Homeless people die, on average, 30 years younger than the rest of us. A woman of 43, living on the streets, can expect this to be her last Christmas. We might scarcely notice her, in her dirty sleeping bag or cardboard box, forced there through desperation and poverty. Yet she is a unique person, with secrets and memories of happier times.
This Christmas, my church, along with many others, will act as a refuge for those with nowhere else to go, providing warmth, a hot meal and an ear to listen.
We do this because homeless people are made in the image of the Invisible Magic Friend and because the Invisible Magic Friend was born at Christmas in an animal's feeding trough. Otherwise we might just not bother.
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.
I'm delighted that Tracey Emin has been appointed professor of drawing at the RA. Tracey was "thrilled". I'm not thrilled, but I am delighted.
In order to draw things you have to look at them. David Hockney agrees with me. "In order to draw things you have to look at them," he said.
While you are looking at something you use a pencil to sketch lines on paper that creates a representation of the thing you are looking at. That is how to do drawing. Drawing isn't just an arty thing. Architects, engineers and anatomists draw things too. So drawing is important. Although it has to be said that architects and engineers tend not to draw things they are looking at, so Hockney and me were probably lying when we said you had to look at things in order to draw them.
We now come to the important question: are you allowed to draw the Invisible Magic Friend? Fortunately, skilled theologians have investigated this difficult subject, and the answer is, yes, you are. Other religions say you're not, but they're wrong. The reason you are is that there was a visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend. Nobody drew him at the time, so we don't know what he looked like, but we know he was tall, white, with nicely shampooed hair and had blue eyes, because that's the way everyone imagines he must have looked. You can also draw the other bits of the Invisible Magic Friend even though he's hardly ever been visible except as the occasional burning bush. This was recognisable as the invisible Magic Friend because it was a talking burning bush.
This means that pictures of the baby Jesus on Christmas Cards are theologically orthodox and are therefore permitted.
We look at the world with our eyes. We also use our hands. Other bits of the body come in useful too.
A famous hermit says we must be like angels, who even though they don't have any bits of the body, still look at things.
Clifford Longley, a distinguished Catholic gentleman who talks a lot about religion, Platitude of the Year Winner 2010
Has anyone mentioned the 400th anniversary of the King James Big Book of Magic Stuff yet? Yes of course they have, lots and lots and lots of times. The most recent was the Prime Minister. Speaking to an audience of Christians, the PM said how fantastic being a Christian was. He said how deeply committed he was to Christianity and how, if he could be bothered, he would certainly be in favour of being one himself.
The King James version is of course a Protestant Big Book of Magic Stuff. There's nothing wrong with being Protestant. Some of my best friends are Protestant. The King James Version has contributed all sorts of words and phrases to the English language such as Behold, I am against your pillows and Woe to the women that sew pillows to all armholes, and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature.
What not many people know is that this fantastic Big Book of Magic Stuff is really a Catholic Big Book of Magic Stuff, and all that wonderful stuff about pillows and kerchiefs was actually invented by us. So really it was us Catholics who invented all this English fantasticness.
Catholics decided to translate the Big Book of Magic Stuff from Latin to English to prove that we weren't against people reading the Big Book of Magic Stuff. It was thought that the previous 1,000 year ban on translating into English and the odd burning at the stake, might have given people a contrary impression. Nothing was further from the truth. The Catholic Church was always in favour of ordinary people reading the Big Book of Magic Stuff. It never, in any way, tried to keep it to itself to protect the power of it's exclusive access and its priesthood. I can't think why anyone would ever think otherwise.
Hi Mary, Gabriel here. I would have texted u but that hasn't been invented yet. Great news!
Who are you?
I told you, I'm Gabriel, the angel Gabriel.
Aha. So what's this good news then?
The Particularly Invisible Bit of the Invisible Magic Friend has just blessed you.
Has just what?
He's just blessed you.
You know... blessed.
I don't follow.
Oh come on, do I have to spell it out? He came in here just now, went underneath your sheet and... you know... blessed you.
Oh, I see! Blessed! That's a bit of a liberty don't you think. I mean, usually a girl likes to be courted a little bit. A box of chocolates, some flowers, even an introduction might have been nice.
Yes, well, He's not really into all that sentimental stuff, what with Him not being human or having any hormones. He really just likes to get on with the business end of things.
He must have been very quick, I didn't even notice I was being "blessed".
That's Him alright! When He wants to bless someone He doesn't hang about. It's just straight in there and, woosh, He's one fast blesser.
So now what?
Well you'll have a baby boy who, according to prophecy, will be named Emmanuel.
I think I prefer Jesus.
He will be the Messiah.
No one in the family's called Emmanuel.
He will be the salvation of mankind.
Jesus has got a nice ring to it don't you think?
You will be worshipped as the replacement mother goddess, as the Queen of Heaven. Well, not worshipped exactly, more sort of... er...
Yes blessed! No! No, no, no, no, no. Not blessed.
And that everyone, is the True Meaning of Advent.
Wednesday, 14 December, 2011, 11:39 AM - TFTDI know I can rely on you to provide some suitable summaries of TFTD while I'm away for a few days.
15 Nov John Bell Listen/Read
16 Nov Lord Harries Listen/Read
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter-Religious Studies, Assistant Principal for Religion and Society, New College on the Mound, University of Edinburgh
The True Meaning of Christmas is that there are loads of twinkly lights. Everyone gets to decorate a Christmas tree with bright baubles and more twinkly lights. Living rooms have holly and ivy on their walls, or at least their plastic equivalents, and sometimes even more twinkly lights. The whole country comes to a stop for a few days and everything is completely dominated by it for months before hand.
It's all so unfair. I wish we had Christmas in Islam. Oh, we get Eid, but it's nowhere near as good. For a start, there aren't nearly as many twinkly lights. We do the family thing and have a big meal and all that, but the Queen doesn't come on the telly to wish us a Happy Eid. There's no Coronation Street special. It's just not the same. And there are no twinkly lights.
We exchange gifts and cards with people at Christmas time, but we don't get to put up twinkly lights. As Professor of Islamic and Inter-Religious Studies, Assistant Principal for Religion and Society, New College on the Mound, University of Edinburgh, I think Muslims should be allowed to put up twinkly lights at Christmas too!
Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 08:31 AM - TilbyRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Antonio Horta-Osorio could soon be back at work. Hurrah! I hear you all shout. He, along with other alpha males and females, such as myself, always run out of steam in the end.
I used to be just like him, never delegating any of my preaching to anyone else, always wanting to be top priest, forever afraid that if I stopped priesting for a second, some ambitious youngster would snatch the title from me. The human body simply isn't designed for such constant stress.
I thought I could handle it. I thought nothing could defeat me. Then came A Nightmare in Waitrose, where a power cut plunged the store into emergency lighting. I immediately wanted to run to the bedding section and hide beneath the sheets but was forced to mingle instead with Marks & Spencer's customers who were in the midst of a similar terror. The trauma of that day, the flashbacks, haunt me still. I finally realised that I was not super vicar after all.
This is why Judaism is so much better than Christianity. They have definite rules about observing the Sabbath, and appropriate punishments, such as death, for those who don't obey. The Sabbath is a memorial to the infinitely powerful Invisible Magic Friend, who, shagged out after a hard six days creating, decided to have a bit of a rest. So having the odd power nap is OK, it says so in a bit of scripture somewhere. I know this because it says everything in a bit of scripture somewhere.
The Invisible Magic Friend is not some ultra alpha male that you all have to agree with and worship at ever opportunity. He doesn't micro-manage the whole of creation. Oh no, wait, he does.
When I find myself priesting away again at all hours, thinking once again that I'm the best priest ever, I think it's time to look at myself more humbly. There's nothing wrong with just being one of the best priests ever.
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.
Well, I'm not quite the only one, Channel 4's Faisal Islam seems to share some of my confusion.
The government line, or at least the Tory line, seems to be that the changes weren't in Britain's interest. Fair enough, but AFAIK, the changes applied only to the Eurozone and to prospective Eurozone members. The UK was never going to have to follow its rules or submit its budgets to Brussels for approval. So it's difficult so see how this could be against British interests.
As for City regulation, again there was nothing in the proposed treaty changes that would have given Brussels any new regulatory powers over the financial industry. Or have I missed something incredibly obvious?
Cameron appears to have wanted to claw back some powers to Britain. The others said no. Bluff called. Did Cameron and Clegg seriously think that a conference to bring stability to the Eurozone was going to countenance concessions on financial regulation? The only thing achieved by actually wielding the veto was to antagonise everybody else in Europe and to guarantee that Britain had no seat at the regular heads of government meetings that the inter-government treaty now intends to hold.
What has Britain gained from this fiasco? What could Europe have done through the proposed treaty changes that it is now prevented from doing? (Apart from stabilising the Eurozone, which is in all our interests, and which is precisely what George Osborne has been saying needed to happen for the last six months.)
Or could there be a more mundane explanation: that Cameron and his team were tired and just didn't realise the enormity of what they were doing? A straightforward, good old fashion, human cock up?