Yesterday we saw what happens when tectonic plates shift.
Has anyone mentioned Ash Wednesday yet? We had Ash Wednesday just three days go. That's when we Christians get ashes put on our head to remind us that we'll return to dust. The same words are used on Ash Wednesday as in we Christians' burial service, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Ash Wednesday marks the start of 40 wonderful days of penance and reflection before the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend rises from the dead, which is just brilliant.
There must have been a lot of ash in Japan yesterday, which again reminds us of Ash Wednesday, and there'll be lots of burials, where Christians mention ash too!
T.S. Eliot, a famous Christian, wrote a poem about Ash Wednesday you know. Ash Wednesday is a really good poem as it mentions the Invisible Magic Friend a lot. It's about someone who struggles to find faith in the Invisible Magic Friend. I say "find faith" rather than "believe a bunch of irrational, superstitious bunkum" because it sounds much nicer. What a terrible struggle that must be, to struggle for faith, not to have the clear, unambiguous insight that I have.
Many people yesterday in Japan, only three days after our Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, will have prayed to the Invisible Magic Friend to save them. Others will have foolishly raged at the Invisible Magic Friend. How could he allow such a terrible thing to happen, only three days after the Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, they will ask? As if they shouldn't be destroyed by the power of nature just like everyone else. How very selfish and small minded of them.
The explanation of this is really all quite simple. You see the Invisible Magic Friend invented thermodynamics, plate tectonics and the laws of physics and chemistry. Then he gave us our brains and left us to figure out how that gives rise to earthquakes and tsunamis, so that we can understand what's killing us.
Doubtless, as people were crushed, drowned, burned or torn apart yesterday, only three days after the Christian festival of Ash Wednesday, they were thinking about the Invisible Magic Friend and why it is there are some things that we just don't understand, and perhaps that is the greatest mystery of all.
Friday, 11 March, 2011, 09:46 AM - Not TFTDFrankyv pointed out the interview on yesterday's Today Programme with Paul Diamond, the barrister bringing the claim on behalf of the Pentecostal Christian couple Eunice and Owen Johns, and Lord Falconer. Lord Falconer's comments seemed at odds with the lurid headlines that have spread across the world and the increasingly hysterical rants of prominent Christian bloggers.
The full judgement in the case is available online, so I decided to have a quick read. There's a lot of information in the judgement, which it turns out has been highly selectively quoted by the press (what a surprise!). The bottom line however is that Eunice and Owen Johns have not been banned from fostering children.
As paragraph  makes clear "there has been no decision [by Derby City Council]; the 'decision' taken on 10 March 2009 – over a year before the application was issued – was merely a decision to defer a decision."
The judges repeatedly stressed that they were reluctant to make any judgement at all in the case and indeed concluded (paragraph ) "that we should make no order" in the case.
It also became clear that there was more than the couple's beliefs that were a concern. When asked how he would deal with a potentially gay child, Owen responded by saying that he would "gently turn them round" . Other matters included
...who would care for a child who was likely to be there at weekends when the claimants were at the two church services they attended on Sundays, the indication that they would not take a Muslim child in their care to a mosque, and their availability in a wider sense because of the pressures of their work and other commitments.
The judges make it quite clear that religious discrimination is completely unacceptable  and that neither Derby City Council or the court are attempting to do so.
 No one is asserting that Christians (or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims) are not 'fit and proper' persons to foster or adopt. No one is contending for a blanket ban. No one is seeking to de-legitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief. No one is seeking to force Christians or adherents of other faiths into the closet. No one is asserting that the claimants are bigots. No one is seeking to give Christians, Jews or Muslims or, indeed, peoples of any faith, a second class status. On the contrary, it is fundamental to our law, to our polity and to our way of life, that everyone is equal: equal before the law and equal as a human being endowed with reason and entitled to dignity and respect.
 ...it is not the defendant's position that the majority of the population is to be excluded from being approved for fostering because of their Christian beliefs. ...the defendant has approved foster carers who are "very committed Christians who hold to orthodox beliefs and devout Muslims who are similarly committed to their religion"
All that has been said is that
 ...The local authority is entitled [emphasis mine] to explore the extent to which prospective foster carers' beliefs may affect their behaviour, their treatment of a child being fostered by them.
In short, they have not been banned from fostering children because of their beliefs. They have not been banned from fostering children at all. There is no blanket ban on Christians fostering children. There is no court order in this case. The most the judges can be said to have concluded is that a couples views on homosexuality may be taken into account.
The Dalai Lama is a complicated sort of His Holiness. On the one hand he's really into science and reform and being modern. On the other hand, he's a reincarnated god-king with the absolute power of a feudal monarch over his enslaved population. Now, having ruled only ten years longer than Gaddafi, he is to relinquish the political power that the Chinese have prevented him exercising, in favour of a democratically elected leader.
Everyone agrees that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a really super His Holiness. In a way, it's really rather good that the Chinese have restrained his political power. It really would be most awfully embarrassing if someone as holy as His Holiness were actually to preside over a largely illiterate nation of bonded serfs. Thankfully that was all taken forcefully away from His Holiness and he can now speak with great moral authority about the oppression of his people.
By having all his palaces and monasteries taken away from him, His Holiness the Dali Lama is the very embodiment of Buddhist notions of simplicity and non-attachment.
Forsooth, methinks 'tis time qoth I the Bard.
"Get thee to Gloucester, Essex.
Do thee to Wessex, Exeter.
Fair Albany to Somerset
must eke his route.
And Scroop, do you to Westmoreland,
where shall bold York
Enrouted now for Lancaster,
with forces of our Uncle Rutland,
Enjoin his standard with sweet Norfolk's host.
Fair Sussex, get thee to Warwicksbourne,
And there, with frowning purpose, tell our plan
To Bedford's tilted ear, that he shall press
With most insensate speed
And join his warlike effort to bold Dorset's side.
I most royally shall now to bed,
To sleep off all the nonsense I've just said." *
We all look to royalty as our role models, but once they become royally majesticated they transform into something even more set apart from we common, lowly, crawly things. We've all had friends who came to look down on us because they've become rich and famous. Yes, unbelievable as it may seem, people have actually looked down on me!
This reminds me of Prince Andrew, or alternatively of Jesus, the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend. He remained friends with sinners like us, and by "us" I mean you.
[* With apologies to Beyond the Fringe]
One of the great things about being a priest is that you get to see so many people die. There's nothing I enjoy more than watching one of my parishioners die. Of course it's not the way it used to be. Parishioners used to die at home, often in excruciating pain. Now they're taken to a hospital, drugged up to their eyeballs and connected to the machine that goes ping!
There's a popular misconception about Christianity and death. Non-Christians naively assume that when we die, we think we just "pass on" in a sort of disembodied form, floating around like a ghostly, eternal Giles Fraser. As a Rev Canon Dr, let me just assure you that this, rather theologically simplistic view of death, is completely wrong. When you die that's it, kaput, finito, you are an ex-person, you have ceased to be. I doubt if you'll find any Christians who have ever thought otherwise.
Today is Ash Wednesday (that's today's news from an ethical perspective), when we Christians are reminded that we are dust and back to dust we shall return. Now all this talk of your inevitable, imminent demise may seem a tad depressing. Not a bit of it! Would you really want me going on and on and on? That's pretty much all that science has to offer you, which just goes to show how rubbish science is. Just imagine - no more beautiful, poignant, parishioners' deathbed scenes.
When sophisticated theologians like Boethius and Augustine speak of "entering eternity" they're talking about something much bigger than the current you. I mean really big. You wouldn't believe how mind-bogglingly, stupendously, unbelievably big. Much, much bigger than this poxy, cramped, boring little universe that we're trapped in. It'll be all so big and mystical and transcendental and eternal and stuff, and not at all like just "passing on".
Tuesday, 8 March, 2011, 09:08 AM - SinghRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
Sizeable minorities are common in many countries, as we see from the fleeing migrant workers in Libya. With that tenuous connection to the news out of the way, let's talk about me.
I'm flying off, first class, to an important meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, where I'll be describing the experience of minorities in Britain to many eminent people in that distant land.
Estonia is struggling with the problem of integrating several groups of slightly different white Europeans. They're doing all the right things, passing laws that prohibit discrimination, but despite this, indigenous Estonians continue to earn more. That's why they've invited me to go and tell them all about ethnic minority media.
Minority media helps preserve the cultural cohesion of a minority. The downside is that it maintains the cultural cohesion of the minority. In Britain, the language of our scripture is Punjabi, yet later generations are more comfortable with English. We want our children to understand their cultural heritage, yet continue to speak English.
I think it would be a really good idea if we expressed our scripture in English.
I'm not going to mention any of the Gurus today. Now where did I put my passport?
The wakeup tunes for the last two days of Discovery's final mission have been selected, starting today with the theme from Star Trek. There's lots of space news this week. Yesterday Patrick Moore celebrated the 700th edition of The Sky at Night, and Brian Cox [Ed - grrrrr... bloody Brian Cox] started his new series Wonders of the Universe. There are also books to be published about whether our universe is one of many: the multiverse.
Putting people in space is a dangerous business. It was on this day 25 years ago that the crew compartment of the shuttle Challenger was located on the ocean floor. Yet the message of Star Trek, to boldly go where no one has gone before, is a basic human instinct. The science fiction series portrayed a hopeful vision of the future, where science had solved many of humanity's problems, and useless things, like religion, were a thing of the past.
But enough of all this talk of science, it's time to talk about the Invisible Magic Friend. Yuri Gagarin may have said he wasn't up in space, but James Irwin said he was, so there. As a Rev Dr Dr Prof, I think science is a really good thing.
[Ed - at this point someone in the Radio 4 control room had evidently had enough and we were treated to 5 seconds of the most delightful silence.]
Science is a gift from the Invisible Magic Friend, which just goes to show how incredibly useful the Invisible Magic Friend is, and how wrong Star Trek was.
Sunday, 6 March, 2011, 09:08 AM - ClemmiesHas anyone mentioned it's nearly Lent yet? The Mostly Irrelevant and Imminently Eminent Archbishop Vincent Nichols has. He says we, and by we he means you, should return to giving up something for Lent. I have thought hard about this and after much prayer and reflection have decided to follow the good archbishop's advice. I am therefore announcing that, as of Weds 9th March, and for all of the days that follow, until Easter Sunday itself, I will give up listening to Pause For Thought on Radio 2. This shouldn't be too hard as I never listen to it any way. Who knows, this might even become a lifetime habit.
We have three strong contenders for February's Clemmie. I could mention a whole bunch of potential runners up, but I'm not going to as this would have to include Rabbi Lionel Blue and certain people get a bit uppity when I hint at the merest suggestion of a possibility that everyone's favourite Rabbi has been in any way platitudinous.
First out with a 5/5 was Rev Angela Tilby, Vicar of St Bene't's Church, Cambridge. Rev Angela explained that she knew exactly how the protesters in Egypt felt because she suffered a power cut at her local Waitrose. They've got an Invisible Magic Friend which is why they're prepared to get out onto the streets and demand something spiritual.
Next we had the Illustriously Reverend Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Lord Richard Harries, Baron Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, Baron, Bishop, Professor, Lord...
God's laws are always the best laws. You may think human laws are OK, but in the end they're just rubbish compared to God's laws.
And finally, Rev Dr Dr Prof David Wilkinson, Principal of St John's College Durham. People of faith have hope, community and health, they flourish in life, are open to change and are so much less selfish than everyone else.
These are all virtues ascribed to people of faith in previous TFTDs. I really don't think just shovelling them all together so blatantly is particularly clever. It certainly shouldn't be encouraged and on this ground I'm going to disqualifying him from this month's award. Besides, he forgot to mention how modest they were.
Lord Professor Bishop Baron Reverend Richard Harries was a fair effort, but really nothing more than average from an academic of such distinction.
So as compensation for the trauma suffered at Waitrose, and in recognition of the fact that she manages to soldier on despite having a church with two apostrophes in its name, this month's Clemmie goes to Rev Angela Tilby, Vicar of St Bene't's Church, Cambridge.
Sunday, 6 March, 2011, 08:59 AM - ClemmiesWe, and by we I mean you, forgot all about last month's Clemmie. Naturally I didn't forget and was just waiting to see if one of you would remind me, which you didn't. I expect you were all just caught up in the excitement of the Platitude of the Year award, which is understandable. I want you all to know that I forgive you.
Rev Dr Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral started things off splendidly. Where do Africans get these bizarre, irrational, superstitious beliefs about witches from? I mean it's like something from the Dark Ages. It's not as if the Big Book of Magic Stuff tells you that you shall not suffer a witch to live or anything. If only people would adopt a sensible religion, like Christianity.
Then there's Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Chaplain at the University of Cambridge. I'm not sure if Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad is eligible to be included or not. The first two minutes were an entirely sensible reflection on the teaching of history in our schools. Then in the last minute he completely lost it, telling us that it's all because of the lack of morality and if only people read more from their various Middle Eastern Big Books of Magic Stuff they'd understand a lot more about British history. I'm not entirely sure that he was even being serious. But then I find that with most TFTDs.
Akhandadhi Das, a Vaishnav Hindu teacher and theologian abandoned all attempts at subtlety or moderation. Normally TFTD presenters do their best to hide the more embarrassingly silly bits of their beliefs. Akhandadhi Das was having none of it. The universe is actually a great cosmic computer that adds up all the good and bad Karma, ready for the next life. And if that seems unlikely then just remember that Tesco can add up all your rewards from your grocery bill.
For perhaps the most egregious display of totally ga-ga wooiness ever heard on TFTD, Akhandadhi Das is far and away the worthy winner of the January Clemmie.
Saturday, 5 March, 2011, 09:33 AM - JenkinsRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Plain speaking is better than obfuscating verbosity. Whether it's advice about avoiding alcohol with medicine, or a portable incident room described as a "conference demountable unit", it's important to use the simplest language possible to convey your meaning.
That's why people turn to Christianity for answers. You won't find Christianity beating about the bush, with lengthy theological or philosophical discussions about what's right and wrong. It's a just a plain, simple, self-consistent, non-contradictory set of rules, a few thousand pages long, as set down in the Big Book of Magic Stuff.
Take the ten commandments for instance, there's no ambiguity there: there's only one god and you're to worship him properly... or else...
Jesus on the other hand didn't like to to give definite answers. He preferred to waffle a lot and leave it up to everyone else to try and figure out what he was talking about. That's why people turn to Christianity, because it's so non-prescriptive and not just a matter of following a book of rules.
There's only one rule: all you need is love.