Saturday, 25 July, 2009, 09:48 AMRating 1 out of 5 (Hardly platitudinous at all)
Brian here, an associate lecturer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where we envision and equip Christians, and the leaders, churches and organisations that serve them, with the biblical framework, practical resources and models to engage biblically, relevantly and vigorously with the issues they face in today’s world. Hi.
After last week's, "aren't the stars just amazing?" talk, I now want to turn my attention to butterflies. Aren't butterflies just amazing? Painted Lady butterflies flew here in their millions from the Atlas mountains in Morocco. Somehow they managed to reach a consensus on where to go for their holidays this year.
"How about Britain?"
"Nah, we went their last year, and the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that..."
"Britain it is then."
It's all so colourful, and poetic and pretty and... well... just amazing! And mysterious too. And now we're about to get up to a billion of these wonderful, delicate creatures emerge from their cocoons. It's a miraculous transformation from a grubby, unattractive, crawly thing into a colourful, winged natural wonder. Wasn't it nice of the Invisible Magic Friend to make butterflies?
Jesus doesn't have a lot to say about butterflies. In fact he never actually mentions them at all, but I'm sure when he said "consider the lilies", he had all the other nice, pretty bits of the natural world in mind as well. In one of his hippy moments, Jesus was telling us to lie back and enjoy the summer. After all butterflies don't worry do they? At least, not 'till they find themselves in the beak of one of the equally pretty birds.
Friday, 24 July, 2009, 08:30 AMRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
Congratulations, and thank you for choosing "Church of England Weddings" to be your wedding service provider. We value your custom and look forward to charging you for the many additional extras that you'll be forced to take, like reading the banns, and providing you with certificates. "Church of England Weddings" are special because we care, we care about family values, we care about extracting the maximum fees from you on a day where, let's face it, you wouldn't want to do things on the cheap, would you?
To make your special day even more special, have you considered our new, low cost, combined Hatch and Match service? For only a little more than the cost of a wedding alone, we'll throw in an all-you-can-baptise kid dunking party! This value promotion is the ideal way to end your living in sin and join millions of proper people in real Church of England approved, theologically correct coitus. Kids will just love splashing around in the water as they join the Invisible Magic Friend club and remember, only Church of England baptisms come with state guaranteed sacramental grace*.
So what are you waiting for? The sooner you get in there, the sooner you'll be celebrating that 50th wedding anniversary, surrounded by real people, married people, procreating without sin people.
*[ "Sacramental grace" is an invisible magic thing and cannot be guaranteed to actually exist or have any testable or proven effect whatsoever. ]
Thursday, 23 July, 2009, 08:16 AMRating 0 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)
There was nothing good on the telly last night so I'm going to have to talk about news.
Magdeline Makola was kidnapped, tied up, robbed and confined for ten days in darkness in the boot of her car. She had no food or water and had reconciled herself to her approaching death. Finally, on Boxing Day, she managed to make her muffled calls heard by some passing policemen.
Magdeline attributes her fortitude and her survival to her strong faith and constant prayers, but everyone has the capacity to summon up the same deep reserves of inner strength. Thanks to evolution, the instinct for survival is strong in all of us.
Wednesday, 22 July, 2009, 08:26 AMRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
Here's the news from a faith perspective and the news is that I've been very busy indeed this week. I flew to Dubai which is full of really, really rich people where I wagged my finger at them, warning them about the profligate waste of fossil fuels and the damage it's doing to the planet. Then I got on the plane to Kenya, which is mostly full of poor people and I saw the consequences of selfish, rich people profligately wasting fossil fuels and damaging the planet - the bastards.
It reminds me of the story of Lazarus and Dives. Dives was a rich man who didn't help the poor man Lazarus. Dives actually means "rich man", so he was really well named - an early case of biblical nominative determinism. This story of hope and love tells how the rich man burns in hell for all eternity. So you just watch it, all you people who aren't poor enough.
The talk in Africa was all about China, an evil communist empire, full of rich atheists who slavishly follow the dogmatic teaching of their deluded communist founder. He thought religion was just the opiate of the people, that it gave them false hope of an after life and that we should strive instead to share the profits of capital among the proletariat. But we sang some really good hymns while we celebrated a fantastic happy-clappy communion, all washed down with Love. We knew that all those rich atheists would get it in the afterlife and that it'd be a really good laugh. We were so hyper after it all, not at all like being off your face on drugs.
Then we settled down to write a really good letter about being poor, before flying home to tell everyone about the irresponsible behaviour that's causing climate change.
Tuesday, 21 July, 2009, 08:27 AMRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
At 59, Tom Watson's performance at the Open reminds us all that we more mature citizens are not past it after all. Now in my late 70s, I think the producers of this programme should note that I'm not fluffing my lines or getting confused, like a certain Rabbi who shall remain nameless. Indeed, in more civilised cultures, the elderly, or at least those who still have their marbles intact, are respected for their experience, their wisdom and their lack of hormonal rage. As they become more and more senile, it is then that they are expected to become more religious.
Nowadays everyone keeps going on about young people. At the endless inter-faith conferences, where we discuss how different faiths can learn to stop hating one another, you just can't get them to shut up about young people. I've got nothing against young people, I was a young person myself once. I even know a few of them that aren't half bad. It turns out that many of them, despite not being over keen on religion, still share values that can only be obtained by following the examples of the Gurus. I wonder why that is? Young people can even be useful sometimes. It was the children of Guru Gobind Singh who helped resist forced conversion at the hands of the Mughals (who were Muslims and who are forever telling us that there is no compulsion in religion, but we won't mention that).
Monday, 20 July, 2009, 08:22 AMRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
We don't want MPs to have second jobs, but we do want them to have experience of the world beyond Westminster. That sounds like a contradiction. It is of course, completely impossible for them to gain experience in one walk of life before entering politics and then retaining unpaid links with their trade associations, practises or learned societies during their political career. As a Reverend Canon doctor and an Anglican Priest I certainly don't see how that could be done.
We've had similar problems in the Church of England which we've solved by employing part time priests. Some of these are former colleagues of myself and are very clever people. Some are even very practical people. If people of such high status as bankers can believe in the Invisible Magic Friend then doesn't that make you feel foolish at being so dismissive of Him? As a full time banker, my friend is able to bring much new thought to his priestingness. He is able to preach the virtue of saving, especially with a savings account that pays 0.25% more than other high street rivals, subject to you never, ever taking any money out.
Politicians and clergy tend to think in silos (just a little bit of management speak for those of you who don't move in the rarefied corporate management circles that we Reverend Canon Doctors do). Jesus was the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend. Because he was only a part time human being he could speak with authority about invisible magic things. That's precisely the kind of person you want as an MP. After all, if someone can carry out the onerous responsibilities of a vicar part time, then representing a 100,000 people's interest in parliament should be a cinch.
Saturday, 18 July, 2009, 10:38 AM - ScienceRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
13.5 billion years ago, the cosmos erupted from a singularity.
All the energy, all the matter, all the forces of nature that operate today, everywhere from the most fundamental particle, to the great vastness of space originated then.
300,000 years later, the heat and intensity dropped sufficiently to allow light to travel unimpeded through space, leaving us the remarkable fossil radiation that we know as the cosmic microwave background.
Over billions of years, tiny variations in the homogeneity of that singular event allowed gravity to begin to work, to build stars and galaxies.
Generations of stars lived and died, cooking heavier elements in their nuclear furnaces, exploding and seeding the interstellar dust with carbon, iron, nitrogen, oxygen.
4.5 billion years ago, a star went nova in the outer spiral arm of our galaxy. It triggered the collapse of a vast cloud of gas, rich in these heavy elements.
The bulk of the primordial hydrogen and helium condensed into a central hot body, whose core became so hot and so dense that nuclear fusion began. Our sun was born.
Two of the sun's rocky children collided in their orbit, the fragments reforming to create planet earth and its young moon.
Earth was special. It inhabited an orbit where liquid water could exist. Its radioactive core powered a system of plate tectonics that recycled carbon on a massive scale. The super dense iron formed a dynamo, generating a magnetic field that protected the planet from the sun's solar wind.
A bombardment of comets, rich in water ice, methane and amino acids rained down upon the earth, forming its first oceans.
Somewhere, somehow, an organic compound began to metabolise the surrounding soup. It self replicated and life was born.
The original progenitor was succeeded by more efficient cells, with DNA to encode proteins to build other cells.
For nearly two billion years, these single celled organisms reproduced and evolved, driven by the necessity of their environments, generating free oxygen in the oceans and later in the atmosphere.
2.5 billion years ago, two of these single celled organisms fused and cells with nuclei and mitochondria appeared.
By one billion years ago, multi-celled organisms had arrived. Bilateral symmetry developed.
600 million years ago, life learned to use calcium to create skeletons and teeth. An evolutionary arms race developed that we now call the Cambrian explosion.
400 million years ago life crept onto the land.
In rapid succession, amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs, birds and mammals found new ways to spread across the drifting continents.
3 million years ago, in the continent of Africa, one of those mammals learned to use tools. They mastered fire, bone, iron and bronze. They turned from hunter gatherers to farmers, domesticating crops and animals. They developed villages and complex societies, complete with myths and legends of their mastery of the world.
6,000 years ago, they learned to write their knowledge down, passing on their stories, their discoveries, their wisdom to their children. Human history had begun.
Over time they learned to test their theories and created the scientific method. Our mastery of mathematics gave us wondrous new insights into motion, heat, electromagnetism, relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, chemistry, geology, biology and even life itself.
Today we probe deep into the universe with space telescopes and deep into the depths of the atom with high energy accelerators.
Still we stare at the sky and marvel at its vastness, its beauty, its ferocity. We puzzle over its unsolved mysteries. How special is our universe? How unique was the Big Bang? How unique is life? Why is gravity so different from the other forces? What is the nature of the mysterious dark matter that binds the galaxies together, or the even more mysterious dark energy that flings them apart?
We gaze upon the deceptively unchanging moon and wonder at its cold, lifeless beauty, where 40 years ago today, a man set foot, uniting all humanity for an instant of common pride.
But never mind all that. What's really important is that there's an Invisible Magic Friend that loves you.
Friday, 17 July, 2009, 11:05 AMRating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)
(Ed. I was going to have a go at this one, but the comments section summarises my view far more eloquently than I ever could. I particularly liked the comment from Richard Paris, "Back in yer cave you gibbering madman!" )
The notion of a right to a 'good death' undermines society
Friday, 17 July, 2009, 08:25 AMRating 2 out of 5 (a little platitudinous)
The courageous human rights campaigner Natalia Estemirova has been murdered. Equally courageous, Aung San Suu Kyi remains on trial in Burma. Their willingness to risk themselves in a just cause is both inspiring and humbling. The bravery of these extraordinary people reminds me of Buddhism. I met a Buddhist monk who used his Buddhist teaching to resist torture: remain calm, don't get angry, although while being tortured he did actually get angry, but later on he stopped being angry. But not everyone who is courageous is a Buddhist, Natalia Estemirova for example. A tad disappointingly, the Burmese junta are all Buddhists, although they're not proper Buddhists. Really courageous people don't derive their strength from a strong sense of selflessness and empathy for others. Rather, they have an internal moral compass that they get by looking inwards, a bit like Buddhist meditation, although I don't like to mention that as it's such a cliché.
Thursday, 16 July, 2009, 08:45 AMRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
I've got more exciting comment on current affairs for you. After the shocking revelations in Coronation Street and the brilliant hospital drama I saw a few months ago, I've now got some deep spiritual insight into Freefall, a fictional look at the effects of one of my other favourite subjects, the recession.
It was Tuesday night and I was shagged out after another hard day's vicarring. I woke up to find this delightful sermon on the evil of worshipping money. The author clearly took his inspiration from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe - "While the sun shines make your hay", a message taken to heart by Sir Fred Goodwin and all the other bankers with multi-million pound bonuses. The financial collapse came as such a shock. It seemed obvious that everyone could keep on borrowing money indefinitely with no ill effects. The result? All you wicked worshippers of money have gone and slashed my pension. Everyone's jobs are under threat, except clergy of course (we have to do something to deal with the terrible bishop shortage ).
In the end, the poor unemployed security guard in the telly programme had to leave his posh house and car and go back to his council flat. At least he had his family. The author really did know his Iolanthe - "Blood is think, but water's thin".