Thursday, 27 January 2011

More reasons for hope

Here's a trilogy of clips which I hope you have time to watch. I've been put on to them by a number of friends. They say to me what Paul says at the end of Romans, that's there is nothing, neither homelessness, nor disease, nor old age that can separate us from the love of God. I've got to prepare a sermon for Sunday and so I'm leaving these for you to peruse while I'm busy!

I'm indebted to Paul Wenham, Marijke Hoek and Sally Hitchener for these stories. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. Be of good cheer!
On Saturday we go to the first MND Association local meeting. It will be good to meet up with friends again, and to catch up with the latest developments.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Overwhelmed by hope

Yesterday I heard a remarkable story. Well, I'd heard it before, as have most of the world of course. But it's different when you meet the man himself, isn't it? When he tells his story. And when he shakes your hand and blesses you.
José Henriquez

Alfredo Cooper with José on the far right, Bishop Henry Scriven behind 
Last night, in St John the Baptist Church, Grove, one of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped and rescued last year, José Henriquez and his wife Blanca, interpreted by Alf Cooper (evangelical chaplain to the President of Chile), told the story of the explosion, how the miners survived and how they were rescued. Here's the moment when José and Blanca were reunited: The rescue on TV. It was incredibly moving to have the two of them there, in front of us, very  much alive and saying, "Don't give up hope and don't give up praying." I particularly remember Blanca describing how she and her daughter first heard of the accident. At first, the radio gave the name of the wrong mine, and she thought, "Well, that's not where José's working." But later it was corrected and they realised it was Copiapó. Instead of staying glued to the radio, they turned it off and knelt down and prayed. And continued for the duration - as did the miners in their underground tomb, twice a day, for 69 days, all together.

José and Alf were interviewed on Radio 4's Sunday programme, which gives some idea of a little of what we heard (26 minutes, 10 seconds in):
Radio interview with José . Last night he was quite undemonstrative and struck me as someone who was very much at peace. He was utterly sure that the miners' rescue had been a miracle, as the exploratory drill which eventually found them hit a rock and was diverted into the chamber where they were.

His over-all message was that God is alive and real, that He hears and answers prayer, and that He is loving and good - which means His answers will be for our good. At the end he and Alf Cooper prayed for the whole audience. It was a privileged evening, I must say. Next week, the two of them are speakers at President Obama's presidential prayer breakfast in Washington! For all that and all the media attention, he struck me as a genuinely humble guy who simply wants to share the goodness of God
José and Alf praying for their audience

Saturday, 22 January 2011

More hope less despair

Image credit: Dr Andrew Jarjour
I've just caught up on last night's 4Thought by Dr Irfan Sayed and was struck by his comment that doctors offering patients euthanasia gave the message that there's no hope. We actually live in extraordinarily exciting times in neurological research. One hears of new advances being made all the time.
For example I noticed this article in the latest Cambridge Alumni (! - I know! How posh!) e-bulletin: "Study reveals new possibility of reversing damage caused by MS". Obviously research is just a step towards producing drug therapy, but the possibility is exciting and dramatic. Hopefully similar breakthroughs for other neurological conditions such as MND will continue apace. You can read the article here: Advance in MS research article

José Henriquez

I've spent long enough contemplating the end of life for a bit. So here's the opposite: our local newspaper's running a story about one of the Chilean miners who came back 'from death'.
A CHILEAN miner who was trapped underground will speak in Grove next Tuesday about his ordeal.

It will be the first of three talks in the county at the start of a UK tour by 55-year-old José Henriquez, and he will be staying in Abingdon next week.
The miners were the centre of world attention when trapped 700 metres underground for two months last year.
Mike Burke, a spokesman for the Church Mission Society in Oxford, said Mr Henriquez, the 24th of 33 miners to be rescued, would also give two talks in Oxford.
Accompanying drill operator Mr Henriquez, and acting as translator, will be Alf Cooper, chaplain to the President of Chile, who led the nation in prayers during the miners’ ordeal.
Mr Burke said: “When the rescue was taking place, one billion people worldwide watched on TV. José is a pastor but he also has to work as a miner to support his family.
“During his time in Oxfordshire, José will be based with a family in Abingdon.
“There is a tremendous amount of interest in this tour and some of the destinations around the UK include mining communities.
“The three talks in Oxfordshire are now fully booked.”
Mr Henriquez will address about 300 people at Grove parish church — Mr Cooper has close links with members of the congregation — next Tuesday, at 7.30pm.
Mr Burke added: “To put things into context, after this tour José is planning to attend a prayer breakfast with American President Barack Obama.”
Jane and I are going (DV) to hear him on Tuesday with a good friend of ours from Oxford. I'm expecting to be inspired.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Channel 4 news

I've had a number of complimentary comments about Wednesday's 4Thought programme, as well as the licensed insults that are the stuff of internet feedback. (I notice for example on YouTube it's more disliked than liked! YouTube 4Thought clip) I must say I thought that the editors had done a  good job with my forty minutes of interview. I was particularly pleased that they'd focused on the positive elements of what I'd said. Today I had an email from a university friend:
"I guess they left out many good things that you also said. But what they left in left me quieted with that quiet that comes from knowing that one has heard truth. And that truth and love are one.
"A friend of ours died aged 50, of lymphoma. He was a pastor and, with his wife, at the heart of any party, connected to people near and far. As we accompanied him in his last weeks, besides the sadness there was something infinitely precious for us all. Before he died he said, I don't 'spect you'll want to put a gravestone up, but if you do, write on it, 'he never knew he was so loved'....

"Jane looked wonderful - beautiful, poised and with an air of 'don't anyone mess with me' that was just right." (Obviously, I agreed with that!)

Yesterday we saw retired GP Michael Irwin who accompanied a patient to end his life in Zurich and hoped to be prosecuted for it. He's a committed campaigner for euthanasia, and intoned the all too easy mantra of "compassion". As I've pointed out on a number of occasions, compassion means suffering with, not killing out of sympathy. We have a couple more doctors to look forward to, one on each side of the debate, and then a disabled man talking about palliative care. Interestingly at least three contributors, I think, are 'Dignity in Dying' (formerly Voluntary Euthanasia Society) supporters.

Meanwhile the news has continued. Alan Johnson MP resigning as Shadow Chancellor for personal family reasons - I'm glad he's apparently put his family in front of his career. (Coincidentally at the moment we're watching dvds of The Pallisers, based on Trollope's novels, in which Plantaganet Palliser sacrificed his career, as Chancellor, in order to save his marriage to Lady Glencora.) Andrew Coulson, former editor of The News of the World, resigning as David Cameron's communications director, because, as Mr Coulson said, coverage of the News of the World's phone hacking had "made it difficult for me to give the 110% needed in this role" - odd, that phrase, for a communicator. 110% (attention) is an impossibility, isn't it? Both resignations, we are told, call in to question the judgement of Ed Milliband  and David Cameron respectively. Oh no! They're not fallible, are they? As Tony Blair has proved before the Chilcott Enquiry. 

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Utilitarian Victorian education

'Speaking on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, said it would be for the panel leading the review to determine what content should be specified in the new curriculum. "I'm not going to be coming up with any prescriptive lists, I just think there should be facts," he said.' 

If you've not read Dickens' Hard Times, here are some extracts from chapter 2:
"Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of realities. A man of fact and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir -- peremptorily Thomas -- Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all suppositions, no existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind -- no sir!
"In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words 'boys and girls', for 'sir', Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.
"Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.
'Girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, 'I don't know that girl. Who is that girl?'
'Sissy Jupe, sir,' explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.
'Sissy is not a name,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'Don't call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.'
'My father as calls me Sissy. sir,' returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsey.
'Then he has no business to do it,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'Tell him he mustn't. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?'
'He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.'...

'...Give me your definition of a horse.'
(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)
'Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!' said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. 'Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.'
The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer...
'Bitzer,' said Thomas Gradgrind. 'Your definition of a horse.'
'Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
'Now girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'You know what a horse is.'...

'Now, if Mr. M'Choakumchild,' said the gentleman, 'will proceed to give his first lesson here, Mr. Gradgrind, I shall be happy, at your request, to observe his mode of procedure.'
Mr. Gradgrind was much obliged. 'Mr. M'Choakumchild, we only wait for you.'
So, Mr. M'Choakumchild began in his best manner. He and some one hundred and forty other schoolmasters, had been lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs. He had been put through an immense variety of paces, and had answered volumes of headbreaking questions. Orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography, and general cosmography, the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and leveling, vocal music, and drawing from models, were all at the ends of his ten chilled fingers. He had worked his stony way into Her Majesty's most Honourable Privy Council's Schedule B, and had taken the bloom off the higher branches of mathematics and physical science, French, German, Latin, and Greek. He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world (whatever they are), and all the histories of all the peoples, and all the names of all the rivers and mountains, and all the productions, manners, and customs of all the countries, and all their boundaries and bearings on the two and thirty points of the compass. Ah, rather overdone, Mr. M'Choakumchild. If he had only leamt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!
He went to work in this preparatory lesson, not unlike Morgiana in the Forty Thieves: looking into all the vessels ranged before him, one after another, to see what they contained. Say, good M'Choakumchild. When from thy boiling store, thou shalt fill each jar brim full by and by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within -- or sometimes only maim him and distort him!"

 Good question, Head Government Educator. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Evolutionary inevitability

Martin Amis, "novelist, journalist and teacher", packed a lot in to his 4Thought on euthanasia last night. He was, not surprisingly, highly articulate. Assisted suicide, he told us, was an "evolutionary inevitability" with longer life expectancy. He looked forward to a day when there would be "suicide booths"into which you could just pop and be welcomed as you popped off your clogs. He was, of course, using provocative novelistic language to make a point. I wouldn't be so uncharitable as to imply he really believes that dying is as inconsequential a matter as having mugshots taken for a driving licence. Grandma says, "I'm just popping down to Tescos," adding, "I may be gone some time." Death just ain't like that.

His main argument seemed to be "None of us likes being a burden." In other words, when we become a nuisance to the pack, it's time for us to be abandoned and left (or hurried) to die. That sounds more like the law of the jungle than evolutionary development to me. As I've said before, as civilisation has advanced, so we have learned increasingly to value human life. We recognise that life is ultimately inviolable. I wonder what tonight's chap will try and say....

In quite another context I was looking through Edward Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and came across this piece of 19th-century optimism:

"Should these speculations be found doubtful or fallacious, there still remains a more humble source of comfort and hope. The discoveries of ancient and modern navigators, and the domestic history or tradition of the most enlightened nations, represent the human savage naked both in mind and body, and destitute of laws, of arts, of ideas, and almost of language. From this abject condition, perhaps the primitive and universal state of man, he has gradually arisen to command the animals, to fertilise the earth, to traverse the ocean, and to measure the heavens. His progress in the improvement and exercise of his mental and corporeal faculties has been irregular and various; infinitely slow in the beginning, and increasing by degrees with redoubled velocity: ages of laborious ascent have been followed by a moment of rapid downfall; and the several climates of the globe have felt the vicissitudes of light and darkness. Yet the experience of four thousand years should enlarge our hopes and diminish our apprehensions: we cannot determine to what height the human species may aspire in their advance towards perfection; but it may safely be presumed that no people, unless the face of nature is changed, will relapse into their original barbarism."
Well, I guess he's been proved wrong by the 20th Century. And perhaps he will be by the 21st too. Human nature hasn't really changed, has it?

Jozanne's book launch

"In the 4th century Saint John Chrysostom refers to a 'double famine' which impoverishes two groups: the poor who lack provision and the Christians who, in their luxury, lack the mercy of God. 
"Seventeen centuries on..." (Marijke Hoek). 

They knew a thing or two, the old saints. Plus ça change....

Yesterday Jane and I watched a dvd of the launch of I Choose Everything in South Africa, back in the summer. Dave Moss had sent it in the New Year. Inevitably I cried watching Jozanne and her lovely family. She was thin but her smile was luminous. Unfortunately I don't know how to extract stills from it; so I've taken the YouTube picture - not of the event sadly, but of Jozanne when she could still mutter words. Nicole played the piano, Luke the guitar (classical) and Dave gave a moving speech quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu's foreword. "Jozanne’s Diary in particular lets us see, in painful intimacy, the grievous prospect of losing everything and everyone she holds dear. And yet, everything isn’t lost. That’s the wonderful certainty that God gives his children. We’re all part of his plan. We are all part of his family. Ephesians says, ‘God chose us in Christ to be God’s children before the foundation of the world.’ We didn’t have to do anything. It was given freely and our worth is infinite. We aren’t an after-thought. Isn’t that beautiful?? We aren’t an accident. Some of us might look like accidents. But no, no one is an accident. Isn’t it incredible?"

People sometimes ask me how Jozanne is now. The last time I heard she had lost all independence, was being fed through a PEG line (direct to the stomach) and was having breathing and pain relief. But was still drawing encouragement from the positive reception of her writing and joy from her family. And she's still able to smile. 

Monday, 17 January 2011

Micah's Challenge

Hannah, my 4Thought producer, this morning confirmed that Jane and I will be broadcast on Wednesday evening (7.55 pm Channel 4, repeated 8.55 on 4+1). I'm sorry about the confusion. 

I read this last night. It caught my attention and thought I'd quote it here. It's from a chapter by Marijke Hoek (whose photo of Amsterdam in the snow I put here a few weeks ago) in a book she's coedited, called Micah's Challenge. She's talking about the hope of the created world (Romans 8):

"You can hear the echo of Joel 2:28: God promised to pour out his Spirit, causing the people to dream dreams and have visions. Imagine justice flowing like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream. Imagine, once again, elderly men and women sitting in the streets, with cane (walking stick) in hand, overlooking playing children (Amos 5:24; Zech. 8:4). Imagine orphans being placed in a family, receiving an education and fulfilling their potential. Imagine medical help being available to all. Imagine people being set free from forms of bond-slavery and able to steer their destiny. Imagine food, clothes, shelter and water for all. Imagine restoring broken dwellings. Imagine just that.

"... This hope for God's reign increasingly to break into our life and affect a groaning creation is a power that will sustain and motivate us, creating a resilient, imaginative and trusting people... In those who hope for what is not yet, there is then an active enduring, a passionate waiting, while anticipating the new creation and walking in the way of love" (page 61).

I found my imagination fired by the vision of the earth as it should, could, will be. And I'm inclined to believe that Marijke's right in her understanding of dreams and visions. And agree with her that they're not given to be enjoyed, but to motivate to action. I recommend this website: Micah's Challenge

Saturday, 15 January 2011

News from Andrew White

I've been told off for breaking my resolution not to get het up re my intemperate description of the delightful Gaby Logan, who I actually consider a rather well-informed sports presenter and not a vacuous bimbo. I'm not sure current affairs is her forte, however.  So instead here's some good news from Andrew White after the Copenhagen summit.  

"Our meeting of Iraq's religious leaders has finished. The meeting was complex , difficult and very sucessful. below is the fatwa they issued with a long declaration that we will put on our website later. Below is the Fatwa:
Photo: Mark Kissipie

'In the name of God the Merciful
'Fatwa concerning the banning of the hostility against the religious groups that live together with Muslims
'God has said: “The Messenger believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believeth in Allah, His angels, His books, and His messengers. "We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His messengers." And they say: "We hear, and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys."(Al-Baqara 285)
'Knowing about the words - and who is better than God? - and seeking comfort in the words of the Prophet PBUH: “Who Harms a Dhimmi is against him and he who I am against. Judgment day is also against him”. And seeking comfort in the covenant of Omar and its text: “In the name of God the Merciful, this is what God's Servant Omar the leader of the Muslims gave to Iliya family of security. He gave it to protect their souls and wealth and their churches and their crucifixes and that churches should neither be used as houses or be destroyed and nothing should be stolen from them or off their wealth and their crucifixes or any of their money, and they shouldn’t be hated because of their religion and shouldn’t be harmed.
'And Abu Ubayda Al-Jarrah also did so and Omar Bin Al-Aas in other periods in Islam. In this time when the Muslim nation is asleep certain people create strife between their sons of different religion. And acting in accordance with the words of God and in showing the right way for the Umma we totally ban the killing and displacement and the taking of the wealth of the other religious groups that live in the Islamic countries. In addition to this we call for fraternization and peace between the different religions. The message of Islam is peace and love and brotherhood. And all thanks is due to God.
 'Iraqi Olama & Intellectuals Group
The High Council for issuing fatwas'

I've added the italics, because it seems to me that's really good news. I know there's a gap between intention and action, but at least it's a beginning and a bench mark.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Calls to prayer

Mel Barry of the MNDA emailed me today asking if I might be the Michael with MND whom Channel 4 says is appearing on the 4Thought programme next week. Yes, I replied, I probably am. So she emailed back asking why, so that she could post something about it on the MNDA website. Apparently there'll also be someone whose brother had MND and decided to go to Dignitas.

My reply said, "Waddell Media, the production company responsible for the series, contacted my publisher, Monarch Books, who put me in touch with them.  4Thought is billed as a religious/ethical slot, and I'm open about my Christian faith in my books.  I imagine that's the reason they contacted me.

"The reason I chose to get involved is that I think there's an urgent need to promote the hearts and minds issue of the quality of care provided to the terminally ill, as it seems to me that there is a huge amount of public fear about it, due to ignorance and outdated hearsay, fuelled largely by the pro-euthanasia lobby.  I remember shortly after being diagnosed an MNDA visitor allaying my own fears of dying from being unable to breathe.  At the same time as the request for the programme came through, I was with a nurse from Douglas House, our local young people's hospice, who told me they talk to their patients about 'natural death'. The youngsters don’t want their lives terminated, but they do want reassurance about symptom-control and pain-management.  And they can be given exactly that by palliative care experts." 

The producer has just now emailed me to say I'm being shown on Wednesday (Channel 4, c.7.55 pm)!! I think I'll watch it on mute! I don't like the sound of my own voice.... Now there's a change from the old days! - Oh, hang on! My old pal Anthony has just sent me this link, which seems to indicate it's on Thursday at the same time. I'll try and find out who's right. Otherwise I suppose we'll have to tune in both days.

We also heard from our friends in Brisbane today, that they're all safe and sound. They'd been up country during the worst of the floods and so had been only affected by rain. "We all kept our spirits as high as we possibly could, we were alive and together, as still is. There were people who had lost or had been lost. We returned home to see the devastation on route – and then to see the news brought floods of tears. Realising how lucky we had been, and still were." As a PS, Michelle wrote, "Please take this time to say a prayer for those who aren’t as lucky, and the ones who need the strength to get through." We could well extend that to those in Sri Lanka and Brazil - who, although even worse affected by floods, get less news coverage on our domestic news bulletins. 

Even less covered are the talks going on in Copenhagen at the moment about Iraq - Iraq religious leaders meeting - They are chaired by the indomitable Andrew White, and recognise that without the religious leaders being on board an end to sectarian violence cannot even begin. There's a lovely footnote to the entry on the FFRME's website, about St George's Church in Baghdad: "Meanwhile, worship at St George's this weekend was wonderful, as we looked at the feast of the Epiphany, the coming of the wise men. We looked at how the presentation of the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh totally fitted in with the end of the Lord's Prayer, 'for Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory'.

"We also give thanks that, despite the fleeing of so many Christians following recent atrocities, St George's has swelled once more to bulge at its seams.

"We ask for your continued prayers, especially for our conference this week."

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Some thoughts of an old wreck

I have to say I seethed when I heard comfortably off blonde bimbo, Gaby Logan, describing retirement as being "on the scrapheap". Having retired on health grounds, I resent being described as "scrap". I don't consider I'm uselessly rusting; and even if I were useless, which maybe I shall become, I still won't be material for the crusher.

She was speaking during an item about the scrapping of compulsory retirement at 65. I don't have a problem with that per se, but I wonder about its timing. Here we are at a time when youngsters are struggling to find jobs. I noticed something similar in the BBC's ageism case. I'm sure the management are ruing their easing Miriam O'Reilly (53) out of Countryfile because "of those wrinkles when high definition comes in" (allegedly!!). Some agents seem to manage to persuade Auntie to retain their aging clients such as Sue Barker's (55). However there is a place for making room for new talent; in fact there's a need to.

There can be few things more socially counterproductive than a high rate of youth unemployment. If we wrinklies who've had a full working life and have some savings or a pension won't get off the job ladder, there can be no room to start for others at the bottom. On a day when Manchester Council alone announces the loss of 2,000 jobs, it's naïve to think that there'll be room both at the top and at the bottom of the jobs ladder. Although I can see the attraction for employers of retaining their experienced 65-year old employees and avoiding the expense of training youngsters, it's plain short-sightedness. By all means encourage people to work extended years when the economy is booming and employment is flush, but now it's daft - and dangerously disillusioning for our young people. Give the youngsters a break!

And by the way on Mr Michael Gove's newly announced "English Baccalaureate" I'm proud (or should that be ashamed?) to say that I would be among the failure statistics. Of course it was then GCEs, but I obtained neither of the humanities (Geography or History). As far as I recall there were a Maths (or two), an English (or two), a science and a few languages - but NO HUMANITY. Failure! That was because my teachers guided me to subjects which they thought I'd do well in - and enjoy (Now there's a novel concept!). On the whole, that's what good teachers do - guide their students to subjects which they'll do well in and, as a bonus, enjoy. Frankly I suspect the demand for a foreign language for those who have trouble enough with English is cloud-cuckoo land. Poor old state education - the place where ideologue politicians of every complexion flex their muscles! Anyway enough griping. Actually my retrospective failure amused me.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Eleven one eleven

I'm refraining from writing this at eleven minutes past 11 this morning, because I'm not into the fashion for numerology which seems to fascinate some people on Facebook - who pointed out, for example, that today is 11.1.11. So what? I tend to think. Our calendar is not that significant - just a convenient way of recording events. But of course we are obsessed with clocks and dates in our culture. Punctuality pips even cleanliness to the post in our hierarchy of virtue. I sometimes think that we'd be a lot happier if we lived by "African time" or, as I'd prefer to call it, natural time. Chill out, guys!

2nd WW destroyer, ?HMS Paladin
That's all by the by.... Since they couldn't get to us for Christmas, Jane and I drove down to stay overnight with her parents in Devon - and a lovely time we had. 70 years ago, Jane's father signed up as a 19-year old recruit in the Navy. In the evening he told us some of his wartime experiences. His memories are very vivid. He began on the destroyer, HMS Paladin, in the Clyde and spent a lot of time on minesweepers in the Mediterranean. He'd be the first to say he was  just one among many. However naturally to us he's special and it's moving to listen to him.

Then we went on to meet up with most of my generation of Wenhams, in Bristol. We drove in through Clifton where there was a reminder of the saddest home news story of the Christmas period. Parked on the Green outside Christ Church was a police incident van and a number of police cars. It was a shock to see them on the green I'd frequented in my teenage years. I hope Jo Yeates' murderer is soon brought to justice.

And meanwhile on the other side of the world came the news of England's series' victory in the cricket tests, which assumed, in my opinion, disproportionate importance over the unfolding story of the flooding around Brisbane in Queensland. We have good friends on the outskirts of Brisbane. They are as yet among the fortunate ones who have escaped this year's devastation - although last year they were flooded. I came across a series of photos from the Brisbane Courier which give a great picture of the extent of the floods, for example one of a woman wading away from her abandoned 4-WD.

It occurs to me that news comes to life for us when we have personal connections in some way.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year's Day

"Well, that'll learn him!" I can almost hear the grizzly badgers in my former churches after both the Queen's Christmas Day message and the Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year message today on the subject of the 400th anniversary of the Authorised (or King James', as it seems fashionable to call it) Version of The Bible. I raised great ire in some quarters by introducing a dynamic equivalent translation, the Good News Version, for use in church. In fact it was not done without consultation or off my own bat, but vicars exist to stop the buck.

My answer was to point to William Tyndale, the first English translator of the Bible. I like this lively description, by Alice Brewer, apparently aged 10, in the Tyndale Archive: "To a 15th century farmer, the Bible was just a big book full of unreadable words and made-up rules. This was because priests in those times insisted on the Bible being in Latin. They said the Bible was a holy book, and shouldn’t be allowed to be read by any old sinful peasant. Really, they wanted it to be in a language only they could understand so they could make up a bunch of silly laws to suit themselves, then get away with it by saying "It says so in the Bible." They thought no-one would ever know different, and no-one would ever try and reveal the truth. And no-one did, until Tyndale came along...." (

From the Tyndale archive
Having taught English for many years I'm aware that for all the beauty of the 17th-century prose, much of the AV is actually inaccessible to the average reader - who's much more likely to read and understand The Sun or The Mirror than The Telegraph or The Independent. And the Bible contains good news for all people. When challenged by a grouchy priest one day, Tyndale's reputed reply was, "If God spare my life, before very long I shall cause a plough boy to know the scriptures better than you do!" In the end he was martyred for his work, but he had set in motion a tradition of putting the Bible within the reach of everyone who could read, of which the placing of the Authorised Version in every church in the land, was the fruit.

One of my favourite verses which I still prefer in that version over any other is: Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.' Might be a good motto for this year.

However the fact that there are versions which are now more comprehensible to people at large does not diminish or undermine the unique importance of the AV. Its influence on language, literature, culture, ethics and in fact on the whole of our heritage is unparalleled. But Rowan Williams pointed out its most significant contribution, which he summarised as: "for people to make sense of their lives, it helps to have a strongly defined story in the background, that tells us that we all matter" - whether we feel it or not, and whatever our circumstances. As well as referring to the Psalms, he showed us the words, "For God so loved the world... that he gave his only begotten Son." That is why we all matter.

I trust you enjoy 2011 and know, without doubt, that you matter, you are infinitely significant.