31 December 2009

Taking the Bible Seriously

My friend Mark has written an excellent blog post on the idea of "taking the bible seriously" versus "taking the bible literally". Maps and Language and Happy New Year.

Mark writes:
The over valuing of literal ways of expressing our experience of reality needs challenging. Literal truth doesn't help us talk about the most important things, and when you force yourself to speak literally, you end up saying some very silly things about those important things. The most obvious example of this is God talk where 'taking the bible literally' has become for some the same as, 'taking it seriously', or reading it honestly and not complicating it with 'man made' interpretations.

28 December 2009

Snowing in the Snow Belt

The first photo is from the town center and the second and third photos are from our back window. We are blessed with a gorgeous view!

27 December 2009

Holy Communion

Probably one of the biggest changes in my worship life since I move to the US has been my "relationship" with the liturgy of Holy Communion.

Although congregations in the British Methodist system only celebrate communion once a month, as a minister, I generally presided at a Sunday communion service every week as I served four congregations. In addition to Sunday communion services, I often attended a mid-week communion service at the local Church of England parish and my duties often required me to preside at communion at local nursing homes as well as to celebrate with individuals who were house-bound.

So, it has been a big change to go from presiding at or receiving communion once a week or more to receiving communion once a month on Sundays.

I don't really consider myself an "expert" on Methodism in the New World, but I'm given to believe that within living memory, there were congregations which didn't celebrate communion in the main Sunday service, but which had a "tack on communion" at the end of the service. I remember briefly attending a Methodist church in Washington DC in about 1979 or 1980, where communion was held in a separate Chapel directly after the main service which was held in the sanctuary. Methodist communion here still feels a bit like a rush-job to me: it feels like it's "tacked on" to the service of the word which feels like it's is "the real deal" with communion as something of an embarrassing activity like getting caught making out in the car as a teenager. At least our pastor uses the entire communion liturgy: Great prayer of thanksgiving and epiclesis as well as the words of institution. In a number of places, I've experienced just the words of institution.

Yesterday (Saturday) evening, I attended a local Lutheran congregation which had sent out an invitation to their Christmas service. I didn't want to go to the Christmas service as our congregation had its own, but I learned from the Lutheran congregation's website that they hold a "blended" style of worship on Saturday evenings at 5:30 and the website advertised communion at every service. Yesterday evening was a service of nine lessons and carols (something I think is probably unusual in the US?), with communion at the end. Here again, the "communion liturgy" consisted only of the words of institution, but the rest of the service was somewhat more "liturgical" and everything seemed to flow towards the communion rather than making the communion an embarrassing afterthought. It was a sufficiently positive experience, that I think I will become a regular at this Saturday evening service. It will be good to have communion once a week again.

Pushing on Closed Doors

I'm conscious of the fact that I've not done a lot of blogging since Wonderful Husband and I moved to the United States. I'm not sure of the precise reasons for this. First was the simple disruption and chaos of moving. Moving an entire household overseas is different from moving a household to a different part of the country or even moving overseas with two suitcases and a few posted parcels as I did in my original move from the US to Belgium in 1987. As any middle-aged couple will tell you, house-moving is physically and emotionally demanding but this goes up a notch when the move is international.

More recently, I think that I've not been blogging because I still have not managed to get myself fully "settled" in the US. We undoubtedly picked one of the worst times in our lives to quit jobs and move without any employment prospects. And I have been unable to get gainful employment either in "the secular world" or within the church. But even more discouraging is the fact that I seem unable to even volunteer in the church in any capacity beyond answering a call from this or that committee for volunteers. One of the narratives of my journey to the ministry was a testimony about pushing doors to see if they opened. Here in the US, every door I've pushed has stayed resolutely shut. I particularly miss preaching and presiding at communion, but part of me is aware that these activities are part and parcel of being a church leader, which I am currently not.

I'm reminded of the part of John Wesley's covenant prayer where we pray "let me be employed for you or laid aside for you" and I always secretly thought "thank you that I am employed for you, and - truth be told - I don't really want to be laid aside for you, thank you very much." And then another part of me wonders what John Wesley himself was thinking when he said these words. His life story is not exactly one of allowing himself to be laid aside!

I don't think that this prayer necessarily implies passivity. I don't think it implies giving up on pushing doors. For me, I think it implies the need to find new doors to push and it also implies being patient whilst going through the process of finding new doors and pushing on them. There is also comfort in these difficult words, because other people throughout the centuries have prayed them in far more difficult circumstances than I'm in.

Do I now hit the "delete" button because this is too personal and sounds like whining? I don't mean to whine but I sense that I'm not going to be able to blog further until I'm honest about where I am. We'll see if I find further inspiration in the coming weeks. "Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing".

25 December 2009

Stand Amazed Ye Heavens at This

Today seems like an appropriate day to hearken back to my first ever post on this blog.

Merry Christmas.


We're still in the liturgical season of Christmas and I'm just starting to blog, so I offer you my favourite Christmas hymn by Charles Wesley. Many Methodists don't seem to be familiar with this hymn, but I think it's worth 'resurrecting'. Normally sung to Amsterdam

Glory be to God on high,
And peace on earth descend:
God comes down, he bows the sky,
And shows himself our friend:
God the invisible appears:
God, the blest, the great I AM,
Sojourns in this vale of tears,
And Jesus is his name.

Him the angels all adored,
Their Maker and their King;
Tidings of their humbled Lord
They now to mortals bring.
Emptied of his majesty,
Of his dazzling glories shorn,
Beings source begins to be,
And God himself is born!

See the eternal Son of God
A mortal son of man
Dwelling in an earthly clod
Whom heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, at this!
See the Lord of earth and skies;
Humbled to the dust he is,
And in a manger lies.

We, earth's children, now rejoice,
The Prince of Peace proclaim;
With heaven's host lift up our voice,
And shout Immanuel's name:
Knees and hearts to him we bow;
Of our flesh and of our bone,
Jesus is our brother now,
And God is all our own.

The third verse is my favourite. I often wish I were more demonstrative than I am, because when I sing 'Stand amazed, ye heavens, at this!' I'd really like to shout it out. (When I read the words, I get the feeling that Charles Wesley would have liked to shout out the words too.)

It's a familar doctrine, that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, but when one stops to think what it means that the uncreated Creator took on human form, one begins to get a small glimpse of God's love and God's mystery.

22 December 2009

Let the Poor Shoplift

A rather interesting news item today from Britain that made it to the international talk show World Have Your Say concerns an Anglican vicar in Britain - Father Tim Jones, parish priest at St Lawrence and St Hilda in York - who suggested in a sermon that someone who did not have enough to eat might shoplift from large chain stores.

However, the actual sermon is a lot more complex than such a simplistic message: read it here.

Father Tim even said near the end of his sermon:
Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. The observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are. Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt.
I came across the actual sermon after reading about it on the internet and after hearing the talk show on the radio. Now, I have a real problem with advocating any kind of theft or justifying it as right.

But let's pan out and read the rest of the sermon and it's context which was - in my view - clearly born of personal experience on Father Jones' part. Most of the opinions I've read on the internet say something like "Stealing is wrong, but the church should help people". In another context, I have repeatedly stated that the Church universal simply doesn't have the resources to cope with large structural issues of poverty, unemployment and medical need.

So what is the correct response of the Church in the context that Father Jones outlines? And is there REALLY nothing at all wrong with putting someone on the street with £50, no home, no employment and no resources? And before you answer that it's Father Jones who should be responding to this man's needs on behalf of the congregation, consider the fact that this then devolves the responsibility of discipleship onto the vicar, leaving the individuals in the congregation free to not walk alongside this man and to tut-tut about his inability to take responsibility for himself.

I don't agree with preaching that its OK to steal. It isn't. But Father Jones is spot-on when he calls society to "no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt".

Like many real-life situations, when you have more of an understanding of the actual context and experiences of individuals, you realize that there are often no easy answers. That should humble us, I think.

30 November 2009

From Deserving to Undeserving

Here is a story about John from Oregon in the New York Times. Hat tip to Steve Manskar via Facebook for this article.

Articles about individuals and families very much like John's have been appearing in our local newspapers here in Northeast Ohio almost daily. In a region that never really recovered from the demise of heavy industry, thousands of skilled laborers and professionals are out of work in this region or they are under-employed at 30-hour/week minimum wage jobs with no benefits. (When I participated in a group interview for such a job, there were a dozen of us: one young man in High School, one other woman with over 25 years experience in retail and the rest were men in their 40s, about half of whom had previously had professional jobs.)

Now, I've read a number of blog posts and comments on blogs about how God thinks that a Federal healthcare safety net is "stealing" if that safety net is funded by taxes. This point of view seems to emphasize the free will of individuals to give charitably as being of first-order ethical importance which trumps any notion of the collective good of society.

The admonition coming from this point of view seems to be: Your health has no intrinsic worth and if you cannot pay for healthcare, you don't deserve to have it. Wanting healthcare that you can't afford is of the same order of selfishness as wanting an iPod or a car that you can't afford. If you are truly a Christian person, you will trust in God for his will vis a vis your health. And maybe some part of the Church Universal will decide to throw a bit of charity your way; because, of course, Christians should be giving to others (but if we can't do it with a cheerful heart then God will understand if we don't give). One blog commentator even claimed that his Christian faith only obliged him to give to people he knew.

So for all of you who believe that giving should be from individual to individual (or from small group to individuals) and that giving should always be at the discretion of the giver, here are my questions:

1) How is the church's small-scale, and sporadic (read "unreliable") giving going to help John and millions of others like him? Pot roasts are not going to help John a lot nor is a $100 or $500 or even a $1000 charitable contribution.

2) Can you really look John in the eye as well as other individuals who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and tell them "You do not deserve healthcare"? Did John deserve healthcare when he was a healthy, working 21 year old but now he dosn't? Why? What changed his ontology from "deserving" to "undeserving"?

3) For those who are pastors and who are comparing John's need for healthcare to coveting an iPod or a car that he cannot afford, do you really look your parishioners in the eye and tell them that their desire for decent healthcare is morally equivalent in the eyes of God to lusting after a consumer gadget or a toy?

I do appreciate that there are many people who think that healthcare needs reforming and who believe that the Federal government would make a mess of reform and that this is the reason they oppose a Federal option for healthcare. That's a fair enough point of view.

But I really wonder how a Christian can look another human being in the eye and tell him that his health has no intrinsic human worth to himself or to society, that he doesn't deserve healthcare, and that asking for society to take a collective interest in his health is tantamount to stealing. I'll confess that it's incredibly difficult not to wish that such people would find themselves in the shoes of people who have suffered bad luck and bad health through no fault of their own. Not so that they would suffer, but so that they would understand.

24 November 2009

Co-Operative Health Insurance?

In my post Capitalism as a Belief System, I mentioned the idea of using capitalism as a way of running an economy without buying in to capitalism as a belief system.

I think I've already explained what I mean by not buying into capitalism as a belief system: a rejection of the idea that any and every enterprise "should" or "must" be run according to the principle of maximum return per unit of risk. In my previous post, I suggested that the health-care area was one area where I'd personally want to use the Golden Rule as the governing value. I accept that there is much debate about the values surrounding healthcare, but I just want to suggest here a mechanism by which the operating systems of capitalism can be used for more altruistic ends. That mechanism is the co-operative enterprise.

Before anyone feels that they need to enlighten me about the facts, co-operative enterprises are not new nor do I claim to have invented the idea. As businesses, they tend to work very much in the same way as ordinary businesses: investors, a managing board, operations management, employees and customers/clients. The difference between a co-op and a profit-seeking organization is their reason for existing. Almost all for-profits business exist with the ultimate sole goal of maximizing profits. Co-ops exist for the benefit of stakeholders.

Probably one of the most well-known forms of co-operative in the United States are old-fashioned credit unions. You become a member of a credit union, deposit some money in a savings account, and get a return on your money from monies that the credit union lends to other credit union members. In the old days, you couldn't borrow money from a co-op until you had deposited a sum of money for a specified period of time.

What is the point of a credit union? To hopefully provide a service to members whereby: 1) they have access to loans which they would not have otherwise had access to; 2) they have access to a good rate of return on their savings and; 3) they have access to a good borrowing rate on their loans. The primary goal here is not for the credit union to make a profit to reinvest in order to grow and provide shareholders or owners with an ever-increasing earnings stream. The primary goal is to provide a decent, basic savings and loan service to members.

It seems obvious to me that health insurance could be run on similar principles. I know that in California, homeowners who cannot otherwise find home insurance due to a high risk of fire in their area can insure their homes through a type of State insurance which seeks only to cover the costs of claims. On a much more simple level, the Amish operate a system whereby every family puts a sum of money into a "pot" and medical care is paid out of this pot. There are also a couple of medical cost-sharing schemes run by Christians for Christians (which typically require you to sign up to a doctrinal statement!) which aim at members covering the cost of other members.

Will co-operative health insurance solve the current crisis of health-care costs? No, I don't think so. The causes are many and complex but a lot of them can easily be filed under the two basic categories that drive all capital markets: fear and greed. Fear of not having the absolute cutting edge drug or treatment; fear of not having the best possible consumer choice if one has the money to purchase it.

The underlying problem is spiritual, it is a problem of values, as I suggested in my last post. We simply cannot countenance a health-care system that is run for the general good which might limit the ability of the very rich to buy cutting-edge medical care. In money we trust. We are happy to tell the working person that he has no right to a vaccination if he cannot afford it, because what we are absolutely certain of is that the rich person has the right to expensive experimental drugs if she can afford it.

Capitalism as a Belief System

There have been a number of debates going on in the blogosphere about US health-care reform which I have been participating in over the last few weeks and quite a few of these have branched off into discussions about business, economics and social beliefs and values. In conjunction with yesterday's post on the subject of compassion and The Golden Rule, I've had a some thoughts on the subjects of "The Golden Rule, Capitalism and Health Care" which I'm going to attempt to write about in a series of posts.

In many ways, I'm still a "foreigner" here in the US and one of the things that has struck me is how much capitalism appears to be for many people in the US a belief system as well as a way of running an economy. After twenty years working in the equity markets, my own opinion is that capitalism is, historically, the least worst way of running an economy that human history has devised.

It's also my opinion however, that as a belief system, capitalism stinks. And I believe that capitalism is the number one belief system held by US society. Christians may say that they believe in the Lordship of Christ, but in actual fact we believe in the Lordship of Profits. We prove this every day by the way we live our lives.

I think that there are historic reasons for many of our economic beliefs. The rule of King George III in raising taxes in America for his own selfish empire building had much to do with establishing the idea that taxation is stealing. The right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" which is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence was almost "life, liberty and the pursuit of profit"; so this value has a 200+ year history in US society.

And, of course, the Cold War which was actually a clash of super-powers was characterized in the US as "The good and moral values of capitalism versus the bad and immoral values of socialism/communism". In US culture, "democracy" and "capitalism" are seen as synonymous by many even though they are not. In US culture, "totalitarianism" and "socialism" are seen as synonymous even though they are not. And the worst conflation of all is the idea that Christianity and the pursuit of profits (capitalism's value system as opposed to its operating system) are synonymous.

Let's be really simplistic here. Jesus said that the greatest of all commandments is "love God and love your neighbor as yourself" (basically, The Golden Rule). Capitalism says that all businesses must be run for the highest risk/reward ratio - for the highest profit. Therefore Capitalism's value system cannot be the focus of Christian behavior or of Christian ethical reasoning.

Rather than testing every social venture by the test of "Will this venture make the highest profit for the capital that has been invested?", Jesus' teachings require Christians to use the test of "Will this venture benefit the citizens of this country/State/city/county in aggregate?" I appreciate that determining aggregate social benefit is another complex ethical problem but I don't think that we can abdicate the responsibility of making that moral determination by simply defaulting to the standard of profit. "Oh, it's too difficult to decide what it means for society to 'benefit' from health-care, so let's just run our health-care system on the basis that all providers should make as much as they can from their investment."

We do already recognize that some services to society are too important to leave to individuals to either perform or to raise money for. And, historically, many of these things were once left to individuals: policing, fire-fighting and education. It's a mystery to me how we can argue that education is of benefit to society and should be paid for by taxes but that health-care is not a benefit to society and that those who cannot pay for it do not deserve it. One blogger actually compared health-care to purchasing an iPhone or a car: a luxury consumer good that one shouldn't have if one can't pay for it. That makes sense using the "lens" of capitalistic values to make my ethical judgments. If I use the "lens" of doing unto others as I would have them do to me, I come up with a whole different opinion about the value of health-care to society.

23 November 2009

Charter for Compassion

An Episcopalian priest here in town has just pointed me to the website http://charterforcompassion.org

The website's introduction reads: "On February 28, 2008 Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize and made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. Since that day, thousands of people have contributed to the process so that on November 12, 2009 the Charter was unveiled to the world.

Here is a small snippet from Karen Armstrong's speech in accepting the TED Prize:

Religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action. You only understand them when you put them into practice.

Now, pride of place in this practice is given to compassion and it is an arresting fact that right across the board in every single one of the major world faiths, compassion - the ability to feel with the other - ...is not only the test of any true religiosity, it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Christians and Muslims call "God" or the Divine. It is compassion, says the Buddha, which brings you to Nirvana. Why? Because when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. And once we get rid of ego, then we are ready to see the Divine.

Hear the entire 21-minute speech here:

23 October 2009

Personal Update

This is a holding page for a "personal update" post.

You can see some more nice photos of autumn in our Ohio town by clicking here.


OK, It's November 5th and I'm going to try an update.

I've been hesitating to write an update as it's hard to find words and my brain is telling me that I don't have a lot to say.

Wonderful Husband and I have settled in to our new town pretty well. As you can see from the photos, the town itself is lovely. (By the way, in the two weeks since these photos were taken, almost all the leaves have dropped off the trees! I forgot how quickly the seasons change here.) The contrast from the town we just left in the Midlands in the UK could hardly be greater. But there are many ways in which I feel a fish out of water here. For one thing, as a "socialist", neither WH nor I fit in with the largely Republican environment here.

But let's be honest. What I'm personally finding most difficult is the fact that I have not be able to find a job; as I wrote on Facebook and Twitter "This being laid aside for you lark isn't all that easy". I suspect that some other bloggers could write eloquently about their feelings on the matter. For all my love of analysis, I'm not particularly the sort of person who likes rehearsing such feelings over and over. For me it just leads to negativity and I prefer to simply put my head down and plow forward. But I think that's why it leaves me nothing to say!

I've had a bit of success in being offered a part-time volunteer position with Americorps. The position also offers a small living allowance equivalent to the minimum hourly wage. But because the particular position I applied for involves working with vulnerable adults, Americorps has to do an FBI check on me. I was finger-printed three weeks ago and Americorps are still waiting to hear back; they will not even train me until I'm cleared. (John Menuier, I think this is a good example of where a semi-colon works better than a period. *grin*).

We are lucky that Wonderful Husband was able to get a position with the same retail company that he worked for in the UK. However, he moved from a full-time position at a very good hourly rate to a part-time position at the US's beginning hourly rate. Still, it's a job and jobs are very difficult to find in this part of the Midwest. Seeing WH's job offer with the benefit of hindsight, I don't think we realized at the time that he received the offer that it was indeed a miracle. A very noticeable percentage of people in the congregation I'm currently attending have lost their jobs and Ohio has three of the cities in the US's top ten unemployment chart: Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo.

I've had two supply preaching appointments since I've been in the US and the sermons can be found on my sermon blog. It was good to preach and I'm currently "missing" the fact that I don't have any further preaching appointments in the foreseeable future.

Evangelical Universalist?

My friend Will Grady writes a really thoughtful post on the subject of The Evangelical Universalist.

The bit of the post I found most helpful was Will's pointing out that the final hope of the Christian is not that we "go to heaven" as disembodied individual spirits but rather that God has promised that he will bring about a New Creation into which all people will be resurrected.

From this, Will concludes:
It is to this new creation that Christians point, and in doing so we, by the Holy Spirit, bring God’s new creation in spots around the world. Mission, then, is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing in bits of what God will do definitely when Jesus returns at the final resurrection. Mission is spreading the gospel (good news) that Jesus is the world’s true king, and that announcement does in some since divide the world into those who would accept it and those who won’t.
A really good post and well worth a read.

16 October 2009

No one comes to the Father but by me

Craig Adams is back blogging and writes an excellent post on a Methodist view of atonement.

no one can come to God the Father except through the grace & mediation of Christ! And, of course, this is true. There is only one source of light and grace for all people. From Jesus these words can be taken to mean: "there is no access to God except through my mediation." Modern evangelicals commonly take it to mean: "there is no access to God except through consciousness of Christ." From this misconception, the question arises: well, what about all the people who lived before Christ, what about the who were killed in OT times, what about those who have never heard of Christ, etc.

The older Methodist writers did not get into this tangle. They believed that God's grace was for all and that Christ was the one and only source of salvation and life for all. The more we know of Christ the better off we are.

09 October 2009

A Star is Born

My brother was on TV. :-)

21 September 2009

A Healthcare Riddle

Now that I'm living in the United States, I can walk into my local pharmacy and get a 'flu shot ('flu jab) for $24.99 (about £15.25).

In the UK, under the NHS, those of us who were not considered at risk for the complications of 'flu were asked not to present ourselves for a jab so that those who needed the jab (the elderly, those with certain medical conditions) could have one.

So, if I go get a 'flu shot at the local pharmacy tomorrow, am I "taking personal responsibility for my own health"?

Why do *I* "deserve" to have a 'flu shot, just because I can pay for it, even if I don't really need one? And why is it OK that someone who is actually at risk but who can't pay shouldn't have one?

I do understand utilitarian arguments from those who do not call themselves Christians. What I don't understand is how a Christian can argue from Christian theology that God is perfectly happy with the idea that those who have money can have an inoculation and that those who don't have money can't.

I know I'm going on about it, but after my move to the US, I find it really difficult to make the adjustment from a Christian theology that thinks healthcare is a community responsibility to a Christian theology that thinks it's blindingly obvious that it isn't.

17 September 2009

We're Number 37!

This is funny and with a pretty catchy tune. And and good message too.

28 August 2009

I'm a Legal Alien

OK well I knew that, after spending 22 years outside the US and twenty of those in the UK, that I wouldn't be returning home as much as I would be immigrating back to the US.

Let me precede this semi-rant by saying that I'm in quite good spirits and, although I have no idea whether or not I will be able to minister in the US or what sort of job I will end up having in the US, that I firmly believe that if I push on doors, the right ones will open if I seek to do God's will.

That said, here are our first few weeks' experience in the US. Wonderful Husband, a British citizen who has never lived in the US, had the blessing of being offered a job in the US by his former employer in the UK.

The first lesson we learned was don't even try to approximate the state of Human Being until you have a drivers' license. You can do without a Social Security Number; Wonderful Husband only just got his and no one seems to care all that much about that. But don't, whatever you do, try to walk around without a drivers' license. And whatever you do, don't tell anyone that you haven't got one.

Because a driver's license is not about whether or not you can drive a car or want to drive a car: it is the sine qua non of identification documents. Got a passport? No one cares. Passports are not regarded as serious documents. It's the driver's license that you need. But not just any driver's license. An out-of-State license will do in a pinch but a license from a foreign country is probably more suspect than not having any license at all. Just what kind of a fraud are you trying to pull?

And the second thing you need - which neither I nor Wonderful Husband has - is a credit rating. This lack seems far more serious than even a lack of driver's license. I mean what 52 year old has NO credit rating in the US whatsoever? Well, er, one who hasn't been living in the US for the last 22 years.

Having worked in pensions in a previous 'life', I was aware of the necessity of establishing a credit rating. And I was also aware that this would probably be difficult. Neither of us were surprised when our bank manager told us that we couldn't get a loan for our car because we didn't have a credit rating.

But hold on, she said! Let's get you a secured loan; we'll put $X on deposit for 18 months and sign the deposit account over to the bank and then ask for a loan of $X for your car. That way you can establish a credit rating. Good idea, you may think. But no. The corporate lending bods rejected our application on the grounds that we had no credit rating. So, to get this in perspective, we have money on deposit with said bank, we are willing to assign some of that money that we are lending to them! in order to get a loan to establish a credit rating, but... We are a bad credit risk.

Pardon the editorial reflection, but isn't this a good deal of what has gone wrong in the current economic environment? Personal relationships - us and the bank manager and her knowledge of our circumstances - mean nothing. What matters in order to be worthy of a loan is not having the wherewithal to pay the loan back but rather a computerized track record of having previously borrowed money and paid it back.

How do we get a credit rating, I asked? Well, the bank manager suggested trying to apply for a secured credit card. Same idea: we give the bank $X on deposit and they give us a credit line equal to $X. What's the difference between that and the secured loan? Well, about 14 percentage points in the annual interest rate. Hmm.

Well, if you can pay cash, why worry about a good credit rating? The answer is: Employment. Most of the jobs I've applied for state that they want to do a credit check, police check and drug screening as part of the interview process. Well, no problem with the drug screening if I could ever get that far. But, as I fill out the applications stating that my last twenty years of employment were in the UK, I'm painfully aware that no one is going to check foreign references and that I'm going to come up on a credit check and a police check as someone who has dropped out of outer space. As the computers scan the applications, what do you think my chances are of even getting to talk to a human being?

So the next time you hear someone rant about illegal immigrants getting 'all the best jobs', please remember this story of a legal 'immigrant'.

20 August 2009

Healthcare: Values versus Administrative Process

It occurs to me that many of the debates currently waging in the US media about healthcare fail to distinguish between three questions:

1) What is the principle upon which we wish healthcare to be based?
2) What are our desired goals for healthcare?
3) How do we best administer a healthcare system?

I have some ideas about my own personal answers to the first two questions. I have less of a concrete idea about my answer to the third question - basically because I'm not expert either in US healthcare administration or in US governemental administration.

Here are my thoughts:

1) Our current system is based on the principle of 'patients are a source of profts for healthcare providers and healthcare insurance companies'. I want our healthcare system to be based on the principle that 'healthcare is a human right.'

I wonder if anyone would actually like to argue the principle that healthcare is not a human right? I wonder if anyone would like to argue the principle that 'those who cannot pay for healthcare deserve to become ill and die'? Possibly a few odd eggs, but I'm going to assume that, actually, most people agree with this idea.

2) Based on this principle, some of my desired outcomes would be goals like providing effective, preventative healthcare to everyone in society as well as providing effective specific care for specific illnesses and injuries. Such healthcare should be accessible, efficient and timely.

Broadly speaking, would anyone want to disagree with any of these things? I suspect not, although if we were going to start compliling a list of specific outcomes, there would probably be some disagreement. But let's say, broadly, we want everyone to have good, effective healthcare.

3) Now the big question. Given that we want healthcare to be a human right and we want everyone to have good, effective healthcare, who is going to pay for this? And how will this healthcare system be administered?

This actually seems to be the area where people with the least knowledge and experience have the strongest opinions.

I won't claim to have a definitive answer to this. What does seem clear to me, however, is that there are many ways to administer such a system and it's not simply a question of 'Nationalized, socialized healthcare based on the values of healthcare as a human right versus entirely privitized healthcare based on the value that patients are profit centers.'

But I think we DO need to be clear about the value that healthcare is human right and we have to fight for this principle to be articulated and to be the foundation of healthcare insurance going forward.

Given that our current system is based on the principle of 'patients are a source of profits', I wonder why people aren't afraid of insurance companies pulling the plug on granny? Or maybe more precisely insurance companies pulling the plug on mom and dad or sister and brother? If you have a long-term health condition that looks like being expensive and something that the insurance company is going to have to pay for over the course of decades, you'd better worry about having your insurance plug pulled or your access to treatment restricted. Either that, or hope your spouse has fantastic group insurance and that s/he isn't at risk of being laid off any time soon.

15 August 2009

The NHS through US Eyes

Here is an excellent article on the subject of This American's Experience of Britain's Healthcare System.

The author has been far more articulate than I could be. With the exception that I never shared the author's initial dislike of the NHS, her experience of the echoes mine. Perhaps her post is far more convincing for the fact of her initial dislike of the NHS.

I'll note in passing that Wonderful Husband and I have yet to be able to set up our our health insurance. We seem to have fallen through the cracks of The System in trying to apply for our (potentially very expensive!) private health insurance. Quite a difference from our recent experience of the NHS when WH received emergency eye surgery on the NHS in a matter of hours.

09 August 2009


We have arrived in NorthEast Ohio after an 8 and a half hour plane trip from Heathrow to Cleveland Hopkins airport. The trip was mostly uneventful except for customs apparently thinking that they needed to rip the zip off my bag to open it, despite it having an authorized lock; oh well, not the end of the world.

This morning, when I woke up, I was actually a bit teary about leaving the UK. That caught me a bit by surprise but it makes sense when you think that I've spent more than half my adult life in the UK.

It's very strange being back in the area where I was born and which I left at the age of 17 back in the mid 1970s. I never thought I'd be back here and I never thought I'd leave the UK. Wonderful Husband seems to be finding the whole thing less traumatic than I am at the moment.

Anyway, it's now past 1:00 am my 'body time', so I'm off to bed. Today marks a big transition point in both our lives.

05 August 2009

The Gospel: Love, not sin

This is an excellent article and well worth reading: WESLEYAN WISDOM: ‘Way of Salvation’ begins with love, not sin :
“we United Methodists do not believe that God’s way of salvation begins with the person’s sin; we believe it begins with God’s character, which is love.
And this is even true for other Methodists! ;-) [Minus 2 points for forgetting that the US is not the only place where Methodism exists!]

M minus 2

People keep asking me what I'm going to miss in the UK. Well, besides the people, I think the answer is 'Fish and Chips'. The movers have packed and wrapped everything and tomorrow the shipping container will arrive to be filled with our things. Here is a photo of my last authentic Fish and Chips meal for awhile. (This one is for my husband's former work colleague who photographs his meals!)

04 August 2009

M minus 3

A picture paints a thousand words. This is much more organized than yesterday!

03 August 2009

M minus 4

Well, the movers came today and started the packing process. They packed up a good deal of our household goods, leaving us with some basic cooking, washing and sleeping items. Tomorrow and Wednesday they have to 'export wrap' the furniture. Some has already been export wrapped and it's pretty strange. My office bureau, for example, has been cushioned and wrapped in its entirety. Apparently, all of the furniture gets wrapped in paper in a similar way. Very different from a domestic move where they throw blankets over the furniture. We have also been able to give away some of our things to someone in the neighbourhood who is in need of household goods with which to start a new home.

My Wonderful Husband loves packing; something I find exceedingly difficult. He was like a kid in a candy shop this morning and I decided to leave the house. I went to the gym in the morning, popped by the tip with some rubbish and then spent the afternoon having lunch with a friend. I know this sounds totally whimpy, but after having done 4 other moves together in our marriage, this is the best way.

This evening, we will pack our clothes into suitcases even though we're spending Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights here. Tomorrow, most of our clothes will get packed for the 10-week journey to Ohio although two large boxes will be shipped air freight on Friday; allegedly they will arrive on Monday or Tuesday next week.

02 August 2009

Christianity: Relationship or Dogma?

Another excellent article from Giles Fraser in this past week's Church Times: Are you Anglican or C of E?

My question, for all Christians is a closely related question: Is Christianity about relationships or about dogma? For my money, St. Paul answered this question in a number of places, particularly in Galatians and in his magisterial poem on love: 1 Corinthians 13 which is not primarily about romantic love, but is part of the argument that if you say you have religion but you don't have love, you are but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

In our still-modern, post-modern world, we are always tempted to make Christianity about dogma: about knowing the 'right' dogma, teaching the 'right' dogma, believing the 'right' dogma. The problem is that true Christianity is not so much about what ideas we have, but how we relate to other people and to God. When we make any issue more important than agape love, we have lost our way.

01 August 2009

M minus 6

Moving day minus 6. A quick post.

We're going up to visit with my husband's side of the family today: his sister, mother and brother will all be there. It's a day of visiting and saying good bye before going off to the US next Friday.

We had a bit of a surprise yesterday as the removal company rang to confirm that they are coming on Monday. Yikes! We thought they were coming on Wednesday! However, this is good because they are going to be doing all the packing and, rather than just packing on Wednesday, it turns out that they are packing Monday, Tuesday AND Wednesday.

We were also able to go to a local car dealership yesterday and agree on a price for our two cars but they will let us bring them in on Friday morning just before we set off for Heathrow. This is convenient as this part of the world has very little public transport (buses tend to run once an hour), so life is a lot easier with a car, albeit not good for climate change! ;-) We a got a bit more for one car than we expected and a bit less for another so, all in all, we ended up getting about £100 more than we expected. (Should I be hoping that the chap from the dealership isn't reading this blog?)

Finally, it was a small farewell barbecue last night at my Superintendent's house for the Circuit Leadership team: the Circuit Stewards, treasurer and other ministers. In true British fashion, it was good and cold and rainy. I told all present that I'm looking forward to 6 weeks of guaranteed summer weather when I get to the States; it will be nice to have some temperatures over 60 degrees F!

27 July 2009

M minus 12

Moving day minus 12.

Yesterday evening the Circuit Leaving Service was held. It began with a cream tea at about 5:30 pm followed by a 'Songs of Praise' style service at 6:30 pm. (Some of my US friends have asked what a 'cream tea' is. I think that the rough US equivalent would be a sandwich buffet with lots of cakes and, of course, scones!)

The people who were organizing the event were a bit worried about how many people were going to come. Judging from the number of seats left empty at the service, I think we actually had slightly less than the previous Sunday morning when we held a joint worship service with the local Anglican parish. We'd been hoping for sunshine so folk could eat outside, but in the great tradition of the British Midlands, it was steadily showering at 5:30 so we were all inside.

I think it was a good service and, from my point of view, it was encouraging. Each of my four churches had chosen a hymn for me and I chose four of my own. My Superintendent preached on the subject of "Pam is NOT going home" (absolutely true, and thank you!), using the text of Abram leaving his land. Anglican colleagues spoke about the ecumenical work we've done and there was a presentation from the circuit. Finally, there was actually a liturgy of leaving and blessing and sending out.

I was expecting to feel a bit sad after the service but, surprisingly, I didn't. Over the last 3 weeks, I've had a 'last Sunday service' at each of my churches and those were a bit bitter-sweet. I think it's because this one really WAS a genuine good-bye - rather than part of an extended good-bye - that it didn't feel so strange.

I remember a tutor in theology college saying 'liturgy is performative'. This is a concept that we in the Protestant low-church tradition often like to scorn. But I think this leaving service is a perfect example. I've been sent out. It was my leaving service. The service performed a real function about something that is really happening. It's not just a symbol and it's not superstitious to acknowledge that 'the leaving' is really happening.

All that having been accomplished yesterday, I think Trevor and I were a tiny bit lost today (although I still have another communion service on Wednesday morning). We can't actually pack things into boxes because US customs requires the removal company to take responsibility for what is being shipped; therefore we have to leave the packing to the removal company. We spent the day slowly sorting through things, identifying items to be given away and thrown out.

The house is starting to feel chaotic. And an increasingly chaotic house will add to my stress levels as we approach August 8.

26 July 2009

M minus 13

Moving day minus 13.

This blog isn't meant to be a special interest blog at all but I guess I usually write on topics that could be considered either 'spiritual' or 'practical theology'.

I'm aware that a number of people I know 'in real life' read this blog and I thought I'd write a bit now about our impending move. Partly because people are asking me questions and it occurred to me that others might want to know the same information.

We are going to be leaving Kidderminster on the 7th of August to travel to Heathrow for our flight directly to Cleveland Hopkins Airport on the 8th of August. This ends 20 years and 8 months' residency for me in the United Kingdom and, for my British-born husband, it begins his first experience of living abroad. He has always wanted to live in the United States and, although we are both looking forward to the change, I think he's probably more excited that I am!

For me, I'm going back to the general area of the United States that I left at the age of 17, and there is something extremely odd about that. People ask me how I'm feeling and I have feelings that are genuinely mixed. On the one hand, I'm looking forward to living in the US again and being near my parents. On the other hand, I'm sad to be leaving here and I'm also aware of the fact that we're leaving at least two years' earlier than anyone thought we'd be leaving.

My congregations have been wonderful to me. I've now had my 'last service' in all four of my congregations and all of them were special. Nonetheless, they have all been a bit sad. This evening is the leaving service that is going to be put on by the Circuit: a cream tea at 5:30 and a 'Songs of Praise' service at 6:30. Naturally, what else would someone who loves to sing want to do on their last Sunday?

I still have one Wednesday morning communion to 'do' this coming Wednesday: an ecumenical service with our local Anglican congregation in the Methodist church (if any of you are reading this, be prepared to get 'little cups' so we don't have to take communion in just one kind!) I have three meetings left, including an extraordinary church council meeting to tie up loose ends and I have a bit more visiting to do.

The house is starting to look like chaos, but we need the removal company to pack for us due to US customs regulations and worries about importing dangerous materials (do bibles count?). For anyone who doesn't know, we do have a house to go to in Ohio but we'll need to wait about ten weeks for our furniture. We are hoping that my husband may be close to having a job offer from the local branch of his current employer, and I'm going to 'play it by ear' and hopefully find a useful ministry - either paid or unpaid. Watch this space.

Sin and the issue of climate change

A debate appears to be continuing in the small British Methodist blogosphere on the subject of a) whether or not human actions are causing global warming and b) if our actions are causing global warming, whether or not that makes us sinners.

On the first question, it seems that none of us have enough personal scientific knowledge to be able to come to our own independent scientific conclusions or to debate with each other on a scientific level. This means that all any of us can do is quote reports that support one side of the debate or another. That seems fruitless to me.

I will freely admit that I don't have the science but that, on a common sense basis, it seems illogical to me to put pollutants into the atmosphere that needn't be there. I also believe that, since we are charged with stewardship of God's creation, it also seems logical to me that it is good to keep atmospheric pollutants down to a minimum.

On the second question, is it the case that that those who believe in human-caused climate change are righteous and that those who do not believe in human-caused climate change are sinners? As Paul would say 'By no means!' If this is 'sinful' activity, then we are ALL sinning in this way - every one of us. And if it's genuinely not sinful activity, then none of us are sinning in this way so there is no reason to be outraged. This is not an attempt at polarizing people into sinners and non-sinners according to their beliefs about a single issue.

The report Hope in God's Future published by the Joint Public Issues Team of The Methodist Church, the Baptist Union and the URC, never even gives the impression that those who believe in climate change are 'righteous'. The report consistently speaks of 'our' sin and 'our' need for repentance - clearly including the authors of the report in the indictment of sin.

The section of the report calling for repentance begins with the poem:
Thus knowing holiness and grace,
in humble honesty confess
we all our sins before your face,
and turn our lives to righteousness.
Consistently, the report speaks of 'we sinners' 'our sin' 'our need for repentance'.

Those who sincerely disagree on the issue of human-created climate-change should not be scape-goatted by those who do believe. But I honestly can't see any evidence that this report is engaging in that kind of scape-goatting. If someone does see scape-goatting, maybe they can point it out?

20 July 2009

Swine Flu and Theological Reflection

The new Vice President of Methodist Conference, who is a GP (General Practitioner) by profession, has posted an excellent reflection on the subject of responding to swine flu

Here is a flavour:
There are though for Christians many ethical aspects to a flu pandemic that we should consider. In Britain we have a well developed health service, and enough money and forethought to buy large amounts of anti-viral medication and vaccine. This though means there is less or even none for those with less well developed plans or limited resources. Yet again the rich developed world will be able to protect its population at the expense of the poorer developing world.

19 July 2009

Paths as Yet Untrodden

Someone gave me a hand-made card this morning with the prayer below hand-written in it. I'm not sure that the person who gave me the card knows I was brought up Lutheran and I'm pleased by the coincidence. Her citation is the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship. It's a beautiful prayer that reminds me a bit of 'The Covenant Prayer'.

Lord God,
You have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.

Give us faith
to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

15 July 2009

The True Meaning of 'Eldership'

Wow, what a fantastic idea: The Elders

I just came across the existence of this group from a statement made by Jimmy Carter that was carried in The Guardian on the subject of The Words of God do not Justify Violence Against Women

But it's not even the rights of women I really want to highlight here.

Instead, I was taken with the following statement:
But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.
I wonder whether what this doesn't say is more powerful than what it does say?

What's implied here is that if you are a person in the prime of your life who wants to 'get ahead', you'd better not challenge the way things are done too much. Diplomacy is the better part of advancement.

On the positive side, what a liberation to be able to put Truth first!

An inspiring thought, I think, for both senior citizens and not so senior citizens. We can all make a difference by shining a light on Truth and by speaking out against injustice. This is true freedom.

13 July 2009

Hope In God's Future - Climate Change

The Joint Public Issues team of the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church has published a report on climate change and CO2 emissions called 'Hope in God's Future'.

The report seems to be frustratingly difficult to access online. I can access it, but can't find a URL. If you Google 'Hope in God's Future', you will see a 'hit' for a pdf file of the report hosted on the Operation Noah website. This will open a pdf file containing the entire report. It occurs to me that the report ought to be easier to access online!

I understand, of course, that some people will be skeptical about the issue of CO2 and global warming. A glance at this report, however, should alleviate all accusations that comments made at Methodist Conference on CO2 pollution were ill-considered and off-the cuff. It should also address concerns that the church is jumping on a fashionable band-wagon and has not thoughtfully or intelligently investigated the science behind CO2 pollution.

The report also certainly addresses concerns that the Joint Public Issues Committee has not grounded its thinking in Christian theology but that, knowingly or unknowingly, it may have adopted pagan theologies of worshiping the creation rather than the creator.

The report also calmly and thoughtfully addresses the issue of confession and repentance. The report very clearly names CO2 pollution as 'sin', so it was not the ill-considered idea of a fanatical individual to use this term. The term 'sin' appears to have been the result of careful thinking by the committee who produced the report.

09 July 2009

Let Them Go to the Emergency Room

Over on Connexions there is a - what's the euphemism? - 'robust' debate about health care, sparked in part by my husband's experiences getting his torn retina fixed on the NHS

This article by the American Associate of Retired People (AARP) on the subject of 8 Myths about Health Care Reform is worth reading.

One of the arguments that gets put forward frequently is that people without health insurance still get good quality health care in the Emergency Room. The AARP article addresses this issue in 'Myth 6':
Myth 6: "The uninsured actually do have access to good care—in the emergency room."

It's true that the United States has an open-door policy for those who seek emergency care, but "emergency room care doesn't help you get the right information to prevent a condition or give you help managing it," says Maria Ghazal, director of public policy for Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs at major U.S. companies. Forty-one percent of the uninsured have no access to preventive care, so when they do go to the ER, "they are most likely going in at a time when their illness has progressed significantly and costs more to treat," says Lumpkin. Hospitals have no way to recoup the costs of treating the uninsured, so they naturally pass on some of those costs to their insured patients.

27 June 2009

An 'Interesting' Day

It started out as a typical Saturday. I did a visit in the morning, a few errands later and then home to prepare two Sunday services. Confession-time here: I rarely get my sermon done before Saturday and usually spend Saturday afternoon writing it.

At about 3:00, Wonderful Husband rings from work to say that he's seeing 'flashing lights and black spots' and he's booked a check-up at the Optometrist after work. Immediately, I'm thinking 'detached retina'. WH said 'I rang NHS direct and they told me to go straight to A&E ('accident & emergency' - 'Emergency Room' in American) but I thought that was a bit over the top.'

I told him I'd be happier if he went straight to A&E. Which he did. To the 'wrong' hospital which didn't have a facility to look at eyes. He finally ended up at the 'right' hospital which has an ophthalmology unit that seems to be a national centre of excellence; well, according to their website, they do eye surgeries that can't be done in any other part of of the UK.

Anyway, they found that he had a tear in his retina and they have performed laser surgery and sent him home.  He can see;  his eye isn't bandaged and there is no worry about driving or travelling.

This leaves me in awe and amazement and also reminds me that I'm getting old! I reckon 15 years ago, it would have had to have been conventional surgery with a knife. (I know someone who had this sort of surgery in the early 1980s and it was major surgery.)  Now it's a quick procedure and home. 

Right now this feels rather 'Star Trek-ish' (think walking into Sick Bay and having the doctor wave a computer at you and everything is sorted) and it also feels like an amazing blessing. It also reminds me how lucky we are in the West. In some countries, a person would just start losing their sight at this stage.

Thank you, Lord.

11 June 2009

Credit Card Interest Rates

I'm sorry for not blogging much, but family health issues and preparing for the move to the US are somehow sapping my energy for theology blogging.

Here's an interesting experience, though.

In advance of our move to the US, I rang one of my credit card providers to cancel my card. Both Wonderful Husband and I try to pay off our credit card balances at the end of the month. In the process of canceling, I was told that because of my 'excellent' track record, they were prepared to lower the interest rate on the card by about 4 percentage points. (From about 15.5% to 11.5%)

Although that's not terribly meaningful if you pay off your balance at the end of the month, there
are times when we use a credit card to take two or three months to pay for larger items.

Like many people, I've tended to leave my financial arrangements in place rather than asking for a better deal.  And, apparently, at least one company is prepared to try to offer a deal if they want to keep your custom.  It's the principle of 'If you don't ask, you don't get.'

24 May 2009

Changes and Moving On

None of this will be news to people who know me well nor maybe even to careful readers of this blog. I blogged about this earlier in the year but forgot that: a) My husband didn't want to tell his employer so early about our impending move and b) That my husband works for a computer company so blogging about the move wasn't necessarily the wisest thing to do on my part. Nor was posting on Facebook. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, it's now 'safe' to start blogging about the move again. It's actually be safe to do so for some weeks but, after having pulled previous blog posts on the subject, I didn't feel up to writing about it again. Anyway....

On the 8th of August - God willing - Wonderful Husband and I will be moving to Ohio in order to be closer to my parents who are now both not terribly mobile. We're moving to a lovely small town just south of Cleveland where my parents are now living and, in April, we were actually able to go there and put in an offer on a house. The offer has been accepted and we expect to close on the 12th of June.

We are still waiting for an appointment with the US immigration authorities so that my British husband can get the necessary papers and neither one of us has a job lined up yet! Although my husband's (American) company doesn't do transfers, he is going to be recommended to the shop near where we will live, so he should have a job lined up when we move.

I'm sure I'll reflect more on the move as events progress, so I wanted to lay out the facts.

Moving to Ohio still feels extremely bizarre although I'm starting to get my head around it. The town to which we are moving is just under 40 miles from where I grew up. I left Northeast Ohio for university in 1975 and I've not been back there since. And I've been in the UK for 20 years and never expected to go back to the US at all; to almost go back to the place where I was raised seems very strange indeed.

Both my husband and I have a sense of peace about what we are doing and we are certain that this is the right thing to do. One of the big things I've learned is that we humans really are not in control of the events of our lives. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that God micro-manages our lives and I don't think God makes people ill; in the case of my parents, that's a consequence of the aging process and their own biology.

But our culture does give us the false impression sometimes that we can be in control of everything we do and that's simply not true. I think that both of us have found peace in the idea of doing what we believe to be the right thing rather than worrying that our life plans have radically altered. My new mantra is 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'

11 May 2009

The Stories we Tell - Just Sayin'

Over the last four or five days reading blogs on the internet, I've been struck by how negative Methodists are about themselves and about their Methodist brothers and sisters.

This negativity seems to be true not only for British Methodists but also for the United Methodist Church in the US. Reading the blogs of UMCers who I find thoughtful and whose ideas I respect, I've actually begun to wonder whether I want to be part of the UMC when I move to the States in August.

In my last job, if anyone had talked down their organisation or their colleagues in the way that Methodists talk each other down, I reckon the boss would have called them in for a talking-to about their attitude.

Martin Atkins, General Secretary of the British Methodist Church, has called us to find the positive stories and tell the positive stories. I didn't read this as a call to be unrealistically Polyanna but to actually see the good in our brothers and sisters and to 'advertise' it.

Why is this important? Basically because if we keep telling each other we're rubbish, we're going to start to believe it. This does not obviate trying to find solutions. But, in commercial-speak, we are living in an era when the demand for our 'product' is declining. Let's stop acting like we can control the demand for our product; let's stop acting like we are all individually responsible for the decline in demand. And let's find ways of increasing market-share and then spreading these ideas around. And let's see the good in those who keep trying and trying and trying and see little worldly signs of success.

Just sayin'.

25 April 2009

Elections for the European Parliament

On 4 June 2009, every voter in the UK will have the opportunity to vote in the European Parliament Elections. The Methodist Church, The United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union are calling on Christians to turn out at the polls and use your vote.

Why is it important to turn out and vote? Because the proportional representation system of these elections allows a political party with a relatively small number of votes to win a seat on the Parliament. A seat won means additional funds given to that party.

The churches' concern is the British National Party which promotes a racist agenda. (My own Southern European ethnic background makes me an undesirable person according to their membership criteria). The BNP only need about 9% of the vote to win a seat on the European Parliament and they are campaigning to get their supporters out in force. During the last European elections in the West Midlands, the party won just over 8% of the vote. If voters who would normally vote for other parties don't turn out to vote, it is conceivable that the BNP could win a seat in the West Midlands.

Usually, I don't believe in a minister of religion telling people how to vote. And my first message here is 'Vote for any political party of your choice with a platform that promotes justice and freedom for all people.' I.e. vote for any 'mainstream' party or for any independent party with a track record of serving the community well. (Our own fine MP in the Wyre Forest is an Independent.)

My second message is don't be fooled by the BNP's campaign in which it seeks to link itself with the Christian Church ('Britain is a Christian Country. Vote BNP' and 'What would Jesus Do? Vote BNP') As The Methodist Church so succinctly put it: Jesus is one of history's most famous Jews. It's hardly likely that he would support the BNP. The BNP no longer publishes its Constitution on its website and I wouldn't want to send you there anyway. Here is a copy of the constitution that the BNP don't want you to see.

I call on all Christians in Britain to get out and use your vote on the 4th of June.

21 April 2009

An evangelical's plea: Love the sinner

I've been hanging around Northeast Ohio this last week.  Watching the news in the US and reading US newspapers. I really appreciated this article in today's issue of USA Today: An evangelical's plea: 'Love the sinner'

Here are some home truths from the article, in my opinion:
Evangelicals often speak of lesbians and gay men as if they have some sort of medical disease that we experts have diagnosed and can easily cure with a simple, biblical prescription.
(Disclaimer: I do know people who would be far more sympathetic and far less crass than this whilst still maintaining that homosexual sex is wrong. However - especially as a minister - I frequently hear people dismiss homosexual orientation as being a 'lack of discipline' as if the monogamy that is considered an honourable discipline for heterosexual people is a wanton lack of impulse-control when it is 'committed' by gay people.)

And here is an important insight that applies not just to the issue of homosexuality but also to any other issue where Christians disagree with the prevailing culture (bolding mine):
Unfortunately, some evangelical groups, such as the Family Research Council and Vision America, oppose even minor concessions, claiming we should not "normalize" homosexuality in our culture. But, these groups seemingly fail to realize that our role as Christians is not to delegitimize the existence of those who do not share our beliefs. Our job is to mirror Christ by loving people in spite of our differences and advocating for our culture's disenfranchised groups. Only then can we effectively share with them the reasons that we believe our beliefs are most compelling.
It seems to me that much popular Christian rhetoric is devoted to trying to delegitimize the thoughts of those who don't agree with us. Even though Jesus told us that his way would always go against that of the world, we often act as if our own beliefs can't possibly be legitimate unless and until 'the world' agrees with us.  Newsflash: That ain't gonna happen.

And, a final important insight that also applies to issues beyond homosexuality:
Scripture says the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law, gives life. A spirit of love in public policy is one that all Christians can support.
If the 26-year-old self-identified evangelical author of this article is anything to go by, it would seem that there is hope for Christianity in the US after all.  Thank God for the younger generation.

10 April 2009

Flash Mob Worship Liverpool

This is too cool. And, by the way, it's liturgy. More information at Guerrilla Worship

04 April 2009

Is Liturgy Really a Bad Thing?

I found this post on Discovering and Escaping Liturgy interesting. Partly, I admit, because I have a love for (non-fussy) liturgical worship and I often feel that the British Methodist Church thinks that a minister or a congregant who likes liturgy does so simply because he or she doesn't want to let go of the past. In other words, that there isn't really any positive or compelling reason for the existence or use of liturgical worship beyond palliative spiritual care for the elderly.

Here's some interesting material from the post that rings true to me:
I spoke at a conference about our rediscovery of liturgy and tradition. The room was packed—by that time liturgy had become a very hot topic. During my presentation, a leader raised his hand and commented in a very disappointed tone.

"I don't understand," he said. "You're telling us that young adults are drawn to liturgy and ancient worship forms, but I serve at a liturgical church and our young people want to get away from liturgy and traditions. They think it's boring. I came to this conference to learn new ideas from contemporary churches. I want to move forward, not back."
The author concludes with a thought that seems fairly obvious to me:
We have found that the goal shouldn't be to maintain the past or to always be on the cutting edge. Our goal is to worship in a way that represents our community to God and God to our community. That means contextualizing worship for today, but not forgetting the family of God throughout history to which we belong.
I think that there is an element of 'different strokes for different folks' here and that these 'different strokes' may not necessarily be connected in every instance to one's age. I know that, in the church that I came from, the younger folk (school leavers) wanted the traditional services and the traditional hymns and it was us 'Baby Boomers' who were lobbying for The Latest From Spring Harvest. Or maybe I should have been born a generation earlier or a generation later?

If a congregation is truly worshiping God and truly has Christ at its centre, then I'm not sure that 'worship style' is the Big Deal we seem to make it out to be.

Now, having knowingly and publically uttered heresy, I put on my tin hat and wait for the flack!

29 March 2009

It's My Husband's Fault

OK, here's a post that's got me so angry that it's managed to kick me out of my no-blogging funk.

Who would have credited it? A man who advocates male-headship who reckons that, if something goes wrong in a marriage, it's usually (not always, but usually) the husband's fault: Marriage Counseling: It's His Fault.

But wait. Perhaps there is a point here. The underlying thesis of the post seems to be that if a man sufficiently 'sacrificially loves' his wife, that the marriage will not have problems.

I have a huge 'problem of justice' here. There are three underlying assumptions that I don't agree with. One, that the husband is most likely to be the selfish partner. Two, that the wife is most likely to be the unselfish partner. And the third: that even if the wife is the selfish (abusive, addicted) one, that it's somehow the man's job as head of the family to 'cure' her by his sacrificial love.

Trying to 'fix' other people by the force of our own will or behaviour is normally called co-dependency and anyone who has tried it will tell you that, not only doesn't it work, but trying this methodology as a way to maintaining a relationship with an addicted/abusive partner is simply a recipe for heartache.

If I were a Christian man whose wife was abusing him, I'd want to stay a hundred miles away from such counsel. My heart aches for the husbands who won't be heard because the nature of their concerns doesn't fit with their pastor's preconceived ideas. Just as my heart aches for all the Christian women who are told that if they are just more submissive, their husbands will stop abusing them.

Justice demands that the true nature of what is happening in any situation be discerned. Truth is not served by assuming that women are usually 'good' and men are usually 'bad'. I despair - in either a conservative or liberal ideology - when people make claims for female moral superiority. Each one of us - no matter what gender - is capable of the most dastardly evil and the most glorious good.

The last paragraph in this post sets out where I disagree with male-headship:

1) That, to quote: the husband gets commended when it is going well and he gets the heat when it is not.
Sorry, no. If a wife is mentally or emotionally unstable, the husband is not responsible. And if a marriage is going well, it's because both partners are playing their part.

2) A happy, holy wife is a wonderful endeavor for a husband.
So, the wife is, in some sense, the husband's 'project'? This reflects what I call the attitude of male headship that a woman is never
quite a full adult.

3) A husband must learn to keep the pulse of how his wife is doing (spiritually, emotionally, physically)
Again, this assumes that a husband somehow 'has control' over his wife.

Both Christian egalitarians and advocates of male-headship often present themselves as believing that husbands and wives are called to put their spouse first. The difference in the two attitudes isn't really even about 'what women are permitted to do in Church'. The big difference is the attitude of male-headship that women and our lives can be controlled and led by men. That we are not and never will be full adults. And that co-dependent relationships - with the man responsible for controlling his wife's mental, emotional and spiritual responses - are What God Wants.