2014 confirmed as warmest year on record

by Richard on January 6, 2015

drought

From the UK Met Office

Provisional full year figures for 2014 show it is the UK’s warmest and fourth wettest year in records dating back to 1910.

It is also the warmest year on record in the Central England Temperature series, which dates back to 1659 and is the world’s longest running instrumental temperature series.

Warmest year on record

The UK’s mean temperature for the year is 9.9 °C, which is 1.1 °C above the long-term (1981-2010) average and beats the previous record of 9.7 °C set in 2006.

This year’s record means that eight of the UK’s top ten warmest years have happened since 2002.

Looking in more detail across the UK, it was the warmest year on record for all countries and regions apart from Northern Ireland - which had its joint third warmest year behind 2007 and 2006.

Despite the record breaking warmth, no months through the year saw records for temperature - instead each month was consistently warm, with only August seeing below average temperatures.

It was also marginally the warmest year on record in the CET series from 1659 with a mean temperature of 10.93 °C narrowly ahead of the previous record of 10.87 °C set in 2006.

The number of air frosts for the UK was also provisionally lowest in a series from 1961.

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Melchior

by Richard on January 4, 2015

Another offering from Maddy Prior & the Carnival Band

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on January 4, 2015

Come, let us use the grace divine,
and all with one accord,
In a perpetual covenant join
ourselves to Christ the Lord;

Give up ourselves, through Jesus’ power,
His Name to glorify;
And promise, in this sacred hour,
for God to live and die.

The covenant we this moment make
be ever kept in mind;
We will no more our God forsake,
or cast these words behind.

We never will throw off his fear
Who hears our solemn vow;
And if thou art well pleased to hear,
come down and meet us now.

To each covenant the blood apply
which takes our sins away,
And register our names on high,
and keep us to that day!

Charles Wesley

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Another Christmas hymn

by Richard on December 29, 2014

Continuing with a look at some of Charles Wesley’s nativity hymns…

O mercy divine,
How could’st thou incline
My God to become such an infant as mine?

What a wonder of grace!
The ancient of days
Is found in the likeness of Adam’s frail race.

He comes from on high,
Who fashioned the sky,
And meekly vouchsafes in a manger to lie.

Our God ever blest
With oxen doth rest,
Is nursed by his creature and hangs at the breast.

The shepherds behold
Him promised of old,
By angels attended, by prophets foretold.

The wise men adore,
And bring him their store,
The rich are permitted to follow the poor.

To the inn they repair,
To see the young heir:
The inn is a palace; for Jesus is there.

Charles Wesley

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on December 28, 2014

Stupendous height of heavenly love,
Of pitying tenderness divine!
It brought the Saviour from above,
It caused the springing day to shine;
The Sun of righteousness to appear,
And gild our gloomy hemisphere.

God did in Christ himself reveal,
To chase our darkness by his light,
Our sin and ignorance dispel,
Direct our wandering feet aright,
And bring our souls, with pardon blest,
To realms of everlasting rest.

Come then, O Lord, thy light impart,
The faith that bids our terrors cease,
Into thy love direct our heart,
Into thy way of perfect peace;
And cheer the souls of death afraid,
And guide them through the dreadful shade.

Answer thy mercy’s whole design,
My God incarnated for me;
My spirit make thy radiant shrine,
My light and full salvation be,
And through the shades of death unknown
Conduct me to thy dazzling throne.

Charles Wesley

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More from Charles Wesley on the Nativity

by Richard on December 27, 2014

O astonishing grace,
That the reprobate race
Should be so reconciled!
What a wonder of wonders that God is a child!

The Creator of all,
To repair our sad fall,
From his heaven stoops down,
Lays hold of our nature, and joins to his own.

Our Immanuel came,
The whole world to redeem,
And incarnated shewed
That man may again be united to God!

And shall we not hope,
After God to wake up,
His nature to know?
His nature is sinless perfection below.

To this heavenly prize,
By faith let us rise
To his image ascend,
Apprehended of God let us God apprehend.

Charles Wesley

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A matter of perspective

by Richard on December 26, 2014

Reblogged from 10 years ago

I thought I might write a cheery reflection on my Christmas which has, it has to be said, been a prety good one. But somehow that doesn’t seem quite appropriate, with the news that the deathtoll from the earthquake is now known to be well over 20 000. How do you make any sense of such a tragedy?

It is certainly a reminder that though human beings are undoubtedly having an impact on the world’s environment, when nature herself releases her fury no power in human hands can stand against her. In insurance terms these events are called “Acts of God”, and some would conclude that the judgement of God can indeed be seen at work when the world is shaken. Some appear to take delight in seeing the hammer fall. Others will draw the conclusion that events like this prove that faith is vain, that God - if he exists at all - cannot be trusted.

I too recoil from a God whose aim is so poor that violence is poured out so capriciously. But I recoil too from the prospect that these terrible events are merely the outworking of natural forces that ultimately have no meaning. Life against such a background would be futile and without ultimate purpose.

The only way I can reconcile these two is to see the dreadful and terrifying unleashing of the earth’s power in storm and earthquake as part of what St Paul described as the creation’s groaning as it waits to be released from death and decay, a creation that will be made perfect in Jesus Christ. In the meantime, the call which God makes on his people is to respond to those in need with compassion and generosity, to turn away from despair and embrace the hurting and broken of the world.

Pious pipedreams? Maybe.

But I’d swap that for futility and hopelessness anytime.

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Another Wesleyan Carol

by Richard on December 26, 2014

GLORY be to God on high,
And peace on earth descend!
God comes down, and 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,
Being’s 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, the sons of men, 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.

Charles Wesley

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Talking turkey

by Richard on December 25, 2014

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Away with our fears!
The Godhead appears
In Christ reconciled,
The Father of Mercies in Jesus the Child.

He comes from above,
In manifest love,
The desire of our eyes,
The meek Lamb of God, in a manger he lies.

At Immanuel’s birth
What a triumph on earth!
Yet could it afford
No better place for its heavenly Lord.

The Ancient of Days
To redeem a lost race,
From his glory comes down,
Self-humbled to carry us up to a crown.

Made flesh for our sake,
That we might partake
The nature divine,
And again in his image, his holiness shine;

An heavenly birth
Experience on earth,
And rise to his throne,
And live with our Jesus eternally one.

Then let us believe,
And gladly receive
The tidings they bring,
Who publish to sinners their Saviour and King.

And while we are here,
Our King shall appear,
His Spirit impart,
And form his full image of love in our heart.Away with our fears!
The Godhead appears
In Christ reconciled,
The Father of Mercies in Jesus the Child.

He comes from above,
In manifest love,
The desire of our eyes,
The meek Lamb of God, in a manger he lies.

At Immanuel’s birth
What a triumph on earth!
Yet could it afford
No better place for its heavenly Lord.

The Ancient of Days
To redeem a lost race,
From his glory comes down,
Self-humbled to carry us up to a crown.

Made flesh for our sake,
That we might partake
The nature divine,
And again in his image, his holiness shine;

An heavenly birth
Experience on earth,
And rise to his throne,
And live with our Jesus eternally one.

Then let us believe,
And gladly receive
The tidings they bring,
Who publish to sinners their Saviour and King.

And while we are here,
Our King shall appear,
His Spirit impart,
And form his full image of love in our heart.

Charles Wesley

Merry Christmas!

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A Wesleyan carol

by Richard on December 24, 2014

Although it was not until the Victorian period that the modern Christmas celebration was invented, Charles Wesley’s volume Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord went through 26 editions in his own lifetime. Where the Victorians would give us a sentimental vision of the baby in a manger, Wesley focusses on the mystery and paradox of God made flesh. Outside the Bible, has this ever been expressed more perfectly than in verse 1 of this hymn?

Let earth and heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.

He laid his glory by,
He wrapped him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days he here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s name.

See in that infant’s face
The depths of deity
And labour while ye gaze
To sound the mystery;
In vain; ye angels gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.

Unsearchable the love
That hath the Saviour brought;
The grace is far above
Or man or angels thought;
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.

He deigns in flesh to appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see his glorious face:
Then shall his love be fully showed,
And man shall then be lost in God.

Charles Wesley

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Noel: Maddy Prior & the Carnival Band

by Richard on December 24, 2014

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Christmas expectations

by Richard on December 24, 2014

Expectations are hard things to live with. In a culture increasingly driven by “targets”, the expectations we have of ourselves and others can be a source of great hurt and confusion. This is especially true when our expectations do not match those of others. And it has to be said that there are many times when our expectations are not met: our hopes may be on the far horizon, but our ability takes us no further than the bottom of the garden. We strive to have more and be more, to “succeed” and improve. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that — except that we can become so purpose-driven and goal-orientated that we forget about grace and gift.

We’re all preparing to celebrate Christmas, to remember the long-ago events in Bethlehem and worship the Prince of Peace who comes amongst us. Not in power and glory. Not with success written all over him. He comes “little, weak and helpless”, a fragile scrap of human life born into a situation so precarious that his first bed was a feed trough. This is hardly a promising start. If you were an advertising agent working for God, is this the image that you would choose?

The paradox and irony of the Christian gospel is our claim that God’s power is revealed most completely in this self-emptying weakness. Where we seek self-determination, God makes himself dependent. Where we applaud “winners”, God ranks himself with the “also-rans”.And where we prize progress and self-improvement, this little one’s journey is from a stable to a cross. As Luther reminds us, the crib is cut from the same timber as the cross.

As Christmas approaches, I wonder if we dare face the challenge offered by that vulnerable child in a manger? As he grew he refused to be chained by the expectations of others. He chose faithfulness to God over success. When ambition beckoned he turned away from it. Finally, when his friends fled and his enemies abused him, just when you might expect a proper display of divine power and glory, he stretched out his arms in an embrace that would encompass the world.

Another seasonal reblog…

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More thoughts on the Nativity stories

by Richard on December 23, 2014

If the Nativity stories are intended to tell us about Jesus, what do they say? Let’s remind ourselves of the “plot” first: In Matthew we begin apparently in Bethlehem. The angel appears in a dream to Joseph. Jesus is born. The visitors from the east follow a star. The flight to Egypt. The slaughter of the innocents. Joseph moves his family to Nazareth.In Luke we begin in Nazareth. The angel comes to Mary. (There’s a sub-plot concerning the birth of John). The imperial census and journey to Bethlehem. Laid in a manger - no room at the inn. Shepherds. Heavenly host. Circumcision and presentation at the Temple. Simeon and Anna rejoice.Both writers have genealogies of Jesus, but they’re different.

Most often we read these accounts as though they’re giving different details of the same story. Whilst that’s just about possible, I think doing misses important truths because it erases the distinctive emphases of the two gospel writers. And it also throws up some interesting surprises.

Matthew, it is often said, is the most Jewish gospel. In it, Jesus is presented as the successor to Moses. He gives a new law from the mountain and renews the Covenant relationship with God. It is not surprising, then, that the infancy of Jesus parallels the infancy of Moses though where Egypt was a place of slavery it becomes a haven. The genealogy of Jesus places him very firmly in the history of Israel, beginning with Abraham. The Church is the new Israel, with Christ at its head. But here’s the big surprise: in this most Jewish story the first visitors are foreigners and followers of another faith. Jesus is a Jewish Messiah for all the world.

By contrast, Luke is a gentile gospel written in a style much like that of his contemporary biographers and historians. His genealogy of Jesus places him in the history of the world, tracing his ancestry back to Adam. It is not Israel which is being renewed, but humanity itself. Jesus is the second Adam. Just as the rest of his gospel is filled with stories of the outcast and powerless, so in the nativity story the main actors are of little account - a barren woman, a pregnant teenager, shepherds, the elderly Simeon and Anna. This is to be the Messiah who announces good news to the poor, the year of the Lord’s favour. But even though this might be thought of as a gentile story, Luke is careful over the fulfillment of the rituals of the Jewish law. This is a Saviour for the whole world, but there is a continuity between the traditions of Israel and the ministry of Jesus.

Matthew and Luke are not merely recorders of events. They are at least as much theologians as they are historians, much more so in my view. They shape their material to give the best account they can of the truth about Jesus. What concerns them is not principally his birth story, but his significance as “the Son of the Most High”. That’s what needs to concern us today.

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The purpose of the Nativity stories

by Richard on December 23, 2014

As I’ve said before, I love school nativity plays. But I worry about the way that some (most?) Christians treat the stories, as though if anyone asks if the events were not exactly as they’re portrayed in the school play that somehow the integrity and truth of the Bible is being questioned. “Biblical criticism” is used as a dirty phrase, and it shouldn’t be.

A serious look at the stories told by Matthew and Luke reveals some puzzles, but that’s only a problem if you’re determined that they are telling the same story. For example, Matthew clearly implies that Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem - they only go to Nazareth after their flight to Egypt. It is Luke who has them travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and back again. Only Matthew mentions the star, and he doesn’t say anything about how bright it was. Whatever the carol may say, there is no mention of the shepherds (they’re in Luke) having seen it. If you put the two stories together as witnesses of “events”, what they agree about is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth - and not much else. But that isn’t a problem. It’s a glory! The early church had ample opportunity to harmonise these accounts, and it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because both accounts are essentially true.

What, after all, is the purpose of these nativity stories? They’re a sort of preview of the good news that follows. They reveal what their authors believed to be the truth about Jesus. But they are not, absolutley not, biographies in any modern sense of the word. We are not dealing with objective, dispassionate writing. This is from the faithful for the faithful. Asking questions of these texts is not to deny their authority and truthfulness. It is about seeking the message that Matthew and Luke have for us by reading what they actually say, rather than reading their accounts through a filter of Primary School drama.

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Pope takes Vatican to task

by Richard on December 23, 2014

BBC News: Pope Francis sharply criticises Vatican bureaucracy

Pope Francis has sharply criticised the Vatican bureaucracy in a pre-Christmas address to cardinals, complaining of “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and “the terrorism of gossip”.

He said the Curia - the administrative pinnacle of the Roman Catholic Church - was suffering from 15 “ailments”, which he wanted cured in the New Year.

Pope Francis - the first Latin American pontiff - also criticised “those who look obsessively at their own image”.

He has demanded reform of the Curia.

There was silence at the end of the Pope’s speech.

Pope Francis continues to impress, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m gloating about his straight-talking to his colleagues in the Curia. I suspect that much of his criticism should also be heard by other parts of the Church.

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Democracy in the workplace: the Rochdale Pioneers

by Richard on December 21, 2014

Before I became a minister, I worked for 6 years in the Co-operative Movement. I am a democrat. I believe that if democracy is a just system for running a country (it is, isn’t it?) then by the same token it is also a just system for running a commercial operation. I know that many reading this will immediately write me off as a horrid socialist, with no more right to live on God’s clean earth than a weasel, but let me tell you something of those who may be called the founders of the British co-operative movement, the “Rochdale Pioneers”.

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers’ Society, founded in 1844 by a group of artisans in the north of England, is regarded as the prototype of the modern co-operative society in all of its various guises. The line of descent from this society leads directly to the modern high street “co-op shop”, but this has often obscured the fact that the Pioneers are also the ancestors of contemporary industrial co-operatives. This is not to suggest that Rochdale was the first co-operative society. Several such existed around Britain before 1844. What gives Rochdale a unique place in the history of the co-operative movement is the set of principles derived by the founders to govern their affairs as a society. It is probably true that even here the Pioneers were not completely original. Several other societies operated on some of the principles used by the Pioneers. The originality of the Rochdale society lay, in part at least, in the combination of these principles:

  • democratic control (”One Member, One Vote”)
  • open membership
  • limited return on capital (”Labour Hires Capital”)
  • distribution of surplus in proportion to a member’s contribution to the society
  • cash trading only
  • selling only pure, unadulterated goods
  • providing for the education of members in co-operative principles
  • political and religious neutrality

It is these principles, with slight modification, which are accepted by the co-operative movement throughout the world as the basis of all co-operative activity.
[click to continue…]

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Local boy makes Good, by Harri Web

by Richard on December 21, 2014

When Christ was born on Dowlais Top
The ironworks were all on stop,
The money wasn’t coming in,
But there was no room at the Half Moon Inn.

The shepherds came from Twyn y Waun
And three kings by the Merthyr and Brecon line,
The star shone over the Brecon’s ridge
And the angels sang on Rhymney Bridge.

When Christ turned water into stout
A lot of people were most put out
And wrote letters to the paper
Protesting at such a wicked caper.

When Christ fed the unemployed
The authorities were most annoyed;
He hadn’t gone through the proper channels,
Said the public men on the boards and panels.

When Christ walked upon Swansea Bay
The people looked the other way
And murmured, this is not at all
The sort of thing that suits Porthcawl.

When Christ preached a sermon on Kilvey Hill
He’d have dropped dead if looks could kill
And as they listened to the Beatitudes
They sniffed with scorn and muttered platitudes!

When Christ was hanged in Cardiff jail
Good riddance, said the Western Mail
But, daro, weren’t all their faces red
When he came to judge the quick and the dead.

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That night in Bethlehem

by Richard on December 21, 2014

Altan sing the beautiful gaelic carol ‘Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil’ (That night in Bethlehem).

Tip: you can use the tune even if you don’t know gaelic. It fits very well to ‘O little town of Bethlehem’.

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The magic of Christmas

by Richard on December 21, 2014

Many Christians are apt to be just a little bit churlish when it comes to Christmas. I sometimes get a sense that Christians are resentful that “our” festival has been stolen, taken over by revellers who are happy to sing carols and watch a school nativity play but will give little or no thought to the gospel for the rest of the year. Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas. We have a particular problem with Father Christmas (or Santa Claus, if you must). Never a year goes by without some story in the news of a conflict between the church and one of her most widely celebrated saints and this year was no exception. I have spoken to many Christians over the years who have tied themselves up in knots over whether to allow their children to enjoy this particular bit of fairytale. Here’s a blogging friend from a while ago: (sadly, the link no longer works):

For good measure, we even celebrate Santa and one of the most significant Godly holidays on the same day. Is it any wonder that a child’s perception of God can often get tangled up in the mythical character of Mr. Claus? For Christians this poses an obvious problem. Children are taught to believe in both, and when the non-existence of Santa becomes a reality in adolescence, God will likewise get scrutinized. The blatant lying to children about a figure they already associate with God cannot yield beneficial results. Anecdotally, I know of a number of folks who resent their parents lying to them about Santa, and if they lied about Santa, the belief is that they lied about God, too. I am of the very un-festive opinion that lying to your children about anything is bound to have negative consequences, but particularly when it involves a figure like Santa.

We should stick to what Christmas is all about. Like Dickens’ Gradgrind, we should confine ourselves to the facts. “Bah, humbug!” (to change my Dickensian reference) to the rest. Attitudes like this are a terrible shame, or so they seem to me. Children are creatures of wonder and imagination, both qualities which can nurture faith in the Living God. They thrive on storytelling and their world is naturally full of what we adults, poverty-stricken by reason, regard as naive personifications. One morning on our walk up to school, my then 6 year old daughter asked me: “Daddy, why does Jack Frost come?” Should I have scotched this bit of her mythology fearing for the development of her scientific mind? After all, she had already decided she wants to be a doctor. Perhaps I should have explained that frost is spicules of ice which form on solid surfaces when they are chilled below the deposition point. It is never too early to start thinking about physics! But I confess, I simply said that Jack Frost comes when it is cold. That seemed to do. Likewise with Father Christmas. He has a place in our family storytelling, part of the mythology we share. To suggest that this amounts to lying to our children is as ludicrous as the notion that the ‘facts’ of the Nativity can be easily and plainly stated. I was reminded recently that ‘gospel’ was, in Old English, ‘godspel’ and, though I am sure that this is etymologically unsound, I am taken with the idea that the incarnation of Jesus is “God’s spell” — a moment so wondrous that it takes imagination, not reason, to apprehend it. Of course I’m not here arguing for abandoning the achievements of the Enlightenment, for discarding reason entirely in favour of mythology and superstition. But perhaps Christians before all others should recognize that stories, imagination and wonder are a vital part of our lives. Let’s not deprive our children of them too readily.

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