It’s been a while…

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…but I hadn’t realised how long!

I’ve been going to the OBS (the Order of the Black Sheep) for some three years now.  It’s interesting seeing the evolution of the Order, as it’s gradually morphed from being a reach-out to the sub-culturally marginalised based around a café to more of a haven for refugees from various other church settings.  We do have to joke from time to time that we need to take the kids to a solemn high Mass somewhere so they realise what they’ve got in our 40 minute multi-media gatherings😉  but seriously it seems to work for them, from time to time they talk about thinks that struck them in the service.

I’ve been musing about belief.  I’m becoming more convinced that it’s not that important, at least not in the sense of assent to propositions.  I’ve always thought this, but I’ve been more struck of late by how it relates to a position of Christian Agnosticism.

Accepting there are things we cannot know, starting with the existence of God, moving on to Jesus’ earthly life, his Resurrection and Ascension – we cannot know that these occurred, really.  We cannot know that the Church has been correct to conclude that Jesus was God Incarnate.

What we can ask ourselves, though, is what these ideas mean to us, and whether we can commit to those ideas.  Can we commit to Jesus’ teaching about how we relate to others, about what is truly of value?  Can we commit to the idea of a God who doesn’t Lord it over creation from a distance but becomes part of that creation, giving, giving, and giving again?  Does the Jesus Story excite us, or at least resonate with us, regardless of the nature of the historical/literal truth of the stories?  Do we think that if people related to each other as Jesus advocated it’d be a better world?

It seems to me that we can, indeed, commit to these ideas without declaring an unobtainable position of the historical or literal truth of them.  The Eucharist can speak to us of God’s utter giving of himself to us, regardless of our level of convincedness of Jesus’ Godhood or the nature of the elements.

You know, there’s a simple answer to this…

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I’m informed that people are concerned about fuel prices.  As a nation, we are concerned about rising obesity.  We spend far too much time stuck in traffic jams.  We spend a fortune on road repairs but they’re still falling to bits. Our carbon footprint continues to rise.  We worry about pollution.

Can I suggest a single solution to all these problems?

Use. Cars. Less.

If http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/factsheet_ltp3_research.pdf is to be believed, then 20% of car journeys are less than a mile.  Do you know how long it takes to walk a mile?  Twenty minutes, at a steady pace.  Fifteen if you try.  Thirty if you dawdle.

By all means use your car to get half a mile to the paper shop.  But if you do, don’t go whining about any of the things in the opening paragraph.  It’s your own bloody fault.

Fame! Influence! All your base are belong to me!

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No, not really.  But I notice that the Order of the Black Sheep (my regular gaff these days) has got itself on the BBC at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21425108

Not sure about the heavy metal label though.  I think a lot of people might imagine we spend half an hour moshing.

So that’s that then…

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And so we move churches again.

To be fair, we’ve not had to do that (save having moved house) since about 2001, but this one’s significant, not least because it relates to some of my earlier entries regarding church and children.

The beginning of the beginning of the end was back in the Spring, when one of the other Sunday School team (there are two teams of two people each doing one session a month.  In theory that was weeks 2 and 4 with an all-age service (which I can’t recall ever really happening in any meaningful sense) on the 1st Sunday.  We had long ago settled on not coming on weeks 3 and 5 (if such there be) on account of maintaining our sanity with bored kids.  This meant the current pattern was untenable, not least because we also had issues that our kids were struggling with the dynamic of parents suddenly morphing into teachers of a sort and them playing up.  It was decided that we’d replace the Sunday School with a Junior Church for which the Rector had a suitable form of service and would find people to help with the preparation for and leading of.  He told us he’d found three teams, and we’d initially do it once a month on the 3rd Sunday.

The beginning of the end was in September, when the 1st Sunday of the Month – allegedly an all-age service – was taken by a visiting preacher.  It was also a baptism.  And it was the full liturgy + the baptismal liturgy, with not as far as I could tell even a nod towards the needs of anyone under the age of 25, never mind 10.  It must have gone on for an hour and a half (some of you evangelicals out there might think that’s not very long, but I’ll file that under “reasons I’m not an evangelical”) and – well, I can’t recall what the hymns were, they were that dull.

I was reminded of a letter to Viz’ Letterbox that went something along the lines of “I saw a sign saying ‘go to church.  It may surprise you!’.  I did, and they were right – it was far more tedious than I had expected” – because that’s exactly what it was.  Tedious.  It was tedious enough for me in my forties; the kids were nearly eating their own limbs in an effort to withstand the heavy weight of the tedium.

I came away concluding that the visiting preacher had not been told that this was meant to be all-age, and would bring it up at the PCC later that month.  Which I did, and which rather started to catapult the ordure in the general vicinity of the low-tech air conditioning.  I was informed that the service was, as they put it, “child friendly” (which isn’t the same thing, but I let it pass).  I had to explain that it wasn’t, that it was tedious even for me, and that we were rapidly getting to the point where we would have to consider moving simply to protect our kids’ nascent faith which we thought was actually being damaged by the boredom they associated with church.  The first Junior Church session had happened by then, and the kids had enjoyed it, and that was mentioned as well.

That was when I discovered that the three teams had only committed to do one session each.  We had people for October and November and that was it.  No-one willing to commit to do any more.  I could see problems ahead; I didn’t need a crystal ball for that, but hoped that people would be seized with the situation and rally around to help – we had said also that despite our misgivings about the dynamic with us and our own kids we would be willing to do it as well, but not both on the same session, as that seemed to be the trigger for behavioural issues.

Things weren’t, then, exactly great when we arrived at Church on the third Sunday of October to find nothing prepared at all.  We were informed that the PCC had “withdrawn it”.  I know they hadn’t, because I hadn’t missed any meetings.  So we’re not entirely sure what has happened, except we’ve had to go elsewhere.  Shame, but there it is.

Funny thing is, in the end it’s a relief.  We were struggling to keep faith with what our church was putting on, while at the same time finding somewhere new with some sustainable provision, and also dabbling in http://www.theorderoftheblacksheep.com/ – in a way, this makes it easier.  It’s an ill wind and all that.

The latest bandwagon…

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…today I’m not talking about religion.  Well, not Christianity, anyway.

CallMeDave, it appears, has had an epiphany and is now a convert to the Church of Sport, Competitive.

Which is fine, and I wish him every success.  Unfortunately, like a lot of converts, he can’t resist doing a bit of proselytisation.  And after a good couple of days of deliberation, he’s announced that everyone in school has to do lots more competitive sport.

Now, fortunately, he’s working from a Daily Mailesque world where all the wicked lefty schools have long abandoned any competitive sports and give everyone prizes for turning up.  Now, if anyone does know of such a school, could they let me know so that if necessary I can send my kids there?

Dave seems confused.  On the one hand, he wants to raise new elite athletes.  This is all very well, but it’s obvious that you don’t achieve that by sending kids whose talents lie elsewhere round and round the football pitch in a meaningless quest for a touch of the ball.  So we’re being told it “builds character”.

Does he have any evidence whatsoever from this?  Given the correlation I noticed between being amongst the best rugby players in the school and being an arrogant bullying arsehole, I’m not convinced that the character it builds is particularly desirable.  It’s an old lie that the sports-mad establishment has trotted out for generations as justification for making kids who have neither aptitude nor interest in team sports get beaten up, abused and generally made to feel as much use, and as welcome, as a condom machine in a Catholic nunnery.

I have no objection to competitive sports for those who will benefit from them.  And that’s not everyone.  I know for a fact I didn’t – all I got out of it was neurosis and an abiding hatred of changing rooms.  Which brings me on to the last justification that’s given – children’s fitness.

There may indeed be a problem here.  It isn’t going to be addressed this way.  An unterested, unwilling child is not going to get much of a work out from aimlessly jogging about a football pitch whilst his more talented “teammates” avoid letting him get the ball because they might as well just kick it straight to the opposition.  And the moment he’s allowed to drop the whole sport “thing” at 16, he will.  Like a hot potato. There’s everything to be said for encouraging children to be active, and to develop an active lifestyle that they will carry on into adulthood.  This will not have that effect.  Quite the reverse, in fact – We’re told that 50% of girls are put off sport by PE. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17873519) – I suspect that a good proportion of boys are as well.  Why would you take an active interest in a field where you’ve been routinely taught you’re useless and humiliated in front of your peers on a regular basis?

Competitive team sports are a hobby.  So are trainspotting and aquarium keeping.  We don’t expect everyone to share our enthusiasm for our hobby – why do sportsmen expect us to share theirs?  Competitive team sports are a tiny subset of sport in general, which is a small subset of physical activity in general.  The emphasis on them tarnishes the image of sport in particular and physical activity in general for those who found them a weekly torment.

So, Dave, if you must do this, don’t do it in this damned silly way.

Church of England’s Response to Gay Marriage Proposals…

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…you may have guessed I’m not entirely happy with what my particular corner of the Church Universal has produced:

The full version is too long to address in detail here, but I will refer to the summary which is located at:

http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/marriage,-family-and-sexuality-issues/same-sex-marriage.aspx

Taking their points in order:

The first assertion made is: “[changes in law mean] the definition of marriage having to change for everyone.”

Does it though?  At the individual level, is there a single legally defined definition of marriage that actually defines actual married couples’ understandings of their marriages?  I rather doubt it.  My marriage is what it is and what it means to Mrs AgnosticChristian and me, which may or may not coincide with a legal definition.  It certainly isn’t entirely defined by any laws.

There are those who believe that remarriage after divorce is a nonsense, much as the Church may be trying to argue that gay marriage is (i.e. it doesn’t make logical sense if one is tied to marriage meaning one man and one woman, which appears to be ++John Sentamu’s position.)  And the Church does not normally perform such marriages.  Did the legality of second marriages redefine marriage for those who have only been married once and believe they cannot divorce and remarry?  Did the supposedly unchanging definition of marriage survive this change?  It rather looks like it did.

The next two paragraphs appear to be a bit of a straw man.  In the same way that the Church does not perform marriages between divorcees, and yet doesn’t imagine that that presumes two categories of “religious” and “civil” marriages, why would a situation where the Church did not perform marriages between couples of the same sex, whilst the civil authorities did, do so?

The quotation from ++Rowan Williams looks for all the world like the sort of quote mining one expects from Creationists.   Read in context, all Rowan appears to be saying is that the removal of stigma alone would not provide sufficient grounds, nor would be adequately addressed by, a simple legal change.  But that is not the main reason given for the proposed legislation, so the point is rather moot.  Rowan has been, to my mind, very quiet on this one – I suspect he is disinclined to upset anyone in the waning months of his position as ABofC, and the fact that this barely relevant aside keeps on being touted as his position rather reinforces the impression that he’s unwilling to make any really clear statement.

In reality, what will actually happen is that opposite sex couples will continue to marry exactly as they do now, with the same reasons and expectations, their marriages in no material way changed in meaning or significance.  Their personal opinions and beliefs will dictate how they view the marriages between those of the same sex, much as a devout Catholic (or, strictly speaking, Anglican) might currently view with suspicion remarriages between divorcees.

God can heal – but probably won’t

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I was recently invited, indirectly, to sign a petition.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/29011

I won’t be.  And the reason is that I think the ASA got it right.

These are the sort of adverts that have raised the ASA’s ire:

The wording of the leaflet, to my mind, clearly tries to imply that miraculous healing is to be expected, and will be instant.

I find it hard to imagine that anyone who’s inhabited the real world for more than a few months can actually believe that to be true.  It just – isn’t.

Experience says that whilst it may indeed be true that God can heal, and even that God sometimes does, in the vast majority of cases He does not.  The most one can normally suggest is God working through the medical professions.  Miraculous healing solely in response to prayer is at best vanishingly rare – to the extent that it’s perfectly rational to question whether it happens at all.

That is the background within which the ASA must work.  It does not, and should not, allow special treatment to specific religious groups.  In the absence of any strong evidence that divine healing is commonplace and the expectations possibly raised by adverts of this nature realistic, it should find in the way it did.

It also seems to me that the petition call is slightly misleading.  The adverts were not banned for making a statement of belief, nor for saying that God can heal.  They were found against because they made claims for a service that they were offering that could not be substantiated.

More balanced comments come from Canon Ed Pruin in relation to the Nottingham incident are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-13925399

The best I can say for the petition is that it fails to understand the thrust of the ASA’s ruling, based on a belief, popular in some circles, that Christianity is undergoing persecution.  Being held to the same legal standards as everyone else is not persecution; it’s what we should expect.

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