Hasn't 2011 been just terrible? It's been awful. Absolutely abysmal. There's youth unemployment and all sorts of social ills.
Fortunately, Christianity invented something called "hope". This isn't just blind optimism. It isn't.
Christians also invented things called "faith" and "love". The Bishop of Liverpool might think the phrase "God is Love" is too vacuous, but God is Love, and this is not a contradiction. God is the ultimate reality. It is.
A famous theologian thought love was a really good thing, so it must be true.
Since love and hope are such good things, faith must be too. A child told me that faith was believing what you know isn't true. Foolish child! Don't worry, we will soon correct such wrong notions. Nor is faith simply a crutch for those who can't accept that the universe wasn't made for our benefit. It isn't.
To show how correct everything I'm saying is, my charity collected the money to switch on an old woman's heating. That's how right I am.
We, and by we I do of course mean you, have the ability to transform from an ugly, selfish, sinful pond nymph, into a beautiful, generous, virtuous dragonfly.
Wednesday, 21 December, 2011, 08:14 AM - Courage, hope, perseverance etc., Lessons of history, SacksRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)
There's a big Jewish festival underway. Happy Hanukkah everybody!
Hanukkah celebrates the rebellion of the Jews against Antiochus IV. He put a statute of the wrong Invisible Magic Friend in the temple and banned us from mutilating the winkles of baby boys. He was obviously a bit mad.
Antiochus inherited power, which is a bad thing unless you're a Jewish king. The good guy was Judas Maccabeus who put the real Invisible Magic Friend back in the temple and started mutilating baby boys' winkles again in defiance of the evil Greeks.
By an incredible coincidence, this is exactly like the deaths of Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il. Vaclav Havel didn't fight an underground
So it shall always be, as brave men fight for the freedom to mutilate baby boys' winkles against the stench of tyranny. Courage shall always triumph over insane despots who attempt to put the wrong Invisible Magic Friend in the temple. The human spirit soars like a great human soaring thing. The light of hope banishes the darkness of totalitarianism where a bunch of unelected men tell everyone else what to do.
Thanks to men like Judas Maccabeus, no one will ever again challenge our right to mutilate baby boys' winkles.
Clifford Longley, a distinguished Catholic gentleman who talks a lot about religion, Platitude of the Year Winner 2010
Monday, 12 December, 2011, 08:17 AM - Be nice, Courage, hope, perseverance etc., Democracy, Freedom of speech, LongleyRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)
David and Goliath is a story from the Old Tasty mint of how the little guy stands up to the giant and goes on to be hereditary, autocratic dictator. It's the perfect metaphor for people standing up to dictator's today in a long list of Arab countries, plus Russia and Congo.
The people who stand up to people like the hereditary, autocratic dictator David, are just like David before he became a hereditary, autocratic dictator. They are showing something that we Catholics call "courage", which is when you stand up to autocratic dictators.
Courage was invented by the Greeks, along with justice, temperance and their sister, Prudence. Together these are the four cardinal ways of being good. They were such good ideas that we Catholics decided to adopt them and keep them alive for the sake of humanity. Has anyone mentioned Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas lately? Thought not. Well they thought the four ways of being good were good too, so they decided to pass them on.
Being good took a bit of a dive after the Renaissance and then disappeared completely due to that wretched, secular Enlightenment. But the world hasn't been a complete wreck since then. After the war, philosophers rediscovered being good again. They found out that Catholicism, along with all the great religions, had advocated being good. Even Confucianism advocated being good. Confucius invented being good at about the same time as the Greeks, but he was very far away. It was still mainly religious people who thought being good was a good idea though.
So as autocratic dictators are swept away by people like David before he became an autocratic dictator, being good is surely an idea whose time has come.
I'm a vicar in Sheffield. Sheffield has two universities you know? As a vicar in Sheffield, I do Sunday services. It's one of the things a vicar in Sheffield does - Sunday services.
Sunday services in Sheffield, where I am a vicar, are attended by a huge and diverse range of Anglican Christians. The young Anglicans who attend the services in Sheffield, which has two universities and where I am the vicar, come from all over the world. This is largely because the young people born in Sheffield, where I am the vicar and which has two universities, don't generally attend Sunday services.
Many of these young people who attend Sunday services in Sheffield, where I am the vicar and which has two universities, come from places like Syria and Libya, where great political turmoil is taking place. I ask them how they have had the courage to take part in their respective revolutions. To which they reply that they are actually in Sheffield, attending one of its two universities and speaking to me after Sunday services where I am the vicar.
However, had they not been in Sheffield, attending one of its two universities and speaking to me after Sunday services where I am the vicar, they say they would be inspired by the words of Jesus, who is the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, and who famously said, "Don't accept military dictatorship. Be a revolutionary. Fight for Democracy and liberal values," shortly before being carted off by the Roman military dictatorship and being executed.
It turns out that the revolutions in the Arab world are being led exclusively by people inspired by these inspirational words of Jesus. Where else could these young Arabs have got their inspiration from?
I am inspired by the words of these young Anglicans, attending one of the two universities in Sheffield and speaking to me after Sunday services where I am the vicar, as they recall the inspirational words of Jesus as he calls for violent revolution against dictatorships. It shows just how relevant the Anglican faith is today, even in the Arab world.
What makes people happy? Happiness is of course a complex issue whose complexities I'm not going to discuss, but the Understanding Society survey suggests that married couples, married for less than five years and with no children, are the happiest people of all, although Oscar winners are also happy.
But what else makes people happy? I wonder what it could be? Let me think now, what could be a sure fire way of ignoring all the world's problems? Hmmmm, oh yes, I remember, did you know that having a religion makes people happy? It doesn't even have to be the true religion, like Christianity, any religion will do, no matter how nutty it is? If there's anything guaranteed to help you forget all about this world's troubles, it's to imagine that everything will all be sorted out later in magicland. It's so much more useful than mindless delusion. A famous theologian agrees with me, so I must be right.
I suppose it's because we people of faith have hope. Those of you who don't have an Invisible Magic Friend obviously don't have any hope. You have to rely on people sorting out their own problems and we all know what a waste of time that is! People of faith also benefit from a strong sense of community and a healthier lifestyle.
Just telling people to "don't worry, be happy", can be quite irritating. As one of my favourite hip hop bands says Damn if I say it you can slap me right here (Get it) lets get this party started right, Right on, c'mon.
But it's not just that people of faith have hope, community and health, it's also that we flourish throughout life, are open to change and are so much less selfish than everyone else. We get this through knowing the beauty, goodness and wisdom of the Invisible Magic Friend.
So despite being married 19 years, having two children and no likelihood of an Oscar, I'm off to do a bit of flourishing today. How sad it must be for those of you who are not in my happy state? Excuse me while I stick my fingers in my ears and go "La, la, la, la, la..."
Derek Redmond struggled over the finish line, in the arms of his dad, despite a hamstring injury. Some know-it-all surgeon told him he would never represent his country in sport again, to which Redmond responded by sending him a signed photograph when he had secured his place in the GB basketball team.
Two of my children overcame disabilities in order to go to university. Although they struggled at first, they persevered. Despite being told that he would never hold onto a job or marry, next year my son's going to get a Masters in Mathematics.
Perseverance in sport or academia is a bit like perseverance in faith. Everyone's favourite apostle, Saint Paul, used sporting metaphors over and over again, that's why we always quote the same two endlessly on TFTD. You must fight the good fight and run the race to win the prize.
Don't you want to be like Saint Paul, Derek Redmond and my two children, one of whom is only a year away from his Masters in Mathematics? No matter how ridiculous the basis or how absurd the arguments, don't you want to keep the faith? Don't you want to struggle to be heroically last?
Seventy years ago today, 22,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on the City of London. At it's height, 300 bombs per minute dropped around Saint Paul's, the cathedral that I happen to be Canon Chancellor of. There were 28 direct hits and so many fires that Ed Murrow prematurely announced on CBS that the building was lost.
Saint Paul's, where I am Canon Chancellor and which really is one of the "must see" attractions for any tourist visiting London, survived, even though many buildings around it were reduced to rubble. One of the great icons of London stood defiant against the Nazi bombs.
This is only one small chapter in the long and glorious history of Saint Paul's Cathedral, Canon Chancellor of which I am and which is open daily from 8.30 am to 4.00 pm. It's survival of the blitz was a symbol of hope to all people of faith (people without faith just looked at it and said "yeah, whatever" ). Nor is this the naive hope of the hopelessly deluded, it is the good, brave, British hope of the undefeated, the defiant. Just like religious faith, it's about not giving in to reality.
Christopher Wren, who built Saint Paul's, whose Canon Chancellor I am and where children's tickets are available from only £4 (Adults £12.50 with a whole £1 reduction for senior citizens), found a piece of masonry from the medieval Saint Paul's. It had the single word "resurgen", or "I will rise again" on it. The Cathedral did rise again, just like the resurrection at the heart of the Christian Faith which I now believe in again thanks to my recent successful therapy sessions.
Saint Paul's, Chancellor Canon whereof I am, remains a symbol of faith and hope and has a large and well stocked gift shop full of a wide range of books, CDs, DVDs, jewellery as well as a series of commemorative prints and stationery to suit all tastes, many of which are also available for purchase online.
(Oh yes, and 160 people died and 500 were injured in the raid.)
Isn't Aung San Suu Kyi just fantastic? She's stuck to her pacifist Buddhist principles throughout her long campaign for democracy in Burma. Her Buddhist principles are completely different from the Buddhist principles of the Burmese generals, whose Buddhist principles largely seem to consist of brutally holding on to power at all costs.
Her many critics, such as, well... er... ...they're just too numerous to mention by name, say that maybe if she hadn't been so pacifist, things would be better for Burma by now. Perhaps if she'd led an armed insurgency - regularly blowing up government buildings - that kind of thing, the military leaders would have handed over power to an elected civilian government by now.
Aung San Suu Kyi may not have military power, but like Mandela and Rosa Parks before her, she carries tremendous moral authority and this in itself can bring about change.
Sometimes change happens quickly. Sometimes it doesn't. It can happen overnight or it can take decades. It all depends really on the rate at which change is happening. We won't know how fast change is going to happen in Burma until after it has happened. We'll just have to wait and see whether it's going to be fast change or slow change. But we know from her Buddhist philosophy (this is the good Buddhist philosophy and not the bad Buddhist philosophy of the generals, which probably isn't proper Buddhist philosophy at all) that change definitely happens eventually.
Jesus, who was the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend and therefore an authority on the subject, thought that peaceful change was a good thing too. This reassures me that peaceful change is a good thing, otherwise I wouldn't be so sure.
Aung San Suu Kyi's way of doing things is as recommended by Jesus and good Buddhist philosophy, and this gives us hope that she will succeed.
This lady is determined to bring about change the right way and for that I am both thankful and inspired.
Aung San Suu Kyi may be about to be released. Suu Kyi holds tremendous moral authority in Burma because of her Buddhist belief that good ends cannot be achieved by unethical means. She tells her supporters that it is not power that corrupts but fear, although maybe power corrupts a little bit as well.
We saw these ideals in action in 2007 when Buddhist monks joined with Buddhist students to protest against the government. The government also happen to be Buddhist but they're not proper Buddhists and there aren't as many of them as there are good Buddhists.
The Buddhist Aung San Suu Kyi, just like that other great Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, try to bring Buddhist principles into politics. This is just as good, or even better, than bringing Christian, Muslim or Hindu principles into politics.
In the good old Buddhist days in Tibet, millions of Buddhist serfs happily ploughed the fields so that Buddhist monks could get on with the important business of Buddhist monking. They cheerfully engaged in forced back breaking labour, tied to vast wealthy Tibetan estates, because they knew that the Buddhist monks provided a link to a higher order of reality. But the dream of a return to the good old Buddhist days in Tibet remains just a dream.
Both the Buddhist Aung San Suu Kyi and the Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, seek to demonstrate the Buddhist principle that moral integrity will defeat brute force in the end. Although it does mostly seem to be the case that meditation and chanting have, as yet, not proven to be a viable defence against bullets.
But when Buddhist meditation and chanting do eventually prove themselves against bullets this will show how vitally relevant Buddhist principles are to the modern world.
Alarmingly Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, Platitude of the Year Winner 2009
33 miners, trapped for weeks half a mile down a mine in Chile, survived on a daily ration of a spoonful of tuna, a sip of milk and half a biscuit. Their story has caught the heart of their nation and of the world.
Now that a bore hole has reached them, they are able to send letters, receive food and look into a camera lens so that their families can see that they remain well. They have said how they maintained their morale by singing the Chilean national anthem, an anthem that sings of Chile's blue skies and wild flowers.
In the month's to come, as they remain trapped in a claustrophobic chamber deep underground, they will need faith and hope as well as food. Faith is a gift from the Invisible Magic Friend. We know this because the Big Book of Magic Stuff says so. The miners' faith in the skill and determination of the rescue workers shows what a really good thing faith is. Although I'm not going to mention them explicitly, this clearly implies that all other forms of faith are really good things too.
And while they have faith, we must have hope, that the miners will soon be freed and reunited with their loved ones once again.