Time for another referendum?

by Richard on January 11, 2018

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so it was kind of inevitable that at some point Nigel Farage was going to be right about something. I think his time has come, at least in part.

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage says he is close to backing a second EU referendum to end the “whinging and whining” of anti-Brexit campaigners.

Mr Farage told Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff a fresh vote could “kill off” the Remain campaign for a generation.

He said “the percentage that would vote to leave next time would be very much bigger than it was last time round”.

Pro-EU campaigners welcomed his comment, claiming “support is growing” for another referendum.

Whatever anyone may claim, the result of the last referendum was anything but decisive. 52/48 was not a cut and dried result. So I think that we will need another vote when we are clearer what the Brexit negotiated by the government will actually look like.

Unlike Farage, I’m as sure as I can be that this time ‘Remain’ would win the day.


Alms for an ex-leper

by Richard on January 11, 2018

A gratuitous bit of Monty Python


Note to self

by Richard on January 9, 2018

So, kids. What have we learned from the Toby Young fiasco?
There are probably lots of lessons at lots of different levels. But there is at least one lesson for every single person who ever posts anything anywhere on t’interweb, and it’s a dead simple one: Think before you post. Think about what you’re writing, and all the people who might get to read it. Your mum. Your son. Your boss. Your potential future boss. Assume that anything you post will be available for ever. If you don’t want something you write now turning up in 20 years time, don’t post it.

Because it might.


Toby Young: unfit for office

by Richard on January 8, 2018

tweet1 tweet2 tweet3

If you were hiring a teacher or university lecturer, would you appoint someone who had posted the tweets above?

That’s what I thought.

But despite expressing her irritation at the language of these tweets, Theresa May still intends to appoint Toby Young to serve on the new regulatory body for universities, the Office for Students.

Young has attempted to redeem himself by deleting several thousand of his tweets, but that is completely missing the point: these tweets, and the many others like them, point to a lack of judgement and respect for others which renders him completely unsuitable for an office of this nature.

Green MP Caroline Lucas is putting forward an “Early Day Motion” calling on the government to rescind this appointment and she needs the support of other parliamentarians. I’ve asked my MP to consider signing. If you live in Britain, and you think Toby Young is unsuitable to serve on the OfS, please do the same.


Update: 9/01/18 Toby Young has taken the hint and resigned. It’s a pity that the PM wasn’t strong enough to give him the shove herself.


A sermon for Covenant Sunday*

by Richard on January 7, 2018

Main Text: Jeremiah 31: 31-34 The New Covenant

When we talk about the Covenant Service, we often talk in terms of renewing our Covenant - but it is not.The New Covenant, like the old, is God’s choice, not ours. The Covenant between God and Israel was not one that Israel made, but one that god made in choosing them to be his people. “This is the Covenant I will make with the house of Israel,” God says through Jeremiah. He was not compelled to choose Israel - he could have chosen any other people. Israel was not more remarkable than any other nation, quite the opposite. It was not the most powerful, or the most civilised, or the wealthiest. In choosing Israel, God chose a nation that was not a nation, a rabble of slaves in a foreign country. As the poet put it neatly: “How odd of God to choose the Jews” But this is how God always acts - in love which is free and undeserved (grace).This is what happens in the New Covenant with the New Covenant in Jesus. It is rooted in God’s choice: free, unexpected and undeserved. Jesus chose the poor, the lame, the sinners, those who no one else would have. This is exactly where we stand today. At its heart, this is not a moment when we choose God, but when beyond all hope or expectation he is choosing you and me!
[click to continue…]


It’s incredible, isn’t it?

by Richard on January 7, 2018

This sketch from Not the Nine O’Clock News following the election of Ronald Reagan seems more relevant than ever.


Hymn of the day

by Richard on January 7, 2018

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


On being born again

by Richard on January 6, 2018

Adrian Warnock has started 2018 with a commitment to blogging about the commands of Jesus.

At the beginning of this year, I have resolved to look more closely at the commands of Jesus. And to learn to obey them. Since Christians are meant to be followers of Jesus, it is remarkable that we don’t pay more attention to his actual words. …

I would invite you to join with me on a journey. I am not sure how quickly I will get through this journey since I doubt that I can blog every day. But the journey will take us through all the major commands of Jesus.

I’ll certainly look forward to following this journey and (in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging) offering some thoughts of my own.

Adrian begins his series with John 3:7, “… You must be born again”

Being born again is all about coming to the end of yourself. It is about realising that indeed we cannot please God. It is recognising that our own efforts at righteousness are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6-7, NIV). It is about humbly asking Jesus to cause us to be reborn. We need him to put a new heart inside us. …
So at the very first command of Jesus, we come back to our dependence on him, to CAUSE us to obey the very commands he requires of us. How very humbling it is for us to realise that we are totally helpless, and in need of him. There is an element of all this that requires a DECISION from us. But it is a decision that works miraculously with the hand of a sovereign God who creates this new heart within us!

I’ve got a couple of issues with the way Adrian deals with this. The first is a bit surprising, considering his stated commitment to “the actual words of Jesus”*. The literal translation of Jesus’ words is not ‘born again’, but ‘born from above’ and it seems to me that must be significant. Yes, Nicodemus takes Jesus as meaning ‘again’, but the point here is surely that Nicodemus misunderstands. As the conversation unfolds, Jesus goes on to say that this birth is not a matter of human will but as a result of the movement of the Spirit of God, which cannot be pinned down but which moves as unpredictably as the wind.

Secondly, although Adrian acknowledges that this command can only be obeyed because of the grace of God, ultimately he has to insist that being born again is a matter of the decision of the individual believer. But being born is more than simply a new individual enering the world. Physical birth is about entry into a family, a community — and certainly not simply by one’s own choice. (Remember the old saying: you choose your friends - you’re stuck with your family!) The believer is thus not an isolated individual: the heavenly birth is about entry into a new community which will live according to the light of God. The language of being born again should result in Christians talking about ‘us’ and ‘our’ much more than ‘I’ and ‘me’ and I’m sad to see that this is not reflected in Adrian’s article.

There’s more I might say, but I’ll leave it there for know. However, I do commend Born of the wind by Rev. Dr. Laura Mendenhall and Born again? by our friend Kim Fabricius.

Update: Adrian has kindly updated his post in response to mine. He adds, in a comment

I take your point about born ‘from above’ being a possible translation though a quick look at http://biblehub.com/john/3-7… shows almost all translators have chosen ‘again’

This is true of John 3:7. However, a few verses later anothen is rendered ‘from above’. Of the 13 uses of anothen in the NT, a simple “again” is usually not what is used. That doesn’t mean ‘again’ is wrong, but there’s at least reason to pause to reconsider.

* A slightly tricky phrase, but I won’t quibble


Epiphany re-blog

by Richard on January 5, 2018

Epiphany is the day in the church calendar when by tradition the visit of the Magi is remembered. These strange visitors with their even stranger gifts - (”Quick - throw it in the trough!”) - are such an integral part of the Nativity story that it’s easy to forget how odd they are.

Matthew’s gospel is undeniably the most obviously Jewish of the 4, and the way he tells the nativity story is to present Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made specifically to Israel. His genealogy is traced through David to Abraham in 3 phases of 14 generations. (Matthew is sure to mean something by these numbers, but we needn’t be detained by what that meaning might have been.) The story recalls several themes from the story of the Israelite nation - Joseph’s dream, a ruler who kills children, an infant protected, a return to the Promised Land. Almost every event is linked to some quotation from the Hebrew scriptures. As the story of Jesus unfolds, he is clearly presented as the successor to Moses, a new and greater lawgiver.

And it is into this story that Matthew injects a group of pagans from far away. Not merely foreigners, but very definitely followers of some other faith (were they Zoroastrians?), and worse still practisers of astrology, and yet it was these outsiders who, Matthew says were the first to worship the infant Jesus. His significance is acknowledged and proclaimed by these pagans from abroad. Jerusalem is in uproar. It is the outsiders who worship.

Of course it is true that one shouldn’t erect a theology on one piece of gospel narrative. But this story is surely a corrective to any tendency to merely dismiss out of hand those who follow a faith other than Christianity. At the very least, it should compell us to listen to those whose faith is different from ours with the utmost attention and respect.

God has spoken through them before, and will no doubt do so again and again.


Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –
Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week –
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully –
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look around for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father:
“Lead us not into temptation and evil for our sake”.
They will come all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practise his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will will be done, that, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

Part III of “The Flight into Egypt” in For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.


Time for some sense about Brexit?

by Richard on January 4, 2018

Writing in Unherd, the usually sensible Giles Fraser suggests that Remainers still sore at the prospect of losing their maroon EU passport … could apply for a world passport. I recognise that he isn’t being entirely serious, of course, but for me this article epitomises all that has been wrong with the Brexit debate both pre- and post-referendum. He presents those who are still committed to trying to find a way for Britain to stay in the EU as anti-democratic middle-class imperialists, just as many “Remoaners” constantly present Brexiteers as reactionary little Englanders.

What we need more than ever is a bit of calm rationality, but I fear it is too late for that. With hindsight, I believe that the whole referendum should have been postponed after the murder of Jo Cox, which was surely evidence enough that political life had become dangerously toxic. Now we have a government completely paralysed by Brexit, still no real sense that anyone really knows what Brexit means, and many serious problems going unaddressed, in part because every civil servant in Whitehall has been side-tracked by the process.

There has to be hope. At some point, sense will prevail. But we aren’t there yet.

( For light relief, we remind ourselves that Giles Brandreth saw this coming…


A reminder in the Independent that climate change remains a pressing and dangerous problem

Up to 30 per cent of the planet’s land surface would become arid if global temperatures rise 2C above pre-industrial levels, according to a new study.

A 2C threshold was set out in the Paris climate agreement in 2015, but the new research suggests it will not be enough to prevent devastating environmental changes.

As land undergoes “aridification” and becomes drier, water supplies run out

“It can also lead to more droughts and wildfires – similar to those seen raging across California,” said SusTech scientist Dr Chang-Eui Park

Meanwhile, the BBC asks Is climate change making hurricanes worse? The answer, while nuanced, is a pretty clear ‘Yes’.


Happy New Year

by Richard on January 2, 2018

I was very pleased to see that Dave Walker has decided to restart his blog in 2018. Like him, I’ve had a blog for a long time (I’m not sure now exactly when I first began blogging, but I re-started in Feb 2002) and like him I’ve missed it. And I think this might be the time to get going again. Let’s see how we go.


GH at his learned, deep, and witty best: a seriously self-critical confession, yet spoken with no strained stained-glass voice, rather sung serenely with wit, modesty, and charm to the Judge who is his Friend.

Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am
That my offences course it in a ring.
My thoughts are working like a busy flame,
Until their cockatrice they hatch and bring:
And when they once have perfected their draughts,
My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts.

My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts,
Which spit it forth like the Sicilian Hill.
They vent the wares, and pass them with their faults,
And by their breathing ventilate the ill.
But words suffice not, where are lewd intentions:
My hands do join to finish the inventions.

My hands do join to finish the inventions:
And so my sins ascend three stories high,
As Babel grew, before there were dissensions.
Yet ill deeds loiter not: for they supply
New thoughts of sinning: wherefore, to my shame,
Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am.


Is Trump a liar? If only.

by Kim on February 3, 2017

Donald Trump is often called a liar, but such a judgment is facile, both far too generous and gravely mistaken, underestimating the enormity of the shit that’s coming down from the president and his administration. Politicians lie. But Trump is not a politician, he’s a shyster businessman, and the shyster businessman (”shyster”, possibly from the German scheisser, “one who defecates”) doesn’t lie, he bullshits. Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt explains “the crux of the distinction” in his little masterpiece On Bullshit (2005):

“Both [the bullshitter] and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality … The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central concern to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.” Frankfurt chillingly concludes: “bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

A greater enemy still when, like Trump-speak, the bullshit is weaponised, and when its credibility is enhanced by the speaker’s so-called “authenticity” or “sincerity” (which, as Frankfurt also observes, is itself bullshit).

We have always had liars in the Oval Office, but a virtuoso bullshitter like Trump? His presidency is looking to be sui generis. The “better of two evils” position that many voters adopted – I fear that it constitutes not only a fundamental category mistake but also a perilous moral miscalculation. For while a liar can be either a realist or an idealist, a bullshitter is always a nihilist, and this particular bullshitter is a bully-in-chief stalking the domestic and international playground just looking for fights.


…. How then, I asked Ambrose, should one portray the prince of darkness?

After a pensive moment, Ambrose replied, “A merciless real estate developer whose largest projects are all casinos.”

And recalling this exchange brought Donald Trump to mind. You know the fellow: developer, speculator, television personality, hotelier, political dilettante, conspiracy theorist, and grand croupier—the one with that canopy of hennaed hair jutting out over his eyes like a shelf of limestone.

In particular, I recalled how, back in 1993, when Trump decided he wanted to build special limousine parking lots around his Atlantic City casino and hotel, he had used all his influence to get the state of New Jersey to steal the home of an elderly widow named Vera Coking by declaring “eminent domain” over her property, as well as over a nearby pawn shop and a small family-run Italian restaurant.

She had declined to sell, having lived there for thirty-five years. Moreover, the state offered her only one-fourth what she had been offered for the same house some years before, and Trump could then buy it at a bargain rate. The affair involved the poor woman in an exhausting legal battle, which, happily, she won, with the assistance of the Institute for Justice.

How obvious it seems to me now. Cold, grasping, bleak, graceless, and dull; unctuous, sleek, pitiless, and crass; a pallid vulgarian floating through life on clouds of acrid cologne and trailed by a vanguard of fawning divorce lawyers, the devil is probably eerily similar to Donald Trump—though perhaps just a little nicer.

From “A Person You Flee at Parties: Donald and the Devil”, First Things, May 6th, 2011


A hymn for Advent 1

by Richard on November 27, 2016

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

Charles Wesley


“The accurate articulation of unhappiness was his trademark, and the wretchedness of life was his inspiration.”
– Simon Parke

The difficult part of love
Is being selfish enough,
Is having the blind persistence
To upset an existence
Just for your own sake.
What cheek it must take.

And then the unselfish side –
How can you be satisfied,
Putting someone else first
So that you come off worst?
My life is for me.
As well ignore gravity.

Still, vicious or virtuous,
Love suits most of us.
Only the bleeder found
Selfish this wrong way round
Is ever wholly rebuffed,
And he can get stuffed.


Hymn of the day

by Richard on July 10, 2016

FATHER, Son, and Holy Ghost,
One in Three, and Three in One,
As by the celestial host,
Let thy will on earth be done;
Praise by all to thee be given,
Glorious Lord of earth and heaven!

Vilest of the sinful race,
Lo! I answer to thy call;
Meanest vessel of thy grace,
Grace divinely free for all,
Lo! I come to do thy will,
All thy counsel to fulfil.

If so poor a worm as I
May to thy great glory live,
All my actions sanctify,
All my words and thoughts receive;
Claim me for thy service, claim
All I have, and all I am.

Take my soul and body’s powers;
Take my memory, mind, and will,
All my goods, and all my hours,
All I know, and all I feel,
All I think, or speak, or do;
Take my heart; - but make it new!

Now, O God, thine own I am,
Now I give thee back thine own;
Freedom, friends, and health, and fame,
Consecrate to thee alone:
Thine I live, thrice happy I!
Happier still if thine I die.

Charles Wesley


Conference today passed a resolution containing this text:

The Methodist Conference believes that the British Isles are enriched by diversity and celebrates the contribution made by those who have come from other parts of the world.

The Christian tradition calls for respect, tolerance, love of neighbour and hospitality to the stranger. All bear the responsibility of speaking and acting for healing, reconciliation, and mutual respect.

The Methodist Conference abhors and deeply regrets those actions and words which incite hatred and lead to the victimisation of groups within society and notes with concern that such actions and words have been normalised in recent public discourse. Believing that racism is a denial of the gospel and that to stay silent when others are abused is to collude with those who seek to promote hatred and division, the Methodist Conference calls:

  • on the Methodist people to challenge racism and discrimination.
  • for a political debate which neither demonises any nor leaves the vulnerable (the foreigner, the immigrant and refugee) in danger of victimisation.
  • on political leaders to work together for the good of the whole community putting the needs of the nation before party politics.
  • on all those in positions of power and authority to hear the voices of those who have been marginalised and alienated and to respond to them in ways which offer real hope for the future.

The Conference now urges all Methodists to contact their MPs. Ask them to support these aims, and ask how Christians within your constituency can help them in this important task.