From Norwich, it's the bishop of the week, Bombastically Reverend Graham James, Lord Bishop of Norwich
It's Armistice day today. Lots of people will observe the two minutes silence at 11 o'clock: at home, in the office, at the supermarket, on the train, in cafés, shops and restaurants, in car parks, at airports, in police and fire stations, in hospitals, in libraries, in bowling alleys, at sports grounds and many, many other places too.
The two minutes silence was invented by Edward Honey, except he called it a five minutes silence. It was reinvented by Percy Fitzpatrick, who decided that a two minutes silence would be better if it was called a two minutes silence. George V, who was the head of the British Empire at the time, thought this was a really good idea.
Quiet people are usually very nice people. Monks are quiet and they're really nice. Who ever heard of a monk doing anything bad? Jesus was really nice too and I can't recall him ever saying anything at all.
So, wherever you may be when you observe the two minutes silence today, just think how much nicer it could have been if we'd had a five minutes silence.
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.
Brian here, in Southampton, an associate lecturer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where we envision and equip Christians and their churches for whole-life missionary discipleship in the world, seek to serve them with biblical frameworks, practical resources, training and models so that they flourish as followers of Jesus and grow as whole-life disciplemaking communities. Hi.
Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Whether you have a faith or not, whether you have black hair or not, whether you have blue eyes or not, whether you have any other irrelevant characteristic that I care to mention or not, the question all are asking is, how long will this continue?
In the Old Tasty mint of the Big Book of Magic Stuff, worshippers of the Invisible Magic Friend frequently asked how long the suffering must continue before the Invisible Magic Friend will be a bit more friendly. This means that it is perfectly valid and natural to ask the question, how long? So please don't be worried about asking it.
In the New Tasty mint, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to love your enemy. We'll definitely get around to loving our enemy any day now, just not at the moment. It would be rather inconvenient to love our enemies right now. Loving our enemy is a fine, noble, worthy aspiration that we plan to achieve when the situation is right.
Back to the Old Tasty mint. The prophet Isaiah prophesied that we will all turn our swords into ploughshares. This will definitely happen, since Isaiah prophesied it, and Isaiah has a pretty good track record prophecy wise. We certainly do intend to beat our swords into ploughshares. It's all planned for, and when the conditions are right you can be sure that we'll go straight ahead and do it. Just not right now. The conditions aren't quite right at the moment.
It's important that we keep these aspirations of love and peace, otherwise we might start to believe that these wars might go on forever.
Ratko Mladic, who ordered the massacre of Srebrenica, has been arrested and should now stand trial. Horror and brutality on this scale is rare but still shocking.
That's where the Big Book of Magic Stuff comes in helpful. The Old Tasty mint is just full of stories about how war and killing and massacring are very, very bad - except when it involves taking control of the promised land from the wrong people - that's just doing the will of the Invisible Magic Friend. It even says in one of the psalms, "Please, please don't let them hurt us, Invisible Magic Friend!" In the New Tasty mint, evil King Herod slaughtered thousands of babies in case one of them grew up to be king. This definitely happened and was a very bad thing.
I don't think introducing fictional massacres to illustrate ones which still cause nightmares for many, is in any sense poor taste, so let's plough on. The visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend died on a cross and then resurrected himself. All the people who got killed in the Balkan conflicts will get resurrected too, so you see, there's a silver lining to every cloud. I'm sure this is what kept people going during those terrible times, or at least the Christians who were doing the massacring.
The Muslims probably kept going as well, thanks to their (wrong) faith. So you see how really useful faith can be in a conflict defined almost entirely by two sides of different faiths.
I think it would be appropriate at this point to quote from a Christian prayer. If any Bosnian Muslims who lost relatives in Srebrenica are listening, I'm sure this will be a great comfort to you - "deliver us from evil."
The conflict in Libya highlights the need for some urgent theology. As Christians, we must obey the words of the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend: do good to those who hate you, love your enemies, turn the other cheek. Thanks to the genius of Christian theologians down the ages, we now realise that this was not intended to be taken literally. What Our Lord was actually saying was, "Go in there with all guns blazing and kill anything that gets in your way."
This was a tactic that, in a more profoundly religious age, was happily adopted in the conventional fire bombing and nuclear holocaust of various enemy cities. Unfortunately, in this more heathen, secular age, we don't do that sort of thing any more. Nowadays we seem to be limited to "humanitarian intervention" and other such, unchristian, namby pamby conflicts.
Christian theology is severely out of date when it comes to such limited action. We need to supplement Just War Theory with a "Just Bomb the Hell out of Whoever we don't Like Theory." The United Nations and International Law are just rubbish when it comes to getting in there and bombing things. They want to sit around and talk about it, when what we really need are big, expensive, hi-tech fighter bombers, whooshing over enemy troops, targeting them with precision, high explosive bombs, rattling them with heavy calibre machine gun fire, chasing them away from the charred, bloody, dismembered remains of their defeated comrades.
That's the Christian way of doing things.
Has anyone mentioned Just War Theory yet? Thought not. Well it's a good job I'm here then.
As the Church of England's official military strategist, I'd just like to point out that there's a danger that the action in Libya will be seen as just another western intervention to secure oil supplies. I bet nobody's mentioned that yet, but then that's the kind of uniquely keen insight that you get when you see western bombardment of Colonel Gaddafi's forces from a faith perspective.
Well, this time, it's definitely not all about oil, as can be seen from the unanimity of Western opinion on the issue (except Germany, who for some reason never seem to want to go to war these days). Even quite a few Arab states were in favour of it, until they realised that this involved attacking things. Qatar is really getting into the spirit of things, joining the West to support the rebels in Libya while sending troops to crush dissent in Bahrain.
Another important part of Just War Theory is that there's got to be an outcome. The outcome in Libya is that there'll be a stalemate, or an uprising, or a partition, or a regime change, or a rebel victory - but there'll definitely be an outcome.
I find it very encouraging that military officers have a conscience. This is no accident you know. They were given it by the Invisible Magic Friend so that they'd have a moral compass as well as satellite navigation for their bombs.
Should we interfere in Libya or not? Should we establish a no fly zone, with our non-existent aircraft carriers, to prevent Colonel Gaddafi from bombing his own people? Gaddafi himself has challenged the British government, "Are you our guardian? By what right?"
The West's policy on intervention is inconsistent, to say the least. Afghanistan and Iraq have hardly been shining triumphs, while the West did virtually nothing to prevent the horrors of the Rwandan genocide.
Thomas Aquinas set out the conditions he thought must be met for a "just war". It must protect people from unnecessary suffering. Civilian casualties must be minimised. There must be a just cause - greed, revenge or self interest don't count. There must be a strategy for post war reconstruction.
The moral and ethical implications are complex and profound, but on the whole, I say, yeah, let's bomb the hell out of them!
As the 150th anniversary approaches, controversy surrounds the true causes of the American Civil War. Until recently, everyone had forgotten that the American Civil War was all about religion. Then some people discovered that it was in fact a war of religion. Did Jesus want us to cruelly enslave fellow human beings, depriving them of even the most fundamental human rights, or not? Did the the Invisible Magic Friend recognise the right of southern states to secede from the union, or not?
Kevin Philips argues that this is one of three in a series of wars. The American War of Independence was also a religious war. We can see this in the slogan of the original rebels, "No taxation without our particular form of the Invisible Magic Friend."
The first of the three wars was the English Civil War which was also a religious war about the pressing issue of whether the Invisible Magic Friend wants us to wear round heads or nice frilly bits of lace and floppy hats with big feathers in them.
You might think that wanting to claim these as exclusively religious wars, even though there were important constitutional issues at stake, might not be such a bright idea. Not a bit of it. This just goes to show how much better things were when people were religious and believed enough in the Invisible Magic Friend to want to kill each other over it. Something that, sadly, all you secular types just wouldn't understand.
All these key constitutional issues are still with us today, and despite the political and philosophical writings of the enlightenment, the advent of democracy and political accountability, the virtues of separation of state powers, I can see no better guide to resolving constitutional issues than the Big Book of Magic Stuff, written by people who lived under the rule of hereditary monarchs and priests.
It is Remembrance Day. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, people throughout the land observe a two minute silence to remember the many members of the armed forces and civilians who died in war.
Many will be wearing poppies. Others choose not to, in protest at unthinking social conformity in another sacred day drained of meaning. That's why it's important that we do our best to remember what it is we are remembering and don't allow those with other agendas to hijack Remembrance Day.
It can be a day of mixed emotions, trying to avoid the jingoism that can spur young people to fight futile battles, while honouring those who have given their lives.
Aeschylus wrote that the first casualty of war is truth. All the more reason to ask, why did they die, where was God in all of this? We often turn for answers to the soldier poets of World War I. They remind us, with the authority of eye witnesses, not to fall into the trap of glorifying war, but simply to remember them, even when they were not brave, even when they did lose their faith.
It is the gift of the living to be able to remember them.
Wallopingly Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, Platitude of the Year Winner 2009
A few weeks ago, you'll recall how I commemorated the Battle of Britain by explaining the crucial role that the Church of England played in defeating the Nazi menace. Today, I want to illustrate how the pen is mightier than the sword, by explaining the crucial role that words played in defeating the Nazi menace.
Saint John's gospel, one of the very best gospels, even says the Word is the Invisible Magic Friend and if that isn't a ringing endorsement of words then I don't know what is.
Hitler and Churchill both knew the power of words. As panzer tanks pushed their way through the Ardennes, they fired volley after volley of postcards containing the phrase "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer." But the allies would have their revenge. As the tide of the war turned, bomber command mercilessly carpet bombed Hamburg with witty aphorisms by Oscar Wilde. Berlin was worn down by the pithy epithets of Somerset Maugham, and in perhaps the most shameful episode of the war, Noel Coward and C.S. Lewis were both unleashed against Dresden.
Meanwhile, the French underground secretly read copies of Proust's "À la recherche du temps perdu" in bistros throughout the country. Never one for the subtle approach, the Soviet Union dropped millions of single volume copies of War and Peace, which, falling from a height of several thousand feet, proved deadly.
So you see, in the battle to crush the monstrous tyranny of Nazism, it was the words wot won it.