What can we learn from the Borgias in our time?

I have always had a passion for history. I studied it at A level alongside Chemistry and Pure Maths, an unusual combo, and read it at Uni. I still try to keep abreast of recent developments in thinking and my mental taste buds tingled when I heard that Radio 4’s “In Our Time” was going to be discussing the Borgias. You don’t need a degree in history to have heard of the Borgias; they are a byword for depravity.

You may be familiar with some of the story. A family whose gene pool concentrated all that is bad. First, there is the ultimate femme fatale, Lucretia, a skilled poisoner and sexual predator who had carnal knowledge of both her father, who happened to be the pope, and her brother. These two men, Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia, stand out in the annals of history for their political corruption, sexual appetites and bloodlust!

This Spanish family has been a veritable gold mine to TV writers, movie producers and authors of a certain genre of fiction. They can all ply their trade; maintaining a veneer of education while liberally sprinkling erotica and gore.

As always, the In Our Time team painted a word portrait of their subject. Placing the family in their historical context and examining the actual evidence available. It transpires that the Borgia myth is exactly that, a myth. There is no evidence of incest or of Lucretia being a lethal pharmacologist. Indeed she is very much a victim. Throughout history women from “good” families have been a bargaining chip in the world of diplomacy or family ambition. Sadly that mentality survives today in some cultures. Once Lucretia was able to escape the world of political intrigue she wanted nothing more than to settle down to happy domesticity and family life. More girl next door than Morticia Addams!

Cesare lived up to his stereotype a bit more. He was not a man that would laugh off an insult being much more likely to resort to swordplay. However, judged by the soldiers of his day he doesn’t stand out as bloodthirsty and, as he was the patron of a certain Leonardo Da Vinci, he obviously had a softer side.

Pope Alexander VI will probably not be put forward by the Church of Rome for canonisation any time soon; a most unsuitable man to be a successor to St Peter. However, he wasn’t the first Pope to try and establish a dynasty and he won’t be the last to take the role of statesman more seriously than his role as Vicar of Christ.

So the Borgias turn out to be a bit tame really; you probably wouldn’t want them as neighbours but they are just another dysfunctional family.

So why am I talking about them? I heard the In Our Time broadcast at about the same time I was digesting the news that synod had voted not to allow women bishops and it seemed to me that a myth was about to start about Christ’s family as it did about the Borgia family. We can already read in the newspapers that the Church is out of touch, is misogynist, antediluvian, dysfunctional, please add any adjective you have heard!

The fact is that a small minority of the CofE’s synod rejected women bishops. Remember the CofE is not the Church; it is but one denomination within it. Regardless, the CofE would be planning the ordination of women bishops today but for the curious alliance of two groups; first, the Anglo Catholics and, secondly, the Conservative Evangelicals.

Most Anglo Catholics I have met are a curious phenomenon. By doctrinal inclination they would be Roman Catholics but they like the legitimacy of having a woman in their bed. In their bed mark you; not in their profession. The conservative evangelicals are persuaded, in my view, by an interpretation of scripture that does not stand up to the rigour of intellectual interpretation. Check the credentials of members of each house who voted for women bishops if you doubt me.

The debacle of synod has damaged the church enormously; not just for the reasons I have suggested above.

By opening the body of Christ, for that is what the church is supposed to be, to ridicule the Church’s ability to be seen as a relevant voice is diminished. On issues such as abortion, the environment, the nature of marriage, UK poverty, the abuse of capitalism and all the other issues that the body of Christ should be concerned with the church now has a tarnished image. One of those issues, championed by Christ, is respect for women. Read about the woman caught in adultery, or the conversation Christ had with the Samaritan woman by the well. Our Lord was an early champion of women’s rights; we, as a church and as a men’s group should do no less.

At Strive many of us have signed up to CVM’s CodeLife. It does what it says on the tin – gives us a code for life! One of the codes is that we will treat all men and women as brothers and sisters. We will not discriminate. For more info on the code have a look here http://codelife.org/code.html

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t be downcast by the events at synod. Christ’s church has had bigger challenges and if Melvyn Bragg can rehabilitate the Borgias I’m pretty sure that honest Christians will win the day!

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Some thoughts on Jesus

Beatrix Potter stories were probably the first books I learnt to read; the antics of Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin introduced me to the joys of the English language and began my love affair with books.

However, being raised in the countryside I never really bought in to the anthropomorphic characters.  Rabbits appeared too often on the dinner table for there to be any sentimentality about them and squirrels were vermin; rats with bushy tales.

Not so for my friend John; brought up in a city his knowledge of the natural world came from an unfortunate combination of the Potter stories and Walt Disney!  Nature made cute.  John carried this bowdlerised view of the animal kingdom into his mature years and would probably carry it still if he had not met a real Squirrel Nutkin, “red in tooth and claw”, on a day trip to the country.

It was a bank holiday a few summers back when John decided to take his family for a picnic in a country park.  Unusually for a bank holiday the weather was fantastic; a bright yellow sun and an azure blue sky.  No doubt because the weather was so good, every car in the home counties seemed to be on the road.

Sitting in a slow moving line of traffic approaching the picnic site there seemed to be almost as many cars heading in the opposite direction but they were moving slightly quicker.  It’s then that John sees the grey cousin of squirrel Nutkin; caught between the two lines of moving cars, running hither and thither, obviously panicking and unable to find a gap that will allow him to reach safety.  John, moved by compassion for a fellow being, stopped his car and went to help the little fella.  To pick him up and carry him to safety was the plan.

Alas for John, animals in the wild do not behave as though they were in Snow White!  As he bent down to pick it up and take it to safety the squirrel sank its teeth into his hand.  Blood flowed, pain surged and John’s vocabulary became very Anglo Saxon!  He tried to pull the animal off with his free hand but its jaw refused to open.  In desperation he picked up a stick from the roadside, held the squirrel away from his body and aimed a blow at it.  At this point the squirrel released its grip, fell to the ground and headed for the safety of the woods.

John didn’t get to the picnic site; he had to head for the nearest A&E.  While he was injected with antibiotics, a tetanus booster and a Rabies jab, his family ate their picnic in the car park.

It was later that evening that he arrived home; sore frustrated and angry.  He was settling down to a G&T when the police arrived.  They had been given photos of John holding a helpless animal by the throat while beating it with a stick and then launching it into the woods.  They also had his car registration.  Fortunately common sense prevailed and John was not charged or cautioned.

So why am I sharing these memories.  First because I met up with John recently and we had a laugh about it.  Secondly because I think we all suffer from image management.  Every day we meet, in the media, politicians and entertainers and we have views about them; but what do we really know?  Is Nick Clegg a cuddly toy or a nasty vermin that will sink his teeth into you in order to survive?  I’ll leave that one to you.  What I want to discuss is how we perceive Jesus Christ?

Just close your eyes for a second and create an image of our Lord. What did you see?

  •  A hippy in a robe?
  • A child in a manger?
  • A man dressed only in a loin cloth hanging on a cross?

What emotions were invoked?

  •  Love for the man who was love?
  • Tenderness for the meek and mild baby?
  • Sympathy for the dying hero?

It seems to me that much of society, including parts of the church, has taken Jesus and turned him into a Disney character; a theological squirrel Nutkin!  We have emasculated Him.

I want to talk about the Jesus that was an action man.

The Jesus that drove sinners from the temple.

The Jesus that, again and again, faced down the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The Jesus that stood face to face with Pilate and stood firm.

The Jesus that endured physical and mental abuse from His tormentors and lost neither His dignity nor His temper.

The Jesus that was nailed, naked, to a cross and died the agonising death of a criminal.

The Jesus that did all of this for you and me.

This is the Jesus I love, the Jesus I follow.  That’s why a bunch of men are meeting once a month, in Christchurch Warminster, to learn about Jesus through the Gospel of Mark. Learning about the real Jesus not a sentimental caricature.  Please come and join us, details of when we meet will appear on the Home page..

Of course there are other aspects to Him: the compassion of the healer, the patience of the friend, the wisdom of the teacher.  He was, and is, everything that is good, and as everything He speaks to everyone.  Man or woman.  I would just like to reunite us with the fully human man who was God incarnate!

What is Truth?

I regularly receive an eMail from an American widow living in Nigeria who has terminal cancer. This generous hearted woman wants to bequeath me many millions of dollars so that I can do good works in her memory; all I have to do is send her details of my bank account! Do I respond to these eMails?

Of course not.

A friend of mine is writing a book on the history of email based scams and they range from the ludicrous to the very plausible. The very fact that someone continues to make the effort to send them suggests that every now and then someone is sucked in. Spam filters help but they are not consistent.

If eMail is annoying, the World Wide Web can be positively dangerous.

My daughter had a teacher who, when he set a homework assignment, would warn the class that he had been on-line and modified the related Wikipedia entries to include some falsehoods! His reasoning being twofold; first he knew that the research tool of choice was Google and that the first result returned would normally be Wikipedia; resulting in twenty plus essays that were almost identical. Secondly, he knew that Wikipedia is as reliable as radio 4’s racing tips!

The Internet contains more information than all of the libraries in the western world combined and it is available in seconds through tools like Google and Bing. We have filters that are more sophisticated than those for Spam so we can block out pornography or violence or anything that offends us. What we don’t have a filter for is the truth.The mock quote above should be a salutory lesson.

How do you decide which statements are true?

Last year JP Rangaswami posted a series of blogs on how we curate information, how we validate and distribute that information. http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2011/08/20/thinking-about-curation-in-the-enterprise/ JP was concerned primarily with corporate curation but his ideas have a wider application. In summary it is down to people to accept responsibility for determining what is truth and what is not. Those people are you and me!

It seems to me that we have delegated the role of curation to someone else. If your view on world affairs is informed by Fox news you will have a different perspective than if you follow CNN. The Daily Mail reader does not see the world through the same lens as an Indie reader. We accept as truth something that comes from a trusted source but should we really be trusting that source.

In John’s account of our Lord’s trial we hear that:

Pilate said, “What is truth?”

Then he went back out to the Jews and told them, “I find nothing wrong in this man. It’s your custom that I pardon one prisoner at Passover. Do you want me to pardon the ‘King of the Jews’?” Jn 18:38 (The Message)

Pilate, the curator of information, found nothing wrong in Jesus; but he still had Him crucified. What is Truth and who can we trust?

So why do I write these words today? Last week a friend of mine published a post pronouncing that one of the USA’s leading historians had proven that the medieval church supported gay marriage. The guy in question is a senior person in the Anglican church, he prefixes his name with initials that imply seniority, and he has more degrees than a school kid’s protractor.

I left a comment on his post saying it was garbage.

As a consequence I received a flood of mail and comments abusing me as a homophobe, a mysogenist and a follower of a “sky fairy”. The church, I was told, should be purged of folk like me. Although they didn’t say folk!

The point is, it was garbage. The post was based on an earlier post from an earlier post and it was a complete farce. No reputable historian has supported it and never will. It’s a fabrication, a Romance, a Fiction; a Lie.

I don’t want to use this post as a forum to rehearse my views on same sex marriage; we’ve done that elsewhere. I do want to encourage you to accept the responsibility to curate the information you receive.

To apply the filter of common sense. To ask others if this makes sense. We are all being bombarded with facts and truths – we need to take a collective responsibibility to purge the lies.

Remember, John Terry did not win the Cup for Chelsea, he just got himself in the photos!


Children of the Resurrection.

Children of the Resurrection.

I write these words as we approach the end of Good Friday and I am still in a reflective mood. The question I am pondering?

What does Good Friday mean?”

Of course it means an enormous amount to Christians but we have allowed something to influence the story of Holy Week and Easter that is not altogether wholesome.

First: we have sanitised Good Friday and everything related to the Cross.

Secondly we have placed the Cross and the history of Good Friday into a post modern, saccharine coated world where the events on Calvary have been bowdlerised as much as the Nativity.

This thinking was first triggered by a Tweet from Canon J John when he said:

Christians are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”

Before I say another word let me confess that I think J John is an inspirational church leader and I encourage you all to visit his site. http://www.philotrust.com/

But he’s wrong on this one!

My first contention is that Good Friday, and the first Easter, is a historical event. Christ was taken arrested, tortured and executed. Subsequently He was buried and rose from the dead. This is history. I hold this to be a fact.

No Christian should have a problem with this contention: Good Friday was a historical event. It happened, and it’s finished! Yet so many have a maudlin approach that encourages a reliving of the event – in the Philippines folk are temporarily crucified – it’s like a Civil War re enactment! It is time we accepted the historical truth of Our Lord’s death and embrace the truth that comes from it.

To do this we first need to understand the reality of what happened on that Friday nearly 2,000 years ago. The Christian Church and much of Western Civilisation have sanitised the events of the cross. The images we have shown is of a “noble” man with minimal damage to his body and a loin cloth protecting His modesty. The bible tells a different story: Christ was beaten so badly that He was unrecognisable, see Isaiah 53, read how Simon the Cyrene was forced to carry the cross.

Jesus was so weak, so broken, that He could not carry the cross. The story of Good Friday is a story of abuse and brutality.

When we look at the representations of His suffering we are influenced by painters, such as Valezquez, or media, Robert Powell on TV. All of those portrayals are a nonsense, do not believe them.

In churches and, I suggest, in popular mythology we depict Christ crucified on a Gold, maybe brass, cross between two candles set on a white linen cloth.

The truth is that our Lord is nailed to a cross of roughly hewn wood, has been tortured for the amusement of the guards. He suffers all of the pain and naked indignation of crucifixion and He dies in excruciating agony.

He accepts this torture and embraced death because He wants to save us. Through His sacrifice we are offered the chance of redemption.

Good Friday was a bloody awful day for Jesus!

While I enjoy the liturgy and public demonstrations, Passion Plays etc., that commemorate the dreadful events of that first Eater I fear that they have lost connection with the historical fact of the event.

The fact is Good Friday happened a long time ago and it will never happen again. Today, as we remember Our Lord’s suffering and sacrifice we must also remember what happens on Easter Sunday. As we thank Christ for His Good Friday sacrifice we need to rejoice at His bursting from the tomb.

We are not tomb dwellers, we do not live in a Good Friday world; there is no Good Friday world. We are children of the resurrection We know the end game and we rejoice in it.

Of course it is easy to embrace the idea of a “Good Friday world”; we live in a world of sin and hurt. Of course we need to accept the fact that the sin and hurt is real but we must also accept that the resurrection gives us new hope.

How can that work out in the “real” world; well if you live in the “Good Friday World” you see the murders of those brave guys in Afghanistan only as a source of grief. In Warminster we are still feeling that grief. The Children of the Resurrection also share that grief; at the same time they honour the selfless commitment to duty of the men and women who choose to serve us.

On a personal level; every week I attend a local clinic for treatment. All of us there are in various degrees of physical failure. Some of us will die sooner than we would like. It could easily become a place of gloom and despondency, but it’s not. It’s a place of hope, love and care. A place to celebrate vocation. It is not in the Good Friday World; it’s in the Resurrection world.

It’s the world of Jesus; the Risen Lord. He rose nearly two thousand years ago; every day since has been a Resurrection day. Only one day in history was Good Friday when, by his one oblation of himself once offered, He saved the world. Since then every day has been Easter!

So,

What does the Good Friday mean?”

It means Hope, Sacrifice and Salvation. But only because it leads to Easter Sunday; the day that makes sense of Good Friday.

I belong to an Easter People, a Resurrection People. We honour Good Friday, we kneel at the cross and, more importantly, we lift our eyes to heaven and every day declare.

Alleluia He is risen.”

Have a joyful Easter.

The Next Archbishop must not be an Innocent!

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that the current Archbishop of Canterbury has announced his decision to step down at the end of the year and, so, the search is on for his successor.

Other people have written particularly fine “obituaries” for Rowan Williams; J John’s is one of the best http://www.philotrust.com/blog/2012/03/archbishop-rowan-williams-a-scholar-in-an-age-of-soundbites#.T2y-ktXqeuI. I don’t feel qualified to add to them.

Suffice to say I admire him as a theologian, respect him as my penultimate boss, and love him as a brother in Christ. He also infuriated me with his academic language that could easily alienate people; I believe he lacked the common touch. One example of this is shown when he met with the comedian Frank Skinner, a Roman Catholic, in that exchange Frank came across better than ++Rowan because he knew how to communicate. You can still find the recording here: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2179/archbishop-rowan-and-frank-skinner-in-conversation listen to the section when they are discussing sermons and let me know if you agree with me.

Why am I going down this road? Well I believe the church stands at a cross roads; we are facing so many major issues. Gay Marriage, economic recession, unemployment, pornography, the role of women, globalisation, the list goes on and you will see these issues discussed in the media when folk list the challenges faced by the next Archbishop. Most of these issues are issues for all of society; Christian and secular, with the church being pulled into addressing the secular agenda. There is, however, a Christian agenda that the next resident of Lambeth Palace needs to address; it is an agenda as old as Christianity. How does the church fulfil Christ’s final instruction to His disciples? http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2028:16-20&version=NIV.

We need a leader who will speak out with courage, conviction and authority; as the Old Testament Prophets spoke out, as the Apostles spoke out, as Jesus spoke out. None of them held university degrees, sat in parliament or Senate or had monetary wealth. Yet they were leaders who grabbed the attention of the world they lived in.

In the thirteenth century the Roman Catholic church elected a series of Popes who history have named the lawyer popes; the first of which was Innocent III. Innocent ruled the church from 1198 – 1216 (it’s over 30 years since I studied this so apologies if my dates are wrong!) He was the most powerful man in Europe and had an intellect that was a match for any of his peers. First and foremost he was a lawyer. Innocent laid the foundation of the papal state, he established the church as a secular power and it was in his gift to appoint emperors.

At the same time that Innocent, and his successor also called Innocent, were reforming and reshaping the church there was another man at work in God’s church; his name was Francis of Assisi. A man who cared nothing for material trimmings, who understood the law laid down by God and sought no preference. Francis would wash the feet of strangers as our Lord did, he was humble in service but he was also firm in declaring a rule of life. He had no desire to satisfy or placate the secular authorities; his agenda was Christ’s not the emperor’s.

How many of you had heard of Innocent III or Innocent IV? I am guessing you all know about St Francis.

There are already groups in the church lobbying for their candidates, obviously those candidates don’t openly say they want the job but the process is in play. When the powers that be come to select the next Archbishop I pray that they do not make the mistake of selecting a new Innocent; a lawyer, an academic, when there is an unsung Francis available.

We don’t need a man with the brain the size of a planet who will take on the secular agenda. We need a person with a heart for Christ that will follow His teachings regardless of the cost.

Neither you nor I will have a say in the final outcome but we can all pray that the only lobbyist that holds sway is the Holy Spirit.

Gay Marriage; Why you need to decide.

I apologise up front because this is a bit of a ramble but it’s an important one.

The issue is not simple, it involves our view of democracy, of society and of religion.

I’m asking you to read to the end and then decide; but decide with determination. If you agree with my views then sign the petition, write to your MP and make a lot of noise. If you disagree then you also need to raise your voice. This major change to society should not be left to the elite few who believe they own society.

There has been a lot of noise on blogs, Twitter and the traditional media about the subject of Same sex marriage. The UK government, led by David Cameron, has entered a period of consultation about homosexual Marriage; at the end of that period they are going to implement one of the most radical changes ever seen in British society.

Yes that’s right the government has already announced, at the outset of the consultation, that the answer is Yes!. This mockery of the English language and democratic process reminds me of a song in My Fair Lady:

“they will ask for your advice

your reply will be concise.

They will listen very nicely

then go off and do precisely

what they want!”

 The so called consultation is obviously a complete farce but what I want to write about today is something a little more subtle. Throughout the debate on homosexual marriage the media, no doubt influenced by interested, albeit minority, parties, have managed to create a polarised view.

If you are pro, and a Christian, then you are being portrayed, in the media, as a good person; in touch with society, liberal in mind and outlook. There are a number of folk lay and ordained who sit in this camp.

On the other hand; if you are against; you are Homophobic, out of touch with your neighbour, a fundamentalist and have distorted biblical teaching to meet your own ends!

Well I have to fess up:

  • I am against Homosexual marriage
  • I am very pro Gay rights
  • I welcomed the introduction of Civil Partnerships.
  • I am a Fundamentalist Christian.
  • I accept that only God has the authority to judge and condemn

And I can hold all of these beliefs without imploding!

If Fred and Jo or Freda and Johanna want to enter into a partnership I have neither the right, nor wish, to say they are right or wrong. If they want to legalise that relationship, through a civil partnership, I wish them well and am happy that they have the same legal security in the event of death, or other separation, as I and my wife have.

If Fred and Jo, Freda and Johanna or Fred and Johanna ask me what I, as a Christian, think of their relationship I will give them all the same opinion.

The Lord rejoices in love. The Lord also has very clear rules on the expression of love through physical intimacy. What seems to have got everyone in a stew is what are these rules? What can he do with her, or him with him or her with her and still be right in Biblical law? We have all read views that range from complete permissiveness to absolute condemnation.

My view is as follows:

Two people may engage in any sexual activity and call it love making as long as they are willing to stand in front of Christ and say, with sincerity, this is your will.

Ultimately we will all answer to Christ, not the tabloids, not the opinion polls…

When I became a Christian my mentor, knowing the challenges sex presented me, said;

You can do what you like to who you like in the privacy of your bedroom. Just remember that you have now invited Christ into your life so He’ll be watching!”

I understand that sex is a difficult issue!

So what has this got to do with same sex Marriage?

First, I hope I have established that I am not a rabid homophobe. Secondly, that I am not going to judge anyone because of their personal life.

What I really want to do is say what marriage is.

Well that’s very simple: Many people, including Christians, Jews and Moslems share my belief that marriage is:

 “a gift from God, one that should not be taken for granted, and it is clearly intended to be a union of a woman and a man.”

 End of!

I completely accept your right to reject this view, in which case you must surely accept that it has been the received definition of marriage since Adam was a boy! O.K I accept the importance of God may have waxed and waned but the notion that marriage is between a woman and a man is a universal norm.

So why change it? I am told that we need to recognise that there are lots of homosexuals who want the same rights currently provided to married people.

Well, first, those same rights exist through civil partnerships, what will civil marriage add to that? Absolutely nothing. I am aware of nothing in this proposed change that will benefit the homosexual community,

Secondly I question whether there are lots of Homosexuals. I don’t know exact numbers and I am always dubious of numbers derived from surveys but I give you the following. According to the Guardian, not a bastion of homophobia, 1.5% of society was homosexual (Guardian Sept. 23 2010). If this is correct then our government is forcing through a change in social policy that will, at best, be to the benefit of a tiny minority!

So what does the change mean in practice?

At the simplest level, absolutely nothing. Homosexuals will be able to convert their civil partnerships to civil marriages and those that have not yet made a commitment but want to can now have a marriage rather than a partnership. Churches will not be obliged to conduct same sex marriages. So that’s o.k then.

Well not quite; the situation for the homosexual community hasn’t really changed: there are no material differences between Civil Partnership and Civil Marriage, so 1.5% of society sees no change.

The change will be felt by the rest of us.

Let’s take a fictional example; Sanjit and Rebecca, young people of faith, had a civil marriage because they came from different religious backgrounds, their union was blessed in temple and synagogue. Their understanding of marriage was as I described above.

In Cameron’s new world that has changed. Their marriage is the equivalent of Fred and Johanna’s; is that a right outcome? Is that a fair outcome?

The government has promised that this will not impact churches but that is also a nonsense. There is a long tradition of churches recognising civil marriages as equivalent to church marriage when accepting folk for other roles in the church: must that now include homosexual unions? The initial rules; remember they are only draft, say that churches will not be obliged to conduct homosexual marriages can we believe what the government promises?

We have a history in the UK of introducing the thin end of the wedge! When abortions were legalised it was to fight the back street abortionist preying on women for profit. Now we have mainstream clinics performing abortions because a child’s gender is wrong!  No longer in the back street but still for profit. Another change in the law intended to help a minority that grew into something that would never have been sanctioned.

The CofE is an established church; if the government permits same sex marriage how long before there is a call to force the parish church to officiate at same.

I suggest that if Cameron’s proposal becomes law the future of marriage is placed with politicos. While we may never have a Caligula demanding a sacramental blessing on his relationship with a horse! We will be in a bad place.

It may be that as you read this you totally disagree with me; in which case thanks for hanging in. You can now turn to your neighbour and say

I’ve looked at the issues and I’m happy with the introduction of homosexual marriage on the same basis as traditional marriage”.

If you do disagree with me please do make the positive effort of saying so; you see I believe the greatest problem with this proposal is that it is relying on our apathy. David Cameron is gambling that whether we agree or disagree we won’t do anything.

If you do agree with me I need you to take action, it’s simple; all you have to do is click on this http://c4m.org.uk/

You might want to go further and write to your member of parliament or send her/him a link to this blog saying you endorse it.

Whatever you do please be hot or cold but don’t be tepid.  You can’t sit on the fence; there is no fence!

In Memorium

Strive was established as a group for men in the Warminster area. The guys who set it up always agreed that it was for men to meet in fellowship, to have fun and, for those who want, to discuss God.

Today the key word in our “manifesto” is Warminster. This week five men who, until recently, lived in our town, shopped in our shops, worshipped in our churches and drank in our bars were murdered in Afghanistan. I think it is appropriate that Strive marks their passing.

Before I talk about this weeks events I want to go back to 1918; world war 1 famously ended on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. That was obviously pre agreed between the warring parties but I don’t know when and frankly I don’t care.

The respected American author Joseph E Persico has calculated a shocking figure that the final day of WWI would produce nearly 11,000 casualties, more than those killed, wounded or missing on D-Day, when Allied forces landed en masse on the shores of occupied France almost 27 years later.

What is worse is that hundreds of these soldiers would lose their lives thrown into action by generals who knew that the Armistice had already been signed. “ (Source http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7696021.stm ).

Eleven thousand, there’s that number eleven again, people maimed or killed before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Brings clarity to the phrase “Lions led by Donkeys” that has been used to describe the fate of our forces in the ’14-’18 war.

In 1971 John Kerry, the American politician, famously asked,

How Do You Ask a Man to be the Last Man to Die for a Mistake?”

The mistake in question was the Vietnam war.

Why do I revisit history? Because I fear that our soldiers are being killed for a mistake.

What is the goal of our involvement in Afghanistan? This is a country where if a moslem converts to Christianity she / he is condemned to death, This is a country where the president has, this week, accepted that women are inferior. Have look at this site http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17272935

We originally sent troops to the region to defeat the Taliban and capture Bin Laden. Bin Laden was found last year being nurtured by our ally, Pakistan, and we are preparing to hand the country back to a group that will include the Taliban! Our only stated goal now is to leave in 2014; I don’t know exactly when but will it be at the fourteenth minute, of the fourteenth hour on the fourteenth day of the fourteenth year? Are our lions still being led by donkeys?

Here’s another link I think you should see:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uUsHsmJINQ&sns=fb

The guys who died are heroes; they willingly put their lives on the line because we asked them to. I’m guessing that they didn’t question why, that they selflessly did what we, through our government, asked them to do.

I write as a Christian and so need to bring Jesus into the mix.

Jesus said:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

If I were to seek folk who met this goal I would not go to the House of Commons’ register of interests, I would not trawl through the annual reports of the FTSE 250.

I would go to our village war memorial; I would go to the gates of Battlesbury Barracks and salute the young men who will soon be travelling to Afghanistan.

We must honour, celebrate and always remember our brothers’ love for us in their sacrifice. Don’t we also need to honour their memory by calling on our government to bring an end to this war?

When dentistry and theology collide.

Just because something is irrational doesn’t mean that it is unreal especially when it comes to fears. I have a friend who is one of the most unflappable people I know, someone you can always count on to keep their head in a crisis. Unless there is a cat involved. It doesn’t even have to be a real feline, a picture of one brings on a panic attack. She knows it is totally irrational but she can’t help herself. I don’t particularly like cats but I’m not afraid of them, with me it’s dentists.

I have a dread fear of dentists and have had for many years. In the twelve years since we moved to Wiltshire I had never been for a check up. I did register with one and even made an appointment but in the end I bottled it.

Man up dad.” was a common plea from my daughters!

Why was I so scared? Until recently I wasn’t sure; I had lots of excuses but I knew they were really a smokescreen. A little innocent sophistry that would probably have kept me away from the dentists forever and then two things happened.

First, at Christmas, I was eating a soft centre sweet when I realised that it had become crunchy! It transpired that one of the three fillings I had when I was a kid had crumbled. Pain followed. I knew that I would have to do something.

Secondly, I shared what had happened with my friend Carl, a dentist. He promised me that he would treat me and that I would not suffer any pain.

Now I have always been taught that if you have a need and a solution you have the makings of a plan. So I agreed to go to Carl’s surgery; which I did eight weeks later! O.K eight weeks might seem like a long time but remember I have a morbid fear of dentists; I’m not going to book an express ticket to the hydraulic chair!

Anyway, eventually I arrive at the surgery (I confess I did bottle it once). Carl, assisted by Paul, was brilliant; I felt no pain. They let me call a time out so I could have a little personal panic attack whenever I needed. Of course it was a frightening experience but I survived it and now have pain free teeth.

Later, reflecting on what had happened and why I was so frightened I realised it was all to do with intimacy.

Paul and Carl were in my mouth!

Looking down my throat!

I’ve never seen my upper molars but they could! They had what felt like half of Sheffield’s steel production in my mouth but I had no control over it. They had a more intimate knowledge of my mouth than I ever could and it scared the hebejebes out of me! I was vulnerable and they had power! I’m starting to think that my fear is not so irrational!

At the same time that I discover the intimacy of dentistry I am working with a man who is so close to accepting Jesus in his life but he is scared of the intimacy involved! He is scared that Jesus will look right down his throat into his soul and that will be uncomfortable. I want to say,

don’t be stupid, you have nothing to fear”.

But I remember the mouthful of Sheffield steel and hold back. One man’s irrational fear is another’s reality: personally I can accept Jesus in my life but rail against the dentist. I’m so glad I got it that way round by the way.

So I am thinking about how I can help my friend and a few of us are praying it through and then someone sends me an invite to read a blog. You can read it here http://www.cvm.org.uk/blog/the-welford/a-letter-from-jesus/ Nick Welford has the audacity to write a letter from Christ!

Thank you Nick! Of course Jesus looks right into our soul, of course he sees us as we are but we don’t have to be afraid because that’s how he made us. That’s the humanity he shared with us. Thanks Nick, you’ve helped me and my friend.

To paraphrase Nick; Jesus has a gift of grace for each of us and the irrational fear that keeps us from that grace is as silly as my fear of dentists!

One last thought for you engineers out there. How come Nissan, Toyota et al can produce electric motors that can accelerate a compact family car to 60mph in under 10 seconds and in silence; but the motors on dental drills have to be so noisy?

A Leap of Faith

As I write these words I am very aware that this year is a leap year; not least because my wonderful wife’s birthday is on the 29th February. I am also aware, as a Christian, that we have entered the season of Lent. A time when we give things up, wear hair shirts and generally get miserable! I’ll come back to Lent later, let’s stay with the Leap Year.

I am told that in history the 29th February was a day that obviously existed but was not recognised. The law was suspended for the day; so it was not possible to be born or to die on the leap day, official documents were modified appropriately. As the law was ignored on this special day so tradition was also held in abeyance; on this day a woman could ask a man to marry her; what an outrage! In short it became a day when people were given permission to do things they wouldn’t normally do!

This year Radio 4’s PM show celebrated that idea and invited people to “Leap for PM” on the 29th February. To do something that they wouldn’t normally do. A blind woman rode a tandem, people across the country did things, some amazing some banal, and reported back on their achievements. Take a look here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qskw#clips if you are interested in reading or hearing some of the accounts.

The guy who stood out for me was a chap from Wales who wanted to take a bus trip to Swansea but was too frightened. We heard how he addressed those fears, went to the bus stop and took that journey. An act of enormous courage, told with great humility and humour. Here was a man who chose Leap Year day to break the rules to do something new. I salute him

So back to Lent, tradition says that this is a time when we give something up, when we go without. Yet, as I’ve argued elsewhere, Lent is the season we are meant to prepare ourselves for new challenges, exactly like the guy on radio 4. Supposing we decided that this Lent, this Leap year we would do something new; we can name any day of the year as our Leap Day and use it to make a difference.

What would your Leap be? How would you use this special day, remember it’s special because you have called it so. It’s yours so use it.

As men I believe that we can change the world by changing our lives; by living a life that is not cheapened by pornography or commercialism. A life that is not centred on ego and self satisfaction; a life that is committed to service and because of that service becomes a full life, a rewarded life. To do that we need what the monastic orders call a Rule of Life, don’t worry I’m not setting up a monastery or advocating celibacy.

What I am suggesting is a modern, counter cultural approach to life that puts the living God at the centre of Life. Have a look at http://codelife.org/ and, maybe, decide to change your life. In so doing you will help to change the world.

That’s silly isn’t it? No individual can change the world. But this is a Leap Year and this is Lent and in a world where the Jewish son of a carpenter can die and be raised from the dead anything, absolutely anything, is possible. Happy Easter.

 

P.S at Strive we are committed to recycling so parts of this blog will also appear in our Parish Magazine. How’s that for green credentials?

 

Pornography – The Naked Truth

The Naked Truth http://nakedtruthprayer.com/#/#  is a project committed to fighting pornography through prayer and action.  It’s a project that I fully support.  The reason I am posting this is that they have just published a blog that I think will speak to some of us.  http://nakedtruthprayer.com/#/blog/i-caught-my-husband-using-porn/ have a look and let me know what you think.

You’ll find the info on their site but I am going to copy some of it here because I think it is important that we understand the scale of the problem porn presents:

53% of Christian men consume pornography.
1 in 4 pastors will look at porn today.
47% of families are worried that porn is a problem in their home.
Every second, 28,000 people view porn online.
There are 116,000 searches for child porn everyday.

On one level these are very distressing figures but if you are a victim you are not alone, your brothers in Strive are here to help.