus' appearances. He's finished his work on earth, and God is now sending the Spirit to get the church moving; while the Gospel is the story of Jesus' mission, Acts is concerned with the church. The Spirit is never personified; rather; it's a sort of 'divine wind' (RWAH means wind, breath or spirit in Hebrew; Pneuma much the same in Greek) driving the church onwards.

I suspect Luke - or whoever originated the story, as he may have got it from someone else - gained his inspiration at least partly from Paul. Unlike Luke, he's not interested in the incarnate Jesus. To him, Jesus is 'declared to be Son of God with power' by his Resurrection (Romans 1:4). To Paul, Jesus is special from that moment, and he's not too bothered about what went on earlier. He elaborates in Philippians 2; he may be quoting or adapting from elsewhere, but if so, he quotes with approval. He's not clear as to whether Jesus is pre-existent or not. Philippians 2:5-7a: '
Philippians 2:5-7 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.' could mean that Jesus was some heavenly or angelic being which submitted to being born as a human being, but could equally well mean that he was a human being who was satisfied with his humble status, unlike the first Adam, who sinned in his pride, and tried to be equal with God. Either way, his humility and obedience led God to reward him in a sort of heavenly enthronement; he's given a new name which sets him up above all other beings - except, presumably, God himself - and every knee shall bend, every tongue confess, as per Isaiah 45:23, that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God. In romans 14:11, the same is applied directly to God. It's an enthronement which leaves God and Jesus so closely associated that the distinction almost - but never quite - disappears. This exalted heavenly Christ is, of course, the one who really interests Paul!

Luke, however, is very interested indeed in the incarnate Jesus. He disagrees with Paul; rather than becoming special at the Resurrection, he thinks Jesus is Son of God, and special, from birth. His sonship is derived, not by his having been engendered by the Holy Spirit, as per Matthew, but by inheritance from Adam, who is also called Son of God (Luke 3:38). A series of prophecies and angelic visions around the birth make it clear that this is a very special baby indeed; the Gabriel declares to Mary that: 'He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."' (Luke 1:32-33). There's no sign of pre-existence anywhere in the Gospel, we have to turn to John to find that.

So Luke gets to the end of his tale. He's writing theology in the form of story, presenting the movement Jesus started as something which is, despite its founder's embarassing death, quite compatible with Roman rule. Alone among the New Testament authors, he deals with Jesus' transition to heaven by telling a story about it. That's all it is; a transition,and the church is probably wise not to make too much of a fuss about marking the occasion.


For some reason, Blogger hasn't been letting me comment here. There have been a string of complaints recently from other bloggers, so I don't think it's me. All I can think of is to use a new post to reply to comments on my last, and hope they get their act together soon!

All the people involved know our pattern perfectly well, it's just that we get this minority who don't think they should have to go along with it. I agree that it's about control, but underlying that, it's their own convenience as well. The problem with any sort of authoritarian approach.

We can't start earlier; one of two people who wanted an earlier service recently asked everyone, and they made it clear they didn't want to start earlier. We did try starting the choruses earlier, when we had a minister who wanted to finish 'on time' and a Senior Steward who never disagreed with ministers. It didn't work because nobody turned up any earlier. The choruses are part of the service, and everyone's going to have to work with that.

There's a slight political problem in the church, with one vociferous individual who probably agrees with the people who want to finish at twelve. Right now I'm the only one in Church Council who argues with her. I need one vital person to be there, but she's stuck elsewhere due to work at the moment. Hopefully that'll sort itself out before long.

Once we've got something clear through CC, the LP meeting will have to go along with it - even if a few argue, the majority will support us. That should be the end of it, and with an officially longer service, we can then look at the next stage. As I say, it's going to be a question of feeling our way, step by step, and finding a way of having a service which more of our people will be comfortable with. If we can do it without upsetting anyone, so much the better; I'm notorious for arguing with people in meetings, but I don't actually like doing it! We've just got too many people who've been allowed to get away with too much for too long, and it's got to stop.

When it comes to readings, our approach is to encourage as many people as possible to take a turn reading, and provide Bibles so everyone can follow. Some people are good readers, others lousy, but we don't care. What matters to us is participation. In our case, this isn't just a clique; it's a policy which has stood the test of time, and which, as far as I know, is supported by everyone. Once again, some preachers don't like it, but they've more or less accepted that this is what's going to happen.